Vanhelgd’s latest album ‘Temple of Phobos’ is a monster of an album. This is a band that seem to be able to effortlessly combine heaviness and atmosphere into a single package of death metal goodness. It’s definitely one to check out, so make sure that you do.
Guitarist/vocalist Mattias Frisk spoke eloquently about his band, his music, and what’s important to him…
Transcending Obscurity (Nigel Holloway): Introduce us to Vanhelgd!
Vanhelgd (Mattias Frisk): Vanhelgd is a death metal band from Mjölby, Sweden, that has been around since 2007. We tend to lean more on the atmospheric than the brutal side and our music isn’t really technical advanced. I guess it’s fair to say that our roots are in the Scandinavian and north European tradition of death, doom and black metal. We don’t aim to be among the heaviest, fastest, most technical or most brutal bands around. We don’t want to make a party album for you and your drunk mates to jump around to in your living room before hitting the bar, if you think that’s what our take on death metal is about you missed the whole point. Vanhelgd isn’t a macho audio chainsaw massacre. We want you to feel bad. We want you to be a bit bored. We want the cold fingers of death and the foul cold breath of the grave to crawl beneath your skin and make you shiver. At the end of the day we write music that we like ourselves, if someone likes it its great but our goal is not to please fans, journalists or critics.
TO: What are your influences?
Vanhelgd: The stuff we grew up with, the stuff we found out later and the current stuff that we listen to. Besides music I get inspiration from art and literature, a sentence or an image can give ideas for a whole song.
TO: Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend
Vanhelgd: Tid – ‘Fix idé’. I got the opportunity to hear the new album and it’s really good! Pre-order it now!
Throne of Heresy – ‘Antioch’ is well-executed technical death metal without being mathematic.
I’m currently working on the artwork for Jonas’ (bass) other band King of Asgard. I got to hear the recording yesterday and its sounds great! Probably their best stuff so far.
Horrendous is developing death metal in a weird but awesome way. Like a punk-ish take on ‘Symbolic’ by Death. Both ‘Anareta’ and ‘Ecdysis’ are great albums! Lie in Ruins is a much underrated band in my opinion; their 2014 ‘Towards Divine Death’ is a hell of an album that I listen to a lot.
Dead Congregation – this is mandatory, the best death metal around these days, total death!
TO: Tell us about your latest release
Vanhelgd: ‘Temple of Phobos’ is an album that took form along the paths of the slower stuff on our last album ‘Relics of Sulphur Salvation’. Maybe it’s a bit more “closed” to the listener; I think you need to give it some spins before you get into it. The album is somewhat of a refinement of the aspects of Vanhelgd that has been around since day one. The third song we wrote for the band, “Avlad I synd” would have fit on ‘Temple of Phobos’ as well. I have seen a lot of talk about “changing direction” and “experimenting” but from our point of view I have to disagree, we are writing almost the same stuff we always done but the only difference on the new album is that we didn’t write any d-beat stuff and wrote more songs that are slow than we did on previous albums, but we had these kind of songs since day one. Maybe people just don’t listen carefully enough to hear stuff like this…
TO: How important is album artwork to you?
Vanhelgd: Since I work full-time as an artist and illustrator and my main occupation is creating artwork for metal bands I do of course think that the cover art is important. For example I worked with Miasmal, Maim, Vampire, Herder, Trap Them, Ghost, Night, Entrapment, Under the Church…Cover art for metal bands along with role playing game illustrations was what first got me in to art … even before me and Jimmy started our first band together.
The album cover can have a lot of different functions. The artwork adds something visual to the album and can have a lot of different functions. It sets the mood and gives you expectations before you even heard the music. Sometimes it makes you interested in the band, other times it makes you not want to listen to it at all. It can help to show continuity or show that the band changed direction. Some bands don’t seem to understand that a good album artwork has the potential to help the album to get noticed through the noise in an overcrowded genre. I made all the artwork and designs for Vanhelgd since the beginning but I have to admit that the first cover for ‘Cult of Lazarus’, the CD version, is hideous, the ugliest artwork I’ve done…But I guess it’s as with everything else when the band is new, you really don’t know what direction it will take and it takes time to figure out what you are doing and how the band actually works.
