INTERVIEW: Patrik Jensen – Witchery

WITCHERY began their career when their home country was more devoted to the gore-drenched stylings of death metal than the classic sounds of thrash. While bands like GRAVE, UNLEASHED and DISMEMBER were at the forefront of the Swedish metal scene, shaping what death metal would become, WITCHERY offered a more classic sound, though still mixed with the signature Scandinavian rawness. With their shortest break between albums ever, we managed to sit down with mastermind Patrik Jensen prior to the release of their new album to get all the details on I Am Legion, WITCHERY‘s future, and the what coming up as a thrash band in a death metal scene was like.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, how are things in the Witchery camp at the moment?

Patrik: Everything is fine here. The I Am Legion album drops tomorrow so things couldn’t be better!

I Am Legion is WITCHERY’s second album to be released in just under a year – what has sparked this incredible productivity, and can WITCHERY fans expect this super-high turnover to continue?

Patrik: There has actually always been a high level of productivity within the WITCHERY camp. It has been the fight or finding time to get together that has made new WITCHERY albums up until before In His Infernal Majesty’s Service such a rare thing. The thing that has changed is the lineup. Previously I have been very busy with THE HAUNTED and Sharlee and Martin have been equally busy with respectively ARCH ENEMY and OPETH. We wanted to put out an album in 2016 to celebrate the 20th anniversary and we experienced a few changes to the line-up right before we entered the studio. Our then singer, Emperor Magus Caligula, contracted a medical condition where he couldn’t be in any kind of loud environments and long-time WITCHERY drummer Martin Axenrot voluntarily made his spot available to not stand in the way of the band’s goal of getting an album recorded and released in 2016 (something that couldn’t have been done considering OPETH‘s schedule). Fast forward to the release of the first singles from the In His Infernal Majesty’s Service album. The response we were getting on these new songs were, at least for us, unexpected. We knew the songs were good, but we didn’t think that anyone would remember us given it was six years since the Witchkrieg album etc. So, we wanted to make a statement that we were a real band and not a project band. We had also made the statement back in the beginning of the band that we would put out two albums per year (which I think we actually managed at one point). We immediately set out to write a record a new album that would be released within one year of the In His Infernal Majesty’s Service album. And here we are. Mission accomplished. The quality of the music has not suffered one bit, as we feel I Am Legion to be an even better album than In His Infernal Majesty’s Service. However, we will not keep this level of productivity up. As we now have proven to the business that we aren’t a project band, tour and festival offers and now coming in, so we will hopefully be very busy with playing live in the future, putting us back on a more normal level of new album releases.

In His Infernal Majesty’s Service and I Am Legion offer a much more blackened, raw sound than the early albums – was this a natural progression, or a conscious stylistic change?

Patrik: I agree with your statement and I think you can hear this change of sound towards even more blackened and rawer between In His Infernal Majesty’s Service and I Am Legion. I think this comes from my personal “interest fatigue” with new metal. I’m actually sick to death with all the ‘perfect’ productions that are released today. All drum hits are the same nice volume throughout the entire album, the guitars are run through the same plugins in every studio, everything is digital so you never get something that pushes any sound limitations making it unique, all the instrument parts have been heavily edited to make them perfect; nothing will stand out or surprise you etc etc. I can go on forever. I want my metal to sound dangerous (might be a silly choice of word, but you know what I mean). That’s why we have moved towards this direction. I want it to be loud, obnoxious, rude. I want you to hear the drummer’s enthusiasm and the guitarists passion. I’m not interested in creating something that is ‘perfect’. What is ‘perfect’ anyway? When there are no imperfections so every human could be swapped for a computer plugin? Yeah, WITCHERY will definitely continue down the path of sounding more raw and ‘dangerous’. It makes for a much more interesting listening experience for everyone.

Lyrically, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service and, to a greater extent, I Am Legion both have some of the strongest material in your discography. For you, are the lyrics just as important piece of the songs as the music?

Patrik: Historically, and to a certain degree still today, WITCHERY‘s lyrics has been short horror stories. Still far from becoming a political band, we started adding some current events to our lyrics with In His Infernal Majesty’s Service. There is a song on In His Infernal Majesty’s Service called Nosferatu. If you are only looking for a horror story, then you will find it in there. But if you are looking for something more, there is a deeper meaning to the song too. The lyrics tell the story about a monster that gets chased by pitchforks and torches towards its doom, but underneath that there is a story about maybe not getting instantly enraged with something you hear or read online. As we all know today, there are forces out there that benefit from making people angry and the less time you take to investigate if whatever is put forward is actually true, the more likely you will be part of the mob, wielding torches and pitchforks, chasing something that someone else has branded a monster, but in reality might not be something all that bad. Anyway, we aren’t out to become a political band. But like you pointed out, we do pay more attention to our lyrics these days.

