Armed with an excoriating, blistering new album, titled Out Of Respect for the Dead, Sweden’s death metal monster Grave has returned.
The now-legendary heavy metal genre that Grave upholds, Swedish death metal, often showcases downtuned guitars, a “buzzsaw” distorted guitar tone, mid-tempo to fast-paced songs, deep-pitched vocals, and lyrical storylines that focus on gore or anti-religious concepts. The initial sound of Swedish death was revolutionary and inspiring.
Regularly counted as founders of the genre, bands like Entombed, Dismember, Grave, and Carnage were poised to set the world on fire. And they did. Bands sprang up from all corners, attempting to emulate and improve upon “the sound of Swedish death”. More than 25 years have passed since the first inklings of the genre began to pummel fans’ eardrums, yet it remains vibrant, relevant, and strong.
A band that began in the late 1980s with teenagers attempting to emulate the sounds of their influences and be more extreme then their competition, Grave found itself immersed in the formative years of extreme metal. Of the era, “I think we had something special, that wasn’t technical, or super-fast, or like the American bands”, Lindgren said candidly.
Iris talks with Grave’s vocalist and guitarist, Ola Lindgren, about the band’s past, his studio and songwriting processes, the touring lifestyle, and the band’s new album.
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My first question is that it’s been 25-odd years since “Swedish death metal” took the world by storm. What caused the takeover to find such fertile ground – was the just that the musical climate was ready for a change?
Maybe. We all started getting into the thrash music, that came after the step after we learned about Kiss, and Motley Crue, and all the regular metal bands. We discovered this kind of more extreme music. Everybody I knew, and played with, and then also the guys up in Stockholm, when we met them… were totally into that, and it evolved pretty fast into developing our own kind of styles. Getting into listening to more European and more brutal death metal bands, also, when the American death metal bands came out. I just think we had something special, that wasn’t technical, or super-fast, or like the American bands. So, maybe it appealed to a lot of people at the right time, I think.
So it was just basically some teenagers messing around with the sound.
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, we had numerous bands before Grave. Everything from maybe a kind-of straight heavy metal with clean vocals, to… the most recent band we had before Grave was called Corpse, which was pretty much just thrash, like German thrash metal, like Kreator or Destruction, and those guys.
Well, you’ve enjoyed a nice night-career in metal, and have ‘seen it all’, so to speak. You’ve got some good insight into the history and heritage of (extreme) metal. Who do you think started it, where is it going, and where does Grave fit into the equation?
I’m not sure, really. I mean, it started out definitely with the Bay Area thrash, and with the German thrash scene. And Celtic Frost, which has always been a huge influence for us.
Yeah. It shines through here and there, but, the real death metal (founders are), I would say… the really early bands like Autopsy, Morbid Angel, those guys. Immolation was very early as well. Together with the whole Swedish scene, we all started the whole thing, and it’s still going strong. I mean, a lot of the old bands are still going on, and there seems to be a great deal of interest still. Or, again, maybe I should say, for this kind of music. Though, it’s pretty strange to think of it – about that it’s been such, such a long time. But (we’re) definitely still happy to be able to do it.
You guys are sort of like torch-bearers… you’re keeping it alive.
Yeah. We try, as long as there’s an interest in the band. I mean, we don’t do this for our own selves. I mean, you need to have a label behind you, to back you up. And you need to have a fanbase that wants new material. So, without that, I wouldn’t see a point in going around and just playing the old classics. (As) a lot of bands sadly do, these days.
They sort of end up nostalgia acts, almost.
Yeah. Yeah. I’m just saying, with my old idols, of course, if I see them, I don’t want to hear stuff from their new album. I want to hear what I grew up on. But still, there’s a lot of those good old bands that do very (well). The albums still (sell) today. So you need to have a bigger picture then just nostalgia.
What got you into playing music in the first place, and did you have any ‘musical heroes’ that inspired you?
