– Hello, lots of thanks for answering our interview. What are you currently up to? How is everything going with the release of «Crossroads»?
Hello, the pleasure is all mine. We are in the middle of the preparations for our release party in Gothenburg this coming Friday. It will be something very special. It is to be held in an old fortress built in the 17th century. We will have no stagelights or such, just black candles and the place only has the capacity of 100 people, so it is gonna be great.
– Your lyrics and titles have always had esoteric connotations so, what do some of the lyrics on this album deal with and where did you take inspiration from to write them?
I can only speak for my own lyrics, being those of At the Ghost Gate, We were not alone, In Time, Our Roads must never cross and Lily. There’s a difference this time around as the lyrics on our previous albums have mostly been based on conceptions, while on this new one they are based on actual experiences and insights that I have earned on the path that I walk upon. With that being said, there are both songs of praise and songs of wrathful hate on the album, but still being viewed from the same perspective. I have started to find the tracks in which I should follow and the lyrics have become more important to me personally now, and they channel something very specific within me to a higher extent than on our previous albums, even though the lyrics have always been an important part of the band.
It has many different meanings, but without sounding to pretentious about things I can say that the main reference for the title are physical crossroads in nature, being auspicious places for workings with the unseen forces inhabiting them. The cemetery, as depicted on the cover, is one such place as that is where living people go to meet with their dead friends, relatives etc., in one way or another. The title has also become a fitting one for us as a band, taking certain member changes and choices made during the last two years into consideration, and also to me personally.
– After giving the album some spins I would dare say this is your most epic release to date. I guess the mood and experiences at the time you create an album may have some effect on the album’s sound so, what would you say was the main reason for this bonus of epicness?
I think it has a lot to do with the emphasizing on the lyrical side. As I mentioned earlier they are of great importance and we really needed to put effort into having them shown in their true light, so to speak. Some lyrics were written before any music, which hasn’t really been the case before, so the lyrics (and of course the inspirational sources for the lyrics) inspired the actual song writing music wise.
– It’s also less MERCYFUL FATE and more PORTRAIT than ever, in fact you have been compared to MF a lot of times. This is your third album so, how do you think has the band’s evolution been since «Portrait» came out? Sometimes it feels like the first album by a band is some kind of experiment, a test, the second a solidification or refined version of the debut album, and then the third one something unexpected. Is this the case of PORTRAIT?
Yeah, well everything has to start somewhere. Many bands start out having very distinct influences from other older bands, but the problem is that if that is the only thing you want to do (copy another band), then the end is coming soon. What we do and have always done is to search for our own role within heavy metal, just like Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept and so forth have done. What is the most inspiring about these bands is their sense for originality, and even though being placed in the same genre they all have their very own style. That is what we search for too, and just as you say I think we are closer to that on Crossroads than we have ever been before, and I regard your comment as a great compliment, thank you!
– Talking about such, do you think «Crossroads» is the opus that best describes PORTRAIT? The one where you have solidified and found your own essence the most?
Yes, I would say so. I like our previous releases as well, and up until we had written Crossroads I liked “Crimen…” the most, so it is all a clear path towards perfection and we have never been as sure about the direction as we are now.
– This record featured lengthy tracks, such as «At the Ghost Gate», but all of them are really enjoyable, with dynamic structures. Is keeping the listener’s attention and making enjoyable tracks something you put a focus on? Or do you just le tthings flow naturally?
I don’t think much of the listener when writing music, but I think we instinctively feel nowadays if a song needs a strange break, a long solo part or time changes etc., or if it is better to keep them straight. The structures are very important of course, but they do come pretty naturally to us.
– There’s also a track where I could find some MERCYFUL FATE inspiration, which is «Black Easter», with a really dark vibe and sinister atmosphere. How did that song born? What inspired such an eerie track and whole ambience?
I agree, that is the song where I hear the strongest Mercyful Fate influences on the album too. It started with me coming up with that first riff of the song at the rehearsal place, and then the rest of the song had to be sick as well in order to fit with that… and it went on from there. I thought that it was quite theatrical music so I wanted the lyrics to be told as a story, but I don’t want to write such lyrics myself as I am more interested in masking things and charge the words with personal meanings, so I asked a friend named Peter Svensson to write the lyrics about the novel Black Easter (by James Blish) which I really like and recommend, and the rest is history.
