“When you think about folk metal nowadays you maybe think of different stuff. . . Bands like Korpiklaani or Ensiferum, which are more on the extreme side. I think we are still something a little bit different.“
Folk metal icons Elvenking were instrumental in the creation of the folk metal scene. Despite a few stylistic changes throughout their 20+ year career, they have always maintained a high level of quality and folky energy in every album. The band released their tenth album, Reader of the Runes – Divination, only a few days ago, and they continue to prove their place at the forefront of the genre. In the midst of such a busy time, the band’s songwriter and guitarist, Aydan, gave me the pleasure of sharing his thoughts on the making of Divination.
Kane: So, Elvenking has been around since 1997, which makes it as old as I am! How have you seen the folk metal stage in change since then?
Aydan: It’s interesting because when we started as a band in 1997, basically there was no folk metal scene at all. I mean, the only folk metal band we knew of were Skyclad from Britain. The communication in the metal world was different from now. So obviously there were some extreme metal bands or black metal bands that had the influences on the folkloristic music and stuff like that but there wasn’t really any folk metal scene existing at all.
Nowadays we are considered one of the originators of the scene but at the time we didn’t have a clue of what was happening. We just did the music we love and we mixed our heavy metal influences with some music coming from the mountains nearby, so it was really something different. Through the years, then, a lot of bands came out and the so-called “folk metal scene” had and still has lots of success.
That is one of the reasons why, through the years, we moved away from the scene and we also did two, three albums that were very distant from that, because we felt like, you know, we started something and then other bands came out and had more success than us so we wanted to show that we were able to do different good things. But from Pagan Manifesto on we went back to the origins of the band, to what the idea of the band was, both musically and lyrically. And, well, we’re still here nowadays!
I can imagine it’d be completely different than it is today, where it seems like there’s a new folk metal album or band every other week from some random town in Eastern Europe or something!
Yeah, exactly, something like that. [laughs] So, it’s kind of weird because it seems like it’s something that’s very. . . I don’t know. This folk metal stuff is coming out of everywhere, basically, so of course at the time it was very different. But we still try to be different as much as possible. As unique as possible. When you think about folk metal nowadays you maybe think of different stuff, maybe more extreme or more rough, let’s say. Bands like Korpiklaani or Ensiferum, which are more on the extreme side. I think we are still something a little bit different.
Yeah, there’s not as many that are closer to power metal like you guys are. Maybe Wind Rose or something but I think that’s it for the more popular bands.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t think that there are as many bands that are similar to us. I mean, obviously we have strong power metal influences and also a lot of stuff coming from some of the extreme metal scene of the 90s, like Swedish death metal and so on, and so there is still something different from what is out there, especially for the vocals, for example. Like the approach to the vocals, stuff like that.
So we always try to be as unique as possible, even though “originality” is a pretty hard word to use in music in general, because there is nothing “original” anymore, probably. But at least we try to be as recognizable as possible.
Absolutely. On the note of being unique, the first thing I noticed about your new album Divination is that it’s pretty distinct from even a lot of your guys’ own work. I found it a lot more heavy and guitar-oriented. Is that something that you guys intentionally did?
Yes, absolutely. We felt that, through the years, we were always kind of losing a lot of parts of our music, like the guitar work, which was always hidden behind a wall of orchestration or stuff. We really wanted to have this time more focus on the guitarwork and stuff like that, and we noticed that in the past we used to put an overlay, you know, a lot of stuff that, in the end, you can barely hear. There were a lot of arrangements that were really cool to listen to on their own but in the whole song it was basically messy because they were moving the attention away from the important melodies or the rhythms that we wanted to hear.
So it is something that I believe you need to learn with time. You know, when you are young, you always try to put stuff on stuff to show that you are cool enough to do all the arrangements. [laughs] But in the end, what really is important is what you should be focusing on so, through the years, we tried to get away from a lot of useless stuff and try to be as basic as possible in order for the listener to be understand exactly what is happening. If you want to have some heavy guitars, the only thing is just to delete all the useless stuff around the orchestration. That’s the only way to make it work properly.
Yeah, I noticed that even all the way up to Pagan Manfesto that there were tons and tons of folk instruments in the background and you can’t clearly hear a lot of them, and the guitars are way in the background. So it’s really nice to be able to actually hear really cool guitar parts.
