Interview: Ragnar Sverrisson of Ophidian I
Interviewed by Tim Finch
Today we are chat with Ragnar Sverrisson, drummer with technical death metal outfit Ophidian I. We chat about the bands back ground, the new album, and when they'll be hitting the road again.
The Razor's Edge: So welcome to The Razor's Edge.
Ragnar: Thank you
The Razor's Edge: We’re going to talk about your new album today, but first off, for our listeners who may not know you guys, can you tell us who and what are Ophidian I?
Ragnar: Yes, Ophidian I is a five piece technical death metal band from Iceland we play extremely fast, extremely technical but hopefully also extremely catchy death metal that's our goal at least!
The Razor's Edge: Having had your new album ‘Desolate’ on repeat the past week I can say it’s quite brutal!
Your press release describes you as death metal’ but I think that falls short of where you are. If you were to describe your sound to a new listener how would you do it?
Ragnar: Oh, I guess our inspiration to come from multiple sources but we are very much into extremely fast and brutal death metal such as Origin or Hate Eternal or Nile but at the same time we are into the old school technical death metal bands Spawn of Possession, Obscura, and all these great bands. And I think we are just the sum of all these inspirations. So we like catchy and technical metal, but at the same time we also like it super fast. So our goal was to try to combine these elements.
The Razor's Edge: And specifically your drumming. I couldn't believe how fast you are at certain points on this album. And how you keep the pace up for so long!
Ragnar: Well, I've been at it for 20 years now, I started drumming back in 2001. And I've always been super into this very fast bands, like I mentioned, Origin. So this is what I've been trying to do, I think this is maybe what I bring to the band to always push for more speed. And pretty much what I've been studying for 15 years, it's just endurance and speed. Yeah, it's my contribution.
The Razor's Edge: Hailing from Iceland, how much does the environment in which you live feed into the music that your write?
Ragnar: Subconsciously it feeds into us a great deal. For this band, we're not openly discussing natural inspirations like that. But you know, we live here, and there's lots of open space. And inherently there's lots of loneliness and you feel pretty insignificant when you're traveling around the country, there's so much open space and grandiose natural monuments that you see just on your way to visit your relatives in another part of the country. At least for me, you know, back in the days listening to metal music, in the car with my parents, it just totally fit with what I was seeing out the windows and I think this combination just makes you appreciate certain type of melodies, certain types of atmosphere and metal music, maybe more than others and then that this is what you end up going for when you're writing music yourself.
The Razor's Edge: And did that also feed into the album title and the artwork?
Ragnar: At some level yes, but I think also just the lyrical content is happening at some very unforgiving harsh location where these trials and troubles are happening for the protagonist in the lyrics. So it's also metaphorical. But, you know, obviously, I think we're also inspired just by our who landscape.
The Razor's Edge: Touching on the artwork, for me, that is one of the most important elements of any album. You used artwork from Eliran Kantor, who is the go to guy for album artwork these days.
How did the creative process between you and Eliran work, did you give him a direction to go in with this piece?
Ragnar: To be completely honest, I wasn't totally involved in that. Daniel, our guitarist was mostly in correspondence with him. However, you know, we've seen so many great artworks from him, and some of them have perhaps a little bit more action in them than the desolate artwork, maybe a figure or an entity of some sort. We were perhaps a little bit afraid that what we were going for might be a little bit dull, because it was mostly a grandiose landscape. But like you were asking about earlier, the our surroundings here in Iceland, they are sometimes very magnificent, but there's nothing there. It's completely desolate. So in the end, we're super happy with how it came out. And I'm already seeing positive comments of people liking the artwork and getting inspired by it. So I think Eliran just completely got the point across, he is an amazing artist.
The Razor's Edge: Desolate is only your second full length album as a band, but it’s now nine years after your first album. Obviously you’ve all got commitments in other bands as well, was that the only reason for the long break between releases?
Ragnar: I think you can pretty much look at ‘Desolate’ as a debut album from a new band. There are only two original members from a variant. The rest of us were perhaps session members at some point and we didn't participate in this other album. So perhaps a hook or a riff was maybe leftover from these early days. I guess that is the main reason that we stuck with the name of the band was to stick with this established company, if you will. Other than that, it's a brand new line-up pretty much and completely different people, even if you consider the two remaining members, it's been this long, and there's so much other things happened in the meantime that you would hope that there has been a lot of maturity happening in between when the last album was released. The guys were just barely out of their teens and now we're all on the other side of 30. So a lot of change.
The Razor's Edge: I read elsewhere you took a number of years honing and developing the sound. What’s that process like, as a band what do you put into developing that sound?
