Searching Wikipedia for „Pantokrator“, it turns out to be a term of Iconography. The Pantokrator is a incarnation of the biblical god, presenting him as the „Emperor of the Universe“ (greek: Pantokrator). God is portraied looking straight towards the viewer, blessing him with his hand and holding one of the gospels in the other.
It`s no coincidence that the Swedish Death Metal Outfit out of the Smaland region in the south of the country chose exactly that name. The five guys grew up in the pentecostal church and are avowing christians. Anyone who rolls his eyes now is totally wrong. Pantokrator stand up for their beliefs, but that doesn`t mean they are close-minded preachers up in their ivory-tower. The open minded Scandinavians prefer to let their music and their livestyles speak, rather than trying to convert their fans and friends to christians. At the Elements of Rock Festival in Uster/Switzerland in March 2014 I had the opportunity to speak to the guys about their music, their beliefs and the role they play in a mystical order. Here is the raw transcript of the very diversified, interesting and profound one hour talk with Karl, Jonathan, Rickard and Matthias.
Whiskey-Soda: You are well known in the Christian Extreme Metal Scene, but still a Insider recommendation to discover for the Metal Scene in General. Who are you guys, what kind of music do you stand for and what do you think is your unique feature?
Karl: No, we’re a very big fish in a very small bowl.
Jonathan: I guess we play a kind of scandinavian death metal, it’s not the american stlye of death metal. We have all those screams, but we also have a lot of the melodies the scandinavian bands in this genre typically have.
RIckard: Yeah, one of our big brands is that we’ve got strong melodies, strong refrains in our songs.
Karl: Without sacrificing the extreme heaviness, because there are some bands in Sweden that just have strong melodies.
Jonathan: Also there was written in a review recently that we also don’t use breakdowns and stuff. A lot of american bands take Metalcore and put some Death Metal on the top of that, but we go straight to the roots. Similar to bands like At the Gates and all those famous scandinavian Death Metal Bands.
WS: Why should any Metal Fan pick up your music in the first place? Come on, I give you some room for free promotion and shameless profiling. 🙂
Karl: Because the new album may be one of the best things ever written in music.
WS: You’re very self-assured.
Karl: I don’t write any of the music, so I’m allowed to say that. I do just the lyrics and play nothing. So I’m in the best place to say this is really good.
WS: So you developed? Because every band says: „Our new album is the best album we ever wrote.“
Karl: Before this album, I never couldn’t say that the last one is the best. Sometimes one of the guys in the band said: The new one ist the best one. I couldn’t decide before. But since this one, I can honestly say: It’s better than all of them. And that’s a good feeling. Now we did it!
Mattias: It’s a matter of songwriting actually, I think we wrote really good songs on this one.
Jonathan: Yeah, maybe it’s because it’s the first time we had enough time to do the things that we wanted to do. Also, it’s maybe the first time that we were honest to use the ideas that we had and we had the time to look over the songs again and to say: „This is not good enough. Let’s skip that and write something new.“ On the last recording „Aurum“ there were some things we felt that we should do something more here and there, but we didn’t have the time to do it. We had already booked the studio that cost a lot of money so we couldn’t go home and to do that. We just had to record it and get it done. This time we recorded it ourselves and sometimes we said: „Okay, let’s leave this for now and go home for a month and think about it and then let’s get back with new ideas.“
Rickard: A lot of stuff at the album was actually totally rewritten. We recorded it and then we said to each other: „No, this doesn’t feel right.“
Jonathan: When we recorded the lyrics and then listened to the songs that we hadn’t recorded yet we were like: „This part isn’t good enough. So we changed it and recorded a new version.“
WS: So that’s probably one of the reasons it took you several years, seven years I think since you released „Aurum“?
Jonathan: Well, it’s one reason. It’s not the main reason actually. We’re really lazy guys sometimes and of course there had to be done a lot of logistics and stuff, mostly because we live so far from each other.
Karl: And it’s also finding our form after „Aurum“. Where do we go now? It took quite some time to find that.
Mattias: And also to find a simple way to use the creativity, to record our ideas, how to write songs. I think this album has helped us a lot in the sense to really use the ideas and record them.
