Swedish black metal kingpins, Naglfar’s most recent album, the Century Media Records-released Cerecloth (read our album review here), has been out for almost three months, but it’s the kind of album that ages well, evolving with each subsequent spin. It’s truly a monumental release for the band, with it being their first new recording in eight years. Since their inception in 1992, Naglfar has become a heavy metal institution, shaking up the genre with both their intensity and ferocity. We recently spoke with frontman Kristoffer W. Olivius about the new record, ‘true’ metal and the perils of growing older.
Kristoffer W. Ollivius: “So have you had the time to listen to the album?”
Yeah, I have been listening to it on my bicycle while riding around and also I sat down and paid really close attention this afternoon over lunch, so yeah I have had a good few runs through it.
“That sounds good. Thank you so much.”
Well, thank you. This is a great opportunity for me and yeah… even though I have been doing this for a while, I originally come from South Africa. I live in the Netherlands now, but coming from South Africa, we don’t get to speak to musicians very often so I still get very excited about this kind of thing.
“Yeah, I can actually hear it from your dialect. Where are you from in South Africa? I, me myself, I was brought up in Africa and originally lived in Tanzania.”
Alright. I am from Pretoria originally but mostly in and around Pretoria and Johannesburg.
“Ok, yeah I have been to Jo’burg so… well, welcome to Europe. I think it’s better here, right?”
At the moment things are going very well here, thank you.
“Yeah… so… go ahead and fire away, man. I guess you have some questions then for me.”
I do… I don’t have too many questions. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.
“Oh, well, I am all yours, man…”
Ok, well thank you! So the first question and possibly the one that most people will be asking, so I am probably not the first person to ask you this is that five years have passed between Harvest and Teras and now another eight have past. Why the long break before Cerecloth?
“Because I had children. That is the real true answer to everything and I also have children that I wanted to spend time with and I wanted to help out and to be able to be with my wife when we had our first child and the first second and last child also. And I felt it was very important for me to actually step back, take this step back because I have always been a guy who has walked to the beat of my own drum so to speak. But I feel that it was also time for me to be a little more helpful and to try to see things from a new perspective. And so I feel it was maybe the biggest part that the years passed so fast for me and also for (singer) Andreas (Nilsson). Um… the situation also with having two kids during this break. And everything that comes with that.
Then again I would also say that we have never felt like we are in any rush with Naglfar or to just release music just because. It always has to mean something and it always has to feel like is not forced. Because this is our calling, it is not that we do it to… I guess you would say to pay rent or anything like that. I would say it is not an obsession but it was something that was a choice we made quite early in life to start this journey with everything that comes with it and with having a band and having a brotherhood, I think that for us we always put the members in Naglfar and their well-being above the band itself. It is very, very important if you have a machine that you take care of all the small parts. This maybe sounds a little stupid when you say it like that, pretentious maybe, but this is something I really feel we are as good as a band as we are because of the membership in our band and the way that we treat each other and the way we look after each other also.”
Ok, I suppose that the best artistic output is the one that is the most meaningful and sincere so that makes a lot of sense.
“Yeah but you know we have no specific timeline when it comes to Naglfar. I believe that we have the same view of the band… the three members me, Marcus (Norman) and Andreas, that it is a project that we have for life. It is also, well for us to stay together, to further friendship throughout life as the years progress you come to do different things also in life or it would be very sad otherwise, I feel. For me it is very much a blessing to be able to have this. And to be able to further this greatness with my friends. And this is something, it is the most important aspect of Naglfar and that’s the reason why I feel that the true fans of the past know we are a very powerful band. I mean we are fans ourselves in a certain way. So from that perspective I see our band as a band of fans playing for their own fans and that is very cool.”
That is very cool. On that note are there any other bands that Naglfar has a special bond or relationship with? Either as influences or friends?
“That is kind of hard, you know. I would not say particularly. We were never part of any scene or something like that because we live a bit far from everything or like the big cities and stuff that they have in the south of Sweden. We were always very much a band for ourselves you know.
But of course there have been relations between our band and other bands. Very early I mean, even before Naglfar was formed, I became a friend with Joakim (Sterner) from Necrophobic so we are childhood friends and now we are middle aged men… and of course the guys from Marduk are friends of ours, the guys from Dark Funeral but all and all I wouldn’t say that we have been a band that have been… well we are not guys who have traveled to go to concerts and stuff you know… What we do within the so-called scene is pretty much take to the stage and exit the stage. This is what we do. We have not always been the band trying to promote ourselves with interesting stories and stuff like that. We always wanted the music to speak for itself. We are a little bit maybe, that band that people know the least about and I feel it is something that is very suited for me because… I want the band to be important for its music not for its members even though the members can be quite interesting also of course for the listener. But for me this is what I want to spread you know, not notoriety.”