Talk us through your creation process for a WITCHERY album – where do you draw influences from, do lyrical concepts and ideas effect the music?

Patrik: I write all of the music and lyrics. However this doesn’t mean that the others don’t have a say in the creative process. I might present a song and they will for example let me know if “this riff needs to be better”, “this part should be long/shorter” or “this song isn’t as good as that song” etc. A creative discussion will ensue and if it determined that something should be changed then I will be the one that rewrites it. If something comes down to an argument then, because I do the actual writing, I have the final word on what goes and what doesn’t. Inspiration can be found everywhere. It can be a song on the radio or a machine that makes a certain rhythmic sound that sets ideas off. Musically, I draw inspiration from MERCYFUL FATE, Dio-era BLACK SABBATH (they had more evil riffs at that part of their career), DESTRUCTION, CELTIC FROST, ACCEPT etc. I’m a huge music fan, so I draw inspiration from lots of different bands, even outside the metal genre.

It’s clear from the first listen of I Am Legion that WITCHERY are at your strongest, how do you feel the album compares to previous records?  

Patrik: It’s still pretty fresh for me and the rest of the band to have perfect 20-20 hindsight perspective on the album, but I do agree that WITCHERY is at its strongest right now. I think it’s pretty remarkable that a band that just celebrated its 20th anniversary is at its most vital point in its career. I love the old albums of course, but I think the mix of musicians we have at the moment, along with the collaboration with producer Daniel Bergstrand, is what makes the band shine. Daniel has really been able to show the full potential of the band to the world.

Now the line-up is a bit more stable, can we expect WITCHERY to become a bit more active in the live circuit in 2018?

Patrik: We want nothing more than to play live. If anyone reads this that might have any connections with getting us booked to play live: get in touch!

Is a UK tour on the cards at all?

Patrik: Not that I know of at the moment, but our booker is looking into getting us to play everywhere. We played London, albeit many years ago now, along with MOONSPELL and KREATOR. That one gig ended with WITCHERY selling more t-shirts than MOONSPELL and KREATOR put together! I’m pretty sure there is interest in getting us to play the UK again.

Looking back, it seems like the Swedish metal scene when WITCHERY started was more focused on death metal than black metal or thrash – do you feel that offering a different sound helped WITCHERY in the early days, or was it more of a hindrance?

Patrik: Both THE HAUNTED and WITCHERY released their first albums in 1998 and thrash was very unfashionable at the time. THE HAUNTED’s first album made it onto many ‘best album of the year’ in 1998, and so did WITCHERY‘s album. I think that playing thrash or a style of metal that had thrash elements in it, did help us to stand out. Today, with the internet being what it is, its harder to release something that draws on a particular style that someone else isn’t already doing. But this was back in 1998 and you only had the music that got released by record companies. THE HAUNTED continued on the AT THE GATES record contract with Earache. Without that, THE HAUNTED might have had a hard time finding a record company willing to sign the band. WITCHERY had sort of a similar situation. I was good friends with the Paul Thind, the owner of Necropolis Records. He agreed to sign us and to release us without having heard any of the music. He just went by what I had done with my first band SEANCE. So, without these two special circumstances, there might not have been any first THE HAUNTED or WITCHERY albums nor any career of these two bands. Beelzebub works in mysterious ways, I guess! haha

Are there any bands that came up around the same time as WITCHERY that you feel didn’t get the recognition they deserved?

Patrik: Another band that also were on Necropolis Records were DAWN. They were/are from the same city in Sweden (Linköping) as WITCHERY and they also got signed by my recommendation to Paul. They put out a marvellous album called Slaughtersun. I think that album definitely deserves more attention and appreciation than what it has gotten over the years.

Thanks so much for your time today. Do you have any parting messages for WITCHERY fans reading?

Patrik: Thank you! And like I said, if there is anyone that can get us over to the UK to play live: make it happen! Cheers!

I Am Legion is out now on Century Media Records. Check out our review of the new album here.

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