Malsten Interview

LOMM: Can you give a little biographical and historical info; who is involved in the band, and how did you guys meet up? 
Malsten:  Malsten plays Slow & Heavy Doom Music and is based in Malmö, southern Sweden.

The current line-up is: Manne Högström – vocals & keys
                                         Fredrik Grehn – guitars
                                         Andreas Svensson – bass & synths
                                         Stefan Winroth – drums & percussion

Malsten started in 2018 after Fredrik and Andreas had been jamming together for a few years, trying out riffs, working on song structures and spending countless hours discussing sounds, pedals and other gear. We also spent a lot of time before officially forming the band talking about what was missing in the doom metal genres these days. Basically, we lacked conceptual and musical ambition in the new bands we were listening to. We also felt that the vocals were always the weakest spot. Either reduced to a percussive effect or just altogether badly performed. This led us on the path that later became Malsten, creating conceptually driven slow & heavy doom music with a horror twist and extremely expressive melancholic vocals.

The band was solidified in 2018. We already had a lot of material written, so work began straight away on piecing together an album. Then in late winter of 2019 we entered the studio to record our debut album The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill, which was released in July 2020 through underground label Interstellar Smoke Records in a limited vinyl edition. The album was also digitally released on all major streaming platforms worldwide in august 2020.

LOMM: Pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone yet the arts have been hit especially hard. The musicians are vulnerable to financial upheaval. How have you guys have been holding up?

Malsten: Oh, the current pandemic has had a great impact on us for sure. Our debut album was delayed for several months, which was stressful for both us and the label. On top of that, our initial plan for 2020 was to do gigs and spread the music of Malsten primarily through that channel. Even given all the fast and effective communication-outlets available today, playing live is by far still the best way of disseminating your music to the fans. And with Malsten, we do our outmost to make sure that a gig is not just any gig where you grab a few drinks and hang out with friends. Our goal is to get the audience fully immersed in the music and the story told. It’s more of a theatrical, or operatic approach, if you will.

LOMM: On the other hand you seem to have had a productive time. Is that right?

Malsten: Because of how 2020 turned out, we have had to restrict all promotion-efforts in connection to The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill to online and social-media channels. That’s far from optimal of course, but we believe that we’ve learned a lot in the process, which is a good thing.
We’ve also started to work eagerly on new material, which is of course very inspirational. We have all the experiences from our debut album fresh in our heads and that means that we still remember everything we didn’t get to include for one reason or another. And we can pour all of that into the new music.

LOMM: Modern sounds are my thing J How about you? What does your genre means to you, why did you choose this genre?

Really! You must give us some hints regarding new artists or bands. To be honest, all of us try to keep up with new releases within the doom metal genres. It’s surprisingly rare that we find anything new and fresh that’s really inspiring and can hold up musically against music produced in the past. Our judgement is more than often “-Ok, this was good, but the vocals was a bit off.” Or “-The rhythm section is a bit boring after the first track.”. Maybe it’s because we are four grumpy old men, but we don’t get that same feeling when listening to the first three Candlemass records or Eve by Ufomammut for some reason.
Even before Malsten was formed, when Fredrik and Andreas were just jamming on riffs and discussing fuzz pedals, we decided on the doom genre for Malstens music. The genre itself is very versatile, including great music from the 70’s to this day. That legacy is inspiring in it’s own right, but what made us drawn to it was the heaviness, atmospheric and epic qualities and the soundscape of fuzz and drones. We also felt very strongly that we can contribute something new, and much needed to the genre, both musically and conceptually.
We knew that we wanted Malsten to have a focus on horror-story narration, powerful and melancholic vocals, and inspiring musical ambition. In short, many of the aspects that we feel are rare in the genre today. 

LOMM: How did the initial musical and thematic elements evolve?
With the framework of Malsten set, we started searching for a story, and slowly the concept of The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill emerged. The story is inspired by the awakening of the evil at Silvåkra Mill and the vile deeds committed within its grasp. It is narrated from the perspectives of victims, the possessed miller, and Mortimer Aghardt, an angst-ridden vicar who desperately tries to come to terms with the inexorable terror.
The story is set in early 20th century rural Sweden. A place of poverty and suffering, but also mystique. A pivotal time between the old traditional world and the new industrial era that has shaped our world today. This setting is often used in Scandinavian storytelling and has many essential elements of a gripping horror story. Desperation, a natural connection to death and the supernatural, and an accented conflict between religion and science as explanatory frameworks.

It’s fair to say that the music evolved along with the story. We had a good bunch of ideas and riffs and our aim was to produce a standard-length vinyl LP so that meant we needed 40ish minutes of music. Finally, we decided to have the story told in four chapters, retelling different aspects of the story.

