SORCERER: Strike while the iron is hot


Sorcerer4

I had a pretty extensive chat with bass player Johnny Hagel around the release of “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” back in 2015, so when the chance appeared to speak to singer Anders Engberg about the brand new offering, “The Crowning Of The Fire King”, I didn’t hesitate. 

Sorcerer was formed back in 1988. Do you recall how you became part of the band?

– I used to play in different garage bands, in the beginning of my band career. Johnny Hagel was a friend of a friend of mine which I went to school with. After I finished the obligatory military conscription, I got the question from Johnny if I wanted to do some vocals in the studio where he was working. I went there, listened to the music and then entered the studio and did the demo cassette, titled “Sorcerer”.

After a while you left the band, do you recall why  that happened?

– It was after the second demo tape we did with Richard Evensand on drums. Johnny got an offer from friend of ours to go with Tiamat, and that was actually the start of the end of the band. Richard also went to the United States. We were still very good friends, but were simply pulled in different directions.

Then you got involved with Lion’s Share. Was that like after Sorcerer had ended?

– I had a band on the side during this, a band called Aphasia. Actually a guy called Lars Chriss auditioned for the guitar position in that band, Lars Chriss was the guy who formed Lion’s Share from the start. After a while he asked me if I wanted to join his band, Lion’s Share instead, and I did, since I felt he had more drive than the guys in my band. It was an easy decision to hook up with him and reform Lion’ s Share with some other guys he had played with before.

When we spoke together a couple of years ago, Johnny Hagel highlighted Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio and Tony Martin as the main inspiration in the early days of Sorcerer.  Anders agrees without having to think too much about it.

– Definitely. There are other bands of course that also influenced us, but if you want to draw parallels to the sound we were looking for at the time, it was Rainbow, Black Sabbath, that kind of music that inspired us very much, and became the foundation for our take on the doom genre.

Being a singer yourself, how do you rate the Black Sabbath-singers?

– For me, there is no doubt that there is a tight race between Dio and  Martin, but I think everyone that are into Black Sabbath, feels like me that Ronnie James Dio has a much wider career than Tony Martin had. I am talking about Dio of course, Rainbow and Elf and all the stuff he did. To me, he is the pillar of doom, with his voice as well as the melody structures, you just have to listen to  “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and all of those killer songs.

Speaking about Tony Martin, Anders  had the chance to play together with him at one occasion last year, when Martin appeared at “Fireball Rock Party” in Stockholm.

– Yeah, that was really amazing. I wasn’t prepared really to do that, I was supposed to be the background singer only, but at the night of the show he said: “Let’s do a duet you and me.” I was like “huh, really”…I really love Tony Martin also, so it’s very hard to pick one vocalist. I have like five or six singers that I really enjoy, Glenn Hughes, Rob Halford, Tony Martin, Ronnie James Dio and one or two more. I got all the albums Martin recorded with Black Sabbath of course. I bought them all on vinyl now too, so I have both the CD-versions as well as the vinyls. Some of them were expensive fuckers, and  “Cross Purposes” dug a big hole in my wallet.

What is your opinion on the Dio-hologram and the tour that Dio Disciples have lined up?

– I don’t know really. It’s nothing new, at least I think they did an Elvis one, five or ten years ago. I have seen this kind of stuff before, and it’s not for me. I like to watch the interaction between the band and the singer, and of course seeing the singer on stage. So yeah, it feels a bit strange for me, I don’t think I will pay to watch it.

It appears it was a bit of a surprise when Johnny called Anders about the offer he had received to perform at Hammer Of Doom back in 2010.

–  I was in the middle of my career at work, a manager with lot of stuff going on there. I had put the live playing aside totally and just worked in the studio with my colleague Conny Welén and had no thoughts about putting together a band again. When he asked me, I said “no” directly.  I didn’t think it sounded like a good idea, for instance I wasn’t  sure if we would be able to find all the  guys in the band. I hung up, but after a while I started thinking differently about it: What the heck, its October, we can drink some beers, have fun, go down and play. We know a lot of musicians, so why not put together a band, rehearse a couple of times and see what happens? We did, and haven’t looked back since. Hammer Of Doom was an amazing experience, with people from all over Europe gathering for the event. We met fans from Greece, Italy and France, and they all knew the songs better than we did. Haha!