WS: Your recent Album „Incarnate“ is a Killer and got a lot of great Reviews from different Music Magazines. I know music stands for its own and can’t be described easily, but will you take the challenge to describe it? What are the differences compared to its predecessor or what else do you consider important to know about it?
Rickard: I’m proud about the fact, that inthe music itself it’s much more us. As I said already, the songs have really grown from where they started, from the idea to the complete songs. Overall it’s just great songs.
Mattias: It’s not that technical as aurum, but it’s better songs.
Karl: I think for example „Blod“ (First Full Album from 2002) is very chaotic, very weird but it has an special atmosphere, that I kind of missed a little in „Aurum“. That’s why I’ve got a really hard time to decide which album I like most. When we recorded „Aurum“ we started with the attitude: „Well, let’s do traditional songs – Verse, Chorus, Bridge. Not just chaos! We continued on that with „Incarnate“, doing songs „the old way“, the album came out with good structure. But it has a little of that feeling that I was missing in aurum.
WS: So you got the best part of both albums!
Karl: Exactly! Or actually the best part of the three last albums, because I feel something of „Songs of Solomon“ in it, too when it comes to some of the melodies. But it has to develop. You can take the best parts of each album and they will kill each other.
Jonathan: With this album, I don’t think that I ever feels forced. It feels very natural that this part follows that part. With „Blod“ – I wasn’t on that album, I heard the songs afterwards and tried to learn them – I thought by myself: „What Is this? It felt like: We have this riffs, let’s put them in somewhere.“ This time, we really had the time to think about what was the best way to write everything.
Mattias: We found our great formula to put the songs together.
WS: Your Lyrics are obviously Christian or even Biblical like Passages from the Reveleation or the Sermon on the Mount. I just read an interview with Ryan Clark from Demon Hunter, which are also a band with avowing christians. He was talking about how it is to be in a christian band or a band consisting of christians. He said: When it comes to the lyrics, you can’t do it right. On one side there are the people where your lyrics can’t be christian enough and on the other side there are people that write bad reviews just from reading a „Thank you to Jesus Christ“ in the personal liner notes, not even in the lyrics.
Why did you choose to use this lyrical approach in particular?
Karl: It’s more on the older albums that are truly based on parts of the bible. I think „Incarnate“ is more like through the filter of inspiration, of course I read the bible. But when you mention the people having different feelings about it. I was reading one review about „Aurum“ and the guy wrote: „Well, I thought it was strange that it was christian metal. But then I decided: Well, there’s metal bands with pagan mythology or viking mythology – I should read this that way. And it works!“
Because you can believe it, or you can just read it like other lyrics based on some kind of mythology. Like Amon Amarth for example. So why can’t we just take the christian lyrics that way?
Well, to be honest, it’s Jonathans fault. After „Aurum“ I started to write lyrics for „Incarnate“ and then I wrote more songs, that are not recorded yet. I sent them to him and he said: „That’s great! Can’t we just skip „Incarnate“ and go record the newer songs? They’ve got more attitude!“ But of course, I didn’t want to do that. So I had to rewrite the lyrics to make them good enough. So I started to write more „Aurum“. My mind, my own language in a way. First I wanted to rewrite them, but that didn’t work. So I put them aside and started all over. Some of the parts of the older versions where sticking in my mind, they didn’t get better. Then I compared the two and kept the parts that I thought they couldn’t get better on the newer versions. So he was the one who inspired the text change in a way. When it comes to: „Why did you chose this approach?“ – It’s actually where we come from. To play in a pentecostal church. It has also been based on a need. „The Songs of Solomon“ is mostly about the erotic love between a man and a woman from a christian perspective. That’s what it’s all about. There are no mystical layers of some parabel. It’s just about love. We felt a need, there was a big hole to be filled in the christian music with erotic love. So if we didn’t do that record, who would? So we did it! And after that I felt an urge to go back to more biblical topics, in „Blod“ it’s from Adam and Eve unto the cross. It’s like going through sunday school in a metal way. In „Aurum“ I wanted to go to the mystical parts of the bible, that no one really talks about. Because noone really understands it. You don’t hear people preach about these parts because they are so cryptic. I might not understand them even, but I think those parts should be lifted up. They’re inspiring, and they start questions, you know? I wanna know more about this. „Incarnate“ is kind of a follow-up on „Blod“ when it comes to the lyrics. There are actually two different themes, but now they’re mixed together. In the early part of the project it was supposed to be two EP’s with different themes, if you want to find those storylines, you have to scramble around the songs to find the topics. Because on the CD it’s all about what sounds best, what order of the songs makes the album sound as good as possible. There’s also an anagram. You can move around the lyrics and you can get two storylines.
