Árstíðir Lífsins between Odin and Monks
Árstíðir Lífsins have recently released one of the most incredible and awe inspiring albums that I have ever heard with “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” (“Óðinn and the God of the Monks”) an 81 minute masterpiece in metal history. Combining elements of Old Norse literature/stories, ambient/folk/modern instrumentation and numerous vocal styles, Árstíðir Lífsins have created an overwhelming tribute to the past and folklore of the countries of the north. Stefán was able to answer some questions regarding the band, the album and their philosophy……
Jeff (Folk-Metal.NL): First off, Stefan, congratulations are in order regarding “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn”, potentially my top album of the year. What has been the feedback regarding this amazing work been?
Stefan: Hello Jeff, the reactions to “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” have been fantastic so far. In fact, I didn’t come across a single bad review at all.
For those not familiar with Árstíðir Lífsins, what would be a simple way of describing the sound and philosophy of the project?
“It was the idea to approach Old Norse literature and art in a musically and lyrically sophisticated way gave birth to Árstíðir Lífsins which was founded by Árni and me in late 2008. As of today, the sound of Árstíðir Lífsins might be a unique mixture of Black Metal, influenced by earlier Enslaved, Primordial, mid-Bathory and several of the best 90’s Norwegian Black Metal bands. Furthermore, we have influences from melancholic and true Scandinavian and Icelandic Folklore bands and, not to forget, Classical and choral music of various kinds. In our music, both classical and folklore parts are strongly entangled with the metal elements.”
Árstíðir Lífsins translates to “The Seasons of Life” in Icelandic….how did you arrive at this as the name of this project? Is there a meaning behind it that is Icelandic in origin and has a deeper meaning than its face value?
“The band’s name has mainly two meanings: first, it is a (in-) direct reference to the great corpus of Skaldic poetry which generally includes very complex expressions of historical and mythological subjects of the Old Norse world. Furthermore, and secondarily, the term Árstíðir Lífsins, or “The Seasons of Life”, represents the structural backbone of the lyrics of every album: on each of them, it is told that one or two main persons are born (or introduced) in late winter. Then, several parts of the story are told to happen in spring, summer and autumn until the main character(s) eventually die in winter again. The described division of seasons is not meant to represent a year’s circle, but a lifespan (or several lifespans) that are pictured in one circle of seasons.”
How would you compare “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” to your previous releases if possible? Is “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” a culmination of what you have done previously and was it an inevitable progression and conclusion? (Meaning…Were the previous releases building blocks to get to this point?)
“Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” is without doubt our best composed album so far. But, at the same time, it also refers in many ways to the previous recordings. We gradually built up a fundament of different sounds and personal abilities (such as choirs, classical instruments and further added Skaldic stanzas), which we finally were able to use the way we had in mind since several years. We know, however, that “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” is not our perfect – and last – record. We are always on the move and never rest on the work we just finished. In fact, we have already recorded a new EP with about 40 min. play time which will hopefully still be released in late 2015 via Ván Records.”
“Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn” translates to “Óðinn and the God of the Monks” from Old Icelandic…is it possible to give a “brief” explanation of the title and concept behind it?
“The title sums up the overall content of the album in a very elegant way. Generally, the (in parts fictional) story is based on the very complex religious and political situation Iceland was in in the late 10th and early 11th century. The Christians, that were of course already among the earliest Norwegian and Irish settlers in the later 9th century, became more powerful in the late Icelandic 10th century and started to fight against the heathen customs of their fellows. It finally culminated in the well-known, mostly peaceful conversion of Iceland in 999/1000. The displayed religious diversity (and melting pot of morals and religious exegesis) is what the title of our new album is about: It represents Skaldic expressions, both for the (probably) main heathen god Óðinn, and the god of the monks (which is one of the earliest known Skaldic expressions for the Christian god). Both represent the main religious currents of the Icelanders in the mentioned time span.”
This album is 81 minutes long with tracks averaging 9 minutes in length.
Conceptually, was it necessary to have songs be longer to tell the story more appropriately?
