Being a metalhead and having the opportunity of interviewing some of my favorite artists is a fantastic thing. This time it was Jens Rydén (Thyrfing, ex-Naglfar) who kindly agreed to answer some of my questions for Blessed Altar Zine. If you don’t know about Jens musical and artistic career, you can take a few minutes to read this and find out.
Hi Jens, thanks for taking your time to answer some questions. Well… Let’s start talking about “Vanagandr”, the latest album by Thyrfing. It was released on August 27th 2021, 8 years after your previous album, “De ödeslösa”. And you guys still manage to maintain that classic and “familiar” sound of Viking/Pagan/Black Metal. How happy are you about “Vanagandr”? And how has been doing gigs again, after the long pandemic times?
Jens: Hi Silvia! It is my pleasure doing this interview! Yes, the gap between the”De Ödeslösa” album and the new ”Vanagandr” album turned out longer than we hoped for, but at least we finally came out with something new. I feel very satisfied with the album, it turned out just as good as I hoped for and I am very satisfied with how the production and that kind of stuff turned out too!
Gig wise, there have been a few so far, but it is strange times. Many of the festivals this year have the postponed line-up from two years ago and all the bands that have released stuff during the pandemic times are competing for the slots for the rest of the festivals. And tour dates also for that matter… But we are not a hard touring band and we have shows and festivals coming up, so all in all I feel satisfied with the gig situation too.
Your live performances are always very energetic, Jens, I’d dare to say that it’s like you turn into another person (or a beast) when you are on stage. Do you feel like this? Do you take some time to transform yourself into a character before a concert?
Jens: I know what you mean and pretty much everybody says the same thing: They don’t recognise me on stage, haha! I would describe it as I turn on a switch inside of me, like ”live performance mode: On” if you understand what I mean. Normally I have a pretty relaxed and calm personality, but on stage I want to deliver a show that is full of energy, darkness, grief, hate, power and all the emotions that are important parts of this music.
Transformation into another character is another way to describe it I guess, but the point is that I am not acting or pretending to be someone else. It is still 100% me on stage and not a character I pretend to be. So that is why I prefer the ”Live performance switch on/off” description better.
And before the show starts, I often try to get a minute for myself to get into the right mood. It is not super necessary – I can turn the switch on/off in a second if there’s a hurry, but it gets a bit better if I can find a lonely corner for a minute or so.
Going back in time, at what age did you start listening to Metal? Which band was the first one that you ran into?
Jens: I have a four year older sister that introduced me to metal, and I believe I was around 10 years old… but I am not exactly sure. So, she was into sleaze, rock, metal and I discovered Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Europe and a bunch of others through her. Later on I started to discover bands on my own and that’s when I got into more aggressive stuff like Metallica, Slayer and then eventually came across death metal and got hooked pretty much straight away. Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Grave, Unleashed, Tiamat are a few of the bands that I started off with.
How was it that you decided to start being part of the Metal scene? Were you involved in any musical project before joining Naglfar in 1992?
Jens: No, not really. I had sort of a band with two friends before that, but that was nothing serious and it was all about just having a good time. But when I started to listen to death metal in around 1991 I believe, the underground metal scene was pretty strong and there were gigs in my hometown. And I really liked that subcultural underground community with local bands, demo tapes, fanzines, tape tradings and such things. It influenced me a lot and I wanted to be a strong part of that community, so that led me to draw logos for bands, working with fanzines and later on starting Naglfar.
Is there any vocalist you consider a big inspiration for you?
Jens: Oh, I don’t know… There are so many great vocalists out there. If I had to choose one I guess that would be David Vincent, because his vocals have always been top notch. I like his pronunciation and dynamics, and the fact that he still today delivers the best sounding death metal vocals makes him like the godfather of death metal for me.
You were in Naglfar for 13 years, and you also unleashed your full creativity in between, a one-man project where you were in charge of everything, with some guest musicians. It was called Dead Silent Slumber, and your album “Entombed in the Midnight Hour” is brilliant Symphonic Extreme Metal stuff. What can you tell us about it? How was it that you came with the idea to do something different from Naglfar all alone?
Jens: Sometimes I enjoy writing music and being creative with others, and sometimes I enjoy doing all that by myself and to have full control over everything. And I think it was that and in combination with music ideas and inspiration that I believed wouldn’t really fit with Naglfar. And that is pretty much the reason why I did that solo album – to do something on my own where I could be as experimental as I wanted and nothing would be too weird, too soft or anything else. So, I recorded a demo tape and later on a full length album. I don’t know how I would describe the style/genre on this album, it is some sort of extreme metal (of course) but with symphonic and electronic and other more experimental influences. The guest musicians does guitar solos and clean vocals, and I am still very satisfied with the title track “Entombed in the Midnight Hour”, a soft slow atmospheric acoustic song with beautiful female guest vocals and a great guitar lead by a awesome guitarist named Ulf, performing a solo that is a bit blues-influenced I guess.
This album is finally online on Spotify, so please check it out if you feel curious to hear it!
When you left Naglfar, and before joining Thyrfing, you created another one-man Black Metal project, Profundi, and your album “The Omega Rising” I think it’s fantastic! It’s fierce, dark, fast, evil… And you were in charge of EVERYTHING: vocals, music, artwork, mixing, production… Did you think at that moment that it would be a more long lasting project?
Jens: First, thanks! I appreciate very much that you like the Profundi album! When I was working on this album I came up with more ideas for new songs, so my initial thought was to do another album. But then I joined Thyrfing and at the same time I was a bit tired of writing and recording all alone, so that changed. And I put a lot of work and time into this project. And I really mean A LOT since I wanted to do everything myself. I took it so far that I even designed my own font/typeface for this album. And when it finally was finished and released it almost felt like finishing a marathon race… and the last thing I wanted was to go for another marathon race straight away, haha!
