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King Of Asgard's Karl Beckman: "The past is always crawling and makes its way no matter what. It's present whether one likes it or not, hostile or benevolent…"

Interview with Jonas Albrektsson & Karl Beckman from King Of Asgard
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 02 August 2021, 11:25 PM

To connect with one's land, a legacy that has been trailing for hundreds of years, ancient myths and legends, stories told from one to the other, for every ear that is willing to listen, for centuries, generation after generation. To get in touch with one's roots and heritage, now that is quite something, and to be inspired to write about it in order to tribute its significance, that is quite a challenge to make. The Swedish King Of Asgard has been connecting to their past for some time now, it results in wonderful creations, and now comes in "Svartrviðr", letting the listener slide into the darkened path of the woods. Steinmetal took a small journey to wander about and try to find answers in regards to the magical music engulfing. 

Hello guys, it is a mighty great pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things on your end sirs?

Hey and thanks for having us, our pleasure! Things are just fine over here, vacation mood is on after some really hectic times with things opening up again after the corona incident, but, seems like another run is coming our way. Nonetheless, our album is out and we can finally hold the offspring in our hands and we are more than happy with that and its outcome, so with that, all good over here we guess.

The Covid-19 weather forecast says that things are going for the better, perhaps there is a good chance to see people coming back to normal once again. How do you view this slow return to normality? Do you believe that it would be truly the same as it was prior to the pandemic?

Sure as it seems but still there is a storm cloud coming in with yet another round but hopefully it'll pass easy this time with big parts being vaccinated and so forth. Over here things are pretty much as normal these days and we can start attend shows and public arrangements yet not to the scale as before but at least there is some light in the tunnel. It's still too early to say as the return without restrictions just began so we're not yet in normality or even close and people are really affected still and so forth.

It appears that we will live with the pandemic foot prints for many years to come before we ever get back as prior, if we ever will that is. Probably what will most be noticeable is bigger events such as festivals and the like which probably will change its manners in several ways. Just go with it and live along and see. Maybe one have learned some on the way. So, it'll probably not be as before the pandemic but surely better than the last couple of years that's for sure.

King Of Asgard took its time in order to create new material, and I am sure that the pandemic helped you out with its restrictions for the live scene and shut down of culture. Would you say that this period of time actually boosted the efforts on the new record? How did it feel to work without any watchful eyes of pressure over you?

Absolutely, this boosted us as well as left us with less pressure as you say. We took the (pandemic) opportunity to get the material put together and finalized in the studio. When the pandemic first started we were close to finished with the material for the album so we hooked Magnus 'Devo' Andersson up to see if there was studio time available in Endarker Studio available during spring/summer of 2020. As he was positive and glad we called we immediately started to rehearse and fix the final touches for our own pleasure and personal perfection, which felt really good and was a great push and boost.

In Sweden at that time things worked very much as during normal circumstances. There were, or always was, just regulations and personal restrictions under sole responsibility. Thus we could rehearse if everyone, of course, was healthy and the same goes for the studio. We were allowed to enter the studio and welcome as long as we were healthy and so forth obviously and we took great care to not risk anything or spoil the sessions and the progression of the album. Some stuff was recorded at home and some of the sessions, or many were made only with one participant and Devo at the studio to avoid trouble in such case. So, we were allowed to meet and work all of us but worked, if possible, alone as well.

Devo also did a lot of work alone in the studio with for example sound tests, mixing-proposals and such things which we then had time to study before we entered the next time. Basically the pandemic only had benefit on the work and recording of 'Svartrviðr'. We had more time off our regular daytime jobs. There were more focus and opportunities on how and when we did our sessions in the studio and much thanks to Devo for being flexible and as keen as us to get the best result possible under such circumstances and the circumstances probably made the album better in many ways and, again, left us very much without any pressure. Now, looking back it was all a smooth and positive ride in terms of the album being finalized that is.

That new record was titled, “Svartrviðr”, in English “Black Wood”. At first I thought that it was as simple as a title, even straightforward, mentioning a part of a burnt wood, a sort of a memento or remains. On the other hand, quickly enough I dismissed the thought that tried to figure out why exactly and the symbolism. What is that “Black Wood” for you? Is it a sign of destruction maybe?

An interesting view and take as it translates also the way you put it. It could have fit as well in terms of memento and the cycle of return, death and rebirth. Destruction and renewal. Anyway how we depict and translate 'svartrviðr' is black forest or rather black woods - the black vastness and the expanses in between. The actual title represents the album in many ways as some or many of the lyrics and its content reflect upon our surroundings and the myths and heritage it blesses us with. I believe more or less all the songs have something that has references to what we came to call 'svartrviðr' still not being referred to as a concept album but rather an album with conceptual similarities.  'Svartrviðr' is a praise and homage to the soil we walk on and to our ancestral paths. For example, is the songs 'svartrviðr' and 'kvikr' as well as 'ammobiærg' very local tales and well representing the albums overall concept. Thus, the actual title has left a very big mark on the whole of the album, both musically, lyrically and visually.

