Dragonland is a bright, rising star of the power metal community. Hailing from Sweden, they hover above the greyest of mass with their über-grandiose orchestrations and movie-like thematics. Guitarist Olof Mörck took the time to answer the burning inquiries of Metalreviews hot on the heels of their latest album, Astronomy.
Greetings, fellow metalheads of Dragonland! Welcome to our interview for metalreviews.com! First of all, since I couldn’t find a suitable link for a biography on your website, please provide us with a link to such a thing or give us any info on your background that you deem necessary?
Dragonland started out as a fairly straight forward power metal act in -99 by a number of people who had all played more brutal music before, mainly melodic death metal. Tired of the limitations of death metal we wanted to play a style of music with possibilities for epic arrangements, equilibristic dual solos and classical overtones. After recording a demo in the beginning of 2000 we were signed to Greek label Black Lotus just around a month after, and in the end of that year we recorded our debut album, ‘The Battle of the Ivory Plains’, which was released in May 2001. That album got us a fair amount of attention, and with a much increased budget we entered the famed studio Fredman in March 2002 to record ‘ Holy War’ for a may release. This album gave us good exposure, and we toured Japan for the first time so far. After that we got picked up by Century Media and during the summer of 2004 we recorded ‘Starfall’ which was really a break for us, and a first step into the more serious levels of the genre, and we toured and played with Yngwie Malmsteen, Sonata Arctica, Fintroll, Epica etc. After two years of full time writing, we are now back with ‘Astronomy’, which has been unbelievably well received so far, and we are really pleased with the results of the two years of work with the album. Anyone still awake after my tedious rundown may continue to the next question now.
First I must address the title of your band. Since your beginning bands like Dragonforce and Dragonlord have come to the playing field. What is it with dragons? I realize that it is a very metallic animal with the fire-breathing and gargantuan size and all, but I’m starting to have difficulties remembering one band from the other.
Well, you will have to tell Dragonlord and Dragonforce that:) Not that I think they ripped us off with their band names, and I have nothing against them, but when we started this band there weren’t any similarly named bands around in this genre, and the name was a perfect match for the style we wanted to play. Though, I still think the name is relevant today; as you say, the Dragon is just a really metal incarnation, and it is not at all just limited to fantasy. The legends about Dragons have existed for millennia, and I don’t see a big difference about covering that theme compared to writing about Greek mythology, like in the song ‘Cassiopeia’ for example. And did I mention Dragons are metal?
Is your new album, Astronomy, everything you aimed it to be when conjuring it into existence? Are you satisfied with the final product? What has been the reception of the record like during these first months after the release?
With the Astronomy album, just like Starfall before it, extensive demoing of the musical material were carried out in our for the purpose created studio. This method of pre-production has really enabled us to review all parts and details of our music extensively before entering the studio to record it for an official release. There were some months of going through and tinkering with the completed songs before entering the studio this time around, something we had never experienced before, so I must say I can look back on the album today and feel completely satisfied with it. It is pretty much exactly what it was intended to be, and though we always try to raise the bar significantly, I would never want to change anything on Astronomy retroactively, since it marks a specific, and indeed special, era of my life. Regarding the reception, like I stated before, it was been almost unanimously positive. I think it’s becoming more and more evident for reviewers that we are not yet another run-of-the-mill power metal band, which in turn has made them listen more carefully. I am definitely not saying that anyone who listen to Astronomy extensively is going to like it, I am merely stating that at least people are probably going to realize that it is a work of passion as well as a scholarly thoroughness. There are still a few certain reviewers that write us down for writing about fantasy, which we certainly don’t, but I guess that says more about their own ignorance than our supposed lack of originality.
If I may say so myself, the album is highly enjoyable, especially in its diversity and fluent mix of styles. It is quite apparent that you enjoy several different styles of music within the band. Are you all evenly diverse in your tastes or could you form a playful division between each other in the band that you have the death metal-dude, the classical-afficionado, the hard rocker, the epic metal-representative, and so forth?
While we do have distinct differences in musical taste among the members of the band, it is probably more a result of my and Elias’ (Holmlid, keyboards/synths) musical schizophrenia. There are many styles of music that we love to write, but the evident variety of Astronomy also owes to us trying to make certain that the album doesn’t become tedious or over indulgent in epic orchestrations, for example. It’s also interesting as a challenge to write a more diverse album, because you don’t want the album to become confused and unfocused.
Although influences of classical legends like Beethoven are very clear, I personally also hear many influences of modern film score composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, especially in the gothic and quirky tones of the ending trilogy of the album. Is this a coincidence or do you share a liking to more modern composers as well?
The Old house on the Hill trilogy is very much a tribute to film music, and very specifically the aforementioned Danny Elfman. While there’s a little bit of all kinds of moody and atmospheric music in the trilogy, it is definitely film score music that has inspired us the most to write this trilogy. The last album also had closing trilogy which was more based around modern Hans Zimmer, ‘The Rock’ style soundtracks, experimenting with film music styles that are not just related to fantasy movie soundtracks is something we very much enjoy doing, and has very rarely, if at all, been tried by other bands.
