Despite the fact that at this very moment there are more metal bands
plying their trade than ever before in the genre's history, there are a
relative few that manage to achieve a unique sound. With that being the
case, different is good. Impossible to describe, Madder Mortem cannot
easily be compared to any other band on the scene. Madder Mortem is
different and Madder Mortem is good. Having just completed a tour with
masters of diversity, Opeth, and finding themselves on The End Records'
eclectic roster for U.S. distribution, the Norwegian band is in good
company. In celebration of Madder Mortem's latest release 'Deadlands',
the Metal Update spoke to vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag in an effort to
uncover the method to their madness.
METAL UPDATE: First off, where did you get the name Madder Mortem?
AGNETE KIRKEVAAG: I don't know. What can I say? It was sort of just an
idea. The Madder bit was off of one of my father's color charts. He is a
big hobby painter. Madder is a very beautiful deep red color. Mortem is
Latin for death and sort of just popped up. Hopefully it was divine
inspiration or something like that.
MU: It doesn't always have to make sense as long as it sounds good.
AK: It does make some sense. I did think of it as, when you hear
something, you get an idea you think, "That's cool, I like the sound of
that, a lot of symbols in that." It's almost like a yin and yang thing.
The red color is for the vibrant energy of life and blood and passion
and anger. Death is the opposite. Absolute solace. Good sort of
contrast. It makes sense.
MU: Let's talk about the new album. Do you think it is your best work
AK: Yeah. If I didn't, we'd have done something wrong. I think it has to
be that way. If you don't think that the latest thing you've just done
is your best ever, then you haven't done a good job.
MU: How does the new album differ compared to what you've done in the
AK: Let's see. . . The first album we released 'Mercury' - that's way
off from this. It's much more mellow and much more atmospheric. 'All
Flesh Is Grass' is much closer, much more guitar-based like 'Deadlands',
but where 'Deadlands' is sort of introspective and gloomy, 'All Flesh. .
.' is more of an aggressive album. 'Deadlands' is groovier, heavier and
more sludgy and also it got a bit darker.
MU: Speaking of the groovier aspect, I think the first song on the album
is really different and contrasts from the rest. What made the decision
to put this first on the album?
AK: It was pretty clear from the moment it was done. It was the first
song we made - first entire song we sort of finished for the album. And
it was sort of the opening song all along. I think it might have been to
do with the attitude in it. The "here I am and here I'm staying" theme.
It was getting the message across first, and then we can get on to other
business. That's just like the last one on the album, from the minute it
was finished, it was like, "That is definitely going to be the last
song." That's the easiest placements, the first song and the last song.
The rest is difficult to figure out.
MU: Keep it interesting in between.
AK: Yeah. Put the most different songs after each other and give the
songs the life they deserve.
MU: How would you describe your music?
AK: I hate that question.
MU: It's a tough one.
AK: Yeah, it is. Heavy, gloomy and pretty melodic. That doesn't really
give people proof. Maybe I could throw in a bit weird as well.
MU: It doesn't fall into any set categories necessarily.
AK: We never found a comfortable home. I really like it that way. You
have to spend a little bit of time on pinning it down and maybe have to
think about it a little more. Also, it is freedom because we don't
associate with any label or any genre. There's more creative freedom to
do whatever we like and go in any direction. I think that we just try to
make people accustomed to the fact that we do stuff our own way and
hopefully they will enjoy it a lot.
MU: So 'Deadlands' is a concept album of sorts?
AK: Of sorts yes. It's not a chronological story. It doesn't have the
knight rides out, and then he fights the dragon and then he frees the
princess. It's not that kind of thing. It's more like nine different
angles of looking at the same thing or the same idea.
MU: And what is the central idea?
AK: This is where the explanation gets long and tiresome.
MU: Give it a whirl.
AK: "Necropol Lit" was the first lyric that I finished and it set a mood
for the rest of the record. It was the central idea. I've taken this
state of mind, a very rock bottom place, some place where you have
exhausted all your resources. Everything is pretty fucked up. Everything
is crumbling around you and you really don't have the energy to do
anything about it or to even really care - a sort of numbness. It is
sort of a bleak place to be. And then I would try to imagine things,
feelings or moods into the landscape and I tried to make a physical
landscape out of a state of mind and that's the Deadlands. What I
imagine there is a stone desert. The cover photos are very much pointing
in the right direction of it.
