by Niklas Göransson
Former Marduk drummer Lars Broddesson speaks of the circumstances that ended his stint as a professional musician – and what he’s doing to claw his way back. Introducing HILD: black/thrash violence powered by fire and ice.
– It was a late summer’s evening last year; I didn’t have anything particular in mind besides a meditative nature-walk through the twilight landscape. But once darkness fell, I received what one might call an otherworldly insight – or a divine assignment, as I myself perceived it– that I should immediately head over to my studio and put together a song of approximately two minutes length. I also got the distinct impression that I should work uninterrupted until the track had been finished in its entirety. Clearly, there was nothing to do but obey!
For several years, Lars had toyed with the idea of playing thrash metal – a genre which was deeply formative in his youth. Simultaneously, he’d come up with a band name he liked: HILD, an old Swedish word for ‘battle’ or ‘strife’.
– It dawned on me that I should create a thrash song – and why not do it as the first work of HILD? Now that my blood was boiling, the song structure, riffs, and lyrics all came to me as I made my way back through the woods. I must say, it’s really fucking convenient to have a smartphone one can record ideas and drafts on! Once I arrived at my studio, all I had to do was transcribe everything into music and then record it.
While primarily known as a drummer, Lars is a fully capable multi-instrumentalist.
– Initially, what came out from the studio monitors sounded nothing like what I heard in my head, so the first hour or so was plagued with frustration. But my inspiration soon returned and exactly five and a half hours after that first cerebral ignition in the woods, I had finished the first HILD song: “ValFreiya”. A curious synchronicity is that I later discovered that Hild is also the name for one of the Valkyries.
Freyja is a goddess in Norse mythology. One of her many roles is as Valfreyja, ‘Mistress of the slain’, in which capacity she leads a band of warrior maidens known as the Valkyries – from ‘valkyrja’, ‘chooser of the slain’. They scour the battlefield in search of worthy combatants; half of the chosen fighters are brought to Fólkvangr, an afterlife realm ruled by Freya, whereas the rest are seated alongside Odin in Valhalla.
– I can’t quite recall now if it was the following day already, but soon thereafter I decided to see if the feat could be replicated. This time, I didn’t bother writing the whole track in a single sitting; however, I did adhere to the principle of keeping it around the two-minute mark, composed through a creative process of no more than nine hours in duration. Before I knew it, I had “Göndul” ready – following which I thought, ‘Why not make one or two additional songs for an EP?’ So, I just kept going like that until I had twelve of them: enough for an album. A short one admittedly, but still!
To my understanding, Lars’ approach of impulsive composition is meant to channel divine inspiration borne of the present moment – as opposed to conscious creation through a meticulous workflow.
– Correct, spontaneity is key! Capitalising on those initial sparks of magic is the whole essence of HILD: capturing and retaining the original burst of energy. My usual creative process is often a mixture between two polar methodologies: sometimes things flow by themselves in an automated trance-like state, so to speak, and other times I use a more structured and intellectually based method.
Lars finished the as of yet unreleased HILD album “ValFreiya” in about four weeks, but the effective working time was just shy of fourteen days.
– It was a pleasant surprise to see that I could pull it off. I realise this might sound like shameless self-aggrandisement, which is not at all my intention. Nonetheless, it’s precisely this working process that resulted in HILD sounding the way it does. Everything was written within a tight framework; I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish, both musically and lyrically, so I kept pushing onwards. What at first was intended to be nothing more than a recreational SLAYER rip-off project soon became coloured by other currents and took on a personal touch. I found great value in this and allowed the energies to flow freely.
Each of the album’s twelve songs is named after a Valkyrie. HILD’s theme of Norse mythology is an extension of Lars’ lifelong soul-searching – a journey which has led him to the spiritual outlook of his ancient forebears.
– As I’m sure you can imagine, I could ramble on about this for half an eternity; but what it ultimately comes down to is a natural development resulting in an active choice to dwell in the world of archaic Norse nomenclature, religious belief, and sorcery. Not that any of those realms are new to me: nature, magic, occultism, metaphysics, and so forth have been constant staples in my life… the totality of which has brought me here. I’ve always had, and still do to some degree, a syncretic way of viewing the world – primarily influenced by the darker aspects of various systems.
In the context of worldview and religious belief, syncretism is a term for the amalgamation of different outlooks and schools of thought into one creed.
– Ultimately, this is where I’ve landed – or been guided to. This is what resonates deep within me; it feels both real and genuine, almost as if I’ve returned home in a sense. I am part of it, it is part of me. Just like nature in general. Some might say that I’ve chosen to limit myself, but it’s a limitation which in itself grants me freedom. And it doesn’t mean that I reject any of the knowledge I’ve accumulated from dabbling in other traditions.
Has this led to any practical changes in your daily life?