I must say that for the naked eye, the artwork materialized for me as the mythical Yggdrasil tree. However, inside looking closer, it is actually made out of hands, kind of freakish to be honest. What led to this perspective of that tree? Why the hands?

First of all we wanted to depict the title ‘svartrviðr' and the overall content and mood of the actual album. The sketch we first gave Mattis (Mattias Frisk, album cover artist) was quite different from what came to be yet we kept its layout and original style. Mattias came up with the idea to have a stronger connection to the previous album 'taudr' with the hands, obviously, growing out of the soil which is both conceptually and visually connected and resemble to that cover as well as in musical approach. The cover holds many clues that refer to the lyrics in general and especially to the title track 'svartrviðr'.

When we started to work on the ideas for 'Svartrviðr' we basically already had the concept and structure finished with spitting clouds, fire and rain over a gnarly wide forest and some other features which got erased and instead transformed into the hands and tree formation. The 'hand-tree' somewhat came to illustrate and should be understood as it's growing out of the dead soil. The triumphant hands of the past that outlived the ages, the hands of our heritage. Thus the hands. The past is always crawling and makes its way no matter what. It's present whether one likes it or not, hostile or benevolent. We wanted to depict our sound in visual form and the result and final outcome is something we are more than pleased with!

What kind of story does “Svartrviðr” tell? Is it considered a concept album or virtually standalone tracks that have an equal share into the main theme of the release?

The lyrical content and common thread, or the story told, on 'Svartrviðr' is our own and close ancestral surrounding. The nature we're blessed to live close to and the history that surround it or vice versa. 'Svartrviðr' is not any actual concept album (in classical terms) but close to it as most songs tend to act in these regions and cling on to each other though in a vague way. So it is standalones with equal connections.

There is a lot of history connected to the Viking age and so on around where we live and many myths and historical tales of all sorts which is topics that connect the theme. Within these local topics it's also easy to connect and refer to Norse mythology as they cling well together. There's 'kvikr' (i.e. 'living') for example, a song that reflects upon the Rök runestone, its grandness, located not far from our homes. The myths that surrounds it somewhat always current and never stagnate. It is often subject to new interpretations and stands untouched and broods on the truth in all its glare. Very fascinating in many ways. From there, off to a mountain seen from the actual stone we find Omberg which is the song 'ammobiærg' (old Swedish name for Omberg) that conceptually deal with the myths and grandeur it holds which also is present within some of the other lyrical content, especially in the song 'svartrviðr'.

For this album we first of all wanted the album title to be reminiscent to the one; 'taudr' and while we were about to look for that we came across many words that fit very well to the lyrics that was actual words taken from Swedish rune stones and thus also a connection through those titles and a thread across the lyrical contents. To conclude your question, yes, the songs/lyrics has equal share yet stand alone.

How does the general overview of “Svartrviðr” find you personally? When you listen to it, does it make you think or look forward into the future to find a sort of an answer?

What we achieved with 'svartrviðr' was what we expected and way above to be honest. We drained ourselves, pushed our barriers to the fullest and what we see in general overview is total satisfaction and a bright future in our very darkness lurk…

Different from your previous release, “Svartrviðr” shares a tracklist in Swedish and not in English. The songs themselves are sung in English alright but I wonder, why keep the titles in Swedish? What changed in your perception that led to this move?

Well, basically it is just an idea that grew on us from the very first steps with this album and then came into reality as we were really fond of the idea of having these kind of titles which, in our perception, fit perfect to the overall conception and extent of the album. It somehow has a genuine and authentic that chime to our expression. Mainly all the titles are taken from a Swedish runic word register or index. A list of words that appear from Swedish Viking-era runic scripts and inscriptions. The words/titles are all close connected to Icelandic but are genuinely found on Swedish soil and on carved stones. Words from the old Nordic languages of the time that then were intertwined. So basically it is words from Swedish runic inscriptions, Viking age that we refer and use along with the lyrical content. We have, and chose, the titles to keep a thread throughout the album, a sort of conceptual 'song-presentation'. But the lyrics are in English except for some small passages, but mainly as you say, sung in English. Also, it looks awesome in print and the layout - not to forget.

Sailing upon the fumes of your previous "Taudr" album, it appears that King Of Asgard is strongly manifesting itself as a special kind of Extreme Metal, within the margins of Black and Pagan Metal. I presume that the motivation to enhance and prolong the musical vibe of "Taudr" on “Svartrviðr” guided your state of mind?

