There is nothing quite like the early nineties (my early teens) memories of Death Metal. Hearing albums like “Scum” for the first time and walking around in a “Human” T-shirt had a very special feeling (naturally) replaced later by the more “serious” teenage-mentalities of Black Metal, but as we all know, it’s never too late to return to the albums of ones youth, especially when the latest bands seem to only copy the sounds of older classic bands and albums. However, sometimes you come across a band that sounds as fresh and authentic as if it were formed (with the music recorded) in the early nineties, giving you the same honest chills as the old ones did before, and not just because of the nostalgia-element, but with something real and alive today as well. Vanhelgd is definitely one of these bands.
Greetings Mattias! How has the winter been in your part of Sweden so far?
Quite depressing, no snow and the weather are most suitable as video material for the first two Paradise Lost albums.
Vanhelgd was formed in 2007, but because your first full-length of 2008 sounded so extremely honest when it comes to playing Death Metal, I must assume you had a past in playing this kind of music before Vanhelgd?
Yes and no – when me and Jimmy (guitars/vocal) started our first band back in 93-94 (Blump). At least I wanted to play some punk or death metal but we ended up with a quite ordinary metal band. Later on I joined a kind of grind/doom/punk band (the Jam session) that Björn (drums) played in, that band evolved into some kind of Autopsy and Cathedral influenced stoner-sludge. Jimmy and I started a death band about the same time (Ceremonial Execution) but it was way more technical and US-sounding than what we do now. When TJS and CE were put on ice Björn thought it would be a good idea for us to do something new together, some stinking fucked up death punk, so we started Vanhelgd, and in some ways it became the band I wanted to start when I was 14-15 years old. So yes, we been playing the music of death and destruction before and no we have not been doing exactly what Vanhelgd does.
As Death Metal has had it’s revival during the past 10 years or so, many bands like to worship some certain bands or sound, may it be Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Grave or similar, but your style seems to come more naturally straight from the heart, as if written in the olden times, why do you think this is?
Well I never really figured out how Entombed wrote their songs and we aren’t that good musicians… I think that we sound like everyone else blended together. Even if I write most of the guitar parts we always work a lot on the songs together at the rehearsals so that inspiring creative process makes it Vanhelgd in some way. We have also passed the years when you feel you need to “prove” something like being the most avant-garde, extreme, fastest or most technical or whatever. The music is often easy to play and we focus a lot on getting the feeling, the atmosphere, just right. So that makes it honest I guess.
I’m hearing pretty clear influences in your sound from old Hardcore Punk, eighties Grindcore, Sabbathian Doom, and of course Swedish Death Metal. Do you think these were the styles we are to blame for Death Metal in the first place, more than let’s say Thrash Metal?
The history and evolvement of any cultural phenomenon is bound to be simplified to make it comprehensible. I think that the picture is larger, wider and more saturated than one person can understand, writing history is bound to be a more or less a subjective rationalization and therefore false or too simplified, so it just comes down on who you ask and when you ask it. I think that all “extreme” genres had an impact on shaping death metal and I really can’t tell if some were more influential or than others.
What are your favourite bands when it comes to early nineties Death Metal, and what are the newer bands you like at the moment? What other music styles are you mostly into besides Death Metal?
My personal favourites, in no particular order, are Paradise lost, Samael, Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, Resurrection, Edge of Sanity, Grave, Morgoth, My Dying Bride, Autopsy, Death, Obituary, Sepultura, Suffocation, Amorphis, Deicide and Bolt Thrower. No surprises here! Other bands that had a huge impact on me are Today is the Day, Birdflesh, Primordial, Tragedy, Catharsis, From Ashes Rise, Nasum, Tiamat, Darkthrone, the list goes on and on. If I don’t listen to death metal (on rare occasions with exemption for Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy) I put on bands like Sisters of Mercy, Helloween, The Levellers, Covenant (SE) The Knife, and Tuung.
When it comes to “new” bands I listen a lot to Lie in Ruins, Dead Congregation, Maim, Miasmal, Necros Christos, Drowned, Sonne Adam, Entrapment, King of Asgard, Herder, Skogen, Deathevokation…
As your lyrics are written at times (especially on the first album) with a certain tongue in cheek attitude found in early Death Metal, how about the more serious side of Vanhelgd? Are your lyrics descriptions of personal struggles, societal problems, philosophy, or all of these?
I usually don’t care much for lyrics in any music and I guess that is also reflected in Vanhelgd. Our songs are about death and destruction and you would probably notice the topic even if they were instrumental. The lyrics could be about anything from zombie gore to political stuff but most often it’s about death.
You have decided to write in Swedish besides English since the beginning, giving a more sinister (yet not necessarily Black Metallic) feeling to the music, at least to the foreign listener. How did you come to this solution?
Swedish is more honest and gives me a better feeling vocally but it’s also much harder to write in since I tend to judge the content in another way. It all started with “Avlad I synd” from our first album. I found some really great lines in an old book that I rewrote. I guess I got a lot of inspiration from Thyrfing.
How much time does Vanhelgd take from your lives. Do you play live a lot, or spend time at the rehearsal place with regular schedules, or do the albums come to be when it seems like a good time to play some fucken Death Metal, without too much effort?
We rehearse on a regular basis 1-2 times a week with some breaks now and then. We don’t play that much live (we only did one show in 2014). But we try to work as hard as possible but it’s complicated to make things work smooth with work and family, I run my own business as an artist and illustrator and the others have jobs that are quite depending on them. Then Jonas also plays in King of Asgard and Björn is in Ocean Chief so it’s a lot of things that should work out.
You have released three full-length albums on three different labels. How did these deals come to be, did the labels contact you or vice versa?
Crematorium contacted us for “Cult Of Lazarus”, when we wanted it out on vinyl we got in contact with Nuclear war now! Then we got some offers after “Church Of Death” and we choose to work with Pulverised since Jonas had been working with them earlier and we got a decent budget.
What do you think of the recent state of Swedish Death Metal, with bands like Entombed having their own legal problems and so on (it’s always a shame when creating art comes to this). Do you have any faith in the older bands, with many of them doing comebacks, or do you seek out new ones instead? Do you keep contact with the local UG-metal scene much?
Many of the old bands have developed into something quite boring and I lost my interest for them but some are still great. We don’t have that many connections in the Swedish “scene” since we live in a small town quite far from Stockholm and Gothenburg. We take a couple of beers with Maim now and then, that’s about it!
How has the response been to your latest masterpiece? Do you know if your fan-base comes strictly from the Death Metal world, or is the basic Vanhelgd-buyer an open-minded music fan into all kinds of stuff?
Even if we don’t write music for either our followers or music journalists we are glad for the good response we got on the new album this year. I guess most of our followers are as narrow-minded as us.
Thanks for this interview! What are your future plans?
We are writing new songs and hopefully we can do some shows next year. Thanks for the interview!