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Wolf Frontman Niklas Stålvind Discusses New Album "Shadowland," Recording Process And More

Traditional heavy metal music may have been overshadowed by its more extreme offshoots over the decades but the popularity and spirit is still plain for all to see, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne still headlining festivals and selling out venues the world over. Its also being kept alive and well by younger bands performing the tried and true classic sound, with more recent examples being bands such as Toledo Steel, Skull Fist and Night Demon, who have all found degrees of success and praise. One of the most notable bands to play traditional heavy metal at a time when heavier styles were all the rage is Wolf, the Örebro quartet who began life in 1995 and have been continuing to keep the flame burning since.

Recently, Wolf unleashed their ninth studio album, "Shadowland," released by long time label Century Media and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. To find out more about this follow up to "Feeding The Machine," how the pandemic affected the band and much more, Metal Underground caught up with frontman Niklas Stålvind, who revealed all about the record and more. You can watch it in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album, "Shadowland" is out now. It was only two years ago that you released "Feeding The Machine," was the pandemic a factor in being able to release two albums close together?

Niklas Stålvind: Yeah it was. It was really bad for "Feeding The Machine" but really good for "Shadowland" because it meant that we could focus on writing and recording. I'd started writing before we went on tour for "Feeding The Machine" but then the pandemic came and we aborted the tour and went home. So there was a couple of songs already but then we decided to just focus on making a new record and forget about everything else.

Oz: I was lucky enough to see you on the "Feeding The Machine" tour with Grand Magus and the songs from that album sounded great live. The "Shadowland" material sounds like "Feeding The Machine" turned way up and with a bit of a darker edge to it. Would you say that's a fair assessment?

Niklas: You're not the only one who has made that assessment but personally, I feel that "Feeding The Machine" was the darkest album I've ever recorded, though that's just my opinion and I think that this one is a lot more positive. I feel that this album is so much more positive and enjoyable. I know that the themes can seem pretty dark and nihilistic but I don't interpret them that way. There was such a pure joy of writing songs with a new lineup and making music. This time I wasn't writing as a kind of therapy like I did with "Feeding The Machine," and digging up all kind of weird and dark things from the past that I needed to come to the surface in order to cope with them. This time it was quite the opposite and also the new members brought in such a positive energy and it's fantastic to write music and hear them do their thing because it's even better than what I imagined as I wrote it.

Oz: I think one of the reasons why some people feel this is darker is from when they look at the lyrics to "Dust" for example, which has an almost depressing chorus of "We are dust," but the music itself is so driven and powerful that it's not a depressing song. You've done videos for "Dust" and the title track as well, why were these songs chosen to represent the album?

Niklas: When I wrote "Dust," I immediately felt like it was the opening track. It's got a good tempo and good energy with some catchy guitar stuff and I love the lyrics too. The song also had a kind of a "the wolves are back" feeling about it, so I thought it would be a great first song and first single to show that we're at it again and full of energy and coming your way.

Oz: As for the recording of the album itself, was it a relatively smooth process?

Niklas: This was actually the easiest record I've ever made with Wolf. I kind of burn out on every record since the first one, especially "Feeding The Machine," which was a nightmare to record, a terrible experience, but this was pretty amazing. We had pretty good demos to work from so the pre-production was already there along with the important elements of the songs. So I went up to rehearse with the other guys but it ended up just like listening to Johan and Pontus rehearsing to the backtrack and after a while I thought, "I should just skip this" and get the bass and drum parts the way we wanted it.

I went fully prepared but they're such good musicians and so its fun to hear them play and hear them do their thing with the songs so Simon and I were just listening and enjoying the bass and drums and together the four of us crafted the arrangement. Then we went to Simon's studio and recorded the bass and drums live together. They've been playing together for years in different bands so they're so in tune with one another. They're an amazing rhythm section, it's not like a drummer and a bass player, they are so tied together, they've been playing together for twenty, maybe thirty years on and off.

So we got a bit of a live energy to the whole rhythm section and then after that I recorded my rhythm guitars. I recorded all the rhythm guitars except the bonus tracks because I made the pre-production so I know how I want those guitars to sound. Simon has set up a fantastic guitar sound, which normally takes a day to get right but this time I didn't want to change a thing, it was perfect from the beginning so Simon and Pontus produced and it was so smooth. After that we took a break and I continued with the vocals and extra guitars and since Simon is producing, he got stuck doing his guitars last, though that's normally the way he works anyway.

I wasn't there when he recorded his parts but I have a studio as well where I recorded some of my extra guitars just to save time and for convenience but most of the album was recorded in Simon's studio together with the other guys. It's such a wonderful feeling to have. We're a four piece band and we don't need to outsource much, we don't need other people coming in and poking at our creation and we feel like we're a solid unit. Of course, as musicians we sometimes have different opinions but it just worked out amazingly well.

Oz: That's very impressive considering Wolf has been around since 1995.

Niklas: Yeah, we started the band in 1995 and then recorded the first album in 1999 when we were very inexperienced, so I've learnt a lot through every album because I've always been interested in production and recording. You learn a lot about yourself when you're recording too, especially when you're young and inexperienced. I mean, in the beginning we were kind of a trio so after the drums and bass were recorded on the first album, I did everything and I didn't realise how exhausting it could be, especially tracking the vocals, I was lying on the sofa just wanting to die. When you record vocals, you give your whole soul all the time and you want to make it perfect and so it can be very exhausting and it's things like that that we didn't understand when we started. We've been at it for a while now so it's a bit easier.

