(Comrade Aleks returns again to NCS with a new interview, talking with Jonathan Hultqvist, vocalist and bassist of the promising Swedish band Ulfven, whose music you can also explore within the conversation.)
New blood pours into the Pagan Cult veins with the appearance of the Swedish band Ulfven. They practice a bit blackened and melodic death-doom metal with lyrics written mostly in their mother’s tongue and a grim folklore concept behind it.
Born from biting cold and hostile forest shadows, their music carries on a dark message through their new EP Bland Aska Och Sten. Taking into account that Ulfven’s full-length Folklore was released just a year ago, I suppose that the heathen gods sped them on. Let’s learn how Jonathan Hultqvist, the band’s vocalist and bassist, sees it.
I suppose Ulfven is a new name to some of our readers, so let’s introduce the band. How would you summarize the band’s main message and the methods you use to deliver it?
Simply, folklore and nature. A while ago we came to the conclusion that our music would never be about either Vikings or Satanism, it would just be folklore. To us folklore is the very strange and mystique-filled. Like a story about some eerie wood-dwelling being that your grandma told you about when you were little. It’s the things farmers, hunters and small folk believed in, which was separate from any religion, but was also never really written down. There’s so much folklore all over the world, and most of it is forever lost, and that really fascinates us.
That also relates to how we choose to deliver, namely by writing lyrics about these things.
The band was born in 2017, but there weren’t any releases for almost the first two years, How did you spend this period?
At first Ulfven started as a side project by Robert and Marcus, who at the time had a main band called Insolitary. It took some time before we realized Robert had found his true sound, and that we might have something to really go for. Even more so when we heard the first mix.
You released two singles, A Mother’s Betrayal and The Keeper’s Hymn, in 2019, and the same year the full-length Folklore saw the light of day. It looks like you had a conceptual story for the album, can you tell us the details about Folklore’s song lyrics?
Each song in Folklore is about beings found in Scandinavian folklore. For example “The Keeper’s Hymn” is about the Skogsrå, or Huldra, who guards the forest. On our Instagram we had some art made for each song in Folklore, which also explains the details of each being. Check it out!
How much of real local folklore is in your songs?
So far, everything. But what’s so great about folklore is that you can make up your own stories around it, and the mystique we talked about also allows you to think what people really meant when talking about these creatures. As an example, the Huldra in some regions is considered an evil demonic figure, the child of Lilith herself. But to us she is essential for the woods to thrive, and might help you if you just respect nature.
How do you see these folklore beings today in 2020? What do they personify for you? Is there a place for them amidst modern chaos, and what kind of role might they play into this?
If I were a folklore being today, lets just say things would not play well for me. If we think of folklore beings metaphorically, that each of them personify all aspects of nature and all living things, then our society is not a part of their world. As we poison the seas, the air, cut down the forests and expand cities, we destroy the present order that keeps everything in check.
If they exist they are probably scared of us.
Do you think Ulfven’s music makes these beings “more real”, feeding this folk egregore with your energies?
When we understood that this theme made sense to our music, it just felt right.
A distorted, low-tuned and slow guitar riff doesn’t remind you of folklore and nature per se, but the energy we’re going for is brutal and slow, almost reminding you of a sorrowful death. That feeling makes sense to us through our themes.
The beings might be dying, they might be scared and hiding from us, or they might want to avenge mother nature.
This album mixes elements of death-doom with some blackened atmosphere which feels right considering your texts. What kind of sound did you actually have on your mind entering the studio?
When Robert started writing songs for Ulfven, it really felt like he found his true sound. And as you said, a dark folklore-theme felt just as natural to accompany the new songs. But we never thought Rickard Törnqvist (Svartkonst at Svartkonst Studios) would make the songs sound as heavy as they turned out!
By the way, how do you feel both the music and the lyrics’ content fit with each other? Do you see ancient spirits as vessels of some negativity which extreme music usually spreads in some way?
In our minds we see very few of them as vessels of evil or that they have negative attributes. We mostly want to tell a sorrowful story through our lyrics. So to us, nature’s slow decay by our hand, regardless whether you believe in folklore or not, is a very brutal, real and melancholy experience.
Folklore and following releases were published by Ulfven in a DIY way. Do you solve all promotional and organizational questions on your own as well? Do you feel you cope with it well enough?
We solve everything in the DIY-way. It takes a huge amount of time and it needs patience. It’s also a question about money and time. It costs a lot to record and release an album, and when it comes to marketing it’s definitely all about money. Since we don’t earn anything, we want to get the marketing as efficient and cheap as possible, and that’s not easy… but so far it has worked surprisingly well!
With the following singles Korpen and Häxkonst released earlier in 2020 you switched to Swedish lyrics, and again it fits your music well. What kind of story did you prepare with these singles and the following EP Bland Aska Och Sten?
‘Bland aska och sten” translates to’ By ashes and stone’, and is about a woman who, while mourning the death of her child, is approached by a Raven. The whole EP is a story about witchcraft and the true motives of a witch. To us they’re not just women on a broomstick with an evil laugh, they represent both grief and hate against their oppressors. Some might forget that during the high middle ages, people burned thousands of women on stakes for witchcraft Close to our home city of Härnösand, at Häxberget, more women burned for witchcraft in one day than anywhere in the world, ever. So it felt right to have this theme, and also to have it sung in Swedish. All songs have translations in English, you can find it in each song on our YouTube channel!
How did you work on your songs at the studio this time?
Robert has a LOT of demo songs recorded at his home, so you can pretty much go there and decide what songs to use for the next release! When we had decided what songs to use, Marcus started to work on the lyrics. The story wasn’t clear at first but everything kinda unveiled after time, as did the witch theme. The studio process was pretty much the same as in Folklore. Drums recorded at Hernö Studios, everything else recorded at home, and then mixed and mastered by Rickard at Svartkonst Studios. It’s good working this way. It’s efficient and not very stressful. Everything is done locally and we’re all close friends. Jonathan wrote some poems to use for the short tracks in between and had a voice actor, Alexandra Drotz Ruhn, to record them as our protagonist. Jonathan also made the atmospheric background sounds.
Speaking about Robert’s store of demos, can you guarantee that Ulfven will be able to keep moving further in the same melodic death-doom direction? And have you thought about adding one or two folk instruments to your arsenal?
We can guarantee that for sure. Robert is some kind of a wizard. It’s not impossible that we will use folk instruments in our new songs. If we think it would fit in any new song/songs, there’s no doubt about it.
What are your plans towards promoting Bland Aska Och Sten now, when there’s no chance to play live for an uncertain period? Did you aim to support the release with a series of gigs?
Yeah we planned to support the release by doing as many gigs as possible, which didn’t turn out to be so timely lol. We actually had a release gig in Umeå for Bland aska och sten, which we cancelled together with the other bands due to Covid-19. We also had a big one this summer at Gäfle Metal Festival, but that one got delayed until 2021. So this was surely a big setback, and we may have been a bit slow at promoting the EP after the release, but it is what it is. The EP has at least gotten a lot of attention on Spotify so far, which we are very excited about! So at the moment we’re trying to figure out what the next step is. We do have enough new material for another full-length!
Good news! Which details can you already reveal considering the next full-length album?
We have a main concept. A new idea but of course keeping with our theme of nature and folklore. This time though, we’re going a little bit deeper.
Okay, thank you for your time, that’s all for today. Did we skip some important points? What would you like to add to this interview?
We are trying to expand our social media. If you like our music and what we do, people can support us there! Thank you!