Interview: Necrophobic’s Joakim Sterner
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You may know Mike Hill best as the front man of Brooklyn experimental metal band Tombs. He also shares his thoughts with us here on Invisible Oranges from time to time. Mike Hill took a break from prepping the followup to Tombs' 2011 masterpiece, Path of Totality, to talk to Necrophobic's Joakim Sterner about Necrophobic's new album, Womb of Lilithu, and what's going on with Necrophobic in 2013. - WM
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Since 1989, Necrophobic have been navigating the cold waters of extreme metal and, along with Diessection, were pioneers in “blackened death metal.” They were part of an inner core of bands that had a markedly darker, bleaker approach to extreme metal that set them apart from most of the burgeoning death metal scene. Founded in Stockholm, Sweden by Joakim Sterner and David Parland, the band has experienced a series of lineup changes that has featured many notable players in the Swedish death and black metal scene such as Robert Senneback (Unleashed), Johan Bergeback (Nifelheim) and many others.
After six full-lengths, several EPs, singles, and compilation tracks on various labels, 2013 found Necrophobic on a new label, Season of Mist, and with a new album, Womb of Lilithu, possibly the band’s most powerful release to date. The record is a tightly produced, intense bolt of dark energy cutting a demonic swathe through the blackness of the void.
The band seemed poised for a death blow on the world of metal fandom until some unwanted notoriety reared its head when long-time vocalist Tobias Sidegard was arrested for abuse of his wife and children. The whole sordid story can be found elsewhere on the we, including statements from the band on their Facebook page and statements from Sidegard. After a verdict of guilty was delivered, he was promptly dismissed from the band, indicating that Necrophobic have no intention of letting this incident stand in their way.
Founder Joakim Sterner took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions and give us some insight into the band and the new album, Womb of Lilithu out now on Season of Mist.
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Necrophobic has existed for over two decades. How has the band evolved over the years?
We’ve become better songwriters, better live artists and are very confident about our style. We feel that we still are hungry to create and we still do music at a very high level. I personally think that there are not so many bands around these days that have been going on for as long as we have. How can I say this about the band, without sounding too cocky? But yet, that’s how I feel. We have this seventh studio album out and I’m damn proud of it.
How is Womb of Lilithu a progression from the last full-length, Death to All?
We have elements that we have developed throughout the years that you instantly recognize as Necrophobic, but we have some more ingredients here and there on this new album that makes it grander, more powerful than before. I strongly believe that this can be a new classic album. It may take more than just a few listenings, but I believe this will grow on you. The progression would be the comeback to the more dimensional sound and structure of the songs and how it takes the listener on a trip into the depths of our minds, presented with over 60 minutes of darkness and evil. The last album was more direct in your face, while this new beast consists of more varieties and arrangements.
I definitely understand what you mean. The record is very powerful and has an immediate impact yet, as you listen to it, you discover new dimensions. What influences have entered your consciousness that may have prompted this evolution?
A big part of this development is because of Fredrik (Folkare). He came into the band with a fresh mind and wrote music from his views on how he sees Necrophobic, so to speak. Of course he knew the musical history of the band and our “rules” of what works and what’s not working, but yet, a new chapter has begun.
How do you approach the writing process?
It’s nothing that can be planned. You have a project ahead of you and you have some bits and pieces of music that you discuss what will be kept and what will be thrown away. Then there comes a time when you know the direction the rest of the music will go.
I have to say that there is no “formula” on how a song is created. It differs from song to song. Sometimes, there is this just one hell of a great riff that you have to create a whole song around. Sometimes nothing more happens to the riff and it’s placed “on hold” until you come up with something else that fits together with it. That can take weeks or months. Sometimes you can create a song from scratch and have a whole song ready in just a day. Sometimes you work alone, sometimes together.
Who is the primary songwriter? Who comes up with the riffs?
Fredrik is the main songwriter, but all the other of us contribute with music as well. The lyrics are mainly written by Tobias on this album, but he co-wrote some of them with some other musician friends and I think Alex co-wrote one lyric also.
Do you record demo versions of your songs as part of the writing?
