Burden of Ymir Interview
If you are an avid Bandcamp music listener, I would like to think you have come across Burden Of Ymir recently. On the heels on a very busy 2019, the new year sees a huge leap forward from the Canadian project with the latest release in “The Third Half”. Featuring vocals for the first time (while previous releases being instrumental) has allowed the project to reach a new level and a new signing with Black Spark Records has also added to their momentum growing. Project creator Dr. Joseph Caswell and I jumped on some questions regarding the project, the new label, his vocal and musical approach along with some other items of note….check it out……
Congrats on your latest album “The Third Half”…. how has the response been to it so far?
“First, thanks for the opportunity to chat with Folk-Metal.nl, and for posting about the album. It is greatly appreciated! As for the response, it has been even more positive than I anticipated and this is already my most popular release, by far.
There have been a number of listeners requesting a physical release for this album and plans are already in motion for that. There will be some concrete news on this trickling down the Burden of Ymir Facebook page soon.”
Could you give us a brief history of the project and how the name Burden of Ymir became the name of it?
“Well, obviously the project is just me so there’s not any particularly interesting story about how things got started for Burden of Ymir! But going back further, I started playing guitar when I was about 10 years old, wanting to learn Black Sabbath riffs. I always played in different bands growing up and picked up a number of other instruments along the way. I was also a gigging blues/funk musician with some local notoriety for a few years very early in university. This is how I really cemented my skills in improvisation which is actually an important factor for Burden of Ymir. I had given up on playing music at all for a couple of years but eventually found my way back. In late 2018 I started to get the urge to write and record my own music, something I hadn’t done for well over a decade at that point. I quickly found out how powerful and accessible recording and production equipment and software had become and I started Burden of Ymir at the end of 2018 or early 2019, soon releasing the first demo/EP. I had always intended for the project to have an Old Norse mythology theme as I’m a huge fan of Norse history and culture, especially their stories. Ymir is one of my favorite figures from Norse mythology and, clearly, one of the most important. His burden is to be the first living being with such power and potential but to have to die in order for the world to be created.”
“I just write what comes to my head when I think about the stories involved in each song or album.”
How would describe the musical style of the project as far as a genre and/or sub-genre? What bands were the biggest influence in your sound development?
“The music has most often been described as blackened folk metal, pagan metal, folk black metal, and occasionally viking metal. I derive a lot of inspiration from many bands within folk metal and black metal, as well as some classic heavy metal, but I obviously gravitate most toward other artists that blend folk metal and black metal to varying degrees. A few prime examples of this for me include Moonsorrow, Finntroll, Windir, Havukruunu, Kawir, Windfaerer, Winterfylleth, and Saor. Also, Grima to some extent with their excellent use of accordion within the context of atmospheric black metal, Marrasmieli released a new album this year that I think is another great example.”
This is the first album featuring vocals while previous efforts were instrumentals….was that the plan originally? How did you decide to do vocals? What led you to your style of vocal delivery?
“The main reason I didn’t include vocals in previous releases was simply due to the noise and potential issues with neighbors. Since the release of the previous album, Jotnar, I have gotten a new place where that is no longer an issue. However, I was also slightly hesitant to include vocals regardless as I wanted to keep Burden of Ymir a solo project and wasn’t sure if I could handle vocal duties myself. A number of listeners and reviewers had mentioned that vocals would really improve the music so once I moved I decided I’d just give it a try. In terms of style, there is really zero technique or anything for the vocals on The Third Half! I decided to just go in screaming and growling as wildly as I could. This led to a very raw, visceral, and emotive sound that I am happy with but did some damage in the end as it took over a month to recover full vocal function afterward. I have since recorded some other goodies, including a blackened cover of Sepultura’s Arise which is available on my Bandcamp page, and the technique has definitely improved in terms of both control and sustainability.”
Did you write lyrics for your previous instrumental releases or was this the first time writing them? What were the biggest challenges (if any) in lyrics?
“This was the first time I had written any lyrics for Burden of Ymir. However, there were really no challenges in this regard. I actually spend more time preparing the story or stories and the idea for each track when I plan to record a new album before I actually start on any of the music. The Third Half was particularly coherent in this respect as it tells a single story over the course of the album and the lyrics are there to help convey this story whereas I solely relied on the music for that in the past.”
How do you feel about tackling all the instrumentation and vocals on your own? How did accordion become the folk instrument that matched what you were doing? Is collaborating with other musicians a possibility or is going solo more comfortable?
“I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my own music and I know how I want things done. I also tend to work very quickly and, at least for Burden of Ymir, I don’t have the patience to wait for others. With all that being said, I have a new side project with two other members and I have been collaborating on a large group collaboration, both of which will see releases in the near-ish future. It’s easy to let go of the need to control and work at my pace when I’m involved in collaborative efforts, but within Burden of Ymir I’ll always go solo. As for the choice of accordion, I have always loved how it sounds and it really helps capture the Nordic and Alpine feel that I tend to try for. It’s also a great fit for more blackened styles of metal as evidenced by many of the bands I’ve listed in a previous question. I’ve recently purchased a significant upgrade to my accordion sound as I become more and more enamored with the instrument and this will feature on all future releases.”
How do you feel you can differentiate yourself from the other acts using the same inspiration for music and lyrics?
“Honestly, I don’t actively set out to differentiate myself in any way. I honestly think that Burden of Ymir does sound unique amidst the landscape of folk/black metal and listeners tend to agree with this assertion. However, I produce music that I like for my own listening enjoyment and for the creative expression involved in the writing and recording process itself. Sounding different is not something I ever really think about or intentionally try to achieve, I just write what comes to my head when I think about the stories involved in each song or album.”
