Vanhelga is one of the most interesting projects to emerge from the area of „extreme“ metal. Period. It is rare to encounter such intensity, such subtlety and so much despair, enshrined in such an excellent musical presentation. I am proud to present this long and in-depth interview with the former sole member of the band 145188 and the newly introduced vocalist and lyricist Johan Gabrielson (ex-Lifelover), who answered questions concerning self-destruction, their homecountry Sweden, their views on life and their past and upcoming musical works.
TM: Hello! First of all, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Your new album “Sömmar” has just been released. What can you say about the album?
145188: We have done some releases in the past and this time we felt like doing a really low-fi and raw release and eventually this urge turned into “Sommar”. I have always wanted to do a really “old-school demo” type of recording. So when I worked with “Sommar” I did everything possible to make it miserable in every way. I wanted to channel anxiety, desperation, misery and other positive things into the feelings and atmosphere we wanted to express on the album.
When I recorded the drums I was totally fucked up in many ways. I was bleeding all over the drums and needed medical care but I wanted to capture my current state of melancholy on the recording so I finished the drums first. When recording guitars and such I used a shitty small amplifier I had found in the attic and a shit microphone. And of course I always had a blunt knife to cut myself with at all times. Before recording I often meditated over things that are really painful for me just to get in a good mood. I also drank the blood and painted my face and body with it. I have no problems with my own blood but when I was going to taste my friends blood I felt a bit nauseous.
I'm pleased with how “Sommar” turned out and I must say I'm surprised over the overwhelming response it got.
Johan Gabrielson: There is not much to be said... It's my first work with Vanhelga and the process was quite interesting. Before recording the vocals I had never met 145188 before, but afterwards I was offered to take over as the band's vocalist. Apparently he was happy with my effort. The album itself is from my side a way to express my inner dialogues.
TM: Your previous album was named “Höst”, meaning autumn in English, and the current EP is named “Sömmar”. What do you want to express by referring to these different seasons? And in what way does summer coincide with the typical Black Metal ideas and themes? Do I sense a hint of irony?
Johan Gabrielson: I did not name the albums, so I would not know. However, we live in this "life" which is more or less an endless circle. Using seasons to describe this is for me very reasonable.
145188: The album is called “Höst” because I wrote most of the music and lyrics during that season. I was inspired by the dying nature and so forth. Also my own mind was dying at that time (only to be revived at a later stage).
I think I wanted to change peoples way of thinking when I chose the title “Sommar”. Most people associate summer with happiness and joy. I don't. I dislike it the most out of all the seasons. My favorite season is winter. For me summer is filled with anxiety and melancholy. I just wanted people to see things from my perspective.
TM: “Sömmar” features all of the complex melodic structures “Höst” had to offer, but the production is much more raw and less slick. Was this a voluntary decision? Do you like the way it plays out? Do you see the more aggressive nature of the slightly filthier production as a part of “Sömmar”?
145188: It was voluntary. Yes, I like the production of “Sommar”. If I hadn't liked it I wouldn't have wasted my time on it.
TM: Vanhelga’s sound is very melancholic, dark and sometimes even insane, but never primitive. How long does it take to compose the songs?
145188: It varies. Some songs are written in less than 15 minutes while others slowly grow during several months or even years. Some songs even get done at the same time we're recording them.
TM: What is the concept behind Vanhelga and what kind of themes are addressed?
145188: Vanhelga is about breaking boundaries in order to get more in touch with your true self. To transcend this filthy construction we are forced to exist in. A mockery to everyones pathetic attempt to hide from the definite darkness that surrounds us all.
Johan Gabrielson: From my side it is a way to express inner dialogues. Also a way to describe the world I live in, which seem to differ from others.
TM: Vanhelga means “to desecrate” in Swedish. What do you want to desecrate?
Johan Gabrielson: Everything. Moral, laws, society, common sense.
145188: It's about to desecrate moral values and everything that society has forced you to think upon as “holy”. It's a matter of creating your own morality and your own values. Not to just do what society has told you and live like a slave without any creativity or own will. It's about going your own path in life. To create yourself. And In order to create yourself you have to re-evaluate everything that you have been learned. For example the society says that a church is holy and you should not do that or that. I say fuck it and do whatever you feel is right (for you) instead.
