Interview: The Lurking Fear
The influences we’ve had when we did these songs were actually American bands from the eighties. People talk about the buzzsaw sound and think we use HM2s, but we don’t! (laughs) It’s weird that you get pigeonholed in the whole old-school Swedish death metal sound because you’re a Swedish band.
Re-emerging from a four year slumber, Sweden’s The Lurking Fear have graced the tail end of 2021 with a ravenous new set of tracks compiled under the tell-all title Death, Madness, Horror, Decay. Comprised of three members from At the Gates and two members of Skitsystem, the chimerical death metal juggernaut display absolute mastery of a craft all too easily stifled by conventions and tradition. Death, Madness, Horror, Decay simply does what others hope to recreate, and sounds as fresh as the genre has ever sounded.
A few weeks before the Holiday season left our website some well-needed rest, Robin Ono caught up with guitarist Jonas Stålhammar (The Lurking Fear / At the Gates / Bombs of Hades / The Venus Principle) to discuss the gruesome new record.
E&D: Death, Madness, Horror, Decay comes four years after the first Lurking Fear record. How would you describe the process of writing and recording an album at such a particular time?
Jonas: I think it’s actually been a positive thing, maybe the only positive thing to have come out of the pandemic for me. It gave me time to be creative instead of rushing things. How we wrote this record is completely different from the first one. I think that’s why I think it’s a much better album.
The biggest difference on this album was the collaborative process in the songwriting, either between me and Fred or between Fred and Andreas. When I start writing, I go pretty fast and I get caught up in the arrangements of my own songs. I usually have a full vision of the song when I start writing it.
We didn’t really ‘practice’ for the first album either, but the debut was done really fast. We were really excited when we formed the band and everyone was shoving out ideas left and right. On this record, we took a bit more time with each song. We wrote in sessions, two or three songs at a time. We had all of the songs right away and focused on the whole album at once. In hindsight, I don’t think it was a good idea, it would have been better to step back a bit more. I think you can hear the difference. It’s a much more cohesive album this time around.
E&D: I understand the album was recorded around the same time as two other albums of yours. How did this play into the final result of each of these records?
Jonas: They were kind of done back-to-back: first there was the At the Gates album, then I worked on the first Venus Principle album and finally The Lurking Fear. As soon as one was done, the other started. This was in a timeframe of six months, I believe.
They’re three very different projects, even though At the Gates and The Lurking Fear are technically in the same genre. I actually think that the At the Gates album is closer to the Venus Principle record than The Lurking Fear (laughs). It’s the progressive edge that draws it closer to the Venus Principle, which isn’t death metal at all. All albums have been really amazing to work on. It’s been really satisfying.
E&D: From a personal perspective did you have any set ideas or goals concerning the album as you started shaping it together?
Jonas: Not initially, but after we wrote a few songs the whole idea of the album started to gel a lot more. From the beginning we did feel like we wanted it to be different from the first album. Some of the songs on the first album had too many riffs in them (laughs). We cut out some layers to make things simpler whilst making sure it didn’t’ come at the expense of the feel.
E&D: I heard from an earlier interview of yours that you were “tired of writing old school Swedish death metal songs” as it’s been done to death. As a Swedish musician in the death metal scene, do you ever feel a form of pressure or expectations to conform, to stay true to this “format”?
Jonas: I don’t really feel any pressure because I don’t really feel like I’ve ever really been a part of that scene, except maybe from having the crust punk thing in there. I’ve always been more influenced by American bands than Swedish bands. Of course I love Entombed and Nihilist, Grave, Dismember, Carnage and stuff like that and parts of their music have been influencing me, but I’m more influenced by other kinds of music when I make death metal, to be honest. People are calling The Lurking Fear old-school Swedish death metal, which I don’t really see it as, at all. It’s sort of a stigma. The influences we’ve had when we did these songs were actually American bands from the eighties. People talk about the buzzsaw sound and think we use HM2s, but we don’t! (laughs) It’s weird that you get pigeonholed in the whole old-school Swedish death metal sound because you’re a Swedish band. It’s the same with other bands that I play in and have played in. I’ve never really wanted to sound that way. There are bands that do, and there’s nothing wrong with that, none of us really want to do that.
E&D: I’m guessing this must weigh more heavily on At the Gates, which is attributed to having put Swedish death metal on the map, amongst others in the Gothenburg and Stockholm scene.
