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Madder Mortem

"Seven deadly years, seven years to win, seven holy years to hell,.. and your trip begins... "

We’ve waited seven long years for it. Seven years, which make me doubt if the band would still exist at all. It wouldn’t be such a surprise, since it’s not such a world famous band. It happens to be one of my favourite bands, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to see them at the largest metal festivals in Europe. Au contraire mon ami, they only played an insignificant four times in the last five years, at some locals festivals in Norway. Has the band died a silent death?

Nope, they ain’t dead, they’re back! Madder Mortem just released their sixth studio album, ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’(RITAC), and what’s even greater news to tell: the album is seriously one hell of a great album. In retrospect I was slightly disappointed about their previous album ‘Eight Ways’ (and somehow I didn’t really took a close listen to their last release, the EP ‘Where Dream And Day Collide’), but I can’t imagine this will happen also with this new one. I spoke, very easy via Facebook messenger, with lead singer Agnete M. Kirkevaag, the air raid siren from the Norwegian midlands, and sometimes her brother, also guitarist of the band, BP adds a little extra (technical) information.

By: Evil Dr. Smith | Archive under prog / sympho metal

Agnete! Finally! Our last interview took place way, way, waaay too long. How, where and what the hell have you been (doing) all those years?
Agnete: Well, the short version is that we've changed guitar players twice and labels once, and that takes a lot of time. Finding new members is never easy, and neither is finding a suitable label.

And the long version?
When Odd Eivind Ebbesen left the band after ‘Eight Ways’, Patrick Scantlebury joined us - he's an old friend of ours. He's also the guy behind Frantic Bleep, where our old bass player Paul (Mozart Bjørke) did lead vocals for their first full-length. BP is their new vocalist, and where I also did some backing vocals, so he was well-known to us - he was even our crew when we toured with Opeth (in 2003). However, after we had written and recorded RITAC, Patrick moved to the other end of Norway for work, so we had to go looking for a new guitarist. We were in luck, since it turned out that Richard Wikstrand was actually living really close to us, and he's been a great addition to the band, a very skilful and smart guitarist.

On the label side, we wanted to finish the album before we started looking, and then the process also takes some time, but we're very satisfied with choosing Dark Essence - they really care about music, and that's the main thing to us. For me, personally, I've finished my master's degree in literary translation, finished my teacher education and some other extra subjects, and I've now been working as a teacher for six and a half years ... time flies by! I'm really enjoying this line of work, especially since you're doing something that actually matters, not just pushing paper around. Currently I'm working at the lower secondary school I went to myself, and I really like it - great to be back in the countryside (the heartland), and great to have the feeling that you're giving something back.

A small intermezzo question about that Frantic Bleep. That was a one-and-a-half day fly I suppose? I never heard from it again after that EP and its debut album.
BP: I'm not sure if you could call Frantic Bleep an active band anymore, but it's not completely dead, either. Album number two is still missing some recording of vocals from me, mixing and then it's done. I really hope we'll be able to finish and release it someday, because it's one highly original and truly great album! I've also recorded guitars and backing vocals for an album with Age Of Silence that looks like will be released some time next year. Great, great stuff to my ears!

So I guess it took about a year to find Dark Essence and release the album, since I can remember you already recorded the album in the summer of 2015. Am I right? And working as a teacher for six and a half years while the previous album was released seven years ago… well, it's clear you choose for a social life, instead of living as a rock and roll chick. ;)
Agnete: Hmm .. let's see, we had recorded most of the album by 2012. Then Patrick left, and we spent lots of time trying to figure out what to do for a new guitarist. And when you get a new member, it takes a lot of time to get them up to speed on the back catalogue and so on. And then we had a bit of a hiatus in the mixing process, since we were trying to figure out what to do both for guitarist and label. When we got Richard in place (around March 2014), we started to speed things up a little, getting the mixing and mastering on track and so on. We signed with Dark Essence in March 2016, but I guess we were talking to different labels for about a year before that. We're not the most efficient people in the world, probably. We're great at being musicians, writing songs and rehearsing and playing gigs, but that doesn't mean that we're necessarily any good at the business side of things. And the music industry has changed. It seems to me that most labels are very afraid of any kind of risk, which again makes it harder for a quirky band like us. So it's not really about our work or social lives slowing us down - it's more about trying to figure out how to make things work for the band. And while you're waiting for rockstardom, you need some way of paying your rent ;) . To quote Bon Scott: "Ain't no fun waiting 'round to be a millionaire."

