Death metal has always thrived in Sweden. When looking at pockets around the globe of where the art form has always had a strong fan base and a fertile ground for exciting albums and bands, Sweden is probably the first stop outside the States for many listeners. The Scandinavian country has produced plenty of classic death metal bands as well as helped to establish its own spin on the genre. Bands like Entombed, Dismember, Bloodbath, and Amon Amarth, along with the Gothenburg sound in general have more than made their mark on death metal.
Since 1990, Uppsala-based death metal band Sarcasm has added its own mark on the country’s extreme metal legacy. Years of demos, compilations, and an EP finally have culminated in a string of proficient albums, starting with 2016’s full-length Burial Dimensions and extending to this year’s Stellar Stream Obscured. I recently caught up with vocalist Heval Bozarslan to talk about the band’s current run and history.
First off, how did Sarcasm get started? What made you want to form a band playing extreme metal?
Heval: Me and Fredrik [Wallenberg], our guitarist and songwriter back then, were heavily into death metal and involved in its underground movement at that time. We were obsessed with all those new albums and demo tapes coming out. That second wave of death metal, as I would call it, was growing each day and we checked out everything, [and] it came to a point that we also must have a band and play some heavy rotten brutal death metal. Fredrik’s other band, Embalmed, had just split up and I was searching for people to play with after my band, Third Storm, split up two years earlier. It was very hard to find like-minded musicians in Uppsala back then in 1990, but we finally managed to find people to complete a band. The hardest one to find was a drummer so our second guitarist Henrik [Forslund] switched to drums, we didn’t have a choice, he forced himself to learn, and did it very quickly actually. The music was very primitive and raw back then [and] sounds far from what we are doing today but the aggression and speed is still there.
What got you into death metal in the first place? Who are some of your early influences?
Heval: I was into this extreme metal music since the earliest days with bands like Venom, Hellhammer, Bathory etc. Bands I would say gave birth to what people later defined as death metal, that extreme style wasn’t that defined back then in ’84/’85, bands could be death or thrash or speed but it wasn’t important, it was fast and raw and I loved all those extreme bands of that “first wave.” While the music gradually got more extreme, one band led to another, you know, from Possessed to Necrophagia, to Death and tons of other underground bands. And I checked out every one of them. In my opinion, those earliest well-known bands and all those other underground bands from that decade are my favorites and personal influences, they are too many to mention but those are still the deadliest in my mind. What influenced Sarcasm in the earliest days was the whole underground scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, most of those bands influenced us immensely.
What was the writing process for music like back in the early days of the band? How much has that changed to now, with experience, different life circumstances, and technology playing different roles?
Heval: Obviously the process has changed with new technology, it’s much easier these days in every way. Back then, we brought riffs to the rehearsal room and put everything together. If there was a complete song made before rehearsal, I had it recorded on a regular tape, with only one guitar on it and I would write the words without knowing how the drum parts and stuff would be, but it worked, but you have to rehearse like hell. When you’re young and don’t have responsibilities in life, you do that with a smile on your face and your bag full of beer. It was great fun, but I prefer this new process of making songs, things get done much faster. And you can make pre-production demos sound like albums. Peter records all the songs with all the instruments and intros and stuff included, with a nice and clear sound, [and] he then sends all the demos to me and I write the lyrics and arrange the vocals. The other members practice the songs at home, then after a while we go in and record them, without rehearsing as a band, because you don’t have to anymore. The important thing is to give the album an organic sound after this process, and I think we have managed to do that on our past releases.
What is your lyric writing process? Do you have a process or way to get the words and ideas to come?
Heval: I have a certain theme in my head before we make an album, and often tons of words already written. You should see my papers at home, it’s like a jungle of drafts and keywords all over the place. When all the songs are complete, I listen to them a million times, then start to adapt my written lyrics to the songs, sometimes I have to add stuff and most of the times I have to remove. And sometimes something completely new comes to me that makes more sense. And everything has a purpose and meaning of course, they’re not just words put together. All our previous albums are thematic, the lyrics are for the most time metaphysical without being abstract, and there are lots of questions asked to the universe, and lots of answers delivered. The journey inwards and self-empowerment, energies, purpose, rebirth etc. But this new one is a story-based concept album. A sci-fi/post-apocalyptic story told in two parts. Lyrically, I try to do something different for each album for this band. The next one will be different also.
