‘BLACK STRING’ of VAMPIRE talks recording new album REX, collecting obscure Eastern Bloc heavy metal, and how much you really earn being in a band…

If you dipped the first two Entombed albums in liquid nitrogen, smashed the resulting lump with a hammer whilst listening to Somberlain by Dissection, the third and fourth At The Gates albums, and muttering a couple of spells ( one of which blessing the drummer with extra abilities ) then the resulting fractured, splintered cloud of evil – the audial equivalent, perhaps, of a Witcher Moondust bomb – might give you something approaching the musty-yet-fresh sound of VAMPIRE’s latest album, REX. But what experience lurks behind this mysterious outfit? Güray Topaç chats with guitarist Black String to find out….

VAMPIRE – Interview by Güray Topaç.

Well finally we can make an “Interview with Vampire”. Sorry can’t stop myself from doing that joke. But do you know what kind of pain is to search some infos, interviews etc about Vampire on Google?

It’s OK. Perhaps you will find other useful pieces of information about our beloved slavonic mythological creatures? § 1 of the Google Search Technique Manual goes: Combine words. Try Vampire + “with primeval force” or something like that 😉

What kind of relationship do you have with Century Media? For example, have you ever met with the owner, or you are dealing with some A&R person? Did they push you to do an album every year or tour here and there? What are their expectations, do you think?

The founders of Century Media sold their shares in the company a few years ago. By now all, or the majority of, shares in Century Media Records are owned by Sony Records.

We didn’t meet up with the original owners back in the day. We’ve had contact and also met with CM’s current managing director Philipp Schulte since he was our A&R person (now we have another A&R called Stefan Franke with whom we do the daily business for “Rex”, which is released in two weeks when I write this).

It’s a mutual understanding between us and CM that we are not the typical touring band. As you know, our only tour so far was in January 2016, with Tribulation and Grave Pleasures. It was a great tour in every way, but one thing led to another and for good reasons I doubt that some of us will go on three weeks tours again (in this life). This corona-crisis happened to come in between “Rex” and any hopes about future tours, so no questions were asked this time. Our record deal with Century Media runs out after “Rex” so I guess there are no expectations, apart from doing the usual promotional work like replying to this interview. It’s taken quite a long time between our albums, but as far as I’ve understood, CM is just happy that we didn’t split up instead, like Morbus Chron for example.

Does the band make any money finally? Is this situation influences you in positive or negative way?

I think I’ve received about 200 euros from the band during nine years, apart from royalties paid by third parties. I’ve got an income from my daily job, so it’s not a big issue.

Are you the one who creates most of the songs? What do you do when you feel exhausted when it come to writing new songs? How are you able to solve problems within a band?

I’ve written nearly everything apart from most guitar solos on “Rex”, and I wrote 90% of the music on “With Primeval Force”. Originally I and Lars (Hand of Doom) used to share the songwriting. Nowadays he’s writing our lyrics and has more creative say in our “image” department in that way. It took almost a year after our last album for me to start writing new songs. I simply hadn’t any motivation before. Now I’ve already come up with some new ideas, although it’s hard to know if anything of it will be used in the end. One has to start somewhere, and I’ve found that I usually start off somewhere quite far from the traditional Vampire sound. The first song we completed for “Rex” didn’t even end up on the album. I simply found it not so suitable in the big scheme after all, even if I still like the song in question.

There are always some problems to deal with when you try to gather five people over the age of 30, with full time jobs, families, and all that. I think we’ve slowly begun to understand that we’re happy if we manage to compose songs we’re happy with, and hopefully release them. We’re trying to navigate our own way in this music business.

You are not much of a touring band right? Maybe I am lucky that I was able to catch you on that Tribulation Grave Pleasures tour? Well we talk about that before, but when I saw your live video from Wacken, it was very static and almost soulless. It may be because the entire “big festival” and “Wacken metal” concept is…souless?

