When it comes to Black Metal, a genre in which the market has become increasingly saturated, few bands can claim the influence of Marduk. “Despite” being from Sweden (as opposed to Norway, where most people would place the cradle of black metal) Marduk quickly placed themselves as a band that had nothing to envy from their fellows across the border.
Where many bands have been unable to stay true to their message or their sound, Marduk, have only refined their message and their music, without pulling any of the punches they’ve always been so ready to throw. With a career spanning over 20 years, it is clear that for them the battle is far from over.
Although I had met with him fairly recently, Morgan Steinmeyer, guitar player and founder of the band, joined us during their tour with Grave, Valkyrja and Death Wolf (his own band, where he plays the bass). We had planned to clarify some of the issues that our readers had raised in response to our last meeting…
But we got so much more.
[quote]I believe in a Power, it’s not just a symbol for me. It’s a natural force.[/quote]
Metal Blast: Something that got a lot of interest and comments from our last interview, was your position on music only being “black metal” if it deals with Satanism or the occult. Some people pointed out, for instance, that Varg Vikernes doesn’t even see what he did in Burzum as Satanic
Morgan: He used to! [laughs] Who gives a shit?
MB: He’s an interesting character.
M: He changes from time to time. I used to know him back in the day, he used to stay in my house.
MB: What do you think about what happened to him?
M: I don’t know, I don’t have all the facts, I’ve only read about it on the news. I don’t know him anymore, he probably lives a completely different life; he had some guns, but I don’t think he would take the risk of going out and killing a lot of people when he has his own family. The thing seemed strange.
MB: The way I saw it was more as an abuse of power on the part of the French government.
M: Yeah, it seemed like they don’t like his blog and his views so they tried to get rid of him. I don’t know; I haven’t read so much about it.
MB: It was very weird. The official story was that it was motivated by his wife buying some guns (legally!). It coincided with some less-than-fortunate comments on his blog directed to Hollande and the French government. It was very brutal though; they opened fire against his door.
M: I saw a long interview with him and his wife when they tell the story but, again, I don’t know all the facts, as it usually happens with things like this.
MB: In this case, however, you can just pay attention to what the government itself said: There were no concrete plans nor any reason to believe he was preparing any kind of terrorist act.
M: And the court thing? The thing with his opinions?
MB: That’s still going on. The government dropped the terrorist charges, but they’re going against him for the “hate speech”.
M: I haven’t read that much about his views, except for some interesting things he posted. Maybe in the last 20 years he had a little too much time to read [laughs].
MB: The thing is that Varg, well, he’s clearly an anti-semite, he clearly doesn’t like jews.
M: Yeah; I’m sure he doesn’t.
MB: And to say it out loud is illegal in France.
M: It’s strange that it’s illegal to dislike a religion. I find it really strange that you can’t have certain views but, well, I know the way it works.
MB: It’s dangerous to go down that path. It’s just too easy to interpret anything a person says as insulting, offensive or racist. Remember what happened to Nergal in Poland.
M: The Bible thing? I thought it was impossible to get that kind of reactions these days. Maybe in 1991 or 1992 but now? Even for Poland it’s weird to get that type of reactions.
MB: It’s pretty incredible. I mean, what happened to you in Belarus was, well, to be expected. It’s a tyrannical dictatorship.
M: For us it was a good inspiration and it’s nice when something like that happens. I had, for the most part, forgotten about the last time that it happened.
Belarus is a strange place in Europe. It’s very unique.
MB: They’re absolutely isolated from the rest of the continent. I was surprised, however, when I saw that you had actually played there before.
M: Yeah, we played once there before. The first time we had to cancel, then the second one we were able to play, and then the third one we had to cancel.
MB: It’s really incredible to imagine that you actually were able to play.
M: This time we were there, we were allowed to enter the country, but we weren’t allowed to play. Although the promoter told us that we couldn’t play, we stayed there and saw people from the government going around and filming, it was a very bizarre thing. We went on stage while Kataklysm was playing just to show that we were there and sort of apologize to the public for what was happening.
Probably nothing would have happened to us if we had played anyway, but the promoter would have gotten into serious problems. I wouldn’t want to do that to him; as Swedes we would have just been kicked out of the country, but he would have gotten a lot of problems.
MB: It’s incredible to see things like this happen.
M: I remember that when we played in, I think, Singapore, they needed to see the setlist before the concert so they could decide what songs we could or could not play. We still played all the songs we wanted, we just didn’t announce them; it wasn’t a problem for us or for the fans, since they knew what the songs were.
MB: So they just took a guess based on the titles?
