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Interviews Morgoth

Interview with guitarist Sebastian Swart

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: April 18, 2012

They were first called Cadaverous Smell, then Minas Morgul, and as they were all fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", they eventually decided to change the band name to Morgoth. That happened in 1987. Morgoth were also one of the pioneers of German Death Metal, often being compared to Death, which didn't seem to disturb them that much at all. The band's first couple of albums, the debut "Cursed", which came out in 1991 on Century Media Records and its follow-up titled "Odium" (released in 1993), are both considered as the band's finest works to date - unlike Morgoth's third album, "Feeling Sorry for the Fanatic", which was so different song-wise compared to the band's past works, really dividing opinions among fans of the band. Many considered "F.S.F.T.F." as the band's swan song, which it turned out to be a couple of years later: Morgoth split up in 1998. Many thought that was it for them until they were proven wrong in 2010. Morgoth was resurrected from the dead by the three original members of the band, aided by a couple of new guys.

The new era has begun for Morgoth, so let the band's guitarist Sebastian Swart tell more about the band's new coming to the loyal readers of The Metal Crypt...

Luxi: So, to get started, Morgoth split up officially in 1998 and reunited in 2010. How does it feel to be back?

Sebastian: Awesome! After we played our very first festival after 15 years off stage in June 2011 we knew this was the right decision, well since we have played more than 10 different festivals - and as for myself I can tell I really enjoy being on stage.

Luxi: What were the main reasons for the split up of Morgoth in 1998? Does it have something to do with a radical musical turn that you did on the last Morgoth album, "Feel Sorry for the Fanatic", which you recorded in 1996?

Sebastian: Several reasons came at once. First of all we had been exhausted from our last European tour; we just didn't want to be in the 'make a record every year, go on tour and make another record' wheel anymore. Also we had the feeling that music wise we had said all we wanted to say. The "Feel Sorry for the Fanatic" record in my opinion still is one of our best albums, but it's just not Death Metal and we probably should not have released it under the name Morgoth.

Luxi: Looking at the album title "Feel Sorry for the Fanatic", the title in itself should tell everyone that if you were a fan of Death Metal-era Morgoth, then you should better have skipped this record because it was nothing like your previous albums music-wise. Now if you look back to those times, do you think you should have left that album undone - just leave the kind of memory for the Morgoth fans worldwide of a band that stayed loyal to their roots right from the beginning to the very end?

Sebastian: Releasing that album was the right decision at that time. I actually don't see a reason, why an album release always should sound the same or very close to the previous. I mean it still sounds like Morgoth but you have to listen more closely and more often to it. When I want to listen to "Master of Puppets" I listen to it and I don't complain, why Metallica don't sound like 1986 in 2012. Time goes on. Already on "Odium" we tried to add something different and fresh to our style. Pity it just was too early to release such an album. But a lot of fans told us that meanwhile as they grew older, they like the album. A sort of 'fan-band relationship' should be a compromise, not some one-way channel where the fans can expect to get always what they want to, or even make demands from a band. A band is no computer. When Slayer released "South of Heaven", everyone was annoyed - same with Kreator's "Endorama". Both are awesome records though. But of course, if one always needs the Metal flag and is not open-minded to different styles he can't be satisfied with anything outside the Metal genre. I feel sorry for that.

Luxi: Then again, people somewhat easily tend to forget that even on Morgoth's second album, "Odium", the band started already taking a more industrial-tinged approach to their music back then - obviously wanting to get away from this 'Morgoth-sound-like-Death' syndrome that people have given to the band ever since you recorded your first couple of demos. Was all this experimenting that happened on "Odium" mainly because of the result of getting Death's name tagged too strongly on Morgoth, hence you wanted to try out something different within your music at that time?

Sebastian: We actually never cared so much about this Death comparison. Here and there you can find some similarities, but so what? "Odium" sounded like "Odium" because the band wanted it to sound like that at that time. As I mentioned before, we wanted to add something fresh and different ideas to the music. "The Eternal Fall" didn't sound like "Resurrection Absurd" and "Cursed" did not sound like "The Eternal Fall" as "Odium" did not sound like "Cursed..." We have developed as musicians and taken these personal developments without any compromises into our music - and that's it. If journalists say, something like Slayer albums sound uncompromising; I'd say all Slayer albums since "South of Heaven" are big compromises and admissions to the fans. That's of course cool but people simply can't expect that all bands work like that.