Quotes, you must like them. You used a lot in the booklet. Every lyric starts with a quote by a musician, writer or poet. One of my favourite songs is the first song, ‘Blood On The Sand’, where you use the line “You can’t buy it, but it has a price,” said Oryx. “Everything has a price.” It’s from Margaret Atwoods book ‘Oryx and Crake’. Although I have a book collection at home that will make a small village library jealous, I didn't know this book. What struck you must in this book and why did you "decide" to be inspired by this book specifically?
You really need to read this book. I love Margaret Atwood, she's also one of those authors who have been mentioned as a Nobel prize candidate for years, but never got one. "Oryx and Crake" is the first book in a trilogy of sorts, I guess you could call it post-apocalyptic, but what I find so great, is that she's more concerned with people and how people's minds work than with disasters and dramatic scenes and such ... you know, "not with a bang, but a whimper". (That's actually from "The Hollow Men" by Eliot, one of the other poems I quote.)

I guess the main link here is that one of the main characters, Crake, is an example of someone who understands what it really means to follow through on your ideas and ideals, and how that usually means sacrifice. (I won't tell you more, it'd be a complete spoiler.) Most of us prefer a lukewarm existence, because really following through is generally very hard and very uncomfortable. Being able to go all the way with something is not an ability that everyone has.

I wanted to do these quotes for each song because I'm very interested in intertextuality; how different texts influence and connect to each other. (Yes, I know, quite nerdy.) I think it's a great way of offering the listener a different way of interpreting the song, and in some ways, they can also be used as a key to reading the lyric, I think. The quotes were all decided after the lyrics were more or less done, and it's mostly books, poems or lyrics that I think add to or emphasise what my lyrics are about. And it's also a way of sharing some works that I really love and admire.

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In 'Fallow Season', you used W. H. Auden's poem 'If I Could Tell You'. ”If we should weep when clowns put on their show, If we should stumble when musicians play, Time will say nothing but I told you so.”
It's about greed and religion and how those forces are driving us into ruin. The first verse deals with religion, the second verse with how music is commercialised and treated as a product instead of art, how rock has become a marketing ploy for H&M instead of a subversive rebel underdog culture. And I'm kinda thinking that it'll all have to get worse before it gets betters - we'll need an apocalypse of sorts to be able to start again.

I didn't expect Bruce Springsteen in the booklet. For the song ‘If I Could’ you used Springsteens line “Like a thief on a Sunday morning, it all falls apart without warning“ (from ‘You’ll Be Coming Down’, of his album ‘Brave’(2007).
I really like Springsteen, and he's certainly one of those artists where the words are as important as the music. He's spent most of his career singing from the underdog's point of view, and he writes so well about how complex and simple at the same time people are. I love that song, and I think it's a warning we all need to remember: It all comes apart with no warning. There are no guarantees in life, no certainties.

Come to think of it: your band plays a very diverse type of metal, but the quotes from the musicians in the booklet are all icons in a very specific "one-dimensional" type of music. AC/DC, Motörhead, Ozzy, Springsteen: they all play 40+-years of the same type of music. Great though, but they can’t be sentenced for being too progressive.
I've come to really appreciate AC/DC, especially through playing their songs in a cover band. It's very far from what we do, but there's such a lot to learn from them in regards to timing and tight playing. I love Bon Scott's ability to make an innuendo out of anything hahaha. And it's music that kinda lifts a weight off your shoulders - sometimes it's lovely just to lean back and go with the flow, rather than diving into the meaning of everything.

