Völur: “These stories and symbols are older than any racist ideologies.”

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It’s hard not to be intrigued by Völur, a band whose social media defines their sound as a “hypnotic web of chthonic noise across the yawning gap of silence,” but ultimately, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that would entail. In truth, a more succinct way to describe the intensely otherworldly music this Canadian-based trio create is folk-doom. Blending rustic folk with atmospherically-inclined doom metal, as well as hints of prog and occasional smatterings of black metal, Völur are certainly one of the scene’s must-watch bands for those who like their metal with a heavy dose of supernatural wonder and historical fables. In order to understand their original musical style and the unique way in which they approach doom metal, we spoke to the band’s bassist and co-lead vocalist, Lucas Gadke (also of Blood Ceremony), ahead of the release of their latest album Ancestors.

Before delving into the intense supernatural concepts, Ancestors can be enjoyed simply for its sound: a distinctive blend of the heavy and the ethereal led by vocalist Laura C. Bates’ violin, which executes the role normally held by the lead guitar. It’s always interesting to see how a metal act manoeuvres life without a guitar, with Gadke giving full credit to Bates. “The biggest contributing factor to the sound of the band in that regard is Laura’s brain,” explains Gadke. “She comes up with incredible melodies and sounds, and writes some really beautiful music. She has a complete mastery of her instrument.” Pointing out that musicologists have said that, with feedback, the violin becomes similar to a guitar, Gadke adds that the use of a violin is “only fitting. I love that we can do things in the vein of a genius like Duke Ellington, who used to write for the uncomfortable ranges of the instruments of his orchestra. So we’ll have high bass and low violin.

As bassist, Gadke’s role is altered due to this change, often having to use more than one amp and different pedals to aid in the heavy doomier sections. “I also play more lead parts, going pretty high up on the neck at times,” he comments. “I love exploring different moods and sounds on the bass, trying to make it soft and sensitive and also trying to make it sound like the end of the world!” In short, the removal of a traditional guitar opens up a new and original creative process. “It forces us to be creative all the time,” says Gadke. “Who’s going to take the lead? Who’s going to fill the space? Does the space need to be filled?

Volur - Ancestors

Such a unique and creative musical style is commendable, though in addition it is worth digging deeper into Ancestors to find out about the concepts behind it. Imbued with tales of male Germanic folklore figures – whereas debut record Disir focused on predominantly female figures – an understanding of the themes behind Völur’s music heightens its supernatural charm. “There was this unique role that women played and a feminine energy that resonated with me,” Gadke says. “That was the basis for the first record.” The second album’s concept, though, came from listening to Icelandic scholars. “I was listening to the Saga Thing podcast, [1] which is hosted by two actual scholars of Icelandic literature and they talked about different worlds that men and women lived in, even though they occupied the same space,” he explains. “Mentally I started to extrapolate this further to the larger Norse cosmology which consists of different worlds. And I figured why not try to do a musical portrait of my impression of these worlds? And that’s where the idea to do one about male characters came from. There is a wealth of interesting characters and myths to draw from. On this record, we focus on two real saga characters and two kinds of sketches of characters encountered in my readings (one of them being a cosmic wizard).

Two albums on female and male mythological figures seems like a well-structured two-part series, but in fact, Ancestors comprises the second part of a planned four-part series. “Returning to this idea of worlds, I wanted to pull the focus back and deal with increasingly supernatural themes.” Taking these themes, Völur began to plan the series based on these different worlds and varying views on them and their inhabitants. “But these worlds all converge here on Earth,” Gadke adds. “My next focus will be on the Gods – but probably the feminine deities since that is more interesting to me – and the next on the spirits and wights that inhabit our spaces and land, but also live inside their own world. The music is roughly sketched, but the lyrical and thematic ideas are all there. We’ve been working on a song that deals with an imaginary devotee of a death cult.

When discussing the album series, Gadke refers to the four-part run as a tetralogy, a term usually reserved for literature or opera, but what could be more fitting? Völur’s songs are quasi-narrative pieces that bring to life their heathen concepts, the mystical music as vital as the sparse but captivating dual vocals of Bates’ ghostly singing and Gadke’s demonic growls. To aid with this storytelling role, Völur exercise a skill often lacking from doom metal, namely the infusion of moments of respite. “We definitely have a focus on narrative and storytelling, especially in these two records,” Gadke admits. “The quiet parts, to me, add to the narrative tension. It’s like a horror movie when everything gets terribly quiet and the nervous energy mounts.

