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Comrade Aleks talks to Erik Larssen, co-founder of the Medieval/Folk/Doom band Apocalypse Orchestra about how they decided, and proceeded, to blend those disparate elements.

Interview with Apocalypse Orchestra.
Folk - or, more precisely, Medieval - music isn't something that obviously associates well with Doom metal. But if the concept in general can be used properly, it can enrich this traditional genre with new colours and semi tones, such as in the songs of Dautha or Forsaken Peddlers. Bagpipes can produce absolutely mournful tunes, as you can find on The Bottle Doom Lazy Band's album 'Lost n'Drunk'. So, when musicians can achieve the right feel for balance and taste, there's the chance to produce something fresh - as Apocalypse Orchestra have done. The band was formed in Gävle, Sweden, in around 2013 and the line-up has remained constant: Erik Larsson (guitars and lead vocals, cittern, lute, mandola), Mikael Lindström (bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, mandola), Rikard Jansson (bass), Andreas Skoglund (drums, percussion) and Jonas Lindh (guitars). Together they conjure a boiling blend of Folk and Doom, and - after one demo and two singles - the final product of this heavy witchery has been embodied in the full-length album 'The End Is Nigh'. Erik Larsson is here to talk about his low-tuned psalms of trumpets hailing the end of time.

Apocalypse Orchestra: Rikard Jansson, Andreas Skoglund, Jonas Lindh, Erik Larsson, and Mikael Lindström: photo by Therés Stephansdotter Björk.

Hello Erik! First of all, thanks for your time and, secondly: how did you start Apocalypse Orchestra? How did you figure out that the blend of Folk and Doom metal could work?

Hello Aleks, nice to talk to you!

Well, me Mikael and Andreas have played in several other bands prior to AO, all of them could be labelled as some sort of folk rock, so naturally we like cross over music. When our then band went to hiatus due to the singer moving away to attend music collage, Mikael started to form a new idea. He and I really love medieval music and have played it in various forms over the years. We also both like dark, heavy and slow metal. Why not try to mix the two? So we did.

We went to work, searching for old melodies, adding to the ones we were already familiar with, and also composing our own olden sounding ones. We then started riffing and adding said melodies over metal arrangements. Tweaking sounds, trying different things. All of a sudden, bang! We felt we were on to something. So we just went down the rabbit hole...

Apocalypse Orchestra live in 2016: photo by Andreas Lindmark Photography.

Your first full-length album, 'The End Is Nigh', seems to be a very thought-out and balanced work. How did you calculate the shares of Folk instruments and Doom riffs for this record? What was your initial intention for this release?

The balance of the folk, the metal, and everything in between is probably essential. Too much or too little of either, and it will not be the same. I don't think any calculations are involved, it's more getting to know a certain feeling. Sometimes one of the elements lead, sometimes the other, and not seldom they appear simultaneously.

What are your general influences in Folk and Doom metal? What originally formed Apocalypse Orchestra's sound?

Oh, that's too many to list. A few of the ones we all like, ranging from folk to metal in general, are Paradise Lost, Type O Negative all the way to Garmarna, Gåte and other cross over folk bands like that. For me personally you can also add several of the great composers of the medieval times, such as Machaut and DuFay to name a few. The sound though, that came from Mikael and my vision from when we started composing our own material. We wanted to create something fresh and modern that at the same time has respect for early music. It HAD to fit together, that was one of our main goals. Mikael's hurdy gurdy for example, it's super modern compared to traditional old ones, and it sound way more modern to, so on one had, it's kind of easy to fit it into the mix, but on the other hand it not as easy to have it carry an old melody and an early music soul, for lack of a better word, when sounding so modern. It's a thin line.

Apocalypse Orchestra - 'The Garden Of Earthly Delights' (Official):

Do you feel that you succeed in performing all of your ideas in 'The End Is Nigh'? Do you feel that through your music you also attract people attention to traditional music and its history?

