Elaborating on the band's growth and audiovisual partnership with Mattias Frisk.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
With new members joining their fold in 2017, Sweden's KING OF ASGARD began their ascent to the peak of their musical existence. Taudr came as a result and paved the path towards today's subject, Svartrviðr, a record that showcases their ability to craft eloquent melodies as just one element of their constantly unfolding song structure.
Arriving on May 28th via Trollmusic, Svartrviðr serves as the culmination of a band that has refined and restructured their delivery to coincide with their vision. Now five full-lengths in, KING OF ASGARD breathe from a reignited flame and Svartrviðr comes brimming with energy as a result, offering much in the realm of black, death, and folk metal in one cohesive manner. Like several predecessors, Svartrviðr is adorned by Mattias Frisk's artistic prowess, the likes of which captures and expands upon KING OF ASGARD's messaging.
We talk to bassist/vocalist Jonas Albrektsson about where the band is now, their intentional approach to artwork, and more:
‘Svartrviðr’ is nearly here and it serves as a powerful full-length that resembles the growth you’ve made as a newly reinvigorated band since 2017’s ‘Taudr’. Having now reflected and further strengthened the bond you’ve built over the years, where is King of Asgard now and where did you all find common ground when approaching ‘Svartrviðr’?
Albrektsson: I believe this started back when we made the changes in the line-up and new blood came running in our tired veins. The foundation was great back then as well, but it needed more conviction and fighting spirit, which truly happened along with those moves. The writing and composing process went in a slight new direction with a hunger and strive that hadn't been present before. We got more determined. These days, we all have a more common goal and a more equal perception of how the King of Asgard material is to be presented. Everyone has similar musical taste and an overall view of how to reach the end result, doing it in the most convenient way with the 'product' being true to our hearts. That said, we feel safe in all aspects within the band and work very good together as a unit. The pieces just kind of fall into place without us even noticing.
As stated, 'Taudr' was the first token of our reinvigorated force, which furthermore got to be something we built upon and felt strongly about. It was special and helped build a safe common ground on which we rendered and built our 'new' temple. We have a great connection and are all very proud of the outcome that ‘Svartrviðr’ has to offer. None of us feel that we put anything at chance during the making of process and thus we eagerly await the reception of our fans and followers. We might be at our highest peak in terms of satisfaction within our innermost circle.
The music definitely speaks for that newfound energy and confidence found within King of Asgard. It’s common practice for bands and their label to describe a new album as a band’s “best effort” for promotional purposes, but in this case, that’s exactly what it is. It’s meticulously crafted and well layered with sonic influences from across the Norse and black metal spectrum. What did you all look to achieve coming into this fifth full-length?
Albrektsson: That is close to how we feel as well. It's meticulously crafted to its full extent, due in part to what was stated in the previous question. We worked on the songs for years, back and forth, and questioned all doubts, reworked into what we perceive as perfection and again turned it inside out, back and forth, until we were all comfortable with the outcome. That's also what we wanted to achieve, personal satisfaction of what we release and put out under the moniker King of Asgard. ‘Svartrviðr’ is very much the result of our own influences and inspiration, built to please ourselves first and foremost and genuinely hope that our fans and followers as well. At first, 'Svartrviðr’ is not an easy album to get into with its long song structures, built up senses, and/or its stripped down moments. It's a musical journey to be followed or left, totally astray. What we had in mind grew out during the process and ended up in this album, which is basically what we were looking for. Now, when looking back, I believe that we outdid ourselves and got an even stronger result than what we at first imagined. We feel very proud of the whole package and all its contents.
Definitely. It's easily your most expansive release, at least in my opinion. Since 2012’s ‘...To North’, you’ve enlisted Mattias Frisk for album cover duties. What drew you to his work initially and what keeps the partnership going after a decade now?
Albrektsson: We are very close friends with Mattias and felt it was a natural move to try him out for King of Asgard. We've always admired much of his work and thought he could really fit our concept and adjust to what we wanted him to portray. It was probably the closeness and easy access to cooperate that brought us together. We could, in an easy way, explain in detail what we are looking for in the art pieces and can along the way follow its progression to sort of configure and adjust the progress or at least discuss them in person. We were very pleased with the first work he did for us as he captured our conceptual and visual approach, which has always been important to us and thus we kept on working with him. With every release, he's improved and emphasized our graphic expression, both in cover art and lay-out. We always presented him the ideas at first and then takes command, adjusts, and refines whatever ideas we bring to the table. So, it's, most often, a walk in the park to work with him. He's responsive and also keen on getting us satisfied as well as getting the wholeness wrapped in a packaging out of the ordinary. It's the perfect collaboration, or at least, as perfect as it can get when working with an artist as confident as he his.
Also to point out, we're in the same band, Vanhelgd, which hold both me and drummer Mathias Westman, thus, we're all in a closed circuit.
That's right! He's a jack of all trades. Though you briefly touched on it, how would you describe the collaborative process with Mattias after all these years? The dynamics have surely changed since you first reached out to him for ‘...To North’.
Albrektsson: Absolutely. It has grown to an even greater extent throughout the years for sure. We got to know each other's way of thinking and what to achieve and expect. A much safer way of collaboration has grown steadfast in every aspect. We, or I in cooperation with the other guys, bring forth a set up fitting the overall concept. I do a rough sketch of our actual first idea, which most often includes reference to the title, and add some details of the overall album content and mood we're looking for. Mattias immediately starts boiling the ideas down and put his touch and imprint to it. We then meet at the middle. He's always full of ideas and works further on our original thought until we're all on the same level. From there on, the magic starts. It's been a pleasure to work with him and especially on ‘Svartrviðr’, where I feel it took off to a greater level. The result is awesome and in full satisfaction.
