Notes From The Underground: IN SOLITUDE
The definition of “Black Metal” is an often debated topic amongst metal fans worldwide. Is it defined by the music alone? Or does black metal transcend musical boundaries and need to be defined by its feeling instead?
Gottfrid Åhman, bassist for Sweden’s In Solitude, takes a pragmatic stance when it comes to defining his music, and black metal.
“We want to play dark music, and the easiest way to do that is to play ‘black metal,’ ” says Åhman. But the bassist isn’t content with simply strumming off a few minor chords to achieve his goal. “I think it’s too easy to do that,” he says. “I want to capture the dark feelings in a heavy metal context.”
Of course, “blackened” heavy metal is nothing new. Legendary Danish metal band Mercyful Fate kick-started this back in the early-Eighties. However, it is rarer for metal bands today to find this evil feeling in a “classic” style. Since the early-Nineties, black metal was transformed by a few Norwegian bands, such as Burzum and Darkthrone (who created black metal’s second wave), and in their wake hundreds of bands launched and played music with the same sinister feeling and in the same sonic parameters.
With their 2008 self-titled debut full-length (via High Roller Records), In Solitude—also featuring drummer Uno Bruniusson, singer (and Gottfrid’s brother) Pelle “Hornper” Åhman, guitarist Niklas Lindström and newly recruited guitarist (and Sonic Ritual frontman) Henrik Palm—have merged the old-school black metal energy with the spirit of true heavy metal.
In Solitude’s exploration of black metal results in haunting vocal and guitar melodies, epic song arrangements and an overall eeriness that grabs the listener by the throat, while they hail heavy metal’s forefathers—from Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath to Candlemass and King Diamond—through a myriad of epic riffs, stellar musicianship and driving, to-the-point grooves.
During MetalKult’s recent trip to Bergen’s Hole in the Sky festival, we caught up with Palm and Åhman (the latter was also performing at the festival with Swedish death metal masters Repugnant) to talk about their beginnings in Uppsala, Sweden, “dark” sonic aspirations and what the future has in store for them. —Henry Yuan
For those who might not be familiar with In Solitude, can you give a brief history of the band?
GOTTFRID ÅHMAN Me, Niklas [Lindström, guitar] and Uno [Bruniusson, drums] first began playing together around 2002. Then Pelle [Åhman, singer] joined the band about a year later. There’s not much that happened, really. We just changed a few guitar players and explored ways of writing music together. At one point, we all felt it was most natural to do what we do today.
Was there a specific moment that made you guys play the style which you do today?
ÅHMAN It’s hard to answer because we didn’t start a band and say, “Let’s play heavy metal.” We started playing together when we were, like, 12. We just said, let’s start a band and play together. We’ve always listened to [heavy metal] but when we formed the band, we were exploring different things to play. Our first song was a kind of punk rock song and our second song was this Iron Maiden-type song. Then we started doing more progressive stuff when we learned how to play, but we didn’t feel comfortable playing that stuff. After writing about 20 songs, it turned out that “The Seventh Ghost” and “Kathedral” [which are both featured in the band’s self-titled debut album] was the most natural for us. It felt good.
Henrik, you’re filling in for the recently departed guitarist Mattias Gustavsson. How’d you hook up with these guys? Is this a permanent thing? How’s it like working with the band so far?
HENRIK PALM Yeah, this is a permanent thing. I’ve already known Gottfrid because we were in kind of a grindcore band together. We both share similar views on music and especially how to write music, which is evident when we’re working on the new [In Solitude] songs. It’s easy because we think the same. The music basically writes itself.
Working with In Solitude has been perfect. I also play in Sonic Ritual, where I sing as well, but I’m not a singer—I’m a guitar player. It just feels natural to just play the guitar and not worry about singing. I’m able to explore my guitar playing a lot more now. Songwriting has been really great, especially with Gottfrid.
ÅHMAN When Mattias decided to leave the band, we were very shocked. About half an hour after he left at rehearsal, we just asked ourselves, what are we going to do? We were in a bit of a panic.
PALM I actually called Gottfrid that night to talk about some other things, like setting up a show with Sonic Ritual in Uppsala.
ÅHMAN And the first thing I said during the phone call was, our guitarist left the band.
PALM I just replied with, I can play guitar. That’s how it started. It was very easy, and very strange.
I’d like to focus on your hometown, Uppsala, for a moment. There seems to be a very strong connection between the bands from there, with many people playing in multiple bands. What makes the metal scene so strong there?
