MERCILESS are to my humble opinion one of the finest and most underrated Thrash bands that ever existed on this fuckin’ planet. When it comes to intensity, aggression, speed and a total hateful feeling, there’s almost no album at all which can compete to their legendary debut “The Awakening”. Over the past years, there have been small signs of life and talk of a new album from MERCILESS from time to time. And then the day came, when I came home from a lousy day at work and found the new MERCILESS album in my mailbox. And luckily it sounds totally devastating and had all the good old trademarks of the one and only MERCILESS sound: hate, speed and the good old throat of Rogga. I wanted to cover the history of MERCILESS already for quite a while and now with a new album, this seemed like the perfect timing. Erik, guitarplayer in MERCILESS from day one, was so kind to really go into details…
If we go back to the very beginning, 1986. Merciless got formed back then by Karlen, Stipen and you. Now, I know from an interview with Rogga that Karlen was playing in a punk kind of band before MERCILESS…
“Yeah, you could say that it was a kind of punk band, he was 13 or 14 years old back then, in that band he was just mainly playing covers and stuff. We all came from different bands, punk bands, coverbands… I was playing in a band who played mainly ACCEPT songs (laughs). Our connection was that we all wanted to play something harder, something heavier. We all got to know each other from school, we became friends. At that time, we were listening to METALLICA, the first KREATOR albums, that kind of stuff. We really were into that, that’s what got the three of us together.”
All of you are coming from Strängnäs, it’s actually a really small city isn’t it?
“Yeah, it’s about 80 km from Stockholm. It’s a really small town, there are just about 20.000 people living, it’s not that big. But that was also somehow good for us as we could really concentrate on practicing music as there was nothing better to do, at least not during the winter.”
Did it take a long time before you came up with own material?
“No, it was after we found our first vocalist that we started to write own material real soon. The first vocalist, Kalle, he stayed with us for about only one year. It didn’t work out that well with him. We were hoping that he would progress and develop his skills but things got just the other way. He just got worse and worse every time we rehearsed. So, the only thing we could do was kick him out of the band. And then we found Rogga, that was a very big thing for us. For me, it’s actually from the time that Rogga joined the band that the real MERCILESS was born.”
If we just go back to your first vocalist first, Kalle. You recorded your first demo with him, “Behind The Black Door” in July ‘87. What are your memories concerning that recording?
“It was really weird, really exciting also. We had never been in a studio before, I was 15 years old. We all were like 15 or 16 years old, we didn’t have any experience at all. We recorded the four songs on that tape and mixed it in just one single day. It was not a really serious recording actually.”
Apparently, the “Behind The Black Door” demo was released in a quantity of just 100 copies. Why actually, because you didn’t have much financial possibilities?
“No, that tape was just meant to promote the band, that was mainly it, we didn’t think that much about it. We gave a copy to our closest friends, we sent a few to places where we could play gigs and to some recordshops we knew. We just tried to spread our name a little.”
So, when Rogga replaced Kalle, where did you find him? Was he still singing in CHRONIC DECAY at that time?
“Well, CHRONIC DECAY had just split up, that’s how we found him. CHRONIC DECAY were a really good band actually, they were originally called HELLFIRE, a really excellent name if you ask me. So, CHRONIC DECAY split up and we knew that Rogga didn’t have a new band and so we asked him right away. We are somehow really a bit afraid to ask him because he was already 18 back then and we were all 15 or 16. He was an old guy in our eyes, I remember we didn’t dare to ask him at first. But after we did the first rehearsal with him, we knew that he was the perfect guy for us and I think he felt the same way.”
After Rogga was in the band for about 6 months, you recorded the second demo, “Realm Of The Dark”.
“Yeah, that was our first real recording so to speak. We still play songs from that demo. We played a gig two days ago in Västeräs in Sweden and we still played two songs from that demo.”
That demo also features really nice artwork and the cool MERCILESS logo for the first time which all got designed by good old Wim Baelus. He’s a good friend of mine, I see him at gigs and recordfairs very regularly…
“Cool, you must say hello to him next time you see him. We haven’t forgotten him. I remember when we received his package at the post-office and looked at the cover of the demo and the logo, we thought it was just amazing. We had a party for like three days (laughs), just celebrating the logo, it was just awesome. It was Karlen, our bassplayer, who was in some way in touch with him. I guess he knew him through the mag Aardschok / Metal Hammer, the mag Wim used to write for.”
