.:.NÄR GUDARNA KALLA.:.
An Interview with Forndom
Introduction by S. L. Weatherford
For all intents and purposes, Forndom is the essence of rebirth. As has been well-documented by now, whereas Heathen Harnow represented H. L. H. Swärd’s infancy as an artist, Forndom represents his coming of age. Slowly changing are the familiar epic visions of the misted forests that Swärd calls home, and while the darkness remains, the pictures have come into focus to reveal a new face and a new man. This is a more frank, more purely honest music, and while it surely showcases Swärd’s growing talents and interests, it also elaborates upon his ultimate vision, mixing homeland and Norse religion into an emotionally piercing style that rivals even the most well-known of his peers. While we can’t help but feel that more skin-shedding awaits Swärd before his wyrd delivers him to his truest self, we’re content to watch his work as Forndom blossom.
Heathen Harvest: Lets begin with the obvious question: Why the name change, and why did you go back into the past and erase the name Heathen Harnow for the release of “Flykt”?
H. L. H. Swärd: The name Heathen Harnow was originally used only as a nickname for my Tumblr account. The name Harnow is a family name from my Danish side of the family. However, as I felt that this project was just getting more and more serious, I felt like a change of name was necessary. I wanted it to cover all that I am but in a broader perspective. So, yes, I simply felt it was a necessary change. Back in the days just after I had created the blog, I had no idea of what it would become. When I got signed by Nordvis, we spoke early about re-releasing Flykt as I had only self-released it in a very limited edition of fifty copies. Many people were asking for it though, and it would have been quite silly to release it under the old name. It has always been me who has stood behind everything, and whatever I chose to call this project is also the name that should be on the releases.
HH: How did you get signed to Nordvis? I am sure you were quite excited to share a label with Draugurinn. What other artists do you feel are going down a similar path as you?
HS: Before I got signed, I was quite negative towards the idea. I have been asked a couple of times but have always been quite hesitant towards it. But as I am Swedish, and as I already knew about bands like Lustre, I had also come across Nordvis before. They are one of the labels that stands closest to my heart—not only because it is Swedish or because of the artists they stand behind, but also because of their very goal for their releases. When they contacted me, it didn’t take long until I said yes to an agreement. Besides, I felt that printing your own CDs and all that is included within that took a lot of time that I don’t have. I simply felt, in the end, that I needed a helping hand. Draugurinn was signed to Nordvis after I was, and of course I was happy because they have been one of my favourite projects ever since I saw them live at Arosian Black Mass in 2012. I am a huge fan of Grift and Saiva, but one of Bhleg‘s members also have a project in development on the side, Ask, which I’m looking very much forward to hearing more of.
HH: Your appearance has changed dramatically, from a beard to shorter hair. Does this have any significance in regards to the name change? Do you feel that Forndom is a more mature version of the Heathen Harnow that took nude photos in the woods amongst fairy-tale-like settings, and needed to reflect that in your own aesthetic?
HS: (laughs) Well, no. The change of my own appearance actually has nothing to do with the name change; it simply happened for personal reasons. I would love to keep my long blonde hair, but I shaved it off for a reason. Perhaps I will grow it out again, but we’ll see. All that I can say is that it has nothing to do with the name change, and when it comes to the nudity, I have also always done this for a reason. In Swedish folklore there are a lot of creatures that appear nude, so it came naturally. I have to admit that during the last year, the project has moved away from traditional folklore in favor of Norse religion, and I would rather say that this specifically is the reason why there has been less nudity and more of other things. However, this doesn’t mean that it will not happen again. It is also important to remember that my focus in photography has changed. I will return to this medium in the future as I have plans to start shooting short films where I will have the chance to bind all kinds of expressions together into a single medium, but this will probably not come to life until the autumn of 2016 at the earliest.
HH: The cover features an image that is very similar to Sami tribal drums. Are you connected with this group of people, or was it merely an inspiration? Do you think they are a clear representation of what many, or perhaps all European spirituality was like before Christianity took hold?
HS: I am connected to the Sami people, yes. My father’s-mother’s-mother’s father was a full-blooded Sami who had reindeer up in the Northern Swedish town of Tärnaby. However, this is distant within the family tree and I do not consider myself a Sami as I live without any kind of traditions from this culture. However, the cover you are talking about (which is actually no longer the front cover) is actually not influenced by Sami culture but rather by Scandinavian petroglyphs. I am aware that the circle with a vertical line is the sun symbol within Sami culture, but I have also seen this symbol on a petroglyph in Himmelstalund, Norrköping, at the side of a sun symbol. I interpret it, therefore, as a symbol for the moon. When it comes to the correct representation, it is difficult to answer. We know that the Sami and Germanic Scandinavians had contact with each other even back in the Viking age, and there is no doubt that they influenced each other in various ways. It is also problematic to look at what we know about Sami religion as most of it is from sources from the seventeenth century. This is about six-hundred years after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and a great deal changed during that time. For example, the Norse religion, which we know from various sources is mostly from 900—1000, but this does not tell of how the religion looked six-hundred years before that. To conclude, we can find small glimpses of how it really was, but it is also important to point out that even if the Sami people could have influenced the Germanic people in different ways, they had no contact with other people in other parts of Europe. It’s difficult to say what is to be found within Sami culture that can stand for the whole of pre-Christian European spirituality.
