A Dream Come True
CoC chats with Agnete Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem
by: Aaron McKay / Pedro Azevedo
Intro by: Pedro Azevedo

Having recently completed the Madder Mortem experience by watching them live (supporting Opeth), I can now safely state that these Norwegians should be firmly ranked amongst the best bands in their country -- and indeed the metal world. Their music screams the band's inspiration and self-belief at the listener while dwelling in melancholy and brooding anger; its level of uniqueness is considerable, and its execution remarkable. After three full-length albums, Madder Mortem have already unleashed an enviable collection of superb cuts, yet still seem to remain poised for their true masterpiece -- though only time will tell whether they can ever exceed their last couple of efforts. The following is a well deserved interview with the band's vocalist, the talented Agnete Kirkevaag, whose passion for the band's music remains obvious throughout.

Interview by: Aaron McKay

CoC: To begin with, I noticed "Necropol Lit", _Deadlands_'s first full cut, seems to be particularly unique to the rest of the album -- more power and heavily driven, if you will. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Agnete Kirkevaag: It's a very band-and-groove based song. It was the first track we wrote after the release of _All Flesh Is Grass_, and large parts of the song were jammed into being in the rehearsal room. Playing really groovy and extremely heavy stuff is great fun, so it was a very natural foundation to start building both the song and the album on. From the moment we finished it, it was clear that it would open the album -- it has the slightly arrogant attitude and the driven feeling that we wanted to set the record straight from the beginning. <laughs> The main riff is much more about brutish power than any kind of finesse, and it's a very, very cool live song as well.

CoC: Along those lines, what would you say the opening track, "Enter", accomplishes as the initial sounds the listener is exposed to on _Deadlands_? Is that song a subtle gateway to the intrinsic mood of what Madder has to offer on this release?

AK: Eh, yes... You didn't leave much room for an explanation there, hehe. It's meant to make the listener start focussing, and to direct the general mood in the right direction for the rest of the album, sort of a boundary between reality and the deadlands. It also establishes a kind of connection between _Deadlands_ and _All Flesh Is Grass_, since the very first words spoken are a quote from "Breaker of Worlds" from _AFIG_.

CoC: Madder Mortem seems to have a tight kinship between its members. If that is indeed so, how does it affect the music the band creates?

AK: Yes, that's correct. I've always found it very important to play with friends, and to make the internal ties in the band as strong as possible. I'd rather play with the right person who's not perfect technically, than play with a brilliant musician who personality-wise is the wrong guy. It shines through in the music, but it's difficult to explain or pinpoint. Much of the intensity comes from a whole band diving into the same feeling and going for a common goal. There's also more consideration for the total song than for each instrument on its own. Most important of all, though, is the fact that playing in a band should be fulfilling and fun, and I find it difficult to get to the level of musical ecstasy I prefer without being close to the people I'm working with. And playing and writing your own music and lyrics is pretty intimate and revealing -- I wouldn't let just anybody in on that.

CoC: Do you find it more difficult to create the kind of doomy, but unclassifiable symphonic tapestry Madder Mortem weaves than, say, less melodic-laden material sometimes done by other bands? In other words, does this type of music come easy to Madder Mortem, or is it more deliberate than it comes across?

AK: This is what we make when we make what is natural to us. I think it would be much harder for us to put any constraint on what we're doing. This far, we've made music purely to satisfy our own tastes, and I believe that's how it's going to be in the future as well. It -is- deliberate, but not in the sense you're thinking. There are hours and hours of work on each little piece, but the goal we're working towards is making it 'right', not forcing the ideas into some preconceived shape.

CoC: How would you compare _Deadlands_ to _All Flesh Is Grass_? To 1997's _Misty Sleep_?

AK: Hmmm... Where _All Flesh Is Grass_ is head-on aggression and snarling impatience, _Deadlands_ is a deeper and more introspective anger, with an undertow of hopelessness. _AFIG_ is lashing out, it's very impulsive and restless. _Deadlands_ is controlled, patiently building towards a release that never quite comes. _Misty Sleep_ is a decent demo, but it's hard to make up an unbiased opinion about it now. I very much like some of the ideas and songs, though the musicianship is hardly perfect. Three of the songs ("Under Another Moon", "He Who Longed for the Stars" and "Misty Sleep") were re-recorded on our debut full-length _Mercury_, so I'd definitely recommend that version.

CoC: Personally, I find Madder Mortem's songs very clean, but very provoking at the same time. Where does the band pull its inspiration form?

AK: From ourselves; our personalities and experience and likes/dislikes, and from everything that happens to us. Boring hours in traffic, great parties, interesting and/or annoying people, beautiful summer days, freezing cold winters, good books, soppy romance novels, miserable action movies and the classics, good food and tour food... Everything that happens to you is a part of who you are, and that's my main aspiration in writing music: to put all that I am into it, without reserve. Not everything is concretely useful, but it's a part of what makes you like the tones and words you pick out for your song. And for me, the highest possible level of personal input is essential. Every song needs to be given birth to by an honest heart. (Phew, this got very philosophical, but it's a very central and important theme to me. This is what keeps me awake and running.)

CoC: Lyrically, the songs on _Deadlands_ seem unrefined and uninhibited. Are they derived from personal experience or something else altogether?

AK: They're very, very personal, but in a very metaphorical style. I think you'd have difficulties connecting the lyrics to plausible happenings in my life, unless, of course, you knew me very well. I take the feeling behind and some of the motivation from an aspect of myself I don't share with anybody else, and then work on the phrasing and wording. I read quite a lot, so I try to get my words to have some literary qualities as well, not just emotional ravings.

