Dark and cold, Iceland is not exactly the hotbed for power metal that mainland Europe has been over the years. But with the worldwide attention the Reykjavík-based Power Paladin is gaining in early 2022, maybe that could change. Formed in 2017 and signed to Atomic Fire Records, the new label started by Nuclear Blast founder Markus Staiger, Power Paladin unleashed its debut album, “With the Magic of Windfyre Steel” (review), on Jan. 7, injecting the genre with some much-needed new blood. While opportunities to see the band live in the near future will be limited to those in Iceland, the sextet is continuing to get its name out there in a series of entertaining music videos, both live action and animated. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with drummer Einar Karl “Kalli” Júlíusson to discuss the new album, the band’s fantasy influences and more.
LIVE METAL: You probably get this a lot, but I’m not aware of another power metal band coming from Iceland. We tend to think of a much darker, heavier sound for Icelandic bands. So how did you guys come together there as a power metal band?
EINAR KARL “KALLI” JÚLÍUSSON: Yeah, so there have been maybe six in total in Iceland, and I’ve been the drummer in three of them, I think. (laughter) The bassist, Kristleifur, and guitarist, Ingi, started a band when we were 17. We would call it the first power metal band in Iceland. We played together for a few years, and then we split up. A few years later, a few bands later—I’ve been playing with them in a few other projects—we started another band. For the record, our singer Atli started the band and recruited us after the last one broke up. So he is the main hat of the band. He had some ideas about what he wanted to play and showed us some songs, and we really liked them. He’s a master at making some catchy songs. That’s, I guess, his main strength.
How did you discover power metal originally?
I think it was the time of—do you remember Kazaa, the downloading program?
I think when I was like 12 or something, I downloaded some band with a really cool name, Demons & Wizards. That was kind of my introduction into power metal. I was like, “What the fuck is that?!” It just blew my mind. Like, “Is it allowed to play drums like this and sing like this? This is amazing!” But a few years later, I took the usual thrash metal period, and then I got back into power metal with bands like Blind Guardian, Kamelot, Sonata Arctica—all the classics.
When you discovered Demons & Wizards, were you already into fantasy at that point?
No, not really. I mean, I was so young then. Of course, I read a lot of books. When I was reading “The Silmarillion” by JRR Tolkien, I found “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” by Blind Guardian, and I listened to it while I was reading, and it was amazing together. So I read a lot of fantasy, and I watch a lot of fantasy, play fantasy games—everything. Everything is fantasy. We have to escape the reality here in Iceland. It’s always so dark and gloomy.
I just saw they released some photos (and, after this interview, a trailer) from the new Amazon “Lord of the Rings” series coming out later this year, and I heard they’re pulling a lot from “The Silmarillion” for that. Are you excited about that?
I am excited, and I’m very nervous. Because I think “The Silmarillion” is my favorite book that Tolkien wrote. It’s pretty hard to read because it happens over so long a period and so many characters. It’s like the Icelandic sagas—a lot of names you have to remember: “This is the son of this one, and he is the son of this one.” So yes, I am very excited and very nervous. I hope they pull it off and it’s like the first six series of “Game of Thrones.”
How was your band able to gain the attention of Atomic Fire records and get signed?
So we recorded the album, and we finished it in 2021—early that year. We sent it to our friend, Thorsteinn Kolbeinsson, and he is the head of Wacken Metal Battle here in Iceland. So he has a lot of friends in the business, and he absolutely loved the album. The first plan was just to release it on Spotify and see what happens. If it gets 1,000 listens, we would be very happy. We mostly did it to prove to ourselves that we actually could make an album. And he sent it over to Markus Staiger of Atomic Fire Records and told us to wait until he replied if he liked it or not. Just a week later, he called us up, “Hey, you want to talk? We’re starting a new label, and we’re pretty hush hush about it.” So then we started to cooperate with them and having meetings and planning stuff. It’s been unreal. We never imagined that this would gain this much attention, and we’re just amazed. It’s been crazy.
You said you finished the album in 2021, so that means you were recording and making the album during the pandemic.
Yeah, we started actually in 2018, planning and doing some recording. It was happening very slowly, and we were getting frustrated with the progress that we were making. Then the pandemic hit, and we just decided, “Alright, we go all in. We have nothing better to do than to make the best record we can make.” So the pandemic actually helped us a lot in focusing on that one project instead of taking concerts here and preparing for that.
