Do you really need to be a thirteen-year-old band and have five studio albums in your suitcase in order to start getting recognised by the music industry? Unfortunately, this was the case for the Swedish Thrash Metal outfit Maze of Torment who have quite recently released their latest opus "Hammers of Mayhem". This interview with the band's vocalist Eric Sahlstrom made me once again realise that there are a few bands out there that take so much pride in their work, that they deserve all the respect they can get!
Hi, Erik. This interview is about your new album, 'Hammers of Mayhem', which was first recorded in August 2003 and is only now seeing the light of day. You have always had problems with release dates and labels. Why do you think that this has always been the case for the band?
Erik: Well I don't know actually, we have always been cursed with bad luck and delayed albums, I guess we have always signed to record companies that never kept their word when it came to release dates. This time around we waited for the cover to be done for something like six months, so we can't really blame the company this time... Black lodge is by far the best label that we have ever worked with.
When you first entered the studio, you were expecting that the new album would be self-financed. Now you have signed with Black Lodge; did you finish recording on your own budget and then hand over to the label or did they step in with the funding during the process of recording?
Erik: Well we entered the studio on our own budget and paid for the recording ourselves. Then we sold it to Black lodge. Our idea was that it would be easier to sell a finished product then to get a contract before the recording, and we also felt we needed to record the new songs before we grew tired of them I guess. And in retrospect I feel that it was the only way we could have done it.
I see that you have chosen Tommy Tagtgren’s The Abyss studios for your current release, as you had done for 'The Unmarked Graves', your previous album. Does this mean that you were satisfied with your working relationship with The Abyss last time and what is it that made you stick with them?
Erik: Yes absolutely. The recording process (and result) is very satisfying in The Abyss. Tommy is a real cool dude to work with and the surrounding nature gives a lot of peace. Our dream would be to record with Andy Sneap, but due to our restricted budget this will not be the case. But The Abyss however is an excellent studio when it comes to cruel metal recordings. I'm not the biggest fan of overproduced albums anyway, they tend to sound a bit synthetic and loose some of the natural feeling. But maybe it would be nice to try it out one day anyway.
Not having heard your previous album, can you tell us what have you done differently on 'Hammers of Mayhem' and how would you compare the two in terms of sound quality and musical approach?
Erik: Well the music on the previous albums is a bit more basic at times, but it also differs a bit from one to the other. On the "Hammers of Mayhem" recording we have sort of collected the overall sound of the previous albums and put it all in the same blend, if you know what I mean? I think I can say that the sound is the best one so far on "Hammers of Mayhem" also, but the previous album "The Unmarked Graves" also has a very heavy sound I think. In the Lyrical aspect, the new album is by far the most developed one. I used to deliberately write more "naive" lyrics in the past. This was the thing I wanted to do to keep the basic rock'n roll vibe alive. My view is that rock'n roll is meant to be a bit naive at times, that's one of its appeals.
When I first saw the album cover and heard the band’s name, I expected to hear something akin to Morbid Angel (for obvious reasons!). Instead, what I had was an explosion of Thrash Metal from my speakers with strong references from both sides of the Atlantic. How would you describe your music style and what were your main musical and non-musical influences?
Erik: Well the music is thrash metal I think. Some say it's black/death metal some even say black metal! (?) I guess the name, logo and cover(s) can be a bit deceiving at times but I don't really care about that. For me it's just thrash metal, and I think that both the bay area and European scene has been huge influences, I think bands like DEATH, SLAYER and TESTAMENT are some given U.S. sources. And KREATOR, SODOM, VENOM, MOTORHEAD, DESTRUCTION etc. are some of the main European influences. When it comes to non-musical influences, I guess life experience is a big factor. The lyrics strongly reflect upon the pain and agony that we call living. There are a lot of issues to be dealt with here, too many to mention I guess.
Over the past few years, some bands have tried to resurrect the old thrash metal spirit, but they have merely recycled the music of bands like Kreator, Destruction and Slayer. What makes your band different and do you believe that Maze of Torment are able to bring a new lease of life to Thrash?