That cover band is called Dögenichts, and we play mostly really classic rock, like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Dio, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Kiss and so on. It's me, BP and Mads from Madder, and a bunch of other friends - we're three singers in that band. It's great fun to do gigs with Dögenichts, and it's also really good exercise, since we tend to do three hour-long sets. We don't do that many gigs, just the occasional one in our district. Hell, I even get to do an Aretha Franklin song! For Motörhead and Ozzy, they are icons, and rightfully so. They do their thing, and do it really well. There's something about some Motörhead lyrics that just strikes a note with me, they kinda bring out my inner rebellious 16-year-old, I guess. The bridge lyrics in ’Killed By Death’, for instance: "But it don't make no difference/cuz I ain't gonna be/easy/the only time I'm easy is when I'm killed by death" - those are words to live by, in my opinion. The Ozzy song ‘I Just Want You’ is because I really love that song, and because of the meaning of the words, and of the whole lyrics just emphasises what I wanted to say with that song.

I read here and there that some people are not that fond of your vocals. They also say that you're singing sometimes out of key. Regarding the first seconds in the clip of 'If I Could', I must admit... they are right, I think. Do you agree?
Well, I would usually not keep a take where I'm singing out of key, unless that really contributed to the feeling of the song. However, we do a lot of dissonant chords or vocal tones, meaning that we deliberately choose a tone that does not belong in the main chord - like a minor second interval, which to many people will sound grating and discordant, which is exactly the purpose hahaha. In the beginning of ‘If I Could’, there's one such note - so the pitch is right, but it is dissonant. And it's BP singing there, hehe. You'll also find instances of blue notes, meaning notes that hang between the main intervals, very common in blues music, for instance. But I do think it's mainly about these dissonant tones. We love 'em, but a lot of people will not, especially if they're mostly used to listen to more straight-forward tonalities.

On the other hand, your way of singing is very pure, emotional and direct. It comes right into the mind/brain of the listener: whether he likes it, or not. It's completely at the other end of the spectrum of that horrible autotuning. I mean, your voice is literally breaking at the end of 'Blood On The Sand'. It gave me goose bumps all over. It's the pinnacle of the Maddest Mortem. Where do you here that nowadays? Or any day at all? A breaking voice on a record: I utterly love it!
The main thing is the feeling of the song - and that makes pitch and such secondary considerations. And I guess that brings me to vocal production. I completely agree with you, you seldom hear cracking voices or minor flaws anymore, and that's such a shame. Very often the true feeling hides in those "imperfections". Autotune and compression is the Photoshop of vocals, and overused, they erase all feeling and personality, and you might as well use a synth. As for the cracking on "Blood On The Sand": I can actually do that on purpose (she said smugly), and I love how raw it makes my voice sound - it gives the vocals a kind of desperation or intensity that really brings that part to life.

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So you cheated! ;) You can crack your voice on purpose? It never crossed my mind singers are able to do that. So, another dream about 'true vocal emotions' is blown to smithereens hehe. Let’s move to overall sound of the album. Already from the start of the first song I recognized the typical Madder Mortem sound. Very organic, extremely organic. Dark, yet warm. Such a different sound than almost any other (metal) album. I can imagine people doesn’t like that typical raw sound, because it isn’t slick, nor thick or as a wall of sound. What do you do to make it sound this way, which is definitely not for everyone's ear, but has an exceptional distinctive signature sound.
About the general production: I think the main difference between MM and a lot of other metal bands is the range of expression - we do everything from blast beats to soft jazz in one album or in one song, and that means we need a sound that will work for all of those expressions. Also, we want it to sound like a band playing their instruments, and we want the sound to serve the music, not the other way around. We're striving for an organic, truthful sound with a lot of warmth and a lot of detail at the same time, which is really hard, but I think BP really got it right here. And again: Slick usually means less feeling, less honesty, and it makes it easier to use the music as muzak, which we really don't want. We'd rather have people hate it than be indifferent about it. Can you tell a little more about the production, BP?

