THE HAUNTED – Never Better?
Swedish death metal outfit The Haunted entered Antfarm Studio in Århus, Denmark on October 18th, 2010 to cut their seventh studio full-length with longtime producer Tue Madsen (Moonspell / Dark Tranquillity / Gorefest / Sick Of It All). By early November recording sessions had concluded, vocalist Peter Dolving feeling the resulting album – Unseen – to be a continuation of what The Haunted began experimenting with on rEVOLVEr (October 2004) and The Dead Eye (October 2006). The first album to be issued under The Haunted’s new contract agreement with Century Media Records – inked in December 2009 – Unseen was recorded with motive and intent.
“First of all, with the initial talks we had before we started passing ideas around, we agreed we wanted to make an album with only memorable songs – no in-betweens, no fillers, nothing like that,” explains Per Möller Jensen, drummer for The Haunted since 1999. “We wanted to write enough material for us to pick out the songs that would fit together as a unit and would make a good album, but first of all, we wanted to write songs that could actually be played on an acoustic guitar or a piano or whatever, with a melody line along with a good chorus and all that stuff. We pretty much approached the writing a little different this time around; we just went from the initial vocal ideas and the melody of the vocals, pretty much made the song, and then from thereon we would start writing the riffs that would fit the chords for the initial vocal ideas. Instead of coming up with a riff and putting some drums on there and all that stuff and then end up trying to fit the vocals in there, we approached it completely the other way around. We started with melody lines and hook lines and lyrics and just chords, chords for the vocal lines. Then we would move onto the riffs, writing the riffs based on what the vocals were already doing, so we pretty much just approached it the other way around than we would’ve done previously.”
Frontman Peter Dolving’s vocals arguably boast flexibility, a flexibility perhaps absent on previous records. “I think mostly it’s not a case of him having grown, because most of it has been there all the time,” the sticksman surmises. “It’s more a matter of maybe Peter being comfortable enough to let it all out and put it all into this band, and having the belief to take it into this band. He is a great vocalist and he was before; he was before he got into the band the second time, and he was before he got into the band the first time. As far as writing melodic music, he’s been there before, I’ve been there before and The Haunted has been there. There’s been melodies all along ever since the first record – some people maybe failed to notice it, but it’s always been there. The only difference is that this time around we based the album on the vocal, which is like how you’d write a regular pop song.
“It’s technically the same approach to writing a song by letting the song decide what the musicians are gonna do instead of musicians coming in there with all types of things, saying things like ‘I really need this riff in there,’ ‘I really need this drum fill to be played on the record’ and all these egocentric things that aren’t gonna be creative, that would just ruin the creative part of it. It was more where the song called for this; this on the drums, this on the bass. That’s what we did because that’s what worked and that’s what music is all about – using your ears. That’s why maybe some people are gonna be bewildered by why we’re not playing as much as on previous records. ‘Why? Where are the riffs? Where are all the fast drums?’ The reason why they’re not there is because the music didn’t call for it – you don’t put ketchup on your cereals either. It’s just that; it wasn’t called for, it wasn’t on the menu. Basically, that’s why we kept the beat strong and simple and wrote memorable vocal lines. Like I said, it was like how a pop band would approach writing songs.”
Although the term ‘pop’ springs to mind, its use could be greatly misleading. “It could make people misunderstand me, misinterpret what I’m trying to say, because I’m not trying to say that we wrote a pop record or we were trying to sound like some random pop band on the radio,” Per stresses. “I’m only talking about the way we approached writing the songs, because that’s basically the way you’d write a pop song; you’d have the vocal line, you’d have the chorus and then you’d add the chords to the vocal line, and that’s pretty much what we did. We had the vocal lines, and then we added riffs that would fit the vocal lines. 60% of the record was done that way. Some of the parts were done the other way around where the riffs came first but generally we tried to approach it the way I just described, coming up with the key elements of the song first – the vocal lines. The organ that speaks out to you in music when you hear it is the vocals; that’s what is gonna make it or break it for you and that’s what delivers the emotion, so I think we just pretty much fired from all cylinders this time. We used the whole spectrum this time; instead of just sticking the spade halfway in, we just fucking pounded it all the way in this time and just didn’t put any limits on ourselves. I’m really proud of that.”