That’s right. I used to love going to shows myself, but after seven years as a time to time-live musician I’ve come to look at it differently; more critically. I’m simply a bit fed up with the onstage posing that makes up EVERY festival, not just Wacken. Wacken is at least honest for what it is. People go there to see Hammerfall or Sabaton and everyone knows there’s no “deep message” coming their way, just one hour of silly metal posing and “horns in the air”. Good for them! I can’t see any great conceptual difference between a Hammerfall gig at Wacken and a [insert random band] gig at Muskelrock or Live Evil, or all the tour packages in Germany for that matter. All of it is show business!

About our Wacken concert then – it was our first in almost ten months, so we were kind of rusty, and a bit nervous to play in front of 5,000 people for the first time in our career. Anyway, I think it looked better if you were there. And naturally it’s always better for the bands if they get an evening spot instead of 2 PM.

From that point I also think that all this “lockdown no audience live videos” are a bit boring and useless? You are gonna have one as well, so let me know your opinion.

Well, I’m the kind of guy who loves to watch the Emperor rehearsal video from England 1993 that’s on youtube, so I like the “behind the curtains” idea if it’s done that way. I was watching “lockdown gigs” by Aria and Arcturus recently. The first one was pretty boring unfortunately, but I really enjoyed the Arcturus show, mainly because their material is pretty intricate at times and they executed it really well.

I always found small gigs and small size festivals far better. What is your opinions on that?

I agree, despite my ranting about Wacken. There’s more interesting bands to discover at small festivals, and I appreciate the “unprofessional” details that shine through at times.

Can I said that you matured with your lyrics, I mean from “At midnight I’ll possessed your Corpse” to more sophisticated topics on “Rex”?

There’s definitely been a progression from our early horror movie-oriented lyrics. Already on our first album I think our lyrical content began to mature a lot, and we’ve continued in that direction ever since.

How can you describe your albums for those who are not familiar with Vampire? Feel free to talk more about “Rex” since I didn’t heard it yet, except for two songs.

I guess our sound is a mixture between German/American/Swedish metal in a way, with lots of harmonies in between the straight metal onslaught. This sums up “Rex” pretty well.

What is the story behind the video for “The Fen”?

The theme of the video is loosely based on an artwork by August Malmström from 1885 called “Grindslanten” (google it!). Hand of Doom had the idea to combine the theme of Grindslanten with the song lyrics (“fen” has two meanings – the female fairytale creature, but also bog/swamp), and with the help of his old friend Daniel Garptoft it materialized into this video. I had nearly forgotten about this, so thanks for reminding me…

Grindslanten by August Malmström 1885

Well then maybe we can talk a bit about your interest into good old Eastern Blok scene. How was you obsessed with that? Why it is so catchy and interesting for you?

The first bands I discovered in this “scene” were Polish Turbo and KAT in the late 1990’s, thanks to my old penpal Pawel Wojtowicz from Gdansk, with whom I used to trade tapes (how time flies). I dug into the Czech scene and became obsessed with Root, Master’s Hammer and Törr (also the Crux “Rev Smrti” demo was on heavy rotation!). I went to Prague twenty years ago and bought everything I could find; later at home I bought albums by Assesor and Citron from the good old Static Age Mailorder (Paulo Staver, you know). Next step was to check out Hungary, then the ex-Soviet Union states. I went to Tallinn with a friend in 2001 and we basically vacuum cleaned every record shop in town for interesting albums, so I had almost 30 tapes and CD’s, mainly with Aria and Korrozia Metalla, in my bag back home. I was completely obsessed with Aria and also Hungarys’ Pokolgép that year. I went to Poland and Hungary several summers in a row just to find music and enjoy the Central European atmosphere. I also spent a year in Riga, mainly in order to study Russian, and later also four months in Vilnius. My obsession with all things Eastern European was really heavy for a while, yes. Nowadays I have more perspective on the whole thing, perhaps because I know all the classics by heart and there’s not much more for me to discover. What made me love this “scene” is perhaps the slightly nostalgic or melancholic feeling coming back in the music and lyrics of certain bands, and the notion that these bands were genuine in the way that they didn’t just fight daily boredom, but the whole political establishment (the oppressive system). Some of these bands fought for REAL in a way. It wasn’t just the bands I fell in love with, it was a whole part of Europe that was opening up to me. (I first visited the former East Bloc in 1999 – Bulgaria actually – but it wouldn’t have occured to me back then to start digging for AHAT or ER MALAK albums).

