The name TREBLINKA might not really say much to the slightly younger readers. TREBLINKA was the forerunner of TIAMAT, the Swedish band who gained a lot of success – especially in the mid-nineties – with atmospheric albums like “The Astral Sleep” (1991), “Clouds” (1992) and “Wildhoney” (1994). Musically TREBLINKA has very little to do with how TIAMAT sounds nowadays. At the time of TREBLINKA, frontman Johan Edlund was still deeply rooted in the extreme Black / Death Metal scene. TREBLINKA released in their rather short career only two demos – “Crawling In Vomits” (1988) and “The Sign Of The Pentagram” (1989) – and a single, “Severe Abomination” (1989). Today, however, these releases form a glorious and not to be underestimated legacy of the mighty Swedish Death Metal scene. Twenty-five years after their original release, Century Media just released an impressive boxset – “Shrine Of The Pentagram” – which includes all these old recordings as well as previously officially unreleased material. Johan Edlund – who often explicitly distanced himself from his musical past with TREBLINKA in the past – was not available for interviews. So we contacted Jörgen ‘Juck’ Thullberg, also TREBLINKA member from the very beginning.
"I do not remember when it was exactly, but I guess Johan and I formed TREBLINKA somewhere in 1987. We were both in the same school, we were fifteen years old and we wanted to start a band together. We certainly talked about it for more than a year before we made the first step. One evening, Johan and I just started working together with Anders Holmberg who played drums. Stefan Lagergren joined after a while and TREBLINKA slowly started rolling. We wanted to sound as extreme as possible and make music that no-one had ever heard before. We definitely wanted to take it one step further than anyone had ever done before. However, we were very limited as a band in the beginning. We didn’t play our instruments very well and therefore we didn’t sound nearly as extreme as we would have liked. It was a learning process but we made progress fairly quick. In Stockholm there were not many Metalfans who loved Death Metal at that time. We were no more than fifteen to twenty people and we all usually also played in a band ourselves."
You lived in Täby, a town that was quite isolated compared to the other bands from Stockholm such as NIHILIST and DISMEMBER. Was this a disadvantage do you think?
"Probably yeah. When Johan and I were looking for other musicians in the beginning, we didn’t find any because there was simply no-one living nearby who shared our interest. When the line-up of TREBLINKA was complete, we just did our own thing and we didn’t care what other bands were doing. We were the only band in Täby playing extreme music. OPETH had the same rehearsal room as we had for a while but that was not until many years later. However, those early years were great. We were constantly together with the guys in NIHILIST and DISMEMBER. Every weekend there was a party at someone’s place. We got together to drink beer, hang out or to go to gigs. The guys in MERCILESS were often present as well. MERCILESS is perhaps the most underrated Swedish band ever (totally agree! – Steven). Their demo "Realm Of The Dark" is still one of my favorite demos. MERCILESS were from Strängnäs, a very small town. This was also maybe a disadvantage for them to really get forward as a band."
In November 1988, you recorded the first TREBLINKA demo – “Crawling In Vomits” – in the Sunlight Studio. Your approach and your sound was very different from what your friends did. If you compare the demos of TREBLINKA with those of DISMEMBER and NIHILIST, you can immediately hear that you didn’t have this typical Swedish guitarsound that put Sweden on the map later on.
"Indeed. The reason why we went to Sunlight was the demo "Last Supper" of the band MORBID. That demo sounds very clean but what really pleased us was the mix. You could easily hear that Sunlight had a lot of potential and that was what convinced us in the end. Sunlight was also one of the few studios that we could afford. And Tomas Skogsberg had obviously nothing against us booking some studio time to record there. We had never recorded in a studio before with TREBLINKA when we were there to record. We plugged our instruments directly into the mixing console. Johan and Stefan had their own effect-pedals and an idea of how the songs should sound. Tomas is a very artistic producer and always does his best to get a good result. But at that time, he didn’t know how to record Death Metal as he was not yet familiar with the extreme music that we played. A few months later, he was recording demos with NIHILIST and he stood already much further. Two days after the recording of “Crawling In Vomits”, we gave a concert that is also included as bonus material in the boxset that Century Media just released. Our songs sound a lot better there, I think, because they have a much more brutal guitarsound there. A bit later on, Tomas became one of the best producers around, I think. However, at that time, we didn’t even know ourselves how to handle the recordings. We just put our fate in his hands."
