Hosannas From the Basement of Hell
CoC chats with Morgan Håkansson of Marduk
by: Jackie Smit
Morgan Håkansson is one of black metal's true renegades. For the better part of two decades, Marduk -- the band he founded in 1990 -- has been fuelled by his instincts, his codex and his vision, with little or no regard for any trends sweeping any other crevice of the genre. The approach hasn't always been successful, sure -- both 2003's _World Funeral_, and its predecessor _La Grande Danse Macabre_ were only barely passable. But in 2004, after a line-up change that included the introduction of a frankly refreshing new vocalist in Mortuus, _Plague Angel_ served as a stark reminder of the aural carnage Marduk were capable of wreaking when on top form. The good news? Their latest opus, _Rom 5:12_, makes that record sound assiduously pedestrian. Sprawling and epic in scope, in addition to being unexpectedly eclectic, it is undoubtedly the most musically accomplished addition to Marduk's discography thus far. But before I even get into the reasons behind such a sudden creative shift, there's a personal matter I need to discuss with Morgan.

CoC: Before we even start this interview, let me just say how thoroughly pissed off I was to hear that Metallysee managed to have yet another of their tours (the European Excess of Evil tour, where Marduk was meant to be headlining) cancelled. What happened?

Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson: Man, those guys are just a horrendous booking agency. They've been causing us a lot of problems over the last two years, but we've been staying with them out of loyalty and because we've been working with them since 1994. You want it to work, but after this latest incident we just didn't have a choice. So we're booking a new European tour with a different agency for November or December, and that will run for about thirty or forty dates and it would also mean that we do the other countries first.

CoC: So what's the deal with these guys? They've just caused the cancellation of the Belphegor tour, and I heard a rumour that Proscriptor from Melechesh was about to board the plane to Europe when he was told that the Excess of Evil tour was going to be a no-go.

MH: Well, we actually tried to call them to find out what was going on, and they wouldn't return our calls. I actually found out through our sound technician, who lives in London, that the tour was cancelled -- and he had heard it from someone who no longer works for the company! I think just about everyone in each of the bands that were meant to be on the tour tried to get hold of the guys in Metallysee, and they just turned off their phones and didn't answer any e-mails. That's the professional way of dealing with a problem. They haven't even put it on their website yet that the tour has been cancelled. So I'm sure that there are people out there who are still under the impression that the tour is going to be happening. It's unbelievable. But we're working with a new company based out of Sweden now, they're great guys and they really know what they're doing. They actually worked on the Immolation tour that's just gone through Europe.

CoC: Fine then, on to the music. I think that my response to hearing _Rom 5:12_ for the first time was probably quite similar to a lot of people, in that I could hardly believe that I was listening to the same band. There were definitely a fair few similarities, but the new material sounds so much more mature and so much more diverse. It's a truly multi-dimensional album.

MH: It is, and that was never really something that we planned in any way. We never sit down and plan to do an album that sounds a certain way. Our goal when we're writing is to always draw together our music and our lyrics and make the one reflect the other, and that's what happened here. I think that another major difference was the amount of work that we actually put into the production. We did it to an extent with _Plague Angel_, but here we were recording at a studio in our home town, and it made us all more relaxed and eased the schedule for everybody, which to me reflects in how the album turned out as well.

CoC: So why choose to do a concept album now?

MH: Well, it's not a purely conceptual album from the perspective that all the songs tell a story that all ties in together. I think there's more of a common theme running through everything; more of a red line running through each track reflecting the title. We actually had a number of titles while we were working on the record and none of it really captured what it was about. So I was working on lyrics that stemmed from the biblical idea that through sin came death, and that's really what the album is about. I think that phrase really captures the spirit of the album. The lyrics don't all fit together, but they certainly all have the same basic theme. It has to do a lot with the Baroque thinking of death, and at that time the people also returned to a lot of the medieval thinking -- the memento mori symbolism and so on.

CoC: It's interesting that you mention it, because there's a very visual element to this record, which is also driven home by the 44-page booklet that you've released with it.

