Madder Mortem

Gloomy, weird, dark, heavy, strange, eerie, brilliant, these are the most frequent words that are entering my mind when Iím thinking or listening to Madder Mortemís music.
Just as many other Norwegian bands this band is trying to put out something new with each album. From the eerie and atmospheric metal of Misty Sleep and Mercury they improved a lot and I think they deserve to call them progressive (in the traditional meaning of the word).
These questions were supposed to be answered by both guitarist BP M. Kirkevaag and vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag, but since Agnete was ďfar awayĒ, all the questions were handled by his brother, who gave all the details I wanted to know about past, present and future of Madder Mortem.

You have started the band in 1993, yet under a different name: Mystery Tribe. I think that was a good name. Why did you drop it?

I think that we got tired of having that name and that it really didnít go along anymore with the music we were making for Misty Sleep and Mercury. Also, the Mystery Tribe name didnít have any real meaning to us except that we thought it sounded cool in 93.

I think Madder Mortem itís a good name too, and it fits perfectly with your music. So whatís the meaning behind Madder Mortem? Where this name did came from?

As you mentioned, we also think the name it suits our music very well and that, plus that we think it sounds good is the main reasons why we decided on that name.
The actual meaning of the name can be interpreted in many different ways and I think Iíll leave it at that. The name came from us sitting around the table having a break from rehearsal or something and my father knew that we were looking for a new name and showed us a color chart with the Madder color on it.
We thought that the color and that colorís name fitted with our music. So we decided on Madder and kept trying to find other words to fit with Madder and as you know we ended up with Mortem.

If I translate Madder Mortem ďdirectlyĒ, it's Red Death. Does this have anything to do with E.A. Poe's The Masque of the Red Death novel? Your first album has a gloomy atmosphere just like Poeís novels. I used to read Poe novels and put some Madder Mortem music in the background.

You know Iím really not the intellectual one in this band, so I canít really give you a good answer to this. I havenít read Poeís The Masque of the Red Death, but Iím sure Agnete have and maybe she connected with this novel on some levels, but no, originally it didnít have anything to do with that novel.
Anyway, I might take you up on that and put on Mercury and read the mentioned novel.

How would you describe the music of Madder Mortem to someone, who has never heard it before?

Oh, this is always the most difficult question. I would tell them that itís really heavy, but not as in standard heavy metal. More that itís heavy in the emotional way and the music will try to challenge the listener with obvious metal elements.
That itís music thatís based around feelings more than any specific genres. That itís really dark and gloomy, honest and personal music that youíd have to listen quite a lot to, to get under your skin.

The label says you play "post gothic dark metal". Isn't that annoying? I think itís fairer to call you a progressive band, rather then crappy ďgothicĒÖ

Yes itís a bit annoying, and I totally agree with you. This is one of the things weíve talked a lot about with the label. Their thoughts are that we obviously have a feminine vocalist, and therefore they should to try and sell it to people that like other bands with fuzz guitars and female vocals.
That in addition to the music businessís addiction to put a label on music makes for tags like ďpost gothic dark metalĒ. And as long they think that they have to put a label the music in order to sell it, I guess it couldíve been worse. But, I donít agree with the term ďgothic metalĒ, because if you listen to the other gothic bands, they sound a miles away from what weíre doing and gothic metal is not were weíre coming from at all.
I think that ďprogressiveĒ would suit us better in the way that weíre trying to set our own standards of what metal can be and trying to have a new look into something explored by many others.
I donít believe that our market is mainly with the gothic crowd either, I think a person who buys our albums because theyíve been dubbed gothic metal would be disappointed with what they get if they buy our stuff. I think that you have to be quite open-minded and interested in music in general to like our stuff. Weíre not about one genre or one style, we want to explore anything musically that we find exiting.

Youíve started playing in a band at a fragile age ten years ago in a country mainly renowned for its Black Metal underground. There was a lot of talk about Black Metal in the metal underground scene in 1993 and many things happened that yearÖ How do you remember those times?

Hehe, I remember that I was a 13 year old kid heavily into black metal music and that me and my friend were denied to wear black clothes and occult symbols at school.
It was all about the darkness, depression and the evil for some time, thatís for sure, but Iíve never considered myself to be very evil or frightening, though others might, so in the end it was mostly about the music for me. Itís not that easy to be all out evil when youíre 13 years old and Iím pretty glad that I can admit that now. Some people actually hangs on to this ďevilĒ lifestyle still today even though theyíre getting quite old and I think itís getting embarrassing.
What also became stupid after a while was that it was talked a lot about these strong individualistic paths these black metal people were walking. How can you be such an individualist if youíre wearing the exact same outfit, talking and listening to the exact same stuff, and having the same ďuniqueĒ philosophy as everybody else that has this kind of lifestyle? Itís stupid and narrow minded.
There was something about black metal in the big newspapers almost every day and that gave people in general a lot of weird opinions on people with black clothes and long hair. The not so fun part is that people are still hanging on to that picture media presented to them 10 years ago.
Hereís an example: We were doing an interview with the local newspaper a year ago or so, and the first thing they asked was if we wanted to do the photo-session at the church at night. People that have a clue about anything should manage to gather that we arenít a black metal band from the information we present through our albums, interviews and website.