Jonas: Actually, those two scenes are pretty different. In the beginning they had similarities but they drifted apart after a year or two. The Gothenburg bands were a bit more pretentious than the Stockholm bands. I liked both scenes. I like pretentious music (laugh) but I also like the really simple no-brainer kind of stuff. I think I’m somewhere in the middle of that as well. It goes for all of us, really.
E&D: Going back to an earlier topic you touched upon, what can you tell us about the choice of gear for this record? This new album sounds very different from the first one, tone-wise.
Jonas: Yes, that’s also because we were tuned in D Standard on the first record. On this one, we’re in B Standard, so it’s downtuned quite a lot. To be honest, I kind of decided that we tune to D Standard on the first album, because that’s mainly what I’ve used over the years when I play death metal. After playing for a few years in B Standard with At the Gates, I suggested we try writing the new Lurking Fear album in the same tuning. It sounds different just doing that. We didn’t really experiment that much with amps and pedals on this album. There’s not many pedals at all, actually. Most of the gain and distortion came through the amps. We used one Marshall head and one Orange head I believe. I don’t quite remember (laugh).
E&D: You and Tomas go as far back as 1988, during the tape trading era. How do you feel your musical tastes have evolved throughout these past few decades with regards to one another?
Jonas: Both me and Tomas have always listened to a lot of different kinds of music other than death metal. Even as teenagers, we were talking about either progressive rock like King Crimson and Yes or stuff like The Cure, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and Swans. We’ve always had very eclectic tastes in music. I never called myself a metalhead, because I’m not. I don’t define my personality or music tastes that way. I still love it, but there’s so much more music that I love. Just because you play in a metal band, I can get a bit pissed off about that at times. I like old heavy metal music more, actually. Me and Tomas can disagree on a lot of stuff too, though, especially on the tour bus. We have discussions about music.
E&D: How did working in a record store influence your relationship with music? How has it affected you as a listener and a player?
Jonas: I was a record collector since I was very young. My biggest dream wasn’t really being any kind of big ‘rockstar’ but to work in a record store. In the town that I grew up in there were three record stores and one guy owned two of them, so there were really only two. I wasn’t able to get a job there because they didn’t hire people, so I opened my own store when I was 23. I had really weird records and rarities. You don’t really make money off of that in a calm town with people who want to buy ‘calmer’ records. I just ran it for a year and a half before having to close it down. I wasn’t able to make any money off of it at all.
If I opened that store today, it would be a completely different thing. There are a lot more people collecting records now than there were 30 years ago.
E&D: Are there any particular record stores visits that stuck with you after touring around the globe?
Jonas: There are a few. I know people tend to talk about Amoeba, but I think that place is like McDonalds for a record collector. There isn’t much collectible stuff in there. It’s great if you want to buy the average Jackson Brown or Springsteen album. They have twenty copies of every record so it looks like they have a lot of records. I actually prefer the one in San Francisco but even in SF I prefer Rasputin over Amoeba. My favourite store in LA is Rockaway Records. I always go there and I always find stuff. Last time I was there, Scott Carlson from Repulsion took me around to see a few stores I haven’t been to before.
That’s one of the things we always do with At the Gates. Me, Martin and Tomas like to go buy records. Every town we’re in, we always look up if there are any cool stores.
E&D: How did the guest feature with Christ Reifert come about and how was it working with him on ‘Kaleidoscopic Mutations’?
Jonas: I’ve known Chris just as long as I’ve known Tomas through acquiring the first Autopsy record straight from Chris in the 80s. Fred wrote the song and had the idea of having Chris Reifert singing on it, so I just sent him a text to ask if he’d be up to record some vocals for the song. He answered back in five minutes to say he was down. He’s the nicest guy. It was the first time we worked on something together after all these years.
I think Chris is the same as us. He has the same references and likes the same stuff we do. I had no idea that it was going to be great. I think it turned out better than we expected. His vocals are still amazing, 34 years since his first demo.
E&D: Closing off with the final quickfire round question, can you name your favourite Lovecraft story and one of your favourite albums, movies and books?
Jonas: I think At the Mountains of Madness is my favourite Lovecraft story.
My absolute favourite band is a Norwegian band called Motorpsycho. Their album The All is One is a masterpiece. They’ve been going on since 1989 and they still manage to release records that top their masterpieces from the nineties. They’re a very unique, one of a kind band.
For movies, I always seem to go back to Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson. That’s one of my favorite movies.
For books, I’ll have to go with the Books of Blood by Clive Barker. The whole series.