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GRAVE – Flesh Epistle
Anthony Morgan
November 2012

Grave (l-r): Ronnie Bergerståhl, Ola Lindgren,
Mika Lagrén and Tobias Cristiansson
Pic: Therese Larsson

Swedish death metal veterans Grave parted ways with bassist Fredrik Isaksson, publicly unveiling the development on September 1st, 2010. Fredrik’s swansong performance as a Grave member took place on July 30th of that year at the Eisenwahn festival in Obersinn, Germany. Tobias Cristiansson of Dismember notoriety was revealed to be his immediate replacement, dates in Colombia and Finland marking his first live performances as an official Grave member.

“Tobi did a couple of fill-in gigs with us I would say two and a half years or so ago,” recalls Ola Lindgren, founder of Grave. “We had festivals booked that Fredrik couldn’t do for whatever reasons personal. We asked Tobias because we had known him for many years, having toured together when he was in Dismember. It was just a totally different kind of feeling – both onstage and off stage – when we had him with us. I think he did three shows with us or something like that over that summer or within six months.

“When Fredrik eventually left the band, it was very easy for us to ask him. Also, Dismember was put on ice – they weren’t doing anything. He was very happy; he’s one of those guys that lives for doing this, and he loves playing live. It was very easy, and he brought a lot of stuff to the table for the new album. He had a ton of ideas lying around, and he also plays bass differently. He plays bass like a bass player, which is really not too common in death metal bands I think. Most bass players play like a guitarist on the bass, but he adds old school bass like a musician does, more than some guy that just wants to be onstage and pound on the bass.”

The vocalist deems Fredrik to be “some guy that just wants to be onstage and pound on the bass,” to be precise. A series of happenings culminated in the bassist’s departure. “Partly I would say it’s his own fault as well for not being available for those shows where Tobi filled in for him,” Ola observes. “That opened our eyes to what it could be to have someone else doing that job. Tobias was a totally different player onstage, and also with the boring stuff like traveling and all that Tobias fits very well with us. It’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives, and have played together forever. There was just a lot of stuff that went on that last year, so we finally decided to… Not to kick him out, but we talked to him and came to the conclusion that it would probably be for the best. It didn’t feel like he was a part of it anymore really.”

But having said that, if Fredrik hadn’t opted to leave his musical services would’ve been dispensed with nonetheless? “Yeah, but when we had the discussion and laid everything on the table – what was on our minds, and why we thought that would be the best thing – he pretty much agreed,” the guitarist reiterates. “We couldn’t have gone on as it was.”

Grave subsequently signed a fresh global album contract with Century Media Records on July 7th, 2011, albums eight (April 2008’s Dominion VIII) and nine (June 2010’s Burial Ground) having been issued through Regain Records. “We fulfilled our contract with Regain,” Ola offers. “We only had two albums on that contract with Regain, and we were shopping around again to see what we should do. We had interest from I would say three to four other labels, but I think the thing that tipped it for us was that Century Media has the majority of our back catalogue. I know and have worked with a lot of the people there for 20 years almost, so it’s very easy. You know that everything works, and you know whom to talk to. It was just a very easy decision for us really.”

Although the relationship spanned across a mere two albums, the frontman is complimentary of Regain’s efforts overall. “They did their work, definitely,” he praises. “The thing is, going from Century Media to Regain was a very weird transition for us because they’re so small in comparison. There were pretty much two to three people working there, doing everything. Everything took a lot more time to get done. You’d think it would be easier with less people involved, but of course there’s more stuff to do because there’s more than one band on there. I would say we’re pleased overall with what they did for us on those two albums though.”

Grave’s opening six studio jaunts had arrived via Century Media, the band’s temporary Regain association coming to light December 1st, 2007. “It was the same thing, really,” Ola muses. “We were out of contract for the first time in 15 years, and we thought that we should shop around following As Rapture Comes (July 2006). It was a good decision not to re-sign with them straight away. We looked into other labels and what other labels could bring, but it would really be stupid for us now to go somewhere else.”

Ola Lindgren

Writing and recording sessions in support of August 2012’s Endless Procession Of Souls – the first since Grave inked a new Century Media contract – were preceded by the departure of guitarist Magnus Martinsson, a development revealed on October 26th, 2011. “There was stuff going on on a personal level, I would say,” the singer guesses. “He had a lot of stuff going on to do with his job. In the end, it came to a point where we had to take a session guitarist on tour to do a tour that we had booked. That was Mika who’s now in the band, and it just doesn’t work like that. I wouldn’t say we’re on some really high level with what we do, but still there is a level. I book tours and I expect people to honour commitments, but then of course there’s a conflict and something has to be done about it.