MB: And there were titles they were OK with!?
M: They picked the ones they liked, but we still played what we wanted. We just didn’t present the titles of the songs.
MB: [laughs] M: They [people from the government] were there and they were happy.
MB: Last time we met we talked a bit about how nowadays every band can call themselves “black metal”. In the case of Marduk, and you in particular however, you were there pretty much when it began…
M: Depends on what you consider the beginning was. I think it was when Venom formed. I think of us more like of the second generation of black metal.
MB: But it also goes back to what you said black metal really is, namely a genre deeply marked by Satanism and the occult. Venom, after all, only used Satanism for provocation and shock value. Regardless, however, whether 1st or 2nd generation, what do you see the changes have been in the genre, because clearly you’re not happy with it.
M: It’s especially with what I call the Relapse bands from America. They call themselves black metal with no deeper thoughts behind it, just because they might use a certain type of scream or whatever. I don’t bother too much about it because I rather care about what I do myself, because otherwise it’s just too frustrating.
MB: You no longer feel connected with the black metal scene?
M: I don’t know [laughs].
MB: There was this “circle” that existed back in the day, with you, Mayhem, Burzum, etc., and which clearly disappeared…
M: Yeah; and it has changed a lot. Even when you look back upon it, it’s hard to describe the change because of how dramatic it was; everything has become so accepted, which back in the day we thought would never happen.
It’s both positive and negative, depending on how you look upon it; I always believed that it’s great when great bands get the exposure that they deserve. I don’t believe in just sitting in your room and doing stuff that nobody will ever get to listen to, or just refuse to spread it. If that was the case for me, then I wouldn’t do this, I would do something else.
MB: Well, let’s think about Burzum at the beginning; Varg says that he wanted to make it sound like shit, just to make it inacessible.
M: I don’t think it sounded like shit. That’s what he says now, but he has changed his mind 20 times. 10 years ago metal was “nigger music” for him, but now he plays metal again!
Even if that’s the case, it’s also true that sometimes great artists look back upon their work at a certain period in their life with a negative view. Even Tom G. Warrior looked back upon some of the Celtic Frost and Hellhamer works and hated them for some time, because it had been too painful, because he worked with it for so long and tried to get away from it all; then he understood how much it all meant and went back and saw it with respect. It was the same with Bathory, as Quorthon hated a lot of his old stuff, while later on in his career he started to see how much it had meant and started to accept it and become one with what he had done.
MB: When at the beginning you had this desire, that you’ve said has stopped, to be “the most blasphemous band”…
M: It was probably because the music scene back then was static and boring, so we wanted to bring it to a higher level. It wasn’t about being the most blasphemous, because nobody can beat Profanatica anyway [laughs].
MB: In his letters, Dead, from Mayhem, complained a lot about what Death Metal had become, a “trendy” thing. There was a desire to be different back then; but now, for instance, you’ve mentioned that even though you still use corpse paint it’s kind of silly.
M: I don’t think it’s silly; for us it represents something, but it has become silly as a result of being so misused by so many people. When you see it on certain bands, of course, it becomes silly.
MB: What other changes do you think have come as a result of aging or of growing as a band, in your perspective to what Black Metal is nowadays.
M: In a lot of ways I think that my views are more extreme today than they were back then, but it’s just that you look upon things in a different way. You also attack things in a different way as you learn how it works and how it doesn’t work.
MB: In what way do you think you’ve become more extreme?
M: In everything! If I look upon my whole views, they’re still the same thoughts from those days, but more refined. You grow, learn and get new experiences. I think people can see this in our music and our lyrics, since we’re always very outspoken.
MB: There must be, however, some degree of frustration, since you have an actual message that you are putting out while, at the same time, people just put out similar material with nothing behind it.
M: Yeah, but as long as we do what we do and people see the meaning behind it, then I don’t care about the rest.
MB: Nowadays there is a current that some call “orthodox Black Metal”, with bands like Valkyrja and Watain-
M: I think it’s a stupid term. The same with “kvlt”; every band talks about being “kvlt”. What the fuck is “kvlt”? It’s ridiculous.
MB: The way I understand the “orthodox” part is a reference to the religious element within that current of black metal to which those bands are connected.
M: Maybe a lot of them think so, but I don’t know if I would agree with that. All the types and sub-types… everybody knows what’s real and what isn’t, you don’t need to call yourself “orthodox” or “kvlt”. If it’s black metal, then it’s black metal.
MB: But it goes back to what we’ve discussed regarding how something can only be black metal if it is religious in nature.
