Though Norway has a long history of combining folk with black metal – with such luminaries as Darkthrone’s Fenriz and Satyricon’s Satyr contributing early efforts during the early 90s – it is arguably Windir that remain the most enduring band in the field.
Offering a more accomplished and fluid experience than the groups that preceded them and generally eschewing rawness for melody, the band offered unusually catchy, upbeat anthems that were simultaneously earnest and epic.
Formed by Terje ‘Valfar’ Bakken in the farmland-dominated location of Sogndal, the ‘band’ was initially a one-man outfit that made occasional use of session musicians (impressively Valfar performed vocals, guitars, bass, synth and, in a nod to his rural roots, accordion). After two albums however, it would expand to a six-man group, incorporating all five members of the band Ulcus, a group formed by childhood friends and neighbours Jarle ‘Hváll’ and Jørn ‘Steingrim’ Holen, who had already recorded an EP and full-length album of symphonic black metal.
Two more albums would be issued but tragically both Windir and Valfar were cut short in their prime when the band’s founder was caught in a snowstorm while traveling to his family’s cabin, the talented musician dying of hypothermia at the age of only 25. The remaining members of Windir/Ulcus have continued making music however, most notably within the prolific and equally historically inspired Vreid.
Now, a decade later, the music of these three ‘Sognametal’ (as Windir memorably dubbed themselves) bands is being celebrated in a historic tour, that hits the UK when they play the Camden Underworld on October 23. Below, we caught up with Hváll to talk about old times and new…
**Being neighbours, you and Valfar of course knew each other from a very young age - do you remember the point at which you discovered the joys of heavy metal? **
Hváll: “Actually it was Valfar’s older brother Vegard who discovered metal first. Vegard was one year older than me, and I was one year older than Valfar. Vegard got the good stuff first; he discovered Kiss through his and Valfar’s oldest brother Ivan. Ivan and his friends dressed up like Kiss, made their own instruments and stood in their Garage, pretending to be Kiss. That made a great impression on us when we were 5-7 years old. Vegard continued to discover bands such Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P and later Slayer and Metallica. He brought this music to mine and Valfar’s attention and we loved it. It was a dark and exciting world that unfolded.”
Although you were not yourself a member of Windir in its original incarnation you had a unique perspective as one of the few present at its very beginnings. Did it seem to you that Valfar had a clear vision for his band? What would you say were his main inspirations?
“Valfar had an urge to create his own music. None of the other part of the childhood posse at Kvåle (the farm area where we grew up) played any instruments at that time. I, Vegard, Steingrim and Valfar were hanging out all the time, mostly playing football, listening to exciting rock/metal bands, playing ‘cowboys and Indians’ in the forest or just doing the usual childhood pranks. At 12-13 years of age Valfar started playing guitar and accordion, learning the basics and playing covers.
By that time our music taste had expanded to more extreme bands such as Death, At the Gates, Slayer, Carcass, Pestilence, Sepultura and Kreator. Then Terje discovered these black metal demos, and he instantly got very fascinated by the whole thing. He had already started writing music for himself, but when he discovered bands such as Burzum, Darkthrone and Enslaved, it was very inspiring for him. He then rewrote some of the musical ideas he had been working on, he was inspired by black metal, ancient Norwegian psalms, and melodic music like Mike Oldfield. That was the start of ‘Sognametal’.”
**While Valfar was creating music with Windir you were working in Ulcus, a band that featured future Windir and Vreid members - can you tell us about this band? **
“I, Steingrim & Sture started Ulcus back in 1994 (the idea itself had been brewing for years). Sture - who lived a couple of hours from us and was a few years older - was already an experienced guitarist. Valfar had started writing music, and the rest started to play around with instruments and write music almost at the same time. We almost instantly started to write our own music and lyrics. We learnt how to play ‘Orgasmatron’ and ‘Troops of Doom’, and then we focused on writing our own songs. We had a demo ready only a few months after picking up an instrument.
For us the whole idea was to create music, lyrics, artwork etc - we did not just play because it’s fun to play in a band. That was never the intention and it is the same thing today. I love to create music, and I love to perform the songs live. But I hate to play music just for the sake of playing music. I have no interest at all to hang out with some friends and play for fun. My nightmare is to end up as a troubadour, play in a cover band or perform cover songs for weddings, parties or that kind of stuff. That to me is the ultimate torture. I would rather watch paint dry. If I don’t feel and urge to create music anymore, then I will quit, sell my instruments and move on.”
**Do you remember how the decision came to involve the members of Ulcus in Windir? **
“Valfar was tired of writing music alone, he was uncertain if wanted to continue Windir. He wanted a band, and he wanted to play live. I felt that we were lacking something with Ulcus and was not 100% happy with the way things were progressing. So as Valfar and I were moaning over these things, having our usual coffee and cig, we decided to join forces. It just made sense in every way. So we informed the rest of the guys that we were starting a new band.
At first we thought of giving it a new name, then we decided that Windir was a to strong name to abandon it, and we both wanted to continue writing music and lyrics in the path that Valfar had paved with his first albums. So we started working on some ideas. I had some ideas that I had planned for a new Ulcus album, and Valfar had some ideas that he had been working on, so we reworked this ideas, wrote new stuff and approved/removed each other ideas.”
**Tell us about the forthcoming tour - how will the set be divided and who is taking part? **
“It will be the four Vreid members of course - then we have Vegard doing vocals for the Windir songs, Windir keymaster Righ is doing all keyboards and Espen from Mistur (who is Stian’s brother) is doing guitars, as we have three guitarists for this tour. The set is mixed up between Vreid, Windir and Ulcus songs - mostly Vreid and Windir. The idea is to present songs from our whole history, represent different albums, demos etc. So far we have played Armøygeddon, Hellfest and Wacken festivals and the response has been fantastic and we have had amazing shows. It’s been such a trip to have everyone gathered again and working with all these older songs has been inspirational and emotional. To see how much this means to Vegard, and to hear him scream his lungs out in honour of his fallen brother just sends shivers through my whole body.”
**Do you see a musical connection between Ulcus, Windir and Vreid beyond the musicians involved? Are there any shared elements musically or lyrically? **
“There definitely is a strong bond between the bands. I have written music and lyrics for all of the three bands and Steingrim, Sture and Stian have all played in all of the three bands. So of course there is a natural connection there. Musically there is definitive core that connects the bands, but at times the bands also sound very different. There is also a great variety within the bands themselves. For instance there is a huge difference between the Windir songs On The Mountain Of Goats and Journey To The End, the same way as the Vreid songs The Reap and Eldast Utan Å Gro greatly differ musically. Yet I feel that these four songs are maybe four of the strongest elements of our history. There is a strong spiritual connection between the bands. We do address a lot of the same topic, but in somewhat different wrappings.”
**The term ‘Sognametal’ is one that a lot of people around the world seem to have embraced, how do you feel about the fact that people from around the world make pilgrimages to your old home? **
“It’s of course strange to see people come from all over the world to visit this little village stuck in between the majestic mountains and fjords on the west coast of Norway (wasn’t that a kickass tourist advert?!) It does feel strange, but I have a great respect for people so dedicated that they actually take the journey to come to Sogn - that’s passion. For me our music is my identity and my life. To me Sognametal is the bond between four young friends growing up at Kvåle together, and later joined new friends to develop the music we have done. It’s all a long journey, and it’s been an great adventure. But we are ready for more. We have set sails and are ready to conquer again, until death takes us.”
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