Necrophobic - Interview
I think I don't need to say much about Necrophobic in the introduction. They are a band that has always released excellent albums and has always remained true to their style. The new album "Dawn Of The Damned" is no exception, although it has already become a bit bulkier than its predecessor. I had a chance to do an interview with main songwriter and guitarist Sebastian Ramstedt via Skype where we talked about the songwriting process of the album, further projects and a lot of other things. Enjoy the interview, maybe you'll read about things that you didn't know yet!!!
Hello Sebastian, thank you very much for taking the time for MetalBite. Your new album was quite successful, in Germany you reached number 26 in the album charts. With "Mark Of The Necrogram" you were even on the 23rd place here. Did you expect so much support or were you quite surprised?
We were very surprised with the last album Mark Of The Necrogram – that was a big surprise. Now we felt that we have an equally strong album, so if the time would be right, we should be able to repeat it. On Mark Of The Necrogram we had the momentum of a band that was reformed because Johan (Bergebäck, M.) and me came back. It was the first album with old and new members doing stuff together. People were pretty eager to hear that, and that effect makes people want to check it out. Now it was the time to see if they like this kind of concept and if they want to hear more. You cannot really be sure that it will go well but I think we felt strong for the songs ourselves so if there would be any justice in the world it could go well. But to have two albums that are that successful in that extreme genre is quite a surprise. I mean we are doing this for 30 years and it's a long steep climb, it's not an overnight sensation.
Yes, I still remember when I bought your first album "The Nocturnal Silence" in 1993 and also the second one "Darkside" but you were a quite underground band at that time. But suddenly you got quite successful and popular. Did you notice it at the time, or did it just happen you were also quite surprised about the fame?
I wasn't with the band on the first album, but I joined them on Darkside. They were my friends and the first album sold very well. I think it's the album that has sold the most but at that time there was no Spotify. If you sell 25000 records in 1994, it's like selling 8000 records now. But you cannot compare it. Swedish death metal was pretty dead at the end of 1992, the whole scene was collapsed. Out of it came the black metal scene and so on and I was surprised how well Necrophobic did. They were underdogs in the demo scene and when the first album came out and it sold that good, even though the fact that they weren't such a popular band and the scene had collapsed, that was a total surprise. Our music drifted more into black metal, with Blackmoon (David Parland, +2013, M.) founding Dark Funeral and when we recorded Darkside, I just joined the band before the recording of the album, we were much more into black metal. Maybe that made us survive within those times because we couldn't have gone back to Stockholm death metal then. We also didn't play live at that time. We were on Black Mark Records. Of course, it was Quorthons and Bathorys label, but these guys didn't do their business very well. You could not get bands from Black Mark on tour, so we were stranded in Sweden. Good sales, good albums and we were stranded. You could not cross the border to Germany to play. It was out of question. So, we didn't feel anything. Back then you had to read actual paper magazines if you could get them and if there was a worldwide support for us, we were pretty unaware of.
But you did well, even on Black Mark. When I think of all these other bands that were signed by them that time, Séance, Necrosanct…
…and I think Morgana Lefay and bands like that…
Right, so all these bands are not quite popular these days. Well done. On "The Third Antichrist" you sing "666 - we vomit on the Crucifix". Pretty primitive (but still cool in my eyes). Would you write such striking lyrics again nowadays, or are you too old for such things? After all, your lyrics have evolved to a metaphysical level....
I think I wrote those lyrics again with 'The Devil's Spawn Attack' from the new album. That's how you feel about the lyrics when you are a teenager. When you're 14 years old and you listen to Slayer, it were these words like "Learn the secret words of praise, hail Satan" – it was not a cult, it was no religion but the words were just right with the beat and the riff. When we came up with "666 – we vomit on the crucifix", we laughed as hell. It was serious because we believed it should be some kind of blasphemy, but we felt also that it is hilarious. It's cool in a Slayer or Kreator style and it fits the music just right. More than that – when you play it live, it's perfect for the audience. If the words are too hard to understand or the meaning hidden too much, it doesn't get through. At a concert where the people are drinking beer, headbanging, screaming, moving around, these lyrics are perfect. That's what the people want with a beer in your hand and your friends around you. So, I don't feel ashamed of it but if someone would say "can't you do better?", yes we can (laughs) but the song is right!