TM: How important are the lyrics to the band? I remember long passages of “Höst” being purely instrumental. Since your vocals are in Swedish, non-Swedes don’t understand them. Are they missing out on something essential, or are the lyrics just a kind of bonus?
145188: For me the music has always been the easiest way to channel my feelings and inspiration. I use music as a tool to channel my inspiration. Gabrielson uses lyrics to channel his inspiration. Both parts are equally important to us but for us they are just different tools to use when being creative.
Johan Gabrielson: For me lyrics are very important. Probably because I am a lyricist. I'd recommend everyone who is interested to use google translate or something, to get a picture, however it's up to the person listening to the album. Do as you please.
TM: It is safe to say that Vanhelga is a Black Metal band. Why do you choose Black Metal as the style to convey your ideas?
145188: No. Vanhelga is Vanhelga. We play whatever we want and we don't put any labels on our music. I don't know why people consider us as a black metal band really. Sure, some of our members are practicing followers of the left hand path but the music we play have no boundaries at all (just like LHP). If we create a song that don't sound like your typically black metal band we are still going to use it regardless what people think (as long as it is a good song to us).
Johan Gabrielson: Because blackmetal is one of the purest genres within music. It is honest.
TM: The complexity and musical qualities of your work sets it apart from most of the traditional Black Metal bands. Is a certain level of progressiveness essential to you? Do you think that the kind of music you play must break out of the classic Black Metal boundaries? Do you see Vanhelga in the lines of “classical” Black Metal? The total opposite? Somewhere in the middle?
145188: I don't think in those ways at all. Like I said earlier we create without any boundaries. To think in the terms you are suggesting is to limit oneself. We believe in total freedom when it comes to the artistic expression.
As far as progressiveness goes I think it's no point in repeating yourself. We are always exploring new ways and evolving. Stagnation is nothing of interest to us.
Johan Gabrielson: I wouldn't say Vanhelga is like "any other blackmetal-band". Sure, genre wise it had to be placed somewhere within the dsbm-sphere, but there are other influences as well. Especially on Höst and Sommar.
TM: A few years ago, the uprising of bands like Shining, Lifelover, Make a Change Kill Yourself etc generated a hype of so-called “Depressive Suicidal Black Metal”. What do you think of the term? Would you apply it to Vanhelga? Why did this hype die out so fast?
Johan Gabrielson: I wouldn't say dsbm is dead. Also, I wouldn't say that Lifelover is to be considered as dsbm. There are simply too many influences, at least after "Pulver".
Anyhow, the reason the genre - in your words died out, in my own evolved, is probably because it isn't a very interesting genre in itself. However, combined with other genres (post-rock or "traditional" blackmetal for instance) makes it very interesting. Its characteristic slow-paced, hypnotic sound is - at least for me - for me hard to resist. S
Sure, there are influences of dsbm in Vanhelga. You also find pop-influences. One could probably find lots of influences.
145188: Have no idea. I'm not so familiar with all the different kinds of black metal and their labels. Also I am not so interested in trends. I follow my own will in every situation, be it listening to music or what type of clothes I wear. As long as there are people with weak or no will-power at all there will be trends created by stronger persons who have a stronger will-power.
Some people are born wolves. Others sheep...
TM: Your home-country Sweden has given birth to a lot of artists that create negative, depressive art. Some even talk of “Scandinavian Misanthropy”. Why is it that Sweden spawns such people? What is the connection between this kind of view on life and Sweden?
Johan Gabrielson: Sweden has a long tradition of industries and alcoholism. In the beginning of the 20th century there were discussions regarding making alcohol illegal, but it never happened. However, the distribution of alcohol is still today controlled by the government to regulate the alcohol consumption. I think this gives people a feeling of hopelessness.
In the 1930s amphetamine became a very popular drug. It still is today. Working in an industry is often equivalent with long and hard shifts. Thus many swedes fell in love with this substance. Since its euphoric effects it probably helped out with the fact that it's dark almost all day during the winter. Then it became illegal. And the government was still controlling our drinking habits!
Now, I don't do speed myself but I have a theory of how this - being under "surveillance" combined with the "hopelessness" mentioned above - is destructive. Now, not all swedes walk around depressed or on amphetamines, but many people repress their angst. It's worth to mention that Sweden still has a very high suicide rate and also the highest rate of junkies dying from their addiction in the EU.
