SORCERER: Closer to heavy metal

jon_2020-01-11_1144 HiResWhen old bands reunite, and especially those who never advanced from the demo stage back then, it often ends with one album, fueled by a succesful festival apperance or something similar. Sweden’s Sorcerer has now delievered three albums since the band reformed, and it doesn’t seem like it will stop here. We have covered the band when they released both previous albums, “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross”, and “The Crowning Of The Fire King”, and just like last time, singer Anders Engberg is the one faced with the task of answering our questions.  He seemed really proud of  “The Crowning Of The Fire King” when we spoke together last time, does he still have the same feelings about it?

– Yes, I have. I think you can hear us evolving from “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” to “The Crowning Of The Fire King”. We evolved both in sound in the way we write the music. I am really proud of it, and I feel really good about it. It also took us a little bit further than the first album did.

There were clearly differences between the albums you mentioned there, while “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” had an analogue sound, “The Crowning Of The Fire King” turned out a bit more modern. Where would you put the new one, soundwise?

– We are aware of that, and we wanted the first album to sound like an old, traditional recording with big drums, and a feeling of a lot of air inbetween the chords. When we went in to do the second album, we felt we needed to put it together a little bit more. We still wanted that big, bombastic sound, but we needed to tighten it up a little bit, get a bit more distortion out of the guitars and sound a little bit more modern. The new one I think is a mix between the two previous albums. We recorded really big drums this time. We still have that more modern feel to it, a kind of punch in the face-sound. I don’t think it’s as  big a jump between the new one and “The Crowning Of The Fire King” as there was between “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross”. These two latest albums definitely sound more similar. I think the main thing is the drum sound, which really stands out on this new album.

Do you feel the term “doom metal” is doing justice to “Lamenting Of The Innocent”? I guess it might be possible to reach a wider audience by labelling it as heavy metal?

– Where we come from, you know the late eighties, beginning of the nineties, we were a doom metal band, no doubt about it. However, already on “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross”, we took one step forward towards heavy metal and hard rock and now with “The Crowning Of The Fire King” and the new one, we took a further step across the river. It’s not something we think about when we write music though. If people want to label us, they can do that, and of course we take advantage of that on some occasions too. If I was to label us, I think we are closer to a heavy metal- or even hard rock band these days.

Still it’s a rather slow paced album.

– Yeah, that’s the music we like. We enjoy the melodic era of Black Sabbath, the stuff with Ronnie James Dio and Tony Martin as well as the old Rainbow and Dio-stuff. We enjoy the heaviness and like to mix it with a little bit of progressive stuff, to try to make the songs a bit more interesting. We really  don’t look at other genres and try to imitate or anything, we just write the music we write. And there are more of us writing the music today than it was in the beginning. Peter (Hallgren, guitars) for instance, came in with song writing contributions on “The Crowning Of The Fire King”, he played the guitars on “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross” too, but he didn’t write any songs there. Justin (Biggs), the new bass player also makes music, so it’s more of a mash up today.

As you don’t write music yourself, what was the biggest surprise moment for you when you heard the music the others had made for this new album?

– Actually I was pretty anxious, because everybody said that the third album is the most important. We had two releases that both were “Album of The Month” in the metal press behind us, and we knew that this third one, had to be at least a good. I was a bit afraid when we went into the songwriting process. You know, hearing raw sketches of the music with with a drum machine, only one of the guitar players… and then sit down trying to do something with it, it can be quite a journey. It think we started to see that we had something really good after five or six songs. It fell together really nice, but in the beginning I was really unsure.

What made you feel that way ?

– The usual question: Is this good? When you write a melody for a riff or a song, and you listen back to it in the car when you go home after having worked hours to get it done, doubts can easily start creeping upon on you. But as I said, from the fifth or sixth song, we knew the album was going to be killer. There were no doubts from that point. It’s always difficult when you start with the first songs, because you know you have to write ten to twelve other ones.

Once again, “Lamenting Of The Innocent” is a long album that craves attention from the listener. At the same time, it’s a very relaxing piece to listen to. 

