Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Avatar Country anymore. Indeed, the Swedish metal juggernaut's freshly unleashed new song, "Silence in the Age of Apes," and their forthcoming album, Hunter Gatherer, mark a sharp left turn away from the comedic vibe of their last full-length, the concept record Avatar Country. "Silence in the Age of Apes" is heavy as all hell and unflinching in its biting social commentary. Plotted long before the world was swept up in the current chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, the theatrical quintet's latest dark incarnation arrives at an eerily apt time, a fact that is not lost on frontman Johannes Eckerström. We talked to the singer about the new song, its music video — which nearly looked very different — the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the band, and the vision behind Hunter Gatherer, which is due out August 7th via eOne and available for pre-order now, including in a Revolver-exclusive "Hot Pink Splatter Vinyl" edition of just 250 copies. "Ultimately, it's all about honesty," Eckerström told us of the LP. "We write what we feel needs to be written. There is little else to it at this point."
TELL US ABOUT "SILENCE IN THE AGE OF APES." WHEN WAS THE SONG WRITTEN AND WHY PICK IT AS THE FIRST SINGLE OFF THE NEW ALBUM?
JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM "Silence in the Age of Apes" was written twice. The first riff surfaced over 10 years ago for a side project I had with some friends mainly as an excuse the drink beer and smoke cigarettes while rehearsing. We rehearsed twice but sure had more than a few drinks together. As we never ended up doing anything as a group, the riff was locked up in a vault in my brain. While coming up with new stuff, a spring clean always helps and this riff resurfaced. It quickly started to haunt me and be the first thing I heard in my head in the morning. Because I had never finished the song it was in back in the day, and since it was never touched by Avatar, it felt brand new again. I guess some things come and go in circles, and the rage that had started to build up in me like a tidal wave brought this thing to the shores. Musical ideas can inhabit you like ghosts for a long time before finding a body to possess, and that is exactly what this riff did. Based on the main riff, the song kind of went through the same process as the others when the whole band falls in love with something one of us have done. Some ideas came and went for the chorus, but it quickly became clear what this song needed to be.
I think, aside for being a very good slice of the album to show where we're at right now, it's also a song we need right now. I've had an almost daily philosophical battle in my mind about what music actually is and what power it wields. With this album, and this song, we embrace music as a weapon and we intend to do some real damage.
WHAT'S THE SONG ABOUT?
Looking at the state of the world right now — also before the pandemic happened — the stakes are high. It is becoming more evident that a path needs to be chosen. The future is here and we can't turn back even if we wanted to. Progress has brought us to the brink of destruction, but the same progress needs to be sped up now in order to save us. Humanity needs to get out of its own way. In a war of voices, any and every step forward is phased out by an equal force pushing us back. Thus we stand silent. Standing in one's own way is the red thread of this song and the album as a whole, emotionally and intellectually, privately and as a society. It's all connected.
WHO CAME UP WITH THE TREATMENT FOR THE VIDEO, AND WHAT DID YOU GUYS LIKE ABOUT IT?
A collective effort where I immediately forgot where my ideas ended and somebody else's began. John, Johan Carlén and myself worked it out over a series of long conference calls. It was very goal-oriented as the band have had a very clear idea of what this album is all about since very early into the process.
ANY MISHAPS OR MISADVENTURES DURING THE VIDEO SHOOT?
We actually shot a completely different music video that ended up being crap despite being quite prophetic. It was based around the idea of a deadly pandemic and the question of how different people would react to only having two more weeks to live. The novel On the Beach by Nevil Shute was a source of inspiration. Once we filmed the thing, it became evident the script didn't hold up to scrutiny and it simply wasn't good enough. We suddenly only had half a video, as we still liked the band performance.
A huge issue with this was that I live in Finland and by now the travel ban had happened. This pushed us into a corner by limiting what we could do, but that might have been what saved us at the end of the day. We were forced to boil our ideas down to the very essence of what we wanted the video to add to the themes of the song. The fact that I couldn't be with the rest of the band gave us direction. Now I play the part of whatever they try to suppress within themselves.
THE NEW ALBUM MARKS A DARK NEW ERA FOR THE BAND. WHAT DROVE THE DECISION TO GO IN A DARKER DIRECTION?
It's where we belong, ultimately. We use metal as a torch to illuminate darker and darker places within and around us. Avatar Country was cathartic. We were at a point where things needed to celebrated, more than anything our fans' willingness to take all these trips with us. Once that statement was made, it was always time to move forward, and I think the fact that we chose to crack jokes for two years turned us into ticking time bombs.
IS HUNTER GATHERER A CONCEPT ALBUM?
No. It was actually one of the first things we knew about it before we had even started putting it together. First time around, a concept was a challenge. Second time, it became a useful tool. Third time would have become a formula and hindrance. This time we let the songs soar free and go wherever they wanted to, thematically. That being said, there are many red threads thick as rope on this one.
IT'S A FITTING TIME TO GO DARKER. DOES THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE APOCALYPTIC VIBE OF OUR CURRENT TIMES PUT THE NEW ALBUM IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT FOR YOU?
Yes. There's a sad prophetic aspect of making an album trying to explore our inner nature and its place within a rapidly evolving, and devolving, world. Lots of voices are raised, yet as the universe listens there is only silence. It's as good a time as ever to be angry as so many things take priority over the value of human life and global collaboration.
HOW HAS THE SHUTDOWN AFFECTED THE BAND? HOW ARE YOU GUYS ADAPTING?
Conference calls and lots of postage. The fact that I left the country six years ago has never been a real issue with how we work as it's just over an hour by plane to be together anyway. Now we can't do that so it affects all creative work. That being said, I kind of like the puzzle of working around these limitations. That being said, we have already been forced to cancel a ton of shows before they were even announced and we are very disappointed. I choose to be positive and can't wait for the day when we finally get to unleash on a world that by then will have grown to become unsuspecting of what we'll be capable of.