Waylander was one of the first bands to pioneer the sound of folk metal. They’ll refuse any credit for it though, nor for the movement it spawned. They are the real deal, genuine in their art, their expression and, as it turns out, their love for beer.
The band sparked my interest in the genre years ago and the fact that they’ve been around for 25 years now is a testament to the lasting quality of their work. Having seen trouble in the line-up through the years, the band has released a number of records and is working on the latest, following in the steps of 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’.
Hailing from Northern-Ireland, the band is relatively isolated. This has allowed them, and many other bands on the green island to develop their distinct own sound. This, and much more, I got to ask Ard Chieftain O’Hagan about. As founder, singer and original member, he was kind enough to answer my questions.
Pagan souls and ancient hearts: Waylander
I want to take you back to 1993 and ask how you came up with the musical direction and style that became Waylander. Where other bands inspiring the connection between folklore, folk music, and metal or was it something outside of music?
We certainly had no grand plan in the formative stages, I’d go so far as to say that, we didn’t have a plan at all. In retrospect, I might have named the band a tad prematurely as several months after stabilizing a working lineup the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place when Born to the fight was penned and we realized we’d perhaps stumbled across a path we could follow. Of course, mixing folk music with Metal was no fluke, it was in the subconscious of my brother. the guitarist and had been in my mind since I was 13 years old, when I first heard Horslips. They were a 70’s band who crossed progressive rock with traditional Irish music and used a lot of Irish folklore and mythology. Growing up, folk music was always on the radio in the house, even though by the age of 10 I only heard it when one side of my Metal vinyl had finished. I’d always had a huge interest in the folklore and history of my land, so you can see all the threads which later joined together to point us in a certain direction. In many ways, it was simply meant to be.
What do these legends and myths that you put in your music mean to you and how do you feel they are relevant today as topics for your music? I’ve also noticed you referring to traditional religious occasions, how deep does this run for you?
They mean everything to me, every time I write lyrics I bare my soul. I have been fascinated by the folklore of my land from a very young age and it certainly helps that Emain Macha [which features heavily in the myths and legends], is located a few short miles outside the city of my birth. When you have a background like mine I suppose it is inevitable that I write and have written about this particular subject matter. Of course, the stories and folklore are every bit as relevant today but I am definitely more into seeking out the hidden meanings than simply retelling the tales.
I began following the Druid’s path in 1996 so the references to the ancient festivals and religion run as deep as my soul. The new album, Eriú’s wheel, is actually a concept album incorporating the festivals and solar observances of the year, the four fire festivals the two equinox and the two solstices.
You’ve been active in the pagan metal genre for years now. Waylander is one of the early bands to pick up this style. How do you feel this genre has changed over the years, having started out with it, witnessed the popularity and peak with the Pagan Fest tours and its decline (where we also saw a lot of cheesy bands)? I’ve read some less than lofty thoughts from you on certain bands for example.
In the beginning, it seemed that the bands playing pagan and folk influenced metal were genuine and were doing what came natural to them.At that time there was no internet and bands were a million times more isolated than they are in this day and age, which meant that there was no trend to follow. To discover bands of a similar philosophy meant getting actively involved in the worldwide underground metal scene which involved a lot of letter writing, tape trading and no little expense. There was a lot of mutual respect around in those embryonic days. As time marched on some bands saw the opportunity to perhaps make a living from a genre that went from ridicule in the early years to quite well known by the 2000s. Did these bands sell out or compromise their sound? In many cases yes, the more ridiculous ones even being content to be some kind of joke bands which is anathema to someone like me. I’ve been told more than once that I cut off my nose to spite my face in this regard and maybe they are right but my response is, my nose is quite big enough to endure a few more cuttings yet. It was ironic that when the trend got huge that Waylander were more or less inactive at that time, due to a serious amount of lineup changes. My bottom line is that integrity can never be compromised, no matter what the reward but it’s down to individual choice really. There are so many bands now it would make your head spin, it’s hard to keep up.
Ireland, and in your case (Northern Ireland), appears to have been an early adaptor of the genre with bands like Primordial and Cruachan and yourselves. Why do you think it emerged so strongly there and not in a different country (for example, Greece, where black metal firmly took root, never had this folk tradition)?
There must have been something in the water in the early 90s. It’s no surprise really, Ireland has a folk and literary tradition, which is second to none and yes I am biased. To be honest, though, I remember in 1994 finding out about Pimordial and a little later Cruachan and I was initially unpleasantly astounded that other people on our small island had a similar vision to mine. The reality is that there is just so much history, folklore, literature and tragedy to supply 50 bands with inspiration and subject matter never mind the half dozen or so who have existed over the decades. As for Greece, I seem to recall a few bands who referenced Greek mythology, maybe they played black metal but at least it was there.
