Interview with drummer Robban Granath
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 11, 2017
The underground Metal scene in Sweden produced many great names during the 80s and 90s. When the Death Metal boom hit Sweden in late 80s, labels went berserk to get their Entombeds, Dismembers, Unleasheds, etc. signed. Sweden became one of the most productive countries in the Death Metal genre by the 90s and even if the country's Death Metal boom is over, the underground scene has never stopped bubbling under the surface.
There were a bunch of extreme bands that were swimming against the mainstream back then. One, from the hotbed of Swedish Death Metal, Stockholm, was an obscure band called Mefisto. They released two demos, Megalomania and The Puzzle, both in 1986,and vanished as quickly as the breath of a wolf in a freezing northern wind.
Those demos, however, garnered Mefisto some status as a cult band in the underground tape trading circles back in the day. They were heavily circulated and were eventually released officially several years later on CD and cassette. Thanks to Sweden Rock magazine, who wrote a huge article about this cult Swedish underground act, the band was back in the limelight.
The Metal Crypt decided to contact Mefisto to find out more about the mysteries that have revolved around this underrated and extreme Swedish underground entity. The band's drummer Robban Granath was kind enough to take some time to reveal a few things about the past and present of Mefisto...
Luxi: Mefisto may be a household name for underground fanatics but for most I would believe it's still a very obscure and mystic name. What is Mefisto in your own words, for those who have no clue?
Robban: The band started under the name Torment, but it sounded a bit goofy. We wanted a more mystical, evil name, so I find this demon's name, Mephistofeles. It was too long and did not fit into our logo, the octagram, so we came up with Mefisto instead.
Luxi: Mefisto became well-known for a couple of demos that you released back in 1986, Megalomania and The Puzzle, which were actively circulated in the underground circles. The band's existence was unfortunately short-lived. What killed the band back in the day?
Robban: First, no one was interested in signing the band back then. Second, we did not get along. Too much testosterone and the fact Omar always pissed me off. And musical differences.
Luxi: I firmly believe if you had continued after those demos, you probably would have been snapped by a label like Century Media, Earache, Peaceville, etc. They seemed to focus exclusively on extreme Metal bands back in those days (we all know what happened, don't we?) Your thoughts about this?
Robban: We did get some offers after we split up but we couldn't repair the damage. Today, I think that not getting a deal probably saved our lives. We were too young, inexperienced and already into bad things like drinking heavily, testing drugs, etc. Just imagine what would have happened if we got the attention back then.
Luxi: How much do you believe the mysticism that surrounded Mefisto in the 80s helped the band to become an obscure oddball in the extreme underground Metal scene in Sweden, on that did not follow any trends...
Robban: The mysticism and the occult image were extremely important. No one knew us back then. We were a bit odd. We kept to ourselves and we still do. What made the demos special was the obscure thing; what is this? Is it Black Metal? Thrash Metal? Death Metal? I think we had our own sound...
Luxi: What was the extreme underground Metal scene like before you decided to put Mefisto to rest?
Robban: In Sweden, it was only Bathory that had made it at this point. The genre was so much bigger in Germany, for example. Sodom, Kreator, Destruction; I was (and still am) a huge fan of Celtic Frost. Their music was a big influence on our work. But the scene in Sweden was dead. No stage shows whatsoever. I think all the bands that were into more "normal" Heavy Metal looked down on us.
Luxi: Are there any cool stories related to this mystical aspect of the band that you can still remember?
Robban: We used to scare the shit of ourselves when walking around in graveyards after dark, reading mystical books and worshiping Satan. In the darkness, you start seeing things that are not there. It was sometimes like living in a horror movie. The bands next to our rehearsal room thought we were nuts by not turning on the lights and only using some black candles.
Luxi: As time went by, Mefisto was resurrected in 2014. What things led to this decision?
Robban: It was an article in Sweden's biggest music mag, Sweden Rock. The story that was intended to be one page turned out to be 10. This led to me getting in touch with Omar again. Sandro, I was already in touch with.
Luxi: You played your first ever show in Montreal, Canada, on September 11, 2015, opening for Angel Witch. How was this experience for you? Were you nervous as this was Mefisto's first official live appearance in the band's history?
Robban: That was our first show ever. Doing it abroad felt good. And Montreal; who wouldn't want to go there? But we should never have done that show. We were not prepared. We had differences between us as to what a show is about. I mean, when I go up on stage I don't want to look like I am on my way to work. We didn't have time to plan. The girl that arranged the show and the people behind it were fantastic. Very nice and supportive. But we had not rehearsed enough. We were not tight enough. And one person in the band behaved like a douchebag and treated people (our fans) poorly. I think that still haunts us. Did I feel nervous? Yes. I was nervous as hell until I sat behind the drums. I honestly didn't remember anything afterwards...
Luxi: You mentioned that there's quite a fair amount of tension (both positive and negative) between the individuals in the band, which makes you play tighter and more aggressively. Do you feel fortunate that's the case in the band, that the different personalities feed off each other?