HH: Would you be willing to offer a deeper explanation of your newest album, “Dauðra Dura,” which translates to “Door to Death”? What does it mean when your promo material says “how it was viewed in the old north”?
HS: First off, I’m not the one who wrote the promo release for the album, so I’m afraid I cannot answer that part of your question. What I can answer, though, is that death within a Christian perspective and within an Old Norse perspective is quite different. Within a Christian perspective, you have two options: either you go to damnation in Hell for your sins, or you go to Heaven. The life you live now is the one and only chance you get. Within Norse religion, the way that death is understood is very different. It very seldom contains any kind of realm for punishment, and when it is seen, it is very much likely that the source is under Christian influence. I would say that the album is about the journey to Hel within Norse religion as seen from different perspectives. Hel is not simply a place where the dead linger—it is also a place of wisdom. Hel is a mournful place, but it is also the pathway we all must take sooner or later, god as man.
But the album has in many ways also come to represent the pathway of Forndom. The road to Hel is equal to liminality; you are neither here nor there, neither dead nor alive. Instead, you are developing, learning, and becoming the new persona that you are bound to be for the rest of time. As you know, this album is a bit different from Flykt, and while writing it I wrote over twenty songs, ending up with seven on the album. I cannot say that I enjoy any of the songs, however. I look at them as the development which truly led to something else. I don’t like to see Dauðra Dura as the perfect album; far from it, in fact. But it is perfect in the sense of the chronology of Forndom.
HH: Your music seems much fuller, sounding like you decided to utilize more live instrumentation. What instruments would these be, and did you recently acquire the ability to play them?
HS: Yes—to start with, I have started to use real percussion. Shakers and a wet shaman drum, in particular. Then we have the acoustic guitar. None of these instruments are new to me, even if they are new within Forndom. Then I have a couple of new instruments, for example the Tagelharpa, whose presence lifted the music in itself. I have also learned a lot of other instruments during the process—for example, the Näverlur, used in the song ‘När gudarna kalla’. I also took up the flute again—an instrument which I used to play as a small child, although I felt that this instrument was not fitting for this album in particular.
The use of real instruments is also something that will occur even more on future releases. The reason why I didn’t use more on this album was simply a question of time.
HH: Could you tell me more about the Tagelharpa, and which other instrumentation may develop in your music in the future?
HS: When it comes to the Tagelharpa, I recently bought a new one which, in my opinion, is so much better than my first one and has a lovely warm tone. Yes, I have plans to buy some other instruments. The wind instruments I have so far is the flute and the Näverlur, but I have plans to go on buying myself a horn. I have long since had a couple of Jew-harps at home, but none of them have been professional. As I mentioned, I have been using a shaman drum as a bass drum, which I have drowned in water just to make the skin loose, dark, and deep. Yet, part of me longs to play a frame drum live within the music as well. I’m also in the queue for a Kraviklyre, although I will probably not get it until the autumn of 2016 at the earliest. We’ll see how it goes with the development for the next album.
HH: Drums are, in many cultures, the first song—the heartbeat that connected all ancient people to the Earth through ceremony. How important is it to you to utilize this instrument?
HS: On the songs I have written so far, it has been somewhat of a beat instrument—something that has been lying calmly in the background which has not taken a lot of focus. My music is calm in general, and drums can change everything about a song depending on how they’re performed. So far, it has never been a focus for me, but this is actually something that is growing on me and something that people can expect more of in coming releases.
HH: Last time we talked, you mentioned the possibility of playing live. Do you have any updates on that situation?
HS: At this moment I am very busy with my studies, and even if I wanted to play live, I would have a hard time finding time to do so. When I am ready for this, I will announce it officially. There are a lot of preparations that need to be made, and I want the live experience to be something more than just the music itself. But yes, I know that I will play live sooner or later, it is just a question of time.
HH: You have mentioned your studies in mythology previously; is this formal or informal? If the latter, what university are you attending, and what is the subject of your thesis, assuming you are going for the equivalent of a Masters degree?
HS: I am studying History of Religions as my main subject at Stockholm University. Then I have chosen the path of Norse religion. During my B-essay, I wrote about Odin’s self-hanging in the Hávamál 138-145. In the C-essay, which I’m currently writing, the subject is Hel with a special path into the memory/mourning of the dead. Beyond that is one year of studies of regular history and archaeology to just read up on the points to the Bachelor diploma so that I can continue with the Master’s degree later. I have a lot of other things that I want to write about, but sometimes the problem is the lack of earlier research, which you have to refer to in your work. We’ll see what it will end up with then, when the time comes.
HH: Lastly, do you see yourself one day being a leader in the Heathen community, perhaps even conducting workshops and giving lectures on the subject, along with books and music? Do you feel comfortable being in such a revered position?
I can see myself releasing books and giving workshops in the musical area and the subjects that I am into, yes. I would have no problem with that, and even less of one if my goal is to become a scholar on the side of Forndom. Then giving lectures will be a part of the job. However, when it comes to being the leader of a Heathen community, this is something that is difficult to answer for the time being. I am social, but currently I am being very reserved and barely see anyone. There is a long personal story behind why, but in short, one can say my old friends and I took different paths. For the coming summer, I am also planning to visit my very first Viking reenactment market, and I’m sure I’ll meet a lot of new people there. Perhaps that, in turn, will lead to something else. I guess time will tell.