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  • Interview by Faye Coulman

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER: Forndom's H.L.H. Swärd talks Norse myths and making of hauntingly evo

The crumbling bones of our ancestors may have long lain cold and still in the ground, but the illustrious legacy of ancient lore and legends they left behind remains one gloriously untouched by the ravages of time. And thanks to the meticulous labours of Forndom visionary Ludwig Swärd, these ancient, stirringly evocative vibrations have never felt so tangibly vivid and enthralling.

As far as compromising and, in some cases, utterly desecrating the authenticity of ancient myths, legends and even major historical events goes, popular culture certainly has a lot to answer for. Take, for instance, Walt Disney’s ruthless corporate butchering of original Germanic fairytales, Mel Gibson’s garbled excuse for a Scottish accent in Braveheart or the array of historical inaccuracies with which 2001 blockbuster Pearl Harbour is positively littered. And arguably by far the most frequently bastardised of these is Scandinavia’s rich cultural legacy of Norse mythology, a timeless and illustrious tradition that, since its inception many centuries ago, has suffered more than its share of cluelessly ill-informed and ham-fisted modern reworkings. Indeed, even within the sacred subcultural echelons of our beloved metal genre, it’s hard to deny its highly pervasive commercial dilution, with the tradition’s rich array of epic legends having been largely reduced to little more than a cheap and garish performance gimmick. For Forndom creator and Norse mythology buff Ludwig Swärd, such sloppy mishandling is, unsurprisingly, a source of frequent and considerable agitation.

“I’ve always been very critical of this mainstream take on old folklore, like this Vikings TV series,” the composer affirms with an exasperated sigh. “I mean, it’s great that it’s recognised and represented, but I feel like it’s a very British interpretation, taking something which is in fact very Scandinavian and making it more universal which, for me, doesn’t really make sense, particularly taking something that’s clearly Scandinavian in origin and filming it in Ireland. I just feel it’s utterly diluting the whole history and culture of the region. I’d much rather read an academic book that allows me to form my own ideas and impressions of how it was back then and also to associate it with the original landscape, the landscape I grew up with. For me it matters a lot, particularly because I am an academic in Norse religion now myself, but I feel when I read academics that are based in Australia and the US, for example, they don’t live in the place concerned which results in a wholly different understanding than the scholars who actually are from the area itself. Of course, the further you are from this culture itself, the harder you have to work to engage with it properly. I think it’s much easier if you actually are Swedish or Norwegian or possibly even Danish.”

While it’s easy to dismiss such remarks as the stuff of nit-picking academic pedantry, it’s precisely this careful and reverential handling of these treasured ancient traditions that proved so integral in bringing the gifted Swedish composer’s latest artistic vision to full and vividly realised fruition. Having initially kicked off his fledgling musical career with brief spell performing in a local black metal band, it wasn’t long before Swärd began craving infinitely more complex and introspective sonic territories and, in 2012, officially founded ambient solo project Forndom. Beginning life as a Tumblr blog used to display the artist’s various, visually stunning photographs of the ancient ancestral lands to which he feels such a stirringly spiritual and profound attachment, Swärd’s early musical compositions assumed a largely secondary role to the predominantly photographic focus and intent of the project. However, following the release of first EP ‘Flykt’ in 2015, its creator began to dedicate ever-increasing care and attention to the meticulous crafting of these eerily transcendental compositions, culminating in the release of debut album ‘Dauðra Dura’ just a year later.

Swärd recollects, “After the first album, I basically felt like I was fed up with this ambient style because it just felt a little hollow somehow and it didn’t really move me as the artist itself. I’ve always have made music purely for myself in the first place because it’s like a kind of expression of different thoughts and feelings that are very personal to me. But nonetheless, I felt that there was something missing within the sound and, at the same time, I’ve always listened to a lot of classical composers like film music and stuff, but also older classical music because my father’s a cellist so I’ve always carried that influence with me. So I played this kind of ambient style on the last record, but then I thought maybe I should try all these string instruments, try to learn them myself, so I basically spent a whole year just practising them and trying to learn them, and eventually I became good enough to record something. I wrote the whole piece in May 2018 during maybe two weeks, including the lyrics, so it was quite fast. Then I started to find the right instruments for this and I wanted to continue with the idea of more strings, more organic and kind of leave the ambient sound behind. But then, as I wrote the whole piece on piano, you have the whole register of tones initially, but then when I began to transfer it, I felt yet again that something was missing. So then I looked around and I found these professional sample libraries that were actually quite expensive, but I thought if it’s something that is used by professional film composers, then it might be something worth having. So I just tried it out, and that kind of laid a lot of the foundation for the pieces themselves. Of course, with these professional samples you can do pretty much anything and then to this I added the strings, so