APOCALYPSE ORCHESTRA INTERVIEW + THE END IS NIGH
1ST ANNIVERSARY RETRO ALBUM REVIEW by John Paul Romero
If you are already a fan of doom metal and doom metal bands like Black Sabbath, Candlemass and Black Label Society, and want something new, Apocalypse Orchestra might be the right one for you. They debuted their first album May 10, 2017, titled “The End is Nigh”. Generally, their metal is a combination of doom and folk. One of their members, Mikael Lindström plays the folk instruments that first came into existence some hundreds of years ago. We had an interview with him which is available below.
J: Hi Mikael, greetings from Philippines and in behalf of Metalheads Forever Magazine!How’s the day going?
M: Hello Pau! Everything is great here! Sweden had one of the harshest winters in a long time but now we’ve had summerlike weather for two weeks, scorching sun and everything is green. The band have had some vacation but in a few days we will start rehearsals for the summer shows.
J: First of all, I’d like to ask you to introduce the band and your members to our readers. Not a lot of them know about you yet!
M: We are Apocalypse Orchestra from Sweden and we play medieval metal (or folk metal or doom metal).
- Erik Larsson – Guitars and vocals
- Rikard Jansson – Bass, growls and choir
- Andreas Skoglund – Drums & Percussion
- Jonas Lindh – Guitars, growls and choir
- Mikael Lindström – Hurdy Gurdy, bagpipes, growls and choir.
*Photo: Therés Stephansdotter Björk
J: I discovered you guys via a youtube suggestion back in mid 2017, and that song was Garden of Earthly Delights. I clicked it for a shallow reason – the title is so catchy. But upon hearing it, I was really surprised. Never have I heard anything like that before, a combination of folk and doom metal with a medieval theme. Now I want to ask, who came up to this idea of mixing all this concepts together? How, and why? Is it a bit experimental at first?
M: I’ll start with some history. Me, Erik and Andreas played together in a band called Slingerbult, it was a medieval/folk rock band. We had some success but for different reasons it crashed and burned. Suddenly we we’re between bands (except for Andreas who did some stoner rock drumming in Brigada Illuminada, check them out!).
I knew I had to keep playing, and that it had to be something medieval inspired. I figured that it was time for a more metal approach than before and started thinking about what kind of metal that would blend well with the medieval melodies and themes. I pictured dark, heavy, kind of droning music and doom metal came to mind.
Then I told Erik about the idea and he said “Hell yeah!”.
We kind of had our sound from day one. We knew we wanted medieval/folk instruments, electric guitars, bass, drums, organs and mellotrons, choirs and clean main vocals all wrapped up in a crisp and clear production where you should be able to hear all the nuances.
One of the first songs we wrote is Flagellants’ Song which can be found on the album. We spent a few months writing, letting things unfold slowly and without stressing anything.
Then all of sudden our local newspaper announced that they were going to have a competition where first prize was to play two of your songs together with a symphonic orchestra. We applied and were voted to play in the final. Since it was only me and Erik at the time we had to recruit new musicians but that wasn’t hard because we knew who we wanted and they all said yes.
The said final was our first gig, and the one with the orchestra was the second. An amazing start for such a young band!
J: One of the elements of folk metal that amazes me is the vast numbers of instruments used, plus the fact that some of those instruments existed several ages before metal was born. You personally, as the player of these Elvish looking old instruments, which music have you gotten to first – metal or folk?
M: I started listening to metal a few years before I discovered folk and medieval music. I actually remember the day when it happened. Swedish national radio played the song “Gamen” by Swedish folk rock group Garmarna and I was immediately hooked. And it was through the same band I discovered the hurdy gurdy.
J: I was about to mention that instrument. It looks pretty complex, and until now I’m really puzzled about how it works. Mind if you briefly explain us how the hurdy gurdy works?
M: Yes, it is a bit different from other instruments. The way it works is that a hand cranked rosined wheel rubs against the strings making a continuous sound. It is also a drone instrument, meaning that several strings sound at once, two strings make the melody while others (called drone strings) have the same note all the time much like a bagpipe. As if that wasn’t enough there are so called trompette strings which you can use to make a rhythmic buzzing sound.
There are many different models, the one I play is made by the Austrian Luthier Wolfgang Weichselbaumer and it has a total of 21 strings.