MU: Definitely. And that brings me into the next question I was going to
ask ironically. The album artwork was done by a previous bandmate,
MU: Christian Ruud?
MU: Did he decide to just stop playing guitar?
AK: Well, he played on 'Mercury', the first release, and then he moved
to a totally different part of the country to educate. So we didn't keep
the band going with him. He very amicably just moved away and we found a
new guitar player. He's like my best friend and he offered to do the
cover art for the album before this.
MU: This is pretty in depth stuff. So you just communicated the idea and
he made it a reality?
AK: Yeah, sort of. The nice thing is that this is someone that I've
known for more than 10 years. We even shared flats at one point. We
played in the same band, so he understands the music. He can sort of
read the music. He knows me very well so he gets the point of my lyrics
very easily and also since he's a friend, you get a lot more hours out
of a friend than out of a professional designer that you have to pay for
every hour. So if we paid a professional studio that wasn't in it for
the art but for the money, it would be a very expensive cover.
MU: And it probably would not have come out as good either.
AK: Probably not. We've been doing that a lot. The guitar player before
him, from the very first demo, he's the webmaster.
MU: Oh right. He does a really good job on that as well.
AK: They're childhood friends. They work together on it quite a lot.
Christian designs the graphics things and then on to the webmaster. So
they work together.
MU: It's a good thing you guys all still get along and everything.
AK: That would be really strange. Playing in a band with somebody is a
very intimate thing. You get to know people in a very special manner.
Music to me is very personal, so it would be very unnatural not to speak
with them anymore.
MU: Is the album artwork all computer generated or did he incorporate
his own photos into the actual artwork as well?
AK: All the photos have been taken by Christian, also the band photos.
The guys actually appearing on the photos are my former roommate, our
webmaster, and Paul and Mads from the band. It's pretty made up. And
then we went up to this gravel pit, where they take out sand and gravel,
in my hometown in the countryside where I am now. Christian had the idea
and sketches, so we made them up, pushed them around and took lots of
photos and then Christian has been working a lot on the computer to get
it to look like that.
MU: Wow. That's amazing.
AK: Yeah. It was fun as well because I don't think usually as a band
member you have the possibility to be so involved in every step of that
process. It's almost like an extra band member. As a band member the
artwork is important, and it is very nice to be able to do it like that.
MU: Does he have a website for people to check out?
AK: Not yet.
MU: Not yet? Oh wow.
AK: Actually he is educating right now as a graphic designer so he is
pretty busy. He is a perfectionist and when he does his own stuff, there
is nobody else that says, "This is good. We like it that way. You have
to stop now." So it might take some time.
MU: You mentioned a little while ago that another former bandmate
designed and compiled the information for the website?
MU: That is quite in depth as well.
AK: We work on it quite a bit ourselves as well. He is a good
programmer so he designs easy functions for us to update the news very
easily. Also, he could probably fill in all the blanks himself. Actually
he's upstairs right now watching TV. Actually, the two guys on the front
cover are both sitting on the couch upstairs.
MU: That's crazy. Are they your roommates?
AK: Not anymore. Now I am living with the violin player from another
MU: Do you see the internet as a positive or negative thing for bands
AK: Extremely positive. You have the website function, which is the only
way you have to communicate directly with people who listen to your
music easily. We have put up quite a lot of silly shit on the website as
well - all the personal stuff and stupid photos of us and our friends
having parties and stuff like that.
MU: That's all interesting.
AK: If people want to check it out they can. We put up a little warning
just in case you just want to see our serious side. And then there is
also Napster and all that stuff. I think it is a really great thing and
I think especially for metal music. I do believe that metal fans are the
kind of people that if they downloaded the record from somewhere and
they really like it, I think they will actually buy the record.
MU: They understand that it is the importance of keeping a band alive
AK: Then you have the opportunity to support the bands you actually
like, and, also, the bands not so well established who haven't got a
promotional budget. Korn has the possibility to reach a lot more people.