You didn’t re-record any songs of that first demo for your debut “Sumerian Cry” later on. Somehow maybe a bit strange as songs like ‘Earwigs In Your Veins’ or ‘Hail To Cruelty’ still stand out – even today – and sound even almost catchy in a weird way.
"Your first songs are the songs you play the most in your rehearsal room and during your first gigs. And therefore, those songs are also the first that you grow tired of. When we recorded "Sumerian Cry", we had about fifteen songs to choose from and the oldest had to go. Other bands might work in a different way but we liked our new material much more at that time."
Less than six months later – in March 1989 – the second demo – “The Sign Of The Pentagram” – followed. That demo already sounded a lot more dark and especially more serious than your debut .
"TREBLINKA simply meant everything to us back then. We literally lived for the band, it was the only thing we really cared about. And we really wanted to improve as a band and sound more extreme. Johan had written almost all the material for the first demo by himself. Stefan wrote all the lyrics for the second demo and also wrote a lot of riffs. We also played our instruments a lot better in the meantime and we just developed very quickly as a band. We were also already a lot more capable to express our musical ideas. We recorded “The Sign Of The Pentagram” in Studio Z, I still have very font memories regarding the whole recording. Nicke of NIHILIST was constantly with us in the studio and helped us where he could. NIHILIST just recorded their demo “Only Shreds Remain” a few weeks before us and he was therefore already a bit familiar with the studio. Nicke even did some background vocals on the song ‘Nocturnal Funeral’. You can also notice that – with songs like ‘Evilized’, ‘Nocturnal Funeral’ and ‘Necrophagous Shadows’ – we totally went for the ‘dark side’. We were really fascinated by that and we wanted to make that clear through our songs. NIHILIST and DISMEMBER went much more for horror- and splatter-topics. We wanted to do things differently."
The song ‘Evilized’ has a long riff in the middle that goes pretty much in the direction of pure Rock’n’Roll. Even after all these years it still sounds very strange there.
"It is strange, it still is. You know, we made music with TREBLINKA because it was fun to do. We also didn’t want to limit ourselves in any way. Someone played that riff once when we were practicing and we thought it was cool to put that part in ‘Evilized’. It also proves that we had a certain sense of humor. Today, however, I think that that part ruins the song a little bit. I certainly wouldn’t do it anymore now."
In July 1989, your first and only single “Severe Abomination” is released. Johan had just turned eighteen years old and received ten thousand Swedish crowns (about one thousand euro – Steven) from his parents, deposited into his bank account. He financed the pressing of the single with that money.
"That’s correct. Johan could use that money the way he wanted. His parents had probably thought or hoped that he would use the money to get his license to drive but Johan had other plans (laughs). We split the studio costs among the bandmembers and Johan financed the pressing of that single. There were over 600 copies of that single pressed. Nuclear Blast took two hundred copies to sell through their mailorder. Johan also had a small mailorder at that time – Mould In Hell – through which he sold our single. When we had to fill out the forms for the mastertape of “Severe Abomination”, we also had to fill out the name of the record company and the name of the company that was going to distribute the single. And since we did not have any of those, Johan just wrote ‘Mould In Hell’. That name was also printed on the backcover of the single."
Johan also made a fanzine at that time along with Stefan, "Poserkill". How many issues did they make?
"Only one, I still have a copy of that issue lying here somewhere in my house. "Poserkill" was made by four guys: Johan, Stefan, Fredrik Thörnqvist (who would sing in the band EXPULSION later on – Steven) and another person, his name slips my mind for the moment. Fredrik did most of the artwork and Stefan was responsible for the layout and made sure everything looked at least a bit decent. It was a typical fanzine in a small A5 format. NIHILIST and DISMEMBER were featured, how could it be otherwise (laughs)? I once organized a party when my parents were away for the weekend. And we did some of the interviews for "Poserkill" then. I still have the cassette with the recording. I found the tape again about two months ago and it was very amusing to listen to it again now, so many years later. Everybody had a very developed ‘do it yourself’ attitude at that time. We made our own fanzine, we recorded and released our own demos and singles. No one else was going to do it for us. Almost everyone in the scene in Stockholm was inspired by the Punk scene. The Punk bands we knew pressed their own singles and also distributed and sold them by themselves. We also played our first gigs in houses that were squatted by Punks."
