Napalm Flesh: Katatonia Interview
I nearly jumped on the ceiling when I heard that Sweden’s Katatonia were finally making their way to Salt Lake City—even though they’re supporting Opeth. Both Swedish bands started around the same time (1990-1991), but Katatonia always struck a stronger nerve with me, starting when I discovered their Discouraged Ones album. The vocal approach from Jonas Renkse has always been unique, and Anders “Blakkheim” Nystrom’s guitar work is always enchanting.
If you’re not a fan of Opeth or just lost touch because of their mellower work, arrive at their show early to see Katatonia open on Monday, Oct. 24 at the Complex. Read on for my words with the founding guitarist of Katatonia, Mr. Blakkheim himself, exploring not only Katatonia but work he’s put in with the likes of Bloodbath, Diabolical Masquerade and Bewitched. We also have exclusive reviews of new albums from Black Tusk, Mr. Death and Wizard.
On Friday October 21, Gaza will be kicking off their tour with a show at Raunch Records. They’ll be travelling to Massachusetts to record their new album at GodCity Studio with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) and gigging along the way. Starvist and Top Dead Celebrity open the show, which starts at 7:00 PM and is free, but donations are highly, highly encouraged—support our locals.
If you need some more metal greatness, on Tuesday, October 25, Boulder, Colorado’s amazing black/doom outfit Velnias is headlining a show with Salt Lake City. Support comes from SLC/Mexico’s triumphant black metal force Yaotl Mictlan, Winterlore and new offerings from the metal oddity that is Moon of Delirium. This 21+ show goes down at the South Shore (2727 South State Street) for a tinsy $5.
The Longest Year – Interview with Anders “Blakkheim” Nystrom of Katatonia”:
SLUG: How is the tour with Opeth going so far?
Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström: It’s been an awesome ride, every day has been fantastic—most of the shows sold out. We get to play for a lot of people who have never heard us before, so it’s been excellent.
SLUG: Based on some of the setlists I’ve seen online, it looks like you guys are pulling from a lot things. I was wondering how you create your setlist and decide upon what you’re going to play when you go out on tour?
Anders: It’s always a compromise of what you need to do, what we enjoy to play live and what the people want to hear from our back. The thing we did on this tour was that we put four to five songs into a pool that we can just choose freely from and we had each member choose their own eleven song setlist every night.
SLUG: That seems like a pretty cool way to do it.
Anders: It is, it keeps it interesting. The other guys didn’t know what I was going to come up with. There’s actually quite a few fans coming to more than one show, so they get to see different things at each show.
SLUG: To keep talking about the live show, how you would describe it to someone like me who’s never seen Katatonia live?
Anders: I think we come across best when we play in really dark settings—we have so much atmospheric and moody elements in our music for that to come across and give it justice we really need a dark moody stage set-up. On this tour, unfortunately, we can’t bring our full production because we’re the support so we’re limited on stage and time, but we just try and put more energy and give a kick ass performance and let the songs speak for themselves.
SLUG: I heard a rumor back when the tour with Opeth was announced that there was a possibility of you doing a song off of Brave Murder Day that has Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) doing the growled vocal thing in the live setting. Is there any credence to that?
Anders: There’s a lot of rumors like that going on right now and I can’t blame them—I would probably be hinting about that kind of stuff myself if I was out there in the crowd since you have all those people who made that album right here on the road with you. We talked about it back and forth, and the tour is far from over so anything can happen.
I think where Mike is right now in his own state of mind he’s pretty much far away from the whole thing—if you look at what Opeth has been playing up until now on this tour it’s been a very mellow set, they don’t even play their own heavy stuff. It’s something that maybe we’ll have to get Mike drunk or something and maybe pull him up there and do something with us. We also have our side-project Bloodbath and people have been saying the same thing there as well. I think the chances are bigger that Bloodbath doing something like that rather than him coming up and doing something from Brave Murder Day.
SLUG: Still on the live subject, what’s the most satisfying part of playing live?
Anders: I think it is the beauty of being able to interact with people that are really into your music, meeting them and seeing how they go off on your music—it’s loud, it’s heavy, it’s a special circumstance. I enjoy it just as much as being in the studio.