I can see it as being trouble for say Britney Spears, who releases a
single, who nobody is going to remember in 2 or 3 years. That would be
the kind of music that I would download. I wouldn't bother to buy the
records. Why? Borrowing CDs is the same thing. If you borrow a CD off of
a friend, if you like it go and buy it.
MU: Yeah. It's been going on since music began so it's just a different
way to do it.
AK: It's also the same silly discussion that came up when the copying of
cassettes started flourishing. "This is going to be the death of music,"
says the record industry. It's obviously not going to be. Of course CDs
have better audio and better quality, but, nonetheless, I think it's
MU: What is it like working in a band with your brother?
AK: Very nice actually.
MU: Do the two of you get along very well?
AK: Yes. We do argue from time to time but we finished up the big
argument many years ago. It's extremely practical because he knows me
very well and I know him very well, and it is very easy to communicate
when we write stuff and do stuff. Also, it's a very pleasant thing,
especially situations like tour and studio. It's somebody you're already
used to living with. You're used to the funny habits and little quirks.
But actually, he is the musician that I most like to work with. He's got
the same basic ideas as me of what music is and how it should be done
and stuff like that.
MU: How did the two of you get into metal?
AK: Let's see. . . I think it probably started with stuff like Europe. I
remember my daddy buying a Europe record and playing it very loudly in
the car. Then my auntie, I remember she bought us 'And Justice for All'.
That was a big turning point.
MU: For me as well.
AK: And then W.A.S.P. and Faith No More sort of stepped in there. Then I
found Sepultura and it all started rolling.
MU: Who have people compared your vocals to?
AK: That's an interesting question.
MU: I don't know if I should add, 'cause I think your voice highly
resembles a style and sound similar to Grace Slick of Jefferson
AK: Yes. She's actually one of the ones that I've been compared to a lot
and that's very flattering.
MU: You can't really deny it. It's pretty right on. It's a good thing.
AK: Yeah. It's a very good thing. I really like her vocals as well and
it's definitely not a conscious thing because I haven't been listening
to a lot of her stuff. I like the way she sings and I like what I
perceive as the idea behind the vocals. Other people say Diamanda Galas
for some strange reason. The voice isn't very similar but perhaps the
strangeness is a bit alike from time to time.
MU: Who did they say again?
AK: Diamanda Galas. The crazy, crazy, crazy singer.
MU: I've never heard of her.
AK: She's been doing lots of strange stuff - very theatrical music -
lots of whispers and screams and noises in between. And also some
straight jazz stuff in between. The obvious one, basically any female
singer in a metal band.
MU: Which is not always correct in saying.
AK: Not always correct. I think sometimes people compare the lineup and
not the actual music, because we don't sound very much like Theatre of
Tragedy, especially not anymore. That is the problem with labels,
especially if they are a little bit off the target. People go out and
buy a record and get very confused. "If you want a typical gothic record
then go out and buy a Madder Mortem album." You might like it, but you
might also be a bit surprised.
MU: Who are some vocalists that you enjoy these days?
AK: Mike Patton is my all time favorite from day one. I really love the
new stuff as well. Tomahawk is excellent. I saw them live last year and
it was brilliant. Devin Townsend I really like. I like his style of
singing. I have to think a little bit. . . I love the Neurosis singer.
It's quite far from what I'm doing but I really like the screaming
stuff. It's not a growl. It's just a pure scream. I love that. It's kind
of difficult. I'm not so attached to singers. I've been touring. We just
came off tour with Opeth. Have you heard 'Damnation' yet?
MU: Yes I have.
AK: I love Michael's voice. It's so warm and really, really beautiful.
MU: Yeah, definitely. We'll have to see how well that goes over with the
strictly metal fans, since there are only two distorted chords on the
AK: I am sort of imaging that it could be their big commercial
breakthrough as well, because I think it is a really great record and
hopefully they will reach a few more. . . a few people who are not
interested if you are metal or not - just interested in music. That
would be nice. They really deserve it.
MU: What music are you listening to these days?
AK: I'm listening to a lot of project stuff that friends of mine are
doing. I am desperately waiting for one day to come where I'm going out
to buy 'Viva Emptiness' by Katatonia because I finally have the money.
MU: Have you heard that yet?
