Heavy Load:Riders of the Ancient Storm...


Gruppo:Heavy Load

Heroes of my youth returning exactly forty years after the release of the previous "Stronger than Evil," with a new album, which fully met my expectations. But I did not expect to be able to welcome on the pages of Metal.it both Wahlquist brothers, the beating heart of Heavy Load, and instead here they are with us!

I am very pleased to do this interview. I feel honored to speak with you, I have a great passion and respect for Heavy Load. In the past time and still now.
(Ragne): Your words make me feel very honored and thank you for being generous and sharing that.
"Riders of the Ancient Storm" has been well received everywhere, between your old fans and, at the same time, acquiring many new ones. So many guys are now discovering your old material. What were your feelings before the release? Did you expect such a huge success?
(Styrbjörn): Well, we hoped that people would like it. On various stages of the production, we have played some of the songs for our friends in various bands: Candlemass, Hammerfall, Opeth and people like that. They have all been extremely positive and said that they believed that people would like it very much. We have, however, kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best. But yes, sometimes the reception is overwhelming, and we become greatly moved. This album has really been a long time coming and every word of reception is so deeply felt by us.
(Ragne): Today, December 28th, something unexpected happened. The biggest newspaper listed their favorite Heavy Metal songs of 2023 and our song ‘Ride the Night’ was ranked number one. I must say we were overwhelmed by the news. Another unexpected thing is that in week 46, "Riders of the Ancient Storm" placed as number one on the list of the best-selling vinyl albums in Sweden.
Are you surprised that people, even the younger generation, keep on still discovering your old stuff from the past? Is it like the father-to-son thing?
(Ragne): Of course, I am happy about anyone who wants to give their time to listen to our music. The fantastic thing about music is that it doesn’t care about borders. If people appreciate and understand what they hear, maybe they are also moved by it on a deeper level. That is what we want to achieve, to move people — to make them feel something. For me, it is central with music, and especially with what we do, I mean that I am moved and feel something. If we can touch people with our music, I am happy, and if a new generation can be captivated by our music, that is fantastic.
(Styrbjörn): When I visited Up the Hammers festival in Athens in 2016 I was stunned by the fact that a lot of our fans was born ten or even twenty years after our last album Stronger Than Evil (1983). It is very striking that music has no age. As the proverb goes “Vita brevis, ars longa” “Life is short, art is eternal”. We do not feel that it is a “father-to-son thing” rather we feel that we are all the same age – music unites us.
Having done such a good album, it is evident that get back together was a well-motivated choice, what did you feel being together again in studio after so many years?
(Ragne): So delightful that you think it is ”such a good album”. It was amazing to be engulfed by the power of music. To open up one’s whole heart, one’s entire soul to the music again. In a natural way, no, in an almost supernatural way, I was put in a state of euphoria. Often it was as if time ceased to exist.
(Styrbjörn): Oh, being together again is fantastic. I feel as excited as when I was eighteen.
Listening to "Riders of the Ancient Storm" for the first time, I found just what I expected, both in terms of the compositions and the sound production... an unbreakable link with your early work.
(Ragne): Our friends in Candlemass, Opeth, Ghost, Hammerfall, and others believe that our music is unmistakably Heavy Load. The energy and joy of playing are there, and they also feel there’s something new that still derives from our past. I think that’s accurate. It’s hard for my brother and me to comment on our own music since we’re so closely tied to what we create. One factor that probably matters a lot is that Styrbjörn still plays on the same drums as before, and I’ve managed to restore my two old 50-watt Marshall amps. To my ears, nothing sounds like them. Everything on full volume, no boxes — that is the way to achieve my sound. I play on the same guitars as before but have added my own Wahlgaard guitar. I use it on the tracks ‘Slave No More’ and ‘Raven Is Calling’. Its pickups are handmade following the same standards as my two old Gibson PAF pickups. The combination of these guitar pickups and old 50-watt Marshall amps is my preference. It’s always been that way. Furthermore, we decided to record the album the same way as we did in the old days, analogue. In the old days, our rehearsal space was somewhat of a home for us, Heavy Load’s home. Over time, the rehearsal space evolved into a studio with a 24-track recorder on 2-inch tape. Here we recorded many different bands. Among others, Candlemass with ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’ and ‘Nightfall’. Others who have recorded there include Yngwie Malmsteen, Hammerfall and Electric Boys, to name a few. In this studio, we recorded two tracks with Heavy Load that ended up on vinyl: ‘I Am Alive’ and ‘Monsters of the Night’. For various reasons, we could not stay. We built a new studio in Solna, the second version of Thunderload Studios. On New Year’s 2000/2001, that studio was devastated by extensive flooding. We now have, for the past few years, the third iteration of Thunderload Studio in a standalone building on my property. It is here that we mastered all the tracks for "Riders of the Ancient Storm" and recorded most of its songs. Heavy Load has a home once again. We have a 40-channel mixing console from the 70s with a fantastic sound, a 32-channel tape recorder on 2-inch tape but also a 24-channel on 2-inch tape. Then we mix down to ¼-inch tape and cut from that mix. At the same time, we have a fully developed digital system that we use when we write our songs and make demos of them. Finally, we record them for real on the 32-channel tape recorder. We have real tube microphones of an older model for vocals, acoustic guitar, and room microphones for the drums. The drum room is un-damped and is built in wood to give a warm, natural, and acoustic coloring to the drum sound. It becomes airy, big, and dynamic. Of course, it requires a musician who can handle and take advantage of the sound, a musician who is dynamic in their way of playing the instrument. Styrbjörn has all those abilities in every way. We do the same with the electric guitar. The speaker is in a room that gives air and sings with the tones. We avoid damped rooms. “Who goes into a closet to sing and play?” I ask myself. “No, everyone wants to sing in the bathroom.” I must admit that the two incidents with our Thunderload Studio were quite taxing. The words from the song ‘Heathens from the North’ fit well. ”Defying the powers of the dark sea”, which is also the title of the CD containing bonus tracks for the re-release of "Stronger than Evil" (1983/2018). There were challenges faced during the production of "Riders of the Ancient Storm" where the phrase: ”Defying the powers of the dark sea” also feels apt.
(Styrbjörn): Our compositions and lyrics come from who we are as persons – deep down. We have a very distinctive artistic vision that we want to materialize. However, most things come to us, overwhelms us, as we play our instruments or sing.