Luxi: Marc Grewe's vocals were often compared to Jeff Becerra's (Possessed) but especially to Chuck Schuldiner's (Death). Did this bother Marc sometimes, although getting compared to a person like Chuck Schuldiner vocally, one starts wondering how can it be a bad thing by any means, having a vocal tone similar to Mr. Schuldiner?

Sebastian: I can't speak for Marc here, but the comparison to Jeff Becerra's voice is new to me. I also don't think he sounds so much like Chuck, maybe at some points there are similarities but I think Marc has an independent voice. Wondering how the "Feel Sorry for the Fanatic" album would have sounded like if Chuck had sung it.

Luxi: Morgoth's first official 6-track demo, "Pits of Utumno", was recorded in 1988, which brought Morgoth's name on the map of Death Metal for good, I think. How well do you still remember those times, when you got that demo recorded and out for the people? I guess getting your first demo out worked out a real stepping stone for the band - and right after its release, you received tons of fan mail from all over the world, am I right?

Sebastian: At that point I wasn't in the band yet. I joined in 1990 but I know the story of course.

Luxi: What about the recording sessions of Morgoth's classic debut album, "Cursed". I can only imagine the pressure coming from outside was already there as a part of your recording sessions during those days but despite this enormous pressure factor, you really nailed it down in the studio and got a very good debut album recorded. How much do you still remember about the circumstances of getting your debut album recorded? It was recorded at Dortmund's famous Woodhouse Studios in 1991, having Dirk Draeger at the production helm - and Randy Burns did some additional mixing for the master tapes in Los Angeles, CA. That was a pretty winner's recipe, I would say...

Sebastian: When I took over the bass duties, I had a very little time to learn all the old material plus all the "Cursed" stuff. For me it was my very first time in a professional studio and as I was 17 at that time, you can imagine I was very nervous and just tried to give my best. Working with Dirk and Siggi Bemm (Woodhouse owner) was always exciting and I believe all of us in the band learned a lot from them. I believe it was Harry, Marc and Carsten who joined Randy Burns in LA at that time.

Luxi: Which Morgoth release are you personally most proud of, and could you also explain why that is so?

Sebastian: I like them all the same but when it comes to live playing I really enjoy the fast stuff from "The Eternal Fall".

Luxi: As we speak, there are also new releases coming from Morgoth this year. First off, there's a live CD coming out that will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Morgoth's classic debut album "Cursed" , and then there's even a DVD in the works, so would you mind sharing a few words about both of them with the readers of The Metal Crypt?

Sebastian: Yes, we will release a live DVD this year from a show that we have recorded in October last year in Germany. The soundtrack of this show will also be available on CD. With the package comes also one bonus CD with different recordings from other festivals in 2011. Plus there will be a live vinyl. We are very happy that we could engage Dirk Rudolph who designed the cover for us. He also created the original "Cursed" cover more that 20 years ago.

Luxi: Was Dan Swänö an obvious choice for Morgoth to take care of the production for this project, knowing how experienced guy he is at doing something like this, plus what's even cooler, realizing that he's such a big Morgoth fan himself?

Sebastian: We knew Dan's reputation and he was introduced to us by our manager Leif. Dan did some pre-mixes and they sounded just perfect so we decided to finish the whole thing with him. When it comes to the studio recordings, I am obviously very old school because I was expecting me or Harry flying to Sweden to work with him in an actual studio, but in the end we did everything via mail and dropboxes instead.

Luxi: Has Century Media nailed down the exact release dates for these upcoming Morgoth releases yet?

Sebastian: We are trying to make the release until end of June, or at least during this summer. Release slots are tight and we are currently working on the booklet artwork. Let's cross fingers that we are able to make it in time.

Luxi: Gig-wise, 2012 looks like a relatively busy year for Morgoth thus far. You'll play a string of live shows at some important Metal festivals during the year, including your appearances at Maryland's Deathfest on May 27th, Rock Harz festival in German on July 14th, Summer Breeze Open Air in Germany 17th August, etc. How does doing gigs feel for you guys after such a long break? Are you still somewhat amazed by the fact there are still so many people in the audience that have been there for you since you started this band some 27 years ago?

