Alvenrad have returned after a 3-year hiatus with a new album for a new label for them. “Heer” is to be released on December 8th on epic Trollmusic (home to King Of Asgard, Byrdi, Fornhem and many others). The album pushes a multitude of limits and blurs the lines between prog rock and folk metal along the way. Both Mark (Vocals and Guitar) and Jasper (Keys and Vocals) answered some questions for us regarding the new album, the new label, the new members to Alvenrad and some other items of note… check it out…
Congrats on your killer new album “Heer”… have you been getting some early response to it yet?
Jasper: “Thank you! You’re one of the first of the media to respond, but overall the response is very positive. Everyone seems to make their own personal connection to the album. The biggest compliment is that it leaves no one unmoved.”
Is there a translation to your band name and why was this chosen as the name?
Mark: “The name comes from álfröðull, a kenning used by skalds from medieval Iceland to denote the sun. Alvenrad is a free Dutch translation, which in turn can be translated to ‘wheel of the elves’.
In the formative days our label manager encouraged us to look out for a strong name, which was not easy because it had to include many aspects, our roots and a universal approach as well. So, everyone can relate to the sun in a way, right? For some it means fertility, or strength or one’s spiritual search for light. It was meant to be encouraging for anyone to go your own way. And according to some who say there are no comparable acts, we succeeded, hehehe!”
How did the signing to the epic Trollmusic come about?
Mark: “We enthused Thor Joakimsson, known as talent scout for Prophecy Productions, with our former projects Stormsterk and Faelwa. With Faelwa we intended to be the Dutch succession of bands like Empyrium and Tenhi. With Stormsterk we created folk rock with a big heart for nostalgia. Then we informed Thor about the plan to do a metal project. Meanwhile he re-established his own record label and after hearing our plans and our first song, he offered us a record deal immediately. We signed a two album deal with Trollmusic in ’13. After hearing the recordings, that caught high expectations, the record company expanded the contract to four albums in ’14.”
How does your writing process work if you have one? Do band members have different responsibilities and does everyone contribute to the music?
Jasper: “Most of the time we start writing melodies, riffs and chord schemes, until we hear a song in it. Then we start arranging, structuring and adding thematic content like the lyrics. Different sketches will follow, until we feel a bit of satisfaction. I would say Mark and I wrote the songs together fifty-fifty. Mark’s part of writing is mostly about riffs, melodies and structures, while I concentrate more on chords and arrangements. The lyrics are Mark’s domain whereas the recording and editing is my thing. As soon as we start rehearsing, the session members have their room to interpret their parts and maybe come up with some way to arrange their instruments into the song.”
The lyrics for the album are based around the Skirnismal from the poetic eddas, how did you decide to have this as the basis for the album?
Mark: “Back in those days I experienced difficulties with being in a relationship; a fear of commitment to be precisely. I looked for solace in poetry. But above all I wanted to learn how man and woman relate to each other. Then I found Skírnismál and studied the content intensively. For me the myth told in this poem was very recognizable in my personal life but in others as well. It beholds some deep truths.”
Would you consider this a “concept album” per se or would you just say that the songs are all based on one subject matter and not necessarily one?
Mark: “It’s a concept album since it follows the original story chronologically from beginning till the end. To one’s perception it could give the impression we jump from one subject to another, but in fact the original poem is full of mood swings too.”
You have some amazing artwork by David Thierree for “Heer”, how did the process work in having the cover done and what did you give him as far as direction?
Mark: “Our label manager suggested David to do the job. I trusted David some personal stuff I was going through, my approach to Skírnismál and some visions I had. He proved to be a wise partner, creating his vision of all things told. The cover art turned out to be a journey in itself. We’re very happy with it.”
Stylistically, you have very progressive and retro tones to your sound…..do you consider yourselves a “folk metal” band or does another description work best for you?
Jasper: “A good description would be that we sound like hard rock with roots in folk metal. Our goal is to redefine folk metal to a genre that is way broader than the current style suggests, so that’s why we keep calling our music ‘folk metal’. The “folk” element in the music can be found in thematic elements of the music and sometimes it shines through in some musical way as well. Since we use elements that can be found in different styles, people often find it difficult to define our genre. We use heavy guitar riffing from classic rock and metal, organ madness from ’70s prog and we include anything that we think is musically appropriate.”
What bands are the biggest influence in your musical direction? What other influences outside of music (books, movies, TV, etc.) could you point to as also contributing to your sound?
Mark: “We share a love for inventors and/or participators of the first wave of certain musical genres, be it prog rock, metal, folk or anything else. Among them are Uriah Heep, Skyclad, Bathory, Jethro Tull and many more.
