Sebastian Ramstedt, guitarist/composer of NECROPHOBIC speaks about “Mark of the Necrogram”, his gears and much more.
Hi Sebastian and thanks for the interview. The reviews about “Mark of the Necrogram” are very good, how deals the band with it ?
It is absolutely fantastic. The feedback on the album has been nothing but great ! Now we have to follow this up with great shows !
The band is known for some a mix of death and black metal. I will be more precise and say that you play something like an “old black metal from the 2nd wave”, meaning with a strong melody line. Do you agree with that approach ?
Yeah ! I think we belong more to the second wave of Black Metal than the old school Stockholm Death Metal. In fact I don’t think of the songs as Death Metal at all when I write the music. To me I create Black Metal. But it’s more in the sound of the mix.
I think we have more of a powerful Death Metal foundation with strong drums and bass. Then we had a Black Metal layer on top of it.
Also when Necrophobic started there was no such thing as the second wave of Black Metal. Even Bathory’s third album was labeled as Death Metal. We have chosen to stick with that instead of denying our Death Metal roots as some bands has done.
We are proud of our Death Metal history.
You have played with Johan in Morpheus, Nifelheim, Black Trip/Vojd and he was the bass player. In Necrophobic, he is the 2nd guitar player. Was the bass his first instrument ? Are there some difficulties to go from bass to guitar ?
When Johan and I started playing together pre-Morpheus he was actually a rhythm guitarist. We were young and I think for some reason we suggested that he would do the bass instead.
It was always hard to find bass guitarists in Stockholm in the 80’s. But Johan never forgot how to master the guitar. As I see it he is a fucking great rhythm guitarist but an amazingly good bass player.
He seem to have no trouble switching back and forth.
Now let’s speak about the guitar. Tell us more about the discovering of that instrument and your beginner’s times.
I was only 9 years old when I started. I got the chance to learn classic guitar in school. This was in 1981. But just the year after, I first heard Heavy Metal. Some kids in school played The Number of the beast and Restless and Wild. My attention was quickly drawn from pop influences to the sound of NWOBHM.
It was fantastic. I could not understand how a guitar could make those sounds. I experimented with the headphones of my Walkman. I got them to work in reverse as a microphone into the stereo. Then I put the ear pieces into the hole of my acoustic guitar. It made some kind of distorted feedback sound and I knew instantly that I had to get a real electric.
I was 12 when I had saved up the money for a cheap Les Paul copy and a small 12 watt Marshall amp. I played that guitar day and night. I did not know anything about scales or power chords.
I was classically schooled with finger picking and melody/bassline playing. It took me some time to figure out how to get the chords right. One of the first songs I managed to play was The Kids are Back from Twisted Sister. I would recommend that to any kid who wants to start. Perfect lesson in palm muting and easy power chords. Still think it’s a great song.
What were your influences or musical heroes at that time ? And now, are they still the same ?
When I started I had not even discovered Metal yet. So I just think I saw the possibility to be some kind of folk singer with an acoustic guitar in my lap. But as soon as Heavy Metal did an entrance in my life around 82-83, things changed rapidly. Iron Maiden, Saxon and Accept were probably my biggest inspiration. But it was hard for a kid to copy that playing style.
I think I learned some punk rock songs and easier tunes like that Twisted Sister song. Dave Murray must have been my first real hero. Today Iron Maiden and the classic bands still are very important. But as for the guitar playing it is not held in mysterious clouds anymore. The Maiden and Saxon stuff is pretty basic. But Accept stands out to this day. Wolf Hoffman is a far better guitar player than most of the early metal guitarists. I also discovered the 70’s Scorpions in high school.
Uli has been a great inspiration for me. He is like the grandfather of neo classical metal.
Can you talk about the evolution of your gear from the beginning until now : guitars, pedals, picks, strings, amps, etc… ? (love the sound on the Hrimthursum album by the way)
I think the Hrimthursum sound is just a Metal Zone into a Marshall amp. No tricks there.
When I started I used a Les Paul copy and a Marshall. Then came the Super Strats on the other half of the 80’s. I played Kramers and Ibanez. I had an Ibanez metal charger stomp box that was fantastic. Wish I had that still. In the first half of the 90’s I played an Ibanez Joe Satriani signature model.
