Folk metal in general is quite a quirky subgenre and often releases from that genre are a hit or miss affair. However, “Habitat”, the debut album by Dutch prog/folk metal ensemble Alvenrad is quite something different. ThisIsNotAScene caught up with Mark Kwint (guitars/vocals), Jasper Strik (keyboards, producer) and guest singer Koen de Graaf for their thoughts on the new album, local lore and the importance of nature as a source of inspiration.
Can you share some light on Alvenrad’s origins?
Mark: Alvenrad started out as our metal project after Stormsterk and Faelwa, which are more folk oriented projects. Jasper and I really wanted to make a metal album again. Truth be told, the initial musical ideas for this have been around for a couple of years. We already knew Thor Joakimson from Trollmusic from our previous projects and he was really enthusiastic about the idea. He offered us a record deal without even hearing a single note from what would turn into “Habitat”, which is our first album. This really strengthened our resolve to come up with something really special.
Jasper: Mark and I played together in a local band some ten years ago. We left because of creative differences and we wanted to do something completely different. Despite the folk music leanings of Faelwa we never lost touch with our metal roots, so sooner or later Mark and I would make a metal record again. That’s how Alvenrad was conceived.
It’s truly remarkable that you received a record deal at such an early stage…
Mark: That was exactly what we needed to really start working on Alvenrad and “Habitat”. The fact that someone has so much faith in our artistic vision speaks volumes. It was a truly humbling experience.
Lyric-wise “Habitat” is strongly rooted in the lore of the Veluwe region. What do you find so fascinating about the local lore?
Jasper: It’s not much the Veluwe in particular that inspires us. It’s more our love and the the connection that we feel with nature in general that is at the root what our debut album is all about. Of course, the Veluwe region is our “habitat” if you will. It’s one of the most fascinating regions to live in, nature-wise, here in the Netherlands.
Mark: It’s kind of funny that we really get promoted as a band that is very inspired by local lore and culture. It’s a logical consequence of living here in the region, but like Jasper said, the lyrics are mainly about our love and connection with nature in the broadest sense of the word. My personal development and life in general are great sources of inspiration as well.
The lyrics are all sung in your native tongue, which is also quite unique…
Mark: Yes, that’s true. My lyrics are mostly about things in my “habitat”, figuratively speaking. The place where I live and my life in general are some of the things of I like to write about. Some lyrics on our album are intensely personal. I would really like to encourage people to think for themselves and the place where they live in with my lyrics.
‘1911’ is a song about the death of Gustav Mahler and Gustaaf van de Wall Perne, a local artist who also died in the same year Mahler passed away. Another song is about sneaking up on wild boars with my father when I was younger. Some lyrics are inspired by a book called “Der Zauberberg” by Thomas Mann. The subjects are just as diverse as the things I’m inspired by, but I feel that the search for certain kind of authenticity and honesty is the common thread through all my lyrics.
Musically, Alvenrad is inspired by bands as diverse as Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull straight to Vintersorg and Borknagar. How do you manage to mold all these different influences into something cohesive?
Jasper: It’s not like there is some magic formula or something. Mark and I love to listen to a wide range of different bands and artists. It’s basically in our DNA, so when we start working on new music it manifest itself in one way or the other. It’s who we are, musically speaking. Mark came up with the vast majority of the guitar parts, which we used as the basis for most of the songs on “Habitat”. The keys are very much my department and I don’t mind branching out by using a Mellotron or an organ or even a piano when I get lucky. For some reason I know instantly which instruments fits a certain part in the music. The way Alvenrad sounds is what comes out when Mark and I work together.
“Habitat” has a very organic sound with lots of definition and depth. Is this a statement against the ongoing “loudness” war?
Jasper: It certainly is! It’s also a matter of taste. The so-called loudness war is all about compressing the music as much as you can, so it will sound as loud as possible when you’re listening to it. This completely destroys the dynamic range in the music and I think that’s a shame. It doesn’t improve the quality of the music at all. Both Mark and I feel that way, so that’s why we decided use a more dynamic sound for our album and not to go for your average metal production.
Mark: When we recorded the album it already had a very dynamic mix and we really wanted to preserve that in the mastering process. We told Markus Stoch, the guy who mastered our album, to maintain the dynamics in our sound. He did just that and it really gives “Habitat” its organic sound.
There are also some guest musicians on the album, including Erik Sprooten (Ancient Rites), Arjan Hoekstra (The Good Hand) and Koen de Graaf (ex Burning Hatred). Koen, how do you look back on the whole Alvenrad experience?
Koen: It was a great experience. Mark and I are close friends and Mark told me about this metal project he was working on. One day he asked whether I could provide some grunts and other harsh vocals for “Habitat”, which was a no-brainer for me really. It was really an honor for me to become a part of something which is really dear to Mark and which is close to his heart. Plus the chance of working together with one of my best buddies was something I couldn’t refuse. It felt just right to be a part of this.
There are some Chinese whispers going on about a second Alvenrad album. What’s the score on that and will Koen de Graaf be a part of that as well?
Jasper: As far as the music goes, Mark and I will remain the nucleus of Alvenrad. This is mostly because we are active musicians ourselves and that we have a long working relationship. Koen will certainly be a part of the recording sessions for the next album and he will certainly play his part when we bring our music to the stage.
As far as our second album goes, the material for that is almost completely written. Now we need to find the right persons to record it. Hopefully that will add some extra value to the music. A great example of this is Arjan Hoekstra’s bass playing on “Habitat”. He has his own signature style and he really managed to put his mark on our music. I hope to get the same results when we work with a possible live drummer.
Mark: We worked with Koen on “Habitat” and we really liked what he was done on the album. There are some plans floating around to form a live band and play some gigs here and there. When everything goes to plan Koen will be a feature in our live show. We also hope to find a drummer who’s willing to help us out live and in the studio when we’re going to record our second album. It also would be nice to have something of a band atmosphere on the new album.
To which extent is it important to record an Alvenrad album in close proximity to nature? Would the music sound noticeably different when it’s written and recorded in a more urban environment?
Mark: That’s a great question! When we started out with Alvenrad I was still living in the city centre of Zwolle. But all jokes aside, I think it’s important to create a space around in which you feel comfortable to be creative in. Making long walks in the forest really stimulates my creativity. Currently I’m living in the countryside close to nature and that really helped to get the best out of me during the recording sessions of “Habitat”. The vast majority of the album was recorded at my place, by the way.
Jasper: The fact that nature was close by really helped the recording process along I think. Between and after sessions we made quite some long walks, be it the two of us or with the guest musicians. It really took the edge off everything and make everyone involved feel relaxed about the project.
Finally, you guys hinted at playing live with Alvenrad in a couple of your previous answers. Is there already something tangible?
Mark: Not really, the whole live idea is still in its infant stages. We still need to organise auditions. We’re looking for two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer. We really need to get the worth out on this via social media so that we can invite people to join our live band. The plans are already there, but we need to form a live band first, so please bear with us!