Within the Sun's Own Shadow
CoC interrogates Tiamat's Johan Edlund
by: David Rocher
With their very brutal indeed first effort _Sumerian Cry_ (1991) set aside, Tiamat have devoted their now ten year long career to fusing the grinding low-case harshness of death metal with the ethereal tones of occult, atmospheric music; and it is probably this songwriting ideal which has constantly marked their albums with a certain form of touching fragility, as if Tiamat's music was constantly only just in maintaining its balance on the sharp edge of the wall between two musical genres. As they disclosed, in 1997, their rather unpleasantly surprising _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_ [CoC #21], Tiamat certainly lost a vast part of their following, as the heart-touching melancholy of tracks like "A Caress of Stars" (_Clouds_) or _Gaia" (_Wildhoney_) receded before more dreamy electronic sounds which many earlier fans failed to comprehend; for this reason, the release of their 1999 vintage _Skeleton Skeletron_ was as eagerly awaited as it was almost feared. Revelling in atmospheric cold-wave and gothic tones, Johan Edlund's latest collection of material is yet another surprise for Tiamat's following, and definitely not what one could have expected as a sequel to _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_, though I admit it has, in my eyes, actually failed to equal the beauty of Tiamat's former works. Regardless of my personal appreciation of Tiamat's new musical style, the opportunity to drift through a whole decade of violent atmospherics with soft-spoken mastermind Johan Edlund -- the only original member of Tiamat remaining in the band -- was an offer I could not sanely have turned down; and thus spake this very introspective musician...

CoC: I kind of lost track of Tiamat after the release of _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_, so could you tell me what's gone on since the release of this album?

Johan Edlund: The album was released in April '97 and we played a lot of festivals here in Europe that year, almost every weekend for the whole Summer, then we made a headline tour in the fall, which began at the end of September and continued until mid-November. Then we took a year off, basically -- we did nothing last year, just relaxed, tried to work on new songs, and we didn't really work hard until maybe November last year, when we started to work on the new album.

CoC: I guess _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_ was perceived as a pretty surprising change in Tiamat's style, which also happened to come in after a long period of silence, so how was this change accepted by the fans?

JE: It was very different, actually, some people really liked it, and some people were pretty shocked or maybe even pissed off about it. But I think it tends to get harder for us not to change, and I guess some people don't know what to expect from us, which is something cool -- if you think you know us and you know what to expect, you will probably be disappointed, because we will prove you wrong!

CoC: So you wouldn't really want to release albums in the ways of Bolt Thrower?

JE: We can't, really, we don't know how to do [that] -- sometimes I wish I could recreate the sound from an album we have done, but I actually don't know how to do that, so... So much is changing around you, and you develop as a musician, so I don't think it's really possible.

CoC: I perceived Tiamat's evolution as being equally important as Samael's, for instance -- what do you think of the way they have moved on to their very atmospheric, electronic sound?

JE: I think it was really the best way. It sounds very natural. I've known Samael for a very long time, we toured with them for the first time back in 1991, and I used to trade demos and stuff really long ago, so I've been following them even before they were signed to Century Media, and I think the steps they took were always very cool.

CoC: Compared to _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_, _Skeleton Skeletron_ sounds a lot more gothic -- how did you change to this kind of music?

JE: It's not really that I've been listening to a lot of gothic music, it's more that I really try to work at writing good songs, and songs you could almost play on an acoustic guitar and sing at a barbecue. The last album was a big experiment in sounds, we had a lot of new toys back then that we wanted to experiment with -- programs, keyboards and stuff --, it was all very exciting. But this time we did not feel the urge to do that, and I thought it would be more challenging to try to write very strong songs; and then, it just happened to turn out to sound maybe more like some English bands from the middle of the eighties than Pink Floyd -- Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, of course...

CoC: And about your new line-up -- Lars Skold played the drums on _Wildhoney_ and _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_, and I'm familiar with the name Anders Iwers, but I can't remember his musical history...

JE: He used to play guitar in Cemetary, and he was actually in Tiamat during a tour back in 1991, as a session member, so both members have a very long history with us.

CoC: When you tour now, what kind of audiences attend your concerts now that your music has evolved the way it has?