Unseen’s album title could arguably refer to the fact that this is a side of The Haunted that’s possibly hitherto unseen. “There could be a hint of that, yeah,” the drummer agrees. “I think there has always been and still is much more to this band than people could ever imagine, and that’s why we’re still here. That’s another subject that the album touches; just the way that modern society has become, all the little lies that people live and all the things they fail to see, and all the things they don’t wanna see and don’t wanna know about. I’m thinking about just the way the world is run; the economies, corruption. It doesn’t say much more than that. Just all the dirty little things people don’t wanna know about, don’t wanna see and don’t wanna have anything to do with. If you don’t make a choice, you’re just making the passive choice. The passive choice is the same as saying ‘Go ahead’; if you don’t make a choice, you’re still making a choice – you’re saying ‘Yes.’ That’s one way to look at it. It touches several things, but yeah, one of them could be the side of the band that people haven’t seen before. That isn’t the reason for the title itself though.”
In writing Unseen, The Haunted wanted to write “all killer and no filler.” With that being said, moments in the past have taken place where compositions haven’t been as necessarily strong as they needed to be. “I think that would be the case with any long lasting band; if you’ve had a career going for ten-plus years, there’s no way you can look back at a back catalogue and say that every album has the same impact or that every song on every album has the same level of quality,” Per deduces. “There’s always gonna be dips. There’s always gonna be something that you tried that either failed to work out or just became something different, so I think it’s very natural for a band that has as many releases as us. You just can’t hit the bullseye every time, and I think that’s a very natural part of being a creative person. Sometimes we just didn’t do it.”
The sticksman feels The Haunted missed that bullseye the most on previous outing, Versus (September 2008). “That’s just my personal opinion, but it doesn’t really matter what I think as far as how other people are gonna perceive it,” he observes. “Looking at the band’s history and all that though, I personally think Versus is that one album we should’ve approached differently. We should’ve thought about it.
“I just think that we followed the path that we set for ourselves with The Dead Eye and for some strange, funny reason – considering that we liked the record and we were really happy with it – we just didn’t go down that street man. We just turned back, and… I don’t know… Looked back, which brought some elements from the old days that were blended in. The original idea was good enough for what it was, but I just honestly don’t think we really achieved it. I like parts of the album though, and I love the idea that we did one album where we just played everything live right onto tape. It is as raw as you can get a record, Versus. It has a few overdubs and that’s it – there’s no layers of recording drums and then guitars and bass. The whole band were in the same room playing. When the song was done, the whole song was done. For that reason, I’m happy about that, that I’ve at least done one record with the band that was like that. In that respect I like Versus, but I think musically we could’ve made better choices.”
So Versus looked towards the past for influences too much? The Haunted’s earlier, more aggressive sound? “Not so much,” Per corrects. “We definitely looked back, but we weren’t trying to consciously think ‘Let’s get the feeling from this record’ or anything like that. I think where Versus failed the most though was the idea of pleasing the older fans – I don’t really think it made them particularly happy either with the record because it still had too much of The Dead Eye. It was too close to that and had a lot of that in it as well, so it didn’t really go all balls-out thrash-wise. It didn’t really serve those people at all, and it didn’t really serve the people who liked The Dead Eye – it was a big surprise. In some funny way, that record sold in-between. It didn’t really do much for anybody.”
Unseen’s promotional blurb suggests the full-length will surprise longtime The Haunted fans, but is this actually the case? “I think for sure this is the biggest surprise that they’ve had from The Haunted yet, and I enjoy and take great pride in being a member of that band – I guess it’s just our place in history,” the drummer reckons. “We have to be that band that releases albums that people get either happy or sad or pissed off about. We have to do this – this is just where we are. We had to do a different record, otherwise there was no life and there was no point in us being here. That’s what I’m very proud of, the fact that this band has turned into becoming that – we didn’t used to be that. We played our role in the thrash movement, and we took that as far as we were able to without management, without anything – without the big machine and all that. We made the records that secured a place in the history of the neo-thrash movement. We were a part of starting up that whole movement again, and I think we outplayed our own role. We did the records, we left an impact on that scene and it was time for us to move on, and that’s what true artists are all about I think. They’re about taking steps and always moving, otherwise they die, and the same thing goes for music.”