Sebastian: Yeah, it is not THAT busy. We have like 10-12 shows this year. We basically cherry-pick the festivals and shows we are thinking suit us best. Last year we played a lot in Germany but also in France and Spain. This year we play in Germany, USA in May and in Greece in June. In December we go back to the States and play on the Barge to Hell cruise. After that we are not planning any more live shows for the time being. About the current feeling doing gigs with this band... let's just say it is somehow in our blood. When we are together on the road and on stage, we just function as a team and try to be as professional as we possibly can. The feeling to be on stage in front of thousands of people can hardly be topped by anything else. We really appreciate the fact that we got this chance.

Luxi: At the very top of all these gigs that you'll do during 2012, Morgoth will also be a part of this all-Metal cruise called "Barge to Hell", from Miami, FL to Nassau, Bahamas - and back, which will take place on December 3-7. What kind of expectations do you have from that forthcoming cruise? I suppose you have already heard about these "70000 Tons of Metal" cruises that have been done in previous years, haven't you?

Sebastian: I expect sweat, blood and tears... and beers of course, ha-ha!!

Luxi: Talking about Morgoth's current lineup just a little bit, you have three members left from the classic Morgoth lineup that recorded the "Cursed" album. Rüdiger Hennecke has been replaced by March "Speedy" Reign who has previously played in bands like Destruction, Mystic Circle, Graaf and so on - and for the second guitarist's position, you have a guy named Thilo Mellies who has his other band called Secretum. How did you find these guys to complete the Morgoth 2010 lineup?

Sebastian: (*grins*) Your research lacks a bit little here so I am trying to shed some light on some facts for you. Rüdiger Hennecke was replaced by Marc Reign. From 1990 to 1998 I played bass and now switched to guitar for Carsten Otterbach who is the original guitar player in the band. Thilo Mellies was our first choice for the reunion festivals, but for different reasons we had to kick him out. He is replaced by Sotirios "Soti" Kelekidis who also plays in a band named Sinew. He was introduced to me by my girlfriend whom brother plays guitar in Sinew too. Sounds complicated? Anyways, Marc, Harry and I are from the original lineup and Marc Reign and Soti took the open drum and bass duties (now where on earth has my mind been roaming while trying to get the facts straight, eh? Anyway, thank you Sebastian - Luxi).

Luxi: Was it any important to you that both of these new Morgoth members should have been Germans by their nationality? By this I mean it's always easier to communicate if you share a common language, culture, etc. - plus of course if one had lived in another country, it would have become a pretty rough for Morgoth to rehearse for the gigs...

Sebastian: Not at all. I am Dutch, Soti is Greek, but we all speak German.

Luxi: Almost every time when some band makes an announcement that they have reunited, people start kind of automatically expecting new material from these regrouped bands as well. So, out of curiosity, do Morgoth have any intentions to write new stuff in the coming months for a possible comeback album? It would be very hard to believe if you didn't...

Sebastian: We are thinking and talking about it but I hardly see a new Morgoth record coming out in the near future right now.

Luxi: If there was any new Morgoth material available some day, then I assume you'd rather try to get the musical direction you had on the "Cursed" album than what you did on "Feel Sorry...", if I am not mistaken?

Sebastian: (*just winks his eye*)

Luxi: It was also announced a relatively short time ago that Massacre from Tampa, FL, signed to Century Media and the band's comeback album is also the works. Looks like Century Media is strongly counting on this old school Death Metal phenomenon again, which is nothing but great in my opinion. Also, such old school Death Metal acts as Autopsy, Gorguts, Grave, Asphyx, Pestilence, Gorefest and a few others have all reunited in the 2000s, so I guess it's safe to say old school Death Metal is doing great, and Morgoth feel fortunate to be a part of this as well. Your thoughts?

Sebastian: Yes. I had some chats with Rick Rozz and also Terry Butler last year and I knew that they will reunite Massacre. When we decided to make this 20-years anniversary tour, we did not care much at all for how the market works, or if old school Death Metal is in vogue these days. For years we have been asked to make a comeback, and we have always rejected those calls of people. The 20-years anniversary was just perfect for the band. It all worked out very nicely for us indeed.

Luxi: Well, I guess that was it this time, so I want to shake your hands (metaphorically speaking), just thank you sincerely for your time with this interview. Also, wishing you all the best with Morgoth's future achievements and hopefully we, the Morgoth fans, will be blessed by some new Morgoth material soon. Any closing comments, maybe?

Sebastian: Thank you very much! Also many thanks to all our fans who supported us over all the years.

Other information about Morgoth on this site
Review: The Eternal Fall + Resurrection Absurd
Review: Ungod

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