It is true that the “Realm Of The Dark” demo sold over 2000 copies?
“Well, we sold a couple of 100 copies ourselves. But there were different companies which started to repress the demo by themselves. It was good for the band in the long run as our name got spread really well but we didn’t get one Swedish crown for that. All those companies didn’t even ask us if it was OK.”
Was it actually from those days that you were in tocuh with MAYHEM or did you have contact with them already in an eralier stage?
“It was after the second demo that we got to know them. Euronymous wrote to us and told us he wanted to release an album of us on his label. We agreed because we didn’t get any other offers anyway. We really looked up to them back then, we thought it was an exciting offer. We couldn’t say no to that so we took the opportunity…”
I always thought it was somehow a bit strange that he was interested in signing MERCILESS as the music you played wasn’t Black Metal orientated at all.
“Yeah. Well, in those days, I think that people didn’t consider the “Realm Of The Dark” tape as ‘just’ a Thrash Metal demo. It was somehow special and got very close to the point where Black Metal is today, the general atmosphere of the songs… I think he noticed that and that he picked that up. That demo was really raw, there were no dry vocals or anything…”
Do you still remember many details concerning the recording of “The Awakening”?
“Yeah, I remember that the MAYHEM guys once came over to the studio to have a listen. We all thought that they were a wild bunch of people and they were probably going to booze the place to pieces but they all sat there very quiet, drinking cola. They were incredibly quiet and after four hours, they just went home. I got the impression that they were all very normal guys but soon after all these things started to happen. Things went pretty wrong there.”
Were you actually amazed by the fact that Dead killed himself a few years later?
“Well, he committed suicide about two years later after the recording of “The Awakening”. Nobody knows what really happened there, if it was a suicide in the end or not. I think even the cops don’t know. I don’t want to speculate about anything as I don’t know that much bout all the details and stuff. It was a sad thing since Dead was the guy of MAYHEM that I knew best. He was from Stockholm so he didn’t live that far away, I knew him a little bit before he left for Norway, already from his days with MORBID.”
Your debut, “The Awakening”, I don’t know if you really realize what kind of a cult status that album has for some people…
“Well, it’s a weird thing because we recorded that album in just 5 days. We rehearsed the songs for like 4-5 months and we recorded them in 4-5 days. We never expected that that album would ‘hit’ that hard as it did in the end. We must have created something good there.”
If you look for an original vinyl pressing, I saw one recently which sold for 40 Euro.
“I even saw it once for 150 $ (laughs). I think that only 1500 copies were pressed originally so…”
“The Awakening” got dedicated to Cliff Burton. Were you guys really that much into METALLICA?
“I think that was an idea of our bassplayer, Karlen. METALLICA meant a lot to all of us but they really meant a lot to Karlen. That was his idea, it was a sort of ‘hail to Cliff’ thing.”
You recorded “The Awakening” in the summer of 1989 but you had to wait until February 1990 before the album got released.
“Yeah, it took Euronymous quite some time to put it out. But once it was out, we played quite some gigs together with bands like ENTOMBED, DISMEMBER, DISSECTION… Those gigs were really amazing, concerning the intensity, you really can’t compare it to anything these days. Some of those gigs were really that wild, it’s very hard to tell or to describe it in words. Sometimes we had to stop like 10 minutes because the audience were stuck between the drums and the speakers, it was often really chaotic. But it was fun also, we had many good gigs. We also opened for SEPULTURA when they were touring for “Beneath The Remains”, that was also really good.”
That’s actually one of the things that still really annoys me to this day, the fact that I never got the chance to see you guys live.
“Well, if you go to the “Fuck The Commerce” festival in Germany this summer, there’s your chance. We were supposed to go on tour with THE HAUNTED but there were problems in the end.”
After the release of “The Awakening”, you were also involved in a compilation album called “Projections Of A Stained Mind” later on released by CBR Records. How do you look back at that one?
“That album was a good thing, there’s a good friend of mine who was also featured with his band there, they’re the last band, SKULL. When you look at it now, I think it was a good album, it caught the scene right at his peak as it got all the good Swedish bands on there, like DISMEMBER, UNLEASHED, ENTOMBED, MERCILESS… It’s all there.”
There was also a band featured there that I really liked, but besides a promo or a demo or something, I don’t think they ever released something later on. They were NIRVANA 2000.
