It can be difficult to find genuine and impressive Folk Metal today. Some Folk bands focus on boring and unimaginative cliches, and other bands seem more focused on making songs about drinking ale and wearing pirate costumes than they are with preserving history, folklore, and tradition. Alvenrad is a Dutch Folk Metal project that instantly impressed me and combine a wide variety of influences in their music, creating a unique sound and atmosphere. In this interview I speak with Mark and Jasper, the masterminds behind the band about their history and inspirations.
- Greetings Alvenrad! Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please introduce the members of the band and give us a history about the formation of the band.
Mark: Alvenrad is a two man band, being Jasper and me. Once I joined the melodic metal band Sentenim as a guitarist, Jasper played the keys. On a moment due different artistic idea’s we both left the band and continued our musical journey together, as respectively Faelwa and Stormsterk. After the release of an EP and full length under the banner of those projects, our artistic clock told us it was time for metal again: thus Alvenrad was born. We’re still a duo in the core but right now we have a guesting bass player and drummer: Arjan Hoekstra en Ingmar Regeling, both playing in The Good Hand.
- The name “Alvenrad” refers to the Elven sun wheel, why did you choose this particular symbol for the name of the band? Your music is very influenced by folklore and old beliefs, how much of an influence do these things have in your daily lives?
Mark: I wanted an encouraging name for the band and this scaldic kenning proved to be appropriate. We think the name hold a prolific horizon for our band.
Personally spoken and in view of the new album, I hail the phallic god Freyr, sovereign of the elves’ domain, the apotheosis of male sexuality. I like the idea of the elevation of the sexual act; regarding sexuality those scaldic poems about he who rule Álfheimr can be inspiring, although I also take inspiration from tantric writings. But indeed, Nathan, the old gods are still influential in my daily life. They are like living ideals to me.
Both Jasper and me live on the Veluwe. Hilly and wooded lands forever in our heart. It’s the most imaginative part of the province Gelderland, full of heath and forests; it’s the birthplace of many a saga. Thus it feels naturally to refer to such matters in our lyrics and music.
But folklore and old beliefs are not covering our whole conceptual course. I also have a big sympathy for the humanistic view on life and I referred to works from artists who back in the days had an attack of geniality, but not necessarily have affinity with our (local) folklore or mythology. I’m always in the search of a meaningful life, so I take up inspiration from all kinds of arts and philosophies.
- Alvenrad’s music is extremely diverse musically, mixing Folk, Metal, psychedelic rock, and even hints of classical music. What are your main inspirations musically? Was this great mix of genres intentional, or did your sound develop naturally?
Mark: Jasper and me share the intention to free ourselves from people’s expectations, genre limitations, commercial agenda’s or anything false. We just write the music we love. There are some musical inspirers for me, which are diverse as our music is. You may think of Jethro Tull, Vintersorg, Thyrfing, Angelo Branduardi, Boudewijn de Groot… there are so many. And I’m also a staunch listener of classical music from different era’s: Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Monteverdi, to name a few I listen to quite a lot. You know, we’re not driven by what genre keepers say. We didn’t have an intention to do something new nor mix everything up. It’s just about playing the music we love. We like the writing process to be an adventure though.
Jasper: For myself, I would name Amorphis, Uriah Heep, Paatos, various film music and many more.
- Alvenrad’s music is sung in your native Dutch language, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having lyrics that are not in English?
Jasper: Because the majority of Dutch music is sung in English, and so many other European bands do alike, so many clichés are worn into the lyrics, diminishing the true meaning of the writing. Exploring your native language and expressing yourself feels like an enrichment and can be very liberating. Of course, the biggest downside would be that most people don’t understand a word we’re saying. That’s the reason why we have English translations of our lyrics in the album booklet!
Mark: Of course the English language has a head start commercially speaking, although in folk metal it is popular to sing in your native tongue. To sing in your native tongue can win interest from some listeners though. But then we’re mainly speaking about listeners abroad, because we the Dutch have a difficult relationship towards our own language. I noticed Dutch people have a hard time listening to their own language beforehand. I also noticed the Dutch are writing worse and worse, both grammatically and substantively. Stupidity reigns in the manifesting of our language these days. I never understood why. Our language is beautiful.
- Not only is Alvenrad’s music diverse, but so are the themes in the songs. What are your favorite Alvenrad songs, and why?
Mark: Definitely “Woudakoestiek”: music and lyrics forming a whole. I expect this song to be played forever by the band on stage. I’ve to be modest but it could be our “Till Fjälls”, our “ Arntor, ein Windir” or our “Mother North”, so to speak. The topic of this song is highly unique and I think I succeeded to give the lyrics a romantic atmosphere. I more then often referred to this work as the summum of the collaboration between Jasper and me. After I explained the theme to Jasper, he immediately thought of recording wood acoustics, which is the subject, in our beloved forests. You can hear the acoustics on the song as resound on per example the vocals, since Jasper build a virtual resound from it.
Another favorite is “Foreest in Tweelicht”. On this song you hear three singers: me, our bass player Arjan Hoekstra and our grunter Koen de Graaf. Plus very cool classical arrangements by Jasper. Plus a great guitar solo from Erik Sprooten. It makes me proud to work together with such great people.