Yes, we do. Some of us have recording abilities for pre-productions at home and that’s great. We can all get the idea of the song and maybe complete it. Today, we don’t spend as many hours in the rehearsal studio as we did back in the early days. Our lives are a bit different today, so having “demos” or “pre-productions” to listen to is like spending time with the band when you maybe are at a totally different place.
What were the circumstances surrounding your move to Season of Mist?
They saw our performance at the Norwegian festival Hole in the Sky in 2009, if I remember correctly. They were impressed and approached us afterwards and wanted to talk about the future, as we, at that time, were on Regain Records. Regain Records all of a sudden was unreachable and later on, we found out that the label was bankrupt. In late summer of 2011, we then signed to Season of Mist.
So far has the move been positive? Season of Mist has had a very high profile in Europe historically. In the States it has been gaining a lot of momentum with the excellent caliber or bands on its roster.
Yes, very positive. You see it also when there it gets close to the album’s release. There are many different people at the label working together. We’re not used to that from before; it is very professional.
Where did the interest in anti-Christianity and Satanism arise from? I see a very strong influence from Slayer in Necrophobic, but, as the years have revealed to us, Slayer were not actually Satanists.
For me, it began in school when we started to have this disgusting religion teacher that preached to the class; me and some friends started to question it in different ways. It also came from the music I was listening to, and I started to read more about it.
What were some of the ideas in Christianity that you were opposed to?
I think all religions are against free thought and behavior, in short. Too many “don’ts”, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t strengthen a human being, it’s really doing the opposite.
I represent what they call “dark”. I am that “filthy” mind that do their “don’ts”…
What was some of the reading you did regarding Satanism and Anti-Chrisitanity?
Some of the reading I did was the Satanic Bible and Necronomicon, but that was also very symbolic back then and stuff you easily picked as a youngster.
What was some of the music that you were listening to at this time?
I listened to as much as possible during the early days of the underground. It was of course bands that were well known like Venom, Bathory, Slayer, Metallica, Sepultura, Destruction, Sodom and bands like that, but also these unknown Swedish bands like Mephisto and Morbid and many others.
What inspired you to start playing drums?
I had played some drums in school and a girlfriend’s little brother had a drum kit in their basement that I played on a few times. When we formed this band, drums were the only instrument that I could choose to be able to start rehearsing. Guitar and bass was already decided and not an option at that time.
Who were some of the drummers that inspired you?
In the death and black metal scene, it was Nicke (Nihilist/Entombed), Chris (Autopsy) and Igor (Sepultura), but I also really like the style of Dave (Slayer), Nicko and Cliff (Iron Maiden) and Vinnie (Dio).
When I think of Necrophobic, I also think about Dissection, another great Swedish band. Jon Nodtveidt provided guest vocals on some of your early material. Was there a kinship between both bands?
It was the music that connected us. I came to know Jon at a very early stage when this genre was new in the late '80s, when both of us were starting up our bands. Both of our bands were early with the style we did, how it sounded, how it looked and we came to have a mutual respect for each other. The guest vocals you refer to are on the song “Nailing the Holy One”, from the Darkside album, released in 1997. We had guests on the debut album and thought that we should continue this “tradition” (and we still do it today) and I simply called Jon and asked if he was interested in coming up to Stockholm and do some singing in the studio. He agreed to do it, without any doubt.
How has the legal problems with vocalist Tobias Sidegard impacted the band?
The short explanation and the only one that I feel like doing is that it resulted in a decision made for the band to be able to continue, and without him in the band.
Are there any plans to come back to North America to support Womb of Lilithu?
We certainly want to come back to America. We have no plan as of right now, but if the right tour or any other opportunity comes up, we’re there. But as you probably know already, it’s really expensive for a band from our part of the world to come there and play. Let’s hope that Womb of Lilithu will sell great in your country and the word of mouth makes it happen.
What would be an ideal package tour for Necrophobic?
It would be cool to do a package of some great Swedish acts together, like some years ago, there was a tour, at least here in Europe, with Entombed/Dismember/Unleashed/Grave and that would be cool to do, but with bands more in our style, so to speak. A package with Marduk/Watain/Necrophobic/Nifelheim would be cool.