On the experimental sound of Hræ, independent art, musical ideology and writing.
What does Hræ mean? And why did you choose that specific name for your one-man band?
Hræ means carcass and it was chosen due to it simply being short, evil and probably descriptive; I believe it suited a project like this.
As per resources over the internet, Þórður Björnsson is born in the year 1992, so how was your musical upbringing and catching up with the old wave of black metal that sprouted in Norway at the time you were born?
I started appreciating the heavier side of music at a pretty young age, listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Iron maiden; the classics. Eventually delving into more thrash-oriented music.
It wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I got properly introduced to Black metal by two friends who showed me Venom and Darkthrone, the atmosphere black metal conjures got me hooked. From there I slowly explored other corners of the black metal world.
What music influenced your music writing? And what Icelandic bands might have influenced you the most?
Anything really, be it something I put intentionally on to listen to or something I hear when I’m out and about, grocery shopping or something. I was listening to a lot of Glenn Branca, Arnaut Pavle, Soundgarden, Slint.
As for the Icelandic stuff, at the time of writing this album I was probably spinning some Mannveira, Wormlust and Örmagna; all of which are phenomenal bands.
Experimental Black Metal is not a common black metal genre; what pushed you that way?
I am certain it started with my first Black Metal project Endalok, where I essentially was just messing around, experimenting in a sense. I was trying to do something akin to Black Metal, heavy emphasis on the atmosphere.
It started with my first Black Metal project Endalok, where I essentially was just messing around, experimenting in a sense. I was trying to do something akin to Black Metal, heavy emphasis on the atmosphere.
Hræ essentially started in a similar way, just doing whatever comes naturally to me.
Experimental Black Metal just leaves a lot of room for exploring, but I’d argue that this album is pretty straight forward black metal, as was the aim and I could have definitely gone into more experimental passages, but it is what it is. In the end, it’s just a tag, a stupid one at that (laughing).
What stands behind Hræ’s musical concept?
I’d say Simplicity; a sort of less is more approach.
What is behind naming your first album as Þar Sem Skepnur Reika translated to Where Animals Roam?
I had begun writing a song with that title and that song never reached its potential. I really liked the name so I kept it as the album title, also to me it suits the album cover.
Tell us about the album’s cover art that features a negative-like red rat; and this symbolic representation of the album in a visual form.
It’s a piece by Francisco De Goya, titled Fiero Monstruo. It’s an etching of a fierce monster gnawing on some poor souls. I really love this picture and thought it would suit a black metal album, I coloured it red to make it even more striking. The cover acts as the initial inspiration, I start an album off with getting the album cover done.
The songs consequently mirror the cover in spirit, at least to me. You can also interpret the beast as a manifestation of our self-destructive nature and self-deprecating tendencies, which is probably most represented in the final song of the album Paradís.
As a one-man band, walk us through the whole process until Þar sem skepnur reika was released in February 2020.
It was a relatively short process. I wanted to see what I could achieve in a month or so.
Like I mentioned earlier I always start with the artwork first which provides me with the inspiration for what I try to achieve.
Usually, when I start work on a new song I go with writing some crude drums.
From there on it’s just a matter of messing around and just nailing some riffs and ideas down.
Adding rhythm guitar at first but sometimes I start with the bass, for instance, the song Lofsöngur Hinna Rotnu has almost all bass parts nailed down first and I think it shows in the song, it is pretty bass-driven.
I was trying to go for a more straight forward approach to my riffs and melodies, mainly focusing on creating an atmosphere that goes with the artwork.
So the process itself was pretty relaxed, loose and more or less improvisational. A lot of one-takes, just recording whatever happened to come to me at the moment of recording.
What analog and digital gear are you using and where was the album recorded?
The album was recorded at home on a crappy laptop using a Line 6 Ux1 Pod, an Ibanez RGIT27FE and a Washburn BB-5. Nothing fancy here, I ain’t no gear-head, I just work with what I got.
How long did it take you to write and record Þar Sem Skepnur Reika album, and what were the toughest obstacles met during the process?
Writing began on January 25th, writing and recording being done pretty much simultaneously. No real obstacles, maybe just mixing issues. I had no real concern for mixing given that the project goal was nothing other than to just create something.
In hindsight having a proper mix would have elevated the material for sure, but I suppose my own sloppy mix has its charms.
