.:.BONDS OF BLOOD.:.
An Interview with Weihan
by Malachy O’Brien and S. L. Weatherford
Blóðslitinn á Steininum came across my desk at the time of the terrorist bombings in Belgium. Rather than prioritize a review for it, I decided to reach out to Belgian based “Weihan” to ensure things were okay.
Weihan’s latest album is a genre-crossing epic that will appeal to many listeners at differing points. Jurgen S., the band’s mastermind, agreed to sit and chat to give further insight into the music that has prevailed on their most recent release.
Heathen Harvest: Thanks for taking some time to sit and chat with me. It has recently been a very hectic time in Belgium, how are things now?
Jurgen S.: Hello, and thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk with you. Things are more or less back to normal after the Islamic terror attacks, functionally speaking. Heavily armed police officers and soldiers are still guarding various public buildings and patrol the streets of major cities. I guess a lot of people are very shocked because they somehow believed that something like this would never occur in their little corner of the world. Everybody is used to seeing reports of similar incidents in Africa and the Arab world; nobody was really bothered by it anymore. When it happens in your own back yard, it’s a different story.
HH: That’s great to hear. When I first listened to Blóðslitinn á Steininum, my perception was probably as chaotic as the events following the attack, but obviously in a more pleasant vein. By saying that, the music crosses multiple genres, has no barriers, and perhaps breaks the occasional ‘genre rule’. Was this incidental or purposeful?
JS: We don’t really have any predefined rules when we write music, and we don’t really feel like we have to stick to one genre. Still, I feel that the material on Blóðslitinn á Steininum is stylistically coherent and very much in one place. It’s a merge of elements that are very compatible, I think.
Originally, this album was supposed to be a concept album devoted to the Vǫluspá—a poem of the poetic Edda. As we continued work on the project, we felt this theme was too narrow, limiting, and ultimately very unoriginal. We decided to look for individual lyrical themes that would complement each song, and which would add more color to the whole, so to speak. Our lyrics have always been devoted to aspects of Indo-European culture—a very wide source of inspiration in terms of both time and space. All of this is not limited to our own nationality or ethnicity. One or two tracks have a direct link to where we come from. The rest is flavored a bit differently, tackling, for instance, Finnish history, German and Norwegian folk tales, and so forth.
HH: Seven years is a long time between releases for any project. Why was there such a lengthy period of silence, and why did you not return to Old Europa Cafe for the new release? Has Lichterklang been a good partner to work with?
JS: Seven years indeed is a very long time in between albums. Most people probably thought we had split up, although we did put out some individual new songs on a couple of compilation albums. There are various reasons why this album took so long: First of all, life tends to come in the way, but both Miguel and I also spent a while working on different music projects and we lost quite some time trying to develop a lyrical concept that we ended up dumping later on, including the artwork we had already finished. Then there were some delays in the mastering and manufacturing process near the very end. This album could have been out two years earlier, but it’s better late than never.
I’m sure nobody needs another analysis of the development in the music business, but it is obviously a business model in decline. We thought it would be wise not to just jump back in to working with Old Europa Cafe after all these years, but to hear what friends and acquaintances in other bands could offer as advice. Lichterklang was one of the names that quickly popped up, and they seemed to like what we were doing. They had a rational take on everything and didn’t put any limits on what we wanted to do as far as artwork and packaging went, so it went fairly smoothly.
HH: If I were to pick a mood for the record, it would be simply ‘aggressive’, with a mix of harsh, narrative, and even monastic vocals! The genres seem to dwell within a similar musical dichotomy. How have you adapted this to the Poetic Edda, folktales, etc.?
JS: When we started out, we deliberately only used ‘spoken word’ vocals. We didn’t want traditional vocals because we wanted the songs to sound somewhat subdued and bleak. It was a vocal style that certainly did what we wanted it to do at the time, but it only allowed us to express a limited number of emotions. A couple of years ago, we started to experiment with different types of vocal delivery, different microphones, different effects, etc.
Of course, we also wanted to offer more vocal variation since having more options helps to create the right atmosphere as well. For instance, on the first track, ‘Ginnungagap’, the use of layered clean but crude vocals worked well with the Old Norse lyrics and accommodated the mood we were looking for. The core is still formed by the spoken-word vocals of Miguel B., because that is really what identifies it as being Weihan.
HH: On the new album, you chose to utilize an impressive variety of languages. What was the purpose behind this? Is it simply meant to mirror your variety of vocal styles?
JS: Well, yes. Every language has a natural atmosphere that can often help accommodate the mood you are looking for when working on a particular piece of music. It’s also nice to be able to break the monopoly that the English language seems to have on music once in a while.