The Haunted definitely doesn’t play things safe Per. “Not at all, and if we did we would have no place here, just like any band who does that has no place. They should not do it, because there’s no point. The funniest thing about this which you’ve got to consider is we’ve been accused of selling out. When you don’t play as fast as you used to you’ve sold out, and selling out means what? That you’ve made more money? It’s just a joke, you know? For us, selling out as The Haunted would be to make a fast thrash album. Let’s put that straight once and for all, that selling out as The Haunted would be to make a fast thrash record. That would be the biggest sell-out we could come up with, because that would secure a nine out of ten points review everywhere in the fucking world. Everybody would sit there and clap their hands and say ‘Oh, what a great album,’ and that would be selling out because we would know that we would get great reviews. That’s the essence of selling out. There is no true artistry anymore. For us that would be the same as being employed in a company, and thank God that we’re not. We’re just musicians; we decide what we wanna do, and that’s great and beautiful.”
Do you have to not even think of the audience Per? Really, The Haunted’s music is for you yourselves. You don’t sit there and think ‘Oh, the audience will love this.’ “Something like that has gone on in the past, obviously worries about… and I think that has been the main reason why some of the major steps of this band have come as late as they have, has been because of some of that. Let’s put it like this; maybe during the last five years all that stuff has pretty much been wiped away, and today there’s only one thing left: we’ve gotta make true music. I think after all these years as a band we’re finally reaching our full potential, and I think that’s all you can really worry about as an artist or a musician. If people like it, that’s great.
“When we write the songs though, we don’t have the audience in mind. We don’t think like that, because to me that is the essence of selling out. Maybe other people look at it differently, but to me that would be like having a burger joint. That is the beauty of music isn’t it? The surprise. New areas, new feelings and new experiences. That is art, that is music – the opposite has nothing to do with it. You can’t keep on releasing the same thing to please a small group of people that will not tolerate you in any other way than the way you were when they heard you for the first time. It doesn’t work like that in the real world. I’m not trying to sound bitter or anything like that. I’m not bitter at all, because I’m really, really happy and really pleased if a dude out there likes just one of my records. If people don’t like the new record, that’s fine with me. I certainly understand why people that love extreme music and death metal have a hard time getting their head around this music. I respect that and it’s fine with me, but if they like a previous album we did I think that’s great. They should listen to that and appreciate that record for what it is and for what it was in that particular time and place, and just respect the fact that we’re human beings.
“We’re artists and we have to move on, and that’s the only way I can look at it. I’m not trying to sound bitter, but because you bought an album by a band once you’re not a shareholder in a company. It’s as though you’re a part of making the decisions. The band is making the decisions, and then it’s up to people to figure out if they like it or not. There’s just no way you can think like that. I don’t think there’s gonna be any good music coming out of thinking ‘Are they gonna like this?,’ or ‘How are they gonna feel about this?,’ or this or that. You can’t think like that, or you’re gonna imprison yourself.”
Boasting definite radio potential, the Southern rock flavoured composition ‘No Ghost’ warrants special mention. “I think it was one of the very first ideas we came up with,” Per remembers. “I remember with the whole chorus part of the song, I felt right away that ‘No Ghost’ was gonna be a great track. It’s got a heavy groove, and great melody hook lines. It’s one of the few songs on the album that is downtuned – it’s extra heavy-sounding. Yeah, I love that song too. It’s one of my favourites, but I think with the whole record I have a hard time picking out my favourite song. I think it has a lot of songs that really do it for me, but ‘No Ghost’ is definitely one of my favourites because I think it has a very strong beat, very memorable vocal hook lines, good riffing and it’s got the blues factor to it as well. I love jazz and I love blues, and that’s obviously why I would get into ‘No Ghost’ – because it has a blues element.”
