There’s a lot to be said for the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and the same holds true for an album. When you first lay eyes on ‘Estuary’, the second full-length offering from US folk black metal warriors Beorn’s Hall, you may be forgiven for initially and inadvertedly being a little over-presumptuous: With the glorious painted cover art and weapons-laden logo vaguely reminiscent of Caladan Brood plus a Tolkien inspired project name to boot, thinking you were going to be in for a typically grandiose and bombastic slab of epic black metal is not an entirely outlandish conclusion to have arrived at.
Until, that is, you push play and the duo of Vulcan and Rognvaldr draw you into their richly textured world. Friends for life but formed as Beorn’s Hall in 2016 to create music inspired by their home of New Hampshire, the pair do paint with an “epic” base but utilise a palette and techniques that encompass much more. Irresistible shades of Bathory and stirring traditional metal/rock strains are prevalent throughout a great album that you’ll increasingly find packed with enjoyable surprises, and that’s also one of its major strengths: it is a great album. Each track serves as another unique step on the journey, a veritable cornucopia of styles and tones all tied together with consummate skill as a coherent whole, a melting pot of everything from Candlemass worship to the introspective Americana of ‘I Know You, Rider’.
Eschewing an overly polished production for a more authentic sound, there’s a raw, immediate life to proceedings. This thing sounds amazing, visceral yet austere all at once. The sound distorts at times but that only makes it better and comes across as the offspring of your favourite ’70s recordings and the kvltest of delicious lo-fi ’90s black and death atmospheres. I couldn’t get enough of it, so when the opportunity arose to ask a few questions of the gentlemen behind it all I had no real option but to jump at the chance.
Releasing this very day through the excellent Fólkvangr Records and Naturmacht Productions, there are no gilded thrones or fantastic beasts to be found here. This is real pagan life: spirit and survival, revelry and battle, blood and soil. So, check out the official clip for the title track ‘Estuary’, filmed in the misty marshes of New Hampshire and hands down my favourite track on the album with its irrepressible earworm riff and incredible energy; then read on as we speak to Vulcan and Rognvaldr about all things Beorn’s Hall. Hails.
Greetings Vulcan and Rognvaldr, sincerest thanks for speaking with us! I hope you are both well. Your excellent second album ‘Estuary’ is coming soon through Naturmacht Productions and Fólkvangr Records. Are you happy with it overall, and in your words, what can people expect to hear from it?
VULCAN: Hello! Thanks for taking the time to interview us. We are very happy with this album, we feel it’s an improvement from ‘Mountain Hymns’ in every way.
ROGNVALDR: We went for a bit of a different production as you can tell. On ‘Mountain Hymns’ we did things very naturally, the drums and rhythm guitar were recorded live and we used a totally flat EQ on the whole album. I’m very pleased with how things came out this time. I was listening to a lot of
viking-era Bathory while writing the riffs, so people can expect a bigger more epic sound. We just wanted to create something more dynamic.
The album is heavily inspired by where you hail from: “The True Vinland” (the area of coastal North America explored by Norse Vikings), New Hampshire. For those of us who have never had the pleasure of visiting, what is it like over there and why is it such a source of inspiration to you?
V: I’ve always loved living in New Hampshire. We grew up in an area where the mountains and the ocean are about an hour drive from one another so it’s easy to find so much inspiration for this style of music, it is pretty natural.
R: Cheap booze and smokes, low taxes. What’s not to love?
The project was only formed in 2016, relatively recently considering you have your second full-length ready to go. How did you guys first meet and why did you decide to start Beorn’s Hall?
R: We actually met at age 3 in play school. We started playing death metal and grindcore together in 2003 but always talked about starting a black metal band. We both became very busy musically after high school so it wasn’t in the cards until 2016.
The album is gloriously adorned with a stunning Albert Bierstadt painting, whereas I believe the debut album’s cover art was painted by one of you. Both covers are spectacular, but why the decision to go with this particular piece of art this time?
V: That particular piece is something we discussed using as an album cover for years and we felt like we created something that would be fitting for it.
R: This painting just rules all around! It is just too awesome not to use. It is true I do oil paintings of this nature as well and painted the ‘Hymns’ cover. However, I am nowhere near this level. Maybe in a few more years I will be. It’s pretty funny that a lot of people think these paintings take eons to create but they only take a little less than an hour. If you watch Bill Alexander paint, he does the whole thing in about half an hour.
I love the sound overall, but especially the absolutely killer drums. Apparently you use a rather special kit, can you tell us a little about that? Were any other noteworthy instruments or recording techniques used on the album?
V: Yes! I have a 1970’s chrome over wood Slingerland kit that we used on this album. Nothing records quite like it. We figured an old school drum set should be used to record something so heavily influenced by the old school.
R: The bass was run clean which we believe sits better in the mix for the style. The guitar rhythms were dual tracked with a 57 offset on the speaker cone and a condenser about 6ft away at ear level for the atmosphere. The D’Angelico 12 string was run direct in with condenser off the sound hole. Keys were done on an early 90s shit Casio that runs on D batteries. Actually the same set of batteries from ‘Mountain Hymns’ last year haha.
Like your debut album ‘Mountain Hymns’, the whole thing could have been created in and ripped straight from the ’90s. Where was the album produced, did you guys take care of it all yourselves?
R: The album was recorded here at our studio “The Hall”. Vulcan and I have been in the recording game for 15 years now. Ever since we started making music together we have shared the same mindset which is, “Why pay someone else? We can do a great job by ourselves.” We know exactly what it should sound like. It would be a huge pain in the ass and waste of time to have someone else try to do it. We’ve spent the past 2 years building The Hall into a professional recording space. We’ve actually recorded a bunch of other bands too and offer our services to anyone. Just no shitty deathcore.