I combined a Boss HM-2 (but not set all on full) and a Boss super overdrive pedal into various amps.
I also used a Boss digital delay. This and a Floyd rose equiped guitar fucked my skills up seriously. I forgot about the importance of attack, pick angle and vibrato.
The pedals and gear did all that for me.
In 1995 I threw all that away. I bought a Ibanez 70’s lawsuit Les Paul and a Marshall Valvestate 100W. Then began practicing again. There was nothing forgiving about this gear. I used only a Cry Baby wha-wha for effects. Then I could afford to buy my first Gibson Flying V. I ended up with 10 of them. 5 Kalamazoo vintage ones, a couple of new and even a Custom Shop High end Gibson V. This took serious dedication to find those guitars to the right price.
Today I have only 4 vintage V’s left. All the others are sold. I lost my interest in the early 2010’s when exactly every band had to have a guitarist with a white Gibson V. It is the most hipster guitar along with the Firebird if you ask me. But by this time I had learn to play without effects again. I switched to Jackson guitars and bought a few boxes. Delay, Wha-wha, Chorus and the EVH 5150 distortion pedal. I also switched to Peavey amps. 5150 and 6505. And this is pretty much what I use today.
But the most important in your sound is in your fingers. I sound about the same on a high end Jackson RR1 as I do on a cheap SuperStrat.
Glad to read that you make used of a Boss HM2 pedal !
Yes I used that one in the early 90’s. But I did not know of the all on 10 setting. We really did not want to sound like Entombed anyway.
But the pedal is very dry on itself. You need to add something to it. I used a Boss Overdrive and the distortion became smother.
Speaking about gear, it the same gear in studio than in a live situation?
No that is different. I want the same sound on the album as I have live. You would think that the same set up would do that but you forget about volume, audience and room. If you want that live sound you have to look for other solution. A great EMG/5150 live sound is hard to obtain.
I think a cranked Marshall are closer on captivating that feeling. But I leave that to the producer. All the albums from Hrimthursum and on are produced by Fredrik Folkare. He uses a variety of amps, effects and plug ins. I used a Fernandes JS-100 Randy Rhoads copy for all the guitars except a home built Jackson/Esp STAR for the clean parts. For me guitars are lifeforms that bears some kind of magic.
The whole album was composed on the Fernandes so I did not want to break the spell by using another guitar. It is actually one of my cheapest guitars.
What kind of advices can you give to a young/beginner metal guitar player ?
Do not rely on gear. Practice at least a couple of hours a day. And being in a band is not about playing perfect or finding the best musicians. It’s about finding people you can cope with for at least 10 years on.
Any tips for the warm up before a live gig ?
For me it’s at least one hour of tremolo picking. Then I and Johan also do the whole set with a small speaker just before the gig. We take it dead serious. If you are going to be able to concentrate on the performance and giving contact to the audience you have to know your licks pretty damn good.
I have to be at least 50% better in the rehearsal room to be able to do a great gig.
Speaking about gigs, I have seen that a tour is planned for 2018. Does some additional dates will be added ?
We are adding dates all the time. We will not do a big tour. We will do many small ones.
The first approach with “Mark of the Necrogram” is this wonderful cover / artwork. How did you come to that, what was the goal ? Necrolord is a legend for Black Metal artworks, did you wanted to mark the album with his own style only ?
He did the artwork for 1997’s Darkside. I always had the idea of him painting the continuation of that cover art. In the middle of Darkside is a red gate. We asked Necrolord to paint what’s behind that gate. On the red side.
He did a fantastic job. It was perfect for this reunion of the band. We wanted to obtain the feeling of the second wave of Black Metal in the 90’s.
Mark of the Necrogram is a new turn for the band as a “new” line-up has been created. Is this line-up more effective to achieve your new goal ? What was the impact on the composition of that album and how do you compose, in general ?
Yeah ! It’s a new old line-up. As always I compose on my own. I get some kind of inspiration and work with my ideas until I can present them to the band. It has been like that ever since Bloodhymns. I work best when I don’t get interrupted and I very often get the idea of the whole song at once. I don’t do “riffs” that will be put together like LEGO.
I get an overall feeling of the song I wanna do and then I write riffs to fit that feeling.
Sometimes it even starts with the lyrics or just a word. Or a feeling. Big different this time is that I wrote the whole album except for two songs myself. On the earlier records Tobias, Sterner and Johan have had a bigger role in the compositions but this time they added very little.