“Since the very start of the band in 2008, the song writing stayed the same. Thus, it would definitely destroy the whole atmosphere of the band, of an album or even an EP or Split, if we suddenly start to change our song writing to shorter and differently arranged patterns.
Assuming there was a concept to the album, how then did the songs/tracks come about? Were titles/ideas and lyrics written prior to music, vice versa or was the entire process completed simultaneously?”
“With “Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn”, we composed and recorded the songs just as we did on the previous albums. Both the main lyrics and the musical backbone of the songs, the initial guitar riff-arrangements, are always written at around the same time span of two or three weeks of intensive composition. Afterwards, everything else is added to the music, while the classical instruments traditionally are recorded at the end. Between the first riff-arrangements and the finally mastered product are often twelve or fifteen months or continuous work, which also includes all visual aspects of a release.”
An album of this magnitude appears to me to be a daunting task to put together….was it easy or difficult for you? Was there a point in the process that it seemed to be somewhat overwhelming to commit to such an enormous undertaking?
“As our new album represents our third full length in only seven years of existence, we have already established a very exact idea of what we want to express with a release. Thus, even if the amount of recorded tracks and further added sounds slightly increased with the new album, we still know where we want to head to. Thus: No, we never faced any difficulties with the complex arrangements we created in the past.”
Is there any real concern about how this is “reviewed” or perceived in the grand scheme of the music world?
“Not in regards to the composition process. We of course appreciate all reviews and comments we come across, both positive and negative, they have no influence on our creative writing whatsoever. We create our music in a very hermetic setting, which remains uttermost important for us during the time of composing and the subsequent recordings.”
What other influences do you have besides the Sagas that are included in your process, be it music, literature, etc.?
“I could only write for myself and I certainly do not represent the taste of the other core members of the band entirely. But I think the general impression might be representative for the others as well. I’m listening to quite a wide variety of music outside of metal and am sure that all of it has its influence in one way or another; be it (modern) choral and classical music, rock, melancholic pop, electro-influenced downbeat and further metal-unrelated genres. As for the asked literature, however, we are mostly looking on the available main sources such as the Family sagas, kings’ sagas and of course the vast corpus of Skaldic poetry. But we also look at quite many secondary texts such as modern (and serious) scientific literature and currents to lift the lyrics on a level that is most trustworthy and, at the same time, also readable for those, who are not concerned any Old Norse-related literature, mythology and historical topics in general.”
Do you feel it necessary to be considered a “metal” band first with touches of traditional/folk instrumentation? In other words, has there ever been a thought to being exclusively acoustic?
“No, not so far. We feel very home in the metal genre and will certainly not erase this part from our music. Black Metal, with its various sub genres, is just too important for us. It enables us to express our lyrics and visions in a very suitable way.”
The songs are spoken/sung in Old Icelandic. How does this vary from contemporary Icelandic? Was there ever consideration to use a different language or were there too many limitations in doing that?
“Old and New Icelandic has certainly more in common than other old and modern Scandinavian languages, for example Modern and Old Norwegian (which is near to Old Icelandic). We use in our lyrics, however, quite an impressive list of Skaldic kenningar and heiti, which give the whole text a very mythological and archaic touch. These Old Norse-Icelandic expressions are generally harder to understand for modern Icelanders due to the very cryptic and mythological content. So far, we were not concerned to use any other language than Old Icelandic as the language is so strongly related to the historical topic we are dealing with in our lyrics. Latin, however, might be suitable to use for some more Christian-related topics, but we have not ruled this out so far.”
Is there ever a possibility of touring even if was for a one time performance?
“No, unfortunately not. Currently we are living in three different countries and even a single rehearsal becomes impossible due to our daily commitments. The idea of playing live, however, is not forgotten and we will definitely try to get the band on stage at some point in the future.”
“Again, thank you for presenting us to the readers of folk-metal.nl and for the interesting questions!. For those who became interested in Árstíðir lífsins: Our new album, just as all previous releases, is free for listening at our own BandCamp website.