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Wormwood - Interview

The Swedish masters of melodic black metal Wormwood are a true phenomenon of the ever fertile Swedish metal scene. They are about to release on the 16 July via Black Lodge Records their third full-length entitled Arkivet. The previous two albums, Ghostlands: Wounds From A Bleeding Earth (2017) and Nattarvet (2019), got an enviably good response, several music awards nominations and many high-chart positions. Their third offering, Arkivet, follows on the heels of this success. Arkivet is a conceptually themed album about humanity's destructive force, the inability to adapt to our nature, and our inevitable and well-deserved death. Arkivet is the reflection of Wormwood's skills on an even higher standard, taking one of the leading brands of Swedish metal into absolute heights. Wormwood was formed in 2014 and have had quite the musical journey. Starting as a black 'n' roll band, then turned into a melodic black metal band with folk and rock influences. Now, they have advanced to their true form - a unique take on Scandinavian black metal.

Interview with: Tobias Rydsheim
Conducted by: Tomaz
Edited by: Jerneja

Tomaz: Hi Tobias. I need to congratulate you on your upcoming album Arkivet. It's such a masterpiece in many aspects. How do you feel about it?
Tobias: Thank you very much! Of course, I'm excited for it to be released because I think that many have high hopes for it. The previous album, Nattarvet, was highly considered by fans, so they are looking forward to it. So am I, even though that I'm a little bit nervous about it, but that's a normal thing when you are about to release something new. Yeah, it's exciting.

Tomaz: The album is once again a conceptual one with an intriguing story. You didn't follow the previous ones, but it has to do with the post-apocalyptic world. So, tell me more about it.
Tobias: The theme of the album is set in 2023, so just a few years from now. We didn't want it to be a die-hard post-apocalyptic but something between now and before the apocalypse, when everything happens with references to what the future will bring if we as humanity will keep acting as we do. We wanted to keep it realistic in that regard and not spice it up too much with that sci-fi/post-apocalyptic stuff. We wanted it to be rooted in something real. If you open the newspaper, you will see crazy things happening right now in the world. The inspiration comes from reality, but of course, it's a little bit spiced up to give it some edge. Still, we wanted it to make sense.

Tomaz: Has the recent Covid-19 pandemic had any inspiration as well?
Tobias: Yes and no. The main theme and most of the songs were already written at the end of 2019. The pandemic came after that. We decided about what we will sing on this record before the Covid-19 hit. Of course, the pandemic was inspiring in a few ways because it feels like happening for real, and the future could be like we described it. Not only pandemic also people rioting in front of the government buildings, and all the things that happened recently in the USA, for example. A lot of stuff is similar to what we wrote before it happened. I don't know if it's fun or is it frightening, so you decide.

Tomaz: So it's between politics, society, pandemic, post-apocalypse and similar things.
Tobias: Yeah, of course, and also it's about how we threaten the environment, about nature. We are a very "nature romantic" band, so there are some themes in a few selected songs that contain criticism towards humanity, what we have done and where we are going. It's not like a political message from us but more like putting the facts on the table to show humanity if this is good.

Tomaz: It's more like a warning?
Tobias: You can say it's like that. We don't belong to any political belief system. We only want to bring you the facts and some fiction also.

Tomaz: Some editions of the album will come together with a novel written by Mikael Strömberg. Is there some connection between his writings and your lyrics?
Tobias: Yes, it is. He is a horror author and has written a lot of stuff before. I contacted him and told him about our vision, our song and that we want to make a short movie/music video, and that I want him to bring his skills into it. We can make this video together and connect it with his novel. So, the song "The Archive", the video and Mikael's novel are all connected; they belong together. The novel is much longer than the video, and we used only the first 12 pages for it to be filmed. Everyone who'll watch the video and is curious about what will happen should read the book. The book will be released in Swedish and English.

Tomaz: The video for "The Archive" is really impressive. I was wondering if the actors are professional ones or some friends of yours? The acting is really good...
Tobias: They are not professionals at all. Everybody was in front of the camera for the first time. Some of them are our friends, and some of them read the ad on Facebook where we asked for people, and they responded to it. So, some of them we don't know at all. They have never met each other before. It was very interesting to see all this happening - everybody got along very well, and the outcome of the work is just great. It was a very cool experience to put this project together.