Not really like that. We started (in) seventh grade together: me, and Jorgen, and Jensa, the other guys who started Grave. We also had Corpse, as I said, before that, and a couple of bands even before that. Then we just figured out, pretty quickly, that we listened to the same kind of music. Which was, at that time, was more straight hard rock and heavy metal. And we wanted to play as well, but none of us could really play. Except Jensa, who was actually playing drums already, ’cause his dad is a jazz drummer. So, we just messed around. There was a place where you could go after school, and learn how to play instruments and stuff. We apparently had some kind of talent for it. I don’t know if we just struggled hard enough. So, we learned how to play other bands’ material – cover songs – and then, pretty fast, we started writing our own stuff. Which was apparently appealing to other people as well.
It’s always interesting to hear where people get their “spark” from. Where they get their start…
Yeah. We wanted to be what we liked, really. It’s just a fluke, I think, that the people that liked it and had the same idea and interests, turned out to be able to play together. (laughs) And then learn instruments, and then, also, learn how to write songs.
I forget who said this, but they said ‘We play for free; they pay us to travel.”
How difficult is it these days to earn a decent living from music?
It’s… very hard. Definitely. I mean, we all have stuff we do, between touring and such. I have a studio here at home. I’m trying to still build on the name, and try to get more work in there. Between (that), with Grave, and the other guys have more regular nine-to-five jobs. So it’s not easy at all, really. If (we) wanted to get rich and make a career like that, we should have chosen something else.
You should have been accountants or something.
Yeah. Or (work with) a different kind of music. Just writing pop songs, and having one album hit. That would be great, and we’d be set for life.
For you, is death metal still a personal musical choice? Or is it a job now, like a means to an end – the touring lifestyle?
No… I definitely see it as a job, more or less. I mean, it’s what I’ve always done, and I’ve always known. We were very young when we started touring, and doing albums. That was all we wanted. So, it’s… I wouldn’t say ‘living the dream’, in that way, but still, all your childhood stuff that you wanted to do, came true, pretty quick. It’s all I’ve been doing for all these years, and working in between, of course, during the silent periods for the band. We definitely wish we could all spend more time and focus on only the band, and not having to have all this “normal” stuff around, for sure.
Your upcoming tour is with Malevolent Creation, right?
So, that’s sort of nostalgia too, because it goes back to your first ‘real’ tour as Grave. What’s your favorite part of touring?
The playing part. Really. The whole other thing is just… We refer to it as ‘cattle transportation’. It’s a really, really boring time, but once you’re there, it’s always fun, you know. You don’t think about the endless waiting (because it’s just a waiting game). Pretty much, from the time you get up until the time you play, and after that, it’s waiting again for something. Something to be done, or packed up, or something. It’s a way of life, as well, and I mean, not everybody can do it. I’ve had members in my band that chose to quit, because they can’t cope with that kind of lifestyle. It takes the right kind of persons, for sure.
It’s a grind, too. There’s a lot of things going on besides playing.
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. There’s a schedule every day, of course, that you need – you need to figure out when dinner is, where it is, ‘what time are we leaving’, ‘what time are we coming in tomorrow’, and … There’s a lot of stuff to regulate, too. Times to remember every day. Different stuff. It takes a toll, definitely. My mother and dad used to say, oh, ‘you’ve been everywhere, and have seen everything.’ Well, I have been everywhere, but I haven’t seen anything, really. There’s no time for it.
Yeah, you’re sort of stuck inside most of the time.
Yeah. There’s no time to see anything, really.
Do you write while you’re on tour? Do you brainstorm riffs with the guys in the other bands – like impromptu tour bus jam sessions – or do you write during your spare time only?
Very rarely. I mean, sometimes, maybe we sit and try to work something out, or just come up with ideas. And then we save it. Record it on the phone or something like that. I always have a bunch of riffs on my phone that I pick up next time, when we’re putting together an album again. A lot of them seem to turn out to work really (well), because the idea from the start was ‘right’, you know? It’s very rare that we sit down and try to write together like that, though.
So it’s pretty much self-driven?
Okay. Let’s talk about your new album! I’ll say this right away: I feel kind of bad for you guys, because you get asked the same questions all the time. I’m trying to avoid that for the most part.
Out of Respect for the Dead is your lucky 13th album, and another for Century Media and for your fans.
I was just listening to it, and it sounds fantastic! Your studio sounds great!
What was the basic process for writing Out of Respect for the Dead?
