Wednesday, February 5, 2020


March 2019

The darkest shores of ravishing melancholia is visible whenever I listen Helrunar and I kindda became addicted to this night time feeling of the songs dragging sneakingly ambivalent notes surrounded by a somber nostalgic voice. Helrunar has become the focus point when my nihilistic side is shivered by the influences of Andreas Gryphius on the new album Vanitas Vanitatvm. After all, there are whispers like “Es ist alles eitel” at every beating of my heart.

September 8th, 2018 was remarkable here; After the Empyrium concert in İstanbul at that night, Marcus mentioned about Helrunar and introduced me the main composer, guitarist Sebastian(a.k.a. Alsvartr) who is a very kind and classy person while we are tasting some surprised red wine but talking about Condrieu AOC (thanks to Fursy) for some reason.

Thereafter, my desire to know more about Helrunar and their inspiration behind Vanitas Vanitatvm have heaved into sight. At this point, pleased to know another kind and unique persona, Marcel (a.k.a. Skald Draugir) who is the vocalist and writer of the lyrics accepted this intense interview flowing from romantic era dark poetry to “The death of Hypatia” by filling my glass (imagining a glass of Amarone at this point) with his spellbinding words about the haunting desolate realm and captivating gloomy atmosphere of their art, Helrunar.

Check out Vanitas Vanitatvm from 2018's black pearls while delving deep into the Helrunar album covers as they are themselves form of dark arts...

“Melancholy and especially Sehnsucht are quite important aspects in the German arts of the 19th century.”

Hello Marcel, how has been the reactions to new album called Vanitas Vanitatvm? You have been touring with Empyrium, Sun of the Sleepless for a while. How was it?

Hello! Well, we had a great time on tour with our friends of Empyrium and Sun of the Sleepless. The concerts were quite successful, with lots of audience and it was simply fine to travel around in Europe a little, meeting interesting people, visiting new places. The interaction between all the people who were involved was simply fantastic… you know, it can sometimes get difficult when you travel with so many people in just one bus, but everyone was fine and no one was left behind.

Vanitas Vanitatvm
For me, new album has such different vein, can be said more energetic. It still has doom, folkloric and dark influences carrying Helrunar marks like the previous albums but something shining and more dynamic at there. What do you think?
That is my feeling about the new album, too! “Niederkunfft” had stronger Death- and Doom-influences that figure quite fine with the lyrical concept and the general atmosphere, but “VANITAS VANITATVM” is somehow more “back to the roots” again, regarding the Black Metal-parts, but also more dynamic, more “fresh”… maybe because of some Thrash Metal and Dissection-influences. But I can´t really put my finger onto it… we write our sound often quite instinctively, not really thinking about which influences we´re going to use or where the whole thing shall lead. But it is far more dynamic, yes, definitely!

There were 17 years since the foundation of the band, now line-up includes you and Sebastian. Did you feel like you have fixed the line up?  Who are the live musicians on the tour?
Regarding our situation and our way of working it is the best line-up we can have I guess. Sebastian is doing the greatest part of the compositions and I am responsible for the lyrics… and it works perfectly! Our live musicians are Stefan and Árni from Árstiðir lífsins (a band I am also involved in) and Rainer who is also a member of the German Death Metal-Band Abrogation. It might look like they´re simply “session members”, but actually they are fulfilling a vital role in the band and our personal interaction and friendship are just fine.

“VANITAS VANITATVM” is somehow more “back to the roots” again, regarding the Black Metal-parts, but also more dynamic, more “fresh”…”

In this album, you focused more modern existentialist problems and narcissism rather than myths, history and religious conflicts as in previous albums. The term vanitas is also used for memento mori and the album name can be translated as vanity of vanities.  Can you please talk about this album’s perspective and your reasons to focus on this topic?

