IN SOLITUDE – Pallid Hands
Uppsala, Sweden-based heavy metal outfit In Solitude formed in 2002, although it wasn’t until December 2008 that the Swedish upstarts opened their account proper. That month, a self-titled inaugural full-length album arrived through High Roller Records.
“I was thinking a lot about my memories of recording that album, actually,” confesses Pelle Åhman, vocalist of In Solitude. “We have a rehearsal room now where the studio was, where we recorded that album – Burlesco Studio. When he left that place, we took over. That’s where we are now, so we’ve been standing in that room a lot. Where are the drums are now, that’s where we’re standing. I thought that that would awaken more memories than it did, in a way. My memories of recording the first album are really sort of clouded, but I remember that time in my life and a lot of the things that were going on outside of the studio around that time – things that happened in my personal life. I can remember that sort of stuff, but I have a hard time when I think about what was going on. I remember parts of it, but it feels like a long time ago. It feels sort of alien to me now, what we were doing then. A lot of things happen between 16 and 21, I guess.”
16 is quite a young age at which to cut a debut outing, so the mainman would be forgiven for harbouring misgivings with respect to In Solitude’s initial platter. “It’s not that I don’t like things – I just question how we expressed them,” he clarifies. “That album justifies itself; it’s a good example of who we were at that point, and what we wanted to do with In Solitude as a medium. We did other things at the same time, with other projects like Invidious and so forth, which me and Gottfrid (Åhman, bass) played in. What do I like about it? I hadn’t listened to it in a really long time, and somebody played it to me when we were drinking or something. I didn’t want to listen to it for a long time, not that I wasn’t proud of it or anything. I’m really proud of what we managed to do at such a young age, but it surprised me how good it was, actually. I was really impressed by the material and the playing, and the dynamics of the whole thing, so there’s not much I dislike about the music. I think we did something fantastic there.
“The things I regret are more like… I think the cover is horrible; I think it looks atrocious. I would never buy that album if I found it in a record store (laughs). There are aesthetics on that album that I don’t get along with at all any more. There are things like that that I am not too… I’m still proud of what the album is. You can’t change what you’ve done, and I don’t want to either. It’s a good example of who we were, but being a different person now, in a lot of ways I see things with different eyes. Maybe not the layout, but the cover of that album at least doesn’t resonate positively with me any more. It has its place in our history of our lives at least though, so it’s there. It has its function.”
Sophomore record The World. The Flesh. The Devil was issued during May 2011 through Metal Blade Records. “I love that album, but like Henrik our guitar player said, there’s something sort of sentimental and romantic about those songs,” Pelle reflects. “I think they were supposed to be, and that’s the big difference compared to now. There isn’t much romanticism about this new album – it comes from another place. I don’t know if there’s that much that I regret about The World. The Flesh. The Devil. Again, aesthetically, I think the back of the album could’ve been a bit nicer. I would change things a bit, but again, that has its place in our history and so forth. That’s where we were at that point, so I don’t know if I regret things. It’s more like I can really see… They’re good tools to use if you want to see where you are, and what you have done in two years; you can look at that album, and see that things have really changed. It’s a good mirror to see yourself in, in order to see what has happened, but there’s not really stuff that I regret about that album.
“It was a strange period too, because once Mattias (Gustavsson) left the band – our former guitarist – the future felt extremely uncertain. I was pretty sure that this was the end of the band, because we had always said that if one of us went, then everybody went. We had this feeling though that by the time Matthias had left the band, something powerful was coming our way in a way. We could sense that we could take this further, so Henrik being new in the band and everything made that period strange too and interesting. Once The World. The Flesh. The Devil. was done, him being in the band made that notion even stronger of where we could take things. That album is a continuation of the first album in a way, and this one is too in its own way. Like I said though, there’s not much that I regret about it or anything, but it’s a good tool to use to see that a lot of things have happened.”
The World. The Flesh. The Devil. would be the first In Solitude full-length to include the axework of Henrik Palm, predecessor Mattias Gustavsson having parted from the ranks. “Matthias left for very personal reasons,” the singer divulges. “I think he just grew tired of playing this sort of music. He’s very passionate about blues music; that’s what his heart was telling him what to do. He wanted to explore that further, which he still does. We remain really good friends – there were no bad feelings. We respected his decision fully, and supported him in it. Henrik was an old friend of ours. Me and Gottfrid had played together with him in this sort of Repulsion, Napalm Death-like project called Deformed, so we had been playing together and got along really well. We have really similar tastes in music and similar comprehensions in life in general, and just clicked as people. He was actually the first person that came to mind once Matthias left the band. I remember talking about it on the same night, about if we go on. We didn’t know if we would, but Henrik was a good candidate. Once we spoke to him, he was immediately interested.