Well, let's just say we managed to bring out and incorporate all the ideas we intended to be on the album. But that's not the only ideas we have…

Certainly, we have been very lucky to get positive reactions from a lot of different people listening to different kinds of music. It's not a total surprise though, even though we could be called both dark and heavy, we're still very melodic, melodic enough for my grandma to be able to listen to our music, and that has also been the idea from the start. Melodies are a main pillar of our music, and I think this is beneficial in the end for us.

What are the features of working in a studio with traditional instruments? Do such sessions differ from ones you have with "traditional rock" instruments?

Not exactly. We mostly do home studio sessions, both for demoing and for parts of the album. We record some instruments directly, line in, but folk instruments often gets recorded with a studio microphone. And trust me, there are no guide lines available for fitting those into a modern metal mix, and no tips and tricks for microphone angles and techniques. We had to start from scratch, and learn by trial and error. A lot of errors. Finally, we found the tricks that works for us and gives us the sound we want, but it's really not that different from recording other instruments or other types of music.

What was most difficult for you during that recording session?

Not really, we have taken our time, having the luxury of recording most of the material at the home studio. Once we figured out our sound in the beginning, we have just focused on the music instead of all the technical stuff. Also we have a very trusting, patient and understanding record label - Despotz Records. They have let us do the thing we do, and just been supporting us all along!

At first glance it seems a hard task, but you found excellent medieval themes for your lyrics which fit perfectly with Doom metal ideology. Did you build songs around the lyrics? Or did the tunes appear first?

Thank you! We wanted to write about a different side of the story from the beginning. When other bands sing about the glory of battle and heroes and stuff, we tend to look at the regular toils and troubles of the everyday medieval person. The actual horrors of war. There was, and of course still is, little glory to be found in war when you step back and look at the whole thing. Few sing about this. We want to try to put the listeners in actual historical shoes, without being experts in history ourselves. We probably have misconceptions about those times too, but still there are a lot of aspects of those days people seldom think about. Sickness, the ever present imminent death as a result of war, famine, starvation and such. It's not called the dark ages because it was actually dark outside...

Sometimes a lyrical theme comes first, sometimes a musical idea, we don't have a fixed way of working. I can have an idea for lyrics, then start writing music, but later find that they don't fit at all, and someone might have a new lyrical idea for that music, and away we go. I kind of like this dynamic process, it gives us more flexibility to find the best fit for each concept.

The songs of Apocalypse Orchestra tell about long gone epochs, but if we read them carefully we can figure out that most of these subjects are topical nowadays. Would you agree with that supposition?

Yes, to some degree. War for instance, and other problems all over the world the still exists to this day. Even though we should know better by know.

Your approach reminds me a bit of French doom band Forsaken Peddlers: do you have any ideas to record a split album with some friendly bands?

Yeah, they are cool, Alexandre is great singer! We haven't really thought about it. Our debut was about an hour long, and we already have new, and unused old material lined up, haha. But it would be fun though!

Apocalypse Orchestra - 'Theatre Of War' (Live):

The band's name and the album's title point to the event of the final erasing of humankind from Earth. How do you see this concept? Do you really feel that "the end is nigh"?

Well, that very much depends of how you interpret both individual words as well as the whole. Of course the word apocalypse gives most people visions of impeding doom and the biblical end of times. On the other side, the word itself derives from old Greek, and means something like "to uncover", giving it also the possible meaning of enlightenment, and "after the end comes the new". Maybe an Armageddon, it whatever way it may present itself, is just the end of one era, and the start of a new maybe better one? Who knows!

So you aren't so pessimistic towards the current state of mankind, is that it?

On the contrary, who's to say we aren't in need for a modern type of apocalypse right now? Enlightenment is in short store in lots of places…

Apocalypse Orchestra live in 2016: photo by Andreas Lindmark Photography.

There are a proper number of authentic medieval instruments in your arsenal: how long have you and Mikael played them?

