Avant-gard doom metal, death metal, folk/doom…VÖLUR is all of that and much more. Their fourth full-length Death Cult is a superb album and one of the highlights of 2020. I got in touch with Lucas Gadke for the following interview to find out more about this unique band.
The Lineup of Völur consist of Lucas Gadke (bass, piano, organ, harmonium, sythesizer), Laura C. Bates (violin, viola, synthesizer, vocals) and Justin Rupper (drums percussion, synthesizer, vocals. Greetings Lucas, please tell me about the begining of Völur. How did the band members met?
Laura and I met a long while ago in music school studying jazz. A few years later we graduated we ended up in the back up band for a folk singer-songwriter. On our long drives across Ontario we shared our mutual love of heavy and weird music and Völur was born. Initially we were a noise two-piece, but the vision grew to be a trio with James Payment of DoMakeSayThink. After 5 years together, we split ways with James and brought on Justin Ruppel who was able to add a bit more of a jazz flair into our sound.
How did you end up choosing VÖLUR for your band's name? Please tell
me about its meaning
Völur is one of the renderings of the plural form of the word völva which means seeress or priestess in Old Icelandic. It’s known to us most famously from the poem, the Völuspa from the Poetic Edda and is the story of Odin visiting the gates of Hel to learn about the history and fate of the world. He seeresses also have a poetic relation to weaving and fate. And to me music and doom are tied up in fate and weaving lines of melody and harmony
Did you have any concept in your mind about how the band had to be even before you wrote any music?
I wanted to make music about myths and mythology that focused not on any sort of specific imagined past or an idea of heroism, but on the feelings that one gets when they read ancient literature. Things like the Icelandic sagas or even the Shahnameh of Iran have a kind of uncanny feeling to them that is both unfamiliar and intensely human. I wanted to draw upon those emotions and translate them into music.
I was happy to get that released and have us be picked up by prophecy. Ultimately. I think maybe I was too interested in minimalist music at the time, but I’m proud of it and I’m proud of the potential that band has in bringing together dissonance and harmony.
What can you tell about the recording of your first LP? Was it easy to find the sound you were looking for and the right formula to record? Have you followed the same formula since then or have you changed in later recordings?
Time is always the enemy in recording, especially for smaller bands. Always I’d like to have more time to explore sounds, especially since I have to play in a room with the band live off the floor and I can’t do the piecemeal/one track at a time kind of recording, it just doesn’t work for me. The only formula is work with tones, get a good bed track down and then overdub until the vision seems correct. Laura like to actually bring in spreadsheets and attack with a careful and thorough consideration (even with cells that are dedicated to experimentation). I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio and all I can say once again is that time and budgets are the enemy.
Völur has been a very active band. Since, if I’m not mistaken, you have eight releases, counting demo, singles, ep and full-lengths. That speaks of the effort you put into the band and also about a great creative capacity. I'm curious to know what your writing process is like...
Volur released two records in this 2020, the first one was “Veiled City” released earlier this year. Conceptually it's based on Tolkien's Silmarillion and musically it has a different vibe compared to the Death Cult. How would you describe the EP and what are your feelings towards it?
I was happy to release it! It’s part of an ongoing series we’re working on called “die Sprachen Der Vögel,” (The Languages of Birds) they will all be short EPs with a focus on collaboration with other artists across the spectrum of genres. We have two others that we’re just finishing up. They’re intended to be Lo-Fi and released on cassette. We released Veiled City early without physical because we thought people would dig having something new to listen to at the beginning of lockdown. I’m happy with how it turned out, we got our good friend Michael Eckert to play pedal steel guitar on it and kind of fused together Corrupted, Earth and weird black metal. I also got to do a riff in 15/4 which always feels good.
The second release was your third full-length through Prophecy Productions. How happy are you with how “Death Cult” has turned out, in terms of how it sounds but also in terms of how it looks. Could you possibly share with us few details of the recording process, studio time etc.?
We got our friend Alia O’Brien of our sister band Blood Ceremony to produce it with and she contributes some of the vocals on it as well. We went back to Lincoln County Social club in Toronto with our good friend John Dinsmore. He’s not a “metal guy” so it can be easy to work with him as he has no pre-conceived notions about the genre of music. It’s very freeing to work with him.
I’m very proud of the record, I think it’s the most focused and best sounding thing we’ve done to date and really draws together all of our various influences.
Tell me about the cover art of “Death Cult”, How is it related to the music and how should one integrate the two?
Our lovely artist Marie Cherniy produced the image for us with basic total creative freedom. We just sent her the demos and she made this wonderful image of the moon rising over an idol in the forest. I love that it’s an earthy look and it speaks to the organic nature of the sound. I believe as best you can, the cover should reflect the sound inside.
Is always the artwork created specifically to accompany the music? What do you take into account when choosing a cover design for the album?
I always choose an artist to work with first.
How would you describe the evolution of the band, would you say that Death Cult is your most mature and solid work so far?
I would say that.
