Long known for his role in metal bands Kvelertak and Djevel, vocalist and songwriter Erlend Hjelvik is breaking out as a solo artist with his latest project, titled Hjelvik. Described as “blackened Viking heavy metal,” the experienced artist crosses a number of genre boundaries in his debut album “Welcome to Hel.” Accompanied by Skeletor guitarist Rob Steinway and Benighted drummer Kevin Foley, Hjelvik takes listeners across a broad sonic landscape that pulls a more traditional heavy metal feel into the desolate frost of Norwegian black metal.
Taking a uniquely mixed approach to join the two genres which influenced his prior creative endeavors, Hjelvik caught the eye of Nuclear Blast and signed to the label earlier in the year. In the last few months, Hjelvik has released three videos in support of “Welcome to Hel,” including both a lyric video and an animated music video. Conceptually spanning across Norse mythology while embracing the tenets of more traditional heavy metal along the lines of Iron Maiden, “Welcome to Hel” is a unique approach to the blackened metal scene and an opportunity for Hjelvik to catch eyes as a solo artist.
Hjelvik spoke with Sonic Perspectives contributor Samantha Buckman about the creation of Hjelvik following his departure from Kvelertak, the addition of other band members, and the future of touring for Hjelvik. Continue reading for their full conversation. For more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
You’ve described Hjelvik as “blackened Viking heavy metal.” What does that term mean to you and how did you come up with it?
That’s the term that I thought fit the best for the music I’ve been making. The album actually turned out a lot more varied than I anticipated before I started making the music, which I think is a good thing because it makes them more dynamic. It was kind of a challenge to come up with a good name for the music I’ve been making, so in the end I just decided that everything has a base in heavy metal, and it’s inspired by black metal, so that makes it blackened. And then I sing about Norse mythology, and there’s certain Viking elements in the music as well. That’s how I came up with the term.
Are there any particular bands or other artists that you took inspiration from?
I was inspired a lot by Bathory, and I was thinking lots about the eighties black metal bands, like Mercyful Fate. In my mind that’s like a heavy metal band, even though they’re kind of like the forefathers of black metal. So I took inspiration from there.
What was it like trying to balance the black metal elements and the heavy metal elements against each other?
That’s pretty natural for me. Especially with my background, I’d been playing in a band that’s been a crossover band between rock and metal – my old band Kvelertak. I have also been part of a black metal band for many years, called Djevel, which played very nostalgic nineties and Norwegian black metal. So I felt like I had my feet planted in both worlds, so to speak. So for me is just came up naturally. It’s not something I premeditate, this is how I make my music. It’s just the sum of all my influences, the music I enjoy to listen to.
When I listen to “Welcome to Hel,” I noticed some songs lean a lot more into the black metal element and some lean a lot more into the heavy metal element. How did you arrange these throughout the album to balance it out?
That’s a good question. It’s just a matter of listening to the songs and then you kind of start to get a feel for which songs would go well together. For example, the first song, “Father War,” I just knew it was going to be the first song on the album because it just cuts. Has that kind of opening feel to it since it’s one of the most ‘in your face’ songs, one of the heaviest ones I would say. So then I just think of how you would put songs together for a live concert. So that’s the attitude I had when it came to picking the order of songs.
It’s important the songs flow well together, and I was thinking of the flow of the album, like in three acts. You start off heavy, and then you kind of slow down a bit, and then make it heavy again. I think it’s good to kind of think of the flow like that.
You’re clearly the name and face behind Hjelvik, but you have a number of people you’ve worked with on this project, and they’ve been called your bandmates. Do you consider this more of a band or a solo project?
I like to use the term solo band because I write all the music and the lyrics, and you know, it’s my name on the cover. So I’m kind of the focal point, but I can’t do this alone, so I need to have a band of musicians with me. For me it makes sense to call it a solo band.
At what point did you start incorporating these other artists and what made you choose them?