MH: Absolutely. For me, things like paintings and sculptures inspire music in my head. I don't really care what other bands do -- we do what we do and it works for us.

CoC: You've mentioned that working with Mortuus (vocals) gave you a greater sense of creative freedom with this record. Can you expand a little on what you meant by that?

MH: His whole personality -- when I knew that we were going to change vocalists in 2003, he was the only guy I wanted. Of course I could have found someone else in the long-term, but I had heard the music that he'd worked on previously and I absolutely loved it. So I really set out to get him in the band and he and I worked really well together. We share the same philosophy and the same ideas; we just like creating music together, basically. When we brought him in for _Plague Angel_, about 95% of the music was already complete, and so his participation was limited. But this time round, he was part of the songwriting process from the beginning and he could do a lot in terms of bringing new ideas for lyrical arrangements, vocal patterns and so forth to the table. Personally I think he has one of the most powerful and emotive voices I have ever heard in my life. With _Rom 5:12_, he could write a lot of the lyrics too, and I think that when you're singing your own stuff, it just allows you to be that much more dedicated to the material. That in turn really helped add to the power of the new songs, because for me music is 50% and lyrics are 50% and they need to come together to form one armoured unit, so to speak.

CoC: _Rom 5:12_ was the last record to feature your former drummer, Emil Dragutinovic. With him operating almost as a session drummer on the new record, was there ever any question over whether or not he'd participate when he first announced that he was going to be going?

MH: Yeah, well, we told him that we wanted him to stay on to do the drums for the new album and he did about six songs. I found another local drummer to do a few different parts to some of the songs and to re-record a few parts that I wanted to re-arrange. So I ended up working with two drummers on the recording.

CoC: Aside from that, did you approach the writing and recording of the new record any differently to what you've done the last couple of albums?

MH: Not really. This was probably one of the smoothest recordings we've ever done. We worked on it for quite a while, but we didn't spend more than about ten days actually recording in total. When I work, I tend to be able to finish up a lot of things in a short space of time. I know what I want before I go into the studio, so I have everything ready to go ahead of time. It took me about a minute to get my guitar sound, for example. I just came in and put down my Marshall amplifier, plugged it in and got the same sound that I normally use in the rehearsal room. So, the album was kept purposefully basic. We normally used to layer our guitars; we didn't do it this time -- just one guitar track on either speaker the way that Slayer do. For me that helped the music be even more dynamic, because it allows you to hear everything that's going on rather than have one particular instrument drown out everything else.

CoC: In reflection, how did you feel about _Plague Angel_ as an album?

MH: Well, I like all our albums. For me they're all milestones in different ways and we stand on those. Some people may look at things differently, but the fact is that I put my heart and soul and energy into every one of them, so they are all special to me in one way or another. There are always things that I would have wanted to do differently, but I'm still proud of all our albums. The one thing that I like most is that whenever I read reviews or I'm talking to fans, they always seem to have different favourite albums, and that's great. You look at another band like Slayer or like Exodus -- those guys could go out year after year and just do the same album and people would love it. By the same token, when it comes to evolving one's sound, we've never made a specific decision to want to do something completely different -- even with this album. I always just follow my inspiration and let the energy flow. I'd rather be known as the Motorhead of black metal and keep doing what we do. Marduk is never going to become a prog-rock band, or a space-metal band or whatever. We let our inspiration lead us and that's it.

CoC: After ten albums of following that modicum, what continues to inspire you now?

MH: It's just having the desire and the need to want to keep doing this. It's hard to say why or what that is exactly, but I've always just felt compelled to want to make this music, and that's really the driving force within me. Every time we finish up an album, I'm already thinking up ideas for the next album, and that's the case this time round as well. So as long as I have that feeling and that desire, I will always keep doing this.

CoC: It's turning out to be a very big year for black metal in terms of big name releases -- Mayhem have put out their new record, you've done yours and Darkthrone are going to be coming out with _F.O.A.D._ later this year. What are your observations on the genre as it is now?

