Naðra: Wisdom from the darkness of the mind

One of the most exciting new names of the thriving Icelandic black metal scene is Naðra, whose debut album Allir vegir til glötunar (“All Paths to Oblivion”) was released earlier this year. Guitarist T.Í. sheds light on the history of the band, its music and the inspirations behind it…

Congratulations on your first album! For starters, could you please tell us a little bit about Naðra’s career so far, the guys in the band and their backgrounds?

I always find it difficult to retell the creation of Naðra. Originally it was just me and Ö. wanting to do more traditional old school black metal after our band Dysthymia split up. For years, the new band didn’t have a name and no intention of playing live. It was not until 2014 that we decided to call ourselves Naðra and to record the songs we had been working on during the last few years. Around that time we added a drummer and subsequently recorded the demo Eitur. When we were in the final stages of composing the album, we started to consider doing shows and added gentlemen G.E. and D.G. on bass and guitar. This was the Naðra line-up that recorded the album. A while later our drummer quit for personal reasons and we got H.R.H. to step into the breach. Personally I think we’ve never been in better shape than we are now. The stars are right and we are aiming high.

Allir vegir til glötunar is quite a fascinating album, classic black metal but with an original approach right from the first bar – at least it’s not exactly common for an album of this genre to begin with a crazy guitar solo. How would you define yourselves and where do you find your inspiration?

We don’t define ourselves and draw our inspiration from existing. Everything around us affects us and we apply this influence when composing. Sometimes it’s better to think less and do more. We go by whatever fits us at each given time.

Ö.’s vocals are highly dramatic and the wordplays that interconnect the song titles are another fine example of how well suited the Icelandic language is for metal. Who of you writes the lyrics and what are the main topics?

The lyrics are written by me and deal with the aspects of the human mind that are renounced and repressed by society. The primitive animal nature. The Devil in man. When humankind tries to suppress its natural character, it will instead swell to the point that the individual loses control. We celebrate what’s hidden in the darkness of the subconscious, whether it be hatred, grief or lust. Much wisdom can be drawn from such conditions.

The song “Sár” ends with a sample from the old documentary series Þjóð í hlekkjum hugarfarsins (eng. “A nation enchained by mentality”), like a quick respite before the powerful onslaught of “Fallið”. That series painted a rather mournful picture of Icelandic social history, but how does “trúin á moldina” (faith in the soil) relate to the content of the album?

It gladdens me that you recognized that clip. It is worrying, though, that Icelanders are still a people in the fetters of said mentality. A nation of thralls, governed by corruption and the personal interests of the elite. In the past, this was the clergy, later the land-owning farmers and nowadays financial criminals and rogue bankers. This mentality, this culture, is what we’ve grown up with throughout time and it significantly colours our worldview. However, it’s important to point out that “faith in the soil” has a different meaning for us than the one presented in the documentary. Earth and nature are among the major influences in our music and lyrics. So the reason for using this clip is in fact twofold. Faith in the soil is the belief in the laws of nature and in everything that is subject to these laws.

The white album and cassette covers also distinguish themselves from the mass of black metal. Is all your artwork designed by [Urðun vocalist] Skaðvaldur?

White has a profound meaning in Icelandic visual art and poetry. Skaðvaldur engraved the album artwork in copper, which is associated with Venus, beauty and the occult. The image shows a magnificent, majestic creature which is falling despite having broken its chains. I shall leave it to the readers to explore the meanings behind it.

Although the album itself is brand new, it was immediately followed by an EP with two new songs that are not on the longplayer. Why did you decide to do so?

The EP had been in the works for a while before we went on tour and we wanted to complete it before departure. Then we decided to not announce it until we were on our way to Roadburn Festival, in order to give folks a little surprise.

One song on the EP featured singer Eiríkur Hauksson, an esteemed veteran of classic hard rock who is also known for participating in the Eurovision contest [both for Iceland and his present home Norway – Ed.], but as far as I’m aware not in connection with black/extreme metal. How did this collaboration come about?