CoC: How important is artistic freedom (label or otherwise) to the Madder Mortem sound? Is it an imperative?

AK: Yes, it's imperative. Our main motto has always been "music without boundaries". Naturally, that should also go for production, lyrics, artwork, etc. One has to accept financial limits, but apart from that: no, no, no.

CoC: Vocally, are you classically trained?

AK: I've had a couple of classical lessons, but the way my voice sounds can be blamed on singing in a band -- a -lot-.

CoC: As a listener, I have to say, I find the lyrics to be as significant as the music itself. I mean, what is communicated appears to be as much a part of Madder Mortem as the guitars, drums and bass. Would you agree? If so, why?

AK: It is a very important part, especially for me, but the music is the essential part. As I see it, lyrics are there to emphasize the feelings in the music or the ideas behind it, or to add another aspect to the total picture. Still, the lyrics are a big part of Madder Mortem. Once again, it has something to do with group mentality: a good lyric, one that I find is true and a correct interpretation of the song, will lend quite a lot of extra strength to the vocals, which will be more inspiring for the rest of the band. It can also help suggest expressions for the other members; some words will perhaps want to be underlined by a small drum fill.

CoC: Building on that point, it seems like the title track, "Deadlands", comes across as a voyage of self-realization. Is that the case or are the band's songs purposefully left open for interpretation?

AK: I mostly leave as much as possible open, both to activate the listener, but also because some of the subject matters are far too private for discussion. Regarding the song "Deadlands", it is more of a story of blind, chaotic destruction and mindless vengeance (since there's absolutely nothing left to lose), and of sorrow and betrayal that is too fundamental to accept and contain.

CoC: Changing subject, I understand your tour to Mexico was the first ever outside of Europe. How did the band enjoy that? Were the crowds open to Madder Mortem's style?

AK: Well, apart from the fact that due to unlucky circumstances we arrived without any gear or baggage at all approximately two hours before we were due on stage, Mexico was really good. The festival was well organized, and we were treated well. The gig could have been quite a bit better with our own seven-strings instead of borrowed six-strings, but all in all, pretty good. Since it was only one gig, under very strange circumstances, I don't really know, but the Mexicans seemed to be interested. I hope we'll have the possibility to go back there for a longer time and some more gigs.

CoC: Speaking of tours, you are on tour with Type O Negative currently, right?

AK: Eh, no... we're not, and have never been on tour with Type O. It would probably be fun, but... This misunderstanding may come from the fact that we thought we were going to do a local support gig for them in Oslo, but it got cancelled, since their support band brought their own backline, hehe.

CoC: How did it come to be that you found yourselves on tour with Opeth, then? I would think that kind of exposure for Madder Mortem would be second to none!

AK: Mikael [Akerfeldt, Opeth vocalist/guitarist] really likes our records, that's the main reason. We got some support from our label, but we put in about 70% of the budget ourselves. It was hard for us financially, but a dream in every other way. If I could have picked freely amongst all bands whom to tour with at that time, I would have wanted to go with Opeth -- so it was very much a dream come true. On top of that, they are very nice and entertaining guys, the conditions of the tour were generally good, and we got to play to a huge amount of people who had probably never heard of us before. Opeth aren't quite as huge in Europe as they are in the US, but I believe it was a good crowd for us to play for. At least Opeth fans won't get scared away if you play a song that's longer than five minutes... <laughs>

CoC: "Resonatine", the last cut of the CD, happens to be my personal favorite. Could you give me some insight into the background of that song? It comes across so powerful, yet desperate in some way...

AK: It is very desperate, and I really think we got the point through on that one. Let's say it's about clinging on to hope so long that it becomes a prison. On the musical side, "Resonatine" started off as a whimsical reconstruction of a song from _Misty Sleep_, but quickly grew into a very important step for Madder Mortem.

CoC: The cover art for _Deadlands_ is extremely understated in its intensity and vivid nature. A former Madder Mortem band member is responsible for doing that, yes?

AK: Yes, that's the guitarist from _Misty Sleep_ and _Mercury_. His name is Christian Ruud, and he's a close friend of ours. Right now he's taking graphic design education, and he does want to do more cover work, so spread the word... Actually, we try to "keep it in the family" as much as possible. For instance, our webmaster is the guitarist from our first demo; one of the models for the _Deadlands_ cover is my former roommate; and my dad did the band photo inside the _All Flesh Is Grass_ cover. Working with friends is more fun, and they care about how they perform and deliver in a way no 'professional' would. In addition, we have very talented friends! (I'm awfully proud of 'em...)

CoC: Finally, if you would, please finish this interview with anything you might like to say to the Chronicles of Chaos readers, Agnete. Thank you, too, for all your time in answering these questions for the magazine!

AK: Well, I have to say is I hope we'll be able to meet any and all of you on tour some time! I'd also like to encourage everyone who has any kind of opinion on what we do to post a comment in our website guestbook at www.maddermortem.com. We follow it very closely, and it's always very interesting to see what you think. And enjoy music for music's sake!

(article submitted 2/8/2003)

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3/26/2003 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - Deadlands
8/12/2001 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - All Flesh Is Grass
2/13/1999 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - Mercury
3/21/2003 P Azevedo Opeth / Madder Mortem / Kormoss Morningrise in the Deadlands
1/14/2002 D Rocher Tristania / Rotting Christ / Vintersorg / Madder Mortem A Night to Remember, a Bill to Forget
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