German Pagan metal band Hel has just released its 4th full length album “Das Atmen der Erde”. The band has been active for 18 years now, so it was about time to ask Skaldir about their new album and everything else concerning Hel.
- Hello Skaldir. It’s an honor having this interview with you. After 5 years of silence Hel return with a new release. Tell us a few words about “Das Atmen der Erde”. How would you introduce your music to someone who has never heard of Hel?
Hello Dimitris. I feel honored, too. Our albums have all been quite different, so I would start with telling that HEL is routed in heavy metal and black metal. But the sound also contains symphonic and folkloristic elements. Over the years we lost a bit of the black metal style and the new album has a bit more traditional metal influences.
- What are the reactions of your fans and press so far?
The reactions have been great so far. We didn’t really promote the album in the press, cause we are more interested in the opinion the buyers have. It’s awesome to be back to the roots and communicate with most of the buyers/fans personally. We should have done that again earlier.
- This time you decided to go on your own, without a label supporting you. What led you in this decision? By the way both your previous labels Ars Metalli, Det Germanske Folket) were closed. Maybe it was a sign you must go on your own How difficult is to fund everything by yourselves and how do you plan to promote and distribute this album?
As you mentioned we got screwed by all the labels we had in the past. Times have changed and it’s really easy to promote something yourself via the internet. We could have found labels for the new CD and almost signed a record deal again. But we had a really bad feeling signing it and then came to the conclusion we should just release it ourselves. It’s not easy to sell CDs these days but the new album is doing alright and we should have it refinanced soon. People, buy our CD!
- What do you find different in your new album? Are there new things Hel have to offer to their older fans?
The new album is easier to get into compared to the old albums. It’s still not sounding commercial, but it sounds more like played by a real band, which also was our goal this time. A lot of people think it’s our best album yet.
- Can you give us some information about the lyrical concept of the album? All lyrics are in German, so could you tell us in a few words what are they dealing with? Is there any message you want to spread through your music?
There are some different topics covered on the new album. There is some nature-related themes, some mythological. There is not a strict concept like with “Falland Vörandi” but the tracks “Komm Zurück”, “Am Grunde der Unendlichkeit” and “Wyrd” are connected and are dealing with past, present and future.
- Your previous work was released 5 years ago and it was the acoustic “Tristheim”. Would you like to give us some info about it? How do you see now this album?
“Tristheim” was written in a time the band members really had to carry some heavy burdens. It was very personal and reflecting us in a very pure way. I still think its’ a great album and I am also proud of the sound, but every time I listen to it I am kinda glad that we are through this sad times.
- After the release of “Tristheim” in 2007 you started recording you new album. Why did it took you so much time to release it?
Apart from us being slow we always have high standards set to ourselves. We don’t want to rush anything, and only call it finished when we’re all satisfied with everything. We also pre-produced the album this time and it took some time to finish the lyrics. The time didn’t feel so long to be honest.
- Let’s take you a little back in time, at the beginnings of your band, back in 1994. What do you remember from these days? How did the band started? What were you initial goals and ambitions with Hel and what your basic influences?
I haven’t been a member from the start, I joined HEL in 1997. But I know Valdr wanted to make more melodic metal with mythological lyrics, since he was playing in a death metal band that time and was a little bored by that. When I joined the band it was a clear that we both could achieve a lot together and we brought in our strengths. Our love for Bathory was the connection we had from the very start.
We did the demos and the first CD with very limited equipment and I still wonder that it turned out ok for us having no real clue on what we’re doing.
We never had big goals, and always saw it more as a project than a band. We’re still not interested to have the whole world to love our music. We still do what we want to do.
- Do you listen nowadays to your first demo recordings? What do yo feel about them? In 1999 you released your amazing (almost cult) debut “Orloeg” via Ars Metalli! What are your memories and feelings for this album?
No, we don’t listen to the demos anymore. They have been very unprofessional compared to the newer stuff and we were still trying to find out sound.