LOMM: Are you happy with your product? I mean, what aspects of it do you think you guys nailed, and what parts do you think you could improve
We are incredibly pleased with how The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill turned out. We really didn’t know what to expect when we entered the studio. We had played together as Malsten for less than a year and never even done a live gig together. Sure, all of us have previous experience as musicians, but that was over 20 years ago so we knew that we were a bit rusty to put it mildly.
The end result however, sounds better than we could have ever had hoped for. The album really captures the essence of the story and what we wanted to convey musically and conceptually. We owe a great deal of thanks to Joakim Lindberg, who co-produced, engineered and mixed the album. The clash between his down-scaled approach to production and our grand ideas of an, in some ways, over the top concept album, turned out to be very inspiring and fruitful. Without his guidance, we definitely hadn’t finished the album within the tight timeframe that we had, and most importantly, he maintained a very raw edge to the sound and feel of the album. In hindsight, this was a crucial aspect, since we have come to understand that SLUDGE is by far the most important thing in the DOOM-music communities.
The sludge-elements in Malsten’s music comes from a very genuine place. It not just that we have a love for the early Sabbath-albums (they are great pieces of music in their own right, but that’s another story) and we try to emulate that within our sound. No, the sludge of Malsten is created by us not having enough time and resources to polish the recordings or writing riffs that we are too old and rusty to execute properly. That’s what brings the sludgy edge to Malstens music, and Joakim was very skilled at capturing that. What comes across in the soundscape of the album is a very honest rawness, and with Joakim we just had to embrace that.
This was a bit of a challenge of course, what we envisioned when we started recording The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill was in many was a grander, more bombastic concept-album. Some elements in that directions are kept on the album, but most of them are far more subtle than we originally had in mind. Again, this is probably a good thing. If we have had a more polished sound with even more over the top arrangements on the album, the Doom-community would probably just have disregarded our efforts as pretentious and boring.
Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement when we now start to slowly work on our next output. We believe that we learned a lot with The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill that will be beneficial for the work ahead. We have clearly seen which directions we want to explore further and others which we perhaps will downplay a bit, both musically and conceptually.  Thankfully, the world that we created for The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill is far from exhausted from a creative point of view and we will continue to explore it in search for other Doom horror stories.

LOMM: How has the overall reception been?
The album has gotten some very flattering reviews, mostly from the online Doom-communities. We are humbled by and grateful for all the kind words and insightful analyses of the music and the concept. Many of the reviews have shown a surprisingly in-depth understanding of the story we want to convey and the musical elements we want to put forward. We say surprisingly, because we couldn’t possibly expect such an in-depth interest from these reviewers, who get bombarded with great music from all corners every second. It’s a sign of great professionalism on part of these persons. A fact that we deeply admire and appreciate.
That being said, we of course face the same challenges as any underground band. To get people to listen to your music is a nearly impossible task within the fast-flowing information climate of today. With Malsten, we see this as an extremely slow building process, and our strategy is to slowly but surely grow the fanbase bit by bit. With the release of The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill we have seen that we haven’t generated enough buzz outside the confines of the Doom metal genres. That is something we will surely try to do with future releases. We truly believe that Malsten’s music and concept has wide application within the genres of metal and ambient music and would love to reach out beyond Doom metal.
The plus side of working from an underground perspective is that you get a very personal relationship with the fans listening to your music. This has been very rewarding for us, sharing thoughts and ideas with dedicated musicians and fans around the world. 

LOMM: Have you ever been on a tour? Given live performances? Is it tough for you not to be able to do so now?
Sadly, we have only given two concerts with very restricted audiences in 2020. This has of course been very frustrating for us.
But, being an ‘older’ band with families and day-jobs to prioritize, we weren’t planning any lengthy tours supporting the album.  We had however planned to do a good number of gigs once the album was released, and those plans has naturally been postponed.
We were very lucky to able to perform a release-gig for the album, albeit with a restricted audience. That concert was very successful and strengthened our believe in our concept and approach.

LOMM: What do you see for your future? How is it looking?
It’s looking great to be honest. At the break of the new year will start to work forcefully on the follow-up to The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill. It is going to be an exciting and inspiring creative journey for sure.

LOMM: Could you tell us about the lyrics / themes /concepts you focus on or plan to focus on? How did the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process? Who is writing the lyrics?

