Early last week, in anticipation of a gig at Reggie’s by the legendary Swedish black-metal band Marduk, I spent an afternoon watching live Marduk clips on YouTube. My favorite was from a recent show in San Francisco, where front man Mortuus flipped a guy who’d gotten onstage and apparently tried to give him a hug. As far as I’m concerned, it was pretty close to a perfect translation of black-metal attitude into real-world action.
On Marduk’s tour bus before Saturday’s show, though, guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Hakansson was downright cordial. Without corpse paint, the band’s sole remaining founding member looked a lot more like the Highlander and a lot less like the type of guy who’d name a demo Fuck Me Jesus. Then again, who am I to say what the Highlander would’ve named his demo? Hakansson and I had a nice chat about black metal, America, Satan, and Marduk‘s new album, Wormwood (Regain). We also briefly discussed the weather.
It’s pretty wild that this is your first big U.S. tour, considering that you’ve played pretty damn near everywhere else on earth.
Yeah, I know. We get a lot of offers, but we always have problems with papers. Usually when we get offers for tours, we get an offer one and a half months before the tour would start—but it can take three months for us to have our visas done. So we start out the application but never have time to finish it up. It’s a ridiculous thing. I could write a book about the struggles of getting a visa to the States. You even have to find papers that you got when you were 15 years old. You have to go into some archives to even find them.
Even though you haven’t toured much in the States, you’ve spent a lot of time in North America. They love you in Mexico, right?
Yeah. We’ve actually toured around Mexico and South America quite a bit. We’ve been to Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador—even working on going to Honduras next time. It’s crazy. They’re a fanatic crowd, so it’s always a pleasure to play down there.
How does American black metal compare to Scandinavian black metal?
I don’t think it’s important for American bands to take the Scandinavian way. The American black-metal bands have always had their own way and Europe has its own way. I think that America has some traditional black-metal bands . . . like Black Funeral, and death-metal bands like Deicide, Morbid Angel, and Immolation. I think you have a strong beginning in the past as well, but maybe have just been overshadowed by Scandinavia.
I think Sweden is the culture where it all started. We had Bathory and they had a huge impact on certain people. For example, what made Mayhem Mayhem is the fact that the vocalist Dead moved there and joined them, and he was also Swedish. I think that Bathory was the first band that did the whole Viking thing as well. As for Scandinavia, I don’t know what it is. I suppose it could be something with where we live. It probably has to do with the latitude that we live in. We call it the pine-tree belt.
I’ve read a lot of black-metal lyrics, Marduk’s especially. Why is anti-Christian sentiment such a constant in the music?
It’s not that hard, you know. If you just watch the world and see how society and people are, it seems to come very naturally. Christianity has polluted whole societies for hundreds of years, so now people are so used to these types of things that they don’t even question it.
What about your personal belief?
I’m a satanist, and that’s the reason why we incorporate it in what we do. If we don’t do it, then it’s not black metal. For me, black metal is about having a satanic philosophy; if you don’t, then it’s not black metal.
Do you try to spread satanist ideas with your music?
Yes. That’s why we release albums and that’s why we include the lyrics. I think we have something to say and I like to spread that message. How people will look upon the message, I will not say. I think it’s up to everyone to read the lyrics and look at their message on their own. Especially with the later albums, talking to people on tour, I like to see how the lyrics speak to the people listening to them. Everyone seems to look upon them differently, and that I find very fascinating.
So what is the theme of your new album, Wormwood?
It’s a very apocalyptic word. Wormwood, of course, is the name of the star in the Book of Revelation that falls from heaven down to the earth and poisons one-third of the water for man to drink, but it’s also the name of a city. It’s a city in Ukraine called Chernobyl. If you translate the word chernobyl to English, you get the word wormwood. So when Chernobyl happened, a lot of Christians all over the world reckoned that as the beginning of the end of the world, as was said through of the Book of Revelation. Therefore, we thought it was a really great title for an album, since these were the apocalyptic themes. It’s a very short and concise title that really reflects the spirit of this album—the sourness and the morbidity and just an apocalyptic vision, I’d say.
Previous to 2004, you seemed to mention Satan about nine times per song, but after, your lyrics seemed to become became much more cryptic, biblical, and apocalyptic.
Well, we see the Bible as a huge inspiration.
I think I read somewhere that you were experts.
I would not say “experts,” but I read it a lot and I find it very inspiring. There are some very fascinating and interesting stories there.
You did a concept album on Vlad the Impaler too, right?
Yeah, we did one album about his whole life. I would say it was a bit of a man-behind-the-myth project, but that was back in 1998 or something. I think a lot of people have dealt with it since, but it was kind of fresh to do it at that time. He was a very fascinating ruler for his time—how he sorted things out and how he worked. I’m just very inspired by historical happenings. I look at some things that fascinate me so much that it more or less creates music in my head. In my eyes, I write the soundtrack to those happenings.
I like the way you put that—writing the soundtrack to historical happenings. I take it you did something similar for your WWII- and Third Reich-themed albums?
Yes. Some things are so fascinating that when you see documentaries or you read history, it just happens to light a spark.
I know you took a little bit of backlash from the WWII theme, though.
Yeah. I don’t see the point in people reacting so badly to this. I don’t see the point. I don’t think it’s worth singing about anything else. It’s weird how you can sing about killing Christians or whatever and nobody reacts, but when you sing about a historical event, the whole world reacts. Other bands have done it before, so I don’t understand why you want to make a problem about it. If people read the lyrics, they can see that it’s an objective story about the way it happened.
Gaahl, former front man for your labelmates Gorgoroth, once made a comment to the effect that black metal wasn’t meant to reach an audience. He said it was “purely for our own satisfaction.” Considering how many people are standing outside in black leather jackets right now, this is tough to agree with. Has the mentality of black metal really changed that dramatically from when you started Marduk in 1990?
Well, in a way, I’d say. Of course I do it for myself. I do everything to satisfy myself, but I also see the reason to spread what I do as well. Otherwise I would never do it and I would never release an album. I think in black metal there is a lot of a strange sentiment where people don’t want to sell albums. Bands don’t want to release albums. They don’t want to tour. The reason for this is not that complicated. It’s because a lot of bands suck and have nothing to bring forth. This is why you would say that you don’t want your albums to come out. If you have a strong vision or idea, then why not get it out? I wouldn’t mind selling five million records as long as I’m loyal to what I do. Then, I’ll march across the world because that’s what I believe in.
When you started Marduk, you said that your goal was to become the most blasphemous metal band in the world. How’s that coming?
It doesn’t matter who’s the most blasphemous, there’s always going to be someone who could be more blasphemous. For me, it was a matter of being 17 years old and wanting to do something different than what everyone was doing at the time. It’s very much taken out of context. Being the most blasphemous is not the most important thing. It was a thought that we had at the time. People say that 20 years is a long time, but I don’t think it’s a long time. I have a strong vision and I think we as a band are as strong as we’ve ever been before.
Hmm . . . how do you feel about this Chicago weather? Does it remind you of home?
Actually, we haven’t gotten much snow at home yet. We have winter when we’re supposed to have spring, so it won’t really snow until January.
Nice. Well, have a good show.
OK. Thank you. Take care!