One of the few bands coming out of Sweden that is not exactly sounding like a copycat of their land legends is without a doubt VANHELGD. Their style of Death Metal has always been more morbid and macabre, at times even evoking sounds that could be used in any horror film, with just the right amount of melody to petrify any unsuspecting soul. Mattias Frisk, guitar player an vocalist of the band was kind enough to share some words with us regarding the band, their new album and what the gloomy future awaits for us all…
What influenced you to form a band? What artist, album or concert was the detonator?
"None of us are stellar musicians and we are not the kind of people that are interested in playing covers, it is the need to express ourselves and the urge to rehearse is the main reason we play in a band. Jimmy and I started our first band back in ’94. I guess we wanted to play Death Metal or Punk but ended up playing regular Metal. Jonas is a couple of years older and I clearly remember how cool it was to see him playing with CARCAROTH and THY PRIMORDIAL and I really wanted to play Death Metal but that didn’t happen until much later. Back in 2007 I was in two bands: CEREMONIAL EXECUTION with Jimmy and THE JAM SESSION with Björn. Both bands were put on ice about the same time and Björn came up with the idea that Jimmy, me and he should start something. We just wanted to rehearse and play punkish Death Metal. I guess we were listening a lot to AUTOPSY, GRAVE, MORGOTH, DEATH and DEATH BREATH and such at the time…"
What is the meaning of “VANHELGD” and more important why did you choose the name?
"Desecrated. All names are taken in English."
As a Swedish Death Metal band, is it hard to escape comparisons with the local heroes, yet I find your style different… what do you think? I mean with such killer bands in Sweden it is normal to be influenced by them.
"I’d say our main influences from the Swedish scene are early AT THE GATES and EDGE OF SANITY and "Clandestine" era ENTOMBED but I believe that those influences are more of a subconscious nature. Throughout the years we have drawn a lot of inspiration from bands like MORGOTH, AMORPHIS, PARADISE LOST, MY DYING BRIDE, GRAVE MIASMA, NECROS CHRISTOS, LIE IN RUINS, BOLT THROWER and AUTOPSY. We often get the label “old school Swedish Death Metal” (what is new school Death Metal by the way?). But I really don’t know if it means that we are a DISMEMBER / ENTOMBED clone or something else… it’s a strange label since I don’t think that we write music that sounds like those Stockholm bands but I guess it is the use of the HM-2. I think that influences mustn’t be traceable in that way that you can say something like “this is a DISNECROGORY riff and that is a CARNALASPHYXIATOR drum beat”. We often draw inspiration from moods from bands, for example early SAMAEL, DEAD CONGREGATION and OBITUARY, but we don’t sound like any of them… As in all art-forms there are a set of rules, often unspoken, and a set of keys for understanding and decipher what you have in front of you. If you heard that VANHELGD is an old school Death Metal band from Sweden you adjust your ears to ENTOMBED / DISMEMBER / GRAVE mode when you start listening and you look for recognizable aspects like the sound, mood, riffs, production, drums, vocals that fit your expectations… It has become more and more clear to us with every release that many seems to have an approach to us that is “wrong” from our point of view when trying to figure out what label they should put on us and that have consequences (both good and bad) for reviews and criticism. Like if you think you’re going to review a horror movie but it’s actually a thriller but you still stick on the horror track and are a bit puzzled and disappointed that there are no monsters in it. But on the other hand one can ask oneself what is important in an art-form, the artist’s intention or the broader cultural reception of the artwork, what it’s supposed to be about or what it comes to mean for the audience… “It’s a risky business to send a picture out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent who could extend their affliction universally!” – Mark Rohko 1956."
For the tech fans, what kind of gear do you use for your guitar sound?
"Well, I guess that is quite obvious that we use the Boss HM-2 since everyone puts the “Swedish Death Metal” label on us. We blend the HM-2 with a Big Muff and some pure Marshall distortion. I use an ugly Gibson and a Fender dual showman, a 4×12 (probably a Marshall) with a HM-2 / Big Muff blended. Jimmy uses a Schecter Blackjack ATX c-1, Marshall JCM 2000 dsl. With a Marshall 1960 lead 4×12. Jonas use a Ibanez SDgr bass. Carvin R1000. Metal drive. Ebs distortion pedal. Where do we collect the sponsorship check?"
Can we consider VANHELGD as a continuation of CEREMONIAL EXECUTION? What would you say is the main difference and similarity of those two entities?
"No, not really. It’s been 9 years since CEREMONIAL EXECUTION ended and VANHELGD was formed. CEREMONIAL EXECUTION was much more technical and more US oriented Death Metal, VANHELGD on the other hand has a much more North European approach. The drumming is totally different and the vocals as well. Listening to the last stuff we made with CEREMONIAL EXECUTION there are naturally some similarities in melodies and riffing since I made a lot of the stuff in CEREMONIAL EXECUTION as well as in VANHELGD, but you could say the same thing about THE JAM SESSION’s last two releases (“Att Skingra Det Mörker Som Betäcker Landet” and “När Mörkret Väller Över”) since me and Björn wrote a lot of that material. In some ways I would consider VANHELGD and THE JAM SESSION being more close to each other since CEREMONIAL EXECUTION has a quite different approach. But at the same time VANHELGD took two CEREMONIAL EXECUTION songs and re-arranged and re-wrote parts of them for the recording of “Church Of Death” but they ended up as the “Praise The Serpent” EP. I don’t know… The main similarity is probably the use of melodies and the use of shifting tempos within the songs."