“He was really good for the band; he was great onstage. He’s a good friend – he’s actually my cousin. It was a very hard decision, but it was the same thing. We had to have that talk, and he said straight out that he didn’t think that he would be able to commit to whatever was in the pipeline for 2012 – the writing and recording for this album, and all the touring that would follow for it. We just decided that there was no use having a guy like that on the actual album if he couldn’t follow that up by doing tours, and all those duties afterwards. In the end, it was a joint decision. It was under different circumstances than with Fredrik, but still it had to be done. It was a very hard decision, I would say.”

Commitments and responsibilities beyond the music industry such as family and employment generally hamper the long-term membership prospects of death metal musicians. “With this kind of music, it’s really hard to make a living out of it,” Ola laments. “If you want to do that, you have to tour pretty much constantly – at least six months out of the year, I would say – and not many people can do that. When we did the earlier stuff we were in our early 20s, and at that time in your life you don’t really care about whatever’s going on and have fun. Now we’re all up against our 40s though, there’s different stuff. I don’t have a family, but some of the other guys do. I understand that they have to make that balance when it comes to work and family, but you have to have the right mindset for it to start with. I think family and work has to work, and you have to be able to take time off and go away for stuff. That doesn’t always work out.”

Nonetheless, Grave is a full-time occupation for the axeman. “I have been since I would say 2006 or 2007, or something like that,” he estimates. “I do a lot of stuff. I also managed the band up until 2011 and did all of the bookings and stuff, so it’s pretty much a full-time thing for me. It’s really hard. You have to think differently, because you don’t get a fixed wage every month as you do when you have a steady day job. The other guys in the band work in-between tours and stuff. It’s very fortunate they have jobs where they actually are in a position to take time off. It has never caused any problems with this line-up, and it doesn’t seem like it will do either.”

The decision to pursue Grave full-time has been a fruitful one. “The past five to six years have been very good; we’ve gotten a lot of offers to do stuff with this new album, because there has been an overwhelming response,” Ola enthuses. “We knew we had something very good when it was finished. Century Media was very excited about it, and did a great job pushing it and promoting it. That brings a lot of good with it. I would say it’s looking bright, definitely.”

The lack of a family greatly aids the mainman in prioritising Grave, something which is through personal choice. “I wanted to be able to take care of my baby, pretty much,” he confirms. “It’s what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years pretty much. I used to work of course all the time in-between tours up until 2006 to 2007. It’s working out. I mean, it’s not easy. You have to distribute your money in a whole different way, but it’s working out. If I feel like it’s not gonna work out for a period of time – if we don’t have anything – I’ll just do something on the side. I also have the brand new studio we built earlier in 2012 when we recorded Endless Procession Of Souls. I have a lot of projects going on there, mixing and mastering jobs for other bands. I have a lot of stuff going on here for the rest of 2012, and throughout 2013. That’s kind of my pension plan; I intend to do that in-between tours and stuff.”

Grave (l-r): Ronnie Bergerståhl, Tobias Cristiansson, Ola Lindgren and Mika

Facebreaker guitarist Mika Lagrén supplanted Magnus Martinsson. “Mika has been a friend of ours for many years,” Ola discloses. “He toured with his other band Facebreaker, who were out with Ronnie’s other band Demonical on tour a few years ago. He came in pretty much like Tobias did; he filled in for Magnus on the Obituary tour we did in 2011, and fitted in straight away. He’s a great guitar player, a great guy, and always fun to be around. On a personal level there have never been any problems with work or family or anything like that, getting time off to do what he really wants to do. He also brought a lot of ideas to the new album. When we did the guitar tracks and the lead tracks and stuff like that, he always came up with something interesting that we could use. I would say he’s pretty much exactly like Tobias is, so I’m very fortunate to have those two guys. Ronnie has been with me since 2006, so it’s been pretty much mine and Ronnie’s band up until this new album I would say because we pretty much did everything. Now it feels like it’s a full band again that’s doing stuff.”