HH: So, with your back catalogue and current release, would you say that you have discovered your ‘true’ identity? Will any further releases will be written in a similar vein?
JS: We are very much into the sound and style we had on Symphonies of Divination and Blóðslitinn á Steininum, so the plan is indeed to continue down that road. I immediately have to admit that we are now working on something that is more along the lines of our debut album, Galder, with acoustic guitars being the dominant instrument. We’re not sure if it’s going to be an EP or a full-length album, though.
HH: On Blóðslitinn á Steininum, the only track to be titled in English was ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’. I need to know what the story behind this is!
JS: That particular track is about the year 1816, when the climate was severely distorted. A volcanic eruption in South East Asia may have led to a situation where accumulating volcanic ash in the atmosphere blotted out the sun causing ice and frost during the summer, which in turn resulted in bad harvests and ultimately famine, social unrest, etc. In Europe, hundreds of thousands of people perished.
It is not our take on the whole climate change discussion, but rather a grim anecdote to show that man still is, despite everything, subject to the power of nature.
The events inspired Lord Byron to write the poem ‘Darkness’, on which the lyrics of our track are based.
HH: When you say ‘power of nature’, do I detect a pagan vibe? If so, is there any alignment there for you or Weihan?
JS: There are no intentional references to paganism in ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’, but a lot of our material is indeed inspired by pre-Christian European traditions.
HH: One particularly curious/potentially inflammatory track title is ‘Épitaphe pour la Belgique’, which translates to ‘Epitaph for Belgium’. As a Belgian yourself, can you talk to us a bit about what you wanted to get across to your audience with this song?
JS: Belgium is a very peculiar country that is very unlike other nations in Europe—and not always in a good sense. Coincidentally, the French poet Charles Baudelaire lived in Belgium for a while only a couple of decades after the country was founded. He hated Belgium with passion and described the inhabitants using the very same adjectives and nouns as we nowadays still do when we talk about our army of politicians. The implicit message of the song is to be very careful which flag you choose to march behind and to question your motives when doing so; apart from the laws of physics, there are very few absolute truths in this world.
HH: Aside from ‘Epitaph for Belgium’, the album seems to be drowned in death as a thematic focus, from ‘The White Death’ to ‘Kuoleman Uskonto’ (‘The Religion of Death’). Was this focus accidental or purposeful, and if the latter, why?
JS: It wasn’t our intention to write a concept album about death, but if you are inspired by history, mythology, etc. like we are, the subject of death is rather hard to avoid. Still, it’s a bit more diverse than the song titles might suggest. We talked about ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’ earlier. ‘Белая смерть’ (transcribed as ‘Belaya Smert’, indeed meaning ‘The White Death’) is our tribute to the heroic acts of the sniper Simo Häyhä when Finland successfully decided to take on Russia. ‘Kuoleman Uskonto’ deals with the radical ideas of the controversial ecologist Pentti Linkola.
HH: I understand that you have never played live. Is there a reason for this?
JS: The idea of playing live has popped up sporadically throughout the years. To make it happen, we would either have to hire a bunch of live musicians or perform using backing tracks. The second option feels more or less like faking it, and the first option of course comes with a lot of practical issues we don’t really want to deal with.
HH: Yes, I’ve heard of bands being scrutinized for using backing tracks. Was it always the plan to just make music and release it? Most bands I have dealt with enjoy the ‘live’ aspect the most, so it will be interesting to hear your take on this.
JS: Yes, the original plan always was just to record music and release it. I know that, especially given the changes in the music industry, there is a lot of focus on performing live—especially as a way to gain some form of an income. I won’t argue that playing live is great; to be in a band that tours and having to depend on the income it generates is another thing altogether.
HH: The album cover represents a rare occasion when gore can also be beautiful. Would you mind describing what this ritualistic image is supposed to represent, and who was behind the artwork?
JS: The cover artwork complements the title of the album, which means ‘The Colour of Blood on Stone’ in Old-Norse/Icelandic. It is a very crude image representing a Bronze Age sacrifice with, indeed, organs bleeding out onto a stone altar.
Miguel did the layout and such for the first album; I did the artwork for the last two, including this cover image.
HH: Thank you for this excellent interview, Jürgen. What is forthcoming for Weihan?
JS: Thanks for talking to us. Our ambition is not to let another seven years pass before we release a new album. We have a number of plans; one of them is to put out an EP or maybe even a full album in the vein of our first album, Galder (as mentioned above elsewhere). A lot of people seem to like that album, but I feel the actual recordings are so bad that we really need to do something like that again.
After that, we want to continue down the road of our last two albums.