In this installment I intentionally paired two longstanding bands who’ve shifted their approach/sound significantly during the course of their careers, not always to their fans’ approval. Katatonia released their eighth album Night Is The New Day toward the end of 2009. It landed at No. 11 on my year-end list. Rotting Christ’s excellent Aealo is out in March. In addition to these interviews, you’ll also find a couple songs form Norway’s Shining (one featuring Enslaved), some new Darkthrone, information about Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s Triptykon, the next chapter in Alcest, the High On Fire tour, etc.
Since forming in 1991, Katatonia, always fronted by Jonas Renkse, shifted from atmospheric, melancholic, immersive and moving blackened doom to a cleaner, more stadium-ready progressive template. Their eighth full-length Night Is The New Day came came out in November via Peaceville. Some people love it. Some people can’t deal with the new direction, a refined take on the more upbeat Viva Emptiness and The Great Cold Distance and the sounds that emerged between them. I find myself in an odd position: Their first two albums — 1993’s Dance Of December Souls and 1996’s Brave Murder Day — are two of my favorite records ever. As mentioned before the jump, I liked Night Is The New Day enough to list it at the No. 11 spot of my best of 2009. But I like it in a different way than I do those earlier outings. (Like I tried explaining in the first HTC when streaming “Forsaker” and then in the comments section a couple months ago.) It’s not a “guilty pleasure,” but it’s also not something I recommend to folks without qualification. Yes, parts of it are new metal-sounding. Yes, the vocals are very very clean. Yes, it’s also a great listen. Check out “Day And Then The Shade” (below) to see what I mean (from both sides). I spoke with Jonas Renkse.
STEREOGUM: Katatonia is a different band now than you were in the early years. I’m not the first to say this, obviously. Do you ever listen to Dance Of December Souls or Brave Murder Day? If so, what do you think of them at this point? Either way, does it feel like ancient history?
JONAS RENKSE: Not really, but they’re there. I’m proud of them. They represent our ultimate ideas at the time and there’s no point in denying them just because we sound different now.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of stylistic shifts: What was it like working on the last Bloodbath album and then finalizing Night…?)
JR: No problem, the sounds are so far apart … there’s no clash.?
?STEREOGUM: What do you make of the recent mainstream interest in early ’90s Second Wave black metal? It’s interesting to me that certain bands from that period don’t exist anymore and ones that do — Darkthrone or Enslaved — are doing something different right now. I realize you guys weren’t a straight-up black metal band, but the influence was present.
JR: I think it is moving beyond what was the original cause … secluded music for secluded people, kind of. But people who got into black metal two years ago are probably listening to something else right now, whatever is hot at the moment. Today the term “lifestyle” don’t seem to exist. It’s more like “monthstyle.”? ?
STEREOGUM: Why did it take three years between The Great Cold Distance and Night Is The New Day? You were moving at a pretty speedy clip before that.
JR: We were kind of occupied with touring, me and Anders did a couple of Bloodbath albums, families expanded … all kinds of stuff. And in the middle of that we have the pressure of topping what we felt was our best album so far. Took a while to adapt to the songwriting-mode again. But after that it was kind of smooth.?
?STEREOGUM: Do you see Night… as being connected to The Great Cold Distance sonically or thematically?
JR: Yeah, they are connected, it’s the same band, after all. The new one is focusing more on textures and atmospheres, though.?
STEREOGUM: What is the concept, lyrically, behind the title? It seems like a simple idea at first, but the more you dig, the more there is … Is this tied into any sort of idea of the apocalypse? There’s “Nephilim,” too….”Day And Then The Shade.” The lyrics of “Inheritance.”
JR: Yes, the apocalypse is inevitable. It is difficult not to touch that subject, seeing how fucked up the world is. Religious wars, people fighting because of fairytales. On the other side: money, fame, celebrities … everything blown up to unbelievable proportions. It’s a joke. It’s horrible. I am amused.
?STEREOGUM: All that said, there also seems to be personal relationships — and that sort of loss — threaded throughout … personal apocalypse, maybe?
JR: The personal side is always there, it’s what I feed from. I have tried to write in a more poetic way on this album, something that I have kind of neglected on the last few albums. Don’t know if it was hit or shit though, but I’m fairly satisfied with the lyrical content.?
