Tiamat - The Perfection Of Imperfection
By: Ofir Messer
Interview With: Johan Edlund (Vocals / Guitar), Tiamat
Many consider the Swedish metal band Tiamat to be one of metal's main pioneers, not only in one specific genre, but in general. The band may have started its way in the black metal scene under another name, but it quickly changed direction and approach when it signed to Century Media 18 years ago, and started to release excellent albums spanning many genres, like Doom and Goth, which are now most familiar with the band.
Five years have passed since TIamat released "Prey" and although it seems we haven't heard much about the band since then, they were quite busy with some other releases and new record contract with Nuclear Blast Records, who just released their ninth studio album - Amanethes, somewhat of a return to the band's earlier material. In honor of the new release, we caught up with Johan Edlund who told us about the album among other things like moving to Greece, his approach to religion and his memories from the past and their famed show in Israel some time back.
Hey Johan! Lets first start with the obvious question, why 5 years?
Many different reasons, one reason is that we changed record companies and it took many years for our manager to negotiate with different records companies. It took a much longer time then we expected. Also, many other things happened, I moved from Germany to Greece and some guys in the band had kids, so there were many things that stole some time from us and delayed the album.
Can you keep us up to date with what the band has been doing since "Prey" was released?
We started to work on the new album right after "Prey" but we had many other things going on: We went on tours, we played many festivals, and we worked on a DVD and some other releases and compilation albums together with Century Media. We tried to find time to get together and work on the new songs, maybe to meet in different rehearsal places, but we live very far away from each other, so it took some time for everything. We never took a break from the band, we played shows every year since "Prey" was released - the last show we did was this winter in England - so we always had something booked in advance.
If I may ask, why did you choose to move from Germany to Greece and how's living in such a place?
I met a girl here, and I started to visit her many times, and spend a little time in Greece. After a while, we got together and I realized that I like it very much here, so I decided to move.
Your new album's name, Amanethes, comes off a Greek or Turkish word if I'm not mistaken. What is the meaning behind it?
The title basically means "Mourning Songs", like elegies or something... I always like to have titles that include the full album - not just a title track that tells more about one song than the others, but one general word that can include the whole atmosphere of the album.
Speaking of the new album, it seems that you have put some minor Middle Eastern influences in it... was this because your current living environment or is there another reason behind it?
I think that since I moved here, which is almost 3 years ago, it is very different. I mean, I grew up in Sweden and later on I moved to Germany for many years, but that wasn't a big difference - there's no big difference between Stockholm and Hamburg for example (apart from the language), but moving to Greece is more of a culture shock, in a positive way, because I really enjoy it and I still like it very much - it is very inspiring. So now maybe more than ever the surrounding inspired me more and more. I think that in many years, this is the first time that I really thought about the culture, because in the past I always took it for granted. Growing up in Sweden, I didn't think much about the Swedish culture, it was always just a part of me, but here it's exiting somehow.
One of the most noticeable changes on the new album is with your vocals. Why did you choose to do harsh vocals again?
I try to do what the song need, I mean, some of the songs turned out a bit heavier than on the previous albums, and I wanted to find a voice that fit to that sound. I think that I never made any decisions about it, I just follow the song, and If I feel the song starting to become heavy, everybody in the band have to follow that mood and go for it, which meant that I had to use different kind of voice. Also Lars had to change his drumming to get up the speed with double base and all that stuff, so it's not only me who did it. I think that everybody in the band tried to get into the different atmosphere with the right attitude.
Comparing one Tiamat album to the next might be considered as sin, but I wanted to know what do you think are the similarities and differences on the new album in comparison to your previous releases.
The thing is we shouldn't really care about that when we write the albums, because then we start to limit ourselves. We shouldn't speculate, we should just try to write what we like at the moment and that's what we did really. But I think it sounds like Tiamat. I think you can say that all of our albums sound like Tiamat, although if you start to analyze them, there are many differences, but there is still something that unites them too.
Tiamat has always been about change and development, but while many bands also change, it isn't as drastic as it is with your band. How do you manage to take it further on each album and how do you come up with fresh lines of thoughts each time?
We like a lot of different music and we are very open minded. Some people ask me "Are you into Heavy Metal?" or "Are you into this and that?"... I'm into good music, I like songs rather than bands, if I hear something that I like then I will never lie about it, even if everybody else hates it and its cheesy, I don't feel ashamed that I like something that is not considered to be cool enough or whatever. If I like extreme metal music its also good enough... I don't want to limit myself, I don't want to reduce our influences by saying "We are going to play this kind of music" so that's also something between the members of the band - we have very different and wide diversity of tastes in music.
