Among the swarms of Spiritual and so called Religious Black Metal bands of today, Swedish Mortuus has always stricken as one of the truly honest and professional ones, and it’s no surprise they are signed to one of the greatest labels around – Ajna Offensive. I was most grateful for the band to answer my questions, perhaps shedding a bit more light into the workings of the band, besides their otherwise already illuminating art. This interview was answered 19.10.2014.
Greetings! The Scandinavian autumn is upon us, but how are things in your life otherwise?
Things are pretty good and I always enjoy this season – it’s easy to breathe, sleep and it also happens to the prime season for night time walks here in Sweden.
Your first release (EP) “Silence Sang the Praise of Death” came almost 10 years ago through Ajna Offensive, and not too long after that the now hard-to-find first full-length “De Contemplanda Morte” embraced the minds of many. What lead you to be signed by this great label?
I think Tyler was getting a few copies of my fanzine ‘G’hinnom’ in 2004 and I took the opportunity to also send him a CDr with the songs for the EP. I can’t remember if we planned to have it released, but he liked what he heard and our collaboration has been steady ever since. I like the approach Ajna has; he always goes for quality before quantity and puts effort into releasing interesting stuff instead of trying to increase the thickness of his wallet. More people should follow his example.
How was the response to your first releases? I’m guessing they might have been a bit difficult for the average Black Metal listener to grasp, but then again the musical side is definitely among the best of this kind of Black Metal, and perhaps more approachable in that sense.
Far better than I imagined. Given how ”full of information” most black metal was at that time, I thought it would be too repetitive, boring and slow for people. I obviously haven’t read all the reviews of the EP and debut album, but as far as I know it received very good response. Good reviews aren’t that important to us, but you know, music demands a listener. We’ve never been a band with good sale rates but I reckon that we have listeners who take their time to really dig into the material. That means more to me.
Between the first and the second – again amazing – full-lengths, there was a seven year hiatus. Did you work slowly during this time, or take a break and wait for the right states of mind to emerge in order to create a follow-up?
It was more of a break situation, and I’d say that we ”waited” for the right states of mind to emerge – or better put: for a time that allowed us to really force the right states of mind into creative activity. Both of us were really tired of the scene in 2007 and went on to do different things. Hinze has been moving around and I’ve been focusing on my studies. We’ve always wanted to do another album, but you really have to be able to put a hundred percent into it. We began writing for the album in about a year before it was recorded. Some of the riffs we ended up using are older though. The oldest material I contributed with is from 2002 and I think Hinze also used some material pre-dating the birth of Mortuus.
During the time in Mortuus, have you always been a part of the Swedish Black Metal scene, communicating with other bands and so forth, or have you distanced yourselves from the world of gigs and other social gatherings and just focused on your art?
No. We have friends in the scene, but that’s it. Before doing my first gig with Ofermod in 2012 I hadn’t seen a metal concert since the rebirth of Dissection gig in 2004. I have all the respect in the world for black metal as an art form, but the scene is secondary to that. I have very little feelings for it – it’s just something that’s there. I have better things to think about. Most of the ”metal people” I hang out with are people I know from an occult milieu rather than a music scene. I think that Hinze’s interest in the black metal scene is pretty non-existent. We’ve mostly kept to ourselves, I guess. It’s also a symptom of the metal scene not being very big in our home town. I don’t live there anymore, but there’s just Naglfar, Woods of Infinity and a few other bands.
How have you been received in your home country, where we have seen bands like Watain enjoy such an amount of success it’s sometimes hard to imagine?
Mortuus is fairly unknown. We haven’t put any effort into changing that. Artistic success is not determined by the amount of followers you have on facebook. Watain have worked really hard to get were they are now, and they really deserve their success. It’s weird though; I thought more black metal bands would reach the ears of so called ”normal people”? I expected a real black metal boom when Watain won a grammy.
