Spring is, well, springing this week, but don’t let the sun and bright colors fool you—things are still as black as ever. This week, Napalm Flesh has an interview with Bjorn “Tiger” Mathisen of the recently reunited Fester, a black/death metal band from the Norwegian early 90s scene that has reunited with a killer new album A Celebration of Death. Also we have our usual lowdown on the week’s concert events as well as reviews of the new Borknagar, Power Trip and Revel in Flesh.
Friday, March 23, Deicide returns to Salt Lake City with support from Jungle Rot, Lecherous Nocturne and Abigail Williams. Local talents Deicidal Carnage and Gravetown will open up the show. The event is all ages, doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $20.
On Saturday, March 24, Spellcaster returns to Salt Lake to play at Mixed Emotions (1030 S. State) in Salt Lake with support from locals Visigoth and Castleaxe, The music gets underway around 9 p.m. $5 gets you in, 21+.
Monday, March 26, Burt’s (21+) hosts Sonic Vomit (grindcore from Colorado) with locals Chainwhip and Whorescorpse, $5 gets you in, tunes at 9 p.m.
On Tuesday, March 27, touring doom/drone trio Aseethe plays Burt’s (21+) with IX Zealot and Huldra. $5 at the door, tunes at 9 p.m.
Interview with Bjorn “Tiger” Mathisen of Fester
SLUG: Can you give a brief history of Fester? How did the new album, A Celebration of Death, come to be?
Bjorn “Tiger” Mathisen: I'll try to sum these 20 years up brief, ha ha. We started up back in ’89 playing—or at least trying to play—metal that we all were fans of: early Kreator, Pestilence, Celtic Frost, Slayer and so on. We released our first demo in ’91, second in ’92, first album Winter of Sin on No Fashion Records in '92 and Silence in ’94. A couple of the band members had huge personal problems coming into '95. I had a kid, and the spirit and motivation just wasn’t there like it ought to have been. We have always felt that music is meant to be made with inspiration and a sincere feel, and with the lack of that, we split up. We were supposed to do a comeback in 2000, but our bassist Jørgen Skjolden passed away, and it all fell through. Silence was actually re-released this year due to our announced comeback. The interest in keeping Fester alive never came back to the other original members, partly because of this tragic event. I started up a project band in 2002 called Sincera and picked Fester up again a couple of years ago. The inspiration and feel is back, and we are ready to celebrate!
SLUG: Abyss Records re-issued Silence last year and Winter of Sin in 2010. Did these re-releases help out interest in the creation of new material and bringing up interest from older fans as well as probably a whole slew of folks new to the band—myself included?
Tiger: It was actually a strictly limited demo/live compilation that Kyrck Production released in 2010 that kicked it all off ("The commitments that shattered 1991-1992"). I kind of found a mood and feel when I worked on those that had been lost for a while I guess, and I was inspired by the re-releases as well. The releases have been an expensive affair on eBay, and we thought it would be cool to make them available to both new and old fans. Like other re-releases, they include stories from the past, liner notes, bonus tracks, etc.
SLUG: I have to claim some ignorance about the “progression” of Fester—the new album was the first I’d heard of the band, and moving back I listened to material from your first full-length to the next record to the new one. Each record is very different from the other. What was the biggest inspiration and desire to create the current sound of Fester?
Tiger: Comparing these 20-year-old releases, one can definitely find links to the new album, but I feel that A Celebration of Death is even more old feeling—more raw and sinister than our previous releases. I think Fester’s biggest advantage/disadvantage has been that we have never made music to please a certain crowd. We make what we make out of the atmosphere, groove and mood we're in. The thought has never been to make something that sounds like this or that. We were really working on the sound on this album, cause we wanted it to somehow "fit" the mood in the music, and just underline the overall complexity in the simplicity—If that makes any sense, ha! We wanted to have a heavy sound, but still raw and sinister—somewhat bleak, yet grim and brutal. When it all comes down to it, I feel that each album is like a book: they live a life of their own, but one can find ways in each one that has similarities.
SLUG: How would you describe Fester to someone who has never heard of the band before?
Tiger: Heavy, bleak, doomish, blackened ,death metal with a twist: FESTERing style! Elements of the old heavy metal, death, black and thrash scene, but with a unique way of expressing it.
SLUG: Winter of Sin was the second album ever to be released by No Fashion Records. The label went on to basically start the more “infamous” careers of the likes of Marduk, Dissection, Katatonia and Dark Funeral, but Fester didn’t have the same initial impact as the aforementioned bands. Do you ever feel jaded or dumbfounded by the connection between Fester and No Fashion Records?
Tiger: Personally, I think that it's a paradox that a scene that hated trend as much as it did (the second wave of BM in Norway in ’91-’93) was as trendy as it was. I mean, playing a mix of black and death metal at the time just wasn’t “it,” if you catch my drift. We got a reputation on being "untrue" and at the time everything was about the early Norwegian black acts. Having one of the first CDs on "No fashion records" was cool, and I still think that our first record was kind of groundbreaking when it comes to mixing genres (black and death). I have never really reflected on the fact that latter releases have been more recognized. I know where I come from. It’s better to be loved by two than liked by thousands.
