Interview: The Lurking Fear
There are still a lot of good bands out there, but we felt like there’s a lot of focus on aggression and brutality. We wanted to bring back the nauseous, unnerving, unsettling, feverish style of early death metal, all the while moving forward and creating something new.
Wordsmith, frontman, artist of the fevered soul, Tomas ‘Tompa’ Lindberg is a household name and a seemingly everlasting force to be reckoned with in the world of extreme music. As a veteran and founding father to Sweden’s thriving and immensely impactful death metal scene, the man has spent the last three decades living and breathing heavy music: from crust punk and d-beat to old-school death metal and the now seminal Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, Tompa has become an inescapable figure whose distinctive growls still echo in today’s extreme music scene.
“We don’t like death metal. We LOVE death metal”, says the man onstage, an unquestionably earnest motto backed by his ongoing, passionate involvement in the scene. As the frontman of The Lurking Fear he now returns, alongside his longstanding punk and death metal comrades from Skitsystem, At the Gates, God Macabre and Disfear, determined to revive death metal’s estranged sense of dread and gruesomeness. “We wanted to capture what we think is the essence of death metal”, he explains over our Skype conversation. “There are still a lot of good bands out there, but we felt like there’s a lot of focus on aggression and brutality. We wanted to bring back the nauseous, unnerving, unsettling, feverish style of early death metal, all the while moving forward and creating something new”. In doing so, the lyricist reached into the depths of cosmic horror, borrowing influence from H.P. Lovecraft to fuse with his abstract writing style. “I always write for specific songs, trying to catch the essence and emotional impact of the music”.
This isn’t the first time Tomas, an avid reader, turned to literature to inspire his creative muse; the lyrics to the time-honored Slaughter of the Soul were partly based on Luke Rhinehart’s novel The Dice Man, whereas At War With Reality revolved around the works of South American magical realist authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Ernesto Sábato. “For this project, I had to go somewhere that would fit the pure death metal framework. I still used the same “technique” and inspirations that I used on the last At the Gates record – writing in a more avant-garde, magic realist style – though I eventually realized that I needed to add an extra layer to match the unnerving tone of the music. I always need to challenge myself lyrically, so I put myself in the prospect of putting all that I had written in the context of the Lovecraft-themed universe, to add an extra twist to it”.
Rather than mere retellings of Lovecraft’s tales, the stories and words to Out of the Voiceless Grave – the bands’ debut album – are all original creations, written and performed to fit the ambience and style of the cult-author. It is a record drenched in opaque shades of dreary ambiences, its horrific imaginings depicted through the band’s raw, bestial delivery drenched in pure Swedish death metal influences. Though the Lovecraftian influence originally came as a coincidence from having named the band after a Repulsion song (‘The Lurking Fear’ being the name of a Lovecraft short story), Tomas eventually adopted the authors’ influence, particularly his way of using language to portray a feeling. As I asked what first drew him to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, he was quick to re-emphasise on the tone and ambience of his work matching the album’s gruesome and dreary atmosphere. He also drew attention to the authors’ misanthropic nature, a trait that naturally meshed with his writing style. As with any project drawing upon the oeuvre of other artists, the task of incorporating influence all the while preserving one’s voice and style was a crucial preoccupation for the lyricist. “I wanted it to still be my lyrics, I didn’t want to drench my writing too much in someone else’s style. The hardest part was to find the balance between myself and this universe. I hope that people reading the lyrics will be able to pick up the supernatural ambience as well as the the fact that those are my words and writing style”.
As we moved on to discuss the records’ sound I point out the exemplary production work, handled by Per Stålberg and Olle Björk from Welfare Sounds Studios in Gothenburg, two producers mostly known in the alternative rock scene. “I’ve known the guys since the early 90s’”, Tomas explains. “They knew exactly what we were going for and they love death metal. When I told them about the project they were immediately on board and they were in on the discussion about the production pretty early on. It was a no-brainer decision really. They know their death metal, more so than a lot of producers I’ve worked with”.
The album does indeed know what it’s aiming for, pushing the record beyond the boundaries of tradition and modern standards to faithfully honour the heart and soul of death metal without resorting to artificialities. Distilling the genre’s sound back to its very essence, Out of the Voiceless Grave eschews technical tropes and offers a convincing, fresh update on the Swedish death metal sound, preserving its distinctive punk simplicity and grit. “We discussed a lot about project’s the direction and how we could make it fresh and interesting without going for the standard modern production nor the ‘old-school’ trope. We love death metal, but being ‘old school’ just for the sake of it doesn’t make sense to us. You might as well just listen to the old records, you know? We didn’t want the album to sound ‘old’ nor ‘slick’ and modern just for the sake of it. It was definitely a balance on the production side of things. As for the writing process, we also tried to focus on which parts of certain bands’ sounds that we wanted to bring forward and mix with other parts from other bands, figuring out which of those go well together. A band is never more than the sum of its influences. How original a band is comes down to how they make those influences work together to create something new rather than repeating something old. We were very conscious about that. We didn’t want to fall into the ‘old school’ trap”.
Sure enough, one glimpse into the punishing world of Out of the Voiceless Grave will suffice to convince listeners that pure death metal still has some bright years ahead with The Lurking Fear and likeminded acts, as does Tomas Lindberg, whose creative streak still appears as strong as ever, as subtly hinted by his teasing remark as we reached the end of our discussion: “If you interview me again after we release the new At the Gates record next year, I’ll give you some more book recommendations! I can’t talk too much about it now though. It’s still a work in progress”. We can hardly wait.