by Niklas Göransson
Lice is an international black metal band dedicated to raising monuments of human decay. Whilst harbouring several prolific members, drummer J explains why their undertaking is deadly serious – as opposed to a celebrity side-project.
– Niklas Kvarforth and I have known each other for twenty years now but it wasn’t until meeting for the first time – when my old band supported SHINING on tour through Spain in 2008 – that we truly became brothers. We planned to work together ever since but, due to scheduling conflicts, it didn’t end up happening until 2014. That was the year I met our guitarist, Kirill, and we started creating and recording music. Niklas found free slots in his ever-busy schedule and we managed to create the album, piece by piece, whenever possible. For logistical reasons, recordings took place in six different studios scattered across several European countries.
So, is LICE a band or a side-project?
– I don´t like the word ’project’, it gives a misleading impression about the dedication of the involved parties and lessens its purpose somehow… no, we’re a full-time band and, if there’s enough interest to justify the undertaking, we’re open to doing a few select shows with an expanded line-up.
As is difficult to miss from both promotional texts and the massive stickers on the physical product, LICE harbours a few nameworthy members. Besides the SHINING frontman, my interviewee, J, is the drummer of Spanish death/black colossus TEITANBLOOD.
– We were initially meant to present ourselves to the public eye entirely devoid of any details concerning the involved parties, since this kind of information distracts from the real goals and gives an erroneous perception about the band’s legitimacy. What was, and still is, paramount to us is the message we so humbly deliver; the rest is irrelevant. Obviously, as clearly demonstrated by their actions, the releasing party thought otherwise – hence this line-up revelation and consequent sabotage of our artistic vision.
The debut album of LICE, “Woe Betide You”, was released in May 2019. I think this is one of the rare occasions where the label ’avantgarde black metal’ might be appropriate. There are also some moments of real ’groove’, or whatever the correct terminology is, such as in “Roadkill”.
– We are black metal in essence but our form, or lack thereof, goes beyond genre restrictions. I didn’t want us categorised in any particular way, I prefer to let the music do the talking, but Seasons of Mist held differing opinions and tagged us ’underground black metal’; so, for lack of a better word, ’avantgarde’ felt like the better fit, which is why a correction in the promo sheet was requested. I think our ways of expression are quite articulate but I’m not sure about us being ’groovy’. In the event of any groove, it’s the variety of LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, and David Bowie; not the modern stuff associated with the term. We never set any ground rules for what type of material would be included but rather played and improvised and then – after analysing rehearsal recordings – kept whatever sounded and felt good.
Which aspects would you say set you apart from generic black metal releases?
– I always listen to my stuff as if it was created by someone else and, bearing this in mind, I think one of the strong qualities of ”Woe Betide You” is that despite the material’s unconventional nature, you can still find lots of hooks making it pleasant for the ear; catchy, but not boring and predictable. It certainly gets better with repeated listens. Also, the compositions are well-developed with the purpose of sending specific messages. It’s not as if we randomly jump from one part to another just for the sake of showing off with our respective instruments. It feels very organic and has a natural flow to it. The main thing we wanted to achieve, instead of focusing on personal performances, was to convey strong and distinctive emotions as one unit. Musically, we didn’t establish any templates but simply went after it in a highly natural way. I feel there’s a strong underlying influence by acts we’ve all loved since childhood: ZEPPELIN, FLOYD, SABBATH, PURPLE, Bowie, STOOGES, and JOY DIVISION. On top of this there’s stuff coming from very different backgrounds – Kirill brought the non-metal elements, everything metal came from me, and Niklas is effortlessly awesome with anything you throw at him.
What about the lyrics?
– We deal with, and certainly contribute the best we can to, the monument of human decay; channelling and passing on messages of divine origin. It certainly affects us in a destructive way, the same effect as is intended on its recipients. This ties into the band name, which is something I’d kept in mind for almost twenty-five years – it’s directly connected to the work of another emissary who practised what he preached. These images and lessons remained ever since I savoured this bitter fruit with impunity. Both cover art and album title are obviously linked to those chants of disintegration.
