Possessed to Race With Death
CoC chats with Janne Sarenpää of The Crown
by: Paul Schwarz
A short introduction, no more. The Crown's sixth record is out this month. Heralding the return of original howler Jonas Lindstrand -- replacing his replacement for 2002's _Crowned in Terror_, Tomas Lindberg (The Great Deceiver, ex-At the Gates) -- the album has been hotly anticipated by Crown fans, including a number of us here at CoC, especially those (Matthias and myself) who witnessed their performance at this year's Wacken. I talked to Janne Sarenpää on the 8th of October. Here are the results of the tape.

CoC: Have you read many reviews of _Possessed 13_ yet?

Janne Sarenpää: I have seen three on the Internet, and some sound-check from the European Metal Hammer.

CoC: Just to start, I'd like to briefly ask about the promotional copy of _Possessed 13_, specifically the "bleeps" on it.

JS: Yeah.

CoC: Was there any disagreement between you and Metal Blade about that particular technique for protecting the record from copying?

JS: No. We have no say in those matters. We... when I heard them myself I really didn't like them. You know, I got my promotional copies to give away to friends, and I really didn't feel like it. It's very sad.

CoC: Yeah. I mean, I see where they're coming from, from one perspective. The problem I have is that I really like The Crown and when I first got it[*], I didn't want to listen to it more than three or four times...

JS: No-one does.

CoC: ...because you start to expect it and it's annoying. I was just curious about that. But let's go on to something more interesting -- moving onto the new record, _Possessed 13_. It really sounds like The Crown are back. It's mainly, I think, because Lindstrand's vocals just fit so much better to The Crown, in the end. What would you say about _Possessed 13_ as an album that you can move on from, in the sense that you got a stable line-up again -- the stable line-up you had for many years before [1990-2001 --Paul] -- so where do you think the record is going and how is it to have Lindstrand back on the record and in the shows, basically?

JS: Well, you know, having Lindstrand back wipes away all these problems which he caused from the beginning, which is very good. We're back with new power. He had problems with his personal life -- and you know, work and stuff -- when he quit the band. The only condition for him to come back was that his personal life was sorted out, which it is. So he's like a new person now and he was so cool when he came back last summer. We hadn't been touring that much so the album wouldn't be as much influenced by touring as _Crowned in Terror_ was, because that was basically... you know, straight-influenced from Nile, Krisiun and Morbid Angel.

CoC: Yeah, I know what you mean: it did have a sort of... I mean, it wasn't like it was a rip-off, but it didn't sound as distinctively The Crown as, especially, _Deathrace King_, which I think really did show The Crown in the best light that it could, you know?

JS: Yeah. We actually... it was so extremely heavily that we even -learned- something from that: to not only be influenced by bands you tour with. With this album we had lots more time to stay in the rehearsal room and work and work -- and that's also a thing we forgot with _Crowned in Terror_. We didn't get that much time in the rehearsal room or in the studio; it was, you know, lots of heavy work, and the singer situation and everything. So I guess, it sounds like a cliché, but we have found ourselves again.

CoC: I think that's true. Although on the other hand what's interesting about _Possessed 13_ is that there's a difference to the -tone- when you put it next to, say, _Deathrace King_. _Possessed 13_ sounds darker, slightly less staccato, a bit murkier. And it's got more slower songs. What do you think of the feel of _Possessed 13_ in comparison to the earlier records?

JS: It was cool 'cause the only thing we decided before we started rehearsing on this album was that we'd do things simpler, more to the point, more straightforward: to give more room for the riffs, you know. Being more relaxed playing them gives them more power: that's how we see it. Also tuning down even one more step on this album, of course; and finally getting the bass of Magnus upfront with the other instruments is like a victory. 'Cause me and Magnus have always been fighting in the studio for the bass guitar.

CoC: How does the rhythm section of The Crown function? 'Cause rhythm sections in the classic rhythm and blues bands is something that goes together, separate from the guitars -- you can hear it in 'Zeppelin or 'Sabbath: it's their roots. But in thrash metal -- metal since 'Priest, perhaps -- the rhythm section is much more of a sort of backline a lot of the time. With bands like The Crown there's much more intricacy and complication; your roles are more complicated, I'd say. How do you find that you two as the rhythm section function in The Crown?

JS: Well, we aren't that well moulded together, actually. It's more me and Marko [Tervonen, rhythm guitar --Paul]: we call it setting up the ground for the album. It's actually Marko who has the best feel for rhythm. So when we do the drum tracks he does the guitars at the same time and we both are -addicted- to tempo changes. So it's actually me and Marko building the grounds. I don't know: Magnus was somewhere in the middle laying his bass tracks and it's always been like that, so there is no traditional way that's come down from rhythm and blues at all.

CoC: Why have three "movements" for the album: "initiation", "exaltation" and "annihilation"?

JS: Well, you can see that they follow in logical order; but to be honest there's no deep meaning behind the concept to that, or our record. I think they work pretty well as "parts", also. But it's not that meaningful, at all.

