A while ago I was introduced to Danish folk metal band Svartsot. And what is more interesting than to ask a folk metal band some questions?! Fortunately lead guitar player Cris was kind enough to answer my questions. Here’s the result!
Hey how’s life?
‘Things are pretty cool at the moment!’
Please introduce yourself and your band briefly.
‘My name’s Cris and I play lead guitar in Svartsot. I also write a greater part of the music and most of the lyrics.
Svartsot was started in the beginning of 2005 with the intention of combining Nordic folk music with metal, primarily death metal. We accomplish this by using a mixture of standard metal instruments with folk music instruments, mainly whistles but also mandolin in some places. The vocals are predominantly in the form of growls and all lyrics are in Danish and are generally about beers, battles and bitches set against a backdrop of Nordic mythology and Danish folklore.’
What does Svartsot mean and how did you come up with it?
‘Svartsot means “black sickness” in older Danish. It is the name of a type of jaundice that causes the patient’s skin to turn black. Untreated, this disease will kill the patient, and it was a reasonably common cause of death in the medieval period. Some of the original band members had previously played in a band together, and we had considered using the word as a song title. When we started Svartsot, it was an obvious choice of name for the band.’
As Denmark boasts such a long and eventful history, what do you think is the reason there are so few folk metal bands from Denmark?
‘That’s a good question. But then again, Denmark has always stood in the shadow of Norway and Sweden, when it comes to metal. I think one of the reasons is the popularity of death metal here in Denmark. There are quite a lot of death metal bands here, and not many really consider combining death metal with folk music. I believe that there are a couple other folk metal and Viking metal bands here, but they haven’t really done too much. I’ve certainly never heard of them playing live.’
Without wanting to kiss ass here, I really like your album! I definitely dig folk metal this way, but I can’t help but being a bit bored by it when I listen to it too long. How do you think about that? I mean, can you listen to folk metal all day long?
‘All music genres can get monotonous if you don’t listen to anything else. All the band members have varied tastes in music, so there isn’t any of us who only listens to folk metal. One or two of the members hardly listen to any folk metal at all. I think we would probably go mad if we didn’t listen to anything else at least some of the time.’
What is it that fascinates you most about folklore?
‘There are many cool stories to choose from, and many interesting creatures. Folk stories have always interested me, and it’s a fitting theme for lyrics for this type of music. I think the thing that fascinates me the most is the dry humour in many of the tales, and that there is quite an erotic side to it too. There are many stories of young men being led astray by elfin women and stuff like that.’
How do you prepare a new album? I mean, do you do a lot of research into folklore and if so, on what grounds do you select the themes?
‘The main thing that dictates a lyric is how the music sounds. I feel that the two things should fit as closely as possible. When we have decided the exact feeling of the music, we will often discuss how the lyric should develop. As I stated earlier, the mythical and folkloric content of the lyrics is mainly a backdrop for the theme. We work out what the lyric should be about and find a tale that fits. But we don’t really research deeply into it, other than reading books on the subject. Several of us have always been interested in this heritage, so we know a fair bit about it already.’
You just released your new album, Ravnenes Saga, what is it in this myth that made you decide to name the album after?
‘There is not actually any myth called Ravnenes Saga. We made the title up after discussing many possible titles. The title translates into English as “Saga of the Ravens”, and we had Odin’s two ravens, Hugin and Munin (thought and memory) in mind. These two would sort of go on a spying mission each day, and report to Odin what they had seen upon their return in the evening. Seeing as the lyrics are about several different things, we felt that a “general” title like Ravnenes Saga was quite appropriate.’
How are the reactions to the album so far?
‘Generally the response has been quite good. We have also had a couple of bad reviews, as could be expected when you release an album like this. These people just don’t seem to get the album, and they certainly don’t understand why we have mixed folk music and death metal. But if they’re happy to listen to the same album by twenty different bands, then that’s fine by me.’
Assuming that Svartsot will make more albums in the future, do you already have any idea(s) about the themes you want to use? Why these themes?
‘We have actually started writing new material for a possible follow up to Ravnenes Saga, but we haven’t got any lyrics done yet. I guess that the themes will still be in the same vein, although they will be presented in different ways. There are still many more tales to choose from.’
I did an interview with another folk metal band (Cruachan) in the past and back then I was told that they couldn’t play all the instruments live that you hear on the album. How’s that worked out in a live show of Svartsot?
‘We have the same problem. There are no guest musicians on the album, and everything is played on real instruments, so it is impossible for us to play the whole lot in the live setting. If you take the intro to ‘Jotunheimsfærden’, for example, there are two clean guitars, acoustic guitar, mandolin and whistles all at once, there is simply no way we could do this live. But that’s part of the charm of the studio. You can do all of these things. I can’t see anything wrong with having a live sound and a recording sound. You have to think about it like this. The concerts are a momentary thing, there is something for all of the senses, pretty much, and it is a whole experience on itself. The recorded work has to be heard many times, so the more that can be discovered or experienced each time the better.’
What’s the future going to bring for Svartsot? (Touring, upcoming releases etc.)
‘We have a few gigs around Europe lined up for the next half a year or so and a mini-tour with Týr scheduled for January. We’re also hoping to do a longer tour at sometime early next year, but there is nothing planned yet. As mentioned earlier, we’re working on new material at the moment, but it’s far too early to talk about releases at the time being. We have a few other ideas, like maybe a video, but that may be a little while off yet.’
There’s this DVD called: “Metal: A Headbangers Journey”. It’s a documentary I think every metalfan should check out at least once. The question the documentary is based on is: “Why is metal music consistently stereotyped, dismissed and condemned?” Why do you think it is that way?
‘I’ve seen the DVD; we actually watched it one evening whilst at the studio. I think that it is due to a lot of peoples misunderstanding and unwillingness to try to understand. They see the image, and have maybe heard a little, but don’t dare to really listen. It’s their loss. I think that folk metal is perhaps one of the only genres where non-metal people actually are willing to listen to the music. In that respect we’re very lucky in that respect.’
Stupid question then: in movies, who do you prefer; Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone?
‘Schwarzenegger, no question about it. Conan beats Rambo any day.’
In one sentence: why should people check out Svartsot?
‘Because we have cool folky melodies and kick-ass metal riffs.’
That was my final question, anything left to add to this interview?
‘Not really. We just hope that people will enjoy the album, and will come and see us if we play a town near them.’
Thanks goes out to Mike from Hard Life Promotion and Cris from Svartsot for answering the questions.