THRONE OF HERESY – Live for Death
Sweden’s Throne of Heresy are a quintet who play a style of death metal that contains melody and hooks outside of the ‘melo-death’ norm. Which is a good thing in my book, as how many In Flames / Dark Tranquillity clones are needed these days? Taking in their second full-length album Antioch recently, the band’s classic, low-tuned ethics and punishing execution will have many thinking of a variety of groups – including the much missed Edge of Sanity, The Crown, and others.
Vocalist Thomas Clifford handled these questions, so prepare to learn more about the history of the band, his views on the Swedish death metal scene, as well as other activites he does to help keep the movement alive and kicking. And if you haven’t done so… seek out Throne of Heresy if you want some death metal that isn’t all about technial prowess.
What are your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? How did you make the transition into the metal realm – and eventually wanting to perform in band(s)?
Growing up in Sweden in the 80’s was a pretty good thing when it came to music and culture in general. The metal scene was starting to grow and Sweden had already established itself as a music nation (at least from our own point of view) in the previous decades with Abba and stuff like that.
I think I was 6-7 years old when I heard Europe for the first time. That was probably what eventually got me into metal, even though Europe mostly were a cheezy, glammy pop band with some electric guitars in the mix. But the imagery and the songs themselves were cool to a kid at that age. I even got The Final Countdown on cassette (still have it somewhere) and the following Out of this World on vinyl. Probably my first vinyl album too…
Anyway, I soon got into Iron Maiden, Helloween and stuff like that and it just paved the way for my interest in metal music. Just watching guys like Bruce Dickinson own their audience was awesome. So I got some mates together and we started a couple of three chord-bands since we didn’t know how to play anything. It wasn’t until 2002 when I met Markus Porsklev that it actually took off. We started the weird comedy tech-death band Zombie Destrüktion together and after that I was pretty much hooked on death metal and growling…
(Photo: Martin Wilson)
You joined Throne of Heresy in 2013, even though the band started in 2009. Were you familiar with the group previous to you joining, including checking out "The Stench of Deceit" full-length? What circumstances took place for you to join?
I was actually kind of unaware of the local scene at the time I joined Throne of Heresy. I had been looking for a band for years, but evidently looked in the wrong places. Then one day I got an e-mail saying "Hey, we saw your ad on Bandfinder and we need a vocalist". I couldn’t even remember posting an ad so I thought it was spam at first. But it turned out that I had posted a thing on Bandfinder three years earlier, and the guys had found it and decided to give it a try. A month or two later the e-mail address I had used became defunct so it was pure luck that they got a hold of me at all.
Your first recording with the band was the "Realm of Desecration" EP released in June of 2013. What can you tell us about this 3 song recording as far as the songwriting and production, and do you feel satisfied with the outcome now looking back on this a few years later?
Realms of Desecration was pretty much written by the time I joined. Though there was another song called "The Curse of Man" that was slated to be on the EP but we replaced it with Spawn of Atrocity after I joined. I wrote the lyrics for that one and also finished up the half-written lyrics for Morning Star. Me and Ted, our guitarist at the time, co-wrote the lyrics for Souls to Suffer.
We hired a studio to record the drums and did the rest of the stuff in our home studios. My buddy from Abscession, Skaldir, then helped us mix and master the whole thing. What we wanted to do was give labels and fans alike a taste of the various sides of ToH. The blackened, the thrashy, and the heavy. It turns out most reviewers didn’t understand this (and perhaps it was a bad idea to begin with) because several reviews pointed out that it didn’t sound coherent. We didn’t lose a lot of sleep over it though, since that was the point of the EP. We were label-shopping and didn’t want to seem like a one-trick pony.
The band finally got picked up by your home country’s The Sign Records – were there other deals on the table, and what finally convinced Throne of Heresy to take that next step up and sign with a record label?
Realms of Desecration got a few labels interested, but mostly small CD-only one man operations. We didn’t want to tie ourselves up for a full length with a label like that so we decided to record Antioch on our own and then shop that around. We hired Devo from Marduk and entered his studio in the spring of 2015. Once the album was done it took almost half a year to land on a label. We had quite a few offers actually, and were planning to join an Italian label, then a Mexican one and I think we even had a Canadian label on the line. But then I talked to the guys at The Sign Records and they gave us a great deal. Besides, they’re located in our hometown and also happen to run one of the local rock clubs, so it made the choice simple for us.
"Antioch" is the second and latest album – where do you see the growth of the band between recordings, and do you believe the band is satisfied with where things are going stylistically, or do you believe you’ll always be a band that adds new twists and nuances to keep things fresh?
With Antioch there were a lot of things that happened. Notably, yours truly had become a more integral part of the band. We were also a lot more focused on the details of every song, cutting, re-writing, re-arranging and just trying to make it as good as possible. I developed a new vocal style for the album, which is actually extremely unlike the vocals I used on the EP (which are the same kind of belter growls I use in Abscession). That style just didn’t fit the ToH sound. Instead I went for a mix between death and black vocals. The general songwriting is also a lot better simply because we’ve all evolved as musicians. TG’s riffing, Mathias drumming and Björn’s bass action is just a step or two beyond what was previously recorded.