145188: Well, there are some interesting theories. Personally I don't care and I believe that we can't know anything for sure. It's just in our nature to try to explain everything even though it isn't really necessary. To me all this explaining is just a waste of time and energy.
Another explanation could be that the weather here forces us to be inside and this makes us depressed. Who knows? I say fuck it all and I pray that the end of existence will come soon.
As I said in the beginning, I have no idea really.
TM: How much are you affected by negativity, depression and hatred in your own life? Is the despair of Vanhelga 100% you, or not? Do you think that the art is more sincere when the person really is a bit “screwed up”, or doesn’t it matter?
Johan Gabrielson: My life has been filled with negativity as well as joy. I would never been able to use the negativity to create art if it wasn't for the periods of joy, also, I would not been able to create anything if it wasn't for the negativity. Nothing is only good, nothing is only bad - you can either regret things or let them evolve you.
145188: For me, terms like depression, hatred and despair are positive. I don't think there's anything negative about those things. Things are what you want them to be and things that society tells you are negative doesn't necessary have to be negative. I think everyone should experience things for themselves and create their own opinions and find their own way of living.
To me, there is a fine line between being “screwed up” and a “genious”.
TM: You have stated that you are keen on alcohol. Do you also enjoy drugs? Is intoxication a vital part of creating music for you?
145188: Yes, I enjoy drugs, otherwise I wouldn't take them. No, it's not necessary but you can reach desirable states of mind with the help of drugs. They can help you explore and utilize sides of yourself that aren't reachable in the same way when you're not intoxicated. I see drugs as tools. Just like a carpenter uses his knife to cut the carpet I use drugs to cut away and expose things in my consciousness. And just like the carpenter uses his knife to cut the carpet I use my knife to cut myself, haha.
Johan Gabrielson: I used to be addicted to drugs but I'm clean since quite a long time. Due to my medication I try not to drink too much.
TM: How did you two meet and when did you decide to team up? How would you describe your work as a duo?
145188: I found his blog (I think it was a blog). I got so impressed by his ability to express himself in words and I also felt that the things he wrote in his blog was actually exactly the same things that often went around in my own mind. It was a weird feeling because we think so alike that it could have been me who had written the things I read in his blog.
I had no idea he was a member of Lifelover when I contacted him. It was actually my girlfriend who had stumbled upon his blog by mistake and told me that I should check it out.
Later I decided to contact him and ask if he would be interested to write some Lyrics for my band (which he fortunately was). That's how we got in contact and started working together.
Our work as a duo is nothing but magic. It can't be described by words.
Johan Gabrielson: 145188 sent me an e-mail, asking if I wanted to contribute with lyrics. I had nothing better to do, so I sent him some drafts. He liked them and asked me to do some vocals. I met him at the Linköping train station and we quickly became good friends.
TM: On your Metal Archives page it says that Vanhelga has existed since 2001. Is this true?
145188: Yes, it is true. Back then I was the only member and had even recorded a whole album that never got released. I think it's saved on some old HDD somewhere. Tracks like “Tomrum” and “Breaking the chains of creation” was recorded on that album but later I re-recorded them and released them on the “Enslaved by god” demo.
TM: Let’s talk about the early days of Vanhelga. In my opinion, the first album “Mortem Illuminate Mea” had a completely different feel to it than your later works. Would you agree? Which themes did you want to address in your earlier stages?
145188: I agree. When I was working with the “Mortem Illuminate Mea” album I was on the verge of psychotic. I had all these philosophical and occult ideas that I had to manifest in some form. I always wanted to do a “classic” black metal album and eventually this album became “Mortem Illuminate Me”. The title is actually inspired by a Dissection lyric.
It's still the same themes (death, misery, transcending this pathetic existence and so forth). It's just that back than I was extremely involved in, fascinated by and also practicing the occult which you clearly will see if you listen to the album.
TM:“Angest” seemed like kind of a turning point to me. What made you take Vanhelga into this direction?
145188: It was a very chaotic period in my life. I experienced it like my whole world collapsed so that I could build a new one. During this period I came in contact with a lot of feelings that I hadn't yet explored. Everything was new to me. It was when I learned the art of dark alchemy.
