Twenty Four Carat Darkness
CoC chats with Whiplasher of Deathstars
by: Jackie Smit
Writing, as I do, for the international vanguard of extreme music webzines, I have witnessed my fair share of idiosyncratic behaviour; but when I pick up the telephone to answer an incoming call from who I presume will be Whiplasher Bernadotte -- frontman extraordinaire for Sweden's Deathstars -- and am greeted by the sound of convulsive coughing, it's still a little odd. The soft-spoken vocalist is quick to apologise for his somewhat unconventional introduction however, explaining that he's been confined to his bed with a particularly disagreeable case of the flu and that this will be his only interview for the day. Fair enough, as disagreeable is certainly not an adjective I'd use to describe his band's latest opus, _Termination Bliss_. And so, feeling quite chuffed that he'd deem this conversation important enough to weather the veritable shitstorm brought on by his ailment, I dig straight in.

CoC: A lot of media sources gave your last album, _Synthetic Generation_, an extremely harsh reception, partly, in my opinion, because with a background in bands like Swordmaster and Dissection, I think they were expecting something very different from what they ended up hearing. Was this criticism something that ever got to you, and did you feel frustrated by the apparent close-mindedness of a lot of the journalists who were bashing you?

Whiplasher: No, actually not. I think that we have a really a strong foundation in the black and death metal scene because of our roots in bands like Swordmaster and Dissection, and we certainly still consider ourselves to be a part of the underground. The music that we make now was borne out of the frustration that we felt in the death and black metal scene, but the values of the scene -- that's the core of Deathstars. As far as anyone criticising what we do, especially these days, we don't even keep any of that mind or let it get to us, because we feel that we don't owe anyone anything. We're doing this for ourselves and to stimulate our own creative impulses. It's OK for people to not like it.

CoC: So, following on from what you said about how this band came into existence, it's fair to say then that Deathstars has been a liberating experience for you after operating within the confines of the death and black metal scene for such a long time?

W: Yeah, totally. Although at the same time I think that the limitations are something that people create themselves, because many people tend to think that when you play a certain type of music you need to let the genre dictate the song, you know? They let the genre dictate the band. What we're doing with Deathstars is to have every song dictate itself according to its own knees, if that makes sense. So we have no guidelines, and no goals when we're writing a song. It's like group sex between Samantha Fox, the Village People and Satan. <laughs> It's a mixture of '80s goth, pop, black, death -- whatever comes to mind. We never consciously or subconsciously try and head into any specific direction with a song. I think that we had to leave that kind of thinking behind for this band to work. We all wanted to make music that was more personal, and none of us had any interest in singing about -- I don't know -- the mountains in the land of Scorsties. We had so much in our own lives that we wanted to reflect on in our music, and what made it even more exciting was that instead of using four hundred riffs in every song, we were just using four and putting the focus on dynamics rather than just creating an aggressive vibe. So, it was definitely liberating, but I still consider myself as part of that scene and I still write music like that from time to time. Death and black metal is the skeleton for Deathstars.

CoC: The flipside to the flak you took in the more elitist / underground circles is of course the success you had in more mainstream circles with music that is anything but. Did that surprise you at all?

W: It's not something that we've really noticed, because it's been such a slow process with _Synthetic Generation_. I mean, it only got released in the rest of the world two years after it had been out in Sweden, and the problem that we had with the labels was that they didn't understand where we were coming from. The major label [Universal] that we were signed to in Sweden was promoting us in the mainstream, but they weren't taking care of the scene where we had come from as well. So, yeah -- I think at that point the big difference for us was that we were on mainstream TV in Sweden and nobody in the rest of the world knew about us. It felt like we were living in two different scenes, and I think that caused a problem for us with the metal community, because they possibly felt like we were turning our back on our roots and that we felt we were too good for them.

CoC: A lot happened in the run-up to your recording the new album, including having your gear stolen back in June last year.

W: Yeah, I mean, things like that don't really bother us at all. I think we lost about a $150,000 dollars worth of equipment, but two months ago our rehearsal room burnt to the ground! So we're past the point of letting things like that get us down. Our best friend pretty much at this point seems to be bad luck.

CoC: And what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?

W: <laughs> Well, at this point it's good to have something you can rely on.

CoC: Another turning point for you was obviously your guitarist, Beast X Electric, who left the band shortly before you started work on the album. Did his departure in any way influence the eventual outcome of the new record?