“He also played in a band called Sonic Ritual at the time. They’re not around any more, but it was a really great heavy metal band – a very punk’ish heavy metal band. We had seen him playing with them too and just thought that he was the perfect replacement, which eventually he was. By now, he has been in the band longer than Matthias ever was. The line-up now feels like the original line-up, in a way. To me, he has really added to the band. He made the band in a lot of ways; it was really a new start once he was in the band. At this point, the first album almost feels like this project that we had before In Solitude, in a strange way.”
Third outing Sister emerged in September 2013. “In hindsight it’s sort of hard to remember just how we did it, but it was just very long,” Pelle recalls. “We rented a small room in a basement, where we worked really hard for a long time and wrote a lot of material. Eventually, we threw away half of it just a few weeks before going into the studio. A lot of it then leaked over into the studio and was made there, which I think added to the whole atmosphere of the album. It was an interesting period; it was very sort of different to how we had done things in the past, which probably added a lot to this album and how it turned out.”
The discarded material wasn’t up to standard. “I think there was something missing from some of the stuff,” the frontman admits. “Eventually, by the time we thought we were sort of finished, we started to come up with a lot of new material again that overshadowed some of the older stuff. Other things took over. Looking back on it, some of that material that we were planning for the album didn’t really justify its place in a way. Then again though, it was sort of very spontaneous. Things just sort of became what they became. We weren’t really preparing ourselves too much beforehand, which we were worried and stressed about. Like I said though, I think that added to the whole feeling of the album.”
A natural vibe arguably denotes Sister. “It probably does,” Pelle acknowledges. “I did an interview just 20 minutes ago, and talked about something that Gottfrid our bass player said about it. He was talking about how often the demos we’ve done of songs in the past have had a tendency to be even more energetic or passionate than the actual albums, in a way. This time around though, this is the first time we’ve recorded the songs that are on the album at all, so they have that sort of first take feeling about them. It’s like the first time we have played them, which, in a way, it actually is.
“There’s something great about that, I think. It’s the feeling that we’re doing this for the first time, which it is. On the first and second albums, all the material was finished, and we knew exactly what we were about to do. This time, we didn’t know what we were about to do. There was a lot of gut feeling about the whole process, following our artistic instincts or whatever. In the long run, it’s a good way of doing things I think. I think it’s good to be not too prepared, to have a lot of room for the music to just take over and lead you somewhere – rather than the other way around.”
Authoring material, a potential danger is over-analysis. “You can get stuck in these patterns, sometimes,” the lyricist explains. “You get hung up on a certain part and you analyze it to death, but eventually it’s thrown away. Afterwards, you realise that it actually sounded great. Or, you analyze something to death until the point where you’ve used it, but realise that you were thinking too much and should’ve thrown it away or whatever, or worked it out somehow. Yeah though, we think a lot about what we’re doing, but when you get stuck, you have to work things out. Once things work, that’s when you realise that something just happened – when things feel really natural and organic, and feel like they come from their own place or whatever. It just starts to flow out of you, and everything makes sense. That’s when things are good. When you’re thinking too much and you’re sort of stuck, I think that’s a bad sign when you’re creative.”
Critiqued against its two predecessors, Pelle views In Solitude’s third outing in a different light. “We talked about this today at rehearsals,” he shares. “It almost feels like a new start for the band. It’s our third album, and this time I think we’ve really defined how this band sounds. It sounds genuinely like the five of us, like In Solitude and nothing else, and that was something important. There are a lot of things about the first two albums that I don’t really get along with now or that I feel misrepresent us, but that’s interesting too. A lot of the time, people who aren’t creative – people in general life – have this idea of what they’re about, and what they can do, and then it comes to you. That’s a good way to find yourself, but this time around, we made something that resonates strongly with our personalities and who we are now, than who we were before.