I think we’ll keep evolving to some extent. For our next album we’re taking a different approach than on Antioch. We’re now writing in a more conceptual way, trying to outline the whole before we start adding parts. It’s an interesting process and it will most likely generate a different result. So far we have the outline for 5 or 6 songs and it sounds pretty great. A bit more melancholic and blackened perhaps. But then again, our next album will revolve thematically around the Black Death of the 1300’s so a touch of melancholy seems suitable.
Devo from Marduk produced "Antioch" – what do you believe he offered to the table that improved the overall outcome of the recording?
He’s just a great producer. He made it all sound fantastic, spacious and forceful yet crisp and clear at the same time. A perfect blend of old school and modern sound. Though we had to nag him a bit to add the classic Boss HM-2 pedal to some of the guitars. They are mixed pretty low in the background but add a certain chainsaw vibe. I think even Devo liked it once we got it right. We then sent the whole thing for mastering to Skaldir from Abscession. He runs a studio in Germany and managed to make it all sound even better in the final master. Not to mention the vinyl version, which may be even better since it has a lot more dynamics.
Where do you come from lyrically within Throne of Heresy? Are there any particular songs which surprised you on "Antioch" in terms of how they developed from initial ideas into the final product?
Usually I listen to the music and try to hum some words to it. Sometimes I find something that fits right away and that can set the theme for the whole song. Of course, I usually have some ideas or phrases rattling around in my head that I want to include. The track "Black Gates of Antioch" is a song title I’ve had in my head for years but never wrote lyrics to. So when I started writing the lyrics for that particular song it just clicked: "Aha, this is ‘Black Gates…’, finally". It’s weird really, but sometimes a song just fits with a certain theme. But at other times it seems like nothing fits. That’s when the other guys get involved and pitch their ideas. So even though the main lyrical content is mine, they chipped in where I got stuck. Especially in Serpent Seed, where TG wrote a part of the lyrics and the vocal rhythm or timings.
One cut "Wrath of the Revenant" didn’t make the final track-listing for "Antioch" (but is available as a single and on YouTube). Any particular reasons why this didn’t appear on the record?
Well, Wrath of the Revenant was meant to be part of the album to begin with. But somewhere in the creative process we just felt that it didn’t fit the theme of the album. Even though there are some thrashy belters on the album such as Phosphorus, WotR was just too much of a romp. It took away some of the mood of the album and we couldn’t find a good spot for it in the track list. So we cut it out. But when we were in the studio Mathias had some extra time and recorded the drums for it. Then when Michael joined us a while later, we decided to record the tune and release it as a way to introduce him to our fans.
How would you describe the band in terms of live performance? What do you hope to get across to the audience, and what have been some of the more memorable shows that you’ve done to date?
We’re all a bit old school when it comes to live shows, so we are more of a headbanging metal band than one of those crappy nu-core deals where people tend to bounce around like rubber balls. We still try to convey some sort of energy though, but we prefer to put on a tight show and set a certain ambience or mood for the show. But all in all we just want to deliver metal to the people. No flying pig parts, cosplay outfits, panda make-up or stuff like that will change the fact that good music is the basis for a good show. Of course you can add stuff after that, and perhaps our shows will grow once we get bigger. For now we mostly play smaller underground venues though. Most memorable show would be our releasefest for Antioch in our town of Linköping. Lots of people showed up and it was a blast with flying mic stands and everything.
Have you had any formal training when it comes to your technique? Who are some of your vocal heroes/ mentors you look to for inspiration and gain a few tips from in terms of their delivery?
I started out on my own and learned how to growl and utilize my voice through sheer practice and tenacity. I’ve been doing this for 13 or 14 years now and have come to know pretty well what works and what doesn’t. I did try out a vocal coach a couple of times a few years ago, but I felt that it didn’t give me much, at least not in the harsher range. I did improve my clean vocals a bit though.
My main vocal inspiration, even though he’s a clean vocalist, will always be Bruce Dickinson. He has such amazing control over his vocals even now, after his tongue cancer and pushing 60. Among growlers I have always been a huge fan of Dan Swanö’s massive growls, even though he himself says his technique mainly consists of belting them out until it hurts. Mikael Åkerfeldt is probably a better choice then, at least back when he actually did growl. And of course Nergal of Behemoth, especially on The Satanist. Great stuff, full of emotion.
What are your views on the death metal scene within Sweden these days – and the overall movement? Who impresses you the most, and what improvements would you like to make (if any) for the future health of the movement?
