Grendel’s Sÿster released Myrtle Wreath only a couple of years back – yes, just before everything started to go wrong – here at OMM we heard it for the first time during lockdown, and what a powerful collection of heavy metal songs it is; asymmetric phrase lengths ( placing it firmly in the folk camp, yet coloured with a wealth of heavy and alternative musical experience ), considered guitar-work that alternates between melody, accompaniment and memorable riffing ( FREE TAB for Winnowing The Chaff further down ), percussion that is so musically spot-on, you barely notice it ( the fate of all good drummers ), complex lyrical themes tying together multiple time and place, and a rare tenor vocal delivery that may just cast a shadow on your soul with its unearthly power, and will certainly sort the ‘men from the boys’. But who is behind this effort – surely a spandex troupe, or a bunch of divas clad in leather and denim, at least? Not quite, more like a scary interview panel for a job at the local university? Here, in our first interview of 2022, we have a good chat with guitarist Tobi about the band and the inspiration behind it, touching on pre-historic shamanism, Scandinavian folk, how he plays ‘Winnowing The Chaff‘, Kurt Vonnegut novels, beards, potato recipes….well, you’re at OMM, so what would you expect? 🙂
How did Grendel’s Sÿster come about – how did the three of you meet?
First of all, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring OMM and I consider it an honour you’re having us on.
I think the first time I met Till and Katherina (our first singer) was at TFF Rudolstadt, a charming international folk festival in Thuringia. We hung out and got along great. For me, it really clicked when we did some extended jamming in a cosy holiday home in the Vosges mountains around New Year’s Eve 2014/15.
Unfortunately, Katherina had some serious health problems and wasn’t able to continue working with us after our first 7-inch was published. So around 2017, I asked Caro to join us. We had played some covers (mainly pop and rock) on several occasions before, and I was thrilled to hear her sing more aggressive stuff.
The name Grendel’s Sÿster…well, I guess most readers will know the Beowulf story, but if we are being pedantic, the monster Grendel did not have a sister, but treating myths as fluid, and with many interpretations and possibilities for all humanity, and with so many threads running through the work, as is present on ‘Myrtle Wreath’, well, I am extremely impressed. Could you explain your reasoning for introducing this new character, with all its potential?
Finding a good name for a heavy metal band is one of the most arduous challenges life has to offer, I have to say. I was toying around with some Jungian ideas at the time and I thought it would be great to learn something about Grendel’s anima. That was part of the attempt to engage in some serious play with mythology, folklore and history instead of simply re-telling it. For me, it feels a bit like Grendel’s unsung sister is present in Caro’s vocal delivery.
That makes sense….did you know what she was capable of, before asking her to join? Maybe it was destiny…if you believe in pre-destination, of course… 😉
I’ve always had a hunch that Caro’s voice would sound great in combination with a more dramatic and darkly heroic style, although or maybe rather because she is such a cheerful person. Still, I remember that I was thrilled when we were rehearsing for the first time, because she immediately captured the essence of what I was looking for. Sometimes we even have to laugh because it’s so awesome and unusual to hear her deliver archaic words and phrases with a vengeful expression. And yes, it gives me the feeling that we might be part of a karass.
I had to really think about it, but your guitar playing reminds me of Obtest, Gods Tower, and Tyr. Maybe it’s just the folk influence. Were you in any other bands before? I’m curious about your musical background.
Wow, I’ll try to keep it short. First and foremost, I love Scandinavian folk music (Triakel, Svanevit, Triller, Erik-Ask Upmark, Gunnfjauns Kapell, Kebnekajse and many more) with all its strange twists and turns, full of melancholy and great melodies.
Much of the rest is English, Irish and German stuff from the 1970s folk revival, such as Planxty, The Waterson, Steeleye Span, Zupfgeigenhansel, Liederjan and many many more. All of these have inspired me.
I also dug a little deeper and did some research into old field recordings, transcripts, the Child ballads and the like. It seems perfectly plausible to me that some of the oddities in our music can be traced back to all of that. Maybe it’s also due to my love of Renaissance music, which I really enjoy (especially artists like Rolf Lislevand who allow for some real improvisation within the old songs).
As for the bands you mention, I tend to think that we simply share a certain understanding of folk music and thus have a common substrate. Having said that, I’ve listened to a fair bit of Tyr in my time (Wings of Time is my favourite).
I should also add that I used to play in one or two heavy metal bands when I was a student, but we never got anywhere. I had my own vision of things, but I simply didn’t know the right people. So I decided to focus on folk music for the time being (including playing the mandolin). It was much easier and more rewarding to sit around the campfire and play traditional songs, join a session at an Irish Pub or play at a Bal Folk.
FREE GUITAR TAB!!
It’s folk music, so….which comes first, words or music?
I never sit down and write the lyrics to a song first. Usually, it’s a catchy melody, which then triggers the first words. However, I also keep a list of words, phrases and topics I would like to use one day because they sound so ‘metal’ (but are rarely ever used).
How did the deal with Cruz del Sur music come about?
We were quite surprised when Enrico contacted us after we had published Myrtle Wreath; that was certainly a surreal twist in the plot. It’s a great label with many absolutely stunning artists, as everybody knows who’s interested in traditional metal.