Ragnar: Well, I guess it's just combined with the actual writing process itself, the guys would write a song or part of a song, bring it to rehearsal, we would play together as a band, somebody would add their own element on top or layer it. I would always push for more speed or blast beats. We just want everything to be extremely clear and not cluttered in a layer of 100 different noises. This album is about musicality, and musical abilities, it's a showcase. I think there's just so much going on. Chris Donaldson who mixed the album, his work was cut out for him to make room for all of these different frequencies in the mix. That will automatically impact the song in a huge way, you're trying to create this wall but you want to be able to see it from top to bottom, and nothing get lost in the mix. So it's a hard question to answer, which is trying to get so many things across in every single riff. There's so much going on.
The Razor's Edge: I’ve avoided mentioning the pandemic so far, but it had to come up eventually. Did it have any impact on the album at all, be it recording, release dates or anything else?
Ragnar: I would have to say no, we were already far along with the production of the album when the pandemic started. By the time that the album was scheduled for release at Season of Mist, I think they had already sorted out most of the huge problems that they had as a label when the pandemic started. It completely fucked up their timeline for releases just shipping of physical copies and everything was up in smoke at the beginning of the pandemic. But now, when this album is being released, I think that has all been sorted and things are returning to normal. So I would say the only thing that it is impacted is our opportunity to go out and play these songs live and support the album that way, which sucks! Hopefully, fans will still remember the album when we wait to have the chance to come and bring it to the live audiences.
The Razor's Edge: So as we return to some semblance of normality. What’s next for the band, are you planning on touring the album?
Ragnar: What is next in the immediate future is just to support the album digitally, we've created a lot of digital content, there was just a drum playthrough of one of the songs released just three hours ago [see video below]. And we have teasers and short “making of” videos and all kinds of things. We’re not going to be able to go on tours or anything until next year. So for us, that is a long time to prepare, which is fine. We like to practice a lot before each event, be it a recording or a live show, but in all honesty we're waiting for the chance to go and play live. At the moment, we're not planning anything. We don't want to play at a secret event and we're not really into live streaming shows. We just want to go out there and play a live show like proper band like we used to.
The Razor's Edge: What can we expect from an Ophidian I live show?
Ragnar: I would hope you could expect the same force of brutality as you can hear on the album. This is a band playing on the album, we practiced for a solid year, four or five times a week before we went into the studio. It's not created the studio and we're gonna have to battle rumors about that in the coming weeks, and this is why we're releasing these playthroughs and proving that it's actually a band playing the stuff. So we're just going to bring it in and show you guys that we are musicians playing this and at the same time, we love playing the stuff so I'm sure there will be lots of great energy. We're not ones to stand there and play the songs we get super hyped when we are all in sync and in the flow and playing these songs. Sure, we're gonna reverb that to the audience and get it back.
The Razor's Edge: I wanted to just touch on the Icelandic metal scene for a minute. It seems to be thriving right now. Obviously there’s all the other bands you guys are in, plus the likes of Solstafir, The Vintage Caravan and more. What do you think it is about Iceland that makes it such a hotbed for heavy music right now?
Ragnar: Frankly, I think when finally one or two bands actually broke out of here, and made it to the ears of international audiences, that just kind of opened the floodgates, you know what I mean? I've been a part of this scene since 2002, 2003 maybe. And there were so many decent or good or even great bands back then that never had a chance because we were just completely off the map. We didn't have a chance to go and play the music live, we couldn't pack our stuff into a van and drive around Europe. We were so frustrated , why are other people from other countries not noticing, then you have bands like Solstafir. And then later Misþyrming finally made it just with resilience, because they had been around for a long time before they actually got noticed. When people hear that these are great bands doing great things, they want to check out more bands from Iceland, and perhaps the younger generation, the newer musicians, they see that there is an actual chance of getting your music heard, and it inspires them to do better and actually go for it spend some money on a proper release. So it's just fits into itself like that, and, and creates a cycle of good things.
The Razor's Edge: One final question for you tonight, I like to ask of everyone I talk to. What new music are you listening to right now? Any bands that our listeners need to be checking out?
Ragnar: I'm listening to the newest Nile album a lot, mixed and mastered at least by Mark Lewis and the sound and musicality and just the songs are awesome. I was so afraid that when Dallas Toler-Wade left the band, it would be a huge gap to fill, which there was but they seem to have pulled it off fine. Other than that on myself. I'm listening to podcasts and not so much music mostly, but I'd say, the old Behemoth alums comes out. The tough metal albums and stuff like that.