Latest Release: Frontschwein (Century Media)
The Scandinavian climate can be exceptionally cold and brutally unforgiving with regular frequency. It is therefore fitting that Sweden’s Marduk remains one of the most intense black metal bands who continue to be a formidable force both musically and lyrically. In Australia for a comprehensive battering of venues and eardrums across the land and with Inquisition in tow, Marduk’s founding member Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson aka ‘Evil’ gave Loud Online a pre-tour chat. Marduk can be seen as uncompromising, confrontational or simply spiritually enlightened and intent on delivering a musical battering ram. Decide for yourself, but chances are Marduk are not about to change their ways or bow to popular opinion. In fact, they largely thrive on going against the grain.
By the time you get down here for another tour of Australia, it may be stinking hot given it will be in the middle of summer.
It is kind of bizarre because when we leave home it will be the middle of winter here. So it is going to be a contrast. I remember the last time we played in Australia and when we left Brisbane it was 36 degrees and when we got home it was 25 degrees below zero.
Since your last tour here, you’ve now got a new drummer [Fredrik Widigs] and there is another album in the works [Frontschwein]. Is the album going hit during the tour?
The album should be out, most likely, on the same week that we go out on the road so it is coming out at the last minute. Sometime around when we start the tour it should be out.
Your previous drummer, Lars [Brodesson], offered up a number of songs for the album Wormwood. I’m guessing it may take a while for your new drummer to get up to speed on the songwriting side of things for Marduk.
Yeah, I don’t know, I think that he has adjusted very quickly to what we do and we treat him very well. He has a strong dedication and will so everything it moving along well.
How do you keep in time with the drumming when playing live?
I don’t know because for me it is about reflecting the spirit of the music and having a drummer that has a spirit and soul. That is a good beginning to keep doing what you do and to unleash the energy live.
It has been a while now since Mortuus [Daniel Rostén] joined the ranks. Does his prior band Funeral Mist still have a large impact on the current Marduk sound?
Yeah of course it will be that way. He is Funeral Mist and he is a part of Marduk so when you work together you get a reflection of that as well. That comes naturally because he works with the lyrics, arrangements and music in the way that he does and we work our way. When we work together we then get some more inspiration as well.
When it comes to post production, are there a lot of discussions or does someone have a veto, as it were, over final sounds?
Overall, when we work on music, it is about all of us working on music on our own and then we get back together in our rehearsal bunker and then let things fall into the right place. Some people come up with a cool song or might have a riff and so then we all work on the arrangement and it usually falls into the right place very quickly.
You’ve been doing it for a long time so are you still used old methods or have you embraced the technology changes in writing songs?
No, not really, we don’t really use old things but the new album is recorded in a kind of old school way. I mean, it is very organic with drums without any triggers throughout the album because we wanted a natural and great drum sound. Most albums on albums today sound so unbelievably plastic so we wanted a genuine sound. We worked a lot on the drum sounds and then it is two guitars, bass and vocals. Recording the album went fast but with the intention of what we do is able to be performed live. It about unleashing energy and also about having an energy that works with the line up that we have so how we sound in either the rehearsal room or live is very much the way that we sound on an album.
Does that energy come from the lyrics or the music?
I would say both and therefore both are equally important. We put a lot of energy into it so that when we work on a song, the music needs to be reflected in the lyric and of course the other way around so that then together they create a great dynamic to become the iron fist in your face. We put a lot of effort into trying to get that reflection of each other in the song. So everything is equally important along with the packaging. We are a band that does everything ourselves. The album was recorded in our bass player’s [Magnus Andersson aka ‘Devo’] studio [Endarker Studios] and he does the mixing and engineering and we do the layout ourselves so it is all a band effort with no interference from anybody else.
How does that compare to earlier releases when you might have been forced into studios by labels or outside forces?
It is great to work this way. As our bass player owns the studio, we can go in and record for three or four days in a row and then be home for a week and then go in again when we are highly motivated instead of traveling to another city and working nine to five and studio technicians that need to pick up kids or whatever. It is great fro us because we can work constantly without leaving the studio for however many days that we want so it is great to work that way.
Is the latest album more brutal than Serpent Sermon?
I don’t know that it is more brutal. I believe that all of the albums that we have done are brutal in their own way and it all depends on how you define brutality. For me, brutality can be a mixture of speed and aggression. If something is doomy, that can be brutal as well. For us it is all about catching the moment and hen creating a vision in the listener’s mind so then they get the true reflection of both the spirit of the music and the lyrics.
When you’re touring here again, will the set list need to have classics like material from Those of the Unlight? Does that chain you down a bit?
Some people will probably expect those things but for us it is about playing at least a few songs from the latest album because I believe you are never stronger than your latest release. Of course, trying to get something that spans an area of about twenty five years means there are a lot of songs to play. But we try, more or less, to do something from every album. That is the full vision of the band and what it is all about.
Are you releasing the latest album on vinyl?
Yes, of course. Everything is always released on vinyl. It is very important because I’ve always believed in that format. Even when it was nearly disappearing we still always believed in doing things on vinyl and pushing our labels to do great vinyl releases. I think that in the future, vinyl will survive the CD.
Is there a particular release from your back catalogue that shines in the vinyl format?
I think they all shine in their own way. Taking out the vinyl, smelling it and watching it is always something special. So, I think they are all great. But, I think the packaging of the albums from about Plague Angel onwards has been better because we had more options to do gatefolds and booklets so you get a really good reflection of what it is all about.