AK: No I haven't. The Opeth guys forgot to bring it on tour. It wasn't
released yet when we left.
MU: Yeah, it's really good.
AK: I can imagine. I've been picking up on some older stuff as well.
Slayer. A bit of Slayer, actually. The 'Seasons In The Abyss' record.
MU: Oh good. Their last good one as far as I'm concerned.
AK: It's a very good one yes. I kind of love it. I really don't listen
to a lot of music, especially when we are starting to work with a new
record. It's not because of a fear of getting too inspired. It's because
my head is so full of different kinds of music that I really can't stand
having any more music pushed into there. But it ends up being pop
records, like mellow easy listening stuff that you can have in the
background for a while.
MU: Such as?
MU: All right. Good choice.
AK: Yes. I really love their records and they were really important if
you were a girl in the 80's.
MU: I like a lot of mellow stuff these days as well.
AK: It's good. I listen to basically any kind of music as long as I
think it's good. I have some friends that when they get home after a
really tiresome day, all they want to do is put on Meshuggah. And I like
Meshuggah - just not always. Sometimes you want to just have something
that is just a little more comfortable. There's also this problem that a
lot of the music that I like is this solitary stuff - like the stuff we
do - like really, really depressive. And that sometimes is a little too
much. Sometimes it just gets me so far down that I have to stop
listening to it. That's also something that coincides with starting a
new record. It's always somehow emotional, especially when you're in the
very first phase before we start seeing where it is going - which kind
of direction and what kind of feeling it is going to have. It is a very
unsettling thing. It makes you sort of go over all the old stuff in your
life and clean up things. So I try to find something, and that's not
easy in my album shelf.
MU: What band would you say that Madder Mortem is most collectively
AK: Faith No More I think is a big one. Metallica, obviously. Which
metalhead didn't like 'And Justice For All' and 'Master of Puppets'? I
think we all have a pretty nice Sepultura background these days. We've
been touring with Opeth and that means there is a lot of Opeth floating
around in our heads these days. What other things? There's some really
stupid Norwegian stuff - silly stuff from the 80's. TNT. That's a big
one for everybody. It's a very good 80's metal band - the big hair and
all the stuff. They also have some musical qualities.
MU: I've never actually heard them but I have some friends who are into
AK: It's very much 80's metal. The big, big hair. Really high pitched
vocals. But I think it's good.
MU: Stephen Pearcy from Ratt was in town the other day and I
unfortunately missed it.
AK: Not cool that you missed it but cool that they are actually touring.
MU: Did any of you witness the early Norwegian black metal happenings
and if so what was that like?
AK: That depends on what you mean by happenings?
MU: Just the scene or any of the so-called chaos at the time, like how
realistic it really was.
AK: I think the media picture of it has been slightly exaggerated
because there was obviously not 10,000 Satan worshippers running around
firing everything up in sight. I think the biggest part of the circus
was that there was a media circus. It was crazy in Norway. Every fucking
day for several years, there was some kind of black metal related
article in the newspapers. No wonder that it got such a foothold. I've
never really been part of any scene. My brother, I think, was too young
probably. I had a lot of friends who were more involved with the black
metal scene. I was doing other stuff, living in different parts of the
country. I think it must have been a really weird environment. One of my
girlfriends was hanging out with those kind of people quite a lot and
maybe did have a strange behavioral code and a very strict dress code.
Everything was very diehard - very true - almost like a sect. But that
loosened up after a couple of years. It was obviously diluted as more
and more bands came in. To me it was really annoying because I wear
black basically all the time and I play heavy music so people can't tell
the difference. Every day is like my mother getting really worried,
stuff like that. Annoying. But I don't know. It's strange that it got so
big. It's also kind of cool because I really love some of the early
black metal. I am a big Darkthrone fan and Emperor also is one of my
favorite bands. But what I like the most about black metal is the stuff
that has sort of derived from it. Some of the members of the ex black
metal bands and musicians from that scene have been taking stuff in
really, really new directions and developing music - like Arcturus, for
instance. They are doing something new, something that is a little bit
different and they dare to experiment in a bit of a different way from
what's been usual in the metal scene. So it was a very fresh breath in a
very stale musical scene.