That makes a lot of sense, thank you…
“But I mean like being bringers of true metal… this is not something that we because it is very easy to do, with the kinds of images and stuff like that…”
Yes especially in the…
“…trying to copy other teams in what they do or are popular in the meantime when you are living. But I feel we never we are a band that it’s only about metal for me. That’s the mission. The mission is more or less… I see it as an audio war going on and we have always been at the forefront even if we have not been the most productive band I know but I think you know we are probably one of the most well-renowned, I mean we are professionals. We know what we do and we are very, very skilled musicians also and I also say this without bragging or anything, because this is just a fact. I feel that the reason for this is also because of our special relationship with the gods of metal. But these are just thoughts I am throwing out you know, that I am thinking about.”
It is still a good thought especially in black metal where so many bands become known for the theatrics and for the personalities.
“For most of these people they are just very… they are like children, just very lost little children. And I feel it is a big problem that I found with the so-called black metal scene which is of course so many troubled people, there are so many people with like mental issues and stuff and I feel so sad because metal is the music with the most powerful and… many things have been put upon pedestals and the black metal scene I think is the worst. They have like no actual worth.”
Next question I have for you is that the theme of the album is described as ‘the usual death and destruction.’ Having said that, are there any lyrical subjects that you’d like to draw attention to?
“Not really as all our songs are about the same… of course the songs are different but the theme is the same and it is always about the power of black metal, the power of true metal brotherhood and of course I feel that when Andreas said that with the new album is about the use of death and destruction, maybe he said it with a little tongue in cheek. We are middle aged men so we can say it like that and stating the truth… we are not trying to change something that was never supposed to be changed. This is what everything is about and of course also very much about seeing things from the perspective of the one person, you know. This is the way we always wrote the songs. That is just our perspective.”
I think being more mature gives you a different approach in many ways including your attitude towards themes and being able to have a bit more humour.
“I guess so but it is also in knowing the fact that we are not competing with other bands. Not at all, not in the slightest bit. We are only doing this for ourselves and for the Naglfar fans and what other bands are doing and what they are planning or whatever and I cannot be bothered by that and I cannot care about that. And it’s not that we ever felt we were a black metal band or a death metal band either… because we are neither but we are maybe one of the most powerful and destructive true metal bands in the world. Historically, I mean. This is of course something this is a widely felt opinion among the fans of true metal.”
You mentioned your song writing process… did you do anything differently on Cerecloth to what you had on previous albums?
“No, I wouldn’t say so. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here, you know. I see this album as more like when it comes to Naglfar and our music we have like… it’s quite a well defined sound. We are quite melodic and an easy to recognize band but one thing that I feel is that we never try to write the same album twice so if all our previous records have been in a way a little bit progressive from the previous album I see this album more like a compilation of different kinds of sounds that we have utilized on previous albums. But now it’s sort of a ‘best of’ album and we always grow up and progress as a band, but it maybe has a little bit of vibes from different kinds of albums.
That we have some songs that are quite reminiscent of our latest sound. Or that we have some hard or death metal songs and even some quite straight forward black metal songs. And so this is also something that is very important, not doing the same thing twice but still staying within the concept and that is of course not easy. And that is our reason for not releasing albums every two years. Because we could do that but the question is what would we offer in that case. Would we just be like everybody else? What would that do to the true progression of true metal?”
That makes sense. I do remember in 2012 when Teras came out. I remember it being greeted with mixed reactions because it was so much rougher and rawer and more visceral than Harvest had been. What do you think people are going to think about Cerecloth because I am also finding it a lot more of a… a raw and primitive expression of metal than Harvest was.
“I feel that this is a very brutal album. At the same time, it is something that I would like to state about our previous album, Teras. And of course it was a great album and I was very pleased with it at the time when we released it and I still am in many ways but I still feel that was the album that was just written in a different way…
I feel that Teras became a little bit in retrospect when I look upon it, a little bit… it doesn’t really make any noise if you know what I mean. It is a great album but it also a great, very well worked album that doesn’t have any flaws. It just doesn’t sound… there is no aspects of risk within this album and this is something I feel on the new album, we took very many risks and we are of course also reaping the rewards from taking the risks but Teras was a little bit I will say ‘cowardly’ sounding. We are of course not cowards but I will say something… it made Teras our least courageous album. And maybe that is the reason for what many people, not only you, feel this way about this album. But I still think it holds great, great songs and powerful fucking lyrics…”
In the terms of taking risks… personally the risk I am enjoying most on Cerecloth is the slower work. “Necronaut,” for example is my favourite on your current album.
“Yeah… it’s… I mean we can do everything and we always want to do that… you know when you are in the business of releasing albums it is also very important to choose what the albums are going to be about and I feel this was an album that had to hold more attack and hold a little bit more of a thrash appeal. It had to be a bit more upbeat you know? It’s not very easy you know, to answer questions like this.”
My apologies for that…
“I’m sorry dude but you know sometimes it’s quite hard because it is still a little bit near to me also and sometimes you have to weigh your words so you don’t get to regret yourself too much in the end…”
Ok, that’s understandable… obviously it still is, no matter where the media attention is coming from, it is still media attention so you do need to consider an audience.
