Helga Gabriel, vocalist, lyricist and main songwriter of progressive folk outfit HELGA, only has one wish if people listen to the band’s first full-length record:
“I hope they feel moved and inspired,” she said. “Maybe they want to create as well. Get out there and see more nature and mountains and sea or whatever.”
Nature and wilderness are at the heart of HELGA’s debut, Wrapped in Mist. By combining Scandinavian folk, post-rock, black metal, and myriad other genres, HELGA transport themselves to the tops of British mountains, the Brazilian coast and the Swedish hinterlands.
“We wanted this record to feel like a journey for the listener,” guitarist Cai Sumption said. “I want to lure people into a sense of security, only to break any kind of expectations that they have.”
Gabriel has been nurturing this project since 2016, releasing two EPs on her own. After moving from rural Sweden to York in the United Kingdom, she joined forces with Sumption and Cameron Gledhill who sought to amplify Gabriel’s vision.
“I didn't feel like I was completely alone, if that makes sense,” Gabriel said of writing the album. She’d present her songs to Sumption, Gledhill, bassist Ryan Fairclough and drummer Sami Javed, who’d then build them up into the progressive-tinged movements found on Wrapped in Mist.
“One of my favorite things in music is that feeling of, ‘How did I end up here?’ Like in the best way possible,” Sumption said. “That's exactly kind of what we were trying to achieve with this record.”
Gabriel and Sumption sat down with KNOTFEST to detail each of Wrapped in Mist’s 10 tracks, how they were composed and the story and meaning behind the songs.
CAI SUMPTION: This was the second track Helga wrote for what, at the time, we thought was an EP. I was just blown away hearing the demo. I chose to put this song at the beginning of the record because I really felt it was sort of a mission statement in a way for this project, and I felt it just served as a perfect introduction to what you're about to hear.
HELGA GABRIEL: It's inspired by Nordic folklore and some poetry, I would say.
CS: Burden was the first track that was written for this project. I remember hearing the crescendo to the song… I was so blown away by that. I thought the vocals from Helga were stunning and I knew that it was my job to do that section justice. Helga loves post rock stuff, I used to be in a post rock band. I just knew that was my time to shine. I knew I had to make something of that section, and I'm pretty happy with how I ended up.
HG: It’s inspired by me moving away from Sweden to the UK and that sort of melancholy that I felt moving away from home, away from the woods. But also meeting Cai and Cameron, my bandmates, and the friendship that grew out of this whole thing. I really loved the post rock stuff that Cai and Cameron put into this. I was so happy about it. Vocal wise, it kind of reminds me – not that I was thinking of this band at the time – but when I heard this song finished, I was like, ‘Oh, this reminds me a bit of Sigur Rós.’
HG: I feel melancholic every time I listen to this song, I think because it's a personal experience for me. As a child, water was a luxury. We struggled with water. There was no water at all, you know? So yeah, it was just inspired by personal experience, really. A hardship, I would say.
CS: Water is acting as a little bit of a breather following those two opening tracks. I also just felt that there was a beauty to it and the personal aspect of it. I'm lucky enough to never have been without water, so the idea that Helga had to walk for miles when she was a child to find it was heartbreaking; but also so inspiring. That kind of really motivated me to just bring the beauty out in this one.
"If Death Comes Now"
CS: When Helga wants to she can write a stunning kind of… I don't want to call it a pop song, but you know what I mean? She's just got a way about songwriting.
HG: I'm actually not a big fan of this track, but I'm slowly liking it. I wrote this the first time in 2016, when I started this project. So I’ve heard it many times now and I got tired of it. That's the main reason why I am not really fond of this song. But now that it has evolved, I'm starting to like it more and more. I really appreciate what the guys have done here. I wrote this at a time when I was living in Darlana (Sweden), and I was outdoors a lot. I was out in the forest a lot. I just realized how things come to life, you know, spring time and then winter, their dead.
