Mass Worship’s Dismal Riffs Burst Forth from “Portal Tombs” (Interview)
Swedish metal/hardcore collective Mass Worship, whose sound is defined by complex and layered riffs stacked on top of Savannah’s sludgy sensibility with a little Gothenberg melodicism in the mix, dropped their sophomore album Portal Tombs this past Friday. The album is a frosty blast of Scandinavian scorn that doesn’t mind shifting tempos as evidenced by tracks like "Revel in Fear" and "Orcus Mouth" among others, and the duality of the music lends itself to the surprise factor on first listen. The anticipation of these shifts on future listens becomes a crash course in proper heavy songwriting.
Featuring contributions from Napalm Death's Barney Greenway, Jonas Stallhammar of At the Gates, and Jonas Renske of Katatonia, this album isn't lacking in terms of extreme metal star power, but that doesn't mean it's the sole focus of the record. A little bit of the Swedish hardcore sound meets the crust that made a few bands from the PNW and West Coast proper such a force to be reckoned with in the 2010s, albeit with more of a punk edge that makes sense considering several members’ backgrounds is exactly that. The band also pulls off a long form closer, "Deliverance," notably set apart from the rest of the album which is relatively quick and to the point. Portal Tombs’ swirling maelstrom of negativity knows no bounds.
In a new interview with drummer Fred Forsberg, he discusses the band's name change, recording during the Pandemic, getting the proper guest musicians for a new album, and the inability to play live shows. He also discussed getting back on the road after such a long layoff, the records that made Mass Worship, some of their favorite tour memories and what it means to be an extreme metal band from Scandinavia in particular.
A lot has happened since the release of Mass Worship, want to elaborate on all of the happenings?
Yeah, bad timing but unfortunately a pandemic happened 3 months or so after the release of our debut. Fortunately we were lucky enough to get out on the road with Vader when there was a short opening in the European restrictions, as well as playing some shows here and there in Scandinavia where restrictions have been pretty chill all throughout. Other than that we’ve been staying busy working on the new record, which we’re extremely excited to finally get out there!
For those unfamiliar with the band, you previously went by City Keys, why the name change to Mass Worship?
City Keys started as a hardcore project with some friends of mine and Claes (Vocals), but ended up feeling extremely limiting in terms of creativity. So we decided to change the name (eventually also the line-up) and venture more into the metal territory. We see it as two separate bands—besides me and Claes, it's not the same members, not the same songs, not the same inspirations and aspirations.
What is the story behind Portal Tombs?
It's an exploration of the darker sides of the human psyche, how that affects society and conversely–how the darker sides of society affects our psyche. The search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence, and an attempt to capture the so hard to define, present emotional state of humanity in general and the western world nihilism in specific—how can we start believing in a better future? How can we give people new perspectives? That's Portal Tombs and Mass Worship in a nutshell — try to communicate new perspectives through the language of music. It’s dark, positively charged negativity.
How has Pandemic life impacted the band, whether it be positive or negative?
Not being able to tour is the big negative of course, both as a band and on a personal level (some of us make a living on touring in one way or the other). Can’t really see any positives right now.
What are 5 albums that contributed to Portal Tombs in particular?
From the top of my head: Mastodon's Crack the Skye, Meshuggah's Koloss, Opeth's Watershed, At the Gates' To Drink From the Night Itself, Tragedy's Darker Days Ahead—but other bands in completely different genres, as well as other types of art probably influences the writing more. Mass Worship wouldn’t sound the way we do if we only listened to and got inspired by metal, and there’s of course a whole heritage of old and new stuff that influences the way we do things.
You have a lot of Scandinavian lineage to live up to being from that part of the world—what was a seminal metal moment for you, one that let you know metal was calling?
Having a background in punk, for me personally it was more about being faced with the creative limitations of punk that opened me up to metal. I like the urgency and brutal honesty punk and crust brings, but it’s very limited in terms of creativity and progressiveness—that’s why I got drawn into metal early on, and why I always end up getting dragged back in. The bands that bridge the gap between punk and metal are also the ones that interest us the most I’d say, and Swedish bands in particular are extraordinarily good at doing that.
Was it easy to set up the guest musicians? How do you go about choosing who to work with?
We’ve made a lot of friends over the years, touring and playing shows with all kinds of bands, and most of the guests we have are through old connections like that. Dadde (Bass) used to play with Wolfbrigade, and they’ve played a lot with Napalm Death, hence Barney. Jonas Stålhammar from At the Gates is both a friend of ours and practices where we recorded the album, so he came by to do a solo. Niklas Sandin, who’s been shooting our latest videos and played a bunch of live shows with us, also plays in Katatonia—so that’s the connection to Jonas Renkse. All of these bands and people are so down to earth and cool, we just ask and hope for the best. It’s mind-blowing to have those kinds of guests on our record, and we’re of course endlessly grateful.
What are some of your favorite tour memories and bands that you have played with?
On the previously mentioned Vader tour 2020, we were supposed to play Turock in Essen (I think)—but the restrictions stopped us from playing that venue and the whole thing almost got called off. Last minute, it all got moved to a church not too far away—and that was by far the most epic show I’ve ever played in my life. The sound was probably not so favourable for the faster bands, but the atmosphere in there was undeniably other-worldly! Amazing show!
Portal Tombs released February 4th via Century Media.