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Despite the fact that at this very moment there are more metal bands plying their trade than ever before in the genre's history, there are a relative few that manage to achieve a unique sound. With that being the case, different is good. Impossible to describe, Madder Mortem cannot easily be compared to any other band on the scene. Madder Mortem is different and Madder Mortem is good. Having just completed a tour with masters of diversity, Opeth, and finding themselves on The End Records' eclectic roster for U.S. distribution, the Norwegian band is in good company. In celebration of Madder Mortem's latest release 'Deadlands', the Metal Update spoke to vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag in an effort to uncover the method to their madness.

METAL UPDATE: First off, where did you get the name Madder Mortem?

AGNETE KIRKEVAAG: I don't know. What can I say? It was sort of just an idea. The Madder bit was off of one of my father's color charts. He is a big hobby painter. Madder is a very beautiful deep red color. Mortem is Latin for death and sort of just popped up. Hopefully it was divine inspiration or something like that.

MU: It doesn't always have to make sense as long as it sounds good.

AK: It does make some sense. I did think of it as, when you hear something, you get an idea you think, "That's cool, I like the sound of that, a lot of symbols in that." It's almost like a yin and yang thing. The red color is for the vibrant energy of life and blood and passion and anger. Death is the opposite. Absolute solace. Good sort of contrast. It makes sense.

MU: Let's talk about the new album. Do you think it is your best work yet?

AK: Yeah. If I didn't, we'd have done something wrong. I think it has to be that way. If you don't think that the latest thing you've just done is your best ever, then you haven't done a good job.

MU: How does the new album differ compared to what you've done in the past?

AK: Let's see. . . The first album we released 'Mercury' - that's way off from this. It's much more mellow and much more atmospheric. 'All Flesh Is Grass' is much closer, much more guitar-based like 'Deadlands', but where 'Deadlands' is sort of introspective and gloomy, 'All Flesh. . .' is more of an aggressive album. 'Deadlands' is groovier, heavier and more sludgy and also it got a bit darker.

MU: Speaking of the groovier aspect, I think the first song on the album is really different and contrasts from the rest. What made the decision to put this first on the album?

AK: It was pretty clear from the moment it was done. It was the first song we made - first entire song we sort of finished for the album. And it was sort of the opening song all along. I think it might have been to do with the attitude in it. The "here I am and here I'm staying" theme. It was getting the message across first, and then we can get on to other business. That's just like the last one on the album, from the minute it was finished, it was like, "That is definitely going to be the last song." That's the easiest placements, the first song and the last song. The rest is difficult to figure out.

MU: Keep it interesting in between.

AK: Yeah. Put the most different songs after each other and give the songs the life they deserve.

MU: How would you describe your music?

AK: I hate that question.

MU: It's a tough one.

AK: Yeah, it is. Heavy, gloomy and pretty melodic. That doesn't really give people proof. Maybe I could throw in a bit weird as well.

MU: It doesn't fall into any set categories necessarily.

AK: We never found a comfortable home. I really like it that way. You have to spend a little bit of time on pinning it down and maybe have to think about it a little more. Also, it is freedom because we don't associate with any label or any genre. There's more creative freedom to do whatever we like and go in any direction. I think that we just try to make people accustomed to the fact that we do stuff our own way and hopefully they will enjoy it a lot.

MU: So 'Deadlands' is a concept album of sorts?

AK: Of sorts yes. It's not a chronological story. It doesn't have the knight rides out, and then he fights the dragon and then he frees the princess. It's not that kind of thing. It's more like nine different angles of looking at the same thing or the same idea.

MU: And what is the central idea?

AK: This is where the explanation gets long and tiresome.

MU: Give it a whirl.

AK: "Necropol Lit" was the first lyric that I finished and it set a mood for the rest of the record. It was the central idea. I've taken this state of mind, a very rock bottom place, some place where you have exhausted all your resources. Everything is pretty fucked up. Everything is crumbling around you and you really don't have the energy to do anything about it or to even really care - a sort of numbness. It is sort of a bleak place to be. And then I would try to imagine things, feelings or moods into the landscape and I tried to make a physical landscape out of a state of mind and that's the Deadlands. What I imagine there is a stone desert. The cover photos are very much pointing in the right direction of it.

