Plenty of artists have gotten lots of mileage out of the end of the world. There’s something about looking at the state of humanity and seeing how precipitously we always sit on the edge of disaster that makes for compelling art. Mankind’s doom and downfall provides myriad avenues for musicians and writers to explore, everything from satire to dire warnings to the sheer, mind crushing horror of the end of it all. Stare too long into the fires of man’s demise and you might notice Sweden’s Grand Harvest staring back at you through the flames, maniacally cackling at it all.
Formed in 2017, Grand Harvest released their debut full-length, Consummatum Est, at the end of March. It’s a hell of an opening statement and a record for anyone that’s gotten fed up with it all and said to hell with the world, let it burn. The death-doom stylings of the five piece make for a perfect match for a brutally nihilistic age. I recently caught up with bassist N.N. to talk about his band’s history and their excellent debut.
First off, how did you guys get started? What drew you all to each other and made you want to start this band?
N.N.: Some started making music together a long time ago, some got added later through shared acquaintances or social media. The lineup was complete by 2017, and then again at the end of 2018 after the passing of our guitarist M.G. The real musical/spiritual path and unification of the band wasn’t a vision from the start, but rather something that developed over time.
What got you guys into metal in the first place and who are some of your influences?
N.N.: I guess we all have different paths here, but we’ve all been into metal since at least the 90’s. We all share a view on music which is rather open minded, and besides metal the members listen to folk, ambient, classical, synthwave/EBM, singer/songwriters, rock, et cetera. My personal journey started already as a newborn, since my father plays the drums and (has) been in several different heavy metal bands through the years. I grew up on Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and Saxon. Extreme metal and its occult/satanic settings entered my life in the mid ’90s and that was it. The band is influenced by many different musicians, bands, writers, philosophers, and teachings. Some are evident in the music, some in the lyrics, and some are incorporated or utilized in more hidden ways. Long lists aren’t very interesting, but to mention a few: Mgła, Watain, Bolt Thrower, King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, Emperor, Dead Congregation, Mephorash, The Devil’s Blood, decadent and romantic poets like Baudelaire and Swedish counterparts Stagnelius and Fröding, or thinkers like Nietzche and contemporaries such as Argentine philosopher Julio Cabrera – especially his concept of“negative ethics” and the resulting “plea for non-being.”
You guys have an awesome sound that defies genres but really utilizes conventions of doom and death in an exciting and organic matter. How would you describe the Grand Harvest sound and how did the band’s particular style develop?
N.N.: Thank you. Finding the sound of the band was a slow but steady path. It started out as basic death metal but the lyrics developed and so (has) the music. Some of us are more influenced by black metal or atmospheric doom elements, so I guess it’s only natural that it got more evident in the music as the writing continued. What we managed to put on tape for the album kind of shows both where we come from and where we are heading. It’s hard to describe your own sound, since music is such an individual journey. In plain genre terms I’d call it blackened death/doom metal. The more complicated description would be something like “dark and misanthropic metal with epic/atmospheric elements, that together lift the music to a versatile and transcendental level, without losing focus – a steady mix of old-school primitivity, ethereal dreamscapes, and esoteric sermons.”
What is the music writing process like? Has that changed at all over the years?
N.N.: From the beginning this was rather rigid, and it took us a while to find the right way for us to work on new material. Nowadays, we usually start with an idea of a few passages which we then refurbish, add to, or subtract from, to fit the intended lyrics and then lastly work on in the rehearsal room to add the final details. You can usually find new small details in our songs even after several listens, which is the result of this meticulous last step.
How do you come up with the lyrics for the band? Do you have any particular inspirations that you turn to and, from a themes and lyrics standpoint, what do you feel makes an effective Grand Harvest song?
N.N.: In the words of Dr. Häll himself: “A deep resentment towards the misery and tyranny of sentient being in general, and humanity in particular. The vantage points are an esoteric Gnosis of Death, or Necrosophic Gnosticism, expressed through a basically Luciferian symbolism, the mythos of Divine Chaos, and a certain brand of empathic misanthropy. This is then cast in the language of apocalyptic revelation, occult eschatology, and mystical experience, blended with personal ordeals. Together they sharpen the essence of the music, the Scythes of the Grand Harvester, towards the conceptual main theme: the blissful end of all things.” The thing that makes the lyrics stand out in Grand Harvest, besides the massive amount of work Dr. Häll put into them, is the attention to lyrical content in the writing and arranging of the music itself. The music is there to carry and emphasize the lyrical content. When this symbiose works out is when the best Grand Harvest compositions are born.
It’s pretty rare to see a band’s first official release be a live album. How did that come about? Do you feel like that helped better prepare you for the studio recording process?
N.N.: The release of the live recording was purely by coincidence. We are a band that embraces the weird and unexpected, so when the sound engineer told us he had recorded everything on separate tracks after our streaming gig that night, we went for it. The album was already recorded by that point, so this was merely a way to release something while waiting to be able to get the album out. It turned out rather well, it was a great night and even though ToreStjerna (NBS Audio/Necromorbus) mixed the sound the recording (it) is still very honest. No overdubs or studio tricks, just a metal band performing live.