Yes that's right, and we even have a few more in stock that we haven't used yet! Maybe they will be brought out on future songs! We have played different instrument for a mixed number of years, but the cittern for me and hurdy gurdy for Mikael have probably been in our arsenal for over fifteen years.

One of the most famous Folk bands, In Extremo, uses real medieval scripts and mixes them with a modern Metal sound. Can we find real authentic traditional melodies in Apocalypse Orchestra's songs?

Absolutely. You can hear melodies from the cantigas for example, and other famous and less famous ones. We will continue to both compose our own old sounding melodies, as well as search for actual old ones as well. I personally like to find less famous olden ones, maybe songs that have seldom been recorded, and kind of give them new life.

Where and with what kind of bands do Apocalypse Orchestra usually play their gigs? Are you welcomed guests at Folk festivals or has the Doom communion already accepted you in its underground church?

We have played in many different venues, from your standard super nice rock club basements, to the fancier city culture stage. We even got the immense privilege to perform live with our cities symphonic orchestra a couple of years ago! On the other had, we are sometimes to loud and heavy for the average folk festival, as well as not dark or fast enough for more death oriented festivals, haha. But it's a two sided coin really. On one side we will never be true enough for the hard core fans of certain genres, and I understand but don't really mind it. We didn't really aim to lable ourselves a doom band in the metal side of our sound, but I understand that the tempo and the riffing makes people make that connection anyway. On the other side though is our strength, that we mix two unusuall and very different styles, and have made the mix truly our own, and carry it forward without compromise. I think that gives us an edge and contrary to not fitting in on some festivals, we can fit others and cross over borders, playing venues that are not fully metal or fully folk, but a lot of places in between. I like in between!

Apocalypse Orchestra, Gavle 2016: photo by Mio Dal.

Erik, there are videos on YouTube of Apocalypse Orchestra's live performances, and I see that you like to play a good show on stage. How do you usually organize your gigs? Are the fire shows and dudes clad as plague doctors necessary elements of each show?

We like to all kind of shows, from the all out crazy bombastic stuff, all the way to you small sweaty basement. Of course the venue sets the limits, but hey, that's life. On a bigger stage we like to add that something extra, and also to give the audience a visual experience to go with the music, be it projections to go with the songs, or actors of fire. The music carries it's weight on it's own, but I personally have always like performances where artists broaden the spectrum, so to speak, so it comes natural to follow in those footsteps.

So, you played with the Gävle Symphonic Orchestra, can you tell this story in more detail?

Just as we were preparing to go live, rehearsing and getting our gear in order, we heard about a night of orchestral madness. Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed had set up a show with our towns symphonic orchestra (and also a chamber choir!), they invited their friends in Sorcery along for the ride, and in good spirit two local bands were to be given the opportunity to tag along. So we went on stage, doing our live premiere showing what we could do, and that premiere gig actually landed us the opportunity. I still almost can't believe it happened! The gig with the actual orchestra was a couple of months later, and that was our third gig ever. Imagine us being quite nervous! It was an experience of a life time, and something I will always cherish with so many people to thank for the opportunity. But it is also something we want to do again, someday...

Apocalypse Orchestra & Gävle Symphonic Orchestra - 'Flagellants' Song' (Live):

Erik, what are your ambitions considering Apocalypse Orchestra's future? Do you have a plan how to spread your message further?

Well, we really like making videos, and a new official video is soon to be released! More will surely come, even it's sometimes just us jamming very casually. More albums will of course come in due time. Now we are looking at gigs and festival during 2018, and hopefully even short tours. As a part oh spreading a possible message, or just maybe confuse people further, haha, it's also very interesting and nice to do interviews, since new questions always forces on to think on one's music and choices, and that is in its own way a helping hand to guide you on your journey.

Thanks for your time, that was my last question for today.

Thank you too Aleks, it's been a pleasure, and stay folk! /Erik

Photo by Therés Stephansdotter Björk.

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Interviewed on 2017-11-07 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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