Heavy Load - Interview

The Swedish metal scene has had quite the reputation for many years, thanks to its amazing bands that vary from heavy metal and power metal to the most extreme or melodic death and black metal. The strange thing is, rarely does anyone these days mention any of the founding fathers of heavy metal music on Swedish soil, the pioneers who started it all and have influenced countless other bands that came after. Those founding fathers are none other than Heavy Load from Stockholm, who have been around since 1976, back when heavy metal was starting to spread its wings even further across the globe. The band successfully reunited back in 2017 after 30 years of absence, and have recently released their brand new and official fourth full-length album "Riders Of The Ancient Storm". Sometime after I heard Heavy Load's new album, I got in touch with the band's vocalist and guitarist Ragne Wahlquist, whom some of you may also know as the producer behind other Swedish classics such as "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" and "Nightfall" by Candlemass and "December Moon" by Morbid. Please join me on this journey with Ragne Wahlquist of Heavy Load, where we talk about the new album, the band's reunion, their current status in the scene, the situation with traditional heavy metal in the modern age and many other things along the way.


Greetings Ragne! First of all, I'd like to wish you a warm welcome on behalf of the MetalBite crew. How are you doing brother?

Thank you, it's very good. Just today, Riders Of The Ancient Storm reached the top spot on the Swedish list of best-selling vinyl records for week 46. I must say that it's both revolutionary and unexpected. Regardless, it's good in many ways. Many fine, one might say fantastic, reviews and wonderful comments from fans about the new album. I feel strong and look forward to meeting the audience together with the other guys in the band, and together with the audience, to create the magic that heavy metal concerts can offer. I can already see it in front of me.

I have just heard your new album "Riders Of The Ancient Storm" and it is an amazing album. This is your first album in 40 years since you released your third full-length "Stronger Than Evil" and it even marks the band's successful return to form. How was the band's overall journey with this new album?

Vlad, you say that Riders Of The Ancient Storm is an "amazing album". Thank you very much for sharing your opinion. The recording itself was a great adventure in sounds, melodies, and rhythms. Many ideas were tested and developed into songs. Seven of them are on the album, eight on the CD. We have written a bunch of songs and recorded several. We even have some material for the next album. Two songs for the next album just need to be mixed down. For Riders Of The Ancient Storm, we wanted a vinyl with really good sound, and therefore we had to keep the playing time down and choose which songs would provide a mix that we thought would best represent a new album from Heavy Load, an album for 2023. We also wanted to do as we did in the recordings of the albums in the 1980s, that is, work in an analogue studio. For us, that is the most natural and inspiring way to work. Furthermore, we wanted artistic freedom. Since the 1970s and until the flooding of our second studio, New Year 2000/2001, Heavy Load had its own studio. Initially, it was a rehearsal space that over time evolved into a studio. Later we moved to Solna where we built a large studio, the second one in order. In these studios, one could say, Heavy Load had its home. Now we needed a new creative home for our music. In a detached building on my property, we created a studio that is fully analogue equipped. We have a 40-channel mixer from the 70s with fantastic sound, a 32-channel tape recorder on 2" tape but also a 24-channel on 2" tape. Then we mix down to ¼" tape and engrave and master from that mix. At the same time, we have a fully developed digital system that we use when we write our songs and make demos of them. Finally, we record them for real on the 32-channel tape recorder. We have real tube microphones of older models for vocals, acoustic guitar, and also for room/ambiance microphones for the drums. The drum room is un-damped and is built in wood to give a warm, natural, and acoustic coloring to the drum sound. It becomes airy, big, and dynamic. Of course, it requires a musician who can handle and take advantage of the sound, a musician who is dynamic in their way of playing the instrument. Styrbjörn has all those abilities in every way. We do the same with the electric guitar. The speaker is in a room that gives air and sings with the tones. We avoid damped rooms. "Who goes into the closet and sings and plays?" I ask myself. "No, everyone wants to sing in the bathroom." Building that studio took a lot of time, but we got it the way we wanted it. It is here that Riders Of The Ancient Storm has become an album, even though some songs are partially recorded in the old studio. In fact, the song 'Walhalla Warriors' was both recorded and mixed in our previous Thundlerload Studio which  was destroyed in a flood in Solna, January 2021.

The songs on this new album have very rich ideas, varying from classic heavy metal to epic sections and magical keyboards, all of which add more layers and dynamics to your music. On top of that, you even added an amazing instrumental bonus track 'Butterfly Whispering' which is very classical music oriented. What was the general direction you were going for with this songwriting on this album and was there any primary focus during the making of this album?

