I’ve always been fascinated by black metal and the philosophy that binds all those bands together. Even if you put aside all the crap about church burnings and murder that marked its early days (bands like Burzum and Mayhem should ring a bell here), and about which tons of things have been written and said, you still end up with a bunch of people who, in part, are obsessed with destruction.
And when it comes to destruction, you can always find Marduk taking the central stage.
With a trajectory that spans over two decades, this is a band that has gathered not only a legion of fans, but also a number of enemies and critics. Loved or hated, Marduk is, without a doubt, a key player in black metal, and Metal Blast met with Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, founder and guitar player of the band, to get some answers from “The Most Blasphemous Band in the World”.
You can see the video of this interview at the bottom of the page.
Metal Blast: Hi Morgan, great to have you here. First of all, how are you doing and how’s the tour going?
Morgan: I’m fine; there’s no tour going on, I mean we’ve done a lot of touring for the Serpent Sermon album and what we’re doing now is the summer festivals that are starting out; we did one in Belgium, we did some in Germany, now we’re doing this one [Dokk’em Open Air], and tomorrow we fly down to do Hellfest in France. Then we go back home for two days and then we fly to Hungary for the Rock Marathon festival, then to With Full Force in Germany, Hard Rock Laager in Estonia, then back home, then more summer festivals. Then we go down this summer for a South American tour with Suffocation; we go down to Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil, then more summer festivals and then we do Japan at the beginning of September and in October we’re going to do some selected Swedish shows and that will be the end of the touring cycle for the Serpent Sermon album.
MB: That’s quite a bit I think.
M: Yeah, we’ve done two US tours and some European tours, a bit here and a bit there. We’ve been all around this world.
MB: Marduk is a band that, well, you’ve had a lot of controversies throughout your career; recently Serpent Sermon was banned in Belarus, right?
M: It was not the album, it was us being banned when we were touring. We weren’t allow to play there because of the government, it was even on national television when the cultural minister said that our music wasn’t art and could only be considered as destructive, which was very charming and inspiring to hear. For me it was a great inspiration, although it’s not that good that a show got cancelled, to get that admiration from the government of Belarus.
MB: Well, when the band was created you said that you wanted it to be the most blasphemous band of all.
M: That was an original concept back in the day, but to me it doesn’t really matter to be the most blasphemous of all the bands, because you can do whatever you want to be more blasphemous than the other, but it was a ground concert when we formed the band.
We get controversies once in a while, but I don’t really care as long as you overcome, and that’s what really mattered to us, to overcome and keep on marching across the world and deliver the message that we do, and so far we’ve done it for 23 years and I’m sure we’ve got at least another 20 to go.
MB: And what’s that message?
M: I think it’s very clear if you listen to the music and read the lyrics; everybody should be able to make up their own minds about what it’s really all about, I shouldn’t have to explain it. Especially on the latest album, I think that it’s a concept that is very right in your face and that nobody can really misunderstand what it’s all about so it’s up to everybody to find and make up their own idea.
MB: And this concept throughout the lyrics of your songs, no matter what the topic is? Be it, for instance, the song about Reinhard Heydrich?
M: Yeah, but that is not on this album!
MB: I know, I mean throughout your whole history.
M: We have done a lot of things about religious matters, we have done a lot of lyrics about historical matters as well, because history has always been something that inspired me and, for some reason, it creates music in my mind, so I write the soundtrack to what happened, the way it happened. I don’t mind doing it and if people have a problem with it I don’t really care, because me, as an artist, I do what I wanna do and that’s what an artist should do, be it you work with film, paint or music. I don’t let magazines or anybody judge my work, that’s up to me.
MB: Well, on that topic, how did you feel the overall reaction was to Serpent Sermon and, perhaps more importantly, how much do you care?
M: I don’t really care that much but, of course, you keep up-to-date with the reactions, you always get information from the record labels or whatever. Of course it is flattering when media enjoys your music and the whole idea, but what really matters is to be out there marching across the world and seeing the reactions from your loyal fanbase all across the world; the most important thing is to satisfy yourself as well, to be proud of what you do. I’m really proud of the album, I think that it shows the strenght of the band after 22 years (at the time it came out); I think that it is a destructive album that really displays the power of the band.
MB: Since you speak of destruction. I remember this interview that I had last year with Erik, lead singer of Watain, and he also mentioned that destruction is one of the core elements of the philosophy of Watain; does Marduk represent the same thing?
M: In a way, I would say so.
MB: As a black metal band, bands like Dissection and Watain face the matter of Satanism from a more theistic perspective while other bands, like Rotting Christ, do it from a more metaphorical sense, as a way of rebellion. What is the way in which Marduk approaches it?