TM:“Höst” is a very melodic album. How much time did it take to compose and record?
145188: It's hard to say. When I recorded “Höst” I felt like I had more time than when I worked on “Mortem Illuminate Mea”. I think I was more stressed when I recorded the first album. Convinced that I would die any day soon I had to get it out of my system before it was too late.
TM: With “Höst” you seemed to put very little emphasis on the vocals. Do you think it would have also worked out as an instrumental album? Do you see “Sömmar” as a further development in the sense that it combines “Höst”’s melodic side with vocals?
Johan Gabrielson: Since I had nothing to do with Höst, I'd rather not discuss it. I'd say Sommar is more intense, regarding vocals.
145188: The vocals on “Höst” are very experimental. I was trying different styles of singing. I actually wanted to sing the way Gabrielson sings on some tracks but I am no good at it. When Gabrielson first recorded for the “Sommar” EP I was really positively surprised to be honest. I did not know he could sing that way. I'm really impressed with his efforts and happy about the results.
TM: Johan Gabrielson, you were once a member of the mighty Lifelover. Many (unknowing?) people see Vanhelga as a follow-up project to the deceased Lifelover. What are the differences and similarities between Lifelover and Vanhelga for you personally, regarding your role as well as concept, music etc.?
Johan Gabrielson: Vanhelga is not a follow up of Lifelover. It is at most my own epilogue, lyrical-wise. Sure, there are differences. It is still music connected to the dsbm-sphere, but for me this is a totally different project. Lifelover has been done, there is no point in recreating anything. There is no point refining it, because it was perfect. This isn't a follow up from my side, it's a new beginning in a place, far, far away.
TM: You are currently also involved in the project “Eskapi”. What can you say about it?
Johan Gabrielson: I had a vision of this project when I was walking around in the Himalayas back in 2011. When I returned to Sweden I discussed my ideas with Jonas (B of Lifelover). Sadly, we never had a chance to start working with it for obvious reasons... Later on I met C.L. and we started to work with it. It could be seen as misery in words and music.
TM: 145188, what ist he meaning of your alias and how did you come up with it?
145188: If you divide 145188 with 666 you get the number 218. For me that tells me that lucifer is the lightbringer that guides us with his light towards chaos.
TM: Do you actively follow Black Metal nowadays? Any bands that have grabbed your attention lately?
145188: No I don't. The bands I'm listing to mostly are Dissection, Mayhem, Drudkh, Burzum. Also some Deathspell Omega. Sometimes I listen to Shining. I like the atmosphere of the mentioned bands.
Johan Gabrielson: Not really. However, once in a while you come across a really good band. I recommend Ofdrykkja (from Västerås, Sweden). A very interesting band.
TM: What other art forms do you enjoy? Any favourite books, films, painters etc.?
Johan Gabrielson: Literature and poetry. I'm very fond of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Kafka. I also enjoy the works of Alex Grey and HR Giger.
145188: Yes, actually I really like the art of Zszislaw Beksinski. I mostly enjoy old horror movies. I have tons of favorite books. Mostly of them are on the topic of occultism like books by “Vexior” (panparadox etc.) and also books like Liber Falxifer and the most esoterical books I own I won't tell the name of, for obvious reasons. Some of the occult books that I own are valued over 1000 € each.
TM: What does the future of Vanhelga look like? Any upcoming releases planned? “Sömmar” is listed as an EP, is it maybe a preparation for an upcoming album?
Johan Gabrielson: "Längtan" is planned to be released this year. I hope you all will enjoy it.
145188: The future of Vanhelga is chaos. Yes, our next full-length “Längtan” will be released in a few months. It will be released as digipak, vinyl and merchandise in Europe and N/S America. Three different labels are working hard on it at the moment. There will be more info soon (press-releases etc.) hopefully already in February.
TM: That’s all for now. Thank you once again for answering. Any last words, comments, greetings etc.?
145188: First of all, thanks for doing this interview with us.
I would like to greet Marcus “Mulle” Ånstad who was a friend of mine and died in drug overdose recently. I wish that he is in a better place now and that I almost envy him that he died before me. At least he don't have to endure the misery of being alive anymore.
Final words: Fuck life – Embrace Death! Never stop destroying yourself.
Johan Gabrielson: Thanks for listening to our music.