Sweden has a long history of interest, understanding, and purveyance of progressive-minded music. Whether it’s folk music, jazz, rock, or heavy metal, the Swedes have proven to be experts time and again. Located in central Sweden, the Jönköping/Linköping-based progressive hard rock outfit Hällas are no exception. The quintet formed in 2011 and quickly got to work on melding influences like Wishbone Ash, Kebnekaise, Anekdoten, ’90s black metal (not evident), November, Camel, and synth pop to form material that would eventually end up on the group’s now sold-out self-titled EP. Celebrated by fan and critic alike, Hällas’ smooth complexities were soon carried over to the writing sessions for new album, Excerpts From a Future Past.
Two years in the making, Excerpts From a Future Past, on Swedish indie The Sign Records, shows remarkable growth from “Autumn In Space” and “Tale of a Tyrant.” That is to say, the Swedes have expanded their progressive leanings, improved their musicianship, and rooted a sound that’s distinctly ’70s (probably early mids). But this isn’t throwback because it’s kinda cool in Sweden. Hällas are doing their thing from the heart. Tracks like “The Astral Seer,” “The Golden City of Semyra,” and “Shadow of the Templar” demonstrate a love of the era, the aesthetics of the day, and an astute understanding of how not to make music that’s tedious, overbearing, or overwrought. Between the spirited guitar lines and overlapping motifs of Alexander Moraitis and Marcus Pettersson, there’s a traditional songwriting sense. Add in Tommy Alexandersson’s baritone voice, and it all comes into view, especially when it’s wrapped in a neat spaced-out Knights Templar concept. But the real kicker isn’t Hällas maze-like approach (think Nektar or Hawkind), but rather their traditional songwriting experiments, such as single “Star Rider,” a brilliantly composed pop song with the heart and mind of guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner imbued throughout.
Read on eggheads, Swedeophiles, prognuts, and Hällas supporters. We have Tommy Alexandersson, Kasper Eriksson, Nicklas Malmqvist, and Marcus Pettersson talking the past, present, and Excerpts From a Future Past!
Tell us which bands are informing the sounds of Hällas. I hear Wishbone Ash, Camel, Nektar, and, of course, Kebnekaise. Am I on point?
Kasper Eriksson: The bands you mentioned are most definitely great influences to us. We appreciate a lot of old prog bands, but also bands from other genres. Some of us really enjoy ’90s black metal and others listen to synth or pop as well.
What else informs the sounds of Hällas?
Kasper Eriksson: Probably video games, fantasy movies, and five nerdy minds!
There’s a very heavy ‘70s vibe. What is it about the ‘70s that inspires you?
Tommy Alexandersson: I really like the sound and production from that era; all of us do and that’s why we try to capture that sense of the ‘70s soundscape. During that period, bands tried to experiment a lot with new sounds like synthesizers and sound effects in a progressive way and we really like to work like that, even if it already has been done. A lot of music from that time is very pure and not so overproduced like today and the way they wrote songs was brave and sometimes far from the common template of writing songs.
What kind of gear are you using, vintage or modern? Does gear choice affect the way you approach Hällas?
Tommy Alexandersson: We like to use as much vintage gear as we can because of the simplicity and warm sound it brings. Actually it’s kind of idiotic. The amps and gear are really heavy and take a lot of space, but we think it’s worth it. Also it makes a huge impact on the sound. Of course it’s not the gear that’s most important. You can get good results with new gear as well, but old gear has a special feeling and sound.
Excerpts from a Future Past is your first full-length. Did you have a masterplan or was it assembled track by track, in pieces?
Kasper Eriksson: A little bit of both, I suppose. We wrote the songs track by track, mixed and moved some ideas and in the end tried to find the missing pieces in the huge puzzle of creating an album.
The album flows naturally. Was sequencing important and if so, at what point did the final sequence come together?
Nicklas Malmqvist: The track order is very thought through. We wanted the album to be a good experience for the listener so we tried to think from a listener’s perspective, how ‘demanding’ the different tracks would be and put them in an order we thought would fit both the story and the musical flow. Some tracks have certain musical roles: for example, the track “Nebulon’s Tower” serves as an intermission and build-up to the next one and the last track of the album “Illusion Sky” is almost like a ‘credit’ track to be played after the album’s actual story has ended.
I found the song “Star Rider” by accident on Youtube. I was hooked instantly. It took me about a week and some Swedish death metal to forget the chorus. How would you rank “Star Rider” against the other tracks on the album, like opener “The Astral Seer?”
Kasper Eriksson: “Star Rider” is special to us because it helped us prove that we could do something that was almost completely new to us. It was our first song to contain the same ingredients as a pop song, with a verse/refrain/verse/refrain-base and a steady 4/4 beat. It differs from the other songs of the album, but it’s an important part of it and it helped us to get more people to find our music.
Excerpts from a Future Past is a concept album. Where did the concept come from? It feels a bit like He-Man, the cartoon, if I’m being honest. A bit sci-fi, a bit fantasy.
Marcus Pettersson: Absolutely! There’s definitely both sci-fi and fantasy in there. Initially, it all came about from the melodies and the harmonies we write, I think. They tend to have a kind of folkish vibe to them, while the synthesizers often add a touch of space/sci-fi. Although our first EP included songs with both these elements as well, they were never really intertwined musically nor lyrically. In that respect, Excerpts from a Future Past felt like a natural continuation of the themes on the EP, which we wanted to explore further; only this time more woven together and brought to a larger scale. The concept of the album grew out of an idea I had upon hearing the opening riff to “The Astral Seer” about this phantom, an all knowing astrological seer, whose powers had grown to such an extent that he could control the stars and therefore also the fate of mankind. Inevitably, he was sentenced to death by society for these endeavors, yet managed to escape from the underworld, kind of like Orpheus in Greek mythology, so I guess that’s an inspiration as well. However, in our story, this would become a curse as he would forever walk the Earth, trapped between dimensions and time, chased by fortune-seeking knights and by those who wish to bring him back to his gruesome fate. We also wanted to include the knight from the EP (Hällas) as well as expand on the settings (“The Golden City of Semyra”) and the story kind of developed from all that. In short, the main concept originated from the feelings of the music we wrote, while the story itself could dictate how the missing pieces of the songs should sound like and in turn which feelings they should arouse in light of the story.
Are there any concept albums that wowed you? Like 2112, The Wall, or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?
Kasper Eriksson: It was mostly the thought of doing a concept album that made us do it. We all agreed early on the idea of doing one since we all like storytelling. It’s a great way to make songwriting exciting! But of course, there’s a lot of good ones out there, such as Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play and Selling England By the Pound by Genesis.
Are you worried about being pigeonholed as a ‘70s throwback rock band?
Kasper Eriksson: There’s no secret that we enjoy old music and get most of our influences from the ’70s and the ’80s. People can call us what they want but it won’t change they way our music sounds like.
What’s next for Hällas? Excerpts from a Future Past was out in October. Any major plans to tour?
Kasper Eriksson: Right now, we’re still planning our future visits to various cities around Europe. We will play at some cool festivals this year, such as Roadburn, Beyond the Gates and Hammer of Doom. But we’ve decided not to play too much, since we need some time to focus on the next album.
** Hällas’ new album, Excerpts From a Future Past, is out now on The Sign Records. Order physical (HERE) or digital (HERE). Click now or forever walk between dimensions and time, which is fun at first, but really terrible later.