– Though you have always been quite dark, there’s another track that caught my attention: «Our Roads must Never Cross», really aggressive, even with an almost Black Metal vibe. What could you comment on it?
That song is about a very specific enemy of mine and needed to be aggressive. We have never done that growl type of thing before but we might do it again some time, I think it turned out pretty cool.
– In fact all songs on this release are really diverse, each one of them with a strong identity, an identity of their own. I also found elements from USA Power Metal, Speed Metal… You are an old school-sounding Heavy Metal band, but it feels like you embrace all kind of traditional influences, do you?
Yes, I agree. I listen mostly to heavy metal but I enjoy everything from Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” to “Nattens Madrigal” by Ulver and a lot of things in between, and I guess influences may come from everything you enjoy listening to. We are not afraid to implement stuff from other sub-genres of metal.
– As I said earlier, the dynamic songwriting is a plus here, with interesting variations within the song structures, still everything flows naturally. Is it easy to create something interesting and with variations still sounding honest? What kind of songwriting process do you follow to get a good equilibrium?
Yeah well, if something isn’t honest it is never good either. You can’t force something out of you musically and get a good result from it, at least I can’t. It has to come naturally. We don’t have any preset scheme or anything when writing music, but of course we think of stuff like which song is fitting as an opening track and which song should be the finishing one etc. But we don’t sit down and decide what to do, we just do it instead.
– I said I think this is your most epic release to date, but also slower, with more mid tempos, which works in favour of that epicness. When to started to work on the album, did you have a clear idea of how you wanted it to sound?
Not really, and everything happened pretty fast. All of a sudden we went from no new material at all to having like five finished songs in two months. When I wrote the lyrics I knew what type of feelings I would want to channel through the music, but had no exact ideas about how the actual music should be. It was an interesting process I must say.
– All this about «Crossroads» being said; how could you describe it in just 3 words?
Ace of Swords
– You are hailing from Sweden, which nowadays probably is the country with the most interesting and diverse Metal scene; there are a lot of good bands into all Metal subgenres, specially playing a traditional style. This has seem to grow over the last years, what do you think caused this? Is there lately a bigger interest for old school-sounding bands? It seems to actually be a hype for this kind of music, as even bands as SILVER MOUNTAIN reunited during the first decade of the 00’s.
Sweden is a very trendy country. Just look at all the “waves” of metal music throughout the years. There have been explosions in death metal, black metal, then melodic “Gothenburg” death metal etc., and now this old school “traditional” thing. The trends always carry forth some good bands and some horrible ones, and I guess it is the same thing this time. The reasons behind it I think has to do with the impoartance people feel about being “correct” in Sweden. It is not uncommon to be asked the question “What OBSCURE bands are you into?” for example. I think the trend is slowly dying now though, but we won’t… People are more into 70’s “occult” rock here nowadays. The Silver Mountain reunion was great though, definitely one of the better reunions!
– As an insider, how is the scene over there like? Not just in terms of bands, but also crowd, shows… There were during the 80’s there were interesting bands such as HEAVY LOAD, GOTHAM CITY or TORCH but, in music quality terms, do you really see a difference between the 80’s and nowadays?
Yes, I see a great difference in terms of quality. Few new bands reach up to the heights of those old giants. But that is just my personal taste so… As I mentioned, people are pretty fixated with trends here even though they would not understand or admit it themselves, but you understand pretty quickly when meeting a guy in a Virtue t-shirt asking what your favorite obscure bands are, that he won’t be around in a few years or so. Political correctness is of great importance in the Swedish metal “scene” too, and it is popular to have a somewhat “punky” attitude about things.
– And finally, what are your near-future musical plans? How’s the promotion for «Crossroads» going?
We are doing some festival shows this summer and autumn, and hopefully a longer tour soon as well, but that is not confirmed yet. That is basically it for now, to tour as much as possible. And I am positive we will have a new album written by the end of next year, too…
– That’s all, thank you once more for answering our questions. If you want to add some final words; feel free to do it.
Thanks for the interview and for listening to our new album for real. It is always a pleasure when interviewers really care about the band’s music, and you showed that you do that. Good luck with the magazine!