Entoptic Petroglyphs is set in a hunter gatherer period, which reminded me of a book I read recently that suggested that our traits of tribalism and suspicion of outsiders are neurologically hardwired in us, at a primal level, from these times. But these traits are of diminishing value in the 21st Century. The Grendel’s Sÿster project has a strong spirit of open-ness, I would say, but given we all like a bit of heavy metal, a beer, and an old story, do you sometimes ever think that the world is changing too fast?
I like some of the changes and detest others. Maybe the perceived acceleration is a side effect of our collective addiction to social media and virtual realities? I know the feeling you’re talking about, luckily it tends to subside as as soon as I re-direct my attention to more grounded and wholesome activities within my immediate environment.
Apropos Entoptic Petroglyphs, I believe that the traits you mention were balanced out with certain mind-opening psycho-technologies. Not necessarily drugs, maybe also self-induced trances like modern-day holotropic breathwork.
The lyrics are influenced by David Lewis-William’s excellent work The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art.
Little Wilding Bird / Count and the Nun are arrangements – are these from German folk song collections?
We used to play both songs with a folk band I had with Katherina’s younger sister Friederike in the early 2000s. Back in the days, I was searching for songs that had a certain depth to them and did not sound too cheerful. There are a number of traditional German songs which have always struck me as proto-metal one way or another, so I decided to arrange these two in a suitable manner. Little Wildling Bird is probably a little more popular as it is sometimes included in songbooks. I can’t remember where I first encountered Count and Nun; there are several versions and some of them have been recorded by German medieval folk rock bands.
I guess you all have families now, and / or jobs that take up a lot of time? What’s it like being in a band when you are a little older? Something you imagined, or not?
You’re right about both jobs and family. As for the band: better late than never. Of course I wish I had met Till and Caro much earlier; of course I wish we had more time to hang out, rehearse and play live. All of this has become extremely complicated or even impossible. Then again, I can really appreciate this creative outlet now much more than I would have been able to in my 20s or even 30s.
The music is certainly good enough to get you signed – if you were twenty years old, and Caro had blond plaits and a white dress, and you two had long hair and open shirts, you could have been signed to Nuclear Blast and have a video of you running through a cornfield, waving swords, perhaps, with 100,000s of views. So, given that you have made some incredible music, but have chosen to be yourselves rather than anything specifically marketable, do you think that this has limited the reach of the band so far?
That’s a charming compliment indeed, thank you. I’m not sure. We certainly wouldn’t mind selling a few more records, but I don’t know if that would be worth wearing fake armour on promo pictures and so on. At least the people who like our music seem to like it for all the right reasons, such as Caro’s voice (instead of her plaits).
Plus, I was so close to not following my ‘metal’ aspirations at all that I now can hardly complain about a lack of commercial success. I clearly did not have the grit and determination when I was younger and now we’re just two old farts and one old fartess playing the music we love. Seems good enough for my taste. After all, it’s definitely better than merely fantasising about things.
Do you identify with any other bands? You seem a bit different to all of the alternative folk music scenes that I know of…
That’s a tricky question, because we actually thought we were paying tribute to early Manowar, Blind Guardian, Warlord/ Lordian Guard and so on when we started. And now we’re sometimes even classified as Folk Rock, Acid Folk, Krautrock and what not. I wish we knew a thing or two about these “alternative folk music scenes” you speak of. Maybe the folks who enjoy Renaissance fairs? But how can we reach out to them? I have this weird feeling that we haven’t found our audience yet. Any thoughts on this?
Well, I reckon you could turn up anywhere – a bar, a heavy metal dive, an art gallery – play your set, and everyone watching would love it. It’s very good music. And sometimes, not fitting in anywhere has its advantages, perhaps? Anyway, have you played live yet?
For now, we’ve decided to use our limited time and energy on recording more songs first instead of playing live, although that might change in the future.
You could always dress up like Manowar from the Into Glory Ride period. Although, we’ve probably gone back into primordial neurological territory here…
Thanks for your inspiring idea, I think that would attract a charmingly deviant audience.
We ask everybody this question – what would you say to yourself if you could go back to when you were younger?
Maybe something like “experiencing life is better than reasoning about it”.
How do you keep yourself(ves) happy?
Keeping our families happy. Creating music. Musing with friends. Growing a beard. Not thinking about anything in particular. Blind Guardian’s Somewhere Far Beyond. Preparing potato salad according to family tradition. A poem by Kathleen Raine. Beeswax candles.
I love those early Blind Guardian albums! I vaguely remember Arvo Pärt answering a philosophical interview question with a long story about the ritual of peeling potatoes. You have the recipe, or is it a secret?
People laugh about the egg-breaking schism in Gulliver’s travels. However, there’s also this rift between the mayonnaise-faction and the vinegar and oil-faction when it comes to making potato salad. I happen to represent the latter tradition: Chop four large onions, add boiling water until they’re covered. Add plenty of sunflower oil, vinegar and stock cubes. Keep adding until you have a full-flavoured ‘soup’ that makes your mouth water. Then add tons of chopped parsley and gherkins. Then add ca. 2.2lb sliced waxy potatoes and stir well. Keep it in the fridge for one night. Serve with hard boiled eggs. Bon Appétit.
Tobi, I really hope we hear from you and the band again this year. So, to end, what next for yourself and Grendel’s Sÿster?
We’re busy recording a couple of new songs, but for obvious reasons, there have been constant delays and interruptions since we’ve started out in early 2020. We might be able to finally get a complete album published in 2022, which would be a real blessing. There are so many new ideas in the pipeline I can hardly wait. Scott, thank you for great questions, live long and prosper.
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