The 2011 tour in question comprised Obituary, Grave, and Pathology. Dubbed the Metal Chainsaw Massacre tour, the package ventured across Europe during April of that year. Comprising guitarist Ralph Santolla (formerly of Obituary, Deicide, Death, and Iced Earth) and Grave members Ola (guitars), Tobias Cristiansson (bass), and Ronnie Bergerstål (drums), classic rock / metal assortment Redscream formed during this time. “We were talking about doing stuff, and Ralph was gonna be in Stockholm that summer a lot,” the axe-slinger explains. “We said we should just get some ideas together at our rehearsal place, and jam out to see what we could come up with. We came up with the name one night after heavy drinking. Redscream is a direct English translation for a Swedish word, which means cheap red wine.

“Nothing has happened pretty much lately, but we did a lot of stuff in the summer and winter of 2011. Ralph was here in Stockholm a lot and a lot was written already, or ideas for songs. I really don’t know when or if we’re gonna be able to finish that off, but there’s all that stuff and we keep in contact. Hopefully we’ll be able to record a promo of some kind, and shop it around to see the response we would get from labels. People who’ve heard it thus far – the pre-production stuff – think it’s very cool. It’s just old school hard rock, like Queensrÿche, Scorpions, Def Leppard, and some Black Sabbath stuff in there. It’s very mixed.”

To date, Redscream is yet to recruit a vocalist. “It’s really hard for that kind of music,” Ola ponders. “That’s a very important thing in a band like that, to have a good singer. It has to be something special, very powerful, but still with his own little personal twist. I don’t know what to compare it with, but people we love from those eras are Tony Martin (Black Sabbath), and Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath / Dio / Rainbow / Elf) of course. Jørn Lande is a perfect example of a guy that would fit in a band like that, definitely, because he can do anything and has an amazing voice.

“We’ve been looking around. We had this one guy we wanted who couldn’t do it due to other engagements he has with his own projects and bands. We have our little detectives out, and there’s a couple of guys here in Stockholm that we wanna try out to make it easier than having people spread all over the world. We haven’t done anything with it lately though. It’s pretty much put on ice I would say until everything settles down, and we have time again to pick it up. We’ll see when we get some stuff down on tape.”

The necessary commitments a potential vocalist would have to make is as yet undecided. “We’d have to see where it takes off,” the guitarist notes. “I think it could really be something incredible. There’s not too much stuff out there like that today, except the old bands who tour. If there’s anything out there, there’s like sleaze bands. I think people would really appreciate something like this that would sound old, but still new and fresh with new ideas. It’s just one of those things that could actually go somewhere if we ever get it done. We’ll have to see if we can get an album out first of all, what kinds of reactions we’d get from it, and whether it takes off or not, to be able to determine if we would tour for it.”

August 2012 Grave outing Endless Procession Of Souls doesn’t deviate from more recent platters. “We wanted to keep to what we did on the latest two albums, to do very old school Swedish death, not complicate anything, and just be very straightforward and brutal,” Ola admits. “I’d say it has the kind of very primal kind of death metal, which is very easy to get into. There’s nothing complicated or technical about it. I tend to write the kind of stuff I want to listen to, that I want to get into. Whatever I listen to I want to get some kind of response from, some kind of feeling immediately. I don’t want to sit around and think ‘Oh, what’s that drummer doing?,’ or ‘How many rounds were that part going into the next part?’ It’s too complicated. I just want to get some kind of reaction straight off, and nothing that’s … That’s what we do and what a lot of the old bands do as well, like Autopsy or Asphyx. All the good old bands that are just very straightforward. There’s no fuss about it, and it’s not overly technical – it’s just the music.

“We had a lot more collaboration within the band due to getting two new members since we recorded last – Tobias on bass, and Mika on guitar. That also brought a lot of ideas to the table. It was much more of a band collaboration, I would say. We’re very happy with it. It was written very quickly, in about two months. We recorded everything ourselves in our own studio, and I did the mix and master for it.”

The resultant additional collaboration causes Endless Procession Of Souls to be a varied album. “It sounds old and it sounds like Grave, but it still has some kind of fresher…,” the vocalist begins. “It has nothing modern at all. I wouldn’t say that, but it has more variation and more well-written songs on it.”

Newer death metal groups tend to be excessively technical, Ola argues. “It’s very rare that I pick up something that would interest me, mostly because the majority of stuff that comes out today is just so overly technical and over the top that I don’t know what they’re trying to do really,” he rebukes. “Sure, you can be impressive and show that you’re good at playing your instruments but songs still have to be the base of it. It has to be a good song for me to be able to enjoy it and get into it.”