Following the recording of TEITANBLOOD’s 2014 album, “Death”, J felt utterly fed up with playing blastbeats – which is how LICE emerged as a perfect outlet. Despite my lack of drumming expertise, it’s easy to tell that “Woe Betide You” poses an entirely different set of percussion challanges
– It must be a result of my restless nature; if there are not enough new elements attracting me to a project, I get bored and lose interest very easily. I appreciate strong identity in art but, at the same time, cannot stand repetition. Blastbeats require constant maintenance work if you want to play them at high tempos with any accuracy and, to be honest, I prefer investing my time into learning new ways of expression and adding more elements to my bag of tricks. “Death” was a very demanding record in terms of obliterating fast tempos and arrangements. Bear in mind that what ended up on the album is more linear than the recordings we did during pre-production rehearsals, on which the blasting parts were way faster and the heavier ones much slower. So, you know, after that I felt a bit burnt out from spending too much time working with the metronome, which gets very tedious when all you do is play the same type of rhythm for hours every day. When I first started playing with a musician as good as Kirill, I found out that – despite being a fan of various related genres – I wasn’t especially capable when the music required subtlety. My only two modes were hitting hard and hitting harder so the great challenge for me was adapting my drumming to what the music required in order to gain depth and master the ability of conveying a wider emotional spectrum. I’d say that after five years of LICE I’ve managed to expand my style which, in turn, helped retain my interest in drumming.
This makes me wonder if it was all these intricacies on “Woe Betide You” that yielded the more straightforward drumming approach on TEITANBLOOD’s upcoming album, “The Baneful Choir”.
– More straightforward compared to “Death”, sure, but certain parts have unconventional arrangements here and there. My love for fast and brutal drumming was reignited by that blasting hiatus and, in turn, certain rhythms are played at faster tempos with wilder execution than originally planned. It appears that having a band which allows me to explore and experiment has beneficial impacts on the other; it´s a good balance. Also, it’s inevitable that influences spill from one to the other – they are few and incorporated tastefully but I still regard those unplanned additions as positive side-effects.
Once the line-up had been revealed, some who’d initially been interested after hearing the teaser tracks dismissed the band due to Niklas Kvarforth’s involvement. J is not impressed with underground scene rules.
– It just amazes me how people claiming to be outlaws and free thinkers join a revolutionary subculture only to become sheep bleating along to what the four prominent figures within it declare either interesting or reprehensible. I dare say these scene talibans are no better than the hipsters, they’re really one and the same: scum without autonomy and guts to make their own judgements. At the end of the day, such results must be expected since we are, after all, dealing with average humans. And yes, even when the playground is a tiny subcultural ecosystem constituted by people who consider themselves special. On the one hand, it’s crystal clear that those hardcore scene defenders are more interested in gossip and drama, just like little girls reading Popcorn articles about NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK and debating which colour Marky Mark favours. ’Oh no, DIABOLICUM is ruined because that fag Kvarforth sang’ – brilliantly, I must add – ’on the last album’… ’Phew, now I can safely think VED BUENS ENDE and even VIRUS are good, cos they’re approved by Yosuke from Nuclear War Now!’, or ’Nasko cut his hair short, what is going on?’ Give me a fucking break…
Nasko is J’s companion in TEITANBLOOD. Widespread forum commotion erupted in conjunction with the 2016 “Accursed Skin” EP, following the emergence of a silhouetted photo showing what appears to be the guitarist in a normal haircut.
– The internet gave voice to the most retarded of mongoloids so, somehow, they feel entitled to express publicly whatever shit happens to cross their feeble minds. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy constructive criticism by someone who knows what he or she is talking about; different points of view are always useful as you can learn from them and I respect strong opinions with solid base but cannot stand stupidity, entitlement, and the lack of individuality or coherence.
What about those hipsters you were on about?
– Right, the other side of the same coin. These people only joined the party because of the cool-factor, but what’s worse is how some welcomed them into the scene with open arms because it brought in money and media connections; then they end up dictating what’s acceptable in OUR art? It’s funny to observe and worthy of deeper analysis how, in what’s supposed to be abominable art, these self-proclaimed freedom fighters who themselves are avid critics of dictatorships now preside over what’s okay to talk about. To me, this certainly doesn’t speak to the wisdom of outsiders. No, it’s a testimony to the stupidity and weakness of the supposedly ’extreme’ – what a joke – metal scene. Artistic expressions should go beyond any mundane restrictions and, therefore, when there’s no escaping these cretins, the scene can simply go fuck itself. Just like all the rest. In the end, I consider both the voices who regard and simplify MGŁA or CLANDESTINE BLAZE as ’nazis’ and the ones claiming DEATHSPELL OMEGA are random pseudo-intellectuals copying THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN equally idiotic. Attention imbeciles: these gems were never meant for you, think twice before buying this divine piece of art!