ÅHMAN I have thought a lot about this, actually. Uppsala is not a big city, but it’s not a small one, either. It’s a…mediocre city. [laughs] I think as teenagers, we just needed to do something. We needed something to do so we can get out and not be stuck in here forever. Don’t get me wrong: I love Uppsala. However, I just don’t want to live a normal life. You know, start a family and work a job…it’s depressing, really.
There’s also not much to do. We don’t get many shows and there aren’t any record stores left anymore. There are many bands, even though they are all small bands. We all play music. When it comes to bands like In Solitude, Degial, Invidious and Waster, we are people who take our music very seriously. I’m not saying that we are the absolute best bands in the world. We all want to be. I don’t know what it is, but I feel a strong and direct connection between our music and our city.
Your eponymous debut LP has been making the rounds in the heavy metal underground to much success [having since sold out twice, with a third repress in the works]. How do you feel about this?
ÅHMAN I don’t know. When it comes to a label like High Roller Records, they already have customers that will simply buy everything. I think any band on that label will have their records sold. I don’t know what to say, really. It’s the perfect label if you like music and it’s an easy way to get your name out there, you know?
I think people are liking what they are hearing. At least, there is a very…strong reaction. People don’t seem to see In Solitude as a mediocre metal band. There have been bad reactions, as well. Well…it’s just been good. [laughs]
What makes In Solitude stand out from the other heavy metal bands out there now? What makes your sound?
PALM Well for me, I think it’s the darkness. You don’t feel like you’re just listening to music.
ÅHMAN Yeah, I think we do things that other people don’t. For me, I like to put up some boundaries. Like, I want this be a heavy metal band. When I see a movie or a television series like Twin Peaks, which I’ve been obsessed with this year, I just want to capture that feeling by playing music like Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden. I want to use the heavy metal and rock music thinking with dark feelings.
Do you guys also spend the time to work on visuals, like stage visuals, to create a dark atmosphere when playing live?
PALM No. It just comes naturally. We never really talk about what we do on stage. We may talk about intros and things like that…
ÅHMAN Nothing is really planned. Nothing is rehearsed. We never plan what we do on stage. Pelle never plans what he will say in between songs.
PALM We did a gig in Denmark—which I thought sucked—that was indoors, but all of the doors were open so the daylight outside came in. Everyone who was there said it was great because there was still such a heavy darkness while we were playing. They felt the darkness. [laughs]
ÅHMAN So I guess we succeeded in what we want to do live. [laughs]
Around the time Earache Records released their Heavy Metal Killers compilation, there seemed to be a huge resurgence in the interest of old-school heavy metal. Why do you think this particular style of metal is “coming back,” so to speak?
ÅHMAN I do feel that people are getting more interested in classic heavy metal but when people talk about this new “wave” of Swedish bands, I can only think of, like, five bands.
PALM Five bands from Sweden isn’t much at all, and not all of the five are good, either. I don’t see us as being a part of a wave.
ÅHMAN I don’t have contacts in the USA, but I do talk to people in big places like Germany. I know that in Europe, classic heavy metal is growing bigger and bigger. It’s not just a fad. I know that this will still be popular in five years. At least some of the bands will still be.
PALM It’s like that. Some bands jump on the bandwagon and there will always be bands that are genuine.
You guys performed a new song, entitled “Demons,” at Germany’s Hell’s Pleasure Festival. Is a new album currently in the works? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
PALM When we rehearse, we talk about a lot of other stuff besides the music. Like, we talk about Italy very often—specifically Italian horror. There’s a new song that we wrote with an “Italian” feeling. We have another song that we’re working on that’s fairly long with an outro that has a Twin Peaks feeling.
ÅHMAN It actually starts out like a classic rock song.
PALM We mention the songs by the feelings because that’s what we want to achieve and put in a heavy metal context. I just like how the new songs are kind of straightforward heavy metal, but there are parts where it just sounds…
PALM Yeah, exactly. Twisted and wicked. “Demons” is a good song that explains what we’re trying to do.
ÅHMAN And when it comes to song structures and melodies, the album will be very varied, though the songs will be together in a single line. But yeah, “Demons” is a good idea of what the album will sound like.
What’s in store for In Solitude in the near future?
PALM We are recording the new album in November with Fred Estby, who is the former drummer of Dismember.
ÅHMAN The album will hopefully come out in March. Then after that, we just want to get out and play as much as possible. We have a tour in the spring and festivals in the summer. We’re not thinking ahead of more than one year. Hopefully there will be another tour in the autumn.
PALM Our goal is to just tour all the time.