What inspired you to get together and start playing in a band? What kind of music have you started with?

I think Metallica, Sepultura and a few other bands were quite important factors to us forming a band.
It seemed so cool to play in a band and do everything exactly the way you wanted. I actually started playing the drums with our present guitarist, Odd E. Ebbesen, and the guitarist playing on Mercury, Christian Ruud (now doing our artwork). We started up by playing the Metallica song, or more exactly, the first riff of The Eye Of the Beholder a lot of times.
After discovering that covering a whole song was difficult, we started to make our own songs. This led to a Death Metal like style. I also wanted to play the guitar, so one day when we were rehearsing at the same place that Agneteís band rehearsed, in a coffee break Agnete, Odd, myself and this girl, Rita, from Agneteís band started jamming on one of their songs. After having much fun at this jam, we formed the band Mystery Tribe. Oh, and by the way, the song we jammed on later became Loss, from the Mercury album, though in a very different version.

Did you ever thought to re-release the Misty Sleep MCD, or the demos? Or maybe you want to focus more on future releases?

Yes, we thought about that some years ago, but we decided that it wasnít good enough. Maybe a track from Misty Sleep or the demos will appear as a bonus track some day, weíll seeÖSo the focus is definitely on future releases. What we have talked about is doing an EP with some songs of Mercury re-recorded, with string-arrangements or something special. This is not likely to happen anytime soon, but I think it wouldíve been cool if we ever got around to do it.

Your first album is pretty much different then the others. I think itís more mellow and atmospheric, than the next ones, a kind of The 3rd and the Mortal in a more heavy approach. Were you influenced by them?

Itís quite different and that have a lot to do with the fact that we were young, unexperienced and had three different members in the band. Some of that material is really old.
Some of the stuff, like the guitar riff on the Misty Sleep verses was made all the way back in 1994, so Mercury kind of sums up our thoughts and influences from 1994-98. Some of the stuff might be a bit influenced by the 3rd and The Mortal, but I think myself and the Mercury bassist, Boye, was the only ones in the band at that time that really liked their old stuff, though about everyone that have played in Madder loves their ďPaintings On GlassĒ album,
So it wasnít a heavy influence. From my side it was much more influenced by Emperor and few other black metal bands. Anyway, The 3rd and The Mortal are a great band that reserve much respect for daring to try new stuff and coming out of it as an even better band. I think their last album, Memoirs, is extremely brilliant.

All Flesh Is Grass was a more aggressive album, it did really surprise me back then. Where that aggression came from?

Yes, I think we surprised quite a few people with that album, though it was a really natural progress for Agnete and myself. The aggression comes from various bad experiences and dark times in life, but mostly it comes from me and Agneteís desire to play more expressive, crazy and heavy music.
The other members from the Mercury line-up all left the band at some point before writing All Flesh and that gave me and Agnete the chance to make this band into exactly what we wanted it to be. Back in the Mercury days we were kind of divided regarding what type of music we wanted to write.
So it was easier to head in one direction with the writing for All Flesh with two people steering the ship. Also the new members, Mads, Paul and Eirik, brought a lot of stuff to the band and the style of playing when they joined in. Together, as the new Madder Mortem line-up, we worked hard to get what we wanted, and we did.

Usually music is becoming softer as musicians are growing older. Not in your case. With Deadlands you cranked up once again. Can we expect even a more extreme approach of your music in the future?

Yes, I can tell you that weíre cranking it up even more for the next album and that you can expect some seriously heavy stuff! Itíll be heavier, but also itíll take you to more of the extremes of our music, with its dynamics and craziness. So itís not going to be a one-dimensional album at all. More of everything, basically.

Deadlands has a very striking cover and artwork. It would fit very well even to a death metal band. Whose idea was this shocking artwork?

The cover is pretty brutal and I think itís very well done. I think it fits the concept and the music perfectly. What you see is Christianís (our artwork man) vision of Agneteís lyrics and the Madder music with guidance from Agnete and input from the rest of the band.

Whatís the central theme on Deadlands? Whatís the meaning of Deadlands?

Well, I wonít reveal that as itís meant for the listeners to interpret.

I would also like to know what All Flesh is Grass means.

The actual phrase comes from the TV-show Cracker and has some biblical references. Thatís all Iíll give away, mind you that we are not in any way a religious band.

What inspires lyrics like "To Kill and kill againĒ, or ďTurn the War OnĒ?

