Danish Death Metallers UNDERGANG have been releasing strong material ever since the band’s origin in 2008 and their latest full length "Misantropologi" (which came out earlier this year via Dark Descent Records / Me Saco un Ojo Records) is once again no exception. Our last bigger feature on the guys already dates back quite a few years, so it was great to finally get some fresh information from vocalist / guitarist David Mikkelsen again. Enjoy!
Hello David. And thank you for taking the time to answer some of these questions. I hope you are doing great. Now let’s get onto business. First off, I noticed you, Anders and Kasper were part of REALM OF CHAOS. Was the split of your previous band the reason why UNDERGANG came to be or did you guys decide to leave and do your own band? Did you have an idea of the style you wanted to play or did it just come out naturally when you got together?
"Hi and thank you for inviting us back into Voices From The Darkside, it’s been some years since the last time and I guess quite a bit of things has happened since then. Yes, it’s true that all three of us used to play in the Metalpunk band REALM OF CHAOS, but a bit at different times. I only played with the band for the first 6 months it existed and then left for various reasons, Anders replaced a guitarist some months after I left and Kasper was always playing drums in the band while it lasted. I wrote half of the title song of the band, but never much else and I wasn’t all that involved in things compared to UNDERGANG where I’ve written most of the music. I wasn’t playing in any solid bands for about 2 years after I left REALM OF CHAOS and I had an itch to play music again and had been writing Death Metal riffs for some years, as that had been a dream of mine to have my own Death Metal band since I was a teenager. I then started hanging out with Kasper again and we decided to pick up on starting a band and he suggested Anders on drums, as he had started playing a bit more seriously on drums too, though guitar was his main instrument. At first we were supposed to be a 5 piece band, but the intended vocalist and bassist never showed up for the first rehearsals, so we moved Kasper from guitar to bass and I picked up on vocals along with playing guitar. So the intention with UNDERGANG was always to play the Death Metal we liked to hear ourselves and try to create as heavy music as we could."
Ever since the release of your debut album "Indhentet Af Døden", you have recorded and released demos in between every album: "T.D.O.S.", "Kogt I Blod" and "Døden Var Kun En Begyndelse…". I am curious about these. Do you put them out as promotional material for labels only or are they proper releases to keep the listeners updated on your music? I imagine you are always working on new material, since not only are you releasing demos, but some splits and singles as well.
"The tapes you mention here have all been promo releases for upcoming albums, as we like giving people a bit of a teaser of a new album to come and generally show that we’re still alive and kicking. All three of those have been a few selected songs off the upcoming albums at the time, often 6 months to a year in advance (as I’m always taking forever doing the album covers and layout) in their rough mix stages, so those versions on the tapes will always be a bit different to the final version found on the actual albums. But yeah, we’re constantly writing new songs for various projects, sometimes we write specifically for certain releases, like an EP, split or album, but other times we just write songs when it comes to us and we stick them together how it feels right, as sometimes there might be written 6 songs in a few months and other times only 1 in half a year. Our band constellation right now has our new bassist, Sam, living in Portland, Oregon, our second guitarist, Mads, lives 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen and Anders and I live in Copenhagen. Anders and I usually play twice a week and then we have the others along when Sam is in the country and when Mads has time to come into the city. But the UNDERGANG camp is always busy and alive, like a pulsating festering wound that refuses to heal."
Were you expecting that your music would be received in such a great way by the underground? So far, every album you have put out has had a great impact in the global scene.
"I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but I’ll leave that up to the individual listener to judge that, but it’d be cool if so. It has been fun to see how a little Danish band consisting of three friends with a passion for playing Death Metal, with a Danish name and all lyrics in Danish, has ended up where we get to play in a wide variation on countries covering ground almost all over the world and how accepting the international underground Death Metal scene has been of what we do. We honestly never thought of having any sort of international impact when we started out, which was also why we took the Danish name and chose to keep all the lyrics in our native tongue, so it’s be flattering and humbling to be see and hear from people all over the world liking what we do and people inviting us to their countries to play. We’re as much fans of the genre as we are performers of it, so our passion for playing and dealing with Death Metal as much as we can have always been important and had a high priority for us, when we’ve been able to do so. We love doing what we do and we’re happy that others seem to do so as well, we’re very grateful for what our network across countries had helped us with and for all the friends we’ve made all over the place. The underground is very much alive and we’re happy to be a part of it."
