Darkhearts, welcome to Napalm Flesh! Mother Nature decided to remind us this week that it is, in fact, still winter (what a bipolar bitch, am I right?). But we have a secret weapon up our sleeves to chase away that gray-sky gloominess: an interview with the mighty darkness that is Vildhjarta! The Swedish prog-metal geniuses talk to us about their new album Maastaden, their striking and unique history as a band, and how the internet was completely to blame for them ever playing a live show together. Also, we have the usual weekly event rundown and reviews from Cannibal Corpse, Arbogast, Azaghal, Krang and Les Discrets.
Tonight, recent Deathwish signees Loma Prieta and Birds In Row (who we interviewed a few weeks ago) will be at The Underground (3994 S. 300 W.). Locals KWNGU, Treehouse and Bomb Squad open up the show. $7, 7:00 PM. All ages.
On Friday, March 9, check out Xibalba, Take Offense and Soul Search at Four Square Church (1068 S. Jefferson St.). $10 gets you in.
Also on Friday, Burt’s hosts Nine Worlds, Jesust, Sure Sign of the Nail and Jesus or Genome. Music at 9 p.m., $5, 21+.
Saturday, March 10, Skimask, Ravings of a Madman, Meat and Sugar Bone play The South Shore Bar & Grill. Music at 8 p.m., $5, 21+.
Also Saturday, Club Expose hosts the Sonic Slaughterhouse or Metal Night hosted by “The Butcher.” Come listen to your favorite metal tunes and let the Butcher know what you want to hear for no charge. (21+)
Monday March 12, 3 Inches of Blood performs with locals Merlin’s Beard and Jesust at Mojo’s Café in Ogden. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 the day of the show, open to all ages.
Interview with Vildhjarta guitarist Daniel Bergstrom
Swedish progressive death metal is a genre growing in popularity, with many bands taking up the mantle of their brave forefathers like the unmistakable Meshuggah. Lines of “djent” metal bands are drowning the masses—some are pathetic half-assed attempts, some are quite successful…and then there’s Vildhjarta. Hailing from Hudiksvall, this 7-piece force of darkness has just released their first full-length album, a heavy, incredibly complex concept work called Maastaden that was written over years and hundreds of miles, with the band communicating and writing via email, releasing small EPs that drew metal fans from around the world like a pack of rabid dogs, hungry for more. Rallying behind the war cry of “Thall,” which fans affectionately bestowed upon them as almost a second band name, they finally got together for their first live show only a few years ago to play the epic works they had written so untraditionally. Napalm Flesh had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Bergstrom of Vildhjarta about their art, their unusual career thus far, and what might be in the band’s future.
SLUG: You guys have an interesting history. Your members were spread all throughout Sweden, which led you to write your album in pieces and email it to each other. Tell me how you guys got that to work so successfully, and how you progressively added more members to the band this way. And how did Daniel, Jimmie and Johan find each other in the first place?
Daniel Bergstrom: We do work a lot over the Internet on the things we collaborate on— the artwork and concepts for example. Pretty much all of the music is written by me, though, so that’s not a very collaborative process. I do try to get the others involved though. Calle [Thomer, guitarist] wrote a few things for the album that turned out sweet. The vocal department I don’t touch—[Daniel] Ädel and Vilhelm [Bladin] do all that.
It seems that we always kept adding more members. The band I had before this was a quartet, so my initial idea was to get more people involved this time to even out the work and have a more intense idea flow on how to deal with things and which directions to take. I’ve been playing music together with Johan [Nyberg, bass] since we were kids, so it was him and me who found Jimmie [Åkerström, guitar] shortly after disbanding our previous project.
SLUG: And another fun part of that history: it was your online fans of the project that got you guys to actually come together to play a live show for the first time. What an amazing experience to have. Can you tell me how that first show was? Were you guys nervous to play together, or had you rehearsed beforehand?
Bergstrom: We had all been onstage before, but yes, of course we were nervous. We had a little hype, so we didn’t want anything to go wrong. Had some tech issues, which we always seem to have, but we managed—it was great fun. We hardly ever rehearse—we try to, but it’s so boring.
SLUG: Listening to your new album, it’s easy to see how you gathered fans even with small demos and songs online. Vildhjarta, in a word, is hypnotizing. The cohesiveness in your music makes your origin story all the more surprising. Tell me about your writing processes: is it difficult to keep that continuity in the vision when you’re writing in different times and places? Does the song go through a lot of cutting and re-writing, or are you guys hitting the sweet spot right away?
Bergstrom: This album took years to write, so continuity of vision and motivation was always hard to keep up with. Life goes through many phases, and when writing for that long, I think that really ends up reflecting the moods of the material a lot. I always wanted this record to be very intense, full of mood swings and turns, and I think we succeeded in that. The listener hardly ever gets any chance to breathe or question whatever is going on. Same deal as in life, you just have to roll with and accept whatever comes along. Sometimes chaos. Some songs took four weeks to write while some have sections that are five years old. There’s really no typical way I write or how we collaborate as we always force ourselves to try new things and do things differently.