Do all the compositions come from the same writing sessions or period, or do they belong to different moments, something coming from your past, as for "Walhalla Warriors" that is an old one, right?
(Ragne): The album is partly recorded in our old Thunderload studio and partly in our new studio. All the songs are mastered in the new studio. All songs w.ere not recorded these last years. ‘Walhalla Warriors’ is the oldest, it was recorded in 1987-88. Later came ‘Ride the Night’ and ‘Sail Away’. ‘Angel Dark’ has parts in it from an old song that never was recorded but performed live in the early 1980s. Along with the rest of the songs ‘Angel Dark’ was completed during the years 2020-2023. There are a number of other songs that saw the light during this time. We think that the ones we chose for "Riders of the Ancient Storm" give a good and balanced image of what we do today. If we have the privilege to release another album there are a number of songs waiting for it.
What are the changes, musically, between the earlier albums and the new one? Ehm… "saying that the new one is better", isn't enough!
(Ragne): We did it the same way we have always done. We played with all our heart and gave each song the time and love we felt it needed. A difference is that we now have more experience working in a studio. In our two previous Thunderload studios, we worked with a large number of different bands/artists during the 1980s and 1990s. I found it incredibly rewarding, and it has led to us knowing better how to achieve what we want – both musically and in terms of recording. We wanted to create a sound that is transparent and has both depth and breadth. Furthermore, we have ventured into different sound colors, one might say that we have painted in more colors than before.
(Styrbjörn): Well our compositions, sound and lyrics are all very much made with the similar intentions and visions as with the earlier ones. What has landed on the record is a development of the same artistic vision. Our music is in constant evolution; however, its kernel remains the same.
You also opted for an artwork for the cover that is aligned with those of your previous albums, how did you choose this one?
(Styrbjörn): I had a vision for the painting of the front cover. I spent many weeks making pencil sketches, while constantly discussing the ideas with Ragne. Eventually we found the right artist and he made a great job. For us the cover and the title harbour several very special meanings. The interpretation of its meaning is up to each interpreter.
Your lyrics deal a lot with glory, freedom, honor and history. Is there a reason for this and what inspires you when writing a song?
(Styrbjörn): Most of the times, a musical fragment comes first. Very soon after, the feeling of this part gives birth to some words of the lyrics. These words tell us what the song wants to say.
(Ragne): All life experiences have significance for what I write. One might say that our lyrics deal with what it means to be human. One theme is the internal struggle of what is right and wrong. Many songs touch on this theme in various ways. Two songs that are clear examples are ‘Stronger than Evil’ and ‘Angel Dark’. Several of the songs on "Riders of the Ancient Storm" depict scenes that take place in Wahlgaard Saga. ‘Walhalla Warriors,’ ‘Raven is Calling,’ ‘Angel Dark,’ and ‘Sail Away’ do just that. At the same time, I see connections to older songs such as ‘The Guitar is My Sword,’ ‘Stronger than Evil,’ ‘Roar of the North,’ and ‘Sons of the Northern Light.’ In hindsight, it is clear to me that much of our music carries the same message as the Wahlgaard Saga. Already early on, my interest in history and civilizations probably had a significant impact on what I wrote in music and lyrics. Wahlgaard Saga carries a deeper theme than the more apparent struggle of searching for a lost sister. The search for the lost sister is the main thread, and I like the idea of a family uniting in a common ‘quest’ and all that it entails in terms of journeys and encounters with foreign powers and civilizations. I do not want to delve into the other theme but let the reader discover it over time. However, I can say that I have a great interest in history in general and particularly in the lives of the Vikings. We have much to learn from history. The time we live in now, where we see planet Earth, the world, as something that exists for us to exploit without regard to all that the world encompasses, I experience as unbalanced. Humanity is part of the whole. By the whole, I mean everything that encompasses planet Earth. We exist thanks to everything else that exists. But we live as if it exists for our sake. How we can live in balance with the nature of which we are a part and at the same time have constant growth, is a highly relevant question. I do not have the answer. Maybe the answer can be found in our history. That we learn from the mistakes that previous civilizations have made. On the cover of the book, I have formulated it this way: Four siblings do everything in their power to find their abducted sister. The battles, the conflicts, and the encounters with the unknown lead to no one remaining the same when the journey