Sure, we really feel we found our ways and set our mark in ways where we feel comfortable and satisfied. As, seem our followers and the ones writing and giving us space in the media buzz. What we've done in terms of writing is basically that we work just the way we started doing on 'taudr' when much was new within our ranks, thinking of member changes, studio change and so forth. Everyone felt our 'new' way of working was comfortable and the result was a much more worked through structure that everyone could stand behind and proudly put their names upon.

It was absolutely a continuation of that 'taudr'-vibe and it very much set the standards and guidelines of how to achieve and accomplish our aims with 'svartrviðr'. It's by far no rocket science or anything special in how King of Asgard write songs though it just carries a lot of heart and countless hours of conviction in the rehearsal place. It's probably very common but I'd say we do it really passionate and carefully, leaving nothing to chance. We create what we, ourselves, appreciate and mostly listen to and just hope for the best it get well received and much respect for what it is. We basically work as we've always did, we've just refined our implement to the better and where we feel safe. This album kind of kicks off where the other one, 'taudr', ended and thus it was important for us to keep the partners and similarities both in production and for the visuals and along came the atmosphere and state of mind. We want people to feel our struggle and intention and not just pass the senses untouched.

With King Of Asgard maintaining its evolution to the next level, what forms of lessons from the past did you take heed to in order to come up with a better end result in your music?

It's basically just that we've been pickier and not let anything left at chance. We try the material out very carefully when we write the songs and we do not hesitate to let the melodies turn, structures and parts bend and develop to its full during the process up until the day of final recording. We do not compromise just to fit in a normal structure but letting the song speak its own language and grow to its full extend and if that is to expand that is what it takes. This is probably why our songs tend to be very much longer than the average ones but it's also the way it has to be to get the whole picture. It's a nightmare in the studio and it's a nightmare for example when doing a lyric video but we believe we managed quite well in every aspect of such and hope our fans and followers enjoy and relish our musical language and bear with the length.

One always learn and develop during the years and every release and the confidence just grows greater thus the 'lessons' comes natural on what to do and what not. We rather expand and face the reality, no doubts about that and if that is to the better we are not to judge but we stand proud upon our compositions and what we offer and set loose.

I am positive that “Svartrviðr”, the next in line musical enhancer for you guys, wasn’t that of an easy task to make, even if the songwriting went fluently. Therefore, I ask, how would you say that this last period of time working on the new album improved you as a songwriter?

First of all, King of Asgard work much as an entity getting the pieces together. Probably much of this issue has been touched on some of the above answers. Anyway, 'svartrviðr' was at the beginning a struggle for sure as we kind of outdid ourselves on 'taudr' and at first didn't know which way to turn. We collected a whole lot of material for a long time and waited quite a while before putting it together to kind of grasp on the direction and which thread to follow, which as we said was a continuation of 'taudr'. The most natural decision.

The improvement was probably patience as a lot of material was thrown away or stored and took long time to finish up in the rehearsal but with the result in mind -again- it was all worth it. So, patience is a virtue and we learned a lot by following its steps. Also worth mentioning is that the use of simple structures, simple playing and monotonous execution has improved our expression which often is forgotten when talking of improvement. We've turned progressive without getting more advanced, or how to put it, which is an achievement in terms songwriting improvements.

Which kind of elements within the music on “Svartrviðr”, do you find as the game changers for the band within its rather intriguing, yet challenging, music market?

That's nothing we think of, the manners of a market. This is what comes out and in what way a music market reacts to it isn't our goal. This is probably easier for an outsider to both answer and put out and enlighten. We are kind of surprised that we are increasing in followers and spreading more than ever, perhaps while we have actually become more difficult to access and perhaps more difficult to appeal to but it might be that that is the reason why we shine through in the challenging music market. We stand out and leave nothing at chance.

Our productions have a thought behind every detail, be it music, lyrics, visual presentation and so on. Our strong melody language is also something that sticks out probably with the blend of folkish tunes along with 'traditional' metal, black or death, structures and melody lines.

Now, I know that you have been dark from the get go, yet I wonder, how did the band’s darkened nature come into effect towards the connection of the music and lyrics?

As influenced by black and death metal (and even folk music) in terms such as this comes natural, it's kind of the way it has to be to reach the full potential and sharpen all the senses to accompany the overall approach. When performing dark, barren and aggressive music the lyrical content has to follow that nature. Our progression to the darker nature than what was once, in the beginning, has followed a natural downward darker path along with the music which also has turned that way around. It is basically an interest and personal journey that reflect our expression and whereas we changed some members and so on the progression to this path has also felt natural and something that everyone stands fully behind.