You have worked with Me Saco Un Ojo Records, Xtreem Music and for your last 2 albums, Dark Descent Records. Did Me Saco Un Ojo Records contact you to re-release your promo ’09 as your first album and how was it working with all 3 labels? Do you think all of them helped the band one way or another? Are you satisfied with your business relationship with Dark Descent so far?
"Me Saco Un Ojo Records was the first label to believe in us and we have had a good relationship with Jesus ever since then and view him as a good personal friend also. He heard our music online before I even had the “Promo ’09” cassettes all finished and offered to release our debut album on LP, which was the whole purpose of doing the promo tape originally, to send out to labels we were interested in working with for our debut album, zines and everyone else who’d be interested in obtaining it. As we had had an agreement of Me Saco Un Ojo Records releases it on LP, we just gave the tapes away to friends, sold them to the ones interested and had a bit sold for distribution too. The recording of “Indhentet Af Døden” was always intended to be our debut album, a bit of a bold move looking back, as we were a new band without a proper demo presentation or anything. I guess the ways of the internet at the time helped spread the word before we even released much. We did do a demo recording of one song, ‘Evigt Lidende’, later re-recorded for “Indhentet Af Døden” also, at the same place where we a few months later recorded the album and put it on mix tapes for friends and contacts / penpals, but it was never widely spread. Back on track, haha. Xtreem Music contacted us not long after we agreed to have Me Saco Un Ojo Records do the LP version of “Indhentet Af Døden”, I believe Dave of the now defunct band UNCONSECRATED had shared the “Promo ‘09” with Dave Rotten of Xtreem Music and he liked what he heard, so when he offered us a record deal we agreed to do 2 albums on Xtreem which we lived up to with having him do the CD version of “Indhentet Af Døden” and the LP and CD of “Til Døden Os Skiller” two years later or so. We met Matt from Dark Descent Records at a show we played in Denver, Colorado, in 2011 on our first US West Coast tour. His label was young at the time and he had done a co-release of a flexi 7” for us with the one song ‘Hævntørst’ along with Me Saco Un Ojo Records for that tour, came out to the show to meet us and said he was interested in working with us on albums if we were interested. When our contract with Xtreem Music later then was fulfilled, Dark Descent Records had grown to a bigger size and we had dealt with Matt on a personal and friendly level at several times when he came over to attend a festival I was a part of organizing here in town called Kill-Town Death Fest, so we started working with Dark Descent Records and Me Saco Un Ojo Records for our CD and LP releases and have done so ever since, as they are personal friends of ours, gives us artistic freedom, good financial and promotional support and let us keep the rights to our music and won’t have us sign any contracts. With Xtreem Music I ended up signing a contract handing over our rights to “Indhentet Af Døden” on CD and “Til Døden Os Skiller” on CD and LP, when the changes I asked for being changed in the contract never took place and I made the mistake of signing it thinking it was. So, sadly to us, Xtreem Music owns the rights of our recordings of those albums. That being said, we have nothing against Xtreem Music, it’s just not what we wanted to have someone else own our creations. He wasn’t happy with us not wanting to sign a follow up album contract after the first one ended, but we have since then buried the hatched, so to say. All labels we’ve worked with have had an important role in bringing our band to where it is today and we’re forever appreciative of that and the work they’ve invested in us. We’re currently happy recording artists for Dark Descent Records and Me Saco Un Ojo Records and don’t see any reason for that to change."
When it comes to working on new songs, is there a band member that comes up with all music and lyrics or is it a joint effort where everybody pitches in with ideas?
"I’ve come up with all music for the band released so far, but we do have a few split releases recorded to be released in early 2018 where Sam came up for some of the riffs. I’d usually write riffs and come up with structures at home on my acoustic guitar and then bring it down to rehearsal where Anders and I would arrange the songs properly and find suitable drum beats for the riffs. Then we try to find a suiting song title based on the mood of the song or if we come up with a cool phrase or word for a song and then go with that for the title and I write lyrics for the song around how I find vocal patterns to fit the riffs throughout the song. In recent years we’ve started writing songs a bit more collectively, well still mainly Anders and I, down at our rehearsal throwing ideas of beats and melodies back and forth while playing around with new riffs and such. Several of the songs on “Misantropologi” were created like that and most of the new ones we’ve written since that too have been created that way. I usually bring a few riffs I’ve come up with from home and we them mold that along with ideas and new riffs coming up at rehearsal into full songs. I think I enjoy this way of creating music for UNDERGANG better too actually. Still, I’d never really state myself as the sole songwriter as it’s all UNDERGANG’s creations and the way things end up is a result of the entire pack working together and bringing their personal input and skills into it."
