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Interviews : “We can’t wait to visit your part of the world” – An interview with Elias Holmlid (Dragonland)

By on August 13, 2018

Dragonland – Elias Holmlid

Swedish power metal storytellers Dragonland have finally bound for Australian shores this September. Founded in 1999, Dragonland has become one of the most interesting symphonic power metal bands to draw inspiration from their own saga-like narrative, ‘The Dragon Chronicles’. After seventeen years since they first began to weave magically profound musical score for ‘The Dragonland Chronicles’ in their 2001 debut album The Battle of Ivory Plains, Metal Obsession caught up with Dragonland keyboardist Elias Holmild as they prepare to bring their brand of epic power metal to the Australian East Coast for the very first time.

Being the band’s first visit to Australia, there are iconic Aussie traditions they are eager to witness. “To be honest, I don’t think there will be much free time,” begins Holmild, “but I’ve been hearing mouth-watering stories of Australian barbecues so I hope that we might get the time to find a good place to enjoy this part of your cuisine. Also, I guess that we’ll squeeze in some quick and dirty tourism, posing in front of the Sydney Opera House for instance.”

Dragonland’s first two albums narrated ‘The Dragonland Chronicles’, but the story was paused after 2002’s Holy War for two albums, Starfall and Astronomy, until [the most recent album] 2011’s Under The Grey Banner returned to the saga. Why was there such a break and what inspired the revival of the ‘Dragonland Chronicles’ fantasy theme? “I think the seed for the sound and direction of the Starfall album was that I started using software synthesizers for the first time, and got this new inspirational palette of high quality more modern sounds. In particular, I had this riff that eventually became the intro riff for In Perfect Harmony, which was the first song that we wrote for the album. This vibe was very clearly not traditional power metal and also led us to explore different themes lyrically. Writing Starfall and Astronomy were great learning experiences for us as songwriters, so when we decided to make a fantasy concept album again, we were just so much better equipped to write such music than we were for the first two albums. Also, when we started writing Starfall, we were a bit bored with the fantasy power metal subgenre which we thought had been explored by too many bands. When we started writing Under The Grey Banner, however, we looked back and realized that, in our minds, no band had really pushed that subgenre far enough. So we set out to do the most epic and ultimate film score-esque fantasy power metal album that we could imagine.”

Dragonland embraces the complex and powerful relationship between music and text, and this is once again the case with Under The Grey Banner, as Holmild explains, the story and its score grow together, mutually influencing each other. “For Under The Grey Banner,” he explains, “we had the outlines of the part of the story each song was going to tell before we started writing them. We did not have the full lyrics fleshed out, but we always knew what the songs would be about. For us, this is really inspirational, and sometimes we find that the songs almost write themselves. The extreme case of this method was when we wrote the Astronomy ending trilogy, ‘The Old House on the Hill’, where Olof [Mörck – lead guitar] had written the entire story beforehand. We then used a green marker pen to highlight the exact sentences that we wanted to represent in music before we wrote a single note.”

Under The Grey Banner concludes with the hero of the story wandering indefinitely. Will we meet them again in the ‘Chronicles’? Holmild is intriguingly noncommittal, “I wouldn’t say never! Even if forthcoming albums might not fall entirely under the ‘Chronicles’ umbrella, we could always revisit that world and characters in one-off songs.”

Dragonland’s most recent album Under The Grey Banner was released in 2011. On if and when we can expect another album, and if it is another chapter in ‘The Dragonland Chronicles’, Holmild offers: “There are definitely plans, and a handful of songs have been written during the years after Under The Grey Banner was released. There have been numerous ideas and discussions regarding the exact format for the next album, and depending on what we ultimately choose to do here, some of these tracks may either make it or not. So right now, I do not have a definite answer. I am quite certain (and determined) that we will release a new album in the future, but I cannot give a specific time when that will happen.”

With Under The Grey Banner, the members of Dragonland collaborated with a number of other amazing musicians to really bring the story alive and full of characters. Regarding the process of collaboration, Holmild recounts a very positive experience. “I know Olof and Jonas [Heidgert – vocals] had been fans of Fred Johansson for many years before we started writing the album,” he recalls “and when I saw footage of him playing the role of Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, I was 100% into trying to get him aboard as well. He had the perfect voice for the antagonist of the story. I was personally most blown away upon hearing his performance on Throne of Bones, mainly since this is not a metal track and thus has much more room for dynamics, and he delivers the lines which such emotion and sense for details. Other guest musicians were Elize Ryd, Jake E and Andy Solvestrom, all members of Amaranthe at that time. We knew them since way back and knew that they would fit the roles we needed to fill perfectly. Even though these are all amazing musicians, I think the collaboration that really brought the most to this album is the one that we had with Anna Mariann Lundberg. She co-wrote some of the lyrics and did the amazing voice-overs that you hear during the intro of Shadow of the Mithril Mountains for example, as well as the vocals for the outro, Ivory Shores.”

So, what can Dragonland fans expect in the debut Australian sets? Holmild outlines some exciting prospects. “It’s always hard to choose which songs that will make it into the live sets,” he states, “but for this tour, we have been given a generous amount of playtime and fans can expect a healthy blend of songs spanning across different albums. Also, some songs naturally blend together both story wise and musically, and will thus be performed in suite, thus communicating some parts of the ‘Chronicles’ story in greater detail.”

“We can’t wait to visit your part of the world and perform some truly epic power metal!” Holmild excitedly declares. “And as a closing anecdote, like twenty years ago I collaborated on the development of a computer game with an Australian game developer and he taught me this really specific and odd Australian phrase which might be super obscure and stupid and not something you guys normally would say at all, but now since I finally get the opportunity to deliver it after all these years I’ll do that now: “See you round like a rissole!!”


The band’s latest release, Under The Grey Banner, is out now via AFM Records.

DRAGONLAND 2018 AUSTRALIAN LIVE SHOWS

5 September 2018 – The Basement – Canberra
6 September 2018 – The Bald Faced Stag – Sydney
7 September 2018 – Crowbar – Brisbane
8 September 2017 – The Croxton Bandroom – Melbourne

TICKETS: www.stormridertouring.com.au/ticket