Despite the apocalyptic intensity that defines much of extreme metal, the alluring thing about the music has always been that innate human element – that outburst of cathartic emotion, a desperate scream into the endless void of an uncaring universe. But some bands seem to transcend their own humanity, creating sounds so vast that they almost appear part-machine. On 2018’s Deads, Copenhagen’s LLNN showed immense progression from their impressive but comparatively straightforward 2016 debut Loss and became what Astral Noize at the time labelled a “dangerous entity, neither human nor machine.”
The follow-up, Unmaker, is an even fiercer and grander proposition. Not only does it surpass Deads by way of its overwhelming scope, but the passion driving it is more palpable, felt in every booming riff, soaring synth and most notably in the harrowing cries of vocalist and guitarist Christian Bonnesen. The band have certainly honed their already commendable songwriting ability, but in the three years since Deads the world has grown even more apocalyptic in its makeup, and the destructive, cinematic music that drives Unmaker forwards feels more pertinent than ever. Several years ago such music would seem like the soundtrack to a fictional worst case scenario for the future – right now it sounds like an encapsulation of exactly where we seem to be headed.
For a deeper insight into this impossibly gargantuan new record we spoke to Bonnesen about everything from power structures and doomscrolling to cyberpunk and video game soundtracks. Read on to get the lowdown on LLNN and Unmaker.
Congrats on the brilliant new album! Can you tell us a bit about the writing and recording process, and how it feels to now have the album ready to be released?
Thank you! We’ve been sitting on the album for a while, so it’s exciting to read people’s take on it. It’s a pretty abrasive record, but I’m hopeful that people will like it. We started writing just as Denmark entered our first lockdown and recorded it in November 2020 at Jacob Bredahl’s studio Dead Rat – same place we recorded Deads in 2017. All of the physical music was recorded live during the span of a week, which is an eternity, compared to Deads which we banged out in three or four days.
What sort of themes are you exploring on Unmaker? Is there an overarching concept that binds the tracks together?
The overall theme is an exploration of power structures viewed from different perspectives and walks of life.
The press release mentions technology and “progress becoming regress” as an influence. Technology can obviously be brilliant in what it can achieve but it also has its downsides. What are your thoughts on how we use technology and where you see things heading in the future?
I benefit from technology daily and I can’t live without it. That said, it’s often without purpose as I spend a lot more time doomscrolling than I’d care to admit. It gives us information right when we need it, but some will also use that as a benefit to spread lies and misinformation. It is giving everyone a voice and a platform to express it, but I’m not so sure that it is in the best interest of humanity in general, haha! It makes us closer, but drives us further apart.
You’ve spoken before about lead-single ‘Interloper’ being about “feeling worthless. Forever doomed to sit with the kids at the dinner table, fed with scraps from banquets of kings.” This seems to reference the divide between those at the top and the rest of us. Is this sense of societal worthlessness an inspiration for the song (and album) at all?
The pandemic has shined a light on a divide so massive that I feel we just can’t ignore it anymore. While a great deal of us suffer the indignities of being a wage slave, the elite has dick measuring contests of who can colonise space first. It’s absurd. They just operate at a level so far from the average person’s grasp that It’s almost comical. It’s a huge inspiration for the album in general.
You’ve noted that you use field recordings a lot for the synths. Did you record these yourselves, and what do you think that process adds to the album? Does using real sounds that are then modulated help the album to feel connected to real life and the themes about technology etc that you’re trying to convey?
I wouldn’t say that there’s a connection with the lyrical themes of the record and our soundscapes as such – thinking about it, there is, but it’s more a happy accident than anything. Ketil [G. Sejersen, synths] and Rasmus [G. Sejersen, drums] take a lot of pride in sound design and they feel it would detract from the value of their work, if they just used a “sci-fi 29” soundpack. They recorded everything themselves and manipulated it to become the sounds you hear on Unmaker. We are massive nerds in short, haha!
A big aspect of your sound is the way the overwhelming metal and the more ambient synths combine to create a sense of scope that many reviewers have described as cinematic. This seems especially prevalent on Unmaker. Are cinematic scores an explicit influence for you?
Extremely! But we tend to gravitate towards different soundtracks and composers individually. I’m a huge John Carpenter and Vangelis fan, Ketil is really into Jóhann Jóhannsson – so much that it was a day of mourning when we found out about his unfortunate passing. Rasmus is really into Brad Fiedel and Jerry Goldsmith and so on.
Are there any soundtracks in particular that stand out as an influence?
Arrival, Alien and Terminator 2. Blade Runner as well.
Lots of sci-fi and apocalyptic films… those influences seem to come out in the dystopian feel of your sound. Given the state of the world, do you feel like music from dystopian films and video games almost feels more relatable now?
In cyberpunk fiction it’s often about the value of a human life in a world ruled by juggernaut conglomerates. The cyberpunk dystopia seems more feasible to me. I think we are closer to the “world ruled by conglomerates” aspect than ever, but the general response to the Covid pandemic has left some good will and hope in me. It feels that we actually had some value to us. But maybe that’s because they need people to man their factories. I don’t know.
We’ve also heard that game soundtracks are an influence, particularly Mick Gordon’s recent DOOM soundtracks. During those games’ action sequences the score is all about creating that sense of momentum, is that something you took inspiration from on Unmaker?
The work Mick did on DOOM (2016) and DOOM: Eternal is just brilliant. The way the games arrange the songs on the fly to the dynamic extremely chaotic action on screen is almost like a magic trick to a layman like me, haha. When we toured our album Deads we would listen to the 2016 soundtrack non-stop and it definitely made an impression on us. One thing is his absolute banging riffs, but dude is a beast at sound designing. He made us want to be better!
What differences do you see between game and cinema soundtracks and what can you take from gaming music that isn’t there so much in film music?
It’s hard to distinguish the two at times, but games has movie scores beat in my opinion. It needs to be more dynamic and fill vastly different roles, be it creating a sense of momentum like in DOOM or making you engaged in ways that movies just can’t replicate. All big composers should score a game some day I believe. We’d love to as well!
Unmaker is out 24th September on Pelagic. Order here.
Words: George Parr