The Plague Rages On
CoC chats with Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson of Marduk
by: Jackie Smit
Before _Plague Angel_, there was very little that one could say about Marduk that anybody with an elementary knowledge of the extreme underground didn't already know. Fourteen year veterans of the genre, Marduk have been tagged as one-trick ponies on several occasions during their illustrious career -- their detractors eager to thumb their noses in the direction of the band's liberal use of speed in their über-dark assault. But no more, as _Plague Angel_ ushers in a new era of songwriting maturity and misanthropic efficiency for the Swedish quartet that is bound to silence even the biggest disbelievers. I recently had the pleasure of a telephone conversation with a very excited Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson to discuss matters pertaining to the new record, black metal as a whole and a number of things beside.

CoC: Leading into the recording of _Plague Angel_, Marduk went through some line-up changes. First of all, you brought in Mortuus to replace Legion on vocals, and then you had your bassist, B War, leave the band as well. What sort of effect did this have on the eventual outcome of the new record?

Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson: Well, the effect was really positive, I think. First of all, we brought the vocalist in to replace Legion, and he brings a new dimension to the music, because he uses his voice as more of an instrument and a vehicle than most vocalists, and that helps us do more mad and more morbid stuff. He also shows more devotion and more passion for the lyrical concept than Legion did, so we work together better as a unit. He wrote two songs worth of lyrics for the new album, and then I wrote the rest and he rearranged them, which is really fine with me, you know? It works well. And when it comes to our bass player, getting Devo [Andersson] back -- he used to be our guitar player between '92 and '94.

CoC: He played on the first two albums, right?

MSH: Yeah, and having him back a decade later; he's more focused and both he and Mortuus are driving forces in the band. Even our drummer, Emil [Dragutinovic], stepped up to the plate and wrote like three or four songs completely by himself for the new album. Everybody is taking part in the process now, and that's fine with me, if everyone wants to be driving forces in the band and everybody is working toward the same goal.

CoC: So more than anything, _Plague Angel_ is more of a band effort than anything you've done previously?

MSH: At first it was mostly me and drummer, because the vocalist came in kind of late, but he worked a lot on the vocal arrangement and things like that. With the next album, we'll have even more time for the vocals and for all things like that, so we'll put even more work into everything.

CoC: The key aspect of _Plague Angel_ that stands out for me is how much more mature the band comes across in terms of songwriting.

MSH: Yeah, but I also think that the production makes a difference, because we recorded in the same studio between 1996 and 2000 with Peter Tagtgren -- and of course it was very good to work with him, and when I listen to _World Funeral_, I'm still very satisfied with the album. But I do think that it sounded a little bit too digital and clean for the music, and this time when we wrote the new material we decided that we wanted different production, and we felt that as we had had the line-up changes, we would also change studio. So for _Plague Angel_ we made sure that the production was more rusty -- more black and white, you know?

CoC: The other thing about _Plague Angel_ is that it's a more mature sounding album, but it's also much more aggressive.

MSH: It is more aggressive and in-your-face, because we want everything to reflect the idea of the band -- music, lyrics, layout; we want it all to be one.

CoC: Legion's departure obviously left you guys in a bit of a quandary at first, and you ended up having to cancel some of your appearances on the Blackest of the Black tour. What's the story behind his decision to quit the band?

MSH: It's the same thing for both him and B War: people change. He was in the band for over eight and a half years and B War was in the band for twelve, and they have family and kids and just couldn't be 100% loyal to the band and maintain the level of focus and dedication that the band requires. So they had to step down, because it doesn't work that way with this band. You have to be with us 100%, because it takes a lot of time and energy. There are no bad feelings between any of us or any shit like that -- we're still friends, or whatever you want to call it. We talk once in a while, but we don't really hang out. But it was just a natural thing to happen to this band.

CoC: So, in retrospect, you think it's all been for the best?

MSH: Yeah, absolutely.

CoC: Speaking of Blackest of the Black -- this is similar to what I have asked a lot of the bands that were on that tour, but how did the connection between yourselves and Glenn Danzig start?

MSH: Well, we've always been big fans of Glenn Danzig, so it was really cool to be able to play on the tour. We were on tour in the States in 2001 and we were backstage one evening when our tour manager came in and said that Glenn Danzig wanted to meet us, and we were like: "Are you sure?" We didn't think he was actually being serious. Then he came back a few minutes later and said that Glenn was in the bar and that he wanted to meet us, and I thought to give him a copy of our latest album, but he said that he already had it. So I was like: "What?" Anyway, I got his phone number and we stayed in contact and became really good friends. We share a lot of views, and I don't know -- I get along with him really fine. He's one of the most dedicated people I have ever met in the music business. He's so loyal to what he's doing and he never lets anybody fuck with him, and he does what he wants to do, and I really respect that. He is one of maybe three or four musicians that I have met that I actually respect. We've had many offers to go back to the States, but we have many problems with papers going over there right now; but we did the European shows with him and it was fantastic. I heard so many stories about how people get treated by him, but I had no bad experience. It was the best ever to be able to tour with a bigger band like that, you know, and Glenn was just like: "Marduk are my boys -- they want anything, you help them." So we had a really good time, we share a lot of ideas and we'll tour together in future.

CoC: So what was it like playing those tours, because clearly there are a few major fundamental differences in Marduk's music when compared to the stuff Danzig does?

