Embracing the bright metal tradition of honing weaponry in songs was temptation that you, as many who came before you, failed to resist. What precisely was that tool you intended to make sharper in Knights Of The Burning Crypt, a sword, a scythe maybe? By doing so, did you aim to pay a tribute to anyone in particular?
Hand Of Doom: We actually didn’t create this sound effect by ourselves, it’s from one of those BBC libraries that are floating around online. Someone, somewhere in England, sometime, probably decades ago, recorded this sword sound for radio theatre or history television or whatever, and then I’m sure it has been used by countless other artists and filmmakers, so we just stole it from there. If I remember correctly, those are two separate sword samples being layered on top of each other, and with some reverb, so it sounds like one long ass sword being drawn. Regarding points of reference to other metal bands, the most obvious one is probably Satyricon. That part in The Dawn Of A New Age on Nemesis Divina where Satyr sings about scythe being drawn always struck me as sounding very harsh and sinister, if for no other reason than because of just how masterfully they put the sound effect of this sharp cutting weapon just below his vocals in the mix. By the way, I think we used exactly the same sword sample with my previous band The Legion as well. Back in 2002, we released a seven inch entitled Awakened Fury and you can hear that very same sword sample in the opening track Knee Deep In Blood. Unlike Satyricon, we didn’t use it in connection with any particular vocal line or arrangement, it was just there to mark the increase in tempo and intensity, which is basically the same thing we did in Knights Of The Burning Crypt. One last thing about this sword sample is that, for me who wrote the lyrics, this sound effect projects the same kind of menacing atmosphere as, for example, much of the imagery by painter Frank Frazetta does. He was all about those medieval demon knights with very tall helmets, very long swords in various precarious situations, and that always looked fantastic, like something that is just coming at you with full primeval force.
Anyone searching the internet to get the latest info on Vampire in recent months was undoubtedly surprised to see you appearing on Swedish national television, discussing your upcoming album and death metal in general. Do you know what precisely spurred that sudden interest of Swedish mainstream media for death metal, a subject matter that couldn’t be more antithetical to aesthetics, values and principles mainstream culture stand for?
Hand Of Doom: The main reason for me being there and for Vampire to have that exposure is that one of our greatest fans is actually a news reporter from Stockholm who used to work with my wife at one of the biggest newspapers in Stockholm back in the day. That’s how I got to know the guy. He’s an ex-punk rocker who discovered Vampire just when we released our demo, and I’m pretty sure we turned him onto listening to death and black metal. So, he basically pitched this idea that there is this ridiculous thing on YouTube right now, some kind of eternal computer generated death metal nightmare, a loop just going on and on, and that they should ask someone who actually plays death metal to shed some light about that. On a side note, ever since Watain sort of made it big with their third album, meaning for at least last ten or even fifteen years, Swedish media have been showing substantial and quite eager interest in extreme metal culture in Sweden and it’s not really that strange or unexpected for a metal band to appear on television or in newspapers. We also had this book that came out some eight years ago entitled Blood Fire Death, that was written by two, as you’d say, culture journalists or pop culture writers, so with all that in mind, my appearance on Swedish TV was really no big deal. As for that loop they were primarily interested to talk with me about, I think I got my point across that even if it sounds like death metal, there’s an abundance of other inclusions apart from only music that make a band worthwhile and make a musical experience of death metal worthwhile. For example, when you’re listening to a band that you enjoy, you also pay attention to their lyrics, their imagery, where their music comes from, their influences, who and what are those people, are they deeply serious or are they fun people, are they intelligent, are they highly educated, can they actually speak about their music in a civilised way, etc. There is this complex structure around music that makes it worthwhile or not for you to enjoy, and as much as this YouTube death metal loop sounded like death metal, all of that is lacking obviously and it makes that kind of music extremely uninteresting, which is basically what I’ve told those journalists. Which they thought was hilarious, as they didn’t seem to ever think about it that way. Fortunately, they had me, an expert on the matter, to enlighten them.
Were there any trolls questioning your underground credibility in the aftermath?
Hand Of Doom: Not that I’m aware of. People in Sweden are pretty used to different metal dudes appearing in the mainstream, speaking about this and that, and this was not really a big deal. Then again, I don’t really follow any news websites, I don’t hang out on Metal Sucks, so I wouldn’t know. I hope it spurred some kind of discussion somewhere though, otherwise it all seems pretty pointless.