CoC: What kind of -- not concept, but the album's presentation is tied into a really rather cool kind of Fifties b-movie-style package.

JS: Yes.

CoC: That's kind of cool 'cause before the days of constant media bombardment and TV trailers, movie posters had to say a lot. So you had these great drawings and elaborate, "creepy" writing. That's very much what you've got on the cover. You have "The return of..." The Crown: clearly a reference to all the horror b-movies that followed on and on from each other. But then it's cool the way you've put "The Crown" almost like "Carcass": it looks like those early Earache bands' logos!

JS: Or Earache itself?

CoC: Exactly. It's kinda cool 'cause that's... you know, that's one font for splatter!

JS: Yeah.

CoC: And it works with the original idea of having eye-catching logos, on the Fifties horror posters.

JS: This album is pretty much summing up our thirteen years, especially with the bonus disc. You know, when we started out, in the early days, 90% of the albums we bought we're always released by Earache. People have many, many views on how Earache work: I don't wanna get into that, but we sure as hell want to pay our respects for them actually releasing those important albums when we were getting into it.

CoC: The song "Are you Morbid?": a nod to Tom Warrior?

JS: The title? It's purely a coincidence, actually. Magnus, who wrote it, he's not that much into Celtic Frost: he likes them, of course, but they are not his favourite band.

CoC: It's interesting though, 'cause with phrases like that, and the shock artwork and all, death metal albums have a certain amount in common with those Fifties movie posters. There's something visual to try to engage you: like the Dan Seagrave covers.

JS: Making it look serious -- like those movie posters -- was something we wanted to do 100%. We wanted to make it look serious, even though it is a b-movie cliché!

CoC: Talking of the special edition, how did you feel listening back to your first two demos when you were remastering them to be included on the bonus disc to the limited, digipak special edition of _Possessed 13_? [Along with a different version of "Rebel Angel" (from _Deathrace King_) and a Bathory cover ("Burnin' Leather") which appeared previously on a Swedish compilation, to bring the second disc's track-total in line with the album itself and its "13" theme. --Paul]

JS: Mastering them was quite painful. Because we started learning our instruments around the time we started The Crown. So, of course, in 1993 we couldn't play our songs as well as we can play them now. It was really painful, but it was also really important, because the whole of the "13" idea was based on the fact that we'd been going 13 years. We wanted to show people where it had all come from. Over the years we've taken many riffs from those demos, and with the new record -a lot- of the riffs came from the demos, so it's nice for people to be able to see where things come from.

CoC: When you write songs, do you worry about whether something will sound like something old (or something new) that you or other bands did?

JS: Yeah well, especially now we are quite worried; because this secret potion of ours -- those old riffs -- they're all gone now... on our new studio album. So we are very worried ourselves about what we are going to sound like. And, _Possessed 13_ being the last record of our previous contract with Metal Blade records, we actually told them -- when they said that they wanted a new deal -- that they really should listen to a demo first, because we're not sure what we're gonna sound like.

CoC: What about the significance of the number 13 in and of itself, did that tie in?

JS: Well, it was tied into the fact that it's our 13th year as a band. Also it's interesting, the superstitions around it as an unlucky number. Like in Japan they have hotels which don't have a "floor 13". I heard that in Japan they take stuff like that seriously. So us dreaming about going to Japan might be even more of a dream!

CoC: You think they'll have to put a sticker on it? "Parental Advisory: Explicit Number!" What about the inversions in The Crown's work? It's something you do really well. It happens with the more fun lyrics mainly, like "Total Satan" or "Blitzkrieg Witchcraft". For example, when I thought of saying that some bit of your stuff sounded "beautiful", I felt like I should have said "ugly" to mean "beautiful". "Ugly = Beautiful"; "Satan = Good"; do you see what I mean? It's brilliant over-the-top metal lyricism.

JS: Yeah, it's a difficult balance; because we want people to know that we take our lyrics seriously, but it doesn't mean we don't joke around. I think it's difficult to be in-between, you know.

CoC: Yeah, but I think for most people the enjoyment is still "of the music". I see what you're saying, but to be honest I find bands are often too grave and binary about this. For me and a lot of people I know -- you can listen to the music, find the lyrics funny, but not laugh -at- the music: still enjoy the music in its spirit even though you may find that spirit funny.

JS: That's true. I myself don't buy albums for the lyrics; if I want to read lyrics, I read a book. But of course it feels so great that Magnus puts huge amounts of time into making the lyrics as good as they are. Have you seen the lyrics for _Possessed 13_? The lyrics for "Natashead Overdrive": if you like funny, crazy lyrics I think that one will blow you away. That's my favourite song and those are indeed very great lyrics.

CoC: I think it is definitely a case of seeing the cliché or the humour value attached to something -- Manowar in my case, for example -- yet still really, -genuinely- liking it. I assume that's similar for you: you're a fan of Motley Crue, I hear?

JS: Oh yeah, a huge fan.

CoC: But do you take Motley Crue seriously?

JS: No.

