Hi! Can you elaborate on how the environment of Iceland shapes your creative process and lyrical themes?
Hello Antichrist magazine!
For this new album the lyrics were not specifically inspired by Icelandic nature, but living here in conditions that are sometimes harsh and having majestic, magnificent views outside your window has often inspired creativity indeed. But basically I am mostly inspired by other things and this label of Helfró being so inspired by the nature of Iceland came from somewhere unknown.
How do you think your sound has evolved since the debut, especially with the release of your sophomore album “TÁLGRÖF”?
Yes, in a multitude of ways. First of all we´ve taken a different direction and focused quite a bit more on the death metal side of things. We also got Mark Lewis on board with us from the start and he ended up stepping up as a co-producer. He took the lead on all matters pertaining to gear selection, set-up and recording methods in detail. Being huge fans of his previous work, we were extremely happy and trusted him 100% during the process. The end result is an album where we are absolutely thrilled with the sound of the drums and string instruments, and he complimented them perfectly with the symphonic elements we´d created, without overshadowing them at any point.
How do you strike a balance between aggression and atmosphere, ensuring both are equally potent in your compositions?
I personally think that aggression is very atmospheric in of itself. I always want to create music that is majestic in its ferocity as I don´t listen to many slower paced bands myself. I get the biggest kick out of music that brings a certain level of auditory violence through speed and aggression. At the same time, you must have unnerving melodies, evil riffs for for lack of a better word. I´ve always enjoyed melodic bands such as some of the classics from the Swedish scene, but I also like to use some disharmonic elements as well.
Could you delve into the thematic elements of your latest album “TÁLGRÖF”? What inspired the introspective and thought-provoking themes explored in this record?
The lyrics were all inspired by the written and spoken words of famous mass murderers. Some of the tracks speak of personality traits that these wicked individuals seem to have in common with each other. For example “Ildi Óhreins Anda” is about manipulation and lying, “Traðkandi Blómin í Eigin Hjartagarði” talks about deliberate desensitisation to violence and so on and so forth. The album is about trying to peek inside the mind of people with compulsive violent thought processes.
Icelandic winters are famously harsh and bleak. Do you find that these harsh natural conditions seep into the emotions you convey through your music?
It definitely has done so in the past, for example on “Þrátt Fyrir Brennandi Vilja” from the debut album, it speaks about the frozen wastelands and the loneliness that can be experienced there. I´ve always thought that black metal specifically is a great soundtrack to those bleak winter months.
Ragnar, you founded HELFRÓ and are the drummer and songwriter. How does your vision shape the overall direction of the band, musically and conceptually?
Helfró is an outlet for my wish to create the contradiction that is melodic and moving atmosphere that is woven with ferocity and sometimes a hint of technicality. I am already part of other bands that focus either on hyper-technicality or pure atmosphere, but Helfró is simply a sum of the type of metal that I like the most. Mayhem (blasphemer era), Abigor, Thorns, Lord Belial, Kult ov Azazel, Hate Eternal and more bands like that come to mind.
Are there specific mythologies or belief systems that particularly inspire your lyrics and overall artistic direction?
Not really, no. At a certain age I pretty much fully stopped buying into the “spiritual” image that some bands have tried to convey, and I usually always cringe when I hear adults describe stuff of that nature. If I hold any supernatural or superstitious beliefs, they are extremely personal and would not be adequately shared through text. I absolutely loathe modern paganism and other type of hippie viking shit that people often associate with the Nordic countries. Metaphors and mythical role models can certainly be useful, but again, I feel like that is very personal. I believe in the duality of man and I embrace both sides within myself.
How do you approach the visual aspects of HELFRÓ, and how do they complement your sonic vision?
I try to create a rich idea document with metaphors and information that can be interpreted in various different ways before handing it to the visual artist. Good artwork can elevate an album to a whole different level and that is definitely what is happening this time around with the masterful insight and execution that Grindesign provided for us. I am not a visual artist and I am repeatedly in awe of what these types of artists can summon forth, and very grateful that we have such an excellent collaboration. I´m flattered that artists on that level are willing to have their works linked with the music of Helfró.
How do you perceive the reception of your music in Iceland compared to the international audience, and do you think being Icelandic brings a distinct flavour to your music?
I don’t think too many Icelandic people are interested in or even aware of Helfró. The vast majority of our following comes from abroad. There is a thriving scene here in Iceland and the main music style being played is very different from what Helfró is about. It feels more like punk music at times, with less emphasis on musicianship and more on image and theatrics, which is perfectly fine but it’s simply not the way I approach music. I don´t think being Icelandic makes much difference to the style of music I create, I like to think that my inspiration and output transcend my physical position in the world.
How do you find inspiration in the chaos of the human experience, and how does it translate into your songwriting process?
I think it’s very interesting to explore the extremes where humans can go in their behaviour, be it committing acts of heroism or evil. It’s fascinating to imagine that the upbringing and genetic composition of a certain person can fall on either side and dictate their behaviour in certain circumstances, where they would either choose to fight for themselves or for some perceived greater good. Lots to think about and explore in that regard.
Are there any artists or bands you dream of collaborating with in the future, and why do you think your styles would mesh well together?
Absolutely, I very much entertain the idea of approaching other artists for a guest role on upcoming albums. I have a few vocalists in mind, some of which are no longer active in the scene but were very impactful during their time. I’d love to have some of my favourite guitarists on for a guest solo or a collaborative songwriting on a song, and I´ve even flirted with the idea of a guest drummer.
The metal community is diverse, and fans often have deep connections with the lyrics and themes of the bands they follow. How do you perceive the relationship between your music and your listeners, especially considering the profound themes you explore?
That is very difficult to gauge as the lyrics were never released for the debut album. This coupled with the fact that most of our following comes from abroad, I don’t have direct feedback from fans. I imagine that the main thing they connect to with the music of Helfró is this feeling of majestic and atmospheric fury that I try to create with the project. At least for me, that is an addictive feeling that I seek out in other bands.
Could you share insights into your recording process and how you achieve that perfect balance between rawness and clarity?
There are many reasons for the sound on the new album, which we are by the way extremely happy with. The approach might be surprisingly simple, and we purposefully took many decisions in an effort to keep things simple and manageable. For example, the cymbals and drum heads were specifically selected with limited frequency range in mind, the microphones used had quite a narrow spectrum and a flat personality profile. This is to give everything space in the mix and not having to battle rouge frequencies that should be free for other elements, such as vocals or guitars. We moved away from the quad-tracking of guitars that has been so dominant in recording methods of the past decade in metal and focused instead on one solid track on each side. There are lots of things like this that resulted in the sound on Tálgröf, and most of them came from Mark Lewis. On top of it all, I´d like to mention that we scream our fucking lungs out during vocal tracking. No whispering or low-volume vocal techniques. I personally feel like that adds a lot of power to the songs.
Looking forward, what are the future aspirations of HELFRÓ? Thank you for your time!
We are going to focus on bringing Helfró to the stage early next year. Stay tuned for a release show announcement!
Thank you very much for your interest in Helfró! Cheers!
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