MH: I think it's strong, because there are still a lot of dedicated bands in the scene and there are a lot of fresh, hungry new bands coming in as well. A lot of people keep talking about the old days and how great it was in the Eighties and whatever, but I think that there are bands out there now who are probably even more dedicated to their cause, and that's great. Of course, there's a lot of weak things as well. When you get a flood of good bands, you'll always have a handful of good ones and a heap that are worthless, but that's just how things are. I listen to what I feel is sincere and genuine; I believe in good and bad music, whatever it is.

CoC: What are your thoughts on the elitist movement in black metal, which seems to be becoming particularly more prevalent among journalists at the moment, where it looks to be a case of any band not releasing their record on the most obscure label or on strictly limited cassettes is immediately shot down as either not being "black metal" or selling out?

MH: I think it's up to everyone to decide what they like or what they don't like; the only thing that's important to me is what I like and what I do. I don't have any interest in being part of an elitist scene and I don't agree with that thinking at all.

CoC: So, what's next for Marduk now?

MH: We've already started to record some new demos for the next record, and we're also going to be doing a couple of festivals this summer. We're playing Sweden Rock, we're playing Metal Town, one in Italy. In August we'll head to Australia, we also want to do Eastern Europe and hopefully before the end of the year we'll finally get to go to the States.

CoC: The line-up that you're playing with now is significantly different to the Marduk that delivered _World Funeral_ for example. How happy are you with your current guys and how stable do you feel this line-up is?

MH: I'm extremely happy. Back when I was going to change vocalists, a lot of people were asking me whether I was concerned or whether I had any fears, but I knew exactly who I wanted and what I wanted. So I am really confident in the band I'm playing with right now; this is my band, and if anyone knows what's good for it, it's me. Some people may say that I'm hard to work with or whatever, but I don't agree. I just need to work with people who share the same views and the same philosophies that I have toward making music. I need people who are hungry and who want to do this. I don't want to have to drag someone to the rehearsal room or to the studio or whatever. I want people who are dedicated, and if they're not, then I'd be happy to let them go.

CoC: Morgan, thanks very much for your time.

MH: Thank you, and I hope that we'll finally be able to see you in the UK sometime.

(article submitted 10/6/2007)


CHATS
11/4/2009 J Smit Marduk: Unholy Blasphemies
1/31/2008 J Smit Marduk: Echoes of Decimation
11/29/2004 J Smit Marduk: The Plague Rages On
3/14/1999 D Rocher Marduk: Far Beyond the Grace of God
ALBUMS
7/1/2012 J Carbon 7.5 Marduk - Serpent Sermon
6/26/2011 J Carbon 6.5 Marduk - Iron Dawn
10/24/2009 J Ulrey 8.5 Marduk - Wormwood
5/1/2007 J Smit 9.5 Marduk - Rom 5:12
11/29/2004 J Smit 8.5 Marduk - Plague Angel
5/13/2001 M Noll 8 Marduk - La Grande Danse Macabre
8/12/1999 D Rocher 9 Marduk - Panzer Division Marduk
4/13/1998 S Hoeltzel 7.5 Marduk - Nightwing
8/12/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Marduk - Live in Germania
10/11/1996 S Hoeltzel 8 Marduk - Glorification
10/11/1996 S Hoeltzel 9 Marduk - Heaven Shall Burn When We Are Gathered
GIGS
12/2/2007 J Smit Marduk / Vreid A Doomsday Celebration
5/13/2001 M Noll Marduk / Mortician / Vader / God Dethroned / Amon Amarth / Mystic Circle / Sinister / ...And Oceans / Bal Sagoth Baptized by Fire and Beer
8/12/2000 M Noll Deicide / Immortal / Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Vader / Dark Funeral / Hate Eternal / Vomitory There's No Mercy in Satan's Oven
1/15/2000 P Azevedo Marduk / Angelcorpse / Enthroned Night of the Living Corpses
1/15/2000 M Noll Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Angelcorpse / Aeternus / Defleshed Two Corpses, One God and No Flesh
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