For ‘Temple of Phobos’ I wanted to depict a person in foetal position in a boat, manoeuvred by a cloaked oarsman, crossing the dark waters towards a temple. I was unable to get Arnold Böcklins Die Toteninsel from my mind during the process so I thought it was a better idea to just make it in that tradition rather than trying to create something less familiar. I think it works good with the lyrics and the all over mood of the album.
TO: What’s the process you use for writing songs?
Vanhelgd: We are deliberately writing songs that are a bit boring, stripped down and un-ornate so that you won’t lie back and admire stuff when we want you to feel uncomfortable. We almost always arrange the stuff together at the rehearsal place. I often come with a bunch of ideas for a song that we start with but it often turns out a way that I didn’t expect. We work on a song for quite a long time, reworking it, trying different riffs, trying different tempos and arrangements until it works, we often don’t have finished unrecorded songs since this process only leaves riffs behind.
TO: How do you think your music will progress in the future – will you continue to develop your doom side?
Vanhelgd: That is hard to tell, we never have a clear plan for the next album, and ‘Temple of Phobos’ came out a bit slower since the songs worked best in a slower tempo. We cut one song out that felt strange in the context. Maybe the next album will be all d-beat…I don’t know right now. We are not eager to get out of death metal as many bands seem today (the early 90s all over again) you won’t see us experimenting and being avant-garde…We are a death metal band, sometimes we do slower songs, sometimes faster…
TO: What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Vanhelgd: It depends on my mood since all the songs have a slightly different atmosphere. Today I would pick “Rejoice in Apathy” it’s quite direct and a classic Vanhelgd song, similar to “Where All Flesh Is Soil” from ‘Relics…’ and perhaps a bit like “The Final Storm” from ‘Church of Death’.
But the song I’m most happy with how it came out is “Allt hopp är förbi” (All hope is gone) the last song on the album which ends with Sofia Kempe’s superb vocals. We already worked on the riffs back on ‘Relics…’ but didn’t make it work so when we picked them up again for ‘Temple…’ we decided to try out what happens if we play them slower than intended and it came out great…On the last rehearsal before entering the studio we played the song in the black metal tempo in which it was initially written and it sounded cool to so we did a fast version of it too where Jimmy does all vocals and I did the backup. It’s a “hidden” track on the CD and the A-side on the 7”.
TO: With music becoming increasingly digital in nature, what’s your take on the digital/physical debate and the current state of the music industry?
Vanhelgd: Is that even still a debate? I saw some (kid?) on a forum wining on how ProTools destroyed music. I say it’s the other way around; when you can record at home there are a lot more possibilities for experiments and more people will be able to express themselves without having to spend a fortune in a studio.
TO: Playing live – essential or pointless?
Vanhelgd: I would say that playing live comes in third place for us after writing and recording music. We don’t tour, but we enjoy doing gigs now and then, preferably festivals. Me and Björn did a lot of shows for some gas, beers and food back in 99-03 when we played in The Jam Session, it was great then but that’s not possible for us these days economically, to take time off from work and ending up paying to play. That is one thing that actually bothers me a lot these days, that people expect you to play for almost nothing either to support their “scene” or to “promote the band”. I hate when everyone earns money on shows except the ones who actually made an effort, rehearsing, travelling, and going on stage playing songs that took months to write…Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t for the money we make music but at a certain point in your life you get sick of spending huge amounts of time and money on travelling, gear and recording and doing shows for free…The guys who own the lights and PA system, the security staff and the staff in the bar always get paid, why not ask them to work for free if it’s hard to get money for the band…
TO: What are the next steps for Vanhelgd
Vanhelgd: Well it’s been almost a year since we wrote any songs so it’s time to start working on the next album I guess…