How do you view the album “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” released back in March 2015 today? Were there aspects about that album you wanted to improve?

– We didn’t really think about improving anything. When you start writing music, the songs and the melodies just take you somewhere when you work with them. What we wanted to do on “In The Shadow Of  The Inverted  Cross”, was to create  a very analog sound, sounding really old with big drums. An airy and big sounding record. This time we wanted to tighten it up a little bit, and make a little more modern sounding record, but still with this big, airy sound. I think this type of sound is one thing that Sorcerer stands for, the big separation and a big sounding sound, so to say.

Even though the album was generally well received, the sound was one of the things that were criticized by a few. Some thought the record was too polished…

– It’s weird, isn’t it? Especially the Greek fans are really into the old stuff, and some of them seem to be a bit disappointed that we sounded as good as we actually did on that album, compared to the early stuff. It’s almost 30 years ago since we released the first demo, of course we have progressed as people and musicians, the band today is filled with super good players. Why would I want to make an album that sound bad? Of course I want to make an album that sounds good.  Haha! But even though it sounds good, it doesn’t take anything away from the songs, the melodies or the power. More is more, for me at least.

You released an EP, “Black” after the release of the last album. The EP was put out through a label called Desert Plains, I guess this label was set up by yourselves?

– Yeah, it was. We had an agreement with Metal Blade, and we had some material, I would not call the songs leftovers, because we had to vote in the band which songs were to make the album. The opinion of the members was quite different and in the end a few songs had to be left out. We had one hour and 20 minutes of music, and we couldn’t put the songs away for the next album, as new ideas were already forming. We thought: Why not release these songs ourselves, and make something special for our fans?

Being their own label so to say, was nothing but a positive experience according to Anders.

– We are very happy about this new trend with vinyl and physical format instead of just releasing things digitally. I personally love vinyl, reading the lyrics and everything else that is printed. Basic things, like turning the cover around, looking at it. I think the fans also like it, different colors, limited editions and stuff like that. Metal Blade is very good at this, they are the ones that come up with the ideas. They are really pushing this, so I guess it’s important for them as well, trying to make a difference.

You might also earn a bit more money yourselves by doing it this way? 

– You know what? There is no money in this. Haha! We were away for 30 years, but still managed to land a deal with Metal Blade for three records. That was amazing in itself, but no, we don’t make any real money on the band.

It seems like you recorded  some additional tracks this time as well, as there is a bonus song included on  the “Sirens”-single?

– We don’t plan on doing it, but when we start writing, there are quite  a few songs we want to work with. Just deciding on eight songs when you have ten good ideas, is kind of hard. We’re more like: Let’s do all ten, and then see what happens. There is another track coming out as a bonus too.

Do you see the new album as a natural follow up to “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross?”

– Yeah, of course. I think there is a clear red line that runs through both albums, that can be traced back even to the demo days. It’s a natural progression, we have a new guitar player, he played on the last album as well, but he didn’t write any music for it. On this new one, we have three writers, Johnny, Kristian and Peter. Me and Conny are writing the words and the melodies. I think it makes it more interesting with another guitar player writing stuff in his own style, but of course you can still hear it’s Sorcerer, due to my singing and the participation of the rest of the band. It’s an interesting progression that I really like.

Anders2What can you tell me about the drummer situation in Sorcerer at the moment? You had Robert Iversen playing on the last album, while Lars Sköld is credited for the drumming on “The Crowning Of The Fire King?”

– That was a last minute call really. We had written all the songs and were starting to record the drums, but as we got the tapes back from Robert, we felt that he drifted too far away from the original stuff. He, on the other hand, felt that the things we had done on the demos weren’t good enough. As we couldn’t agree on this subject matter, the best thing was for him to quit the band. The thing with Lars happened really quick, because a friend of mine, Simon Johansson, the guitar player in Wolf, owns the studio where we recorded the drums. Lars had lent out his drum kit to another project Simon was recording there, and he had already asked Simon if he didn’t have anything else he could play on while his drums were in the studio. I know Lars from way back, he is a friend of mine and of Johnny as well. I got to hear this from Simon, and I thought it was perfect. I ended up calling Lars, and he said “yes”. He got a week or something to learn the songs, and then just went in and did the drums. He did a fantastic job.