I guess the foundation of the album concept is still inspired by early modern history, like on “Niederkunfft”. But yes, while “Niederkunfft” had a primary historic perspective, “Vanitas Vanitatum” points at modern social and cultural developments. It is not difficult to discover vanity anywhere in our modern society – just take a look at all the social networks and how people behave and present themselves there. Everybody seems to be more beautiful, more special, and smarter than anyone else and, of course, everybody is more right. Our ways of communication and perception – be it of ourselves, of others or of the world – have changed drastically within just one decade. No one can tell yet what the consequences will be… we will have rising numbers of mental disorders, burnouts and depression over the coming years if you ask me. People are desperately trying to be special, be it by posting and sharing stuff to define themselves, to achieve a feeling of identity, or by posting idealized and photoshopped images of their wannabe-perfect bodies and lifestyle to gather “likes” in social networks. This might work as a short-term saturation of emotional desires, but actually it´s all vain, it´s all hollow, it´s all nothing. That´s “Vanitas Vanitatum” mainly deals with by drawing inspiration from mythology, history and poetry.

 “The music we make is dark and melancholic, definitely, and it has to.”

As I read that you used references from German dramatist and poet Andreas Gryphius for the album name, Vanitas Vanitatvm. Which works of him do you like? What impresses you more from his works? Do you have another authors, poets that you appreciate the works?
There are countless authors from all over the world that I appreciate… for example Friedrich Hölderlin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan and Gottfried Benn when it comes to German authors. I like Andreas Gryphius especially for his Vanitas-poems, for example “Es ist alles eitel” (“All is vain”) or “Threnen des Vatterlandes” (“Tears of the Fatherland”). The latter one is a strong description of the cruelties of the 30-years-war and what they did to the minds of people.

MM.I. - MM.XI. - Vier Wege eines Winters
German authors, poets are hand in glove with melancholy like Andreas Gryphius, Hölderlin, Novalis and even Goethe. What do you think about melancholy in German culture?  What does it mean for you and for your music?
Well… melancholy and especially Sehnsucht are quite important aspects in the German arts of the 19th century. The word Sehnsucht cannot so easily be translated into another language… the English longing falls too short. It describes a longing, but by the same time a feeling of addiction to this longing, until the longing itself becomes the fulfilment. Hard to describe… you mentioned various important authors from different periods: Gryphius is the earliest one, he is baroque era (17th century), he experienced the cruelties of the 30-years-war and a lot of his poetry therefore deals with the already mentioned Vanitas-motive. Novalis is a romantic (late 18th/ early 19th century) and the term Sehnsucht mainly was of importance for him (the romantics defined their works strongly by melancholy and longing), while Goethe and Hölderlin are merely representants of the classical period (19th century). 

But now that I think about it, I am not so sure if melancholy is so special for German arts. Dark feelings, sadness, pain, melancholy have always been a motivation, for artists from everywhere.  It is often said that Germans have a strong connection to nature, melancholy and to the dark forests of their homeland, this might point back to the romantic era, when all this melancholy and nature-mysticism was en vogue in the arts. 

But, however, the romantic era is over and nowadays I really can´t say that Germans are more melancholic, or appreciate nature and poetry more than other people on this planet. But however, I draw a lot of inspiration and often even comfort from the mentioned authors and many more. The music we make is dark and melancholic, definitely, and it has to. The world is a dark and sad place and our art should reflect it. I hope my thoughts about this answer your question properly.

“Hypatia … represents intelligence, wisdom and freedom, as a symbol.”

Who did the artwork and what is the story behind?
The cover photo was taken by William Mortensen, an American photographer who was active in the first decades of the 20th century, mainly concentrating on erotic and occult photography. I discovered it by accident and it was not easy to identify the artist and the title and to research the copyrights. We had to get in contact with the archive of the University of Arizona, where the original image is stored nowadays. The librarians there were really friendly guys and offered us a high-resolution scan. The title of the image is “The death of Hypatia”… Hypatia was a female astronomer, mathematician and philosopher who lived in Alexandria in the ancient world… for me, she represents intelligence, wisdom and freedom, as a symbol. She was killed by Christian fanatics in the year of 415. They dragged her into a church and cut the flesh from her living body with brick-shards, so it is said.