The title With Primeval Force implies that your last album has some obsolete, anachronistic quality to it. Then again, the music on that album certainly doesn’t do justice to that notion, considering that the band has never sounded more contemporary, without any negative connotations attached to that attribute in this case. Are you aware of this contradiction and how do you explain it?
Hand Of Doom: That’s a very good observation as long as your main focus is the music, which isn’t the case for me. In my view, the title basically refers to lyrics on the album and via the lyrics the title reflects the underlying idea or vision of Vampire, as some kind of cerebral or artistic entity. And that doesn’t necessarily have to do with music, first and foremost. Most of our lyrics, if not all our lyrics on this album, deal with some kind of hidden, forgotten or suppressed ancient force. It may be a previously vivid belief system that doesn’t really exist anymore on a day to day basis, it may be a ghost, it may be a difficult memory, it may be a traumatic event in the history of the world, but the bottom line is that our lyrics deal with something that is ancient, hidden, forgotten, not really here anymore. So those are primeval forces that we wield around when expressing our artistic vision. No matter how the music sounds, that is where Vampire comes from, as an idea. I would even say that anyone who’s playing metal music for the right reasons, with the right spirit and correct outlook on the history of the genre, must tap into the same mesh of ancient forces. I mean, it’s impossible to play metal music in 2019, or in 2011, or whenever and not have some kind of primeval force guiding you, being a source where the music comes from. Metal cannot be modern. There is no way to create metal music from scratch, with a clean slate, it just won’t happen. Metal is always arcane and ancient in its core expression, and that’s also something we’re putting through with this title, that the feelings, the spirits that rise whenever you play or listen to good metal music are a primeval force in and of itself, that comes from another place, from another time. These are age-old instincts and age-old reactions that are at the very foundation of being human, and that’s something I really appreciate about the metal culture. I mean, it may be stupid, sure, it often is, but it taps into that ancient source of being human and I guess that’s why it has all these superstitious, cerebral, even childish ideas and expressions, because it’s something that isn’t too cerebral to begin with. It’s about instinct and not about overthinking, even though I realise that overthinking is basically exactly what I’m doing right now. So I better stop right here.
Each of your releases has always been more melody-oriented than the previous one, with With Primeval Force being the latest stage of that ongoing evolution. Going down that road, however, you still didn’t come to the point where melody comes at the expense of aggressiveness and that wild, caveman attitude a proper metal should always have ingrained deeply within itself, but the question is how much longer can you continue moving in that direction and reinventing yourselves without having those two opposite musical traits starting to butt heads. Do you ever think about it and do you recognize that as a possible threat that might present itself at some point?
Hand Of Doom: I’m actually very happy that our sound is getting more and more nuanced and balanced. That said, I love our demo for what it was, a collection of three songs of caveman music, as you put it in your question, and there was nothing wrong about that. However, considering that we have been working on our third album since the last summer, and that we had also dropped an EP in the meantime, I think it would have bored us somewhat to still sound like a band from that rough demo tape that we basically threw together during a couple of months of on and off rehearsing. Still, you’ll never see Vampire lose our basic aesthetics, that is the shouting vocals, the aggressive thrash metal riffing, the Slayer beat on the drums ˗ that is something that will always be there. At the same time, I’m sure that you’ll hear more of how we sound on, for example, Midnight Trial from With Primeval Force, with more of those Mercyful Faith-ish guitar duels. Furthermore, you’ll probably see us moving even deeper into the harmonic black metal expression, like in the song Scylla, also from With Primeval Force, that elements will also continue to be part of our sound. At this point, we have five songs recorded for the new album, with lyrics finished, vocals recorded, everything done, just lying there in the studio, waiting to be mixed, mastered and released, and I would say that a couple of them are perhaps the most melodic and harmonious that we have ever done. For example, we have a song called Moloch which basically sounds like a Mega Man TV game, with incredibly beautiful twin guitar melodies at the beginning of the song that sort of set the bar for the pretty sombre and melancholic vibe in the lyrics. The bottom line is, we’ll never stray away from metal, as long as you see the basics of metal as the stuff Judas Priest were doing in the late ’70s, or what Iron Maiden were doing in the early ’80s, or what Metallica was doing in the mid ’80s. That is where we come from, at the end of the day, and we’ll never leave that, but if you listen to With Primeval Force and ask yourself can those guys get even more melodic than they are right now, I’d say the answer is yes, probably. But you’ll always hear it’s Vampire playing, we’ll not reinvent ourselves into new kind of band, so that will never change.
As colorful and busy as it is, the cover art for With Primeval Force doesn’t actually reveal much, nor does it contain any apparent reference to the album title or even the song titles. What’s the story behind it?
