Iceland’s favourite sons of rock n’ roll, collectively known as Mínus, are back at it. After being hailed as the saviours of metal by several esteemed rock publications following their third studio release – Halldór Laxness in 2003 – this April will finally see them release a long-awaited follow up: The Great Northern Whalekill. A Grapevine reporter sat down with two members of the band, guitarist Bjarni and drummer Bjössi, and learned more about their feelings of brotherhood and their fear of disappointment.
On the surface of things, the name ‘The Great Northern Whalekill’ seems to be an obvious reference to both metal legends Pantera, and the delicate political climate in Iceland over the recent decision to resume commercial whaling. Yet the boys admit to it being designed to throw people off as much as anything else. “The title is just a private joke within the band, like all our other titles. There is no special message at work, it’s just a big, cool title,” says Bjarni when the subject is broached. “I mean, I know you are waiting for a real answer, something profound,” Bjössi adds, “but there is nothing more. There is no propaganda behind the title, no politics.”
So they haven’t taken a stand on one of the most controversial political issues in Iceland in recent memory? “We’re just not that kind of band,” Bjössi states. “The only stand we have ever taken is to make music together. We have never been a political band, we’re just making rock n’ roll.” Bjarni jumps in, saying “We were thinking about titles left and right when we were recording in Los Angeles. This was the last thing that came to us, at the airport really. When the release of [Icelandic girl pop-band] Nylon’s album was cancelled in the UK because of the whaling issue, it became a factor as well. Now we have an excuse if our album flops,” he says and they both laugh.
The Great Northern Whalekill was recorded over 20 days last November and December at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, the first time the band has recorded outside Iceland. The California sun proved to be a welcome change of scenery from the Icelandic winter darkness, but it was more than just the scenery that changed and they both agree that they could not have made the same record at home.
“The standards are just so different. There were people there to do the grocery shopping for us, a guy to set up my drum kit. All we had to do was concentrate on the music and not worry about everyday stuff like work; I think that resulted in a tighter album,” says Bjössi.
For their fourth album, the band elected to bring in new producers, opting for Joe Barresi (The Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Tomahawk and Tool) and Husky Hoskulds (Fantomas, Peeping Tom), after collaborating with Icelandic producer Bibbi Curver on their last two albums. “This is a new era,” says Bjössi. “We wanted to try something new, so we brought in a new guy to produce it, a new guy to mix it, we recorded it in a new studio, using analogue technology instead of digital. This was just a good time to go in a different direction.”
“Working with Curver was very different. We have known him for so many years, and with him in the studio we would all just be goofing around, making jokes,” Bjarni says. “It can be difficult to get that chemistry with a non-Icelandic producer. Icelanders have a special sense of humour and sometimes that doesn’t translate very well to a foreigner.”
Bjössi nods. “For a long time Curver was effectively the sixth member of our band, and did everything with us, we just saw him as a part of this project. From the moment we started working with Barresi, if you were not pulling your weight, he would chew you out, which is something we had never been through in our eight years as a band. It was a slap in the face to hear that from somebody you didn’t even know. But still, it was good slap in the face.”
Channelling the Chaos
Both Bjarni and Bjössi have recently experienced fatherhood for the first time, doubling their parental duties with their careers in a band that has always been known to party just as hard as they rock, earning quite a reputation for their partying ways. Bjarni readily admits that the added duties make a difference, but don’t really transform anything.
Look, our partying lifestyle has always been a little misunderstood. There have always been certain members of the band that have done more to uphold our honour in that department.”
Bjössi agrees, saying “Through the years, people always seem to have formed a very different opinion of who I am before they meet me. People always tell me ‘you are so different from what I thought you’d be’. Fatherhood wasn’t a big shock for me, it came at the right time and didn’t change much for me personally, and all the guys in the band backed me up one-hundred percent.”
Does that mean there is balance within the
“No,” they answer simultaneously and laugh. “That is what drives this band,” says Bjössi. “Total chaos,” adds Bjarni, “the beauty within the chaos if you will.” Bjössi picks up immediately, saying “That is just how this music is. Chaos does not necessarily have to be anything bad. We have learned to channel it in the right way. I think a lot of bands would probably have given up, had they been in our shoes. A lot of things have happened, but by now it would take something monumental for the band to fold. The fire and the passion to keep this brotherhood going are still there.”
Defining a Sound
Our talk turns to their new product. On their breakthrough album, Halldór Laxness, the band moved away from the screamocore elements that characterised their two previous releases. The Great Northern Whalekill takes that move a step further and sees the band develop their own catechistic sound, juxtaposing so many different elements that it easily escapes definition. It just sounds unmistakably Mínus.
“What I find most positive about this album is the sound. It doesn’t sound like anything else, it is just our own sound,” Bjarni says contemplatively. Bjössi adds “This is really the sound we’ve been looking for. We are really happy we managed to find that. When I was younger I had a hard time understanding that a band could change its style. If they did, I thought they should also change their name. I didn’t understand that musicians evolve, and now I am at that point myself. We have already done a noise core album, and a hardcore album, and we don’t want to repeat ourselves.”
The first single from the album, Futurist, was released last month and caught many of the band’s fans off guard. With voice effects, poppy hooks and sing-alongs, it is far removed from the band’s previous singles. “We chose that song for our first single on purpose, just to fuck with people,” Bjarni says. “Just so people would have no idea what to expect from this album.” But despite coming out of left field, the single has topped almost all radio charts in the country so far. Did they expect it to be so successful?
“No, not really, this has never happened to us before,” says Bjarni. “The last time we released an album, there were only a handful of people who knew who we were.” Bjössi has a more pessimistic view of the whole situation: “The name Mínus has always been connected to our negative way of thinking. Every time we play we expect noone to show up and nothing to work out, just so we won’t be disappointed. So I never expected anything from this single. It will just be exciting to see how it goes.”
The album’s release date has been pushed back from the scheduled April 16 to the end of April. I ask them if any plans have been made for the follow up. “Not really,” says Bjarni. “Right now we are just taking it one step at a time. We have just released the first single, now we just want to get the album out. After that we’ll just wait and see what comes up. We have nothing big planned so far.”
Judging from the reception of their first single, it will be safe to assume that they have a busy summer ahead of them.
The Great Northern Whalekill is scheduled for release at the end of April.