The scene in Sweden today is actually more alive and well than I’ve perceived it to be in years. Perhaps it is because I am more a part of it myself these days and thus see it more clearly, but I feel like there’s so much going on. A lot of new "old school" bands are popping up, many of them really good, and we also have some bands that have come back from their proverbial graves such as Wombbath, Centinex, Eucharist etc. Alongside this is a younger take on the death metal sound, a lot more modern (often over-produced) and mixed with hardcore/deathcore influences (even Throne of Heresy have been accused of being part of this style, strangely enough). I can’t say I’m a fan of this new direction but as all things do, even death metal evolves. Hopefully the kids that get into this modern stuff will then go back and find it’s roots.
Who impresses me the most? Vanhelgd did a massive job with their latest album, as well as the one before it. Great band, great guys. But I’ve also found that I really dig LIK. And of course making a comeback album like Wombbath’s "Downfall Rising" is worthy of respect.
Improvements for the future: less core, more death!
How do you define success at this point for Throne of Heresy? And are you still involved in Abscession – plus do other members have side bands that they are involved in?
Success is a hard thing to pinpoint. I’d say as long as we get booked to do shows and people come out to see us, it’s some measurement of success. But we will continue making music nonetheless. We’re doing it because we love making music. There is no money in this, quite the opposite, but I guess everyone knows that by now.
As for Abscession, yes I am still involved. We’re (slowly) working on a follow-up album to Grave Offerings. We’ll be releasing a new song on a vinyl compilation with some of the best death metal bands in Sweden sometime later this year, so things are moving along. I’m also working on a couple of smaller side projects, doing guest vocals etc.
Our drummer Mathias is also in King of Asgard, who have recently been in the studio to record their new album. If you haven’t heard them, check out their previous album Karg. It is pretty damn good pagan/viking (or whatever you want to call it) death metal.
In addition to your vocal duties, you also write for a couple of webzines reviewing bands. Tell us about this work and do you believe you are tougher on bands because of also playing in one? What criteria makes for a good record these days?
Yeah, I run a death metal page on Facebook together with a few other admins. We’ve been doing it for years and just generally post stuff that comes our way. People seem to like it though and to date we have 360.000 followers. We talked about setting up a proper website with a zine etc connected to it, but we really don’t have the time to do it properly. So instead I teamed up with the guys at Dead Rhetoric whom I’ve always respected for their constructive reviews. And now, once in a while, I review an album there. Being busy with work, bands, family and so on it’s hard to find the time to listen to new bands properly. But writing reviews forces me to listen to new albums in a more focused way, which is a good thing. I don’t think I’m tougher on other bands because I play in one myself. Quite the opposite, I am often struck by how talented most bands are (at least the ones I’ve reviewed so far…). It’s impossible for me to say what the criteria are for a good record. If there was a formula for it everyone would be doing it, and then the formula would become void as everything would be boring as hell (a.k.a. the Nickelback effect…).
What would you consider the five all-time favorite albums in your collection (metal or otherwise)? Also, what have been some of the best concerts/ festivals you’ve attended?
Ok, this list will probably change in a week since I have a really hard time pinpointing this. It all depends on what mood I’m in. Today it looks like this:
1. Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind (or any of the first 5-6 Maiden albums)
2. Edge of Sanity – Crimson (for it’s sheer audacity, otherwise their earlier albums are pretty amazing too)
3. Fields of the Nephilim – Elizium
4. Jethro Tull – Aqualung
5. Deep Purple – Made in Japan (one of the best live albums ever)
But on another day it could be all death metal or all heavy metal. I mean Judas Priest, Dio, Sabbath etc deserve to be on there. As does Dismember, Entombed, Bloodbath and many more.
1. Iron Maiden 1993. My first major concert and it was amazing.
2. Iron Maiden 2000’s. Bruce’s comeback!
3. Behemoth + Abbath earlier this year. Killer shows from both bands.
4. Dissection, 2005. Just amazing show. Glad I saw them live once before he offed himself.
Probably a bunch more that I can’t remember at the moment…
What worries you most about the world that we live in today?
Apart from the general polarization in political views and overall zealous madness within all major (and probably minor) religions? It worries me that people have such crappy taste in music. I mean, Five Finger Death Punch? Come on people.
Are friendships/ relationships important within the band? How do you guess balance the music and business side of things with the career/ day jobs and family obligations that probably have to occur to be able to survive?
Yeah, I’d say it’s important. We’re doing this as a hobby or project since we don’t make any money on it. It wouldn’t work out if we weren’t friends. We hang out outside of the band as well, just drinking beer or going to concerts etc. But we all have day jobs, families and stuff too, so it can be hard to find the time. Though we’re all dedicated to the band and the music, and that makes it worthwile anyway.
What’s on the agenda for Throne of Heresy over the next 12 months – more shows, songwriting for the next album, possible video work?
We’re currently booking some new shows in Sweden and have teamed up with the German booking agency EAM. Our goal is to do some minitours in the coming year, preferrably to central Europe but perhaps also within Scandinavia. We’re also writing our next album and have a handful of songs that may end up on it.
Hopefully we’ll see you guys on the road during 2017!