Perhaps an unexpected but still very important contributor to our sound is the way I write lyrics. This album marks the change of my way of versing. I used to write lyrics with common end rhyme and now turned to alliterative poetry or, how I’d like to call it: Germanic verse. The latter is known from per example Old-English and Old-Norse poetry. It works really well in Dutch and it sounds very euphonic to my ears; listen to “Minneschemering” or “De Groene Tempel” to hear what I mean. It sounds so good that I ‘m surprised we’re the only one who do this! But kinda cool we’re probably the first who brought Germanic verse into rock ‘n’ roll anyway.”
How much change do you feel you have undergone from your first album (“Habitat” from 2014) until now? Have you arrived to where you thought you would be or have things been completely different from your expectations?
Jasper: “I would say we’ve come a long way and we’ve matured a great deal, both personally and musically. Our focus on playing live made us decide to return to a more basic rock/metal sound with a band-approach. I think we’ve made an album that is more coherent than our debut, the latter still bears witness of youthful naivety and can be confusing due to a lot of divergent ideas. Moreover, we both became father in the last years and this had its influence on us personally and also on our musical approach.”
Dutch Folk-metal map
It is no secret that the Netherlands is home to some amazing metal acts like Heidevolk, Baldrs Draumar, Vanaheim and many others….. how do you feel the metal scene is there?
Mark: “Heidevolk put Dutch folk metal on the map indeed. I may have good contacts with some contributors in the scene, but too few to say anything coherent about the scene as a whole. My impression of the general metal scene is that it is too differentiated. With Alvenrad we feel more for an including course. By the way, may I add :Nodfyr: to your list? Together with Heidevolk founder Joris van Gelre on vocals, both Jasper and me just released a great EP entitled “In een andere tijd”, which is well worth listening to if you ask me.”
“everyone can relate to the sun in a way, right? For some it means fertility, or strength or one’s spiritual search for light. It was meant to be encouraging for anyone to go your own way”
With Thijs on bass and Ingmar on drums, you now have a complete lineup, how did this possibly change the song writing and recording process if at all?
Jasper: “The writing of our songs is still in the hands of Mark and me, but with making our new songs, we kept in mind that Ingmar would be the one to play it. We deliberately left out a lot of details in the drum parts so he would have the room to do his thing and this work out great! With the bass we had some worked out sketches and Mark went through all the parts with Thijs to see what worked best, but this didn’t happen until the run up to the album recordings.
The recording process of the album did change drastically. We recorded all the songs live in the studio without a click track so it would sound as natural and musical as possible. We then only kept the drum parts and re-recorded the guitars, keys, bass, vocals and other instruments in our own studio “Luidheim”. Recording without click track always means more work in the production process, but the result is totally worth it I think.
Just like last album, we invited some guest musicians to our studio. Hanna de Wijs – van Gorcum played some very appealing parts on her Nyckelharpa, Arjan Hoekstra played euphonium (a smaller brother of the tuba) on one song and Erik Sprooten did some amazing guitar solos!
An important decision for us was to outsource the mixing to Markus Stock. For me it was the first time I didn’t produce my own album and that more uncomfortable than expected. The result, however, is so much better than I could ever have thought. He made some bold mixing decisions which lead to a very heavy old-school sound. A very big advance in sound from our debut album!”
The Elven Wheel rolls on
What are the near future plans for supporting the album? Is there a tour lined up? How do you feel about playing live?
Jasper: “The release will be celebrated on the 10th of December with a show in Apeldoorn, which will be the first installation of “Veluwse Vuigheid”: a mini-festival with local food, beer and of course local bands; you’re very welcome to join! Watch the great Dr. Duval and Mouflon, eat and drink local stuff from the Veluwe and party with us! A fun thing to mention is that we’ve created our very own beer, called “Wilde Beer” in celebration of the release of our new album. This heavy imperial stout will be exclusively available at our gigs.
In 2018 we intend to hit the stage more often and some plans are already brewing behind the scenes. Playing live is crucial to us as a band and we enjoy meeting other musicians and connecting to our audience very much!”
Favorite music from 2017?
Jasper: “I must say I really enjoy Ulver’s latest album ‘The Assasination of Julius Ceasar’.”
Mark: “Like that one a lot too. I bought a lot of music, but not so much from this year. But I discovered Atlantean Kodex and Dark Forest this year – fantastic bands!”
Mark: “How will our third album sound like? For now I feel something for a psychedelic rock journey. But perhaps we’ll join the NWOTHM. Or both… thanks for the interview!”