A year shy of their 30th anniversary, Dark Funeral are still on fine form embodying the mid 1990s sound of melodic but viciously intense Swedish black metal, their new album, We are the Apocalypse landing this month. The band are not all that prolific, this being only their seventh full-length in that time, meaning that when their trademarked sound arrives once every half decade or so it's something to be valued and retains a great deal of its fiery impact.
Its predecessor 'Where Shadows Forever Reign' from 2016 saw a not un-notable rush of renewed interest in the band as both in atmosphere and aesthetic it threw back to their classic debut 'The Secrets of the Black Arts', and so on the eve of its following 'Apocalypse' guitarist and lone constant member Lord Ahriman speaks on keeping that Satanic light burning.
'Where Shadows Forever Reign' turned out to be one of the more celebrated Dark Funeral albums, so was there a feeling for you of wanting to keep up the momentum that album achieved with this one?
Ahriman - Not really, if you think in those terms then you won’t really be doing yourself any good. The main thing you’ve gotta focus on is if you can impress yourself and whatever else is secondary. I wanna top everything I’ve done in the past always but that doesn’t always mean the audience will think the same as I do, but hopefully they do. The last record of course was a huge success for us as a band, but we’ve had those kind of periods with older records too.
It has been a number of years passing as it was with the last record. What is it about your working style these days that suits and benefits from these lengthy gaps?
Ahriman - Me and Heljarmadr worked pretty much the same on this record as we did the last one, we’ve found a good way of working together with me basically sitting in my home studio trying out ideas, and then him writing lyrics and recording vocals, I arrange everything in my studio and we take it step by step. The reason why there are those gaps is that after every record we tour for maybe four years, and when we are touring my full focus is on that. I’ve tried to bring with me studio equipment on the tour bus and write there but it’s just not for me, I can’t work like that. I’ve got to be by myself and disappear into my own world and go from there.
With the enforced stop to touring though that you've had in the last couple of years, is that the most extended real break for your band that you've ever had?
Ahriman - Yes but coincidentally it was planned. We had already laid out the plan to completely focus on the new record when the pandemic hit the world. We did the last show for the touring cycle on February 8th if I remember correctly, and after that everybody went on vacation to recharge and my plan was always when I come back from my vacation, I’ll get straight into the writing process. I had already spent a couple of years recording ideas so I had a lot of ideas but I hadn’t started writing actual songs. When I was on that vacation, the whole world closed down and I got stuck in Mexico actually for an additional ten days because all the flights were cancelled. But it worked okay for us because we had already planned.
Last time was a first record with a new vocalist, so second time around with a consistent line-up now, are you feeling strengthened and more in tune as a group by that and has that affected this record?
Ahriman - I feel like that every time you have to change a member for whatever reason, you always dwell on what went wrong, what didn’t work, if there was some issue, and you always try to not repeat the same mistake again. So when we got the current line-up together, we were thinking of these things that haven’t worked in the past, and what we needed to do to eliminate those kind of things so we can all be on the same level and keep the band pushing forward. You need to find that good chemistry within the group. I think that helped making us a stronger unit, and like I said we worked on this record pretty much the same way we did the last one starting from where we left off. We learned a lot as you always do when working on new songs.
Yours is a band that has such a defined and recognisable style established over the years. When going into a new record like this one, how do you try and push it?
Ahriman - Well already after the last record I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with this record, or at least some ideas of what I wanted to improve with the individual elements of the music. I wanted to work more with the drums, work more with some tom grooves and some more rhythmic passages, and to bring in a little more rhythmic ideas into the guitars also. On the last record we managed to make the symbiosis between the music and the vocals so much stronger than it was in the past, and we really managed to bring that forward with this record. I get such a strong reaction from the vocals and storytelling on this album, much more than before. You have to find those ways to keep yourself inspired when you write music and when I really got into this world, I felt really comfortable in it and free to explore. Even though you can still hear it’s Dark Funeral in the flesh, you’ll experience some new things in that realm.
'When I'm Gone' on the album is a slower, more melancholic song that seems to be dealing with your own mortality a bit. Is that kind of thing coming out more in your music as you go on?
