Norwegian folklore and traditional tunes have been given a new musical cloak: On the record “Grimen” fiddler Knut Buen joins forces with Emperors Vegard Tveitan and Heidi Solberg Tveitan from Starofash under the name Hardingrock. The name refers to the “Devil’s instrument” -the Harding (Hardanger) fiddle- and with its sonority as the locus, and eerie stories of otherworldly beings as the vantage point, the trio have found a spiritual and musical affinity between modern metal and the Norwegian “supernatural” folk music tradition.
Interview by Bjørn Hammershaug / Translated and abridged by Christian Lysvåg.
The background for this unique concept can be traced many years back in time relates master fiddler Knut Buen:
-I’ve had the idea for the Hardingrock project since the eighties, but it’s taken until now to find musicians with which to realize it.
Vegard Tveitan (Emperor) relates on how contact was made between the musicians, apparently belonging to the opposite poles of the spectrum of musical genres:
-Hailing from the same area we knew of each other through the local press. But we probably had a somewhat stereotypical view of each others expressions before we met. When I first approached Knut, he claimed only disinterest in the “crossover-thing”, but when we met again a few years later he was keen on collaboration. His change of mind was due to artistic temperament he said with a laugh. We exchanged some records and thus the whole thing was in motion, says Tveitan. And we soon found out that we had a lot in common in virtue of belonging to the periphery of popular music, even though we were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Buen’s idea was to insert the traditional tunes into a rock setting, by for instance using parts of a traditional tune as the basis for a rock riff, write new lyrics and adapt the traditional material to a modern musical expression. The collaboration with the two black metal musicians has made his old dream come true, and he has nothing but praise for his new partners:
-They have a liking for many of the elements in the culture of traditional tales and natural mysticism that defines it. In addition they have diverse musical backgrounds. This is a combination I deemed well suited for the lyrical and dramatic content of this material. We have also become good friends in the course of the process, which is important in order to achieve a fruitful musical collaboration, says Buen.
The female part of the trio, Heidi Tveitan, gives Buen most of the credit for the end product:
-It was very different working with Knut compared to what we’re used to. He supplied all the material; tunes, words, and old myths and tales. Our job was primarily to piece together the parts of the puzzle. I’ve seen my role in the process chiefly as bridging gaps and facilitating musical dialogue, says a humble Heidi Tveitan.
The tales in question are old and familiar to many Norwegians. The textual content of the project is based on these old tales, some of which have been rewritten, like the myths of Fanitullen and Fossegrimen. (The myth of the Devil’s spellbinding fiddle tune from a sinister valley wedding, and that of the supernatural “Master fiddler of the waterfall” who lures people into the cascades)
-Based on these new lyrics we created melodies adapted to the arrangement of the traditional tunes. Yet most of the tunes have also been rearranged, and elements have been used randomly to fit the context, says Buen.
In what way are these tales and myths relevant today?
The relevance resides in the commonly human. This is not a record meant as a projection, but as a merger of elements that I find come together nicely on their own accord.
And what affinities do you see between the traditional tunes and tales and modern Norwegian metal?
-Superstition and the popular phantasms live on today, not least in the black metal milieu. One can easily draw parallels here, e.g. regarding the notion of subterranean forces. In this process we have laboured towards each other; to find common denominators and solutions. I especially found the way we utilized the melodies interesting. The way we did this has not been done before.
Also Heidi Tveitan (keyboards, samples, programming and vocals) draws distinct parallels between Norwegian metal and Norwegian traditional music:
-Both genres exist on the fringe of media focus, at the same time as they are both hailed as something unique and more typically Norwegian than any form of pop music. Both expressions are grounded in the mythical, and in black metal there is a traditional attraction towards nature and Norse mythology. It comes forth as something idiosyncratic and uniquely Norwegian. This has been a matter of pride for black metal, without necessarily entailing nationalistic sentiments.
-We have been taken aback at the huge interest this project has been met with, says Heidi Tveitan, and we've also registered a lot of curiosity from abroad regarding the album.
Vegard Tveitan (guitar, programming and vocal) continues:
-Our experience is from black metal, and “Norwegian black metal” is of course well established as a concept, denoting something exotic and strange. It is a myth-riddled genre with an international appeal. This conception has only increased our motivation to indulge in these old and unassailable parts of Norwegian national heritage.
Sometimes during the process we felt lost and we often pushed Knut in front of us; building the songs around him. His fiddling and his speech constitute a leitmotif through the album.
Can you expand on the affinity between the ideology of metal and superstition in the folk tradition?
-Darkness and the subterranean are good metaphors for referring to the hidden; that which is not merely on the surface. I think many people find an attraction to what is underneath the surface in this way. However, neither folk music nor extreme metal is driven by a desire to please. It is the passion towards the music itself that comes first. And none of us entertain any whish to be politically correct artists; we want to work with music, freely and independently, that is the foundation.
Hardingrock’s album “Grimen” was released on Monday June 11th by Nyrenning Forlag/Musikkoperatørene.