Hand Of Doom: Well, I guess we’re busted, as you obviously quite unintentionally saw through this thin veil that we were trying to pull up there. The thing is, we had the music, the recording, the lyrics, the illustrations, basically everything, ready before we had the cover artwork and the album title. And we weren’t really too sure what to do about that, we had no specific ideas or at least we couldn’t agree on any specific ideas, so Joel, or Black String as he’s called in Vampire, took it upon himself to google around reasonably affordable artist working in oil, because we knew we wanted something that looks really traditional and metal. So he found this Nick Keller guy from New Zealand that nobody had heard of before and it turns out that this dude had several works ready on display on his webpage, that were up for grabs, even with a price tag. And he had this amazing, amazing, amazing vaguely Indian looking god-monster on top of the mountain, in broad daylight, which we thought was a bit original and unexpected, and that image just spoke to us and somehow made sense to have something breaking off this nighttime vibe that we had been always worked with before. So we went for that painting and we got it, and the last thing to determine was what do we call this shit, the album that is. We had no idea, so I basically brainstormed some twenty or thirty possible titles, different interesting words put together, different meanings, as the album title was the very last thing we had to agree upon. Eventually, after some heated discussions and some pretty grumpy texts sent back and forth, we settled upon With Primeval Force. I think Black String had Untamed Primordial Force, that was one of his ideas, and I wanted to compress that and turn it into something even more Latin sounding, something even more fierce and direct, and that is basically how the title came about. Which basically sums up the lyrics, as we talked about earlier, and it also sort of ties into the cover artwork, some kind of arcane and forbidden demon thing that is just appearing out of nowhere in broad daylight, some kind of unhinged primeval force coming at you. As an example, another idea for the album title was translating a German title from Abigor, one of our common favourite bands, that Black String and myself have been listening to since the mid ’90s, and it was the title of the last song on the album Opus IV called Spektrale Schattenlichter, which means Spectral Shadowlights. So, one of the ideas was to name the album Spectral Shadowlights, which would have reflected both our main influences and the content of the lyrics perfectly. The only problem was, we already had this daytime vibe cover artwork, and having that artwork with the title Spectral Shadowlights, without a ghost or shadow in sight, wouldn’t make much sense. Maybe we will use it some other time for some other recording, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. All in all, this is the story behind the artwork for With Primeval Force and I’m glad that you were able to spot the discrepancy surrounding it.
Let’s switch gears now and go back to the very beginning of Vampire. Before releasing that illustrious demo cassette you mentioned earlier, did it ever occur to you that the band might become so successful so fast and was your already increasing seriousness in making the band something more than just an ambitionless outlet for playing vintage death additionally fueled by that immense hype you were getting right from the get-go?
Hand Of Doom: We sure were surprised to see the amount of appreciation and attention directed at the band from very early on, and it probably turned us on to take these things rather seriously rather fast, but it is difficult to say how things would have been different had no one paid attention to us. Hype or no hype, we still managed to bring together a very strong and stringent demo recording, and that isn’t something you can pull off without ambition, I tell you that.
Was getting overwhelmingly positive feedback for that demo a surprise or something you expected to happen?
Hand Of Doom: Friends and acquaintances immediately gave us quite good feedback long before that recording was released, so we realized we made something worthwhile very early on. But we were eventually very surprised to see that so many people seemed to be into exactly what we were into when we recorded the demo. At the same time, we weren’t exactly baffled that the recording made quite a stir in the underground, since we obviously thought it kicked ass as much as anyone else. I guess we just did the right thing at the right time.
Do you still listen to that demo sometimes?
Hand Of Doom: It’s been quite some time since I’ve listened to it, but last time I did I noticed how fat and pure it sounds, given the circumstances it was recorded under, with microphones being basically lined into a MacBook.
Speaking of the sound, do you prefer raw and filthy versions of songs from the demo to cleaner, re-recorded versions of those same songs that are featured on your debut album? If you could turn back time, would you change anything about the sound on that album?
Hand Of Doom: To be honest, I think I prefer the demo songs with demo production, because that will always be how these songs originally came to us. Then again, I think it was great fun to have them properly recorded as well, and see how they fit in the context of the album. One thing I do absolutely prefer on the album compared to the demo though is the outro to Under The Grudge, which sounds absolutely fantastic and is much more well crafted than quite cheap sample that is on the demo.