Many bands use or have used the violin as a "complementary" instrument, but in Völur it has a key importance and a leading role in their music. I would like to know about Laura's influences and about her personal vision of the violin in Völur´s music.
Laura’s musical life is a long and complicated one. From jazz to post-rock to metal to folk. She is very happy to have an upfront and supporting role in the band. We want to show that the electric violin is flexible. That if you have a violin it doesn’t have to sound like pirate metal. For years the violin was the main instrument of the avant-garde - think of Berg’s beautiful violin concerto. I think we want to bring back some of that, but also it’s role as a support or rhythm instrument. Laura’s specific instrument is actually a 6-string and has two lower strings - a C and an F making it actually somewhere between a viola and a cello in range so she can do a lot with it.
Is there an overall theme to the songs on Death cult? Could you tell me about the lyrical content of each song on the album?
Death Cult is like 4 variations on a theme inspired by Tactius’s Germania. The Roman ethnographer writing in the first century aimed to describe the habits and lives of all the tribes living across the Rhine. Unfortunately he never went there himself, so the stories and descriptions often vere into fanciful hearsay. One passage describes a ritual practiced in a forest grove by a lake where an idol of the Earth Goddess Nerthus is ritually bathed by four slaves who are then drowned. This passage has always haunted me and led to a myriad of interpretations and themes. What is the meaning of ritual? The meaning of mother Earth? Do these things have any effect. Somewhere in there is the idea of a never ending ritual of absolution to our mother, the earth, that has absolutely no effect.
Who writes the lyrics? What are your sources of inspiration and the main topics that interest the band members? Lucas said that he was a big fan of Tolkien and was one of the first inspiring themes.
Tolkien has always been an inspiration but for this album the lyrics came from Tacitus and also my thoughts on the environment, politics and capitalism and the broader green movement. The sacrifice of the four slaves, in my mind can be seen as a wasted gesture to Mother Earth while the fires of industry rage on. In “Inviolate Grove” I sing of a god of ash with eyes of gold and blood of rime.” To me this is the death face of capital and industry and environmental destruction. The practitioners of the Nerthus ritual wish to appease Mother Earth, but it has no effect and therefore we are stuck in a never ending cult of death.
Your music has sometimes been labeled as folk metal, sometimes doom metal, doom death metal, I guess it will depend mostly on the perception of the listener, but how would you describe your music?
Honestly I’m not too interested in genre classifications. We’re definitely a metal band and we have some folk and some avant-garde. But I’d rather be thought of as a musical entity that has a voice. We have a weird experimental EP and folk EP in the bag. People can call it what they want and I don’t mind, but I’m not going to try and BE something for the sake of a genre, especially a micro-genre.
I really dig the video clip of the song “Inviolate Grove”, where besides the band performing we can also see some intriguing footage. Can you comment about the concept of the video?
Recently you gave thanks for the Support of the Canada council for the arts, can you tell about that collaboration?
Well, the collaboration is fully monetary. CAC is a branch of the government of Canada that endows artists with funds to complete their projects. We recorded demos, submitted a proposal and were very thankful to be approved and receive some funding. It allowed us to take time with mixing and to get a really good job done on the mastering. WE’ve been very fortunate.
How do you feel playing live? Correct me if I´m wrong but you have played in a wide range of shows embracing different music styles such as folk, metal and classical. You even played several acoustic shows, so I guess it must be a very enjoyable and enriching experience.
I love playing live! Everything for me comes down to the live performance. I’m proud of our records, but I think our live performance is where we shine. If people have never heard of us and don’t know what to expect, even better.
What has been the best tour or show you have ever done?
We played a festival in Sturgis, South Dakota (the recent site of a massive “Bikers for Trump” rally, actually!) called Stygian Rites. Sitting a big, gawdy American biker bar on the giant Dakota plane and playing to a bunch of midwestern punks was so much fun. And not to brag, but we really took some heads off. Nobody knew who we were, really and we played on of our best shows. It felt great.
With which bands did you like to share the stage the most and with which bands would you like to play?
1476 are our boys and we’ll never forget the magical tour we had (even though it was tragically cut short by me breaking a rib). As for who I’d like to tour with, I don’t know… Iron Maiden?
What are your upcoming shows/tour plans?? How is the situation in your area regarding covid-19 restrictions?
We have no plans. Ontario is having a really bad time with thousands of cases and a poorly implemented lockdown in the face of pressure from greedy and uncaring corporations and workplaces who care more about their profits than people’s health and well being as well as a government that only serves the interests of business. We don’t even really feel safe jamming right now so we haven’t done it in a while.
So no shows, no jams, kind of a bummer really.
What´s the strangest place and the most shocking place you have been?
Playing the Balver Höhle in Germany at Prophect Fest 2016 was pretty wild - because it was a giant cave!
What does de future hold for Völur?
What does the future hold for anyone anymore? Hopefully cases will go down, we’ll get vaccinated and we can start playing again. WE’ll release a folk EP by the summer Im sure though.
Thanks you for your time. All the best for you and Völur