M: Exactly; if it’s real black metal you don’t need to talk of “kvlt” or “orthodox”! [laughs]
MB: I recently met with Gaahl in Norway, and we discussed this issue of what black metal really “is”. He mentioned that although he obviously sees your point, the fact is that once you put a piece of art out there, it’s very hard to control the way it is perceived by others. In the end, he didn’t seem to care about how people call it.
M: I don’t think about titles and categories; if I connect to it and feel the music as being genuine, then it’s real for me.
MB: When it comes to the topic of the spiritual side of black metal, you find that quite often the figure of Satan is used as a metaphor. Bands like Behemoth have used the image of Satan as a symbol of opposition, and not so much as an actual deity. In the case of Marduk, is the connection a spiritual one?
M: Of course it is; otherwise, as I said, it wouldn’t be black metal. However, the way in which everybody in the bands looks at it is very different, we don’t see everything the same way. For me, it’s a living religion.
M: Yes; I believe in a Power, it’s not just a symbol for me. It’s a natural force.
MB: Isn’t Satan a product of monotheistic religions?
M: You can call that power whatever you want; personally, I don’t name it. In the end all the religions are pretty much the same when it comes to these powers.
MB: Right, but you did pick “the evil one”
M: But what is evil?
MB: Well, when Marduk started you said that you wanted to bring back into music the violence and aggression that had been lost. I’m sure we can both agree that, in principle, people who are both violent and aggressive for the hell of it would be considered, by most standards, “evil”.
M: At that time we considered the music was losing its momentum, so we wanted to bring back the power it.
I think that being “bad” and “evil” are two different things; being evil is very much connected to whatever is natural to you.
MB: Were you raised in a religious environment?
M: Not at all; I encountered the bible in school, but I wasn’t raised within a religion. My family has always been very good in that way; I was never forced to think anything and neither of my parents were Christians. My father and my uncle, for instance, for as long as I can remember, wore their Thor’s hammers.
MB: I think that bringing up your kids in a religion is rather cruel.
M: It is, absolutely. Everybody should evolve and realize whatever comes from within them.
MB: The way people react to Satanism is always interesting. I remember talking with Erik, singer of Watain, about an incident they had in the US during their Decibel tour with Behemoth. They had to change the venue of one of their shows because the owner realized, a bit too late, that the bands on the bill were all Satanists. Deicide still gets shit when they play, even though Glen Benton doesn’t really seem to be that much into it anymore.
M: In my eyes Deicide lost the spirit a long time ago. I guess people can still appreciate it but, I don’t know, the way in which they still attack religion in their lyrics makes it seem like they just don’t have any new ideas and just try to come up with things for the album. Maybe Glen means a lot with it, but for me it doesn’t cut it anymore.
MB: You find those more “transparent” attacks on religion a bit childish? Because I saw you still sell the “Fuck me Jesus” shirt.
M: It’s a nice one! [Laughs] It’s something we did a long time ago, and you refine what you do over time. We don’t do the same album over and over again; you have to change the way in which you deliver the message in order to really hit what you’re aiming at.
MB: Speaking of the message; Gaahl always refused to print the lyrics of his Gorgoroth work, arguing that it’s better when people have to pay close attention.
M: I can agree to a certain level, but if you don’t print the lyrics it will still be a pain in the ass to explain them to all the people that will mishear them or get them wrong. For us it has always been natural to print the lyrics, but I wouldn’t mind not doing it.
MB: You’re also not so much “in your face”, you clearly prefer to use symbolism.
M: Exactly; one of the things that I like to do with lyrics is to put in meanings that although maybe a lot of people won’t discover, I’m happy to see that some do. I like to work with the lyrics and the music in a way that will speak to everybody in a different way; I like to talk to people who interpret them in ways that are different from mine, because it’s interesting to see how they react and how they look upon it.
MB: Is it ever frustrating that the message you want to convey doesn’t go through?
M: Sometimes, but I think that there’s always a lot of space to make up your own mind. Honestly, I find it interesting that people even take the time to read the lyrics, since most people probably don’t even do that.
MB: For me the lyrics are just a fundamental part of the music.
M: For me they’re just as important as the music, because I like to feel the connection.
With whatever music that I like, I like to have the feeling that the artist mean what they say and that they say it out of conviction. For instance, I love Wovenhand, he [David Eugene Edwards] is a die-hard Christian, but he means what he says and it’s still very dark and means so much to him. Even if you listen to classical music; a lot of those composers were Christians and had a strong conviction, and the power of their music is timeless.
MB: If you read Paradise Lost or The Divine Comedy you encounter that, someone that is laying out his real beliefs and convictions.
