Interview: Vanaheim

I have already expressed in my 100% review that Vanaheim have released a fantastic album with Een Verloren Verhaal, which for me is clearly in the lead so far this year with Fer de Lance‘s The Hyperborean. Against this background, I am extremely pleased that the band from the Netherlands has agreed to answer all kinds of questions for us. We hope you enjoy reading their very interesting responses!

André: First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to be on our blog. Before you answered my questions, which albums did you listen to last?

Michael: NightwishImaginaerum, just an unbelievably good album.

Mike: Svartsot Kumbl.

Bram: EnsiferumFrom Afar.

On 1 and 2 April, Aidan and I saw you at the Mead and Greed Festival in Oberhausen. You impressed us very much with your two performances there. How did you experience this festival weekend?

Michael: Thank you first of all for the compliment! We’ve experienced it beyond our wildest expectations. Every time we play in Germany it just gets more and more crazy. The festival itself (under the circumstances) was amazing and the organization did everything they could to still make it the best event possible. We we’re overwhelmed by the amount of positive reactions and all the people that came to us at the merch table, we cannot say more that we love each and every one of you that supports us. Regarding the sets, the 1st one was a lot longer than expected due to the band after us having to cancel pretty last minute. Because of this we already had to spoil some of the new songs that we would normally only play on the 2nd set but we try to be as flexible as possible and always do what we can to help out the organization and festival if they need something. At the 2nd set we had our very special guest Creia Wraith with us to do all the choir and backing vocals for the set and that was such an amazing experience for us, hopefully this was also something cool for the people in the crowd! We love to come up with these special surprises or just extra things we can add to the music to make our show just a bit more special.

Which mead flavour did you like best? Currant was the hit, right?

Mike: Well I am sorry to disappoint you but we didn’t taste any of them. We are no big drinkers as we always focus on our performance, that also counts for the time in front of the gig where a lot of things need to be arranged and organized as well as after the gig, where we want to be together with the fans in the crowd, at the merch tabel or where we just hang around with the people that watched our show. If we enjoy some beers or drinks in general, it is definitely after the show, mostly at the place where we will sleep after the gig. Often so much is going on that there isn’t even the time to take yourself out for 5 or 10 minutes to enjoy a drink. Someone wants to have a signature on their just purchased merch item, has a question or just wants to talk to us after the show. There is nothing wrong with that, we love to interact with people!

Now there are certainly a couple of readers of our blog who don’t know Vanaheim yet. Please tell us a little bit about your biography!

Mike: I will try to keep it short. The band started in summer 2015 and after a search for still missing band members, we quickly started to write our first songs which we occasionally still play live but which were never recorded. So these are live-exclusive! In 2017 we released our first ever EP which is called The House Spirit and has many Slavic influences. After the release of the EP we received more recognition and attention from countries like Belgium, Germany, France and even the UK. This was followed by many gigs abroad, good reviews and a very positive reception from fans of the folk and pagan metal scene. We took our time to promote the EP properly and a few years went by until we realized that we actually have to start to write the follow-up release, that would be our debut album called Een Verloren Verhaal which was released on the 4th February 2022 after a long, very hard and time-consuming writing, arranging and production phase. Now we are here with a new album and are ready to conquer the world with it to say the least!

How would you classify yourselves stylistically?

Bram: It’s always hard to capture in a couple of words, but for the new album we concluded that “epic folk metal“ suits us the most. For the EP we found folk/pagan more suiting. We made the step towards epic, as the songs are much more complex on our new release. This is due to the orchestrations that have been done, as well as the instruments playing with that due to the grow in expressing our creativity.

Which bands have influenced you the most?

Zino: Bands like Finntroll, Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Moonsorrow, Equilibrium, Insomnium, but also stuff like Devin Townsend, Faun, Groupa, Hedningarna, and Otava yo. Also film scores are a big inspiration.

On your debut EP The House Spirit your lyrics are in English – now you sing in Dutch (which I really appreciate). How did this come about?

Zino: For me personally I can’t get anything poetic in English on paper. My English is fine for normal conversations, but when it comes to meaningful lyrics that draw you into a story, that‘s pretty hard. Besides that I felt like this album already got so close to my heart, that Dutch lyrics would top it off perfectly. I am also very fond of the Dutch pronounciation, which is very suitable for metal vocals. The Dutch language is also part of a rich history which I enjoyed learning more about during the process. We consulted old Dutch books, bibles and other dusty literature. We combined it with the story we made over the years and it turned out beautifully.

Bram: I’ve written “Uit Steen Geslagen“ and the majority of “Onbevangen“, while Zino already wrote the end of the concept. It was something that took me time, and I did not do anything like this before. However, I am very happy that when I sat down for it, I knew quite fast how I was going to shape the song story-wise. My biggest inspiration were Zino’s lyrics, and the music itself. I used my own fantasy, and although I am completely not into books or storytelling, it still worked out for me.

How do you create your songs? Is it teamwork – or do you have a main songwriter in your ranks?

Bram: The songs are mostly inspired from orchestrations and a basic design of a song made by Zino. However, we all have a specialty besides our instrument when it comes to the writing process. Zino is very much into the details, which made that every second of this album is the best we could have done. Michael is technically very strong, and also assisted with a lot of balancing of the orchestrations before the mixing process. I focus mostly on the structure and flow of the song, and try to be creative with transitions. Mike is our all-rounder that always helps out and has a good sense for everything.

