Following on from the unveiling which the prior article disclosed, a befitting title for this next chapter could be: “He’s a wise man who knows himself” from The Saga of Hrafnkel Freysothi. In quick summation, this chronicle revolves around an Icelandic/Norseman Hrafnkell and his discovery of Atheism guided by his questioning of his belief in the Norse God Freyr after a series of unfortunate events. In simple terms, Hrafnkell questions his beliefs and identity and then finds a path to a wiser and better self.
Erlend Hjelvik’s departure from the globally adored Norwegian Blackened Metallic Hardcore Rock Kvelertak in 2018 was a shock to fans worldwide, to a degree, it is still a confusing occurrence. However, as Erlend describes from his serene home in regional South-West Norway, it was an enlightened decision that was certainly difficult to arrive at but a beneficial necessity:
“I wouldn’t say leaving was the hardest decision for me to make, it was more necessary, I just needed to move on.” He admits tranquilly – “Of course it was hard, I put many years into Kvelertak and it was a major part of my life and a big part of my identity – I was the singer of the band for 12 years. It was very strange to suddenly not have that as part of me, but I think it’s the best thing I could have done for myself. I feel happy about it now that I have my own band, my own music and it is a ‘restart’ but it’s the way my music should be.”
Erlend revealed his blackened Viking heavy metal band HJELVIK only months ago and unleashed their blazing debut album Welcome To Hel in November (our review here); the response from critics and his admirers alike have been praiseworthy to say the least. Although this “reset” seemed a rather precarious decision, there has been significant reward for Erlend’s wisdom as departing music altogether was in fact, never considered.
“I always knew that I would continue making music after I quit the band, I always loved doing it, I just didn’t know what capacity. After I quit the band, I deflated for about six months and did pretty menial tasks on my house mostly, like painting; I listened to a lot of metal while I was doing this and I started to become really inspired.” He continues – “I then begun writing music and learning how to record and all the software involved with it; the first songs I finished were ‘Kveldulv’ and ‘North Tsar’ and that was when I put the pieces together and realised I could write a whole album. I was a bit surprised at how easy it came to me and that I could write music, I have been a part of making music before in Kvelertak, but I didn’t really write full fledged songs like that, I just focussed on lyrics and vocals, so it was fun to do everything on my own.”
The results are astonishing; the ten tracks featured on the LP fluctuate between the earlier heavy metal era comparable to Iron Maiden with injections of Amon Amarth, Satyricon, Ensiferum and comprehensibly Kvelertak. As aforementioned, Erlend discussed the sound being his identity and what his “music should be” which thankfully brought about some phenomenal guest contributions from royalty of the metal realm such as Matt Pike and Mike Scalzi.
“The collaboration with Matt (Pike, High On Fire) was my idea; I knew him from a previous tour that Kvelertak did with High On Fire and once I knew that I was recording the Hjelvik album in Portland, I knew that’s where he lived, so it made total sense to invite him down to the studio and have him on the record. I had the perfect song for him and he literally improvised the guitar solos on the spot which was really cool to watch and witness him work like that. His vocals are killer, I think they took the song ‘Glory Of Hel’ to the next level undoubtedly.”
“The other guest performer Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg, truthfully that was actually the engineer’s idea, Justin Phelps (Poison Idea, The Mars Volta), because he was the bass player in that band and also worked on a couple of their records. So he just put that idea out there and I was instantly on board. I have always loved that band, especially his vocals and the song ‘Necromance’ was just perfect for him, it has that Iron Maiden stuff going on with it; a bit over-the-top and theatrical. He did really amazing work on the guitar solos for it too, it sounded insane in the end, it was a lot of fun.”
There is a prominent inspiration for Hjelvik and the art Erlend incorporates with the project, which is the culture of the Vikings. Even in these modern times, these historical icons are a fascination scientifically, artistically, evolutionary – undoubtedly their imprint on the human race is almost immeasurable. From a songwriter’s point of view, it plagued this scribe to inquire why this was Erlend’s direction?
“For me, I have always been interested in Norse mythology and Viking history, especially the last couple of years I started getting really interested in it again and I have been diving into books.” He explains excitedly – “I have been reading books about the history of Norwegian Viking Kings, there is loads of good material in there, especially if you are writing metal lyrics (laughs). Now I am working on a big six volume book series of history and mythology about the Vikings and Norse Mythology written by Icelandic monks in the 12th century. It is when things get a little strange because it meets the intersection and presence of Christianity, so it becomes a weird mix and very bizarre.”
This influence shines through on two of the film clips which Hjelvik have incorporated with the full-length’s release for singles ‘North Tsar’ and ‘Glory Of Hel’ – considering how much knowledge Erlend has of the Viking way of life and beliefs, it was imperative to ask how much involvement he had with the graphic and incredible videos that undoubtedly raise horns to Valhalla.
“For ‘North Tsar’, essentially I gave them (G13 Productions) the lyrics and my ideas that I think should be incorporated in the video, so the ‘Blood Eagle’ concept was my idea – I guess in a sense I had the idea what the film clip was to be based on. In short, it is about Odin and his role as a warlord and it matches with the lyrics and the ideas I presented; they are brilliant at bringing those ideas and elements I wanted involved to life, they were great guys to work with!”
While that owl may have flown silently into the night, ‘Thor’s Hammer’ has just ignited H(j)EL(vik).
Interview by Will Oakeshott (@teenwolfwill)
HJELVIK’s new album Welcome To Hel is out now via Nuclear Blast Records. Purchase here
HJELVIK – Welcome To Hel track listing:
1. Father War
2. Thor’s Hammer
4. The Power Ballad Of Freyr
5. Glory Of Hel
6. 12th Spell
9. North Tsar