Interview: ‘Welcome To Hel’ With HJELVIK’s Erlend Hjelvik

Words by Camilla Strand

Blackened Viking Metal, a line-up that spans the globe, and a triumphant rebirth of a Black Metal legend; Erlend Hjelvik has come out of hiding in the Norwegian forest to have a chat about all things HJELVIK and his debut album ‘Welcome to Hel’ released through Nuclear Blast on the 20th of November.

Congratulations on your new album! When did you start working on ‘Welcome to Hel’ and what’s the story behind it?

“I started working on it January 2019 and I spent about 6 months writing the music and lyrics and I would say it took me one year from start to finish to have the whole album completed, mixed and mastered and everything. The story behind it, I left my old band Kvelertak late in December of 2018 and I didn’t have a clear plan of what I was going to do next, but, you know, I was never gonna to stop doing music. So, I just had a couple of months off where I just kind of deflated after that and just did normal things like work in the house or whatever, things that needed to be done and I was listening to a lot of music while I was doing that kind of work and I just started slowly getting inspired again and getting ideas for music and started writing myself so that’s how HJELVIK came around.”

Which bands were you listening to?

“A lot of stuff I’ve been revisiting after not listening to it for a long time, so for me that’s bands like Metallica and Slayer and Danzig, Bathory, Venom, Merciful Fate and a lot of 90’s Scandinavian Black Metal so I would say those are the biggest inspirations.”

In regards to the title, ‘Welcome to Hel’ I wanted to ask, was it supposed to be a play on words? I was wondering if it’s Loki’s Daughter or the place?

“It’s referring to the place. I chose the title for different reasons. One is that I think it’s great to have ‘Welcome’ as part of the debut album title, and my name HJELVIK, my last name, ‘Hjel’ is derived from the Norse ‘Hell’, so that’s another reason why it makes sense. And also, it’s a really great album, tribute to a great album by Venom ‘Welcome to Hell’ so that’s another reason.  So, for me it just kinda opened like a cool sorta loose concept to base an album on. Like when I left my old band, I guess I feel like I kind of was in limbo for a little bit, so I guess that would be referring to Hell, and then, yeah, now I’m returning with my new band so that I guess refers to like the Ragnarök part of the lyrics so it works on that level too.” 

You said it took about a year from start to finish, what is your song writing process?

“I work on the music first, so I usually work on guitar riffs and then I do the drums, computer drums, and then I work out the bass lines, and then I send it over to the other guys in the band, the guitarist, and then he sends it back with his playing, same with the drummer and bass player. So that is the process for writing the album. I had pretty much all the demos done before I got the other guys in the band involved, and then they got onboard and then we recorded all of the demos. Like we had finished demos for the whole album, and then we met up before recording where we just practiced together to set the tempo of the songs and stuff like that. So that was the process musically, and after I write the music, then I figure out the lyrics afterwards.”

I noticed that a couple of the tracks are in Norwegian, and majority is in English. How do you decide which tracks will be in which language?

“I guess I just base that on feeling. Like to me for example Helgrinda it just has sort of like a Norwegian feel to it, so for me it felt more appropriate to sing that one in Norwegian. I just kind of have to like picture what the vocals will sound like and then I picture if it’s going to be English or Norwegian so, that felt like a Norwegian song to me, and the same with the song Kveldulv so I guess I just kind of base it on the gut instinct. I try to keep things mainly in English because I try to, I wanna follow like that old Norwegian black metal band recipe where they have like albums with eight songs in English and two in Norwegian so I think that’s a good way to go.”

I would love to see a video made for Ironwood

“Oh Yeah!”

I just love the lyrics on that, and I wonder what that would look like. Your video for Glory of Hel is super cool. How did that come to be?

“Thank you! How did that come to be? well first of all we had to choose some singles off the album to make videos for and I think definitely Glory of Hel is one of the ‘biggest hits’ if you can call it that. I think it’s one of the best tracks, and it has a really cool guest appearance by Matt Pike from High on Fire too, and he plays an awesome solo on that as well, so for me that was like an obvious choice to make a music video on. I really like animated videos, those are the easiest for me to do personally because I don’t have to be in it, cause it’s a lot of work to shoot music videos. So, I came across Adam Avilla’s music videos online, he’d done like videos for bands like Toxic Holocaust and Red Fang. I thought he had like a really cool and like over the top animation style that I think would just fit the lyrics perfectly. So, I felt he was the perfect guy to bring the Norse mythology to life, so that’s why we chose him. We just worked out the stuff with him, I gave him a basic premise and certain elements I wanted to be in there, and then he just got the lyrics and just kind of ran with it. It turned out awesome, I think.”

So you did give him the premise of what’s happening in the video and then he worked from that?

“Yeah just basically the beginning and then like the whole Ragnarök, the battle scenes and that kind of stuff, like that’s the stuff he came up with. So yeah, so it’s really cool.” 

Would you classify yourself as Aesir or Vanir?

“I guess I would be leaning towards being Aesir. I feel like that’s where I would feel the most at home,  because the Vanir are like old ancient like nature gods I suppose more or less.” 

When touring becomes possible again, do you think you’ll be able to make your way down to Australia?

“Yeah, I really plan on it! Australia is one of my favourite places to play for sure. Unfortunately, I’ve only gotten to go there twice so I really would like to go back there soon.” 

Are you coming to Brisbane? Brisbane’s sometimes neglected so it would be great if you could come to Brisbane! 

“Okay, yeah, I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I hope we can do it next year or the year after, so I’ll do my best to make it happen.”

I wanted to ask you a little bit about the cover art…

“Yeah, it’s made by Joe Petagno, he’s American and lives in Denmark now, he’s about 70 years old I think, but he’s like an old legend and he’s famous for having made Motorhead logo and cover art for that band, for a lot of the Motorhead covers. And also like this one song guide for Led Zeppelin and he even made like tour flyers for Pink Floyd in the 70’s. He’s done a lots of like metal band covers, like a recent one he did was Sodom which looks really good too. So, he was just on the top of my list, and I just wanted someone who could make like an iconic 80’s style metal cover so he was the obvious choice for me.”

Its beautiful, I was staring at it for like 5 minutes before I realised there’s a light coming from behind it, and I’m like ‘oh ‘Wow there’s light there’!

“Yeah! There’s lots of detail in it which I think is great and he’s really into Norse mythology too so it was just a really great match to team up with him! So that was awesome, really happy he was able to do it.”

So I just have one last question for you, would you classify The Power Ballad of Freyr (I pronounced it Freya) as a love song? 

“Yes I would! I guess it’s a little twisted love song, and it’s not Freya, it’s the male equivalent, Freyr!”

Oh! Freyr

“It’s Freyr yeah, and it’s how he ended up with giantess Gerd, so yeah, it’s just a kind of a weird story of him sending his servant over to her and the servant has to threaten her into marrying Freyr so, and he has to give up his self-wielding sword and yeah, so to me it was just a cool basis to write a love song off. Because I wrote the music first and I was like OK this is kind of like an 80’s power ballad sort of song so I need lyrics that can match it so that’s what I came up with.”

‘Welcome To Hel’ is out now via Nuclear Blast.

Purchase physical copies of ‘Welcome To Hel’ HERE

Purchase via Apple Music HERE

Tune in on Spotify HERE

HJELVIK line up: 
Erlend Hjelvik – Vocals 
Rob Steinway – Gituar 
Alexis Lieu – Bass 
Kevin Foley – Drums 


With thanks to Nuclear Blast

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