Kontinuum is ambient rock band… I mean progressive post-metal … anyway the tags are invalid.
Kontinuum debuted in 2012 successful album „Earth Blood Magic” (review). And on 20 April 2015 the band released its second album „Kyrr” (review), which became famous for the good name of the band outside Iceland.
Currently the band is on tour but somehow (it’s a miracle) I managed to talk with two members of the group (I think it’s a courtesy of the musicians).
Listen to Birgir Thorgeirsson (vocals, guitar) and Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson (guitar).
Marcin: Let’s start out with a little history for our readers who haven’t heard Kontinuum before. When did you get together and what is the story of the band?
Thorlakur: The band has roots way back. Starting as a project between Birgir Mar Thorgeirsson and Kristjan B. Heidarsson, the former drummer of Kontinuum. But the actual birth of Kontinuum wasn’t until 2010 when the basic structures for “Earth Blood Magic” started to form.
Marcin: I know you’ve played before in a dark metal band Potentiam. What was the reason that you’ve decided to bring to life a new band Kontinuum?
Birgir: Well reason number one was that I needed more music into my life. I also wanted to explore things that probably wouldn’t be accepted in Potentiam. That band, although related, is different. So i felt a breath of fresh air doing music with no rules except to be honest. Potentiam had members scattered all over the world and we had lineup problems. So Kontinuum was created. I still have a strong tie to Potentiam, this is a band that will probably never officially die. We still have an album ready.
Thorlakur: “Earth Blood Magic” was and is the start of some sort of spiritual journey for us all. It brought forward the idea to start breaking down walls, not categorizing one thing or the other. Being free in the music itself and to let it be part of the creation. “Earth Blood Magic” has a beautiful, fragile chaotic sense to it that’s kind of hard for me to explain or pinpoint. But from that moment on a certain kind of mindset was in motion.
Marcin: Ok, Now let’s talk about your new album “Kyrr”. First of all I congratulate the amazing album. Excellent work!
Thorlakur: Thank you!
The album is finished and was released on April 20th. How long have you been working on this new album and how does it feel to finally have it done?
Thorlakur: “Kyrr” has been in its womb for a long time. Since “Earth Blood Magic” was simply a collaboration between Birgir Mar Thorgeirsson and Kristjan B. Heidarsson, the unanimous sound of the band didn’t quite form until after the birth of “Earth Blood Magic”.
We tried to play live as much as we could after the release of “Earth Blood Magic”, but alongside that the foundation of “Kyrr” started to form. It’s been a long way and most of the songs have gone through several shapes and shifts. But it feels incredible to be able to take a step back and look at what was accomplished with “Kyrr”. It wasn’t a simple nor an easy journey, but it was quite the experience and we came to know each other as musicians way better than before.
Marcin: I know a lot of the material on your debut album was originally intended for the next Potentiam album. The lyrics and music for the first album was made by Birgir Thorgeirsson and Kristján B. Heiđarsson, wasn’t it?
Birgir: No thats not correct. All the material was intended for Kontinuum. In fact it was more the other way around. Some of the material from the same era is still unreleased and still intended for the next Potentiam album. Potentiam is a totally different concept. The first album was all written by Birgir. Kristján did the drums and we co-wrote one song.
Marcin: How did the writing process and recording session go to second album? How do you guys work now? Individually or the entire band together?
Thorlakur: “Kyrr” was a complete new playground for Kontinuum as a band. Since “Earth Blood Magic” was only written by Birgir Mar Thorgeirsson and Kristjan B. Heidarsson, “Kyrr” became almost a brand new idea and approach to the music. All of the songs were created in collaboration between all the members of the band, and having a new Kristjan behind the drumkit, added a brand new piece to the puzzle. We pre-recorded the entire album a couple of times before we hit the studio. And to be honest, we’ve probably scratched all our production ideas a few times over. Almost all of these songs have had different structures and been torn apart and put together again throughout the whole process. But there came a point in the process were everyone went “Hey, I think this is it!”
