I’ve touched on the subject of spirituality and music being expressed and experienced in tandem for a multitude of times on my writings over here. So much so in fact, that it feels like a more of a frequently recurring theme than a secondary notion for me, especially when taking my WFA articles into account. The only reasoning for it that I can come up with, is that I feel a strong urge to feel the music, in addition to just hearing it. I know I’m not alone with that sentiment either, as being connected to something on a profound level often molds the experience into a more ponderous and meaningful one. Whether or not you’re inclined to discover this type of aural catharsis of course boils down to your personal preference, and I’m not saying one would be better than the other, as it’s just different means for a different end.
Nordvargr is the solo output of the Swedish artist Henrik Nordvargr Björkk – an extremely prolific avant-garde leaning musician and multi-instrumentalist who has been involved in multiple bands and projects in addition to his solo works since the late ’80s, covering a wide framework of styles ranging from dark ambient and noise to post-industrial and black metal, as well as everything in between and some beyond those genre depictions. I’ve been deeply invested in his doings, mainly under the Nordvargr moniker, for the past decade or so, and it felt very much important and natural to reach out to him on the grounds of covering his career for this feature, finally.
As stated above, Björkk’s career is nothing short of expansive and humbling, with its runtime currently surpassing five decades. That sounds frankly insane, but it is exactly that, and I did the math, so you better just trust me on that. As to how such a musical trek got started and came to be, he said the following;
‘It was just the way I started to express myself – it came naturally. I have no classic training, I just started to mess around with tape decks when I was 14-15 years old, cutting up stuff, mixing, slowing down, speeding up. From there I discovered that I really was into sounds rather than melodies, and I just started to work with the simple tools I had at hand to create sounds that sounded pleasing to my ears. It was never any big plan to become anything, it was just what came out of me.‘
This expressed built-in natural aspect ties in with what I talked about in the opening segment, as it most of the time seems that in order to convey emotion in a way that touches the listener on any imaginable level, the origins must be rooted in honesty and its related idiosyncrasies. This also extends to the aforementioned fact of Björkk covering a vast array of musical leanings throughout his career, as there’s no particular genre-related aspirations or pre-determined guidelines when setting out to record music. He further underlined this thought when I asked him about it, saying that ‘I just create and things come out. I just let things happen in the studio.‘ Organic produce surely comes across as the tastiest one in that regard.
And while there would be an immense amounts of projects to discuss with him, today we’re focusing on what is undoubtedly the main one: Nordvargr. So when, how, and why, Nordvargr as a distinct entity came to be?
‘I started recording and releasing music under my own name around 2001 as what I did wasn’t really fitting the style of my current bands; MZ. 412, Pouppée Fabrikk, Folkstorm, and such. I wanted to create a more minimal and personal expression solo, to create music that was deep, moving and affecting you on a subconscious plane rather than just being music to casually listen to. Over time the Nordvargr releases has evolved, as have I…‘
Nordvargr‘s evolution is a particularly fascinating one to dissect and scrutinize, due to its unrestricted nature. While the first albums were more or less dark ambient efforts utilizing perhaps the more common characteristics of said leaning, the later albums, such as Metempsychosis and Daath rely heavily on industrial rhythms and abrasive tones, including vocals, above all. It’d be inane to say only the later albums would flourish through experimentation as that trope has always been integral to Nordvargr‘s output, but the newer efforts really push the boundaries and musical envelopes much further, in terms of compositions, instrumentation, production, and overall feel.
I’ve been recently drawn towards solo musicians and the ideals of what it takes, or means, to actually be one, and have been able to make my own conclusions on the matter. Especially when it comes to avant-garde and experimental artists, but regardless of further genre classifications, it appears that there’s way less predefined rules and restrictions, and the sense of both unexpectancy and evolution are emphasized heavily. Please don’t take this as an overture for a keyboard was about how bands can still do this and that in spite of them including multiple people, as I’m well aware of that fact. I just personally see it as that a singular mind can often yield the most interesting of results exactly because of the reasons stated above. Bands can do this too, of course, I just don’t think they’re generally as known and revered for it as solo artists are.
That said, I wanted to ask Björkk about what being a solo musician means to him, the actual solo musician. He has collaborated with numerous people in the past, and we’ll get to that soon, but he himself is the personification of Nordvargr as an auditory vessel. What are the biggest advantages of working this way, and is there possibly negative aspects to this very method?