BP: I think it's got a lot to do with having a clear idea behind the production. Picturing an overall image that will fit with the songs. That dictates what microphones to use and where to place them, technique etc. Putting the human element in the front, not the technical aspect. In my mind a great production is there to serve the songs and to convey the emotions as directly as possible to the listener. We strive for honesty in everything and that I hope shines through in the production as well. There's a very minimal amount of editing and trickery on this album. No autotune, no beat-detective, no make-me-great-instantly wizardry. What you hear is what we sing and play. To me, often metal productions sounds a lot alike, because there are certain ways it's supposed to sound. You can't do this and you can't do that. Well, that just boring. For instance, the bass guitar is often reduced to hammering the guitar riffs an octave lower, or - it's there to provide meat for the guitars production wise. It is a great instrument and has its own purpose, so why not let it do its own thing? It's pretty, pretty difficult to make that work in between the 7-string guitars, but I think it brings something different and interesting to the table.

To some extent I think we, or I, was caught in that trap with "Eight Ways" production-wise. Very careful to make all things neat, perfect and polished. This time I wanted to make sure the "oomph" in the guitars was there and the overall sound to the album more organic and warmer. I guess our production-ideals relates more to rock and older recordings than newer metal-style production, maybe that's why to some ears it sounds a bit strange. I think we got a lot closer to sounding like we actually sound like a band this time. Recording without click-tracks and such annoying things. When you have as a solid drummer as we have, it's kinda stupid to make him follow a computer's rigid and stiff timing. So tracking live as a band is certainly the method for us. It took us quite some time to realize that, but now there's no turning back, I think. As a result, there's a groove and looseness to RITAC that at least to my ears is missing from a lot of modern albums.

Does your album have a Dutch connection thanks to the mastering of Peter In De Betou? I don't know him - I saw his name as a producer of a Dismember album and, waaaaaay back in the history of metal, Overdrive - but his name sounds very Dutch to me.
Agnete: He's Swedish, as far as I know - at least he lives and works in Sweden. We've worked with him several times before, and we've always been really happy with the result. BP, would you please say something about what mastering does?

BP: Peter and the mastering is there both as a safe-guard for the sound of the album, but mostly for making it sound more even across different listening devices and enhancing the overall sound of the album with veeery expensive, quality equipment in a great listening environment. Mastering can really f*** up an album if it's done badly, but when done right it gives you that extra push, ties it all together and better the sound. That's why I really like working with Peter, because he really listens to my mixes and don't just automatically change things to hell and back, but listens carefully to the dynamics and sonics and improves on what I've done.

If I'm not mistaken, it's been thirteen years and eight months since you played in The Netherlands (in Utrecht). Together with some vague, little and obscure band named Opid or Opath, or something like that. Well, regarding your private life - teacher and two dogs - I suppose we can wait until hell freezes over for another visit to Utrecht (or The Netherlands at all).
Agnete: I don't see why you'd suppose that haha. The band is my main priority, and if we get a suitable opportunity, we'll definitely tour. It's more a question of making the finances work than anything else, we'd love to go out, and we'd love to come back to Utrecht!

The album artwork looks like a rabies infected evil dog twin from the dog on Alice In Chains self-titled album, but then with no legs missing.
Yes, it does remind me a little of that cover, too! I've got two dogs, one Pincher, and a small mixed-breed that looks like a dachshund with longer legs. But the one on the cover is not one of mine, but you'll find one of the dogs me and BP used to have in there haha. My dogs don't really look threatening enough!

To conclude: I asked about it in previous interviews, but since you play together now for like 23 years together, I like to ask it again: what's it like to play and work so long together as brother and sister? Has the energy and way of working together changed in any way? Or is it still the same as way back in 1993? And do you have other musically gifted brothers and sisters?
I think it's much the same, actually. Since we're siblings, I guess it's easier for us both to agree on stuff or bicker and argue, but we've got the same goal in mind, so it usually works out. We don't have other siblings, and I'm not so sure about the rest of our family. Our dad absolutely loves music, and he's surrounded us with great music from Bach to the Rolling Stones since we were babies, but you REALLY don't want to hear him sing! I mean, really. Mom sings a bit and plays the guitar, so she's more musical, but other than that, there's not a lot of very musical people in our family, so I guess we're a bit of a fluke.

Their new album, ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’, is now available. I hope tickets for an upcoming tour as well, but so far nothing is known, let alone confirmed.

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