2011 was an interesting year with some ups and downs, yet what better to help mark the end of it with one of the bands that made it to my Top 20 albums list, Isole?
Always on top form with their brand of crushing, doom metal with majestically reaching vocals, Isole’s newest effort ‘Born from Shadows’ delivers more of the same quality that fans have come to expect from them, yet with a few differences here and there.
Though tired from his work as a forklift driver, frontman and guitarist Crister Olsson was kind enough to talk to me about what it was like to create this album, as well as how the commitments between fatherhood and musicianship may intervene with one another.
So what was the rehearsal like for ‘Born from Shadows’?
Actually, we recorded this album twice! We did a pre-recording for the first time together as a band, after rehearsing for it a little bit, so that we could do better the second time since it’s a lot of work.
It’s been mentioned that this album features the conclusion to the “Moonstone trilogy”…
Yes, indeed. When we wrote the first song ‘Moonstone‘ on a demo tape in 1994, it was just a song inspired by an old computer game. Later on though, our bassist Henrik Lindenmo and I decided to write a follow-up with the opposite to the Moonstone – the Shadowstone.
I read that for you, the Moonstone and Shadowstone are actually rather symbolic rather than literal fantasy things in the lyrics.
Yes, they aren’t actually “stones” – the idea is that from the beginning, we were influenced by a series of books by the Russian author Nick Perumov. The stories had swords which helped to uphold the symbolism of good meeting evil, which we have as well but with stones!
Symbolism is often found in our songs, and ‘Born from Shadows‘ even has it on the cover art which makes it even more mystical. Personally, I like to write like this because you put it down in a way for everyone else to make their own interpretations, and well, I don’t want it to be direct! Heh heh heh.
The new album is perhaps the most symbolic work for Isole, and we’ve continued this tradition because that’s just the way we approach the lyrics.
One of the arguments in metal’s favour is that it’s a music for “smart people”, since it draws on literature, politics and philosophy. With this in mind, how do you feel that doom metal as a subgenre is ideal for what Isole do?
Well, I think that this isn’t anything special for doom metal, though in the metal scene it’s perhaps more used in this style than others. I listen to other kinds of music, and melancholic music often uses metaphors which I guess suits the mood.
I don’t know if doom metal is for “smart people” as I don’t consider this to be the case. You can certainly use metaphors in angry music as well, but I don’t know if that’s what happens because I don’t listen to that much of it. For us though, metaphors work fine!
I should point out though, that the “Moonstone trilogy” that we talk about doesn’t run through the albums, but just consists of individual songs that are tied together.
I was wondering about that! Also because Isole have mentioned ‘Silent Ruins’ to be a concept album about redemption.
Yes, that one’s definitely a concept album! There is actually one story which goes through the whole record, and I hope that there’ll be a follow-up on this theme in the future. Henrik wanted to do a long story which continues on two albums, but now he’s not really an active member of Isole anymore. We don’t know what the future will hold for us when it comes to his work, though I hope that he’ll finish up this story for us.
Where is Henrik?
He has some personal reasons for why he won’t be sharing the stage with the rest of Isole, although he did record the album with us. I think he won’t be in the band again, albeit he still wants to hang out with us and maybe write something! I hope that he’ll continue to do that.
Henrik has been away from the band’s performances for one and a half years; he wrote half of the lyrics for the new album, and every lyric on ‘Silent Ruins‘. He’s pretty much the main lyricalist in Isole (despite his absence).
As for the other half of ‘Born from Shadows’, I did three songs (‘The Lake‘, ‘My Angel‘ and ‘Condemned‘) and the other guitarist Daniel contributed one. If Henrik had been a full-time member, then he would have likely done everything himself.
I’d like to ask about ‘My Angel‘ – religious motifs are usually a common theme for doom metal, yet this time around, the angle is rather different…
That one is actually about my first born, when my wife and I were expecting a child! It’s not an angel in the Bible, but a personal one that tips my own world aside as my life changed when I became a father.
How has fatherhood put a strain on your other life as a musician?
Well, I’m being restrained yet I’ve also become more active when it comes to making compositions and such; you also get more inspiration when you become a parent. The time issue, however, is the hardest one, in that while you do get more inspiration you have to skip something else in order to handle it. In my case, I’ve been skipping my sleep because I had to go out to the rehearsal room and studio at nighttime. Then I had to go to work, afterwards! Ha ha ha!
Often it’s assumed that when a musician becomes a parent, their work changes - their focus becomes more about positivity and happiness no matter what style of music they work with. How do you feel about such an assumption?
Everything has two sides – it would be ridiculous for me to write joyful lyrics to sad and melancholic music. When I write, I think about my own fears and experiences from life. I still have to search my dark side in some way, as yes; you are full of happiness when you become a parent.
Our drummer Jonas had a newborn a couple of months ago, so I’m not the only one in the band who has kids. He’s been experiencing the same issues with time that I have, so it’s kind of nice! (chuckles) It’s good to have someone else who understands that it’s not that simple to go to rehearsal, as you have other things to deal with. But I believe he’s having very hard time of it, since he’s also our sound engineer.
So how do you manage to balance time between Isole and not just your family, but your day job?
Again, I have no free time at all! It’s kind of hard, as I now have two kids and work forty hours a week, not to mention that I’m also involved in Ereb Altor, with whom I’m recording the eighth album at the moment. I get no free time at all, though I guess I find my sanctuary in the studio’s rehearsal room, because then I can be alone for a while to ponder (about things).
You learn after a while how to spend your time wisely, so that you can do everything, but in the beginning it’s difficult.
At this point, I want to return to the music and songwriting on ‘Born from Shadows‘. Listening to the album, it’s clear that it carries on with the crushing heaviness from ‘Silent Ruins‘ which isn’t sacrificed for melodic hooks.
How does Isole view heaviness?
It’s not important at all! It’s just the way it comes out. You never know how the music will turn out when you’re composing. Myself, I don’t say that “I will do a crushingly heavy album”. I’m not even trying to do any particular style, except for the melodies that I like.
Since Isole was born, heaviness has always been at our foundation, yet it’s not something we’ve been consciously trying to do. On this record, you can even hear some other elements that have never featured before for us. Nothing’s planned ever, and we will continue to do music for ourselves. I’m not making music to be famous or make money, as it’s ridiculous to play doom metal if you have such ambitions! I only do it to please my own needs.
With that in mind, how would you say that the new album meets your own needs?
I’m very pleased with the outcome of this album… it’s darker than ever, and I’ve been listening to a lot of dark music lately where I’ve learned new things when it comes to music. It gets tiring to play really slow music all the time, so you want to put something different into it to get some variation. I need my music to make something happen all the time – while I like very heavy sounds, it can’t always be so. You need a lot of things inside a song to make it more interesting, which is what you have to work on if you have a track that’s about ten minutes long or more.
I’d say that I’m satisfied with the new release – it’s not very often that I am! Maybe one year after, you see the flaws and your mindset is different from what it was back then, but I find it really hard to please myself with what I make. Right now I’m proud of ‘Born from Shadows‘; it has the small variations here and there which keeps it from being boring.
I don’t know what I’ll be saying one year from now, but now the small things are there that do it for me.
K. Ann would like to thank Crister Olsson and Napalm Records for this interview.
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