Interview with guitarist Morgan Håkansson
Few groups in the realm of black metal have made such an impact as MARDUK. Along with DISSECTION and DARK FUNERAL, MARDUK is an essential piece to the history of Swedish black metal. Beginning with the bluntly offensive demo “Fuck Me Jesus” in the early nineties, MARDUK has constantly pushed the boundaries of speed and offensive statements—both lyrically and through merchandise (see “Fuck Me Jesus” t-shirts).
For nearly two decades, MARDUK has stayed consistent with their music—keeping the same feeling of unclean barbarity—but always expanding the MARDUK sound. Part of this expansion obviously comes with the influence of new musicians. Although MARDUK has always been the satanic spawn of one Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson, the man who kept churning the wheels of hell that animate MARDUK, the group has gone through multiple lineup changes. This entrance of new blood and Håkansson's never-ending dark imagination has kept MARDUK’s music fresh and invigorating.
“Wormwood,” the band’s newest studio offering, is the third recording in the era of vocalist Mortuus. This album shows the band continuing the morbid lyrical stance that began with the “La Grande Danse Macabre” album, which found release near the end of Legion’s time with MARDUK. “Wormwood” also shows the band focus their efforts experimentally, which in turn encapsulate this macabre subject matter.
MARDUK’s current lineup includes Morgan Håkansson on guitar, Mortuus handling vocals, Devo Andersson playing bass and Lars Broddesson on drums. Morgan Håkansson took this lineup on the road for MARDUK’s first U.S. headlining tour, third overall. While stopping off for a show in Austin, Texas Metal Centre spoke with Håkansson about this tour, album and the current personnel.
This is your first U.S. headlining tour and only your second overall. What made the difference in you getting over here this time?
I should say third. We were over in August and did three dates, but that wasn’t really a tour. After the fiasco of paper work, we came over and did three dates for Blackened Fest. Then, we booked this tour. We did three shows with a band from Atlanta called WITHERED. We flew over and played in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. This showed we could get into the country, and then we booked a full tour.
What made the difference for you getting over here to play a full tour?
The problem we all had was Visa related. It took forever to get the papers done because if you are going to apply for a Visa, usually you have to do it two months in advance. For us, it took even longer to get the Visa. To apply for a Visa, you have to have the full tour schedule. We always ran into the problem of never finishing on time, so we never finalized it. Finally, we applied for the Blackened Fest four months in advance to be sure of everything, and we were assured by the Embassy that we would get our passports in time. During the last week, all of our members got it, except for our vocalist. We called and asked what was happening. They told us it takes a long time, but we would get it. Like one day before the tour, we had a lawyer call the embassy and they said they needed his paper work translated into English. They couldn’t have said that earlier on because none of the other guys needed their papers translated. We went to a special agency to get it properly translated and they couldn’t tell us how long it would take. It took another two and a half to three weeks for him to get his Visa. Then, there were three or four dates left on the Blackened Fest. That was a bit annoying, but at least at that time, we all knew that we had them. Then, we came over and did the three shows to show that we were finally able to come back, we booked a full tour, and now here we are!
I saw you play with DEICIDE and GORGUTS back in the day (in Detroit, Michigan). That was before September 11, 2001.
Yes, it was in May 2001. We started that tour in Texas. We played Houston and then played Austin, I think. We were travelling in the States as tourists at that time. During that time, every band was used to coming over and travelling as tourists. We didn’t need to apply for Visas. That’s impossible to do these days. You need to have everything sorted out.
Right, they don’t want any terrorists to come in…
Right, but I don’t think terrorists come in that way (laughs). They have their bureaucracy, which I can understand in some ways, but it fucks up a lot of people who shouldn’t be effected by it. Whatever, we are here; we have all the paper work behind us, so we are looking forward.
MARDUK has gone through a number of lineup changes, especially with drummers. How do you feel about the longevity of your new lineup?
I think we are on top unlike we have ever been before. We are four strong individuals who have a strong dedication and a burning devotion to what we are doing. I think that reflects on the spirit of the latest recordings, and how everything is working right now. Things are just great right now.
One of you ex-band mates, Bwar lives here in Austin, Texas. Do you plan to meet him since you’re in town?
I heard he lives around here. I don’t have a clue if he is coming down. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. I’m not in contact with all the older members, a few but not all of them.
Lars Broddesson plays drums on your new album “Wormwood.” Please tell our readers about this drummer, where you found him, what he brings to MARDUK.
Actually, he was the first guy out of the band to know that we were going to change drummers. He was working in a studio where we were doing some technical work with our bass. He had heard we were going to change drummers, and said he was interested in the job. We decided to give him a shot, picked him up and had a rehearsal that felt good, so we gave him another one. He did well on that, so we said ok. We did some dates and finalized him. He works really well in this band—it suits him like a glove. He became a permanent member really fast, grew into the way we work and is even participating in writing music. I think the band is working more as a unit than ever before. Everybody is participating and bringing forth ideas. Everybody is working in the right direction.
Do you believe that is one reason for MARDUK trying out new things? “Wormwood” still sounds like a MARDUK album, but there is a lot of experimentation.
Yes, but it is not like we have an agenda or plan on how our next album is going to sound. We work on the music, and it just comes out the way it does. We let the energy flow and our writing takes us into whatever direction it will take us. This time, it took us in this direction. I don’t have a desire to do something different for the sake of doing something different. I don’t like a lot of old bands who I liked their sound, and then they decided to do something experimental just for the sake of being different. We know what we do, but we still let our energies flow. I don’t want to be a space rock band just because I want to do something different. We would like to be like the MOTORHEAD of black metal, and do what we do. We just need to make sure we do it with energy and dedication; that’s the most important thing.
