One of Sweden’s longest running Black Metal bands suddenly reappered (again) in 2020 and and last year we could finally and definitely welcome Lord Belial back with a new album. On ‘Rapture’, the band’s ninth album and the first for the new label, Hammerheart Records, Lord Belial feels like an old friend but one with a fresh new haircut and wardrobe. Perhaps the time and break has done the band good? Time to catch up with guitarist Niclas Pepa Green…
Hi Pepa, thanks for taking the time answering my questions and, of course, welcome to VM-Underground. Your latest album, ‘Rapture’, has been out for some months now. Perhaps a good time to take a cautious look back already, how would you reflect on the process of creating the album?
Hail Felix! We bring ideas into the rehearsal room and put them together there, I really enjoy that process. We have more or less always worked like that.
There’s no point in introducing the band to our readers, nor to tire you with questions about an introduction, but I am curious about what made you decide to bring the band back from the dead for a third time. Can you take us through your considerations and motivations?
I went to Micke late one night down over a coffee and talked about doing another Vassago-album, I had made a demo and got signed on NWN with Yosuke for a full-length album, and Micke got very delighted by the idea, he told me that he had also grown into the hamster-wheel and was in need of escape. The drummer we signed for the recording never showed up, so Micke had to play the drums, which kind of made him want to play the drums more again!
We were quite pleased with the sound on the album and wanted more. Thomas brought his gear to Micke’s basement and we started jamming. Three weeks later, we bought a ton of new stuff and got a very shabby rehearsal room that inspired us a lot, but then we changed rehearsal room again after some six months and got our own one which is just perfect, we have installed a small studio there and we have mixers and in-ear monitoring, so we can adjust the levels how we want, it is absolutely perfect, the best rehearsal room we have ever had.
I personally felt that Lord Belial had a bit of a dip in terms of musical creativity during the late 00’s, at least ‘Revelation (The 7th Seal)’ and ‘The Black Curse’ are my least favourite Lord Belial albums, and I guess that is pretty much the generally accepted opinion. How do you look back at those years, prior to your break-up, specifically?
I personally had some time off during The 7th Seal, I cannot say that I was very much involved in creating that one, it is more or less all Thomas’ ideas and riffs. But on The Black Curse, I was very much involved again. We used a different studio then, it was rather small and low-budget.
And, drawing that a little more broadly, if you looked back on your entire musical career and you were to be asked the question, which so you are being asked now, to sum that up in a few sentences. How would you characterise that adventure?
I have jumped ship a few times because I had to travel a lot, which made it difficult to keep up with rehearsing three to four times a week, I guess I needed to see more in life than just rehearsal studios, recording studios and stages. But we have always found our way back together, through thick and thin, even though I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar which may or may not count as one of the reasons for my own fleeting presence. I have just had too much to do in the past, but now things have calmed down quite a lot, I medicate and everything is smooth sailing.
When listening to ‘Rapture’ it sounds quite refreshing, even when it sounds quite firmly rooted in 90’s Melodic Black Metal. Although you all definitely look much older than on the Ablaze Magazine poster that I had in my bedroom some twenty 20 ago, the spirit seems to be burning. Or maybe it was recently lit again. What do you consider the main difference between ‘Rapture’ and the preceding recordings? And explanation for the ‘freshness’ of this old styled music?
We had a VERY clear picture of what we wanted the final product to be like, and we did every sound from scratch. We tried out different snare drums, different bass drums, etc, and Thomas and I have Kemper profilers + Mesa Boogie amps so the raw mix felt very clear and nice. Then in the final mix, we went to lengths trying to make everything stick out. There are some bits and pieces that could have been better, ie some choirs that is difficult to hear that they are even there, but in general I think we got what we wanted from the start.
One thing that I thought was remarkable is that the music on ‘Rapture’ sounds a little more melodic than the albums that preceded it. Was this a deliberate choice, or was this just a natural thing to happen?
We talked about going back a bit to riffing as we did on Enter the Moonlight Gate, so that is what shines through – brutal and fast riffs, but with melodic leads on top of that.
It usually is a bit of standard label talk, stating that any band’s new album is their strongest to date. Something along those lines was also stickered on your online promo by your current label, Hammerheart Records. If you look back at your almost life-spanning career, what album do you cherish most? And is there an album that you consider your least favourite? And, of course, why?
I do think Rapture is one of the best albums we have done, apart from that I would say Enter the Moonlight Gate is my favorite, but the sound on Unholy Crusade and Angelgrinder is just total crap, you can’t hear the guitars at all, it is just a mess. There are so many guitars, but you can’t hear them, it is very frustrating!
