From Dawn to Twilight
Sweden’s Midvinterblot have issued their debut album entitled “Skymning” and what an impressive debut it is. Blending traditional instrumentation with upbeat metal has never sounded so good and has a potential to be on a multitude of top debut album lists. Drummer Samuel Byström was able to answer some questions for us regarding the new album, the writing and recording process and a few other things, check it out!
Congrats on your amazing debut album “Skymning”, what have you received as far as feedback regarding it so far?
“Thank you very much! Thus far the feedback has been really positive, I get the impression that Skymning has struck home with many listeners. Especially “Gammeldans” I have heard good things about, which feels reassuring as it is a track that I feel showcases many of our musical strengths both technically and sound-wise.”
Dawn and Twilight
You released an EP in 2015 entitled “Gryning” (“Dawn”) as this album is entitled “Skymning” (“Twilight”) is there a connection or common thread between the two and if so, what?
“Well, yes and no. Since none of the releases are concept-albums, it would be incorrect to connect them too intimately in that respect; however, there are definitely reasons to view them as two sisters or brothers. Firstly, there is the fact that they are both our first ‘real’ releases; of course, we did have our demo “Rise of the Forest King” out since 2011, but as we developed our sound, “Forest King” became less and less relevant. “Gryning” as an EP, but also that song in particular turned rather prototypical for how we arrange our music – with seven musicians and a minimum of six instruments, it becomes important to carefully consider each role in a song, and I feel that it was with “Gryning”, and to an extent “Demise”, that we really started thinking like that from the beginning.
Thus, “Skymning” became something of a playground where we could bring that creative thought to full force. One great point of feedback that I personally feel extremely proud of is praise of how varied our songs are, yet none feels out of place, and that was ambition of quality that I put great emphasis on: it should never get repetitive and boring, but we cannot have nine special snowflake songs jumping about the place like the cast of a children’s cartoon either. So yeah, they are varied, yet there is this mood that I feel is carried throughout the entire album.
So yeah, you could say that the sun went up, and the sun went down, and then we had the Midvinterblot sound!”
Were there songs that were written back in 2015 that didn’t appear on “Gryning” that appear on “Skymning” and why was that the case?
“Oh, definitely. When Gryning was released, we already had “Eldföda”, “Gammeldans” and “Natthamn” in our regular setlists, and the reason is quite simple: we originally had an ambition to release “Gryning” at least two years earlier. There are several reasons why this didn’t happen, but eventually with the delays and such we decided that the track list would hold and we would save the newer songs for the future. I stand by that choice as I feel that when listening to “Gryning” and then moving on to “Skymning”, you can almost draw a line between the point where we were still testing the waters and where you can tell that yes, this is it.”
Fully-fledged lil’ troll
How does the overall song writing and recording process work for Midvinterblot? Does everyone contribute democratically or does one person start the process with either lyrics or music?
“Stefan (bass, formerly flutes) is the main songwriter. He has an ability to get out into the night, have an epiphany and then come by rehearsal with a half or whole song in Guitar Pro. Once we have the framework down we start changing parts, adding new sections, developing vocal arrangements, and so on, and after a week or three, his embryo has grown into a fully-fledged lil’ troll for us to play with. This means that both our improvisers and our planners get equal time with the material, which suits us well.
Lyrically, Stefan wrote everything for Gryning, but for Skymning, I generally took over the reins. Stefan still penned “Natthamn” and “Hörgr”, though, and when that happens he generally shows up with something finished or close to finished. I generally write lyrics by listening to a demo-version of the song continuously for an hour or so, often with a pre-determined concept that seems fitting (sometimes suggested, sometimes my own) in the back of my mind, and then I start toying with it, writing down whatever comes on impulse, and then rewriting, adding, removing and generally editing the text until it feels like the song reaches its goal.
With that said, we are very democratic in our approach to our music and everyone is free to contribute their own ideas or even entire songs, it just happens that thus far, Stefan has been the prime systematic creative force in Midvinterblot.”
I could imagine “Gammeldans” or “Eldföda” in English, as they explore a dance-with-devil and tragic-revenge-theme respectively, but “Hörgr” or “Trollbryggd” are very Nordic, and “Dènya” has such a dense level wordplay and imagery that it would need a complete rewrite just to make it spiritually justified”
How did you arrive at your sound? Was it just a matter of all of the pieces/musicians coming together and consciously deciding or did it come more organically?
“Our sound developed very organically. I mentioned earlier that there is a distinct jump in complexity and certainty between “Gryning” and “Skymning”, and that some songs on the album were around for the EP; this is basically the reason why.
Our earlier songs were, in my opinion, quite stable in their approach – they kind of decided on a pace and kept that level through several similar sections that were kept distinct with a melody or a rhythm in the vocals. We have not dropped that, as can be heard in songs like “Munskölj”, but I feel that the palette has branched out from those seeds and become more varied. Organic is definitely the right word.”
Your lyrics are in Swedish with one exception in English (“Northern Lights”) Have you discussed doing more songs in English or does Swedish make more sense?
“Actually, the Swedish dominance in “Skymning” just kind of happened. One reason, I think, is that we already had a number of English texts from the EP, but also simply because we thematically landed in more distinctly Swedish stories. Of course, I could imagine “Gammeldans” or “Eldföda” in English, as they explore a dance-with-devil and tragic-revenge-theme respectively, but “Hörgr” or “Trollbryggd” are very Nordic, and “Dènya” has such a dense level wordplay and imagery that it would need a complete rewrite just to make it spiritually justified.