– It probably hasn’t affected my mundane existence to any greater extent… but my spiritual practice? Absolutely. Especially how I perceive, define, and interact with the world around me, such as hidden aspects of the wilderness. It’s also essential for me to be open with my faith; to honour and stand for my divinities whenever it’s required. I consider this a duty and a blessing – as the source of great power, one which recently drove me to break free from the chains of industrialised wage-slavery. But what it boils down to is personal belief; I’d like to think that I can still function in civilised contexts like a reasonably normal person, haha!
In what way does it inform HILD, besides the lyrical theme?
– HILD is my dedication to Freya, the divinity I align the closest with. For me, this is incredibly important. But of course, it’s perfectly fine to embrace HILD as just another thrash band to bang your head to, or whatever. For instance, I’ve been told that it’s the perfect weightlifting soundtrack. Despite its somewhat lofty spiritual underlining, HILD is by no means a pretentious project. Its basis is a straightforward thrash energy, notating my musings about matters which hold great value to me. The deeper aspects are there for those who might find resonance with them.
Would you say that you were just as wholeheartedly invested in the subject matter back when you were drumming for the Devil?
– Yeah, for sure. One cannot in earnest perform black metal without acknowledging it as a destructive and sinister current which is, in many ways, hostile to all human life. My personal belief is that these are real powers not to be trifled with. Once you’ve dipped your toes in that spring, its streams will forever run through you – whether you want them to or not. These days I process such currents differently, but they are definitely still there. All this far transcends simple Christian concepts of good and evil. Of course, the Devil certainly has his own distinct charm, as I’m sure most who have danced with him could attest to.
Despite his religious realignment, Lars is clearly still comfortable playing black metal – as evidenced by his work as a session drummer on the recent FUNERAL MIST album, “Deiform”.
– Whenever I’m asked to perform session work in this world, I always declare my spiritual loyalties beforehand. The act in question might have a completely different foundation, which is fine by me. That said, the Valkyries can be as harsh and merciless as any other power – think nothing else. Sanngrithr is one of the darkest entities I’ve ever encountered in the ethereal plane: her callous disregard for human existence is matched by nothing I’ve felt before. There is a nonchalant but morbidly intriguing elegance in the manner with which she extinguishes life.
Lars has previously collaborated with FUNERAL MIST mastermind D. Rostén not only on the band’s last three albums, but also in MARDUK. In 2006, when then-drummer Emil Dragutinović departed, Lars was chosen to fill the void. For someone who’s been obsessed with both metal and musicianship since childhood, being drafted to such an influential act would presumably have been a dream come true.
– Oh, like you wouldn’t believe! MARDUK was one of the gateways to black metal for me; I discovered them around the time of “Those of the Unlight” (1993) and “Opus Nocturne” (1994). Trust me, I’ve spent many nights sitting in a dimly lit boyhood room carving up my arms to those tracks, haha! Even in later days, it’s happened that I’ve had to pinch myself and do a reality check. Whatever ‘reality’ entails, of course. Perhaps better to live a dream?
Unfortunately, starting in November 2012 – after two albums and numerous tours – the dream morphed into a nightmare.
– It all started when I over-exerted myself while performing an endurance exercise for bass drums. During the final minutes, I felt a sharp pain on the right side of my lower back. Stubborn and stupid as I am, I pushed through ‘til the end. Once I was done, I stood up and the discomfort immediately subsided: ‘Phew!’, I thought, and did some stretches just to be on the safe side. But when I sat down behind the kit again, it was as if my sense for physical centre had vanished – along with my ability to play fast double-kick drums. Some tempos worked, most others did not.
Needless to say, Lars’ condition severely impacted MARDUK’s live performances.
– What surely did not help was the US tour we did in early 2013 – during which I slept in an ice-cold bunk with mould growing around the air intake, resulting in near-pneumonia and constant fever. Disregarding the codeine in my cough medicine, that was the only sober tour I’ve ever done. Despite this I thought I could sense some occasional improvements in my drumming capabilities, but there was no lasting change. I couldn’t even manage footwork in 100 BPM without the greatest difficulty: not exactly optimal for a band like MARDUK! As a result, I had to cheat and do a lot of half-tempos, which meant the quality of our gigs suffered. Obviously, it’s impossible to play proper blastbeats when your lower body simply refuses to obey.
The US venture ended in mid-May. After a few festival dates over the summer, the Serpent Sermon 2013 tour brought MARDUK to South America. As it happens, I was along for this trip to write a tour report. If memory serves me right, Lars mentioned that – instead of making him sit this one out – his bandmates had asked him to compile a setlist with songs he was able to play properly.
– Ah, that’s right! Partly comprising of tracks without fast double-kick, but also songs that worked even if I played the kick sections in half-speed. A band of MARDUK’s stature could easily have set me aside when things started going awry; they did not, which meant the absolute world to me. Morgan, Rostén, and Devo were all very supportive and did their utmost to make it work. At this point, the topic of MARDUK being anything but the four of us hadn’t been so much as broached.
When the time came for MARDUK‘s “Those of the Unlight” twentieth anniversary-tour in late 2013, there had still been no noticeable improvement. Lars told the others that they would have to bring in a temporary replacement – which ended up being Fredrik Widigs – while he took some time off to recuperate.