Where some in the genre focus on nonstop intensity, quiet ambience and slow-building tension are mainstays of Völur’s style. “I can honestly say that when Laura and I started this band I had thought about that intensely,” Gadke explains. “I had been listening to a lot of classical music, especially Webern, and I was admiring the stillness that he brought into his pieces. It’s a mood I’ve actively sought out. And there were a few artists who really touch on this idea of quietness in heavy metal.” Furthering this, Völur can be seen as, in Gadke’s own words, “a marriage of Laura’s history with post-rock and black metal, my history with doom and love of weirdo 20th century music, and then our mutual love of folk music and Bach.

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This melding of styles may be the reason for the band’s sound, but in terms of concept, Gadke notes that in wanting to explore his own German last name, he has “always been interested in reading and learning about Germany, its history and culture, music and food (and beer of course!).” Also vital was the influence of Tolkien, most notably his translation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, and English translations of the Eddas and Sagas. It’s clear that the band’s mythical concepts stem from a deep-seated fascination, rather than a passing interest in exuding a spiritual aesthetic, and this is reflected in their well-researched and deeply supernatural-sounding music.

The band may discuss Germanic folk tales, but that doesn’t mean their home country hasn’t had an influence on their sound. Gadke discovered a lot of the folklore their music takes inspiration from in books, with him noting that Canada is “a big multicultural place that celebrates diversity and heritage.” As such, the band are openly oppositional to the extreme beliefs of the NSBM scene, despite being able to conjure up the inherent darkness of black metal, not to mention the heavy influence from heathen mythology. Describing themselves as “non-violent individuals who are actively anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-ableist and supportive of LGBTQ2 communities”, Gadke explicitly outlines that whilst Völur aren’t activists per say, they “are all for inclusion, respect and a dismantling of hatred in the metal scene. I’d like to personally say that anybody, of any background or identity, is welcome at a Völur show and if they ever feel unsafe or harassed to let us know and hopefully we can help.” He also adds that the band “played once with Thor Harris and he told us our music had a generous spirit. And I like that description. It’s open for anyone’s ears.” Whilst their music is not political in nature, largely due to it dealing with “older ancient themes which don’t really have much relevance to the present period,” the band openly showcase their progressive views.

When asked if Gadke thinks such views are important to express in a scene where mythological tales are often associated with black metal and, by extension, NSBM, he says: “Racists and extremists don’t get to decide what things mean. These stories and symbols are older than any of those ideologies. They survived through millennia, survived annihilation by Christians, fire and Romantic-era loons. They’re strong myths, strong works of art that will be here long after people have forgotten about some basement band called something dumb like Stormskull or Northern Frost Heritage Axe or whatever. At the same time, I want to state that I truly believe that aesthetics and morals are not one in the same. Just because you listen to violent sounding music does not mean that you are a violent or hateful person.” So, how important is it that people realise that metal is not the reason for someone’s extreme views? “I think it’s definitely a lazy correlation to say that ideology can come from music,” comments Gadke in response. “There are people who listen to black metal all their lives and never become a reactionary extreme right winger. And then there are people who listen to Haydn everyday who are incredibly bigoted. There’s no sense in vilifying an aesthetic. And if your aesthetic is tied to your morality, then you have to take a hard look at your life.

What is perhaps most impressive about Völur is their ability to so easily do something new without overthinking how to do so. Their unique sound comes naturally, and amongst other bands who focus on mythology and folklore, they exude a sense of genuineness whilst retaining a dense air of ghostly magic. They perfectly demonstrate the case repeatedly argued by metal journalists that the genre as a whole still has a lot of original acts offering something new. Gadke notes that he believes “it’s good that bands are branching out and trying to break the formula. The problem comes when one becomes gimmicky. And I’m sure that that’s a charge that could be levelled against us. ‘Look the band with the violin player!’ But I hope that if you get to the heart of our music you’ll find real substance there.” This sentiment summarises Völur as a band flawlessly, showing them as a band that offer something new with an interesting concept without venturing into the realms of typical gimmicks.

1. https://sagathingpodcast.wordpress.com/

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