If played ‘No Ghost’ and not told the artist, it would be impossible to guess the track was recorded by The Haunted. “Yeah,” the sticksman concurs. “Like I told you before, it’s not as much a matter of ‘Oh, this is interesting.’ It’s more a matter of… it’s so normal for… I mean I can talk for myself as a musician. For me the only way to do it is you cannot do the same thing twice. It’s not gonna happen, and it’s just not even in the book. For me, it’s the most natural thing in the world that the record sounds different. If it doesn’t, you’ve gotta stop. That’s how I feel, but I respect other bands that choose not to – AC/DC is a perfect example. Some bands make a formula and stick to it; even if 50 years pass, they will stick to it and that’s fine. It’s great, but it’s just not the way I’m set out. I’ve gotta move ahead and I’ve gotta try new stuff. All of a sudden life is a bore, and you’ve done the same thing for fucking forever. It’s not the way I wanna go out, and also the fact that I wouldn’t call us old, dirty bastards, but we’re not young anymore, we’re not teenagers anymore.
“I’m not trying to sound like an old fart or anything, but with the years I think you start appreciating, you start accepting different emotions musically and in other art forms – movies, whatever. It’s like you can hold a little more than you could when you were 18, and for us it’s the same thing. We’re trying to play music that will move people and touch people emotionally, because I feel we can give a little more than just aggression. We’re not just 19-year-old desperate, fucked up kids anymore. We still have all these elements; we’re still fucked up – well I am – and we’re still frustrated and all that shit, but we have other emotions too. It doesn’t only come out in aggression, but can come out in melancholy and different sorts of melodies. For me a lot of stuff hasn’t changed, except the presentation.
“Funnily enough, Peter and me talk about it in the studio. We would listen back to some of the raw tracks and say ‘Fuck man, in one sense this is the hardest shit we’ve ever done.’ This is the hardest fucking piece of music we’ve ever done, harder than the first album. It’s just not fast, but it’s more brutal. It grabs you by the fucking balls. It’s hard to explain, but for me it is because of the rawness and the realness. It’s so real, because what you hear is what was being played. It’s not a fucking case of ProTooling and fucking your way around the whole record where you end up listening to the computers’ version of what you were playing. This is the band performing; there’s pure, raw emotions in there, and I think the way it’s being played and the whole attitude it’s being played with actually makes it harder than a lot of records we’ve done in the past. Even though they were as fast as hell and a million notes were being played, I still think the new record is harder.”
As to which musical category Unseen belongs to, Per is torn. “I think that’s maybe the greatest quality of the record, and maybe the greatest problem the record will have are far as finding commercial success,” he theorises. “People need a category, because they will not buy records that don’t fit in the category that they’ve already signed up to, the subculture that they’re already a part of – I’m talking young kids now. That’s why it can be hard, because it’s not a thrash record, it’s not a sludge album and it’s not this or that so it doesn’t have a specific subgenre of people attached to it. It’s not as commercially sellable as a band with a strong image that has a certain lifestyle, so in that respect it’s really hard to describe the music because it’s still us. I definitely recognise The Haunted; maybe some people out there will claim otherwise, but I sure as hell fucking recognise my own band when I hear that record. Unseen is very much The Haunted.
“It reaches out man, just getting all the elements in there – all of them – for that big dish. It’s like a bowl of food, where you have the ingredients for food. The ingredients are music, and what are they? There are only two ingredients: one is melody and the other is rhythm. If you leave out one of them, it’s gonna be a pretty same-tasting dish. This time around we threw all the fucking melodies and the rhythm and all that shit in there, because we wanted to make a neat album. For the first time in my career, I still feel fucking proud of this record even months after it’s been done. I really think it was good for us to change the time that we took to make the record – it took us almost 18 months to do this.”
Unseen was released on March 21st, 2011 in Europe and on the 22nd in North America, all through Century Media Records.
Interview published in March 2011.
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