It is very easy to feel intimidated when you stand in front of the gigantic-looking Morgan Hakansson, guitarist and founding member of the Swedish Black Metal outfit Marduk, but one thing that you are soon to discover is that he is one of the friendliest and most outspoken artists you can ever expect to meet these days. With a behavior both warm and disarming, Morgan spoke about his band's latest effort Rom 5:12, explained the process based on which Marduk's music is created nowadays and gave an insight into his band's heavy touring schedule that's to come in the next few months.
Morgan, let me start this interview by congratulating you for the release of the band's brilliant new album Rom 5:12, which I personally feel is the best Marduk album ever released. What are the opinions of the music world and the fans of the band? Do they share my sentiments?
Morgan: Thank you for your kind words. I've been surprised that we've been gaining such a positive response from most parts of the media I never think that we've had that before. The most important thing for us is not what the media thinks about our music but what we do, but I am confident, I feel proud of this album and the fact that the media likes it too is an added bonus for us. So you can say that we're satisfied.
The new album is quite daring, if I can use that word, and I personally like the fact that Rom 5:12 is indeed such a release. Do you believe that the average Marduk fan will agree with me on this?
Morgan: I don't know because I don't see this album as that different to what we have done in the past. We have indeed tried some new things, we always try new things in each album, but we're really not much of an experimental band we're really not a jazz/space band or anything like that (laughs). We will never try to change our music simply for the sake of doing so. We do what we believe in, which is that our music should reflect our lyrics and the other way round in order to both come forth as one unit. We are really working on achieving that and believe me when I say that everything comes naturally. We never think that we need to make an album that should sound like this' or that', you know? We work on the ideas that we have at each given time and the result is what you get.
When did you begin working on Rom 5:12? Did you have anything specific in mind prior to starting the process of composing your songs?
Morgan: I was already working on riffs and music since we finished recording Plague Angel and Mortuus (vocals) was working on lyrics. We had a lot of free time to work on this album so I would say that this album was the result of a natural progression for us.
Did you find the addition of the newest' members of the band helpful in achieving such an impressive result?
Morgan: A bit yes, I would say. We have changed our vocalist and now drummer. Mortuus joined us right before we began recording Plague Angel and even though he had a slight impact on that release, his contribution was far more important in Rom 5:12. We had a lot more time to work on arrangements that really fitted his vocals which was not the case with Plague Angel where we had already finished working on all the tracks of the album, except for one song. He indeed had a huge impact on our new album. This time we also worked in a studio in our home town and the way we treated the whole process was much different than how we did in the past. We don't really spend more than twelve days in the studio when we record our albums, but we do work when we want to and that is definitely reflected in the music. I sometimes like to go in the studio and work insanely for twenty hours, writing almost all the guitar parts for a song or two and then have the ability to go home and rest for a couple of days, so that next time I visit the studio, I do so with fresh ears. I believe that this is a better way to work.
This is definitely a guitar-based album, as indeed are most your albums; yet listening closely to Rom 5:12 I did feel that the vocals and the bass played a very important role in the way the music comes across.
Morgan: That is true I do believe that the vocalist must use his voice more like an instrument, rather than as most vocalists tend to do. We put so much time and energy into the arrangements so as to allow the vocals to become our extra instrument. It is also important to us that the base has a very clear and distinctive sound. Another difference is that I used to record at least four guitars in each album and this time I only recorded two, so as to allow the base to become more aggressive and predominant in each composition. Another very funny/important fact about this album is that it only took me a minute to establish what kind of sound I wanted to achieve for the guitars.
Only one minute are you serious?
Morgan: When the time came to put down the real guitars for the album, I took down my old Marshall from our rehearsing room, I plugged in the cable and (note: here Morgan recreates the sound of a distorted metal riff)I liked that sound, seeing as it was the one I used on my rehearsing room, so in one minute I had established my guitar sound. The same happened with the bass. What you hear in the album is pretty much how we sound when we do our rehearsals.
Talking about the sound, how do the new songs come across in a live environment in your opinion?
Morgan: I think that they come across really well. We have so far performed five different songs live but tonight we will only perform three of them, seeing as we like to change the set list from time to time something that also depends on how much time we are given on stage each time. I think that they sound really well and I really don't know what more to say about it actually. Most of our music has been made in order to be performed in a live environment, especially now that we have to depend on one guitar to produce the goods, which is different than what it used to be in the past when we had two guitars to rely on.
I have to say that this is a very interesting pack of musicians that are sharing the stage of the London Underworld tonight. Apart from you guys, we have Unleashed which is a typical Swedish Death Metal band and Vreid which are somehow difficult to define. It must be quite challenging to have three bands as different as these sharing the same stage each night.
