Skálmöld is, to say the least, a newcomer in the metal scene. Their first (and so far only) album, Baldur, was released in their native Iceland in December 2010 and in the rest of the world in August 2011, having been picked up by Napalm Records.
Despite this short history, however, Skálmöld is far from an obscure band. They played in this year’s edition of Wacken Open Air and are now touring Europe as part of the Heidenfest, with big players in the scene like Arkona, Alestorm, Turisas and Finntroll.
So we sat down with Baldur Ragnarsoon (guitar) and Jón Geir Jóhansson (drums) in Leeuwarden to talk about this explosive career.
Metal Blast: Well guys, thank you very much for taking the time to do this.
Baldur & Jón: No problem, it’s nice to be here.
MB: Although this is a very common question; tell us a big about Skálmöld and Baldur, your debut album.
B: Well,“Skálmöld“ is an old Icelandic word which means “Age of War” or “Age of Swords”…
J: I think that the word can be seen for the first time about 1000 years ago. It’s usually used regarding this civil war in the 13th century between 4 clans. It means “Time of War”.
B: It’s a word that hasn’t been used that much in recent years, to the point that many people in Iceland don’t know what it means (although they may know it now). We liked the sound and the meaning of the word…. and it also looked cool.
J: It’s not like the Mötley Crüe umlaut, we actually have these letters!
B: “Baldur”, is our first and only record (so far). It’s a concept album about a viking called Baldur. Although it’s the same name as a Norwegian god, it’s just a man.
J: It’s a fictional story, set in a kind-of fictitious world (although the story says he lives in Iceland).
B: Yes, we don’t have that many dragons.
J: Well, not anymore at least. Our bass player, Snæbjörn Ragnarsson, who writes all our lyrics, came up with the concept. He mixed old Norse mythology, Icelandic folklore and a bit of Dungeons and Dragons elements of fantasy.
MB: Did you have a positive reception in Iceland?
B: Extremely! We were at the top of the lists in Iceland for 2 or 3 week which was incredible. We thought that we had made a rather hard-to-hear heavy metal album, but all kind of people, even those who don’t normally listen to metal found things in this album that they liked, be it the music, the lyrics or the story.
J: I think it’s the highest selling heavy metal album in Iceland in history.
MB: Well, about that… how big is the metal scene in Iceland?
B: It’s getting bigger and stronger every day. There are a lot of good bands in Iceland, and we also have a big heavy metal festival every year called Eistnaflug, where everybody just gets together to drink, party, have fun and listen to metal. The scene has never been stronger!
MB: Did the recent Icelandic economic crisis affect it in any way?
J: I don’t know if it had anything to do with it. The strange thing is that when the economy took a bit of a dive, people started showing up at concerts and going to the theater in Iceland, instead of going abroad… understandably, of course. I don’t think this crisis fueled the heavy metal scene in particular, but arts in general.
MB: The band is labeled as “Viking Metal”; Is that accurate?
B: Well, it’s.. viking-themed, since the lyrics circle around this subject. But we feel that we simply play Heavy Metal, since we mix up a lot of metal genres, with parts being Doom Metal, others black metal, death metal or whatever . Although I can understand why people call us viking metal.
MB: Considering the brief history of the band, how did you end up with Napalm Records?
B: We were first picked up by a Faroese label. Actually, no record label in Iceland, saying that there was no way our album would sell. We got in touch with Christian Moll from Tutl Records and he said “Yes! Let’s do this!”
J: This probably created this connection with the whole pagan/viking theme, since they are the ones who released the first Týr album. Well, we also, like Týr, use fifth harmony vocals.
B: Yes, and it was through Tutl that we connected to Napalm.
MB: Did you ever fear that maybe the lyrics in Icelandic would prove to be an obstacle for foreign fans of the genre?
B: We never thought about that. We knew what we wanted to do and we did it… and then everybody liked it. It was pure luck. Even if we had thought that people wouldn’t like the aesthetics of the album, we still would have done it.
J: The thing is that the band started simply as a group of people that were contacted by our bassist, not all of us even knew each other before our first rehearsal. An he was like “These are guys who like heavy metal, they play in pop groups, folk groups or do theater”.
B: “Let’s make one good album so that when we’re old we can take it from the shelf and be proud of it”.
J: That was the main goal; to make an album that we could be proud of and listen to when we were old.
MB: What were your influences when you wrote Baldur?
B: Well, our sound engineer has never even listened to metal, so the sound of the album was just what he thought it should sound like. It’s not really like he took something from other bands. He just wanted it to sound like this.
MB: What’s in store for the band now?
B: We’re not taking any breaks. We’re going to keep practicing and writing the next next album. We have a lot of ideas and, well, it’s gonna be a great album!
MB: Despite your short history, you played in Wacken 2011. Can you tell us how that happened?
J: The funny thing about it is that when we were confirmed we hadn’t even played 3 gigs and hadn’t released the album yet. There were just demos circulating.
B: It’s been very fast, but we are glad because we really, really like to do this.
MB: This is your first tour. Has It been a good experience?
B: Well, we thought it’d be more difficult and less fun.
J: The bus doesn’t smell as bad as we thought.
B: Everyone working in this tour is great and everything happens really fluidly. Of course, it’s a bit harder for two of our members, who have small children back home. But everybody wants to be here, we want to play metal and meet new people!
MB: Are you focused entirely on the band right now, or do you have other projects?
B: Well, we have been using a lot of our time for Skalmold. Now, we all have other bands back home. Me and my brother, for instance, have this drinking band…
J: Also, two of us have been doing some theater. I’ve played a 100-year old woman in the Icelandic national theater for about a year now.