Majesties is a band formed by members of Obsequiae and Inexorum that seek one thing and one thing only: to revive the glory days of the Gothenburg school of Melodic Death Metal to the world. It’s no secret that after nearly 30 years since the first works of bands such as In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, etc have come out the genre has undergone quite a transformation. Majesties seeks to return us to those early days and make us fall in love again with killer harmonized leads. I had a chat with guitarist Carl Skildum to discuss the album, future plans and Melodic Death in general.
First of all, thank you all 3 for taking part in this interview. As a preamble, I just wanted to ask a bit about the origins of the band. On paper, you are a new band but from what I understand, your origins remount all the way back to 2016. How was the songwriting process divided across the course of all these years, was it spread out or product of a very short time frame when time allowed it?
I had joined Obsequiae as a live member in 2015 and was part of Tanner’s efforts to bring an entirely new band together to perform in support of the “Aria of Vernal Tombs” LP. During a rehearsal session I was warming up with some riffs I had come up with just for fun, and Tanner perked up and asked what they were for. We decided shortly after that to record some of these ideas together with the intent of making a melodic death metal record in the spirit of the earliest examples of the style. “Melodeath” was still around at this time but it had moved on quite a bit from the wilder format of some of those early records that imprinted on us so much, so it was just a way for us to hear, and make, new music to satisfy that missing element in our own listening.
We met weekly starting in 2016 to write at Tanner’s home, just passing the guitar back and forth and finding that the ideas were flowing out very quickly and generating something like 20 song ideas that we whittled down to ten for an album. We had the track sequencing decided in 2017 – so we’ve been listening to this album in rough form for a long time. We went through a few different configurations that included friends of ours in different roles, and each of those changes involved time for familiarization with the material. For various reasons due to timing and availability we found ourselves in 2019 back where we started aside from having Matt onboard for bass. We just decided to finish the album as a trio. Everything was done aside from vocals when the pandemic hit, and that slowed us down a little bit as well. It’s been a long journey!
Something I found interesting was that many of the riffs encountered on the album were already written in some way over the course of the 90s/00s – such as the verse riff from The World Unseen dating back to 1997. What was it like scouring through the riff tapes and the selection criteria for what would make it to the album and what to amend?
I know for myself I had a very specific handful of old riffs that I have always wanted to use. Some of them had been on riff tapes that I made in the 90s, like the one you noted in The World Unseen, and the tapping lick at the beginning of Seekers of the Ineffable. In all those years I never forgot them and would just play them while practicing – that’s how I knew that they were priorities to find a place in these songs. There were several other riffs that I dug out from my archives that we recorded as well, but ultimately didn’t make the album. The 10 songs we ended up with here just ended up being our overall favorites out of this first burst of writing.
Majesties is obviously very indebted to the foundational works of the early Gothenburg pioneers, with its emphasis on harmonized riffs. No doubt this pool also influences your other projects to some extent (Obsequiae and Inexorum). How do you go about ensuring a separation of writing for a Majesties record versus the others? Or did you find yourselves incorporating ideas that were meant for those bands but ended up here instead?
All of the material that ended up on Vast Reaches Unclaimed was written before I started working on Inexorum material or even had a concept for that band. Tanner and I had finished that first batch of 20 or so song ideas when we took a break to digest all of them, and that’s when I started kicking around ideas on my own for Inexorum. There’s obviously a connection between all three projects in the amount of guitar harmonies, but they are all distinct enough in my mind to stand on their own.
But those early riffs all came out of my love for that early death metal, and before that, thrash and NWOBHM. When those first few melodic death metal records were coming out I felt like they combined all my interests in one package – and strangely enough, they were a gateway into my appreciation of black metal. When I listen to Skydancer or Subterranean they have elements of all of the different genres that I love, so it makes sense that those records provided a guidepost for what we tried to do here.
I feel one of the more challenging parts of paying tribute to a certain musical era is reconnecting with the mentality and circumstances of the time period. Those early works by bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, No Fashion Records bands, etc were all great, but part of their charm was the youthful inexperience of the bands and willingness to push the conventions of what a good harmony should sound like. You’re all seasoned musicians with +20 years experience with your respective instruments, so how was it like revisiting those records and tapping into that mindset? Did having those old riff tapes help significantly with this?
When Tanner and I first met we bonded over our enthusiasm for those records pretty much from day one. I know for myself that I’d listened to them so many times that they were imprinted on my brain, and when we started playing guitar together it was obvious that the harmony approach was almost like a musical shorthand that we both understood instinctively. The tapes certainly helped, but so much of this being written in real-time with Tanner meant that it was just a matter of one of us starting an idea and the other adding to it. Once we cleared the decks of those handful of old riffs we wanted to use the bulk of the material was written on the spot.
What are the immediate plans for the band besides promoting the record, are there tours or concerts in mind?
We’re focused on writing more music. We’ve continued to write on and off even since finalizing the songs for this album, but it’s rolling with more purpose now. Tanner recently moved from Minneapolis to Boston so the in-person writing sessions aren’t happening with the same cadence but we’ve also streamlined our process for writing remotely. We just welcomed our friend John Kerr (Noltem, Pyrithe) into the band as our drummer, so that opens the door for future live performance. But right now the four of us are just really thinking about writing new songs, so I think that’s the focus for now.