The whole writing process was very fast, actually. I think we did the whole thing in four or five weeks. Everybody had a bunch of ideas and riffs laying around. We had some sessions, and just brainstormed, and put together stuff, and tried everything out, so that process was pretty quick. We recorded drums in May of last year. Did the bass and guitar over the summer, and… It was planned to be already released last fall, but we had other stuff coming up, tours and such. So we decided to push it forward, and Century Media was fine with that. So we just picked it up this spring, and started doing the solo parts, and then the vocals, and then the whole mixing and mastering process. So it took over a year from start to finish, but not at all…
Not all in one shot.
I would say, maybe we spent four or five weeks in the studio, like active time.
That’s not too bad!
So it was a long process, but still, we’re very happy with the way it came out.
Do you start writing with your guitar riffs? Do you keep an archive?
I know you mentioned that you put a bunch of riffs on your phone…
Yeah, they’re mostly whistles and hums though, from ideas. But some also, from when I have a guitar handy, then I can record it. Otherwise, it’s the same with the other guys. Mika often comes (in) with ideas for entire songs that are pretty much done, from start to finish. I do that sometimes. We pretty much always break them down though, and mix up the riffs, or put some new parts in there. I don’t think there’s really any tracks on the new album that are from one single person, written from start ’til end. It’s all a collaboration.
It sounds very cohesive, too. It’s not like ‘stop-start.’
I think there’s thought behind it. I think we tried to focus on arranging, and proper songwriting. An idea with a clear chorus and stuff like that, to make it more interesting. And also to make it have some quirks, and weirder, heavier parts in there. Stuff like that.
I heard all of that. That’s so cool. I could hear all of the little flourishes in there, and how you were trying to make the choruses and verses stand out.
Do you write your lyrics more spontaneously? Or, do you keep a notebook of your lyric ideas?
No, that’s always done when it’s time to do the vocal parts in the studio. I sit down and force myself to get it together, really. It always works like that. I’ve never written stuff that I’ve saved for later. Or, written a song to a lyric, for instance. I’ve never done that, ever. It just works for me doing it that way, so, I guess I shouldn’t mess with that concept.
How do you sequence your albums? Is the song order up to you, or is that the label’s job?
No, it’s up to us, really. That’s always tricky, because you will have a couple of songs that have some parts that might remind you of the other one. It’s tricky to distribute them evenly over the whole thing. There also has to be a dynamic in there, where you put a heavy song, or a mid-tempo song, or stuff like that. So it’s always hard to get it together, but I think it worked pretty well on this one.
Yeah. You had that segue from one song to the other.
That sounded really nice. Well, you’ve got no more cassette demos, now that you’ve got Studio Soulless. Is your studio digital?
Yeah, it’s fully digital.
Cool. That’s what I thought, because the drums have a very modern sound.
Has your pre-production stuff changed? As in, has the amount of pre-production changed, now that you aren’t pressed for ‘studio time’?
Yeah. I mean, it’s easier, getting ideas together. I usually try out riffs with just throwing stuff together with programmed drums, to see what works, and tempos, and all that. So it has changed a lot, I would say.
Are you a perfectionist with your studio recordings?
Yeah, in some ways. I don’t want it to be too much, or too static. It needs to be alive. So I seldom edit stuff to make it tighter. I’d rather re-record it if I think it’s too sloppy. It’s definitely not (perfect)… We don’t record to a click track, for instance. We just go. It’s not easy, editing our stuff, either. Everything is like… on a hunch, you know? There’s no click track to follow to edit to, so we usually just go for it. Then, if we feel that something’s wrong, or we need to take the tempo up or down a bit. We just try it again, do a couple of different takes on it.
Do you still write most of the material, or has it become more of a full-band collaboration?
No, with the lineup I have now, that’s been on since Endless Procession of Souls, it’s definitely a group effort. I would say everybody contributes a lot, which is cool for me, because I don’t need to have that pressure on me to carry the torch, and do everything. Like just have (backing) musicians to play with, and then go out and play. It’s definitely more of a band then it’s been in many years.
And you don’t have to be the band dictator.
One thing about death metal that hasn’t changed is that the lyrics are mostly…. an escapist fantasy. They’re the audio equivalent of horror and fantasy movies, or video games, or crime drama books. All of those arts are still super popular. With that in mind, does your brand of death metal have the same cultural relevance that it did back when you guys started?
