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  • Interview by Faye Coulman

TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Swedish occult metal collective Vampire reflect on making of epic third opus &

If there’s anything experience has taught us, it’s that meddling with the classics is seldom a particularly rewarding or worthwhile exercise - a fact richly illustrated by the many painfully lacklustre ’80s horror reboots, retro acts and hyper-commercialised cover songs that have spent the past few decades ruthlessly desecrating the legacy of this famously iconic era of music and filmmaking. Every so often though, there’s that rare breed of artist who is capable of not only competently handling the trappings and traditions of old, but also of skilfully forging and refashioning them into a work of their own ingeniously orchestrated design. Presenting, for your delectation, the grave and grimly absorbing pleasures of Gothenburg crypt-dwellers, Vampire…

“You expect metal music to build on the traditions of the early stuff, to build on something with old, greasy and cranky parts,” muses Vampire main man Lars ‘Hand of Doom’ Willfors on the basic, fundamental function and purpose underpinning the raggedly visceral, pitch-black core of the Swedish cult metal act’s being. But since first coalescing into murkily cacophonous existence almost a full decade ago, this humbly understated assessment barely scratches the surface of the band’s altogether more intriguing trademark blend of battering ultra-violence, nightmarishly immersive atmospherics and delectably hook-laden compositional ingenuity. It is, in short, the unmistakable mark of a band in firmly established possession of their own uniquely distinctive sonic identity, having long ago progressed onward from the mere aping and emulation of their legendary, genre-defining predecessors. Crowned, last month, with the release of regally grandiose third album ‘Rex’, theirs is a sound as richly steeped in tradition as it is audibly bristling with compositional ingenuity and vigour. And indeed, for all its catastrophic recent occurrences, the year 2020 marks something of a career-defining breakthrough for the fast-rising Gothenburg aggressors. But, as Lars hastens to remind us, Vampire wasn’t always such quite a sophisticated and creatively purposeful unit.

“Vampire basically started as just a few guys having a beer on a Friday night and playing music just for the fun of it,” the vocalist recalls. “There’s this really old American death metal band called Necrophagia who released a couple of albums and a couple of decent demo tapes. So, listening to Necrophagia one night in the summer of 2011, I basically said to the other guys that we should form a band that sounds exactly like this, with riffs that aren't really riffs and a sound production that isn't really a sound production and singing that isn't really singing. Just some raw, all-out noisy caveman proto-death metal, so that was how it all got started and then we obviously progressed from there. Then we threw in all other sorts of things that we liked, like South American death metal like Sarcófago and Vulcano, some German thrash like Deathrow and Sodom and also some Scandinavian black metal that we all grew up with and then eventually it turned into something very different to this retro joke that it was supposed to be, but our ambitions were basically non-existent in the beginning. We wanted to sound like demo-era Necrophagia and you can have no worse ambitions than that if you're forming a band,” the vocalist chuckles. “The challenge was really non-existent compared to the other bands that we had played with before. We didn't raise the bar, we lowered the bar to floor level and were just fooling around, so that was the initial stages of Vampire.”

Yet, for all the relative simplicity of these initially rather primitive early recordings, Vampire’s raw but richly evident musical talent soon sparked an almost instantaneous sensation among die-hard devotees of the underground metal scene. Forging their reputation off the back of nothing more than a handful of hastily snapped-up demo tapes, word of the deliciously nostalgic Gothenburg aggressors spread at a pace that none - least of all its utterly dumbfounded creators - could have possibly anticipated.

“I don't really know what exactly people were hearing, but somehow people went totally apeshit over this thing,” the frontman elaborates, his voice still audibly tinged with wonder and disbelief. “We had no ambitions whatsoever, but just out of pure chance and good timing things happened for us in the fall of 2012, and that was before we’d even started doing gigs. When we first took the stage, we had a sort of reputation from mouth to mouth, like via the underground network. Like, "Have you heard this band?" sort of thing. Playing live is great fun but from the get-go, it wasn't essential for us to have this band happen and the core of Vampire is really just the joy of making music. We played something like 50 shows during the last eight years and I think I'm the one in the band who, perhaps more so than anyone else, thrives off playing live. Because obviously I'm in the spotlight and I'm the frontman and everybody's looking at me and that always feels great. You can act out and have fun, so that's a very good excuse. In all honesty, I'm a bit of a theatre ape. I enjoy being centre of attention and having a good time, and a live show with violent and energetic and suggestive music is, of course, a very good place for me to be.”