Jasper: Although it’s hard to make a hard selection, I would choose “Foreest in Tweelicht” and “Zwartwildernis”, being the songs I simply enjoy the most listening to.
- Your debut album Habitat was released by Trollmusic, who seem to be highly involved and supportive of the band. How did you begin to work with Trollmusic, and will they also be handling your future releases?
Mark: Yeah, their founder kicked ass so far! After our work with Faelwa and Stormsterk, when we announced we would launch a metal band by the two of us, we were already offered a record deal. We signed a contract for two albums and later due the trust of the label signed up to four albums. The financial side of things is in the hands of Prophecy Productions through their commercial canals. They were enthusiastic about the debut, although they didn’t like the fact that the drums were programmed per example. Still they think when we play live, we could become bigger. As a duo we are handicapped when it comes to this. So that’s the first thing we want to free ourselves from: we intentional go for a full line-up.
- Habitat also featured some guest musicians, can you tell us more about the special guests? Do you plan to continue to feature guests in your music?
Mark: Koen is one of my best friends since more than ten years. He has a great voice and proved himself already in Thronar and Burning Hatred. I know Arjan since my studies and we’re good friends even since. He’s a multi-instrumentalist playing in various bands. His biography learns us about the technical trash / death metal band Sidius, the rise and downfall of the Endorphins, his solo work entitled Mirna’s Fling and the uprise of The Good Hand. The latter two highly active. Also he plays a role in The Riders of the Universe. I highly recommend his works; there’s a lot to explore over there. Further we had Hanna van Gorcum on vocals. The first line-up with Stormsterk included her. These days she is active in the folk group AmmA and she played violin on the latest Heidevolk album. Further we had Erik Sprooten playing some solo’s on the debut. He’s well known for his work with Ancient Rites. At the moment his old extreme trash band Inquisitor have a resurrection. As I mentioned for the new album we’ve found a drummer, who is a good friend and long time band member of Arjan, named Ingmar Regeling. A passionately musician who proved himself to be able to play extreme loud and very tight. He played in several extreme metal bands but at the moment together with Arjan he’s on the rise with stoner band The Good Hand and Mirna’s Fling.
I’d like to see Alvenrad as a welcoming home, where Jasper and me are the hosts. So, yes, we’ll continue this, since it’s always a pleasure to make music with nice guests.
- You are also involved in a Folk side-project, Stormsterk. Tell us more about Stormsterk and why you decided to form this side project.
Mark: It was our main band in the year of writing the debut album under this banner. But when Alvenrad was born, we put this project in hibernation. Anyway, before making folk metal we felt the urge to write more traditional folk, although we don’t play traditional music, we play folk rock; let’s say less rock than roll, perhaps more wood than rock. But it was a good start to search for our own sound in folk metal, if you ask me now. When I look back on the chronological aspect, the way things followed each other up, seems a both a logical as a natural process. Thus IMHO we’re adding something unique to the folk metal scene of today.
- On the Stormsterk website, you mention using strange music techniques (such as playing bass with a violin bow) and utilizing musical ideas to represent parts of a story (such as “singing the flames” in a song about a burning homestead). These creative ideas are really impressive and bring a fresh atmosphere to the music. Have you used such uncommon techniques in Alvenrad, or do you plan to?
Mark: Well, we just write what comes up. We’re not afraid to leave the beaten track. We don’t plan such things, but according to the new songs, you may expect the unexpected!
Jasper: Yeah, you never know what arises between our ideas. That said, we also have to keep in the back of our heads that we have plans to perform our songs live.
- Based on the reviews I’ve come across online, it seems that the majority of your fans are European. However, Barbarian Skull is an American zine, and I know you must have fans in other parts of the world! What areas outside of Europe have you received fan mail/reviews from, and what country has surprised you most?
Mark: In these times it is not uncommon to be known fragmented around the world. Internet is the high way the word is spread, but not so many Alvenrad vehicles are on it yet though. I’m not surprised, but amused by the fact in some faraway countries they are actually listen to our Dutch sung music.
It’s also really cool to see that we left no one unmoved. We mostly got good critics but there are some great dynamics in the whole media picture. You know, some reviewers hated my vocals, whereas some spoke about golden lungs, haha! But it’s good listeners are moved anyway, be it positive or negative. The baddest dream for me is that the majority experience Alvenrad as average. I prefer people hate us above that! I believe no one is waiting for us and I believe, that this is a good thing.
- What can we expect from Alvenrad in the future?
Mark: a new album entitled “Heer”, dealing with masculinity, sexual behavior, love and hate; all in both a mythological and personal context for everyone to mirror something from him- or herself in it. We’ll play a mix between modern folk metal and classic rock with the emphasis on the latter. No programmed drums but a real life drummer this time. And we plan to promote the album on stage!
Jasper: Musically, I think we are moving towards a less complicated and more band-focused fundament. Expect less orchestration, heavier guitars, more organ and an overall more organic sound.
- Thank you so much for answering this interview! Any last words are yours!
Mark: Check out a new project both Jasper and me joined: :NODFYR: It was formed by ex-Heidevolk frontman Joris van Gelre. We connect very well together and are in the middle of the writing process.