by Niklas Göransson
Swedish black metal solo-project Leviathan rears its head after eighteen years of absence. Roger, its founder and driving force, speaks of meeting the gaze from the abyss.
– “Förmörkelse” was recorded using three different studios here in my hometown, Skellefteå. The drums were tracked in Evil Witch, the vocals in Pagan Hell, and the rest at Aurgelmer Studios. The latter is run by Narstrand of DRÅPSNATT, who also handled the mix and CD master. Musically, I wanted to give old fans of LEVIATHAN not just a new album – but one with the same cold and dark atmosphere “Far Beyond the Light” (2002) had. I wanted to improve certain aspects of the debut and move the overall soundscape in a different direction. I allowed my development as a musician to be present in the songs, without making any drastic changes to my creative process. I had a clear vision of what it should sound like and I firmly believe we managed to attain this.
The resurfacing of LEVIATHAN comes in the shape of “Förmörkelse”. The project’s second album was released in the fall of 2020 – on cassette by Bile Noire, CD by France d’Oïl Productions and vinyl by Nebular Carcoma Records.
– The conceptual focus of “Förmörkelse” is on the darker sides of existence. Building on this vast fundament, it was primarily my own heartfelt darkness I wanted to infuse into the album. The lyrics are filled with fragments of real-life experiences depicted in an abstract manner; I’ve also added my own philosophies regarding the wide concept itself. It consists entirely of all those personal elements blended together – nothing else.
Roger’s fixation with the shadow-side began taking root around the age of fifteen, when he and Stefan Sandström – who today performs with EHLDER and LIK – discovered black metal.
– Stefan and I had a few demo bands before we started VOLKERMORD with Andreas in 1999. It was like a vortex pulling us deeper and deeper down towards waters we ourselves were eager to reach, despite the risk of being completely engulfed. I’ve had self-destructive tendencies ever since childhood – I was very young the first time I intentionally harmed myself – and these inclinations were not only allowed but also encouraged to flourish during my time in that band. We opened ourselves to the spiritual aspects of life, but with the stated intention of exploring its darker aspects. We did indeed find quite some answers and truths, which increasingly transformed into guidelines both within our artistry and personal lives. The journey I underwent during these times left impressions strong enough to have echoed throughout my entire adult life. I wouldn’t find myself talking to you, answering an interview, if not for this collaboration.
Shortly after a self-titled demo in the year 2000, VOLKERMORD was renamed ARMAGEDDA. Roger on drums, Stefan on guitar and vocals, and Andreas Pettersson – now of Nordvis and SAIVA – on guitar and bass.
– I wrote almost half the material on “The Final War Approaching”, “Only True Believers” and “Echoes in Eternity”. Eventually, I wanted to do something on my own – to step beyond our framework for what black metal should sound like. Composing for my own project, I felt as if I could work from a bigger spectrum of influences than we did in ARMAGEDDA. So, I formed LEVIATHAN around the millennium shift. And to get it out of the way: as I’m sure many of your readers know, an American band by the same name was started by Jef Whitehead, or Wrest, in 1998. All I can say is that when I settled for LEVIATHAN, I was unaware that there already existed a likewise named band on the other side of the Atlantic. In my defence, I didn’t even own a computer back then and had barely even used the internet. So, neither the American version nor any of the other LEVIATHANs existed within my reach of knowledge.
On November 11, 2002, Selbstmord Services issued LEVIATHAN’s debut album, “Far Beyond the Light”. Roger performed drums, vocals, guitar, and bass – Andreas assisted with additional guitars.
– I wrote the whole album with an electric guitar, amplifier, and a double-deck tape recorder. I would record a main riff to cassette, then rewind and play it in order to compose the accompanying melody. I was just a poor student so there was no other option for me than to grind on like that, using whatever means I had at my disposal. Also, due to some occult activities I’d been dabbling with, I was literally haunted twenty-four-seven – but especially at night-time. So, it was in this small room which barely ever gave me any sleep that I wrote “Far Beyond the Light”. I was fully possessed by black metal during this time. Everything revolved around either music or martial arts, and that was pretty much it.
Did you ever travel to other parts of the country for black metal gigs around this time?
– Unfortunately not, I didn’t attend any gigs except for a few local ones. However, since then I’ve been to many concerts and festivals. I remember hearing many stories about how dangerous it could feel to experience a real black metal show back then, and for years to come. However, I suspect this didn’t apply to all concerts around this time, many of which were probably the same as today. Anyway, I met a few musicians from other cities, like members from SHINING, WATAIN, ONDSKAPT, and so on.
Skellefteå is a city of about 30,000 in the north of Sweden. Despite its relatively small size, it seems to have had a vibrant black metal community in the 90s and early 00s – one that gave birth to amazing projects such as OTYG. I recall meeting quite a few maniacs from there, with a notable mention going to the late Sam Porseby.
– You met Sam Porseby? May I ask where and why? I ran into him a couple of times before he passed away, but I was still quite young and didn’t know him very well. Judging from my impressions, combined with everything I’ve heard, he certainly seems to have been a wild man – one of many to have crawled out from the womb of Skellefteå. There have been several times when I’ve considered leaving this place, but, somehow, always found myself sticking around. To be honest, sometimes I wonder why. But instead of moving, I’ve been travelling a lot and noticed that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. Same shit, more or less, except for different climate and natural surroundings.
“Far Beyond the Light” was received very well, garnering both critical acclaim and decent sales. However, in the wake of the album release, complete silence ensued from its creator. No interviews, no further recordings – Roger left both ARMAGEDDA and the black metal scene itself.