*Photo by Stephansdotter Photography
J: I really love how this instrument sounds. Even more amazing that you actually play it with metal! But what about you songwriting process on your debut album, can you tell us about it?
M: Our song writing process can start in different ways. Usually it is a riff or a melody that comes first but I remember when we started writing Here be monsters it was the actual phrase that I had in my head that started it. We record a lot of parts then we work with them in the computer and try to find the right shape and arrangement. Many of our songs was on version 10 before we were satisfied.
J: Follow up: It’s really evident that your main theme and inspiration was the medieval era. I too like history, specially the middle ages. I’m also sure that we both know that the middle ages is not just a brilliant phase in our history, but it also has a very very dark, animalistic story of violence to mankind. Which of those two faces of the Middle Ages caught your attention more? And which of the two would you like to reflect more on your music?
M: When it comes to the themes it is a balance between the two you mention. There’s much darkness but also enlightenment. We’re trying to stay away from “typical” metal lyrics about the glory of battle and things like that. It was a harsh period to be alive for sure. At the same time we enjoy to shine a light on the positive parts as well, for example art and science.
J: I’m wondering who particularly wrote the lyrics of The Great Mortality, specially the line “Heavenly Decree, Holocaust Divine /Anno Domini, 1349” as it boldly expressed this phase in our history that is heavily stained with cruelty and that is very rarely mentioned at schools and mainstream history books.
M: I wrote most of that text, but I always have to channel it through the rest of the band to see if it is singable. My lyrics have a tendency to be word heavy and I often have to trim them down to suit the song.
We usually don’t want to go to deep into detail trying to explain our lyrics since we really love it when the listener comes up with her own interpretation of it. We like to be ambiguous.
J: More than a week ago, The End Is Nigh celebrated it’s first “birthday”. How does that feel?
M: It feels great, it’s been a good year and it has been recieved very well and gotten loads of positive reviews. We were extremely satisfied with it when we released it and still are.
J: Now that it’s been a year since the debut album was released, when will you go back to the studio and record new stuff?
M: Since we have our own studio we continuously spend time there recording ideas, so we’re working on it. There are embryos for new songs but it is a slow process.
Right now we’ve been working on some new merchandise and soon we will start the rehearsal for this summer’s shows. We will play at Gefle Metal Festival and since that is in our home town we’re planning for something extra for the show. So much to do, so little time!
J: The End is Nigh is an excellent start for sure, but there is this so called curse of “sophomore slump”. Having said that you are continuously spending time in your own studio, how do you make sure you will avoid this curse?
M: It’s impossible to make sure. The only standard we measure our music by is our own tastes. The only thing we can promise is that we will not release anything that we’re unhappy with but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like it. Some people might complain that it is too similar to the first one while others [might] complain about the lack of progression.
J: What about your plans for the rest of the year?
M: We have a few shows booked, in June we will play at Kilkim Zaibu in Lithuania and in the fall we will do some shows in Germany and Sweden.
The writing for the next album will continue and we’re finally going to have a place where you will be able to find our merchandise, other than that it is business as usual 🙂
J: Almost up! Any message to our readers? Promote your work!
M: Thank you for your interview! We’re looking forward to seeing all of you at a show in the future, cheers from Apocalypse Orchestra!
J: Alright! Thanks again Mikael for taking this interview. See you on the road soon!
M: My pleasure! Thank you!
APOCALYPSE ORCHESTRA TOUR (PARTIAL LIST)
- Kilkim Zaibu (28-30 June, Lithuania)
- Gefle Metal Festival (13-14 July, Sweden)
- Autumn Moon Festival 2018 (12 – 14 October, Germany)
APOCALYPSE ORCHESTRA – THE END IS NIGH ALBUM REVIEW
TEARING IT DOWN TRACK BY TRACK
Album: The End Is Nigh
Label: Despotz Records
Genre: Folk Doom Metal
Release Date: May 12, 2017
*Photo Courtesy of Apocalypse Orchestra
- The Garden of Earthly Delights – This opener for the album has a heavy, atmospheric entrance with bagpipe accompaniment. And then comes the controlled but powerful drums, catchy low riffs which will give you the classic stoner vibe. The vocals is also perfect for the mood of the music. Favorite line from the song: “Claims to love them all, his world below/Minding not their fall, a mirthful show.”