MU: Yeah. It's sounding really good. A lot of those guys are adding a
lot of electronics and stuff and have been doing it very well.
AK: It's very cool. They do it well. That's the part I like about it. So
many bands have tried to incorporate electronica and they are not so
good. It's nice to see somebody actually succeeding.
MU: Ulver seem to do well with whatever they try to do. I don't how they
do it. Every album sounds so different but it's all quality.
AK: Yeah, it is. I think you could put it down to an honest love for
music. And they haven't been as concerned as they probably were in the
early 90's with their image. Image was much, much more important than
music. To me that is silly, so that is perhaps one of the big reasons I
wasn't involved with any kind of scene at all.
MU: How did the recent tour with Opeth go?
AK: Very well I think. You don't really know until quite a bit later
when you get reviews and see if anything happens with album sales and
stuff like that. At least on a personal level, musically and socially it
was great. They were really, really nice people. We played well and we
were really satisfied with the response to that, so to us it was great.
MU: Do you think you fit together well as a package?
AK: I think so. I would have loved to have seen it. The music is not
similar at all but perhaps the approach is a bit similar.
MU: The same sort of vibe and the fact that you are both very unique in
sound I think the fans would be very open to you if they had heard them
before and vice versa.
AK: It's the obvious advantage. The Opeth fans are already kind of
positive to songs beyond four minutes, which is kind of practical. And
also I imagine that Opeth fans are generally into music that is little
bit different, that's experimental, that has something strange and new.
That is very much my impression as well because the last tour we did was
Tristania, Vintersorg and Rotting Christ. They're really, really way off
from us musically and very much different types of people. Nobody was
cheering very loudly for a support band, but they were listening. They
were concentrating and shutting up on the quiet parts of the songs and
stuff like that so it felt good playing to ears and not beer bottles. So
it went off very well.
MU: So what are some other bands that you think would fit well with
Madder Mortem on a tour?
AK: That's really difficult. We did get offered to join the Katatonia
tour, but obviously we didn't do it. Having just been out with Opeth it
was impossible for us. I think that would actually fit pretty good. Its
dark and its depressive. Anything that is gloomy or moody. It would have
to be a band with quite a lot of energy as well so we are not like super
heavy in comparison. No names spring to mind at the moment. If you have
some suggestions please help me.
MU: I guess if dark and depressing is your way to go, then you could
probably hand pick any of the Finnish bands nowadays. They've got a
gloomy sound going on over there.
AK: And also I think stuff that is a little out of the way, a little
progressive as I like to call it - any band that would have fans that
are already used to having to work a bit for the music - stuff that you
may need more than one listen to catch up on - one big huge band that
draws 10,000 people. That would be nice.
MU: Hopefully that could happen at some point.
AK: You never know.
MU: You guys are pretty much on Century Media and just distributed by
the End Records in the US?
AK: We are licensed to The End in the US because Century Media didn't
want to make their own release for some reason.
MU: That's surprising, but I think The End is a very good choice for
AK: I think so too. We haven't been working with them for a long time
but the vibe I'm getting and also the attitude of Andreas is really,
MU: He's psyched about everything he does and all his releases are good
these days. And they are all very different bands so you guys fit on The
End Records roster well.
AK: That is sort of what I am thinking as well. And also this is a
record that he chose. He chose to contact Century Media so that means
that he really, really likes it. From everything I've seen thus far,
he's working his ass off, trying to do as well for us as possible and
that's really great. I think it is much better for us to be working with
a smaller label like that who actually have some kind of personal
interest and really care. They seem to have quite a lot of credibility
for doing good stuff and being honest. So that's good.
MU: What are some future plans of the band?
AK: Well, the closest is we are doing the Inferno Festival here in
MU: That's right.
AK: Yes. After that in two weeks we are doing another Norwegian
festival. We're hoping to get some more festivals, but probably not this
year. It's actually a pretty good thing because we have to write a new
album. We just started working on the new stuff and that is going to be
a priority this summer at least. It's also very comforting to finally
have the time because we've been working with preparing for tour and
promotion and stuff like that. It's really good to just sit down and
make music. Not necessarily playing it over and over again, but feeling
MADDER MORTEM MP3
"Necropol Lit" from 'Deadlands'
THE END RECORDS
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