Photo by Ann-Helén Moen Nannestad
(On October 28, Dark Essence Records will release Red In Tooth and Claw, the new album by Norway’s Madder Mortem, and in this new interview KevinP talks about the album with vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag and guitarist BP M. Kirkevaag.)
K: So it’s been 7 years since your last album, Eight Ways. About freakin’ time don’t ya say? (LOL)
Agnete: Absence makes the heart grow fonder? But yeah, about freaking time! The album has been ready for quite awhile now, so we’re very impatient to get it out there for people to hear.
BP: Feels great and yes, about bleep bleepin’ time! The grey cloud has finally lifted from this album’s shoulder.
K: With this new album, Red in Tooth and Claw, you finally break free of any genre classification (even though you were kinda hard to pigeon-hole before this anyways). Do you find this to be a blessing or a curse?
Agnete: A blessing, definitely! Rock is supposed to be about rebellion, isn’t it? And to me, that means disregarding or at least questioning norms in general. And certainly norms that would place restraints on your creativity. But I can see that there might be short-term marketing difficulties in it too. It’s hard to slap a sticker on the CD case saying “for fans of some other rock band”, since I think the references would be wildly different for different songs.
To be honest, I don’t really know of anyone out there doing exactly what we’re doing and I’m really proud of that. But it has never been our goal. Our music has just ended up being the way it is because it’s what we like and enjoy playing.
BP: Yes, certainly a blessing, but I feel like we’ve been free of genre classification for quite some time. I think that with age comes another mindset as well. Life’s too short not to indulge in every possible musical avenue. And to follow genre rules has never been very much fun anyway, or rebellious, like Agnete says. We pursue whatever idea we think sounds good and I guess that’s why we’re a bit hard to “get” sometimes. But I’d like to point out that we never strive to be like that. It’s just a sum of who we are and what we’d like to hear.
I listen to a lot of different stuff other than the most brutal metal, but I think I’ll always have a special place in my heart and ears reserved for big, chunky, fat guitar riffs. It’s second nature.
K: I agree you could make the argument that you were free of a genre classification before this. But you could always make the case that you were either dark metal or progressive groove, etc., etc. Just now, that’s completely gone.
And I say this because I look at the span of your career in two phases. Mercury/All Flesh is Grass/Deadlands are very specific in their intent with a single-minded theme/vision you wanted to portray. With Desiderata there was still a central theme, but it felt like the band were starting to let things “breathe” and “relax” and have some fun. Eight Ways took this concept even further along the path. And now Red in Tooth and Claw, while still sounding completely like a Madder Mortem album from the very first notes, is more of a “collection of Madder Mortem songs”, as opposed to being all neatly tied together.
BP: I think I can see what you’re saying from an outside perspective. For us I think it’s been more of an ongoing transition from starting up relatively inexperienced and learning a lot on the way that has led us to this point. Also, it seems like the albums are always somewhat a reaction to the previous one, although not intentional. While All Flesh… was a bit all over the place, Deadlands was a lot more homogenous, and then Desiderata was perhaps a bit more everywhere again, but more constrained and controlled than All Flesh.
In my ears Red In Tooth And Claw kinda draws from all of the 5 earlier albums and ties them all a bit together. So in that sense I think a “collection” of Madder Mortem songs fits very well.
Agnete: And also, with Deadlands we were actually sort of trying to do a concept album, something single-minded and dark. I also think that perhaps the time spent between albums has made us develop the material more, and then the songs have sort of diverged more and taken on a more individual nature.
K: The songs on the new record have a tendency to turn on a dime and lull you into a false sense of security. Normally the listener expects a traditional format (regardless of the style). But many times instead of building to a crescendo (say “Stairway to Heaven” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”), you’ll bust into sudden fits of rage. And while there is plenty of aggression on the prior albums, this seems to feature them in abundance.
Agnete: Well, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have some sort of musical Tourettes, and that’s our tics … On a serious note, I think we really wanted to go for something with a bit more teeth, something rawer. And we’ve always been about contrasts. If you want to write something true, you need to have room for both the ugly and the beautiful, both the raging anger and the softest caress, and in some way, one encompasses the other — they’re intrinsically linked, and can’t really be set apart for more than a short time. This is all a very philosophical way of saying that we think it’s really cool to do both full-on metal-up-your-digestive-system and something really sensitive in the same song — each lends the other more power.