Madder Mortem - Deadlands

MU: Definitely. And that brings me into the next question I was going to ask ironically. The album artwork was done by a previous bandmate, correct?

AK: Yes.

MU: Christian Ruud?

AK: Yes.

MU: Did he decide to just stop playing guitar?

AK: Well, he played on 'Mercury', the first release, and then he moved to a totally different part of the country to educate. So we didn't keep the band going with him. He very amicably just moved away and we found a new guitar player. He's like my best friend and he offered to do the cover art for the album before this.

MU: This is pretty in depth stuff. So you just communicated the idea and he made it a reality?

AK: Yeah, sort of. The nice thing is that this is someone that I've known for more than 10 years. We even shared flats at one point. We played in the same band, so he understands the music. He can sort of read the music. He knows me very well so he gets the point of my lyrics very easily and also since he's a friend, you get a lot more hours out of a friend than out of a professional designer that you have to pay for every hour. So if we paid a professional studio that wasn't in it for the art but for the money, it would be a very expensive cover.

MU: And it probably would not have come out as good either.

AK: Probably not. We've been doing that a lot. The guitar player before him, from the very first demo, he's the webmaster.

MU: Oh right. He does a really good job on that as well.

AK: They're childhood friends. They work together on it quite a lot. Christian designs the graphics things and then on to the webmaster. So they work together.

MU: It's a good thing you guys all still get along and everything.

AK: That would be really strange. Playing in a band with somebody is a very intimate thing. You get to know people in a very special manner. Music to me is very personal, so it would be very unnatural not to speak with them anymore.

MU: Is the album artwork all computer generated or did he incorporate his own photos into the actual artwork as well?

AK: All the photos have been taken by Christian, also the band photos. The guys actually appearing on the photos are my former roommate, our webmaster, and Paul and Mads from the band. It's pretty made up. And then we went up to this gravel pit, where they take out sand and gravel, in my hometown in the countryside where I am now. Christian had the idea and sketches, so we made them up, pushed them around and took lots of photos and then Christian has been working a lot on the computer to get it to look like that.

MU: Wow. That's amazing.

AK: Yeah. It was fun as well because I don't think usually as a band member you have the possibility to be so involved in every step of that process. It's almost like an extra band member. As a band member the artwork is important, and it is very nice to be able to do it like that.

MU: Does he have a website for people to check out?

AK: Not yet.

MU: Not yet? Oh wow.

AK: Actually he is educating right now as a graphic designer so he is pretty busy. He is a perfectionist and when he does his own stuff, there is nobody else that says, "This is good. We like it that way. You have to stop now." So it might take some time.

MU: You mentioned a little while ago that another former bandmate designed and compiled the information for the website?

AK: Yes.

MU: That is quite in depth as well.

AK: We work on it quite a bit ourselves as well. He is a good programmer so he designs easy functions for us to update the news very easily. Also, he could probably fill in all the blanks himself. Actually he's upstairs right now watching TV. Actually, the two guys on the front cover are both sitting on the couch upstairs.

MU: That's crazy. Are they your roommates?

AK: Not anymore. Now I am living with the violin player from another Norwegian band.

MU: Do you see the internet as a positive or negative thing for bands these days?

AK: Extremely positive. You have the website function, which is the only way you have to communicate directly with people who listen to your music easily. We have put up quite a lot of silly shit on the website as well - all the personal stuff and stupid photos of us and our friends having parties and stuff like that.

MU: That's all interesting.

AK: If people want to check it out they can. We put up a little warning just in case you just want to see our serious side. And then there is also Napster and all that stuff. I think it is a really great thing and I think especially for metal music. I do believe that metal fans are the kind of people that if they downloaded the record from somewhere and they really like it, I think they will actually buy the record.

MU: They understand that it is the importance of keeping a band alive basically.