What was it like for the band to write and record that first album, Burial Dimensions? Were there growing pains in the studio and what did you learn about the process of recording an album that would help you with later ones?
Heval: The songs on the first album were written within the span of 16 months, from mid-1992 to 1993. The songs got modified a bit when the time came for the recording of the album. Some melodies were added and vocal style changed slightly, etc. We recorded and mixed it in two or three weeks I think, but we were well-prepared. We didn’t have today’s technology at hand; we recorded it the old-school way. Growing pains? It was so long ago, but I don’t think so, not during the recording itself anyway. But there were other tensions but they didn’t affect the recording. I remember the guys who recorded us were not into metal at all, but they understood our music perfectly. There are some flaws on that album that we could have done much better if we had more time, but in the end it came out nice, but I couldn’t listen to it for many years. I saw the whole album as a huge flaw, but today I have a healthy relationship with that album, it sounds ok. And people seem to like it.
What made it take so long for that album to see the light of day?
Heval: There were some tensions within the band, one of our guitarists left before the recording, two of the other guys lost their will to continue soon after, although they recorded their parts, but weren’t present during the mixing, nor did they care. You just could feel the band would fall apart any day. We got tired of each other during and before the recording I guess. I didn’t think the album was strong enough to be released, so we didn’t tell anyone. The other members didn’t even have a copy of it. I think I was the only one who had a copy, hidden in my drawer. We rarely mentioned to people that such album was recorded. People knew of the band through our demo tapes which got spread widely through the years, so there were many surprised faces when the existence of a 17-year old unreleased album dropped like a bomb 10 years ago or so. It’s been reissued several times since its entrance to the metal world. I guess it’s making up for all the lost years it was hidden [laughs].
What led to the long hiatus for the band then and how did you know it was time to bring the band back? Was it hard at all to readjust to Sarcasm again after all that time away?
Heval: Some of us just got tired of the band and rehearsing, and I didn’t want to be part of the underground scene of the mid-’90s. We were very young and didn’t focus hard enough for the band to stay alive. Also one of our key members quit just before the recording of the first album, [and] we felt lost and uninspired, so we thought, what the hell, let’s call it a day. Actually, we didn’t even say that, the band dissolved silently, everyone knew, so we didn’t even have to use words, it just happened. But we were still friends and hung out. I was tired of being in bands altogether and wanted to do other things. I took up my studies again. Of course I still was a fanatic metalhead but didn’t want to be involved in the creative part of things. I never talked about my past bands to anyone for many years. Who cares about that shit, I thought.
But two decades later, a voice within could slowly be heard that I have to do this again. It was a time when people, mostly the new generation, was curious about old Swedish underground bands, and suddenly I could talk about my past bands with people, and our old stuff was released again. But I re-started Third Storm first, I thought that was an interesting experience and had confidence enough to re-ignite Sarcasm, and none of those failed in my mind, both bands are very much active side by side today. Third Storm actually is recording a new album as we speak. You know, it’s much more fun these days, although the beginning of the Sarcasm reformation was tricky. It was difficult to keep the band intact. Two members quit soon after and our drummer Oskar (Karlsson) passed away in the middle of the writing process. It was like a road of setbacks and obstacles for a period, and no one actually believed in the band. But we knew we had strong material and it would be a waste just to throw it away, [and] luckily we managed to release the comeback album Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds. But after the release of the album, things started to turn smoothly for a while till we got some problems with labels and shit. But things go pretty well now after we signed to Hammerheart.
Obviously with time come lineup changes, what do you look for in a new member of Sarcasm and has that criteria changed over the years?
Heval: Yeah I think it has changed a bit, and that has to do with growing older I think. I mean, you can’t just bring in anyone, this person must have some skills as our songs become more complex over time. Also, this person must be fun to hang around with. The chemistry is the most important. Age is not that important actually. It was a long time ago we’ve changed a member now, and let’s hope it stays that way.
What was it like to record that first album back, WIthin the Sphere of Ethereal Minds? Was it a much different process than recording the first one? I really dig that album and it’s always exciting when a band comes back fired up and knocks that first new album out of the park. How happy were you with the final product of that one?