The debut, Consummatum Est, is a hell of an opening statement. What was the recording/writing process like for that one and what was your goal with that first full-length?
N.N.: Since the songs have been written during such an extended period of time, there really wasn’t that much of a thematic thinking involved. What ties it together is mainly the sound/mix and the ever-present lyrical genius of Dr. Häll. Some older songs, like “Fatehammer,” are more traditional death metal-sounding and the later ones, like “Consummatum Est,” “No Paler a Horse,” and “Sol Maledictor,” have more of that floating genre definition that we aim for. The songs fit very well together though and we are all very pleased with the result and the nice reception the album has gotten so far. The recordings were grueling, but very rewarding. We recorded all the instruments at the renowned Studio Mega, known especially for their outstanding drum room, and then did the vocals at the more local Southsound Studio. The mixing was done by Tore at NBSAudio/Necromorbus and the result was mind-altering, he basically nailed the sound we were going for in one try. The main goal for us is always to get to perform these songs live. It’s in a live setting that our compositions and the energies behind them really come to life and resonate through us unto the audience. We are also hoping to find a suitable label for further development and reach with the next album.
The cover for that one is really memorable too. Who did it and how much input did you give them on what you wanted? What does that cover represent to you?
N.N.: The album cover art is based on a beautiful painting by Antonio Rizzi from 1914, titled, in rough translation, Alarms at Twilight, and re-done for us by Chris at Misanthropic-Art, who did a great job of catching the essence of the original without incorporating the war thematic of the original. At first we wanted to use the original, but this proved to be very difficult, so by asking Chris to do his version we hit two birds with one stone. We needed something a bit more omnipotent and ominous for mankind as a whole, without specific references to war and battlefields anyways.
How affected was the band by the pandemic? Did that cut into making music or any live plans?
N.N.: Very affected. It put the release of the album on hold for two years, it made it impossible to do live performances, it made it hard to rehearse… Much of it was basically the band being put on a forced hiatus. We managed to get the streaming gig in during a small gap between strict restrictions, but that was pretty much it. Another effect coming from this is the jammed-up cue for gigs, tours, and festivals, now that everything has been shut down for two years. It’ll be tough to book anything since so much has just been moved further and further forward. One good thing is that there has been time to write new material, which means that we now have a basic framework already done for the next album.
Sweden has been consistently putting out great extreme metal bands for decades now. What’s the scene been like there for you guys and why do you think your home country is so conducive to creating memorable metal bands?
N.N.: The small scene in our hometown of Malmö has been very supportive, but it’s a bit harder to get recognition in the bigger scenes of Stockholm and Gothenburg. We’re slowly working our way in and there will be live dates in both these cities very soon…The reason for prominence in music in general, and metal in particular, is very debated, even here. My theory, which is just that and not hard facts, is that it’s a combination of a few different things. First of all everyone here is introduced to playing instruments at a very young age, it’s a part of the school system. Second, it’s very easy to find rehearsal spaces, since most municipalities have them and the prices get severely subsidized by a system of government funded study circles that all bands can join. We also have a climate which more or less forces us to stay indoors for large parts of the year, which gives the opportunity to listen to and compose music. Lastly, the darkness for most of the year makes us prone to the darker and more extreme subjects of life.
If you guys ever do get free time, what do you like to do away from music and how do you unwind?
N.N.: That’s very different for all of us, and a large part of our lives consists of music. Both our own and listening to others’ or going to concerts. When it comes to other leisure time activities, reading and occult work is accompanied by cooking, boxing, carpentry, gaming, hiking, beer and wine interests, and so on.
Have you guys gotten to play out in support of the record yet? If so, what was it like to bring the material to the fans in a live setting? If not, how excited are you to play the new tracks for live crowds?
N.N.: We’ve played some of the songs from the album for a long time, as is evident by the live recording. Since the album release, we’ve only done one performance though and it was a very special one for us. We arranged a release celebration at Plan B here in Malmö, where Cursus Bellum started the evening, then Voodus played a very strong and ominous set before we got on stage and performed the entire album from front to back. The feeling was that of euphoria for all of us and the night turned out a great success. Now we are waiting to reveal some other exciting live dates in the near future and hopefully that’ll open yet another door. Our music is definitely meant to be experienced in a live setting.
Lastly, what’s next for Grand Harvest? What are your goals for the future?
N.N.: Right now we want to do as many live performances as possible and continue the work on our second album. We’re also starting work on a vinyl version of the album, but because of the extreme waiting lists for vinyl pressings it’s impossible to say when that’ll be out. Please follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Spotify to not miss out on future updates and feel free to buy releases on Bandcamp and our webstore at grandharvest.8merch.com, it really makes a difference for small struggling bands.