I absolutely dig each and every cover artwork in UNDERGANG’s discography. Do you commission them with a concept behind them? Who comes up with the awesome drawings? And do you have a personal favorite?
"Most of the illustrations used for our releases have been made by me actually. The cover of “Indhentet Af Døden” was done by my friend Jonas Bjerg, who also worked as a tattoo artist while he was still around, and that job was given to him with no real guidelines, if I remember correctly. He started out doing the spear pierced demon skull and I then asked him to fill out the gaps around the spears with a mass of faces melting into each other, which he did to perfection in my opinion. It was also later given color a few years ago. The cover for our split with FUNEBRARUM was digitally painted by Ola Larsson, which was originally commissioned for the DISMA demo LP cover actually but then decided by Daryl from FUNEBRARUM to be used for the split as we didn’t have anything else before deadline. I think everything else we’ve released have been illustrated by me as well as a lot of our merchandise. I think my current favorite is the gory adaption of the classic Da Vinci sketch “The Vitruvian Man” which is the cover of “Misantropologi”. It was also my first attempt at working with colors, actually. Thank you for the good words on the artwork."
I think your style of Death Metal has a lot of Punk and Crust influences, sometimes bordering on Grindcore. Where do you get the inspiration for music and lyrics. And was it intended since the start to have that raw sound for all your recordings? I ask this because as bands evolve, they usually go for a more polished sound. Not all the time, but it seems that the usual path most bands take.
"We all listen to and have in the past and in one case currently play in Punk bands too. So there are various influences in different ways coming from several various genres but Death Metal too, which I also think is healthy if you want to keep your music a bit “fresh” and give it a personal touch too. As for recording sound we’ve just never aimed for or worked with any one that would give us such a sound, except perhaps a bit with the 2013 7” EP “Søm Il Din Ligkiste” which was recorded in a studio of one of Anders friends who had mainly recorded Punk bands with quite a clear production, but that is of course just my point of view. I would like to re-record the songs for that reason too, but likely never will. We’ve now worked 3 times with Greg Wilkinson in Earhammer Studio in Oakland, California, and I think he has been the one to make our music sound the best and I enjoy returning there to record because the results are awesome and because he’s an awesome guy to work with, so besides the awkwardness of recording and fucking up all the time on your instrument, it’s a fun time hanging out with him there. We usually live there for the week we spend recording too, as the studio is inside a warehouse with plenty of space. I do prefer my Death Metal gritty and nasty sounding in general too, so there wouldn’t be a reason for us to present our music any different way either."
In your own opinion, has the band evolved in certain aspects and if so, which department do you think you need to improve on? Will you keep doing things in a way that has worked for you so far?
"Yeah, pretty much what we already do seems to be perfect for us so there’s not much need for change. I have learned in recent years to expect that touring is also a business and not just a fun time with your friends, which was a bit of a blow for me to experience and acknowledge, but likely a wise decision and lesson to learn in the end anyway. I guess we were just a bit naive with things for years and then suddenly experiencing first hand some that people we thought were likeminded just weren’t and that we need to be prepared for that. After all, we do this out of passion and dedicate a lot of our time to it because of the love for the genre and playing live as a band, not because we have some unrealistic dream of being able to get rich from it."
Kasper (Husballe, ex-bass) was part of the band since the start. With him being in the band for so long, were there any major changes when he left back in 2016? How did you get in touch with Sam (Osborne, bass) and how has it been working with him, since he lives in Washington (USA)?
"It was a bit sad to see him go, as he was one of my best and closest friends for years and that we were used to spending a lot of time together and had a lot of fun and cool experiences together in the band, but his decision to leave was the right for him and his plans for his life, so there was no hard feelings about it when he stated that he couldn’t dedicate his time to the band the way the rest of us wanted it to be any longer, back in January 2016. He agreed to still play the last European tour and some festival shows we had planned at the time and then played his final show with us in Copenhagen in the end of March 2016. Though it might seem crude to say, then he didn’t really add anything to the music or band more than being a good guy to be around and who was interested in getting the band out there as much we the rest of us wanted, for the time being. So in a lot of ways, though it is a bit expensive and at times difficult with Sam living in America and us in Denmark, the band has never worked better than it does now. We met Sam the first time back in 2011 when we did our first US tour with ACEPHALIX, as he was on tour with his band BONE SICKNESS along with MIASMAL from Sweden, at the same time and we crossed paths two times and shared shows while on the road. He later filled in on drums for Oakland Death Metal band SCOLEX when we did a week long West Coast tour in 2013 with them and NECROT and in 2016 we had his band at that time, TREPANATION, and some of their friends in a short lived band called ASTRAES PESTIS, along with us for a month long full US tour during that summer. So we’d known him for some years and when he was to come over to visit for some weeks in April 2016 and Matt from Dark Descent called me and asked if UNDERGANG could play at the Dark Descent Records / Invictus Productions showcase festival in Dublin, Ireland, in the crossing weekend from April to May, we asked Sam if he’d be interested in learning a set of our songs and come along with us and play at the festival, which he agreed to do. As that went well and the chemistry was good, we invited him to play bass for us on the already scheduled month long full US tour, with the at the time up and coming Denver Death Metal band SPECTRAL VOICE, that coming summer which he agreed to except for the first week where he was already to go on tour with FUNEBRARUM, who he played with at the time. We then had Eli from SPECTRAL VOICE help us out and learn a set of our songs on bass and playing live with us for the first week of the tour till Sam joined us in Philadelphia and continued with us on the rest of the tour playing bass. Things went well so we offered him the position as our steady bass player and learned him the songs for "Misantropologi" so he could participate in his first recordings with us on our recent album “Misantropologi”. Ugh, that seemed like a bit of a mouthful, but that’s the story behind that, haha. Sam has a bit more social media flair than the rest of us so he’s been helping out a lot forcing our band and activities in people’s faces with things online and he participates in song writing and have gotten a back up vocal slot too, though I’m sure he’s still struggling with pronunciation of the lyrics, haha. We usually fly him in a few about a month at the time to Copenhagen and we can play shows and get various band activities done together in that time period and when we fly to America to play he’s pretty much already there or at least the plane ticket is cheaper for the band, or promoter, to cover when he’s already in the country. So we limit ourselves a bit to only being able to play at certain times a year and can’t just jump on any spontaneous shows or tours, but it’s all working fine for us so far."
You have been doing a lot of gigs with every album release, locally and internationally. And from those concert reviews, it seems you are a force to reckoned with on stage. How do you manage to keep the intensity of UNDERGANG’s live show after days and days on tour? Are there any aspects of touring that you don’t like?
"I honestly love being on tour though it definitely takes its toll on you health wise with only getting shit food all the time, sleeping little and often under poor conditions and then all the drinking that I can’t keep from while being out playing. We all enjoy being on the road and we have fun together, most of our tours are establishment and put together by ourselves choosing friends bands we enjoy consisting of people we like and that we’d like to be out with, so it’s usually a good time all the time with all the weird, fun and strange experiences and places you encounter while being on tour. While on tour the show is always in focus and the main priority and highlight of the day, we love what we do and playing our songs but we also keep in mind that at every show there might be someone who travelled long and far to be there, as we’ve encountered several times people travelling from cities far away, other states or even other countries to see us play live and that we aim to respect as good as we can with always giving 110% of what we have every night. Even if you’re feeling ill or are in pain, the performance is always the most important and giving people as good and satisfying an experience as it’s possible for us to deliver. To us, touring is an essential part of being a band if you want to promote your band and win people over to like your band and music. We always prioritize that playing shows and touring after an album is important to get the word out there and show the new songs live. I’m sure all label owners would agree when I say that the bands need to play shows and tour if you want to push album sales also. You got to throw yourself in people’s faces all the time if you want to leave your mark and get people to care. I think I covered most of it in the beginning of my answer, but as for things I don’t like with being on tour I’d mention living off gas station snacks and shitty fast food isn’t ideal for anyone at any time but definitely a fact while on tour. Poor sleeping will get to you too so you’re often tired all the time which can be hard to deal with. And then my absolutely most hated aspect is being away from family and loved ones when things go wrong and you’re in no position to help or be there in case of accidents, sickness and death. I’ve experienced all of those and it always keeps me worried when I’m away and I try to be better and staying in touch with people back home and making sure things are alright."
