tiistai 14. helmikuuta 2012

Daniel Ekeroth - When Everything Went Death

The idea of the collaborative effort between Kaleidoscope and The Serpent Bearer was born at an Entombed concert in early 2009. First it was supposed to be published as Kaleidoscope #7, but at some point we realised we wanted to make it a little more special, make it an entity of its own. Thus, Serpentscope zine was born. It was first made available at the Blasphemy/Archgoat/Revenge/Proclamation gig in Helsinki, October 2009, and it turned out to be a night to remember for sure! Now that we're well under way writing our second issue, it's time to take a short(?) break from writing this blog in order to concentrate on things more concrete. Most - if not all - Serpentscope I interviews, including Klemi's texts, will be published here before the hammer falls for the second time.

...And since it was Swedish death metal that got us started, let's continue with that theme. I was writing questions last week for an interview in The Serpent Bearer II, and checked out some things in Ekeroth's book, Swedish Death Metal. It wasn't until then that I realised that this book was actually no masterpiece, after all. Sure, it's good for what it is, but
if we think of the number of pages there were, relatively little gets said in the end.

If you know Swedish, by the way, do check out the book Blod Eld Död (which also has some major flaws but is still pretty interesting).
It offers a different - and arguably more interesting - look on different aspects of Swedish extreme metal. Among other things, it includes the last ever interview with Dissection's Jon Nödtveidt. An interview with the authors of Blod Eld Död will also be published here at some point.

"When Everything Went Death"
An interview with Daniel Ekeroth, author of Swedish Death Metal.
Written by A. Korpinen, some questions by A. Klemi.
Originally published in Serpentscope I, October 2009.

Swedish Death Metal and I, we don’t go that far back. Not further than 1998 anyway. Hmm, what decent Swedish death metal albums were released that year, I hear you thinking. Not very many, I can tell you that. And the ‘death metal’ album I got to know that year wasn’t perhaps the best one to start with – Same Difference by Entombed. Fast forward to 2009 and I find myself talking to a man who knows his death metal, Daniel Ekeroth. The author of the 450-page opus Swedish Death Metal was kind enough to reiterate the experience of living and reliving the svensk dödsmetall phenomenon.

Ok, let’s start from the beginning. When did you get this idea of making a book about Swedish death metal and what kind of guidelines did you have in mind when you started this massive project?

- It started very humble, as a list of demos I had lost and wanted to get back. Then the list grew into some kind of a-z of Swedish death metal bands, and somewhere around 2002 I decided to make a whole book about it all. At some points I wanted to include even more stuff, like all black metal, but it just got too big a project. It’s a pretty heavy tome as it is…

A book with legends galore, Swedish Death Metal is a work whose main focus is on the music itself, sometimes to the point of the book becoming too cozy a narrative of a phenomenon as ugly and chaotic as death metal. Of course we have stories from Tunnelbana hell-raising activities to tongue-in-cheek “grave-disturbance” sessions, but they are hardly things that anyone in the scene has painful memories about; or things the reader might consider edgy. Actually, rather than having trouble finding people willing to speak their minds about the yesteryears of death metal, Ekeroth says the biggest problem in the making of the book was the sometimes hazy recollection of the actual happenings.

- I actually faced no problems with anyone, everybody seemed happy to recollect their youths! However, many memories were far from firm – including my own. And I guess that was the biggest problem, trying to remember all that stuff that went on when you were very young, naïve and hopeless in general. But everybody tried their best.

With all the years of hard work, the book, originally published in early 2007 and later licensed to a couple of bigger publishing houses, pays back its writer. What were the most rewarding moments and interviewees during this process?

- Oh…many. It was very very nice to have that long chat with Nicke Andersson about the old days, I’m so glad that he is back into the death metal game again. But the most emotional thing that ever happened was not that long ago, when Juck of Treblinka/Tiamat told me that the book actually helped him survive cancer and got him back to death metal with Mr. Death. That alone was worth every single hour of work.

No death metal fledgling himself, Ekeroth thinks that he too found new aspects and points of view on death metal during the making of the book.

- It kind of struck me how very young everyone was, and that most of it kind of happened by chance. When you think back on your life, you kind of imagine yourself as you are today in those old days. But, nobody was like that! It became clearer than ever to me that all this great music was made up by kids – and that the old phase of the scene is the best just because of that. Just full-ahead naivety, and no breaks!

