Wolf – Duality in ShadowlandThursday, 14th April 2022
Releasing their last album Feeding the Machine as the entertainment industry grinded to a standstill because of the global pandemic in the winter of 2020, Wolf decided to get to work on the next record quicker than originally anticipated. The result is Shadowland – another mesmerizing outing for those who love traditional heavy metal with a lot of old school aesthetics, power, and chilling atmosphere. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Niklas Stålvind once again who seemed very enthusiastic to talk about the work behind this record. We also get into the lyrical content, discussion about past books that predicted future events, special touring memories for the band, the importance of Black Wings and The Black Flame records to the history of the band, and what’s left on the bucket list for Wolf and Niklas personally to accomplish.
Dead Rhetoric: Shadowland is the ninth studio album for Wolf. Considering the global pandemic and events that unfolded to shut down live touring/festivals, did this allow you as a band to hunker down, work on new material, and get this release out quicker than originally anticipated?
Niklas Stålvind: Yes, absolutely. It made it easier in every way. We couldn’t tour, we had to abort a tour. We couldn’t travel. The studio where we recorded, it’s (guitarist) Simon Johansson’s, the other guitarist in the band, his studio. He missed a lot of bookings because people were cancelling his studio because of the COVID-19 thing. We had less competition with the other clients, and it was easier to focus on the writing because there was nothing else to do but go to work, come home, write. I didn’t do anything besides working my day job and working in my studio, get together with the other guys and eventually start recording.
It was very good for creativity. Everything was very boring in society, so it made you more creative and made it easier with less obstructions, less noise you know?
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see this material slotting in the discography of Wolf? Has the process of creating material and refining the craft gotten easier or more difficult as the years pass by?
Stålvind: I see this album, it reminds me of The Black Flame. Both in terms of the songwriting and the energy that we managed to get into the album. We recorded it very fast and (we were) well-rehearsed but not too rehearsed. We didn’t have too many takes, we wanted everything to feel spontaneous. We tried to play the best that we could but not overdo it.
I think actually we have become better at the craft of songwriting. I have found a deeper, more spiritual way of writing songs over the last few years. I don’t see myself writing the songs, I try to let the songs unfold and be open and honest, do what the song wants instead of me trying with my intellect to write things and be smart.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you elaborate on the dual humanity theme that runs through the lyrical content this time – did you end up pulling again from many personal events/thoughts beyond the research that you do?
Stålvind: Yeah. I have always been writing about the darker side of our human nature. It’s something I feel that is interesting and I have inside of me. I think all people have inside them to some degree. It’s important to acknowledge that and dare to look at your darkness, connect to it in order to become a better person actually. If you try to deny you have this side to you, then you are doing yourself and the world a (disservice). I have been writing about this for many years. I found out about Carl Jung, and he calls it ‘the shadow self’. He calls what I talk about doing the shadow work. It is a very good way of putting it, and it inspired me for the title of the record Shadowland.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it an easy decision to pick the singles this time before the album came out? And how did the video shoots go?
Stålvind: I took the decision to have “Dust” as the single, it’s a great opening track for a Wolf album. It also had that feeling, the wolves are back. The positive energy and triumph exploding in a song. I think it’s an up-tempo song, great energy in it in my mind. It was a fitting song to do a performance-based video. We wanted the first video to be just the band, together in a room pouring out the energy of the music. Very simple.
“Shadowland”, great title for the album. Pontus thought it was a good title. The more I thought about it, it’s a good title track as well. It’s epic, more mysterious, and sums up a lot of the themes I’m writing about on the album. That video is a bit more mysterious. I had a script written, and we had to rewrite it a little bit because the director, he had such good material that he recorded in a cave that was almost my script, but not quite. I had a guy chasing a shadow, as did the director, that was a great video to record. He is very open, crazy ideas, and he also is very creative that he can do things without costing a fortune.
We have a third video that he did as well. I wrote the script on that one, where the four band members are all actors in this video. Each of us have a different role – it’s for “The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake”. That will be a fun video. I know I can do some acting, I can be theatrical even though I am not a professional actor. I know what I can do and can’t do. I didn’t know how their performances would be, but it was perfect. It will be out soon.
Dead Rhetoric: From what I understand, you also used a theremin on the record, correct?
Ståvlind: Yes! It was Simon’s idea to add the theremin on “Rasputin”. I always wanted to have a theremin on some song on a Wolf album. I wanted a real theremin. His name is Dr. Carl Westholm, he is the keyboard player that Leif from Candlemass usually hires when he wants some keyboard stuff. He played on the Doomsday Kingdom album where I was the singer. I have heard a lot of Stockholm musicians that talk about Dr. Carl, I have never met him. We asked him if he had a theremin, and he did. Did he want to play on a Wolf song? He said of course. We sent him the track, explained where we wanted something here, build up something here in the end section – it’s like a crazy theremin solo on that one. He said okay, it took a couple of weeks. He sent us the work, the raw mix, and it sounded amazing. I just loved it, he nailed it, the perfect feeling for that song.