I canít give you the correct answer to that question since Agnete have written the lyrics to them, but I can mention a few things. Agneteís lyrics are for the most extremely personal, but also very metaphoric. So even though the titles contain words like ďKillĒ and ďWarĒ itís not usually about serial-killers or wars. Itís more like a sum-up of the lyric, translated into harsher or nicer words. But, thatís just my thoughts on it.

I saw on your website that the movies like Mulholland Drive and Requiem for a Dream have a great popularity at the band members. I think that your music sometimes has that "contemporary sickness" mood which these movies have. Can these (or other) movies give you inspiration when you're writing music, or lyrics?

As Agnete writes all our lyrics, I donít know much about that. But, for me, when Iím writing music, I get a really strange and eerie feeling after watching movies like Mulholland Drive and I think that subconsciously I bring that feeling with me into the music. The atmosphere is to me both empty, full of despair and emotion and I get attached to that.

Some friends of mine think that Deadlands is in a nu-metal direction. I don't agree, I guess they didn't pay enough attention to the album. Were you influenced by any "modern" metal bands?

I would say that youíre right and your friends are wrong, but then again I can see their point. It has all these down-tuned and simple guitar stuff thatís common in nu-metal.
On the surface it can maybe sound a bit like that, but Iíd say they should follow your advice and pay more attention and look deeper into the album. I like some modern metal bands, but I donít think they have had a very strong influence on Deadlands.
I think Kornís Issues album is quite genious and I like Slipknot and System Of A Down, thatís it for me. So maybe some of thatís shining through in the guitars, but I hear more of the influences from Metallica, Sepultura, and stuff like that, for the guitars at least. I think that people pay way too much attention to labels that bands get. Take Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Korn, System Of A Down and Linkin Park as an example. These bands have totally different styles, and you canít put all of them into one category and proclaim that itís all the same.
If you do that, you havenít listened to it. I think itís rather easy to pick three bands out of these five that have credibility and deserve respect for their work. The other two are in my opinion not good in any way and have more in common with pop music and pure music business than credible band efforts.
So stop labeling music and go for quality no matter what the record labels try to point out to you, thatĎs my opinion.

What do you think about stuff like Diamanda Galas? Were you influenced by her singing? I noticed some strange vocals of yours that in my opinion are similar to Diamandaís style (the screams on Breaker of worlds for example).

I donít think Agneteís style of singing is influenced by Diamanda Galas, but I think she like her style of singing and have gotten the same remark before. (This question was originally for Agnete, but as she was away, BP answered it Ė ed.)

Norway is probably the best country for abstract and gloomy metal (and not just...). Arcturus, Solefald, Madder Mortem, In The Woods.., Borknagar, Ulver and the list can go onÖHas the surrounding nature have a word to say when you are composing?

To some extent, I think that your surroundings matter. And yes, Iím very fond of the Norwegian nature, the mountains, the woods and the trolls.
Itís beautiful and has an atmosphere out of the ordinary. It takes you into to silence, peace and leaves a room for thinking without interference.
But, I donít think that Norway is the only country in the world that you can experience this. Itís not that unique. When I compose music I think I draw inspiration from all the daily stuff that surrounds me and that includes nature. Right now itís all snow and dark, so itís a good time for making music, not very cheerful tunes, though.

Whatís your opinion about the previously mentioned bands? How deep are you connected with other musicians, bands?

Youíve nailed some of my favorite bands in there, like Arcturus and Ulver. The Mini-CD ďConstellationĒ, by Arcturus is one of the most genious metal releases ever in my ears together with their ďLa Masquerade InfernaleĒ album. If anyone out there is willing to sell me their original copy of the ďConstellationĒ mini-CD, Iíll gladly pay for it. Also Ulver - ďBergtattĒ and ďThemes From William BlakesÖĒ are quite genious and one of their kind.
I also like both Solefald and Borknagarís two first albums very much. I think both bands lost some of the unexplainable touch that appealed to me after that, but theyíre still great bands. For In The Woods Iím ashamed to say that I havenít actually listened that much to their stuff. I remember seeing them live in 1995 and that I liked the black metal touch of Heart Of The Ages. One day Iíll buy some albums by this band and make the time to listen to it properly.

Some of the Norwegian bands drifted away from their roots and made bizarre experiments, the best example is Ulver. Will Madder Mortem ever do experiments like that, or you will be staying "true" to your metal roots?

Hmm, I donít have the answer to that question, and Iím just as curious as anyone else to find out, but I think only time can tell. Weíll most probably continue with the vocals, two guitars, bass and drums way of playing, but we might include some electronic elements or other stuff some day, though I canít really see us abandon our metal roots completely.
As of now, weíre far too much in love with the sound of heavy guitars, grooving bass and pounding drums and expressive vocals. And as long as the metal world allows us to experiment in any way we want, I think thereís going to be plenty of metal in us for the years to come. Our take on metal is to make it into what we want to hear anyway, so I think weíll go on with the aggression.

