HELRUNAR "Ecclesiastical Burden" 

By Lord Randall

On the cusp of the release of “Vanitas Vanitatvm”, Lord Randall spent some quality time with vocalist/sometime-instrumentalist Skald Draugir discussing black metal’s history, HELRUNAR’s sixth album, and the weight of vanity…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: To have been working as HELRUNAR for the better part of 20 years and only just now be on album #7. To someone not involved in the creation of the music, that might seem like not a lot to show for the effort. It seems to me you've always been creating though, even though sometimes many years pass between albums. How does your writing come together?

SKALD DRAUGIR: Apart from that you can´t make a living as a musician or artist nowadays, so there´s other work that needs to be done, apart from the artistic work... this simply keeps us away to work as regularly on our music as we´d like to. First these are mostly just fragments, but sooner or later they´re getting closer to being finished. In the end, shortly before the recordings, I try to give them the finishing touches, so that they figure well with the compositions conceptually.

WC: Do you find it easier to set aside time to create and “flip a switch”, knowing this is the time you have in which to be productive, or to remain always open to inspiration and wring it out like water from a cloth while the cloth is wet? 

SD: Can be done both ways. We mostly like to “keep it relaxed” when it comes to artistic work... to be able to fully concentrate on it. But some pressure can also be helpful when the recording date gets closer and closer. Regarding inspiration, we are always open; everything we watch, experience and reflect flows into our music. That´s what art is all about... it is somehow compressed, distilled life, experience and reflection.

WC: When in the middle of creating a song, have you ever added to or taken something away because you felt it wouldn't fit what was “expected” of HELRUNAR, and so long into this path, do you simply trust that whatever comes out, it will sound as HELRUNAR “should”?

SD: We don´t care so much for what people might expect from us... it would be an obstacle for all creativity and artistic work if we did. Over the years, we established our very own way of writing songs and all that... we got used to it. I guess any HELRUNAR album will always sound like HELRUNAR distinctively, simply because of our musical taste and our modus operandi.

WC: What transpired in the 3 years between “Niederkunff”t and what would become “Vanitas Vanitatvm”? 

SD: Well, we worked a lot. But not on music, that´s the pity. Otherwise “Vanitas Vanitatvm” might have been ready much earlier. We both had a fixed employment for some years that kept us away from doing music properly, or even anyway. We did not play live at all for three years because of that and also writing new material was nearly impossible. I simply say it like it is... we did not like these conditions, but we had to “get back on our feet”, regarding material life. After three years of modern slavery we both found a way to gain back more personal freedom, so we finally had the time to create and record Vanitas Vanitatvm. And we both agree never to allow that this freedom will be stolen from us again. You see, money cannot buy time and freedom.

WC: Will the creative force of HELRUNAR always remain the two of you, or do you see a time when the band is a true democracy, yet with the original members as leaders/guides?

SD: While HELRUNAR’s creative core won’t change, the other guys are very important to the concept and sound that is known by that name - and sometimes they also contribute some creative work to HELRUNAR... for “Vanitas Vanitatvm” Árni composed and recorded some string-compositions, for example. I am also active in the Norse Metal-band ARSTIDR LIFSINS together with Árni and Stefan... if you like epic Viking Metal the old way with old-Norse lyrics, you should definitely check it out!

WC: Was there anything you knew you wanted to focus on that you maybe hadn't before on the new album?

SD: Hard to tell... the work on compositions and lyrics nearly happens automatically, or instinctively if you want to call it like that. There is rarely a certain plan or “goal” that we want to achieve artistically. The concept and the ideas simply grow slowly while the material is written. Maybe we had the plan to take what we did with HELRUNAR over the years, combine it with all the kinds of metal that we like, and to form something more or less innovative and special out of that. I hope we succeeded in that, at least a little.

WC: The beginning of 'Saturnus' reminds me of the beginning to 'The Well Of Souls' from Nightfall by CANDLEMASS. An intentional tribute? Also, though HELRUNAR has mostly been associated with the black/pagan scene, how has doom metal influenced your writing, if at all, over the years? 

SD: No intentional tribute, but we are truly both great fans of the old CANDLEMASS albums. We are generally very much into the darker doom metal releases... not necessarily funeral doom, but more like the already mentioned CANDLEMASS, old CATHEDRAL, Reverend Bizarre, SOLITUDE AETURNUS... I guess it had the greatest impact on “Niederkunff”.

WC: A Christian missionary friend of mine and I were speaking recently of the Biblical king Solomon, son of David, Israel's first true king. YHWH asks him what he wants, and says he can have anything, so he asks for wisdom. Admirable, yes? He gets to build the temple his father couldn't, has wealth untold, hundreds of wives, concubines, kingdoms upon kingdoms, brilliance, but gets to the end of his life and the two verses into his final writings says “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”. We should all take a lesson when we think we're so important to the universe. At the end we're all blown away on the breeze, only alive in others' memory. 

SD: As I said, you nailed it! Things that once were beautiful, charming, interesting and maybe even rebellious, like the metal-scene, Medieval reenactment or other nerdy hobbies, even all kinds of humanistic ideologies are slowly assimilated by a shallow materialistic spirit that only focuses on the outward appearance... it pretends to provide its bearer with identity and individuality, but if you take a closer look, the content, the true individual spirit, the ability to reflect, anything that once was of importance, has vanished completely. Instead, people are lead astray to political and ideological extremes that appeal to them the same way, be it right wing or overdone, unreflected political correctness. It doesn´t matter where one places himself ideologically... all this unreflected extremism is born from the same foul womb. The escalating hysteria in social media is a symptom for that. Often, I can only watch mankind with disgust.

WC: Speak a bit about the lyrical inspiration for 'Nachzehrer'.

SDr: A “Nachzehrer” is a figure from folklore... a certain type of undead that draws the life-force of a human being while already being buried in the grave. He does so by sucking on a piece of property of the living person... a piece of fabric for example. After some time, the living person gets sick and dies if the Nachzehrer is not discovered and banned. In the lyrics, I combined this gloomy motive from folklore with the modern phenomena of stalking... works quite well, the psychological way. I often like to do that in the lyrics... to take motives from folklore, myth, history or religion and combine them with modern or psychological aspects.

WC: One of the bonus tracks is a tribute to the early black metal movement. What led you to want to honor your heritage at this time? Looking back at your career so far, maybe? A bit of Solomon?

SD: Most certainly it was the strong feeling that something got lost... maybe a kind of spirit, maybe that, which once might have been of importance for the black metal-scene, maybe just our youth... don´t know, but the lyrics are very nostalgic.

WC: How does 'Prolog' fit as part of the album? Or does it need to? 

SD: No, it doesn´t need to. It´s simply a bonus-track that we recorded for the limited edition of “Vanitas Vanitatvm” and does not necessarily fit into the red line of the album. But well... if you take a closer look, it still does, somehow. We wanted to do a cover version of this song from the German band EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN for a longer time, actually... and this time we simply did it and it was fun and felt right. I have to say that I really admire Blixa Bargeld (the singer of EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN) for his lyrics! He is one of the best writers when it comes to modern, expressive German poetry, if you ask me.

WC: What's planned for the rest of the year for the band? 

SD: A European tour in late September/early October... and then... maybe relaxing after a lot of musical work this year. And hoping that “Vanitas Vanitatvm” will be appreciated by our fans.