What was the writing process like this time around? Do you find each other easy to work with?
R: We’ve known each other for a long time and get along like brothers. 99% of the time we get along great and once in a while we want to strangle each other, just a little bit haha. Musically speaking, we are both on the same page and we both have the same idea for Beorn’s Hall. There is actually little communication about the music, Vulcan just knows what kind of drums would work over the riffs. Sometimes Vulcan will tell me “Get drunker, you need to channel your inner Fenriz for this vocal!” So I will. Sometimes I tell him “play this part a bit slower, like an evil Phil Rudd” and he will.
V: Typically we start with a base song that Rognvaldr has crafted,we’ll demo out the guitars and drums and then just go from there. Years of playing together has made for an extremely streamlined and easy writing process.
This will be your second release on Naturmacht Productions, and the first where Fólkvangr Records is involved. What are your thoughts on both labels, are you happy with the support?
V: Both labels have been absolute pleasures to work with. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Robert from Naturmacht as he was and still is a crucial element for this band and its beginnings. Folkvangr is great as well, I’m blown away by what Mark has accomplished in just a year. Needless to say we plan on sticking with these guys for the foreseeable future.
R: Robert from Naturmacht is the coolest guy. We seem to understand each other very well! He does an amazing job with the label and will even help us with designs when we become frustrated with things like artwork and layouts. Folkvanger has treated us very well too! Mark seems like a super cool guy and someone we would hang out and spin records with. It’s really nice to have someone who is committed to releasing cassettes only. I love cassettes and am looking forward to holding a copy of Estuary!
Listening through the myriad of different styles on the album, you guys clearly don’t listen to just black metal. Which audial delights have tickled your eardrums of late, and was there anything in particular that influenced you during the writing of ‘Estuary’?
R: Well metal music did come from hard rock so it’s only natural for us to pick up things from bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, maybe even some NWOBHM and early speed metal. I like a lot of Allman Brothers and Dead too, so sometimes those mixolydian and major key modes come out which isn’t a bad thing. However, it must be done correctly or else you get this really weak Disneyland sounding black metal which I can’t get into. I think we achieved a really unique jam style segment on the end of “Dark Wood-Black Marsh”; it’s powerful yet a bit uplifting thanks to some Mixo modes. Hail Tony Iommi, Hail Dickey Betts!
V: Between the two us we have a large range of stuff we listen to but we tend to be a bit selective as to what to draw from for Beorn’s Hall. I feel when a band tries to represent every influence of every member it tends to become unfocused. We take our ‘extra’ influences from neo-folk, traditional metal, 70’s hard/progressive rock and blues.
The title track is such a stormer I almost threw myself out of the car when I heard it for the first time. From the incredibly physical riff that grips you full force, to the switch up into blistering black metal and that perfectly timed sword unsheathing… Magic. During the creative process, did you feel that magic and think “we’re on to something here”?
V: Thanks for the kind words. It’s my personal favorite song on the album. When I first heard Rognvaldr play that main riff I knew it was a choice slab of Candlemass-y goodness (we both fucking love Candlemass).
R: I am glad you like this song but please do not throw yourself from a moving vehicle! We would prefer you throw an enemy from the vehicle instead. Anyway, that main riff is a tribute to all my favorite riffs. Think of the riffs from Autopsy – Torn from the Womb, Candlemass – Well of Souls, Isengard – Naglfar etc… I thought “Beorn needs a riff like these” These are the best types of riffs, mid-paced fist bangers that are evil as hell. The end of the song is inspired by bands like Blasphemy or Swallowed from Finland, maybe some old Beherit and things like that.
The final album track ‘Roads Go On Forever’ begins perfectly with a recitation of a great poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken“. An interesting inclusion, are either of you big poetry buffs?
R: We just thought it was cool as Robert Frost is a New Hampshire native. His poetry is incredible and heavily inspired by New Hampshire so it works perfectly.
V: It was kind of a last minute idea that worked very well.
Over the years, themes of history and heritage have been a great wellspring of inspiration for Black Metal. What are your thoughts on why they suit the style so well?
V: Black Metal has always evoked a certain old and dreary feeling to me as with many other lovers of the genre. History itself is for the most part very dark and depressing, so the two just go hand in hand.
I’ve seen you use the NHBM tag: New Hampshire Black Metal. What is the black metal scene like in New Hampshire? Any other great NHBM bands we should pay attention to?
R: The NHBM scene is great and the reason we use this label is because we are all friends that support each others bands and projects. The scene is strong and we have so many great bands. Its a small state with a lot of talented people. Here’s some bands we recommend from our great state: Malacath, Ancestral Shadows, Hraesvelgr, Northern. Actually Northern just wrapped up their new recording with us at The Hall Studios. “Desolate Ways to Ultima Thule” is set for release by Moribund Records sometime in March!
Have you ever played any live shows with this project, and if not, is it something you’d ever be interested in?
R: We get asked this a lot. Sorry, Beorn’s Hall will never play live unless we get $10,000 haha.
V: And a trip to Europe! 🙂
And finally: What does the future hold for Beorn’s Hall? Have you started writing for the third album yet?
V: We plan on releasing one full album a year and to do some splits and other small releases in between those as well.
R: The future holds one solid pagan BM release per year. We have a blast doing Beorn’s Hall! As far as writing goes, I am always writing. I am always inspired and I am glad to have a drummer and vocalist who works as efficiently as I do. People think I am rushing but I’m not. I just like to work fast.
Thanks again for your time! Looking forward to the full release. Anything else you’d like to add?
R and V: Thanks for the interview! Cheers!
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