Auðn were among the bands I was most looking forward at Inferno Festival and I was lucky enough to get to interview them. With Auðn‘s second album Farvegir Fyrndar being released last November and more and more festivals coming up (including the Icelandic Eistnaflug [which I’m planning to visit for the first time this year], the band’s vocalist Hjalti Sveinsson and guitarists Aðalsteinn Magnússon and Andri Birgisson give more insight into the visuals behind Auðn‘s music, atmospheric mood and why writing lyrics in Klingon might be a good idea.
ENSLAIN: Starting with the basic questions, how’s Inferno Metal Festival 2018 going so far?
Alli: Great, everything’s been alright. It’s second time in a row, we played last year as well, so this time everything was more familiar and you get to know more people.
Hjalti: We’re getting to know a lot of people around, a lot of familiar faces.
Alli: Great atmosphere and great bands as well.
ENSLAIN: Now, if I remember well, Hjalti and Andri, you’ve been at Icelandic Film School, and I was wondering if the background you have has influenced the visuals of the band – from album covers through to artwork and even to your stage outfits?
Andri: We always have the visual way of creating music, or at least I have. I like to ‘see’ a song when I’m trying to write it.
Hjalti: The look came about to be a bit of a minimalistic approach to let the music speak for itself. So the music itself, I think, is a bit visual. Earlier we were working with more of juxtaposition of melting together the harsh ugliness of black metal with beauty of melodies. We kind of did it with the look – that’s when the jackets came in – but we were still experimenting with corpse paint. But we kind of simplified that.
Alli: Don’t google those pictures.
Andri: …now we know what pictures she will google.
ENSLAIN: So it’s been mostly minimalistic, but there’s also a cinematic approach to it.
Alli: I like to look at the whole picture as pretty cinematic. The atmosphere in the music – it’s the whole thing. To me, it feels a bit cinematic.
Hjalti: It’s also the way we think about how the album works. We don’t just put songs together, every song has to serve a certain purpose and it has to be in the right spot in the album.
Auðn’s debut album (Metallic Media) & Farvegir Fyrndar (Season of Mist)
ENSLAIN: The atmospheric feel to your music creates a certain space the listener can get lost in. Was it one of the goals for the listener?
Alli: Yeah, that’s what I do with this music – get lost in it. I’m really happy with the reception we are getting on both these albums. People basically describe what I was trying to do with music and I think we all achieved this goal.
Hjalti: I think we managed to do what we were trying to do. Especially with the second album we let the songs ‘breathe’ more, vocals are also a bit different, so the atmospheric part of it was definitely something we nurtured a bit more.
Alli: The first album was more structured to the rhythm with more folk elements, maybe.
ENSLAIN: Another important aspect of your music is your beautiful language. What role would you say Icelandic plays in the music you write?
Alli: It started with me writing lyrics in Icelandic; all the lyrics I write are in this language. I’m used to thinking in Icelandic and it’s easier to express.
Andri: And in the first album we used more of songwriting on certain rules.
Alli: Yeah, we follow the old Icelandic rules very vaguely, but elements are there.
Andri: It creates a certain rhythm in lyrics when you write them like that.
Alli: When you master the form of writing that, it makes it really easy to find the next sentences and to express what you’re trying to say.
Hjalti: I think the first album was a bit more traditional in that sense.
And for me, I have a tendency to express myself over music in English. I rarely ever listen to Icelandic music so when I’m thinking of stuff we’re working on, it’s usually in English. So for me to do it in Icelandic was a big challenge. But with a new album, I think I distanced the vocal patterns from the traditional styles we used more on the first album.
Alli: Honestly, the phrasing isn’t Icelandic at all in many of the lyrics of the new album. Lyrics are, of course, in Icelandic, but the way they are presented is not the traditional one.
Hjalti: It’s more chaotic. I wanted to express the feelings not in the way I think of them but more in the way they would fall into the song and the rhythm. Every language has its different style of songwriting. You’ll hear music with a language you don’t know which is the situation for most people hearing us and that instantly is different. A lot of Norwegian bands are now doing the lyrics in English; we might still do it one day, I don’t know, but that definitely gives the unique touch, I think.
Alli: There are not that many people from Iceland, so…
Hjalti: Yeah… I actually think more people speak Klingon than Icelandic.
Andri: So if we want to reach out to more people, we should release the next album in Klingon.
Alli: And also, with playing this kind of music, unless you have the lyrics in front of you, how much of it would you understand?
Hjalti: It’s about expressing the feelings.
Alli: It’s about expressing the feelings and, as you’ve said, the way you experience it. That way we know the message is being delivered. It doesn’t have to be the lyrics, you don’t necessarily need to know what the lyrics are about, it’s about expressing the feeling. Because the lyrics are about that as well.
ENSLAIN: Did the lyrics shift from more traditional themes with a black metal spirit to song lyrics which are more poetic, then?
Alli: Yes, the first album drew inspiration from folk tales, maybe more in the way of traditional Icelandic storytelling. On the second album, it’s more about creating imagery for landscapes or emotions related to that and trying to paint the whole picture with the song.
ENSLAIN: I know it’s a general question, but would you say something on the difference between festivals you’ve played at? What’s special about Eistnaflug in your home country or what were the differences between Inferno this year and the last year?
Alli: There’s always a difference.
Hjalti: You can’t really compare Eistnaflug to other festival.
Alli: No… that’s special.
Hjalti: In some ways you can, of course, it’s a festival, but…
Andri: I think it might have similarities with Roadburn in a way.
Alli: In a way…
Hjalti: In a way, but still, it’s not Roadburn.
Alli: Every festival has its identity or at least that should be the goal. If it doesn’t have identity, you shouldn’t have a festival. Every festival is different, depends what aspects you think about. Each festival has its own spirit.
ENSLAIN: Related to the Icelandic scene, with black metal bands emerging and events such as Oration festival where you also played this year, what do you think the future holds for Icelandic black metal?
Hjalti: Hopefully, there’s gonna be some younger kids who will start playing in a band…
Alli: We can’t speak for the whole scene, of course, but I think that’s the most important thing, to not forget to play frequently. We were discussing it with the rest of the Icelandic people here, the Eistnaflug crew and also the guys from Naðra, how important it is to keep playing shows at home as well.
Hjalti: And to all ages audience, especially.
Alli: Yeah, because that’s how we got into metal: seeing shows and seeing the older guys playing in the bands.
Andri: If someone keeps carrying the torch, then we have a future ahead.
Alli: I think that was kind of a turning point when you had this really strong string of releases from Icelandic bands. The scene is really strong with many bands and all of them released their first album. Some of them, like us, have just released their second album, and I just think we need to see which bands are going to continue and which bands are just going to fade away. And what happens next, I’m not sure. Hopefully good things, but…
Hjalti: No one knows, but there’s a lot of excitement around what will Misþyrming do next, what will Naðra do next, it might be that you have to ask them. But it’s not that many guys forming all of these projects. I get this feeling that they always want to do something new, so there might be just new projects from them.
Alli: And that has already started, probably hundreds of bands, and that’s also a part of expression if you keep writing music and you feel that the music isn’t fitting the criteria of the direction you’ve created for your project, then you still want to get it out. What do you do? Do you ruin the reputation of your band or do you do another project? It’s always a question of staying true to yourself, I think. And doing what you want to do, that’s black metal.
ENSLAIN: Thank you for your time and for such thorough answers. Sjáumst á Eistnaflugi!
Read the full festival report from Inferno Metal Festival 2018 here:
INFERNO METAL FESTIVAL: 29 MAR – 1 APR, ROCKEFELLER, OSLO