Ereb Altor - Interview
Swedish black/folk metal legends Ereb Altor have released their 9th full-length album called "Vargtimmen" this January via Hammerheart Records (and it got into our January Top 10 - read review here). I asked vocalist / guitarist and bass player Mats if he would like to answer some questions about the new album and the history of the band and he was so kind as to agree. So I had a very nice chat via Skype with him where I could find out some more interesting facts about the band and also Mats himself. Enjoy reading!
Hi Mats, how are you doing? Hope you did come well through the pandemic?
I'm doing fine! All the restrictions in Sweden were lifted this Wednesday (I did the interview on the 11th of February; M.) and Norway and Denmark as well opened up. So it feels good. Most people are vaccinated up here so I think it will be more or less like some cold of flu with Covid-19 – I hope so. But you never know, it can kick back as well but it's been a strange couple of years not to be able to play any shows, not to go to any shows and just stay home. It has been two boring years.
You have recently released your new album "Vargtimmen". After several listens, I have to say that it is much darker and more depressing than its predecessor "Järtecken". Did the pandemic have a big influence on the writing process or are you just getting more depressed in general?
Haha! It's very hard to say how an album will turn out because I always start with a clean slate and it depends on the mood of course. This album is written mostly pre pandemic. The long waiting times to release vinyls, you have nine months at the factories right now so everything is much later than people will think. I started writing the album in 2019 and 2020 so I don't think it has much to do with the pandemic. Maybe the next album will be darker because of the pandemic (laughs). In the writing procedure I am kind of two years ahead of every album every time. You write it two years before the release since we are spending a lot of time when we have an album coming out with the recording and the pre-productions and all the stuff. We do everything ourselves and it takes a long time. So Vargtimmen is an old album for me.
Having a look at the cover and the title which refers to an old Swedish term for the hour before sunset when most of the people die you can get the impression that this album is mostly about death. Am I right about that?
It deals with a lot of dark subjects and death is one among them. We deal with the black plague for instance and the title track is obviously about death as well. We also have a song about the witch processes back in Sweden 700 years ago. The church here in Sweden had a lot of power and they got kids to point out who is a witch and who isn't. Sometimes they even pointed out their own parents which were burnt at stake or drowned so these were very crazy times. In this particular song it's about a child who points out his mother is sentenced to death by the church and this is a true story. Very dark times!
Is the cover somehow referring to the ferryman and the Styx?
Yes, it is. That's not exactly very Swedish perhaps but in some points you can mention a ferryman in Sweden as well. Also when it comes to the black plague – they thought that it could have traveled across waters with a ferryman. So there are these stories in Sweden as well but not when it comes to the land of the dead. It's a bit borrowed from the Styx.
What is the track "Den Dighra Döden" about? It sounds a little bit like a grave digger…..
That's about the black death. The name of it here in Sweden is "digerdöden". "Dighra Döden" is some kind of older spelling and expression. I've read a very old book where they explained the Black Death and the people in Sweden back then thought it was born in a huge storm and spread by the wind. When I wrote that song I tried to somehow make the song sound like a nasty black wind or something. The notes are not going exactly; they are some kind of swaying, trying to get the lyrics and the music fit together. And they're very dark of course.
I got the limited edition of the album which includes a CD of the last years EP "Eldens Boning" which was only released on vinyl and as a digital version. Why did you decide to release it as a CD, too?
It was an idea that Hammerheart Records came up with. We had no intention of releasing this on CD, we thought it was more like a collector thing for vinyl collectors but they thought it could be a very good idea to make a 2-CD-box. They usually sell pretty well and we said that we could try and there have been a lot of fans asking about it to get it on CD.
Your name is originally based on a fantasy role playing game called "Drakar Och Demoner". This is not the most ehm… serious origin for a metal bands name some true black metal guys might say. Did you ever think about changing the name?
Well, we actually thought about to change it in the beginning but you can't change a band's name. There weren't that many black metal influences from the beginning and we had an intention of writing fantasy lyrics from the start but that actually never happened because we started to deal with historic events and northern mythology instead. But the name remained. It's a game that we played as kids so it has something to do with our childhood and it is something that connects us - me and Daniel. The band name remains and still not many know about that role playing game. Ereb Altor could be kind of a black metal name anyway (laughs). But it's a fantasy role playing game with dice and all that stuff, it's kind of a Swedish version of Dungeons and Dragons.
Do you still have time to play this game? I mean, getting older usually means that we don't have too much time for such things maybe…
I don't play this game anymore and I haven't done it in the last 30 years or so. But I do play games still and I don't have any video games. I collect board games actually. I play strategic board games once or twice the week with a couple of friends of mine. It's good for your brain. I have about 150 board games and some of them are very advanced.
One hobby you have is to make your own red wine. I was pretty surprised to read that you can even produce wine that far north.
Haha!! You should not be able to do that but my grapes are in a perfect spot with a lot of sun. It actually works and we have a lot of bees because my neighbor has three beehives and so I get a lot of grapes.
That sounds cool. My grapes aren't that tasty, they somehow taste quite artificial. Is it a sweet or dry red wine?
