Dissolving, as if born again…for the first time in nearly 20 years, on April 16th 2016, melodic death metal band Eucharist will reunite for a very special live festival (PTD3) in Sweden with several other cult Swedish melodeath bands.
After their 1997 sophomore album Mirrorworlds the band split and remained silent – until now. Former Monolith contributor and long-time Eucharist fan Chris Warunki chats with founding members Markus Johnsson (vocals, guitar) and Daniel Erlandsson (drums) in what is the most extensive interview in the band’s career as they delve deep down into the blackened night of the worlds within Eucharist.
Part one covers their seminal debut A Velvet Creation and follow-up Mirrorworlds, and their colourful touring experiences prior to their disbandment.
A Velvet Creation was an album extremely ahead of its time. It’s hard to imaging teenagers writing and recording music of this caliber – especially well before the days of the internet and YouTube. What is your musical background and what was your inspiration for Eucharist?
Markus: Well, we were very young of age when the material for the Velvet album was being developed; I was 13 years old when I started with Eucharist but we had a couple of years where the line-up was different before I took the vocals and started to create music for the band. So what I am trying to say here is that we probably had no clue whatsoever whether we were before our time or not – nor did we have those thoughts. We simply created, rehearsed and did gigs. My musical background was nonexistent at the time; I started out with Eucharist (a different band name at that time). I had played only in school and at home listening to old school hard rock and metal. When it comes to influences, and especially musical such, I can tell that one record that had an impact on us all was Darkthrone’s first album Soulside Journey. Besides that one there was Death, Paradise Lost, Celtic Frost, Nihilist, Dismember, Morbid Angel – to name a few. But as for me the greatest influence has always been nature itself. It might sound cliché nowadays but that is the fact no matter what. I used to spend a lot of time outside in nature among open meadows, dense woods, on mountains and some harsher terrain as well. I lived in the country, as now but elsewhere, and there was this old church ruin from the 12th century that was extremely withered but still held its four walls plus an inner altar and a surrounding graveyard with very old graves and great dead black oaks that stretched towards the black night skies as if wanting to flee into the cosmos. Now, I am anti-Christian, just as then, but this place had a very mysterious and profound atmosphere and thus had a great impact on me this place of death and ancient spirits. You could almost hear voices coming out of the ground were the graves were, the trees and the very stones of the ruins; voices from the past that kind of spoke to me in a bizarre kind of way as I was lying inside the building on top of its altar watching the stars. I managed to interpret them, later when I came home, by putting tones on the feelings I had gathered roaming around on this dark place at late/early hours. That was a long answer but there you have it, I think.
Daniel, your drumming was very progressive on the Eucharist albums. Where did this influence come from?
Daniel: Naturally the drumming style has a lot to do with the guitar riffs, and that process just flowed naturally. On A Velvet Creation I occasionally got input from Thomas Einarsson (ex-guitarist), who had some pretty unique drumming ideas, whereas on Mirrorworlds it was just more of a jam-based process, and the songs are a bit more classic in terms of structure which affected the drumming too. As we started out, the general idea was usually to put down quite a technical foundation on the drums with lots of speed. Some early influences were Nicke Andersson (Entombed), Pete Sandoval (Morbid Angel), Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates), Chris Reifert (Death, Autopsy) plus the more obvious ones like Nicko McBrain, Dave Lombardo and Neil Peart.
How was the band discovered and signed to Wrong Again Records?
Markus: It was sometime back in 1992 and Eucharist had split up after recording the demo. I couldn’t get along with the other guitar player and told him and myself never to go into the studio again together. Now this is a long time ago so I have absolutely nothing against this person now whatsoever! However, that led to a first split-up. So all instruments were down when W.A.R. contacted this person after hearing the demo cassette. They told him they were starting up a new label and told him that they’d like to sign us and finance the recording and release of an album if we were interested. He, Thomas, called me and told me about the news, obviously very excited. I, however, couldn’t really grasp the big deal and was still stuck in being pissed off and very determined not to enter a studio with him again. And to be honest to you guys, I actually did not enter the studio! Well, I did. Let me make this clear…this is not very known, but still a fact. As I said, I was determined not to enter the studio again due to his extreme way of fucking my life up no matter what I did. So we agreed to sign the contract (all the songs were already made) but I would only do it if I wouldn’t have to be in the same room as Thomas was. Very ridiculous!
So how did A Velvet Creation ever get done and released?
