Interview: Sulphur Aeon (2023) | From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Sulphur Aeon

“Seven Crowns and Seven Seals” is the first Sulphur Aeon full-length Ola Larsson didn’t do the artwork for. Considering the tremendous, almost iconic visual appeal of his work, particularly on your first two albums, was the decision to end that collaboration a difficult one to make?

T: Of course it was, but it was not a decision to end something. It was just the fact that his job duties didn’t allow him to do the artwork within a suitable time frame. There were deadlines we had to comply with, and we did not want to push the release even later. We handed the master of the album to Ván in October 2022, so we simply had to make that decision. Ola said so, too. There is absolutely no bad blood between us, he even left a nice comment about Paolo’s cover. We’ll see what will happen in the future.

One could argue that your cooperation with Ola is the very paradigm of the sonic and the visual amplifying each other. Do you also feel that his paintings added another dimension to your music, and vice versa of course?

T: Absolutely, yes. The artworks for sure are a very important part of our creations and helped a lot in getting listeners’ attention. I am totally aware of that and we are more than thankful for everything Ola did for us. I can hardly describe how I felt when I saw the finished cover for “Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide” for the first time. The fact it would be our cover, with us being a new and unknown band, it just blew my mind. For the successor he even surpassed that and created one of the most iconic artworks that I know. I dare to say that we maybe would not be that well known today without the art he did for us.

Is the “Seven Crowns and Seven Seals” artwork Paolo Girardi’s own interpretation of the album title, or something he drew following your strict guidelines?

M: There were guidelines. There even is a painting existing that I did. When we were struggling to find a suitable cover artist, I feared that we would not be able to find someone within the time frame we had left, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I mean, after all, it is I who had the vision in his head. So I did that, but it was not good enough. When I spoke to Paolo, he said he wanted me to shoot everything at him that was in my head and, if possible, provide a rough sketch for composition. So I wrote, sketched, and also sent him a photo of the painting, and he delivered in no time. That’s the most amazing thing about our collaboration. Such a great painting in such a short amount of time.

What exactly are the seven crowns and seven seals the album title refers to?

M: The seven crowns represent Azathoth, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Dagon and Yig, the seven biggest and most important deities. The seven seals are their “personal” seals, or sigils if you will, with which they can be summoned, and then we have the seven planets as seen on the cover that also represent these deities, with Azathoth as the sun in their middle.

Is “Seven Crowns and Seven Seals” a concept album, or a collection of independent short horror stories?

M: It’s not really a coherent story, no. The leitmotif was the apocalypse, initiated by the great old ones.

There’s a review saying that the album sounds “more as the reckoning once the old one has awakened than the chain of mysterious psychological events leading up to it”.

T: That description reflects the concept behind the album quite well. A swansong to humanity.

The use of melody has always been an essential part of your music, seemingly more so now than ever with “Seven Crowns and Seven Seals”. Was relying on it even more on this album a conscious decision?

T: Melodies have indeed been a very important part of our sound from the very beginning, but I never write with a formula or masterplan. All I want to do with my music is to create a special atmosphere and I don’t care about genres or genre rules. I think the songs on “Seven Crowns and Seven Seals” are just more open, more breathing, so the melodies became more obvious this time. From song to song, there was more of this melancholic endtime feeling, and maybe that became some kind of guiding line during the whole process.

Could the increasing use of melody at some point jeopardize that fundamentally important primitive feel in your music, that all death metal must retain at all times in order to preserve credibility?

T: For sure that is a “danger” I am aware of, but I have this inner compass that leads me when writing. It has to feel and sound like Sulphur Aeon. It can get epic as fuck, but there is that line that the melodies should never sound cheesy or happy, at least in my ears. It has to sound massive. Credibility for me in the first line means being honest to myself and not thinking about listeners’ expectations or blinkers. If it turns out too melodic for some death metal hardliners, fair enough, but I really don’t care.

Sulphur Aeon Interview 2023 (Seven Crowns And Seven Seals)

Is it possible that the album comes across as more melodic than it actually is due to the spotless, impeccable production?

T: Absolutely, and it was a conscious decision with our producers. At a certain point, we just felt like leaving genre conventions behind and just giving the album the sound we thought it needed. Of course, the album would have sounded different had we buried the melodic elements under a wall of rhythm guitars.

Do you feel that your identity was deprived of something fundamentally important by giving up on the production values of your first two albums, which literally sounded like underwater noise made by Cthulhu while rising from the abyssal depths to the ocean’s surface?

T: This underwater sound was mainly on our debut album, and I remember that there was also some criticism about the production. Most listeners and reviewers understood what we wanted to achieve, but some didn’t. With “Gateway to the Antisphere” there was already a step forward sound-wise. I think each of our albums has a sound that serves the atmosphere and songs in the best way. As the music and lyrics evolved from the mainly nautical aspect to a wider, more cosmic concept ˗ within the Lovecraft universe, of course ˗ the sound also had to. So we did not give up on anything, we just made next steps from album to album.

Will the inspiration you draw from the Ancient Ones of Lovecraftian lore ever run dry, or do you feel that those timeless narratives can be approached from countless different angles?

T: I can’t imagine Sulphur Aeon without the Lovecraft concept, it just became an elemental part of our whole creation. In the beginning, the lyrics were mostly inspired by certain stories, but never just as a summary. It has always been about the feeling, the atmosphere and strong lyrical images. So I think that there is still so much place for variation and, as you said, different angles and themes.

There’s pretty much a consensus at this point that no other band across all metal subgenres conveys the very essence of Lovecraft’s work better than you, both lyrically and musically. That’s truly a stunning accomplishment.