JE: We haven't played live with this album so far, so that's going to be interesting to see. It's working pretty well in the gothic scene, gothic DJ's are sending in reports that they play "Brighter Than the Sun" every day, it seems to work pretty well there, and I hope we can keep the old audiences as well. It has always changed, actually, it was strange to see when we toured on _Wildhoney_ and _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_, the audiences were always pretty mixed, actually. And I think that's pretty cool, anyway.

CoC: _Wildhoney_ seemed to be a concept which was oriented around nature -- can you tell me more about this?

JE: We'd just had a big discussion with some ex-members -- actually, we almost split the band before _Wildhoney_; there were five guys, and me and the bass player decided to continue, as we didn't share the same opinions about how we should continue. So me and the bass player decided to do something which would really be a lot closer to what we personally listened to at that time -- Pink Floyd and a lot of bands from the '70s, like King Crimson... And the problem was we were not experienced enough, or talented enough, to recreate the sound of Pink Floyd or so... So we started to do something interesting, I think, because we were in a way a death metal band that wanted to sound like Pink Floyd, and we did not really manage it, but we ended up somewhere in between. That made a very original album, that is actually probably even better than blue-printing one of your favourite bands. It's a bit of a happy failure, because you struggle for something -- I mean, I don't consider myself as a very talented musician, I don't have it from birth; if I have to come up with something that sounds good in the end, I have to struggle a lot, I really have to fight for it, and that's what I meant about "recreating a sound". When you're gifted, you always know what you are doing -- well, I'm not always aware of what I'm doing, I just work and work until something comes out, that sounds cool, and I don't really know where it's going to end!

CoC: So you're not in complete control of your songwriting, then...

JE: No -- it's very uncontrolled, actually! <laughs> I enjoy that!

CoC: You said you couldn't decide to recreate the atmosphere of a particular album -- when you look back upon previous Tiamat releases, what album would you like to be able to recreate?

JE: <hesitates> I don't know, actually... Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I would not like to do it, I would just like to know -how- to do it, but I don't think I would, anyway. But I was proud of _Wildhoney_, that album had something special. Being objective, five years later, there are a lot of things that could have been changed, but it's useless, because the album worked in the end, it's a cool album -- and if something was objectively not very good, I could live with that.

CoC: Many Tiamat fans say that _Clouds_ is your best album to date -- how do you feel about that one?

JE: It's really a bit of a sad album, because that's when we had those problems with the old line-up. To me, our albums are more like memories, I'm a little nostalgic about the memories of the past. I don't really think so much about how the albums actually sound, because I don't listen to them very often, but when I talk about an album like _Wildhoney_ or even _Sumerian Cry_, then I get very bright memories, because we had a good time. When I think about _Clouds_, actually, that was the hardest time we had in the band, with the most arguments, it was also when business really started to enter the picture, with money problems and stuff... I'm a little bit sorry to say it, but to me, _Clouds_ is a bit of a problematic album, but not for the sound or the songs -- we still play songs from it --, but the making of it was pretty hard.

CoC: I guess the Satanic lyrics on _Clouds_ and earlier works seem quite far by now, so how do you feel your beliefs have evolved to this day?

JE: If I would say something very positive about _Clouds_, I think that I wrote some of my best lyrics at that time. If I now read the lyrics to "A Caress of Stars" or the title song, I sometimes wish I could write that again, so I guess that means I still completely stand behind what I wrote at the time.

CoC: Does this mean that on _Skeleton Skeletron_, the cover of "Sympathy For the Devil" is to be understood in the sense that you still have "sympathy" for your earlier material?

JE: It has a lot to do with the title, actually; I think it's such a killer title, and I think that I was also a little bit annoyed in the past that people thought we had left our beliefs on _A Deeper Kind of Slumber_. And therefore, I was working on a song of my own, for which I wanted to steal just the title, and I thought that maybe we should just cover that song, because it's a great one. Although Mick Jagger's lyrics are pretty ironic, for us, I think that the title is a message to tell our audience that we're still pretty much the band that they used to know years ago.

CoC: I don't have the lyrics to _Skeleton Skeletron_, so what do the lyrics on this album deal with, mainly?