WS: We talked about it already a little bit. But I’m still curious: What kinds of Feedback do you get from Metal Fans or Publications, that are not specifically Christian? What do you hear mostly when it comes to you as a Christian band?
Mattias: It’s more like „It’s okay for me“ nowadays. Because we have a lot of non-christian fans as well. From South-Korea and there are the brazilian guys.
Rickard: We get a lot of E-Mails on our facebook page from people that are not christian who are writing things like „you guys are a great band.“
Jonathan: Most people we meet when we’re out playing they are obviously on the concert, they came there for a reason or they seem to have some kind of interest in it and think it’s okay. But I think Sweden in general is quite anti-religious. There’s more of these guys that roll their eyes and say things like: Oh my, a christian band!“
Karl: There’s an interesting example of this. 2005 we played the Gates of Metal Festival in Sweden. One day after it was announced, there was a very hot debate about wether we should be there or not. We didn’t even get into that at all. We just watched it. There were these guys that were like: „Aaaah, they’re christian. They shouldn’t be here, we should shoot them!“ And then there were the other voices like: „Why don’t you just shut the fuck up and go take a beer if you don’t like their music?“ (Laughter) They were literally throwing stones at each other and we just watched it! After the show, there was no negative response at all. The ones that really didn’t want to hear us took their beer and the others who were more open minded gave us a shot.
Jonathan: I think it’s kind of weird because when you sing about Satan, no one believes, but no one really cares, too. But once you sing some christian lyrics, people get offended!
WS: One reason why I ask this is the recent state of western societys when it comes to acceptance of confessing faith in Media, in Public and so on. It’s not only about music, of course. Sometimes theres even hostility. I’ve got an example of this, that comes to my mind right now. There was a big public debate in Baden-Wurrttemberg about the curriculums in public schools, which were planned to be based completely on the gender-mainstream theory. Like: We have to teach the children, that they can chose their gender, they can be what they want and there’s not right or wrong in being transgender or whatever. And there was this christian teacher who was starting a petition on the internet against this new curriculum. In my opionion as a christian, the petition was quite sensitive. It was clear, but not offensive or excluding someone, but standing for the values of the bible when it comes to sexuality. There was a huge impact all over the media and the political parties, even from the federal government in Berlin. There were protest marches from christian against the initiative, they where thrown eggs at and attacked from the backers of the plans or from this special community. It think they climate is turing hostile more and more in society when it comes to christian values that are spoken out and christians in general.
Karl: This is very interesting. My wife is studiny sociology and she had a teacher that said: „There are still today priests in Sweden, that don’t want to marry homosexual couples.“ She was biting her lip, but what she wanted to ask was: „What Imams or Rabbi do you think would do this?“ People don’t mind. It’s just about forcing themselves into the Swedish State church.“
Jonathan: When we talk about church, we got a State Church in Sweden, but it isn’t even controlled by the State anymore. If we’re talking about schools, I think it’s very important that the things to learn are actually based on facts. Religion should be thought in religion classes. We don’t want it to be like in the United States, where Creationism is preached in the schools. It’s only religious propaganda, because they can’t really prove it’s true but they still want it to be. And that’s also quite weird. You have to tell people everything! You can’t really say:“This is right and this is wrong.“ You have to teach them, that these opinions exist and that opinions exist.
Karl: In Sweden there’s another problem. They’re still teaching evolution theory, which was disproved 50 years ago. It’s old news. But the teachers are no scientist and don’t really know what they’re talking about. But they keep on telling: „This was proved – and all the scientist are turning in their graves: No, that was disproved 45 years ago!“ If there were real scientist teaching they would tell that these are theories. It’s a more humble approach. But the Swedish teachers are like: „This is the proven facts, forever and ever, written in stone.“ And that’s just sad. So we’ve got like the opposite problem of the US in Sweden. In both countries there seem to be no teachers that can admit: „This is a theory, and that is a theory. And now make up your own mind!“
WS: In my opinion, teaching Homosexualtiy in School, to keep the example, appears to be an ideology in it’s own. It doesn’t seem to be equaled out. If something just looks christian you will get offended and meet hostility. You will not meet the tolerance that they demand for their own beliefs and lifestyle.
