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Svartsot | Metal musicians are supposed to be controversial

Whatever your expectations of Folk Metal may be, Svartsot will meet them and then beat them by a country mile (or kilometer, I suppose.) Utilizing traditional instrumentation and singing in their native Danish, they deliver some of the coolest stuff I have heard in a long time. Their forthcoming fifth album, ‘Kumbl’ features a mixture of folk and medieval songs from Denmark and across Northern Europe. A more thorough dive into the album can be found here. SVARTSOT release long-awaited fifth album in February – Metal Digest – The Normless Magazine (metal-digest.com)

We recently had the chance to ask them a few questions. Gentlemen…

 Welcome to Metal Digest!

Congratulations on the new album ’Kumbl’.  I have found it all quite refreshing. Instead of rehashing what the various media outlets have said, tell us a few things about the album that we may not know. Any moments you are especially proud of?

That’s kind of difficult, as what the media outlets say is based on what we ourselves have said about the album. I (Cris) am very pleased to hear that you find the album refreshing! Basically, with this one, we decided to take some old folk songs and rework them into our own interpretation. Some of the interpretations worked really well, whilst others would have been done differently if I had started work on them now instead. But all in all, we’re pretty happy with the result. So, I don’t think there are any moments we are especially proud of, but there are moments that could maybe have benefitted from being different. We’ll leave that up to the listener to decide.

As ‘Kumbl’ is comprised of traditional folk songs, how did you choose which songs would be included? I imagine some choices were obvious, but do some of the songs have a special meaning for some of the band members?

I had been collecting several of the songs over a longer period of time and previously considered doing something with them. But that didn’t happen until the idea for this album started to come into being. A couple songs were suggested by some of the other guys though. Hans-Jørgen suggested doing a cover of the song Rottefængeren (which translates to the rat catcher), which is a version of the Irish folk song Cod Liver Oil with Danish lyrics by the folk band De Gyldne Løver, as this song has a lot of meaning for him. Thor asked for Kragevisen, as he knew different versions of the song for some time and we took the most traditional version, and Buje suggested Ebbe Skammelsøn, which is the archetypal Danish medieval folk ballad of 32 verses that I then had the job of turning into something palatable for a modern audience. There is no deeper meaning behind the choice of songs other than that we like them.

The song “De To Ravne” from the new album is a personal favorite. I don’t understand the words or anything about the song, but it speaks to me. Music has a way of doing that after all. Please tell us about this song and any personal meaning it may have for you.

This song is actually originally a Scottish folk song called Twa Corbies that has been done by loads of other artists before, including Steeleye Span, who I have had great respect for since I was a teen. As chance would have it, there are at least two more or less direct translations to Danish of this song. So, we chose the most direct translation and did our own version of the song. It is quite a popular song in the medieval music scene here in Denmark, but a version with some melodic additions has also been done by a popular contemporary of the Danish folk music scene called Lars Lilholt. We also added extra melody to this song by putting a medieval melody from France called J’ai vu le loup at the end. This song is really popular in the medieval music scene here and was more or less requested by a friend of the band. However, we decided not to use the Danish lyrics normally associated with this song, so Thor wrote a completely new lyric for this part, wherein all the members of the band are satirically mentioned.

“Carmen Vernale” is sung in Latin (its original form). What challenges did you encounter with recording this song? Also, what other languages would you like to explore in the future?

Thor says that the language and pronunciation were the biggest challenges for him on Carmen Vernale. He doesn’t speak a word of Latin, so he had to rely a lot on his intuition. He doesn’t actually know what the song is about, so he had to use the melody to guide his performance of the vocals rather than an understanding of the lyrics.

The songwas written around the year 1500 by a cantor at the cathedral of Aarhus here in Denmark and is actually a religious song about the arrival of spring, which is a pretty ironic choice for a bunch of godless heathens like us. The song was written about 35 years before the Reformation took place in Denmark in 1536, so Latin was very much the lingua franca of the ecclesiastical world. Actually, the only reason we know so much about the song is because it was preserved in a late medieval collection of Scandinavian church music called Piæ Cantiones, from which Steeleye Span took the unbelievably beautiful a cappella song Gaudette (check it out if you don’t know it). There are two much younger Danish language versions of the song but neither of them is any good. So, we decided to remain true to the original and use the Latin lyric.

It is part of Svartsot’s identity that the lyrics are in Danish. So apart from the very rare use of a Latin lyric (due to historical context), the songs will probably always be in Danish. We have several songs on the album that are traditionally from Scotland or Ireland, and in most cases, we could use older translations to Danish that were made in the 19th century. One song, Den Store, Stygge Stimand, is a version of the Irish folk song The Raggle Taggle Gypsy, that to my knowledge has not previously been translated into Danish. I had considered not translating it, but we made a collective decision that it should be, as it would just seem wrong to do Svartsot in English.