Tomaz: It's refreshing to watch videos like is this one. It's that sort of a video that you can watch over and over again. It's something special, but I didn't completely understand the ending of it. Is it meant that the main protagonists die in the end?
Tobias: The ending is supposed to be confusing, as you can see in the video. As I told you, the video goes along with the book, so you'll understand everything when you'll read the book. That's my answer, and I'm not going to tell you more because we want to build up to something here.

Tomaz: But it will be revealed and developed in any upcoming video if you are making it?
Tobias: There will be one more video, but it won't be as cinematic as this one for "The Archive". It will be more of an art video. That video is in the same universe, but they don't connect, even though they both talk about the same kind of stuff. So, to understand everything, you must read the novel.

Tomaz: The new album is, from the music perspective, a bit more progressive, even more flowing and also more cinematic. There's almost no folk metal in it, which was one of the main things on the previous two albums. What can you tell me about this direction?
Tobias: I agree with you. There are indeed fewer folk-inspired elements in it. Is there a reason for that? Not really. I guess that the theme of this album didn't require many folk hints and flirts. Our previous album, which was a concept album also, with 19th century Sweden theme, and there the folk tunes did fit better. On this new album, which is thematically placed here and now, the inspiration didn't come from our culture but from our modern way of living. In some parts, we have folk melodies as well, only to enhance the feeling that we are in Sweden. The album is set in the Scandinavian environment, even though what we talk about is something global. We also like to experiment with different kind of influences. We haven't abandoned the folk tunes forever, we just tried to be a little different and some things come and go.

Tomaz: This kind of approach suits you great. The album is amazing, very captivating, and there are many breathtaking melodies. It has a great vocal job, and I also notice a different kind of production. It feels more rocking yet still very intense and thick.
Tobias: Yeah, the only thing that we did as before was the place where we recorded the drums, with the same technician, engineer and studio for that. Everything else I recorded and produced by myself with the gear that I got. I rented my friend's studio for the mix and vocal recording, and I was in charge of the production. The guy who owns the studio, Jonathan, mixed and mastered it. He's not a metal guy at all; he works with pretty famous Swedish pop acts, mostly radio mainstream stuff. It was the first rock/metal thing that he ever did. I was sure that this was some kind of gambling with the sound. I also knew he would do some things I don't like, but before finishing everything, I went to the studio, and we did some work together on the final mix. I think that it turned out pretty good. You know, when you take the guy from the outside of the metal world, he'll add something different, something that we wouldn't do otherwise because we are very focused on metal and its norms. So, taking a pop guy was a sort of gambling, but in a good way, I think.

Tomaz: And yet these are not the only differences. As well the lyrics are now mostly English...

Tobias: I think that there's not an answer to say: this is why. It just happened to be that way, but if I think about it, I guess that it's mostly because of the theme of the album. It seems that some stuff works better in English, while some other stuff is better in Swedish. It depends on what kind of events you want to describe. On this album, we have only one song in Swedish. I told you before about the matter with folk influences, the same is with the Swedish language, we haven't abandoned it, and we will most definitely have more songs in Swedish in the future, but this is how it looks like for this album.

Tomaz: As well, you have now a full-time bass guitarist in the band, Oskar Tornborg, while you were the one who played it before if I'm not mistaken. What kind of a surplus is that for the band?
Tobias: Of course, it's a plus to have a full line-up again. We had some session bassists in between, so we always had a bassist on the stage. Now Oskar is a full member of the band. Every musician has his originality and qualities that I wouldn't think of doing on the bass guitar. He's also a funny guy to have around. Oscar handles his instrument very well. You know, it's a relief to be a full line-up again. But it's bad for us to live in different places since it's a struggle to get everybody to rehearsals. All of the members also have daytime jobs, families... So, the more people, the harder it is to find the right time to do it, but it's great for the band.