Speaking of what it is all about, is there a philosophy of adopting an almost evangelical approach for Marduk’s music?
Yeah, we want people to feel what we mean with the music and the lyrics. Therefore, we do everything ourselves so it is really a reflection of the band. A lot of bands do an album and then it is up to the label to do the layout of things which I do not believe in. Doing that yourself is important to get a true reflection of the themes of the songs and everything. It is about a total experience.
How do you view the black metal scene currently? Would you say it is healthy?
I don’t know if it is healthy or not. I don’t really care especially, the scene. I don’t really feel like it is a scene like it used to be for me. These days it is about doing what we believe in and I try not to look at what anybody else is doing because I know that is it important to keep doing what we are doing and stay focused on that. I don’t think there is such a big scene. There are a lot of bands but it is not a scene like it used to be. It is not the same thing, overall.
How you feel your guitar playing style has changed over the years?
I don’t know, I never really sit down and think about it. I don’t really practice at being a good guitar player. To me, in a way, it is more of a weapon to release the energy and is more about creating a feeling than about being good technically. I am not impressed by us being world skilled guitar players. For me, playing guitar is about creating music more than it is about becoming a great guitar player. Still, you probably get better over the years in your style.
When do you know that a created piece of music is completed? How much collaboration is allowed for a song from others within the band?
I think you always have to trust your instincts and your gut feeling about that. Sometimes somebody comes up with a few riffs and other times I may come up with what I believe is a whole song. Everybody can have input if they want but at some point we have a feeling that it is carved in stone. Usually if someone comes up with an idea, I don’t mind. For me it is about being companions, working in the same direction and together to create the best hymns there can be. I don’t mind to let other members interact as well.
You’ve done so many tours and played on festivals and your own headline shows? What is the best option for Marduk these days?
In a way I prefer to do a club show because we get to play on our own equipment, get a sound check and also, people can get the full picture. Sometimes playing festivals can be a big hassle but I do appreciate the power of playing in front of a lot of people and that is a good combination. So I appreciate it all because as long as you are there and the crowd is there, then you can create magic together.
Do you feel like the song ‘Hangman of Prague’ is the Marduk equivalent of Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’, with the way people might perceive it, lyrically speaking?
Oh that would be a good thing, if people can compare it to that because that is one of the most timeless classics. I wouldn’t compare us to Slayer though because that is something unique. We focus on what we do and if people make comparisons it is flattering. The most important thing though is to feel really satisfied, that you’re being genuine with what you do and that you feel loyal and true to yourself.
Have you ever found yourselves in hot water over some of the lyrical content?
Yeah it happens once in a while when we sing about certain historical topics. But, I don’t care. I don’t see why people should have a problem with it because it is describing history, the way it happened. I cannot change history but I can write a soundtrack to certain happenings that fascinate me. If I like to do that, I will do that. I will never let anybody in the media tell me what to sing or write about, you know, that would be ridiculous. It is not the way we work.
Where do you see Marduk in say the next half decade or so? You’re on the road a lot.
It is hard to say but we have been around for more or less twenty five years and I feel stronger and more confident as a band than ever. On top of that, the inspiration is there and we feel more dedicated. I feel the flame is really burning from within so I don’t see us stopping for a lot of years to come. As long as we have a vision, we will continue to do what we do. We are touring a lot but we are also home once in a while to recharge the batteries, doing something completely different and then you are back on track again. To me, it is great to be back home again because I live outside of the city so I take my time with a lot of outdoor life of hunting and fishing. That is inspiring to then go back and hit it again.
Of your back catalogue, what would be the most cohesive representation of Marduk’s artistic vision? In other words, which one is your best achievement?
I think we see that with most albums. When I look back on old releases there are always things that I wanted to change but I mean, it has always been about capturing the moment and that was the moment. You also change as a musician and may have eighteen years old when you did one album compared to now being over forty. But I am still proud of all the albums. I’d like to think that they were all important for the time that they came out. The thirteen albums we have done are our thirteen pillars on which we stand as a band. It is our foundation.
Has your attitude to spiritualism changed? Anything you want to clarify?
No, it has grown a bit stronger. For me, the title of Satanist works very well for what I believe in and how I am. That’s the way I see it.
A lot of bands miss the point and just get into the imagery. Is that frustrating for you?
That is probably ninety five percent of bands. It used to be frustrating but I show folks a lot of things because I don’t let that affect me. People can do and believe whatever they like, it is not my decision to make. I can look upon it but I prefer to just stay out of it and focus on what we do and do what I believe in, then I leave others to do what they want to do.
What can audiences in Australia look forward to compared to your previous tour?
For us it is about going out to unleash the energy of the music and the power contained within and it turns out the way it does. There is no agenda with how we work. It is just about capturing the moment there as well, to go in a nail it so people can get the spirit of the songs and rejoice in it.
You’re bringing Inquisition so it should be a great walloping.
I believe so. I believe it is a great combination of bands. It is my pleasure and we’ll see you when we come marching across your territories.
Paul is a Sydney-based writer who also contributes to Australian Guitar magazine.
Marduk is currently touring with Inquisition
13/1: Enigma Bar, Adelaide SA
14/1: Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
16/1: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC**
17/1: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW
18/1: Crowbar, Brisbane QLD