AK: Then you have the opportunity to support the bands you actually like, and, also, the bands not so well established who haven't got a promotional budget. Korn has the possibility to reach a lot more people. I can see it as being trouble for say Britney Spears, who releases a single, who nobody is going to remember in 2 or 3 years. That would be the kind of music that I would download. I wouldn't bother to buy the records. Why? Borrowing CDs is the same thing. If you borrow a CD off of a friend, if you like it go and buy it.

MU: Yeah. It's been going on since music began so it's just a different way to do it.

AK: It's also the same silly discussion that came up when the copying of cassettes started flourishing. "This is going to be the death of music," says the record industry. It's obviously not going to be. Of course CDs have better audio and better quality, but, nonetheless, I think it's truly good.

Madder Mortem

MU: What is it like working in a band with your brother?

AK: Very nice actually.

MU: Do the two of you get along very well?

AK: Yes. We do argue from time to time but we finished up the big argument many years ago. It's extremely practical because he knows me very well and I know him very well, and it is very easy to communicate when we write stuff and do stuff. Also, it's a very pleasant thing, especially situations like tour and studio. It's somebody you're already used to living with. You're used to the funny habits and little quirks. But actually, he is the musician that I most like to work with. He's got the same basic ideas as me of what music is and how it should be done and stuff like that.

MU: How did the two of you get into metal?

AK: Let's see. . . I think it probably started with stuff like Europe. I remember my daddy buying a Europe record and playing it very loudly in the car. Then my auntie, I remember she bought us 'And Justice for All'. That was a big turning point.

MU: For me as well.

AK: And then W.A.S.P. and Faith No More sort of stepped in there. Then I found Sepultura and it all started rolling.

MU: Who have people compared your vocals to?

AK: That's an interesting question.

MU: I don't know if I should add, 'cause I think your voice highly resembles a style and sound similar to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.

AK: Yes. She's actually one of the ones that I've been compared to a lot and that's very flattering.

MU: You can't really deny it. It's pretty right on. It's a good thing.

AK: Yeah. It's a very good thing. I really like her vocals as well and it's definitely not a conscious thing because I haven't been listening to a lot of her stuff. I like the way she sings and I like what I perceive as the idea behind the vocals. Other people say Diamanda Galas for some strange reason. The voice isn't very similar but perhaps the strangeness is a bit alike from time to time.

MU: Who did they say again?

AK: Diamanda Galas. The crazy, crazy, crazy singer.

MU: I've never heard of her.

AK: She's been doing lots of strange stuff - very theatrical music - lots of whispers and screams and noises in between. And also some straight jazz stuff in between. The obvious one, basically any female singer in a metal band.

MU: Which is not always correct in saying.

AK: Not always correct. I think sometimes people compare the lineup and not the actual music, because we don't sound very much like Theatre of Tragedy, especially not anymore. That is the problem with labels, especially if they are a little bit off the target. People go out and buy a record and get very confused. "If you want a typical gothic record then go out and buy a Madder Mortem album." You might like it, but you might also be a bit surprised.

MU: Who are some vocalists that you enjoy these days?

AK: Mike Patton is my all time favorite from day one. I really love the new stuff as well. Tomahawk is excellent. I saw them live last year and it was brilliant. Devin Townsend I really like. I like his style of singing. I have to think a little bit. . . I love the Neurosis singer. It's quite far from what I'm doing but I really like the screaming stuff. It's not a growl. It's just a pure scream. I love that. It's kind of difficult. I'm not so attached to singers. I've been touring. We just came off tour with Opeth. Have you heard 'Damnation' yet?

MU: Yes I have.

AK: I love Michael's voice. It's so warm and really, really beautiful.

MU: Yeah, definitely. We'll have to see how well that goes over with the strictly metal fans, since there are only two distorted chords on the album.

AK: I am sort of imaging that it could be their big commercial breakthrough as well, because I think it is a really great record and hopefully they will reach a few more. . . a few people who are not interested if you are metal or not - just interested in music. That would be nice. They really deserve it.

MU: What music are you listening to these days?

AK: I'm listening to a lot of project stuff that friends of mine are doing. I am desperately waiting for one day to come where I'm going out to buy 'Viva Emptiness' by Katatonia because I finally have the money.