I reached out to the other musicians. I was almost done with pretty much the entire album, I probably had like seven to eight songs in, and I was maybe missing two or three songs when I first reached out to Rob Steinway. He was the first guy to come aboard, he’s American and from the band Skeletor, who live in the Seattle area. I reached out to him because they wanted someone close by where we were going to record in Portland. My wife is American too, and we have a place close to the Portland area, so that’s the reason we chose to record there in the first place. So he was the first guy to come on board and I’m very happy to work with him. He’s an awesome guitarist.
The second guy to join the band was Kevin Foley. I remember that I had met him before in Norway when he was the drummer for Abbath. So he was just at the top of my mind when it came time to find the drummer and luckily he was looking for new events to work with, so that was fortunate. The bass player was a friend of Foley’s and came on that way.
You started working on this project around 2018 or so, but how long have you wanted to do something that was a project all your own?
I would say the fantasy started showing up in my head around five years ago, but it wasn’t fully formed. I didn’t know I was going to call it Hjelvik, I had no idea. I would write all the music by myself when I left my old band Summer of 2018. I wasn’t even sure I was able to write music like that. I took a couple of months off after I left, I didn’t think about music really. I just did things like working on the house and painting on stuff like that. Then listened to music while doing that, and then just slowly started getting inspired again. And then I just started to mess around with making music and learning recording software. The first song I wrote was the first on the album. And then the second song I ever wrote was “North Tsar.” That’s kind of the moment, after I wrote those three songs, that when I thought to myself that I could pull off writing a whole album. That was a pleasant surprise for me.
What has been the most challenging and the most exciting parts about breaking out as a solo artist?
I wouldn’t say it’s been challenging in any way, really. I guess the challenging thing has been starting up, it feels like you’re starting from scratch in a way, even though you have all this experience. My former band, they have lots of fans from before, but there’s lots of things you have to set up totally from scratch. So there’s lots of work involved with that. So I guess I would say that’s been the biggest challenge.
The most exciting part is making an album that sounds good and getting good feedback from people who listen to it. So these are exciting times.
You were able to sign to Nuclear Blast. What has that been like and how did you get on their radar?
Yeah, it’s awesome. That’s like one of the first labels I was aware of really, like when I was a teenager. I think labels like Roadrunner and Nuclear Blast were like the coolest labels I knew about. So it’s crazy to be on Nuclear Blast now, so that’s like a dream come true.
It was pretty straightforward in getting signed with them. It’s the boring old answer of my manager sending the email, and then they liked the music they heard. We actually approached them after the album was recorded. So luckily they liked what they heard then to sign us. So that was cool.
I know that “Welcome to Hel” is centered about Norse mythology but what are the biggest concepts that tie the album together?
It doesn’t have a clear concept really. I would say it’s a loose concept based on death and rebirth, I would say those are the main themes. I sing about Ragnarok and Hel and Odin, but those are the main topics that come across. It’s like the most fascinating thing too for me in Norse mythology, this whole cycle of death and rebirth that gets repeated through pretty much all the stories. It’s cool because I can draw parallel to leaving my old band and starting up my new band.
Did you do any research into Norse mythology or did you draw this from your own experience?
I’ve known about Norse mythology for a long time, but it’s especially in the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot more serious research and reading lots of books. I’ve been reading books on the region’s history too, so it’s really great. There’s lots of cool stories and great inspiration, especially if you’re writing metal lyrics, so I can recommend that.
Can you talk a bit about that fantastic album cover?
I’m really happy with the album cover. It’s made by Joe Petagno, who’s famous for having made the Motorhead logo and lots of covers for him, and he’s also made for Led Zepplin and lots of other cool covers for metal albums like Sodom. So I was really happy he was able to do it. He was the first guy I thought of because I wanted a cover that would look classic and timeless, so I thought he would be the right guy. He’s an American guy that lives in Denmark now, and he’s really into Norse mythology. So it was just the perfect fit. He was very happy to work with us, especially when he knew what the concept was about. So I just him the lyrics and some simple sketches and some music, and that’s how he came up with album cover. That was really great.
So far there have been three music videos for the album. What was the creative process like for those music videos and what creative choices did you make?