SLUG: What inspired you guys to write Masstaden as a concept album? Are there fables from Sweden that you drew from or inspired you in your story-writing? Will there be other concept albums from you in the future?
Bergstrom: We based much of the story on a Mumindalen movie, which we found to be perfect as a platform for the concept. We will definitely do concept albums again—it helps so much with the inspiration and drive for us. Working with an artist like Rickard Westman and having him involved so deeply in the process is just so rewarding and inspiring.
SLUG: The album is so heavy—and not just musically, but emotionally. It’s easily one of the most weighted and deep metal albums I’ve heard in a very long time; I would even say it’s hard to listen to on a daily basis because you feel like you need a breather after. How do you bring that extreme level of intense emotion into your music?
Bergstrom: As I mentioned earlier, years of writing, going through different phases in life, happiness to total hopelessness. We always listen through the material very carefully to make sure it’s challenging and emotional for the listener. If it all makes complete sense, we have failed. Life doesn’t make shit sense.
SLUG: Was there anything specific that led to the changes in your music from “Shiver”-era to Masstaden, or was it just a natural progression in your songwriting?
Bergstrom: It was pretty natural. Those songs were written in haste to lengthen our live set, so we never really felt they fully represented us, but as we had them recorded, we let them out on the net. They come from a pretty naive phase of my life, and I think you can hear that quite easily, haha.
SLUG: How has the reception of Masstaden been from your perspective?
Bergstrom: Better than expected. I think most people really expected a bunch of easy-listen hit songs, but that was never our intention. Some people get what we are trying to do, some do not, I guess.
SLUG: How do you feel about the current state of metal, and what are you guys listening to right now?
Bergstrom: We don’t really listen to a lot of metal except Meshuggah—that’s the one band that I know everyone in the band loves. I’ve seen some of my favorite bands change their sound upon signing with a label to broaden their chances of success, which is just sad, as I get less good music to listen to…But who am I to judge? If they want to live off of this, that’s what you have to do.
SLUG: What do you hope to see Vildhjarta accomplish in 2012?
Bergstrom: We don’t feel we need to accomplish anything, I think. It was never our intention to sign and tour and do that whole thing—we’ll just roll with it I guess and do what we believe works for us. We have some ideas for another full length record and an EP. Don’t quote me on this though because this might change at any time.
Thank you very much for your support and interest—hope you’ll like whatever we’ll come up with next!
Exclusive CD Reviews
Arbogast = Lord + Yakuza + Today is the Day
Metal and heavy bands are bustling out of Chicago and its surrounding realms of urban and suburban land. Arbogast is just another example of Midwest blasting, and well worth looking for. The trio of musicians released this demo last year, and damned if I can’t think of artists off the top of my head that play in this exact vein. It’s not a hybrid or brash blend of different styles, but the three tracks on this demo have their own little nuance and stylistic realm. The power of the riff and the equal importance of what I call “power drumming”—meaning the drummer is hitting his kit like he’s going to make coins start popping out of the drum heads or simply he has the desire to break them—make this demo stand out. Add in a big bass sound and a good set of full on bass guitar soloing and you have a subtle idea of these tracks. The three tunes here egg listeners on for a full-length release from Arbogast the madness and intensity that could come of about 10 similar styled songs is something I’d like to hear. Call it thrash, doom, post-metal, hardcore, hell, call it gablitygarbgrindthrashdom, it’s not going to change the fact that it’s a great listen. –Bryer Wharton
Arbogast/A Fucking Elephant
Arbogast/A Fucking Elephant = Nirvana (early) + Yakuza + Unsane + Czar
Can you tell SLUG got a small care package from the Arbogast camp? Relevance of time and reviewing material from bands is always a proper consideration for SLUG and Napalm Flesh more folks want to know and hear about the “new” stuff over “old” stuff, but the timing is all relative—if you haven’t heard it, then it’s new. Picking up 7”s can be an art or a small invested risk. I remember as a teen going into the Heavy Metal Shop and picking out albums based on if I liked the cover art or not—I still do it when browsing record shops, and 90 percent of the time it hasn’t failed me. The visuals of this 7” are brilliant and simultaneously typical and atypical of many metal/grind/hardcore releases. The music is just as pleasing. Arbogast’s portions are ultimately much rawer and faster than what the band released on their 2011 demo. They’re definitely a bit crustier, but riddled with the attitude of kicking teeth and still falling back to the simple power of the riff, whether it be from a guitar or bass. A Fucking Elephant don’t sound like their name may suggest—to me it hints that the band would play some sort of gargantuan heavy-ish doom. The Fucking Elephant side is quick and damn dirty the very thing that vinyl is meant to purvey and why the collectors of that cool wax stuff are so passionate about it AFE have hints of precursors to the ugly early grunge before it got all whiny - think of early Nirvana. The short tracks cover a good amount of territory with some bustling jazz influenced bass and a superb lead guitar tone. For a piece of music that totals only 8 minutes in all, spinning and flipping and repeating causes highly desirable results. –Bryer Wharton