Morgan: Not really. We've been around for so many years and we've toured with so many different bands so we are used to such situations. Unleashed are only a few years older' than us and I always admired them for doing their own thing and not letting anyone have a say to that. This band is the very essence of Swedish Death Metal and we are the very essence of Swedish Black Metal, so we get along really well. We do a different thing and that is good, instead of doing a tour with a sound that tries to sound exactly like us. Believe me it really works (laughs).
Common language is really important in achieving such a good chemistry after all
Morgan: Of course, but also is similar mentality. This is a great band that we are talking about right now and they have my utmost respect for doing their own thing.
You are almost half way though this European tour. Did you feel at any point during these shows that you managed to capture the attention of the Unleashed audience and prove them that Marduk is indeed a band worth investing in?
Morgan: I don't know really I haven't thought about it, because actually, I don't think that there is such a huge difference between our crowd and theirs. When they are on stage, I see people with Marduk shirts head banging to their music and when we are on stage it's the other way round. I believe that this is more or less the same crowd. We may be different as bands but we are still quite close musically.
In terms of promotion for Rom 5:12, is there anything else lined up for you guys after the end of this European Tour?
Morgan: Yes, of course. We were out on tour prior to joining Unleashed on this one. We first visited the Baltic States and Finland, now we are doing this tour. We will take a short break for Christmas and New Year, after which we will fly to the Balkans area and play almost in every country places we have never been before such as Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia. Then we will go back to Turkey for another three shows, play Greece once again and then head off to Bulgaria and Romania two countries that we've never played before and also play in Hungary. In total, we will do twenty three shows in the area between Eastern Europe and Turkey. After that we will return home, make some changes in the set list, and then visit South America and visit Brazil and other countries that we have already visited in the past such as Chile, Argentina and also Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Do you ever sleep, Morgan?
Morgan: I sleep sometimes it happens (laughs). I slept an hour before and a couple of hours prior to coming here to England, seeing as we had to catch the ferry. I really don't mind. We also plan to visit the States after that and also perform in a few Summer Festivals, after which we will go back to the studio to work on our eleventh circle of death'.
Knowing the way you work, you probably already have a few ideas on what to work on
Morgan: Yes, I have many ideas. I haven't really completed any songs, but I have prepared a few riffs and have collected some unfinished material like four lyrics or something. There is still much time for changes and we have plenty of time prior to recording the album, but we already have a strong idea on how we want the album to sound and it's all coming along just fine.
Morgan, how is your relationship with Regain Records - are you still happy to be working with them?
Morgan: I am indeed. We have our own label that's called Blooddawn Records so our albums are only distributed through Regain Records. We still own our rights to our music and we can do what we want with it that's the way that I like to work and that is more important to me than anything else. That's why we chose them when we decided to leave Osmose back in 2002. We could have signed to many different labels at the time because we had many good offers, but I wanted to ensure that I would never have to face problems with labels over and over again in relation to composition rights. Per from Regain said that we could have our own label and that he would take care of the distribution of our music, thus providing us with total artistic freedom and allowing us to have control of what is happening.
So you see this collaboration between Marduk and Regain continuing in the recent future?
Morgan: I think that the way things look now and under such circumstances, the answer to that question is yes.
Marduk has been around since the early 90's, being considered as one of the most important Scandinavian Black Metal outfits around. If you draw a comparison between 5: 12 and all the previous Marduk releases, do you find a connecting line between them?
Morgan: I do. I think that they all are pillars upon which this band is standing on. Many times people ask me to name my favorite Marduk album and that is impossible for me to say. They are all very special to me and represent where we were during a very specific moment in time. Even though there are times where I might have said oh, maybe I should have done this differently', they still represent a very unique feeling. They are all equally important and I like them all the same. I don't know if I have a personal favorite. I like to play songs from all our albums and that is what we do when we go on stage. We try to play the main part of the new album and also try to get something from each album when we play live.
Do you feel that you have managed to achieve a big part of the artistic dream that you had when you started Marduk?
Morgan: I think that I have; still there are quite a few things that I still want to do with this band. I am very proud of what we have achieved so far, yet I rarely have time to sit down and think or reflect upon it. I'm so preoccupied with the topic and the work that I have to do towards the next album that I have no time to think about things like that.
Marduk has proved, especially with the release of Rom 5:12, that there is still plenty of room for evolution within Black Metal, don't you agree?
Morgan: Yes, of course there is and I think that it is much wider than most people tend to thinkI don't know - it's up to others to decide. I just do what I do.
Morgan, I do hope that you continue following the path that you've chosen with the same, if not higher success. Enjoy the show tonight.
Morgan: Thank you.
Interview © December 2007 John Stefanis
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