As for the sound on the album, we definitely aimed for a proper, professional sound, more in the vein of ’80s Metallica than ’80s Necrophagia, and in that sense I am very happy with how the album turned out. Then again, wouldn’t it have been cool to hear what a song like Ungodly Warlock would have sounded like in a really gritty and murky basement recording? Bottom line is that you can’t have it all. An album is another thing than a demo tape, and we wanted to do it properly and somehow in the vein of how albums were done in the ’80s. I don’t know anything about studio recording, and don’t know what could be changed and what result that would have, but because you are asking, I wouldn’t have minded just a pinch more dirt in drum production.
Did you feel the pressure to live up to the expectations people had from you after such a highly acclaimed demo and to record an album that would be a worthy follow-up?
Hand Of Doom: Every album is the result of hundreds and hundreds of decisions, and no matter how much time and effort you put into them all, there are always things that could have been done differently. This is especially true when you have to compromise your will with others, which is obviously the case in most bands. You don’t want to disappoint people who are into what you are doing, but above all, you don’t want to disappoint yourself. I still listen to the album every once in a while and I am very happy about how it turned out and that we managed to cram so much attitude and atmosphere into about half an hour of music.
At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse sounds like a song that wouldn’t feel too out of place on a Misfits album. Among other obvious influences, would you say that the simplicity of punk also played a role in shaping your musical identity, at least to a degree?
Hand Of Doom: I guess that song would be a bit too complex for Misfits, but I am a massive fan and won’t argue with that, but take it as a compliment. There is a little direct punk influence on Vampire beyond the ambition to make simple, memorable and catchy music that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. I like all the same punk bands as anyone else, bands like Misfits, The Stooges and Ramones, but not very much else. Good punk music is fantastic, but I have too little passion for the whole scene and movement to dig out the gems beyond the mainstream. One very fine old Swedish punk band from the ’80s is Strebers, which is basically quite melodic and sentimental heavy metal played at a frantic tempo with lyrics in Swedish. Check out the album Öga För Öga, amazing stuff.
Has it ever cross your mind that the image of the reaper, that at one point seemed as if it could become a visual blueprint for all your future releases, wasn’t the most suitable visual concept for a band named Vampire?
Hand Of Doom: Vampire is just a name, as we’re not a concept band, and the important thing is that the whole package gels and somehow follows a pattern that makes sense. The vampire and the personification of death as a cloaked skeleton both stem from European folklore, where these images are used for themes like death, the unknown, the dualism of soul and body and whatnot, and that’s right down our alley. We have no lyrics about vampires either, by the way.
Did you see the resurgence of vintage sounding death metal, that started gaining momentum some ten odd years ago and reached its prime right at the time you were hitting your stride, as a positive or a negative thing?
Hand Of Doom: Things tend to come back in fashion after 20 or so years, and I guess it was just time for classic death metal to be big and fun again. That said, I’ve never considered Vampire a part of any death metal revival scene, but rather some sort of crossover between ’90s black metal, ’80s thrash metal and original death metal bands like Autopsy or Necrophagia. Our record label did quite a job to lump us together with bands like Miasmal for example, and there may be superficial similarities, but you would probably find more differences if you looked closely. Trends come and go and I see that as something quite neutral, it’s neither good nor bad, but just how it has always worked and always will.
Speaking of your record label, Century Media rarely signs bands without at least semi-decent track record behind them, so it’s a compliment in itself that they took a chance on you back when you were just a demo band. How much credit do you think they deserve for your success and the band’s current status in the scene?
Hand Of Doom: My impression is that our road to success, as long as we’re talking about the very moderate achievement of attracting the attention of a label of Century Media’s size, isn’t that rare these days. Many bands get picked up fast to sort of be off the market for other labels, just in case if they would happen to be the next big thing. One example I can think of off the top of my head is the doom band The Order Of Israfel from Gothenburg that got picked up by Napalm without having released anything at all. In the case of Vampire, there is no denying that people, and probably the label, liked the whole secret identity bullshit that we were quite fast to ruin for ourselves as soon as we started playing live. But I also suppose that people and the label think we make quality music that is both lots of fun and emotionally challenging. One thing about the music of Vampire that I came to think of just now is the amount of contrasts between beautiful, atmospheric melodies and ugly, primitive riffs. Most bands go for one of these ingredients, but our material is all over the place, as we discussed previously. Beyond that, the whole aesthetics with the semi-nostalgic horror vibe probably talks to a lot of people, especially to those who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s on all the cool rental movies we all love. That means we stand on common ground with people from all sorts of subcultural movements.