Marcin: Please tell me what sources you draw upon to inspire you when writing the music?
Thorlakur: Well, each and every one of us has a different musical background, and I think that has a lot of influence on the creative process. We’ve drawn influences from all sorts of music, ranging from Rachmaninoff to Killing Joke and beyond. But it wasn’t simply just music that influenced the mindset of “Kyrr”. Birgir was really into all sorts of sea and land exploration, that whole idea that you don’t have a reason to explore or risk everything you’ve got, but you do it. It’s your instinct to go ahead and see what happens. That put its mark on some of those songs and their structures, for instance in “Shallow Seas”. I’d watch a documentary about the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition where the crew members of the ship sat in its dining hall one last time before it sank mid-exploration. They were having a kind of farewell party for the ship, while they listened to it wailing and crackling as it was being slowly crushed by the ice. That for example, influenced the soundscapes all throughout “Shallow Seas” where I tried to imitate those sounds and that immersive feeling.
Marcin: The artwork of your new album is awesome. Who created the cover? What’s the story behind that? And how does it connect to the album?
Thorlakur: All album photographs are by Frank Hurley. He was a truly adventurous and fearless explorer who documented all sorts of explorations, including the aforementioned Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His sense of passion for going above and beyond everything was quite an inspiration for our own explorations.
Marcin: Going into the lyrics on the album. Is there a central idea you focus on? What’s the main concept of your album?
Thorlakur: “Kyrr” is not what I’d call a concept album, even though a certain concept of inner and outer exploration was a huge influence on the writing of the material.
Marcin: You sing in English and Icelandic. It’s a little bit mixed.
Thorlakur: Yeah some people get confused by that. We were hard pressed by outer forces to stick to either language but we wanted to do “Kyrr” on our own terms in that regard. When you approach vocals like an instrument instead of just as a lyrical thing your entire views can shift. Some songs simply call for Icelandic lyrics with that softer more dreamy sound, while some songs require that different vocal approach English lyrics bring. This is something we noticed while working on those songs. Just like this one song calls for a certain synthesized sound, while this one calls for Icelandic lyrics. It’s that whole soundscape of being open to use everything as an instrument.
Marcin: What happens lyrically on “Kyrr?” Please tell a little about the titles and content of the lyrics from the album – track by track.
Birgir: The album is not a concept album. However, early in the process the idea of explorers, their mindset and their undertaking stuck on my mind. I became fascinated with this strange behaviour. Taking on hugely challenging and for them very dangerous tasks for no apparent gain. I think this relates to our humanity. What is it that drives a person ? Why do we do the things we do. The album lyrics are about this. The place of man in society, how hard it can be sometimes to still have a primitive caveman brain in a complex society.
Breath – It talks about our passions and how they can sometimes be a terrible but necessary ruler.
Í huldusal – It takes inspiration from the fisherman society we had in iceland in the old days. Men would risk their lives to bring food on the table on a daily basis. I started to wonder how far we have become from this and how this reality must colour a person. The lyrics is about the hardship of letting go even if you know you have to.
Hliðargötu Heimsveldi – This song is a post apocalyptic vision of a city. It describes a scenario when the elite will fall and a day of social collapse. It describes a society that thinks it has built an everlasting empire but really it’s just a side street, hence the name side street empire.
Kyrr – The idea for the lyric came after a long chat with a disabled friend of mine where he described the moment in which he had a very serious accident which left him in a coma. His description of the moment of impact and the moment where he flew in the air where breathtaking. He had a vivid memory of his thoughts in this very short moment. It gave me the idea of how a single moment can seem to last forever. How a single moment can change everything and how in that moment you truly know nothing about where you will end up next.
