In 21st century terms, Vreid are certainly one of the reliables from the world of Norwegian black metal, a band comprised of members of a legendary underground act, Windir, who then took that epic and icy atmosphere and pumped it full of militaristic attack and classic rock swagger. The new album Wild North West will check a lot of those boxes but its arrival is accompanied by Vreid’s own film of the same name, acting like a feature-length music video for the whole record and therefore offering an opportunity for fans to experience the album’s narrative in a more sense-stimulating way. Approaching album nine through different manner, bassist and songwriter Hváll dissects the album and film with us.
What was the impetus to make this film now at this point in your career?
Well, I would say it’s always been important to have the element of storytelling. I think that an album is more than just putting out a piece of music, it’s the lyrics and the package and that aspect has always been very important to me. I started with an idea as I always do when we start a new album, started thinking about the usual music video from there but then it just dawned on me that I wanted to do something more. I started writing more conceptually with the lyrics and brought the idea forward, asking if it would be possible. When you find someone then who is willing to put in the effort, and work with you day and night in order to do that project, I just want to then jump into it and not over-think anything.
Surely in the current climate with this film coming out a year into the coronavirus pandemic, there would be more difficulties than usual with making it?
Of course, but you’ve also got all the time in the world on your hands. We’re sitting at home and waiting to be able to go out to places, which we can’t do, so it gave us the time to work on it. There were restrictions in production, being able to meet up with people, but we were a small crew living in a quite small place so with a good plan in hand, the actual filming went quite smoothly.
Was the music on the album at all written alongside developing the visuals or was the album finished then the movie made to match that?
They were absolutely both being worked on alongside each other. It started out with sketches for songs and ideas, but when we started the recording process we started with the movie as well. We’d be adapting the songs making changes and rearrangements the whole way, until pretty much the final parts of the movie. It was very much an influence on the whole process and in some ways I think the album will maybe sound a bit different than if we had not done this alongside it.
Were there any musical ideas you played with then that came from wanting to make something for the film that you might not have done on a previous album?
When you start to see your music with visuals it does just sound different immediately. That’s what people have told me when seeing the movie, it feels different than just listening to the album, so it does do something with your mind and your perspective of how you approach the music. That happened to me during the process. There were parts where I would feel something was lacking during the sound, or a lyrical section would not be quite right with what was happening in the film, so I’d make changes the whole way.
Were there any other influences this time in regards to progressing the music?
I’ve always been trying to not put too much limit on us. We are a heavy metal band and a black metal band, of course, but for me it’s always been important to find different angles of that. With a song like The Morning Red, it’s one of the most 70s rock inspired things we’ve ever done where you can hear Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd in that song. The song Shadows of Aurora actually started out as a quite slow and very Pink Floyd-ish type of song but I rewrote it on the last rehearsal before going into the studio, and it ended up more like a homage to 80s thrash. Dazed and Reduced was a different song too, where I had that main riff lying around for a long while, and I kept piling all of these different elements onto it but in the end I had to strip it down again because it just needed to breathe. It needed to have that pure rock groove to it, and when approaching the vocals it needed to be sung and so to remove that limitation for us ended up in something quite different. It is for me though 70s heavy rock, 80s thrash, and 90s black metal that will form the core of my DNA.
The film is directed by Håvard Nesbø. Why was he the right choice for this and what did he bring to the project?
We started working with him on the last album doing lyric videos and I immediately had a very good connection with him where I felt he understood where we were going with this. He’s worked on movies before so he knows his way around. If you’re just gonna hire a director they might just work to their clock and not really see it as more than work, but with Håvard he became like a fifth member. We went into all the processes together, shared and improved each other’s ideas, and it was a very creative environment. I think that working with him was the only way we could have made this movie.
What were some of the filmic influences? David Lynch and Twin Peaks are both specifically mentioned during the intro.
