Interview with vocalist Heljarmadr
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 18, 2020
One of the most prolific and successful Swedish Black Metal bands ever, Dark Funeral, have come a long way since their self-titled 4-track EP, originally released on Hellspawn Records back in 1994. Several well-received studio albums, world tours and lineup changes later, these Swedish flag bearers of all things purely satanic and unholy, are still pushing the pedal to the metal and keeping themselves busy on both the live and songwriting fronts.
At the end of June 2019, Century Media Records decided to celebrate the band's long career by putting out a boxed set titled 25 Years of Satanic Sympnonies, which contains every previously released official studio and live album + EPs from this grim horde of the Devil.
Nordic Metal Cruise was arranged for the third time on February 8th and 9th from Turku, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden, and was completely sold out. The band lineup contained a couple of rising Finnish Metal forces, Brymir and Mors Subita as well as two successful and well-known Swedish Metal bands, At The Gates and Dark Funeral. The latter one was the headlining act of the first night of the cruise. According to most, Dark Funeral seemed to bring lots of fans on the cruise, not only from Finland and Sweden but also from such countries as Russia and Estonia.
The Metal Crypt got a special opportunity to join the party, and while having a blast on the actual cruise, we briefly managed to catch up with Dark Funeral's vocalist, Heljarmadr, to ask him what the band has been up to lately, how the year 2020 is looking, if playing shows in some countries is safe nowadays and whether the fans of the band expect some new stuff from them any time soon.
Luxi: First of all, welcome to this Nordic Metal Cruise!
Heljarmadr: Thank you!
Luxi: You are the headlining act on this little fest from Turku to Stockholm. Do you have any personal expectations?
Heljarmadr: I don't know what to expect. We did the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise last year, but that was in Florida and the Caribbean.
Luxi: Yes, that's a pretty cool cruise. I have been there three times over the last few years. This cruise is, of course, a little bit different in terms of the size...
Heljarmadr: I think this is like a half-size ship compared to those huge Caribbean cruise ships, or something like that. I heard the cruise is sold out, so it's going to be great. The soundcheck went super awesome, too. I think it'll be a good show tonight.
Luxi: I read this also the first gig for Dark Funeral this year.
Heljarmadr: Yes, that's true. It is.
Luxi: I suppose you are still feeling very confident it will go well for you guys because the band is, of course, so experienced live-wise.
Heljarmadr: Oh yes, absolutely! It's a new year. The last show we did prior to this was a day before New Year's anyway. It's not that far in between. It's like a month or something, so yes, I am sure it will go well for us. We have a special set list for tonight also.
Luxi: Talking about that, will it be some sort of "Best Of" set because Century Media released the limited-edition box set 25 Years of Satanic Symphonies last year?
Heljarmadr: Well, we try to always make a diverse set list. We all know how annoying it is when you don't get anything from the album that you really like. We try to have something from all the albums that we can. We try to make it as diverse as we can, of course. In the end, it's about time limitations. If we do festivals sometimes we have shorter sets. It depends on how much time we have.
Luxi: What kind of stage setting can the fans expect to see tonight? Will it be a bit modified because the space here on the ferry is a bit limited compared to a bigger club?
Heljarmadr: No, everything went really smooth. We came to the terminal in Stockholm at 6:00 in the morning, went straight in, got our cabins really quick and got some extra sleep.
Luxi: Coming aboard at 6.00 in the morning means you must have woken up almost in the middle of your night's sleep so getting some extra sleep was undoubtedly very crucial for you due to your show on here tonight.
Heljarmadr: Indeed. Getting some extra sleep was nice actually. We really needed it.
IMPORTANCE OF GIVING EVERYTHING FOR THE CROWD
Luxi: How important and essential is the band's stage image when performing live?
Heljarmadr: Well, when it comes to how we dress on stage, of course, there has to be some connection. You can't have one guy running around with a pink shirt. We have been tailoring clothes for a long time. Yes, it needs to fit together. Sometimes it feels like the guys are in the same band when you watch some shows, and I think it's important to have this. You can see immediately that we're Dark Funeral. So yes, of course, it's an important part of who we are and how we show off for our fans.
Luxi: Wearing only jeans and t-shirts obviously would not represent Dark Funeral the way it should be...
Heljarmadr: Yes... Exactly! Everyone is coming to see Dark Funeral and if we stopped giving a shit about how we represent ourselves, then, of course, it will show immediately.
ABOUT BEING YOURSELF – AND NOT SOMEONE ELSE
Luxi: You joined the band in 2014. Was it a normal audition process or were you recommended to them by someone?