Hræ is an independent band that hails from Iceland, have you been offered a record deal after the release of your album, or even sought labels to produce it?
I had a decent number of labels contact me, ultimately, I went with Goathorned productions for the CD release and Bile Noire took care of the Cassette edition. A vinyl edition is in the works and soon to be revealed on which label.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of being an independent artist?
No other voice to rain on your parade or oppose your ideas, which in itself is a good and bad thing.
It can be really nice to bounce ideas between other people, there can also be a clash with both parties’ respective ideas. I personally am fonder of having total reign and freedom to do whatever I want to do, heck I even control my work hours.
Do you think Hræ will continue existing as an independent band, or how does the future look like for you?
I don’t see the project developing from a one-man project into a proper band any time soon.
Who knows what happens, one thing for sure I’ll definitely keep exploring whatever path this project is heading on.
What is in the pipeline for Hræ?
I’ve already started work on material for a second album, it is going great and that’s about it.
Would Hræ keep its experimental black metal direction intact, or do you think that further releases would witness sound alteration?
I’m fairly certain the sound will keep evolving, not planning on getting locked in the same ideas.
The atmosphere and general ambience might be retained to a certain degree and who knows, might even go into weirder and deeper into experimental territories. Life is an open book.
If Hræ was asked to perform in a gig, would you be up to that?
As much as I want to say yes, I’m afraid it would be hard for me to pull off. I would love to see that happen someday but right now I don’t see that as a possibility.
Who knows what the future brings.
If we would ask Hræ to take part in a gig where you put the whole gig’s line-up, which bands do you think you would have the pleasure to share a stage/tour with?
Well, it would be great to share a stage with bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Mercyful Fate, Morbid Angel.
Also some personal favourites like Slint, David Bowie, Don Caballero, Soundgarden, A Silver Mt. Zion, Blut Aus Nord, Skáphe, Serpent Column, Tyler the creator, Anthrax…at this point I’m just naming bands (laughing).
Let’s throw some in some Icelandic bands for good measure, something like Svartidauði, Mannveira, Wormlust, Misþyrming. This is sounding more like a three-day festival right now.
To close off the night, we’d have Perturbator drown us in some hard-hitting Synth-wave.
Name three of your top of the shelf bands.
That’s a really hard task, I mean ten bands would have been hard but three! I will, of course, give it a go.
I’ll have to start with Slint, a short-lived band that doesn´t have a big discography under its belt but nonetheless a band that has majorly impacted me on how I tackle music writing.
David Bowie is another artist that I really admire and a great influence on my music. The way he approached music-making, his general creative spirit and how he constantly reinvented himself.
I’ll never get tired of his music. He was also an introduction for me into some stranger territories and through him, I discovered other fun bands.
Iron Maiden is a major one, for me, they triggered something within me. I was perfectly content with just listening to music. Iron Maiden had me wanting to perform and make music myself.
From there on I got my first guitar and sought out more metal music. So, Iron Maiden opened the flood gates in a sense.
No point of return, I got fully immersed in the world of heavy music.
Now Hræ being a Black Metal project I feel like I should also quickly mention my 3 top-of-the-shelf Black Metal bands.
In addition, Ved Buens Ende, Blut Aus Nord and Wormlust are three projects that are undeniably the ones that have had the most influence on me when it comes to Black Metal.
What do you think makes Icelandic bands stand out when compared other bands that perhaps come from Scandinavia?
We Icelanders aren’t that many, but I think per capita we generally have a high count of people making black metal and metal in general. I don’t really think we stick out that much, we definitely have some quality acts and musicians in the scene, but it sometimes feels like a trend that is wearing out.
Icelandic black metal is definitely hot these days but who’s to say that this might not change in a year or two.
Some other country might take our torch and light the scene ablaze.
I’d like to add that what probably stands out most is that the bands here as sparse and few as they are they exude quality more overall.
What about books that might have changed you as a person, would you name any?
I would say The Metamorphosis by Kafka; a brilliant and strange book about a salesman who wakes up one morning having been unexplainably transformed into a monstrous vermin/huge insect and how the family tries to adjust to this predicament. Probably Kafka’s finest work alongside The Trial, which is another great one by Kafka.
I’m also particularly fond of The Book of Revelation, the final chapter of the New Testament. A lot of the passages are super weird and creative. There are lots of interesting descriptions of beasts and strange events, really great inspiration to me.