Also, being from Northern Ireland has your music ever caused controversy or mixed reactions in your home country, as it would appear it leans to Irish identity. Or have you ever been accused of any political sympathies of ideas? For example, the title of your debut record ‘Reawakening Pride Once Lost’ might in this day and age be lumped in a particular corner
Most of the controversy has been because we have the cheek to mix folk music into our sound. Suffice to say that folk metal wouldn’t be the most popular of genres in Ireland. There have been a few incidents, not all of them negative, over the years but they are a rarity, to be honest. If I’ve been accused of certain political leanings it is news to me, there isn’t a political party here who represents my views anyway. Reawakening pride once lost was more of an affirmation of my Pagan path and a dig at the Christian society we have endured over the centuries, so if that lumps us in a particular corner, well, quite simply, I couldn’t care less.
All your album titles seem to refer both the old and the new, what would you say is the overall message in Waylander’s music?
The message is straightforward enough, look to our past to learn how to live today, if you don’t know where you came from how can you hope to know where you are going.
I understand you are working on a new album. Can you tell something more about this and what has changed in your way of approach since 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’?
We’re just about to begin mixing the new album, Ériú’s Wheel. A decision was made to attempt a concept album incorporating the Fire Festivals, the Solstices and Equinoxes, each with their own piece of music and hopefully create something which does justice to the concept. It wasn’t as easy as we’d imagined, and a few false starts took place, but we’ve had the songs more or less ready for almost a year now. It’s been a different writing experience this time around due mainly to the fact there are 6 people in the band who all have lives outside of the band. Getting all of us together at the same time was quite difficult at times and impossible at other times. We had a member who had a serious illness and others who had work commitments but we somehow persevered and slowly pieced together this album. It will be a huge relief when it’s finally mixed and sent off to the Label.
You’ve had some struggles with the line-up through the years, particularly with one member. Now, I don’t mean to drag that up, but what is in your opinion key to keep a band running for such a long time?
I think the key is to be mentally unwell, why else would you put up with the heartache? It’s a very difficult question to answer as each problem scenario is unique.
As one of the ‘original’ wave of pagan metal bands, which acts do you currently see carry the torch for what the music originally meant and captured? What do you think it means to play extreme metal in 2018?
The likes of Saor and Skyforger and Negura Bunget are bands who immediately spring to mind. To be honest, I’m no expert on our scene at all, I’m much more likely to pick up a cd by a band we play with then use mailorder. Yes, I know I could use the internet but I don’t, I’m way too old school for that. Are you asking if the extreme metal is relevant in this day and age? I hope so, most of my musical tastes involve various levels of extremity and I see no signs of things being on the downturn.
I want to ask you about your albums and their separate identities, but in a way that is interesting to you. I read that you are fussy about your beers, so my question is this: If you had to compare each of your albums to a beer, which beers would they be and why?
Reawakening Pride once Lost – old school, yet novel, a beer that has lasted the test of time, let’s go for, OLD SPECKLED HEN
The Light, the Dark, and the Endless Knot – an attempt, though heartfelt maybe doesn’t have the subtlety or refinement to last the test of time, HOBGOBLIN
Honour Amongst Chaos – Has to be something strong, something that takes a bit of effort to appreciate but worth it in the long run, DUVEL
Kindred Spirits – Something more immediate but still packs a punch yet decidedly moreish – FRANCISCAN WELL REBEL RED
It’s too early to say about the new album, will know for sure after mixing
I wonder, would you make the same music, if you lived anywhere else than in Northern-Ireland?
I’d like to think if i lived anywhere on the island of Ireland a similar sound would emerge but living in the north and growing up during the dark days of the troubles has undoubtedly had an impact. For a band meant to be of the land it would be hypocritical not to be influenced by that land.
What future plans does Waylander have?
We plan to begin gigging towards the end of February 2019, i’m organising a uk tour at the minute and so far we have 2 festival confirmations, Celtic Transylvania in Romania and Dark Trolls in Germany. Hopefully, we get out on the road more often than usual, which is certainly the plan.
If you had to describe Waylander as a dish, what would it be and why?
We’d be that dish in your cupboard which refuses to break and becomes useful every now and again for lapping whiskey out of it like a dog.
YES YES, i cheated on a few but i hope you find the answers meet your requirements, amy thanks for the interrogation. All the best.