– It was my own choice to step aside – I had to, out of respect for MARDUK’s legacy, so the songs could be done proper justice. I still recall how depressing it was to see updates from that tour… like, fucking hell, it was supposed to be me up there! At the same time, I felt reassured knowing that everything went well in my absence. We still hadn’t discussed me actually leaving the band… but this shit never got any better. Neither scholastic medicine nor the alternative disciplines were able to identify the problem. I tried every fucking treatment and rehab exercise known to man; I tried rest and recuperation. But alas, no.
After a few months as a session drummer, Widigs was appointed Lars’ permanent replacement.
– To finally realise that my journey with MARDUK had come to an end and that someone else had taken my place was brutal, but I supported the decision. A natural consequence: deeply tragic for me, obviously, but not much to discuss really. Widigs was a perfect fit for them. It definitely felt surreal though… you know, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ Nevertheless, a machine such as MARDUK must keep rolling, which is impossible if one of the wheels break down. I think the biggest source of frustration was my fixation with finding a cure. All the treatments, programs, techniques, and other shit. All the vanity. Ultimately, I’d burned through what was left of my savings; I had zero income and was forced to take a job at the local foundry. Now that was a bitter fucking pill to swallow – believe me.
How was it going back to regular employment?
– There was a brief period where it felt nice with some financial stability; to not constantly be worrying about money. I gained both a new understanding and respect for the world of nine-to-five work – but simultaneously a greater distaste and loathing, depending on how you see it. I could appreciate some aspects, but in the long run it had become clear that this was not my calling: not what I’m supposed to do with my life. Ultimately, it grew unbearable, and everything almost went to shit.
In what way?
– The entire situation bothered the hell out of me; I can’t put it in any other way. Little by little, parts of my identity seeped out of my very being. I mean, what am I now? Who am I? Day after day of failure and lack of progress behind the kit – feelings of ineptitude and a general lack of all meaning… constantly trying to get my act together and keep going. Just looking back now brings me to a dark place. Of course, there are countless people who’ve fared far worse than I have, so who am I to be whinging? But fun it was fucking not.
The remaining MARDUK members have stated in interviews that they also found the situation most unfortunate and still to this day speak highly of Lars, both as an individual and a drummer. In January 2015, little over a year after his departure, MARDUK released “Frontschwein” – their first album with Fredrik Widigs.
– It took a fair bit of time before I could listen to that album. I’ll never forget the day it came out: I was in the blackest of moods. But what the hell, the norns of fate had made their decision. In hindsight, what annoys me the most is that I wasted so much time, energy, and money trying to carve my way back to the drum seat – all for nothing, with little to show for it besides endless disappointment and despair – when I could have plied my efforts into something more productive. I have other talents than just pounding skin, if I may say so myself.
How long did it take for you to come to terms with this?
– Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve come to terms with any of it yet, haha! I can’t imagine I’ll ever settle for anything less than an existence where I can devote my time to matters which mean something to me. I’m still fully intent on making a living from what I love and am passionate about, but I’m obviously not there quite yet. For the past months, after making sure I got fired from my latest job, I’ve had the luxury of devoting myself to music full-time again. The path to how I am to succeed is still shrouded with uncertainty, but I find this exhilarating and it puts my faith to the test. But that I will get there in the end, I have no doubt.
Do you still not know what went wrong?
– I don’t have an official diagnosis, no, but I’ve concluded that it’s most likely a combination of nerve damage and chronically overworked muscles: some are too tense, others too relaxed. Some are too long and others too short; they work against rather than with each other, and there’s a huge difference from the right to left side. It’s only lately – we’re talking over the last year now – that I’ve been able to drop the demands on myself to someday be able to play the way I want. I’ve acknowledged that my condition is chronic and will probably never fully heal.
What about mental healing?
– At this point, there’s not much else to do but find a way to live with it. Of course, it’s still there beneath the surface, constantly vying for my attention – the urge to play drums freely, the dream of a full return to form or of finding another way to blast properly. But I will no longer allow it to steal my energy or make me feel like shit. I don’t have the same pressure on me; there’s neither the time nor the money for it. Life goes on, and there’s no point in being disgruntled and miserable. Simultaneously… and I’m trying not to get my hopes up here, but lately things have improved somewhat in terms of stability and control. I’m able to play kick drums with some new techniques. It comes and goes, but in general there is progress. Sometimes rather good, actually. Slowly but surely my sense of balance and physical centre are returning.
Was this a natural recovery or the result of anything?
– What’s helped the most is automated shamanic movements that I’ve memorised when they’ve come to me and then used in combination with stretches and basic yoga. Furthermore, meditation and breathing exercises such as Wim Hof – which is something I also use in more extreme forms of ecstatic trance-states – have been beneficial. And then physical exercise, of course. But most importantly, letting go of negative thought-spirals and habitual rage reactions… not wallowing in negativity and instead taking in the beauty and magic of nature, the landscape, and the bedrock around us: sensing happiness and the power within.