“Yeah, they were good, the vocalist was playing with a ENTOMBED for a while, he also sang on the “Crawl” EP.”
In June / July 1991, you recorded the album “The Treasures Within”. Were you already signed to Active Records at that time?
“No, in the beginning, Deathlike Silence wanted to release another MERCILESS record but things started to fuck up so we knew they could never make it financially. In the beginning, royalties for the album were no problem but after a while they never payed any royalties, they never answered our calls or picked up the phone… we all noticed that there was no point to go on with them. This is also the time when things really started to get out of hand over there in Norway.”
So, how did you end up with Active Records?
“We were supposed to sign to CBR records, we already knew them because of the a compilation album we talked about before. I really can’t say how it really happened but suddenly we were under contract with Active Records. In the end, it was not a good thing for us because we just had problems with that label. We couldn’t contact the guys behind, it was not a good deal.”
You recorded the “The Treasures Within” album at the Sunlight Stutio together with Tomas Skogsberg. What made you go for that studio. As it turned out in the end, the sound you got in that studio didn’t suit the MERCILESS material at all.
“I understand what you say, the sound on that record is really terrible. We have re-mastered that album recently and we will re-release that album soon. I hope that will finally give some credit to that album because I really like the songs but the sound is terrible. The two songs that were featured on the CBR compilation album were also recorded at the Sunlight studio, it was actually more something like a demo and I think we got an excellent sound on that one. But we couldn’t get that sound when we were recording the full-length album. I don’t know what exactly happened, it was just a disaster. But the re-mastered version sounds much better so maybe you should take a listen to that one when it will be released shortly after the summer.”
After the recordings of “The Treasures Within”, your drummer Stipen left the band because apparently he got tired of waiting all the time and of all the problems.
“Yeah, you know “The Treasures Within” got released a year after the recordings took place, we just had to wait and wait… Stipen and me, we were really disappointed about how things were going, the record… “The Treasures Within” never got the chance to be what it was supposed to be. I think Stipen got to the point where he really had no more inspiration to go on with MERCILESS and so he left the band. We found Peter after a couple of months afterwards. The funny thing about Stipen is that he’s playing again with us nowadays, he played drums on our latest gig which took place 2 days ago. It was his first gig in 12 years (laughs) but it worked out really well. Peter is so busy with ENTOMBED concerning tours and stuff, we had to say ‘no’ to so many gig-offers and stuff because he was touring with ENTOMBED. So we contacted Stipen again and it worked out really well with him so that’s great. He’s not going to replace Peter or anything, he’s more like a stand-in drummer.”
A year after the release of “The Treasures Within”, you still did a small tour together with ENTOMBED through Scandinavia.
“Yeah, that was a really good tour. Since 1989, we’ve always been in very close contact with ENTOMBED. You know, back in 1986 / 1987, MERCILESS and ENTOMBED were about the first bands in the Thrash / Death Metal scene who played gigs outside Stockholm.”
In December 1993, you recorded the famous “Unbound” album at Dans Swanö’s Unisound studio. To my opinion, this is your most ‘complete’ album. I mean the sound is awesome, the artwork is really great…
“Yeah, the “Unbound” album definitely has a nice cover. We had heard some albums which got recorded at Dan’s place. We recorded a demo with 2 songs there and we thought that Dan really was an excellent producer. When we heard the result of that demo, we knew that he was the guy and we wanted to go back to do the album with him. We also noticed that Dan was someone who really put his heart and soul into recording , there was an excellent vibe among all of us.”
The song ‘Nuclear Attack’ also finally ended up there, it was already quite a few years old, dating from your second demo.
“Yeah, I know, we probably forgot it somewhere on the way (laughs). We didn’t want to record it on the first album, I don’t know why, we put it aside for a while and as you said, picked it up afterwards.”
“Unbound” got released by Tomas Nyqvist of No Foshion Records, again a really tiny label.
“Yeah, Tomas was a good friend of ours, he was from the same town as the band.”
Now, from what I have understood from an interview with Rogga, you just played one single gig after the recording of that album and that was that.
“That’s correct , we just did one gig. The place was really crowded, something like 400 people. I don’t know, we were supposed to go on tour but it got cancelled and we sort of lost inspiration to go on. We just decided to take a small break but it never was the intention to be so many years (laughs).”