Do you feel, though, that using the experimentation on the album helps differentiate you from all the cookie-cutter black metal that sounds like MAYHEM or DARKTHRONE?
I don’t really sit down and reflect on what other bands are doing. We do what we do, and that is all that matters to us, and focus fully on what we do. I don’t care if other bands are copying this or want to sound like that. We know what our loyalties, dedication and devotion are, and that is what we go for.
‘Funeral Dawn’ (from “Wormwood”) is a slow, morbid track reminiscent of parts on “La Grande Danse Macabre” and “World Funeral.” Do you see these tracks as a continuation of the death cult subject started on those albums?
It was and will always be a continuation of that because we don’t think we can get away from it. We have a big affection for it. It’s interesting to us, so I guess it will always be there. It’s a morbid curiosity regarding death.
I actually think it’s much darker than Satanic subject matter.
Yes, we look at it as letting death speak through us.
Has anyone in the band been close to death?
You never know. You probably don’t know about the times you’ve been close to death. Probably, the times you think your furthest away, you were probably closest to death than ever.
So do you think that the Reaper is standing over your shoulder.
Yes. Most likely, dude.
After having a near death experience myself, where no divine light shown on me, I figured death was an entrance into nothing.
‘Nowhere, No-One, Nothing’
Tell our readers about that track.
I don’t like to talk too much about my lyrics because I think everyone should read them and make up their own mind, see what the lyrics say to them and think about what they mean to the people reading them. That’s why I print the lyrics on each album, so people can read them and think about what they mean, and make up their own mind about what they think about it.
The album’s liner notes mention all songs were written by MARDUK except ‘Phosphorous Redeemer,’ which was written by M. Belfagor. Who is M. Belfagor?
Actually, he wrote some of the lyrics. Belfagor is responsible for an old Swedish band called NEFANDUS. He also has a band called OFERMOD. Check them out. They released a really good album around a year ago. They started out as a raw black metal band, but now include some death metal, like a bit of MORBID ANGEL. It’s a good band of black and death metal with good lyrics. I like his approach to writing lyrics, and it was a great pleasure to have him write some lyrics for us. I respect him and we share a lot of ideas, so it was a pleasure to have him do it.
How did that happen?
We live in the same city, and he recorded his album in our bass player’s studio [Devo Andersson, Endarker Studios]. We come from the same area and we know each other.
Have you done previous collaborations with other musicians?
On “Plague Angel” and “Rom: 512” album we had cooperation with this industrial band from our area called ARDITI. They played militarized marching music that was very inspiring. It was great to do something with them. We also cooperated on the “Rom: 512” album with Alan [Naihmass Nemtheanga] of the Irish band PRIMORDIAL. He did a vocal appearance, which is something rare for us to have, especially since he has such a different voice, but it gave a new character to that song ["Accuser / Opposer"]. He is one of those personalities that I admire. I don’t like to work with people I don’t feel a certain connection with.
You once went under the stage name “Evil” when you played guitar in ABRUPTUM. Do you still speak to It from ABRUPTUM and OPHTHALAMIA?
OPHTHALAMIA was also another band who lived close to me at that time. I talked to It a few years ago. He was out travelling and living abroad, but I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. We talk occasionally, maybe every fort-year.
‘Phosphorous Redeemer’ reminds me of an ABRUPTUM track. You have a great deal of experimentation. A haunting bell chimes in the background.
We didn’t plan to have a certain amount of heavy or fast songs. For us, it’s more important that the lyrics and music become one—that they work together. A lot of bands write a certain amount of songs that they just have the lyrics to. We work a lot to get them to work together because the lyrics should reflect the music, and the other way around. When I listen to music, I like to paint a picture in my mind. That is the idea that we have with writing music, as well. I want to paint a picture in your mind about what the lyrics deal with. You get that even better when it’s reflected in the music, as well.
Do you write the music or the lyrics first?
We don’t work under a specific pattern. Sometimes we can write a song after having a song title in our head or a picture. We could write a riff or a lyric based on this picture we have in our head. It is always different, from time to time.
DEVIL’S WHOREHOUSE is another project of yours. Do you ever tour with that band?
Nah, we have done a few live shows here and there. Because all of the members are living in different parts and playing in their own bands, it is more of a thing I do when I have the time. My main occupation and focus is always MARDUK, and we are currently touring a lot. I have a lot of inspiration, so after the tour cycle is over; I look forward to getting back and working on a new album. We still have a huge part of touring to do. We started off doing a Polish tour of fifteen dates. We did the whole thing in nine days, rehearsed a different set after we did a European tour, were home for two weeks, came over here, and after this—after the New Year—we go back for another European tour. We will play the Eastern/Balkan block of Europe. Then we have UK tour for a month. After that, we have a full South American tour, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and probably Japan. Also, we have festival appearances during the summer. We have a lot of things coming up.
Have you played in East Asia before?
No, but we went over to Japan once. That was a bit over ten years ago. We are excited to get back there.
The fans in Japan seem to be really into metal.
Yes, but you have that all over the world. I don’t think that one place is better than the other. It depends on timing. You still have crazy people in every country and all over the world. Even if you are in the deepest jungle of South America, you still have dedicated people.
Visit Metal Centre’s GALLERY for visual evidence of the show MARDUK played immediately after this interview.