M: Exactly, and that’s what I love, the conviction, because it feels genuine.
MB: That’s what I like about Marduk, since it is very clear that the lyrical part isn’t just a gimmick, but something with which you feel connected. I feel the same way regarding Dissection, for instance, since you can really feel the importance that they gave to the lyrical content and how serious they were about it.
M: I knew Jon Nödtveid [singer of Dissection] since ’89, so I was always following the band, and knew how serious he was already back then.
Back in the day, when they were recording their albums, they’d come to live in our apartments, because they recorded where we were living.
MB: How did you feel about his suicide?
M: It’s business [laughs]. People commit suicide all the time, but you can always wonder about what was the reason for it. I didn’t speak to him that often since around 2003 or 2005; we got back in contact when he got out of jail and spoke from time to time. For me it was surprising that he committed suicide, because he had told me that he had many different plans.
MB: What has been said is that it wasn’t a result of depression, but rather that he felt that after Reinkaos there was nothing else for him to do; like his job was done.
M: It’s strange, because he had a lot of other plans only a couple of months before. I guess he changed his mind.
If he’s happy with the purpose of his death, I guess it’s fine.
MB: I don’t think he knows.
M: If he had the idea and that’s what he wanted to know, then it’s fine.
MB: Death and destruction seem to be quite commonplace in black metal.
M: They are; they’re topics about which everybody is fascinated, whether you’re into black metal or not.
MB: In the case of black metal, however, it seems to be a sort of obsession. It reminds me of the Zionist Christians in the United States, who are obsessed with supporting Israel so that the rapture can commence; some black metal bands seem to share this obsession with the end and the destruction.
M: I don’t know if I share that, but I do share the fascination with death. It has always been interesting from a lot of perspectives. Everybody will have to cope with this; people will always discuss what will happen after death.
MB: And going back to your earlier words about bringing violence and destruction into metal; what did you mean by that, how did you want to accomplish it?
M: Just listen and see it; it’s there. It’s about how you speak about it in the lyrics; it’s there for everybody to see and make up their own mind about as to how it should be done.
MB: The level of commitment to this violent point of view differs greatly between “practitioners” of black metal; I remember that Erik [singer of Watain] once told me that he encouraged people to go out and commit acts of terrorism in the name of Watain. Are you be OK with people going out and committing acts of violence because of black metal?
M: Yes, I am, but everybody has to take responsibility for what they do and how they do it.
MB: Do you think that this is the natural result of black metal? That in the end what you try to do is create chaos and destruction?
M: It is, but it’s also about how I would like it to be unleashed.
I think that in our latest albums the message is very clear in the lyrics and the music; everybody should take the time to read it and see it. It’s just like a painting; you shouldn’t explain it too much, because the symbolism is there and you should understand it on your own.
MB: As a musician, do you find it frustrating that this is what people expect from you? The kind of “describe your music” questions?
M: Yes, it’s the same when it comes to the lyrics; sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say what you mean so you present it in a symbolic way, and people should understand it. I would never ask a painter about what he meant by this or that, it’s all about the allegories.
MB: And yet that’s what you get in museums, explanations on what an artist meant.
M: Sometimes; still, there are certain time periods in which a lot of symbolism was used, and its meaning is still unknown to a lot of people. You need to take the time and analyze things over and over again to really see their meaning.
MB: Last time we met you mentioned that Marduk was working on a new album. Tell me a bit about that.
M: We haven’t started recording or anything like that; we’re putting together all the music by ourselves. After we finish this tour we’ll go back and let everything fall into its right place. The concept is ready, I’ve completed the lyrics for 8 or 9 songs and we have a ton of ideas, it’s just that we haven’t been able to get together. We’ve all been working on the music and written 5 or 6 songs each.
MB: When you write the lyrics, do you need (like some musicians do) to put yourself in a specific emotional place?
M: No; I find it ridiculous when all the people talk about needing to go some desolated location to work on their lyrics. It’s kind of a cheap “artist” thing to do; I remember reading about bands that needed to travel out into the countryside to connect and write together. For me it comes naturally; I can write or play guitar in the middle of the night or whenever; it just comes to me.
MB: Their version sounds much better in a magazine though [laughs] M: It does!
MB: Do you think that there’s a lot of “attention-whoring” in the genre?
M: Yeah, absolutely.
MB: As a such an important figure in black metal, does that disappoint you?
M: No, it’s just the way it is and how it always has been. I try not to think too much about it, but you know how people speak. I’m not into reading music magazines and I don’t like to read studio reports from bands on “how they work”. For me it’s absolutely boring; plus, I don’t want to meet people that I admire, because it can ruin the picture of a band that I love.
