A Return to the Mountain: Vintersorg on “Till fjälls, del II”
Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund is one of those names which followed me through my "extreme metal evolution." He was there during my early forays into folk metal, he changed as I found solace in more progressive sounds, and he eventually shifted back as nostalgia’s presence grew in the metal world. Associating certain musicians within the fortress of said nostalgia makes things difficult -- yes, there is that naivete in the revelry of one's early favorites, and maybe a little shame -- but the singular nature of Hedlund's own creativity remained steadfast and flexible across his now-lengthy discography.
As the longing for the “glory days of old” continues to grow, Hedlund, too, dives headfirst into the early portion of his discography. This year's revisitation and sequel to his earliest work as Vintersorg (and, as it turns out, Havayoth), Till fjälls, del II found comfort in that special sort of mid-to-late-'90s folk metal, but with the maturity of twenty additional years as an accomplished musician. Even so, Vintersorg's own backward glance ventures much deeper than the simple nostalgic cash-grab. In an in-depth and personal conversation, Hedlund and I discussed the arc of his discography, the nature of creativity, and overcoming what would normally be a debilitating, career-destroying injury.
First off, I want to thank you for the interview! It's an honor to be able to chat with you after being a fan for so long.
It's just perfect. I love to talk about my music!
That's exactly what I want to hear. So how does it feel to revisit Till fjälls almost twenty years after it was initially released?
Recording this album was a great adventure in many aspects. I wasn't trying to do this type of album at all at first. I just wrote songs randomly out of the blue, but the songs ended up sounding this way. After I had finished some songs it kind of became clear that this was going to be like [Till fjälls]. So, I showed the other guys in the band the songs and they were like, "why don't we just go all-in?". After that, it was a very nice and easy path to follow. It reminded me of the start of the band. Still, I didn't get too nostalgic.
It certainly ended up on the "nostalgic" side, at least for me, and it's been interesting watching you shift back to a more folk-centric sound over the last decade. Do you feel these songs came from a similar place of inspiration as your earlier works, or was that also a coincidence?
Hard for me to tell, actually. I always write out of passion and inspiration. I try not to calculate that much in the writing process, but later on in the recording process [becomes more calculated]. So, I guess after all this time I'm the same person but with much more experiences and new perspectives on things. But the music that came out of my mind this time around was just like this, can't really say why or what it depends on. I was aiming for a very folk-oriented sound consciously… but that was my only guideline I put out to myself.
And Till fjälls del II certainly turned out to be the most folk-oriented work since the two albums prior to what I like to call the "sci-fi trilogy" (Cosmic Genesis, Visions from the Spiral Generator, and The Focusing Blur). You had mentioned that there wasn't a lot of nostalgia involved with this album, but you also mentioned it still reminded you of the project's early years. Why do you feel there isn't a large degree of personal nostalgia involved?
For me, nostalgia is something that you lose yourself in and try to go back in time in a way. I'm still very much living in the present and don't try to look back to copy the songs or the albums from the past. Nostalgia is, for me, something you reach for when the present doesn't deliver what you wish, but that doesn't mean that I don't like the past and past times of this band in particular. When we did this album, it was a little like traveling in time, but I didn't go back and listen to the first album and then tried to do a copy. Instead, I felt this piece became kind of a continuation of the first album, with a lot more experience. Still, I really love that first album as it has a more naive way of composing songs. So, that is my new mantra: programming myself to become more naive and just throw myself out there. That's a bit harder the older you get. So, it has been a journey to reconnect to the younger me, in a way.
Do you feel Till fjälls del II possesses a similar sort of naivete? Or has it gracefully aged into something you find more palatable (like a good wine)?
In a way you can put it like that. I feel that this new album is more mature and more thought-through, even if passion is the utter mark. This new album bears the mark of a more experienced musician and human being, both musically and lyrically.
So now that you're a more experienced musician, especially with ten full-lengths under your belt, do you have a favorite release under the Vintersorg banner? If you're able to choose just one.
To tell the truth, I can't really just pick one album out as they all have their importance to me. They surely represent a special period in my life and what I was going through as a human being as well as a musician. I like all the albums for their special composition but recently I've grown more fond of the really folk oriented stuff that we've done, as I get my progressive dose in other projects in which I'm involved.
What type of importance does this latest album hold to you?
Monumental! It has been a journey reconnecting to the younger me and the music from a past period. I've learned what this band is about and what to take on for the future. It's been a blast continuing something I started twenty years ago, and with the "lost track EP" that we include with this new album we've gone full circle, or "the full spiral, as we're not getting back to the same position… we've leveled up, but still capture the essence of the band's starting spark.
Leveling up! Ha! I love it. That "lost" EP was a real treat, and I really enjoyed the idea of including it on a separate disc from what is considered the "proper" album. Though it is covered in the liner notes, what kept you from releasing this music back in the day?
That I don't really remember fully… sounds like the "Comey hearing," but I just found a tape one day when I was cleaning out some thrash in the basement. [The tape] said "Vargatron rehearsal" and I got really keen on listening to it. I found these tracks that I've written before Vintersorg was Vintersorg and the project was called "Vargatron". Then I, for some strange reason, didn't use these songs in the first EP Hedniskhjärtad -- in that case it would have been a full album. I thought the songs were nice, even if the sound was horrible, so I did a small experiment recording some demos and then showed the other guys. This time, they thought it was meant to be. So, we did re-record the songs and they turned out great, I think, and you'll hear that they are from the past when compared to the new album.
They certainly possessed that sort of "old magic." So I understand you had a bit of an accident in late 2014 which temporarily impaired your hearing, among a few other injuries. Has this continued to be an issue?
Yes, indeed. It's much better now, but still I struggle with my hearing. I had this accident when, I in a way, crushed my skull with many cracks in the cranium and two brain hemorrhages, facial paralyzing, and so on. At that time I was nearly deaf in my left ear, but the doctors have been able to save some of my hearing with surgery. I can now work in my studio and work on music, but not as fluently as before and that's kind of annoying, you know. I have so many musical ideas, but the physical condition limits me here.
I didn't realize it was that severe - you seemed so positive in the public statements you had made. Did this impede the creation of Till fjälls, del II at all?
In a way, I guess. I had written most of the album but we hadn't really recorded that much of it. So, this new album as well as the last Borknagar album will forever be burnt into my mind with many emotional matters. From the very dark and frustrating episodes that I was going through the very light and wonderful when the albums were done and the music was completed. It has affected me deeply and even if it sounds like a total cliche I must say that my accident really was good to me also. It made me realize many things, like how fragile life is and how you should just make the most out of it… totally aware that I sound like a "life coach."
That's definitely a healthy way of approaching these things. Either that or get lost in the dark episodes to which you referred earlier. Do you think these personal matters will further manifest in the lyrical focus of Vintersorg and make it more inward instead of astral and ancient?
Hard to tell. I'm interested in so many aspects of life and humanity. I love the present, also history, mathematics, science, and so on. So, I can't really tell. But what I've learned throughout this period after my accident is not to take anything for granted. I still feel that the lyric writing that I do for Vintersorg is very important and it'll never be like a document of my daily life, more like my pondering about the stuff I see in nature and how we as human treat that same nature that we are dependent on.
Till fjälls, del II is out now on Napalm Records -- order it here.