Interview with John Falk and Fredrik Håf
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 6, 2019
Devourer is a Swedish black metal act that was formed by seasoned musician John Falk (ex-In Aeternum, Sorcery, etc.) in 2002 as a side project. Five years later Fredrik Håf (Sordid Flesh, Patronymicon etc.) joined Devourer as vocalist.
Once the guys started working together, they released two well-received albums (Across the Empty Plains in 2017 and Dawn of Extinction in 2019). On June 15, 2019, the band announced that they had recruited three members to their ranks to make Devourer a real band; Oleg on drums, Oksana Rage on bass and Johan Vikholm on guitar. Now the band is able to play live, which is obviously something many fans are eagerly waiting for.
The Metal Crypt contacted the dynamic duo behind the band to get more insight about the past, current and future activities of Devourer.
Luxi: The roots of Devourer date back to 2002. What made you decide to start this band some 15 years ago?
John: The reason was I had just left In Aeternum and didn't have a band at the time. I wanted to make extreme metal starting from a clean slate instead of joining a band that already had their sound. I also wanted to be the only songwriter and have total control over the music. Devourer slowed down between 2004 and 2007 because I joined a grindcore band (Radioskugga) and focused on that and drugs for some time. In Radioskugga, I wrote songs that sounded like that band, and it's the same with Sorcery, but I have Devourer to write music the way I want. Fredrik shares my vision and is an excellent vocalist and lyric writer, so our collaboration works very well.
Luxi: I guess it was easy for you to invite Fredrik to be a part of Devourer as you knew him from the days of both Panzerschreck and Krypteia and you were well aware of his vocal capacities. Did he share your visions and ideas about Devourer immediately?
John: Both Fredrik and I thought of Devourer as a band without boundaries, still shaping the sound and experimenting with song structures, riffs, vocals and production. Fredrik wanted a band like that to develop his vocal skills. There are some odd tracks here and there, especially from the earlier years and we will always have some odd stuff here and there. It makes it more interesting to me and probably to the fans, too.
Luxi: I guess it was no-brainer for you to join the band when John suggested the idea back in 2007?
Fredrik: We were playing together in another band that was put on ice because the drummer went to drug rehab so I asked John if we could make some black metal together without him. He told me he had some riffs going so we tried them out in his studio, and I wrote the lyrics for "Nihilistic Playground", which was the first song we made together. It was when that song was completed John said we should resurrect Devourer. This was in 2006 but it wasn't until 2008 we released the Thy Devourer EP. It was re-released in 2010 with an extra track. It's a digital-only release, so we could do that easily.
Luxi: You really seem to know how to use your voice in an impressive way, which adds a nice, evil twist to the soundscapes of the band. When John asked you to join his band, did you have to adjust your voice to fit the songs that he had created?
Fredrik: I always adapt my vocals when I'm involved in any project. I usually listen to the songs John makes, close my eyes and paint a mental picture of what it's about and I can hear how the vocals should sound in my head. I like to experiment with my voice and Devourer has always been a project where I have the time and luxury to do that since time isn't limited by studio deadlines.
Luxi: The five-track demo, Thy Devourer, was your first collaboration together and was recorded in 2008. Do you think that you succeeded at shaping the sound of the band for future releases or was it sort of a "warm-up" of what was to come from the Devourer camp?
John: The sound of Devourer has evolved ever since the first demo, Malignant, because I produce everything myself and my skills as a producer have improved throughout the years. I don't think Malignant sounds very good now but 2002, when I made those songs, is a long time ago and I didn't know close to as much as I do now about recording, mixing and mastering. The sound on Across... and Dawn... differs slightly and the next one will probably sound different too because I still like to experiment with the production.
Luxi: If you remember the times of making your debut album, All Hope Abandon, released in 2013, what kind of learning experience was it? Do you believe you accomplished everything that was possible for you to accomplish or would you say you exceeded your expectations?
Fredrik: We didn't think of Devourer like a real band back then, it was more of an experimental side project without a plan or special goal. We just made music together and sent it out into the ether.
John: I wrote All Hope Abandon just for fun so when it was finished, we just released it online and forgot about it and moved on to new projects. I was playing drums in Sorcery at the time, so my main focus was on that band. I play bass in Sorcery now, but Devourer has evolved into a real band that I put my focus on now.
Luxi: At one point, you had a guy named Tommy Kvist in the lineup on drums. Was he there to help out with live gigs only or was there some other, more meaningful thought behind his recruitment?
John: Devourer was a studio project back then and Tommy was involved mostly because he wanted to learn more about writing black metal. He's listed as drummer because he played drums in other bands, but it is incorrect he was in Devourer, someone has assumed that he was in the band and listed him like that on Metal-Archives.com. He wrote some riffs and helped me arrange some of the songs on the first demo but after that he left Devourer and started the grindcore band Radioskugga, which I later played guitar in. The story about my bands and life is long so I won't go into more details about that now.
Luxi: Can you tell us about the chemistry between the two of you?
Fredrik: John can be a hard person to work with since he's an eccentric perfectionist. That combined with his mental state, suicidal tendencies and history of addiction make it hard for most people to cope with him. I am one of the few people he actually listens to. I am able to open the lid on his "box" so to speak and I think that's what makes us do great things. Our mindset is the same but our approach to express ourselves differs which makes for an interesting dynamic between the two of us.
John: I listen to Fredrik because he knows what he's talking about. Very few people do because of ignorance or simply because their ideas are unoriginal and boring to me. I have ridiculously high demands on myself and the people I work with and I know that makes it hard to work with me, but I don't care about that, I care about the results.
Luxi: It was your second album, Across the Empty Plains, that really caught my attention. It's a well-executed, varied, cold and atmospheric album, really outdoing everything you had done before. Did you take your time with this album so it would not go unnoticed?