I am sure that idea for Eidomantum’s Fear the Master ep cover art is yours, the Chernii Koffe one?

“Step over the threshold” was one of the first Russian albums I bought, as a bargain in my hometown actually. Me and Richard (the other founder) used to adore that twisted symbol on the album cover, so we stole the whole idea, logo and all (to be precise we stole the design from Black Coffee’s previous 7”EP). Funny thing, I sent the Eidomantum EP to the Russian “Dark City” magazine, and some months later I got a copy of the magazine in the mail. The editor had noticed our thievery and simply printed the Eidomantum and Black Coffee covers next to each other, with a review that mostly was confused about a Swedish guy writing to him in Russian and sending an album with a cover like this. That was part of our humour, doing whatever we wanted, not caring about what people would think. I just have to add that I’m not much of a fan of Black Coffee, they’re 50% good and 50% bad taste somehow.

And talking about your previous bands you were for some time in Portrait as well. What do you remember from those days?

When I joined Portrait in 2010 it was quite a step up for me as a musician, because I hadn’t been in a band on a professional level before. I was basically asked three weeks in advance to do one show as a stand-in bassist. I had to spend a lot of time rehearsing the songs at home (I hadn’t been playing bass in any band before actually). I was a fan of Portrait from their first live show, so I was happy to be asked. Some time after the gig I was invited to join the band for real. We recorded “Crimen…” in Stockholm that autumn, just having left the ferry from a not so sober gig in Helsinki. I was really nervous to be in a real studio for the first time, and being a bit unrehearsed for some of the bass lines (I live some 300 km’s from where the Portrait members reside). Anyway, the recording turned out really well. We did a short Irish tour before the album was released, then later on we played Muskelrock and Bang your Head! in the summer. The reasons why I suddenly didn’t play in Portrait anymore after that last festival are a bit obscure to me up to this day actually, apart from the fact that I and Richard had a vague beef going on and we lost contact for a long time. Anyway, it’s not important anymore. Their line-up problems would also seem endless. I had a good time as long as it lasted – for about 14 months and almost ten gigs. I still think “Crimen…” is a masterpiece, much to my old friend Richard Lagergren’s credit.

Are you feel guilty for not being 24 hours metal head? A little bit Isten’like question but what is heavy metal for you?

Not really. I don’t have any relation to “scene metal” anyway. Still I think about heavy metal many times a day. Heavy metal means passion!

Do you like Enforcer’s Divlje Jagode cover? Was this Eastern Bloc thing some kind of trend for short period of time?

It’s been a while since I heard the cover, but I remember it being good, although I mostly don’t care too much about covers. The original is always better, unless the original was crap to begin with. Trend, I don’t know. When I hung out at The Corroseum Forum sixteen years ago, it was the only place to find info in English about the most obscure parts of Eastern European 80’s metal. Before Discogs and the Youtube explosion of obscure music, one had to search Ebay (mostly in vain), or try to make contacts on Russian forums in order to secure vinyls by CREDO or VARVAR for exemple (Lindell from PORTRAIT used to joke that we could gather all the people in Sweden who owned the CREDO LP for a photo holding up our records – supposedly being him, me and The Corroseum founder Dan Edman). I spent a lot of time in order to find some of these records. For a few years now, all of it’s on the Internet. I guess it’s mostly about a few more people having joined the party, by other means than “we” did. And by now I think this record hunting and scene elitism is a bit tiresome. Last week I stumbled upon some 70’s Turkish prog rock, and it appeared really interesting to me. Feel free to send me some recommendations (I know you might have done so already!).