Een verloren verhaal is one of Aidan’s and my favourite albums of the last months. Let’s start with the outside: Who is responsible for the great artwork?

Mike: Thank you very much for your great words! The artist who drew the artwork is called Julian Bauer and I can tell you, regarding compositorial artworks this guy is a mastermind. I came across his work when I saw that the American band Duskmourn, which I am a big fan of, revealed their artwork for their newest album, which was drawn by Julian as well. I immediately sent their artwork to Bram and literally said to him “DUDE, this is one of the best artworks that I‘ve ever seen in my life so far!”. We were so hooked that we contacted Julian and asked him, if we could do a Skype meeting to explain to him what we had in mind for our artwork. After the Skype meeting it was clear that Julian is our guy for the debut album artwork. What can I say, after all this time where I have seen the artwork during the making of the album and now after the release, I look at it and still think that this is one of the best artworks out there. I love it to death and I think I will still love it when I am old and grumpy, haha! Respect to Julian for doing what he does because it is special to many people as we already experienced. People compliment us for the artwork on a weekly basis in one or another form.

Can you briefly explain to our readers what the album is about in terms of content? What journey awaits the listener?

Zino: The title Een Verloren Verhaal translates to a lost, or forgotten tale. I’m going to try to give a summary of the story, but as you ask for the story I want people to know what it is all about! The album is about a village in the mountains, in a big forest. The people built it primarily out of necessity, but they soon became obsessed with wealth, expansion, and above all, power. You could say they figured out they could do anything they wanted. Chopping infinite trees, making fires and killing much more animals for food then they can eat. For some years this continues, until the point where Mother Earth, or the matriarch as we call her in the story, creates an end to the destructive behavior of the villagers. She carves a horde of giants out of stone and sends them to the village to restore the balance. But as we all know the people are stubborn and don’t listen. So finally, they are all whiped out. All of them? No. One girl remains, who will eventually find a new village. Her story turns into myth, and the myth into legend. The question is, if people will ever learn to handle the forest and nature with respect. Furthermore the album goes about side stories of other characters that live in or around the forest. On our website we have official translations for our lyrics, where you can read more about it. Of course the album makes a parallel to the world as we know it today. Many people treat our planet like it’s theirs to ruin it, and they leave their mess for the next generation. Sometimes nature also strikes back, in the form of mudflows, earthquakes, hurricanes or big floods. The power of nature cannot be underestimated. We used giants as the executive power of Mother Nature, instead of natural disasters.

How has the feedback been so far regarding Een verloren verhaal?

Michael: In one word: Amazing. Seriously, with some of the reviews we are getting back, we are thinking it’s just a joke or something. We never expected to have these incredibly high ratings and reviews from our first debut album. It’s so nice to hear people genuinly enjoying our album and hearing the work that we’ve put into it to try and create something unique while trying to keep our identity as Vanaheim.

Have any songs already been written for a third Vanaheim release?

Mike: No. We spoiled ourselves with a writing break of at least 6 months after the album release because the album process was much bigger than we expected. It took a lot of energy out of us and we definitely went over our limits with Een Verloren Verhaal. The last one and a half years before the album release were very exhausting because we had this vision in our heads about how the debut album has to be. Often we had to fight very hard to get the album where it is now after the release but we are proud about every single step that we did to make this album reality.

On our blog we focus on music with epic elements. What makes a song “epic“ for you?

Zino: For me, epic is a musical tale that not only expresses the story through the lyrics, but also through the musical choices, instrumental-wise, and composition-wise. It should grab you and pull you inside the story. For me personally, I want to see my imagination create a little movie when I write new orchestral parts, or specific parts of songs. Besides that, at least for Een Verloren Verhaal, I wanted to create a wall of sound that makes you feel part of the villagers. You should feel the natural force, in combination with looking at the (also epic) album art of Julian.

Is there a metal genre that you can’t relate to at all?

Michael: Grindcore

Mike: These K-Pop Metal variants. Hugh, I don’t know what it is about them that I don’t like but somehow they sound too happy and energetic for me, in a way that I just cannot take.

Bram: Most old school metal, including Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Pantera, SOAD… it’s all made by innovative and very creative people, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

What is your opinion about streaming services?

Bram: In general really fine, because it makes music very accessible to people, including myself. It’s relatively easy to discover bands, although from an artist point of view it’s getting harder and harder to crack the algorythm because of the huge offer in music nowadays. Speaking as an artist, of course the revenue of these platforms helps only a bit, so our main support still comes from selling our merchandise. It could be nice if more platforms would make it possible to offer merch via their service. This is why we are very happy with Bandcamp, as they offer both music and merch, against very fair commission rates.

Last question: Suppose you could slip into the skin of a fantasy character. Which one would it be? And why would you choose this one?

Michael: Probably Itachi from the Naruto anime. Cool eyes, cool hair, cool wardrobe. What more do you want?

Mike: Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings I guess, because who doesn’t like an old, whimsical, powerful wizard!

Bram: Probably Ash Ketchum from Pokémon, because I want to catch ‘em all!

Guys, thank you very much for your very interesting answers! We wish you much success for the future – and I’m already looking forward to the next Vanaheim live gig that Aidan and I will be able to experience.

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