The theremin is a Russian instrument invention. As I understand it, it was the first electronic synthesizer ever invented.
Dead Rhetoric: Thomas Holm once again designed the cover of Shadowland. How do you feel about the work he came up with this time, and the specific color choices that make for a very eye-catching piece?
Ståvind: Yes, this time he just nailed it. It happened to be a painting that he already had. I had spoken to him about the album title and the songs, what they mean to me and my thoughts around the songs. After that, he has free hands to do what he needs with interpreting the songs. He told me he sees metal in pictures. He always comes up with a great interpretation of the Wolf songs. And this time, this one is one of my favorites. I couldn’t see another painting for this album.
The color choice is very striking. We’ve never had that kind of yellow fiery reddish album before. It blew me away, especially on the LP you can see it is an oil painting on a real canvas. It has a timeless feel, it could be something from 1984. It could be from an album or comic book from 1984 when I was a kid and got into metal – as well as 2022. He captured the feeling of the album for this one.
Dead Rhetoric: In our last talk you mentioned your love of nerdy things like books, science, language, grammar, and art – and that you don’t care what people think regarding this. What has been captivating your headspace as of late related to books and media – as I’d imagine you had more time to focus on this during the downtime of the pandemic?
Ståvind: Lately I’ve been reading George Orwell and Alex Huxley. I find it fascinating how these men – especially Orwell – could predict this nightmare back in 1948. He really wrote 1984 about 1948, with the direction that everything was going with the Soviet Union and communism. Sadly, I find so many parallels of today in that book. He had another take on a similar topic, I read a Russian book that was preceding both those books. The title is We; I can’t remember the author (Yevgeny Zamyatin). I just find it fascinating how some people can really nail it, and I can sit down and ready something fifty years later and get into the minds and get blown away. That’s one thing I have been thinking a lot about.
I got into a bit more of Carl Jung. What I feel is important to become a whole human being. To accept being a good person, you cannot deny what you are capable of as a human being. You should be aware of what you can do to have a chance to do good stuff, and not pointing fingers towards others. People do that today – virtue signaling on social media is the thing people do today. It’s more constructive to aim that scrutiny within yourself, who you are, and try to become better. I think about that a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: It is interesting how people like to portray themselves through social media. They won’t portray all sides of themselves, only the good things or the exciting things, or not look within themselves. Do you believe this is an interesting contrast?
Ståvlind: Yes. In my songs I portray my darker sides of myself. It helps me to become a much more content, happy, and good person. When you go to a metal concert or a metal festival, you meet the nicest people you ever hope to meet. They listen to the most aggressive and dark music, usually they have tattoos and don’t look like nice people in suits, but they are the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. Having that outlet makes you happier, makes you better, I think. I’m more afraid of people in suits, actually, than a metalhead in a black metal t-shirt.
Dead Rhetoric: When you look back at the discography of Wolf – what do you consider the key albums that you think put the band on the right path not just artistically, but also gaining more of a foothold in the scene – and if you had the chance to revise or fix a specific record in the catalog, which would you revisit and why?
Ståvlind: I think Black Wings, the second album, that’s when we really found something. That’s when people started to realize that this Wolf band, it’s no joke. That aggressiveness we managed to capture on that album. The songwriting on those songs, I was completely happy about it. Some things we could have performed better. I regret that the vocals are so hidden in the mix, I would love to have a remix of that one. I would make the vocals step a bit forward. When you try to re-record stuff, you lose the magic. The Black Flame is definitely one of our most important albums. That was the first album that I felt I really had become a singer now. I was a guitar player before that had to sing because we didn’t have a singer. I had transformed by then. I also took a step up as a main songwriter in the band. We couldn’t write at rehearsals anymore like a three-piece band as we used to do. We had to write separately, the drummer left the band, and I had a need to sit down and write my songs or co-write a lot with the bass player who was with me and formed the band in the beginning. That was also the album that made us more well-known. We were on Century Media, it was a label that cared about heavy metal, had a heavy metal audience.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you say the rhythm section of Wolf now with Pontus Egberg on bass and Johan Koleberg on drums have gelled now that you’ve had the chance to work with them for a few years?