STEREOGUM: The lyrics include a number of references to the sky or weather, etc. This is across a number of songs. Is this a concept album of any sort or are you just focused on certain lyrical themes?
JR: It goes hand in hand with what I just said about the poetic thing. I like weather … different weather creates different emotions within me. It gives me inspiration; it can bring back memories that are worthy of going through again even if it’s painful.
?STEREOGUM: What’s the story behind “Onward To Battle”? It presents a beautiful image/vignette.
JR: It’s hard to say … I don’t like explaining too much, it all becomes so banal. But thank you! I think I know what you mean. I just loved the contrast between the powerful title and the chorus that is very “discouraged”.
STEREOGUM: “Day & Then The Night Shade” seems to move us toward a triumphant ending … an overcoming of sorts. True? That said, the video wasn’t necessarily pointing toward anything uplifting. What was the concept there?
JR: I agree the song is maybe more uplifting than the majority of the album, but to me it still has very melancholic undertones. The video was Lasse Hoiles interpretation of the song, visually I think it works. It was done with a very tight deadline and Lasse was kind enough to jump onto the project with an open mind.
STEREOGUM: How do “Forsaker” and “Departer” work together … as bookends?
JR: “Departer” was more or less written to be the last song on the album. When I had the intro going it just felt obvious. Then I wanted to adapt the whole song into that mode. “Forsaker” is a perfect opener … great bookends if you ask me!?
STEREOGUM: Any plans for a US tour?
JR: There are always plans. Nothing is settled yet but we will come over in 2010, that’s for sure!
The Greek band Rotting Christ started making raw black metal in 1987, but have since shifted and expanded their sound, creating melodic and stadium-sized but still pleasingly gnarled sounds. Their 10th album, the excellent Aealo, follows 2007’s Theogonia and then one-ups it. It’s a hugely ambitious collection that overlays traditional Greek choirs (and a Diamanda Galas guest appearance) with what you’ve come to expand from the band, only in bigger, catchier form. I spoke with frontman/guitarist Sakis Tolis via email. Note: Aealo’s release date was pushed back from 2/15 to 3/9, so Season Of Mist is holding off on MP3s. For now, take a listen at MySpace. Check back here soon for something you can download.
STEREOGUM: Rotting Christ’s been around for 20+ years. Aealo is your tenth album. How do you keep things exciting for yourselves?
SAKIS TOLIS: We’ve just passed 21 years and walk on the 22nd! Bro, I do not know what excites me still, and I do not hide that this is an important self-criticism that I often have with myself … I am a metal fanatic. I am a metal fundamentalist. I can’t find any other explanation!??
STEREOGUM: Aealo — like Theogonia — features distinct Greek folk elements. The female choirs work beautifully, I think — and not how people might expect. It makes things more intense/not ethereal or precious. How did ?you find the right meeting point for these different sounds?
ST: This is the result of really deep thought… I tried to find untrodden and unexplored paths of my soul. I searched a lot, I philosophized a lot, and I came up with a more ethnic album [that is] still faithful to our roots.??
STEREOGUM: Magus from Necromantia contributes vocals. Is this a nod to your more straight-up black metal past?
ST: We adore our past … This drives us in the future. When I finished composing “Pir Threontai,” I felt like Magus’s voice could fit very well with the song’s atmosphere and could lift it up. It is nice to work with contributors from the past, with people who have built their own brick in the metal wall.
STEREOGUM: The Diamanda Galas contribution is clear right away. The first time I listened it caught me by surprise, but it makes sense. How did you get her to contribute to a cover of her “Orders From The Dead”?
ST: I contacted her. She is Greek and when I had the idea to cover her (maybe the most difficult thing in music!) I dropped her an e-mail with my idea. (“Orders From The Dead” was one of the songs that I always wanted to cover — I consider it as one of the most soulful songs in history of music.) She replied positively, so I worked on her song, on her voice, on her lyrics as they are on her album … It was really difficult. In the end, I am more than honored that the mistress of darkness found the result as one of the most attractive songs. It was a big experience for me.
STEREOGUM: There are other guests as well — again, mostly vocalists. I like the focus on voice. Can you discuss the importance of the variety of voices on Aealo?
