If you could just maybe set the scene for us – what was the mood in the Entombed camp coming into the sessions for Clandestine? “Of course, it’s two stone ages ago… I was still at school… almost. It’s kind of all blurred together. The first album (1990’s Left Hand Path) was basically just demos, and we did a few shows for that but it wasn’t like later when you do a show and then go off on tour for a year. So that was done and Nicke (Andersson, drummer/songwriter) who is a very restless guy, called Digby Pearson at Earache about another album, even though we didn’t have a singer. If he wants to do something he wants to do it now! So there wasn’t a lot of time between the first and second album. We just started to record it. That’s really how it’s been all along. Obviously the first album was demos but we’ve never really made demos since before recording an album. So we were just going to go in and build an album from scratch, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t have a singer. I remember everyone being really enthusiastic. We weren’t taking anything for granted. When the first album came out I remember thinking ‘if we sell a hundred of these, will they let us do another one?’! Also everything was done very quickly then, the album was recorded in a couple of weeks! Ever since then we’ve tried to recapture that sort of energy. You don’t worry about where it’s all going to end up. We were just confident that it was going to be great. You go in with all that youthful energy and you pull it off! That’s what our early albums have a lot of”.
So let’s get stuck properly into Clandestine then – the first track on the album is Living Dead – what do you remember about the track? “As I remember it, I usually wrote stuff lyrically, and Nicke had most of the music. So it would be like putting the words to the music. I used to examine records – Master of Puppets, most probably – to see how they fitted the words to a song structure. I’d read reviews where they seemed to write just like us – you go in with a song but maybe don’t have a clue where it’s going and you fit the words in… Lyrically, and I don’t know If this comes across, it’s a kind of positive, think for yourself kind of thing – make up your own mind, don’t be like one of the living dead. Without being too rosy!”
Sometimes in heavy metal the way the words sound in relationship to the music can often be just as important as the actual meaning. Sometimes that’s half the battle. “Obviously, as Swedes, we were learning as we went. You listen to music, you pick out words, and down the line you hope they won’t embarrass you too much! Our first guitar player Leif was from a Canadian family, and his father saved us from a little of that stuff. Nicke had a title for the first album, for the song that ended up being called Abnormally Deceased. It was originally titled Succulent Death until Leif’s dad pointed out that ‘succulent’ was a word you’d usually associate with something like steak! But generally I’m happy that people don’t have to know what the lyrics mean. But equally it means there’s another layer there if you want to analyse that stuff. There is some thought there”.
Track Two – Sinners Bleed. “That’s one of Nicke’s lyrics. He was saying in an interview not too long ago – and I’d never heard him explain this before – that it’s a cosmic thing… suffering on a cosmic level. Musically it’s a really cool thing. It’s got the driving double kick going, As with most of the songs on this album there’s an awful lot going on. You can’t really pick it out sometimes. When we came to do the orchestrations for the new live album (the band played Clandestine with a full orchestra – of which more later) it was interesting to dissect the album and show that it’s just a bit more than ‘open E’! I think there’s more going on in most of these songs that many people have realised. We were really playing a few steps above our ability, which you can hear… it sounds on the edge. It can fall apart at any moment! But it’s definitely a great ‘second song on the album’, where you start with a fast one, then this kind of song – then a ballad!”
Were you writing in that way at the time? There is definitely a skill to sequencing a vinyl record with two sides, isn’t there? “Yeah, definitely. We were probably looking at our favourite albums, looking at their structure. Master of Puppets again! You start with a certain type of song, and you have to keep in mind what fits onto one side of a vinyl record. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, When CDs came out, albums became longer and longer- but I don’t know if they became better and better!”
Definitely not! Now, the third track is Evilyn. “Nicke thought it would be cool to have a song with a girl’s name. The hi-hat pattern on that song comes from a Van Halen song that Nicke liked! So he put it into a death metal song – influences can come from anywhere! I’ve never heard anybody point out which song it actually comes from! You can get away with it when you put something in to a different genre! But it makes things interesting”.
The next track is Blessed Be. “That’s the ‘punk song’. Thomas (Von Wackenfeldt, the man behind the orchestrations of the Live Clandestine album) thought it would be the hardest to score because it’s ‘just’ a punk song, but it was one of the tracks that I was happiest with! But I never looked at it as being the punk song of the album. To me they are all pretty complex, and I can never get tired of them because we never really mastered them. Uffe (Cederlund, guitars) to me is one of those people that can pretty much play anything effortlessly, and when we came back to redoing this track he said ‘I can’t play this! I have to really focus!’ Again, there are lots of little things happening all over his track that most people won’t know. I think on the new live versions we’ve managed to make some of the guitar parts a bit clearer”.