I think that UNDERGANG has quickly gotten a well deserved spotlight in the underground after 7 years of hard work. How have you dealt with it as a band? I mean, it is a fact that most Metal bands can’t make a living out of this kind of music. How much have you sacrificed for the band and how have you synced UNDERGANG and your personal / private life?
"We’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary as a band next year in 2018 and throughout those 10 years I’ve dedicated most of my time when possible to the band, networking and promoting it as much as I possible have been able to. I feel like all of that hard work and time has resulted in where we are today and I’m rather proud of what we have accomplished, when I think back of how we started and when we didn’t expect to do much more than play local shows and have fun. The first years of our band’s existence we practiced almost every week 5 nights a week which has paid off in, though we’re not the best musicians, we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths and are able to work with and around that for what seems the best for us. We obviously can’t live off the band and all work on the side, I’ve personally just gone down to part time work from working full time for the past 7 years, because of health reasons associated with the band also, so doing things how we do has definitely had its price too, not to mention all the money we’ve invested in the band over the years and relationships going down the drain from being too involved in UNDERGANG and often being away. It was too much for Kasper, who’s now prioritizing he’s career and now has a son with his partner, which he likely couldn’t and definitely wouldn’t want to combine with trying to give what is needed for our band at the same time. It has given us a lot of cool and fun experiences that I’ll treasure forever, but it has also had its cost over the years for everyone in many ways. For better or for worse at various times. Certainly, nothing in life is free. My band activities certainly take up more time than my job or my girlfriend think is fair, which is all things I need to stabilize and make work, which I’m not the best at but I’m trying to do my best to make and keep everyone happy without losing myself and my dreams of the band in the process."
How do you keep up with your life, UNDERGANG and your other bands and projects PHRENELITH, HYPERDONTIA, REEFER and WORMRIDDEN?
"Death Metal and my bands is a big part of my life and a high priority and I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without it, in a way I’ve molded myself into this whole thing. However, only UNDERGANG and PHRENELITH are currently live bands. REEFER haven’t even had a single rehearsal since our last show at Heavy Days in Doomtown back in 2015 and WORMRIDDEN and HYPERDONTIA are studio bands which therefore won’t take up as much time as an actual active band. But I’d be lying if I said that my life didn’t evolve round Death Metal as good as every single day."
What is next for UNDERGANG and where do you see the band in the next 3-4 years? Any new material in the works?
"Hopefully people won’t get sick of us and we can keep writing music and playing around the world, getting to visit new places and return to places we’ve enjoyed visiting and playing in before. We’ll continue to write and release music as long as we enjoy it which I can’t see an end to. We’re currently slowly working on some new releases for which we already have recorded songs for. A split 7” with German veterans DEAD, a 4-way split with fellow Danish Death Metal bands DEIQUISITOR, PHRENELITH and TAPHOS, a 7” with two unreleased songs from the same studio session we recorded “Misantropologi” as a part of a book project I’m illustrating for Danish youth horror author Benni Bødker as well as a live album to celebrate our 10th year anniversary in 2018 + some things that are too early to present still. Besides that we currently have 3 new songs written where 2 of them will likely be on our 6th album. And then we have a few shows booked for 2018 already and two European tours still to be announced. So things aren’t slowing down yet it seems. So if you like what you do, stay tuned as we have much more putrescence still to offer."
Well David, I can’t say anything else but thank you very much. I hope you enjoyed answering these questions. Keep up the great work you guys have been doing and we expect some more punishing and raw Death Metal from UNDERGANG soon! The closing words are yours.
"Thank you for this insightful and entertaining interview to answer and thanks for the patience with me taking a bit of a long time replying to you. Also thank you to you, the reader, for spending your time reading this interview. Support underground Death Metal and drop by if we come to a town near you. Strung up in a gallow on my won intestines, David Mikkelsen / UNDERGANG."
Interview: Alfonso Perez
Pics by: Jacob Dinesen, Malik Camlica, Rhea DeCaro