Were you all able to come together in the studio for it, or did you have to record your parts separately?
We did it ourselves. Most of it is recorded in Ingi’s apartment. He started sound engineering in the Netherlands. Mostly, we were just hanging one by one in his room, just sweating away and going crazy (laughs). It’s a very tedious process.
You mentioned how your singer is kind of the driving force, but what is the actual songwriting process like? Once he brings in an idea, where does it go from there?
I don’t know how other bands do it—if they jam or something. Either Ingi or Atli makes a song in Guitar Pro and sends it to us. We evaluate if we want to do it or not. Then we rehearse it by ourselves and then come together when we pretty much have the song under control and see if it has the same magic as on the file. And yeah, most of the time, it does. Obviously, we make some changes while we’re playing it and make it work.
The album title, “With the Magic of Windfyre Steel,” is that a reference to something specific?
I have to say I’m not sure, because our first song that we played together as a band was called “With the Power of Windfyre Steel.” So it’s an internal reference.
What are some of your favorite songs on the album?
Mine? Ugh. I’m so sick of them all! (laughter) No, I love the last two, “Into the Forbidden Forest” and “There Can Be Only One.” They were the last songs we wrote, and they are more like what I want out of power metal. I want to have it big, epic, symphony, and have it like a driving force. So those are my favorites.
I really love the album cover, and I’ve enjoyed your videos, too. How important is that visual side for the band?
Very important. When you’re making an album, it can sound good and everything can work properly, but if you don’t have a cover that will catch the eye, especially if you’re a no-name band like us. So people just see the cover and like, “What is this? Is this a new video game? Oh, it’s an album.” But we really do like to have a visual with our songs. We commissioned a special drawing for Kraven. We wanted to have it epic with him in the middle of a battle.
Kraven the Hunter is kind of an obscure character, a Spider-Man villain. Why did you decide to do that song about him?
That is actually a very good question. (laughter) I wish I knew what Atli was thinking when he was writing the lyrics, because yeah, as you said, he’s obscure. I didn’t even remember him. Well, I’m not the biggest Spider-Man fan. But Atli and Bjarni, the other guitarist, they’re huge Spider-Man fans. So they really do like their Marvel stuff.
I just saw they’re making a movie about him.
Yeah, Russell Crowe and company. We’re just waiting by the phone to hear from the studio. (laughter)
Yeah, you’ve got the theme song all ready for them.
Yeah, when they call us and ask if we want the ending credits—”Yes, please.”
What are some of your other favorite fantasy movies, shows, books —anything like that?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Brandon Sanderson, obviously. I’m a huge fan. I read almost all his books.
I’ve read “Mistborn” and the first two “Stormlight” so far.
You have to read the newest “Stormlights.”
Yeah, they’re waiting for me. We’ve got them here at the house.
Yeah, they’re so thick, and I have so little time right now to read (laughs). Also, I personally love a sci-fi series called “Red Rising.” I’m a huge, huge fan of that. It’s about, basically, space Romans. And of course, the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Who hasn’t watched them hundreds of times? Every Christmas, I go through them all.
What plans does the band have for playing live in the near future?
Oh, that is a good question. Basically, we were told that nothing is really happening now in 2022, and if there is something happening, it’s already fully booked. So our plan is just to play little shows here in Iceland, gain some more experience with our new live system. Hopefully, it’ll be opening somewhere, but who knows? But next two years, if somebody remembers us by then, we hope to play some festivals in Europe.
Are you continuing to write new music as you’re kind of waiting for live opportunities to come around?
Yeah, we’re pitching ideas and working on some stuff. Who knows? I don’t think there will be a new record next year, but hopefully it won’t be the Wintersun waiting period—10 or, what was it, 15 years? (laughs)
Looking further ahead into the future, what kind of long-term goals do you have for this band?
Playing some shows on the mainland and hopefully on some cruise ships. Who doesn’t want to play on a cruise ship? (laughs) That sounds just amazing. And also, we really want to go to Japan and play there. And obviously, South America and North America would also be a pretty big step. But I’ve heard that you have to really plan that. There’s a lot of things you need to prepare if you’re gonna tour, especially North America.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap this up?
Just check out the album, and if you like it, give us a follow or something. Just keep it rockin’.
Buy “With the Magic of Windfyre Steel.”