Four albums released, all of them to my ears are in the same line, yet each one differs from the others… especially the last one is not as fast, but more brutal, more asphyxiating… what can you tell us about it?
"Glad you notice the continuity, people seem to miss that we have been doing quite the same thing all the time but approaching our take on Death Metal from different angles on each album. The main difference between our previous albums and the new one is that we focused a bit more on making the atmosphere miserable and boring and we didn’t write any D-Beat stuff. Maybe we will do that for the next album, maybe not. We like to keep our songwriting open and we don’t feel like we are stuck in a certain corner, we play Death Metal and the options are many. Contrary to what people might think the “boringness” on “Temple Of Phobos” is a result of well thought through choices in the songwriting. We put a lot of time and effort in arranging the songs so that they came out as we like them. The gloom and boredom is something we deliberately aimed for. If you’re looking for something to bang your head to while drinking beer with your friends before hitting the club you might consider another album… But on the other hand I still think that we basically write in the same vein as we always did, ‘Avlad I Synd’ from “Cult Of Lazarus” could easily have been on “Temple Of Phobos”."
Basically you have the same line-up for a couple of years… how often do you rehearse? What do you expect from the band, maybe to go on tours or it is just a form of expression?
"We just parted with founding member and drummer Björn since he wasn’t able to rehearse on regular basis, same thing that happened back in 2013 with our former bass-player Viktor. Rehearsing is the foundation of the band; we always write new material together and aim to rehearse at least once a week. Touring isn’t something that has high priority for us these days, we like doing shows, festivals and so on but being on the road isn’t really possible right now due to jobs and families."
Also to notice is the use of the Swedish language in many songs instead of English… why that?
"Swedish is our native tongue; it is far easier to express yourself in your own language, simple as that. I would like to do an album fully in Swedish but it’s a bit harder to do the vocals in Swedish than English for some reason and some songs also work better in English. For "Temple Of Phobos" I tried English and Swedish on a handful of songs and even recorded vocals in both languages on ‘Rebellion Of The Iniquitous’. We came to the conclusion that the English version was the better of the two but we kept the Swedish one as B-side on the bonus 7” that comes with the LP."
This last album was released in co-operation between Dark Descent and Pulverised Records, two very good labels, is this for a better promotion for the band?
"Pulverised and Dark Descent did collaboration before VANHELGD and we had nothing to do with it, it was all their idea but it’s good for us to have two labels promoting the album!"
Except for the debut album, the cover art of the albums comes with a frame and painting that has an air coming from centuries ago… what is the idea when creating the cover art for albums?
"When we started the band I didn’t work as an illustrator but I’ve done a couple of covers for my own bands. The first version of “Cult Of Lazarus” is awful and probably the worst thing I ever painted. These days I work full time as an artist and illustrator at www.metalalbumart.com and learnt a lot since I began taking commissions. When I did the artwork for “Church Of Death” I tried a lot different colors on the frame, even white. Today I’m a bit irritated that I didn’t go for white then. Continuity is an aspect that is hard for a band and an artist to maintain but I’m glad we went through with using the white framing again. Regarding the artwork for “Temple Of Phobos” I wanted to depict a person in foetal position in a boat, manoeuvred by a cloaked oarsman, crossing the dark waters towards a temple. I was unable to get the symbolist painter Arnold Böcklins "Die Toteninsel" from my mind during the process so I composed the painting in that tradition instead of trying to create something less familiar on the same topic."
What about the live front? How many shows have you played or when can we expect a tour of VANHELGD?
"Just a few shows, no tour planned."
If I am to check out what is on you iPod what will I find? Any “guilty” pleasure in the music you like?
"I don’t have an iPod. IRON MAIDEN is my religion. Besides some ordinary Metal, a bunch of Death and Black Metal you will find bands like SISTERS OF MERCY, FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY, COVENANT (SWE), THE LEVELLERS, THERAPY? and LALEH in my record collection."
On your last album “Temple Of Phobos” the aura of a couple of songs reminds me of a horror / suspense / fiction soundtrack, are you influenced by instrumental music other than Metal in that way? I know there was use of real instruments and no keyboards…
"No. I know many bands are influenced by horror movies and soundtracks but personally I’m not so interested in movies at all. Jimmy on the other hand is really interested in movies and the culture that surrounds them. We are definitely interested in moods and atmosphere but without going all “ambient” and we are influenced by bands that are good at stuff like that."
How about doing a video for any of your songs?
"We are working on that at the moment but we have not decided which one yet. We did some do it yourself videos for the first album that are quite bad so we hope we can make something better this time."
What will make you still play this kind of music 10 years from now? Some bands have changed their style, changed to normal vocals or even doing things without them…
"If we still find this kind of music enjoyable and interesting in 10 years we probably still play. VANHELGD have often been labeled as old school but I don’t think we are retro or pure nostalgic. We play music the way we like it and if we should start writing to please someone else than ourselves we could really just quit the band, but since we are all getting closer to 40 and still enjoy the kind of Death Metal we started to listen to back in the early 90s I don’t think it’s likely that we stray from this narrow way. I understand from a creative point of view that bands change dramatically and people find other influences. I think it’s quite natural that a band that followed a certain puritan retro formula on their first record find it hard to make a follow-up without either making a less interesting one (since all good retro ideas were used on their first) or go somewhere else for inspiration."
What can we expect in the future from VANHELGD? The last words are yours, and thanks for the interview!
"We will start working on a new album as soon as possible and we hope that we can do a couple of shows in 2017. Bookmark www.vanhelgd.com in your browser for news merch and stuff."
Interview: Julián Núñez
Live pic: Henric Ottoson