Sorcerer is a band whose name brings tears of sentimentality to many the eyes of many fans of underground doom metal from the late eighties and early nineties. The band released a couple of demo tapes that left its mark on the scene and has been kept alive by rereleases and new and upcoming acts namedropping the band. In 2010 the band reunited, with singer Anders Engberg and bass player Johnny Hagel on board to the Hammer Of Doom-festival in Germany.
The year after the band stood on the stage for another hammer festival, this time Up The Hammers in Greece, and last week their brand new album, “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” was released through Metal Blade. I got on the phone with Johnny Hagel to get a bit of history as well as the recent developments within the band.
What were your main inspirations when you started Sorcerer?
– Music wise we listened a lot to Black Sabbath, but more with Ronnie James Dio and Tony Martin than with Ozzy, even though I love Black Sabbath with Ozzy as well. They were our main inspiration, then we listened a lot to King Diamond as well, even though you can’t really hear that. Candlemass of course came across later, and then there was Metal Church, their first album was a real inspiration too. These were probably the main things, but then you get inspiration from everything really.
In retrospect, what do you think it is about the early material that gave you a kind of cult status?
– One thing I think was really important was that we had a really good singer. Anders was different compared to for instance Messiah, who of course was a great vocalist as well, but had a very different kind of voice. I would also say the songs we had. We really worked a lot on the material, rewrote songs over and over before we recorded them and stuff like that. That was probably the main things. When you listen to material that’s so old today, you will always remember the things you could have done better, but if people say they songs have stood the test of time, I am really happy. When you perform the old songs today, it certainly feels different compared to 20 years ago. It’s really a different feeling, and you try to reflect on how you thought back then when you wrote the material.
Back in the early days, did you get any real interest from labels?
– Not really. We came at a time when death metal and that kind of music also entered the frame. We came in between the metal which was more like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and the death metal-thing . Of course there were a few doom metal-bands around, Candlemass recorded albums, Solitude Aeturnus too, but apart from that there weren’t that many active bands performing this kind of music. I don’t know why the interest wasn’t there, maybe we simply didn’t know how to do it? Maybe we only knew the music side, and not the other side which was also necessary to get the breakthrough?
Johnny then joined Tiamat while Sorcerer continued for about half a year before the band split up.
– Anders had this new band, called Lions Share which by then had a record contract, so things fell apart.
In the time since, have you spent a lot of time thinking of what might have been if you got deal back then?
– No, not really. I am not the kind of person that looks back, I prefer to look forward. What is done is done. I try to do my best whenever I do something, and then when the next options comes along, I try to do my best then as well.
One person who must have been pretty important in the the band name Sorcerer alive, must have been John Perez from Solitude Aeturnus?
– Yeah, if I remember correctly, he got our demo first, then he sent Solitude Aeturnus first demo back in return. Back at that time, there was no internet of course, so you sent regular letters with demo tapes. We stayed in contact, it was not like we talked a lot, but at least we sent some letters back and forth to each other, and finally in 1995 he contacted us and said he wanted to release everything we had done on CD through his label, Brainticket. Since then we have had a lot of contact, and I met him a couple of months ago when he was here in Stockholm with Saint Vitus.
Have stayed close to your singer, Anders, throughout the years?
– Yeah, we were friends before we started Sorcerer too, and we have stayed really close the whole time. He has followed what I have done musically, and vice versa. It was prett easy getting together again, when the opportunity came across, since we always kept in contact.
After joining Tiamat and then later on Sundown, with Mathias Lodmalm from Cemetary, Johnny himself hasn’t been that active himself since the late nineties or something and at least a decade, at least not in bigger bands.
– That’s correct. My aim is to play music that I like and to write songs, not just to be a musician playing in a band. I’ve always written songs during the whole time, but for me, writing songs is not only about writing and releasing them, it’s also about writing for myself. I am not the kind of person who wants to be in the spotlight all the time either, and especially if I have nothing to show. But mainly through these years I’ve done the same thing I’ve always done, but without being in any really successfull bands.
Did thoughts of reforming Sorcerer cross your mind before you were approached to do the Hammer Of Doom in 2010?
– No, not really. I didn’t think the interest in the band was big enough. Okay, so we sold a lot of demos back in the early days, in fact, around 2000 copies, but it’s hard to say were all those demos went and if people still remember it. It’s a long time ago. But that’s one thing we noticed as soon as we started playing the gig at the festival that people seemed to remember us, sang along with the lyrics and things like that. It was simply amazing!
Johnny says he hopes the band will be able both to keep hold of the old fans as well as recruiting new ones with this new album, but the main thing was to write songs that reflect what Sorcerer is today.
I guess it was essential for this comeback to happen, that both you and Anders were on board, but did you approach any of the other original members as well?