SLUG: What do you think makes Katatonia unique to metal and rock in general?
Anders: Most of our influences come from outside of metal. Most metal bands usually have their inspirations come from within the metal genre itself, which can become limiting. Our influences come from all genres of music, and incorporating those back into a metal sound makes us unique in a metal scene.
SLUG: How would you gauge the progression of the band musically in terms of the members’ experience and the obvious fact that your tastes and your inspirations have changed?
Anders: This is a long ride. We’ve been doing this band for 20 years now, and obviously a lot of things have changed. I mean, you’re not the same person you are as when you started out—we were teenagers then, everything has changed. You change your views, you grow up, everything is changing and so does the music. I would like to see it as that we constantly progress—we always try to be better musicians, we always try to make a perfect song, hopefully a whole album of perfect songs.
It’s just a constant challenge going on. I don’t see anything coming to a halt anytime soon because we have so much more to explore. We more or less see Katatonia as a lifestyle—it’s so integrated with everything we do in life, so it’s just part of ourselves and we really enjoy the ride.
SLUG: Katatonia still puts out lots of releases EPs and singles and all that fun stuff, but generally all of them are really well done in terms of packaging and artwork—the full-lengths are obviously the best. How important is it for Katatonia to create the different releases?
Anders: I think it’s really important because we’re all big fans and even addicts of anything that’s rare or special well-made exclusives. We always try to make releases that stand out that way. There is nothing more I love than putting out a single that is extremely limited and has something special on it. I think we have a little bit of a tradition of doing that and it’s what fans expect from us. It’s a really funny phenomenon that most of the songs we put on our b-sides end up being some fan favorite songs.
I think it’s a really cool tradition to keep. It’s not something we deliberately do—b-side to me doesn’t mean it’s a bad song, it just meant that we had trouble placing the song on the track list of the album because it didn’t fit with the flow of the album. In comparison to that if you put that song on a single it’s just going to make that single stand out that much more and it’s going to help the single become an exclusive item. We’re definitely going to continue making diverse small limited releases.
SLUG: I definitely snag ‘em when I can. Out of curiosity how limited are some of those EPs and singles run that get released on CD?
Anders: They’re never over 1,500, usually there is 1,000.
SLUG: And they sell, I was perusing eBay this morning and I think it was an original LP of Dance of December Souls that was going for like $160. How does that make you feel?
Anders: That’s awesome. I mean, that’s the beauty of it—if I was the fan of a band I would pay it myself. I actually paid a lot of money for the first Bathory LP, the Yellow Goat version, which I actually gave away to a friend for a birthday present. I have no problem to shell out a lot of money for that because if it’s something you want you just got to prioritize where you put your money. I understand some items become really rare, but money is made to be spent.
SLUG: How would you describe Katatonia’s sound throughout the band’s entire career to somebody who has never heard a Katatonia song before?
Anders: Well that’s a really, really hard thing to do because whatever I say it doesn’t really give it the whole picture, it’s really hard to narrow it down. That’s when you start to limit yourself as well. Usually I like to say we keep a really heavy sound that we mix up with some really soft elements and it’s mostly on the dark side. You can call it metal, pop rock whatever you want, it’s on the atmospheric and dark side and heavy.
SLUG: How often do you get people coming up to you at shows saying how much certain songs have affected them or how they relate to them in a completely different way than the song was intended? I have quite a number of Katatonia songs that hit me in different ways in certain states of mind.
Anders: Yes, this happens every night actually—I mean the more we mingle with our fans the more we get to hear about it. There’s usually always someone with a story, and it’s never the same song. Everybody has their own songs and they’re almost always related to some kind of memory or incident. It’s quite interesting to hear about it because that’s what we were hoping for the whole time when we wrote the albums, if somebody can relate and connect to it—it’s really valuable to hear back what it meant for them because being the creator of it just gets you motivated and you feel you’re doing something right.
SLUG: The few that come into my head at the moment are “For My Demons,” and “July,” as well as the entire Last Fair Deal Gone Down album I got that when I was going through a really bad time in my life.
Anders: We actually played that whole album on this tour when Opeth had a day off and we did a headlining show, we played that album back to back.