Besides the Gothenburg bands, it feels there is a lot of versatility within the genre that can be explored. Bands like Eucharist, Sentenced and Fall of the Leafe had a more technical edge, whereas others like Intestine Baalism or Apophis played with a more brutal approach and there are others that flirt with black metal. What facets would you like to see explored in this genre or what would you like to incorporate on future Majesties releases?
You hit on one of the key elements in that all of those bands you mentioned have their own recognizable style. At this point in my life I’ve developed songwriting characteristics that I lean on to speak in my own voice, and I feel like Tanner’s style is immediately recognizable and distinct as well. So I think we’ll continue to look at this as our twist on melodic death metal without hewing too close to any one band. I think it’s great to have various moods and approaches represented. For me I just want the songs to retain a core of heavy metal. I’m not so much interested in looking outside of metal for elements to graft on – I like electronic music, crust punk, regular-ass rock, hip-hop, but I’m not going to petition to add them to this project. I feel like sometimes when I listen to some of the biggest names in melodic death metal today that I don’t hear a whole lot of death metal outside of the vocals and an occasional blast beat here and there. Which is still cool – but some of it feels like you could almost have Dave Grohl singing on it just as easily as someone growling. Thinking about the songs we’ve come up with for the next release I think that they have the same fire and excitement that we put into Vast Reaches Unclaimed, but with maybe a little bit more self-assurance in knowing what we want to be doing.
Talking more broadly about Melodic Death at large, it seems we all agree there is a substantial difference between early Melodic Death (let’s say 91-97) and what came after. What do you think caused this shift? Some people lay the blame squarely on Slaughter of the Soul, but do you feel there are other factors at play?
I love that record (SOTS) and the immediacy of it all. I remember waiting to get that when it first came out, having already gotten a hint of where ATG were going with their prior record Terminal Sprit Disease. Those songs felt like they were meant to be played live and just get people going bonkers, and I think it was that record (along with Heartwork) that reached so many people and almost reestablished a new standard template for what most everyone though melodic death metal was. After that there were a lot of records that took those streamlined songwriting approaches and ran with them. I love a lot of that stuff for sure, and I definitely don’t blame those records for being amazing and connecting with so many people. But like anything, when you get so many bands chasing that same rush, eventually everyone starts getting hungry for something else. Around the 00s there was that whole New Wave of American Heavy Metal that had a lot of the twin guitar harmonies melded to metalcore that felt like the last gasp for a while.
Similarly, while old school death metal has gone through a large resurgence since the late 00s as a counter and rebellion against the perceived staleness of modern death metal. Why do you think something like hasn’t materialized yet as much with Melodic Death metal, where it seems many people are not even aware of the differences between early and later Melodic Death?
So much of it comes down to access – I had to order all of those earlier, more obscure records via mailorder, many times without hearing a note before taking a risk based on a cool description in a catalog. It wasn’t like I could go to just any record store in a Minneapolis mall and find No Fashion or Wrong Again – fortunately there were a couple of great stores that specialized in metal that started to bring those imports in. But eventually anyone could go into Best Buy and grab Heartwork, SOTS, and more as the genre exploded to a larger level of awareness. As I’ve been hearing people talk about our record and how they came to discover In Flames or Dark Tranquillity in the 00s or 10s, those bands had shifted their own approaches quite a bit from their earliest days, and people just discovered them later on in their discographies. But it has been fun to see a handful of people who recognize where these sounds all started and excited to hear something that has maybe a bit of the same vibe.
What are some (or just one) underrated melodic death releases from the golden era that you feel deserve more attention?
If you haven’t heard the first two Fall of the Leafe albums, do yourself a solid and check them out. They were hard to find for a long time but are being reissued in physical and digital formats now. I’m a big fan of Eucharist’s first two albums, which are pretty interesting to compare to each other as they highlight a structural shift. The 93 record “A Velvet Creation” had that same kind of youthful riff bounty that early In Flames, ATG, Dark Tranquillity had where it was idea after idea in a linear fashion. The follow up “Mirrorworlds” came out in 97 and was much more streamlined but to me it was no less effective. Both are absolutely worth checking out.
To conclude, if you have any closing thoughts you want to say about the record, band or melodic death at large
I’m just really glad that this record seems to be making a lot of people happy. For the last decade or so there have been waves of revival from everything from party thrash to Stockholm/HM-2 OSDM worship to cavernous death metal hearkening back to the primitive New York sound. All of that stuff was exciting when it first burst forth and now new generations are discovering it and taking it into the future. Melodic death metal has remained as a genre descriptor all this time but it has evolved a lot from the wild recklessness of those early days. We just made the record that we wanted to hear and if it inspires anyone to dig into some of those back catalogs to hear the real foundational gems, that’s a pretty nice outcome in my book.
- Country: USA
- Style: Death Metal
- Links: Instagram, Spotify