W: No, not at all. It's only me and Emil [a.k.a. Nightmare Industries, Deathstars guitarist] who write the songs. That's the way it's always been, so it's pretty much just the two of us in the studio. Beast didn't contribute any material to _Synthetic Generation_ and he didn't do anything for this album either. This is a band based on friendship, so in that sense it's a big loss for us -- the social part of his, and the character that he is. But when it comes to writing the songs, there's no difference at all. We are still friends though, and I keep in touch with him every day, but basically his situation is that he is six hundred kilometres away from where we are and he has nothing motivating him or giving him the enthusiasm to move all the way here. So, to come here every now and then when we have to rehearse or do promotion -- he has a job and that's what he cares about. So now we're looking for a new guitarist and I'm especially interested in people from Chernobyl. If there's a guitar player from Chernobyl who's skinny and tall -- that would be perfect. <laughs> Hopefully we'll find a full-time member to replace him; it's not something that we've actively been looking into at this stage and when we go out on tour we'll use a session guitarist for the time being. We've been talking about it and we don't know anyone. It's difficult to find someone who fits in this band, because it's not really a question of skill, it's whether or not the person fits in from a personality point of view. That's much more important. This is not a band where you're going to be able to show off your guitar skills. We don't have solos and things like that.

CoC: You did most of the tracking for this record in your home studio, which you recently had built; did that change much in the way that you went about writing? Did it give you more of an option to experiment?

W: We actually didn't experiment that much. We didn't even speak about this album; when we started to record it, we all knew exactly what it should sound like. I think that the home studio just gives you the flexibility to be able to record at night and it also makes you feel more comfortable when you're in your own studio and you have your own stuff around. So that was a very good thing, actually. We recorded in Studio Fredman the last time and that kind of gets boring -- being in the same room every day. In your own studio, you're on your own time; you tune up and go in and when you want to.

CoC: Are there plans for you to open the studio to other bands in the future?

W: Yeah, well, we actually just finished recording the new Dissection there, which Emil produced. I think that we'll definitely be using it for other bands in the future. That's the plan, at least.

CoC: You've been quoted as saying that this is a much more personal album and it certainly from an external point of view sounds considerably darker than _Synthetic Generation_. What inspired the sound and this -- by your own admission -- more personal feel?

W: I think that the music definitely comes from Emil. He went through a very deep spate of depression in the run-up to this album -- had a lot of people die in his family and it was really bad. That made it very frustrating for me, because I'd call him up every day and tell him that we needed to get together and start writing music, but it was so bad with him that he could barely get out of bed, and he was on medication and stuff. So, I think that when he started writing, that all just came out, and I know that the song "Termination Bliss" was written on the day that one of his family members committed suicide. He also got divorced during this time and eventually moved up here to Stockholm and we finished up the album together. But all of this stuff had a huge influence on him, and when he finally started writing, he was just up writing music all night. On the other hand, I was in a totally different state of mind at the time. Not depression, as much as complex chaos. So in terms of how the album turned out, I think that the lyrics really focus heavily on conflict. All of it is very personal; it's about things that happened to us, and about self-destruction. We're not telling anybody how to live; if anything, we're criticising ourselves for how we live and for the values that we live by. It's like being both the patient and the psychiatrist at once, you know? At the same time, Deathstars is always going to be dark and in many ways we probably glamorize the all of these dark themes. That's something I'm very fond of: the contradiction between criticism and then finding the "glamour" in the same themes, and using all of it as an expression of how we think and of our own lives. It's not pitying ourselves, either; it's about aggression and darkness and almost like a kind of a black laughter that runs underneath it all.

CoC: So, what's next for Deathstars? Can you let us in on anything coming up in the next couple of months?

W: Well, we're in discussions right now with booking agents for tours for the next year. The album has had an amazing response so far, and we're certainly planning on heading out on a lot of tours and a lot of festivals -- some of it has been decided on and some hasn't. We'll definitely do a lot of touring in Europe, maybe a couple of other countries and the States.

CoC: Thanks very much for your time. Is there anything else you want to add?

W: <laughs> Love.

(article submitted 22/3/2006)

1/2/2006 J Smit 7.5 Deathstars - Termination Bliss
10/20/2003 J Smit 7.5 Deathstars - Synthetic Generation
12/26/2003 J Smit Paradise Lost / Deathstars And Out Came the Goths
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