– We have always been writing melodies in a melancholic kind of style . We try to create an atmosphere in the songs that will draw the listener into the music. The songs are also long. We are not talking about three minutes hits here , it’s more a case of eight minutes hits. There are a lot of things going on, and I think the atmosphere as well as the melancholy in the songs, are a trademark for us really. That’s the way we do it! And the music is very melodic, even though it’s also hard and brutal sometimes. It’s important for us to have that catchy hook, catchy choruses and a big sound.

Your former bass player, Johnny Hagel was instrumental in getting Sorcerer back together again, and he was also the one I spoke with when we did an interview to cover “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross”. Why is Johnny no longer part of the band?

– Johnny has actually written a couple of songs for this album, but he’s like a ghost member nowadays. We got two members in the band that are not part of Sorcerer live, one of them is Johnny and the other one is Conny Welen, who has been been co-producing all the albums. These two guys are really important for our sound. Johnny has the musical direction in his veins, so he holds us back when are too eager to stray away from the path we are on. He is, more than any of us, the original doom man in the band. If you a Sorcerer-tune, and you think it sounds doomy, it’s probably his song.

So I understand that he is still involved around the band, but why isn’t he a live member anymore?

Johnny felt he didn’t have anything to give live anymore. He didn’t find it funny or entertaining anymore, so we had to respect that and let him move on. We told him that there is always a place for him in this band. He is handling things like our merchandise and the negotiations with the record label, and also writing songs so he is still very much involved. He is very connected to the band, and involved in every meeting we have and every decision we make.

Justin Biggs is the new bass player following Johnny’s departure, and Anders give us the short version on how he entered the ranks of Sorcerer. 

– As you might know, me and Kristian were in Therion many years ago. We were three guys and three girls in the choir. One of the girls is now Justins girlfriend. That’s how we got to know Justin. We knew Justin played bass and also knew he was a nice guy, so Kristian invited him to jam on a couple of songs at his place. It worked out really well.

After the release of “In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross”, you put out an EP because you had a lot of material that didn’t make the album. On “The Crowning Of The Fire King”, there were also some additional songs. Were there any tracks that didn’t make the album this time as well?

– Yes, we wrote fourteen songs. About two hours of music. Obviously we can’t release two hours of music. Sorcerer is a democratic band, so we voted for the songs we wanted on the album. We planned to include eight songs on the album, but we couldn’t make a decision, so in the end there are nine songs on the album, ten if you count the intro as well. We also have a bonus track that is for a box set, it’s a song called “Hellfire” wiht a mix done by Max Norman himself.

The fact that Sorcerer is quite democratic when it comes to picking songs, voting over which songs should be on the album and not, has it ever made Anders disappointed when a song he held in high regard didn’t make the album?

– No, not really. Because the songs we have written in the process are all songs we are very happy with. We simply can’t release two hours of music. It’s not always a pleasant process, but we always agree upon the songs in the end. It’s not like David Coverdale’s Whitesnake. We like the democracy, and we need everyone to be on the same page. It’s very important to us. Maybe we will re-release the “Black”-EP that we put out through Johnny Hagels own label via Metal Blade some day? We have got a lot of response on the EP, and we love it ourselves too. It’s definitely nothing wrong with the songs, we just had to choose some over others. It also has a little to do with the dynamics of the album, we can’t have five songs in the same tempo in a row, there need to be a good flow in the album, for the listener to have the patience to listen to it.

You told me earlier that being in an epic doom metal band, you can’t sing about women and love, but at least, the lyrics this time are about women?

– Yeah. Actually on the last album we had a song called “Unbearable Sorrow” which is also about a woman who dies from her husband, but this time there really are a lot of women in the songs. It’s not a concept album like “Operation Mindcrime” or whatever, but we have a central topic; the witchhunt that went on in the 16th Century. We like to portray the women as the strong part in this ordeal and the church as the evil one. It’s a fight between good and evil, and there is a lot of songs portrayed by women on this one.