- Pyre – Dark horror-like start with the exact same slow and ultra-heavy tune. This track somewhat reminds me of Black Sabbath’s first title track. The timing is perfect for the entrance of the folk instruments that sound just like how doom is supposed to be. This song now features occasional guttural vocals. Excellent dark riffs! “I will see you die!” – This song is a statement that Apocalypse Orchestra can be scary at times.
- Flagellant’s Song – The beginning has a sound of a church choir that will start you thinking what would come next. Here comes the bass of doom! The atmosphere gives you an instant, free trip back to the 12th-13th century, as it is really heavy and gloomy. The singing lets you know what the sound of dying hope is like. Truly an orchestra of the apocalypse! Despite of that title, the calmness of the song is mind soothing. I would listen to this song whenever I find myself walking alone in the dark. “Raise your whip and flay your flesh, join our congregation / true believers come with us, in corporeal damnation” –can’t get out of it. And oh, that hurdy gurdy dominating right in the bridge, that solo is so perfect. Love it.
- Exhale – The intro will make you feel like watching a battalion of knights prepare for battle. This one is another trip back through time, and in my personal opinion is actually perfect for classical music loving metalheads. Lyrics tackling life – and how it fades with time. That one topic about life that is very seldomly talked about. It also has the first double bass drum blast I heard in the album, a perfect background music for the judgement day. Longest, best outro I heard for a while.
- Theatre of War – The song will give you a campfire vibe and will show you an image of medieval people having a meeting in an open field with their usual torches and farming tools. The sudden changes of pace makes the music experience even more thrilling.
- The Great Mortality – This next track has the wholeness in heavy doom riffs, folk riffs that sound like crafted several centuries ago, lyrics that tackle the middle ages, perfect voice of doom, and the return of the double bass drums. The lyrics, particularly “Heavenly decree, holocaust divine / anno domini, 1349” is a very notable line as it straightforwardly talked about this dark and cruel phase in our history. (Ask your history nerd friends). The length of the track, the gloomy atmosphere, the flawless transition from slow tempo to mid tempo and back to slow tempo. – The Epitome of what Apocalypse Orchestra is all about.
- To Embark (instrumental) – Surprisingly the shortest track of the album. The end is nigh indeed! Acoustic notes excellently plotted to make a dark, heavy atmosphere. Reminds me of another medieval church tune actually.
- Here Be Monsters – A perfect ending for an album that was started by an excellent Garden of Earthly Delights. Aggressive but controlled right in the get go. Features scary death growls that seemed to have been unleashed from down below. The album is entirely slow-heavy, but this one is the heaviest. Remember that sinister recital in Slayer’s Mandatory Suicide? This song also has that, but with its uniquely horrifying way, in a medieval folk-doom version. A perfect closing to the album.
Overall, the sound the album had was a fascinating combination of classic doom metal and folk music. This combo is perfectly fit for their medieval theme as it gives you the dark vibe of that era plus the music they actually had during that times. The song are very lengthy, but they did just enough to keep the attention of the listeners. However, there are times that the instrumentals become so long but with repeating tunes. That would easily cause a listener who is new to doom to get bored and hit “next”.
Also, this kind of metal is the metal you can actually introduce to your grandma. It is generally heavy, but calm – except for the occasional death growls that are really perfect addition to the mood of the songs.
The crafting of the riffs of the folk instruments is amazing. It seems like they travelled back to the 1200’s and fetched a musician to compose for them. Consistent heaviness in the riffs is also one of the notable elements they possess. The drums also had a great job of keeping the controlled aggression to match the mood of the songs. And the vocals? Can’t be any better, the voice is simply what the band needed to get that kind of vibe and atmosphere they have.
My top favorites are:
- The Garden of Earthly Delights
- The Great Mortality
- Flagellant’s Song
My Rating for the album “The End is Nigh”
- Originality – 10/10
- Creativity – 10/10
- Musicality – 9/10
- Attention Magnet – 8/10
- Talent – 9/10
- Lyrics – 9/10
Summing up, the album gets a 9/10 rating from me. The songs as a whole gave justice to the title of the album – The End is Nigh!
MHF Magazine/John Paul Romero