Markus: We had hours and hours of telephone communication in which I taught Thomas all the riffs and harmonies that were mine so that he could record both guitars. I only agreed to enter the studio to record acoustic guitars, my leads and the vocals! There you have the truth – I never recorded most of the Velvet album. Thomas did and he had a totally different style than I had so my opinion was that the guitars were played without the same feeling – and the sound so dry and hard to work with. I had created almost all the material on A Velvet Creation and it feels very weird to listen to it now because that’s my riffs played in a way that I can’t agree with. I did, however, attend on the recording of subsequent recordings but after Velvet was recorded, the only song that featured Thomas again was the song titled “The View“, for a Peaceville Compilation CD. After that we split up. Later, me and Daniel Erlandsson took up the pieces again. We have a wonderful friendship which makes us work very well together.
There’s something almost neoclassical about some of Eucharist’s early compositions. Does classical music have an influence on you as a composer? What about classic prog rock?
Markus: That was an interesting view there. I will have to elaborate a little on this one. You do absolutely find tunes which can remind you of classical works, yes. I have listened to a lot of classical composers such as my ultimate god among the classical composers according to my opinion, namely Frederic Chopin and very high up on the list is Liszt (ha ha). Seriously, Franz Liszt is a very interesting character when it comes to composing. I also enjoy listening to Bach, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Vivaldi, Brahms etc. So yes, you might find some influences in our music as well as the composition of the songs. I do not listen to classic prog rock.
Daniel, were you and your brother Adrian (At The Gates) competitive with drumming growing up?
Daniel: There was a time in the very beginning when I picked up the sticks and started playing, and during those formative days I took big steps very quickly in learning how to play – as opposed to nowadays when ideas take a lot longer to move into realisation. I’m sure its the same for most drummers! We had somewhat of a competitive vibe going during that time, but it was just very healthy and inspiring! Every time he played me a new rehearsal tape or recording, or showed me some new beats, it was very influential to me.
To many true fans of Swedish melodic death metal, Mirrorworlds is one of the greatest albums released in this sub-genre, yet it is still somewhat underground. Do you feel it got the recognition it deserved at the time or do you feel that it is just being discovered now?
Markus: Oh, is it being discovered now? Haha, no seriously – I had no clue but yes, I feel it is an underrated album worth more attention, to be honest. It is a great album and I think many would like that kind of music if they knew it existed because it is honest melodic death metal and pretty unusual still. We’re very proud of Mirrorworlds. It is work that we felt has got presence, you know; as if it has its own essence. It lives!
Your vocal style is very unique. It is raw and pure, filled with anguish and emotion. You don’t hold anything back in your delivery and the lyrics are very introspective and deep throughout Mirrorworlds. What were you going through personally at the time?
Markus: Wow! What was I going through…I was amidst an intravenous amphetamine-addiction, drugs in general and daily consumption of alcohol so I was pretty much a wreck back in 1996-1997 when Mirrorworlds was being created. I am now clean since 2007 and I only drink occasionally.
There were some very cool arrangement ideas on Mirrorworlds, such as incorporating use of oboe on “In Nakedness.” Was this controversial to the rest of the band or the label?
Markus: To tell you the truth, many of the listeners have different opinions of “In Nakedness”. The story about that one is that I was so fucked up by drugs that suddenly I couldn’t produce any riffs; whenever I grabbed the guitar those fucking tunes went over and over again inside my head and that was all that ever came out. I was trapped in a psychosis-like state, man, where I couldn’t get rid of those riffs and I was devastated and told Daniel that the only way to get rid of this obstacle is to record it to make it the past – and not present. It helped. That pretty much explains the state I was in. I’m quite amazed we succeeded in creating an album at all that period. It was only me and Daniel alone who created Mirrorworlds; No other musicians were involved in the creation but we had to hire a session-bass player while being in studio. So no one but Daniel could have an opinion and he is a an amazing friend. You wouldn’t believe what a caring and understanding man he is. He was positive to recording “In Nakedness” and never complained as I can remember; he rather thought it was pretty cool. And my idea of bringing in my old junior level guitar teacher was welcomed as well…but I do not like the track myself! To me it is anxiety and evidence of a psyched-out mind that was just not working at all. I rather hate it, but never mind.
Daniel, was the drastic tempo change on the other instrumental track “With The Sun” deliberate? Did you guys record with a click?
Daniel: The whole album was done without a click track – but that tempo change was actually not accidental, it was deliberate!
What prompted you to downtune your guitars so much? Pretty low for the time! I believe you tuned a 6-string down to B?
Markus: You are quite correct. There was no question about it : when we started out back in ’89/’90 the death metal bands of the time such as Nihilist and or Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed I think also downtuned so we started out by simply tuning down the set of strings we used to B and of course the strings went sloppy as fuck but we managed until we got the possibility to order thicker strings from our local music store and then we simply continued. There was never a discussion of it, only a collective acceptance.
Daniel, What was it like working with Markus? It seems as though his riffs and your drum parts go hand in hand.