T: It sure is, and as you said, this is far more than stunning and far beyond what I can put into words. Of course, this is all a matter of taste, at the end of the day. I also read from time to time that we are too melodic for the Lovecraftian madness and horrors.

What about Lovecraft’s psychological profile has always intrigued you the most?

T: The fact that he was obviously not a happy person, driven by many fears and inner demons.

Do you believe that no other human emotion cuts as deep as fear, especially the fear of the unknown?

T: Absolutely. Fear is for sure one of the strongest emotions and we all carry it more or less within us.

Have you ever experienced fear so overwhelming that it literally changed the way you feel about things?

T: Luckily not.

Martin, given the already prevalent Lovecraft’s influence on your lyrics, how much of your singing choices are also influenced by those narratives? Did the lyrics dictate whether a certain verse was going to be growled or sung clean on this album, or did you make the upfront decision to use more clean vocals this time around no matter what?

M: Interesting question. Sometimes I know where and how I want to include cleans before I step into the studio, but many of the decisions are made in the studio, simply by experimenting and improvising. Honestly, I already felt the urge to do some cleans on “Gateway to the Antisphere”, but apart from some very vague backings, it just didn’t happen.

If you were to compare your frame of mind back in the “Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide” days to how you currently feel about things, would you say that you were angrier and hungrier back then and, vice versa, that you feel much wiser today?

T: I wouldn’t say that I was angry in the beginning of Sulphur Aeon and I wouldn’t call me wiser today. Of course, I grew older, but my mindset has not really changed in a drastic way. Maybe I’m a bit more relaxed and more open-minded nowadays.

There are still fans who believe that you didn’t surpass your first album with any of the following ones. Even if you don’t share that sentiment, do you at least understand and appreciate it?

T: Of course I completely understand it, and I know it for myself with some of my favorite bands, too. Emperor, for example, their early work had such a huge influence on me and to this day has not lost anything of its radiance. Their later work was amazing as well, but it just did not touch me in the same way… So I have absolutely no problem with our listeners feeling similarly about our development, and I really appreciate how much of an impact our debut had on some of them.

Sulphur Aeon Interview 2023 (Promo)

Speaking of the debut, what are your fondest memories of making that album, and were you aware that there was something special about it already during the songwriting process?

T: I knew that I had something special going for me, I did not expect the reactions the album got. I did not really think about it. At the time the album was released, we were a three-piece and had no plans of playing live. We were just happy about the vinyl release with that amazing artwork on it and had no plans at all about the future. What I remember is that ideas at that time kind of burst out and that the songwriting process was really fast.

Is there a song on it that you would gladly redo or even discard if you could turn back time?

T: No, the songs are and should stay the way they are.

Have some of them aged slightly better than others in your opinion?

T: I think “Incantation” and the title track are some of the best songs on that album. That said, every song on “Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide” was important for the album as a whole.

Given how well “Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide” was received, were you under a lot of pressure to outdo yourselves and to deliver the same, if not better album with “Gateway to the Antisphere”?

T: The only pressure I feel when writing is my own quality control. I’m totally aware of the fact that one can’t please everyone, and we don’t even want to. So, the pressure is maybe not the right word. I would say that, from album to album, the songwriting became more challenging for me. As for “Gateway to the Antisphere”, there was no deadline in any way and I could work on the material as long as I needed. The first song I wrote was “Devotion to the Cosmic Chaos” and it immediately made me feel that there would be much more to tell for Sulphur Aeon.

Is it fair to say that the first chapter in the band’s history ended with “Gateway to the Antisphere” and that “The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos”, with Andreas joining the band, marked the beginning of the second chapter?

T: Every album is a chapter of its own. Nothing has changed with Andreas joining the band, since I still write all the music mostly alone. The only thing Andreas wrote was the intro riff of “Sinister Sea Sabbath”.

More than ten years and four albums into your career, would you say that Sulphur Aeon has finally and decisively stepped in front of its influences and established a sonic blueprint that’s entirely your own?

T: I would agree that we have established our signature sound, though one is never completely free from influences I guess. You should still hear my main influences which have not really changed, they only expanded. We found our little niche and I am deeply content with this situation.

Are you still learning about yourselves, your music and the direction the band has headed, or do you feel that you have answered all those questions already?

T: If that happens, it would be the time to stop writing more Sulphur Aeon music. The concept and driving force behind the band has always been to not care about what others think we should sound like. In the first line, it has to stay interesting and challenging for us, to work on new material.

Has Sulphur Aeon at this point become something bigger than yourselves, something that transcends you as individuals? Would you say that you serve the band more than the band serves you?

T: Yes, absolutely. In some moments it feels almost unreal. We never headed for a career or had a masterplan to create something totally unique, if that’s even possible nowadays anyway, with countless bands and styles being around. But I would not go so far to say that we serve the band. Sure, the name Sulphur Aeon became bigger and more important than the people behind it and this on the other hand serves us, for we don’t have to do things we don’t want to.

Are you a self-reflective kind of person, prone to dealing with existential unease by gazing inward, and do you feel that your music reflects that unrest and uses it to its benefit?

T: I’m in a way restless, at least when it comes to music. When I work on a song, I can really get obsessed with ideas, structures, riffs and melodies, and can’t stop thinking about them. I’m not good at switching off my thoughts. Do I gaze into myself more than others do? I don’t know, sometimes maybe. And maybe I too often brood about things I can’t really control or influence.

Does the urge to make music or engage in any type of creative endeavor ever come from a place of contentment in your case? Is it possible to be creative without any emotional or spiritual discomfort?

T: I do not have to be in a bad mood when I write songs. It’s something I can’t force or control anyway. Maybe sometimes there is something unconscious, something that I am not really aware of. I don’t know if anyone is ever completely free of some kind of spiritual discomfort.


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