So the way the drums sound now is similar to what you had in mind with the demos?

– Yeah, definitely. Robert is a good drummer, but he had his own ideas, and was very picky about the sound and what he was supposed to play. Nothing wrong about him, but when you are in a band, trying to be creative, you need to have everyone pulling in the same direction, not four against one all the time. Its tiring and it takes away a lot of energy, so in the end, we made our decision. I don’t have any hard feelings, maybe he does, I don’t know.

As some of you reading this interview might already know by now, the band has aquired the services of a new, permanent drummer. Or should we rather say “old” drummer, as he is not a newcomer in the band.

– We hooked up again with Richard Evensand, the original drummer from the 92-demo tape. He is one of the best metal drummers up here. We are very happy to have him back.  We had or eyes on him pretty much all through the years, and he went to live in New Zealand for a while. When he came home, he got in contact with Johnny again. I know he played some shows with Kristian Niemann, and for him, Richard was the first choice if we were to find a new drummer. Richard said “yes” directly.  I was in contact with my old drummer from Lion’s Share, Johan Kungberg also, but he was with Hammerfall at that point.

Do you feel that this new album is as diverse as the last one was? Take a song like “The Gates Of Hell” from the last one, there really isn’t a song like that one the new album? 

– I don’t know why really, these are the ones we thought were the best, but we had some more metal sounding  ideas as well. Just like last time, we voted within the band and the most popular tracks got on the album.  However, I want to stress that  we didn’t do any bad songs, the two bonus tracks are great as well, but we only had room for eight. What was the question again? Haha!

I have some concerns that the new album is not as diverse as the last one…

– The new album has great dynamics, but they’re more within the songs. There are slow parts in the songs, mixed with faster parts, and in general a few more longer tracks. So even if we don’t have a speedy song like “The Gates Of Hell”, you get that through some of the other parts within the songs. I don’t think the album is that diverse either, we have the same red thread through all the songs we write, still they are all different songs of course.

Along with his partner in crime, Conny Welén, Anders is responsible for all the lyrics.

– I have written a lot of lyrics through the years, in different bands and constellations. I don’t consider myself a great poet or anything, I think the lyrics should…you should be able to follow a story or whatever through a lyric, but I am not looking for a Noble Prize or anything. The lyrics are mostly a collaboration between me and Conny, the guy who co-produced the album. He was also a co-writer of the last album. When we get the music from the other guys, we first decide a title. What does the song tell us? What title should it have? When we have decided a title, the lyrics come pretty easily. The title is like the deliverer of the lyrics.

Conny is for me mostly known as the bass player from Mezzrow and Hexenhaus, but it must surely be more to him that.

– Conny Welén is an amazing guy. He can play every instrument in a rock band, bass, drums and guitar. He can sing and write songs, and he loves the technology of recording, and he is an Apple freak so he always has the latest computers and sound cards. He is also my best friend. We work great as a team, and have done a lot of albums together. We know each other very well, and we have a flow which I haven’t experienced with anyone else I have worked with in music. I love the guy!

Johnny told me  that I  shouldn’t  take your lyrics too literally, what do you think he meant?

– When I am listening to music, for instance something with Ronnie James Dio, I don’t really listen to what he sings, I don’t analyze the lyrics, instead I listen to how he sings, and how it sounds. It’s very important to me, to have the right phrasing and the right sounding words. In fact, it’s more important than what I write, but the lyrics we write are not only nonsense. Some of them are really straight forward, like a stories from A to B, while some are more “obscure”, maybe not right out telling you what they mean. We worked with fantasy subjects, knights, dragons, evil, dreams and nightmares. I think they all fit with the music, because the lyrics should be in sync with the music somehow. We are in a genre called epic doom, so you can’t sing about women and love and whatever. It’s got to be some mystery or fantasy.

I haven’t had the chance to read the lyrics yet, but if I remember correctly, there is a song called “Unbearable Sorrow”, the title indicates that this one might be something else than fantasy or mystery stuff?