“No, but it’s… I don’t know… I am still an introvert in the conversion of my own band and this is something that I feel… My biggest problem was always that I in a way shy from the spotlight. I never wanted to be the lead vocalist in Naglfar and I never wanted to be the front person. Never doubt, I always wanted to be the guy behind the scenes who knows how the songs are supposed to sound and everything like that… but fate chose for me in a different way. And I feel it is sometimes very hard for me to speak about the band also, even though maybe you think it is the easiest thing in the world… you know. Because it’s double also because in one way I am almost like having split personalities ,having a band like this for such a long, long time and because I have a normal life outside of this. Then when I do something I do it with full power!”
“Just some reflections you know, out of nothing…”
No, no problem there. Thinking of how things appear though… the art of Kristian ‘Necrolord’ Wåhlin has been on many great covers through the years. How did you approach him for the cover art and what was your creative brief? Did you supply him with music and lyrics as inspiration or did you just give him an idea and let him go with it?
“Well the thing was that we never planned to use Kristian at all. Of course, you must know that we are elderly men and we have known this guy for a very, very long time. He is a couple of years older than us but we are still from the same kind of generation and so of course our paths have crossed so many times and we have been thinking about using him in the past. But the reason for us never using him has been that everybody else does and that he was always very popular, for good reasons. But we just didn’t want to use what everybody else used. So this time around when it became time for us to start thinking about this album… it has been in the pipeline for quite some time… the album has been ready for over a year before release. It was intentional from our part. Because we felt, we wanted to feel it and get to listen to it and maybe concentrate a bit more on poetry and lyrics and stuff like that so everything should be (kissing sound) and be very, very finished and ready you know.”
Once again a more mature attitude.
“I don’t know. It’s also very important… you have to ask yourself why you are releasing music or art in general. Because nowadays everybody can be an artist and everybody can be whatever you want to be because of the internet. I come from a different school you know and I feel that things like this are not really intended to be consumed in the way that they are in this time that we are living in right now.”
On the subject of the time we are living in. Once the world has got over its fear of COVID-19, are there plans to take Cerecloth to a live audience?
“Yeah, we had actually quite a lot planned already for the spring and the summer. But as far as I can see the whole year is cancelled. We were supposed to go the United States next month to begin… we were to do a short U.S. and Canada tour that would be two weeks or something like that. Then we would return to start doing the summer festivals but everything is cancelled here in Europe so… Maybe it is for the best also.”
The prevalence of plague doctor masks in the “Vortex of Negativity” video are entirely apt, given the global pandemic.
“But I feel… I think that this is the perfect opportunity for us to take back a little of what has been stolen from the metal scene and from the metal community especially among fans and stuff like that, because many people are being poorly treated by economical interests that have infested the metal scene and trying… of course they want a share of the crumbs from the table because metal music is something that is very, very successful and there is a lot of music to earn from but in the end time I feel that the problem must be that many of these festivals, they are so expensive, this kind of music of course is not something that should be for free, but should definitely not be something that is… transcended and become something that is only to do with music. That is not the reason why I do it.
I come from a very humble upbringing and have a very bad eye to people trying to come in and take part in the spoils from something they had nothing to do with. So hopefully at the end of the day some big European summer festivals are going to suffer economically in a horrible way and close down and in the end time it is going to be better for the whole music scene to lose some of the people that are just doing it only for the money. Not for a real purpose. That is just something that we cannot have anymore.”
Yeah the way that metal is treated is quite sad really…
“It’s very sad really…”
… that the value it’s given is not at all an economical one but then people exploit it.
“Yeah, and those people exploiting it are not meaning to do it for themselves most of the time and that is the thing that is the most troubling and I really don’t know that I am supposed to say… It’s shameful almost but it is like this.”
Definitely. My last question for you is more of a personal question than a V13 media question and it is that if you had to compare Naglfar to one classical musician, who would it be?
“Ah… Richard Wagner of course. Yeah… we are Wagner… if there ever was a black metal band closer to Wagner than any other band it would be our band. I think it was a pretty good choice actually!” (laughs)
I think it was a great choice! That fits into my thinking!
“I could have chosen Bach, but that’s not really true. Because we are more a band that has always been working more with emotions and so no, I feel that Richard Wagner is probably the closest even though it is a very extreme thing to say… But I still feel this is true.
I hope you got what you wanted and I hope the album is going to be able to give you more… I hope it is going to be able to give you more… to give for quite some time because, I am very happy with the album…”
I’m finding with each listen there is more depth…
“But that is the thing with this album, it is not an instant album… and I feel that it’s… the best thing and also the hardest thing to create. It is always very, very hard to write music in a way that has to grow on you and this one has really grown on me. This is not the album of the year the first time you listen to it but maybe if you give it time and you choose open your soul to all the energies and everything coming out of the music on this album then it will grow on you for sure. I know this. It is just the good thing…”