Tomaz: How did the working process go to make this album happen. Were you rehearsing and composing songs together, or you mostly did the composing yourself?
Tobias: I used to write most of the songs. I come up with some ideas, then record some rough demos that I send to the band and then everybody has a saying for it. After that, we pick up the best songs, and we try them in the rehearsal place. Sometimes we change the arrangements together. We work with different drum beats and similar. Some of the songs are finished from day one and sound the same from the demo to the final album version, while some of them can change quite a lot. It's mainly I who do the hard job, and then we all together add the flavour to the final product.

Tomaz: On the new album, you also have three guest musicians, Martin Björklund playing the violin, Moa Sjölander and Walter Basile as back vocalists. In which songs can we hear them and how it was working with them?
Tobias: All of these people are pretty close friends of ours. Martin has already been on the older records of ours. He plays the violin in Månegarm, where I'm also a live guitarist. Moa is doing some backup vocals in the song "The Archive", Walter is also doing some backup there, among some other songs. Sometimes you hear them more and sometimes less. It's good to have friends that can achieve different things than we as a band. We let them come and do their thing. It's fun to experiment.

Tomaz: Another interesting thing is that on the last song, "The Gentle Touch Of Humanity", which is again an amazing epic and cinematic track, you used samples of speeches from different people. The only one that I recognize is the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Who are the other ones, and how did you come to this idea?
Tobias: We wanted to pick up the random events from the years that have been catastrophic in many different kinds of ways. It's about the environmental stuff, terrorism, wars, diseases, or whatever. A few of them are police officers, news readers, some politicians,... random people talking. There's no symbolism in who they are. The symbolism is in what they say. I tried to make an audio collage of what humanity really can be when we are a bad kind of creatures. The initial idea for this was to have this very long and boring episode of this song. A lot of people would skip it. The point is that the ones who think that it's boring and those who will skip it downrate the song and they are the ones who should listen to it because it's all about ignorance and why we are such an ignorant species. It's also about why we have such a thirst for blood. I can't say whether is a good or a bad thing we did; we just wanted to point out the facts.

Tomaz: I think it's a very good addition, yet it makes the song very dynamic and cinematic. Another unusual thing is the front cover artwork. Why it's all white?
Tobias: At first, the album was meant to be titled Vita Arkivet, which means the white archive. It is like a testament you write with your last wishes and pieces of information that you want to give to the people that you leave behind when you die. The symbolism of this is that we wanted it to be some kind of the white archive of humanity. Unfortunately, we had to change the name of the album. I don't know if you've heard about that, but there's a burial service in Sweden, and they have the copyright for the name Vita Arkivet. We got an e-mail from their lawyers who were pissed off about the fact, that we want to release something that they think they own. They threatened to sue us, and even though we also have lawyers, we realized that we couldn't win this fight. So we had to change the name and make it shorter. It's still the same message and idea from it. Regarding the artwork, we wanted it to be very simple and bureaucratic, to say that this is no fun at all. It's a blank, boring and minimalistic paper you get when you have to write some serious stuff. We didn't want to put on it some cool heroes or fire breathing dragons because that wouldn't be serious at all. It should be stiff, bureaucratic and boring.

Tomaz: And what about your personal opinion about the things that you talk about in the album. Do you think that something like that can happen?

Tobias: This is a tough question. It would be naive to say that we are not heading there, but also the things aren't so bad as we described. I take it more like a hint of what we can expect if we keep going this way. Of course, there are problems in the world, and everybody now alive knows that. In many cases, we humans are to blame. On the other side, you can always discuss this from the scientific point of view, of what you can prove and all that stuff, so it's not our game. I don't want to use the word "fiction", even though that there's some of it in all this just to make it more interesting and scary.

Tomaz: Also, some fiction stories from movies turned into reality no matter how scary those were. Now, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, you had to cancel many live shows, I guess, but you put much more effort into writing the new album, and it'll be released sooner than otherwise.
Tobias: Yes, the pandemic hit us hard, just like every other band, and not just bands but the whole music business. Many gigs were cancelled but we still did what we have planned to do, not the shows but putting together this album because it was already planned before the pandemic hit. Regarding the live shows this year, everything is cancelled for us, except for the two Swedish dates in December, but we still don't know if it's going to happen or not. Of course, we hope that it's opening up soon, so I still have the faith to get on the stage in December. Next year, since everything was postponed, I hope that all the bookings from 2020 and 2021 will finally happen. It will be quite a few festivals, one-day gigs all over Europe. The sad thing is that many smaller promoters who put together the gigs went into bankruptcy and they don't exist anymore, so a lot of gigs that we were booked I don't think that will happen at all, because people behind them have no money. We will see, we are not the only band in this mess, and I hope that the next year will bring some rock 'n' roll.