Heljarmadr: Yes. Dark Funeral had a 20th Anniversary show in Stockholm with all the old vocalists and old members coming to play some songs and stuff. They needed a support band, which was my other band, Grá. I was then contacted by Ahriman. He said, "I heard good things about you guys. Would you like to come and be the support act?" I said, "Sure, absolutely." We did and in the preparation processes, we became buddies. Then I realized that Caligula was quitting for good. I thought, "Well, it's a shame to have such a good band but without a proper vocalist."
I started thinking, "Well, maybe I could do it. Why not? Why do this Swedish-fucking-don't-believe-in-yourself bullshit, that we do up here in Scandinavia?" Fucking hell! I applied, by sending a message to Ahriman, "Would you like me to try?" He was like, "Well, yes, absolutely. That'd be cool," because I knew the guys already. I tried and it worked.
Luxi: I suppose it was kind of a no-brainer for you to join the band and be their new frontman, right?
Heljarmadr: Yes, kind of like that. Yes.
Luxi: I have to ask what it was like for you to join one of the most prolific and popular Black Metal bands? There's no place in the world this band hasn't visited - well, excluding perhaps some Islamic countries where religion means something different than in the western world overall...
Heljarmadr: Well, a lot of people have been asking about filling Caligula's shoes, for example, but I'm not filling his shoes. I have my own. He's a taller guy and his shoes are not my size anyway. I have to fill my own shoes.
Luxi: There's no sense taking on any extra pressures to be someone else except yourself.
Heljarmadr: Yes, you got it right. I feel the same way about joining Dark Funeral. I cannot put any pressure on myself with that. I can only do my best. If I try to become something else, that is just bullshit. There's no point. Why? That would just be false to myself and for the band. I need to do it my own way and look at the band going forward. I've listened to Dark Funeral since '95. They didn't have the first album out when I got in contact with the music. I don't know. It feels like everything came naturally. I don't have anxiety or anything like that.
Luxi: True. I think it's very important to be who you are and to perform as you are.
Heljarmadr: Yes. Exactly.
Luxi: You would not fool your fans, only yourself.
Heljarmadr: That's true. It would not work. No. Nobody will be happy in the end.
Luxi: Actually, from what I have read, the fans seem to have welcomed you to the band very well as the new frontman.
Heljarmadr: Yes, absolutely. Their support has been almost overwhelming. That makes me happy, of course.
OF PLAYING IN OBSCURE COUNTRIES AND SECURITY ISSUES
Luxi: You have a gig coming up in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 18th, and it's also going to be the first one that you'll ever do with the band. What kind of expectations, either hopes or fears, do you have regarding that gig?
Heljarmadr: Well, I don't know why everyone is reacting to that. It's a country like every other country. Yes, they're at war, but when isn't the US at war, for example? A lot of countries are at war. We went to Russia last year. They are also sometimes at war with all kinds of shit.
I don't know, we're not going there for Israel, the country, we're going there for our Israeli fans. That's the way I see it there. The only precautions that we have to make it's to be super-early at the airport because security there is tight. It takes time. You have to be ready. That's the only thing that's different from going to any other gig, really.
Luxi: When you are traveling around the world, you are not the kind of guy who lets these security issues be much bother. On the other hand, some religious groups can create some extra drama for bands from time to time...
Heljarmadr: No. I don't think that kind of thing has much power these days. You can get run over on the streets. The last time we had some conflict with one of those groups I think was in Romania. We've played this one festival, which was arranged in the castle area, and it was state-funded. Of course, over there, the church and the state is still the same thing. Of course, they tried to stop us. The church tried to stop us, but they didn't succeed. Well, awesome. Thank you for putting us on national TV. Awesome... Yes!
Luxi: Apparently, you got some free promotion from this.
Heljarmadr: Yes. They lost, they got more enemies and we won eventually. But yeah, it still was fucking absurd.
Luxi: Talking about touring a bit more, for many extreme bands South America's been a very fertile ground for shows. Can you guess why so many extreme Metal bands seem to be so popular in that part of the world?
Heljarmadr: I don't know, I think that might have changed. I almost think we have a better response in North America these days.
Luxi: Oh, really?
Heljarmadr: Yes, because the market is so saturated everywhere. Every other band is going to South America, for example, every band is touring everywhere, except the US because there you have to have these expensive fucking visas.
Luxi: The working visas that so any bands constantly complain about.
Heljarmadr: Yes. Not all bands can afford that, of course. I would say that it has moved more to North America because the South American crowds have a lot of things to choose from. I'm going down to Chile, actually, on Monday. In the time I'm there I'll see Samael, I will see Mgla, The Hellacopters. That's just what I picked. It's like Stockholm now these days. You just wait, Marduk will probably play next month or something. The market is becoming very saturated. I've seen that also happening in Southern Europe more and more, more and more saturated. Because countries aren't that far away anymore. The world is so much smaller with the Internet.