As your lyrics are in Danish, what is the most liberating result of this decision? Also, what unforeseen obstacles has this brought if any?

I don’t know if it is any more liberating for us than it is for a band from the US or the UK to do lyrics in English. It’s our native language, and that’s about it really. But it was a conscious decision we made back when we started the band in 2005, that as we wanted to write songs based on Danish history and folklore, it would seem silly to do the lyrics in anything other than Danish. However, we do get a lot of comments on YouTube about people not being able to understand a word of the lyrics. Seeing as they are growled, I doubt most would even understand them if they were in English.

Whilst not really an unforeseen obstacle, one difficulty we have had previously was the lyric writing process on albums 2-4. At that time, we had a guy called James Atkin from Yorkshire in North England on bass. He had written lyrics for his previous bands and wanted to help with them for Svartsot. Which was a noble gesture, I guess. But it meant that we had to decide on a topic for a song, that I would have to research and present to him, as the source material was almost inevitably in Danish (although the concept album maledictus eris was about the Black Death, so a lot of research material was in English too). He would then write a lyric in English, that rhymed and scanned and the whole lot, which I then had to translate into Danish. Translations are always problematic, as something will inevitably be lost, but when you’re trying to get it to rhyme and scan too, it can get really messy. So, then I would have to defend having re-writing most of the song. Maybe this contributed to him deciding to leave in the end?

I understand you will be performing a series of shows across Denmark (and perhaps a few other European shows.) What can your fans expect from a Svartsot show? Also, if/when you come to the Colorado, United States region, I guarantee you several attendees. 

With the current global situation, we haven’t been able to book much outside of Denmark, and even some of the first shows of the year here in Denmark may be postponed due to current restrictions. We are hoping that the situation will get better before too long so that we can really get back out on the road and play shows outside of Denmark too. Apart from 70000 Tons of Metal, we have never been to the US with Svartsot, so that is certainly something we hope will be possible at some time in the not-too-distant future. In that case, it sounds like Colorado will have to be one of the states we visit!

As for what fans can expect—I always find that a difficult question to answer, because I’ve only ever seen video of our shows, and it never really seems to fully represent the shows from a participant’s perspective. For us, the rapport between the band and the fans is of utmost importance. If the fans are having a good time, then we are also having a good time, and can give it everything we have. It is important for us that there is a festive atmosphere at our shows. That’s how folk metal is best served and best received, I think, and our form of folk metal, albeit melo-death-based, is probably best described as beer-fueled melodic party-metal. Circle pits and dancing is a regular thing up front at our shows, and that is excellent to witness. Apart from that, our shows are quite spontaneous affairs, so there is no set way of doing—or describing—a Svartsot show.

Finally, it has been a long year or two…or three. If someone needs a good laugh, what movies would you recommend?

I am not really into movies, so I generally just watch some fails on YouTube if I feel like having a laugh. I asked the others to make some movie suggestions. Thor is the biggest movie fan in the band, but his selection here seems to be broader than just comedies. The two other guys have suggested more comedy-style films or series.

Thor: Dune, Die Hard Dracula, Tokyo Godfathers, The Lighthouse, Spirited Away, Granny, Her, The Eliminators, Phantasm, Critters, Elvira – Mistress of Darkness, The Gamers 3, Clerks.

Alm: Running Man & Blackadder

H-J: Don’t look up

We thank you for your time and wish you all the best. Any parting words for our readers?

Obviously, we hope that people will enjoy the new album—that goes without saying! Apart from that, listen to what the local authorities advise, take relevant precautions, get your vaccine, and help end this pandemic as quickly and as painlessly as possible. That might be a controversial message for some, but metal musicians are supposed to be controversial, so I’m saying it anyway! Denying the sensible way out is just stubbornly and detrimentally poor judgement at this point. Fans are waiting for bands to tour again and bands are waiting to be able to get on the road again, but that can’t happen until the situation changes, which means we all have to do our part to make it happen.

Line-up:

Simon Buje: bass

Frederik Uglebjerg: drums

Michael Alm: rhythm guitars

Cris J.S. Frederiksen: lead guitars, acoustic guitars (studio), mandolin (studio)

Hans-Jørgen Martinus Vork Rosenwein: tin whistles, electric bagpipe, mandolin (live)

Thor Bager: vocals, mandolin (studio)

Svartsot – Liden Kirsten (official video) – YouTube

Svartsot – Official website

Shop – Svartsot

Svartsot | Facebook

Svartsot Official – YouTube

Svartsot (@svartsot_official) • Instagram photos and videos

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