Many Swedish bands seem to worship (and not without a reason), and copy even, bands like Bathory and Dissection. Do you have any clear examples of other artist which continue to inspire you?
Bathory and Dissection were definitely among the best bands to every emerge in this country. We’re not consciously inspired by other bands, but you know, things you like tend to color the way you write music.
Being from Sweden, which is as Lutheran as Finland (or Christian by habit), what lead you to use the older forms of this faith as the basis of your lyrical approach? Many bands embrace Satanic principles or philosophy in order to distance themselves from Christianity (which is kind of a strange conclusion to make), or adopt the “Pagan” habits of their native country, but the Spiritual Satanic current of Black Metal seems to think quite the opposite.
I don’t know what the spiritual satanic current of black metal is. There seems to be a lot of confusion in it. A mishmash of ”cool sounding” dark stuff. I think that Satan as a symbol and force is valid beyond christian horizons, although it may seem contradictory. If you rely exclusively on christian definitions of evil you’re bound to end up with a lot of problems already inherent in christianity. I consider the left hand path to have more in common with shamanism (at least in method) than doctrines of salvation and condemnation. I believe in polarization rather than dualism and monotheistic religions becomes pointless with that perspective.
There are many Biblical and even Kabbalist themes in your lyrics. I’m guessing you are inspired greatly by scriptures such as the Torah or the Gnostic texts, but are there other areas in this world filled with mythologies that interest you?
Not so much of the Torah or gnostic evangeliums, but the Zohar, Sepher Yetzirah and Bahir had a big impact on the lyrics of our first album. Neo-platonic mystical philosophy in general played an important role in it. ‘Grape of the Vine’ is based on occult practice rather of philosophical contemplation, but when ”translating” powerful experiences gained during dark magickal workings into words, without being plainly descriptive, it’s pretty much bound to enter the world of philosophy in a semantic way. I’ve been delving into phenomenology the last years and it’s a philosophical discipline (especially with Merleau-Ponty and Don Ihde) that is combinable with practical occultism in another way than neo-platonic thought. That sort of thinking tends to end up in a theoretical approach which isn’t always useable in the in a practical context.
How big is the role of Occultism and Spirituality in your daily life? Do you actively practice some form of Worship or Magic, or are these themes more of a Philosophic contemplation?
It’s been a big part of my life for about a third of my life. It’s not necessarily something that I have to talk about. I think I’ve been open enough with it in the lyrics of ‘Grape of the Vine’. Mortuus is a symptom of it. Both practice and contemplation is important, but practice has to lead the way.
Is Black Metal as a lifestyle important to you, or do you “only” use it as a vessel for your higher intentions and states of being? Have you always been into Metal mostly, or are there other music styles that fascinate you just as much, or more?
What is black metal lifestyle? Wearing the same clothes as the rest of people you meet at gigs? Thinking that you’re the one defining what is ”real black metal” and what is not? Getting really drunk and behaving like an asshole together with your long-haired friends? Black Metal has a special place in my heart, but I like a lot of different music styles. Black Metal is simply a very good medium to channel what we want to say with Mortuus.
You also apparently play live these days. Is this a new phenomenon or did you play gigs before as well? How does the live-experience work for you as a band? Do you find yourselves to be more of a studio-band or both?
We’ve considered Mortuus to be a studio project, but it feels interesting and relevant to take it onto a stage now. The first, and only planned gig, is at the Aurora Infernalis festival next week. If it turns out to work well live there will surely be more gigs. We’ve rehearsed quite a bit and the material works way better in a band situation than I could imagine.
Now that the world has truly witnessed your capabilities as songwriters and creators of extremely powerful atmospheres, do you plan to continue on this path, and perhaps release more music more rapidly, or does the Mortuus admirer have to wait another seven years for more material?
We’ve already begun working on a new album, but we have to find a new way into it. It might be finished next year or in ten years – releasing an album for the sake of releasing an album is not an option.
I want to thank you for this great opportunity to interview you! Any last words?