(John Sleepwalker of Avopolis returns to NCS as we share his interview of Andreas “Heljarmadr” Vingbäck, mainman of the Swedish black metal villains known as Grá.)
Sweden’s Grá is a notorious black metal outfit that makes no compromises in aesthetic, despite a subtle evolution unfolding one step at a time. They form the kind of entity that’s hopelessly marked for Death, but Death is only a part of their evolution, according to a rather interesting interview with their mainman Andreas “Heljarmadr” Vingbäck.
It is now obvious that their latest opus, Ending, simply marks the final part of their Charon suite, as well as a crossroad towards new, unexplored territories. The band is already looking forward to hitting the road to promote their latest album, by scheduling a short European tour consisted of seven dates in total. Here is the schedule, followed by the interview:
First of all, Ending is the final part of the Charon suite. Does this mean this is an end for Grá as a band as well? Or do you consider it the end of a certain concept?
No, it’s not the end of Grá, absolutely not. It is an end of a series of conceptual releases we started with the first EP. We are already working on the future and we must walk on new and untrodden paths not to stagnate. Death is a part of evolution.
Your guitars have been sufficiently razor-sharp, while most inspired ideas make the most out of the use of tremolo. What other ingredients would you cite as important to your sound and what bands have influenced you so far? I guess Mayhem is an obvious answer.
Well, we started Grá as a side project initially, while working on the Cursed 13 album Triumf. We came into a writer’s block along the way and just decided to play whatever came straight from the heart. That became the first Grá EP Helfärd which we released in 2010. Both Dimman and I have always been fond of the early-mid ’90s Scandinavian black metal scene which we grew up with, so I would guess many of our influences come from there.
However, I’ve always been a fan of old rock music like CCR and Doors for example. As well as old outlaw country, like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson (and I suspect that reflects on my songwriting too).
Ending uses a very successful recipe of crispy, yet rich-sounding ingredients. At the same time, it includes some atmospheric passages that work well in combination, and you do present moments that differ (“Ruiner” is a good example). Do you have in mind a need to keep things a bit interesting?
Ending was a process that took us two years to complete. We had numerous demos throughout the writing process, and most of the early songs were in fact discarded just because we didn’t feel they were right for this album. We have been extremely picky with what to include, to make it a good album from start to finish. “Ruiner”, as you mention, was initially supposed to be on our debut album but we didn’t feel that it fit and it did evolve over time into the version that ended up on Ending. I’m glad we had patience with that one as I think it turned out flawless and it fit perfectly on Ending, whereas the earlier version wouldn’t have fit very well on the first album. So you see, nothing has been left to chance, but we have measured every part carefully to create an atmosphere and a continuity that gives the album more impact as a full work.
There have been admittedly various bands during the past couple of years who have adopted mentalities that lean towards razor-sharp black metal. However, Grá seem to be among the leading promising names among the many. What factors would you cite as the most important ones for your success?
Thank you! I would say that one of the factors has been that we have never stopped working. When we haven’t had shows booked we have been working on new material, constantly on the move, never stagnating. Also we have been brave when composing; if a song hasn’t been turning out as good as we wanted it to be, then we have scrapped it. Or in some cases kept the best parts for future songs.
We are our own worst critics, and by being that, we constantly force ourselves to evolve, to improve ourselves. I’ve seen bands come and go over the years and people seem to think there’s an easy way to progress, but there is not. There’s only one way and it’s the game of persistence, to never give up, to constantly improve yourself. If you give up, then you never truly believed in what you were doing in the first place.
You have involved yourself in a variety of different projects. One really favorite release has been Domgård’s Myrkviðr and I’m wondering what’s this band’s current status. Have you been writing a new record perhaps?
I am no longer a member of Domgård. I live in Stockholm and the rest live in Gothenburg so there was always that distance issue. Also, I have become more and more busy with Grá and later also Dark Funeral, which led me to the point that I didn’t want to do something half-hearted due to lack of time, so I left so they could find someone more suitable on location instead. We are best of friends still, and I am actually doing some guest vocals for their upcoming new album. Can’t give any more details as it’s up to them to unveil what they have created, but I can tell you it’s a really fucking good album and I am very proud to have been invited to be a part of it.
What bands compatible to your sound would you possibly recommend? And what bands would you pick for a possible split collaboration? I would very much like to see a split with Chalice of Blood — their latest EP offering was amazing.