ST: Yes, there are several guest appearances on this album. Specifically, experimental artists that are friends of mine and that I have a personal connection with. When I was ending up with one song I was thinking which artist could lift up each song. We had the following participants in the following songs: Diamanda Galas on “Orders From The Dead”; Alan Nemtheanga (Primordial) on “Thou Art Lord”; Magus Wampyr Daoloth (Necromantia) on song “Nekron Iahes”; Stavros (Dirty Grandy Tales) on songs “Thou Art Lord” and “Fire Death And Fear”; Spiros & Efi (Daemoneia Nymphe) on “???????? ??????”; and Pleiades (Greek traditional choir specialized in lament songs) on “Aealo,” “dub-sa?-ta-ke,” “Fire Death And Fear,” “Santa Muerte,” and “Orders From The Dead.”
STEREOGUM: There are also various traditional/”non-metal” instruments. How did you go about making these arrangements?
ST: I did everything by myself. I am also a fan of ethnic music — music that comes from strange corners of this planet — so I made some arrangements and adapted it to our music … instruments that can create a dark atmosphere and fit with the general dark atmosphere of the album.??
STEREOGUM: In both cases — the traditional vocals/instruments — they seem to bring a sort of thematic cohesion/connectedness to the record. An actual “Greek Chorus.” True?
ST: Yes, it is true, and I am glad that you can feel this. I am glad that you can feel those real choirs specialized in lament songs and they have their musical roots back in ancient Greece. I prefer to work this time with real thing instead of digital keyboards. I wanted to make the album more primitive and more human!??
STEREOGUM: Going along with this idea of connectedness: “Nekron Iahes…” and “…Pir Threontal” appear to make up a sentence or phrase?
ST: Yes …The voice of the dead … Sounds like fire … You are the first to realize that. It seems that you searched deep into our album. I’m glad.
STEREOGUM: What does “Aealo” mean? How does the word reflect upon the album’s contents?
ST: “Aealo” is the transfer of the ancient Greek word ???? into Latin characters. It means thresh/catastrophe/destruction/The Fallen and has to do with the musical and lyrical concept of the album. “Aealo” will be the feeling after listening our album.
STEREOGUM: Can you discuss the idea behind “Thou Art Lord”? Tongue in cheek?
ST: Thou Art Lord…You are our Lord…we fight for our lord, we fight for our religion, war about religion … even nowadays. That sucks.
STEREOGUM: In the same vein, how does “Santa Muerte” fit into the overall theme of the record? “Saint Death.”
ST: We are a multilingual band and we like to have titles in several languages. Concerning Santa Muerte: More or less it has the same idea as “Thou Art Lord” … We fight for the saint for the holiness that brings only Death…
STEREOGUM: What does “dub-sag-ta-ke” mean?
ST: It is a curse in a dead language inspired from Summerian civilization. We didn’t mention [it in] the lyrics. A curse is always a curse and we leave it well hidden in the time limbo where it belongs!??
STEREOGUM: The national pride on the album works well with the guest vocals from Nemtheanga. How did you decide to use him on the record?
ST: Alan is a Metal Brother of mine and when I was composing “Thou Art Lord” I said to myself that his voice would fit very well with the atmosphere of the song. So I asked him and he accepted. Working with Alan is a pleasure … And yes, it is the first time you can hear the English accent in Rotting Christ’s music!
STEREOGUM: As far as other Greek acts, have you heard Dead Congregation? Amazing band.
ST: Yes, they are doing a remarkable job, like many other new comers from this area. Just press in Google “Greek Metal scene” and I am sure that you will find too many interesting metal artists down here.??
STEREOGUM: To riff on “Orders Of The Dead”: Do you believe the world is?presently going up in flames?
ST: The world was, is ,and will be going up in flames … Life is a battle and we are here to fight till we go up in flames.
STEREOGUM: Finally, with all those guest vocalists, why not Dave Mustaine? (Note: The Megadeth frontman and Born Again Christian canceled a Greek date with Rotting Christ because of their name and Satanic background.)
ST: I am pretty sure next time … We have seen too many changes in this life … Why not Dave, the Satanist?