CoC: But when you're listening to Motley Crue you probably enjoy it; though when you read the lyrics you probably find them funny, and think, "Oh my God!"

JS: Of course! Yeah, that's exactly it.

CoC: Going on to your Wacken performance: -the- Wacken performance. I saw it. It was excellent. Do you think it was the beginning of something special? I thought there was something in the air...

JS: I remember. You could really feel that it was something special. We had a huge crowd, which was great; and I had my own personal drumkit!

CoC: I really think next year will [should? --Paul] be a really good year for you; because I think _Deathrace King_ had potential that wasn't capitalised on: it made an impact. Your debut _The Burning_ made an impact back in 1995; an impact on the underground, but a profound impact nonetheless. But things didn't work out that way with the next two records; _Eternal Death_ didn't seem to follow-up quite right and _Hell Is Here_ was let down mostly by its production. _Deathrace King_ was the first time since _The Burning_ that The Crown [Crown of Thorns up until _ED_, of course --Paul] really sounded right on record. But when Lindstrand left, I gather that it was really hard to keep the momentum up. When I heard Jonas was back I was interested to see the Wacken performance: I wanted to know if it would work. When I saw that performance I was like, "Roll on! This is the continuation!"

JS: One of the reviews I read on the Internet summed it up great for me. It talked about how good the show was, and at the end it said, "By the way: Elvis lives and he's playing in The Crown!"

CoC: There have been very few line-up changes in The Crown's history. One was in the demo days, before _The Burning_, when Marcus joined. [He replaced Robert Osterberg on _Forget the Light_ --Paul] The other, now rectified, we've already talked about. How do you feel about the line-up today?

JS: From that we learned a lot; from having Tomas, a new singer -- a professional singer but yet the new singer in the band -- we pretty much learned that because we had been together for 11 years it wasn't easy to let someone new into the band. I mean, we call ourselves "La Familia"; we joke around about it, but it's pretty serious, because we are such good friends. So we feel like if anyone else does leave then The Crown really should quit instead of trying to find a new person.

CoC: Going back to something you said earlier; when you talked about playing more loosely and getting more power? I think _Deathrace King_ and _Possessed 13_ especially are both prime examples of that and I think that comes from a less constrained approach to playing and production.

JS: It's cool to see that you see that, between _Deathrace King_ and this one, because not all the people see it. They think that this is a natural evolution from _Crowned in Terror_, but we actually ourselves -- all of us -- think this is actually a step backwards to find the feeling and atmosphere of _Deathrace King_.

CoC: _Crowned in Terror_ wasn't bad, but it was slightly lazy. It relied more on death metal conventions, and less on radical song-structures.

JS: That was an addiction with speed -- and metronome. I overdosed on metronome. I actually once woke up early in the morning and I was listening to my heart thinking, "It's not beating perfectly." I thought maybe I should go see a doctor, but then I realised that I'm human; my heart isn't a piece of machinery: it shouldn't really sound like a metronome!

CoC: From a production angle, I think -that- was also the problem with _Hell Is Here_. I thought the Berno studio production made it sound a little too dry.

JS: Oh yeah! It's like you can't light like an open fire at gas stations with that album. We felt satisfied at the studio when we had done them, we were very happy with the way we'd played, but we didn't think the production was that good.

CoC: Some of the songs on _Hell Is Here_ are the reason that I'd really like to hear a well-done Crown live album. Some of the songs are really good; for example, "1999: Revolution 666", which sounded so much better at Wacken than it does on record. On the original it doesn't sound fast enough.

JS: Yeah, that's true.

CoC: Are you gonna be doing mostly songs from _Possessed 13_ and _Deathrace King_ on the next tour, then?

JS: Our label was actually asking us: are you really going to do eight songs from the new album?

CoC: How many songs will the set contain?

JS: Eight from the new album; three from _Deathrace King_; three from _Crowned in Terror_; and one song from _Hell Is Here_, as it is now: and we're looking at 60-75 minutes.

CoC: Can you do that?

JS: Yup. If we headline, we're gonna do that. But we might cut down one or two songs just to try out if we can do more older songs. But it is a good album: we're so happy with it. We feel that we can't get better than this, in no way, playing this kind of death metal. So we feel that we want to share it with people.

[*On request, Metal Blade did send a bleep-free CD-R (I offered to sign a contract guaranteeing I would not copy it, in my e-mail of request). --Paul]

(article submitted 16/10/2003)

5/25/2000 A Bromley The Crown: Racing Towards Destruction
11/19/2004 P Azevedo 5 The Crown - Crowned Unholy
10/30/2003 M Noll 9 The Crown - Possessed 13
7/3/2002 D Rocher 9 The Crown - Crowned in Terror
5/25/2000 A Bromley 9.5 The Crown - Deathrace King
1/16/1999 D Rocher 9 The Crown - Hell Is Here
7/14/1997 D Schinzel 7 Crown of Thorns - Eternal Death
1/10/2001 D Rocher Morbid Angel / Enslaved / The Crown / Dying Fetus / Behemoth / Hypnos Belated Tales of the Unexpected
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