Yeah, I think so. The way I write, as well: everything is fiction, and I never really have a message to the listeners, or something like that. It’s little made-up stories about pretty much everything: anti-religion, or religion in general, ghost stories, horror stuff, blood and guts… It’s – for me, the vocals are more like another instrument in the whole song, then trying to get a message across in some way.
Are your fans as engaged now as they were before?
I think so, yeah. I mean, everything’s changed so much. There’s a lot of easier ways to interact with fans, with all that’s going on with social media and all stuff like that. So it’s definitely a very different interaction thing, and I would say we see more of it these days then we did back then. At that time, you only ever met fans or had any reactions from them was when you were out playing. And talking to someone. Now, today, we can get responses from all over the world, for releasing a new track online, or doing a video for something. So, it’s definitely cool to have that kind of direct contact with people.
Being a participant in the genre but not really a fan of it has to give you a cool outside perspective. Like… a fresh pair of ears and eyes. You mentioned liking Max Martin’s songwriting. He writes for Katy Perry, Pink, Kelly Clarkson – all them. They don’t write the songs, they buy them from Max. I think death metal needs a ghostwriter racket like that! (laughs)
Yeah, that would be something. It’s my pension plan, writing pop songs for all the billionaire pop bands and artists.
That’s going to be tough though, because the whole business has changed.
Yeah. I need to find out a name though, that I can have, so people don’t know it’s me writing.
(laughs) You’ll have to get a pseudonym there.
What is it about pop music that you enjoy, and is it possible to ‘borrow’ any of their methods for your own material?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, most of it is very repetitive and boring, but if there’s a hook in a song, it doesn’t really matter what kind of music it is. It can be anything, from pop, to death metal, to whatever kind. I mean, definitely the kind of structuring that the stuff is written through, is very useful to keep an eye on when you write for harder music, as well. Because there is a concept in there, and a recipe for getting ‘hits’. I mean, you don’t get hits like that in death metal, but still, it makes a song more interesting, I think. In a way that’s more then just throwing a bunch of riffs together.
Grave is a part of the first wave of the (Swedish death metal) genre…
That’s now ‘grown up’, so, what do you remember about ‘back in the day’ that you still want or wish for?
That’s really hard. I’m not sure if there really is anything like that (anymore). We’ve done pretty much anything we set out to do, and more then that, even, I would say. Japan was something (we) always dreamt about doing, because it was so hard to get there and so different. We got to play there last year – two shows. That was very strange and interesting, but that was kind of one of the last things that was on the list to do with the band, I think.
You sort of traveled the world, and crossed off all the things on your rock star checklist.
What do you still love about the underground music scene?
Just the whole idea about it. I mean, maybe it’s not the same ideals today then it was 20, or 25-30 years ago, but still. It’s very fan-driven. The genre, and the whole underground scene. It’s still the whole thing that keeps us going. I mean, there’s small clubs to play, and there’s people who want to come and see you. Even if you go across the world. I mean, we might play just to 250 people, but that’s enough, you know, and that’s the way it is today. Really, with all the competition you have. It’s always so different. You should (feel) lucky that really anybody shows up, and that people have an interest to book you, and organize, and bring you everywhere to do these things.
What do you have lined up in the near future for Grave? Any parting thoughts or words for your fans?
Well, we’re working on doing a bunch of live shows, of course, to support the album. We have a lot of stuff we’re looking into at the moment. We’re just excited to see what the fans will finally think about (the new album) – what kind of response we’ll get for this album. Every interview I’ve done, people seem to like the album a lot, and the label is very happy with it.
So, it seems to be going very well, I think. They’re very supportive and are going to push it very hard. So I’m really excited to see what the fans think about it. I think they’ll like it. And a big thanks to everyone who still has an interest in the band. As I said earlier, we’re not doing this for us, we’re doing it for the people that want to hear Grave, and come to see us play.
Ola Lindgren – Guitar / Vocals
Mika Lagren – Guitar
Tobias Cristiansson – Bass
Ronnie Bergstal – Drums
Into The Grave
You’ll Never See…
… And Here I Die
Back From The Grave
As Rapture Comes
Endless Procession Of Souls
Out Of Respect For The Dead