It's all about who can pay for the flights and that's about it.
Luxi: What about these "Meet & Greet" sessions? How important do you see them for the band to meet their fans face-to-face, either before or after the gigs?
Heljarmadr: I think it's a good thing. I think it's a good format to do it as a Meet & Greet also because usually, the schedule for our show day is insane for us. We left Stockholm at 6:00 in the morning. That means going up at 4:00 in the morning. That means playing a show at 1:00 in the next morning. And in between, you have all these things. Of course, that time usually goes to trying to sleep and trying to prepare for the show. It's good to have this Meet & Greet concept thing because the people who really want to come to meet us, they will also come. Maybe we can focus on what we are doing instead of people being disappointed and, "Oh, you're just running away. Not taking the time."
It's either that or sleep and do a good show. In the end, it's all about the show. I think the Meet & Greets are quite good, actually, because people have a chance to get their shit signed.
Luxi: Besides Dark Funeral, you have your other band, Grá, which you already mentioned. Being in two bands means extra scheduling, especially when either of your two bands is about to do some touring. Dark Funeral comes first for you these days, right?
Heljarmadr: Yes, that's how it has to be. Yes. Dark Funeral is a bigger machine. We have preparations and bookings far, far ahead in time.
Luxi: But you still want to keep this other band, Grá, alive as well?
Heljarmadr: Yes, absolutely. You know, I am a musician. I'm a guitarist and I'm a songwriter also. The style of music that I write isn't necessarily the style of Dark Funeral. Of course, I need to have an outlet for that creativity. Otherwise, I will get bored. Yes, I do that. We played a show in Gothenburg with Grá two weeks ago, for example. We're going over to England in May also.
Luxi: Wow, that's very cool.
Heljarmadr: Yes. It's going to be nice, yes.
Luxi: Dark Funeral seem to be on the road almost all the time doing gigs and playing at many festivals as well. It must be pretty hectic and even crazy for Dark Funeral sometimes.
Heljarmadr: It is. Yes, absolutely.
NEW ALBUM IN THE WORKS
Luxi: Have you already started planning your next album?
Heljarmadr: We are working on a new album.
Luxi: How far along are you?
Heljarmadr: That is super difficult to say. I cannot give any details except that we are working on it. Ahriman is working in his home studio and I'm working in mine. Mine is portable, so like I said, I'm going out to South America on Monday. I will have plenty of time to write lyrics over there, for example, and then record demo vocals and we can send files back and forth across the globe, and then put it together. We are trying to find the spot where we can say, "Let's book the studio." Because everyone is asking us of course, "When, when, when." The labels, the booking agents, festivals, everyone is asking when. We cannot give an answer because we don't want to lie.
We don't want to put pressure on ourselves to put out something that we cannot believe in. We are waiting. With the last album, we felt at a point, "Okay, now we got this. We need this amount of time and then we'll go to studio." We are waiting for that point to arrive. Before that, I don't know. There's no way to say anything, but we don't have many shows planned this year, so the focus is actually on the album. We will do selected festivals in the summer and that's it. Then we will also have this show in Israel as you mentioned.
Luxi: I guess it is important for you to work on new stuff when nobody is constantly breathing down your necks, kind of pressuring you with all kinds of schedules and stuff...
Heljarmadr: Yes, of course.
Luxi: If there's too much pressure, especially from label's side, I guess that comes from the fact they need to have the promotion done properly, like two or three months prior to an album's release date. Sometimes you need to tell these people, "Hey, please hold on. We need our time. We need to work with our new album. We want to make sure it's going to our best album so far." They should be more understanding and give some space for their bands...
Heljarmadr: Of course, and I suppose everyone does understand that, too, but still, it's their job to ask. For us, sometimes it feels like you're masturbating and someone is looking over your shoulder, "Are you done soon? When do you think you're going to cum? Can you hit that spot when you will do it?" It's like, "No pressure, man. No, we don't need to pressure you, but I'm sorry. Oh, you were busy? Okay." That's how it feels sometimes.
Luxi: Haha, I got your point. As you will have your Meet & Greet coming up soon, I need to let you go now. I want to thank you for the interview and wish you all the best for tonight's show.
Heljarmadr: Thank you, man.
|Other information about Dark Funeral on this site|
|Review: Diabolis Interium|
|Review: In The Sign...|
|Review: The Secrets of the Black Arts|
|Review: Attera Totus Sanctus|
|Review: Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus|
|Review: Nail them to the Cross|
|Interview with Lord Ahriman (Guitar) on July 16, 2003 (Interviewed by Barbara Williams (Crowley))|
|Video: My Funeral (Uncut Version)|
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