Do you think that the fact that all of your previous albums were released by small labels which had not that many financial possibilities is one of the main reasons why MERCILESS never really made it to foreign countries?
“No, it’s probably also our own fault. We had quite some interesting offers also, for example Century Media wanted to sign us back then but we turned that offer down as we didn’t want to sign for like 6 albums. Maybe we should have done that, maybe our career would have looked differently, I don’t know. You can’t say that it’s always someone else’s fault that MERCILESS never really made it. As much as it is other people, it’s our own fault as well, I think.”
I never saw you play live, I even never saw a single bootleg-recording or whatever. When I asked to Rogga a few years ago how a show of MERCILESS looks like, he said ‘just a wild bunch of intense headbanging’.
“Yeah, I guess you can compare it to a SLAYER gig maybe. There are no special effects or anything, we just want to let the music do the talking and thrash our heads off (laughs).”
After the “Unbound” album, there was a small sign of life again when you were featured on the SLAYER tribute album “Slatanic Slaughter”, you were featured there with ‘Crionics’.
“We just took a long break, I didn’t do anything in those years. Peter was also playing in UNANIMATED until 1995 I think, he had other projects as well, he’s always been busy with music. Peter also formed the band LOUDPIPES together with our bassplayer, Karlen.”
What did you think of the idea to re-release the MERCILESS demos on 7” as Tomas Nyqvist did when he started his new label, Iron Fist productions?
“It was kind of a thing that we let him do more or less because he had had so much bad luck in his business. He asked if it was OK to re-release those demos and we all agreed.”
Do you actually still see him nowadays because after the release of the MAZE OF TORMENT album “Faster Disaster”, he seemd to be completely vanished from the planet. He never answered any of my letters or e-mails anymore, he still owes me money for some advertisments of his which I put in my fanzine back then and that he promised me. I’m not the only one as I heard a lot of bad stuff which concerns Tomas from quite some people over the years.
“I don’t know what happened exactly. From what I understood, he was ripped off by many people in many ways. Once he was really dedicated to the scene, he was talking and writing to everybody around Europe for like 5-6 hours a day. When I was at his place, he was always doing something… answering letters, responding to mail. He was quite depressed for a while actually. One day, he just stopped and sat there and just drank beer. Some shit happened there, I really don’t know what it was. He’s living in Gothenburg now, I still talk to him from time to time. Two months ago, we played in Gothernburg and he was also there, he was also in a good old mood again.”
A couple of years ago, Osmose productions re-released “The Awakening”.
“Yeah, I think that was a good thing because you couldn’t find “The Awakening” in recordshops anymore.”
After that re-release, I saw a couple of posters over here in Belgium later on which advertised a small tour together with HYPNOSIA through Belgium and the Netherlands if I remember right. In the end, that tour never became reality.
“Yeah, some promoters asked us if we wanted to play a few shows and we agreed. And apparently some gigs were already announced by them but for us, it ended there as we didn’t get any more information. I really don’t know what happened there.”
I think it’s really a pity that you never made it over here.
“Yeah, I know. But we’re not going to give up now. We’re going to play in Germany in a few weeks and after the summer we’re probably going to do many gigs all over Europe. So, if everything goes well, we normally definitely should come to Holland and Belgium after the summer.”
If we come to talk about the new album, the artwork is really remarkable, this picture of the forest in flames.
“We had some ideas and we found this picture on the internet. We gave it to a guy we know from DARK FUNERAL, he arranged it in another way. It looks great I think, it’s somehow ‘clean’, it’s pure. It’s not as if we had to take this picture in a hurry or something. What’s still original these days anyway, I don’t think you can still come up with something which hasn’t been done before.”
When I got the promo-copy of your new album, I was really amazed as I didn’t read or hear anything concerning MERCILESS for a long time. I mean, there had been talk of a new MERCILESS album for many years and now it ws finally there. And when I played it, my first reaction was something like ‘Wow, fuuuuuuuuuccck’.
“OK (laughs), that’s cool.”
I think it’s got the aggression of “The Awakening” and the sort of ‘finesse’ of “Unbound”.
“Well, the production didn’t make it 100% to the sound as we had it in mind but I like it though. The production is pure and clean but at the same you get the feeling of a Thrash production. I think it’s a good mix there. Maybe the production could be a little bit harder, it’s a bit soft maybe, but I’m very happy with it anyway.”