Photo by Ann-Hélen Moen Nannestad
K: Mads (drums) has been with you since 1999, and Tormond (bass) since 2003. But the new man in town this time around is Richard (guitars) who joined in 2014. How has he affected the songwriting (if at all) on the new record?
Agnete: Richard joined us long after the record was written and recorded. We wrote and recorded Red in Tooth and Claw with Patrick Scantlebury, who replaced Odd Eivind Ebbesen after he left. Unfortunately, Patrick moved to the other end of the country right after we finished the album, so we had to find a new guitarist. But Patrick had a great deal of impact on the songwriting.
We write mostly as a group. Most typically that means that one of us has an idea, a riff, or half a song, and then we start from there and each of us inputs on that, and perhaps combines it with ideas that someone else has, or we try to just figure out what the song needs and create that there and then. Other times new ideas spring from jamming on an old idea and then chasing that new direction.
This way of working is extremely challenging in some ways. You have to be incredibly patient and willing to wait while someone else develops their idea. You also need to get really good at giving and receiving constructive criticism. In addition, it puts a lot of pressure on your ability to think on your feet, to be able to figure out what you’re going to play or sing, so that we can try out ideas. And that, I think, means that you need to have a great deal of trust in your band members, both on a personal and musical level.
But I really think it’s worth it, I think it makes us better and makes the music more interesting. For instance, it gives us a greater range of tonalities, of different tonal “languages”, since all of us tend to favour certain tonalities and not use others as often. It also gives us different starting points for songs — like occasionally starting with a vox idea instead of a riff and building guitars, drums, and bass that expand that vox idea, which I think is a rather unusual way of working for metal bands. We’ve gotten very good at this after all this time. But it’s time-consuming. Since we’re great at coming up with different versions of an idea, we kinda need to try them all out, too, and just imagine what that means in terms of time spent, rearranging the whole band over and over. In the end though, we tend to agree and find a solution that we all think is great and that’s what you’ll hear on our albums.
As for Richard, we’ve written material for almost two albums since he joined. He’s certainly contributing his share, both with really cool ideas and with his amazing technical abilities. But perhaps BP could say some more about that?
BP: Patrick for sure had a big impact on the material for this album, and Richard will be just as important for the next one. They’re both great guitarists, and while me and Patrick perhaps have had a more similare upbringing as guitar players (when it comes to influences, idols, and such) Richard plays the hat/cap/hair off of the both of us technically and is an extremely proficient guitarist who handles pretty much anything we throw at him with exellence. That’s no small feat in this band with the wide array of styles we do. Also, he’s bringing in great ideas that gel very nicely with our style.
For the production/engineering side of things, I try to envision how the final result should sound before even placing a single microphone or recording anything. Envisioning what the dynamics and “color” of the production should be like. And then it’s trying to apply the best techniques and methods I can think of to to get us as close as I can soundwise to what the album that plays in my head sounds like. Then it’s what microphones and placements, guitar tone, bass sound, and so on. And in the end… endless hours of mixing and tweaking, of course.
One thing we definitely learned with this album was how we’re supposed to record albums in a way that fits us, and that is to let go of click-tracks and the tracking-of-one-member-at-the-time method. This time we tracked the songs like a real band, all 5 members in a room, with me running back and forth to hit the record button. Sure, there’s overdubs and additional stuff, but I think we sound a lot closer to how we actually sound on this album because of this. Maybe that sounds contradictory — that it’s a given that bands record as a whole group. While some do, it’s not that common, I think. At least not on metal recordings.
Often perfection lives in imperfection as well as perfection. In this time and age I think what’s interesting in music is the human element. So with Red In Tooth And Claw we tried to be careful not to lose sight of that, and I think we succeded quite well. Going more with the gut-feeling of what’s good instead of the more technical aspect of what is good.
K: In regard to live performances, you never were a band to “go on tour”. You would normally play a handful of shows here and there or do a “mini tour”. Any plans to change that? I know getting to the USA is probably not in the cards (but I can always dream).
Agnete: Well, we toured after All Flesh… with Tristania, Vintersorg, and Rotting Christ. After Deadlands we did 6 weeks with Opeth. We’d love to tour more but we’ve had to turn some opportunities down because we were in line-up changes and things like that. Also, going on tour is quite expensive, while at the same time you’re not earning your wages, which can make it financially hard on an avant-garde band. But we’d love to, and we’d especially like to tour the USA. We think that it’d be a good audience for us, and the US fans really seem to appreciate what we’re doing.
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