Visually, what were you looking for when working with Mattias for 'Svartrviðr’?
Albrektsson: We wanted to depict the title (‘Svartrviðr'/black wood) and as mentioned, the overall content and mood of the actual album. The sketch we first gave him was quite different from what came to be, yet we kept its layout and style. Mattias came up with the idea to have a stronger connection to the previous album, 'Taudr', with the hands, obviously, growing out of the soil, which is both conceptually and visually connected. The cover holds many clues that refer to the lyrics in general, especially to the title track, 'Svartrviðr'. When we started to work on the ideas for 'Svartrviðr', I basically already had the concept and structure finished with spitting clouds, fire, and rain over a gnarly wide forest and some other features, which got erased and instead transformed into the hands.
That's where the connection to 'Taudr' came to be and the actual idea of the ‘Svartrviðr' album cover was established. The 'hand-tree' came to be illustrated and was understood as having grown out of the dead soil. Triumph outlived the ages. The past is always crawling and makes it's way no matter what. It's present whether you like it or not, hostile or benevolent. We wanted him to depict our sound in vision and he did with a result we're more than pleased with!
As you mention, there appears to be a connection with 2017’s ‘Taudr’ where the human hands and tree roots are seen as core elements in the visual messaging. Both covers have a power to them that tie to the human experience and it's immediately noticeable, which speaks volumes about the mutual understanding that was had between you and Mattias.
Albrektsson: I believe much of this got said in the previous question and as you now know, the connection is very much present between the two covers. In a way, the ‘Svartrviðr' cover is an extension, yet it tells its own story. It's kind of hard to explain but with 'Taudr', the hands depict man reuniting with nature after death, intertwined and living on. Our heritage lives on and is always present if you dig just a bit or scratch beyond the surface. On ‘Svartrviðr’, the 'hands' are much more potent and highlighted as in growing out and coming forth, bringing forth the buried legacy its worth and potential. It's a conscious play with the ever-present past, the tracks, and the closeness of our ancestors and their/our environment. Their strive is very much a sign of power and a strong connection of past and present, of life and death.
It's neat to see that extension, especially since it plays in an integral role in understanding your thematic approach. In both ‘Taudr’ and ‘Svartrviðr’, Frisk opts for a black and white color use that gives off a more mature approach to your music, which can be generally tagged as pagan metal. This maturity is also reflected in the depth of your storytelling and overall lyricism. Would you say this is a result of the growth that came from the line-up changes, label changes, and personal struggles that you’ve endured since the band’s inception?
Albrektsson: Yes, it has grown more natural during the last years. We felt around 'Karg' (2014) that this approach is much more fitting and accurate to our overall concept and and the band's exposure. Black and white serve to express us both lyrically and musically, I believe. Personally that's also where I, or we, feel safe. If that's maturity or just plain realization or both I don't know, but it's a well-thought-out move from our side that felt like the right alignment for King of Asgard. It was drawn to have these grey areas due to, as you say, personal struggles, which we suffered some for sure, and changes over the years. All in all, when looking back, I'm determined that it has been the right choice and move. It has become a solid brand with depth, as you say, and a strong visual character that grew like hands out of dead soil.
From the start of the band’s discography until now, Kind of Asgard have never underwhelmed or taken the short route when it comes to visual investment. Your 2010 debut, ‘Fi'mbulvintr’, came beautifully illustrated by Ola Larsson. How significant is it to you to have the cover illustration and additional artwork match the grandiosity of your music?
Albrektsson: We've always seen cover illustrations and artwork in general as very important and we are very keen on doing our utmost to get it to be as prominent as the music. If one does not care about such things, the whole product suffers from artistic neglect, I believe. It is close to being as important as lyrics and the actual music itself. We always invest much time and effort in getting the art to resemble and get along well with the music and its conceptual features, thinking both of cover illustration, lay-out, additional art, photo-shoots, and the actual presentation of us as a band.
This is all very significant to us and demands many hours and sleepless nights behind every detail, especially on this new album, which has no less than three visuals to go with it. It has taken much effort to complete along with the marvelous work of Jimmy Johansson (Super Líno Puro Productions) and again the artistic feature from Mattias Frisk's art. We did a lyric video ('Frôðr'), one visual flicker ('kvikr'), and now recently, the performance video for the track 'ammobiærg'. All in all, the visual approach of King of Asgard has always been very important and will always be. It's a great part of us and our artistic execution.
It's great to see the investment places on all ends of your releases! It definitely pays dividends in expanding upon each record's messaging. In closing, many will come to know of ‘Svartrviðr’ through Frisk’s intriguing cover illustration and they’ll be pleased to know that the music is just as fantastic. That said, was there ever an album, book, or even movie cover that has had the impact of making you pick it up without having prior knowledge of it?
Albrektsson: There are probably many, especially during one's younger years when we were being more influenced and 'undisturbed'. I remember clearly sitting for hours looking at my older brother's vinyls, posters, and horror movies. For example, I was abducted by Iron Maiden's 'Killers' (1981) and so forth. Album art, and the like, has been an important feature to arouse my interest since my childhood. I believe I bought quite a lot of albums judging by the cover in the early nineties when death and black metal arose and caught my hungry eyes. I can't really state any specific ones but I did get the nice ones and rejected the ugly ones, which at times happened to be the wrong move. In recent years, I for example checked out Bell Witch's 'Mirror Reaper' (2017) and Proscription's 'Conduit' (2020) to name a few. Art is of importance, that's the conclusion.
Svartrviðr arrives on May 28th via Trollmusic. Pre-order your copy of the record HERE.