Musically I’d say you haven’t changed a thing, it sounds incredibly old-school. If you just take the riffing and all these typical small solo’s that ended up here and there.
“I haven’t thought about it that way, but people told me this before. Maybe it’s those small details that you just mentioned that people make it compare to “The Awakening”, maybe there are some connections there.”
The studio where you recorded your new album, “Dog Pound”, I never heard of that studio before.
“No? ENTOMBED recorded one of their albums there. Other bands that recorded there were TERRA FIRMA, their bassplayer produced our new album. We didn’t want to go to any ‘big’ studio, we knew this guy so the choice wasn’t that difficult for us. We also didn’t want to go to another city to record the album, we wanted to be in Stockholm as everyone in the band is really busy with other stuff. We wanted to record close-by.”
Black Lodge Records, is that actually a new label, because the promo mentioned ‘BLOD001’ as the number of the record.
“Yeah, it’s a new label, it’s a kind of continueing of the same guys who had House Of Kicks. It’s a new start for them as well, but I think things will really work out. We’re also more experienced now, 11 years ago we didn’t have much control of what was all happening. We have a really good connection with the label and they’re working really hard to proote this album. So far, so good (laughs).”
When I hear you talking, I have the impression that you’re really full of energy again. It seems like you really want to go for it.
“Yeah, we decided to go for it again and when it came to the point that the album was recorded and we signed the contract, well… The scene was quite dead in 1994 in Sweden when we decided to take the break but now the situation is totally changed. Especially in Stockholm, there are a lot of clubs now to play in. The interest from the media is much bigger, things seem to go much more smooth these days.”
The songs that ended up on the album, when were they written? I mean, I guess that some of them are already a couple of years old, aren’t they?
“Yeah, one of the songs, ‘Cold Eyes Of Grey’ dates already from 1998. The latest song we wrote was ‘Human Waste’, it was just written one week before we entered the studio,we didn’t even rehearse it. That’s a very unusual thing for MERCILESS. That was more something like a last-minute thing but I think it turned out really well anyway so…”
You already mentioned that you already played a couple of liveshows again. So, I was wondering how the setlist looks like.
“We played 11 songs the gig before yesterday. We played material from every album. From the “The Awakening” album, we played ‘Realm Of The Dark’, ‘Pure Hate’ and the titletrack. Sometimes, the gig can be too much in a way that the speed of the songs can really take the guts out of you. At that point, we sometimes also played ‘Dying World’ just to relax a bit (laughs), that’s also in the set sometimes. From the “The Treasues Within” album, we play just one song, ‘Branded By Sunlight’, as we have a sort of bad vibe concerning that album as you know. From “Unbound”, we play the titletrack, ‘The Land I Used To Walk’, ‘Feebleminded’ and ‘Silent Truth’. And from the new album we play ‘Cleansed By Fire’, ‘Violent Obsession’, ‘Cold Eyes Of Grey’, ‘Unearthly Salvation’ and ‘In Your Blood’. It’s a good mix, the new songs and from the first album and in a live situation, there’s not a big difference.”
You’re going to play at the “Fuck The Commerce” festival. You think there’s any chance that you will still end up at the Wacken festival?
“I don’t know, we’re playing the same weekend at the Hulsfred festival here in Sweden together with bands like ARCH ENEMY and many others. We play Saturday night in Sweden, maybe if we could play at Wacken on Thursday or Friday and then take the plane but I really don’t know.”
I think that would be something like the introduction of MERCILESS again.
“Yeah, it would be the perfect way for us as there will be people from all over Europe.”
When you take a look at the really big Thash Metal bands from the eighties like KREATOR, SODOM, DESTRUCTION, VOIVOD… some of the re-united or really satrted to go back to their older albums. What do you think of this?
“Well, I saw a KREATOR / SODOM / DESTRUCTION gig about one year ago and it was really fun to see them playing and to hear all the old songs. I think it’s cool to see that they’re still around and on stage.”
Does MERCILESS actually have a website because I have been looking for info concerning your band but besides some really old reviews, I couldn’t find anything.
“Someone from DARK FUNERAL is working on that right now, I guess it will be ready in a couple of weeks.”
Well, I covered most of the questions I had for you.
“Well, it was really nice talking to you. If we end up in Belgium, we definitely should have beer, that would be great (laughs), Belgium has great beer so … (laughs).”