Varang Nord interview
Varang Nord is a folk metal band from the cold woods of Latvia. Founded in 2014, their music combines death metal riffs with epic lyrical themes and accordion accompaniment. Lyrical themes reference Nordic culture, mighty battles, sacrifices to the Old Gods and festivities involving pints of ale. One of their crowning achievements has been winning the Wacken Metal Battle in 2019, just before Covid -19 ravaged the world. In 2021, their album ‘Pārķiuņa Uomurs’ was nominated as ‘Global Metal Release of the Year’.
The album was produced by the band and recorded at their personal studio. Mixing and mastering was by Gints Lundbergs at Latvian Sound Division Studio.
Congratulations on what appears to be a fun and successful festival tour this summer and fall. Can you tell us a little about your experience and what festival was your favorite?
“Hi and thank you very much! This festival season was great; it was all about quality over quantity for us. We were opening the main stages at Wacken Open Air, we played our first ever show in Denmark and it was perfect, our neighbor countries Lithuania and Estonia are never letting us down! And there was another one that feels special for us – we organized and curated small one-day festival in our hometown Daugavpils here in Latvia, in a middle of a 19th century fortress and it was absolutely spectacular, we were closing band of the night and it still feels like one of the best shows in band’s history so far!”
Continuing on the subject of playing festivals; you won the Wacken Metal Battle in 2019, how did it feel to go back and play on a main stage this year, which I watched via live stream from the U.S., you were incredible, great performance.
“Oh, thanks! From one side when you play festivals like this, especially one of the three main stages it always feels like accomplishment of your wildest teenage dreams. But we felt like we are in the right place. We’ve been doing this for many years now, winning Wacken Metal Battle 2019 wasn’t an accident, and it was result of the hard work and our fanatical attitude to what we do, so we were ready to prove it on a bigger level and also to show our growth. The show went great! The weather that afternoon was relentlessly hot, but so many people showed up it was unbelievable! After those couple of years of pandemic and restrictions it felt like something common and really special.”
“we didn’t have a choice but to become a full line-up band”
Describe your worst performance. What did you learn from this experience?
“Oh, there is definitely one that comes to mind straight away! In 2018 we’ve had a two-week tour with only one day off. And about one week before it started one of the promoters came with idea that we have to play show in their town instead of our day off. He was really insisting and we were like, Ok, we played there before, we know the guy and he was convincing us that a lot of people want to see us there, so let’s do this! It’s no brainer for us; we are always trying to play as many shows as possible. But no one came! Promoter booked bigger venue this time, everything was great, stage, lights, powerful sound, but all this for the audience of two people. Who also weren’t our fans and turned up there accidentally! We played the full set anyway, but it was so awkward. After that we always think twice when it comes to gigs on a short notice.))”
Do you follow a process or ritual before a performance to get rid of nerves or performance anxiety?
“Well, nothing extraordinary, all traditional I think. We do some physical warm-up together after changing into stage costumes and then before or while intro is playing we get in the circle to share the excitement and to kick start each other. We’ve been around for quite some time, so we are pretty confident about our skills, so only thing that can make us nervous before the show is if something went wrong technically with our equipment during the line check. But our tech crew are always ready to cover our backs whatever is happening.”
How did you all meet and begin collaborating?
“Max (vocal, guitars): For many years I was playing in different bands and was writing music in different metal genres, like black/death metal in BEGOTTEN or old-school thrash metal in ASTHMA, but I always knew that sooner or later I’ll return to the genre I started my music career with – folk metal, and it finally happened in 2014. First man I’ve asked to join my new project was Khurr, leader of Japanese folk metal band YOMI, who was a big fan of my first band, so he said “Yes” immediately. To have accordion in our music was one of the crucial ideas, so we get in contact with Lena and started to work on the album “Fire of the North”. To be honest VARANG NORD was conceived by me as a studio project only, to record an album just to realize ideas I accumulated. But we had so much fun working together on that album and satisfied with the result, so we started to write material for the next one straight away and then we received first offers to play live shows so we didn’t have a choice but to become a full line-up band. It wasn’t too hard to find like-minded people. Even though there is a big age difference between our band members (almost 14 years between youngest and oldest ones) all of us have been a part of the local music scene in our hometown in different periods of time, so we knew each other even when we didn’t play together.”
In 2021 you gave us a new release, ‘Pārķiuņa Uomurs’ can you give us some insight on why there was four years between releases?
“We released three albums in a first four years time of band’s existence. We definitely needed a pause to refresh our approach, to come up with new ideas. We never stopped working on new songs, but this time we gave ourselves more time to work on details, tried more deliberate creative way, not the one based on emotions and adrenaline only. The whole concept of the band started changing by that time. We started to search more inspiration from the place we are all from, from its nature, its unique culture and history. As a result we started to write lyrics in Latgalian, which is quite rare dialect from our region in Latvia. So all this improvement wasn’t made up, it was absolutely natural. When album was recorded we spent some time to find good record label to release it the way we see it and then COVID-19 hit that also slowed things down. Anyway, we are still so proud of this record, it’s by mile best VARANG NORD album, and it’s on different new level comparing to first three.”