We've matured, we've went through a lot of difficulties (personal, not band related) to say the least and King of Asgard has in a way been a channel to vent this and we thus progressed into a darker unit over the years. It is also natural as we grew up in all these surroundings offering dark and mysterious stories and tales, haunting landscapes and so forth. Since childhood until exploring and now letting go through King of Asgard, with heart and soul.

“Svartrviðr” was produced by ex-Marduk’s Devo, as mentioned, including the engineering of the album after the recording. How would you say that your vision for the sound of the band went hand in hand with Devo’s? How do you find the band’s sound in light of the album?

We once again recruited Magnus 'Devo' Andersson, yes, much do to the fact that we were very pleased with the outcome of 'taudr' where he really captured the music and found a well-fitting sound for its presentation. As did he with our vision of 'svartrviðr'. Devo works on our very first vision along with getting his own interpretation alive in the sound, producing the actual sounds and the whole production. He's getting down to our ugliest character to find what is fitting the most. He, for instance, sat many hours alone I believe working on the drums to get this dark and stripped down feel to it. Dry but still kicking, very fierce and forward driven accompanied in perfect glance along with the rest of the instruments.

Devo is extremely open minded musically and has a lot of influnces and takes on things. He's always moving forward and is very responsive on what we as a band try to achieve. So, he has the ability to evoke, us as a band or the album as a whole and capture the feeling and push our limits to the very best as he sees the potential and final result early in the process and thus the light of the album. We're grateful we took his advices seriously and kept many of them. Devo was a really important brick in what became the final result of 'svartrviðr'. Devo has the special gift and we work very well together and we are absolutely satisfied both as partners and as friends. Also the actual location brings some extra crawling darkness to the production as the studio is located inside a shelter… without light and utter outer impact.

With the ability to explore new horizons within the halls of “Svartrviðr”, embrace its twists between a violent nature and frosty atmosphere, I found a certain magic, and a soothing nature, within the self-titled. It is lengthy, actually reminding me of Falkenbach, but it is gripping. What can you tell in regards to the creation of this song?

This was the last one we wrote and conducted in the rehearsal place. It's simplicity and monotonous nature is something we worked hard on to get it feel right and perfect in length. It was played back and forth for months to get the right amount of rounds and so on. Not very interesting to know but things like that has to be carved in stone, one has to feel the length of the parts in the whole body to grasp when the decision is right and where to stop.

The music is as said monotonous and in struggle to kind of get a trance-like state and thus the vocals went the same way. Monotonous and repetitious, in a way boring in loss of a better word. Gripping is also something which we wanted to achieve with its arrangement, slowly moving and shapes changing in small steps along the way. Lyrically we're facing the myths and environment of, yet again, the mountain Omberg. The spoken part at the end being in native tongue and dialectal pronunciation. The svartrviðr - to wander the black vastness and the expanses in between.

Even though I am more of the heavier riffing kind of fan, always a sucker for the rhythm guitars, the heavier the merrier, I was captivated by the mixed nature of “Harmdauðr”. Enjoying the calmness of the acoustic guitar right before the belly of the beast was opened, sucking me in its ferocity. What did you wish to channel through this track? How did you know how to time the acoustics with the heavier edge?

This song is a bit different for sure, building a very sad sense for a long while, getting into mood and in calmness, leaving everything behind sort of. It's a song of parting or passing and is dedicated to our late fathers. The sorrow-laden moment ending in an abrupt ferocity and the wander off into darkness standing, and leaving, proud. The song is hard to describe but you captured it quite well which to us is even more important. Our music thus made impact and someone actually thought of what's going on. A goal achieved and some impressions that made sense!

Recently, the band Falconer ended its journey. Since you were a member of the legendary Mithotyn, have you considered the thought of perhaps trying to reunite the band with Stefan Weinerhall and Co.?

There have been talks of doing something every now and then during many years but nothing ever turns to reality for several reasons. We've had some serious discussions but it never gets to the next level and as things are now we believe it's the way it'll be. The effort needed is probably none of us at this moment at least ready to hold and if that is the case it's probably better to not get further into such idea. But, one should never say never but with the attempts we've made it's not likely it'll ever happened if that is to the point where we end. On the other hand, King of Asgard and all its duties is well and enough for covering the musical need and artistic expressions.

Karl and Jonas, it was a pleasure having you for this conversation. Thank you for delivering such a strong potential kind of a release. It was well crafted. All the best. Cheers.

Thanks to you for having us and supporting King of Asgard!!! And, thanks for all the kind words and interesting takes on our material and latest effort, it strengthens us! Stay safe and take care


 
 



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