IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT
Deep in a musty, age-old cellar of old town Gothenburg, the anonymous members—the quintet has fashioned a particular nom de guerre—of Vampire are plotting something wicked. They’ve been holed up deep underground for over two years. Here, light fails. But the disquieting darkness is right up Vampire’s alley. Frontman Hand of Doom, guitarist Black String, bassist Command are urging relatively new recruits, guitarist Sepulchral Condor and drummer Abysmal Condor, to stay focused on the biennial ritual. As such, Vampire’s founding members have experienced it before. Wait long enough and the abyss will open, the jaws of darkness gaping yet again for the vernal tides.
For neophytes, Vampire’s cob-webbed, moon-burned brand of death metal stems from not just in one circle of Hell but all nine. The Swedes are just as influenced by Mercyful Fate and Slayer as they are informed by Sarcófago and Bathory. Likewise, traces of Autopsy, Master’s Hammer, and, of course, Possessed are evident. But Vampire aren’t an old-school act because revisiting the classics is modish. No, they genuinely feel present-day death metal is lacking spirit, is without presence, and has lost its eccentricity. So, they’ve robbed the aesthetics of Hammer Horror films, absorbed the pneuma their favorite metal bands, imbued it all with nostalgia for mysterious times long past, and have come out on the other side as Vampire. Or, the soundtrack to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.
“That is perhaps not the most obvious reference for how our music actually sounds,” says vocalist Hand of Doom. “But the overall aesthetics of the band is not that far off. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was an atmospheric and nostalgic over-the-top reimagining of vintage Gothic tropes, and that’s basically, thematically, where you find Vampire as well. Ancient mystery, dark aspects of European history, moonlit open tombs and faceless figures enshrouded in pungent fog... In all its late ‘80s nocturnal glory, Castlevania II also gels nicely with some of our musical influences of the period. Those were the days!”
Vampire didn’t form in 1987, however. The Swedes rose from the proverbial grave in 2011 when Hand of Doom, Black String and Command heard a voice in the dark. They quickly put together their self-titled demo, 2012’s Vampire. Immediately hailed by tastemakers—such as Darkthrone’s Fenriz—and fans, who raided 300 copies of the demo in a week, Vampire’s vicious yet evocative style set fire to convention. Buzzed and then signed by Century Media a year later, the Gothenburgers quickly set out to work on their debut. Released in the abyssal spring of 2014, Vampire’s self-titled debut was heralded by the press as “the real deal”, bestowing “macabre charm”, and “uniquely unhinged”. Vampire’s start was auspicious. So, when they released Cimmerian Shade—a limited edition 10”—in 2015, it was also met with rabidly rave responses.
UNDER THE COOL MOONLIGHT
Now, the members of Vampire are reveling in the next era of the band. Previous drummer Ratwing has been replaced by drummer Abysmal Condor and guitarist Black String now has a six-string sideman in Sepulchral Condor. A quintet, the Swedes set off to write not just a follow-up to Vampire, but an album that will redefine death metal in 2017. Composed over a two-year timeline, songs like ‘Knights of the Burning Crypt’, ‘Skull Prayer’, and ‘Revenants’ demonstrate a deadlier, more incisive Vampire. The difference between Vampire and most other bands is that they arranged the songs together in the rehearsal room—a tradition sadly waning—instead of one or two members controlling the process. The result is With Primeval Force, nine songs of malefic aggression and ritualistic transmission.
“With Primeval Force has a more mature feel to it,” guitarist Black String compares. “As the cover art suggests, the musical and lyrical horizons have broadened; every song feels as if it lives its own life, still well-placed in the general picture. Already when I began writing the first tunes for this album—‘Pyre of the Harvest Queen’ from our 2015 EP was originally supposed to be on it—I wanted the band to go for a more introverted and cold sound, as a distinction to some of the chorus-laden ‘fist in the air’ songs on our debut album. So, you could say that With Primeval Force generally is both colder and more atmospheric than our debut; a bit less ’traditional’ songwriting in Vampire terms. Despite that, the album somehow embraces bits and pieces of the last 35 years or so of metal music. In that sense, it holds on to a lot of tradition and the Vampire mark is still very present.”