comes to an end. Perhaps love awaits in the next harbor, or perhaps something in the soul’s most hidden corner is waiting to be awakened. Could it be that the path to happiness awaits the brave or is it a boundless berserker rage that is awaiting — in which axes and swords sing the song of metal. The forest, the seas, and their beings, both humans and animals, exist in an interplay that leads to death for some and to the deepest of friendships for others. Bloodshed, orgies, and manipulation are for some the path to power, to a happiness that obliterates all. For others the path to happiness lies in sailing across the ocean of life with those you love and to have the endurance to be stronger than evil — to have the courage to face the darkness that resides deep in the innermost recesses of the soul and thereafter open your heart to a new dawn.
I'm curious, which came first, the book or the album? Which one will have a sequel first? Will we find you earliest on the shelf of a bookshop or on that of a record store?
(Ragne): It is beyond our control, but my guess and also hope is that both the album and the book will be available in the same place.
(Styrbjörn): A few of the songs on the new album was made in various version several decades ago. Thus, those songs were made very long before Ragne’s novel series.
Taking a step back in time, what happened after "Stronger than Evil"? This LP is evaluated, now as in the past, very positively but despite this you broke up. What can you tell us about the early years of the band? What didn't work at the time?
(Styrbjörn): As a matter of fact Heavy Load never broke up. Ragne and I who started Heavy Load never said that we would break up the band. On the contrary, we have always had the view that we would comeback some day. Between 1985 and the flood of our second studio in January 2001, we composed and recorded a lot of songs aimed for a comeback in the future. In the autumn of 1985, after our successful summer tour, Eddy left because he wanted to play more commercial music and try his own wings. About a year or so later, our new bass player Andreas Fritz went for similar reasons. They thought Ragne’s and my style of music was not commercial enough - too hard and too heavy.
(Ragne): After 1985, Eddy Malm left the band, and around the same time, Andreas Fritz also departed. A year before, Torbjörn Ragnesjö had put down the bass. Styrbjörn and I wrote new songs and started collaborating with guitarist Patrik Karlsson and bassist Paul Grey. We never got to develop it into anything because Heavy Load lost its musical home, and we wanted to build a new studio. It took more than a year to build the new studio. When it was completed, there were a tremendous number of bands that wanted to record in our new Thunderload Studio. It was, of course, both fun, honorable, and developmental. Both Styrbjörn and I learned a lot from all the years we worked with other musicians. Those were the years from 1989 until 2000. During these years, we wrote new material and experimented a lot with our way of recording and performing music. This included microphones, mixing, and other techniques, but even more so, how we could combine different sounds and develop our music. At the same time, we always had a strong sense of what Heavy Load stands for, to go on a musical adventure within this framework. I think that is reflected in "Riders of the Ancient Storm" and perhaps even more in the album we already have a couple of songs ready for our follow-up to "Riders of the Ancient Storm".
After "Stronger than Evil", there were some warnings for a comeback of yours, as the single "Monsters of the Night", the later demo in 1987 and then the live return in 2018 at some festivals, such as Sweden Rock, Keep It True or Up The Hammers. But not much for such an extended time frame, how have you occupied your time?
(Ragne): We built the new Thunderload studio; we needed a home for Heavy Load. Since the reissues of the earlier albums were to have bonus tracks, we had to restore the tapes that could be saved. "Stronger than Evil" (2018), "Death or Glory" (2019), and "Metal Conquest" (2024). The flood in the studio at New Year’s 2000/2001 damaged almost all the tapes. When the restoration was complete, we wanted to mix the tracks and make the best possible out of each song. Some tracks were only available as stereo recordings, and then we were greatly limited in what could be done. The song ‘Give it Time,’ one of the bonus tracks on "Metal Conquest", is an example of such a recording. Some tracks lacked guitar solos, and then I recorded them. An example of such a track is ‘Lionheart,’ one of the bonus tracks for the reissue of "Stronger than Evil". Furthermore, we wrote entirely new material and finalized older ideas for the album "Riders of the Ancient Storm".
Your collaboration with Niclas Sunnerberg was born during these concerts, wasn't it? There were no chance of a comeback with Eddy Malm?
(Styrbjörn): Nowadays, Eddy has a different orientation in life. Perhaps he will appear at certain concerts as a special guest. We are still very good friends of course and we see each other quite often. Moreover, he is a frequent guest at our parties.