SLUG: One charteristic that I’ve always enjoyed about Katatonia is the guitar tones used on the albums. It’s morphed throughout the years, but I think if you listen to the very first stuff you released there is the same echo of that tone. Was there some sort of process behind how that tone came in effect and is it important to continue with the familiarity of that guitar sound?
Anders: I think that guitar tone, especially in the lead guitar, that’s something we will never abandon because it’s such an integral part of our sound and it’s just driven in our songs. I’m a big fan of it—I always experiment back and forth with it. The sound is basically just in my head: I know where I want to reach with it and I know how I can reach with it. I found the tone a long long time ago and it’s just something I never get bored of. It’s such a beautiful tone, just talking about it right now actually makes me want to go pick up a guitar and play.
SLUG: Is there a story behind it and how it came be?
Anders: I was listening to a lot of albums, when we started out I never denied that I was so influenced by Paradise Lost, and the guitar player there Greg Mackintosh had that tone I wanted. I was just trying to get really close to him, finding out by trial and error, experimenting with a lot of pedals and amps and different techniques. I found out that most of it was actually in your fingers because if you don’t have that vibe when you play that special vibrato and stuff you can’t even get to that sound.
It’s just something that’s developed throughout the years. I actually got to meet Greg and we toured with Paradise Lost a few times and we spoke about this and I told him about this and he was just laughing his ass off—he thought it was really funny to hear about it. I owe a lot to Greg in creating my own sound.
SLUG: That kind of runs into a weird coincidence with my next question. I don’t know the full-line-up of it, but Century Media is releasing an album with some of the Paradise Lost guys (Vallenfyre) and it’s going back to the old school death metal style. I was saying it was coincidental in the fact that I was going to ask about Bloodbath. Did the success of Bloodbath take you and Jonas by surprise? How different emotionally and physically is it to go from playing Katatonia’s style to Bloodbath’s style?
Anders: I think both of those band or projects or whatever you want to call them kind of serves as a shadow because it starts this cycle as soon as we end the cycle. With either of them we’ve been through a whole album recording, you’ve been touring for two years then you’re tired of either of them and you’re super hungry to start and get something cool going with the other. I probably couldn’t do two Bloodbath albums in a row—I would need some Katatonia stuff in between.
We’ve figured out that having such different bands makes you happy—it’s really fulfilling. keeping your demons fed. It’s great I mean Bloodbath could even be bigger than we are, because we (Bloodbath) never play live we do a handful of shows festivals only in the summer if even that. We’ve been offered tours so many times and all these special bills an great tours, but the problem is we can’t commit because our schedules will not allow it. When we’re free the Opeth guys are busy and vice versa. We just made a decision that Bloodbath will never ever be anything more than a project that’s just having fun when we can and doing a few shows.
SLUG: For my curiousity and also those others that wonder, is there ever a chance that Diabolical Masquerade will be resurrected?
Anders: There is a chance, there’s always a chance. It’s been a couple of years now since I put it to rest, but I’ve kept on writing. I’ve been piling up on a lot of ideas and cool riffs and sooner or later you will end up with material for one or even two albums in your bag of riffs. It’s the same thing there I need to find the time, I need to be in the state of mind where I really feel like this is the time to do it and that won’t happen if I’m stressed out with another band or being way too busy.
I just have to have piece of mind because it has to be fun to do it again. It shouldn’t be forced or anything it should be fun and relaxed it’s all about creativity and ambition and also the last part is I wouldn’t want do it without Dan Swano because he was a big part of it as well. I think it would be a really cool comeback for us to sit down and talk about it and maybe, who knows, come up with a new masterpiece or whatever. It’s definitely on my mind a lot of the time but that’s why I will never say never.
SLUG: Do you still stay in good contact with members of your previously associated bands like the guys from Bewitched, particularly the line-up you were with on the Diabolical Desecration album? That record in my opinion has some pretty big players in the Swedish scene on it.
Anders: Yeah, I stay in contact with Marcus E. Norman the leader of Bewitched, we are long time friends. There never any reason to give up any friendship just because I was out of the band, but we don’t see each other often and that’s because he lives in the upper north of Sweden and I live in the mid-east of Sweden so that’s a long way to go between there. I’d love to bump into him at show or whatever. I don’t think Bewitched is so active tour wise these days.