To test the Cthulhu-infested waters, Vampire released an early preview of rager ‘Skull Prayer’, which was the first song the band crafted with the Condors onboard. Devised at the same time as ‘Night Hunter’, off the Cimmerian Shade 10”, the first song off of With Primeval Force is both a physical and figurative bridge to past and present. But ‘Skull Prayer’ isn’t the only song designed to span Vampire and With Primeval Force. Black String was very aware of needing connective tissue between the two full-lengths. So, the unbridled ‘Ghoul Wind’—with its nod to vintage Teutonic thrash—was also penned to maintain Vampire’s ancestry. As for the rest of With Primeval Force, it demonstrates Vampire’s ingenuity by re-shaping death metal’s classic constructs into new horrific forms.
“‘Revenants’ is probably the most varied song of the album,” says Black String. “The intro riff of the song is one of those riffs that I did shortly after our debut album, but I didn’t really know in which context to place it. ‘Time went by, we tried out various arrangements now and then, and 18 months later we had glued the parts together. It was a relief to get the song done, because I knew it would be relatively easy to finish other songs after this one. ”Metamorfosis” and “Midnight Trial”, whose bits and pieces date to a period when the band was quite inactive. In the middle of all this, I wanted to take Vampire in a fresh musical direction. Meanwhile I came up with these riffs which reek of early Slayer, Celtic Frost and even Mercyful Fate. I think these three songs are the most ‘progressive’ on the album, and since they are relatively slow to Vampire standards, they took more effort to complete.”
HEAR THE WOLF NOW
Recorded over 10 days at Nacksving Studios (Opeth, Dark Tranquillity) with engineer and studio owner Isak Edh, With Primeval Force continues Vampire’s commitment to tracking on vintage gear as well as their professional ear for a good, if truculent sound. The new album was handled in split sessions in 2016. One in May. The other in November. The group also revisited Nacksving later on to lay down additional guitar work, keyboards, and vocals. The entire Nacksving experience turned out to be not just routine but enlightening.
“We wanted to try something else for With Primeval Force,” Black String admits. “So, we decided to go for Studio Nacksving, who are actually also known for their long experience and vintage equipment, just like the studio we used for our previous output. But the main reason With Primeval Force sounds different from our debut album is because we’ve become a bit more experienced recording and mixing ourselves. If you don’t know which knobs to adjust, it can be hard to push the studio engineer in the direction you desire.”
If With Primeval Force is Vampire’s musical hail to their influences and a statement of their own innovation, then lyrically it’s on another Stygian plane. As Hand of Doom intoned earlier, Vampire are well versed in the hideous yet seductive imagery crafted by H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, and M.R. James. As with the music, so too the lyrics. They’ve parlayed Victorian and Romantic visions of the supernatural into their own.
“As suggested by the album title and the cover artwork, the lyrics deal with the obscure and the grotesque, with arcane energies and the rise of fallen idols,” Hand of Doom reveals. “Recurring motifs are dark aspects of ancient cultures, violent interventions from beyond the grave and elevating experiences of the supernatural or the divine. Compared to previous Vampire songs, these lyrics draw less influences from, and refer less to, already existing works of art in the same genre.”
With savage music and spine-chilling lyrics, Vampire are breaking the seals of seven with With Primeval Force. They are readying for supernal battle. And if the beasts and minions of darkness and the warriors of light don’t collide in planet-shattering might upon its release, then, at the very least, the Swedes have their bags packed to hit the road in support of With Primeval Force.
“Let’s say we don’t want to miss great opportunities,” muses Black String. “We will begin the With Primeval Force cycle with a bunch of shows in Scandinavia.”