Heval: Our goal with that album was to make it like it was belonging in the mid-’90s, with the production and all. I think we’ve succeed in that regard and that’s why it got so [many] good reviews, I think. Thankfully we never gave up during the hard road we went through. We knew, as I said, that we had strong material and finally we could show all the non-believers that it’s not just another half-assed mediocre comeback album. That album sounds honest and organic and you just can feel an old atmosphere surrounding it. It doesn’t sound computerized and lifeless like many other similar albums these past decades; you actually can hear people playing their instruments and not computers. And it’s not overlong, 35 minutes, just the right length for a death metal album. Looking back, there’s nothing I would like to change about that album. It’s perfect in its own way, but it’s important not to repeat yourself either.
Since your return, you guys have been knocking out really high quality albums with regularity. What’s fueling the current creative fire? Does it ever feel like you’re making up for lost time?
Heval: I don’t know really, I guess the time is right and we’re at the right age and inspiration keeps flowing through us. There is no resistance in the creativity zone so to speak. Also we are very careful and smart enough to know what works and what’s not. Lots of change has happened in the metal world since we broke up in the mid-’90s and lots of bad stuff influenced extreme metal in my opinion, and we are clever enough to stay out of that shit so many others have incorporated in extreme metal. We’ve seen too many of our past favorite bands suddenly taking an embarrassing path, and we’re avoiding all those traps. We’re all purists in the band. To evolve is a good thing but don’t sell out and turn into cheese is our philosophy, it’s just as easy as that. We’re not thinking about lost time much. I think it was good for us to have that two-decade break, these newer albums wouldn’t have been that strong otherwise or they wouldn’t even have been made I should say.
The newest album, Stellar Stream Obscured, is another fine addition to the discography. How do you feel about the newest one and what themes were you looking to work with this time around?
Heval: We’re very pleased with the new album, almost all reviews we have received have been great, our fans seem to like it, and I think it’s the most complete and dynamic album we’ve done so far. It’s varied and epic as hell. A perfect balance of different worlds. You have the heaviness, speed, melodies, brutality, atmosphere, catchiness etc. There’s something for everyone I think. Musically we don’t discuss much how the direction should be, instead we just agree that variety is very important.
I really dig the cover to that one. Who did it and how much direction did you give them?
Heval: It was Raul Gonzales who did the artwork this time again. I gave him a full instruction, as I always do, and he adds bits and pieces of his own ideas. The theme of the album is apocalypse, and this time I wanted something gruesome with lots of death and decay all over the place. I got the idea from one of our old artworks with the pile of bodies. I told him to do a new version of it and have our mascot “Sarcor” standing on top of the pile with a victorious pose. It also looks very old-school, which [I] prefer. Metal albums should look like metal albums!
You said you’re working on a new record. How’s that process going? What can fans expect from it?
Heval: We have written 14 new songs, [and] eight of them will be on the next album which will be recorded this fall/winter. It will be a very dynamic and explosive album as always, we always have that as a goal. There are fast songs and some really fast songs, a couple of slower ones, one of them really doomy this time again. Some of the songs have some really technical and crazy riffs in them, but the atmosphere and melodies are still there of course. It’s going to be pretty much a classic Sarcasm-sounding album but with some new things thrown in as the bar is raised a notch once more.
How badly did the COVID pandemic affect the band, either getting music out, recorded, or playing live?
Heval: Like all other bands we couldn’t do any concerts of course, but instead we wrote a lot of material. But the process of recording itself didn’t change, we never have all the members at once in the studio anyway, so it was the old usual way of making the album. But I think the album Esoteric was out just when COVID broke out, [so] I think it was bad timing for that release. It should have been promoted better also, but I’m certain the pandemic fucked it up pretty bad along with other shitty circumstances the band had to go through at that time.
Lastly, do you still have any big career goals or accomplishments you’re shooting for with Sarcasm? What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?
Heval: We’d like to release albums as long as it’s fun and as long as we have material good enough. When the time comes we realize that we don’t have anything interesting to share with the world, we will stop. We won’t be one of those bands with 15-albums-released and only the first few remembered. But on the other hand, you never know. If we still have top quality material when we are 70 years old then why not. No, we don’t have “big career goals” or anything like that, we’re old and wise enough to enjoy what we do in the moment. There will be total focus on the new album these coming months, which will be recorded the end of this year as I mentioned. It’s going to be a very strong record, I can assure you.