originally written by Craig Hayes
You know how it goes. One of your pals recommends a band, and then you duly hate that person, wishing you could change time and claim the title of recommender. Well, I hate Erik Highter; there’s no denying it. A couple of weeks back, Highter threw Swedish psychedelic doom trio Monolord my way, and given the band resides on EasyRider Records, home to fellow Swedish doom titans Salem’s Pot (who I’m already obsessed with), my interest was instantly perked.
Truth is, Monolord blew my mind. An oft repeated adage, perhaps, but nonetheless, wholly accurate. The band’s full-length debut, Empress Rising, is a crushingly heavy five track monolith; featuring copious amounts of fuzzed-out doom, and earth-quaking stoner rock. On tracks like “Audhumbla,” “Empress Rising,” and “Watchers Of The Waste,” guitarist and vocalist Thomas Jäger, drummer Esben Willems, and bassist Mika Häkki call to mind the greats, with Sleep, Electric Wizard, Yob, and Ufomammut featuring a similar sense of gravity.
However, Monolord are no mere clones. Empress Rising bends the brain, while battering the soul. Giant low-end riffs come crashing down, riding the back of melodic lightning bolts, and for 50-minutes, Empress Rising smashes through the psyche, layers on the distortion and thick atmospherics, drilling straight into the heart. If you’re a fan of epic, mesmeric rock – with astro-and-underworld navigators as your guide – then prepare to be hypnotized by the sound of a true power trio working in unison, plying the routes of the great beyond.
Erik and I had an opportunity to ask Monolord drummer Esben Willems a few questions here, so 5Q5A-ing we go. Into the void.
At what point do you decide a riff is done? You’ve got so many fantastic heavy-ass doom and stoner rock riffs dragging out for maximum impact, how do you decide to move on?
Thanks! I wish I knew how to properly answer that question about when a song is done or needs more work, but after more than 30 years on the drum throne I still don’t. We all know exactly when the song is finished or when it needs more well-placed fuzz, but it’s mostly based on gut feeling. The good thing is the three of us have the same kind of gut feelings, at least most of the time, haha. Some songs are finished almost immediately, but then other ideas can need years to find the right feeling or form. One of the new songs we’re working on at the moment is loosely based on a riff Thomas came up with years before the three of us even knew each other.
The songs on Empress Rising were mostly based on riff ideas by Thomas – except the title track, where Danne Palm (ex-Marulk) wrote the lyrics – but we all write material. Usually one of us brings a rough idea to the rehearsal space and then we finish the song together. It’s a time consuming process with absolute democracy, which can be insanely frustrating at times, but when the song is done, we’re all really satisfied with the result. That way of working creates a relentless filter that not much passes through, but in the end it’s a damn good feeling to have an album where everyone in the band is proud of every track and nuance.
Empress Rising has a crushing amount of low-end rumble, as deeply resonant as any record in recent memory. What equipment are you using to get such a gut shaking tone?
As I see it, it all boils down to having a solid and distinct band sound, which we put a lot of work into. It is of course a combination of gear and sounds that compliment each other, but mostly it’s how we play together as a band. One good example is how Thomas’ and Mika’s rigs and playing blend together to create that saturated, fat sound, often mistaken as just a good guitar sound. We always strive for being one unit, instead of three separate instrument masturbators.
Then there’s the recording. I’m a sound tech and producer, so as for now we record everything at our rehearsal space. I mixed and mastered Empress Rising with grit and rumble as the overall sound goal, which meant a lot of swearing in the audiophile church, haha. But we like the fuzzed out and gritty wall of sound, that’s always how we hear it when we start putting new songs together.
There’s a lot of bands out there bringing plenty of retro-fumes. To these ears, instead of the fashionable ’70s you seem to look more toward the ’90s style of doom pioneered by Electric Wizard and Sleep. Was this a conscious choice or one that came naturally out of your listening interests? Do you feel that choice affects your career opportunities?
The conscious choice was to make an album as heavy as possible, we didn’t look too much on genres or specific bands. Electric Wizard, Sleep, and Black Sabbath are obvious, but our influences come from all kind of genres from all around the world. I think that is key, letting yourself being influenced and inspired by everything and anything. Bill Ward’s cowbell can be just as triggering as the perfect first cup of coffee for the day.
Caffeine, by the way, there’s a socially accepted drug that has fueled many hours of work in the Monolord cave. Three sleep deprived dudes with the coffee-generated Nosferatu stare, making fuzz grooves at a face melting volume, there’s a pretty sight for you.
Is the scene there supportive of your incredibly heavy take on psychedelic doom? Or is it friendlier to the more accessible ’70s retro-stylists? Are there other bands in Sweden following this path, and if so, who should fans of your monolithic style keep an ear out for?
Sadly, the live scene in Sweden is a bit lame, and it keeps getting worse, at least that is my experience. Generally, it’s in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. You can find good concerts with interesting bands, but in the country, it’s close to impossible to book or see good gigs. And that goes for all genres except cover bands and what is called dansband (translated it’s dance band; a watered down version of the already horrible arena country & western cheesiness).
But apart from the live stages, the scene for what we do is thriving! As goes for much of the heavier alternative music. The fans and followers are many and they’re hardcore. I fucking love that development, the long tail phenomena. I think the oversized music companies are underrating the genuine music fans with their streamlined productions and colossal, larger-than-life images they’re trying to build around whoever they’ve chosen to be hot shit this month. And good for us, it seems like the hunger for good live shows are growing, even here in Sweden, in spite of what I just mentioned. I would love to have a scene where there’s a good band playing seven nights a week, even in a tiny bar in a tiny town. There are plenty of great bands, the only problem is the culture that dictates the live scene.
Your band’s sound has been described as, “…skull crushing heavy grooves and heavy guitars that summon the spirits of Norse gods.” A lot of heavy psych bands look to Christianity’s usual bad guys to add the stench of evil, but are you guys set on drawing on tales of Scandinavian mythology to strengthen your sound and aesthetic?
Imagined dark powers are always interesting to explore in lyrics, whichever religion they come from. The gnarly sides of humanity are as interesting as they are horrifying, and religions and myths are always inexhaustible sources to get inspiration from. As an atheist, I think religions in themselves are fascinating constructions of evil manipulation. Lots of good stuff there, in other words.
The project that became Monolord started out around the story that formed into the song “Empress Rising”, but that doesn’t mean we would limit ourselves to that. “Audhumbla” is the only track on Empress Rising that has any clear connection to Norse mythology, by the way, and that’s instrumental; the title is a primeval cow of that mythology.
I just wrote lyrics for a new song that describes the rising of another faceless and nameless entity, one that exterminates humanity because of our collective malfunction, so we go with what feels relevant for the song. Joyful stuff usually, hehe.
Monolord’s Empress Rising will be available in April through EasyRider Records.