As for giving Century Media credit for the band’s current status in the scene, the entire Vampire hype machinery was going on high steam before we signed to them, and it was arguably part of the reason for them signing us in the first place. But from then on, it must be a combination of us delivering the goods and them distributing it to every corner of the globe. Our relative success is definitely not the result of corporate muscles, but we would have had a hard time expanding the way we have without the help of these.
How significant was the distance you as songwriters crossed between the debut album and the subsequent Cimmerian Shade EP? What precisely were you hoping to accomplish with it?
Hand Of Doom: For us, Cimmerian Shade was a matter of upping the bar a bit after the debut album was finished. We went for something else and didn’t think too much about where that elsewhere might lead us. There was definitely a coherent bond between the EP and the album though. Pyre Of The Harvest Queen was probably that song which sounded most new and least Vampire, if there was already a template for our sound among listeners at that time, whereas Hexahedron was arguably more well known territory. Night Hunter was halfway between these two songs. For a spell of time, there was a lack of consensus where we should take the band next, and I guess Pyre Of The Harvest Queen reflected one possible direction, Hexahedron another. The demo material was more or less thrown together, and once we realized we had gotten something going, we started thinking a lot more of what we were doing. I was probably the more spontaneous force in the band, whereas Black String was more self-critical as a songwriter and tended to go for more complex compositions. For me it was more, if it rocks, it rocks. I think more in tempos and rhythms, whereas he has a guitarist’s perspective and wants songs to be challenging on that level too. Pyre Of The Harvest Queen and Hexahedron were written pretty much simultaneously, right after work with the album was complete, me and Black String working on one song each. I don’t know exactly what his mindset was, but I believe he wanted to challenge himself and write something different and something that people wouldn’t expect from us. I, at the time, was in a zone where I was absolutely fascinated by the simplicity and directness of modern pop music, and wanted to further play around with the quite formulaic arrangements that most of the songs on the debut album follows. I paid less attention to single riffs, and more to the economical composition and to having the sequencing as clever as possible. I’m not sure it succeeded as great as I imagined at the time, but it was the result of a very specific ambition. Night Hunter was written by Black String in a matter of hours if I’m rightly informed. He had an overdose on German thrash metal and combined that with more recognizable Vampire moods. One thing that binds these songs together, regardless of their quite disparate style, is my vocals and the lyrical arrangement, which follows recognizable patterns, since the lyrics were written in pretty much the same fashion as usual, much emphasis on even rhythms and rhyming last syllables.
Why was that EP released only on vinyl?
Hand Of Doom: It was released as digital download and cassette as well, through Darkness Shall Rise Productions. I wouldn’t have minded a CD version, but that was just something we decided to do, in the glory of the classic EPs like In The Sign Of Evil, Sentence Of Death and Flag Of Hate.
It was with the artwork for Cimmerian Shade that you made the ultimate discontinuity with the visual identity of your early days. How important for you was to do so?
Hand Of Doom: It was very important. Had we included the reaper again, it would have established that figure as something of an Eddie mascot for us, and we didn’t want that. There was something fresh and different about that cover, accentuating a somewhat new aspect of the Vampire experience. It tied into the lyrics for Pyre Of The Harvest Queen, also containing elements from The Fen. We wanted to go for something that rings true together with the nature mysticism and dark Scandinavian vibe present in some of the songs, and frame these songs in with something that adds to that element in them.
How do you feel about Pyre Of The Harvest Queen, do you like how that song turned out?
Hand Of Doom: That song is definitely more atmospheric and brooding than most of the material featured on our debut album, and it has not one but a couple of different climaxes. Lots of time was spent on the arrangement, and I suppose the actual riffs are a definite best of the best of Black String’s phone memory at the time.
In your private life, do you like chasing women?
Hand Of Doom: I’m no fonder of women than the next guy and I’ve been living with the same woman for half a decade, so the days of chasing girls are behind me. Not that I was very good at it to begin with. Why?
Just because of the presumption that naming a song after a female character like The Harvest Queen might be a reflection of a certain fondness that stems from your private life. As you are probably aware, not many metal bands use evil female archetypes to build narratives of their songs or albums around.
Hand Of Doom: It’s interesting you mention the word archetype, which is definitely a useful term for exploring all of the lyrics on the EP and arguably some of the album material as well. In our lyrics we deal with a combination of dark fantasy, the mythical, and the psychologically relevant, where the archetypical definitely comes into play. It is true that female characters in death metal lyrics are kind of absent, as long as they are not portrayed as victims. Including those in our lyrics is no feminist statement, and who can say why we do that, but if you want a simple and concrete explanation, it might be that the evil female monster is quite a common trope in much contemporary Scandinavian horror and gothic fiction, genres that I am very well acquainted with and don’t mind imitating. Much of that stuff won’t be available in translation, but I can mention Andreas Marklund and Anders Fager as important sources of inspiration in that regard. I know the latter has been translated into French at least, possibly even into English.
