Vanaheimr - The Story Behind As Above, So Below
Genre: Progressive Blackened Death Metal
Release Date: 6th July 2018
Record Label: Mórrígan Records (My own Independent Label)
All music written, performed, recorded and produced by Thomas Fordham (a.k.a FJORDHAMMER)
Fictional Band Members:
ÁMSVARTNIR - Vocals
KVELDÚLFR - Guitars/Synths
NAGLFAR - Guitars
NÁSTRǪND - Bass
SÆHRÍMNIR - Drums
FJORDHAMMER - Engineering, Prodution, Artwork
Vanaheimr started off as my third year major project for university, but I later discovered that the project created a focus point for all my musical creativity and vivid, highly active imagination. After really delving into black metal during my second year, whilst researching and writing an essay on the genre, I became addicted. I had become bored of the super clean studio production of modern metal bands, I was searching for something raw and cutting, something that sounded dangerous. I had been exposed to black metal before but this was my first real encounter with it and I embraced it's shrieking and screaming darkness with open arms. I loved the relentlessly paced songs, brutal riffs, demonic vocals and the raw and harsh lo-fi production. I would watch countless interviews and documentaries, absorbing everything I could about the genre and the scene it came from, and I learned that extreme metal can be whatever you want it to be, arguably it could be considered as the last bastion of true creative freedom as a lot of it comes originally from DIY, independent artists. From then on, I was inspired, so many ideas forming in my mind and as my third year at university rolled around I knew exactly what I wanted to create, alas Vanaheimr was born and the rest they say, is history.
The Concept Behind The EP
The concept of As Above, So Below, took a long time to materialise, but I always wanted to try and pass it off as a fictional band. Inspired by Brendan Small's Metalocalypse: Dethklok, that's what I tried to do, so when the EP was released it was originally credited to the characters in my mind. Having this fictional band actually helped a lot with the writing process, as I could be who I wanted and no one would know, it gave me confidence and help me foster different perspectives while writing the songs. Once the songs started forming, inspired by the likes of; Enslaved, Behemoth, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Bathory, Mayhem, Saor, Alcest, Myrkur, Opeth, etc. the concept created itself in front of me. I was always drawn to the alchemist Hermes Trismegistus quote "As above, So below, As within, so without", I researched the phrase and realised that it was associated with the infamous picture of Baphomet in some belief systems. Of course, Satan and demons go hand in hand with black metal so this was definitely the path I needed to go down. I was also infatuated with the apocalyptic imagery from the bible, I was drawn to artists like Gustav Dore and John Martin as I felt their work capture the themes I was trying to recreate perfectly. With all this context behind the music it helped form the dark atmospheres and textures you can hear in the music.
The full explanation of the concept on the Vanaheimr band camp page is as follows;
"Influenced by the image of Baphomet; the gesture of one hand pointing up while the other hand points down. This expresses the Hermetic concept “As above, so below.” It reflects how different levels of existence influence one another, whether those levels be intellectual versus physical, the spiritual world versus the material world.
Alongside the use of apocalyptic imagery to describe the transition through depression from first realisation to the last fight and recovery. There is a spectrum of conscious and subconscious being and the events that take place in both those realms effect one another."
Writing and Recording
The writing and recording of the songs happened at the same time, as that's my process for writing music, in essence 'making it up as I go along'. I would compose sections, record and re-record until I knew it was good enough for my standards. As a massive fan of Swedish legends Opeth and British pioneers Porcupine Tree, and a plethora of others, the progressive writing rubbed off on me so writing 'normal' sounding riffs can be a challenge for me sometimes, combined with the frequent use of 6/8 waltz in black metal it put me right at home. As someone who can get bored quickly I have to keep it interesting for myself putting in twists and turns at various points at the song, to keep me and hopefully the listener entertained.
With this in mind, all the riffs and rhythmic passages heard on As Above, So Below, are the culmination of multiple musical influences. Before the songs had titles I would save them under the band names that I feel inspired the song, for example I saved Undying Light originally under 'Alcest Inspired' as I felt that was the leading influence of the track. Black metal is all about being independent, all of the recording was done through a Focusrite 2i4, guitar, bass, vocals, everything, in my university accommodation. I will admit that I left a lot of the work until the latter part of my third year as the concept took so long to develop, but that pressure definitely got the best out of me.
Lyrically, I decided to use biblical apocalyptic imagery as I thought it best represented the journey through depression and anxiety. From seeing the problem mutate and grow in your mind, the despair when the beast of it is in full rage, the rituals you use to help yourself get back on track to the final battle and the realisation that it will never defeat you. It goes against the black metal grain when you voice positive ideas but I was fully focused on a narrative format for this EP. With images from Dore and Martin filling my mind and the instrumental demos of the songs soundtracking them, I matched lyrics to the mood and feel of the songs.
For me lyrically and musically thinking, As Above, So Below is the embodiment of all the emotion and hardship that has happened in my personal life and how I never let it defeat me.
As you can probably guess, it was recorded in my bedroom which means it was also mixed in my bedroom. Sticking to the DIY element, I did not go within ten feet of a proper studio for the mixing. I used my dodgy set of speakers, which had a big subwoofer thankfully so I could get the bass and low frequencies right, and some SkullCandy headphones.
The main problem that I encountered while mixing was how to achieve that raw, lo-fi tape noise and sound. My lecturer suggested buying actual tapes and recorders to run it through, but as I had left the project relatively last minute I wouldn't have had enough time to do it properly and do the songs justice. So, I searched endlessly for plug-ins that would emulate this. As you can expect most of them were rather expensive, thankfully my search paid off and I found the perfect one that wasn't too expensive by a Swedish collective film and music company called Klevgrand. It helped me nail the rough sound you can hear on the EP and solved all my tape woes in one foul swoop.
Despite this, the mixing process went quite quickly and smoothly. Everything was sounding how I wanted it to. Undying Light was the last song to be written and mixed, once I finished it, I remember listening to the whole thing start to finish and becoming overwhelmed. I had to call my mum and I just broke down on the phone (not very metal), I just couldn't believe that I had created this EP all on my own, I had put everything I had into it emotionally. I couldn't wait to release it.
I have always been inspired by medieval buildings and gothic art. The artwork for the EP is the front of Bristol Cathedral and is part of a series of photos I took and edited for the project when it snowed in Bristol in March 2018. The original artwork on bandcamp is one of a black bird in the foreground of Cabot Tower as I felt it suited the themes in the music. However, when I went to put it on digital stores, they rejected the picture hence why the foreboding Cathedral became the cover for the EP. In a way it draws on the biblical theme better than the original photo.
It may not be much to some, but this EP was a big turning point in my musical career. I finally found my creative voice, angry and furious as it is. It was an emotional and hard journey from conception to release, but by not letting your limitations get in the way from truly expressing yourself, was the key lesson I learnt from the whole process. To see that so many people around the world are listening to it and enjoying it means a significant amount to me, and I hope it can inspire people the same way the black metal artists before me helped inspire me.
Find As Above, So Below on Spotify and all major streaming services.