Swedish adventure rock outfit Hällas have found success in new album, Conundrum, their first for RMV Grammofon (in Scandinavia) and Napalm Records (rest of world). Picking up where predecessor Excerpts From A Future Past left off but expanding upon Hällas’ ’70s-inspired sound, Conundrum feels somewhere between Camel, Uriah Heep, Eloy, and Wishbone Ash in that it’s a more mature if adventurous effort start to finish. But if you read Decibel‘s first piece on the Swedes (HERE), there’s good chance all this — minus the Conundrum part — is old news, and that Excerpts From A Future Past, particularly its titular single “Star Rider”, was one of your favorite road trip jams. Well, fans of high-concept/low res sci-fi film and book — like Andromeda Strain/Solaris and Rendezvous with Rama/The Gods Themselves, respectively — Hällas’ newest is definitely the album of 2020 for night-time escapades through the stars (and beyond!).
The proverbial starship Hällas is powered by several key tracks: “Tear of a Traitor,” “Strider,” “Beyond Night and Day,” and “Carry On”. They pulse and sway unapologetic cool, heavy in parts, scenic in others. Clearly, the songwriting principals in Hällas weren’t afraid of digging into compartments derelict and forgotten for their choices of instrument to convey Conundrum‘s journey. Listen to, for example, the bass/piano/drum/twin guitar cosmic lounge of “Fading Hero” at the 5:39 mark to really understand where the Swedes are coming from (and going to!). Indeed, behind the sonic trips to your inner ’70s space-ward soundtrack is the final part of the three-album saga. So, Hällas are not only musically adept, but they’ve figured out the story angle, steeping their art in adventure, trial, and tribulation that could be adapted for print.
Decibel found Hällas drummer Kasper Eriksson looking skyward and suiting up for the release of Conundrum. Join us, please.
I like that you’ve called Hällas’ musical style “adventure rock.” Captures the feel and mystery of the bands that inspired you and the subsequent music that’s coming out of you. Where’d the classification come from?
Kasper Eriksson: I think the first time we spoke about the adventure thing was when we were in the studio recording our first EP [Hällas]. Nicklas [Malmqvist], who wasn’t a part of the band at this time, called the music adventurous after hearing it when all the tracks were there for the first time. We probably agreed with him and later decided to call “our genre” Adventure Rock. I also think it’s fitting our style. We want the listeners to feel like they’re in an adventure or on a quest when they listen to our music.
Musically, what, in your creative view, separates Excerpts From A Future Past from new album, Conundrum?
Kasper Eriksson: First of all, we had a lot more time in the studio creating this album. We also had more time putting the songs together. In hindsight, I wish I had the time to write my drum parts properly for Excerpts, but I guess I will always feel like that and the aspiration keeps me going forward in a way. I felt way more comfortable recording the drums for Conundrum.
“The Astral Seer” and “Star Rider” got a lot of attention on Excerpts From A Future Past. Are there analogs, from a feel or compositional standpoint, on Conundrum? Like “Tear of a Traitor” or “Carry On”?
Kasper Eriksson: Not really, we didn’t think too much about the songs from Excerpts when we wrote Conundrum.
I like the change in feel, however. “Strider” has that pulsing blues feel but the keys make it feel less heavy, almost like a light pulse. Can you comment?
Kasper Eriksson: We never really saw “Strider” as a blues song at all. We just wanted a straight-forward song in a groove which was completely new to us. The keyboards were always in our minds writing it and I think it turned out pretty cool! We’re always trying to be as diverse as possible within our references and goals.
Kasper Eriksson: Never really thought of it as a heavy metal track. It’s one of my favorites from the album and it includes a lot of different elements and surprises which makes it really fun to play!
And “Fading Hero” has a slight Survivor feel. Like something off their Premonition album. Pretty cool late ‘70s/early ‘80s hard rock feel. Can you comment?
Kasper Eriksson: Sadly, I’m not that into Survivor… But I think I get what you mean. At least the first parts of the song has some ’80s movie soundtrack vibe to it.
The video for “Tear Of A Traitor”, like “Star Rider,” is well done. Very ‘70s/early ‘80s in feel, which I know is the idea. I like the John Boorman/Werner Herzog effect that director Kristian Bengtsson had on the shots.
Kasper Eriksson: I’m sure Kristian would love to hear that. He’s a great guy and he really understood what we were aiming for. Every time we talked on the phone planning the video he sounded super-excited and I really think he enjoyed making the video.
Conundrum is the final part of the trilogy. What’s happening in the story on Conundrum?
Kasper Eriksson: The story is set some time after the main character got stabbed in the ending sequence of “Shadow of the Templar”. He’s waking up after being stuck in limbo. The world is somewhat different from before and soon he’s on a new quest. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story!
Kasper Eriksson: We had some good sounding records in mind, but the most important thing was to make it sound like us even if we recorded it in a different studio and I think Nicklas [Malmqvist] did a great job!
You recorded the new album at Riksmixningsverket/RMV Studio over a 2-week period. What were those sessions like?
Kasper Eriksson: Intense! We were really focused and it was a big challenge. It was probably the funniest experience in my life, yet really stressful sometimes. We all get along really well in the band and we always support each other when it’s needed. We make a good team. We also worked with people outside of the band for the first time, with Linn Fijal and Vilma Colling from Riksmixningsverket, and they are the best possible people to work in the studio.
I can image you guys were covered in vintage gear, but the last time I assumed that — with Opeth on their new album as well — I was proven wrong. So, which is it? Hällas covered in B3s, Leslies, Telefunken U67 mics, tube compressors, Neve mixers, etc.
Kasper Eriksson: We were covered in a lot of exciting gear, both vintage and modern and I think we used everything for the purpose of making the album sound as good as possible. Nicklas [Malmqvist] had access to a lot of cool synthesizers, the super-rare Yamaha GX-1 among others. We don’t want to lock ourselves by only using vintage, analog gear though.
Did signing over from The Sign to RMV Grammofon (and now Napalm for rest of world) change anything for Hällas?
Kasper Eriksson: It’s hard to tell this early. We got the great opportunity to record the album in their studio and we are really thankful for that. We still work together with The Sign on the first two Hällas albums. RMV is a great and helpful team and we look forward to what this collaboration might take us. We believe and hope that this partnership will be long lasting.
For future albums, have you thought about singing in Swedish? Some of the early Swedish hard rock or blues rock did that. Like November, Wasa Express, etc.
Kasper Eriksson: At this point, I don’t think so, but you never know.
What are Hällas’ plans for 2020? Any chance of getting to the U.S. for a few shows? Maybe jump on the Wishbone Ash 50th Anniversary tour?
Kasper Eriksson: We would love to come to the U.S. and we are constantly working on it. We actually submitted to be opening for Wishbone Ash in Sweden once, but they thought we sounded too similar or something, sadly.
** Hällas’ new album, Conundrum, is out now on RMV Grammofon (in Scandinavia) and is available digitally (HERE) now on Napalm Records. Physical formats — CD and gatefold LP — will be available March 20th on Napalm Records. Click HERE for CD and LP packages.