Let’s start with the first one, “North Tsar.” I looked at a bunch of metal videos, and this Polish production company had made a bunch of videos for bands like Behemoth and Sabaton and I thought they had the coolest looking ones. I just really wanted to work with them, and luckily it worked out timing wise with corona and all. We were able to fly out the same day as the Corona restrictions lifted to shoot the thing. So we got everything in time for the launch of the ban. I’m super happy with the work they did, they were really efficient and professional and we did the whole shoot in one intense day.
The second one is the lyric video, done by Costin Chioreanu. He’s a really nice guy and really down to earth, and he was able to whip up a really cool music video. I’m pretty happy with how that turned out.
The ”Glory of Hel” music video is really great, animated by Adam Avilla, who lives in San Francisco and works for this production company called Flesh and Bones. I just gave them a simple premise of how I wanted things to be and told them to somewhat follow the lyrics. And they just came up with this amazing video and story. So yeah, that’s the one I’m happiest with so far.
How are you going to bring this album to the live stage, and what are you looking forward to when you eventually go on tour?
I want to create legendary heavy metal shows when it comes time to play lives. When I picture it in my head I forsee lots of smoke and fire, so that’s what I want to bring to the stage. I can’t wait to play live again, I think the songs are really going to come through. I naturally think about performing the songs in the live setting when I write music, so I really can’t wait to play them live.
Are there any particular bands you would want to play with some day?
I’m sure there is, but I don’t want to jinx anything by saying which I want to play with, but there’s lots of bands on that list. I’ll leave it at that: I’m sure there will be a cool tour in the pipeline at some point.
You mentioned you were able to get the music video shot just before COVID things started to get bad. Did “Welcome to Hel” have any delays or unexpected difficulties?
I think would have had the album out sooner if the pandemic didn’t happen, but it’s okay. It happened right when we were discussing the contract and signing with Nuclear Blast, so it just made the whole process take longer, because suddenly they had a lot of other things to think about. I guess no one could foresee how long it was going to last. It felt pretty safe to have a release date of November 20th, like you’d think things would be over by then at the time we planned it. But I feel pretty good about the dates. And to me it feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that there’s going to be able to be some shows. So next year, even though it might not necessarily be all over the world, but yeah, we’re hoping for the best. The next big project here is to build practice space in the basement so we can have the guys come over and practice when it comes time to tour.
Is there any particular song off “Welcome to Hel” you’re most looking forward to playing live?
I think the one I look forward to the most is probably “Necromance” because it has a lot of parts I know are really going to be awesome when it comes time to play shows, it’s especially those Iron Maiden parts I’m looking forward to playing.
What’s your favorite part about playing live?
I think it’s just the connection you get with the audience and seeing people get into the music, that’s the best feeling. To me it just feels like a switch gets turned on and I get transported into a different world. It’s just the thing I like doing the most. It’s really fun, I really miss playing live. It’s starting to be too long, it’s over two years since the last show, so it really feels like it’s time to get out there again.
What do you want people to see most in you as an artist? What do you want them to think about you as a solo artist?
I hope they think about metal, and hopefully quality metal. That’s at least what I intend to do. So I’m just doing my best to make sure that everything I do, whether it’s music of performing, that I just do it one-hundred percent the best I can do it. Then hopefully I can bring people into a different world, I would say.
Now maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I imagine you have an idea where you want to go from here moving forward.
It’s still too early to talk about any other albums before the first one is even out, but of course I have some thoughts about it. I think the future albums are going to be great as well, and I have lots of cool ideas for the future, so I don’t want to spoil anything. I have just got lots of great plans in store, so people will just have to wait and see.
What are you most looking forward to about the release of “Welcome to Hel?”
I’m really looking forward to hearing what people think, especially after listening to the album for over a year now. It feels good to finally get to share with people, it’s the longest I’ve been sitting on an album, so it’s good to finally get it out. It’s a really fun time now when the reviews are coming in, especially when they’re good, that’s not the most important thing by any means, but it’s cool when you read reviews where they understand the music.