Speaking of the Old House on the Hill-trilogy, which floored me repeatedly with its awesomness on every listening – it is very much like straight from a series of cinema scenes from a Tim Burton movie, just without images of course. Did you have a sort of movie in mind when writing this piece, as there are sound samples like footsteps and occasional voices within the music? If resources were to be found, could this trilogy be the base of an actual movie? Also, what made you choose the highly ambitious path of going fully instru-mental leaving the whole trilogy without lyrics and vocals?
The whole idea of writing this momentous piece was all based on this uncanny little melodic fragment composed in a feverish state of delirium tremens, after a late night writing session for Starfall. I was playing around with the auto tuner with a wide vibrato turned on, applied to a lead guitar. It created an otherworldly sound which made both me and Elias shudder, and I came up with this repetitive, octavated melody and Elias quickly added some ghastly reverbed piano to it. After that we just knew we had to compose something where we could put it into, something that we for the longest time referred to as the “Ghost song”, and after over indulging in H.P. Lovecraft along other writers of the macabre I unleashed a verbal fury on my unsuspecting computer, and this resulted in the basic story for the trilogy. Instead of writing a story to already composed music, which was the case for The Book of Shadows trilogy on the last album, we based all music on my writings, going through every detail in the story and transforming it to music. We soon realized that this procedure was going to result in a piece far more vast and epic than we had originally expected, and the project kept on growing and growing until we had worked pretty much every day full time with it for half a year. Because of the stories non-linear structure none of the musical ideas could be repeated in their entirety, and the only melodic fragments that reappear are heavily varied in their arrangement. Thus, with the normal repetitions of metal music, and even classical music, this trilogy could probably have been made into a full CD in itself, but its current incarnation is the only fair version of it we could have made. Personally I am a bit surprised that it has garnered the great response it has because of its sheer size and the challenge of getting into it. I think it’s safe to say that it has been the most appreciated part of Astronomy. But in the end, we only composed it to satisfy our own twisted minds I guess, and that other people can find something enjoyable in our dementia is indeed both intriguing as well as satisfying. After all it’s an instru-mental. Which implies that madness must be a part of it. Haha. (I know that that wasn’t funny. Now, next question)
You also decided to continue The Book of Shadows-trilogy from the Starfall-album with a fourth part. The reason(s) behind this?
Because we were forced to do so by the fabled savage Nightgaunts who bow only before archaic Nodens. Apart from that the story was left unfinished on the ‘Starfall’ album, and the idea was to have its conclusion on Astronomy, but as the Old House grew in size we felt that incorporating two vast trilogies on this album would be both tedious, as well as an unrealistic amount of work. Therefore Elias composed the fifth part as an interlude to the album, which effectively give the listener a breather before continuing the album with Beethoven’s Nightmare, and also to give a hint that the final three acts of cosmic malevolence are about to be unleashed upon a not-so-prepared world. And since we have to surpass the magnitude of the Old House trilogy, you can expect epicness on baffling proportions. Either that, or our swift death from exhaustion. I suppose only time will tell.
The intro to Too Late For Sorrow made me instantly think of the intro to the Top Gun movie theme by Harold Feltenmeyer and Steve Stevens. Is this another coincidence or an acknowledged tribute to this brilliant song? Do you harbour a secret or not-so-secret love for 1980s movie themes, such as I personally do?
I think you are too perceptive for your own good, haha. Both me and Elias are huge fans of 80´s film score music as well as current, and the intro to Too Late for Sorrow is a pretty obvious tribute to Feltenmeyer, though actually I think you’re the only one that has pointed that out so far. Good on you!
Are the dreamy female vocals on Astronomy still handled by Johanna Andersson? And is that Jonas (Heidgert, vocals) screaming the ripped throat-moments from time to time?
All female vocals on Astronomy was sung by the extremely talented as well as strikingly beautiful god-queen Elise Ryd, who is certainly one of the most professional singers I have had the doubtless pleasure of working with. Someone we will definitely work with again, either with Dragonland, or even in some other, new project. New project? Yes maybe. If we find the time. Regarding the growl vocals on Direction Perfection and Antimatter, that is Jimmie Strimmell treating his lungs with the utmost contempt. Something he is very good at indeed, and he can usually be spotted utterly scaring people with his extraordinary live performances with Nightrage, a band that has just recorded a great CD called ‘A New Disease is Born’. If you are even remotely interested in melodic death metal, get it. If you are not, get it anyway for the solo I play on it ;) Speaking of solos and guest musicians, Nightrage guitarist Marios Iliopolous plays a baffling solo on the track Cassiopeia. It’s unfortunate that the guest artists weren’t properly presented on the promo sent out to reviewers and interviewers.
