Let Us Prey
CoC talks to Johan Edlund of Tiamat
by: Jackie Smit
Contrary to the preconceptions that some of you may hold, the life of a Chronicles of Chaos scribe is not always a particularly glamorous one. Yes, we may write for the greatest web entity in the known universe, but unfortunately the rest of the world has not yet seen this as an adequate reason to bestow us with enough money that we can leave our boring day-jobs behind.

So, why am I telling you this? Because this paragraph is being rattled out as I sit at my humdrum, boring-as-fuck job listening to two of my no-brain colleagues feigning an intellectual discussion about music that would make most episodes of Big Brother seem like fine art by comparison. And it is at this precise moment -- while the debate rages over whether Limp Bizkit indeed is the heaviest band in the world -- that I realise how fortunate we who follow the underground are. Let the rest of the world have their Korns, their Linkin Parks and their Darkness, for we are blessed with luminaries whose music will remain great for years after the nightmare that is Papa Roach has dissipated.

Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to speak to one such luminary, better known to most as Johan Edlund of Tiamat. For the last decade, his band's music has proven to be a life-changing experience for many, while the man's enigmatic personality has silently transformed him into a cult figure. Now, on the eve of the latest Tiamat epic, _Prey_, he was ready to discuss music, religion, life and whatever else came up in the course of the conversation.

CoC: Since the birth of Tiamat, you have projected the idea that progression is one of your main musical priorities. Is this something that you have allowed to happen naturally, or do you make a conscious decision to write something different with every record?

Johan Edlund: We never decide to do anything different. In fact, we don't feel like we're changing anything. We approach every album in a similar way. Of course, every album is usually different, but we tend to realise that only when the record is done. There have also been line-up changes over the years which have obviously affected our sound, but ultimately it feels like I've been doing the same thing and going through the same process for thirteen years, and I find it hard to think that it could be any other way. What Tiamat does feels very natural to me.

CoC: So, from a retrospective point of view, what would you cite as the key factors that play a role in shaping the differences between every Tiamat album?

JE: I think that we often end up doing everything that we didn't do on the previous record, but wanted to do -- if that makes sense. Between _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_ and _Skeleton Skeletron_, it feels very much like the next natural step after doing all that experimentation, and then just being a band again. But again, you never realise that when you're busy making the album, and we're influenced by some many different types of music -- from black metal through to Radiohead and Pink Floyd -- I think that you can hear that in our music. Sometimes we're close to one and sometimes we're close to the other.

CoC: In which way do you prepare for an album -- do you get together as a band and write, or do you construct the songs gradually until they're ready to be put down as part of the next Tiamat record?

JE: For _Judas Christ_ a lot of stuff was done in the rehearsal room, but this time I started producing the album while I was writing the songs. I recorded and started really thinking about the songs -- about sounds, about ideas -- and as time went on, I continued to do this and it just felt right.

CoC: You're renowned for incorporating a plethora of obscure, bizarre sounds and samples in your music. How do you come upon your ideas for this?

JE: At the same time that I'm writing songs, I think that I am also writing a novel. I see us as very much an album-band, not just a band that put a collection of songs together. So, we're really working hard to get a good flow on every album and that's where a lot of the sounds and cross-fades come from -- keeping the record flowing and connecting certain pieces on the album.

CoC: You describe _Prey_ as your most honest effort to date. In what ways do you feel that you've revealed yourself this time round that you have not done before?

JE: I feel that because I have recorded the album in my home studio, my domestic environment affected the music a lot. I mean, there was a pile of unpaid bills laying next to me while I was writing, so... just basically the pressures of real life, I think, came through on the record.

CoC: I definitely did get the impression that the record hints toward escapism in some ways. Would you agree?