SLUG: Did the fact that you’re from Norway and all the others are from Sweden make a difference at all?
Tiger: Nah, I think the mentioned facts were bigger reasons. Enslaved, Emperor, Burzum, Immortal—there were many bands from Norway who came with their debut albums around that time. Fester just never made it.
SLUG: The little bits I’ve heard from that your first album are very different from a the music coming from Norway at the time. Where did you find Fester fitting in during this time that is considered legendary for extreme music?
Tiger: We were always like the fifth wheel on the wagon. Jørgen and I were very involved in the scene, especially in Oslo with Euronymous and the shop Helvete, but as a band we were the ugly chick that was a hell of a cocksucker, but no one could go steady with because of the embarrassment. That being said, I have to say that the scene 20 years ago was something special—in a positive way as well.
SLUG: The new album almost has a mechanical direction to it, especially in its rhythm—it kind of reminds me of old Samael in a way, but with some weird, maybe unintended, sounds reminiscent of Godflesh. What influenced the new record as opposed to your older works?
Tiger: Hmm, good question. I am quite surprised of the mechanical link that several zines has mentioned—it was not intended at all. I was a big fan of the first Godflesh album, but haven’t listened to it for years. It was intended to use old amps and guitars to create that raw mood, as well as the use of synth, but more as a horror cinematic feel rather than as one of the main instruments. As for musical influences, I really don’t know, but I was very inspired by death itself on this record. The fact that we decided to use a jazz percussionist that had never, ever played metal before has surely made the expression on this album something special. Audun Kleive is a master of coming "at one" with the music he plays. Not many extreme metal records are played with a drummer using only a single bass drum nowadays (or ever for that matter).
SLUG: The recording quality is quite solid on the new album—the guitar sound is clear and menacingly thick, with the bass tone feeling very deliberate and appropriate. Jon Bakker, the current bassist, has a hefty list of bands to his credentials. How did you get connected with him to become a part of what Fester is?
Tiger: We are very satisfied with the guitar sound as well. Thanks! I have known (of) Jon for over 20 years, from the early ’90s when Fester often played with another local band called Balvaz. He used to play bass with them at the time. When the idea of another album was coming to be fulfilled, it was natural to contact him. He was happy to contribute, and his style fits Fester very well. I also asked Jontho (Ragnarok) to play the drums. He agreed, but as mentioned, we changed our minds and used a less traditional drummer for this record instead.
SLUG: Your other band Sincera just got underway with its debut album last year, are you going to be actively working on both bands or for 2012 leaning your focus more with Fester?
Tiger: The Sincera album was meant as a taste on other musical directions that we have been involved in, and we will do some more stuff later, but for the moment it's all FESTER. We have material for two new records at least the frames and guidelines, but it's FESTER no doubt—It won’t fit the Sincera concept at all.
SLUG: The atmosphere on the new record A Celebration of Death is more dirge-like—the band has always had the dirge and doom elements with death and black metal being the forefront “style.” I know what the atmosphere and feeling the new record gives me when I listen to it, but could you tell the kind folks reading this what “vibe” you were going for with the new album?
Tiger: I mentioned earlier complexity in simplicity, and also the old feel and rawness. I agree that atmosphere is a very important key word on this album. We hope that the record can give people the feeling of embracing death and the dark rather than fear it. One can truly find beauty in the dark.
SLUG: “Rites of Ceres” and “I’ll Hunt You Down” are seriously some of the best death metal I’ve heard so far this year—“I’ll Hunt You Down” is outright scary. Ceres is a figure in Roman mythology… why did you choose to start the album with that theme?
Tiger: Thanks! I was very pleased to hear that. I'm going to let you in on a not very known secret: Our late bass player used to call himself Ceres after the split up, and it's partly a dedication to him and the praising both growth, wealth and taking care of the ones you love, and only them. Here's a line from the song: "may our crops grow great, so we can feed our children and fight our wars." It's also one of my personal favorites on the platter, and I like the vibe in it—obscure, yet plain.
SLUG: The theme seems to continue on the record. Is the album conceptual or does it just share similar themes?
Tiger: It's not conceptual, but one can say that death is a theme that evolves most of the overall feel, and the lyrics. Thomas said, sometime during the recordings: "Bjørn, have you noticed that someone always dies in your lyrics?!"
SLUG: Are the re-releases of your first two albums still available for people to purchase? Also is the vinyl version of the newest album which I saw Floga Records released basically in a batch of 350 and 150 copies still available?
Tiger: The re-releases are still available on digi CDs (Abyss) and I believe that you might get your hands on the vinyl editions as well that German Ironebonehead Production released last year. Gatefold versions, different covers and strictly limited to 500 copies. The Floga versions of "A Celebration of Death" looks freakin amazing bro.. A laminated front on both gatefolded versions and a heavy coated 280g inner sleeve!