You are into myths and archaic tales. What do myths give us? Which tales are more influential for you?
Well, what you find in the internet is information, while myths, tales and history are a well of knowledge and wisdom. Information is of no use if you don´t know the context well. Many people think that they are oh-so-well-informed nowadays, but they don´t understand a shit. Myths and tales on the other hand have grown over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years and preserve the emotions, thoughts and experiences of many, many human beings. They have a kind of “open meaning”… every time you hear or read them anew, you can find new aspects and reflect your own existence in a new way. I can´t say which sort of myths or tales is most influential for me… I like to read and know them all, if possible. “A book shall be the axe for the frozen sea within us”, as Franz Kafka wrote.

“The world is a dark and sad place and our art should reflect it.”

Your lyrics are mostly in German, I’m curious if the decision to use it related with the old sagas that you are influenced? How do you find the phonetics of German language? And if I’m not wrong, it is some different German dialects that you used on vocals?
I use various Germanic languages and it depends on the mood and atmosphere I want to create which one I am going to use. I mainly use normal modern German, for it is my mother tongue and it is simply the easiest way for me to write lyrics. If I want it archaic, I go for Old-Norse, if it simply needs a Nordic touch I´ll choose Norwegian or Icelandic (both languages are far better than German if you want to sing “dirty”). On “Niederkunfft” and also “Vanitas Vanitatum” I used early modern German (as it was spoken from 16th to 17th century) to get a kind of historical feeling into the lyrics. And for “Wöljager” I use the regional dialect which is, at least for me, connected to a lot of authentic old-time and nostalgic feelings.

Sól I: Der Dorn im Nebel
What do you think about using old/archaic instruments in metal music?
It´s absolutely ok to use them. An artist should use any instrument or tool that helps him to realize his vision and should not take care for borders or clichés. But what I dislike is this modern humpty-dumpty-pseudo-medieval-Pagan-Metal-bullshit, simply because it has more to do with Disneyland than with mythology.

You have three active bands. What are the differences among them; Helrunar, Wöljager and Árstiðir lífsins?

I guess Helrunar is mainly based in the Black-/Death Metal-genre musically, with lyrics that are mostly in German and sometimes tend to be more modern, although they were quite strongly influenced by Old Norse mythology and poetry when we started. Árstiðir lífsins draws a lot of musical inspiration from the Norwegian Black Metal of the 90ies, but also from symphonic or Nordic folk music, while the lyrics are always dealing with the history and mythology of medieval Scandinavia. Wöljager is a little different… it is dark and melancholic (Neo-) folk music with lyrics in the dialect of my home region, the Münsterland. This dialect is nearly extinct, but I learned it from my grandfather. The lyrics deal with folklore, nature and human life in past times.

“There is an epic, emotional aspect and also the musical depth that symphonic music and Metal often share.”

Do you have influences from other music genres, classical music has a big impact in German history, for example?

Sól II - Zweige der Erinnerung
Actually, I listen to a lot of various music genres… classical music, but also soundtracks, lots of folk, Rock music from the 60s or 70s, even electronic music sometimes, and any kind of Metal, of course. During the last months I enjoyed Synthwave a lot. Everything flows in. But there is a certain parallel between classical or soundtrack music and Metal… I guess there is an epic, emotional aspect and also the musical depth that symphonic music and Metal often share. Yes, very many popular classical composers came from Germany and I guess they are still a strong part of German identity. But in German everyday life they don´t play such an important role anymore, at least my impression.

What are your influential black metal bands for all times according to you?
It´s mainly the old school of Norwegian Black Metal in our case – Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Enslaved, to name some. They managed to create this certain cold, spiritual style that sounds like music from another dimension.

Please share your last words… Thank you for the interview.
Çok teşekkür ederim! And best greetings to our fans in Turkey!

Photo by Carsten Brand

“…This might work as a short-term saturation of emotional desires, but actually it´s all vain, it´s all hollow, it´s all nothing. That´s “Vanitas Vanitatum” mainly deals with by drawing inspiration from mythology, history and poetry.”

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