From musical influences like Mercyful Fate, Slayer, and Possessed to filmic influences like Hammer Horror, Sweden’s Vampire are taking death metal into the abyss. Formed in 2011 in Gothenburg, the Swedes — helmed by drummer (now vocalist) Hand of Doom and guitarist Black String — quickly impressed, with the group’s 2012 self-titled demo garnering heavy praise from Darkthrone’s Fenriz. Vampire quickly landed a label deal with Century Media, who issued the group’s grave-robbing self-titled debut in 2014.
Now, three years and an EP later (2015’s ‘Cimmerian Shade’), Vampire have returned from their Nordic cave to unveil new album, “With Primeval Force”. At once violent, creepy, heavy, aggressive, and melodic, Vampire’s sophomore effort is primed to take death metal even further into the dark. Songs like ‘Skull Prayer’, ‘He Who Speaks’, ‘Ghoul Wind’, and ‘Knights of the Burning Crypt’ burn with the same fire that permeated vintage Destruction, splatter cadavers like Repulsion, and scorn the same light that Necrovore did back in ’86.
Hand of Doom and Black String revel in flesh with Decibel to vomit details on the savage, the unrelenting “With Primeval Force”.
For someone who’s never heard Vampire before how would you describe the band musically? You’ve said before, it’s a bit like “Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest”.
Hand of Doom: That is perhaps not the most obvious reference for how our music actually sounds, but the overall aesthetics of the band is not that far off. “Castlelvania II: Simon’s Quest” was an atmospheric and nostalgic over-the-top re-imagining of vintage Gothic tropes, and that’s basically, thematically, where you find Vampire as well. Ancient mystery, dark aspects of European history, moonlit open tombs and faceless figures enshrouded in pungent fog…In all its late ’80s nocturnal glory, “Castlevania II” also gels nicely with some of our musical influences of the period. Those were the days!
And what’s with the pseudonyms? They’re cool, but are they connected to the music?
Black String: Originally, we adopted pseudonyms, or alter egos, to avoid connections to our former bands. Another important reason was to add a portion of juvenile mystique and a ‘rock star’ feeling to our personas. ‘Hand of Doom’ is an obvious reference, while ‘Black String’ and ‘Command’ are a little bit more obscure hints at music we like. Why all this? Well, we belong to the generation who wasn’t really interested in knowing Quorthon’s real identity. And back when we took those names we had no idea they would become as popular as they are…
What have Vampire been up to since the release of the “Cimmerian Shade” EP?
Black String: We did a 16-date tour with Tribulation and Grave Pleasures, passing through seven European countries in January last year. Since that we’ve spent most of the time forth and back between our rehearsal room and the studio where the album was recorded.
How would you compare, musically, “With Primeval Force” to your debut?
Black String: “With Primeval Force” has a more mature feel to it. As the cover art suggests, the musical and lyrical horizons have broadened; every song feels as it lives its own life, still well-placed in the general picture. Already when I began writing the first tunes for this album (‘Pyre of the Harvest Queen’ from our 2015 EP was originally supposed to be on it) I wanted the band to go for a more introvert and cold sound, as opposed to some of the chorus-laden ”fist-in-the-air songs on our debut album. So you could say that “With Primeval Force” generally is both colder and more atmospheric than our debut; less verses and choruses, a bit less ‘traditional’ songwriting. Despite that, the album somehow embraces bits and pieces of the last 35 years or so of metal music. In that sense it holds on to a lot of tradition.
The Condors [Sepulchral, guitars; Abysmal, drums] are a relatively new fixture to Vampire. What have they brought to the table?
Black String: They’re very competent musicians and were influential when it came to writing and arranging the actual songs. Over all there’s been good chemistry with lots of inspiration flowing when we’ve worked on songs together. They had an important contribution to the development in sound that I described above.
Has the addition of Sepulchral Condor given you chances to do different things compositionally?
Black String: Yes, because on our previous efforts it was just me playing the rhythm guitar on rehearsals and in the studio. It’s much easier to try out guitar arrangements and throw around ideas in the rehearsal room when there are two guitarists around. Besides, it makes things go smoother in the studio.
What were the songwriting sessions like for “With Primeval Force”?
