Forty years after the release of their last studio album ‘Stronger than Evil (1983)’, Swedish Viking metal band, Heavy Load returned with their long-awaited comeback album ‘Riders of the Ancient Storm’. Picking up where they left off, the album shows a band back with renewed vigour and plenty of creative bite.
Heavy Load was formed in Stockholm during the grim winter of 1974-1975 by the two brothers Ragne Wahlquist (vocals, guitars and keyboards) and Styrbjörn Wahlquist (vocals and drums). It’s the pair that we spoke to (over the phone because of tech issues) about this new album, their longevity, keeping up with the ever-changing face of the industry, the Wahlgaard Saga, and so much more.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It is an absolute pleasure to speak to you.
It’s our pleasure.
How are you doing at the moment? Are you doing well?
Yes, very well.
Congratulations on the release of Riders of the Ancient Storm. It’s incredible to have that record out now. How have you found the reception to it so far?
I think the response has been very satisfying for us. It feels very good, actually. Yeah, if we think of the comments on YouTube and even on Spotify, but on Spotify, it’s not been up a long yet, so it’s not so many there. Then we have on our Facebook, of course, mainly. It’s very good. I’m very happy.
It has got to be very heartening for you, considering, of course, this is the first album in 40 years.
Oh yes, it’s more than we could have ever hoped for.
When you came back together in 2017, was the plan always to release a new record?
Yes, we were overwhelmed in 2016 by the people and their love for Heavy Load. That made me open my guitar case and when I saw my flying V and put it in my lap again and started to play, it all came down like an avalanche, or something like that, over me. Then we started to play together and talked about everything.
What actually made this happen and got us to the point of no return were the concerts ‘Up the Hammers, Keep It True and Sweden Rock and after that there was no turning back. Of course, we had a new album planned, but we talked about why just make one? We should make several and actually we already have songs for a second new album.
Oh, it’s fabulous to hear that you’re in such a creative place. What did your vision for Riders of the Ancient Storm look like when you first started to put it together? Did you have a plan?
The best we could do. Of course, better than the things we did in the past even if we are a little bit proud of what we’ve done, of course, but we wanted to aim higher.
We don’t plan the songs beforehand, they just come to us we didn’t have a major plan for how the record would turn out either. The songs come and they become a record.
When we have an idea, it grows like a flower. Sometimes it goes in a direction that doesn’t suit us, so we will put it down and leave it. Sometimes, most of the time, it develops into a song. We made more songs, as we always do, then there’s room for on the album. So, we have a couple of songs for the next album.
Then we have to choose what goes on the album as there’s a limitation of how long vinyl can be. We have seven songs on this one, four on one side and three on the other side. It’s still over 40 minutes, with the CD being a little longer because of an extra bonus track.
We choose the songs that we’ve done to make an album that we feel is balanced, but there’s no plan from the beginning. Plan is to make whatever we can, the best we can, using all our heart and all our soul and all our creativity to make this happen. That’s all we can do.
Play from our heart to make a good Heavy Load record, basically.
You mentioned vinyl, were you sure from the start that this record was going on vinyl?
Yeah, no question about it. Yes. We recorded analogue. We work in a digital system when we create the songs, to be able to modify and move things and try out different aspects of the song, but when it comes to vinyl. No question about it.
What were some of the more challenging parts of creating this record?
That’s a tricky question. I don’t know. The vinyls? The first pressing of the vinyl, quite large amount, actually, was destroyed during the shipping from the factory to the warehouse in Athens. We worked together with No Remorse, and we received the first copies today. Yesterday we received the test pressing for Metal Conquest that will be out next year, the re-release. So just this week, a lot of things have happened, actually.
That was tricky. That was not so positive thing to happen, to have this delay of the vinyls. So, we lost about five, six weeks there.
Wow. You’ve got them in your hands now. That’s fantastic.
Yeah, it is very good. I haven’t listened to it yet, though.
What about areas that you found particularly enjoyable about creating the record?
Well, I’m very emotional, and there were many different occasions that I had a little tear in my eye. It was a euphoric feeling as music moves me very easily. Not just our own, of course. Everything. There are many songs that move me.
The comeback concerts and the subsequent shows that have followed, has it felt great just to be back on stage and have you been surprised by the high demand for your performances?
