Canadian outfit VÖLUR are an interesting beast. Fusing elements of suffocating doom metal with sombre melodies of folk has gifted the band with a truly fresh and exhilarating soundscape. Whilst some bands settle for refining their sound from album to album, VÖLUR have opted for a truly ambitious effort; a staggering series of four concept records. 2017 saw the arrival of chapter two in this series, Ancestors (read our review here), and continues the band’s upwards trajectory in metal’s underground. Following the release of Ancestors we caught up with bassist/vocalist Lucas Gadke to talk about Ancestors‘s reception, the band’s vast influences to create their unique sound and divulging into their broad and intriguing concept behind their series of records.
So, your latest release, Ancestors, has been out for several weeks now. How have you found the early reception to your latest record?
Lucas: We’ve been very happy with the reception. Some people have taken the time to message us privately and say they enjoy the record and there have been some really positive reviews. We worked for over four years on the album so I’m glad it’s finally seeing the light of day and that people are enjoying it. We’ve gotten a lot of accolades from people we deeply respect as well which is a major bonus.
Ancestors is the second chapter in a four record series following last year’s Disir. How does Ancestors build upon the first chapter?
Lucas: The main difference is that it focuses on male narratives rather than female ones. This is based on the thinking that old societies, and those of old Germanic myth, were structured into different worlds, and those worlds were defined by those which inhabited them and the way they interacted with different beings and with different worlds. In a way, men and women were separated but in the same space, much as the more supernatural powers existed in the same place but on a different plane of existence. But ultimately these thematic guidelines are more of a framework and thematic palette for the composition process. I’ve definitely been into a lot of music with a strong conceptual basis, but ultimately the concept should not take precedent over the form as music is an emotional medium, loosely narrative. Sometimes if a piece is too conceptual it can get in the way of direct enjoyment. Of course, the emotions and themes from old European myths are still there, but really the music should be about form. I read a biography of Shostakovich a while back which talked about the Soviet Union’s obsession with program music and it’s war against bourgeois formalism (music for music’s sake). I feel that Shostakovich was able to walk a really great middle path between the two sides of the issue by having large-scale thematic works, but starting with the music and working backwards. I work the opposite way, but I hope the result is similar.
Having a four record series is a massive and rather ambitious effort. Can you give an insight into where this concept originated from?
Lucas: Like I said previously, having a conceptual framework helps me guide a composition. If you’re able to put yourself in a definitive mood and world then, at least to me, the music comes easier. I’m interested in dynamics in music, and to me dynamics form a large part of the narrative element in composition, especially when trying to build tension or create a definitive moment. At the same time, I wanted to challenge myself. The idea came from conceiving the first EP and then extrapolating from there. In a small way, limiting myself to female and human characters would cut me off from talking about really interesting figures in Germanic mythology – where most of the textual inspiration comes from – like Siegfried or Freyja or Egil. So it came from wanting to slightly broaden the palette I draw from.
Whist Disir dealt with themes surrounding female figures from mythology, Ancestors focuses on the male counterparts. Was this always the intent, to be the polar opposite to chapter one?
Lucas: I don’t think it’s opposite, necessarily. Men and women are humans, therefore, share much of the same characteristics. The change in music is an organic one, I think. And it comes from us being able to tackle larger compositional ideas and bigger forms. The spirit of the music, I think will largely remain similar. Music has a tough time being shoehorned into things like masculine or feminine unless they start to become parodies of themselves. It’s more of a further exploration of this aesthetic world we’re looking at.
The whole four record concept is based around elements of the old Germanic spiritual world. Why did you decide to focus this series on this particular subject?
Lucas: Well, it’s something I’ve always been interested in, something that’s inspired me and something that I’ve never seen done in a way that pleased my aesthetic. There’s a lot of Viking metal and other things but it doesn’t incorporate things like weirdo noise and 12 tone music. I wanted to bring the world of the Vikings out of the mead hall and into the world of world literature where it rightly belongs. Not that I can or am doing this, I mean I’m just making loud, noisy music. It also came from the hours I spent reading the Sagas of Icelanders, and sort of, hearing music in my head from the mood of these ancient tales. I wanted to create music that would reflect the way I felt: being whisked off to another time and place, which is exceptionally moving.
And whilst both Disir and Ancestors have focused their themes on both male and female figures in mythology, can you give an insight into what chapter three and four will address?
Lucas: Chapter three and four will focus more on the supernatural. The next record will deal with the most fanciful subjects by looking at the gods and goddesses while the fourth will deal with the spirits that inhabit the land. Literally bringing it back down to earth. As I mentioned previously, this was a way to challenge myself in writing, to work within a thematic framework. And with this I like the idea of expanding the scope. The tough part will be trying not fall into clichés while dealing with more supernatural subjects. One reviewer so far mentioned that the album was not bogged down by the concept behind. I felt very proud reading that. My hope is that I could have avoided talking about its themes and just presented it as music and people could have still enjoyed it.
Now, onto the music itself. VÖLUR’s sound is broad and expansive touching base with doom, black metal, folk and progressive elements. Can you explain some of your biggest musical influences?
Lucas: As a band we come from a wide variety of backgrounds and influences. Laura [Bates, vocals/violin] and Jimmy [Lightning, drums] both come from the post-rock world. But Jimmy and Laura have both played in metal bands and tons of other projects. On top of that Laura and I have played folk and traditional jazz on top of country and a whole host of other weird things. So there’s all this music bouncing around in our head, and when you do that, I believe you’re more capable of seeing commonalities between different genres and are able to mix things a little more fluidly. Influences tend to focus on what we’ve been hungry for. I’ve been listening to a lot of Webern and Shostakovich, alongside ULVER, OM, OBLITERATION and EARTH. Always lots of EARTH. There is as well a bit of my obsession with 50s and 60s ethnographic records (like Folkways or Ocora) and the rawness of field recording from that age. There’s a bit of zäuerli in there, a bit of Swedish fiddle music, and a bit of HIGH TIDE (in the violin sound!). And of course we’re big fans of terrifying sludge like CORRUPTED and EYEHATEGOD as well as newer bands like WOLVSERPENT and SUBROSA.
With members being involved in other musical projects, has any of the other projects had any influence into the sound of VÖLUR?
Lucas: I think it would be impossible to play any kind of music and not have your other projects influence your current work. The thread between our other projects has encouraged the complexity of our compositions. This is evident, I think, in DO MAKE SAY THINK and BLOOD CEREMONY; Jimmy, Laura and I have no problem keeping a ton of music in our heads because we’ve done it so much before.
And with VÖLUR’s overall sound being so extensive how difficult is your creative process of crafting songs and honing your sound for this series of records?
Lucas: In my opinion, There has to be the mysterious mix of organic composition and through composed aesthetics. There’s no magic formula. I prefer to have a collaborative writing process. So while most of the main ideas can come from one member of VÖLUR, the melodies, structures, lengths and sound are a more democratic venture. Sometimes something will be written with deliberate holes to be fleshed out. Wishing to be grandiose and having a limited palette (in a manner of speaking, we are just three people and no guitar), you are forced to be creative and to think about the details of every part you’re playing. So when we formed VÖLUR, we were prepared to be challenged creatively. And of course, we welcome that. Of course, there’s a good amount of time where Laura and I just stare at each other inquisitively when we’re stuck on a part. But if you keep playing it, you may come across something. Or not! Sometimes you’re on the bus and something hits you. I have a bunch of voice memos and texts that I’ve sent to Laura detailing chord progressions and ideas.
Ancestors is out now via Prophecy Productions.
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