I liked Shining’s 2005 In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster. Their fourth album Grindstone was interesting, too. (I’m talking about the Norwegian jazz-metal weirdos Shining, not the Swedish suicidal metal project of Niklas Olsson, though am really into the newish Skitliv, have been listening to the slept-on VI – Klagopsalmer a lot, and keep asking people when the hell VII – Född Förlorare’s out). The band’s followup to Grindstone,Blackjazz, is their most metallic so far, but maintains the skronk weirdness. I mean, the title suggests that, but it’s true. See, for instance, the lead single “Fisheye,” a song actually best enjoyed after blistering opener “The Madness and the Damage Done,” but here goes:
Shining – “Fisheye” (MP3)
As far as another oddball mash, one that showcases the jazz-metal divide equally, their cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” features guest vocals from Enslaved’s Grutle Kjellson. (Speaking of Enslaved, they’ve started recording a followup to the excellent Vertebrae.)
Blackjazz is out via The End.
Darkthrone get more and more compelling. Their recent scuzzed-out crusty punk/metal albums — Dark Thrones and Black Flags and F.O.A.D., especially — are so much fun. The duo’s releasing full-length 14 (via Peaceville) this spring: The self-recorded Circle The Wagons will show up on vinyl 3/8 and then as regular and special-edition CD on 4/6. You can pre-order the vinyl now at Peaceville. it comes in an edition of 2,000. The tracklist:
01 “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You” ??
02 “Running for Borders”
03 “I am the Graves of the 80s”
04 “Stylized Corpse”
05 “Circle the Wagons?”
06 “Black Mountain Totem?”
07 “I am the Working Class?”
08 “Eyes Burst at Dawn?”
09 “Bränn Inte Slottet”
Dennis Dread, who did the art for Dark Thrones and F.O.A.D handled the visuals again (see below). Fenriz’s two cents:
The new metal decade starts with our album. It is a message to the invaders of our metal domain to circle their wagons! With our own brand of heavy metal/speed metal-punk we are a constant ambush on the modern overground metal traitors. Join us in our fight against instant gratification, and let’s see who stands when the smoke clears.
Heavy Rotation: I’ve been listening to Negur? Bunget’s Maiestrit (Prophecy), the re-recording of their Maiastru Sfetnic, quite a bit. (I talk with Negru about it in the next HTC, so keep watch. You’ll also find some ifno in the previous installment, if you missed it the first time around.) Others…. Ihsahn – After (Candelight): The ex-Emperor frontman Vegard Tveitan builds upon 2008’s angL, upping the excitement and intensity and digging deeper into progressive metal overdriven with his great anguished vocal chops. And saxophone. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (Century Media/Prowling Death): If you thought Celtic Frost’s comeback album Monotheist ruled, please raise your hand. If your hand is not raise, leave the room. As you likely know, Triptykon is Tom Gabriel Warrior’s new post-second-Celtic-frost-breakup band. The new album Eparistera Daimones is crushing. The artwork’s by Celtic Frost regular H.R. Giger and New York-based artist Vincent Castiglia. It’s below. Now listen at MySpace. (And keep your eyes peeled for Only Death Is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer and Early Celtic Frost 1981-1985 by Fischer (with Martin Eric Ain).
Am also regularly returning to Celestiial – Where Life Springs Eternal (Bindrune), Urgehal – Ikonoklast (Season Of Mist); Temple Of Baal – Lightslaying Rituals (Agonia); Hooded Menace – Never Cross The Dead (Profound Lore); and a bunch of oldies, but especially Candlemass’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Ancient Dreams. I just received Ècailles De Lune, Alcest’s long-awaited followup to Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde, so still digesting. That said: Darker than Souvenirs. Great so far. It’s out 4/20 via Prophecy. This is what it looks like:
I just got word today that Inquisition’s playing Europa (Brooklyn) on 4/23 with Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, Agrath, and Dimentianon. Tickets are pricey, but worth it: A friend and I booked the Seattle duo in Long Island City a couple years ago (with Krallice and Dagon) and they completely slayed. Mark your calendar.
And… I’m happy to announce, too, that Haunting The Chapel is co-sponsoring the upcoming High On Fire Snakes For The Divine tour with Decibel, a magazine I actually read (and enjoy). More on that soon. For now, check out the dates at MySpace.
Before then, though, I’m heading off to Norway for the 2010 by:Larm festival. Stereogum organized a night of music Friday 2/19 at Stratos, Oslo. Metal fans in the area should check out ALTAAR, who play at 11:20. I’ll be DJ-ing between the acts. Feel free to ask for a Darkthrone block. Or an Immortal retrospective. Outside of that, Shining are playing as well. Etc. I’ll be filing mini-HTC posts and Tweets and etc over the new few Nordic days.