Besides their young age, when you now think of the people who were closely involved in the birth of Swedish death metal, can you think about anything that they have in common with each other? Or was the society, the time or something else more important than particular persons?

- The fact that they grew up during the brutalization of metal, with Venom, Metallica, Slayer, Bathory and all that. Then, that they learned to play when the next step was taken, into death metal. I think Sweden was a good breeding ground for this kind of music, as it was easy to get instruments and rehearsal rooms. But on the other hand, the people of the early scene had different backgrounds in some aspects… so I guess that their personal tastes were at the core of it all. Then, guys like Nicke Andersson and Tompa Lindberg sure got everyone else off their asses with their sheer creativity.

The thing that lends the book its sense of authority and authenticity, but also its lack of objectivity, is that through his now former bands such as Insision and Dellamorte, as well having been an avid death metal fan even before that, Ekeroth has been in the middle of these events. Was objectivity even a goal to begin with, though?

- You can’t really be objective about the stuff you grew up with, and if you still try you are doomed to be boring. This is my history of Swedish death metal, as flawed as it may be. But most people have assured me that the spirit of it is very true, so I am happy.

At its best the book is both informative and interesting. At times, however, the book kinda makes me feel like an outsider listening to a casual conversation about a drinking session from the day before, and although I appreciate the honesty and lack of sensationalism, there are bits in the book which don’t feel entirely relevant. To put it bluntly, I think the way the book is written and structured doesn’t quite live up to the level of its content.

On the few occasions the book strays from the actual music, and extracurricular scene activities, it also tends to tread on less firm ground. After all, interesting as the argument may be, it sounds far-fetched to say the least, when Ekeroth suggests that the murders of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (1986) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh (2003) might have been factors in creating an atmosphere that was fruitful for the birth and rebirth of death metal. Would you say that it is in any way paradoxical that youngsters would react to these murders by forming bands that basically tried to be more macabre, brutal and MURDEROUS than any other band on the planet? Or is this precisely the point, that young people needed a tool to help them deal with death and other uncertainties of the world?

- It’s just a little bit of background, but I sure remember that the assassination of Palme sent shivers down our nation’s spine. Then the cold war, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Russian submarine in our waters, the outburst of video violence, the skinhead movement, the kickers and all such things I grew up with sure made me into brutal things. It would probably have happened anyway, it’s just a reference to the world at the time.


As was pointed out above, Swedish Death Metal has been licensed to Bazillion Points in the US and Index Verlag in Germany. The latter was also responsible for the 3-CD compilation which follows the footsteps of the music that was to become Swedish death metal. From the blackened speed metal of Mefisto to Entombed, Dismember and beyond, the compilation does one helluva job digging up the grave of the living dead Swedish death metal notables, both obvious and the ones less so. How hard was it to collect the songs and even drop off some obvious bands (like Treblinka!)?

- I just sat down with Heval from Third Storm/Sarcasm and made the list of our favorite bands/songs, and got the Germans in contact with the bands. Some (like Treblinka, Bathory…) we couldn’t get the rights to, but the rest was kind of easy as everyone wanted to help out. Forgot some though, like Macabre End…

So what do you think, if someone who has just heard the latest Entombed album now grabs this compilation, what kind of an experience would the listening session be for him/her?

- The uttermost abyss of brutal sounds. This is mainly a compilation of restless teenagers, changing the face of extreme music forever.

Heavy with classic tracks from the early 90’s, the compilation isn’t obviously big on introducing new names in the genre. The only somewhat more recent names are Repugnant and Katalysator (who now go under the name Invidious). Actually, even the Repugnant track Spawn of Pure Malevolence is the version from 1998. Not including the likes of Kaamos, for example, was a conscious decision from Ekeroth, as he wanted to focus on the old scene as hard as possible, and as the compilation was already on the way of becoming a rather extensive one. Even though he thinks that bands like Tribulation and Kaamos are “just awesome,” there is one thing that sets them apart from the bands most close to his heart.

Namely, one aspect that Ekeroth would seem to find very important in the first wave of Swedish death metal (the turn of the 90’s) is the sometimes black humour. In fact, he goes as far as saying that it’s the crucial element of humour that bands like Kaamos are lacking, thus deeming the band too serious somehow. Would you say that death metal and serious, deeply intellectual, even spiritual/religious lyrics aren’t a good match?