How is ‘Pārķiuņa Uomurs’ doing on Bandcamp? Is it being distributed by anyone else?
“It was released worldwide via Sliptrick Records and it’s also available in their online shop deadpulse.com as a CD-digipak version and digital download.”
What about your fan base? I see you are on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, do your fans contact you and where are they mostly from, Europe or other countries?
“Depending on streaming services statistics and Bandcamp orders our biggest fan base is in Germany, even though we’ve had only three gigs there so far, it’s permanently few times ahead of other countries speaking the numbers of views and listeners. Which is really flattering to us, of course! Also our neighbor country Lithuania is absolutely amazing, it feels like home for us anytime we are there! We were headlining local festival there in the beginning of September this year and arriving to the area we’ve been shocked of how many people are wearing our merch. It’s rarely happens even in our own country.”
I see that Turisas and Amon Amarth are two bands who have inspired your music. Have you ever played with or toured with them?
Max: “You are absolutely right; TURISAS’ “Battle Metal” was life-changing for me! It dragged me into the folk metal and inspired me to start all this. Our paths never crossed so far but hopefully someday we’ll share the stage proudly! Talking of touring with big names, our second show ever was an opening for TYR in Riga, which was really cool and inspiring. Also we were opening for ENSIFERUM twice during their Eastern European tour in 2019. We have been a part of planned Heathen Heroes European tour with TYR, ARKONA and DALRIADA, but because of pandemic it was rescheduled twice and then cancelled.”
If you could open a show for any band who would it be?
“FINNTROLL, TURISAS, SKALMOLD, ALESTORM, HEIDEVOLK, SALTATIO MORTIS, and AMON AMARTH we’d love to have a privillege of sharing the battlefield with any of them.”
“more inspiration from the place we are all from, from its nature, its unique culture and history”
What is your favorite song to perform?
Max: ““Warchant of the Forests” for me. I’d call it our title-hit, works every single time, it’s like changing the gear to the highest one, feedback from the crowd is always unbelievable.”
Aigars (drums): “I’d name “Troļļs”. It’s always last or second to last in our setlist, so intensity level is critically close to maximum!”
Dan (bass): ““As Men Poured Ale” from our very first album. It’s our fastest song speaking of tempo, so it always reminds me that I have right hand too))”
Lena (accordion): ““Stuojis!” is always feels special, cause it’s a song we usually are opening our show with, so all the adrenaline and excitement are accumulated in this one!”
Slava (percussion): ““Uperiešona” because of its smashing energy and the hypnotic shamanic vibe in the quiet part closer to the end of the song. “
What band or type of music are you currently listening to?
Max: “I’m mostly listening to TYR for last few weeks. We shared the stage in Copenhagen; they were headlining Udgardsfest in the end of September with a killer show, so I kind of re-opened this great band for myself.”
Aigars (drums): “It’s autumn, so I more listen dark moody stuff, like darkwave, post-punk and black metal.”
Lena (accordion): “A huge amount of music as always. But the band number one for me at the moment is MUSE and their new album.”
Dan (bass): “We share the working space with Aigars and spent a lot of time working together, so music preferences are pretty much the same. More black metal, DSBM and a little bit of death metal for me.”
Slava (percussion): “PJ HARVEY released demos for each of her albums and that’s so cool, I’m getting new emotions from the songs I know and love for many years. My spirit animals VIAGRA BOYS are never letting me down. Speaking of metal – KANONENFIEBER, German black metal band with World War I concept – awesome. I’m sure they will have a global breakthrough in a next couple of year’s time.”
What’s next for the band? When can we expect a new album and have you started the writing process?
“Well, we can’t give any details now, but it looks like next year will be quite different for the band. It’s been a great couple of years but now it feels like an end of the some era for us. Anyway, we are working on the live dates for next year, as always we’ll try to play as many shows as possible and finally to deliver our music to the new places we have never been before! This year we are planning to release another single and probably final video for “Pārķiuņa Uomurs” album and turn this page. Talking about new album, the writing process is on the full mode at the moment, demos for the few songs are recorded already and it sounds amazing! Epic parts will be even more cinematographic, heavy parts will be even heavier, also couple of really interesting collaborations are planned, so we are very excited about our next record!”
Lastly, how do you feel about what is happening to your neighbors south of Latvia in Ukraine? Do you have any message for fans from that region?
“Three of five VARANG NORD members have roots and relatives in Ukraine. Two of us are having pure Ukrainian last names. So for us situation is clear and univocal. All what’s happening is an absolute crime against humanity and common sense. And it’s absolutely unbelievable that things like this can happen in Europe in 21st century. We showed our position straight away and it costed us deprivation of part of the fan-base especially there in Russia, but who cares! For us, if you support this war – you are the same inexcusable criminal as your retarded leader, fuck you and never listen to our music again!”
“As musicians we are trying to do anything we can. We’ve organized the charity gig in our hometown last spring and raised some money. Also we participated in two charity gigs organized by our brothers from the band ŪKANOSE in Lithuania. Of course, it’s a drop in the ocean but we all just can’t stand aside doing nothing. We never played a show in Ukraine so far, but we will do it as soon as it will be possible, no matter what!
Stay strong, brave warriors and Слава України! (Glory to Ukraine)”