Exclusive CD Reviews
Borknagar = Vintersorg + Ulver (old) + Enslaved + Windir
Since Borknagar released their debut self-titled full-length in 1996 on Malicious Records, they’ve been influencing and shaping all sort of metal genres, from black metal to pagan to progressive and just about everything in between. Granted the line-up has shifted over the years with plenty of personnel changes, and guitarist Oystein Garnes Brun has remained the constant in the band, but every time Borknagar releases a new album you can expect his skills to deliver. The sound may be more polished and directions changed from the origins of Borknagar, but “epic” is what Borknagar does—hell, they titled their sixth record Epic. Urd succeeds in a plethora of ways. With ICS Vortex rejoining the Borknagar camp in 2010, the band has been elevated and given not necessarily new directions, but different flavors and tastes—in a genre with some of the most cynical fans, staying “fresh-but-true” is massively important. Vintersorg joined the fold in 2000 further “elite-ifying” the talents of Borknagar. When you stack the current line-up—ICS, Vintersorg, Oystein and other experienced assorted personnel—Urd has the ability to scream in your face or just whisk you away to realms of grandiose feelings. Urd’s songwriting plays out in a fashion of building crescendos from beautiful harmonies to crashing blackened shredding. The sound feels dense in its layers but equally light especially when the keys and acoustic guitars are on hand. The mix of ICS Vortex clean vocal approach as well as Vintersorg is a double hit of intended ferocity equally matched in the screamed vocal department. Listen to “Epochalypse,” and you have a great idea of the latest Borknagar delivers. –Bryer Wharton
Power Trip = Exodus + Vio-lence + Demolition Hammer
Deep down, below its candy coated shell and into the sinewy recesses of my tiny coal-charred heart I hold only one truth: I hate punk culture. There's always an exception, and if you wanna split hairs into that "what's hardcore, what's punk?" discussion I'd probably out myself from that brain-numbing convo by jamming a Stratego piece up my nose. When it comes to real-ass state-smashing, brutality, riffs and stagedives reign supreme—not Crass back-patches, homemade soap and oi oi sing-a-longs. See, I got into hardcore through metal. Not the X-tian scree-scree nonsense your camp counselor cousin digs, but sick bay area thrash...which is why I've been obsessed with Power Trip since I got my paws on the demo and the Armageddon Blues EP in '09 ("Evil Beat?" Sargent D just got a woodie). Texan 'core has never shied from the axes (Iron Age anyone?) so I wasn't too surprised at the giddy tomfoolery welling inside my loins every time I listened to this band, but hearing "Hammer of Doubt" on the (mostly) mediocre America's Hardcore comp (and apparently they laid a hipster holocaust by decimating a stage at SXSW) elevated 'em to celestial status for me. Chunky crossover fury with a blinding solo, it's is the kinda whistle-wetting stuff that finger-pricked my pulpy brain as a tot, and it's the kind that still makes me circle pit my room and smash stuff. Releasing an EP on my all-time favorite label is only a further recipe for a fresh batch of "Dyl's magic boner brew," but whatever. Punx are dumb and could do with a few more solos in their sonic stew (and maybe take a shower or two, geez). Two bitchin' originals, "Divine Apprehension" (gallopin' gonads Batman!) and "Suffer No Fool" (backup vox from Hell's belly), and a Prong cover make this a "must-get" for longhairs and leathernecks alike. Hesh and fresh might be in the same game, but punx could never riff this clean. Act now, or pose later. –Dylan Chadwick
Revel In Flesh
Revel in Flesh = Bloodbath + Immortal Rites + Entombed (Left Hand Path era)
When you have terms like “old school death metal” and “Dan Swano” tossed about, you’re generally in for something tasty. Dan Swano mastered this debut from the German (seemingly by way of ’90s Sweden) Revel in Flesh, a band risen from the death of Immortal Rites—which is about as obscure as Revel in Flesh seem at this moment in time. With crew in tow from other German death metal bands Apophis and Dawn of Dreams the tone is set straight out of the gates on “Culpa et Infernal,” with the core bass drenched guitar tone dominating everything. “Black Paled Elegy,” throws in a loop with a melodic lead/solo that sticks in your heel like a lowly unsuspecting old rusty nail on a set of not so traveled stairs. Deathevokation loves its old school qualities but is backed with an old and new punch. It actually reminds me of a less pretentious Bloodbath, especially in the very important guitar tone. Face it if you slap a label on yourself tagging the term “old school European” death metal there are expectations. They’re all met here, Swano (who is part of the Bloodbath phenomenon) probably helped this record get it’s repeat button clicking factor going but not for the awesome and very capable riffs churned out in plentiful bloody numbers here. FDA Rekotz primarily dishing out the German death metal are just getting their feet wet and the growing label is quickly becoming a purveyor of quality death metal, see January’s Ominous Crucifix release from said FDA. –Bryer Wharton