I was absolutely terrified when I met Glenn Danzig the first time, because I feared that maybe it would ruin the picture of something that I really loved. Thankfully it didn’t. It was the same when I met Tom G. Warrior [Celtic Frost] because it could ruin the picture of someone with such great creativity, but it didn’t. While I’m happy about this, things like that can really ruin the picture of someone or something you loved since you were young.
MB: On the topic of “meeting your idols”; what artist represented the biggest thing for you in terms of being on tour with them?
M: It happens all the time. In ’94 we toured with Immortal, and had a great connection with them. In ’95 we toured with Enslaved, who are great people and it’s really inspiring to be on the road with them. In ’96 we toured with Mysticum and Gehenna… we’ve had the great privilege of touring with a lot of bands so, from that perspective, there have been a lot of highlights.
MB: Does the excitement start to wear off as you grow older, as you go from being the guy looking up to others, and become the guy others look up to?
M: Not really; I can still look up to young bands, I don’t mind that. As long as I can find something genuine, I find that inspiring.
MB: And what “newer” bands come to mind?
M: I can’t really think of anything, to be honest. I still listen to the same shit I’ve always listened to [laughs]
MB: Let’s talk about Death Wolf. I have to be honest, I didn’t know much about them until recently; even though I loved the albums and the gig today, I have to say that what surprised me the most was that you were in it. It’s not just a different style for you, but also a different instrument altogether.
M: It’s always interesting to do something different; simply doing that, even when it isn’t that different, inspires you more to work with your own band as well. Being in Death Wolf makes me work harder for Marduk.
MB: Death Wolf started as a cover band, right?
M: We started doing some selected shows under the name Devil’s Whorehouse with a selection of Misfits, Samhain and Danzig tracks, out of pure admiration for the work of Glenn Danzig. By the second rehearsal we were already creating songs on the same style, and ended up doing 2 albums and 2 EPs.
As we kept working on material it felt like we had outgrown the name, because it very much symbolized a cover band. We kept the initials (D and W) and changed the name to something that better symbolized the workings of the lyrics and the music.
MB: Was the “Devil’s Whorehouse” too childish?
M: Not childish; we just weren’t doing that kind of cover things any longer, and the music had changed so much that it was just like starting a second part.
MB: You also separated yourself from this original Danzig sound as well.
M: Yes, that’s why we felt that it was time to move on with the name.
MB: Even though the show you put up today was really great, you haven’t really toured much.
M: No, not at all. We had done only 2 shows in all of Europe.
MB: I feel very fortunate then!
M: [Laughs] It’s our first tour as Death Wolf.
MB: Are you planning to change this in the future, or is it just impossible because of Marduk?
M: It’s not impossible. However, I probably wouldn’t bring both bands on the road again; it’s something I’m doing right now because the time was good to get the connection going in Europe. After this we’ll probably go and do different tours; we already have some options to do tours with bands which, although dark, are from different styles.
Time will tell.
MB: In addition to this admiration for the work of Glenn Danzig; does Death Wolf also represent a desire to try new musical avenues? I mean, after all, to a degree you are “limited” in what you can do with Marduk.
M: Yeah, in a way. I strongly believe that we can still do whatever we want to do, but I wouldn’t do a techno-jazz album for Marduk. Even if you always do what you want to do, you still keep it within a certain frame.
The name obligates you not to do certain things; since I still want to do whatever inspires me, I do it under a different name, like with Death Wolf.
MB: When it comes to the “respect” for the name, you see some bands that change so dramatically that it just doesn’t work anymore. Take Morbid Angel, for example.
M: Yes [laughs]. It didn’t work; it’s not what you expect after 7 or 8 years of work.
MB: Do you think that with Death Wolf you’ve covered all the styles you wanted to explore as an artist?
M: From a musical point of view, this band is still very connected with the Danzig material, maybe with a touch of some old Amebix and even some Black Sabbath. It’s just heavy and dark stuff. It’s good to work with the different vocals too; some of the heavier parts could probably even be in a Marduk song. It’s just inspiring to do something different.
MB: Well, it has really paid off; it’s a great band.
M: Thank you!
We’re already working on our third album. We recorded an EP, we just finished it a week ago.
MB: And when is that coming out?
M: I don’t know; probably in spring. It’s just 3 songs, that are a bit crustier than what will be in the next album, which is why we’re releasing them as an EP. Then we’ll be recording the next album at the end of January.
MB: Morgan, I appreciate the time that you’ve taken today. Any final words for your fans?
M: Nope! [laughs]