Simply by playing black metal in a more melodic way, AUÐN have created their own small niche in the Icelandic black metal scene. With their third album „Vökudraumsins Fangi“ they fill this niche better than ever. Why the album sounds so much more well-rounded than the first two releases, in which way black metal can be considered music for dreamers and why a return to normality after the corona pandemic would have its pitfalls can be read in our interview with guitarist Andri Björn Birgisson.
The situation around the corona virus is still tense. How are you handling this in Iceland? Are you getting along relatively well?
We could probably be doing a better job, being an isolated island in the far north and all. The second wave was worse than the first, but things seem to be getting better.
You are one of the better-known bands of the Icelandic black metal scene, which enjoys a pretty good reputation at this point. Why do you think there are so many extraordinary bands in this genre coming from your region?
It might have to do with the small size of the metal scene, too small for isolated genres and rivalries that sprout from that isolation, there’s more intermingling and co-operation between genres and sharing of members, which can only broaden the horizons of the metal scene as a whole.
However, you are doing your own thing with AUÐN given that that you sound much more melodic and less dissonant than most other bands in your scene. Why, do you think, has your music developed differently from most other bands from your area?
My guess is that it’s mostly geological. We have a rehearsal space about 50 kilometers from downtown Reykjavík, where most of these bands share spaces. We still go to shows every now and then (or used to) but there’s not as much intermingling I suppose.
Do you nevertheless see parallels between your work and that of bands like Svartidauði or Misþyrming?
There’s always a common root I suppose, but I think our focus on melody and our background in music is probably what sets us apart.
Your new album is called „Vökudraumsins Fangi“, which means „prisoner of the daydream“ according to your label. What is the idea behind this title?
A better translation would be ‚The waking dream’s prisoner‘. It could be someone who is stuck in a delusion, or even a slave to his own thoughts, and struggling to define what is real and what isn’t.
Dreams are not necessarily something one would associate with black metal. Do you consider yourself a dreamer?
I would disagree there, a lot of black metal is about escapism, creating another world, especially when it come to the atmospheric side of black metal. I’d even go so far as saying dreams are the foundation of creativity, since they’re strongly linked to your subconscious and imagination.
The album title and your intense vocal performance suggest that the lyrics are very important to you. Does it bother you that many of your listeners don’t even understand your lyrics given that they are exclusively in Icelandic?
It doesn’t really bother me, I feel the message is carried across through the music, and I also believe people like things better when they can ascribe their own meaning to them. Most of my favourite bands sing in Ukrainian or Polish, so I have no idea what they’re songs are about. But the vocals portray emotion and can also provide a certain rythm to a song. But I can only speak for myself, since it is Aðalsteinn who writes the bulk of the lyrics.
You announced in advance that you wanted to go in a new direction and explore new themes on „Vökudraumsins Fangi“. Can you give us a bit more insight into what you meant by that that?
I think it is all about having more creative freedom. We go further in each extreme, the violent and the calm. „Farvegir Fyrndar“ was a lot more rigid in this way, everyone had very strong opinions in the creative process, making things very difficult, so there was this kind of silent concensus on being more open to each others ideas for this one. The result was a much more relaxed and collaborative approach to the songwriting, which I think really brought out the strong sides of each of us, the sum being even stronger that it’s individual parts.
There are three guitarists on the album this time, which is quite unusual. Why did you decide to add an extra guitar?
It kind of just happened. We’d been talking about making some changes, adding a new dimension. Matthías had been on the sidelines for quite some time, even played a few gigs with us before when Hjálmar couldn’t make it, and Hjálmar has always really been a guitar player. So it just made sense, especially with Hjálmar having written many riffs we hadn’t been able to incorporate before, it just brings a whole new perspective to the band.
The songs on the album have a pretty consistent sound, so one has to listen quite closely to notice the different details. What do you think about the possibility that some listeners might find the album too monotonous because of that?
The album is written as a whole, and should be enjoyed as such. But if would skip from a song like „Eldborg“ to „Vökudraumsins Fangi“, there’s a vast difference. Perhaps you don’t notice that on the first listen if you give the whole album a spin, but that’s the whole point, it is supposed to flow seamlessly.
Special additions like the Hammond organ are used very subtle in the songs. What made you refrain from bringing these rather unusual stylistic elements to the forefront?
We just wanted a hint of something different, to add colour to the songs. We’ve always wanted to have our studio sound as close as possible to our live sound, so going too far with experimentations would most likely have been detrimental to our live performances.
One gets the impression that you don’t want to create gimmicky songs, but rather consistent ones. What is the most important thing for you personally in songwriting?
For me it is the journey that’s created in music, my favourite is taking two very different ideas, and trying to get from point A to point B as seamlessly as possible. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, there’s a lot of pride that comes with it. As for consistency, yes, I am a fan of having recurring themes through albums, something that ties them together.
„Vökudraumsins Fangi“ seems to have a slightly cleaner, well-rounded sound compared to your first two albums. Was that an artistic decision or did you just previously lack the resources for a more polished sound?
I’d say this is the sound we wanted on all the albums, but we just didn’t give ourselves enough time on the mixing and master of „Farvegir Fyrndar“. This sound is basically a refined version of what we hear when we play at our rehearsal space.
You worked with Jens Bogren and Stephen Lockhart as producers this time. How much did they get involved in the making of the album?
Stephen was with us all the way in the studio alongside drum tech Kjartan Harðarson (drummer of Cult Of Lilith, Draugsól and countless others) and did some editing before sending everything to Jens for mixing and mastering. Him and Jens were also in close contact when deciding mic placements and so forth. Jens seemed to completely understand what we wanted and what worked for us, all we really had to say was that we wanted something true to the original recording.
Under the current circumstances, it’s hard to plan, of course. Do you nevertheless have any ideas what you want to do with AUÐN in the near future?
If things start to look up, then we have a tour in the works around September/October and a festival in Britain in December next year. If things won’t, but Iceland still gets it’s shit together, we’ll be playing at Stephen Lockhart’s „Ascension Festival“ in May. And if things stay the same or get worse, we’ll just be working on new material for all you people having to cope with that reality.
Next I would like to go through a short brainstorming with you. What do you think of the following terms?
Sólstafir: „Masterpiece Of Bitterness“ is one of the best Icelandic albums.
Streaming concerts: Hopefully not a thing in the future.
Isolation: Not so bad.
Glaciers melting: Not so great.
Current favorite album: Drudkh – Autumn Aurora
Finally, thank you again for your answers. Would you like to direct some last words towards the readers?
Embrace the current situation. Stop wishing for a „return to normal“. It’s that „normal“ that was grossly unprepared for a pandemic. Try to get acquanted with your near-environment and stop taking international travel for granted. This is especially hard for Icelanders, since you tend to get cabin-fever in the long, dark winters. But it has to be done, and living a bit slower lifestyle also helps you with the stress of this situation.
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