- Any scene should be fun, drinking beer and hanging out with cool people was what I always liked the most…and still do. When it gets too serious, it kind of can get ridiculous. If you take yourself too seriously you are on a shaky foundation. Never forget the hell-raising aspect of it all, if it turns into dogmas and rules it gets boring!

At my most religious, I hardly recognise the concept of being too serious about death metal. Rather than playing it safe, it’s perhaps the danger of becoming ridiculous that certain bands and individuals risk in order to attain greatness. Even that doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of the scene being enjoyable, though, if personal gratification is a goal of any sort in the first place. How does Ekeroth, then, see the sort of bands and individuals who take seriously the very things – such as grave-disturbance – bands like Nihilist did for the sake of fun? By this I mean the sort of bands who worship death and are rather serious with their image. Do you see them as part of the same death metal scene?

- Most people I have known in both the black and death metal scenes are very down to earth and great to hang out with. The guys in bands like Marduk, Watain, Enslaved and Gorgoroth are all great to be around. Beyond the make-up we are basically the same. The differences are mainly on the surface, we all come from the same roots. To me, it’s all the same scene. And what really matters in terms of seriousness is the music. Good music always will prevail.

Usually people think that death metal isn’t so affective if we compare it to black metal or hardcore punk for example. In the book Ekeroth opines that because of its regular song patterns, satanic imagery and screamed vocals, black metal is “generally much more accessible music than death metal.” But how has death metal influenced Ekeroth’s life, his way of life, opinions et cetera? Can you change the world with death metal? Obituary and Therion sure tried with their socially aware lyrics but ended up getting a lot of shit from the scene…

- Music is mainly about feelings to me, and death metal surely got me off my feet and helped me to start enjoying life. It was just so much energy… Then, if you base your life on lyrics or genre codes in general I guess you will be in trouble. My opinions are rather drawn from my own experiences of life, relationships with interesting people and books. Too many books probably, ha ha!

Like this Obituary/Therion incident shows, people are usually quite strict about what death metal is. For example, I remember Therion was called ‘life metal’ because of their lyrics which were about protecting rain forests… We’re all used to the term ‘true black metal’, but can we also use the term ‘true death metal’? If yes, what do you think is the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’ death metal? Would you say that people back in the early 90’s were very sharp about what’s death metal and what isn’t? Ekeroth wears the diplomatic face, once again.

- When you are young you kind of seek out rules to define yourself with. I mean, when death metal was coming around, all the thrash metal of just a few years earlier was suddenly looked down upon. It’s just a childish thing actually, when you grow up this doesn’t really matter. Thankfully, I was always into many kinds of music and never really got to obnoxious over any lengthy period. Good music is good music, simple as that.

As far as I’m concerned, and as you can see from this zine, essentially, I make little difference between black metal and death metal. For Ekeroth and his pals, as far as he can remember, the first Possessed album in 1985 still substantiated speed metal, whereas the first time they saw Napalm Death in 1988 was a real turning point: after that “everything just went death!” With bands as diverse as the aforementioned two, what can be said about the role of lyrics in death metal? Is there anything besides catharsis and provocation that death metal lyrics are able to give to a person either writing or reading them? As Ekeroth explains, it’s again about the feeling the lyrics and the vocals set.

- To me, the lyrics should set a tone to it all. It can be as simple as one punching line. Like Grotesque’s “Incantation”, just that simple word is enough to possess me as Tomas is screaming it out over these twisted chords. In Celtic Frost it was even simpler, as the “Uugh”’s and “hey”’s really made them unique and magical. The voice itself is probably more important than the lyrics too, the voice is what contains the soul.

Though often brutally underrated, there are good death metal lyrics this side of, say, Morbid Angel. There are few lyrics, for example, that can compete with the sheer homicidal ecstasy of Dismember’s Skin Her Alive or the feeling of finality in the Nirvana 2002 tracks Slumber and The Awakening Of…. Over the top and bordering on ridiculous, it is things like these that make me fall in love with Swedish death metal all over again. What about Ekeroth? What makes Swedish death metal the love of his life over other music genres?

- The pretty simple and hardcore influenced riffs, the catchy song writing, the fat buzzsaw sound of the old scene. Later, the melancholy and odd structures of Dissection and At the Gates. Also: the drumming of Nicke Andersson! He is my favourite death metal drummer of all time – probably since he plays so “un death metal” He sure is special.