Lyrically you are more on a metaphysical level. Of course, there are again quite dark themes, a typical Necrophobic trademark. You are the main songwriter. Can you tell a little bit more about it? It is also a kind of concept album, isn't it?
Yes, it is. I always felt that if you have the opportunity to put lyrics into the world you should put the lyrics out that you want people to read. You should take the chance if someone wants to listen what I have to say, let's say something. On the last two albums I wanted to tell a story that fits with the music and that goes deeper into the theme. The last song I wrote for Mark Of The Necrogram was 'Sacrosanct'. These are the most personal lyrics I have ever written because I started to write about my own depression and the great changes that I had to do in my life to be able to survive. Some years ago, I was at the bottom and I really didn't want to carry on. So, I wrote about that and I felt that I want to write more about this. The song 'Sacrosanct' gave birth to this whole album and the album starts with the words "sacrosanct, my dream of death". It's a continuation of that song and I wanted to write lyrics that are real. I wanted to write about what I had experienced. That would be no satanic, made-up demon thing and I wanted to tell an actual story. But I didn't want to tell it like "Hey, I'm Sebastian and I'm depressed and I'm going to a therapy". I combined it with my own magical work about meditation, lucid dreaming, astral projections and so on because even if you're dreaming, you're processing what you're doing. You come to conclusions and you get enlightened. For me, I find the support into the dark. That's just the way I am and not something I make up. I chose to write about my journey though the depression and the other side, where I'm not really yet and I chose to write it like I was in a lucid dream or a meditation process. With the first song I go into the dark and then I write about the visions, it's very metaphoric. You can actually read the lyrics as cool satanic lyrics but there is a meaning behind every word. There is nothing that is there because it rhymes or is just cool. Everything means something. But I still wanted it to be a story because heavy metal shouldn't be about politics or everyday things. It should be an escape from reality. For me, it's what Saxon, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest does, they take me away from this boring life. I still wanted these lyrics to be able to take you away and you could follow my thoughts, or you can also follow the things that you feel, it's kind of double. For me, it was the most personal lyrics I've ever written. I was almost afraid that I had started something that I could not control because everything got so real. I had to accept that I was on a downward slope and I had to accept it.
When you write a song, do you have the lyrics first or the music?
It usually comes to me like a hallucination. I get a theme or feeling about how the song should be. It's not necessarily a melody but more an eerie feeling that this song will have an evil atmosphere or something else. At the same time some words pop up so that I feel the aura of the song. Then I try to expand that, to go deeper and more words and melodies come to my mind. I don't really sit down with my guitar and try to force out chords nor do I try to force out lyrics. I try to open myself so that it can flow freely.
So, you could describe it as some kind of mind-mapping?
You could say it like that. I get detached from the real world. My wife usually sees when I'm entering the creative mood. I distance myself and she tells me a lot of stuff, but I don't listen to her then, a classic. I'm creating all the time then; it would be impossible for me to do an interview if I'm in the creative mode because I would not be able to concentrate. It's almost like when people have a burn-out. They cannot find a way back home and it's quite a similar feeling. I get totally engulfed in the song and I have to finish it before I can enter the real world again. Usually a song takes me 4 or 5 days before I can leave the creative mood again. I'm in some kind of a black hole for a couple of days.
When you compare the last two albums, what would you say is the biggest difference?
With Mark Of The Necrogram had the intention of writing something that would put Necrophobic back on the map. I tried to write music that people would like. With this album I did not. I just wrote what I wanted myself. The big difference is that this one is more epic, any tiny bit less catchy like we don't have a 'Tsar Bomba' on this one and it takes a couple of more listens to get into it. But I think Dawn Of The Damned stays longer with listen. I actually compare them actually to "The Number Of The Beast" and "Piece Of Mind". On "The Number Of The Beast" every song is good the first time you hear it and "Piece Of Mind" starts with this really long drums and riffs and you ask yourself where does this lead? I wanted the new album to be like "Piece Of Mind"
Yes, that was my impression of album, too. I needed several times to really like it. One of the biggest differences is that you have more guitar solos in the foreground.