Robban: That was what I thought back then but no, that is not the case. There's nothing positive. The tensions just made me stressed and I felt bad. Walking around being mad is not a good vibe. The musical differences back in 1985-86 were probably good. Back then, I could use it, but it was always me that made the decisions in the end. On the other hand, if it was not for me and Sandro we would have ended up playing Van Halen songs...
Luxi: What did this live experience teach you about yourself as a live musician that plays in front of crazy and often fanatical crowds?
Robban: I don't think we put on a good show. We did the best we could under the circumstances, but we were not ready. What did I learn? I learned that next time I need to be better prepared and focused. Especially now that I am the front man and cannot hide behind the drums. If I don't feel that I am going to own the stage and the crowd, I will not go up there.
Luxi: When you think of your Montreal experience, does it feel a bit weird that the band's first trial by fire happened somewhere other than your home turf, Sweden?
Robban: That was kind of odd but in a good way. I think not having friends watching made me a little bit less nervous...
Luxi: In 2016, Mefisto's debut album, 220.127.116.11: This Is the End of It All... the Beginning of Everything..., was released on Vic Records. The album was good in its own right but many have said that it sounds different compared to the demo material that you recorded back in the day. What would you like to say to those naysayers regarding this album?
Robban: I would say that they are 100% right. It's not a bad album, but, of course, it's not Mefisto. Looking back, I wish we made it under another name. We were supposed to record and write it together but early in the process Sandro left the band because of Omar. Omar came over from San Francisco and put in a lot of energy into the album but he never understood this genre, so I felt obligated to finish the album with him after he traveled so far. I don't count 18.104.22.168 as a Mefisto album.
Luxi: How did you end up with that title for the band's debut? To me, it may indicate the closure of Mefisto's career, but it also may, in a weird way, tell about a new coming?
Robban: We decided to name it 22.214.171.124 because that was the year we were supposed to do our comeback, and honestly, we had in mind the closure if it did not turn out well. And it did not, so you are right...
Luxi: As for Roel's Vic Records, how did you end up signing a deal with them for the first album anyway? What's the story?
Robban: Roel contacted me and introduced himself as a big Mefisto fan. He wanted to re-release the demos. And I said, "go for it." We had no deal. It was more of a gentleman's agreement over the phone. And then two years later I told him about making a new album and it felt obvious to continue working with him. He's a nice guy.
Luxi: Moving on, your follow-up album was just released by GMR Music Group. How would you say making your follow-up album was different compared to making of your debut?
Robban: This album was not supposed to be. I was so frustrated with 126.96.36.199. and I felt I had so much more to give. During the two shows we did, my best friend Morgan joined the band as the bass player. After Omar left, we started rehearsing together. We started writing new material and we wanted to go back to the roots. We wanted to sound more old school. After writing some songs, I sent them over to Omar. I told him to play some solos (he is a great guitar player) but then he wanted to change things and I said no. He said to me, "I am out" and trust me I did not try to talk him into staying in the band. However, there is no bad blood. We became a duo instead.
Luxi: Would you say that this new, self-titled album represents some of the best material that you have ever penned and that should please the most die-hard and demanding Mefisto fans?
Robban: I think that the songs on this album are the best songs we have ever written (so far). I think this album will please the old puritan fans as well as the new. I love that all songs are a bit different from each other but they all have the same character and sound. You can hear that it is Mefisto. There is a really dark atmosphere over the songs and the production. This time I took over the vocals and I can sing the songs with the melodies and harmonies I had in my mind while writing the songs. Until now I always had to tell others how to sing them.
Luxi: Do you have plans to play some shows around the end of 2017 and into next year to promote the album?
Robban: We intend to do a handful of shows 2018. Nothing booked. We just started to rehearse with some people we know, trust and love. There is no longer tensions or bad energy around Mefisto. This time we will do a show that will surprise the audience. You will see this tight, powerful and energetic band on stage. We promise to bring back the old-school feeling, but we are not Mayhem. We don't kill things on stage (don't know if they do) but we will bring the evilness in a more sophisticated way. You know am a big fan of Anton LaVey. That kind of Satanism is what the band and I represent. We are more philosophical.
Luxi: Any plans to shoot a video for one of the songs off this new record?
Robban: No, there are no such plans.
Luxi: Is there anything else that you'd like to reveal about Mefisto that people most likely aren't aware of yet?
Robban: Yes. We are almost done writing new songs for the next album and for those of you who like the new album, you will not be disappointed.
Luxi: Thanks so much for taking your time with my questions and may all the northern stars be aligned in the most favorable position for Mefisto in the future. Last commentary is rightfully left for you, so be my guest...
Robban: We are in this very creative phase. We have confidence and we have some great plans for the future but, we still are and always will be an underground band. We don't have any intention to be a touring band. We will continue to write good songs and perhaps do a handful and exclusive shows. That's all.
Best wishes from the north... (winter is coming)
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