How has your career/personal life outside of music impacted what you do with Burden of Ymir? Do you have time constraints or a schedule that limits you or do you have flexibility in getting the music done?
“I have quite a busy “real” career that I’ve worked very hard to achieve and during the work week I tend to refrain from any writing or recording, instead saving it all for weekends. But I work extremely fast so this really isn’t much of an issue. I’m hesitant to reveal this but I think the next question you’ve given me will help explain… given the seasonal holidays during December, I actually wrote and recorded the entire album for the The Third Half in December 2019. I just had so much thought out in advance that I was able to fly through the whole process.”
Do you have a strategy when it comes to completing tracks or no set way of writing/recording?
“Like I said, I often work very fast! I typically spend more time thinking about the story for each album or song and coming up with a potential track list before I even start writing any music. Because I know the story or stories ahead of time, I know what each song is supposed to sound like so the writing/recording goes quickly. Aside from the preparation that goes into the process, the improvisational skills I learned in years past have been an integral component for my writing in certain aspects. Nevertheless, writing to a story or stories is definitely the primary factor involved in creating my music.”
You recently signed with Black Spark Records…. how did this come about? Are your obligations different now being on a label?
“There are two websites that I follow regularly for metal news, Folk-Metal.nl and Black Metal Daily, for folk metal and black metal respectively. In late 2019, Black Metal Daily published a review of a new album by Vintertodt, noting the band was signed to a brand new label that was growing in popularity. I really enjoyed the album that was reviewed and decided to look into the label for myself. It just so happened they were still accepting submissions and I decided it couldn’t hurt to send my previous album, Jotnar, for their consideration. I signed with Black Spark Records shortly after. They have been incredible in every respect and I’ve made some great friends and musical collaborators within the label roster and management. They support, promote, and produce physical media for my albums and in turn I have complete freedom to record when and how I want. The people at the label are very helpful and supportive and I am hugely appreciative for everything they do for the bands on their roster.”
How has your experience been in using digital outlets such as Bandcamp, YouTube and your recently launched Facebook page? Is it a “necessary” evil?
“I love Bandcamp for making my music available in high quality formats, both from my personal page and from the Black Spark Records page. I also really like it for all of the amazing bands and labels I’ve discovered through the platform. I really enjoy YouTube too, as do we all these days, but I find it’s not particularly good for getting my own music to a wider audience myself. I still post my albums on there just in case but don’t see a lot of traffic that way. However, there are a number of great black metal channels with large YouTube followings and they are usually keen to share albums from artists like myself and this is always a big help. I really abhor platforms like Facebook and Twitter but, as you’ve said, I’ve recently realized Facebook is a bit of a necessary evil. I’d still rather avoid it but at the same time it allows me to stay in touch with listeners and keep everybody updated on anything related to Burden of Ymir. I’ve also found it helpful for facilitating easier communication with the record label and other artists and have joined an excellent community at Order ov the Black Arts.”
Is there ever a possibility that this could be a live/touring project or studio only? Pros and cons?
“I am almost certain that this project will always remain in the studio. I do not have the time, means, or access to other live musicians to make this happen and, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’d even be physically capable of performing my music in a live setting as it just takes far too much out of me. Back when I played live shows at a younger age I would be tired of it by the second night if we had more than one gig in a row. I love writing and recording music but I know myself well enough to realize that I’m just not made to be a touring musician. Even if all of these kinds of obstacles could be overcome and I could find and manage to fund multiple live musicians, it just wouldn’t be feasible to get away from my “real” job for any serious length of time. I’m completely happy to remain in the studio!”
Do you have new material in the works already? Near future plans?
“I have another little bonus treat I’ll be releasing as a free single fairly soon, as thanks to everyone for supporting The Third Half. I’ve also recently joined a side project with some other musicians I’m a big fan of and we’ve started recording our first EP, and I’m currently involved in a big collaborative project within Black Spark Records that will be released later in the year. I’ve even started recording the next Burden of Ymir album within the past couple of weeks although I’m going significantly slower with this one than I have with any previous efforts, which has been very relieving! It’s also a little unfair to expect the record label to put out a new album for me every couple of months so I think this adjustment in pace will benefit everyone involved.”
Favorite music from 2019 or 2020 so far?
“I’ll list albums from 2019/2020 that I really enjoyed and readers can take a look at any that seem interesting! I may have missed some but this is a pretty big list anyways (no particular order for these either):
- Misthyrming – Algleymi
- Ormagna – self-titled
- Grima – Will of the Primordial
- Iffernet – self-titled
- Saor – Forgotten Paths
- Verheerer – Monolith
- Vukari – Aevum
- Wolvencrown – Of Bark and Ash
- Sun Worship – Emanations of Desolation
- Vintertodt – I-V
- Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
- Rotting Christ – The HereticS
- Kawir – Adrasteia
- Marrasmieli – Between Land and Sky
- Aara – En Ergo Einai
- Nox Formulae – Drakon Darshan Satan
- Ygg – The Last Scald
- • Haxanu – Snare of All Salvation
- Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
- Olhava – Ladoga
Again, thanks so much for the opportunity to speak here and for taking the time to post about The Third Half up to and during its release. The support is greatly appreciated. There are still CDs available for the Jotnar album through Black Spark Records’ Bandcamp page and The Third Half will be available in physical format(s) soon (check the Facebook page for updates), along with more logo patches, a second patch design, and maybe more in the future. My music is available for digital download through Bandcamp and can also be found on all major streaming platforms. I’ve actually closed out one of my previous interviews with this quote from the Havamal section of the Poetic Edda, but I think it’s very fitting and always resonates with me: “cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself will also die, but the word about you will never die if you win a good reputation.” Cheers.