So, I decided to concentrate on my duties in Thyrfing along with all the other creative stuff I am involved in. Today I consider this album to be the project where I checked a lot of stuff from my bucket list of things I wanted to do and learn, from playing everything myself, including guitar solos, which I am normally not good enough to do, but managed to pull off somehow, haha! But also, recording and mixing, and of course all the artworks. Kind of taking the concept of solo album as far as I possibly could do.
Today I still feel very proud of this album. It means a lot to me.
How is your creative process when it’s only you doing everything? What comes first: lyrics or music? And do you find it easy assembling all the pieces to get exactly the sound you want?
Jens: I write the music first 90% of the time. Just on some rare occasions I come up with some lyrics first, but that is very rare. And this is the case for all the bands and projects I have been involved in. The creative process is a bit difficult to describe because it can be very different from time to time. Some songs just get “right” quickly in a good flow, whilst others can be half finished for a long time until I continue working with them or come up with a riff or composition that I feel completely satisfied with. I guess normally I write music with guitar being the main/first instrument, but it is also quite common that I start with keyboards/synthesizers first because that usually makes me write in a completely different way. And lately I have more like composing songs in my mind first. And then picking up instruments and playing the stuff and compositions that are already finished in my mind. If that makes any sense?
Can we expect another solo project from Jens Rydén in the near future?
Jens: I’m afraid no. It is a different time now and I don’t have as much spare time now compared to when I did these solo albums. I have my full time job, my family stuff and of course Thyrfing and also the other creative projects such as photography, design and artwork, so there is simply not enough time and energy for me to do more solo stuff at this point.
Which is the most impressive stage where you have performed live?
Jens: Oh, that is a difficult question. Because I normally like stages that are just right in size for Thyrfing, but I really appreciate venues that have good light equipment. The biggest stage so far is probably when we played on the main stage at Summerbreeze, but personally I think that a smaller stage suits Thyrfing better. The big stage at Effenaar in Eindhoven is a good example of the kind of stage and venue that I like most. Some stages are really special in a certain way, like a venue we played in St Petersburg that is an old theatre, unfortunately I don’t remember the name right now. Or the club venues I played with Naglfar in Japan, on the top floor of really tall buildings. Or some festivals that are located in really special locations, like Dark Troll Festival. There are simply tons of cool venues and stages out there. There is a really cool one near where I live now, it is called Dalhalla. It is only suited for more well known bands like Judas Priest and In Flames though.
As a metalhead, do you listen to a lot of Metal music? Do you prefer listening to classic or new stuff? Can you tell us some of your favorite bands?
Jens: Of course I will always enjoy old favourite albums that I never get tired of – Entombed ”Clandestine”, Vomitory ”Redemption”, Samael ”Ceremony of Opposites”, Sorhin ”Apokalypsens Ängel”, Dissection ”Storm of the Light’s Bane”, Bolt Thrower ”Those Once Loyal”, Dark Funeral ”Vobiscum Satanas”. But I also enjoy new releases and new bands. One example is Envig ”Gutwound”, but I also enjoy many of the upcoming Swedish metal acts such as Zornheym, Night Crowned, Netherbird, Wormwood, Feral and others.
From the tape trading days to the present times, the way we listen to music and “discover” new bands has changed a lot. I think that underground bands have more opportunities to be listened today than thirty years ago. Do you believe that this can be translated into more chances (not to be famous maybe, but to reach more metalheads)? Do you like wandering and “finding” new underground bands on the net?
Jens: I am not sure… Sure, it is easier than ever to get your music out to the entire world through streaming services. But the same goes for every other band too, so the noise and the risk of drowning in all the other releases are greater than ever. And I have this feeling that people get less dedicated to new releases – or albums in general – nowadays compared to back in the days before streaming services. And especially before the mp3 era, when people actually purchased music in a completely different way. On the other hand, it is very easy to discover new bands now with streaming services. Everything is basically just a click away, and that is of course great!
So to sum it up I believe that new bands need to be better and more unique than ever before to stand out from the crowd, but if they do – they have great chances to become very successful more quickly than ever before.
Do you have any “musical guilty pleasure” you can confess?
Jens: I like a music style that is called chiptunes. It can be described as 1980’s 8-bit video game music, but it is written today and released as albums and not for a video game. Most of my metal music friends can’t understand this style of music and I guess that makes it a guilty pleasure, haha!
Apart from your musical career, you are a professional photographer and you have done a lot of photoshoots of renowned Metal bands. When did your taste about photography start, and how did you decide to make it your profession?
Jens: When I studied graphic design, some of my teachers thought my photos were very good and that I had talent for using a camera as a creative tool for my designs – so they inspired me to keep it up. When I later started to work in the magazine design business I got to work with great photographers shooting models and that kind of stuff. And I learned a lot about lighting and post processing and got inspired to start doing the same thing but with my own darker style. From there it was a natural step to start working with bands since I have so many friends and contacts within the metal music scene. I think it was about 2016 that I decided to try to take my metal photography to the next level and since then I have been busy. I still have my old job as a graphic designer, so right now I am busy with doing photoshoots on evenings and weekends only. But my goal is to be able to work more with photography, and/or design/artwork for the metal scene. So we will see if I am able to take this further in the future.
Many thanks for your time, Jens, is there anything else you want to add?
Jens: Thank you very much for this great interview Silvia!
Interview by Sílvia
Listen to the latest album by Thyrfing, “Vanagandr”, for a great Viking/Pagan/Black Metal experience. And of course, check out the solo projects by Jens Rydén if you want to listen to some excellent dark, emotional, fierce and evil Black Metal. Support the underground.
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre.**