– Before Hammer Of Doom, I really tried to find the other members, but unfortunately, I never got hold of them. I haven’t talked to them for ten or maybe fifteen years, so I didn’t have their numbers anymore. Of course I was looking around at the internet, but I still couldn’t find them. Then we decided to do it without them. If they come now, I will most likely tell them that it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t reach them a few years ago. I am really happy with the current lineup.
So there has been no contact from any of them now that the news that there is a new Sorcerer-album coming is spreading?
– No, and I am really easy to find. Haha!
You spent a long time working on this album. Did you suffer any setbacks, or are you just perfectionists?
– In 2013 my girlfriend passed away, that made a pause in our work for something like 8 months. I will not say we are perfectionists, but of course we want to make the best possible album. When something like that happens, everything has to stop for a while. Then after some time, life has to go on, you can’t stay forever in what happened.
You always knew you would finish the album someday?
– Of course. I really wanted to. We had started working on it, and we had a lot of good songs written. We never spoke about not continuing.
How would you compare the song writing process these days to what you did back in the demo days?
– In the early days, I usually came up with an idea, we then rehearsed it and it became a song. Or Peter (Furulid), who wrote a lot of stuff, came up with an idea, which we rehearsed. This time, I recorded a lot of ideas for songs at my place. Afterwards I tried to arrange them a little bit, and then I went to Kristian (Niemann, guitars) and finished the songs. Maybe a part was missing, or there were two parts that we didn’t like a lot when we heard them properly. This is basically how we worked on the music, then we did a demo that Anders got and he started working on the vocals. It all went pretty smooth, and Christian is really easy to work with.
Are all the songs on the album based on new ideas that have come to you after the comeback, or have you been looking backwards using some old sketches?
– To be honest, we don’t have that many ideas from the past. But some ideas used on “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” were from 2008-2009, mostly some small parts, but the rest is written after we played Hammer Of Doom in Germany.
So the ideas from 2008 or 2009, were those written with something else in mind than Sorcerer?
– Yeah, exactly. I write songs all the time, and even if I am not planning to release anything, I still record some of the stuff. You never know what is going to happen, and when you can use something.
Apparently you recorded something like 12 songs for the album which consists of only eight. Can you give me some titles and also some information on what you’re going to use the rest of the songs for?
– In fact, we recorded 11 songs and an intro. We have eight songs on the CD, but there is a bonus track on the vinyl. Then we have two tracks and an intro left, and right now we are thinking about maybe releasing a mini album or something like that next year. We haven’t really decided yet. What we didn’t want, was to do an album that is one hour and 20 minutes long, so something had to be left off. It was not about choosing the best songs, and that the three that we didn’t use, are not good enough. I think all of them are of the same, high quality, but it’s more about what fits on an album and not. Regarding titles, I prefer not to announce them yet.
-Thank you! When I started writing songs, I didn’t want to repeat what I have already done before. I wanted to do something that felt a little bit new. I didn’t want to have 10 fast songs or 10 really slow songs, but rather a nice mixture. Of course we’re a heavy band, so no, there is not going to be any speed metal on there, but the basic thing is that we want to write good songs.
Did you work free of any limits, or did you have in the back of your heads, that you had to do something that resembled the old Sorcerer-stuff?
– No, I didn’t think anything like that. But if you are going to write for Sorcerer, you can’t write whatever you like. So maybe it was there in the back of my head, but I never wrote to fit any format. What you hear on the album, are songs I think fit the band. Also, you can’t simply repeat what you did back then. Probably some people are going to be disappointed because they expect part two of some old songs, but we’re not like that, we want to create new stuff and look forward.
As the deal with Metal Blade, seemed to come a bit out of the blue, Johnny confirms my suspicion that the band recorded the album on their own and then shopped it around…
– Our drummer, Robert, was the main engineer. He recorded his drums, I recorded the bass, and Kristian recorded his guitars at his place, Peter did his guitars at his place, some acoustic guitars were recorded by Robert, while Anders recorded the vocals in his studio. It was not like we were in the same studio recording together for a month. This way we could change things during the recording as well, I really think it was a good method for us to record everything and do the final mix before we had a record contract.
And this time I am pretty sure you got offers from more labels than “just” Metal Blade?
– Yeah, we didn’t know what expect, but when we started sending it around, a lot of label were interested. Labels we didn’t even think about to begin with. In fact, we were considering releasing it ourselves, but in the end we had seven or eight offers from labels. That was really nice.
What is the purpose of the lyrics on the album?
– The lyrics are written by Anders and a friend of him, Conny, who helped him with producing the vocals and the melodies as well. They work really close together and have been doing that on some other albums as well, where Anders has been hired to do vocals. All the lyrics are not reality based or anything, more like fantasy or they focus on historical things. They’re mostly about telling stories, we’re not a political band, after all there are a lot of other bands that do that kind of stuff. Anders write his lyrics like he has always done, and you probably shouldn’t take them too literally.