What can you tell us about the process of writing the new album?
We started to work on it after the last album, and then we left it for a while. I started to work on the album while living in Hamburg, then I had to move to Berlin, and that came a little bit in the way, stealing time from the song writing process. Then, meeting with the guys for a couple of shows, discussing the new stuff, getting back to it, leaving it for a while, moving again and so on... it was pretty chaotic process this time... In the past, we could have decided when is the time to write a new album - when I had enough songs I would tell everybody, we would book a studio and make a schedule, and then its quite simple to say the album took this long to write, and this long to record and produce, but this time it was more of a chaotic process.
I want to speak a little about some interesting song titles from the new album. First, what can you tell us about the song title "Amanitis"? I understand it's some sort of mushroom, is it true?
Yes it is, but it's also one of my favorite bars here. Here in Greece they have siesta during the afternoon, so I could not play loud music between 2 o'clock and 6 o'clock - you get the time off. When the other guys were here to record the album, we went to this bar and spend a lot of time in it. This bar is a very small and traditional Greek, with a traditional music, and somehow this affected our mood and the recording. So this song is a salutation to that place.
What can you tell us about the song "Katarraktis Apo Aima" and its translation?
If I translate it to English it would mean something like "Waterfalls of Blood" - it's basically the outro for "Summertime Is Gone", it deals with the same topic but just get a bit extreme towards the end, therefore I wanted it to have a title of its on.
Also on the album you have a song called "Via Dolorosa", which is the famous street that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion in the old city of Jerusalem. What was the idea behind the song and did you had the chance to visit that street by yourself?
Nope, I have not been there, I have been close when we played in Israel many years ago, and we had plans to visit Jerusalem but unfortunately we didn't have time to do that. The idea behind it is that I don't understand why someone else should die on a cross for my sins. Basically what I'm saying in this song is that I think that people should be responsible for their own actions and their own sins. The only person that can die for my sins will be myself and I can take that burden. No one else has to feel self pity for my sins, that's something I have to deal with and no one can help with that.
I know that your take on Christianity is not very fondling, but what do you think of other religions like Buddhism or Judaism? Do you consider all religious the same?
Defiantly not the same, they are very different and also the attitude towards those religions is different from very strong fundamentalists to the kind of protestant Christians. In Sweden, they [protestant Christians] are almost atheists, they believe in god or in Jesus when they feel a need for it, they can decide when religion is good for them, and when its not they just don't care about it, while fundamentalists, whatever they are, if its Muslims or Christians, really live after it.
I think the fundamentalist thing is quite interesting, because I grew up in Sweden where we didn't have much of that, but here in Greece, people take their religion much more seriously, and that is very interesting to see, when people really live after religion and not just say "I'm Christian, I'm protestant", they also willing to do some sacrifices for their religion and live after some rules.
It has been 15 years since Tiamat has visited Israel... What do you remember of your stay and the concert you had?
I remember it as a very good time. Back then, it was considered not so bad with terror attacks and so on in Tel Aviv, where we stayed. We also played another show outside, but basically we stayed in Tel Aviv which was quite safe, but a few weeks later there were some bomb attacks at the place where we had stayed, and we started to realize this country has a lot of problems. I think that we didn't really see much of these problems when we were there.
We were quite impressed later that people who we met - a lot of young people that were interested in music - managed so good to live in that reality without fear, they tried to leave the fear behind them and just go on with life. Because they were young and they wanted to go out to clubs even if there was a threat, therefore I think we didn't really notice that there was a big risk all this time or a big conflict in the area. It was kind of cool to see that not even that could stop us from playing metal concerts and especially wouldn't stop the fans to see the shows.
Why did you decide to use this specific concert on your first live album?
Honestly, we just recorded what we played in Tel-Aviv because it was the first show we did with Lars, our drummer - He went with a tape to the sound desk to record it because he wanted to remember his first show. Later on, Century Media wanted to release something, but we didn't have any shows booked and this was the only thing we had recorded so we said "let's release this".
Would you like to come back and perform or visit in Israel again or is it not that exotic now that you live in a similar place and also after you have been here already?