I’ve always liked traditional Norwegian movies, telling folklore stories and things that I was told of when I was growing up about the forces of nature and those kind of Norwegian fairy tales. That kind of blended in with historical documentaries, where it’s showing that yes it is fiction but a lot of it is also based on events that have happened in our history, and then of course I like the absurd. David Lynch is the best representative of it all and especially Twin Peaks, which when I saw it when I was thirteen years old was so overwhelming. It seemed so absurd but in a way so real, unlike just watching a normal horror movie where you can easily pass it off as just fiction. It felt like my home community and I could really identify with it, so that is definitely one of the biggest inspirations for this project.
With the Norwegian folklore aspects entwined with that, how much is that relating then to the potential of the natural world to distort the senses?
When you grow up in such a small place where nature is an extremely important part of your daily life, it becomes something that fills your head from a young age with curiosity. There’s a world out there that we can’t understand, and the more I travel around the world or go hiking in Norway the less I actually feel I understand of it. That surreality of being out there where you can feel all kind of emotions from happiness to fear, it just makes me feel alive. It’s so much stronger than being at home doing my average day. It triggers something and I love that kind of duality of being part of something yet not understanding it all.
The title of the record and film obviously refers to the American wild west with a Scandinavian twist. What is it about that imagery that you felt was compatible?
I love the old spaghetti western movies which were another part of my growing up. There’s that desolation and that total feeling of emptiness out there that appealed to me, and I always felt a similarity there with my own community. The story here is connected to Norway where my relationship is strongest but you can find this atmosphere in so many places. With the more European history meanwhile, the whole basic idea is that the first two chapters of the movie relate to that teenage urge to explore something. You have a positive view on the world and that nothing can defeat you, and so go out there filled with will, but then the reality of life will hit you sooner or later. The stories that I read or heard from family or relatives of going out at sea and living through those kind of wartime hells, seeing your friends die, but then at a young age experiencing those things and surviving it, coming back home to try and find some normality in life again, I think that’s such a strong story and it’s something that is the foundation for this narrative.
How much were you trying to convey an obvious narrative versus how just impressionistic feelings with the film?
It was important to try and have quite a fundamental thing going through it so you can follow the chapters without losing the plot completely, but still keeping it open enough for people to use their own imaginations. I think you can follow this character’s journey quite easily, from going out to the world with so much belief to then trying to get back and seeing how difficult that can be. The asylum that we filmed in was a real asylum that used right up to the second world war in Norway that took in young sailors and a lot of younger people with mental issues, and they tried to treat them in the most absurd ways. On how many levels we are able to toy with other people, it’s scary, and this was not that long ago. It’s extreme and brutal but it is a part of our history, still. This kind of story though that can be seen in so many other situations and times, and it doesn’t always have to be the most dramatic scenes through war or literally being taken to an asylum, but more the challenges and obstacles that every person meets in life. The darkest moments in your life often have a big influence on how you then use your life.
There are these illustrated title cards for each song as well accompanied by transitionary organ music. Is that part of the album at all or just made for film?
That’s just for the film but some of those organ lines are taken from the songs on the album and refitted to that instrument, so it all can be heard there.
Are there many hidden details for fans to catch?
There’s plenty of this and I hope that people will explore a lot of different things. I tried to put in so many references that I found, from other movies to our own history, our inspirations, and so if people have a relationship with previous albums I think there will be elements both in the movie and in the booklet that we’re doing for the vinyl and everything that will stick out to people.
It's approaching 20 years of being a band now with Vreid, obviously not including playing in bands like Windir beforehand. Are projects like this important to keeping it fresh for you and will we see more of it from Vreid?
I really hope so. For me, like I said, it’s always about finding new inspirations and new ways to work, and by doing this film I was reminded of the vibe from when we did the first demos and the first album. It’s fresh, you don’t know how it’s going to end up, and it takes away that security net. It was the same when we did the livestream in the summer from my mountain farm, where it was a strange experience but it felt very rewarding afterwards, and I think that makes the art even stronger. People want more than just another album and the just the same thing, and so if people are open to it it’s very rewarding to create all of these different, odd things.
Vreid's Wild North West arrives April 30th on Season of Mist. Pre-orders are currently available - HERE