Daniel: He is a very talented guitar player/singer and songwriter. There is a musical connection or understanding that has remained intact over the years even when we were not talking.
The production on Mirrorworlds is very warm and retro sounding – with a ridiculously pingy ride cymbal sound way high in the mix. What was this recording session like and could you describe some of the gear used?
Markus: Man, you ain’t making it easy for us! I have no clue what amps and cabinets were used for guitar and bass. I couldn’t even set the sound. I was too wasted to even care so I got help by the producer and I just yelled when it was right or wrong until it sounded how we wanted it to. We were obviously trying to make it sound alike a hard rock album from the early ’80s. The guitar I used was a black BC Rich Ironbird with Floyd Rose and passive pickups. Strings I can’t recall. Probably D’addario. As for the ride and drums I let Daniel explain. Daniel: Well the true story is that at the time I only had 2 drumsticks and one them was a Tommy Lee signature (it was a beefed up 2B with a huge red nylon tip), and I used that one with the right hand, effectively playing most ride patterns. That, and the fact that I used a thick Z Zildjian Ride that cut through anything made that huge ride tone. Naturally its a question of EQ and mixing as well, but that is the background. It’s hard to imagine that i actually got through an album recording using only 2 sticks. Nowadays I change sticks several times a day in the studio!
Daniel, how do you feel about the drum sound on A Velvet Creation vs. Mirrorworlds?
Daniel: There was a few things affecting the outcome of the drums on A Velvet Creation. For one, the band had been split up for about 6 months, during which time I hardly played any drums. I think i was a bit out of shape to be honest. Also A Velvet Creation was the first album we made of course – but it was also the first album the engineer Fredrik Larnemo did. All in all its maybe not the most pleasing drum production but I’ve learned to live with it. On Mirrorworlds we consciously set out to create a drum sound reminiscent of the early albums by Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate. In hindsight I think we got pretty close!
You did a small run of tours for Mirrorworlds. Could you describe the experience?
Markus: Holy shit! It was short lived but hysteric! It was total chaos! Utterly idiocy! Completely crazy! I don’t remember much of it but on those two mini tours we slept in hotel rooms maybe two nights, as for the other nights we slept everywhere we were welcomed; at the organizers home, a girl who was working at the club’s place (the floor was crowded with people that night because we shared the apartment with Dew-Scented), one night we slept in a fucking outhouse without insulation and it was minus-something degrees outside and it also got almost as cold inside. I was trying to sleep in a cupboard with my jacket over me while the rest continued drinking, smoking and eating shrooms all night long. I was too drunk to keep them company.
As for the gigs it was also crazy but some good memories. We played in East Germany, Holland and Belgium divided in two trips whereof one October ’97 and March ’98. The first trip was Germany. I can’t begin to tell you what miserable places we played at. There was this city called Eisenhüttenstadt - ‘the city of Iron Houses’ – a very grey and post-war marked city, as if the war just had ended. Bullet holes everywhere and crushed phone booths, graffiti everywhere with political messages from left-to-right, to left extremists and politicians and the citizens. I guess, grey buildings, iron skies (our star probably never shine there) and the streets were completely empty and I saw no stores open. The city seemed dead. City of the living dead, perhaps. The place we played at that night was more of a coach house or shed but with concrete walls and no doors. The sound technician sat in a fucking tower like those you use when hunting and there on the top up in the roof he sat with the PA and mixing board. It was a communist club and they warned us about skinheads that used to come there and beat people to a pulp for fun, smashing bottles on peoples’ heads and beating them with bats and anything they could grab. They never showed up that evening though.
Another memorable gig was in Weimar. We headlined that tour in Germany but the band before us continued and play longer and longer and no one interrupted them despite our complaints because we were told that the military police would come and shut the power off at 1:00am. We had time to play three songs before they stormed the fucking place dressed in green with black boots and machine guns in hands yelling loud as fuck! They were all over the place and threatened us but I recall shouting “FUCK THE POLICE!“ and then we continued playing for a minute or so until they had found the power switch. It was chaotic and a potential dangerous situation. I was too drunk to care but we were told the day after at the next place (because the reputation had proceeded us about the night when Eucharist refused to stop playing yelled ‘fuck the police’) that we were quite lucky that didn’t get jailed.
I guess I can think of better things to do but the shit holes we slept in we might as well be comfortable in a warm jail cell with a bed! In short, it was a mess. One gig was fucking awesome and that was at a metal club in Hengelo, Holland. It was very successful and we enjoyed it a lot. We enjoyed every night but that one felt very good.
That’s it for part one!
You can also help fund the Live Festival DVD; details here.
Stay tuned for part two!