Interviews : Falkenbach
With Vratyas Vakyas
Falkenbach is a band that needs no introduction. It has been one of the longest running heathen/viking bands in the underground and keeps getting better with each release. Here is an exclusive email interview with Vratyas Vakyas, the mastermind behind Falkenbach in support of his fourth full-length release, Heralding - The Fireblade. Enjoy!
P.S. Great thanks to Dima B. for his help with the questions.
Hails Vratyas! Thank you for taking time to answer these questions. You have always kept a low profile as a musician notwithstanding a certain level of Falkenbach's popularity. What do you attribute the lack of band-related sources online to, especially interviews?
I am simply not that much into answering interviews in general to be honest. Mainly the interviews consist of questions you received dozen of times. To me there is no need to see a Falkenbach interview with the same boring questions on every website or magazine. People who are interested in getting answers are able to find them nevertheless, and I am not willing to see an interview as nothing but a promotional act.
Falkenbach is a very unique band, there aren't many other bands that have the same flair as Falkenbach, considering just how many bands play within the genre of folk metal, yet Falkenbach manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest, how do you achieve this kind of differentiation from the rest of the scene?
That's something I really cannot tell you too much about, as I don't listen to a lot of bands from this genre at all. To me Falkenbach is nothing but Falkenbach itself, I can't and also do not want to compare it to other bands. In the end the people out there have to make up their minds about it, not me.
If you listen to "En Their Medh Riki Fara..." and then listen to your last album, "Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty", you can hear a clear difference in music, the former is more metal, and the latter is more folk oriented and epic sounding. What has caused this shift in style?
Hard to say what the reasons were, 'though you're right of course. On "Ok Nefna..." you could find songs even older than tracks featured on [first full-length album] "En Their...", so it doesn't have anything to do with the time when the songs were created. I think on one hand the fact that "En Their..." offered more variation, slower and faster, rougher and more epic tracks, gave that impression as well as the fact that "Ok Nefna..." came up with a less metal-like sound of the guitars. This wasn't intended from the very beginning, but turned out that way when we realized how many of the small details: acoustic guitars, choirs, keys etc. we had to care of on "Ok Nefna..." during the mix, and this led to a lower sound of the e-guitars, and gave it a more folk sound.
On November 25th, Falkenbach is releasing its new full-length, "Heralding – The Fireblade". If I am not mistaken this album was originally recorded before your debut "En Their Medh Riki Fara" and was meant to be your debut album. What made you reconsider releasing it and why do you think now is a perfect time for fans to hear it?
Indeed the new album "Heralding – The Fireblade" was meant to be the debut album of Falkenbach, but during the recordings in '95 heavy problems with the equipment of the studio appeared and made continuation impossible. Throughout the years I kept this album always in mind, which lead to the fact that some of the songs were also featured on later albums, like "Heralder" or "Heathen Foray", though in more or less different versions. I tried to change as little as possible of the original songs on "Fireblade" for this new recording, and we also tried to create a sound close to what could have been expected from an album recorded in '95.
What do you say to those who may complain that "this is not really a new album" since most of these songs are old?
To use older tracks is something usual for Falkenbach, on all recording you can find tracks from older demos. If a track is unreleased so far, it doesn't matter when it was created, it is new to the listeners anyway. Also on "Ok Nefna..." songs were featured from older demos, like "Donar's Oak", and no one realized this before I mentioned it in interviews. Besides, I do not care about if people think it's new or not anyway.
I know you already covered it a bit above, but since most of the material was written during 1994-1996, how much, if any, of it did you have to rework to fit within the new style of Falkenbach?
As I said already, I tried exactly the opposite, and to change as less as possible, to stay as close to the original idea as possible. Some tracks changed a little, for example "En Their Medh Riki Fara..." has been an instrumental, and now lyrics for these songs were written, and it was renamed to "Walkiesjar". But all in all this album shows the original "Fireblade" album, except for the fact that 3 more songs are missing due to a lack of time, and the bonus track "Gjallar" is an extra that would not have been on the original album.
Your first three full lengths are named in Icelandic, if I am not mistaken. Why did you choose to go with an English-named title for the new album?
Starting in '89 with the first tape, Falkenbach used German, Latin, old Icelandic and English titles so far, so it's nothing unusual for Falkenbach. "Fireblade" has been something like a working title for the album back then, and I simply decided to use it as there has never been a need for me to think about a different name.
Does it bother/matter to you that a large number of people are only familiar with your latest and probably most accessible album, "Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty"?
Not at all, and to be honest, as far as I can remember the sales were not that much higher compared to "Magni Blandinn..." anyway. Every album is a part of Falkenbach, and although it's a pity if someone only knows one side of Falkenbach, he/she is still able to make up his/her mind.
Every artist usually has a few favorite pieces in his repertoire. My favorite Falkenbach song is "Heathenpride" from the first full length. What are some of your own favorite songs?
I really do not have any favorite songs, every song is like a child to me. Some versions of songs unfortunately did not turn out the way they were meant to, for example the old "Heathen Foray" from "Magni Blandinn..." or "Winternight" from "En Their...", and that's why I do not listen to those tracks too often. The songs itself are as good as the other ones, but the versions featured on the mentioned albums suck if you compared it with the original idea.
This said, do you ever sit down and listen to your old songs? What are some of the thoughts that go through your head when listening to your own creations?
Of course I do, the band I listen to most often is Falkenbach without a doubt, probably 90%. I can't explain my thoughts and feelings while listening to it, it's something I cannot find words for.