– Yeah, actually that one sticks out a bit, as the lyrics are more obscure. The song is about losing someone. The memory lingers on, it never really leaves you. You can interpret what you want into it, but to me it’s about losing someone close to you. In this song, the memories come back to haunt the person in questions in dreams during the night.

Why have you called the album “The Crowning Of The Fire King”?

-It’s simply a killer title! We love long titles apparently. I don’t know really, we felt it was a strong  title, and we had a good idea about the cover as well. The cover last time was a bit more obscure, but with this we wanted something that looked a bit heavier, as the album is more in your face musically. When the lyrics came up for the different songs, we had a meeting, and I think it was me and Kristian that felt “The Crowning Of  The Fire King” should be the title of the album.

In contrast to the long  album titles, you have the very short ones for you other releases, “Black” and “Sirens

– Yeah, as the albums are longer, the names of the albums should be loooong as well. Haha!

Do you have a favorite lyric on the album?

– That’s a hard question. I think “Unberable Sorrow” is a good one. You see, I lost my father a couple of years ago, and I think some of the feelings in that lyric and in the song as well, come from that loss. Even though the lyrics aren’t about my father and me, you can still find some parallels. The two of us were pretty close, and I guess for most of us, losing a father or a mother is tough.

It seems a bit easier for Anders to pick a favourite song on the album…

– It’s “The Devil’s Incubus”. It’s a song that got all what Sorcerer is about. Slow parts, heavier parts, big solos and everything.

On this new album there are quite a few long songs, even longer than on the last album. Why do a Sorcerer composition tend to turn out long rather  than short?

–  I am not sure. The songs seem to live their own life and I can’t really explain it, probably because I don’t write the music. The music is already done when I take over, of course we change things, move stuff around, decide what should be the chorus and stuff like that. We like long songs, I guess, there is an epicness to long songs, at least when they are very dynamic like ours are. There are slow parts, some almost progressive parts, but not in the high tech meaning of the word of course.  We’re influenced by Pink Floyd, as we are by Rainbow and Black Sabbath, maybe that shows?

You have sung in quite a few so-called progressive metal bands earlier in your career, and I agree with you, there are parts in  Sorcerer that aren’t that far away, but in another sense of the word progressive. Is it a lot different singing in Sorcerer compared to the other bands you’ve been in, for instance Lion’s Share?

– Yeah, it’s easier singing in Sorcerer. It’s different really, as Lion’s Share was quite demanding on the voice with high notes, more like a circus act than a band sometimes. Haha! When I  sung back then, I felt I had to prove something to everyone. Prove that I could hit the high notes. Nowadays, I still think it’s fun with the high notes to some point, but the song itself is much more important to me. The vocals should fit the song, as the guitar solos should fit the song. Everything should be one unit. Still, if it takes one high note in a particular song, well then I have to do it. Haha!

Anders has a pretty clear view of why Lion’s Share didn’t get bigger than they did.

–  Grunge. It’s the single word that springs to mind. Grunge came in the early nineties and we were sucked up by that, without a chance to show the world what Lion’s Share was about. I guess almost every band at that point got drowned in the grunge area, but for us, it was definitely the main factor.

Sorcerer1You have been in other bands as well, what is your favorite album among all the ones you sing on?

– Well, that is a very hard question. Every album I have done, have a couple of super great songs. I don’t feel I have done any albums that sucks all the way through, and I honestly don’t think I have done one that is brilliant all the way. However, I feel really, really confident about “The Crowning Of The Fire King.” I know it’s cheesy to pick the last one, but I am very proud of it. We have invested a lot of effort and time into writing the stuff for the album. Apart from the new one, I think maybe “Parallel Lives”, the album me and Conny did with Torben Enevoldsen as Section A, was a good one.

You have invested a lot of time, effort and probably also money into  not only Sorcerer, but all the different musical projects you have been involved in. Do you feel it has been worth it when you look back at your career?