Malsten: Well, the conceptual world was created before we had any proper lyrics set to the music. Andreas and Fredrik brainstormed a sort of synopsis of the story for The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill, with the main themes and a rough idea of what was supposed to happen within its four chapters. Manne then took these ideas and wrote lyrics to fit the vocal melodies. It’s a bit of weird way of going about the process perhaps, but it turned out to be very effective and the lyrics that Manne presented to the band were all close to perfect instantly.
Now, for the next album, we all have a deeper knowledge of the conceptual world that we created and that could mean that there can be a lot more creative feedback from all members of the band. All of us feel very confident and comfortable with our roles within the band and we strongly believe that the writing process should be as inclusive as possible.    

LOMM: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
Performing live is by comparison much more relaxed than creating in the studio. But, to be honest, the way we view gigs also means that live performance is far from a drunk bash exchanging sweat with fellow doomers. It’s more of a stage performance, retelling the story and engaging the audience. In that sense the pressure is very similar to a studio performance.
But, as you know, we haven’t had the opportunity to perform live as much. So, please ask us this question again in a year or so. We promise to deliver a much more interesting answer then! 

LOMM: Who is composing the songs?

Malsten: With The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill, a lot of the music was written before the line-up of the band was complete. That made for a bit of a piecemeal composing process. And, perhaps, for the same reason, the different parts were divided between the members, to a large extent. Manne, as previously stated, wrote the lyrics, based on the storyline and synopsis provided by Andreas and Fredrik. Most of the riffs as well as structure of the music was written already when Fredrik and Andreas were just jamming before the band was properly formed, and some of the ideas goes back several years because of that.
Going into a new writing process we plan to make it more of a collaborative effort. Even though the writing for The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill was a piece-by-piece process, it did, as stated before, give us all a sense of confidence regarding our individual strengths as songwriters and how we can combine our efforts in creating the complete structure of the music. Fredrik is the riff-master among us, coming up with heavy and doomy riffs constantly. Mannes focus naturally lies with the vocal melodies and he has a keen ear for combining the conceptual narration with the dynamics of the music. Andreas mostly focuses on musical and melodic structure, writing harmonies and piecing things together to achieve the desired effects. He is largely the theorist in the band. Stefan is new in the band, but he has already provided great arrangement ideas and perfected dynamic details, both for old material and new. He will surely provide some much needed progressive elements to the rhythm section, going forward.    

LOMM: What bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Our music is inspired by a wide palette of influences. We all share a love for all things slow, heavy and majestic, but aside from that we come from very different musical backgrounds. Fredrik is probably the one most grounded in the modern doom/stoner/sludge-genre, with bands like Slomatics and Ufomammut forming great inspiration. But he is also a fully submerged Tool-fanatic, which makes him appreciate progressive elements of music making. Andreas has more of a background in death- and black-metal, with old-school Swedish death-metal bands like Dismember or black-metal masterminds Satyricon being major influences. He also draws inspiration from classical and theatrical music to a large extent.
Stefan has a wide ear for all things edgy and progressive, but always with a raw attitude. He draws his inspiration from bands like Melvins and TAD. He is a powerhouse of a drummer and we can always count on him for dynamic expression and out-of-the-box arrangement ideas. Strangely, Manne has a background in folk music and similar laid-back styles. It’s hard to imagine when you experience his soaring, powerful vocal delivery. Manne also takes a lot of inspiration from electronic music such as Dance with the Dead.

LOMM: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
By now it should be very clear that Malsten is by no means an easy-listening experience, neither musically nor conceptually. We don’t do 5-minute bluesy, riff-based stoner doom that you can use as backdrop to your late summer barbeques. In fact, a key drive for Malsten is to create music that is not easily digested or put aside. Instead, we aim to provoke deep feelings of melancholia – a true sense of doom. Our goal is to create music that lets the listeners dwell deep into the story narrated and find new details every time. This is, according to us, what sets Malsten’s music apart from other bands within the Doom genres.
We do, however, invite the fans to be critical listeners. When choosing to listen to Malsten’s music you should be entitled to expect all these elements executed with quality. We encourage the listener to crave more. More horror! More gore! More doom! Our inspiration is to deliver these feelings to the fans.

LOMM: When you look back your music career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Even though we have been playing together as Malsten for a while, we still feel like a new band. Not young, perhaps, neither in age or mindset, but it feels very much like we are just getting started with Malsten and that most things are ahead of us.
We are very proud of our achievements with The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill the last year. It turned out much better than any of us could have hoped for. That goes both for the album itself, the reception it has been getting within the doom music communities and the few live performances we have been fortunate enough to make. It has inspired us to create new music and convinced us that we have opened up a very rewarding creative door with Malsten.

LOMM: Anything else you think your fans should know?

Malsten: Keep eyes and ears open for the continuation of Malsten’s Doom horror story next year!

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