Since I am just collecting material for the book which will be based on fantasy influences in heavy metal genre, one of the obvious moments was to do one investigation in the field of black metal. Fantasy stuff has played quite a role when it comes to black metal style (lyrical and visual) and one of the most important persons in the very beginnings was Mortiis. He is well-known by his mask, but also by his music which was more based on dark ambient dungeon tunes. However, during 90s he was very active and later he has become even quite popular especially with his 5th full-length Stargate (1999).
Well, since I had done only one interview with you, and it was about 10 years ago, I would like to ask the other questions. There was a break when you have started a new career with all those turning points where you had a regular band…it was a big change and Mortiis has become a bigger name. So, could you tell us something about this change and the album The Smell of Rain which at that time went pretty good actually?
It was before my big break when I sort of wanted to get away from everything. It was quite good, it was the second album on Earache Records. They were very cheap, they don’t give orders or anything. There was a artist-label relationship and not just contracts and stuff where I just stood in the background. It could have all been much better still. Looking back I got a lot of attention, which was really cool. I wish I had that attention now. Those were the golden days (laugh).
Yeah there were many interviews in major magazines at the time.
Yeah, I kind of did 5, 6, 7 interviews a day for a several weeks, you know. It was crazy. But that was cool. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I was pissed of on our label because I thought that they’ve done something wrong, but know that I look back I wish I was that busy doing PR now. That would have meant a whole lot to my career now. But that’s how it was and this is how it is now. It was a cool album. It really separated the 90s from anything else musically and everything.
You have done one video before but at that time you really started doing those short videos, but could you tell us something when it comes to Parasite God because there is a background story if I’m not wrong, some happenings… Where was it filmed actually at the time?
I’m not quite sure what you mean about background but there was some history to it. What I wanted to do is, I wanted to have a photo-shoot. I had the idea for the artwork. The Mortiis character in the desert, it kind of had that symbolic metaphore and contrast according to the title The Smell of Rain. I said, that’s it, we should go to Death Valley and record it, but, you know, labels were allergic to spending money. They said that we were one of the top bands, well if that’s true then spend some money on marketing and the product, make sure it’s good. „No, we don’t want to spend any money…“ Od course we got it, but they made me pay for it from the sales later on. Everything you do you have to pay for it. That’s the deal with the record labels. I’m sure the other bands have told you the same thing.
Yes, even some big names.
And, we did it. We went out for 2-3 days. It was insane, the warmest place on the planet, about 52 degrees celsius in the shade. That’s probably the most expensive video I’ve done, even though my recent stuff looks more expensive and professional. It was about 16 years ago. Now you can get it all way cheaper, like, better cameras for less money and so on. And the label was arguing with us all along. Then the video was shown on the UK television and we started getting sales from the UK and the label got quiet. They stopped complaining because the records were selling much better after that. After that, they’ve started doing videos for all the other bands.
In that time, about 2000-2001, black metal was more popular, and Mortiis was a part of it all in one way or another. For many bands that was the breaking point at the time. Not just Cradle of Filth and Emperor that were breaking into the major magazines…
Yeah, it was a little after the grunge scene was on. I remember at the time I brought a record, I was in Metal Hammer for 18 months in a row or something. It actually made me a writter, I called the Metal Hammer, answering the letters. I think that was all happening for 6, 7 or 8 months. So, there was a lot of attention going in the UK. Good times, but I wish my record label was a bit better back then.
And why did the breaking point happened, you know, from Stargate to The Smell of Rain and the whole change of style?
It was all kind of lost in the fog of time. I remember back in the days I had some sort of depression problems. After the Stargate it sort of manifested itself. For some reason I started disliking everything that I’ve done musically. I just sat down and looked at everything I’ve done and thought that everything was awful and I thought I was a talentless idiot for some reason. I guess it’s what depression does, it just takes away all your self-esteem. The second half of 90s I was into stuff like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, even stuff like Enigma, which is much more quiet and calm than Ministry would be. I really like contrasts, you know. And the 80s stuff like Iron Maiden and Kiss felt much more natural to me. They had a fronman who did all the singing and rocking stuff. And I wanted to do that, but also wanted to do the late 90s kind of stuff. That was my main inspiration at the time, and also some gothic stuff as well, like Sisters of Mercy. So I started making the music I knew nothing about and I didn’t even knew how to program it. Back in the days I was playing keyboards, there was no programming, no sequencers, no midi. I just sat down and started, and suddenly that breaking point happened. It is how it is, and every time I’d hear it I’d be surprised how good it was. Great melodies, great songs. Kind of like a life saver.
