WE'RE ALL MAD HERE: An interview with Zornheym's Tomas 'Zorn' Nilsson
Having spent the better part of the past two decades relentlessly honing his lacerating, reverb-laden craft in a variety of extreme outfits and incarnations, few careers have proved more intense and all-consuming than that of ex-Dark Funeral guitarist Tomas ‘Zorn’ Nilsson. So much so, in fact, that the musician’s lifelong ambition for something altogether more challenging and grandiose would go frustratingly unrealised for many ceaselessly chaotic years. That is, until now…
“When I didn’t have anything else to occupy my attention, I sat down for a whole summer, watched a ton of movies and documentaries about serial killers, and one night finally decided just to throw myself into it,” comments Zornheym founder Tomas ‘Zorn’ Nilsson on the pivotal, career-defining moment at which he finally set about making his lifelong dreams a tangible reality. With a relentlessly industrious musical background numbering four illustrious years handling bass duties for Dark Funeral, Nilsson is certainly no stranger to challenging artistic territories. And by 2014, the multi-talented axeman was already restless for a fresh creative venture, and that same year subsequently parted ways with the band in order to devote his full, undivided attention to bringing this ambitious new project to fruition. But for all the musician’s seasoned wealth of experience, nothing could quite equip him for the mammoth investment of energy and compositional ingenuity that was to follow. From Tomas’ intensive study of classical music to consultation with artists and painstakingly thorough historic research, it’s unsurprising that the guitarist approached this tremendous project with no small amount of trepidation.
“At some point in the beginning I started questioning myself a lot, like, why didn’t I do it earlier?” Tomas expands. “But since those early days I’ve learned a lot, I’ve travelled the world a lot and I’ve played a lot. I think sometimes you start with something a little later in life because something like this is just so massive it’s hard to know where to even begin with it. I remember when I had like, three songs written and simply just to sit down and start to write the first lyric line felt like a huge process. To go there mentally and just write the song as part of a greater concept and keep a red thread running through it in its entirety. But I think we managed to do that and it’s very well thought through and you can definitely follow a continual thread running throughout the whole album. Looking back on it all now, I don’t think I was ready to do that when I was like, 22.”
Finding himself finally at liberty to pursue this long dreamed-about ambition, it was with unreserved enthusiasm and conviction that Tomas threw himself headlong into the richly absorbing writing process that followed. Painstakingly blending visceral cuts of madly accelerative death metal and coldly majestic tremolo alongside luxuriantly expansive orchestral trappings, this unique melange of influences rapidly began to take shape in precise accordance with its creator’s deeply personal artistic vision. But however firmly anchored in Tomas’ uniquely imagined original concepts, it wasn’t until the songs had been further honed and developed by his insightful fellow bandmates that they could ever be considered fully complete.
Tomas explains, “That’s also something I always had in the back of my mind, that I wanted to do things differently as well as doing something with an orchestra. In the past I’ve been in bands where you start the band and everyone is agreeing that we should have this particular type of influences or that. But what I think is heavy metal and what you think is heavy metal is something very different because we all have different references and preferences. So this time around I really wanted to write the songs and then present them to people and be like, this is how it sounds, I would like you to be a part of this and make this better together, but this is how it’s going to sound,” he stresses pointedly.
“I think it was very important to get the sound out there because I have so many different inspirations. Over the years I’ve been taking inspiration from so many different people and so many different bands as though I’ve been throwing it all into my head and putting it in a blender and that’s just what came out. I’m super-happy with the singer [Richard] Bendler because I think he has an amazing growling voice and a really cool clean voice too. In the studio, we’ve been playing a lot with different voices and having a dialogue about it like, here you’re supposed to be this character and here you’re supposed to be that. I’m also very happy that our guitarist Scucca has a diploma in music so he’s been helping me with arranging and writing everything down in scores and boosting the arrangements a lot. And now we have a permanent drummer Steve and I think he’s a great showman and an amazing drummer behind the kit.”
With this expansive multitude of pitch-black influences finding a fundamental, interconnecting thread in the album’s exceptionally dark overarching theme of mental illness, the lyrical dynamics of ‘Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns’ display equally thorough levels of development and meticulous attention to detail. Accompanied by extensive medical case notes that read with a clinical authenticity bordering on eerie, each tack in turn tells the sorry tale of a hapless inmate imprisoned in Zornheym asylum in ghoulish and vividly unflinching detail.
“I remember writing a concept album for a Swedish band called Aktiv Dödshjälp, and I wrote a trilogy about birth, life and death,” the guitarist recalls. “Well, I have one part of that trilogy left to finish and it’s been on my hard drive for quite some time but one day it will be released. Anyway, that in turn sparked an idea to write an album about an asylum and have each song tell a story about one of the inmates in there. For me, that’s like the real terror in life; the evil of humanity and the evil in your mind, and I think you can find a lot of evil stories and a lot of sad stories in that. All that really hit a nerve with me because I’ve had people around me who’ve been pretty mentally unstable over the years, so it kind of sparked my interest to dig deeper into it. I also read a lot before I actually started writing the album. Scucca actually helped a lot with that because he actually has a friend that’s a doctor who’s been helping us with all the patient journals we have on the website which you can read online. Basically, in the booklet, the left side is the lyrics and the right side is the patient notes and if you get the graphic novel too it’s a full chapter on each patient that actually goes even deeper into the story.”
Indeed, so richly inspirational is Tomas’ vividly imagined nightmare universe of a concept that writing for the anticipated follow-up to ‘Where Hatred Dwells…’ is already well underway. On these rapidly advancing new developments, the composer comments, “Most of the first part of the second album is done and I will start with the lyrics pretty soon. We actually have the first of the lyrics written down already because the new album is going to start where the other one took off, so they go very well together. We have some phrases already written down too, so I hope that’s going to help me get started on that. The whole lyric concept is already mapped out and we know where the album’s going and in the graphic novel we kind of give away what the second album’s going to be about on the very last page. Our priority right now is of course to continue building the band from scratch, but thinking further ahead we have so many crazy ideas for the future, for sure.”
'Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns' is out now on Non Serviam
For more on Zornheym, visit zornheym.com