I thought there was a youth centre – Runan – where you organized and played gigs and where you had your rehearsal room?
"Well, yeah, that’s right. Runan has been very important for the scene in Stockholm. That youth centre was funded by the local government, it was very well equipped and had good material. We even had DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA and PUNGENT STENCH play there. I also remember a Rock competition that was held there once and where NIHILIST also participated. Nicke had called and asked all his friends to come and vote for them. And I believe that they even won that evening and that the other bands did not agree and were really pissed off because they felt NIHILIST didn’t behave honestly (laughs)."
In the fall of 1989, you changed the bandname from TREBLINKA to TIAMAT because there already was a Canadian Metal band with the same name. Naming your band after a Polish concentration camp was perhaps also not a very smart move.
"We actually recorded the album "Sumerian Cry" as TREBLINKA. But when it was time to release it, we were told that there already was another band with the same name. Our roots are – as I said earlier – in the Punk scene, we had absolutely nothing to do or were absolutely not standing behind nazism in any way. We just wanted a very extreme bandname. However, we were also getting tired of having to justify ourselves again and again that we were not Nazis. So, that was the main reason for the name change."
Sweden was neutral as a country during World War II. Is that perhaps one of the reasons why you were rather indifferent to the bandname? Because you just didn’t know how sensitive a name like TREBLINKA was in a country like Germany?
"You know, we were fifteen years old when we started TREBLINKA. And we just didn’t care about that. I must admit that we wanted to shock others with it in the beginning. But even then we also had an underlying agenda, in the sense that we wanted to make people think. I still remember that we had discussions about that at that time. But I never thought that I would still be confronted with it twenty-five years later. You know, people have always been shocked by bands. Look at THE BEATLES or THE ROLLING STONES, in the beginning the audience didn’t know how to deal with them either. When we started TREBLINKA, there was no internet. Hence, we had no idea how people would interpret our name in other countries."
You recorded “Sumerian Cry” in October 1989 before ENTOMBED (“Left Hand Path”), CARNAGE (“Dark Recollections”) and DISMEMBER (“Like An Ever Flowing Stream”). “Sumerian Cry” was even the first album ever recorded in the Sunlight studio.
"That’s right. Sunlight was a very tiny studio at that time, the whole equipment would have easily fitted in my livingroom (laughs). I still clearly remember the smell of the studio. I once visited Tomas Skogsberg again about a decade ago and his studio still smelled the same. I was really surprised how you can connect particular memories to a certain smell. We recorded “Sumerian Cry” during the weekends because we were all still in school. We always traveled – completely packed with all our equipment – by subway to the studio because none of us had a car. Kristian Wåhlin (who would draw sleeves for UNLEASHED, EDGE OF SANITY, AT THE GATES and many more later on – Steven) made one of his first paintings in oil for "Sumerian Cry". The original painting looks much better than the cover. Many of the bright colors and fine details completely disappeared on the album."
When you look nowadays at the pictures of the bandmembers with corpsepaint and the pseudonyms you had back when (Johan was called Hellslaughter – Steven), one can only smile.
"Sure (laughs). We just wanted to be as extreme as possible. I had been called Juck since I was about ten years old. I was always called Juck, people in the scene who know me for many years still call me that way. And that’s also my name on the album (laughs). The strange thing is that you can only see pictures of Johan and me on the back of the album. Anders and Stefan also played on the album but they didn’t provide photos in time. After the recording, “Sumerian Cry” got released by CMFT, a record company in England (an interview feature on them can be found in Snakepit # 21 – Frank). The album barely got any attention when it was released. I think CMFT was already as good as bankrupt when the album came out. We never did any promotion for it, I can’t remember that we even did a single interview for it or that even a single ad was placed in a magazine for it. ENTOMBED and CARNAGE were much more lucky because their record company really stood behind them."
In November 1990, you recorded a promo with TIAMAT, “A Winter Shadow”. That tape resulted in a record deal with Century Media, thanks to some help from Johnny and Fredrik of UNLEASHED.