Absolutely. It's because I've practiced my guitar play and I live for my guitars (shows to his guitars in the background; M.) and I play all the time. I really felt that I want to use them this time. Maybe people don't like guitar solos, but I do. I need to use what I can do so I took a chance on that. I didn't know if this would land well but I felt the need to do that.
My absolute favorite track on the new album is 'Tartarian Winds'. Do you agree with me when I say that it is a bow to Bathory in their Viking-Era? Whereas I can also recognize some Deicide influences from the vocal style, it reminds me of the vocal arrangement of 'Sacrificial Suicide'.
I almost have no extreme metal influences. When I started to write extreme metal in 1988/89, there wasn't much extreme metal. I was always inspired by heavy metal, Saxon, Maiden, Judas Priest. I still try to make something that will sound as cool as 'Breaker' by Accept. But my language is extreme metal. It's not that I sit down and listen to Deicide and want to be like them, neither I don't think that Glen Benton and the brothers did either because they also listened to heavy metal and they wanted to do something more extreme. We belonged to the first generation of extreme Metalheads and we were inspired by other stuff. The new generations listen to At The Gates and then they want to do melodic death metal but At The Gates, they were themselves inspired by something else.
Yes, I know what you mean, maybe I've used the wrong word…let's say homage instead of inspiration.
Okay, but I think the song 'Tartarian Winds' is a homage to 'Darkside' if anything. The verse of 'Darkside', it's that kind of song. When I did it, I thought that it can be a kind of this song but with other elements.
On 'Devil's Spawn Attack' you got Schmier, a prominent guest singer, on board. How did the collaboration come about?
That was really cool. We had to do an extra song on the album because Century Media wanted us to. I had written the whole album and it should end with 'The Return Of A Long Lost Soul' and I was so satisfied with it. But our label said: "No, we need one more song! It's in the contract." I was listening to Kreator and Destruction and all that hateful stuff and I thought that I write a song in that style, too. I wrote the song within one hour, went to bed, listened to the song the next morning and thought that it was really good, but that Schmier has to sing on it because it reeked like Teutonic Metal. We asked our management that is a friend of Schmier and we knew that he had said some nice words about us earlier and we met him a couple of times before. He was immediately up for it and said 'yes'. He listened to the song and he liked it. It was really smooth, he sent us the song within three weeks, and I was actually blown away. You know, Destruction was one of the bands with everything started for me. One of my biggest idols singing the lyrics I have written on a song that I wrote. That was really cool!
Your covers are always characterized by quite a lot of attention to detail. The cover of "Dawn Of The Damned" is quasi a further step into this cathedral, which can already be seen on the last album and, I think at least, already on "Darkside". The whole thing reminds me of The Three Investigators - "The mystery of the shrinking house", where it is also about images that are getting closer and closer to a goal. Where will the goal be, and do you want to continue this story on the next album?
It is a trilogy. It started with Darkside and I always wanted to see what was behind the red gate in the center of Darkside. There is a blue tunnel and a red gate-ish thing and I felt like there is a world on the other side. So, we asked Necrolord (Kristian Wåhlin, M.) on the last album if he could paint what's behind and he did. So, we asked him this time if he could paint the inside of the cathedral, so he did. I think it ends here. Horror movies have three good movies and the fourth is bad and this is Satan's trilogy, if you wish (laughs). But it's also very inspired by Iron Maiden. On the back of "Somewhere In Time" you can see the pyramids from "Powerslave" and so on. That was something I enjoyed so much as a kid, so I felt when we have a good artist like this, let's keep some traces of the past.
Have you already started writing new songs in the whole time that you couldn't go on tour now? I know that some bands have used this involuntary break as a creative phase.