JE: They're more about life, actually, not so much about death or dreamworlds -- especially on the last tour, where I've been trying to build up some kind of dreamworld --, and this is more of a way of dealing with more down-to-earth things. It's been influenced by what we have seen during the ten years of being a touring rock band, dealing with the things you've gone through, like drug problems... _Wildhoney_ was maybe a drug-influenced album, and now I can look back on times like that and write about it from an objective point of view. Therefore, I think it's something positive -- although the topics are pretty gloomy, in a way, it's still positive, because you look in from the outside, and are now out of it.

CoC: Concerning the lyrics on _Wildhoney_, I'm still rather puzzled by the lyrics to the song "The AR" -- they're very cryptic and strange lyrics.

JE: The AR is the original pentagram from the Sumerian tradition. It's the five-pointed star, where one point is heading upwards, like a symbol of man, you know, like the Da Vinci sign? So it was pretty much about that symbol -- I was very much into symbols at that time, and how very strong they could be for people.

CoC: Was the fact that you mentioned the aryan race in this song related to the strength of symbols developed by the third Reich, I mean the way in which they literally defied their army and the war?

JE: Not at all, actually. Of course, I've been asked this question before, I knew I would be asked this before I decided to use the lyrics. The thing is that the AR was the original pentagram, and it was also short for the sign of the aryan race. The symbol was called like this by the people who lived some 5000 years ago in the place now called Iraq. I didn't want to censor myself, because I knew that this could be understood wrongly, now, in this century, but I thought "that's not what I'm writing about, so even if people get it wrong, I'd better explain it and stand for it". I didn't want to change it, and now, I'm stealing the chance to explain this to your readers.

CoC: Okay! Tiamat have now been going for a whole decade, as _Sumerian Cry_ was released back in 1990, so how do you feel about the way the metal scene has evolved in the '90s?

JE: I don't know, actually, I'm not very well informed nowadays, I'm very focused on working with my songs, and I don't feel connected to a scene, I must say. I don't read magazines too often -- it's not that I'm not interested, but I just happen to do other things most of the time. Last year we didn't tour, and we started to have longer breaks in between the records, so we had time off from the band, in which I do completely different things, you know, like watching football, enjoying life a little bit... On the other hand, I meet quite a lot of bands here, I meet Century Media bands that are managed by the same manager as ourselves, and these few last days I've been out drinking with Lacuna Coil, which I think is a really good Italian band, and later tonight Nevermore are going to come here and we'll probably go out bowling, so I meet them all. But you know, we bowl -- we don't talk metal music too much! <laughs>

CoC: When you look at your music and state of mind now, how do you feel when you reconsider the really brutal times of Treblinka? [Tiamat's original name, under which the 1987 demo _Crawl in Vomit_ and 1989 _Severe Abominations_ 7" EP were released. -- David]

JE: It seems very far. It was a good time. Of course we were naive, but we were young as well, so you're allowed to be naive when you're that age! <laughs>

CoC: Tiamat is the Sumerian equivalent of Satan, who was slain by Marduk -- do you feel this name still fits the band?

JE: It does, because for me it symbolised the darker parts of yourself, and it's something I always tried to get out in my songs. It's not easy, it's sides of you that are hard to deal with, and writing lyrics is like a therapy, you know? And you see, therefore, it fits!

CoC: What can we expect from Tiamat in the future?

JE: I hope this album does well so we can go on an European tour pretty soon after its release... apart from that, I really don't know! <laughs>

CoC: Last words?

JE: You're in France, right? The distribution's starting to work well, and I look forward to France, actually, because we were never that big there, and I hope we can change it with that record, as there are a lot of plans for us now -- I hope they're good! Enjoy the Summer, and see you on tour!

(article submitted 12/8/1999)


CHATS
10/20/2003 J Smit Tiamat: Let Us Prey
ALBUMS
6/23/2007 J Ulrey 0 Tiamat - Commandments: An Anthology
9/21/2003 J Smit 8 Tiamat - Prey
12/9/1999 A Bromley 8.5 Tiamat - Skeleton Skeletron
6/7/1997 P Azevedo 5 Tiamat - A Deeper Kind of Slumber
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