HG: I wrote everything in Swedish here. I think partly because it felt right to sing it in Swedish, but also, this is a personal song for me. I felt like I don't want everyone to understand this sort of thing. I really liked this because it's sort of black metal, but also kind of proggy in a way. I really love the beginning where I'm singing the part where the guitar is supposed to be playing. That was really intentional. I was thinking maybe this is something that we could sing together live.
CS: Black metal was the perfect method to communicate the feeling behind the subject matter for Helga. We're not a black metal band by any means, but black metal has informed Helga’s songwriting since the beginning. This project has always been trying to capture the atmosphere of that genre, that kind of cold, oppressive atmosphere. So to have received a demo that was so in your face about it, I was really excited as a big black metal fan myself.
HG: It's simply about feeling hopeless about everything, but then you have something that you really love. For me, that was music. Some people might think, ‘Oh, is this a love song or something.’ For me, it's a love for music, I suppose. I felt like music was the one that kind of saved me from everything when I was at my lowest
CS: It was a very intentional choice to put Alive Again after Farväl, as a palate cleanser from what you just experienced. Almost a cushion to kind of comfort you after the kind of onslaught that is Farväl. I think we wanted to capture a lighter moment with this one, while keeping that kind of kind of darker edge to it.
"Vast and Wild"
CS: One of the most hopeful songs and a real ear worm. I know Helga was really trying to capture a really vast, kind of sonic experience with it. I think we achieved that. It just felt like a natural progression from Alive Again in a way and just shows a more hopeful kind of side of the band.
HG: Oh, I think that's a good point. Cai, what you said about wanting to make it sound sort of vast. I kind of elongated the notes, so it's like really trying to make big vibes. When I wrote this, I actually felt inspired by the sea. In Dalarna, it's mostly the woods so seeing the sea when I traveled to Brazil, I felt like ‘Wow, this is how it feels to be surrounded by the sea again!’ As a child I lived near the sea, so seeing it again in Brazil made me feel very nostalgic. So I thought I would write about the sea.
"Som En Trumma"
CS: This song was actually written by our drummer Sami – the only song on this record, actually, that didn't start life as a demo written by Helga. The process at that point was very much Helga writes the demo, we work on a demo, and we arrive at something. [Sami] just kind of suggested this song. It didn't have any lyrics or any melodies in that sense, but instrumentally it was almost finished and I was blown away by it and Helga loved it. I think it came together really well in the end, and maybe set a precedent for the way things can work.
HG: Mountain Song was inspired by a hike here in the UK. I never really climbed a mountain until I arrived to the UK. So I was like, ‘Wow, this is how it feels to climb a mountain! I need to write a song about it!” So I wrote a song about it.
CS: Man, that song is a journey, isn't it? By the time you finish that track, it almost feels like you've climbed a mountain yourself, but I mean that in the best way! The main challenge for us when writing this one was just to find a cohesive, musical line through these ideas to really bring them together as a tangible unit. Most of all, the goal was to capture – a bit like Vast and Wild – just capture what Helga felt when she was climbing this mountain.
"Wrapped in Mist"
HG: I'm an autumn girl. There's just something about autumn that's kind of cozy, but also melancholic in a way. I felt like this was one of the most poetic lyrics that I've written so far. I'm quite happy about the lyrics. It's very autumnal. These lyrics were inspired by my autumn experience back in Sweden, not necessarily the autumn that I experienced here in the UK.
CS: I felt that this was in some way a sister song to Skogen Mumlar. Although they very much do their own thing, they felt of the same kind of spirit. Skogan serves as a perfect opener to the album, while Wrapped In Mist felt like a perfect closer. It felt like they kind of complement each other really nicely, and I thought they worked really well as book end. Wrapped In Mist is a journey. It really takes you places and I felt it was kind of emblematic of the album as a whole. It just made sense to name the album after it and kind of close the album out with it.
Wrapped in Mist is available now via Season of Mist. Order the album - HERE