Ahriman - It was there a bit before, we had 'As I Ascend' on the last record, but in those melancholic songs you can bring in more of yourself in a stronger way than perhaps more aggressive and faster songs. For me it’s a challenge to find a good balance, to keep with that intensity that I like but if you can make it melancholic while keeping it intense within the song, then I find it really inspiring.
Meanwhile what made 'Nightfall' and 'Let the Devil In' the clear single tracks?
Ahriman - 'Let the Devil In' I find to be more of a different song than 'When I’m Gone', and one reason we decided to use that song as a single was that it has this other side. Everybody knows we can play fast so it was interesting to have the first single be not exactly that type of song.
Your older records were in part shaped by production from Peter Tagtgren but these last records you've been working with Daniel Bergstrand, so what is it about his approach that's brought you back?
Ahriman - He knows us and how we work now. We’ve worked with him for three or fours records so we’ve probably worked with him more than we did with Peter. You wanna work with somebody who is easy and knows the type of music you play, what you want to say with the music, someone who is easy to discuss with, so there are many reasons we choose to work him. If we were to go to Peter again, we have talked about it, he is more experienced these days as are we in recording, and when you are younger your feet are younger and everything is more crazy when in the studio, so I don’t know how different it would be.
The last album brought Necrolord back to paint the cover art as he did your iconic first album cover. Is there a pronounced difference between what end up being the red and the blue Dark Funeral albums? Those dual colour palettes are so pronounced for Dark Funeral that it'd be a shock if one didn't fall into one of them; is there a difference in your mind as to why some albums end up going one way and others the other?
Ahriman - That’s nothing that we as a band have even thought about, that’s all made up by fans and the media, but it is of course interesting to see how people read things in different ways. We worked with this Italian guy Daniel Valeriani for the three red albums 'Diabolus Interim', 'Attera Totus Sanctus', and 'Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus', and that was a concept for three records that we come up with that go together as a story. That story was done with the third cover so naturally we moved on, and I had spoken to Necrolord over the years and said forever that we should work together again. On the last record the timing was right and we discussed a lot how to develop what we started together with 'The Secrets of the Black Arts' and take that theme and story further. Unfortunately he didn’t do the artwork for this record, he had been involved with the process for years but unfortunately he didn’t manage to finish it in time. That story that those two images tell we were to keep working on, and it was a bummer that it wasn’t finished in time for this record, but the painting was made for us with our ideas together so we’re definitely going to use it for something in the future when it is finished. When we realised it wasn’t going to make it in time for the deadline, it was put aside and we said together to resume it when it was time to finalise it. The 'We are the Apocalypse' cover then was done by Marcelo Vasco for another thing originally, so we had it ready for this record. It is a great artwork, but it maybe doesn’t have the same depth that we had planned with Necrolord since we had been discussing and talking about the artwork for a number of years already. I gave Marcelo some ideas for this though and I think he did a really good job.
When Dark Funeral started there were such defined styles and scenes in places like Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Operating now in 2022 in the digital age, is there a difference for you in how you function outside of those intense musical movements?
Ahriman - Of course thirty years later things are so different, but if I compare myself to lots of other friends who have been around for as long as I have, I am still kind of old school in my way of working. I try to look into the future and what’s done is done, but I am kind of primitive in certain ways. Everything in the 90s was more chaotic and when you are younger everything is chaos, but as much as I like chaos I do like controlled chaos these days compared to in the beginning.
Lastly you have the album release show with Samael being streamed in April. Can you tell us a little bit about what's in store for viewers?
Ahriman - We are bringing in lots of pyro, lots of lights, it’s going to be big production for Dark Funeral. We are gonna try to do the most epic show that we can. We are going to present some new songs but even though it is an album release show, we always want to give fans from every generation and record something, so we’ll be keeping a pretty decent mix from all records even though it gets harder with every new record added. Old school fans will get their share and also newer fans something they like. Just before speaking to you, I was on a meeting with our crew planning the set-up, and last week we had a meeting at the venue with the pyro people and the video producer who will do the livestream, so there is lots of planning and we really want to make some really good of this. And it’s going to be live; it’s not going to be pre-recorded like many bands have done with this. That’s cool in one way but for me if you do it live then it has to be live. When you put it on online, it’s going to be right there when it’s happening.
We Are the Apocalypse from Dark Funeral is available now via Century Media Records - HERE