Karl: If you are in the Gay movement, you can say everything and noone will say anything about it. There was this Jesus Proclamation March somewhere in Sweden and there were these queer gangs standing beside them shouting: „We’re here, we’re queer, we’re gonna fuck your children!!“ For me, it’s the mentality behind it. Before this whole gay movement, people could find out that they were gay for themselves. You didn’t have to tell everyone to „try a little faggory.“ If you are, you will find out.
Jonathan: On the other hand, you have to tell the people, that it’s okay. If you’re okay, it’s fine. Because I think there’s a big problem that most people don’t actually think that it’s okay. That is something I think has to change, because I don’t think that anyone can really decide to be or not to be.
WS: You’ve got this special thing going on, that you call the „The Golden Order of the Almighty“ and that appears like a real religious order with a history getting back two thousand years. But it’s kind of mysterious, too and I didn’t really get the whole thing. Can you tell me something about it without getting our readers losing their curiosity about it?
Karl: (Smiling) If you want to find out, you have to dig.
Jonathan: If you got questions, we’ve got a book. And if you’re going to read it, you’re going to have a whole lot of more questions. (Laughs)
Karl: What the Order is or will be, depends on each member. We don’t have a very strict form for this. It has a life of it’s own and we hope that people will take it in different directions. There’s some kind of teachings and some aesthetics around it and it’s like the backbone of the „Aurum“ album. It’s like what the „Silmarillion“ is to the „Lord of the Rings“.
Jonathan: In a way, it’s kind of like a fanclub, but it’s been given its own life. We don’t control it. We’ve got all this different degrees. The more the people are interested in the degrees, the more they’ll get to know and the more they’ll rise in the degrees.
Rickard: You’ll find most of the answer to the questions in the book in the Bible.
WS: Yeah, well that’s one thing I was wondering about. If it is just like some kind of bible studies stuff mixed up with some provocational winks in the direction of occult orders that actually exist.
Karl: (Smiles) There might be some provocations with everything we do.
Jonathan: It’s obviously based on the mystery theme of the „Aurum“ album, which is kind of based on one or the other order which is there and have these mysteries around themselves. But to be honest: You won’t really get what’s going on until you’re going into the order and rise in the degrees.
Karl: One thing that inspired us as well is that a lot of people think they know what the bible says, but they have never opened it. And other people have read it ten times and they still don’t know what it says because they’re reading it only through their own point of view. You don’t have to like it but this gets people a chance to start your own search and find stuff. But we’re not responsible for what you find in the bible and we don’t tell you what’s right or wrong. And to get all of the questions you also have to go to other books that are related to the bible like the Book of Henoch and stuff like that. If you are a curious or eager for knowledge, then the order is for you.
WS: Your music is categorized as „Progressive Death Metal“. Even tough I know most bands roll their eyes with journalists labelling them as This-or-That-Style of Metal I wanna ask you: Do you see yourself as a Death Metal Band or more as a Progressive Metal Band?
Karl: Everybody says that, but that was not by ourselves, the label came from the record label.
WS: So you don’t agree with it?
Jonathan: I think most musicians don’t like to label their own music. Our music has Death Metal vocals, but it’s not really Death Metal. It’s hard to describe actually, it’s similar to Death Metal, but it’s something totally different. I can accept if somebody gives us that label, but it’s not our own.
Rickard: Some people also connect the label „Progressive Death Metal“ to „Technical Death Metal“ and think that’s what we’re playing. But that’s completely wrong. We don’t.
WS: So as you don’t see yourself as a Progressive Death Metal Band, what does the term mean to you. Are there maybe even some bands from that kind of stylistic direction that had a certain influence on the music you play today? Or is that something you don’t mind or reflect about at all?
Jonathan: Well, we don’t play some kind of particular music because we decided to write music that sounds similar to a certain band. We don’t really do that. Everytime I find a new band I usually listen to that all day. And in the evening, when I go to bed, I have songs in my head that are similar to them but not the same. Some of those things stick and the next day you listen to some other band and then everything get mixed up.