“The other albums did too, but this album has roots that reach far deeper for us personally. Maybe we were thinking too much when we wrote the other albums. I mean, we were in another place – we were other people then. A lot of things happen to people over the years. I think Sister compared to The World. The Flesh. The Devil is a good example of that. A lot of stuff had happened, and that’s a part of music. The music comes as a result of who you are, and who you are is something that will steadily change. That’s what our minds are there for, anyway. That’s a good thing to me.”
Sister ‘resonates strongly’ with In Solitude’s ‘personalities’, begging the question as to whom the ensemble actually are. “It’s hard to describe that in a few sentences, where we are at this point,” the vocalist stresses. “I think the album itself is an explanation of why we’re doing this, and what we’re about. I think the album’s the closest we can come to explaining anything in the first place. That’s what music is about; trying to define something that permeates your being, and can alter your own life in a way. Music and artistic expression can be a way of explaining that for us. If you want to know anything about us as people – without considering the distance between us and somebody on the other side of the world – the album is a good way of getting to know us. That’s compressed into an album, I think. The album is just about us, and what we wanted to do at this point. The live shows are to some degree as well, but that experience is more out of our hands in a way – it can take strange turns. The album summarises things quite nice at this point, though.”
Pelle constantly pens lyrics. “I write about the world as I see it, and my situation – that incorporates a lot of different things,” he discloses. “Also, there’s a general tone in the music that we do. That directs things too, because the tone of the five of us might lead somewhere else in terms of words. They might direct me to a certain experience in my life, and I might write about that. It evokes things in me that I write about. Really though, the lyrics deal with things in life that have affected certain primal facets in me as a person, and I think my best explanations for anything about these subjects can really be found on the album.”
Title cut ‘Sister’ was inspired by personal experience. “It is about a certain experience that I had, but my way of figuring that out or dealing with that experience is to make at least part of it into that lyric – I took parts of that with me into that lyric,” the mainman analyses. “I think it’s about what you’re prepared to pay in order to understand life to some degree. It’s about descending into yourself, and leaving something there that was dragging you down in the first place in order to come out as a person with more understanding and more questions, which in turn leads you to something that helps you in the end.
“It’s about the spiritual journey of a person too, which I talked about in the first place. I think it’s about the breaking point in a person’s mind or life, or something like that. Like I said though, most of the songs on the album are my ways of dealing with certain experiences myself, and trying to understand them myself. Sometimes I know just as little about what happened as somebody who reads about them. I ask many questions that somebody on the outside might have, but they’re my way of dealing with that sort of thing.”
Sister was recorded at Studio Cobra in Stockholm, Sweden during March 2013, with Martin ‘Konie’ Ehrencrona handling production and mixing duties. “For a long time, we didn’t know at all where we were going to record the album,” Pelle tells. “We even talked about recording it on our own for some time, which in hindsight I think wouldn’t have been a really good idea. The album sounds the way it does because of the place we were at, which was Studio Cobra. Eventually we met Konie though, who produced the album. We had a lot of friends come in, and so forth. We met up with him a few times; we went to see the studio and started talking, sending him demos and stuff. It became clear to us quite fast that we were on the same page, and not only musically. We had a lot of similar obsessions in music, but as people too, there was something about him that we could find in ourselves too. There was a place in us that was the same in him, in a way.
“With that notion, we just decided to move into Studio Cobra. In turn, that was one of the greatest, most inspiring times that I’ve ever had, and that all of us have ever had. He remains one of our closest friends right now – he’s a new addition to our family. He’s just a great personality. If it wasn’t for his contributions to the album – just being in his presence, and just his comprehensions about things – I don’t think Sister would’ve sounded close to what it sounds like right now. He contributed greatly to the album with his personality and his ideas. We didn’t dedicate the album to him in the sleeve notes, but between the lines, I think the album is sort of dedicated to him in a lot of ways, because he felt like a sixth member in a lot of ways.”
Whether production and mixing duties will be overseen by Konie on future outings is unclear. “I don’t know,” the singer muses. I think it’s always good to move on creatively. I think it’s… You should never do the same thing twice, but maybe under different circumstances. We were joking around saying ‘If we are ever gonna do this again. Let’s find a house in the American desert or something, and record it there with you,’ or something like that maybe. I don’t know, though. I would love to work with him again, because he’s just a fantastic person. Even though we meet a lot nowadays, I already miss recording with him. It could’ve gone on forever – it was a great experience. We’ll probably do some stuff with him in future. It might be with other projects and that sort of thing, but he’ll be present in our lives at least.”