Every song has its own "life," one might say, and it grows and becomes what we feel is best for that particular song. So, we do not modify a song to fit a specific sound. Heavy Load may represent something in some people's minds; for us, the Wahlquist brothers, it is more of a natural thing. What we play and do is just the way it has to be; what else can we do but to play and write what comes from our inner selves? It's all about being true to your heart and doing it with Passion, Devotion, and Drama. When I feel it is in place, I become euphoric and my creativity flourishes. It is like my soul materializes through my music and text. And this is almost like living forever. We play from the heart and mean every note, every pause, and every beat. What more can one do than to honestly play and genuinely mean what you are doing. I am not interested in playing for the sake of playing, but for me, it is necessary that everything we do should genuinely mean something to me. Otherwise, I would rather do something else, something where I feel a real sense of purpose for real. But throughout my life, my heart has beaten for music and lyrics; beaten for what we do together in Heavy Load. My approach may seem exaggerated to some, but then so be it. I know of no other way to find joy and love in what I do. 'Butterfly Whispering' is a piece I wrote and recorded for several reasons. The idea was: my acoustic guitar and me, with as little technology and other things around as possible. I wanted to play something that was really intimate. At the same time, I love playing all types of string instruments, and even the piano. I wrote 'Butterfly Whispering' when my children were really small. Sometimes I played it for them when they were going to sleep. In the Wahlgaard Saga, there is a scene where some of the main characters come into an inn in a country in southern Europe, and there a musician is playing an instrument the Norsemen have never encountered, a guitar. That scene is not in the first book of the series. As Styrbjörn usually says: "The topics for our lyrics and the way we compose our songs come from the deepest part of our beings, our own experiences, and our emotional life – these things are not an elaborate decision. Our lyrics often come from our own experiences. We have other things to say – things that we find more important than lyrics about love or sex or getting drunk. Our lyrics are very true to our own experiences and our views on the human condition."

Have any of the newer heavy metal releases inspired you while you were working on "Riders Of The Ancient Storm"? If so, what did you see in those albums that gave you a strong push to help you put so much effort on this album?

Everything we encounter in life affects our creativity. It is impossible to mention individual things or albums. But some albums that I've listened to a lot over the years are: "Led Zeppelin III", Deep Purple's "Machine Head", Black Sabbath's "Heaven And Hell", and Rainbow's "Rising". Not that I wanted to create music that resembles these albums. Literature is a big source of inspiration. Often a film can spark ideas. At the same time, everything else that I, as a person, experience has significance for my creativity, and it is the same for my brother.

This year we got quite a lot amazing albums from heavy metal bands such as Enforcer's "Nostalgia", Tailgunner's "Guns For Hire", UDO's "Touchdown", and we even got reunited classic heavy metal bands like you and Cirith Ungol releasing a new album the same year. An interesting comment I read is that this feels like we time traveled back to 1983. Do you feel as if 2023 has given a good treatment towards traditional heavy metal music, even more so than any of the recent years?

You are right, there are several bands from the old days that have delivered fine albums this year. The reasons for this happening now are surely many. The COVID-19 pandemic is probably one of them. Looking at myself, my children are grown, my role as a father no longer involves the same responsibility, and then there is room for music for real. When I open my heart to music and creativity, it tends to completely take over me. It's like being in a wonderful intoxication in some way. Other important things in life naturally remain to be enjoyed, but at the same time, music and creativity are constantly present. Another reason why this is happening now could be that life goes in cycles, just like human history. Mistakes are repeated where we humans do not have the ability to see events in the past as part of what is happening today, and even less so tomorrow. Civilizations come and go. Mistakes are repeated. Nations that have lived and operated in harmony with their population turn into oppressive regimes, maybe even attacking their neighbors. We could well do without these cycles.

Taking all things into consideration the current situation of NWOTHM bands and veteran heavy metal bands such as yourselves, do you believe that the future of traditional heavy metal is now in good hands?