Yeah, exactly, that’s the reason. You know, maybe there is a folk instrument there, and you write the part and you record it and say, “Yeah, this sounds really cool,” but then, maybe it’s overlayed to the vocals, so you need to keep it very low, and then, even if it’s low, you distract from the vocals, so you put it even lower, and in the end there’s a lot of things surrounding it but you can’t really focus on anything, so what we did with this album was say, “Ok, do we need this part? Is it something that is fundamental?” No; it’s cool, but you cannot put your attention there if there’s something else going on. So we really put the guitars on top this time and, when there was space, we went for something else. But I’m really happy with the production of this album and finally we have reached this goal that we had for a lot of years.
As a huge fan of you guys, I obviously like this album pretty much as much as I love all your other stuff, but are you happy with how other fans and critics have received it?
Well, you know, the album has just been released; it’s just a couple of days out. But what we have seen so far is that the reaction from the press is overwhelming and really beyond any expectation. You know, I had the feeling that the work we did this time was pretty okay, that it was good, and we had a good feeling about it, but the reaction from the journalists and the press went really beyond any expectation and we are getting a lot of good words and great evaluations and stuff like that.
For example, we put out limited edition box sets for the album that basically sold out already. I had the impression that the press copies were too many and I talked to the record label and said, “Ok, let’s do less,” and they said, “No, let’s do this,” and we sold out on the preorders. And the reactions from the fans so far are amazing, I would say.
Has there been any real negative feedback or does everybody just love it?
[laughs] No, well, you always have negative reviews or something like that. To be sincere, so far I have seen probably one review which was, like, five out of ten, but I have read it – you know, I don’t really read the reviews. I did the work, you know, and I care about more of what the fans say.
But the only thing I read was that one bad review, but it was really, from what I read, like, “I hate this kind of metal,” and I thought, you know, ok. Honestly, what we used to receive as negative feedback was always what we put out as the first singles because, when you put out a single or a video or something like that, it’s always difficult because you have to choose one song to reflect an entire album. I think we are still too old school and we have the impression that the song is the part of the whole album that you would need to listen from the first one to the last one, taking a certain journey through the songs and reading the lyrics and trying to understand what is happening.
So it is very difficult for us to choose single songs to represent the entire album. You never know if it should be a melodic one, a commercial one, a heavy one. Now, we have told the record label, “Choose what you want,” because everything we choose is not always the right choice. When we put out a single there is always someone complaining, “Oh, this is too melodic,”, “This is too that,”, “It’s not good enough,”. It should be the mirror of the album but often it is not like that. So this is something that happens often for an album, and it happened with this one, but that’s pretty normal, I would say.
So you guys have had a pretty stable lineup for the past few years, except for a couple drummers. Did that have a big impact on how the album turned out?
I don’t want to say, “Not really,” but as you probably know, me and Damna, our singer, are the ones who write the music, as we always did. So I don’t want to say that lineup changes can’t affect the music, but it really didn’t, in this case, because the songwriting was not affected.
The fact that we have great people, great musicians, amazing people is a plus, and, in terms of recording, especially in this album, everyone did amazing work, especially how Lancs played the drums and recorded them in the studio, because everything you hear is pure natural drums. It’s probably the first time that we never used any trigger or samples on the drums because his drumming is so consistent. When we gave the recordings in to Dan Swanö for the mixing, he was absolutely impressed about how the drums were recorded and said, “Ok, guys, I think this is the first time in my life that I won’t use any samples or trigger on the drums! Even though it’s a metal album, it needs to be respected how it was played.”
And we wanted to have a very 90s production, still modern but as natural as possible, so that was possible thanks to the performances of everyone in the band, so that was great.
Was the songwriting process for this album very different from how you’ve done previous albums or was is business as usual?
It was actually different for the very first time because this is the very first concept album that we have done, even in the past if we have done, you know, themed albums, like The Scythe, for example. So, for the very first time, there was less freedom in the songwriting, because we needed to have the music follow the lyrics follow the story follow the atmospheres of the story. So, the songwriting wasn’t as before where we were like, “I have this song, let’s put it in this part,” It was more like, “What part of the story does this feed? What mood of the story should this be? What kind of atmosphere do we need to explain this part of the story?” So it was pretty different, I would say, and also pretty challenging. And also this is just part of the concept, because there will be at least two more albums in a longer concept.
What was your favourite part about making Divination?