I suppose a big influence upon your music have been the genius of Bathory, but can you state some of the more obscure names that have influenced you to pursue this particular style of music?
As far as I can say, no band has been an influence for Falkenbach.
You have been signed to Napalm Records since 1998. Why Napalm? Have you been approached by any other labels? What about releasing Falkenbach material through your own label, Skaldic Art?
There were offers from more than a dozen labels as far as I can remember, also bigger ones than Napalm back then. Actually I wanted to sign for another album to No Colours Records, but due to several reasons I had no other choice but to change that idea. In the end the contract with Napalm did not differ too much from the one I had with No Colours. It offered me a maximum amount of freedom and the chance to record an album under good circumstances, and that's all I care about. To release an album of Falkenbach via Skaldic Art would mean to invest quite some money for it, and this money would be missing if it came to signing a new talented band. Skaldic Art was never meant to release Falkenbach albums to make a profit for me due to sales, but rather to support young, talented bands.
As you have mentioned, early in your recording career you were signed to No Colours records, a label known for supporting some clearly racist bands. What prompted such singing and your leave from the label?
I never did not do I care about other bands, or what label they are signed to. The Napalm roster if full with gothic stuff, and lately even pop-rock music, but it doesn’t mean Falkenbach now is a pop-rock band. Same goes for a political oriented band signed to the same label. Falkenbach is Falkenbach, and not someone else. If someone has got a problem with Falkenbach, by reason of the lyrics, or anything I stated in an interview, it's ok with me, but I cannot tolerate if people want to rate Falkenbach for something another band stands for.
How do you feel about a rapid rise of National-Socialist message in black metal music?
I care about Falkenbach only, not about any other band, nor any movement or scene.
Getting back to your music, while the music has been constantly evolving, so have your clean vocals, becoming almost a trademark in Falkenbach sound...
Well, in my own opinion there is nothing special about the clean vocals, though I know they are an important aspect of Falkenbach. They are not highly professional, there are mistakes here and there, I did never take any lessons, but I do my best about it.
I must applaud your DIY ("do-it-yourself") attitude when it comes to Falkenbach. Yet, for a moment, imagine having full-time members in the band. Why would it not work in your case?
I've been working with other members in a band called Crimson Gates once. If you have a band with several members, everyone of course wants to realize his thoughts and ideas about music, and this leads to compromises. I do not want Falkenbach to be a bunch of compromises, but something 100%. That's why there won't be other constant member in Falkenbach except for me, though I hope the guest musicians Hagalaz, Tyrann and Boltthorn will continue on the future releases.
Staying with a one-man-band topic, while Falkenbach is you an only you, you used help from musicians from a band Vindsval signed to your label. How did this studio experience work for you? Do you find it easier to have someone help you with instruments and serve as a producer of sorts or does it often overcomplicate things and slow the process down? A little bit of both?
It's been a big help in the end. To work with Boltthorn on drums is something great without doubts. Of course it takes a little more time to create and record real drums instead of using a drum machine, but it's worth the time. On the other hand, also working with Hagalaz as guest musician for acoustic guitars and some e-guitars is more of a chance than something that takes more time. Same goes for Tyrann for the screams. It would complicate things if they were involved in the process of song writing, but as guest musicians they only improve the whole, and there are no negative aspects at all.
The questions you probably get the most is regarding the fact that Falkenbach is yet to play live. Would you ever consider it? What would have to happen?
A line up is built up already, and we did two rehearsals so far as well. But there is a rather big distance in between the musicians, and this is one of the biggest problems. Maybe we will manage to play one or two small shows, at least this is what is planned at the moment. It’s not meant to be a promotional act, but more to give back something to those who did ask for a possible Falkenbach show throughout all the years, and who supported Falkenbach throughout the time. Maybe more shows will follow after that, but this is something I cannot tell you too much about. At the moment only 1-2 small gigs are in my mind, nothing more.
"Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty" cover artwork is absolutely magnificent. Along with Windir's "Likferd" cover, it is one of my all-time favorites. Where is that painting from?
It was done by an artist called Morgenstern, as far as I can remember, more than 100 years ago, so obviously it wasn’t done for Falkenbach exclusively, but as it fits that album perfectly I chose to use it.
Is it me or does the cover for "Heralding - The Fireblade" bear similarities to the cover of "Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty"; it looks almost from the same scene. Is there a concept that possibly unites both albums?
"Heralding – The Fireblade" shows something like the same landscape in the beginning while "Ok Nefna..." at the end. There's nothing that unites both albums, but is more about Falkenbach and its history in general.
Your lyrical inspirations deal with paganism and Norse mythology. While I enjoy your lyrics quite a bit, let me play devil’s advocate and ask you why you think these topics are still relevant and not trite, crushed by the weight of time and overuse from other metal bands?
The topics of the lyrics are the reasons for the existence of Falkenbach. Maybe most of those topics are overused by too many bands out there, but I have to say that I do not care. To me those topics are nothing to discuss about, there is no way to change something about it. To me the lyrics are relevant, no matter how many other bands are using the same topics. I can imagine there are people out there bored by the mass of pagan topics in metal, but to me other bands are of no matter, Falkenbach counts only.
You have been doing Falkenbach for over a decade. What still keeps you going?
That's a good question.... Sometimes I do not know myself, maybe that's also one of the reasons why more than 5 years have passed between the 2nd and the 3rd albums. I never thought about quitting, but sometimes there is a need to keep silence, even for a long period of time. What keeps me going is simply the feeling that there is a need to realize what comes to my mind, the inspiration itself, from unknown source, but relevant to me.