Watain axeman Pelle Forsberg lends a guest guitar solo to swansong Sister composition ‘Inmost Nigredo’. “We had this guitar part in that song – on the ending of the song and in the middle of the song – which is a very sort of relentless, fast forward, almost black metal sort of riff,” the other Pelle describes. “That is this thing that we go back to throughout the song, and end the song with. Pelle’s really a relentless sort of person (laughs), and that riff almost reminded us of him or something. I thought that he was really good at playing that sort of guitar, even better than us I guess (laughs). We thought that… and he meant a lot to us during the writing process. He’s a good friend of ours, so it felt very natural to bring him in to do something like that. He did a great job; I think he plays it like someone from a mental hospital, or something (laughs). You can really hear that; his personality really comes through in that guitar part.”
Certain cuts lifted from Sister emerge as favourites for the frontman. “There’s something special about all of them for me, but there are certain moments in various songs that have a very special place for me,” he confesses. “I think the opening track ‘He Comes’ is very important – that’s very strong for me. That song makes me think about the people in the band a lot, and it makes me think about my life in a special way. It reaches a special place. ‘A Buried Sun’ is another song that has become very special for all of us. I remember when we were listening to it in the studio, playing it for some friend or something. It was like we had done something really bad, but in a very positive sort of way. Those two songs are very important, but all of the songs are very important to us in their own right. ‘He Comes’ and ‘A Buried Sun’ are very important to me in a particularly special way, though.”
A black and white affair, Sister’s album cover is a modest piece. “It’s actually this picture that I had on my wall for nearly two years, up to the point we chose it,” Pelle informs. “By the time we were writing, we started talking about covers, and we were all on the same page. We wanted something very simple, and sort of direct and distinct. I did this sketch. I showed them the picture, and told them what I felt about it. Actually, that first idea is what you see now on the cover – the face. I think the sticker almost is part of the aesthetic too. Certainly not when it it’s in the wrong corner, though, which it is at the moment. Maybe on the next pressing… But yeah, we wanted it to be as simple as an old classic record. I told another journalist today that it sort of reminds me of In A Silent Way (July 1969) by Miles Davis or something – it’s just a face, basically. Or The Velvet Underground & Nico album (March 1967) in terms of aesthetics, in terms of how simple it is.
“Just like the title, I wanted it to be sort of simple and direct but still very evocative, and able to lead to a lot of places. The more you stare at the cover, the more it might do to you, and the same goes for the title. In the past, aesthetically there’s just been too much, I think. I don’t get along too much with some of the aesthetics from the past. I like the cover of the last album, but some of the other stuff doesn’t feel like us in a way. This time around though, just like the music, it just became this perfect translation of who we are. The cover mind, yeah. We wanted to keep it very simple. I think this picture is very strong and powerful. It becomes almost like a mirror in a way, like a black cover that you can sort of see yourself in, or your shadow, or a part of you that you didn’t know was there. Maybe it’s even the sister that we speak about that you can see on the cover.”
A music video doesn’t seem to be upon the horizon. “I don’t know if we will, after the last one,” the wordsmith considers. “I don’t have anything against the last one, but I said that I don’t want to do a video again. We might do something under very different circumstances, something that’s basically not a video but more just visuals from stuff, and put that to something. The problem with a video is it can kind of ruin a first impression or a first feeling of a song. It’s important to me that things happen subjectively to a person when they hear a song. Everybody will gain something different and see something different when they hear something. Everybody has that comprehension that it’s subjective and that it’s their own, and that is important. A video can become useless because of that, because people have a personal view of things.
“You can get around that in a nice way by making the video media almost do something separate from the song, and make it justify itself in that sort of way. We might do something again, but I think it’s gonna be very different. It’s probably not gonna seem like as much of a music video as ‘To Her Darkness’ was (from The World. The Flesh. The Devil), which was really this whole thing that we did. That was really a lot of hard work, planned and that sort of thing. We might put together something with a lot of the material we have around here, but I’m not sure. I don’t like music videos that much, actually.”
Sister was released on September 30th, 2013 in the United Kingdom, three days earlier in the rest of Europe, and subsequently on October 1st in North America, all via Metal Blade Records.
Interview published in October 2013. All promotional photographs by Ester Seggara.
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