That was in fact totally simple. We contacted him and asked if he would be interested in singing on this song we had. He thought about it for a while and then came to Gryfjan Studios with us when he was in Iceland. We spent most of the time sipping beer and chatting about metal, but within just a few hours we got a bunch of takes we could use. We’ve always held [Eiríkur’s former bands] Artch and Drýsill in high regard and heard immediately that his vocal style would fit the song perfectly.

Are you perhaps planning to use more clean vocals in the future?

We’re not ruling out anything.

Both album and EP are available on vinyl and CD, but it seems to me that your main label, Vánagandr, produces only cassettes. Is that in honour of the old days or are there practical reasons for this?

Both. I myself never stopped using cassettes since I grew up. When I started listening to metal, I always found it rather thrilling to find a demo from some unknown black metal band on tape. The medium definitely has its charm. That warm distortion in the sound, and the nostalgia evoked by the act of turning and rewinding. Cassettes also have the advantage of being generally cheaper in production than CDs. They don’t take up much space and therefore it doesn’t cost much to send them by mail. But we are not ruling out the option of releasing music on other media. Time will show whether we are going to do that.

Folk that are not as old-school can stream Naðra’s songs for free on Bandcamp or download them from there at a charge, but the buyers may themselves decide how much they want to pay. Is it possible to make money this way, compared to for example Spotify?

Black metal has never been about money. But we’ve been able to use the income from Bandcamp to print t-shirts and other fun stuff. It is very important to us that the music is available for free to those who want it. The value of music cannot be measured in monetary terms, and therefore we think it’s a good system that people may determine its price themselves.

You played at several festivals and clubs around Europe this spring. Was that your first tour abroad, how did it come about and was it much of an adventure?

Adventure is putting it mildly. This was the first tour we organized mostly by ourselves. Usually we played two to four times per day and there was rarely time to sleep more than 4 hours per night before we had to get to the next airport. The trip was exhausting, mentally and physically, but incredibly rewarding, and we are very grateful for the opportunity we were given and all the wonderful people we got to know.

At Roadburn you also performed Úlfsmessa (Wolf Mass) together with the other Icelandic bands that played at the festival. What’s the story behind this event?

Úlfsmessa was a “ceremony” in three parts. It was sparked when we were arranging the running order for the steel mill stage at Eistnaflug for the last time [the festival’s traditional off-site venue which was torn down a couple of years ago – Ed.]. We wanted to bid the steel mill farewell with something extraordinary and therefore joined forces to hold the first Úlfsmessa. This first part was themed around the masculine, Luciferian destructive power, and the stage action reflected that. The following year [2015] we decided to give this realm of thought a closer look and performed a second part on the Egilsbúð stage at Eistnaflug. This time the ceremony evolved around the feminine, the magic and the mysterious, again staged in accordance with the appropriate imagery. That evening we met Walter [Hoeijmakers], who invited us to perform Úlfsmessa at Roadburn this year. We accepted the offer and immediately began to lay the foundations for the third, and last, Úlfsmessa. Part three was about the emptiness that follows the destruction dealt with in the first two parts. The emptiness that provides space for new creation.

Black metal in Iceland has been growing exponentially in recent years, it seems as if a mass of good bands have emerged all of a sudden. What has happened and why now?

What’s happening now did not spring from a void. The bands have been working on their stuff for several years, and it’s basically just by chance that all those albums were released within such a short timespan. Bands like Sólstafir and Svartidauði had already brought Icelandic metal to the attention of foreign magazines, so you could say everything just happened at exactly the right time.

The scene is rather small and close-knit, though – advantage or disadvantage?

It is probably the scene’s greatest strength. Without the proximity of the other bands we couldn’t have made Úlfsmessa or the trip to Roadburn a reality, and festivals such as Oration, Norðanpaunk or Vetrnætr would probably not have happened.

And the classic final question: what’s happening next for Naðra?

Nothing that should come as a surprise. We are working on composing material for the next album and also intend to play some shows!
Photos & translation: Tina Solda

Tina Solda - concert and festival reports, photos, interviews - - - Favorite genres: I don't care much about genres, but on a grossly generalized level I like melancholic death, unconventional black, melodic doom, dramatic folk and smart pagan metal (main regions: Iceland, Finland & Norway) - - - Other interests: guitar, books, beer, movies, cats.

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