While he’s got his blood flowing, J announces a pressing urge to disclose the ’truth about how certain labels operate’. I’m not aware of all the bands he’s been involved in but suspect this was not a stab at TEITANBLOOD label Norma Evangelium Diaboli.
– Not at all, NoEvDia and the individuals involved are perfect in every sense a label and its staff can be. I can´t stress enough what a blessing it’s been to work with like-minded associates who act under the virtue of rejection. Our goals are the same and there are zero misunderstandings between us. The same applies to Tyler and The Ajna Offensive. Contrastingly, I’ve had a few poor experiences with these self-proclaimed big important metal labels. Even though they’ll sometimes have a handful of competent people working for them, these companies are basically useless, tasteless, clueless merchants and salesmen who leech upon art. More often than not, the label bosses are the biggest such parasites – frustrated rock-star wannabes on an ego trip – but this behaviour is not exclusive to them. Ultimately, they’re only sad humans who got a taste of power and recognition and think they became gods in the process.
J adds that, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that these labels simply don’t give two shits about the actual content.
– They lack integrity, take no artistic risks, and only release stuff they deem an easy sell – see strategies of name-dropping band members on those retarded stickers. Plastic studio productions are turning everything into soulless carbon copies; then we have their strong support for currently hyped musical currents, those embarrassing trick-or-treat promo shots of grown men pretending to be Mad Max villains or zombified evil sorcerers, and botox-injected resurrections of classic bands who only bring shame upon their legacies. No matter if the release is an insult to the intelligence of an average ape. Furthermore, certain ’artists’ are to blame as well because they would sell their own asses if there’s the slightest possibility to play Hellfest and get their taste of the rock-star lifestyle while their own ’art’ is just useless crap created remotely by some businessman who happens to own a big label and knows what’s gonna sell. So, this is how we reached this point of one million shitty bands and five hidden gems. I guess this information, even though it’s not difficult to see if one observes how things work in this dumb subculture, is quite irrelevant to ninety-five percent of its inhabitants as they are cattle who thrive on being force-fed whatever musical and visual excrement these vendors deliver to them. In the end, all this combined along with the nauseating feelings they provoke gave me the impulse necessary to found From Below Productions and start doing things my own way, as a means of rectifying certain errors I made in the past.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join them?
– On the contrary, we stand as their antithesis. Look, at this stage the only people I can fully trust to do a proper job when releasing any of my works are Norma Evangelium Diaboli, End All Life, and The Ajna Offensive. I should add that this statement is based purely on work experience, I know there are dedicated individuals running labels such as Terratur Possessions, Ván, Iron Bonehead, W.T.C., Nuclear War Now!, Invictus, Debemur Morti, Northern Heritage, High Roller, Sepulchral Voice, Martyrdoom, The Sinister Initiative, Me Saco un Ojo, Civitas Mortis, Soulseller, Iron Tyrant, BlackSeed, and so on who all operate with proper conviction and for the right reasons. However, there are certain criteria to be met in order to allow for such collaborations to happen. An expanded outlook was required in this context, hence the inception of From Below so certain things could see the light of day the way they were intended. Labels are necessary – I wouldn´t dare state the opposite – but they certainly need to deliver efforts, act with passion and dedication, and fully support the vision of the artist they’ve agreed to work with. Obviously, I’m not talking about some non-profit utopia here but entrepreneurial skills, marketing manoeuvres, and calculating business moves should come into play only after the decision to sign a given act has been made, and upon limits both parties established beforehand.
Do you have any releases lined up?
– Yes indeed. We’ve signed a new black metal band called LVME, with whom we have a good understanding. I know the individuals involved personally and our goals are one and the same. Their debut album, “The Blazing Iniquity”, is forged firmly in the fundamentals of the black metal creators, yet LVME have sufficient balls and talent to add their own elements in the mix – just like it used to be done during the glorious days of the second-wave masters. Both LP and CD will be available through us from the first of October 2019.