Yeah, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the reception of the audience in both Germany, Greece and Sweden. I must say that it was a very strong emotional experience. In Athens, there were grown up men and women standing in front of the stage, waving their arms, singing along, sometimes with tears in their eyes. So it was a very strong emotional moment for me, for us all, of course, in the band.
Well, of course, there will be many people who will be seeing you for the first time.
Yeah, maybe. Yeah, I guess so. Well, obviously, some people weren’t even born when we did our last album.
Indeed. I don’t want to make you feel old, but I was born in 1984. So coming back, the music world, it’s changed a bit over the last couple of decades. Did you have any concerns or worries about promoting and pushing a record in a way that you’ve never had too before?
We were quite hesitant about how to handle it when it comes to streaming. We haven’t been out on streaming before, but last week the new album was published on the platforms. It is starting to feel okay, even though I’m not so personally fond of the compression that they do.
The technology, I think that’s something I hope will be changed in the future because there’s a depth and also width and transparency that you lose. I think we need that, at least in our music.
I get what you’re saying. While you can enjoy it on streaming for the quickness and ease, if you really want to experience Heavy Load and Riders of the Ancient Storm, buy the vinyl. That’s how it needs to be heard.
Yeah. Vinyl. Or the CD is good as well. I agree with you!
I have to ask then, how about the other aspects of being in a band in 2023? Social media and stuff like that? Do you think you’re understanding that better?
No, not so much. We do a little publishing on our Facebook. That’s about it, actually. The other guitarist, Nicholas, started the Instagram, and he does some things there. We are not involved in it at all. It steals a lot of time and energy and other things from me. I want to use my time and my energy for creative stuff. And this is not creative stuff. This is just consumerism. I’m not much of a guy that likes to consume stuff. I’m more of a ‘doing and create’ person. More of a guy that needs to create stuff, different kinds of stuff. Music, lyrics.
I love your choice of words. You use the words ‘time stealer’. What an incredible way to describe it, because that is exactly what it is. It takes time away from everything else.
Yeah, it does. I can respect that people enjoy it and make that choice, but it’s not good for me.
When you reflect on your immense history, what you’ve accomplished up to this point, and the fact that you are continuing to set incredible new highs right now, what do you personally attribute to the everlasting appeal of Heavy Load?
What can I say? We play from our heart, use everything that we have. Our experiences and thoughts to create our music. We really mean what we do.
We don’t play anything that we don’t feel is right for us. If we love it, maybe somebody else will love it. You can play for just fun. You can play for money. But that’s not why we do it. We play because there’s love in it and there is passion. I can’t answer for other people. Of course, they have to answer themselves, but maybe it has something to do with that.
There is still strong appeal across the world, which is so important these days.
I believe that we are quite popular in South America and Japan as well. Back in the old days, during the 80s, our records were released in Japan.
If we look at YouTube, we can see that there are people from Sweden, of course, from Germany, from Greece, from Australia, South America, Brazil, Colombia, the States, of course, Japan. I don’t think we have any limitations.
Music is a language by itself, so it should be able to talk to everybody that is open minded. I mean, we play hard rock or heavy metal or whatever you want to call it. That is the audience, of course.
Talk to me about the Wahlgaard Saga. What made you want to write a novel?
It’s an old idea I had far back, maybe even so far back, that we were kids playing in the woods. There was this big valley quite close to where my grandmother had this villa. This is where we spent the summers and almost every weekend, we were playing in the woods. This valley, there were a lot of Vikings there. So, we played Viking games, of course, throwing spears, using axes, bow and arrow, and so on.
I think from there comes little things, some things that inspired me. However, the big thing happened in 2017. We were invited to Keep It True, to see what it was like. He was aiming for us to come and play in 2018. And when I was there in 2017, a young woman from Ireland approached me, and she said, all that is good in my life, in my world has come to me because of your music and your lyrics.
I said thank you very much, but that can’t be true. She then told me that she met her husband via our music, her friends and everything around her. So I was, of course, overwhelmed by these words. Afterwards I came to think about it. She said, your lyrics. So, I thought that maybe there is something that touches some people on a deeper level. So maybe I should try to see what I can do if I start to put my thoughts into a story. I started back in 2017, but it took some years.
Now I have written three volumes!
It’s great compendium for fans, a great thing to have. Another excellent part of the Heavy Load picture.
You already mentioned that you have songs ready for what comes next. What are you planning for 2024?
We are hitting the stage, of course. There are plans. We can’t reveal any but watch this space!