It's dry red wine. I experiment with it every year so it's different each year. Perhaps I will find the perfect recipe – the first time I made my wine, it wasn't that very good (laughs). You learn a lot during the process what to do and not.
Are there any other surprises one should know about the band members?
Haha, I don't wanna speak for the others. I like to be outdoors very much. I have a dog and walk with him every day and I travel up north to the mountains here in Sweden. I will enter the highest mountain in Sweden this summer for the first time. I will be hiking in the mountains for about a week to reach the top of Kebnekaise. It's not very high, about 2000 meters (2117 m, M.) and you can't drive to it but you have to walk for six days to get there. It's very beautiful up there and I wish I could live up there but there aren't many people living there because there are no roads, nothing. You have to live in a tent.
In the past you were often called a Bathory follow-up. How much influence does this band still have on you?
Not that much anymore. Bathory is still one of my favorite bands and in the beginning we were trying to pay tribute to them on our first two albums. They are heavily inspired by Bathory. Since a couple of albums we found our own path and I write music in a very different way than he did. I admire his way of doing music because he's doing it so simple yet so effectively. I don't know how to do that because he got the atmosphere with very simple methods. I make everything complicated instead (laughs).
What other bands do have an influence on you? Maybe also for your other band, Isole.
Isole is inspiring Ereb Altor and vice versa of course. I listen a lot to old folk music and I think you can hear that in both bands because there are some Scandinavian melodies inspired by the old folk music from here. Band-wise it's hard to say. Everything you listen to you get influenced by. I listen a lot to Iron Maiden for instance and maybe you can hear it somehow. Primordial is one of my favorite bands as well and it's more similar to Ereb Altor than Iron Maiden perhaps. But I don't know if I get more influenced by Primordial or Iron Maiden, it's very hard to say.
BTW, it is pretty hard to get the older Isole albums as physical editions. Are there some re-releases planned?
We're hoping to do re-releases of all the albums. We're actually working on it and it's the same with Ereb Altor as well. All the older albums you have to buy second hand. It's a pity because I get mails all the time and people are asking where to get a copy of a certain album. As I said, we're working on it because there is a demand for it and it should be doable. I hope we will have every album out again maybe this year. And we still have one album with Isole that doesn't exist on vinyl yet. It's "Bliss Of Solitude" that never was available on vinyl and that's bothering me a little bit. On my wall I have all the vinyls and one is missing – that's disturbing.
What about a new Isole album?
Actually it's written and almost recorded but in August last year there were floods here where we live. The facility where we have our studio was destroyed and they will tear it down. So we don't have a studio at the moment and we're in a waiting line for a new place they're building right now. I hope we can move in in March or something and then we will continue with the album. There are mostly just vocals left to do on it and it should be recorded this year but you have nine months waiting for the vinyl so it will be released early 2023 I hope (laughs).
Alright, we're almost through. I will just show you some album covers and you tell me your thoughts about that, if you'd like...
Bathory – "Bathory''. It's the wrong color! (laughs) No, I don't have the yellow goat either. A friend of mine has two vinyls with the yellow goat and one is mint which is worth pretty much today. It's not Bathory's best album but it still is a legendary album just where Swedish black metal started.
Bathory – "Twilight Of The Gods". This is the best album in the world if you ask my brain. If you ask my heart I would say something different. The album before "Twilight Of The Gods", "Hammerheart" is better by heart but this is better by brain.
Bathory – "Requiem" / "Octagon" – Well, I am a record collector and I bought both of these albums but actually I sold them. I don't think they're too good. Awful albums! I can't really hear Bathory in them, they're just strange.
Venom – "Black Metal" – Yeah! It's a great album and I saw them on 70000 tons of metal before the pandemic. It was one of the best shows on it with Cronos. It's still going strong.
Falkenbach – "Asa" – Falkenbach! I don't know that album actually. I've heard some people play it to me but I don't own any of their albums by them. I know some people sometimes compare Ereb Altor with Falkenbach so maybe I should give them a listen. Is it good?
Yes, it's really great epic stuff! I always listen to it while I'm reading fantasy literature like LOTR. Unfortunately they haven't released an album for 10 or 15 years.
Iron Maiden – "Senjutsu" – I would say it's the best album for quite some time for me. Perhaps it's a little bit too slow but it's still better than "Book Of Souls" and "The Final Frontier". Maybe even the best since "Dance Of Death" I think. It's always a disappointment with Maiden, it's mixed feelings. I know it could have been better but it could have been much worse as well (laughs). Some of the songs are good and some aren't but it's probably better than I expected. But it's not "Seventh Son…" (laughs). You can't compare it to the classic 80s album because they will never sound like that anymore and he cannot sing like that anymore either. You have to take it for what it is. They're getting old but it's still a nice album – I enjoy it.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Well, I really hope that we will be able to see everyone and meet in real life somewhere. We are coming to Germany in September for some shows and will do our first headlining European tour ever. It's a booking agency from Germany who is scheduling it so there are a lot of German gigs. I really long to be out on the road again and meet new and old friends!
Blot · Ilt · Taut
The Lake Of Blood
Fire Meets Ice
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