JE: Definitely. I mean, with the home studio sometimes you'd start writing straight after you've had an argument with your girlfriend or something like that -- it's really close to you. When you go to a big studio and there's gold records hanging from the wall, you very much become a "musician" in a sense, where when you're recording at home, you're more at ease and more of yourself comes out. In a way, I also think that this album is more representative of the band, because there are a lot of parts that remind me of the atmosphere on _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_ and _Wildhoney_, and I wrote the songs in a similar way. I sometimes have trouble writing in that way because it makes me feel self-centred, but this time it felt right.

CoC: When you do expose yourself the way you do on your records, do you ever sometimes feel like you need to censor or stop yourself in any way?

JE: I think that I have to continue like this, because I feel that all music should be intense in a way. And we're not aggressive or anything like that, so I think that this is the intensity that we project, and for me when we perform the songs live, I try to get in the atmosphere of things, even if it hurts. I also learn a lot about myself by listening to the songs and by hearing what comes out. I'm not always really aware of what I am expressing until later, so it has a lot to do with interpreting the songs for myself as well.

CoC: You mentioned earlier that your albums are like novels. What themes do you deal with on _Prey_?

JE: I wrote about things that are very important to me -- as I always do, really. I think that religion was a big influence on this record, just because I don't know where I stand; I have so many unanswered questions about religion. And also more complicated things like love -- I know that it's not groundbreaking to write a love song, but I do feel that I perhaps approach it in a slightly less cheesy way.

CoC: Speaking of religion, Close-Up magazine in Sweden recently quoted you as saying: "I worship the devil, but I believe in God." Care to expand on that?

JE: Actually, when I was doing that interview I was telling them a story about some inverted crucifixes that I had forgotten in the studio, and when I was on my way to Finland to mix _Prey_, I called my girlfriend and told her to turn them around. And when I read the interview again, I realised how twisted we are as a band, how schizophrenic we are, and it's there in the music as well.

CoC: What about the unanswered questions you mentioned earlier?

JE: When I started to work on this album, I realised how much religion actually means to me. Before, I didn't care about it at all and I was never religious in the slightest, but I started thinking about why I kept writing about it. So I started reading about it -- I started reading the Bible, and I started reading about other religions, and there's still a lot of questions that I have that are unanswered; there's nothing I can put my finger on specifically. At the same time, I have also learned to respect all religions. I still criticise the Christian church, but I do feel that it's very important to make clear that I am not criticising the Christians, just the religion.

CoC: What formed the basis for the beliefs that you currently hold?

JE: I started reading a lot of the stories in the Old Testament, and as stories they're really great. You can learn a lot from them. But what also got me very interested is that there is so much that they don't tell you. For instance, why, when the human beings built the tower of Babel, did God throw them into confusion?

CoC: What would you say is the personal standout moment for you on _Prey_?

JE: Right now I really like the song "Divided", but that changes every day.

CoC: You are often referred to as one of the great composers of our time. Do you see yourself in this way?

JE: No, I don't take myself that seriously. I'm just writing songs. Music definitely means a lot to me, and now that I have a home studio, I can definitely write my songs more easily, and sometimes I don't even realise that I have written something until sixteen hours later. But I'm certainly not striving to be seen as a great composer or anything like that. I just write songs at my own pace and let the record company know when it's ready.

CoC: What are your plans for Tiamat in the near future?

JE: We tried to get on to a supporting slot for a couple of bigger tours, but we're still waiting to hear about that, so I'm not too sure right now. Worst case scenario is that we won't do anything this year until January. We tried getting on to the Marilyn Manson tour, and from what I hear we were really close, but unfortunately it didn't work out.

CoC: So, finally -- any last words for the Tiamat fans?

JE: Thanks a lot for the interview. We'll see you all on tour real soon.

(article submitted 20/10/2003)


CHATS
8/12/1999 D Rocher Tiamat: Within the Sun's Own Shadow
ALBUMS
6/23/2007 J Ulrey 0 Tiamat - Commandments: An Anthology
9/21/2003 J Smit 8 Tiamat - Prey
12/9/1999 A Bromley 8.5 Tiamat - Skeleton Skeletron
6/7/1997 P Azevedo 5 Tiamat - A Deeper Kind of Slumber
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