Karl: I think it was a quote by Rachmaninow that said: „In a composers music you should hear the books he’s been reading, everything he likes, where he grew up and everything.“ And I think that’s what happens when you write music.
WS: Imagine yourself being the boss of your own record label. Is there a talented Band that you were willing to support or if not what kind of new band would you set up? How would you cope with the dilemma to chose music to be convinced of artistically and also have to earn money from it?
Karl: Oookay, I think that’s why we’re not at the head of a record label.
Jonathan: Well, I think it depends on what goals you have. In these days, you can record an album for not so much money because you to go to a studio. You can buy some gear and do it at home. So it can be quite cheap to record an album but that’s still good. Then you can release it on ITunes, which doesn’t really cost anything in terms of manufacturing. So in that sense I think that I would try to find bands that I like myself and try to get their music out. I wouldn’t worry so much about the sales but of course on the other hand, if you run a label to earn money from it, you might have to think about what people will probably like and not what you like yourself. You have to go mainstream. Or if you have a lot of money you can take anything you like and tell the people it’s good and they’re gonna buy it. With the internet nowadays you also can just put out your songs and ask the people what they like and what not and then do more of that stuff.
WS: So what was you actual approach to bring out „Incarnate“? You recorded it yourselves and took your time. We already talked about that. And then you took the final album and got it to the labels to release? And was it hard to get this done?
Karl: Yeah, exactly. We sent it around to a lot of labels.
Rickard: The label for the American market, „Rottweiler Records“, we got in contact with them quite fast and they liked it when they heard the songs. But we continued to search for another label in Europe and other markets.
Karl: Yeah, I thought by myself „What about Australia“ so I sent a message to Steve Rowe from Mortification: „Is this something for you?“ He answered: „Well, I think this might be something for my friend at Soundmass – I will forward it to him.“ And he contacted us. So it was more like labels finding us because all the labels we tried to bring it out were not interested.
Jonathan: There are SO many labels out there. And the ones you try say „No“ usually, especially when they are bigger ones. They deny most Bands. It can be quite tricky to find the right ones. I guess only time will tell if we made the right choices. We did think about this Kickstarter-Thing as well, but then we felt we didn’t need that much money, so we might as well just pay it ourselves. But maybe next time! I’ve seen bands being really successful in getting money with this approach because it cost a lot. I think I just recently got my money back that I paid for the last recording which was seven years ago. So we do pay quite a bit of money and it takes long to get it back. It’s not the same amount this time, though. But of course you can do a lot of things on that funding-platforms. You can try to get the money to fund a US Tour. It’s the exact problem with the gigs. The most places don’t have the money to pay what it actually costs, especially for us who come from Sweden. We have to cross bridges and that becomes quickly expensive. I kind of like the idea that it’s our problem, but on the other hand we don’t really have the money.
Karl: It’s also the problem of the fans. Some say: Please come to Brazil. They could to their own kickstarter to bring us to their country.
Jonathan: What I really like about kickstarter is that the ones who really want to reach something can make it happen, even for all the other ones!
Karl: And of course it’s better to be ruled by your fans than by a label. Those are the people we play for and if they want us to do it, they will pay us to do it! And if they don’t pay us, then we’re probably not good enough! It’s better to do what the fans want then to do what a label thinks the fans might like. You’ll get the receipt directly from your fans if you ask them: „Do you want us to do another record?“
Jonathan: It’s of course a great way to get your expenses in advance and it’s also a great way to give the fans some special things. I saw that Devin Townsend had a kickstarter campaign and he did like 100% of the amount demanded in three hours! If you pledged 3000 Pounds, you could get his guitar. Or you could get things like a voicemail-message that you can put on your voicemail. And handwritten lyrics and drawings other stuff. It’s really interesting because of the interaction with your audience. But even though with the internet platforms the labels might not be as important then they used to be, they’re still needed to spread the word and do the distribution and stuff. We don’t feel like doing that work on our own.
WS: So thanks, guys! I think I tortured you for almost an hour, it’s enough now! Thank you for your time and effort. Looking forward to seeing you play tonight! All the best for the gig!
Copyright of the Photos by Rebecka Marie Gustafsson and Michael Bolli. Thanks buddy!