Sweden’s Vomitory has been crafting quality death metal since 1989. Their latest album, Opus Mortis VIII, is their most crushing and accomplished to date. How many bands can say they are more ferocious than ever twenty-plus years into their career? I spoke with drummer and founding member Tobias Gustafsson via e-mail about the making of Opus Mortis VIII and life in death metal.
THKD: Vomitory has been going since 1989. To what do you attribute the band’s longevity? How has your conception of what Vomitory is changed over the years? Has the band gotten the attention it deserves?
Tobias Gustafsson: Ever since we started the band back in 1989, we have never had any big ambitions or high expectations. And therefore we never got really disappointed or discouraged, I believe. We have done our thing our way at our own pace. There sure have been setbacks even for us, just like any other band, but in some way it has been rather easy for us to deal with the problems and then carry on. There were never any big egos in the way in the band either. We also never made our living out of the band, so we have avoided a lot of the “evil necessities” that comes with that. Our approach to this whole thing back in 1989, was to hang out and play death metal just because we love it. And that’s basically how it still is today.
We started out as a pure underground band and remained so for a number of years. Then we stepped things up a few notches when we got signed to Metal Blade Records. Our albums sold better, we got more exposure, got a lot better tours etc. During the last few years I think we have stepped things up even more. We have gained more recognition for our long and hard work and the fan base seem to grow constantly. During this development, we have become more professional in our approach to the band, the scene and the business. I guess you get the attention you deserve, but sure, we always want more and I honestly think that there are too many shit bands out there today that get way too much attention for their own good.
THKD: What inspired you to start the band? Do those same things still continue to inspire you today?
TG: It was our guitarist (also my older brother), Urban Gustafsson and Ronnie Olson (ex vocals) who started Vomitory in October 1989. I actually joined a few months later. The band was started because of the love for the brutal and extreme. Bands like Sodom, Slayer, Venom, Celtic Frost and Napalm Death were all reasons why we wanted to play brutal. I’d say that some of those bands are still to this day substantial influences to us. I guess you can figure out which ones haha…
THKD: When you started Vomitory back in ’89, did you ever imagine you’d still be doing the band in 2011? Why or why not?
TG: No, not in my wildest dreams. I sure thought that the band would be going for many years, but not for 22… Many of our fans aren’t even 22 years old! Damn, we’re old haha. When I was younger, and I’m sure this is quite common, I had an image of how my life would be when I was older. Say, 37 as I am now. I did see myself still playing drums but not in Vomitory. Not because I didn’t want it, but I thought that life would perhaps go in another direction, both musically and everyday life. But I’m really happy with how it turned out and I’m very proud of what we have achieved with Vomitory during all these years.
THKD: What is it about death metal as a genre that has compelled you to do it for 20+ years? Do you ever see yourself not playing death metal?
TG: I don’t know. Probably most importantly, we love playing brutal, intense and fast music. Maybe it’s the feeling of “this is our own music”. That feeling has always been very strong, especially during the very first years. The mainstream people still don’t know much, or anything at all, about death metal and I love that. Along with our growing recognition in the scene, we have of course got more encouraged to keep going. And it has been worth it.
THKD: Does it annoy you that all these new jack bands are coming out of the woodwork and aping the classic/traditional Swedish death metal style, while you’ve been consistently flying the flag for over two decades?
TG: Yes, it’s a bit annoying because it’s obvious where many of them get the inspiration from, but they don’t sound nearly as good as originals. They’re doing it so baaad! I don’t like that style of “death metal” at all. Rather the reverse. But I’m not thinking of it as if Vomitory has been overlooked because of those bands. We know what we’re doing and we’re doing it quite good, and I’m sure our fans see the difference between us and those new bands that are trying to be brutal.
THKD: What can you tell us about the new album, Opus Mortis VIII? What were the circumstances surrounding it’s creation?
TG: The circumstances were rather fucked up, to tell you the truth. The writing process kind of got stalled halfway through, due to private reasons, so we had to finish a lot of the material in the studio during the recording session. That is not something unique for a band, and certainly not Vomitory, but this time around it was ridiculous. Some time before the recording start, I also recorded the drums for the new album with The Project Hate MCMXCIX “Bleeding The New Apocalypse“ (which I realize now afterwards took too much focus from the preparations for Opus Mortis VIII) and I also underwent back surgery for a herniated disc last October. So we never really got the time to rehearse the songs that were finished properly. But in some unlikely way we managed to create one hell of an album, and not only that – it’s probably one of our best ever. Well in the studio we worked our asses off, and so did Leon Music Studios owner/producer/engineer Rikard Löfgren, who outdid himself once again. We played the song “Hate in a time of war” together for the first time just the other day, and that’s the truth!
THKD: When and where was the new album recorded? What was your mindset going into the sessions and what were you looking to accomplish that you might not have yet achieved with Vomitory’s previous seven albums?
TG: The album was recorded in November last year in Leon Music Studios outside Karlstad/Sweden together with owner Rikard Löfgren, and mixed and mastered in December. This is our third album we’re doing with him in his studio. My – and the band’s – mindset was obviously to get the album done at all, haha! But part from that little detail, we wanted to continue and develop mixing the speed and intensity with more groove, to get a more varied album. We did that on our previous album, Carnage Euphoria, but on the new one we worked more determined on that. Then there’s the usual – we always aim on making a better album than the previous one on all accounts; songs, riffs, lyrics, production, individual performances, artwork. So far I think we have managed to do so.
THKD: Unfortunatley, my digital promo of Opus Mortis VIII did not include lyrics. Can you tell us a little about the album’s lyrical themes?
TG: Even though Opus Mortis VIII is not a concept album, at least half of the lyrics are about war, which is quite common when it comes to us. The other lyrics are in the true Vomitory tradition: torture, death and gore. Brutal music calls for brutal lyrics and that’s what we do. We don’t have an agenda or message that we want to spread with our lyrics, but we do want to entertain with sick and brutal violence with our lyrics.
THKD: You recently shot your first ever music video for “Regorge in the Morgue”. What made you decide to a video after all these years and how did you choose this particular song? How would you describe the experience?
TG: We have wanted to make a proper video for many years, but we never really gave priority to it and we didn’t have the financial possibilities until now. We have always had other, more important things, to spend the little band money on. But now the time was right, and “Regorge in the Morgue” felt like the obvious song from the new album to make a video to. It has a “hit quality”, it’s short (2:32 min) and it was rather easy to come up with a cool idea for it. It was great fun shooting the video. The shooting took less than 12 hours and then the video guys spent a couple of weeks working on it. It was shot in an abandoned dairy factory, which was very fitting with all the white tiled walls and rough industry feel. I think the video turned out great.
TG: It’s made by the Polish artist Lukasz Jaszak. It was Peter (Östlund – lead guitar) who came up with the working title “Opus VIII” in the beginning, and after brainstorming we ended up naming the album “Opus Mortis VIII”. It was also Peter’s idea to have a string quartet of these wounded (or already dead?) soldiers, playing in the middle of a battle field where a full-blown war is going on behind them on the cover. They’re playing the Opus Mortis – the opus of death. Quite epic. I’m really happy with the artwork and it works so well with both the musical and the lyrical content of the album.
THKD: What else do you have planned for Vomitory in 2011 and beyond? Will you be touring in support of Opus Mortis VIII?
TG: We will do a few festivals in Europe during the summer and by the end of October until mid-November, we will do a European headlining tour. Dates and details will be announced soon.
THKD: If Vomitory could be a part of the ultimate death metal show, what other bands would be on the bill with you and why would you choose them?
TG: We have actually already played something very close to the ultimate death metal show. That was the No Mercy Festivals in Europe in 2004. Some of my favorite death metal bands ever were on the bill, Exhumed and Cannibal Corpse being two of them. But if I could make up a new dream line-up it would look somewhat like this: Cannibal Corpse would definitely have a spot on there, just because they’re a killer live band, great guys and they represent everything that is death metal. Exhumed because they are one of my absolute favorite bands ever and they’re great guys too. I’d pick Vader and Napalm Death because of the same reasons. And if I could go back 20 years in time, I would also include Entombed and Grave.
THKD: What are you listening to currently? Do you have any recommendations for THKD readers?
I am currently listening to the upcoming Exhumed album “All Guts No Glory”, which I absolutely love! To me, it’s the most anticipated release for the last five years! I’m also spinning “Mutter” with Rammstein, the 80’s albums with Rush and the very first albums with Motörhead. I command everyone to check out the new Exhumed album “All Guts No Glory”, which will be out soon. I also recommend the latest Unleashed album “As Yggdrasil Trembles”. Great Swedish death metal!
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
TG: I think you covered it all up pretty darn good here. Thanks for the chat! Check out our new album Opus Mortis VIII and stay away from jail and crappy music. Cheers!