You are living in a small town. What can you tell me about? How does it look like? Is there a musical scene there? Any good bands?

Itís a fairly typical small town in the eastern countryside of Norway, with 5000 citizens. It contains a beautiful lake that lies in the middle of all other things witch makes it more open and gives it a non-typical look and feeling for this particular part of the country.
There are lots and lots of woods here and itís all green and pretty in the summer and really black or white, depending on how much snow in the winter. Itís not that much to do here except for nature tripping, renting movies or shopping for the daily needs. It used to be a small musical scene 10 years ago, but now I can only think of two or three bands that exist and they play totally different music to what we do.
But, all in all itís a nice place to live and itís only about a 1,5 hour drive to Oslo and thatís not that bad if you take a look at Norway on the map.

Does Madder Mortem bring you some cash or you have to work besides being in band? I know youíre not rock stars, but Iím curious how many copies can sell a band like Madder Mortem.

Nope, Madder does not bring any cash at all to my wallet. After ten years of hard work with this band, we now mostly manage to break even with our expenses and thatís it. I donít how many copies we have sold, but I know that it shouldíve been more to bring food on the table. Iíve been unemployed for quite some time now, but Iím starting next Monday as an engineer in a recording studio. They other guys/girl are working and some are unemployed.

How is it to be on Century Media? Are you satisfied with their work? Many bands complained that CM wasn't fair enough with them (The Gathering, Nevermore...). Did they ever try to make pressures on the musical direction, or anything else?

I guess if we could have anywhere near as much promotion and support as those bands, we wouldíve been quite happy, but weíre not exactly their number 1 priority. I donít really know what exactly Nevermore or The Gathering are talking about either, even though Iím sure theyíre speaking the truth.
I guess they donít quite see the full potential in us and thatís sad I think, because weíre sure that we couldíve been very successful with a little help. They have never tried to pressure us on any musical direction, no, and I think they know that if they tried, it wouldíve been useless. So to their credit, weíve been given full artistic freedom so far and some people at the label, especially one guy, have supported us all the way since we signed with them.

The End Records makes the USA distribution. I think you suit more there then to Century Media. There are many great and original bands on The End Records. Are you familiar with their bands?

Iím familiar with some of their bands and I know the guitarist in Frantic Bleep, their new signing, very well. Great band and great guys by the way. I think we might fit better with the other bands on The End Records, but I donít know how it would be to be signed to them full time, and if it wouldíve been better than being signed to Century Media.

What do you think about internet, web-magazines and the whole digitalized press? What about the download of mp3s? Have you ever downloaded music?

I think the internet is an extremely useful resource when itís not being used the wrong way. The problem comes around when people start to use it as a place for organized crime and illegal actions and to spread sick things to the whole world.
What I think is really sad is that in order to make it a safer place itíll have to involve even more surveillance of all its users and less freedom, but even then, the people exploiting the web for trading sick thoughts and other sick stuff will probably manage to use it to their winning anyway and the regular user will be depraved of his/her freedom. Just my thoughts on the subject, not something you should read to that much into.
If I have downloaded mp3ís, yes I have. Who hasnít? But, the difference to me is that it is ok as long as you buy the records. If you download something you really like, buy the record. If not, I think itís a way of cheating on the bands/musicians. I mean, the bands donít get much money for each album sold anyway, so itís more of a principle for me as a musician and me trying to make a living out of what I do. I want to have that possibility too. As in every other job in the world, everyone would like to get paid for the work they do, donít they?

When should we expect a new Madder Mortem album and what should we expect from it? Any other future plans?

If everything turns out the way we want it to, the album will be released in August or September 2004, but thatís just our wishful thinking, so donít get upset if it takes a while longer. You can expect a highly original album full of Madder madness and twists and turns with new twists to both the playing/singing and the songwriting.
I think itís going to be our most diverse and heavy album so far, with a bit shorter songs than before. Itíll not be a total departure from our two previous albums, more like something in between with lots of new twists to it. Less homogenic than Deadlands and more mature than All Flesh Is Grass. A grooving, twisted and dark haunting monster is what you can expect!
Also, it will be the first release from this Madder Mortem line-up, as weíve gotten two new members, namely Odd E. Ebbesen (guitars) and Tormod L. Moseng (bass). Not so many other future plans, except writing and recording our next album. Hopefully weíll get to tour again after the next album is released.

That would be all, thank you very much for answering these questions. I wish you all the best with Madder Mortem. If thereís anything you would like to add, feel free to do it.

Remember to leave us a message in our guestbook on Thank you for your good questions and cheers to the Hungarian and Romanian Madder supporters!


by Robert Sun