Sorcerer_Lamenting-of-the-Innocent-500x500So why didn’t you make a concept album out of “Lamenting Of The Innocent”, it surely sounds like something you could have made a full blown concept out of?

– Well, it’s more difficult than you think. I’ve been involved with  a band called Section A, and I did a concept album there, called “Parallel Lives”. I can tell you, it’s really hard to get a good idea out of ten songs. I we felt we wanted to record one or two or maybe even four songs on the album that were standing alone.

As usual, I guess the lyrics are written by you and Conny. Describe how you work together when writing the lyrics.

– It’s different from album to album. On the first one, me and Conny wrote all the lyrics while we were writing the melodies. We came up with the song title, then wrote the melodies and the lyrics at the same time. On the second album we came up with the titles and then I did most of the lyrics, while Connny put his touch on what I already had done. On this new album Justin Biggs has also contributed, so he’s written two or three lyrics, and me and Conny the rest. So its been a different process for each album, but we usually write the lyrics at the same as we write the melodies. Due to the fact that this is some kind of conceptual album, me and Conny just made bullshit lyrics in the beginning, because we didn’t want limit Justins possibilites in any way.

There are some really strong melodies on the album. The chorus to the title track for instance or the one in “Where Spirits Die”, and some of these melodies carry a similar feeling. 

– I agree with you. I don’t know what it is really. I’ve been doing this for so many years now, and it’s just the way I write music. Me and Conny have been together for 20 years, doing melodies and we know each other inside out. I can’t explain it, but I am thankful that you feel there is a connection between the individual tracks, because it means that we have a sound that sticks out, something that is really important.

While most of the elements on the new album are well known in the context that is Sorcerer, there is at least one unusual element present, as there is a bit of growling on the album. Anders explains why the band has added a bit of this flavor this time around. 

– It’s Justin actually, that is doing the growling. It’s simply a new thing we wanted to incorporate on this album, trying to do something new, something interesting. Something you wouldn’t expect from Sorcerer. I think it came out really cool. On the first single “The Hammer Of Witches” there is some growling, almost like a choir of football supporter chanting: “Burn Witch Burn”. There is also a real growl part in there by Justin. I think it fits really well.

Being a proper clean voice heavy metal singer, what did you think of growling when it first became popular?

– I think it was horrible really. I didn’t like it at all. I still have a hard time with some of that stuff, but some bands, Tribulation for instance, do it in a melodic way, that I  really like.  As  long as you can hear what the vocalist is singing, I can enjoy it, but when it’s just a sound coming out, I have problems with that. I  am not narrow minded, I like a lot of different genres of music so, but in my opinion, growling is not really singing.

I am always very impressed by singers that can both sing very melodic and growl at the same time, people like your fellow Swedes Dan Swanö or Bjørn Strid for instance. 

– Yeah, how the fuck do they do it? I certainly can’t do it. I am very impressed too. I know Bjørn, I think he is a fantastic singer. He has both the growl, the high notes and the power. I certainly would need to go and learn it to be able to do it, but it’s not my style either.

It seems “Lamenting Of The Innocent” was planned for spring so you could do some summer festivals this year. How disappointed are you at the moment?

– We are devastated of course, just like so many other bands. I am good friends with the guys in Wolf, they had to cancel half their tour. It’s too bad, the only thing I can say is good in all this misery, is that people are hooked up to the Internet all the time. So when we released our singles and soon the new album, people are aware, more perhaps than usually. But regarding the shows, it’s really sad. We had some great ones planned, but right now I am unsure if any of them will happen. It’s plain miserable, but it’s the same for everyone, we’re all in a situation we don’t wanna be in.

I remember that you signed a deal for three records with Metal Blade, three albums that you now have delivered. Will you continue working with the label?  

– We will wait and see how the album will be received. So far it looks good, we have gotten some heads up from a few of the most important magazines. We have great respect for our record label, and are super happy about what they have done so far. I guess we have to sit down and find out how we can make the next step, if Metal Blade is ready to take it with us, we will surely sgin up with them again.

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