We did a split 7” with Gnosis of the Witch (they are called Veiled these days, by the way) a while back. The guy behind that band is a personal friend of Grá, so it was a suitable thing to do. We have had other offers for splits but we don’t want to do it, unless we know the bands personally and feel a connection somehow. We have had discussions about a possible thing with Panphage and Domgård in the past, but the timing hasn’t been right, so we have moved on instead with our own releases.
You recently released a new record with Dark Funeral. How come you joined their ranks and what feedback have you been receiving from people and the press so far? Taking into account that the last Dark Funeral album was out seven years ago, do you think things will start getting more productive now?
Dark Funeral chose Grá as a support act on their 20th anniversary show in May 2014. I got to know the guys during the pre-production work for that gig and we got on well. Caligula was leaving, and after a lot of thinking I decided to ask if they wanted to try me out as the new vocalist, and they did and the rest is history. I’d say the response has been really good. I’ve gotten loads of mails from Dark Funeral (and Grá/Cursed 13/Domgård) fans from all over the world sending their best wishes and they’ve also given praise to the new album and that’s really honouring. I do think we will be more productive in the future compared to the last years. There’s been a lot of turbulence in Dark Funeral, but the strong prevail any storm and here we are, stronger than ever.
How important do you consider gigs nowadays for any band willing to make their own progress in the scene? What are your impressions from touring so far?
Well, I respect that many musicians don’t like to perform live and I fully respect that they therefore choose not to; it’s a very special kind of life to be on the road. I do think that touring and doing gigs are important ways to reach out, though. There are so many bands out there today and it is easy to be stuck in the middle of the pile of shit surrounding you.
I really appreciate to be on stage personally. I love the adrenaline and the challenge to be at my best, over and over again, pushing the limits. I have evolved a lot as a musician during the last years and much of it comes from being a live artist. The intense rehearsing, improving every little detail, the expectations, the pressure. When well-prepared and when the external circumstances are aligned with your body and mind, then there are not many things that are more spiritually fulfilling than to be on stage, performing from the soul. All those hours of traveling, the waiting. It’s all worth it. At least for me.
Does touring get any harder, taking into account that there are countless bands out there who would very much like to go out on the road and promote themselves? Or do you think things might be better now that internet and technology have helped a lot of musicians?
Well, it’s always a struggle to ascend though the multitude of events going on all the time. I think that there’s no limit to where you can go, if the motivation is there and you can laugh at all the set-backs. For Grá it has been a slow but steady course from doing very small gigs in restaurants for small clubs, to being hand-picked support bigger bands at larger venues, to doing festivals. Now we’re doing our first tour outside of the North and it feels like a natural step.
Grá is soon scheduled to play for the first time in Athens. What should people expect from the show and what do you think about the other bands that take part in the billing?
Yes that is correct, we are bringing Grá on the road. In fact Athens is the last stop on the week-long tour we are making in support of the Ending album. We named the tour “A Coin For Charon Tour” after a song from the first EP since it’s both the beginning and an end of the concept we have been holding close. The tour will start in Hungary on September 12 and we will work our way down to Greece (through Romania and Bulgaria) to play both in Thessaloniki (September 17) and Athens (September 18). It feels very suitable to end the tour to support Ending in the land of Charon. I have always been fond of Greece and your mythology (which holds so much in common with our ancient Scandinavian mythology), so we’re really eager to come.
If you who attend have an open mind, we will travel together and open doors within and beyond ourselves to have a glimpse beyond the veil of life. The bands supporting us in Athens were new for me but I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have to offer. I have high expectations of all the support bands we will be working with during this tour and I hope to find some real gems among them.
That’s all, thank you very much for your time. The last words are yours.
First of all I’d like to send out a huge thanks to our Greek fans, I am overwhelmed by your support and we will bring our very best to the shows we are honoured to do in your country in September. This will be a very interesting and intense autumn for me. After the Grá tour I’m heading out to do a big European tour with Dark Funeral, and many Greek Dark Funeral fans have asked us about when we will come to Greece, and I can only say: as soon as fucking possible. Thank you all for your interest and support! See you on the road!
Nice to see Gra mentioned. They are one of my top albums of 2016 even though they dropped this late 2015. Great music..
Great interview, very informative read.
I’d love to see Dark Funeral come to Asia again. I missed them last time in Thailand. Such a pity.
Nice insightful interview. The new DF kills & Gra is surprisingly good. Great stuff all around!