Dan Swano, we’re in touch. He’s really keeping super busy mixing and mastering other bands and basically chilling out in Örebro which is also not really near where we live. We’re definitely in touch, we’re definitely going to do something together, it’s just a matter of finding the opportunity to do it. The Norrman brothers, we’re still in touch. Mattias isn’t really doing much band wise. Fredrik resurrected the October Tide project, which Jonas was part of as well, but he (Jonas) couldn’t commit to it now. I think it’s cool to see he’s not giving up on music.
Blog Exclusive CD Reviews
Set the Dial
Black Tusk = Kylesa + Black Cobra + Zoroaster
Black Tusk have a lot in common with their Southern metal brethren such as Mastodon and Baroness (minus all the proggy bullshit), but they combine their sludgy, stoner-y, doom-y style with the swagger of ‘70s groups like Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top. Never ones to shy away from the power of the riff, Black Tusk kick off Set the Dial with the instrumental “Brewing the Storm,” replete with that swagger I was talking about, before jumping into “Bring Me Darkness” by shouting “SIX! SIX! SIX!” repeatedly in the song’s intro.
“Ender of All” is one of the album’s longer tracks, and it really showcases everything that Black Tusk does well–I hate to use the word “groove,” but there’s a definite feeling in the song that makes it clear that these dudes know they’re badasses. If you want some thick, heavy metal that is fun and ass-kicking at the same time (or if you just wish the last three Mastodon album’s didn’t exist), you’d do well to check out Set the Dial –Ricky Vigil
Descending Through Ashes
Mr. Death = Grave + Dismember + Entombed
I can overlook the staid NWOSDM worship, the “serial killers in suits” press gimmick and even the dorky band name (this isn’t another Marvel superhero no one’s heard of is it?)…but I can’t overlook the mind-numbing levels of sameness Descending Through Ashes continually digs itself into. While it comes loaded with the hallmarks of many a ’90s Swedish classic (ragged guitar grit, tortured vocals, raw production) it generally fails to clear the iconic bar set by touchstones like Left Hand Path and Like an Ever Flowing Stream.
Call it bad timing, but Descending just lacks the primal chutzpah that put Sweden on the heavy metal map. Drums sound neutered, guitars choke and sputter in the murky bass over-mixing, and Jocke Lindström’s growling, though ardent, can’t seem to shake their own lurid monotony throughout. Occasional grooving on tracks like “Bloodfalls” and “From the Valley of the Defilement” prove the band’s hooky capability, but these interesting moments prove all too brief. ’90s Swedeath enthusiasts may extract something memorable here (like the intro riff in “Stillborn in a Dying World), and it’s certainly played to a T, but the onerous weight of D-beat tail-chasing won’t sustain anyone’s attention for long. –Dylan Chadwick
Of Wairwulfs and Bluotvarwes
Wizard = Manowar + Gravedigger
Sorry guys, Wizard isn’t a dope-ass fuzz rock band with a derivative name (learned that one that hard way). Turns out they’ve been around for a good while now, co-opting the Norse lyrical ideas of their brethren and earning an incessant, but well-deserved “German Manowar” tag. Heavy on the D & D tip (Castlevania for the less-nerdy), rife with battle-imagery (specifically the thirty years war) and an adoration for the fantasy work of Andre Wiesler, Of Wairwulfs and Bluotvarwes is a record sure to get slammed with every micro-genre modifier imaginable.
Battle-metal. Power-Metal. Epic Fantasy-metal. Whatever. That stuff’s all corny…and I can’t figure out what in the hell a “Bluotvarwe” is (based on lyrics alone I’m going to assume it’s a ghostly insect that feeds on human brains). What’s important is that Wizard is a no-nonsense metal band, and at its core this is a no-nonsense record. A soaring riff-buffet of dazzling guitars (“Sign of the Cross”), propellant drums, iron grooves (“Messenger of Death”) and Sven D’anna’s stellar vocal presence (“Bletzer?” Woah!). Well trodden, and admittedly formulaic, it’s a resoundingly competent platter of steel-willed, fist pounding heavy metal that’ll satisfy the most voracious headbanger’s hunger. –Dylan Chadwick
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