Tomaz: We are all hoping for that. Is it difficult for a band like you to organize a tour, since, as you said before, you all have full-time jobs, families and such stuff? Are longer tours an option for Wormwood?
Tobias: It's definitely an option. Yes, it's hard to plan the tours when you get older and have more responsibilities, but all the band members want to do it. So, it will happen, and we will make that work. When we get a good offer from the promoter, then we will make it sure to happen.

Tomaz: I would love to see you playing live someday... I was doing some research and found out that Wormwood is also a herb. How did you come up with this name back then?
Tobias: The origin of the word wormwood you can trace it in the Bible, there's a star falling from the sky, like a comet or whatever, and that star will splash down in the water and make it sour. People who drink that water will get sick and then die. I think that the herb also got its name from this Biblical event. It's a bitter herb also used in absinth. So, Wormwood originates in the Bible, even though that we don't have any biblical themes in our songs. We came across that story and that word, and we liked it. I think it was our singer Nine who came up with it and we all agreed on it. Later on, I realized that the band Marduk, also from Sweden, have an album with the same name. I didn't know that at the time because I'm not a fan of Marduk in that way, but that's how it is, and nobody was upset because of that.

Tomaz: Do you have your favourite song on the new album or any which means more than any other to you?
Tobias: I like them all in different ways. It's hard to choose because I like different parts of the songs, different riffs also. The song "End Of Message" is one of the songs that I liked a little extra because it has many fun guitar parts that I like to play. That song was written a long time ago, but it never ended up as a full song before, so I was happy to finally use some of those riffs to build up this song. I have a weak spot for some bluesy kind of solos which you can hear in "The Archive" and "The Gentle Touch Of Humanity" for example, this kind of metal meets blues stuff. I like the vibe that it gives. I can't tell you which is my favourite song.

Tomaz: I understand. It's almost the same for every musician. On this album, there are no fillers. It's a cohesive and compact album with a nice drive. Tell me some words about your musical influences.
Tobias: Of course that I have my heroes since I was a kid. I can say that it's mainly Iron Maiden and Kiss. Kiss is my first love, while Iron Maiden is my biggest love. I was exploring a lot of all the kinds of rock, metal, folk music and also some other genres, but as a songwriter, I don't listen to that much music anymore. I rather write music, and inspiration comes from other stuff than from the already written music. I can say that different thoughts and events that I came across inspire me. Nature is also a huge inspiration. I'm walking a lot out in the forest. Other forms of art are also inspiring. If I seek inspiration in other music, it's usually not metal. My philosophy is: why would I do the same stuff that was already done. On the other hand, something you might have heard, for example, ten years ago might indeed be deep inside of you, and it comes out as an inspiration. I don't know, but if I have to choose the source of my inspiration, it's not from music.

Tomaz: How come you chose black metal for your artistic expression? Ok, I know that Wormwood is not a typical black metal band but still...
Tobias: It wasn't something that I chose; it happened naturally. This black metal-ish vibe speaks to me and comes to me naturally, yet it has a lot to do with where I'm living. My surroundings, the weather,... I often say that it's not a coincidence that this type of music is rooted here in Scandinavia. Just like reggae music is from Jamaica or skate-punk is from California, I think that the geography has a lot to do with the vibe. Then when music becomes a thing it can travel over the borders, and it can also evolve. But as I said, this kind of music is rooted here in Scandinavia, it's a part of our culture, and I think that's why it's the same with me. I could never write a reggae song and be confident with it.