John: I don't think about being noticed when I write music, it's not something I take into account. I do it because I have to write music to feel somewhat good mentally. If I thought about notoriety then maybe it wouldn't be as varied and I would have focused on the type of songs people like the most, but since I don't care about that the songs are very varied, even more so on Dawn of Extinction. It's nice people like it though. Actually, it didn't take that long to write Across the Empty Plains because I didn't do anything else at the time. I've had other bands at the same time as Devourer, mainly Sorcery, that take a bit of time away from Devourer but other than that I don't have a job or waste time on anything else so when I write music, I only do that.
Luxi: Did you think of playing gigs when the Across... album came out to promote the album?
Fredrik: We had the thought of doing that when we completed Across... but we never got it to work. We are still working on the possibility and I think we're going to pull it off in the future. If we do, we want it to fit what we've created so we are not going to hunt for small pub gigs and the likes, we'd rather not do it at all than do it half-arsed.
Luxi: I just recently came across some flattering reviews for this record and it seems it was received very well. How important was it for you to gain more ground with this record?
Fredrik: We've gotten good response on the album so far which we appreciate. We always aim to exceed our previous releases when writing a new one because forward is the only way to go for us. What way forward isn't that clear to us but standing still isn't an option. We've never aimed at pleasing others with our music, though, we do this for ourselves.
Luxi: Making promotional videos is also important these days due to the zillions of bands that are out there nowadays. How important is making music videos for Devourer?
John: We like making videos to visualize the music and we've made three so far. The first one we made was for a single called "Filth". We worked on it for about three months, mostly because I hadn't produced a video before it and needed to learn how to do it at the same time. It turned out really good in our opinion. After that it took a while before the next video was produced. It was Dutch filmmaker Rick Van De Dood who asked us if he could make a video for "Throne of Agony" from Across the Empty Plains. The next two videos are for songs that weren't released on anything else than in the videos. A song called "Addicted to Death" that we recorded for Across the Empty Plains but was cut from the album. That song has a quite unique story behind it. You can read it in the description on YouTube. The last video we made was for a re-mixed version of "Finem Vitae Cura". I think Fredrik's portrayal of death in that video is spot on and that version of the song is only available in that video. All our videos are on both YouTube and our website https://devourer.se.
Luxi: If Norwegians brought the grimness, rawness, and blacker-than-thou aesthetics into black metal back in the day, it was definitely the Swedes that understood how to adorn the amalgam of the genre with more haunting melodies, catchiness, and atmosphere when bands like Dissection, Dark Funeral, Sacramentum and the like, first appeared. Do you think this has to do with your sort of "Abba-heritage", eh? It definitely has something profound to do with Swedish mothers' breast milk or something, haha!
Fredrik: It's hard to say what the defining sounds within the different scenes are. Don't forget Bathory, which, in my opinion, set the bar for the raw grimness of black metal. We had a lot of melodic metal bands which I guess rubbed off on all genres in some way.
Luxi: What are some of the essential elements that Devourer's music contains in order to make it sound Devourer in the first place?
John: The atmosphere and the emotions they conjure up is what matters. Anger, angst, misanthropy, nihilism and what I consider to be pathos are the emotions I want to convey and always do because those elements are in my essence. If I feel happiness and joy, I wonder why and what the fuck is wrong with me, then I start expecting something really bad to happen.
Luxi: Fast forward on your latest opus titled Dawn of Extinction. The album was released physically on Mexican Iron, Blood & Death Corp at the end of March 2019, and again, it was welcomed with raving reviews around the globe. As your previous album, Across... set the bar high, my question is did the album's success put any pressure on your creativity because musicians, in general, normally have this inborn drive to top everything that they have done before? Did you overdo yourselves on the Dawn... album?
John: We certainly put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make Dawn of Extinction better than Across the Empty Plains. I'm relatively satisfied with it, but I think we can do even better so I don't think we overdid ourselves. I don't know which direction we're going to take from here, but I already feel pressured, from myself, to top everything we've done so far.
Luxi: None of your full-length studio albums is available as a glorious, old school vinyl version yet. Is this perhaps about to change?
Fredrik: Dawn of Extinction is going to be released on vinyl by I.B.D. Corp, hopefully soon, but we don't have a release date for that yet. It's the format I prefer so I'm really stoked that we will finally have at least one of our albums on vinyl.
Luxi: Speaking of the past Swedish black metal scene, Black Sun Records and No Fashion Records used to be the top two labels from Sweden in the nineties, releasing some amazing and quality Swedish black metal but they are no more, unfortunately. How do you view the importance of these labels in terms of being there to build up a solid foundation for the Swedish extreme Metal scene and new generations of extreme sounding bands to come?
John: Back then music had to be released physically to get to the listeners' ears but now there are so many digital platforms, that's not necessary. There's a back side to that, though, quantity over quality. There are so many bands that release their music online now so it's hard to find anything good without having to wade through a swamp of subpar attempts at making worthwhile music. Just recently I was asked to produce a demo for a new band but when I heard they wanted to make it just to "get something out", no matter the production value or quality I declined. It's imbeciles like that who made me stop looking for new bands. There's just too much crap.
Luxi: What does Devourer have in store for the last six months of the year?
Fredrik: We will probably start working on new material after this summer. It takes about 12-18 months for us to make an album and we're working closer together now which we'd like to continue whilst the fire is burning.
Luxi: Thanks to both of you for making this interview happen, and in the very same breath I want to wish all the best with any recent and future activities of Devourer. Now you are entitled to the last commentary if you have anything left in mind...?
John: Thank you!
|Other information about Devourer on this site|
|Review: Dawn of Extinction|
|Review: Across the Empty Plains|
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