Technical efforts seem to be penned in the hopes of impressing other technically minded musicians. Music listeners generally aren’t bothered by a track’s technicality, but only whether they find it to be audibly pleasant. “Exactly, and there are very few bands who do actually pull that off,” the frontman submits. “Nile is a perfect example; they’re extremely talented at their instruments and it’s very impressive, but they can still write songs. They actually have good songs on their albums, and they’re not over the top. Just very well written, and very well executed stuff.”

In discussing Endless Procession Of Souls, Ola commented that the album has ‘some more old school, groovy Soulless parts.’ Arriving in June 1994, Soulless was Grave’s third studio full-length offering. “I think it has that kind of feeling,” he critiques. “The Soulless album was always very highly acclaimed among our back catalogue, and it has something special. It’s definitely a favourite for a lot of the fans. I think that’s the first album where we started writing songs more than we had been doing on the first two ones (August 1991’s Into The Grave and September 1992’s You’ll Never See…). We were so young in those days, and we really didn’t know what we were doing – we just threw together stuff that sounded cool. On the Soulless album, for the first time we started structuring songs in a different way, and I think that’s the same kind of mindset we had.

“They had to be songs, and very easy to get into. They had to have a set chorus pretty much for every song. It’s kind of like writing pop songs actually, the same kind of build. It’s real writing, and especially doing it with very few riffs in every song but also putting the lyric and the vocal parts on it contributes to getting that actual thing with every song. That could be even if there’s just a raw and live feel or whatever it might be in there that sticks in the head of whoever’s listening. The first album Into The Grave is very well spoken of as well, but I think there’s a lot more thought behind the Soulless album than the first two albums. It’s not so primeval. It’s a more worked through album I would say, and it’s still one of the highest rated albums from our back catalogue.”

Grave (l-r): Tobias Cristiansson, Ola Lindgren,
Mika Lagrén and Ronnie Bergerståhl
Pic: Therese Larsson

Much of the lyrical content on Grave’s tenth studio jaunt deals “with supernatural things, the afterlife, and stuff like that that’s really easy to write about. No-one can really tell you if you’re right or wrong, so it’s an easy topic for me to write on. When we splice everything together, it has kind of a supernatural feeling to it. It’s a thing that’s in your head; it’s not too complicated, and easy to remember as well.

“I’d say most of the tracks on the new album revolve around those kinds of topics. The stuff that I write about mostly except for supernaturalism is religion and stuff like that though, in any shape or form really. We’re not preaching any kind of religion at all, Satanism or anything like that. I’m just amazed by how people can live by laws or culture in this day and age. We’re so enlightened and there’s so much information everywhere, and you can still live by values and stuff just because you’ve been brought up like that, not questioning it or looking around for something else.”

Florida’s Death influences inaugural cut ‘Amongst Marble And The Dead’. “The way we did the vocal parts on there kind of resemble some of the old stuff from the Leprosy album (November 1988) I think, or something like that,” the axeman remembers. “It’s no secret that Death has been a huge influence on us since the early days. I got that idea straight in my head when we put the song together, and recorded everything. I was writing lyrics for it in the studio, and just got the idea to have that kind of singing on it. I think it’s a very good opening track. It has pretty much everything in it; it’s not hyper fast, and has a lot of groovy parts, heavy stuff. I think straight away from when the song was finished, we all felt it should be the opening track for the album.”

Thrash influences tracks like ‘Perimortem’ and ‘Disembodied Steps’, meanwhile. “It’s pretty much the same thing; it’s paying a homage to our roots,” Ola discerns. “We were very, very thrashy in the old demo days, and we sprung out from the band Corpse which was pretty much Grave. We just changed the name. Corpse was very much influenced by, first of all, I would say the German thrash bands like Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, and also Celtic Frost of course. We wanted to do something different. ‘Perimortem’ I would say is the most audible in that respect. It’s very, very thrashy; it has that classic going from A to E riffing in it. It’s just a very cool song, and I think it’s a good way to break the overall feel. I think people get surprised when they reach that song, the first time they hear the album. A lot of people actually regard that as one of their favourites on the new album.”

Besides the aforementioned, other metal groups influenced the material on Endless Procession Of Souls. “I think we often referenced songs to other bands a lot, even if there was just one riff which resembled another band,” the singer divulges. “One might be called the Morbid Angel song up until we have lyrics and a title for it, for example. Pretty much, I think we had ‘Flesh Epistle’ as the Celtic Frost track just because of one or two riffs in there. The thrash song was ‘Perimortem’ obviously, but I don’t think there’s really too much more than that really.”