Uh, well, songwriting itself is always my favourite part because it is always surprising what we come out with. Every time we finish the songwriting of an album, I feel like I did everything possible for the album and like I have no force to write anything else in the future [laughs] because you just feel, like, empty and so on. And it’s always surprising when you come out with something new. You start from an idea to form a full song and the song then becomes something that really works and then, obviously, hearing the final result is always something that you don’t imagine when you start songwriting. You don’t have a clue where the journey will bring you or how the songs in your mind will really come out, in the end.
And why did you guys decide to make this string of concept albums?
Well, for some years we’ve always had the idea of doing a concept album based on something that we wanted to tell, but we never had the right story or time to do it, I don’t know. When we came up with a story and decided that it was the right one, it was immediately clear that one album wouldn’t have been enough to contain all the story, and that we need to do it in different chapters. So, the idea to create a story that is and will be contained in more albums like the chapter of a story is something that attracted us immediately and we felt it was the right choice to do right now in this moment.
You know, as I told you, from the Pagan Manifesto on it was almost like we were reborn as a band. We tried to go back and rediscover the passion we had when we founded the band back in the day when we were just a bunch of kids with the passion to play music and to create lyrics and stories around it, and we kind of lost this feeling and this passion through the years. But when we decided to restart from that point, we did two albums [Pagan Manifesto, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire] and thought that now was a good time for this. And at that point, to be sincere, the reaction of the people to the band was becoming better and better, so we felt that this was the time, if we wanted to do a project like this, and to do it as epic as possible. So, that was the reason.
What’s your favourite thing about Reader of the Runes – Divination?
Uh [laughs] I like the album. I like really like the fact that we did a concept album that isn’t boring like a lot of concept albums. You know, sometimes you tend to make it as grandiose as possible in order to make it big and something like that, but this is the first thing that we wanted to avoid. It’s not that we want to make a concept album that is very difficult or very complex or something like that. We wanted the people to listen to it and to create songs that could work also live and so on, so I’m very happy that we created single songs that work well on the live side or by themselves, but also that, if you listen to the album beginning to the end, you can feel that there is something going on and there is a story behind that has atmospheres that change as it goes from very romantic parts to very heavy ones.
Yeah, I think that’s my favourite thing, too, is that it works really well both as a concept album and even if you shuffle it into a playlist, where they’re still great songs on their own.
Yeah, exactly. That was one of our goals. Even if you shuffle it and listen to one song, you should enjoy it. And if you listen to the whole thing, you have maybe a different impression, but it’s working good.
Another thing I thought was really cool was the rune puzzle you guys released before the album was even announced. Whose idea was that?
Oh, that was an idea that came out, to be sincere, from our record company. We have a new girl in the company that is taking care of our promotion, and she is super super great. She was especially really into our idea of music and all the concepts we had and she’s a fan of black metal and stuff like that. It’s the first time we have had someone like that because usually a record company prefers music that is more melodic, and the idea we were bringing to the table really didn’t fit their way of seeing things. But since this girl came in, she came up with the puzzle things and we immediately felt a close cooperation with her and a close connection. So she took care of it. We really have to thank her. She’s really really great and did amazing work with us on the album.
So we’re just about out of time here, but I do have one more question. You’re the last remaining original member of Elvenking, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that you love it, but do you have any desire to pursue other projects or other genres?
[laughs] This is a good question! You know, I always felt that I wanted to concentrate one-hundred percent on Elvenking because it was my band and I founded it when I was a kid and especially because this is the music I always wanted to do. You know, back in the day, I didn’t find a band that really one-hundred percent fit my needs, because I love the power metal but also the more extreme stuff and acoustic folk and stuff like that, so I wanted to do something on my own. And, in the end, I think that especially with these last albums this was the music that I wanted to do.
So I never felt the need to do something else. But, your question is interesting because, just the other day I realized that I have a lot of songs that do not fit Elvenking at all. I write music here and there and there is stuff that cannot be put on an Elvenking album, and I have the idea that I want to record something on my own that will obviously be pretty distant from Elvenking. And, for sure, I think it will be something very atmospheric and aethereal, something like piano and vocals and acoustic stuff. And I think I will do something like that pretty soon.
I can’t wait to hear what that brings. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today!
A: Yes, thank you! It was a pleasure.
Elvenking’s tenth album, Reader of the Runes – Divination, is the first part of a multi-album concept. It’s available now on all major streaming platforms, or you can buy it from their >>website<<!
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