What were your thoughts when you read the lyrics for the first time?
– I really liked them, and thought they fit the music in the same vein as in the old days. I knew the guys worked really hard on the lyrics, and I was more than happy with the outcome.
Do you feel that a song changes a lot when words are added to the instrumental version?
– Yeah, a lot! You can hear all the small changes needed immediately, if a part has to be repeated, or if you have to take something away from the songs. When me and Kristian did the demos, we had some ideas, for instance: The verse will be four times, and this part will be two times, then Anders came back and said: “Were have to change this, to fit with the lyrics”. That’s really good, as you see the song develops to a finished song from being just an instrumental song.
You, or maybe the label, released the song “The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer” as a taster from the album. There were positive reactions, but also some negative ones, especially on YouTube.
– Yeah, you always have these haters, and you never get rid of them. I don’t know if they even like us from the beginning, or what they expected to begin with, but of course, everybody have the right to have their own opinion. I am completely for freedom of speech.
But it’s so damn easy these days to leave a comment, without having to stand up for it.
– Yeah, it is, and it’s always the haters that seem do that more than those who actually like your stuff. I don’t really care, it’s quite funny to read their thoughts sometimes.
Personally I like the song, but am more skeptical towards the video, as I felt it didn’t really capture the atmosphere I was hoping to find in a video for a song like this?
– I am really satisfied with the video myself. I think it fits the song well, the guy who did it came up with an idea and he did a lot of things we never would have thought about. I don’t know what it should capture that it doesn’t, but of course you can do things in many different ways.
Some of the effects, the flames for instance, ruined things for me…
– Haha, I can understand that. But this too, is a matter of taste. As I said before, it’s up to everyone to have their opinion.
Both yourself and Anders played different types of music since the early days, did this have an influence on how the album turned out?
– No, I don’t think so. When we listen to and talk about music, we have always had an understanding. He knows what I like, and I know what he likes. We both enjoy some Black Sabbath-albums like “Mob Rules” and “Heaven And Hell”, then there are some bands like Demon, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Of course there are also some things that I like, that he doesn’t like and vice versa.
Do you feel that Sorcerer anno 2015 is the same as you started many years ago?
– No, I don’t think so. When we started the band, we always worked a lot, me, the drummer (Tommy Karlsson) and Peter the guitarist, rehearsing a lot. And then Anders came after that with his stuff. This time, everyone was more involved in everything. We were all involved making decisions like which songs are going to be on the album, the order of the tracks, or adding some ideas to the songs. It was definitely more of a band effort this time around.
Although it was a different experience, Johnny never considered releasing the album under another name than Sorcerer. He is also completely fine by having his music categorized as epic doom metal. What is epic doom metal for him?
– It’s a different kind of doom. Bands like Saint Vitus and Trouble are more influenced by early Black Sabbath, while epic doom metal bands lean more towards heavy metal bands, I would say.
What are some of your favourite albums within the epic doom metal genre?
– Oh, I knew that questions was going to come. Most of the Solitude Aeturnus albums are really, really good, I am not fan a bigger fan of the first two than the rest. They also mix a little bit of thrash into their sound, so you can really hear that they’re an American band. Also I enjoy a new Italian band called In Aevum Agere…They are really good! And of course I like the Candlemass stuff, the first two albums along with “Tales Of Creation”, are for me, among the best out there. “Epicus Doomicus Metalicus” is probably one of my favourite Swedish albums. There is also a band called Sorrows Path that I have listened to a lot. So there are some new bands coming now, that I am checking out.
The song “Gates Of Hell” on the new album hasn’t a lot in common with doom metal?
– That’s true. I felt we needed some more up tempo songs. “Exorcise The Demon” is also a bit up tempo, but “Gates Of Hell” is probably more Judas Priest than Black Sabbath. It’s still what we like and what we think represents Sorcerer. If you listen to Black Sabbath, you have “Mob Rules”, that’s not that particularly heavy track, it’s more of a fast song, but still it’s definitely Black Sabbath.
On doom metal albums with a faster track, I often end up enjoying the fast one most.
– Yeah, maybe. I mean, I want to mix things, not playing the same riff over and over again. It’s simply not for me. I want to move forward, not to the extent that we end up sounding like a different kind of band, but to have some songs that are a little bit different.
Sweden has always stood quite strong when it comes to epic doom metal. Memory Garden and Below are just to other bands on Metal Blade…Is it all down to the influence of Candlemass?
– Hard to say! Of course, Candlemass is a big influence to all of us I think. Also, I think, in Sweden we have always had a weak spot for Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio, that’s probably what those bands you mention have in common. Below, by the way, is another band that I really like.