It's a rare thing these days to meet a musician whose belief in their art is both thoroughly convincing and devoid of any Spinal Tap-esque comedy value; rarer still when said virtuoso's tenure spans eleven albums with absolutely no sign of slowing down any time soon. In fact, speaking to Marduk's Morgan Håkansson, he rather chirpily informs me early on in our conversation that while his band's latest black metal master-class, _Wormwood_, has only barely rolled off the production line, plans are already well underway for its successor.
"We won't keep people waiting for another two years", he chuckles. "I've got about five or six songs written for the next album and I'm really excited about the direction it's taking."
When quizzed on the direction of said writing, he keeps schtum -- and with good reason. We're here to discuss what will surely go down as one of the most potent entries into the Marduk canon after all, one which benefits as much from Håkansson's penchant for conjuring a truly haunting atmosphere on his guitar as it does from vocalist Mortuus' blood-curdling shrieks. Drafted into the band five years ago, the consensus view is that his presence ensured a much-needed mainline of adrenaline following the horrifically tepid _World Funeral_. On _Wormwood_ his influence is more readily felt in the songwriting as well, with spectacular results.
Morgan agrees wholeheartedly. "This is why I brought him into the band, you know. His voice is fantastic and his presence on stage really adds a lot. It was amazing to have him input more into the songwriting of this album." CoC:
The last time we spoke, we discussed the initial response that you had from the fans and from critics for _Rom 5:12_, but now that you've been touring off the back of that record for the last two years, how do you feel about it?Morgan Håkansson:
I really don't have anything bad to say about it. There are always things that you would done differently with every album, but to tell you the truth, the issues around this album had more to do with problems we had whilst touring. You know we had a couple of difficulties with tours being cancelled through dubious promoters, and that really affects us because we want to be in a position where we can get our music out to as many people in as many countries as possible. This time round we covered Australia, we went to Venezuela, we went to Guatemala -- we conquered a lot of areas that we hadn't played in before, because as I said, we believe in playing in as many places as possible. But there were a few territories we missed out on for various reasons and hopefully the success of _Wormwood_ will help take us there. Musically, I feel that _Rom 5:12_ is a really impactful, really powerful record. But then, I feel that way about everything we've done and I never really compare them to each other, because they all come from a different point in time and ultimately form a strong foundation for us to build on.CoC:
You've said before that you'd begun working on _Wormwood_ before _Rom 5:12_ had even hit the shelves, and it was interesting to me just how different the two are. What were your creative departure points for this record and what were you looking to achieve with it while you were writing it?MH:
There's never any set plan or agenda. We never think that we should have three heavy songs, two fast songs and whatever else. That's not the way to work. We don't rehearse very often while we're not touring, but usually we're off writing stuff on our own and when we get together someone will have a full song or have some riffs that they'd like the rest of the band to expand on. We worked on _Wormwood_ as a unit more than we have any of our other records. Everybody participated writing music, and it's great that everyone wanted to get involved because it made the whole process flow really smoothly.CoC:
Did you intentionally try to elicit a greater level of involvement from the rest of the band?MH:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when you have a unit like we currently have in Marduk that share the same ideas and the same level of devotion to what you're doing, it's an incredible thing. With this record, everybody was really energetic and really enthusiastic about contributing as much as they could, and I think it shows in the end result. CoC:
Now personally, this is your eleventh album with Marduk and you've visited the studio with other projects countless more times. What keeps it interesting for you? MH:
<laughs> It stays interesting, because I don't know shit about studios and the sound engineering process. That's why I like to work with competent producers and engineers who can understand my language and who'll know what I want. Guys in the studio really need to be an extension of the band in that sense, and with this record it was really business as usual. We rehearsed the material beforehand, went in and took about a day to find the sound we were after individually and as a band and then we went in and started to record. The benefit that we have is that we record all of our material in our bass player Magnus Andersson's studio and so we can basically go in and record for three days straight, working 24 hours a day if we want to, take a week off and then go back when we feel motivated and inspired to. We can work whenever we want, and I think that reflects on spirit of the last couple of records.CoC:
_Rom 5:12_ was a fairly complicated, conceptual record, while to me _Wormwood_ feels more modern and far darker; can you talk me through some of the topics you're covering with this album in some more detail?MH:
I know what you mean about _Wormwood_. I really prefer people to read the lyrics and make up their own minds about the meaning. I think that with this album there's a lot of ambiguity. What I can say for sure is that the title for _Wormwood_ came up fairly late in the recording process. You know, when you're working on an album, writing both words and music, a lot of things grow out of that organically and you go with what you feel is right for the record. This time around, we were probably halfway through the recording process when we came up with the title, which is taken from the Bible and the book of Revelation -- 'A star fell from heaven to the earth, making the water bitter and poisoning a third of the planet, and its name is Wormwood'. And that's kind of the feeling of this album; it's morbid, it's negative and also when you look at the word itself -- when you translate Wormwood into Russian, you get Chernobyl, and obviously everyone knows what happened there and how the Christian world reacted. A lot of people saw that as the start of the end of the world and that's kind of the concept we're exploring with this album.CoC:
With particular reference to your last few albums, each has a very distinct atmosphere. During the course of the recording process would you typically throw out a fair few songs in order to maintain that one particular vibe, or do you write specifically for an album?MH:
Well, for me it's a case of combining both the music and lyrics and that's what creates the vibe. I know bands who record an entire album and then write the lyrics afterward. That's just not the way we work. We write both together from the very beginning, because I think they're equally important, and for us the main goal when we're working on the music and the lyrics is to make them become one. They need to reflect each other to make the perfect song. Everything is part of that, even the vocal arrangements. I mean, working with [vocalist] Mortuus has been great because he gets involved in the creation of songs right from the beginning. To me, his voice is as powerful as any instrument. CoC:
One very controversial topic in the black scene this year was Kristian Espedal [Gaahl, ex-Gorgoroth] coming out gay, which drew a lot of ill-feeling from several fan communities online. Given some of what's been said by major figures within the black metal scene about homosexuality, how do you as someone who's been active in it for so long, feel about what Gaahl has said?MH:
I don't care. I don't care what he or anyone else does, to be honest with you. It's up to them, and I think that the response on the message boards and the forums is a joke. CoC:
Why do you think those fans reacted so negatively to it?MH:
You know, some people have very conservative views about that sort of thing. I don't pay much attention to any of that, and I don't really care much for comments being posted on sites like Blabbermouth. People don't have anything else to do in this digital age we live in, it seems to me. <laughs> CoC:
Moving on... Your other release this year was the Devil's Whorehouse record, which I enjoyed a lot. Now obviously, it's very different to anything you'd do with Marduk and so the question begs as to how your mindset differs when you're writing music for either project?MH:
Well, it's an outlet for me to express ideas that I can't do in Marduk and actually it helps keep my approach to Marduk feel fresh, and also my own experience of the music. It's still heavy, it's still dark, but you know -- it's just great to do something a little different from time to time. CoC:
So, at this stage of your career, what would you see as a remaining challenge for Marduk, or something you'd still like to achieve with the band?MH:
I don't spend too much time thinking about things like that. I just let the creative energy flow and let the inspiration take me where it takes me. We're not one of those bands who wants to sit down and take a break and think things over. We're already working on future releases, before we even start the touring cycle for the current album. CoC:
What are your plans then for the next twelve months?MH:
Well, we just got back from Poland, which was great. We're going to be heading out on a 30-date European tour in the next couple of weeks, and that will cover about half of Europe. We don't do any UK dates, but we will cover places like Spain, Portugal and Germany. Then we have a full US tour, which is our first in eight years. We had problems with visas previously, so we'll be there in December. Next year we'll tour the Baltic States, Eastern Europe and the UK and we want to get to South America as well.CoC:
Morgan, thanks for your time. Anything you'd like to say to close off the interview?MH:
We took over two years to do this album, but it definitely won't take that long for the next one to come out. I have a very strong idea of what it's going to sound like and I hope that everyone enjoys it as much as they do _Wormwood_.