Interview originally done for metalfan.nl in 2006. Read the original (Dutch) version here.
A couple of weeks ago the Icelandic band Sólstafir surprised me with their excellent ‘Masterpiece of Bitterness’ album. Since Sólstafir is the first Icelandic metalband i got to here i was curious about the story behind this band. Drummer Guðmundur was willing to answer some questions.
You are the first Icelandic metal band that I hear about; the first question is probably something a lot of interviewers asked you already. But how is the metal scene in Iceland, are there many bands, places you can play, fans?
G: No the places are few, and we´re mostly playing for the same crowd of a couple of hundred (which I guess is ok considering the population).
There are a few good bands here at the moment like dark metallers Potentiam (used to be signed to/ and have 2 albums out on assfuckers Avantgarde Music) ( www.potentiam.com), technical deathmetallers Momentum (www.dordingull.com/momentum), grindcore veterans Forgarður Helvítis and Death metallers Múspell ( www.helviti.com), re-enforced deathmetallers Changer (www.changer-metal.com), pot smoking stoner rockers Brain Police ( www.brainpolice.net), I adapt (Iceland´s leading hardcore band – www.dordingull.com/iadapt), and a few young and promising bands like neo-thrashers Denver (www.dordingull.com/denver), and a few others that might or might not go on to do great things in the future.
Can you tell a bit about the history of Solstafir, and what does the name mean?
G: In English it is Crepuscular rays, it´s when sunbeams break through thick clouds (like on the cover of Dark Tranquility´s “Skydancer”
We started out as a blackmetal band in January 1995, and have released some shit through the years. You can see this all at www.solstafir.com
How did the recording for this album go, are there any good recording facilities in Iceland, or do you have to travel abroad for that?
G: There are a few really professional studios in Iceland, but to record there costs more than an arm and a leg and two kidneys!
As we were still unsigned when we started recording the album, we decided to basically record it our selves with the help of our friend/engineer/co-producer Sigurgrímur Ullarpeysa Jónsson, at studio Helvíti, owned by him and his bands Forgarður Helvítis and Múspell.
We recorded it mostly on weekends in a small fishing town on the south cost called Stokkseyri. I think it really set the mood differently from recording in the city.
Your music contains, in my opinion, influences from bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna etc, but also from bands like Primordial, Enslaved and maybe even some In the Woods.. Do you agree with those names? If not what are your main influences then?
G: No I don´t really. People have been comparing us alot to Primordial, so we checked out their new album, and honestly, I can´t understand why people compare us to them. Our influences don´t really come from other bands, but more from our own personalities. We are actually rather consious about avoiding direct influences from any specific band. But on the whole I´d say we draw more influences from 80´s English goth rock, 80´s and 90´s black metal, and 70’s and 80´s heavymetal/rock´n´roll.
What albums do you (and the band) listen to lately?
G: I don´t know what the other´s are listening to exactly these days, but I know Aðalbjörn is alot into rock´n´roll bands like Thin Lizzy, Motörhead, Smashing Pumpkins, Kyuss, Unida, Deep Purple, Hellacopters, Neil Young etc. Sæþór is mostly into 70´s rock like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Uria Heep etc. Svavar is a bit into some electro music, and I´m listening to alot of dark shit like Earth, Boris, Sunn0))), 5ive´s Continuum Recearch Project, Swans, Byla, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, Sleep, and some feel-good shit like the new Dozer and new Cathedral albums, and everything by Autopsy and Destroyer 666.
Other than that we´re all alot into 80´s and 90´s death and blackmetal like Autopsy, Obituary, Darkthrone, Carcass, Immortal, Bolt Thrower, Flames of Hell, Entombed, Carcass, Dissection, Terrorizer, Sadus, Pestilence, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Athiest and 666 thousand more!
I was a bit misled by the female singer at the beginning of your album, was this intentional?
G: No not really, we were originally gonna have that singing under the guitar line, but somehow we didn´t really like that, so we tried moving it in front of the song, and we immediately liked that.
What’s the lyrical content behind this album?
G: Well there seems to be a kind of an unintented red thread running through the lyrics, lika a concept of fire, light (or the lack of it), and visions (either of the mind or of the eye). You can see this by looking at titles like “…Visionary Head”, “Lux Fare” “Nox fare”, “Ghosts of Light”, “Ritual of Fire”.
How have the reactions been to your album and what are your future plans?
G: The reactions have been much better than I dared to hope. It´s been getting (almost entirely) very good reviews to say the least. I really expected it to get more mixed reactions due to it´s nature.
In my review I’ve compared ‘Masterpiece of Bitterness’ with the nature in Iceland, raw, volcanic, and wild but also very calm and beautiful. Has your country, and in particular the nature in Iceland been of any influence for this album. Or are you so used to it that you don’t notice it anymore?
G: This album has probably been more influenced by the Icelandic nature than any of our releases so far.
Like I said, we recorded most of the album in Stokkseyri, which is a small fishing village on the south cost. It takes about an hour to drive there, over lava fields and mountain passes, so that set a strange mood I think. We´d go there on Fridays and work into the night, continue working on Saturdays, but then late on Saturday nights we´d drive back to Reykjavík to get drunk. Then on Sunday mornings we´d drive back to Stokkseyri and continue working after a few hours sleep and then drive back to Reykjavík on Sunday nights. As we got further into the recordings we´d often listen to some rough mixes of the songs as we were driving over those lava fields and dark mountain passes, sometimes through crazy snowstorms, sometimes under a clear winternights sky with the stars and northern lights shining bright as there are no man made lights out there for miles and sometimes in the depressing rain. So I think that mood really got into the songs. At least that is what I see before my eyes when I listen to the album. But that said I think the mood was already there on our behalf, these conditions might have made it stronger though.
How do you guys write your songs, is there a certain structure in how you do that? And is writing a group effort or are there any main songwriters?
G:Usually one of the other guys (mostly Aðalbjörn) brings in a idea or a riff that we usually jam and arrange together. I´d say it´s mostly a group effert as noone ever brings in a completed song. And if they would, we´d change it anyway, as we´re always changing our songs and they usually take many months to be completed.
Any last things you would like to add to this interview?
G:Thanks for your support, it´s truly appreciated!
And remember, you could do worse things with your money than buying a masterpiece of bitterness!