I was a bit worried when I heard I was to interview Henrik Ohlsson, drummer from Swedish melodic death metal outfit Scar Symmetry. Just for starters; melodic and death metal are not two things that sit well in my mind, Firstly I always end up picturing Europe in unholy union with Nuclear Assault or some other unnatural marriage.
Secondly, since 2008, Scar Symmetry’s had two singers. Yes, two singers; Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist. One does the clean vocals and backing death metal growls, the other reverses and does lead death metal growls and clean backing vocals. Strange but true.
It’s 10:30am and a balmy two degrees centigrade in Sweden when I make the call. Henrik sounds decidedly jolly so I must be one of the first interviewers of the day. We run through the basics:
"What’s the new album called? – The Unseen Empire”
"Ooh, sounds like a concept album, is it? – Yes”
"When’s it coming out? – April 15”
Henrik is enthusiastic; “It’s sort of a concept album because all the songs circulate around the same topic which is the new world order, the illuminati…that kind of stuff. It’s basically about an elite group ruling the world in secrecy. This album is trying to shine a light on those people.”
It’s all a bit mysterious. Henrik says the conspiracy ideas were alluded to on 2006's Pitch Black Progress but have been given full reign on the new album. Scar Symmetry are a hard working bunch, they seem to work the album, tour, album, tour cycle - they recently finished touring for the 2009 album Dark Matter Dimensions but the guys are pretty laid back.
"We don’t fight that much, we’re really easy going guys. It’s really hard to hold a band together if you’re all fighting.”
It’s true. Stabbing your singer does not make the tour any easier.
Once the album is released, they’ll be doing a bunch of festival gigs in Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Germany through the European spring and summer months. It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it.
Scar Symmetry have tried a couple of times to get a tour in Australia. A harder edge comes into his voice as Henrik explains: “For some reason it hasn’t happened, we’re not really in control of that. It’s all about the people who arrange shows and the guys who book us. We’d like to play there but we need the opportunity to do so.”
The warmth comes back into his voice as we talk about gigs, and you can tell he loves playing live.
"It differs a lot from town to town and country to country. You can go to a town in Germany and it’ll be really great and then you go to the next town and it sucks. And then there are cultural differences as well, maybe the people in the states are more open and sociable compared to Sweden?”
Henrik rattles off a list of bands they’d love to tour with: Iron Maiden; Judas Priest; Disturbed; Killswitch Engage.
He talks fondly about the last U.S tour and how guitarist Jonas Kjellgren, whilst blind drunk, broke his arm performing Elvis kicks in the tour bus, and how Henrik himself was threatened with a backdoor search at the Canadian border.
I turn to the subject of the two singers.
Personally I don’t see why a band shouldn’t have two singers – go mad I say. Have three. But don’t Roberth and Lars fight over who gets which melodies to sing?
"Actually it’s the guitarists who arrange the vocals so they don’t get to fight. Of course they have ideas when we’re in the studio recording the album but the main riffs are arranged by Jonas and Per [Nilsson]”
Listening to Illuminoid Dream Sequence from The Unseen Empire reminds me of a Blade Runner-esque movie soundtrack, a bit spacey; all synths and chunky riffs but then it goes all 80’s Ozzy Osbourne with big keyboards. I’m a frightened old man and don’t understand.
Henrik tries to explain: “It’s a pretty crazy song. I really like it: it’s diverse and there are a lot of different influences; it’s almost poppy in places then it goes into death metal land and back again into strange harmonics and melodies. It’s definitely an interesting song.”
He’s getting excited about the release of the new album; “We’re going to be playing some new songs at the album release party in Avesta ; the home town of the bass player Kenneth [Seil] and I. “
I need to know; what will the party be like? Loads of beer and strippers and shenanigans?
"Well, I hope so…otherwise we’ll just strip, no problem”
I had to broach the subject. People were curious. I was curious. With tact and diplomacy, I said:
"Henrik, what is the deal with melodic death metal?”
And I braced myself for an onslaught of outrage and anger to come blasting out of the phone at me. I get a well articulated reply.
"The genre is caught between two different worlds – there’s the death metal fans on one side and then the power metal, melodic metal fans on the other and those who can’t appreciate both styles automatically don’t like parts of our music. We didn’t really plan to play melodic death metal, we just wrote some songs and then the record label told us that was what we’d written; melodic death metal.”
"We don’t really identify ourselves as a melodic death metal band. It’s a good label if you want to describe the music to give people an idea of what we’re playing - it’s no more than that.”
Over the years, everyone in the band has gone off and done side projects. Henrik was no different and released the 2004 album Dispiritism with side project band Altered Aeon.
Henrik’s been playing the drums since he was thirteen and he also plays guitar but he knows where his heart lies.
"We all know that Scar Symmetry is the most important band, there are no projects that can compete with Scar Symmetry. It’s the main thing and we all know that so it’s no problem. It was a little bit difficult with Christian Alverstam, our former singer, because he had so many projects. But it hasn’t been a problem so far. ”