‘It means total control, of course. But I actually like collaborations and group settings as much as I like making music alone. There is always something you can change or improve, and you get ‘earblind’ after a while when working alone . A good example is my latest involvement in Bøltorn, we have a great chemistry in the band, bouncing ideas and sounds to each other and creating something that just blows my mind. The ultimate industrial sound is the goal, and we are getting close!‘
These collaborations include but are not limited to numerous works with Merzbow such as Partikel I, II, & III, A Wilderness of Cloades with Surachai, Anima Nostra with Margaux Renaudin, as well as multiple works with Trepaneringsritualen aka Thomas Ekelund, for an example. The releases with the latter two are the most recent ones, some of which have been released as recently as this month, in the form of Beta Ænigma between Nordvargr and Ekelund. In addition to that, we briefly touched on the pandemic shit as well;
‘Me and Thomas go way back, and we just kept recording and exchanging ideas as the touring/gigs became impossible. Most of the stuff coming out was recorded before the pandemic though, as we have been working slowly on the side of our main projects with this. As for the pandemic; all good besides a few cancelled festivals, Sweden was probably the best place to be during these weird years as we had no lockdowns or any other drastic and freedom-reducing actions in place here.‘
Being able to release so much material begs the question; how does an artist of Nordvargr‘s caliber decide on what to do next? I could envision the outcome, whether a solo or a collaborative release, being either a product of instinct or closely following some sort of a rough or refined blueprint. Turns out the answer to this follows suit fluently with the earlier ones;
‘Things just happen. I start to record something and I get a feeling of what it is going to end up quite early. There are a few exceptions of course, like when we are making an MZ. 412 album – we always work out a framework, a concept, beforehand.‘
Following your own singular vision and acting on instinct sure seems to be the way to go in order to exist and materialize in the way as Nordvargr does. It doesn’t come as a surprise either, as I had doubts about how one could come up with such decade-surpassing operational schemes anyway. Not that it couldn’t be done, but it also wouldn’t follow the evolution established earlier on, was it for rigid planning rather than freedom of expression.
It’s clear that Nordvargr‘s output has evolved throughout the years, at times straying to parallel paths, then returning back to the main continuum. One eye-catching aspect to this are obviously the artworks, which to me personally equal the music in significance and meaning. Nordvargr‘s visual side has always played an integral role in his oeuvre, but is there an overarching thematic or are these pieces, just like the releases themselves, being handled on a case-by-case basis?
‘Totally on case by case basis; the last couple of years my wife has been handling most of my visual aspects – no one knows me better and has a deeper understanding of my works, so she is perfect for the task. Usually the visual side of things develops slowly after I am done with the musical aspects, as my relationship with the materials mature.‘
Speaking of maturing, Nordvargr‘s career most certainly has that imprint on it. In other words, years pass but noise is constant, and furthermore – eternal.
Nordvargr is widely considered as a father figure of sorts when it comes to the post industrial genre as a whole, and highly influential as such. There aren’t many people out there with such merits as him, let alone getting acknowledged for them, and it’s quite an achievement to break into wider fame in the underground scene like he has, so obviously I had to ask how does this make Björkk feel, to catch a glimpse of his thoughts on the rather significant fact;
‘I know my music has been important to many people, helping people through hard times, inspiring them to do all kinds of things, and I am very humbled by the fact that my ‘vibrations’ actually affects people’s lives, and almost exclusively positively. True magick I suppose. Musically it is very rewarding to hear this, and it makes it feel so much more worthwhile. Personally though I don’t know… it is something I do because I have to – it just flows out of me, I need to manifest myself through music. I have never ever been able to live from my music, and it is a very small niche that I am active in, so sometimes it just feels like wasted time, but then again… someone approaches me and tells me how much they love something I did, and it feels great again. I would not call it ‘wider fame’, though.‘
Without going too much into detail with the global events of the past two years, it’s good to see artists hold up and keep doing what they need to do, in order to provide themselves with the freedom of expression and us with the delight of experiencing. With that said, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear that Nordvargr‘s imminent schedule looks as insane as you might’ve grown to expect by now;
‘As for the future this year is packed with releases from Folkstorm, Bøltorn, MZ. 412, Drool, and Vargr – there has been a huge delay in manufacturing the last two years and the waiting time to get a vinyl out is almost a year, so things have been piling up. Next up for Nordvargr is a massive triple CD/Vinyl box set of my first three Resignation albums on Cyclic Law, should be out during the spring. After that there will be a luxury double vinyl edition of Interstellar followed by Resignation 4, all on Cyclic Law. I also plan to release my first ever musical recordings from 1987 that was recently rediscovered. So busy times ahead, my head is filled with great ideas, so I am not slowing down.‘
In order to cover everything Björkk has done within the past thirty-something years, I’d need to write individual articles for each separate project of his to even begin to scratch the surface of this unbelievably prolific and creative man’s essence. However, as much as I’d love to spend the next five years in writing those, I think it’s more important for you, as a listener and a connoisseur of art, to make your own discoveries on that front, and I hope this feature acts as an initiative for exactly that. With that in mind, and to push you into the right direction, keep an eye out on Nordvargr‘s doings from over here and here, listen to the albums mentioned on this article and much. much more from his Bandcamp, and check out his Wikipedia page for a proper list of all of his doings as further reading. Now, I’ll put on my headphones and fuck off to another plane of existence.
Henrik Nordvargr Björkk