“Orloeg” opened a door to a bigger audience. Back then I didn’t even realize that we were one of the very first German Pagan Metal bands out there.
I remember we were almost finished with recording the album when suddenly the JAZ-Drive crashed and we lost all the files. I was recording with a 12-track digital recorder from AKAI back then. It was horrible and I was scared to call Valdr and tell him everything is lost. But he just said: “Then let’s just do it again.” And you know what? When we recorded it again we played everything better than on the first recording.
I guess tracks like “Wunden” and “Erlkönig” have become “underground classics” for a reason. We have been very naive back then, but still some of the tracks have been good.
- Six years later, in 2005 “Falland Vörandi” was out via Det Germanske Folket. This album got great feedback too. Do you want to say a few things about it?
It’s for sure our most complicated album. Its a real concept album that had the lyrics written before the music was composed. To me it’s a very serious album that meant a lot of work. When I look back to it now I think we could never do it again and I still wonder how we could “survive” this without giving up in the middle. I mean, I can explain the meaning of almost every riff in there. Everything is based on the lyrical concept.
-How do you see the evolution of Hel through time? Are you satisfied with your albums, or do you feel you should change and improve things? Do you feel accomplished, do you feel you have expressed what’s inside you, or are there still thoughts and emotions untold? Should we expect any surprises from you in the future?
Personally I always want to change some things. Mostly its very little things as we did with the Re-release of “Orloeg”. I think most of the people haven’t even heard what has changed. I think I wouldn’t touch “Tristheim”, cause its pretty much the way we wanted it still.
There are some vague plans to redo “Falland Vörandi” with a real drum-kit though. The CD is sold out for a while and when we re-release it, it would be great to improve the sound with real drums.
We have to let the new album take effect first, before we think about what we will do next.
- Can you give us some information about the live shows of your band? What should a Hel fan expect from you on stage?
HEL was always more of a project than a band. So we only played one gig in our career. We just wanted to try it once I guess. It was a great concert at the Ragnarök festival in front of lots of people, but we will not play again in the future.
- Do you have any gigs plans? Will you tour abroad? Is there any band you would like to tour with? What would be the ideal line-up for your?
Nope. But I would enjoy to see our music being performed by an orchestra or other musicians once. That would be a great honor.
- Do you listen to other bands of the genre too? Are you also a pagan black metal fan, or only a musician? Are there any new bands you would like to recommend?
I am a huge Bathory and Moonsorrow fan. There are also some other bands I enjoy, but I totally dislike all the fun- and drinking bands that are out there. To me making music is always a serious thing.
There is so much quality in Moonsorrow’s music. Henri is a great composer and he knows stuff like how to modulate from one key into another. He can also have a musical theme that is going through an album, like in classical music or the great progressive rock bands. Stuff that most metal bands probably never heard or thought of. And I guess most of them would be even proud to have no knowledge whatsoever…
- It is now more than a month since the official release of “Das Atmen der Erde”. What do you expect from this album? Are there still people who want to buy original cds?
Haha. Yes there are. There are even some press people that would buy a CD and then do an interview with us.
We don’t expect anything, we just want to refinance the album.
- Except for Hel, does any of the band’s members participate in other groups? I guess you don’t live from your music. Except for a hobby, does music affects your lives in any other way (life style, ideology, etc)?
You’re right we can’t live from music. Currently I am the only one that has other bands besides Hel. Those are Elane (Dark Folk/Fantasy) and Abscession (Death Metal) Valdr used to have a black metal side project called Animus. Hamar and me played in Cascade, a mellow rock band. But those bands don’t exist anymore.
I also work with music for a living. I am doing mixing and mastering services at my studiowww.kalthallen.de
- Thank you very much for your time Skaldir! I wish you all the best. Last words are yours.
Thanks for your interesting questions. I enjoyed to answer them. Its good that there are still dedicated people out there that spend their time thinking about questions and support the scene.