Black String: The album was written and arranged over a quite long period of time; we began arranging ‘Knights of the Burning Crypt’, the first song on the album, already with our previous drummer (Ratwing) in 2014. We had basic ideas for about seven songs when we went for the tour with Tribulation and Grave Pleasures last year. Generally we’ve written the songs based on my riffs with suggestions for the song arrangements from everyone in the band. As opposed to how many other bands are working today (where one member tends to record complete song arrangements in ProTools at home) we’ve made all song arrangements from scratch in the rehearsal room. I think that’s made the album much more of a band effort with something close to a majority vote principle about the song material.
Was there a point where you knew you had the feeling going into “With Primeval Force”? What I mean is: Did you have writer’s block or did the material come naturally?
Black String: I started to get an impression about where the album was going to head when we had three or four new songs ready after the recording of the “Cimmerian Shade” EP. These songs turned out to be quite different from each other, and we began to see an album slowly taking shape. Around that time I came up with various material that wouldn’t have suited that well on our debut album. This relative risk-taking was refreshing, because I didn’t have a clue what the others in the band would think of it.
‘Skull Prayer’ was your first release from “With Primeval Force”. What is it about ‘Skull Prayer’ that rep-resented the new album?
Black String: ‘Skull Prayer’ was the first new song that we begin to compose with the Condors on board. Actually it was made at the same time as ‘Night Hunter’ on our previous EP. These songs link together quite well and we felt ‘Skull Prayer’ would be a good bridge to “With Primeval Force”.
What other tracks do you feel embody the new album?
Black String: I’d like to point out ‘Revenants’, which is probably the most varied song of the album. The intro riff of the song is one of those riffs that I did shortly after our debut album, but I didn’t really know in which context to place it. Time went by, we tried out various arrangements now and then, and 18 months later we had glued the parts together. It was a relief to get the song done, because I knew it would be relatively easy to finish other songs after this one. – Other ones are ‘Metamorfosis’ and ‘Midnight Trial’ whose bits and pieces date to a period when the band was quite inactive; in the middle of all this I wanted to take Vampire in a fresh musical direction. So I came up with these riffs which reek of early Slayer, Celtic Frost and even Mercyful Fate. I think these three songs are the most ‘progressive’ of the album, and since they are relatively slow to Vampire standards, they took more effort to complete. However, a fast song like ‘Ghoul Prayer’ is an important link between Vampire in 2014-2015 and Vampire in 2017; I think it sounds more mean and aggressive than anything we’ve done before. And the first song ‘Knights of the Burning Crypt’ perfectly sets the standards for the whole album with its quite basic core structure, yet full of variation.
Your debut was recorded at Svenska Grammofonstudion, which is renowned for its selection of vintage gear. Is that what you’re going for, actually? A ‘older’ sound or a ‘vintage’ sound as opposed to the ‘clean’ sounds of most productions?
Black String: We chose Svenska Grammofonstudion for our debut album partly because we thought their vintage equipment and wide musical experience would suit our vision. We wanted to try something else for “With Primeval Force” and decided to go for Studio Nacksving; who are actually also known for their long experience and vintage equipment. But the main reason “With Primeval Force” sounds different to our debut album is because we’ve become a bit more experienced in studio recording and mixing ourselves. If you don’t know which knobs to adjust, it can be hard to push the studio engineer in the direction you desire. Vintage or older; I use to call it the ‘classic’ metal sound — majestic and spacey, where every instrument has its space in the sound spectrum.
Lyrically, what’s “With Primeval Force” about? Has a very Lovecraftian vibe to it. Or a Poe vibe.
Hand of Doom: As suggested by the album title and the cover artwork, the lyrics deal with the obscure and the grotesque, with arcane energies and the rise of fallen idols. Recurring motifs are dark aspects of ancient cultures, violent interventions from beyond the grave and elevating experiences of the supernatural or the divine. Compared to previous Vampire songs, these lyrics draw less influences from, and refer less to, already existing works of art in the same genre. As for vibes of Lovecraft and Poe, I can understand the comparison to the former, but am even more flattered by being compared to the latter.
Is there a connecting theme or are the songs ultimately singular?
Hand of Doom: You could say the lyrics all look past the last 100 years or so of scientific progress in order to address a more primitive impulse in the human psyche for making sense of the world around us. Much similar to the method of Lovecraft, the lyrics were written as fragments more or less obviously referring each other and a greater whole. However, exactly how the lyrics tie into each other, not least chronologically, is (hopefully) part of a rewarding experience of the reader/listener. They convey very little of message or creed, but are put together primarily for poetic and, occasionally, narrative effect.
** Vampire’s stunning new album, With Primeval Force, is out now on Century Media Records. Order it HERE or die like a poser.