Oz: Obviously "Shadowland" is brand new but do you think you'll continue to record this way going forward?

Nikas: Yeah, absolutely. We got some help in the mixing process from Pontus Norgren of Hammerfall, because we were running out of time and he's a very good sound engineer and friend of the band who spends a lot of time visiting Simon's studio, so we got a little bit of help from him. He was really helpful in setting the main sound and mix, which became so clear, it was amazing how you could hear every detail and he had a big part in making that sound but other than that, we made everything ourselves, especially Simon and Pontus who had been working with the mixes and engineering, which was fantastic for me because I recorded "Feeding The Machine" myself and it wasn't very fun to be the musician, producer and technician all at once, especially when doing the vocals. I can do it but it's not optimal. With the other guys in the band present, it was easier, had a more positive energy and I think this is the way forward for us.

Oz: Excellent and are you all still living in the same general area?

Niklas: I still live in Örebro, so I travel to Stockholm for rehearsals, where the studio also is. Technically it's in a different city, but the two cities have kind of grown together so it's only a ten minute journey to the studio from the rehearsal room. So I'm doing a lot of travelling but I'm happy to do it. It takes two and a half hours by car to get to rehearsals or to record, but I'm really happy to do it because I just love working with the other guys and I love the new lineup.

Oz: Like you said, they're obviously awesome musicians but it shows on the album how united you are. When did you finish recording the album?

Niklas: We started during Easter last year. We took some time off from our days jobs and spent all Easter tracking the bass and drums and rhythm guitar. We'd started on the vocals but then we couldn't take any more time off so we took it from there, recording at weekends and finding ways. We took a small break in the Summer because we all needed some vacation, especially Simon, then we recorded in the Fall, finishing the last parts. We started mixing even before everything was recorded so Simon still had a lot of his guitars left as well as some of mine, so we were working until the mix was done, which I think was in November or something like that.

Oz: It's fantastic that recording from Easter until November, the excitement and energy never seemed to wane and you kept it going for all those months.

Niklas: Yeah it was because we'd recorded the main parts, the drums, rhythm guitars and bass and then you go home and get a raw mix and everything always felt new and exciting, so that's maybe the reason that we were able to keep the energy towards the end of the album.

Oz: Obviously there's the title track on the record, but why was "Shadowland" chosen as the title of the album?

Niklas: Firstly because I felt that it would be a good title for the album. A good title and also it kind of brought together a lot of the themes on the album. Then Pontus suggested it and so I thought about it again. I put "Shadowland" into a search engine, because if you've got an idea that you think is pretty good, then you can count on ten people before you having the same idea. Of course there was some other things called Shadowland, including a TV series I think, which is why I hesitated a bit, but then when Pontus said it's a good title, I couldn't think of a better one and the opening track was an up tempo, traditional fast Wolf song and "Shadowland" was more of a mysterious and epic song. Then when we saw the artwork, there was no turning back, it was perfect for "Shadowland" as a title.

Oz: The artwork is great too. It's very vibrant and a lot brighter than you would expect an album called "Shadowland" to be. Who was the artist behind this one?

Niklas: It's Thomas Holm, who did Mercyful Fate's "Don't Break The Oath" and "Melissa" albums as well as some early King Diamond stuff and then he started to do Wolf's. The first album he did for us was "Black Wings" and then he did "The Black Flame," "Ravenous," "Legions Of Bastards..." He's like our Derek Riggs. We wanted to keep using him and also he really understands our music. He says he sees metal in pictures and the way I write songs is usually to cope with things going on in the world or my life and the way I cope with it is to write songs and he does exactly the same with his oil paintings. Usually there's a connection, like maybe I don't speak with him for years then we start speaking and discover that through our life journeys we've been through similar stuff and he's done his paintings while I've written my music. Usually there's a painting that he's already done, like this one, which he sent to us as a suggestion and that was it. There was no meaning to trying to get something else.

Oz: It fits the music really well and also like you said, he's done classic album covers so it's wonderful to have someone like that on board, especially for so long. What's the plan once the album is released gig wise?

Niklas: We had two tours booked but they both got cancelled due to COVID. Now we have some new plans through our new booking agency. The plan now is to do some mini tours this Fall, so we'll be doing one in the UK area and then a couple of weeks later, we head down to different parts of Europe with a package that we hope to make as cheap as possible, but we've been working on ideas to make every show have a great impact. So that's the plan now, though nothing is settled yet but there are dates and I'm 100% sure that they'll be settled.

It's been very difficult since COVID and everything is lagging two years behind. so we have no festivals booked but we're going to be ready and rehearsed so that if the opportunity is there, we can just fly in and do the festival. We're looking to book things because we can't rely on there being cancellations and bookings at festivals so we're working to play live again because that's what we need and want now. We had one show in Stockholm a few weeks ago which was really successful and it was amazing to see the audience again. We did one of those livestreams, which was interesting but very weird to play for an empty room, so it didn't feel right and I don't see any future in that. It's not the same as meeting people in the flesh, that's the thing, we're humans, we're social animals, we need to meet and celebrate music. The live show in Stockholm really made us realise what we've been missing and I think we all needed it.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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