Ståvlind: They are so easy to work with. Great guys to hang around with. We can all sit around the room together and be comfortable. Not many bands can do this, especially bands that have been around for over twenty-five years. That’s a big bonus. I have my own studio, Simon has a professional, world class studio. Pontus and Johan have their own studios, Johan records for other artists, it’s easy although we live far apart from each other to work because we all know more than how to play our instruments.
Musically they bring a lot of good stuff. They are the perfect way, the way they play. Johan when he plays drums, he sounds like a modern, updated version of Vinny Appice. That’s perfect for our music. He doesn’t like to play extremely fast; he doesn’t like to play double bass all the time. We try to write without that – it’s easy to destroy songs using double bass. Like Mercyful Fate, they have double bass sometimes but then it’s not how I see power metal. It suits his playing. Pontus is a huge asset for the band. It’s easy for me when I compose, very often I write the bass part as well. Sometimes we don’t use the minor pentatonic scale for everything like many metal bands do, I write with harmonies, and they contrast. It can be hard for some musicians if they are not trained, or if they don’t have good hearing to get what I want out of the song. He gets it, whatever I throw at him, he gets it immediately and turns it into something much better. He understands what I am thinking. He is fast, even, and one of the best bass players, rock/metal in Sweden. His style is exactly what I want for Wolf. The bass part is important for Wolf. We’ve never been a tuned down, lots of distortion, for bottom frequency type of band. We want the bass to be an instrument in our songs. It sounds like he makes Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, and something else as well. He does cool stuff on all the right songs, never too much, never too little. I will turn up the bass sometimes to hear what he’s doing, and it feels like I have a Christmas present. He has a great way of making the songs, enhancing the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: When you look back at your touring with Wolf, what have been some of the standout moments considering you have played with veteran acts as well as some solid newcomers?
Ståvlind: I really like playing with younger bands. I am wearing a shirt now of a younger thrash band Shrapnel, a UK band. Great guys, very nice to tour with. Had a lot of fun, and great on stage. That is really cool to play with younger bands and get their energy. Highlights for me, our first big tour was supporting Saxon on our second album. For us, touring with our heroes and people who inspired us, it’s so much fun. And also, we have toured with Accept. They had a huge influence on Wolf. Watching Accept every night, I really again realized how much they have influenced us. They were great every night, excellent songwriters. It’s really cool.
And then I remember crazy stuff like meeting Blackie Lawless, my childhood hero. I was starstruck for the first time in my life, made a fool out of myself and he really doesn’t like that at all. Blackie is Blackie. It was cool, we were speaking, and it was nice as he didn’t speak to anyone, he wasn’t looking at people. I thought this is my moment. My first concert as a child was W.A.S.P. opening for Iron Maiden, like ‘wow’. I told him that story and turned into that fourteen-year-old kid on that concert. And he was like ‘oh, not again!’ (laughs). And he walked away, I stood there like a fool. It was a bizarre moment, but fun if you look back at it.
When we travelled to India, that was also a crazy time.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are nearing a half a century on this earth, have you spent more time reflecting and assessing what’s left to achieve and accomplish with your music endeavors?
Ståvlind: I am 48 now. I started to realize that I might not be able to do this for so many years left. My dream would be that my songs that I write, it will live on and bring joy to people after I’m gone. Or after I just cannot do it anymore. I want to leave this music for my kids and the younger generation. I know we are just one of a trillion bands out there. I just hope people discover the music long after the band isn’t there anymore. We have never had huge financial success or huge commercial success. That would be great because that would mean I could live off the music, focus more on the things I am passionate about. That’s not my main goal when it comes to my bucket list. Having a soundtrack on a movie, or a song that turns out to be a metal anthem that people enjoy, a big song they enjoy on special occasions. So many things to do yet. I would like to do an album that is a ten out of ten. This is really something. If I ever am able to do that with Wolf, I would be scared. I don’t know if it’s something that I really want, because after that- what do you do? You have done your Operation: Mindcrime – where do you go after that? It’s scary, but I try to. So far, I don’t think I have achieved it. We have a high standard on our songwriting.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule or in the works for Wolf over the next twelve months now that the album is out?
Ståvlind: Doomsday Kingdom, I think everyone in the band wants to do a second album. It’s completely up to Leif if he feels the inspiration to do an album. We are in contact, I guess he is very occupied with Candlemass now. If it happens, I will be happy to sing on it. Regarding Wolf, the plan now is to rehearse the new songs. We have played “Dust” and “Shadowland”, we will play more of the songs live. I need to take it apart and put it back together. It’s a lot of work for me. We will touch up the live technology a bit and bring back some old songs we’ve never played live with Wolf. We have been talking about doing that. With the new lineup, I feel so much potential. I am really looking forward to doing that. We don’t have any tours booked – we are working on new plans. We will be playing live again, that’s what we want to do now.