Heavy metal, in all its forms, if we necessarily have to divide it into different categories, is in the best hands, namely the audience's hands. If I create something that no one wants, then it naturally dies. Of course, one can create for one's own sake, for the sake of creation, and that can be incredibly meaningful. But everything gains a larger and deeper meaning in the encounter with the audience. I mean it like this. The listener interprets the music and the lyrics based on their understanding, and then something new arises. The experience must be meaningful for the listener, of course, that is to say that it is comprehensible to them. The creator obviously means something with their work, and when this meaning meets the listener's interpretation, you might say it wrestles with or interacts with the listener's understanding, everything becomes much bigger and deeper. Without the audience, we are nothing; it's in the meeting that the art gains a higher value, I mean. The worst thing that could happen is if an art form is invaded by forces that want to capitalize on the art form with a single purpose, to make money. I think that what would happen is that the creator's purpose with the work shifts to become something other than artistic. Of course, one must be able to support oneself with their art if they are to let it take up a large space in their life. At the same time, there needs to be a balance between the need to make money and being true to one's creation. If money is at the center, I believe Heavy Metal risks losing its soul.

As veterans and founding fathers of Swedish heavy metal, were you following up on other traditional heavy metal bands that came years after you like Helvetets Port, Enforcer and Portrait? Have there been any bands that caught your attention, be it Swedish or international?

In the Thunderload Studio, we had the privilege as producers and sound engineers to meet a large number of bands with different styles and directions within heavy metal. This was during the years 1980 to 2000. So, of course, we closely participated in what happened during these twenty years. One might say that we lived with it all the way up until the Thunderload studio was destroyed in a catastrophic flood at New Year 2000/2001. Regarding whether some have been more significant to me than others, I do not want to highlight any bands over others. Today, the world that heavy metal constitutes is so vast that it is impossible to embrace everything. It was a bit different during the 70s and the early 80s, to say the least. Styrbjörn and I listen a lot to what our friends are doing. By that, I primarily think of bands like Opeth, Candlemass, Hammerfall, and Ghost. But also bands like Nightwish, Amon Amarth, Grand Magus and of course Metallica and many more.

Can you please tell me a bit more about the decision behind the reunion of Heavy Load? Did you guys think that the time was right for you to get back together and deliver old school heavy metal to the younger masses?

All we want, all I want, is to create text and music and perform it together with the guys in the band. The music I am referring to is what we ourselves create with all our heart and soul. That is when it becomes meaningful for me. If I love what we do, then there might be a chance that others will find it worth listening to. I know love is a strong word in this context, but that is how it has to feel to mean something real. By that, I mean that the primary purpose must be that we create and play for our own sake and not for anything else. If what we do can contribute something positive, something valuable to others, then that is wonderful, even fantastic. When we go on stage, of course, the performance and the audience are the focus. That is another part of the artistry, if I may call it that. But still, we must love what we do, of course. Only then does it become Heavy Load for real.

How do you look at the band's current situation after the reunion in 2017, especially now since you released a new album 6 years after you got back together? Do you believe that the band is getting more recognition with the new generation of fans?

It really feels like now is our time. I don't want to compare it with the old years. The conditions were completely different at that time. We have carried many fantastic experiences with us since then. Concerts, meetings with fans, reviews, interviews, and much more. All of that exists now too, but at the same time, I feel that the "Heavy Metal world", if I can call it that, is more cohesive today. It's almost like a big, joint family. I guess it's because of all the festivals that exist now and the fact that airfares have a price that makes it possible to travel, both for artists and fans. The Internet with social media has certainly also had a major impact on this "Heavy Metal world".

So far, is there anything that the fans can expect from Heavy Load? Will there be more releases in the future, perhaps tours around Europe etc?

In 2024 we will be performing. Keep it True on April 26, where we are the "Headline", is known, but otherwise, I cannot say anything at this time. But we have received a large number of inquiries from many different countries. I hope we will meet during the year 2024. The re-release of Metal Conquest will be out in 2024, that is what I have been told. We have just recently approved the test pressing. It's not unusual to have problems with clicks and crackles, so it must take the time it requires to carefully listen and note every sound that shouldn't be there. So far, each release has involved several rounds of making matrices and sometimes even re-engravings before everything is in place. Metal Conquest comes with four bonus tracks. One of them is 'For The Welfare Of Man', which really should have been on the original album from 1981. For financial reasons, it wasn't, but now it is there.

Thank you so much for doing this interview, Ragne! I wish you and the other members of Heavy Load all the best. Are there any final words you'd like to leave to your fans?

Without the fans, Heavy Load is nothing. It is the fans who make it all meaningful: creating music and text and performing it on stage. From all my heart, all our hearts: a big thank you for being there; I mean each and every one of you who gives us your time. Thank you!

Entered: 11/23/2023 2:31:06 PM

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