MU: Have you heard that yet?

AK: No I haven't. The Opeth guys forgot to bring it on tour. It wasn't released yet when we left.

MU: Yeah, it's really good.

AK: I can imagine. I've been picking up on some older stuff as well. Slayer. A bit of Slayer, actually. The 'Seasons In The Abyss' record.

MU: Oh good. Their last good one as far as I'm concerned.

AK: It's a very good one yes. I kind of love it. I really don't listen to a lot of music, especially when we are starting to work with a new record. It's not because of a fear of getting too inspired. It's because my head is so full of different kinds of music that I really can't stand having any more music pushed into there. But it ends up being pop records, like mellow easy listening stuff that you can have in the background for a while.

Madder Mortem

MU: Such as?

AK: Aha.

MU: All right. Good choice.

AK: Yes. I really love their records and they were really important if you were a girl in the 80's.

MU: I like a lot of mellow stuff these days as well.

AK: It's good. I listen to basically any kind of music as long as I think it's good. I have some friends that when they get home after a really tiresome day, all they want to do is put on Meshuggah. And I like Meshuggah - just not always. Sometimes you want to just have something that is just a little more comfortable. There's also this problem that a lot of the music that I like is this solitary stuff - like the stuff we do - like really, really depressive. And that sometimes is a little too much. Sometimes it just gets me so far down that I have to stop listening to it. That's also something that coincides with starting a new record. It's always somehow emotional, especially when you're in the very first phase before we start seeing where it is going - which kind of direction and what kind of feeling it is going to have. It is a very unsettling thing. It makes you sort of go over all the old stuff in your life and clean up things. So I try to find something, and that's not easy in my album shelf.

MU: What band would you say that Madder Mortem is most collectively into?

AK: Faith No More I think is a big one. Metallica, obviously. Which metalhead didn't like 'And Justice For All' and 'Master of Puppets'? I think we all have a pretty nice Sepultura background these days. We've been touring with Opeth and that means there is a lot of Opeth floating around in our heads these days. What other things? There's some really stupid Norwegian stuff - silly stuff from the 80's. TNT. That's a big one for everybody. It's a very good 80's metal band - the big hair and all the stuff. They also have some musical qualities.

MU: I've never actually heard them but I have some friends who are into them.

AK: It's very much 80's metal. The big, big hair. Really high pitched vocals. But I think it's good.

MU: Stephen Pearcy from Ratt was in town the other day and I unfortunately missed it.

AK: Not cool that you missed it but cool that they are actually touring.

MU: Did any of you witness the early Norwegian black metal happenings and if so what was that like?

AK: That depends on what you mean by happenings?

MU: Just the scene or any of the so-called chaos at the time, like how realistic it really was.

AK: I think the media picture of it has been slightly exaggerated because there was obviously not 10,000 Satan worshippers running around firing everything up in sight. I think the biggest part of the circus was that there was a media circus. It was crazy in Norway. Every fucking day for several years, there was some kind of black metal related article in the newspapers. No wonder that it got such a foothold. I've never really been part of any scene. My brother, I think, was too young probably. I had a lot of friends who were more involved with the black metal scene. I was doing other stuff, living in different parts of the country. I think it must have been a really weird environment. One of my girlfriends was hanging out with those kind of people quite a lot and maybe did have a strange behavioral code and a very strict dress code. Everything was very diehard - very true - almost like a sect. But that loosened up after a couple of years. It was obviously diluted as more and more bands came in. To me it was really annoying because I wear black basically all the time and I play heavy music so people can't tell the difference. Every day is like my mother getting really worried, stuff like that. Annoying. But I don't know. It's strange that it got so big. It's also kind of cool because I really love some of the early black metal. I am a big Darkthrone fan and Emperor also is one of my favorite bands. But what I like the most about black metal is the stuff that has sort of derived from it. Some of the members of the ex black metal bands and musicians from that scene have been taking stuff in really, really new directions and developing music - like Arcturus, for instance. They are doing something new, something that is a little bit different and they dare to experiment in a bit of a different way from what's been usual in the metal scene. So it was a very fresh breath in a very stale musical scene.