On mentioning the archetype and the archetypical, it should come as no surprise that threats and dark elements of both genders appear in horror fiction of all sorts, portraying hidden or forbidden aspects of the psyche, and speaking to both men and women alike. Nobody wants to psychoanalyze oneself, but if I write these ghastly pieces including the occasional evil female character, I see that as a proof I have a more flexible and plastic psychological setup than someone who pens the same old slasher routine with final girls getting their heads chopped off over and over again. Much fiction of modern day society has a hang-up on the male as a perpetrator and the female as a victim, but if you look to the European folktales for reference, you will find all sorts of gruesome female entities that probably reflect a more deeply felt inner world of both male and female projections and forces. For a more thorough account of this literary mechanism, turn to the theorists dealing with these things, most prominently C.G. Jung with followers. Perils Of The Night by Eugenia DeLamotte is a very interesting book on gothic literature, dealing with gender issues.
Considering how your sound continued to develop on With Primeval Force, would you say that Cimmerian Shade EP was somewhat of a turning point for the band?
Hand Of Doom: I don’t think EP was one of those. Not because the material wasn’t strong enough, but simply because of the format. EP releases tend to go somewhat under the radar of the entire music establishment, and for a Vampire release to be a turning point, I guess as many people as possible must heard it simultaneously. But that’s only a loose theory from the top of my head. However, that EP was definitely a breaking point in our creative stance. Where we were to go after a quite successful debut album? We could have gone for slower tempo, longer songs and more melody, thrash it out completely or continue pretty much in the same vein with only moderate alterations and additions. These three alternative scenarios were what that EP showed more than anything else.
If you were to make a candid assessment of the band’s current playing and songwriting prowess, as well as your singing technique, how much would you say all those things improved and evolved since you started out?
Hand Of Doom: As for my singing technique, I think I have found my ideal vocal range compared to how I sang on the debut for example, where I tended to go deeper with my voice than I ever do live. As musicians in general, I guess we have evolved only marginally, no great change there. The kind of music we play doesn’t demand very much from you as a player anyway, in some ways it’s even better if there is a bit of rust around the edges. As for songwriting, I like to think we get better and better at that all the time, but then again, it’s difficult to say what good songwriting really is. The first demo songs we ever wrote were very effective and likeable, and were written with little thought on what anyone would think of them. In one way it wouldn’t have been hard had we done something like that again, but it’s uncertain if we would have been able to catch the same attitude and directness again. As mentioned above, I am the one in the band most into stripped-down songwriting, where every unit of the song has a logical relation to the rest, and if I were to decide everything in Vampire, we would probably lean towards that way of writing more than we do now. But we’re a group of people doing things together, and thus, the songs come out less concentrated on one style of songwriting, but contain more elements put together in more complex ways.
In terms of how effectively it manipulates the feeling of unbearable suspense and turns it into an almost tangible discomfort during its last two minutes, The Fen video must be one of the best metal videos in recent years. What is the story behind it?
Hand Of Doom: I’m glad you like it, as we’re very happy with it ourselves. A couple of horror film buffs I know in Portland, Oregon called it the best stuff that came out in the horror genre for years and as much as that might be stretching it a bit, I know for certain it sticks out from the rest among other death metal music videos. The video was scripted and directed by an old acquaintance of mine called Daniel Garptoft, who was the one who turned me on to ’70s Alice Cooper and all sorts of cool music when I was around ten. Ever since, he’s been into amateur film making and eventually ended up working for one of the leading film companies in Sweden. The team behind The Fen, and by that I mean light, costume and everything at work behind the scenes in any film, is basically business contacts and colleges of his lending their hands to a project they believed in when hearing about it, and some of them turned out to be Vampire fans in the process. The general concept of the video was worked out by me and Garptoft together, and then he scripted these loose, pretty visual ideas into a coherent story with a dramatic curve. I guess it all turned out way beyond anyone’s expectations, in both going back to a few genre classics and paying homage to horror film tradition, as well as in building on something distinctly Scandinavian. On top of that, it’s genuinely creepy and suspenseful. Especially the objective quality of it, being so properly lighted and just generally well executed, took us all by surprise. I think we all expected something more gritty and low budget, not really anticipating the professionalism and craft of Garptoft’s team.