When you say that listening back to the album that it’s difficult to make things out – was that a conscious decision by the band and producer Tomas Skogsberg to have that sound, or was It more a matter of time and simple economics? “We definitely didn’t have the time, and there were no computers. All the drums were done in one take, and maybe if there was a lot more time we would break it up, strip it down… look at why songs start in one tempo and get faster and faster. But no, it sounds cool. Many people might look at those recordings as demos – but we didn’t treat them as demos”.
But there’s a definite spirit you lose by doing that ‘tidying up’ process though. “Yes. The first album sounds that way because that’s who we were at the time. We were mixing hard rock with the skate thing, listening to Suicidal Tendencies, other hardcore bands. Then we did a show with the American band Atheist, who were really technical and blew us away. Kelly (Shaefer) the guitar player was a left-handed guitar player who played a right-handed guitar upside-down. He was playing this insanely technical stuff and that influenced how the sound of Clandestine developed. Taking it as far as we could in a technical direction. So you should blame Atheist for the way it sounds! But the sound is more of a ‘vibe’ rather than one where you can pick everything out. But the way we recorded it was with a view to getting the tracks down fast and getting in a singer. To this day I think Nicke would rather have had another singer on it. We were actually thinking, as a bonus to this new live album, or re-recording these songs. I don’t know if we’ll get around to doing it, but when Nicke and Uffe and I got back together in 2015 we talked about doing it. And filming the process, so that it becomes a kind of movie. The idea was maybe to do a series of seven inches, with a re-recorded song from Clandestine and then a cover version of a song which in some way influenced the music on the album. To tell the story of how the album came about and how it was done, because of course back then we didn’t have any cameras filming it. So that’s a little side project that we’ll see if we can get around to doing. And Tomas Skogsberg has rebuilt his studio as it was, so it would maybe be cool to go there and maybe film us putting down a solo, to show how it was done back in the day”.
That sounds great! Now to the next track – This is the song that got me into Entombed – I bought the twelve inch version that Earache put out – Stranger Aeons. “We were booked to do the Gods of Grind tour and they rushed that single out, which we thought was a great idea. It was the first time that we’d done a video shoot for a song. Earache flew us over to London to do it, and it was the first time we’d seen what that side of being in a band was going to be like. A little bit on the next level, I guess! A Swedish band called Army of Lovers were really big at the time, and one of the girls (Camilla Henemarkt) from that band had just left and wanted something to do so they flew her over to be in it… I guess it’s probably one of the easier tracks to get into. A little slower. It’s cool that that’s the track that got you into Entombed! The lyrics were written by a friend of ours, Kenny (Håkansson, who went on to play in The Hellacopters with Nicke Andersson), who was really into the poet Rimbaud. It’s a cool track, but what I remember most about the track today is the stuff surrounding the video shoot! They put us up in a hotel and gave us some beer money. The bass player at the time, Lars (Rosenberg) tripped up on the pavement and cut his face open. During the shoot his chin kept bleeding and he had to have a lot more makeup than the rest of us! London became almost our second home in those days. In fact the first time we came to London was to get promo shots done, and Mike Amott (Arch Enemy) was playing bass for us. Lars hadn’t joined at that point. So there’s a promo shot somewhere with Mike Amott in the band”.
It’s a small world. “Yes it is. Even though they didn’t live in Stockholm, we knew Mike’s band at the time, Carnage. In fact, the guy who got credited with doing the vocals on Clandestine, Johnny Dordevic, played guitar in Carnage! So it’s a really small world. He was a nice guy, but he played guitar. But he looked like he could sing! He looked good, and we needed someone for the promo pictures! He actually sang one line on the album. The rest is Nicke and Uffe”.
The next track is Chaos Breed. “From what I remember Uffe was just playing around with his guitar sound. He played something, not really concentrating and it caught Nicke’s ear. One of those classic ‘what was that?’ moments… and it kind of grew out of that. It’s how a lot of songs develop. Nobody really came in with ‘finished’ songs. I might come in with a part, something I might not have used otherwise, and play it. And Nicke would hear it and say ‘yes! And then this happens… and then this”. And this part… I don’t know that Nicke was listening to much King Crimson back then but we used it for Chaos Breed and our manager at the time said it sounded like the KC song 21st Century Schizoid Man. We ended up doing a cover of that song later. I really like the riffs on Chaos Breed. There is a lot of melody there. Little hooks”.
