I had a chance last night to meet up with Kontinuum frontman, Birgir Mar Thorgeirsson. We discussed Ghost, cooking and yes Kontinuum over coffee and beer at a little coffee house in down town Reykjavík.
For those of you who don’t know Kontinuum they were formed in 2010 by Birgir and Kristján B. Heiðarsson (ex-Potentiam, Changer, Dark Harvest, etc.). In September 2012 they released their first album, Blood Earth Magic, which has been getting deservedly rave reviews. They’ve since added three members: Engilbert Haukson (Potentiam, ex-Thule, ex-Changer, etc.), Ingi Þór Pálsson (I Adapt), and Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson. They’re not a band that can be easily pigeonholed into a neat little box with influences ranging from Burzum and Celtic Frost to Killing Joke and even goth rock and so forth, but we might as well call them Ambient Post Metal because everyone needs a label, right? Their live performances are memorable to say the least and if you haven’t seen them it’s truly your loss. When I met Birgir, Kontinuum had just recently come back from playing their first ever concert abroad at Candlefest, London, so obviously we start there.
You just got back from Candlefest, how was it?
It was awesome. Incredibly fun.
Is it any different from playing here at home?
Not really, no. We have very little experience doing this. People came to watch, they were appreciative, it was just generally good fun.
It’s been a year since Earth Blood Magic came out, and you have previously teased us with news of an impending EP, what’s the story?
We had a concept and material for an EP but now we’re thinking that it might be better to go for a full LP. We’re just starting on this entire process, it’s so different from performing which is so extroverted and out there and when you’re trying to create something it’s completely introverted so we have to get into that gear. We’re not planning on booking any more gigs this year, we just got a new booking agent, the one who worked with Skálmöld, so if he brings us something good we’d maybe do that, otherwise we’re going to use what’s left of this year to work on new material.
Earth Blood Magic is a very heterogeneous album with influences all over the place. From black and doom metal all the way to goth rock and soft ballads. Can we expect more of the same?
Personally I thought this was a kind of singular collection, but this is what I am. I was always aware that it was a bit of a risk; I knew that those that were into Black Metal would probably like this track and someone else would maybe like this one. It is what it is; I didn’t want to tie it down. It’s not like we’re making millions so it was always about having fun. It’s much more exciting to try something new, like having a song that has no guitars just violins, what’s a Black Metal kid going to do with something like that. That’s what we want to do again, just try stuff and have fun.
So this is what a Black Metal kid does when he grows up?
My basis is always Black Metal.
I hear you’re really into Ghost.
Yeah, I think it’s an awesome band.
It seems like many people that are into Black and Death Metal like them.
I know. It’s something about them, I can’t describe it, I’m completely hooked. I used to have this urge, this was before I had even heard of Ghost, to take Deicide lyrics that are all Satanic sacrifice or something of the sort, and make a musical to accompany them, that’s Ghost.
Let’s get back to Earth Blood Magic. Lýs Milda Ljós. A century old funeral hymn, how did that happen?
Well, first it’s an amazing text, and if you know the original you can hear that we purposely cut it down at specific places, a bit of political religiosity, food for thought so to speak.
The album also starts with this crazy preacher and then you have this funeral hymn…
Yeah, yes, the preacher I just loved and the first song, it’s a kind of a film-score experiment, he’s saying some stuff and the music guides how you experience it, how you experience what he’s saying. That’s how I intended it and most… all sensible people understand this. Never the less it still needs to be said.
You have said before that Kontinuum was born out of frustration with what you were doing musically at the time. That would presumably be Potentiam.
Now, you’re still very much involved with Potentiam and some of the tracks on Earth Blood Magic have a very Potentiam like sound.
You’re working on a new album with them. Did you have any trouble keeping the two separated?
Yes, immensely. Truthfully a lot of the material on Earth Blood Magic was originally intended for the next Potentiam album. Well, maybe not wholly, some of it I knew would be rejected, which speaks to some of my frustration. I was working on something and I just knew in advance it would be vetoed. It kind of works like the UN Security Council, there’s this veto-power and when the US for instance goes in with some things you just know Russia will veto them and our collaboration [speaking of Einar Thorberg in Potentiam] works a little like that. We’re best friends but really different in some ways and that can be really frustrating at some times and really positive at others and sometimes it was just hard. Is this for Potentiam or is this Kontinuum. However I feel that we have that down now. At the moment I’m concentrating on Kontinuum because that’s vibrant now.
The way I hear it the new Potentiam album is ready, except for you and Berti [Engilbert Hauksson], recording guitar and bass, any comments?
That’s not strictly true, there’s more to it than that. But, yes, we need to speed it up. I always feel I need to take my time getting immersed in it to convince myself that I’m doing it right and that takes time. I can’t just go in and doodle something on the guitar, OK, I’m done, bye. I need to be mentally prepared and that’s why I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Besides, I have a life outside of music. But, yeah, we need to get that done.
Kristján [Guðmundsson, Momentum, Potentiam] has already put down the drums and this could be our best album. But we don’t really know whether there will be another album or when. The aim is at least to finally make an album we’re happy with; we’ve never been completely satisfied with our previous albums.
Back to Kontinuum. You now have three more members than when Blood Earth Magic came into being. Are all of you collaborating on the writing or is this still your baby?
The guys who are with me now are incredibly talented, much more so than I, so not letting them contribute would be ridiculous. We’re just now starting the process and we’re planning on trying new methods so anything goes. If you want to bring something from your home and work on it with everyone else that’s what I want, more of a band-feel. And you really don’t know … you need to leave everyone behind that’s been patting you on the back, telling you, “this is awesome” – thankfully there have been some of those along with some of “this sucks”- none of that really matters. You have to assume that no one is going to like what you’re doing next and not let that affect you. When you feel that it won’t matter what anyone thinks, I think that’s when you’ve got it right.
Based on Kontinuum’s last album Birgir seems to have it right, and even though there’s not an EP in sight I’m consoling myself with the thought of a second full length album, hopefully in the not too distant future. If you’d like to take a gander at Kontinuum live, and I highly recommend it, you’re out of luck with Airwaves since that’s been sold out for a while now but there are still tickets available for Rokkjötnar on October 5th.