– There is not a single interview to be found from those days. Back then, I wanted to keep this project something obscure and mysterious; to operate in the shadows and let my music do the talking. As for my departure from the scene, that depended on a wide variety of reasons. With all of them added together, I felt as if I had to step away both from the music and everything else for a while. At the time, I’d been dragged into some trouble and believed myself to have good reasons to lay low. Skellefteå is a small town and if one does something, should I say, unwise or stupid with the potential for legal consequences, one would be well-advised to lay low and steer clear of further trouble. On top of that, I’d made some local enemies, so – in the interest of not makings things worse – I decided to maintain a low profile. I should also add that I was in a mind-frame of morbid paranoia and constantly on-edge, mentally, around this time. I soon realised that I needed to get a hold of my mental health and introduce some balance.
The next trace of Roger’s musical activity is on the 2003 “Portait of a Dying Civilization” demo by MALEFICIUM, a local black metal band which was later renamed INSOMNIA.
– Once things calmed down again, I met a couple of fellas who wanted to start a band. They already knew about me and we connected quite well. I suppose it was what you’d call black metal, musically speaking, but there was none of the spiritual malice I felt in ARMAGEDDA. The guys were more passionate for the black metal sound itself rather than any of the non-musical facets. I actually wanted to be involved with people like them, where things could be a bit more mellow and harmless. I wanted to figure out who else I could be besides that quite extreme personality I’d adopted during the many years leading up to this – to maintain some inner balance without changing myself entirely. We kept on doing our thing for a few years but never produced anything more than a handful of live shows and demos.
As the years went by, Roger eventually landed himself in a new mess – one which pulled him into a very dark and unpleasant situation.
– I had to distance myself from pretty much everything I was involved with – INSOMNIA being one such thing. All my friends, more or less, was another. So, I severed ties with everyone, along with all the passions I held dear, and essentially became a hermit. This time around, instead of creating black metal, I chose far less productive means of coping. A person suffering from mental illness in combination with self-medication rarely ends up much of an improvement. I destroyed practically everything I’d built up within me during the calmer years. I even went so far as to kill my own creativity for years to come. I just didn’t care to write music, or pretty much do anything at all. Eventually, for several years of my life, I only cared about numbing myself; I had no reason not to. Unsurprisingly, this left me in a tricky and hard-to-break spiral.
Roger describes the decade or so that followed as a rollercoaster ride characterised by mental illness, alcoholism, and substance abuse. After a chaotic but brief stint with a death metal band called CARNATUS around 2008, he finally found his way back to music and started playing with Stefan again. Stefan’s life had been no less eventful, and – as a result of his involvement in what’s been described as Sweden’s largest-ever drug distribution enterprise – there was even further excitement to come. He recounts the entire spectacle in the EHLDER feature.
– Stefan and I played in a doom rock band, but we would also hang out during our spare time. All members beside me had this DANZIG and MISFITS thing going on as a common springboard. I myself never admired either of those bands in my childhood, nor did I like their music particularly much. However, I did listen to a lot to punk in my early years and could therefore relate to and even learn to appreciate some of the songs we covered. At first, my aim was primarily to maintain my drum-skills. And all of us liked to drink and raise hell, so we continued onwards. I could see some potential within this group of bandits and misfits, and we eventually began writing music of our own – material in the vein of doom rock. We had a good thing going, but the vocalist and I became enemies; I held him responsible for slowing down our writing process. I left that band due to this just before Stefan was arrested. They carried on without us, and the vocalist for that matter. I decided to focus entirely on a death metal act I joined in 2013: FERAL. Last year, in 2019, I was also recruited as drummer for a local band called DWOOM.
During this entire period, Roger had been constantly pondering the rebirth of LEVIATHAN. In 2016, after years of mainly performing music written by others, he finally overcame his procrastination and sat down to compose new material. “Avgrundens återsken”, the album opener, was the first to emerge.
– It was truly cathartic, a release from one of many unpleasant situations. Everything within the whole process with completing “Förmörkelse” has been highly rewarding and challenging at the same time, but in a good way. I was fully determined to channel all the negativity borne out of both this situation and the rest of them. I felt an urge to let everything out and transform it into something creative. As soon as I got started, I instantly knew it was LEVIATHAN. But then there was the question of labels. Since I’ve been exposed to some, let’s say, less than optimal and even nasty sides of the music industry, I have become very selective. This is a contributing factor as to why the comeback took such a long time to materialise. Ever since the debut, and especially following the end of Selbstmord Services, a number of record companies have contacted me with offers; most of them laughably shit. I also made a few attempts to find a suitable label on my own, but without ever landing anything satisfying. To me, a good deal would mean nothing if I didn’t deem the actual label manager reliable. But it all was all sorted out a couple of years ago when I got in touch with France d’Oil Productions, Nebular Carcoma, and Bile Noire. Also, The Devil’s Elixirs Records will be handling the reissue of “Far Beyond the Light”.
So how are you doing these days, in terms of health?
– I’ve cheated death quite a few times in my lifetime. One or two caused by my behaviour regarding the chemical stuff in combination with alcohol: seeking ways to endure my inherent angst. I really hate to sound emo, but that’s been the case when things were as their worst. I simply decided to cut out the habits which were causing me the most harm. Well, I still drink way too much and too often… but, simultaneously, I force myself to go to the gym and so on, trying to live as healthy as possible. I have built myself up again, to the extent where I’m able to maintain this course. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes – both doings and undoings.