"I can’t remember the exact details. I think UNLEASHED already had a contract with Century Media and Johan had asked them to do a good word for TIAMAT. We recorded “The Astral Sleep” in the middle of 1991. TIAMAT was already a completely different band by then. Stefan and Anders were not in the band anymore because they wanted to concentrate on EXPULSION and were replaced by Thomas Petersson and Niklas Ekstrand. I didn’t feel comfortable anymore very quickly. Thomas and Niklas were not fans of Death Metal and preferred to listen to ordinary Rock. I think they would never have joined the band if we didn’t already have a record deal with TIAMAT. The new songs were also much slower and more atmospheric, the music was not nearly as extreme as in TREBLINKA. It wasn’t any longer why I was doing it for. Death Metal represented freedom for me. It was music where you could do completely your own thing and you didn’t care what others thought of it. I just started to dislike the whole situation more and more. I remember that I went sailing for a whole weekend with a friend the week before recording “The Astral Sleep” out of sheer frustration. I also didn’t feel like practicing the new songs with the others, I didn’t have any passion anymore for the band. And so, a week after the recording of “The Astral Sleep”, I quit the band."
You’ve been playing bass in the band MR. DEATH for already several years. In between, you have been a math teacher.
"That’s correct. I still played music with others when I left TIAMAT but that did not really work out. I felt really betrayed and I felt like a sell-out when I left TIAMAT, luckily I don’t think like that anymore today. At that time, I really had it with record companies and people who wanted to be friends just because you played in a famous band. And so I taught mathematics and science at a school for fifteen years. You know, playing music should be joyful for me. A few years ago, I rehearsed again together with Jonas one evening and I immediately realized how much I had missed making music. I’ve always loved old school Death Metal very much and I don’t think that that will ever go away. I’m very conservative when it comes to music. Even today, I still listen to the same albums and demos as in 1990."
In January 2008, you played a one-off gig with TREBLINKA in Kafé 44 in Stockholm in the original line-up. Only Johan was not there because he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
"Exactly one year after the publication of his book ‘Swedish Death Metal’, Daniel Ekeroth contacted me to ask if I would be interested to perform with TREBLINKA on a special and unique happening. At first, I thought he was joking but he meant it. So I contacted the others and everyone was right on board except Johan. I was a bit skeptical to play as TREBLINKA without Johan because he was the singer and the frontman. However, I always really loved playing together with Stefan and that got the whole thing rolling. First we rehearsed the songs with the two of us and that worked out wonderfully. Then we invited the NIFELHEIM twins, rehearsed our set together four times and we just went for it. It was a very special evening, NIRVANA 2002, GROTESQUE and INTERMENT were there as well. We had never played for such a large audience with TREBLINKA. Everyone in the audience also knew the songs through and through and sang along. A great evening."
We also contacted Johan to talk about the TREBLINKA boxset that has just been released but he’s not willing to give any interviews. To be totally honest, Johan makes great music but on a personal level, I always thought he’s a very strange character. I remember attending a gig of GRAVE and SAMAEL in 1994. A friend of mine who was with me had just bought an album of TIAMAT that day. After the gig we saw Johan standing at the bar and my friend asked if he could sign his album. He didn’t want to do it because ‘he was not there representing TIAMAT’. I just couldn’t understand that. I also attended a gig of PINK FLOYD once in 1994 and wore a TIAMAT shirt that evening. And totally by accident – among thousands of other people – I bumped into Johan in the audience. I was very surprised and just wanted to say a friendly ‘Hi’ to him but it was like he was somehow pissed off by the whole situation, as if he didn’t want to be confronted with his own band at that gig. Somehow, I think it’s also really odd that he approves the release of the boxset but doesn’t want to have anything to do with it at the same time.
"Those are really funny stories (laughs). I can’t explain Johan’s behavior. We sometimes write a message to each other through Facebook, but that’s also it. We don’t have any further contact anymore. Johan’s life has been nothing else but TIAMAT and making music. Music is his profession and his job, he also has to make a living from it. Music means pleasure for me and I can imagine that the fun-aspect starts to suffer when you have to be busy with it constantly and when so much depends of it. I think it is much more serious for him and that it all depends for him much more than it does for me. Making music is something I still mainly do to relax and to have a good time."
How do you look at the boxset yourself?
"I’m pretty happy with it, the material of TREBLINKA has never sounded this good. The mastertape got digitized and polished. It’s the same tape where Johan and I used to make copies from. However, we only possessed a pretty bad cassette-deck. If I hear now how our demos could have sounded back then, well… (laughs)."