Clandestine has a very defined sound in many ways. How did you achieve that? “At the time, I thought the album sounded really extreme; now, when you go back and listen to it… the later albums started to get more sort of… muddy. This album is – and you can’t pick everything up – but it’s kind of clear. You don’t lose track of the kick drum. The bass was usually clean. When we were building the guitar sound, we’d put the drums down first with Uffe playing along with Nicke as a guide. Then we’d put down one guitar, Uffe’s, then a stereo dub of that. Then we’d have a ‘third’ guitar sound in the middle, which was mine. Uffe’s sound was the HM2 pedal sound, and then Tomas Skogsberg would build the other guitar to complement that. The HM2 sound is really extreme, but there is not much distinction or detail in the sound. So the bass and the other guitar give the sound it’s core. Tomas would say that the guitar sound came from the bass, and the bass was a ‘clean’ bass. That changed later when the bass sound started getting distorted. From To Ride, Shoot Straight and Tell the Truth the bass sound starts to eat in to the guitar and drums. In Clandestine, for being Entombed, it’s as crystal clear as we could get! And also, the mixing process was nothing like the way you mix a record today. Just like the drums were done in one take, so was the mix! We needed everybody on deck to pull off a mix. There would be outboard gear that needed to be unplugged and then replugged, like reverb, or there were knobs that need to be turned back and forth. Everybody needed to be there to do the mix. And if somebody failed one of their tasks you had to start over again. It was a group effort just to do the mix! Also we were using samples but had no way to fly them in. You had to turn up the TV and record the sample on the tape deck, then plug the tape into the recording desk and hope that it ends up in the right place. A few of the samples are mistakes but we left them in because the tools we were using were so blunt. But it brings a little magic to the record!”
Okay, three tracks to go – the next one is Crawl. “A really cool track again. I remember being amazed at how it just built from these four notes we had going over and over. After a while of course it gets a bit complicated, but I thought it was a great way to build a song. It was definitely one of Nicke’s ideas. He’s a very creative guy. It’s a great asset to have someone who can play guitar really well but also know what to do with the drums. He gets a great picture of how a song will build because he plays two instruments. We’d meet up, with an idea or two, and by the end of that session we’d have one or two songs that grew out of him and us trying things”.
The Penultimate track, Severe Burns, was left over from the writing for the first album wasn’t it? “Yes, we did it on the demos for that album. There were a few we redid for the Crawl EP. Forsaken was another one. Nicke though that he could do it better and did a new arrangement. But we never ended up playing it live. When we started rehearsing for the orchestral shows we played it again and Nicke said ‘this is my idea of a perfect death metal song!’. I always liked it but for some reason I thought it was one of those songs that he wasn’t happy with. Some songs you write you just don’t talk about much! So it cool to hear that it was actually the opposite!”
The final track was and is Through The Collonades. “The ballad of the album! It’s got a guitar pattern that Uffe played around with again. We were trying to look at how far we could take it. How we could do things differently. And some people got upset: ‘what are you doing? This doesn’t sound like the first album!’ But until about the fourth or fifth album that was our normal state – change. This song was another of the songs we’d never played live until the orchestral shows for the album. We never focussed on it enough to put it into a live show back then. Our shows were too chaotic! But if we do this album again in a live setting it would be interesting to work on it. It’s a cool track. I like it’s dynamic. I think the title has some influence from Fields of the Nephilim -Nicke and Uffe were big fans – or maybe a Swedish band called The Colonnades. But we didn’t actually know what a colonnade was as you can see from the fact that we misspelled the word on the album cover!”
So there we have it – Clandestine in the words of someone who was there. Do you look back at that time fondly? “Definitely. It was a bit of a whirlwind! We had started to get to the point of being in a band where we had ‘business issues’ which slowed things down a bit, but I don’t necessarily see the business side of being in a band as a problem. It did get a bit much after the third album, when we wanted to leave Earache, but the first three albums was just a three year period of nothing being big enough to slow us down. It was definitely our ‘happy start up time’! Kids growing up, learning and going on crazy little trips! – that’s how I remember it”.
Live Clandestine is out on May 17th.