Niklas Sundin (Laethora) Interviewed

The Light in Which We All Burn is your second album. Did you at any point feel as if you were repeating yourselves?Niklas Sundin: No, the vibe was very different. The Light… was written in an entirely different way than March…, and there’s a healthy four year period between the releases, so a lot of time was spent rehearsing and generally getting the feel for what we wanted the second album to be like. Most of the debut album was written in a relatively short period in 2005, whereas the The Light… songs have taken form organically in the rehearsal room in a real band setting, which I think makes the songs more real and solid. Of course, we have our sound, so I won’t claim that there are no similarities between the albums.

I know you were slightly dismayed by the lack of attention March… received. It seems as if Light… got even less notice. Where do you think the disconnect is? I mean, play this in a room full of death/grind nuts and they’ll appreciate it without question.
Niklas: Well, “dismayed” is a bit harsh, but I definitely got a bit puzzled in the beginning. The albums have gotten great reviews, and as someone who has been involved in the genre since the late ’80s, I know that we’re doing something relatively different. That said, our music is a bit quirky – our definition of a killer riff is usually that it sounds “retarded, but in a good way” – and most of the songs aren’t instantly catchy. Also, the way people listen to music is rapidly changing, and maybe it’s to be expected that a band whose live activities are limited and that gets perceived as more of a side project will have a hard time reaching mass appeal. There are a million bands out there, and a lot of them doing the whole DIY thing very ambitiously – booking their own tours, printing their own merch and spending time networking and doing online promotion every day. Releasing an album but not doing much of the other stuff means that you often fly below the radar. We’re old, with families, day jobs and in my case another band that has been non-stop touring and playing festivals since February this year, so we can’t be a career act.

Do you think that the involvement of ‘high concept’ bands like Dark Tranquillity and The Provenance discredits the whole death/grind thing? It sounds stupid, but there might be a kernel of truth there.
Niklas: Yes, that’s probably true. A lot of die hard scene people instantly would dismiss Laethora as unauthentic because of the D.T./T.P. connection, and at the same time the music is way too extreme for most fans of our main bands. We’re in a no man’s land! [Laughs]

OK, music. Did you write music as a group or was it splintered in various bedrooms in and around Gothenburg? I know Joakim wrote most of the material on March…
Niklas: It was written collectively for most part. We came to the rehearsal room with a bunch of rough ideas and then just tried to assemble them into songs. Joakim is still the mastermind behind the music, but all of us contributed to some degree. March… was the definite bedroom album – we even recorded some of the guitar overdubs in a makeshift studio set up in an actual bedroom. No joke.

The blend of punk, hardcore, death metal and black metal is pretty seamless inside each track. Think it’s difficult to stitch the different genres together to make it all coherent and powerful?
Niklas: Songwriting never is easy, but I have to say that the most of the songs were created without any major headaches, even if the actual process took a lot of time. Jonatan’s vocals and Joel’s drumming tend to give the material a coherent flair regardless of what a specific riff sounds like, and since our style to a large extent depends on mixing these different influences and genres ,we never thought that it’d be weird to – for example – have a D-beat riff followed by a Morbid Angel-ish one. It’s not completely orthodox, but if it sounds good it is good! [Laughs]

I gotta say “Humanae” and “The Sightless” are my two favorite tracks. They feel like extensions of “Black Void Remembrance”. I’ve always been a sucker disharmony in death metal. Did you pick up this little trait from black metallers like Deathspell Omega?
Niklas: Those are my personal faves as well. Deathspell Omega is a phenomenal band, but I think that the penchant for dissonance harks back to older acts such as Voivod, Immolation, Order From Chaos, Carbonized and some of the second generation black metal bands. Also, The Provenance never were any strangers to using unconventional tonality and chord progressions in their songs, so a lot of the Laethora riffs feel like the twisted evil cousins of the band.

I noticed the album bunches up similar tracks. “I As Infernal” and “A.S.K.E.” have the death/grind thing happening, “Humanae” and “The Sightless” are the experimental noisemakers, and “Saevio” and “Uproar” are like D-Beat with balls. Did you order the track listing intentionally this way?
Niklas: Yes, it felt right to divide the album up in parts rather than to have the different styles song scattered all around. As with every band, the running order is something that each member will have his own opinion about, but after having tried some alternatives out, it was relatively easy to settle for what you can hear on the album. One of the songs that got recorded didn’t seem to sit so well with the others, so it was decided to save it for something else in the future.

The Light in Which We All Burn feels like it was performed and recorded live. How’d you get this barnburner to proverbial tape?
Niklas: We tried a slightly different process this time and decided to record most of the album and do the mixing in a studio that previously only has worked with indie and electronica bands. The initial plans actually included recording the whole album live, but for practical reasons this turned out to be a tad too ambitious and not allow for enough control in the process. Everything was recorded digitally, but some of the material was output to an analog reel and then re-imported into the sequencer program to color the sound a bit.

Were there any preset production goals? Raw and unbridled vs. controlled and robotic? I think the raw and unbridled really works in Laethora’s favor.
Niklas: Yes, it’s hard to imagine this music with an overly controlled production. The main idea was basically to expand on the March… sound – to retain the unpolished and organic qualities while stepping up to the plate and make it more professional and current. It’s a delicate balance; this kind of music needs tightness and punch to really sound powerful and at the same time things will end up sounding lifeless and sterile if you push things too far. Many a long night was spent fine tuning and obsessing over these things.

I think the lyrics are fantastic! They’re simple yet powerful. Do you guys have a lot on your chests?
Niklas: We’re all relatively well-adjusted people, but violent music calls for violent lyrics, and there’s a cathartic quality to being able to use more direct and unpretentious language for a change. Joel is responsible for the words, and he does a great job I think. Both D.T. and The Provenance always had pretty cerebral lyrics, so it’s nice to discard the flowery, ornamental phrases and go for the throat instead.

Many lyricists put zero effort into word choice and phrasing. Often they don’t mesh well with the music as well. I don’t feel that way with Laethora. The calculated vocal placement reminds me of older death metal and I think, overall, that works within the context of the music being raw and unbridled. Or sounding that way.
Niklas: Yes, I’ve always thought that guttural vocals should be treated as any rhythm instrument, meaning that the timing and phrasing is very important. We tend to avoid getting too catchy with the actual riffing, so the voice is the vehicle to provide the hooklines. At the same time, death metal singing shouldn’t be too calculated and clever either, since we’re still dealing with someone screaming his guts out to portray some kind of primal energy.

What’s happening on the cover? What message are you trying to send? Religious figures are faceless, handout—spiritual, economical—needing assholes?
Niklas: Well, the cover photo (which I took in the Vatican a few years ago) is  a further comment on the ‘light’ referred to in the title, so it’s safe to assume that theists are in the firing line of the Laethora squad. The gesture is probably one of commanding the masses rather than asking for handouts, but either way the message comes across loud and clear. The layout (for those out there that still buy physical CDs) is a continuation of this theme, featuring religious icons and artifacts mixed with the dystopian urban decay so often reflected in the lyrics. Angels on scrap yards, that kind of thing.

List 5 metal records in the last 5 years that have blown you away. Oh, and tell our faithful readers why, please.
Niklas: I’m really bad with making these lists, so I’ll just mention the last one that truly impressed me recently: Atheist’s Jupiter. After such a long time, they return with an album that manages to sounds amazingly hungry and contemporary while at the same time being everything we loved about them back in the day. It’s a mind-blowing release from one of metal’s most original bands, and I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t end up being the album of the year for a lot of people.