Swedish is a fantastic language for lyrics as its relatively small size forces you to work more with nuance, metaphors and homophones than with exact meanings; conversely, English gives you far more freedom to shove an entire galaxy of expressions town the mind-throat of the listener, which makes for some amazingly vivid imagery. Unfortunately, I feel some lyricists, regardless of genre, go for the road of least resistance with English just because it is a convenient, global language. I think that you should always consider the strength and weakness of your chosen medium, and the wealth of English could absolutely be celebrated with more consideration. There will definitely be more English in the future!”
Stylistically, I was reminded of the seminal album “Nordavind” by Storm from 1995 (featuring Satyr from Satyricon and Fenriz from Darkthrone) Are there any albums in particular that may have influenced your sound and direction?
“Well, I can’t speak for the whole band so it feels a little unjust to establish that so and so were the main influences. The honest truth is that between us, most acts and genres are covered, meaning that while one of us may find inspiration in, say Otyg and Vintersorg, another is more into Iron Maiden, a third one loves Devin Townsend, and the fourth one is really obsessed with old Ensiferum and by extension Wintersun. I actually find it easier to move away from the metal influences and mention Swedish mainstream acts such as Roger Pontare and “Rövarsången” from Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, as well as folk songs like “Hårgalåten” being paramount if not to the sound in itself, then definitely to the spirit behind our music.
So to answer your question, I don’t feel that there is a single particular album that has been used as inspiration; not even a single artist or band. Instead, our sound is pretty much an amalgamation of all our members’ personal preferences developed by using the simple thought “wait, but what if this works better instead?”, and then running with it. When we played at the music contest Emergenza a few years ago, there were a couple of indie pop-fans who compared us with Flogging Molly, while someone else has pointed at the same songs and said “totally Korpiklaani”. So yeah, I’m not trying to go for the “difficult and independent”-route here, but I literally cannot point and say “there, there is the source”; there are too many.”
How important is the playing live experience for Midvinterblot? What are the pros and cons for you doing live shows?
“Oh, we live for live. It’s always a thrill to get on stage and share what we love with the crowd! The contact, the in-jokes, and that weird thing when you get so pumped up with adrenaline that every song seems to go on forever just because your mind is working at 200% is amazing! There are two big cons, though (I’d personally say three, but several members would disagree that me getting my own mic would be a good idea): first off we have the fact that we’re seven people with at least four microphones on stage as a minimum. This is not including the drums or any other mixed-up acoustic instruments. The result is generally that even experienced technicians tend to go “are you kidding me?” when we start sound checking, and in the beginning it was rare with checks under double the time expected; we were also eight members back then, so that added yet another voice to consider. Nowadays we have our own routine and the guys with the consoles are informed of our gear earlier, so it generally works out well!
Secondly we are seven people on often small stages, and most of us are rather voluminous, meaning that the wiggle-room is almost nonexistant. We prefer medium stages and up for this reason – it’s easier to keep guitars out of each other’s’ hair that way, and although we like close contact with the audience, we’d prefer not to knee them in the face to make room for a violin solo.
We aim for even more live in the future, and we’re currently planning for the summer!”
The album (at this point) has been primarily released thru your website via torrent, Youtube or on Soundcloud. Why not “sell” it via Bandcamp or another site? Will you have physical versions available at some point whether CD or LP?
“Well, we reasoned like this: if this album is going to be torrented, why not make sure the version is up to our standards? I have already been contacted by a friend from a completely different social circle than the Metal crowd, and he had found “Skymning” on a Russian “hottest torrents of the month”-site. I call that success!
We’re still a small band, and we don’t feel that we have the pathos to just say “here’s our stuff, buy or leave”; at this moment, we are more about reaching out. A physical copy of “Skymning” on CD is on its way, but in a limited number. If we get good response on it, of course we’ll press another batch. We believe in this album and in our fans’ interest in records, but it is a simple question of affording the order from the start!”
Any favorite albums from 2016?
“I personally fell in love with the self-titled debut album by “Utmarken”. It could just be a case of me getting patriotic for my home town of Skellefteå, but they generally got good response so at least I hope I’m recognising some genuine musical quality instead of just getting earwormed by “Välkommen Till Norrland” every time I feel even a moment’s frustration about living in a Stockholm apartment instead of a house up in Västerbotten.
The second album worth checking out is Raubtier’s “Bärsärkagång”. That trio is always a joy to hear, both live and on record, and the sheer intensity and brutality of their music combined with the well-constructed lyrics of Hulkoff lights a fire in you.
And not to alienate our non-Swedish-speaking readers I just feel it fit to mention that the video to Korpiklaani’s “Man with a Plan” is adorable!”
“Well, if you’ve read this far I’m impressed. We’re talking about rambles reaching two thousand words, well done!
Jokes aside, I want to finish this by emphasising how grateful we are for the responses we get. To our music. We love what we do and we love our fans, so comments on our social media, emails, encouragement and questions are all answered earnestly. We want to create and we want to entertain, so interacting with those who enjoy what we do is a huge boost.
Keep on listening, sharing, and commenting, because we will keep on creating, and if you want us to play somewhere, we are definitely open for suggestions!