Ever since lead guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Hårkansson founded Marduk in 1990, his band has sought to twist and mutilate the darker reaches of the human imagination as a source of inspiration for their material. The Swedish black metal profaners are releasing their 12th studio album, Serpent Sermon. The scalding, acerbic, mercilessly executed black metal on this latest offering continues the apocalyptic theme that Marduk began with 2009's Wormwood. Marduk are currently wrapping up the first leg of the Serpent Sermon tour with Vader and Kataklysm; it's a tour that began in Siberia and reaffirmed the band's still dangerous reputation, as their Minsk show was shut down because local authorities considered the band "an affront to Christian values." Marduk will very shortly embark on a North American tour with 1349, Withered and Weapon. In the midst of their busy schedule traumatizing people with delicate sensibilities, Hårkansson found the time to talk to Exclaim!
Marduk's primary goal has always centred upon creating material that revels in blasphemy and the religiously profane. Over the years, have you had to alter your lyrics or performance in any way to adhere to this?
Hårkansson: Everything we have done has always come naturally; we just release the energy from within and see which direction it takes us. Of course, our ways to attack the enemy have changed over the years. But whatever change there has been, it has just been reshaping, taking a different form: one that is more vicious and ferocious, but maybe not as obvious as earlier on.
Is it easier or more difficult now to create material that the general public regards as blasphemous?
No I don't think so, but I wouldn't say that being blasphemous is something that we focus on in that way. That was the motto we had when we started out in 1990, when the climate was different than today. And whatever is considered blasphemous is in the eye of the beholder. For me, "in god we trust" on a dollar note can be considered blasphemous.
Are North Americans easier to offend than Europeans?
I'm sure it is that way with the conservative right and so on, but the most important thing is not to offend but to release the energy that is genuine, that has a point and gets a message through. If it happens to be blasphemous, that's fine, I don't really care. We do what we do and if people appreciate it that's fine; if they don't that's fine as well. I'm creating music and lyrics out of conviction and dedication, and not everyone might like the message that we are preaching. The gospel of the worm is not for everybody.
First with Wormwood and now with Serpent Sermon, you have gradually adopted a more avant-garde interpretation of black metal. What has pulled you in this direction?
We don't sit and try to write in a specific way; it all comes from within. I think it's a natural part of being creative: that things change and you don't make the same album over and over again. Though we would never try to be experimental for the sake of having to be different; I would rather be the Motörhead of black metal and just keep doing what feels real. When working on material, we focus more on making music and lyrically becoming a unit, a fist in your face. Plus, we concentrate on really bringing forth the message and letting it paint a picture in your mind.
What is the lyrical inspiration behind Serpent Sermon? Are you continuing the doomsday celebrations that began with Wormwood?
In a way, yes. While Wormwood was, as you mentioned, a doomsday celebration, dealing a lot with death, madness and the shape of things to come, this album is clearer in its concept. It's the most diabolic album we've done in a long time. All of the albums are diabolic in their own way, but this time it's very obvious and in your face, so nobody can really miss out on the content of this album. The title really speaks for itself - everybody knows who we are referring to by "the serpent" and everybody should know what a sermon is. The title is a very genuine reflection of the essence of the album and the very core of what black metal is all about.
The image of the hooded figure swinging a flaming censer in the video for "Souls for Belial" is very powerful. What were you trying to convey in this video's look and imagery?
The video is a strong reflection of the lyrics of the song and I think the video captures the meaning and power of the written words and diabolical power of the music. What we are trying to convey should be very clear with the song's title. It's up to everybody to be embraced and see what it means to them and let the song take them on a journey.
How do you put yourself in the right frame of mind to write music for Marduk? I just take up the guitar and play, and the state of mind comes. I don't need to be at a specific place or do anything special; I leave that to the lesser knowing. The strength and energy come from within.
After your current tour through Europe, you will embark upon a North American tour with 1349, Withered and Weapon. Do you find such an intense, even punishing tour schedule exhausting or are you able to draw new energy from live performances?
We are not really touring Europe. Right now, we are at the end of the first leg of the Serpent Sermon tour. We just played the very eastern part of Russia, as well as the south and middle; it's a huge country. We started out on the 11th in Siberia and have just been marching for two weeks. It's been a great way to start the touring cycle with our loyal fans in Russia - the die-hard legions over here are a true inspiration. We will do a full European tour in the beginning of September, a seven-week tour, but as you mentioned, we will head over to North America before that, starting out in Puerto Rico and going up through the U.S., Canada and finishing-up in Mexico. We are currently booking other parts of the world as well. There is more to come. It can be exhausting, but very inspiring as well. I believe in the power of what we do and want to perform in front of as many of our loyal Marduk legions in all parts of this world. Therefore, we as a band have made the biggest sacrifices to be able to march across all corners of this world and deliver an aural and visual attack. To create magic with the crowd is for sure something that you draw energy from.
The darker and more challenging Marduk's material has become, the more fans have praised and craved it. What do you think inspires this impulse, this attraction to the dark?
I believe what draws praise, and what causes people to be hungry for it, is that it's real and genuine, that it means something. It's natural for man to be drawn to it, like a moth to the light. Unlike many bands that have taken an extended hiatus or even broken up and reformed, Marduk have never faltered or wavered. What keeps you going so confidently 12 full-length albums into your career?
I hate bands splitting up and then getting together a year later. Since I created the band, I have had a burning desire for what I do and don't believe in quitting. The inspiration has always been there and I believe in what I do. All 12 albums we have done are pillars upon which we stand as a band. We don't hesitate; we march and deliver - no mercy. I guess other bands quit or go on hiatus because they don't have that spark or greater vision.