Vanhelga – Deeper into the VoidSunday, 22nd July 2018
“Psykotisk självinsikt,” the second cut on Vanhelga’s new Fredagsmys full-length, moans and drones alone, suffocating the atmosphere with a rather pervasive feeling of pure black metal melancholy. Then, whistles suddenly appear. No, not whistles of the uppity and/or saccharine kind — we’re talking the type you’d hear on a bleak, desolate day: no sun, no light, no nothing. Borne from the bottomless well of creativity that is bandleader/founding member 145188 (real name: Jacob Ottosson), the whistles on “Psykotisk självinsikt” are, obviously, quite the moment on Fredagsmys, but the album itself is able to joust between its dark black core and bouts of nefarious extremity. Such tactics make Vanhelga virtually impossible to pin down, which is why we felt it was nigh to send some Qs across the pond for 145188 to answer:
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve released albums on labels as well as independently. What does being on Osmose represent for Vanhelga?
145188: Osmose was a natural step in the right direction for us. They can match the efforts that we put into our art like no label have ever done before. You know, it’s frustrating when you put so much blood, sweat and tears into your artistic expressions only to have it all thrown away by someone who does not share the same ambition and visions as yourself. This is not the case with Osmose; they’ve been working with a lot of great bands during the years and we are proud to be a part of this.
Dead Rhetoric: The band can usually be counted upon for some type of release every year. Will that continue now, or, will you stick with full-length albums?
145188: Between me and J. Ejnarsson, there is always inspiration and a lot of songwriting to be found. In theory, we could probably release three full-length albums per year, but we don’t want to do that. We have found a good pace and right now we feel like releasing something one time per year is working for us. So yes, that will continue.
Dead Rhetoric: As you’ve created more albums, Vanhelga becomes more difficult to pin down. While that may be a problem for PR people and the label, it may work to your benefit. Will Vanhelga always have this sort of flexibility with its sound?
145188: Yes. It doesn’t matter to us what genre we get categorized into nor what other people think about our material. We do what we feel that we want to do. We never limit ourselves to anyone or anything. I like to compare Vanhelga with an ever-growing organism. We just let it grow and see where it takes us.
Dead Rhetoric: For a while, Vanhelga was a one-man band. Because you have an actual lineup now, does that do anything to your sound?
145188: Yes, and that was one of the reasons why I decided to bring in other members. I felt like I had done everything I wanted to do as a one-man band and realized that in order to evolve it was necessary to bring in other members. Another reason was that I wanted to explore the music on stage, together with an audience, to reach even deeper into the void that inspires me. The sound will always keep evolving but the things that make us unique will always be there whether we like it or not because it’s a part of our very core and deeply rooted identities.
Dead Rhetoric: Vanhelga has been awfully productive the last eight or nine years. Why is that? Is songwriting a continuous thing for the band?
145188: For me personally I have always had this burning need to express myself through creativity. I like to call it a blessed curse. On one hand, I have the ability to express myself in a deeper and more meaningful way through my art but at the same time the creative process can be extremely painful. Exploring the darkness within myself as well as the darkness in everything I perceive does not come without a huge price-tag, so to speak. J. Ejnarsson also suffers to some extent from the same kind of phenomenon, but I think his curse is less intense than mine, at least at this moment.
Dead Rhetoric: Fredagsyms, to these ears, is your most well-rounded effort to date. It’s quite the blend of melancholy, experimentation and blackness. Was it the idea to make an “all-encompassing” Vanhelga album this time out?
145188: Thank you. No, we had no clear guidelines or goals at all. That is the main point behind our music. We never limit ourselves by thinking, for example, “this release has to be all-encompassing.” The same way we don’t limit ourselves by thinking that “this song is not black metal enough.” We want the creativity to be 100% limitless and free, without any boundaries what so ever.
Dead Rhetoric: To you, what truly makes a song melancholic or depressive?
145188: It is impossible to say exactly what the formula for a depressive/melancholic song is. It is something that you know naturally by being blessed with the ability to feel and experience things through art. If you are unfortunate enough to not have this ability then I am afraid it is impossible for you to truly know. I guess that the person who wrote the song also has to have experienced depression otherwise I don’t think the song will work.
Dead Rhetoric: “Psykotisk självinsikt” really stands out, especially the whistling. Where did that come from? Was it intentional or a stroke of studio luck?
145188: The song title means something like “psychotic self-revelation” and it’s inspired by the experience of being in a psychotic state of mind. In particular how you “wake up” and realize that you are in fact like everyone else is trying to tell you, psychotic. I have had the pleasure to experience this myself and imagining things like voices or whistling is something that is strongly related with being psychotic and it enhances the mood we wanted to portray. For that reason, we put it in the song.
Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on your agenda for the rest of 2018?
145188: We have some upcoming shows and we hope to be able to do as many shows as possible before next year. Also, we have some plans for new material but it’s too early to get into any details.