Tomaz: I'm pretty sure that Arkivet will be on the top of the lists of many people this year. As well I'm sure that some awards will follow. But Wormwood was already nominated and awarded before with the previous album. It also got some high positions on many charts. How much does this kind of success affect you as a musician?
Tobias: When we realized that so many people like the album and when all those nominations came, we were shocked. I never suspected this. At first, we thought it's some kind of a joke, but now after some time has passed, I feel honoured and proud of it. You know, the wave of success we had was instantly killed by Covid because we couldn't tour with that album. A lot of people from all around the world keeps writing to us and telling us how much they appreciate our music. It's a little bit surreal to me because these are the songs that I wrote here in my apartment. Yeah, it's fascinating and fantastic that we achieved something that means a lot to people who are not in any kind of relationship with us. In that sense, the songs nowadays mean more to the fans than to me who wrote them, because it has become something that I can't control anymore. The same thing is with the band as a concept. We can't control it, in the same way as in the beginning when nobody knew about us. Yeah, it's a fascinating and a cool ride, you know. We just have to fasten our seatbelts and ride along with them.

Tomaz: You made yourself known and successful quite soon. Already your very first EP was a very appreciated thing inside the metal scene when it got released. So, what would you recommend to bands striving for some recognition for many years, are releasing many albums and still nobody gives a shit about them. Many of them are doing a hard job only to gain some recognition, but somehow they can't get it. What's the receipt for that?
Tobias: I got these questions a few times before and thought about it a lot. The main thing that the band has to do before they go online is a good product, which means good songs. I will not say that I'm the best songwriter in the world, there are thousands of songwriters out there who have no recognition at all, and they are much better than me, so there's also a moment of luck. You have to be at the right spot at the right time. But you'll not get further from there even if you have luck and all possible connections, you still need to prove it with your songs; that's the main thing that will sell. Another thing is the mainstream music, not much of it is any good. You know, the media and modern society hype the wrong things by making stupid people famous, and that's a real shame, while you have super talented real musicians, skilled as fuck, and nobody will ever care about them. It's sad, and I can't give any advice but to say that they should keep on struggling, as I and the entire band also do. If you want to play music just for the masses and other people, then you are here for the wrong reasons. You need to be proud of what you are making, and you need to have a great time with your music. My songs are written because I like to write music. The main goal is not to get a raise and cheers from other people, but that's a bonus that should come after.

Tomaz: Arkivet will be released by Black Lodge Records. The same label as your previous album, Nattarvet, in 2019. I expected that when the new promo will come, I'll see the name Nuclear Blast Records, Napalm Records, Century Media or Metal Blade, for example. Did any of these big labels contact you?
Tobias: We were contacted by two of them. I'm not going to say by which ones, but they wanted us right there and right now. But as it works in the business, you have contracts, and unfortunately, we were stuck with Black Lodge, but on the other hand, I'm happy to work with them. They are a Swedish label, we speak the same language and I live close to their office. We have a good workflow together. The first record deal we had was with a small label from another country. We were speaking a different language, and when you are about to decide about the important things, you often end up with misconception and slow workflow. I think that Black Lodge Records is perfect for us right now, but I can see us climbing up and get signed by a big label in the future. In a way, it's good that it didn't happen now because we still need some more time to find the real essence of what we want before we are mature enough to go big.

Tomaz: Thanks, Tobias, for your time. I wish you a lot of success with the new album Arkivet, this stunning work of blackened art. Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans and Terra Relicta readers at the end of this interview?
Tobias: Of course, I'm happy to take part in this interview. I hope that as many people as possible will hear our new album and I hope that they will like it. We have put a lot of effort into making it, with all the struggles when you produce something like that. I'm happy with the result, and I can't wait to get feedback from the fans. I also hope that we will get some attention from people who never experienced our music before. And of course, I'm longing to go out and play live, to meet everybody again, to play at festivals, in small clubs and big ones as well. These are exciting times, and at the same time, it's boring.

Wormwood links: Facebook, Bandcamp, Black Lodge Records, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube.

Wormwood line-up: Nine (vocals), Tobias Rydsheim (lead guitar, keys, backing vocals), Daniel Johansson (drums), Jerry Engström (rhythm guitar), Oskar Tornborg (bass, vocals)

Wormwood discography:
- The Void: Stories From The Whispering Well [EP] (2015)
- Ghostlands: Wounds From A Bleeding Earth (2017)
- Nattarvet (2019)
- Arkivet (2021)