Speaking of labels, when I had just recovered from the news that you would be returning again, I was also surprised that you did not return to the womb of Swedish labels. I had expected that a new album would be released on Regain Records though, especially now that they seem to be a bit more active again than a few years ago. What made you finally choose Hammerheart Records and how do you like it?
We have been ripped off too many times…! Hammerheart is a solid label and so far they have been very true to us and they seem to want what is best for the band, not the other way around.
You have been active in bands since the early 90’s, so definitely you can be considered a scene veteran. How would you describe the change in the extreme metal scene over those past three decades. And, while now being amongst the nestors of the Swedish extreme metal scene, do you still feel part of that scene at all?
There are some bands that I have never stopped listening to (Cannibal Corpse, Abbath, old German thrash metal, etc) but I can’t say that I have kept up with the scene, not really, just as a bystander that sees what happens.
While we’re at it, things have changed dramatically over the years, tape trading seems to be something of a memory to some and even something that “they” only heard or read about and internet made things so much easier. How do you think the internet and other technical and social developments have changed the way of life in a metal society?
It has changed dramatically. I loved tape trading, but there is just no way to be able to keep up with listening to hundreds of new mp3-files every day – and the chopping block has become very distinct, if people write bad reviews everyone else seems to follow in that direction, not even bothering, or daring, to state their own opinion. One of the downsides of having everything accessible within seconds is that it is easy to compare and fast to judge while the upside is that you can find music that you like very fast as well (of course).
It’s almost a logical assumption, but assuming that you are indeed now less enthusiastically putting all your time and money into swapping out demo tapes, are you still following the scene at all? Were there any records in recent times that really grabbed you? And if so, which ones were they and why?
Not really, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Steve Vai, Credence Clearwater Revival, Rammstein, Chuck Berry, Sweet, Accept, ZZ Top, Rainbow, Dio, White Noise notched at 2600 Hertz(!), Immortal (+Abbath etc), Cannibal Corpse, Jan Cyrka + heavy/thrash from the 80s like Destruction, Kreator, Judas Priest, and many more.
Something that not only seems old news, but actually is old news, but I am still a little puzzled about. There was a lot of controversy around the release of your ‘Purify Sweden’ EP from 2003, but I never really understood the reasons only that the label thought it was too patriotic. So, let’s jump in the DeLorean… What the hell happened there?
Thomas was 100% pissed off and wrote the lyrics in that state of mind and they became quite nationalistic with a view that stretches back to before all religions entered Scandinavia. So much for freedom of speech, eh?
You are also in Vassago (together with Lord Belial drummer Micke Backelin). A band with roots that go even further back, all the way to the late 80’s, but isn’t all that prolific, at least compared to some other bands and taking in consideration that the band has been around for quite some years. Is there any news to share on Vassago?
We recorded Storm of Satan a few years back and we were supposed to get this very talented drummer for that session, but due to personal reasons, he couldn’t make it, which meant that Micke did the drumming. It was quite alright, but we had to rearrange a lot of the riffs. The final product is quite alright but the record company posted the songs in a completely different order on youtube and they said that Andy La Roque did the leads, it was, in fact, Anders Almqvist from New Jersey, the same guy as on Knights From Hell. Also, the songs are called “War”, “Fire” etc, but the record company added “…of Satan” after all the titles. Quite annoying!
If I am recalling it correctly I have seen you on stage for the first time in, I think it was 2003. You shared the stage with Ancient Rites and some local bands hardly worth mentioning. What do you consider your best gig or tour? Care to share any special or fond memories?
Once in Paris was absolutely crazy, the crowd started to fight in front of us and it was total mayhem, quite different from playing in Amsterdam where everyone is super calm and barely moves (but they like it anyway, so they say, but it is hard to tell you know). Bischofswerda is great, and Leipzig has always been good. We played in Belgrad once, which was also very memorable. Anders (Bloodlord) and I cut ourselves too deep at one occasion and it would not stop bleeding so there was a lot of blood everywhere, onstage and backstage, unfortunately, I don’t remember where it was.
With the latest record being out now, what can we expect from Lord Belial in the near future? I hope we can rest assured that there will be a next records and not another break-up?
Yes! We just started talking about releasing a single with maybe three or five songs! We got the riffs, the ideas, the theme, the cover ready, and everything.
Alright Pepa, thanks a lot for sharing all your thoughts and answering the questions. Feel free to take the opportunity to take the last words…
Thank you so much Felix for this interview.
Take care and keep in touch!