– Oh yeah, it’s been worth everything. When I started singing at fifteen or sixteen, the dream was at some point to record an album.  By now, I have recorded fifteen albums. I have gone to South America with Therion and experienced the rock star life with them. I’ve done everything I set out to do. I quit Therion around 2002, and after that, I just did session work for something like ten years. When Johnny called me in 2010, I had released around ten albums, one album a year approximately, and I hadn’t planned on going out on stage again. You see, I am very comfortable in the studio, and I wasn’t planning to join any band. Now, we have a lot of fun in Sorcerer, and of course we want to strike while the iron is hot.

Have you considered doing anything non-metal related?

– Yeah, I have done some other stuff, but nothing too serious though. Nothing that ended up on an album or anything. You know, you often get contacted by people who have heard you on a particular album. Then you suddenly end up doing three albums, like I did with Torben in Section A. In this business, like everywhere else, opportunities come and go. I have turned down a couple of offers, as they haven’t felt right. And most of the offers that I have got, have been in the Lion’s Share/ Section A-kind of proggy style. I can’t help that people feel my voice fits that kind of music. Also, I have always been very determined. I always want to do the lyrics and melodies myself, I am not into singing some other guys’ stuff. If that’s the offer, then I pass, because I don’t think I can do it as good as I can when I write the melodies and the lyrics myself. When you sing, you need to feel comfortable.

As they did last time around, the band has yet again used different studios to record the album.

– Yeah, we worked in the exact same way as last time. When we write music, we are leaving it up to everyone to contribute in some way. Someone can have a riff or maybe a whole song, and then we put it up on Dropbox, so the others can download it. We work separately on ideas for the songs, and get together first when we have 75-80 percent finished, then we go through some details, so that everyone knows exactly what to do. When we record, we do it in different studios or even at our home. Metal Blade has been really good to us, but today’s budgets are really low. You know, everyone can record an album at home these days, which means labels don’t have big money available for recording albums. Everything is so accessible these days, you can download and rip music, you can do so much you couldn’t do 20 years ago. The technology is like a flood wave in front of us, but we are happy about this in a way. It makes thing easier for us as a band.

Do you think the whole album would have turned out differently if you had spent a couple of weeks to record in same studio?

– Yes, of course. Then we would have had the chance to try out different arrangements and stuff like that together. I hope we will get the chance sometime in the future. It’s very expensive going into a good studio these days. When I recorded the first album with Lions Share in 1994, it cost 25 000 Euro already back then. Today doing that kind of production in a high quality studio, I really don’t know how much it would cost.

There is an instrumental, “Nattvaka” on the new album. What do you as singer think about a piece of music where you don’t get the chance to participate?

– I think it’s a wonderful piece of music. It’s a short instrumental that is a perfect fit for the album. This new album, as well as Sorcerer in general, is a lot about feelings and moods. “Nattvaka” contributes to that.

The demo-compilation album called “Sorcerer” was re-released by Hammerheart a couple of years ago both on CD and vinyl. The label got a lot of stick when they last were active, did they do things by the book with this release?

– Yeah, in fact this release was the only official release of these particular recordings. There is one called “Heathens From The North”, which we wasn’t even asked about. Some Greek guys put that one out, without permission. Then the CD-compilation that came out, that was John Perez from Solitude Aeturnus asking us if he could put out the demos. We only made tapes in the early days, so at that point when we got asked by John, we thought: Oh well, who cares? We just let him do it. Hammerheart came asking if they could do it, and we got some album copies we could sell for ourselves. It was a quite good deal.

To round things off, we need to speak a little about your plans for future live performances. Are you going to do festivals only or some shorter tours as well?

– We are looking to do festivals primarily. Hopefully a few more than last year. There will not be  much happening this year, but in the early spring and through the summer, we will try to play as many festivals as possible. We have a situation with members with small kids and a family life. This is something we have to respect.  We really feel confident in this album, and want to perform live as much as we can. We have material that is getting more interesting, we can play music from three different albums or eras. I am looking forward to presenting it live, and I am anxious to hear what you guys think of it. That’s going to be important for us.

Anders says he feels just as comfortable performing the old demo songs as the stuff from the two latest albums.

– Oh yeah, when we recorded the demos, we hardly did any shows. I recall that we did one with Therion, Mezzrow and Entombed outside of Stockholm, but we didn’t do much else. As good as we are today, we make the old songs sound better. I have seen some tapes from back in the day, and they really aren’t that funny watching.

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