The first question is about the album Stargate. In a way it was your strongest record when it comes to your ambient stuff. It was very successful album at the time. It was ambient but it also had a lot of dynamic stuff. Could you tell us something more about the inspiration for the Stargate, the recording stuff and there was also a background story in the booklet?
Mortiis at the time got inspired by more kind of epic soundtrack kind of style. A few years before I became a huge fan of Conan the Barbarian and the movie was driven by that huge sounding soundtrack. It really inspired me back then, especially on the Crypt of the Wizard album. But on the Stargate I took it a couple of steps further. I wanted to put some vocals and choirs on it. Sarah was also a part of that record and I did some backing vocals on my own. There were also some acoustic guitars on top of it, which I’ve never done before with Mortiis. Back in those days, every Mortiis record was a bit of a snapshot of the parallel universe or the fantasy world I’ve created.
Yes, I would also like to ask you about that…
It’s pretty much Tolkinish, dragonlands, but much darker. Since I came from the black metal period my mind was kind of twisted. Much more evil. That was kind of a universe of Mortiis. And one concept that I’ve had was called Stargate and it was a piece of a lyric in a way, written back in 1992. Stargate sort of represents portals to another worlds, which is very cool. I don’t know how they work but I’ve had an idea of using those magical places. And suddenly the movie called Stargate was out somewhere in 1996 or 1997, and I was like, man, I was about to record an album called Stargate. So, I watched the movie, and the concept was kind of a same, except it was cheesy. I thought about that, having the same name of a record like a Hollywood movie, but I didn’t care, I just released it and I’m glad I did.
How did you get into making more fantasy stuff? When it comes to early black metal, fantasy was really popular among black metal scene, especially Tolkien. Could you tell us something about that and your Troll mask you were wearing, which was at the time very original?
I was about 4 or 5 years old when I discovered KISS and, watching Paul Stanley and other guys making all the huge shows it was unbelievable. I kind of got into bands with the biggest and the loudest image, I was a big fan of KISS, Alice Cooper and stuff like that. Of course, I also like Pink Floyd, but they were just guys in jeans, and I was really passionate about bands like the old KISS, Alice Cooper, WASP….then I added my death metal, thrash metal, black metal periods, and all of a sudden we were all kind of getting into black metal. That was a really extreme period. Back then I was into Tolkien, and the only guy I knew who was into Tolkien as well was Euronymous from Mayhem. For all the other guys It came a little bit later. I knew that I wanted to make keyboard based dark kind of music based on the texts that I’ve written back then and create kind of Tolkien inspired universe. I knew that immediately but it took some time to develop the idea and take it even further. And I wanted to create a mask that was inspired by both black metal and Tolkien fantasy.
As a matter of fact you have also written a several lyrics for a few Emperor records at the time?
I did almost all of the lyrics for Emperor before I left. And the two of the lyrics that were directly to that whole universe were I am the Black Wizards’ and Cosmic Keys to my Creations and Times. They were also written in summer 1992 and, there were also maybe 10 others that would fit into that but they were never released.
And how do you feel since these songs have became legendary, not just when it comes to black metal but to metal generally. So, how do you feel since you have written the lyrics for these songs?
To be honest I don’t really feel anything about it, I mean, they are good friends of mine, and they’re like, split 50 times and reformed 50 times, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I just had an impression that, at that point they were not playing and then, six months later they were playing festivals. I mean, he’s probably like me, he’s getting the big offers to play at festivals.
Could you tell us something about the period about 1994, 1995 and 1996. At that period you have created an interesting video, about 30 minutes long if I’m correct?
Yeah, that was recorded somewhere outside the Gothenburg, Sweeden. It’s filmed inside of, some sort of fortress. Also at the time I’ve started to do one man shows and I was going out a few times a year with a lot of other cool bands, and we were doing some shows around Europe. And I wanted to have that video thing going on. It was filmed about 4-5 hours. I think the makeup took even longer. As for the other records, the way that they were recorded was really primitive. I wrote down all the sounds I was going to use, since I didn’t have all the sequencers and stuff. Even some older longer songs, they were all recorded in one take, there were no programming. It was quite tricky. Just me and the engineer sitting there for days and recording that stuff. I didn’t really had a clue what I was doing, back then, I knew very little about the music technology, EQing, reverbs, panning…all I did was just volume. That was it. But it turned out very cool.
Yes, because of that advantages at the time particular, some things were just different in a way, you could get more atmosphere, if you get what I mean…
Yeah, it was Punkish kind of attitude. You just record it and that’s it. And we’re done. But you couldn’t feel the essence and the spirit of the recording if you over-analyzed it and spent too much time fixing it. So I just recorded the album and released it the way it was recorded.
- Interview by Marko Miranovic, April 2017