How did your collaboration with No Remorse Records start and how is it proceeding?
(Ragne): Chris called and asked if he could visit us, and of course, he was welcome in my home. We realized that we had a lot in common, especially a unanimous vision of what we could do with Heavy Load. One could say that we found each other during his visit. No Remorse fully supports us, and it is wonderful. We talk about everything and nothing, as friends do, while working towards a common goal: to spread Heavy Load’s music to all those who want to listen.
You certainly reappeared in a completely different market than when you were in your early days. Back then there was no streaming, no YouTube, no Facebook or other social media. How did you find yourselves there from this point of view?
(Styrbjörn): Well I guess you have to adjust to the new situation. This is, however, not my forte.
(Ragne): It really feels like now is our time. I don’t want to compare it to the “old” years. The conditions were completely different at that time. We carry many fantastic experiences with us since then: concerts, meetings with fans, reviews, interviews, and much more. All of that exists now too, but at the same time, I experience the “Heavy Metal world,” as I may call it, as being more connected today. It is almost like one big family. I suppose this is due to all the festivals that exist now and the fact that the price of plane tickets makes it possible to travel, both for the artists and the fans. The internet and social media have also undoubtedly played a significant role in this “Heavy Metal world.” We have been more active on Facebook for a while, and the response we get is incredibly inspiring. We recently started an account on Instagram, and there too, we receive an inspiring reception. Both these media offer contact with listeners that we did not have before, which is very valuable, to say the least.
The new album is out now, so I hope you are next to do gigs and tour. Do you think that doing the set list for the gigs and festivals is a kind of a nightmare because you have to play old songs and new songs? So, what is the balance point?
(Ragne): ”Nightmare”, it is no nightmare to play our songs; it is the best thing there is, and when the audience is with us, it is magical. Of course, we will mix old and new, and it will be incredibly fun.
In the meantime, as you have already anticipated you started working on new songs. You're not going to leave us hanging for another 40 years, aren’t you?
(Ragne): We have two songs ready for mixing that could have been on "Riders of the Ancient Storm", but since a vinyl should not exceed 20 minutes of playtime to have good sound quality, preferably not 18 minutes, we had to leave out some songs. So we can say that two songs are already ready for the new album. When it will come is impossible to say, but a reasonable guess is somewhere between 1 year and 40 years, ha ha.
Thank you so much for your time and for all this great music... if you want to add something, this is your time. A big hug and stay rock forever!
(Ragne : Sergio, thank you so much for your questions which show a genuine interest in music, in Heavy Metal, and in what we do in Heavy Load.
(Styrbjörn): We are very honored by you interest and we very much hope to meet you in the future when we are on tour.

Band photo provided for free promotional use

Intervista a cura di Sergio 'Ermo' Rapetti

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