Erik: I think that most or many of the bands that deliver thrash metal really try to sound like Kreator or Destruction etc. They deliberately focus on the unwritten rules of thrash, but I think that we do our own thing. We never said we will be a thrash band, we just played the best we could and the thing that came out was thrash! And as I said, this was never a given intention. And I do hope that people will notice this. If Maze of Torment are able to bring a new lease of life to Thrash? - Well, I don't know. It would be cool if it where to happen! But I never expect anything. I'm used to always being misunderstood. So this will probably never happen hehe.
It is obvious that many young people are fascinated with everything that has to do with Thrash Metal (including forcing themselves into the impossible clothing that used to torment the old schoolers!). Are these the people that you would expect to come to your shows and buy your new album or do you think that your music is targeted at a more varied audience?
Erik: Good question! I think that we target a more varied audience. The true old school fans are more into the ultra primitive bands I think, but hopefully they understand what we are doing anyway. So far they really seem to get into it on live shows anyway, but I don't know how many of them that by our albums. I think that our second album "Faster Disaster" was a definitive old school assault and many thrashers hold this one as their favourite!
How long did it take you to compose the ten 'new' tracks of the album and how do you feel about them now, since you recorded them some time ago? Any changes that you would have made with hindsight?
Erik: The creative process lasted for two years or so, we really put all our energy and power into the writing of the songs for this album. And I'm still truly pleased with the result. I do not regret anything on the album. This is the best album we have created so far, and it will be hard to top this one! Peter used to live in the rehearsal room for days in a row, just so that he could focus 100% on making riffs and solos! He was totally burnt out after the recording.
Which are your favourite tracks from the new release and which composition do you think stands out as the essence of this album?
Erik: The title track Hammers of Mayhem if a favourite, it's a typical thrash "hit" song, but I really enjoy all of the songs, I can never pick a favourite. I like some songs because of the lyrics and some because of the excellent riffs... "Catharsis" is a really good one also.
We know that both you and Peter are knowledgeable with respect to Satanism. With track titles, such as 'Beyond The Infernal Gates', 'The Dead Temple Prayer' and 'Catharsis', are we to assume that you have once again chosen to use this topic as a reference lyrically? What is the reason for your fascination with Satanism? Could you ever see yourself writing lyrics with a more political edge, just as Kreator and Sodom choose to refer to?
Erik: Hey! You know your stuff! Yes me and Peter have our relations to Satanism for sure, well it's difficult to pin point the exact fascination, I also tend to keep my beliefs to myself. But Satanism has definitely a strong aspect in the essence of defying the masses. I walk my own path, like so many before me have done, this is not something unique. But Lucifer definitely was a rebel. As I said earlier there is a different focus on the lyrics on this album, and I can say that the song "Tyrannizer" is actually a purely political song about the corruption of world leaders. The song "Catharsis" is actually about alcoholism. The song "Dead cold blood" is about betrayal, "Into the Bloodswarm"is about suicide. And "The Dead Temple Prayer" is mostly focused upon failed ambitions. I guess the only song that is truly satanic is "Servants of Menace" (grammatically incorrect, I know) and that was the only lyric that I did not write (!), it was done by the bass player Karl, and he is a hippie.
On you previous release, you chose to cover the Misfits’ rather obscure song, 'All Hell Breaks Loose', which was greeted with mixed emotions. This time, you decided to go for a more classic cover, namely, 'In League with Satan' (Venom) - what made this your choice? How different, in your opinion, is you version of this classic? What was your intention in the first place?
Erik: Well we love Venom! That was the only reason! Our cover is a bit faster than the original, and this bothers me a bit. But hey, it's only rock'n roll so it's nothing to dwell on. The song 'In League with Satan' was sort of a life long dream to someday put on a record, but we never got the chance before. So now we did it!
The cover artwork does justice to the title of the new album and I notice you used the services of Charlie Granberg for this purpose. Why did you not ask Max McLeod to do the honours this time?
Erik: Well Max got so tied up in his own work so we lost contact with him, otherwise he is a good artist that put a lot of effort into the Unmarked Graves cover. We wish him all the best.
The first impression from the cover is that it could easily have been pulled off the shelves of an ‘80s Thrash collector. Was that your intention or did you leave the style up to the artist? Do you normally give the artist an idea of your musical style before they come up with a cover?