I've been busy as hell. This pause is an opportunity. There are people who sit and wait it out, but I felt this is time to work. I'm writing more music than I normally could do and I also started to write for a magazine as a columnist and I did a shitload of playthrough videos and stuff like that I put into the net so that some people can see how our songs are played. I had a lot to do but I haven't written any more Necrophobic songs because I think we're not there yet. We haven't even played the songs live in front of an audience, so we still cannot go further. We cannot have another album when we start to promote this album. It must stay here because it makes sense that I want to be here in this universe of Dawn Of The Damned.
Like many other bands, you can be found on Bandcamp. Do you now sell more through these online platforms, or is it still the regular CD/vinyl sales through which you primarily sell your albums?
I have no idea. Firstly, we don't make any money out of this. What we make is so little, it gives me a guitar once in a while, it's nothing. You get nothing from Spotify and stuff like that. I think I got two dollars. The physical sales and the royalties is what give us the little money we get and when we tour, it's all that merchandise and the fee from the gigs. Making records is something you don't do to make money. You make records to be able to make money on the road. No one makes money now during Corona.
You started the project "In Aphelion" together with Johan and Marco from Cryptosis. Can you tell us something more about it?
I'm not a founding member of Necrophobic. If it comes the day when the band doesn't exist anymore, it is not me who will carry the band name on. We had some discussions about things, and I thought that this is actually a good time to start something on my own, something that I will take with me to the grave. In Necrophobic we also don't want to let the fans and the concept, that was made by David Blackmoon Parland, Joakim Sterner in the beginning, down. But I have so much more need to write freely. I always end with David Bowie for instance, he could do whatever he wanted for each album. He reinvented himself all the time. Even if "In Aphelion" starts in a black metalish landscape, you'll see by time that it will be much wider than what Necrophobic is. I also wanted to be more underground. You see, Century Media is a perfect company, but they also can tell me to write one more song, it's in the contract. I don't want this with that project. It's mine and I wrote all the songs by myself but then I felt that I got to need a real drummer and I was really impressed by Marco (Prij, M.) from Cryptosis. I saw them when they were still named Distillator and they were so good! So, we contacted each other, and he agreed to play the drums and I felt that I cannot do anything without Johan (Bergebäck, M.). I have never done this, and he has to be on board, but it was important for me to start this by myself first. These ideas reach beyond Necrophobic, also that I sing is a different role for me and this time I can express the lyrics by myself. In Necrophobic I always leave this to somebody else. If it's good or bad, I don't know but I can do exactly as I feel it. I can feel what I have written through my voice and that's a challenge and opportunity.
Do you already have a release date for the album?
No, we just signed the contract with Edged Circle Productions and the plan is to release an EP or 12´ with a couple of songs in September or October and a full-length before 2022. That's our plan but we haven't contracted that yet. That's what we aim for.
Last but not least a few selection questions. Tell me the best and worst album of each band.
Well, real fans of Iron Maiden don't make lists of Iron Maiden albums because they're equally good but the one I listen to most is probably "Killers". "Killers" is my favorite one because I started listening to metal at that time and "The Number Of The Beast" is the best album. I actually didn't like the new one ("Book Of Souls", M.), I didn't like the sound and the song "Empire Of The Clouds" at all. The live album that came after it had better versions of the songs.
The first album (s/t, M.) of course! It's a milestone. Everything is best with that one. The photos, the music, the lyrics, everything is spot on. It's one of those perfect albums. The worst…I think "Helldorado" is shitty.
The three first albums are fantastic. But maybe "Reign In blood" is their best album, it's one of the best thrash metal albums that were ever made. The worst is that punk album ("Undisputed Attitude", M.), it's crap.
Maybe "Black Metal" is the best. Maybe. It's hard to say. I even haven't heard all albums; I only listen to the classic ones.
I think the new one is the best. Hrimthursum was also very good at that time. The Third Antichrist is the worst album because of the songwriting.
Well, we're through now. Do you have any last words for our readers?
I hope that we all come out of this Corona thing soon!!! Stay calm and take a deep breath, everybody!!
Sebastian, thank you very much for taking time for the interview!!!
Dawn Of The Damned
Mark Of The Necrogram
Womb Of Lilithu
Death To All
Tour EP 2003
The Third Antichrist
Spawned By Evil
The Nocturnal Silence
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