U ndir Þunnu Skinni – The lyrics to this song are unusually positive in a strange way. It has a message of praising your failures. It is about the majority of people in modern times , including myself, who fail to live in the moment. Society has us programmed in a way that does not suit our species I believe. It is about the fragility of life, that things never go to plan and you should not fear the unexpected. If you dont fail you havent tried or lived, you should praise your failures and negative experiences. I guess it is message to the modern man and perhaps myself also. The title translates to “Under Thin Skin” which is supposed to describes the human vulnerability.
Shallow Seas – The lyrics came from contemplation around the myth of the ghost ship Mary Celeste. Co wrote this lyric with Thorlakur.
Red Stream – These lyrics are somewhat personal and on a matter which will probably always be relevant in my mind. I have always had this abstract vision of a land with a red stream running in it. This vision I have always associated with music. Sometimes I call this place my music god. If i was christian perhaps I would call it heaven. It is simply a visionary land and a description of travelling down the stream. It is a place of comfort and tranquillity in my mind.
Marcin: How would you describe the musical sound of the new album?
Thorlakur: It’s hard to describe. People love to put stickers on music and being able to pinpoint what it is and what it isn’t. The thing about “Kyrr” is that it doesn’t have that one guideline to follow. We’ve simply set ourselves free to explore everything within the music itself, be it black-metal, pop or shoegaze.
Marcin: I asked you because in my opinion “Kyrr” is slightly different from your debut. How does the sound differ from previous release and how is Kontinuum evolving musically?
Thorlakur: The main difference is the writing collaboration. “Earth Blood Magic” being a co-op between two guys, and all of a sudden we have five different elements blending together to create “Kyrr”. What people will probably notice musically between “Earth Blood Magic” and “Kyrr” is that the raw emotional value of “Earth Blood Magic” has found its calm sweet spot sort to speak. As the name indicates (Kyrr translates to Still/Calm) this is what feels like the next logical step in our own exploration.
Marcin: Stylistically „Kyrr” proposes a plethora of music landscapes. The listener can find melodic rock and atmospheric post metal, post rock moments, a little ambient and goth, dramatic changes of textures and atmospheres, massive and catchy melodies… All these are mixed with the band’s progressive edge and spacious atmosphere. I think this is your most cosmopolitan album to date, is it? What do you think about it?
Thorlakur: Our approach as a band was set free to roam in its explorations and we kept working with the initial idea of “Earth Blood Magic”, to continue breaking down those barriers that marketing has built within the music industry. Being from such a small country, you interact with all types of music and musicians. Everyone is working with everybody, and that translates into the music. We’ve let ourselves absorb all of these different influences and let ourselves free to explore every corner without prejudice. That created a huge blend of sounds and the entire atmosphere of the album.
Marcin: In my opinion the current sound of Kontinuum is a harmonious balance between rock and metal as well as the balance between lightness and darkness. Don’t you think?
Thorlakur: Currently that’s where we are yes. What comes next is near impossible for us to know.
Marcin: I think you are really open minded, what kind of music do you listen to in private? What artists would you recommended?
Thorlakur: Each and every one of us are quite different in that matter. You can see some similarities in our tastes but we stray a lot from each other when it comes to that. I personally am a huge jazz and classical fan. But I tend to be quite open minded when it comes to music. If the song is shit, I listen for the sound design of that particular song. I try to be open for influence from all over, to find new sounds to try and translate through my guitar playing. I think that’s the thing, we all range from being metal heads to liking inde and classical music. Just like in our own music, we tend to explore the entire spectrum of music.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff coming out from the Icelandic music scene. You’ve got Stafrænn Hákon bringing a new vocalized flair to the post-rock scene, Agent Fresco have nailed the math-rock formula and Oyama bringing back to the scene My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze. The Icelandic roster is becoming quite dense and impressive with numerous excellent bands breaking out into the scene. I think it would be worth your while to keep eyes on upcoming Icelandic bands.
Marcin: What else would you like to add?
Birgir: Check us out if you haven’t. Thanks for your support!
Marcin: Thank you very much for an interview.