Azaghal = Horna + Dissection
Channeling epic black metal's stomping mid-tempo beats with a classic Finnish sound, Azaghal embraces genre convention without trying to reinvent it. The band's focus is shifting away from their symphonic sound and delving deeper into hypnotic, atmospheric guitars. Nemesis makes up for this lack of high melodic drama with brutal, dissonant riffs on their faster songs, but “Vihasta ja Veritöistä” and the title track show off Azaghal's ear for catchy, depressive guitar melodies. Playing and production are tight on this recording, and while black metal tends to go for gritty tone, the band finds a happy medium between clarity and aggression without sounding overproduced. The resulting album might turn away those looking for a little more creative substance, but Nemesis entertains mostly because of the variety of its pacing and its consistent engagement with the listener. Each song shows character, and it's clear that a lot of time and effort went into this album. Savvy fans might find themselves unconsciously comparing Azaghal to Dissection, but if you're looking for quality black metal, there are far worse bands to emulate. –Henry Glasheen
Cannibal Corpse = Cannibal Corpse (duh) + Death
Cannibal Corpse began making bloody musical waves when I was just entering cultural consciousness. Wielding unkempt hostility, a cro-magnon sense of dynamic and a lyrical quiver fully capable of reducing seasoned serial rapists to quivering puddles o' piss, 'Corpse has built upon inflated notoriety and a stellar live reputation to becoming the closest thing death metal has to a full time institution. Generally not known to stray too far from the beaten (back to life) path, this gaggle of Floridian knuckle-draggers has undergone a subtle evolution over the years, and while Torture (the band's twelfth studio offering!) isn't a steep sonic departure, it's stuffed with a handful of precious moments to set it apart from the days of post-coital knife wounds and hammer smashed faces. Standouts cuts include "As Deep as the Knife Will Go" and "Intestinal Crank," which fiercely alternate between turgid sludge grooves and blast beats, "The Strangulation Chair," which outs Alex Webster's sinister bass fingering as Torture's undisputed MVP, and razor-wrist opener "Demented Aggression," which showcases Cannibal's signature sound revamped for 2012. Sure, lifers will always cite the moldy oldies, and this ain't exactly a contender for "masterpiece" status, but it's a brilliantly refined amalgamation of what they've always been getting at. Just something to think about the next time you see Chris Barnes shaking his dreadlocks on a local car commercial. Seth Putnam, R.I.P. -Dylan Chadwick
Sounds of Death
Krang = Discharge + Decay After Death + Black September
There’s a few folks at SLUG Mag and Napalm Flesh, including this “writer” and curator of filth who love all that is vinyl. SLUG HQ was fortunate enough for Sacred Plague records to send us over an LP from Krang, a band that dubs themselves as “stench core,” which actually is a fitting term. Being a fan of black and white art—including charcoal drawn goodness—already started swinging some bias for myself, as the LP cover for Sounds of Death is fantastic. Then there is the band’s name, which instantly made me think of the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles (the original ones) villain who shares the name—the one who had a snarly, ugly voice, and a talking brain roaming around in a robot body of some form had an instant cool factor for my youth. Krang and Sounds of Death is a thrashing gritty n’ grisly romp, it’s pacing is not quite the fast core that my initial impression thought was going to be. No, the stenchcore is much slower than general fastcore, but it’s still fast. The drumming is the main tempo gauge generally keeping things in punk type tempos as well as styles. Guitar tones are mostly crusty, especially side A. Then Side B just throws in one track—a head scratcher, but it’s damned brilliant, darkly vibrant and beyond a label of genre. “The Unbearable Weight of Knowing” is calm, sedate with spoken word portions easily forgivable in their cliché stylings. “Death of Sound” riddled with crust and blazing with some grimy hate is a showcase of crafty chunky guitar riffing. There’s nothing like this out there—it’s something worth belching high praise for. -Bryer Wharton
Les Discrets = Alcest + Ameseours + Junius
Originally started to provide an aural element to frontman Fursy Teyssier’s visual art (Teyssier has also done art for Alcest and Agalloch, among others), Les Discrets aptly combines elements of post-rock, shoegaze, post-hardcore and, yes, black metal, to create rich soundscapes. It’s easy to compare Les Discrets to their fellow Frenchmen in Alcest—and not just because Teyssier serves as their touring guitarist. Both bands create long, moody songs largely built upon a metal foundation, but Les Discrets’ sound is more in line with post-rock bands such as Mogwai and Mono than their metal brethren. After the intro track “Linceul d’hiver,” Les Discrets opens with “La Traversee,” combining all of their influences into a coherent eight-minute track, but it’s “Le Moevement Perpetuel” where the band shines brightest. The combination of male and female vocals over a striking melody and occasional forays into black metal style tremolo riffing and blastbeats makes this the album’s most exhilarating track, even at its relatively slow pace. The vocals are a highlight throughout, rarely crossing the threshold of aggression, but always lyrical and affecting—even if I have no idea what they’re saying. Alcest may be getting all the hype right now, but open your ears to Les Discrets and you’ll discover that they are just as worthy of praise. –Ricky Vigil