MU: Yeah. It's sounding really good. A lot of those guys are adding a lot of electronics and stuff and have been doing it very well.

AK: It's very cool. They do it well. That's the part I like about it. So many bands have tried to incorporate electronica and they are not so good. It's nice to see somebody actually succeeding.

MU: Ulver seem to do well with whatever they try to do. I don't how they do it. Every album sounds so different but it's all quality.

AK: Yeah, it is. I think you could put it down to an honest love for music. And they haven't been as concerned as they probably were in the early 90's with their image. Image was much, much more important than music. To me that is silly, so that is perhaps one of the big reasons I wasn't involved with any kind of scene at all.

MU: How did the recent tour with Opeth go?

AK: Very well I think. You don't really know until quite a bit later when you get reviews and see if anything happens with album sales and stuff like that. At least on a personal level, musically and socially it was great. They were really, really nice people. We played well and we were really satisfied with the response to that, so to us it was great.

MU: Do you think you fit together well as a package?

AK: I think so. I would have loved to have seen it. The music is not similar at all but perhaps the approach is a bit similar.

MU: The same sort of vibe and the fact that you are both very unique in sound I think the fans would be very open to you if they had heard them before and vice versa.

AK: It's the obvious advantage. The Opeth fans are already kind of positive to songs beyond four minutes, which is kind of practical. And also I imagine that Opeth fans are generally into music that is little bit different, that's experimental, that has something strange and new. That is very much my impression as well because the last tour we did was Tristania, Vintersorg and Rotting Christ. They're really, really way off from us musically and very much different types of people. Nobody was cheering very loudly for a support band, but they were listening. They were concentrating and shutting up on the quiet parts of the songs and stuff like that so it felt good playing to ears and not beer bottles. So it went off very well.

MU: So what are some other bands that you think would fit well with Madder Mortem on a tour?

AK: That's really difficult. We did get offered to join the Katatonia tour, but obviously we didn't do it. Having just been out with Opeth it was impossible for us. I think that would actually fit pretty good. Its dark and its depressive. Anything that is gloomy or moody. It would have to be a band with quite a lot of energy as well so we are not like super heavy in comparison. No names spring to mind at the moment. If you have some suggestions please help me.

MU: I guess if dark and depressing is your way to go, then you could probably hand pick any of the Finnish bands nowadays. They've got a gloomy sound going on over there.

AK: And also I think stuff that is a little out of the way, a little progressive as I like to call it - any band that would have fans that are already used to having to work a bit for the music - stuff that you may need more than one listen to catch up on - one big huge band that draws 10,000 people. That would be nice.

MU: Hopefully that could happen at some point.

AK: You never know.

MU: You guys are pretty much on Century Media and just distributed by the End Records in the US?

AK: We are licensed to The End in the US because Century Media didn't want to make their own release for some reason.

MU: That's surprising, but I think The End is a very good choice for your sound.

AK: I think so too. We haven't been working with them for a long time but the vibe I'm getting and also the attitude of Andreas is really, really great.

MU: He's psyched about everything he does and all his releases are good these days. And they are all very different bands so you guys fit on The End Records roster well.

AK: That is sort of what I am thinking as well. And also this is a record that he chose. He chose to contact Century Media so that means that he really, really likes it. From everything I've seen thus far, he's working his ass off, trying to do as well for us as possible and that's really great. I think it is much better for us to be working with a smaller label like that who actually have some kind of personal interest and really care. They seem to have quite a lot of credibility for doing good stuff and being honest. So that's good.

MU: What are some future plans of the band?

AK: Well, the closest is we are doing the Inferno Festival here in Norway.

MU: That's right.

AK: Yes. After that in two weeks we are doing another Norwegian festival. We're hoping to get some more festivals, but probably not this year. It's actually a pretty good thing because we have to write a new album. We just started working on the new stuff and that is going to be a priority this summer at least. It's also very comforting to finally have the time because we've been working with preparing for tour and promotion and stuff like that. It's really good to just sit down and make music. Not necessarily playing it over and over again, but feeling creative again.


"Necropol Lit" from 'Deadlands'






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