Well didn’t expect you to be into Turbonegro and Tjugend thing. But you said old faves, not following anymore? How about Hellacopters etc kind of scandi-rock?

I became a huge Turbonegro fan just before “Scandinavian Leather” when Close-Up Magazine published a legendary feature on the band (I’d seen them live on one of their reunion gigs in 2002 but didn’t quite get it at the time). Discovering Turbonegro was as important to me as discovering Guns N’ Roses as a kid – it’s just that metal came in between. Turbonegro used to do everything right! “Apocalypse Dudes” is a fantastic Scandinavian rock album – it’s like fresh Norwegian mountain water combined with the stench of Oslo’s darkest backyards. I was a huge fan up to “Retox” which appeared a bit uninspired to me, and I was a bit sceptic about their sudden metal influences in some songs (it must be mentioned however, the bonus track “Into the void” is one of their best songs along with “Gimme Five” – also a bonus track! Total nihilism! Some of their decisions remain a mystery). I went to see the band several times back then, where the top experience was the Weltturbojugendtage in Hamburg, 2005. I’ve seen them live a few times since 2012 and there’s nothing to complain about really. There’s like three great songs on “Rock n’ Roll Machine”. It’s just that they can never top the Hank von Helvete era, and where’s Pål Pot Pamparius? Chris Summers? I miss these guys. And I’m a bit sad that they have dropped their guitar tuning so that it fits Tony Sylvester’s voice. A heavy Turbonegro? Come on… still I’m happy to see Happy-Tom, Euroboy and Rune Rebellion delivering after all these years.

Anyway, Turbonegro had something that’s missing in large parts of the music scene – they didn’t seem to take themselves very seriously but there’s a great dose of darkness underneath the surface. Most of all these popular, boring acts of today are the complete opposite. It’s just “dark, satanic” bla bla on the surface, but underneath it’s just complete bullshit without any content. Turbonegro dressed up as homosexuals and made great irony of all the silly imagery in the music business.

I used to be a fan of The Hellacopters too, mainly in the “By the Grace of God” era and by their last album “Head Off” (although it’s a compilation of covers, packaged very cleverly). I haven’t seen them live since 2008 though. The Dregen era was too much “action rock” for me, and I miss “Strängen” as a stage person. He was great at Nicke Andersson’s side – R.I.P. old man.

I wasn’t interested in the rest of the Scandinavian “action rock” scene. Although there were other bands from the same era that I can highly recommend, namely The Soundtrack of our Lives and Broder Daniel. Both dead and buried bands by now, but who can complain about nostalgia?

Will you be a musician till the end of your life let’s said? What’s motivate you, not only in heavy metal motives, I mean don’t you have any other hobbies? For example Queensryche’s Chris DeGarmo became an pilot…

Good question! I’ve had a few attempts over the years at writing (prose) about experiences outside the music side of things, but I can’t find the time finishing it. But let’s speculate that I will be connected to music as long as I live. There’s no turning back! I’ve spent the last two years writing “Rex” and at the moment I’m mostly replying to interviews and dealing with other promotional matters for the album. And did you know? Vampire’s former drummer “Ratwing” became a pilot just before he left the band. Last time I heard from him he worked for Norwegian. An excellent drummer and a skilled BMW driver, and hopefully he’s an excellent pilot too.

BTW did you recorded Rex at once in Studio, or do it some parts at home etc. Do you prefer this old school way of recording process? Because today you can do almost everything at home…

Most of “Rex” was recorded in a professional studio called Nacksving in central Gothenburg. We also recorded “With Primeval Force” there. We wanted to go there in the first place because “Devil’s Force” and “Servants of Darkness” were recorded there. The main reason for using a professional studio is to achieve a good drum sound. In theory, guitars and vocals could easily be recorded in the rehearsal room instead. We did actually record a few parts for “Rex” from home, like most of the guitar solos. Still it’s far more inspiring to work in a studio environment. Besides, we’ve had the money needed so why not?

REX is out now on Century Media records.


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