Monolord were once referred to as the “Nirvana of doom”, a statement that, considering how revered Cobain and co. still are in rock circles, likely did them no favours when it was included in the press release for last year’s Rust. But if you look deeply enough, there’s a hint of truth to it; in amongst the more standard doom tropes that form the bedrock of the Swedish trio’s sound is an undeniable aptitude for killer hooks. Fuzzy riffs, melancholic atmospheres and lumbering tempos call to mind legends such as Saint Vitus, Pentagram and even Candlemass, but infectious choruses edge the band’s sound closer to more middle-of-the-road rock, whilst sultry tones and spacey vocals help the group transcend the usual doom shlock.
Their sound may have drawn comparisons to the grunge legends, but the topics behind the music don’t exactly scream teen spirit. Rust – the band’s latest and third full-length – proved their most accomplished and dynamic offering when it dropped last September, and is filled with lyrics that aim to critique and address issues from the world around us, from the historical greed of the Church to the general disarray of modern society.
Huddled around a creaking bench in the smoking area of Brighton’s The Green Door Store, the thunderous grooves and caveman bellows of tonight’s co-headliners Conan threatening to drown out the conversation, Astral Noize sat down with the exceedingly friendly trio of guitarist/frontman Thomas V. Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems to talk Rust, politics in music, and touring with Conan.
So, a small venue club show tonight! How does something like this differ from a bigger venue or a festival show?
Mika: It’s a totally different thing, playing a big festival show or a sweaty club where you get so close to the audience, really in-your-face, which is an awesome feeling.
Esben: They’re both great, but in different ways. Playing for a huge crowd is great but sometimes you have a far distance [between you and the crowd] and as Mika said, club shows are like this *puts hand up in front of face* and that’s really nice as well.
A lot of bands in metal, like tonight’s co-headliners Conan, write about fantasy and other fictional topics. But, given the downbeat nature of doom, do you think the genre lends itself well to pessimistic real-world topics?
Thomas: I find it really hard to write fantasy lyrics, it’s easier to write something that’s closer to me. I like science fiction and I like fantasy but I can’t really write about it ‘cause it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s the things that happen around you and around the world that feel more important to write about.
Would you call yourself a political band?
Esben: Who isn’t? I think all bands are political in some sense. When Kiss go on stage and say “we’re not political”, that’s a political statement. We’re not Rage Against The Machine but we were open with our values, yes. Which it’s important to be, I think, personally.
What lyrical topics do you tend to focus on, especially on Rust?
Thomas: There’s a lot on religion in there. In this modern age, I’m having a hard time grasping why you would turn to believing in something that obviously doesn’t exist. If you start to think about that, it’s almost like you want to smash something, because it’s so stupid. So several of the songs have that theme in there, and some have old historical things about how when the Church does something it’s basically just for profit.
So, would you say your view of the world and where it’s heading is pessimistic?
Thomas: Yeah, I guess.
Mika: It’s hard not to be! Once you start analysing and scratching the surface of what’s going on in society, it’s hard not to be.
Esben: I agree. But at the same time, there’s hope. The counter-resistance to all this instability is growing all over the planet, so I still have some naive hope that things will change.
You have to believe the scale will tip in the other direction eventually.
Esben: Exactly, yeah. You have to believe it, force yourself to believe it to be able to make a difference.
Mika: That’s why we have such a good balance in the band because I’m on the other side of the road – I’m more pessimistic. Looking back into history, all societies have killed themselves.
The artwork for Rust was taken from a picture in the Middle East, where they place cars like that to stop helicopters from landing. It has a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe to it, was that intentional?
Esben: Absolutely, when we saw it we thought the image was beautiful but it’s horrific scenery. The story behind it is horrific, and it felt like it really captured the mood of the album.
The doom scene is packed with new bands right now. Did you find it hard to stand out when you started?
Thomas: When we started, we didn’t have like a plan of what to do, that came afterwards. When we realised there were a bunch of people that liked the record we slowly started to work out a plan. Of course, we don’t wanna do anything that someone else has been doing already. We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything, but we try to do some special each time.
Mika: At the same time, even though it’s crowded, the whole doom/stoner scene is very supportive. People write a lot to each other and give shout-outs etc. so it’s a very good environment to be in.
Have you been inspired by any of the new bands as well as the classics?
Mika: It’s easier to find inspiration in other things than inside the same box. It’s easier to find inspiration in Radiohead *laughs*, you know? ‘Cause it’s entirely different and you sort of translate it into something that you’re doing. It gives you more energy and fresh ideas.
Thomas: … But maybe not Radiohead, though.
Mika: Maybe not Radiohead, that was a bad example but you get the picture!
Esben: At the same time, the three of us are different as musicians and our references are different.
Mika: Because I do listen to Radiohead!
Esben: That adds to the process, to come from three different places rather than just Candlemass and Saint Vitus and nothing else.
With a huge amount of doom metal artists out there at the moment, is there a danger that the scene can become oversaturated?
Mika: There’s always gonna be loads of bands in every genre but it’s also natural that bands will fade out as well.
Thomas: It was like ten years ago when Graveyard began to make a name for themselves, and they’re like the only band left in that retro 70s rock thing they had. Everyone sounded like Graveyard between five and ten years ago, and now there are just a handful of them that are still there. It’s gonna be like that in every genre.
Mika: It’s like natural selection.
Have you started planning what’s next in terms of a follow-up to Rust?
Esben: Trying to!
Can we expect anything new?
Esben: Yes, it’s gonna be new. It’s not gonna be old!
Mika: We have a few ideas lying around. I think it’s a natural development from Rust. Like the title-track from Rust has a bit more of a rock feel to it – it’s a bit more up-tempo and has organs and stuff. I think some of the ideas we have are both that and melodic.
This tour with Conan is a pretty lengthy one! How are you finding it touring with them?
Thomas: Yeah, we did a mainland tour in Europe, so this is like the other part of it. A long Christmas vacation!
Mika: Yeah, they’re good guys and really kind and we’re helping each other out.
Esben: Same kind of weird sense of humour, so it’s perfect!
Rust is out now on RidingEasy Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr