Any Colour as Long as It’s Black
a definition of the object of interest: Even though light—that great eradicating God Pan—is consistently absent from the Tiamat experience, my understanding of Tiamat’s oeuvre has never been very close to those huge freezer compartments some people compare them to. Nor has it had so much to do with catacombs and tombs. The music is far too lush for that.
Maybe I’m being fooled by the cavernous sound of latter-day Tiamat, but the images welcomed by their music form a multilingual play of flow(er)ing darkness and nifty escapades into the firmly ironic, (ir)religious and experimental. From Wildhoney onwards, there came the whispers growing into gigantic tornados. Edlund learnt to build his comfort area into a lucid form of dark rock, no longer seeing the need to, somewhat admirably, masquerade standard rawky chord progressions as (death) metal. This is Tiamat, and the ontological echoes of the music roar a life-size no-no to all the cold shoulders in the known cosmos.
It is a strange thing indeed how Tiamat have retained a place in the higher echelons of the metal living, eating and sleeping public despite the less flattering accolades they’ve earned from certain people.
In one issue of Terrorizer magazine (#99), ephemeral Qvadrivivm acquaintance Nick Moberly reviews the Moonspell/Tiamat show at London’s Mean Fiddler. In the review he expresses a wish through the form of condition, saying that he ‘will patiently tolerate the frankly irritating “Cold Seed” if the Swedes are going to whisk us back to Wildhoney’. It is understood that Moberly, a bright and clever lad always posted on what signals his opinions convey, might eat himself more into the pleasures of the 1994 album than the more recent works of the band. What he is insinuating, however, is a little disconcerting. Would it not be insular of Edlund’s troupe to keep on reiterating the same style and song from one album to another, never expanding their horizons and venturing stirring new territories, if even at the risk of failure? Elsewhere in the same Terrorizer issue, there is a two-page feature on the band. That treatment also shows how the position towards Tiamat can sometimes be quite aloof in the press (this time it’s the unknown entity Daniel Lukes complaining). Further, let’s remark what Kevin Stewart-Panko—also a Terrorizer scribe—said of Judas Christ in another publication: “Anyone wishing/wanting to take this piece of shit off my hands should be alerted that the brown stain down the middle really is a piece of shit.”
Of course, I realise not everyone and his kitten can mechanically fall in lascivious lust over the same music, the same bands and the same styles. Nonetheless, some people really must have it in for Tiamat, for the personnel in mainstream metal magazines rarely possess the courage needed to bring about this much dirt for a recognised artist on an ad space-buying label. Guess ‘the po-faced Euro-goth pomp’ of A Deeper Kind of Slumber and Skeleton Skeletron really did the tricks with alienating most of the ‘true metal heads’ from the Tiamat audience.
That’s more pen battling than necessary over a secondary matter, but it illustrates how Tiamat—in place of a quintessential lose-lose situation, as some think of it—have reached an affluent point in their career. Whereas their independence has attitudes resonating to and fro, the band stand atop it all, feeling indifferent about the brawls had below them, only paying heed to themselves as the overlords of their current and future musical direction.
(no) Change of plans
The above is the part written long before Prey arrived and made angles fracture and arguments distort. Which were then raped again by the slightly whimsical Amanethes.
It is rather interesting that despite the level of independence Tiamat have earned in their time, the musical development remained extremely modest for so long. No banks in flames, no fireworks, no trying flowers of fancy, no nothing. The musical transformations were kept so minute that for the first ten or so listens, the impression of total status quo alone made Prey a horribly dull sojourn. The marriage of heavy guitars, smooth dark-wave surfaces and psychedelic blanketing put forward on Judas Christ stayed perfectly intact on the subsequent work. The same speedometer-sparing mid-tempo rhythm construction cages the heart of the matter, the melodies have a slew of familiar elements in them, and Edlund’s voice, well, it is still recognisable, meaning that it has not changed one bit. Then came Amanethes with a couple of stylistic slips into the past, and some started to hallucinate about a new Wildhoney and Clouds era. Shock! Stop the press!
Seriously though: WTF? What are these concessions to tradition? Does anyone remember how Edlund declared on the closing track of Judas Christ how he’s “been through all of this a million times before”? What are the repercussions of this repeating (rep-eating)?
Even though the constituents of the Tiamat alleluia may have not changed abundantly on the exterior—where everything is fuelled by memorable and spacious melodies, catchy choruses and spotless arrangements—on the interior the rush may be a bit different, or a bit deeper at the very least. The soft-spoken and introverted-sounding Edlund confirms from his house in Dortmund, Germany that this indeed is the case.
The source which Edlund most draws from in his songs is the ever-inspiring hotbed of existential problems. It is his supposition that he is ‘just trying to find answers to questions that are impossible to answer’ and that’s the reason why he keeps on doing it over and over again.
“A couple of years ago I might have dreamt about getting gold records, selling millions of albums, getting rich, buying Ferraris and all that, but that was long ago,” he explains. “That is not a part of the band at all right now. I think that the only interesting thing in making music is the art aspect of it; to create. And that’s what I’m really interested in. I need to do it, and that’s why I do it. I mean, you need to have a strong urge to do things before you do them. Whatever happens with it, that I kind of lose interest in. I’m not really caring about it because I’ve made a lot of albums now and I’ve seen that we have been selling more and less, and more again, and less again, and that never affected the way I think about it. I wasn’t really a happier person when we made Wildhoney, which sold quite a lot of copies.
“We feel that we cannot compete with the bubblegum music business so we do what we do best and that is something that is a little bit deeper.”
The Same Guys, The Same Banners
The title of this story has the word ‘black’ in it, and it is there for a reason. 15 years ago the main man of a satanic black metal entourage called Treblinka, Johan Edlund has conserved many of the views that dictated the order of his day during the pre-Tiamat times. Think what you will of the content of that outlook, it’s refreshing to notice some things actually last in this degraded time and age.
“I tend to think that we’re still pretty much the same guys,” Edlund tells, thinking over the musical equations. “We never took distance from it ourselves. I mean, I very much enjoy our first album [1990’s Sumerian Cry, originally planned out to be the debut album of Treblinka], maybe more than the second or third one. The first album meant a lot for what the band wanted to do and I think we still have that somewhere in us. The music and a lot of things have changed but it’s different if you grew up and wanted to do something completely different and try to escape and maybe even lie about it or ignore the old records, which I don’t think we have done.”
What is Tiamat’s take on Satanism these days?
“Like always,” Edlund answers. “Since we started the band, we’ve always been closely related to the devil. I think the devil is a very strong symbol for mankind and a symbol that we accept as being this symbol.”
In which ways does it manifest itself in Tiamat?
“It makes me be able to write about both the good and evil. With both the music and lyrics, I think we’ve always had those very strong contrasts. We don’t leave out any of it, we write about our good side and our bad side. That makes it, I don’t know, more difficult.”
Lyric wise, it’s been said that Prey is a sexist and dualistic interpretation of The Old Testament. Please explain, Johan.
“When I’m asked to explain the lyrics of the whole album in a few sentences, I’m just afraid of saying things like that. It’s impossible, of course, to explain it in a few sentences. It has a lot to do with The Bible, my own interpretation of it. I guess what I want to write about is the things that The Bible is not answering. Within all that is there, there’s so many question marks left open. There are so many holes in the stories that I’m interested in. What dwells in those holes? The Bible is full of answers, but only answers to questions that I never asked. My own questions, they were never asked by the Bible. I’m thinking about it the way that there is something between the lines. Or if it’s really that bad as I might think it is.
“I’m interested in religions on a more superficial level as well, like the good and ancient stories… I guess it’s some influence for me, the stories from any religion that can be used as a nice metaphor in a song or something. Apart from that, what I seek in it I’m not so sure myself. I think I’m very insecure when it comes to belief. Somehow I wish that I would be living as a saint but when I see what I’m doing I feel more like a sinner. I don’t know how to feel about it.”
When measuring his attitude on the general keenness of running a band, Edlund says the enthusiasm is ‘different but still there’.
“I still like to make records, obviously. I mean, if I didn’t have a record company putting my records out I would still make them. Definitely. It’s an urge I have. I’m also happy that I was making records at a time when you were still making vinyls as the primary release.
“I haven’t grown up at all. I have been a musician my whole life. I haven’t been doing anything except recording music, going on tour and partying. My whole life has been a never-ending party in the music business. So you cannot grow up then, really. You can just have a look at other musicians who are twenty years older than me: did they grow up? If you’re in the music business, you will never grow.”
Asked to look back on the Tiamat history and their back catalogue of releases, the front man says the first thing that always enters his mind is that time passes very quickly—which, providing the overriding way of living, is perhaps not such a great disclosure.
“On all those promotional CDs Century Media sends you when we’re about to release an album, you always have the discography on the back of it. And I’m always surprised by it. It still feels like we started the band yesterday. I heard a band from Sweden who made a cover version of a song from our first album and when I heard the cover album, I didn’t even remember this song. “Did I write this?” It was so complicated I didn’t even remember the lyrics. I could’ve definitely not played it on the guitar.”