Highly convincing performances by those kids in the video suggest at least decent, if not immense acting background. Was casting them and getting them to perform so brilliantly a difficult task? Were they fully aware of what kind of video they were making?
Hand Of Doom: I think it all comes down to good directing and to reaching out to these kids in a language they could relate to while shooting. If I am not mistaken, the child actors were all sons and daughters of people involved with making the video. Maybe one or two of them were cast by someone working with a children’s theatre group, I’m not sure. Especially the oldest girl, coming into the barn at the beginning, was a proper find. There’s just something very uncanny about her serious face and uncertain smile. I wasn’t there myself on location, but only met all those people behind the video briefly at our screening in Gothenburg this spring.
Involving children in the video takes it to all sorts of places, not least making it more uncomfortable. Children are arguably more effective for portraying both heinous acts of violence and suffering, as they both break with an expectation you have of children being innocent and safe from harm. Among the original ideas for the video was to have a group of adults, basically friends of ours dressed up in whatever we could find, dancing around a pyre in the woods, something more mythical or sexual in nature, but once Garptoft came up with the idea of having all characters be children, we went for that. That was something we would never have thought of or had been able to practically carry out ourselves.
Many things about that video are open for different interpretations. For example, the drowned boy. How did he end up in the river? Did he drown by accident or was he murdered and then thrown into the river? If the latter is the case, how did he meet his death? Also, the girl. Who or what is she? A witch? Or the devil himself?
Hand Of Doom: I don’t know as there is no other back story than what you see in the film. Obviously, these kids were fooling around with the wrong crowd, and it didn’t end well for at least one of them. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience of the video, and I am no authority at interpreting its content. Similar thing with my lyrics, I wouldn’t want to explain what they mean as they were written the way they were to open up for your own ideas and associations. Things are not what they seem and if you play with fire you’ll get burnt, that’s the moral of The Fen, but what really happens between frames is better left to the imagination.
The fact that bands always regard their latest effort as the best thing they have ever recorded is certainly no news to you. Did you ever fall victim to similar reasoning, burdened by recency bias? In hopefully not too distant future, can you imagine yourself rating the fifth Vampire album lower than, let’s say, the second or the third one?
Hand Of Doom: That’s very hypothetical, but sure, I like our latest stuff, and I much rather listen to that than the demo. As a musician, you grow tired of your own material, and in that sense you are bound to like the classics less and less. I’m sure the guys in Iron Maiden think some of their newest material kick the Piece Of Mind stuff in the butt, and there’s no way arguing with them on that since they are probably dead tired of The Trooper 30 years down the road, no matter how wrong that opinion seems to me. To be sure, it is also a media game everyone is playing, where we are supposed to care about new stuff by old and new bands alike and focus on that. In some cases, obviously, it can get a tad bit pathetic, but we don’t have to mention names here.
Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel or Entombed?
Hand Of Doom: Morbid Angel. I never cared very much for neither Entombed nor Cannibal Corpse, but have worshipped Morbid Angel since the first time I heard them. Best death metal band ever.
How do you feel about performing, do you like being on stage?
Hand Of Doom: Playing live is the best thing about being in a band and we want to do it as much as possible. My personality just clicks on stage and I am never too nervous or anything not to enjoy every second of it. Under the right circumstances, on stage is probably how Vampire is best enjoyed.
If Vampire was to become a band that tours regularly and extensively, what about your daily life would you miss the most while being on the road for long periods of time?
Hand Of Doom: It’s easy to feel right at home on stage if you’re a safe car ride from your own bed. It’s difficult to say what you miss when away, but easier to say what you appreciate once you get home, and it’s basically the choice of shutting off sound and music around you, relaxing in your own couch with your own favorite cup and your own shelf of books. I don’t know if it is a possibility to tour for very long periods of time with Vampire though. I have a career outside the band that is no less important, and I know that goes for some of the other members as well. The entire Vampire experience should have taken off when I was 20, still living at home, with no strings attached to anything. Then I could have toured around the world for months on end for all I cared, no problems at all. But without the general life experience and experience from previous bands, Vampire would probably not have been able to expand beyond the demo takes. Hell, these would probably have remained unreleased material.
Do you think that some habits your bandmates have, to which you barely pay any attention now, could start getting on your nerves while being on the road for weeks on end? Is there anything about the non-stop partying lifestyle of a touring musician that you find tempting?