M: We do it in a combination of both, I would say. It’s both symbolic and, well, look upon it however you want. We always let loose the energy that comes from within and from other places as well; it’s a general reflection of our beliefs.
MB: So there is a spiritual element to Marduk?
M: Of course, that’s what black metal is all about.
MB: You think that black metal will forever be inherently connected to Satanism?
M: It should be, otherwise it isn’t black metal. For me it’s strange to see all these bands that say that “Oh, we are kind of black metal” just because they sound in a specific way or have a specific type of vocals while singing about dragons or whatever; for me that is not black metal. I don’t judge it, I just don’t care about it, it’s not part of my scene. I know which bands I consider to be part of the scene and which bands I don’t, so I don’t really care about those unworthy bands.
MB: In that case, for instance, Immortal would be the biggest example of-
M: Yeah, but they never proclaimed to be black metal.
M: Maybe in the early days but they’ve always been something different. Have you heard them say in the last ten years that they are a black metal band?
Even when you think about black metal I don’t think that there are that many bands that call themselves black metal because everybody is trying to put some specific label to themselves, like avant-garde this and that, blah, blah.
MB: Yeah, metal is now full of genres and subgenres and subgenres.
M: I don’t mind, I wouldn’t mind if people called us death metal or black metal, but I consider us to be a black metal band and that’s how I look upon it, and people can look upon it in their own way, but I don’t really care.
MB: So what is the most important element in black metal? Is it the sound or the philosophy behind it?
M: The philosophy behind it; for me a black metal band would be Mercyful Fate, it would be even Saxon if they had a Satanic vision. It doesn’t have to do with a specific guitar sounds or a way to deliver the vocals, it’s about the spirit.
MB: Well, like The Devil’s Blood, a band from the Netherlands, a band that although adopts a more psychodelic-
M: Yeah, even though they’re more rock oriented they are very connected to the black metal scene.
MB: Yes, connected directly with the philosophy of theistic Satanism of Watain.
How shocking was it for you when, way back when, you were accused of associations with National Socialism.
M: I was not shocked because I’m not shocked by anything, but I was more surprised by the stupidity. It’s strange that you can sing about certain historical topics but not about others. Some big magazines tried to boycott us and were sending faxes, back in those days, to promoters telling them avoid us, but that only made us stronger. I’m fascinated by certain historical aspects and we will continue to write about them as long as it is inspiring to write lyrics about it, and if it’s World War II it’s fine with me, and if somebody has a problem with it they can fuck off. Slayer, Motorhead, they have done it before and I don’t see a reason why not to do it.
MB: Well, Slayer were called nazis as well, even though Tom Araya is particularly latino.
In your case, you also got a lot of flak in Germany because of an interview from 1995 in which you mentioned the pride for your grandfather serving in the German army.
M: That’s not strange if you are half German and your grandfather was German. Most of the grown ups, even young people, served in the German army so for me it’s not strange
MB: The issue there is that there has been this attempt to demonize everyone, so that if he was in the army…
M: That’s the way it works, and I don’t care. It’s like a storm in a water glass.
MB: It was that and some comments about immigration in Sweden, which were controversial.
M: Everything is controversial to somebody.
MB: It’s a matter of political correctness, people don’t wanna say…
M: Especially bigger magazines, they are very politically correct. I mean, I don’t care; if they don’t wanna have us in their magazines, it’s fine with us.
MB: But do you still face that, do you still get these “boycotts”?
M: Not really; of course, there’s always people that try to cause trouble but, as I said, we always overcome them and we are still here. A lot of those people have disappeared.
MB: Do you think that there’s a still a lot that Marduk has to offer?
M: Of course; just look to our latest album, I think that we are on top of what we do and we’re stronger than we’ve ever been and we’re just going to keep on marching.
MB: Do you have, already, plans for a new album?
M: Of course I have.
MB: You’re always writing, you’re always composing?
M: More or less; I mean, it’s not like you write a lot on the road but back home we all work on new material all the time, it’s just that we haven’t really met and put everything together. If we just get back to rehearsing after the touring cycle then we’ll probably have about two albums worth of music. I’m already working on a lot of lyrical ideas so it’s just about going back after the touring cycle and let everything fall into the right place.
MB: Does it focus on a particular them?
M: Yes it does.
MB: You’re not gonna tell me what it is?
M: No! Time shall tell.
MB: [Laughs]. Thank you very much for taking the time for the interview. I’ll be enjoying your show later.
M: Thank you!