Published Mar 05, 2014Musical growth and development are as difficult for critics to quantify as they are for bands to manage. Too much progression in too short a span of time can draw the ire of fans that were loyal to the previous aesthetic, while not enough over a longer period can evoke criticism that a group are resting on their laurels or making the same record repeatedly. Considering how difficult striking this balance can be, Sweden's Morbus Chron have done a particularly excellent job carefully managing their growth. The difference between their 2011 debut full-length, Sleepers in the Rift, and their latest, Sweven, is vast. They began by experimenting with the aesthetics of disgust and the abject, using primitive production values and grossly distorted tones, but have wound up incorporating remarkably sophisticated, progressive elements into their songwriting, allowing the songs to breathe in some cleaner production, while shifting their focus from the decay of the body to the explorations of the mind. They're still preoccupied with death, as behoves those who participate in the genre, but a juvenile obsession with the grotesque has matured into an in-depth engagement with mortality, and the boundaries between the physical and ephemeral.
What's more telling than the differences in their first and second records is how Morbus Chron have also stayed the same: the gripping, engrossing songwriting, bristling with rusting hooks and heavy with potential aggression, has remained unchanged, and is ultimately what makes Sweven a success. Exclaim! caught up with Morbus Chron lead vocalist/guitarist Robert Andersson to discuss Sweven.
Your moniker, Morbus Chron, is very close to morbus crohn, the German term for the inflammatory bowel condition we refer to as Crohn's Disease. Were you hoping to conjure images of the abject and body horror when you chose this name?
The band name came up during a family dinner at [lead guitarist] Edvin [Aftonfalk]'s place. He was told by his mum that if he didn't slow down his eating, he would eventually get Morbus Crohn. The name stuck in his head and at the following rehearsal, we had a new name. We didn't spellcheck the disease though, so our name translates to something like "Era of Disease."
You made the leap from Pulverised to Century Media for your sophomore record. What inspired that change and how did it affect recording and releasing Sweven?
We signed to Pulverised for one album. As soon as it got out, other offers started coming in and we thought the time was ripe to go elsewhere. Century Media showed interest and after some negotiations, we signed for two records. So far, it's been great. The release has been really smooth and the promotion has improved dramatically — more interviews, more show offers and so forth. It seems to be going pretty well.
While your early work certainly engaged with the aesthetics of disgust, like a great deal of death metal, Sweven is much more about abstract, psychological horror. Even the album title refers to a dream or vision. Why this shift away from the horror of the body toward that of the mind?
Naturally you find new ways of writing on the guitar, try different types of vocals and also update your lyrics. Sweven isn't really about horror at all; it's about dreams, sure, but not always nightmares. It's often the other way around: beautiful, relieving dreams. It was a way to dig deeper inside and speak honestly about topics that actually matter to me.
What are the primary lyrical and conceptual inspirations behind Sweven?
Dreams and the releases they provide. I'm often sick of this world; I'd give a lot to be able to fly away sometimes, and that's basically the story of Sweven. It's the soundtrack to the perfect dream sequence — a journey away from this world, beyond the walls of sleep.
You are exploring a number of ideas surrounding the passing of time with this record: spoiling, decay and change. Why this sudden interest in mortality beyond the physical?
Music is a way for me to escape, so I didn't want the album to have any connections to our reality. I understand it appears to be a big step, but these are thoughts I've had for a long time and have always wanted to incorporate; it was just a matter of time before I knew how we could do it. Lyrics have never been the number one priority either. On the first record, they were just words that fit the music; I didn't think twice about them. But for each release, I've tried to put a little more time into them.
Your aesthetic isn't something that many fans might expect from contemporary death metal. It's not all about unrelenting brutality or sheer technical slaughter; there's a great deal of attention paid to groove, texture and emotional impact. How did your aesthetic evolve?
I still say we're death metal, but you could say that it isn't very traditional anymore. We've never felt connected to bands that only go for brutality non-stop; it's not my cup of tea. Sweven is a big change when it comes to all of our aspects, but for us, there wasn't more to it than taking the next step, like we've always done. We were simply writing the music we felt was good, and didn't care about what was expected from us.
Are there any particular influences that you would say Sweven is indebted to?
No, not really. I've said in interviews earlier that we're probably less influenced now than ever. What I mean is that most of Sweven was written without any other music in mind. The influences that are present, because surely there are influences, are more likely to have come subconsciously. I listen to a lot of different stuff, ranging from the softest to the hardest; we all do. Somehow, all of that colours our music. You can try to pinpoint influences all you want, but you will never find that band that makes you go, "Oh, this is where they took their sound from!" There isn't such a band. This is the result when we stop caring about sticking to a certain formula or writing a specific kind of riff.
Now that Sweven is about to be released, what is next for Morbus Chron?
We have a tour planned in March with Necrowretch. It's the first time we'll go on a tour, so that will be interesting. Then we have some extra shows here in Sweden. We're planning some other stuff right now as we speak, but I really can't say anything for sure. Time will tell!