Hand Of Doom: As for my bandmates’ habits and vices, I know for a fact that I am a bit of a loner who needs my alone time and won’t appreciate crowds, even consisting of my very best friends, for days on end. I need to fuck off and do something alone, not talking, not listening, not being considerate. I am a sensitive fuckwit and I know it. About partying being part of a musician’s life, I guess it is for many, and it has ruined lives, careers and marriages along the way. One problem I can see with playing music for a living, something none of us does, is that it implies about 23 hours a day of waiting, in an environment you’re not acquainted with and around people you probably wouldn’t have spent all that time with otherwise. Drinking, after all, is a brilliant company, and you’re never bored when drunk.
There is a notion that everything important and noteworthy in music, regardless of the genre, has already been recorded. Is this in line with how you feel?
Hand Of Doom: I think history is very good at weeding out crap as time goes by, and what we see looking back are things like In The Nightside Eclipse or Terminal Spirit Disease, while we do not think at all of the lesser bands and albums, since they have stopped being relevant to us, even for discussion. This is probably even more relevant when looking at the different scenes of the ’80s. Every year in the history of music has seen both good and bad releases, and I’m uncertain whether 2014 is really worse than 2004 or 1994, or 1984, or 1974 for that matter. I am sure people will care about bands and albums from today in 50 years from now, but it is very hard to say anything about that. I see no Beatles or Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrixes, or even any Zombies or Beach Boys or Zappas, looking around me in the contemporary music scene, but maybe they are already in place and we just fail to recognize their genius for now.
It’s a scientific fact that our characters and personalities get predominantly shaped during the first couple of years of our lives. That being said, did you have a pleasant childhood and was music a significant part of it?
Hand Of Doom: That theory is accurate, no doubt about it. As much as Freudian psychology is hardly a science per se, since it is difficult to prove that the theory it is based upon is valid for all people, it is probably some of the best we’ve got this far, and that which will be referred to by many people as the reliable tool for exploration and explanation. At least before something incredibly important happens in the world of psychology and we can talk about a veritable shift of paradigm. But from what I understand, nothing of that sort has yet occurred, and we’re stuck with Mr. Freud for now.
I had a safe lower middle class upbringing without any traumas, no family dysfunction out of the ordinary, no problems with addiction or abuse and no unsolvable conflicts. Something I do think has shaped me considerably is both my parents’ different approaches to narratives. My mother is a now retired elementary school teacher, and always put down a great deal of time in reading aloud for us kids and early on promoted us to read for ourselves. That established an attitude towards books as something for quality alone time and intellectual recreation, which arguably helped me through school and also informed my career decision. My father comes from poor countryside working class, an environment and culture in which the oral narrative was alive and well as late as when I was a kid. He and my uncles used to tell me all sorts of hair raising stories of the macabre and the grotesque, a colorful mishmash of stuff they experienced themselves, stuff they thought to have experienced themselves and wild folk tradition. The thrill it gave me is probably something I continued to seek out in horror fiction all of my adolescence and much of my grown up life as well. Thanks, mom and dad, for that.
As for my first encounter with music, the first song I liked and got as a single for Christmas was Vingar by Mikael Rickfors. Not exactly transcendent when listening to it now, but you could do a lot worse as a five year old. My first metal experience was He’s Back by Alice Cooper, which I still hold as one of the most atmospheric and spine chilling pieces of music recorded. My brother got me a cassette with Entombed’s Clandestine around the same time Enter Sandman and You Could Be Mine aired on MTV around the clock, and that combined turned me on to somewhat extreme music. Then it took another few years until I discovered Iron Maiden, Helloween and Slayer, music that I actually really liked for what it was, and not for what I thought it did to people’s view of me.
What is your formal education and profession?
Hand Of Doom: I am a master of comparative literature and have a degree for teaching at high school, which is what I do for a living.
As a relatively young man, have you already made any choices in life that you regret or think have been crucial for you and your future?
Hand Of Doom: I don’t think I have made many choices in life that I can regret and blame myself for. Decisions are usually informed by such a massive load of circumstances that your own role in them to be made is pretty minimal. But the summer before junior high I decided to quit playing soccer in order to hang out at the local skateboard park with the older guys, talking about music and smoking cigarettes. That must have turned me in the right direction in one way or another. Travelling alone for months around age 25 also made something with me no other experience could have given me. However, it didn’t really change the course my life was taking at the time, but rather shaped up my personality and self-reliance. My key life decision was probably moving to Gothenburg at 20, where I eventually met my girlfriend, formed the band, got my education, found my current job. But if it wouldn’t have been Gothenburg, there would have been other girlfriends, bands, educations and jobs.
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