Erik: He he, I know what you mean, the cover looks like a typical 80's cover with the entire colours etc. The thing is that this was never intended, It was our record company Black lodge, that came up with the artist and we only gave him the basic plot for the cover, I don't think he ever heard the record. (?) But it worked out anyway, I think that I would have liked it to be filthier, but it looks cruel anyway. Normally we are a bit stricter when it comes to the cover but this time around Charlie got almost free hands!
The band had not been given much of a chance to tour in the past. Now that you are with Black Lodge, do you envisage being able to do this? How important do you believe touring is for extreme metal bands?
Erik: Well you must tour if you want to get somewhere! But we have never been given the chance to do so. Black lodge has paved the way for us here, so I hope that we will do a tour in the near future, but nothing is certain. Our drummer Kjell has a family with two children and this restricts the possibilities of a long time on the road, so we will see what happens, we are a bit old you know.
I am not aware of your previous touring experience, not of the bands that you have performed alongside. Do you have a dream to tour with any specific bands, as I know that you have a soft spot for Sadus and Dissection?
Erik: Yes Sadus if one of the best bands in the word! And Dissection to! We did play with Dissection in 1995 or 96 (don't remember) and also we did a festival gig in Oslo (Norway) with Sadus, otherwise, maybe playing with Destruction, Slayer or Sodom would be killer!
Speaking of Dissection: in one of your previous interviews, you spoke of your strong wish for this band to re-form. How do you feel about the fact that they are back on the music scene and how do you feel about old bands getting back together in general?
Erik: Well things can and will never be the same, so sometimes there is no reason for a reunion, but I saw the Dissection show here in Sweden, and it was good. But as I said things can never be the same again. I like it when a band that I missed in the 80's get together again so I can see them, like Twisted Sister. I listened to them a lot when I was a kid, but I never saw the tour in '84, So I was really happy when I got the chance to see them again and it really was a killer in my opinion. But overall, I do not like reunions!
Sweden is currently known in metal music circles as the main melodic death metal market, with bands such as Soilwork and In Flames climbing to the top of the world-wide metal charts. What is your opinion of this style of metal?
Erik: I respect the bands for doing their thing, they work hard with their music and deserve all the recognition they get, but I'm not at all into their music, I'm into the "necro" death metal thing, I love bad sound and poor production. I know that Maze of Torment has melodies and a "good" production, but I seldom listen to this type of metal at home. The melodic death metal bands such as Soilwork and In Flames are like candy. - It was more fun when you where younger.
Are there any other Swedish Thrash Metal bands that we should be aware of? Do you keep in touch with the underground metal community of your country?
Erik: Yes I love the underground! There are bands like INCINERATOR, VERMINOUS, NECROVATION, FUNERAL, CORRUPT, and bands that are not underground but still killer like KAAMOS and WATAIN. (They have released albums, that is).
One of the bands that have recently made a big impression here in the UK is Behemoth, who toured and visited London twice in the past 12 months. You have expressed your appreciation for the Polish metal scene - what is your opinion of Behemoth’s latest effort and are you still supportive of the Polish scene?
Erik: Yes BEHEMOTH is a killer band, despite the trigged drums and clean production (hehe). I visited Poland some time ago and it is truly a good country when it comes to metal. BEHEMOTH has my full support, they have done a great job with their music and they are a hard working act.
As a band, you still have to rely on your day-jobs to make ends meet. You have mentioned in the past that your are happy to keep the activities of the band low-key and would not want to be the centre of attention as far as publicity is concerned. Is this still your desire? How do you picture the future of the band - would you be happy to remain an 'underground' band?
Erik: Yeah, I love the underground! I'm not the kind of person that gets excited when the band gets a lot of exposure, I keep to myself and I'm happy with that, some of us do have to rely on our day-jobs but this is not something that bothers me. I have never had the dream of becoming a well-known musician or rock star. I just do my thing and maybe someone else likes it just as much as I do. As long as I can play metal I'm satisfied!
Pete, thank you very much for this interview. Would you like to give us an epilogue to this interview?
Erik: Thank you for the support! This has been a very interesting interview, really good questions, and to you who read this, do not listen to me - think for your self!
Interview © 2005