MSH: Well, some people of course didn't like what we do -- I think we're a little too extreme for them, but it was cool. I think it's great when bands that share a similar devotion to things and get different crowds together so that each can appreciate what the other is doing, you know? It's great that he brings out bands and exposes people to darker and heavier stuff. Some people were standing staring at us like we had just landed in a UFO or something, wondering what the hell we were, but we had a lot of our own fans at shows as well, and it was a good experience.

CoC: Have you toyed with the idea of touring with any other non-black metal bands in future?

MSH: I wouldn't mind that at all. I mean, I'd love to play with a band like Slayer for example, because people that like them that maybe haven't heard about us, could possibly still appreciate what we are doing. A lot of black metal bands don't like to tour with bands like that, but it doesn't bother us, because at the end of the day we are still doing what we do and we are a fist in the face that would love to play for different audiences.

CoC: This is something that I've actually always respected about you guys -- in the sense that you are one of the few bands to have started in the early '90s to still actually have the same attitude and the same approach to music.

MSH: We don't compromise -- that's what we're about. We have changed labels because we don't want to compromise, and now we have started our own, because we don't want anyone telling us what to do. I could never let anyone interfere with this band, because it means too much to me.

CoC: At the same time you continue to become more popular and I'm sure that _Plague Angel_ will help that along even further.

MSH: We're satisfied with it and we hope to take it to an even higher level on the next one.

CoC: If you had to comment on the state of black metal in 2004, how does the scene compare to when you got into it initially?

MSH: Of course it has grown tremendously. When we started out, there was no talk of going out on tour or something like that. It has changed and it has grown and grown -- some of it is positive and some of it is negative. It's positive that you can bring the message to more people and get your music out to a wider audience, but it also means that the concept has become very watered down. People are always referring to whatever band as being "black metal", and when you read an advertisement and you see the words "black metal" and then you see someone sitting with an umbrella and a painted tear on their face, looking depressed -- that's not black metal for me. I don't care, really. We do what we do -- that means something to me -- and I don't care what anyone else is doing.

CoC: What is it about black metal that still makes it so attractive to fourteen years on in your career?

MSH: For me it's extreme metal with Satanic ground values -- that's how I would describe it. Sometimes you hear a band that people are calling a black metal band because it has screechy vocals. To me it's more of a philosophy, and the thought behind the music more than how it actually sounds.

CoC: In terms of new bands coming out and potentially one day picking up where Marduk leaves off, have you heard anything that has impressed you yet?

MSH: I haven't heard many bands that I really like. I heard a few, for example Deathspell Omega from France, and I like a Swedish band between called Watain. Those are the bands I heard that I actually like. Apart from that, I cannot really think of very much that I've heard lately. I don't really go out and try and discover anything new either -- I prefer to be on my own and listen to other types of music.

CoC: So what's spinning in your CD player right now?

MSH: I listen to what I regard as the best black and death metal, for example right now I'm listening to a lot of early Morbid Angel stuff. _Altars of Madness_ and _Domination_ still remain very powerful and very heavy. I also like dark and powerful industrial music, I like classical music -- I like everything that I can find that has a soul. For example, I like two bands who are actually very Christian, but are still a lot darker than many so-called black metal bands: Sixteen Horsepower and Woven Hand.

CoC: Never heard them.

MSH: Oh my God, you should really check them out -- they're really dark and really Christian, but still extremely fascinating. I'm going to see them live on Sunday; it's really bizarre music. I like anything that can really paint pictures in my mind.

CoC: With _Plague Angel_ -- if someone were to come up to you and say that they weren't a fan of Marduk before, what would you tell them they'd find on this record that would change their mind?

MSH: It depends on what a person is looking for. It's hard for me to say, actually. I always try and take the band to the next level with every album, and if someone likes extreme music, then they should like this record -- it definitely has something for everyone. It's heavy, it's fast, it's dark -- it's everything an extreme metal album should be. In terms of lyrics -- this new album deals with plagues in all its different forms. Death and war, those are things that fascinate me, and I feel far more motivated to write music about things like that than about sitting in the wood feeling depressed, looking into a lake and thinking about trolls. Those things mean nothing to me. Death and war puts music into my head. An historical event like the city of Warsaw being blown to pieces puts music in my head, and I'm not saying what's right or wrong -- I'm just reflecting on those events and the way it occurred. I consider myself to be a vehicle for my creativity.

CoC: Marduk has been catching some flack for the World War II references since _Panzer Division Marduk_.

MSH: Yeah, absolutely, but I don't care. I do this to satisfy myself, and if people don't like it or want to censor me -- that's why I have my own label, so that I can do what I want. It's annoying that people would criticize a band for having German language in the song title, even if we've sung things in French or Turkish or Russian or whatever. But what can you say? Humans will always be sheep in that respect. This is an art form, and I'm not saying that people should interpret it in any particular way.

CoC: Last question, Morgan: nine albums into your career, having achieved quite a lot for a band in the underground, what remains the biggest driving force in this band?

MSH: I don't know, because every time I finish an album, I already have a vision for the next one in my head. Right now I'm working on three lyrics for the next album, and I'm starting to have some musical ideas. That's the driving force: so long as I have that vision that makes me want to create music and go one step ahead, and as long as I have that driving force, I will be doing this.

(article submitted 29/11/2004)

11/4/2009 J Smit Marduk: Unholy Blasphemies
1/31/2008 J Smit Marduk: Echoes of Decimation
6/10/2007 J Smit Marduk: Hosannas From the Basement of Hell
3/14/1999 D Rocher Marduk: Far Beyond the Grace of God
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
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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