The Danish heavy/power metal band Iron Fire are back with their latest album Among the Dead. Also back is drummer Gunnar Olsen, who left the band back in 2000. Olsen fills us in on his return, the album, tour plans and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did you come to rejoin the band?
Gunnar Olsen: The story behind that is a long string of coincidences. First the previous drummer Sigurd moved back to Jylland, quite a long distance from Copenhagen. And with Martin (Steene, vocals) living in Norway at the time, the band would be in kind of disarray. Not that it couldn’t work out at all, but Martin thought he needed a more steady band, so when he came to Copenhagen occasionally, the band was already on a roll, so to speak.
We actually talked about me rejoining years ago, but at the time it didn’t fit with my family responsibilities. But at the time of Sigurd’s departure, I could find some time to spare. And luckily I got hold of some drums to get me started again, and me and Kirk (Backarach, guitar) just started to rehearse.
How did you decide to record the album as a trio with Martin taking over bass duties?
Martin wanted purposely to be a trio. First of all because we wanted to find that “rage kind of feeling” to the music, and therefore making an album that was more basic in its approach. So a trio is kind of cool, because it really challenges you in a different way. Also, Martin likes playing the bass, so we didn’t want any other musicians involved this time around. But there’s also a more practical side to it, and that is to actually find a bass player in Denmark. We don’t know if we’ll continue as a trio, but right now it’s working out fine.
Will you add a touring or permanent bassist?
No, but we will have a second guitarist live, for the sake of the old songs.
Did the lineup changes cause the nearly five year gap between albums, or were there other factors as well?
The lineup changes had very little to do with the long gap between the albums. The main reason for the long gap was a case of bad luck. Our collaborator in writing music at the time, Rune Stiassny, had some misfortunes in his private life, which made the process very long and frustrating. So we choose to record another album and save the Inferno album for a later release. Mainly because we were tired of the situation, but also for commercial reasons. Also, we actually wanted to give the fans something new. And you know some new songs makes live gigs a bit more interesting, at least for the band. (laughs)
How did the songwriting process for Among The Dead compare to previous Iron Fire albums?
Among the Dead was written in a very different way than the previous albums. Martin wrote all the songs in Norway and emailed them to me and Kirk in Copenhagen. The album was written very fast over the course of two writing periods, and me and Kirk rehearsed them a bit in our rehearsing room. But all in all there was purposely not a lot of rehearsing before entering the studio, because we didn’t have that much time.
So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make an album that was as fresh as it could be. We went for a live feeling on the album, not making everything perfect and clean. That’s why all the basic tracks were recorded in one studio in only a week.
Is it a concept album?
It’s not a concept album in the way that there’s a storyline in the album, and the songs are not strictly written about zombies. But it’s somewhat a loosely thematic concept that delves into the wrongs of the this world. We have many themes on the album, but all pointing in the same direction. All the songs have some layers to them if you search for it. They actually mean different things individually, but share the same vocabulary.
What led you to cover the Metallica song “For Whom The Bell Tolls”?
That was an idea Martin got in the eleventh hour of the tracking session. Suddenly Martin came up with the idea of having this song as a bonus track. Mainly because it fits the themes of the album quite well, but also because we always had bonus tracks. So we did this one fast and without rehearsing at all. We’re all big fans of Metallica, and to me one the greatest metal albums ever made is The Black Album. So playing “For Whom the Bell Tolls” seemed natural to us, even though it’s got a different feel from the rest of our material.
How did you decide to release the album on Crime Records?
That was quite an easy decision, as Martin works as CEO for the company. He could decide to sign us, which he did. And for the first time in the band’s history we have completely artistic control. That is great, but also a double edged sword, because the pressure on us is greater than ever before. With every decision we make, we have to answer to the board directly.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
We are not going on a large scale tour, mostly because of other obligations. But we are going to play some shows occasionally. First of all we have our release shows. One is in Copenhagen and one in Skien, Norway. But other than that we don’t have anything planned. But I think a small tour to Germany might be realistic.
Any possibility of a North American tour this album cycle?
Actually we’re working out arrangements for a North American tour, but we’ve been doing that for a long time. It’s not easy to get the economy to fit with our wish to tour North America.
What has been your most memorable Iron Fire show or tour?
I’m sure the other guys have some great memories about Iron Fire shows or tours. I know that touring with Primal Fear was quite an experience. But for me, the show that stands out in my memory was a warm-up gig we did for Saxon in Copenhagen. It was only a few days before we went to Jailhouse Studio to record Thunderstorm. We were only teenagers and got the copy-room as our backstage area. We didn’t play very well I guess, but we did meet the band, and got a lifetime experience to remember.
What are some of your non-music related hobbies and interests?
I like to play with my son, play computer games, watch comedy on TV and walk in nature, especially by the waterside.
Who are your all-time top five Danish metal bands?
In no particular order: Pretty Maids, Royal Hunt, Mercenary, Beyond Twilight and King Diamond.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Ayreon – The Theater Equation, Pretty Maids – Carpe Diem, Testament – Dark Roots of Earth.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I want to thank every fan of Iron Fire for their great support. But also I want to let people know that buying physical music products is the best way of supporting a band. You can order the album here. Touring and merchandise is not really a proper source of income for many bands, so our only real product is the albums.
So if you stream the albums you might still be able to enjoy a good piece of music…for now. The logic is like this: if one does not sell any albums, we may not be able to do this in the future. The artist income from streaming services is very low. It’s basically stealing with eyes wide open. So even though the easy decision for the music listener is to subscribe to a streaming service, it’s not a sustainable solution to most bands. So you can keep on streaming, or you can support the bands whose music you’ll like to enjoy in the future. The choice is yours. Thanks for the interview!
(interview published September 15, 2016)