If you could make a themed classical/metal-album in co-operation with any composer, past or present, alive or dead, who would it be and what kind of project would you think would come out?
Wow, great question. Well, definitely not Beethoven, he would probably be utterly agitated by our scandalous treatment of his piano works in Beethoven’s Nightmare. But if he could get over it, we would definitely want to work with him. There are just a ton of composers we have the utmost respect for, so I am just going to blatantly name a few of them (besides the already mentioned ones); Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Tartini, Geminiani, Buxtehude, Stravinsky, Tjajkovsky, Telemann, Roman, Liszt, Chopin, James Horner, Harry-Gregson Williams, John Powell, and a ton more. The composers mentioned have all contributed to inspiring one or many parts of our music, and would all make fabulous people to cooperate with, at least on a musical level. On a practical level it would make a very crowded room. And probably a very noisy one too, considering that all the mentioned people were/are musicans.
How do you handle the very grandiose music with strings and layers of vocals and all on the live stage? Also, do you consider Dragonland to be at its best in the studio or in concert? Which do you prefer yourselves?
Most music, with the noteworthy exception of The Old House on the Hill and at least parts of Book of Shadows, have been written so it can be performed live without compromising with the compositions. We have made the mistake of over arranging songs on albums before, and the result has at times been that the songs were impossible to play live, or unrecognisable if they would have been performed. We all love to play live, and to travel to remote locations around the world meeting people who all share common love for music makes me feel inexplicably blessed, but in the end, composing music for the albums is what gives me the greatest pleasure personally.
Describe to us to any degree that you can with just the powers of words, the Dragonland live experience?
In the extraordinarily packed concert hall the idle chattering is abruptly interrupted by the sudden surcease of the blissful light. Only muffled voices can be heard as the prodigiously thick layer of anticipation chokes all attempt of the audience uttering a coherent sentence, and the silence itself serves as a foreboding warning of the sonic terror that is about to be unleashed upon the gathered populace. Without even a hint of preparation a cyclopean sonic soundwave is discharged into the locale; sublime horns of benevolent god-kings is joined by thundering percussion seemingly designed to reinvoke archaic beings that are best unsung by sane creatures. Yet this is only the introduction before Dragonland will choose to enter the stage. A thunderous roar of the gathered audience followed by the maliciously sharp tones by an electric guitar and the ponderous thundering of the double bass quickly puts an end to all doubt – Dragonland’s detrimental yet grandiose display of their musical art is now in full let loose upon the crowd. To witness this truly sublime phenomena, keep an eye on our official myspace page where dates will be added as soon as gigs start to become confirmed.
Your hometown of Gothenburg is often called the metal capitol of Sweden, especially due to its high quantity of the worlds best known melodeath bands. As natives do you agree on the city’s status and your thoughts on the metallic reputation?
I am very much a product of the death metal boom in the mid 90’s over here, basically everyone was playing that style back then, and there were so many phenomenal bands here at that you never cease to be amazed by it. Besides the big ones like In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates and Dissection you had Ceremonial Oath, Crystal Age, Sacrilege, Enthroned, Taetre and numerous more. There were big melodic death metal gigs every weekend here, so people really had a reason to start these bands. In the end only a few survived as it often is with these trends, but by then attention was already in abundance to the phenomenon itself. Although, after that it has been pretty quiet in the Gothenburg metal scene apart from some noteworthy exceptions such as Hammerfall, Lost Horizon, Evergrey and a few others. Maybe the name ‘Dragonland’ will someday be mentioned among such dignitaries?
As the comic, yet highly important finalizer, I must ask you: If your band was stranded in a Cadillac Convertible in the middle of the desert with nothing but sand in sight in any direction, equipped with only an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass, a battery-operated Casio-minikeyboard, a pair of bongos, a megaphone, a can of hairspray, six Acapulco-shirts, a box of lightbulbs and the car trunk containing five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, 75 pellets of mescaline, a bottle of rum, a bottle of tequila and a case of Carlsberg – what would you do and what would happen?
Well, nothing but the obvious of course; we would become the world’s first beach boys metal cover band with completely unmotivated 80’s hairstyles playing in front of an imagined audience with Nicklas being sorely pissed off because he was the only one ending up without an instrument since only one guitar was present. This would result in him stealing Elias’ casio keyboard to go dune surfing instead, in turn resulting in Elias going utterly mad at the loss, chewing away on the lightbulbs. This obviously leading to his untimely death, Jonas would go mad with grief and set fire to the car while tripping on mescaline killing all the rest in the explosion. A very sad story. Yet a very likely one considering with the given conditions.
We here at Metalreviews thank you for the time taken for this interview and wish you all the best for the future. Keep the metal loud and stay steely!
And we here at Dragonland inc. thank you for the fantastic interview and hope to see you on tour! Hails!

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