I would really like to go back to Israel because we liked it a lot there. We have been close to go back there a few times. Unfortunately we had one show that was more or less confirmed but on the same week that we wanted to close it, the Iraq war started, and I remember they stopped a lot of flights... In the previous Iraq war they had some missiles send to Israel, so the guys in the band, especially with kids, said "Lets wait, we can't go there. Let's see what's going to happen". Personally I would go there any day of the week... A lot of people live there, so why shouldn't I be able to be there for 2 days? If we get a show offered anywhere in the world I would go there, I would even play in Baghdad if someone calls us and pay for the flights - I will be on the plane for sure.
You have been with Century Media since the very beginning... Why didn't you choose to stay with them after such a long relationship?
When we finished the contract with Century Media, we decided - OK, now we start from scratch, everyone is free to send us an offer. Century Media were also interested and we talked to them a lot, but we got a feeling that Nuclear Blast had more interest and they seem to believe in the band a bit more than Century Media, so that's why we decided to change.
Besides Tiamat, over the past couple of years we have heard news regarding another LucyFire album and also about a solo project of yours in Swedish... What is the situation with them now days?
When we finally signed to Nuclear Blast, everything went pretty quick from there. As soon as we had them behind us, we could really start to make plans for Tiamat so that changed all the other plans as well. This year I will be totally devoted and concentrated on Tiamat. I really don't know when I plan to release my other project, I hope that it will happen later on, especially the LucyFire album - it will be done at some point.
A funny thing happened to me while trying to dig some questions, was when I noticed that your guitar player Thomas' surname is "Wyreson" and not "Petersson", and it got me confused because I couldn't find any info on him until I found out it’s the same guy... Shouldn't you announce it somewhere or give him a permanent nickname?
He changed his name because he got married, but yeah, maybe we should make an announcement about it too [Laughs]... It's a bit confusing, but I think he should make an announcement about it by himself because he is the one that confusing people.
I know you have been asked about my next subject numerous times before, but can you explain what was the idea behind choosing the name "Treblinka" for a band, and what do you think about that choice now days?
I had explained it so many times... first of all, I don't really remember the whole story of the origin of the name, and it was so long ago... We decided very early it was stupid name and we changed it, we never really did an album under the name Treblinka. I have nothing more to say than that really, I think it has been turned inside out and upside down so many times and after all we didn't really do anything with it, it's just a small part in the history of the band, a small mistake that we corrected very easily when we were young.
Do you remember anything from that time when you played Black Metal?
You know, this is over 20 years ago, and to be honest I don't really have anything to say about it. When we started the band we hanged out with all our friends from all the other Swedish death metal bands and black metal bands at that time, it was great time, but I am not the kind of person who looks back at the past. For my musical life it didn't mean much, and everything happened after that, especially when we singed to Century Media later.
Tiamat's image is something I often wonder about, for example, on your DVD and promo shots you have this dark gothic look, but on most concerts you just show up with regular T-Shirts and woolen hats... Is it because you want people to focus mainly on the music or is it because you're too lazy to dress up like a metal band all the time and add to the show's atmosphere?
It's not a big decision, we do what we think at the moment, so this can defiantly change again as well. It's not something we've decided to do so you never know. Maybe next year I will wear black Latex and put makeup, but we don't know really.
You have been a long time in the metal business and you've seen some of its best and worst days... Do you still keep up with the current popular bands and listen to new things or you're stuck with the old bands or other genres?
Almost all my friends play in well known metal bands, these are the guys that I meet when they come here and play or if I'm abroad, so I get an overdose from music that way. I'm constantly so much in the music scene, also with what I'm doing myself so if I have some time off from that, I want to do something else, I don't go on MySpace and check bands, I rather read about the Swedish football league or something.
In conclusion, please explain to our Israeli readers why they should listen to "Amanethes".
The new album is a pretty good introduction to the sound of Tiamat, because it has a lot of different contrasts that we've been playing with over the years, and also taking it further into the future. I think its very good ... I mean, many of our albums are quite extreme, in different ways - if it's extreme way like our first album or in more atmospheric way, with special mood, like in "A Deeper Kind Of Slumber" - but this new album can give you an idea about all the different sides we have within us, and the different topics we write about and so on.
Well I want to thank you for the interview, and also I want to wish you a happy birthday!
Ah, thank you very much! Thanks a lot for the interview and maybe we'll have the chance to see you sometime soon. Take care.