As was the case with Burial Ground, Ola handled the mixing process for Endless Procession Of Souls. “I think we had a pretty clear mindset from the start about what we wanted to do,” he reckons. “We wanted everything to sound very old school, but still fresh in some ways. We definitely wanted clarity in the mix where you could separate all of the instruments in there. We recorded all of the instruments and everything very closely to what we wanted in the end, so it wasn’t really hard to put the mix together in the end. Pretty much all of the sounds were there. There was a little bit of tweaking here and there of course, but nothing major. The mix didn’t really change during the process up until we started putting stuff together. It was pretty much clear from every sound we recorded from the start.”

Romanian artist Costin Chioreanu designed the cover artwork for the record, having designed the cover artworks for previous outings Burial Ground and Dominion VIII. “He’s very, very talented to work with, I would say,” the mainman endorses. “We just gave him a couple of titles from the album of course, and some ideas about what kinds of colour schemes we would want. He came up with that in two to three weeks maybe, and as soon as we saw it we knew that we wanted it. We kept it like that, and didn’t change anything from the original painting he did. It’s very cool, and very, very easy to work with that guy. He also did everything for the booklet pages, and the inner sleeve stuff. He’s a very great guy to work with. I think this is by far the best one he’s done for us, and one of the best he’s ever done for any band I think.”

Grave (l-r): Tobias Cristiansson, Ola Lindgren and Mika Lagrén

Deluxe edition versions of Endless Procession Of Souls include three bonus numbers, all of which are cover interpretations. “It was just a cool way to have bonus material for the fans,” Ola gauges. “Century Media is very good at thinking about different kinds of formats. It’s really hard to sell records at all, so it takes something different for fans to buy albums like the CD box set. It has an extra disc which consists of covers, and I think the patch and poster in there makes it a special thing. It’s very cool to have those different kinds of formats.”

Voivod’s ‘Killing Technology’ is the first of these, the original of which features on the April 1987 album of the same name from the Canadian metallers. “I’ve been wanting to do a Voivod cover for years now,” the axe-slinger imparts. “We’ve talked about it for the latest two to three albums at least. We just never got around to it, but this time we had a lot of time on our hands. I said ‘We’re gonna do it, definitely.’ It’s not the easiest thing because it’s very weird kind of music, especially the guitar parts. We went through Killing Technology and Dimension Hatröss (June 1988), and I think actually the easiest song out of all of the weirdness was the title track ‘Killing Technology’. We tried to give it a little bit of our own feeling. It’s a totally different tuning, which makes a lot of difference. I think we did it a little bit heavier, and of course the whole production and mix makes a difference as well. It’s just a cool thing, and I think it came out very good. I was happy to finally be able to do it.”

‘Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)’ is another, the original Anthrax composition included on March 1987 outing Among The Living. “Among The Living by Anthrax is one of my all-time favourite albums from those times,” Ola exclaims. “We went back and forth a little between two to three tracks I think on that album. We tried out ‘Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)’, which fits a lot with what we do. It’s heavy, it’s groovy, and it’s got a very clear, specific chorus on it, so we thought it would fit in very well with the new album. It wasn’t easy to do really, but in the end it came together. When we were doing these two covers we said that if we’re not definitely totally happy with them we won’t release them, but I think they both came out very cool actually.”

A compilation housing the cover interpretations Grave has recorded over the years is a possibility. “That would pretty much be up to what Century Media has in mind,” the vocalist stresses. “There’s a lot of stuff we’ve done. We did some stuff when we were on Regain as well, so trying to get permission to have those on a Century Media release would be a different story. I’m sure there wouldn’t be any problems, but there are no definite plans for it.”

Grave celebrated the 20th anniversary of debut proper Into The Grave on November 12th, 2011, the concert taking place at Club Distortion / Kulturhuset in Stockholm, Sweden. The event was filmed for future DVD release. “We recorded that whole thing with four cameras, I think,” Ola informs. “I’ve done all of the audio mixes in the studio already, so that’s all done. We haven’t really had time to look into getting all of the footage edited and put together but that’s definitely a plan we have, to release that show as DVD with some extra material on it as well.”

Endless Procession Of Souls was released on August 27th, 2012 in Europe and subsequently on the 28th in North America, all via Century Media Records.

Interview published in November 2012.

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