When you look at black metal, there are some names that are at the summit in terms of their influence and legacy. MARDUK are one such name, the Swedes have been at the forefront of the black metal scene for over two decades. On the back of performing at the annual Incineration Festival in the capital and before a show in Manchester (read our review here), we spoke to guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson to talk about the reception of their latest record, 2015’s Frontschwein, the evolution of black metal and whether the scene is as extreme as it was in the 1990s and the impact of social media.
So MARDUK has just finished playing Incineration Festival, how was that performance?
Morgan: It was good! It’s always good playing London and the festival was good, it’s always a great pleasure to play London. It’s never disappointing in London.
Did you manage to watch any of the other bands?
Morgan: No not really, we were one of the last bands to play on the day but I did watch some stuff earlier in the day.
This tour is predominately made up of death metal bands, how does a band like MARDUK cope playing with bands that are outside of your genre?
Morgan: In a way I wouldn’t say so, for example a band like IMMOLATION have always had a close connection to the black metal mind if I should say so with the lyrical approach and their history. I think it’s a good combination of bands, I’d rather do a tour with a band like IMMOLATION than pointless black metal bands, for me they are a very relevant band and it’s always a great pleasure. We have toured with them many times, our first time was back in 1996 and they are a band we get along with and I do enjoy some of the older death metal bands. I think it’s a good combination.
And do you think that’s what tour packages need? A variation of genres…
Morgan: In a way, it all depends on who you want to reach. When I go to tours I don’t care who else is playing, I go for the band I want to see. I think for a lot of people it’s good to have a varying package so you can get all sorts of different people to come along.
So your latest album Frontschwein has been out for about a year, how have you found the reception?
Morgan: I think overall it’s been very good, both from the media and sales, but for me I think an album is to do what I believe in, I’m still very proud of the album. It still feels fresh to me and it is very much a MARDUK album, we do what we believe in and the inspiration at the time is what we unleash. And at that time, that was the inspiration.
So with that, is it not going to be too long before another album comes?
Morgan: It’s hard to say, we haven’t really got back to work on writing a new album. We haven’t sorted out the ideas for it and we haven’t rehearsed for that or anything like that. We all have our own ideas and we will all get back together and see what we are going to do and how things end up.
So you had a new drummer for this album, [Fredrik Widigs], how has that worked out?
Morgan: Very well! He jumped in for us as a session drummer at the end of 2013 because we were going to go out on tour for three weeks and do the Those of the Unlight album. Our previous drummer [Lars Brodesson] got a problem with his nerves in his back which he had for years. We had to switch our setlist around to help him because it was a real problem for him to get the co-ordination. So Fredrik jumped in and it worked out really well and he became a permanent member. Lars, our previous drummer, still has the same problem with his back, he’s getting slowly better but time moves on.
So when you are writing, does Fredrik bring much of a creative influence?
Morgan: Not so far but I mean even if you don’t write riffs or lyrics, when we put things together everybody has their input and with the drums, he takes part in the arrangement. He’s not writing music but he’s taking part in that. He brings further respect to the band.
Has it been different having him live?
Morgan: I’m not sure but he’s good to have because Lars had some problems with his back so it made it hard to play sometimes. When the drums don’t work as they should, it’s hard to get everything flowing. It’s a big difference to have Fredrik, he’s young and hungry. It’s a great inspiration to play with him.
MARDUK have been around for a fair number of years, the black metal scene has evolved a lot since the 1990s. Do you think the scene today is as extreme as it was?
Morgan: No, I think most of it really sucks! There are a handful of bands that I like and that I really appreciate but 95% of black metal today doesn’t appeal to me at all. For me and black metal, I like the old shit, I still listen to old BURZUM stuff and there are a handful of new bands I like but I usually go back and listen to the old stuff.
Going back to when black metal first exploded, you were from Sweden as opposed to Norway. Do you think that helped with the development of black metal?
Morgan: I think that black metal today comes more from Sweden than Norway. When MAYHEM really became a black metal band was when Dead joined the band, he came from Sweden. He brought the darker aspect to the band and the conviction and beliefs. I think that Dead and BATHORY, it’s very much a Swedish thing.
Do you think that with the traditional black metal bands, do you think that the scene is in a good place?
Morgan: I don’t know actually, it’s hard to say because everybody will have different opinions of what black metal is. To be honest I don’t care about the scene, I care for a few bands that I like, get along with and who I find inspirational and I find them to believe in what they do. It’s them that I stick to.
Are there any newer names in there that aren’t classics?
Morgan: No! (laughs) It’s hard to pick bands but I always try to keep myself up to date, I’m always curious to hear things. It’s quite a lot music to check through! There are few bands cropping up that I like, and it’s not something that is brand new, you don’t have to bring forth something that nobody has done before. But you can still bring your own touch to it yknow? You can do something that sounds like CELTIC FROST and it still sounds good, it comes from the heart.
Especially in today’s climate a lot of music is covered with the internet, what are your views on social media?
Morgan: I’m not a big fan of social media, I have no interest to see what my friends are eating, it’s not my thing. But it’s a good thing for a band to have because things can change fast when you are on tour and if you don’t fix it yourself someone else will do it. Overall I prefer times before it, a lot of kids today miss out on something that was unique. You would wait for a cassette from South America for two months and you’d sit down and listen to the whole thing. Now, you can check out all the music in history. You can google a name and listen to everything they have done. Things always change so there’s not a lot I can say about it, but I’m not the biggest fan of social media.
With services like Spotify and YouTube, people seem to prefer individual tracks rather than full albums. When you are recording do you prefer to make an album rather than a CD packed with individual tracks?
Morgan: For me it’s about doing a complete thing, 12 songs or whatever. You sit down and you work with it, you set the layout, set the power of music. I still buy CDs and I buy vinyls, I want to have it. I own the vinyls and they still have the smell of them, it’s something unique. When you go into a used book store or used music store, I love the smell of old albums and books. I don’t want to buy something and listen to it through a phone and have the picture on the screen. For me owning physical is the way it works.
Is that how you do your music videos? You’re making them to make people listen to the albums rather than just one song?
Morgan: Yeah! We don’t really spend that money on doing music videos, we have our vision on how we want them to be. We have done the music and the lyrics, we know how we want it to be. It’s the same with our albums, we always record in the studio that is owned by our bass player. Who else can bring forth the sound we want to have than us? I like to work that way.
Frontschwein is out now via Century Media Records.
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