I think the concept of the music is more hold together this time. But the lyrics was written by me, Alex and Anders.
To be honest with you, even if Womb of Lilithu is a good album it seems that this album is “out of scope of the band”, comparing to Death to all and Mark of the Necrogram. Do we have to take it like it ?
It’s a good album but it’s not a Necrophobic album as I see it. It is entirely composed by Fredrik who had no history with the band except for producing. I think you can hear that.
He is very talented and he is a better guitarist than me but I might be just a little bit better on writing Necrophobic songs. I could never fill his shoes in Unleashed if you know what I mean. I have great respect for him.
For the ones who don’t have the chance to listen to this album yet, what are the themes around that album ?
In regards to “Womb of Lilithu”, in 2010 me and Tobias decided that album would be about 9 demons. But then I left. I think lyricwise Tobias stuck to that idea.
If you are talking about “Mark of the Necrogram” then there is different themes. I wanted the music to continue where Death to All ended. I wanted the songs to be straight forward and somewhat catchy. Or at least have good hooks.
I wanted the music to be shamelessly very close to what went on in Scandinavia in the mid 90’s. Lyricwise it’s pretty much dark poems. I was inspired by old poems like Inanna’s Descent and so on.
Alex interestingly enough also wrote about female figures like Lamashtu and Hel/Pesta. We did not talk this over. It just happened that way.
How did you recorded the album ? Did you had a precise visions of how does the album should sound ?
We recorded once again with Fredrik Folkare in his studio. He knows exactly what we want. We had some references like the latest Böltzer album and also Svartsjerns “Misanthropic path of Madness”. Two albums with great power. But aside from that we just wanted to have a thick steady Death Metal ground for the rhythm section and a more ambient Black Metal sound for vocals, leads, and melodies.
The album has been released into many formats, such CD, LP and even tape ! Do you have a goal / target in regards to the sales?
No we are record collectors and just like cool formats.
LP have limited copies. Do you think that metal fans sticks more to the “physical media” as others music fans ?
Speaking as a metal fan I would say SURE! I think the physical media is very important to metal heads. The whole thing is a lifestyle and collecting records is a big part of it.
Necrophobic moved from Season of Mist to Century Media Records for this new album. How did it happened ?
Since this is a new line-up 3 of us were not signed to SOM. We asked them if it was ok to shop around and they had nothing against that. Century Media came up with a deal we could not refuse and we are very happy to be under there stall. They are fantastic !
Sebastian, you’re also known as a designer artist. Can you tell us more about your art ?
Yeah I am an illustrator. I have done a lot of album covers and other stuff like logos. I helped Firespawn with their logo. I have done at least three Unleashed album covers and booklets and a lot of merch for bands like Grand Magus, Dismember and more. But I really don’t have the time for it. I have to choose between practicing my guitar or paint. The guitar wins.
Necrophobic has over 80 000 fans of Facebook, this is huge for a Black Metal band. Is internet, by now, the biggest way of promotion for your band ?
I do think so. But it is dead without the interaction. I think if you take your time and answer fans it can be fantastic. But it will not work on its own.
Tsar bomba is available on Youtube as a video lyrics. Are there some others video lyrics into the pipeline ?
We just released Pesta as the official clip of the album!
Stockholm have a great past in regard to the metal scene. Are you in contact with the oldest and newer metal bands ? Is the city still a great lab for music ?
It is not like in the late 80’s anymore. And the late 80’s was not like people think. There was a great rivality between the bands and there were many rules about what was right and wrong. Pretty sad if you ask me. We do have contact with very many of the old bands and we get to know new ones all the time. The scene is very much alive.
As an actor of the metal scene for over two decades, could you please share your thoughts in regard to the evolution of the metal scene and overall mentality?
At the beginning Death Metal was something that normal musicians looked discussed on. They thought we could not play and that we were just making noise. But the times have changed.
Growling vocals is now an art form and people can sort the melodies and skills out through the noise. The mentality is mostly friendly nowadays. On the verge of being PC which I despise. This is metal and metal is from Rock’n’roll. Elvis started off as the Bad Boy antagonist and so did Mayhem. If we are going to do this cumbayaa friendly then all is lost. People are afraid to stand out. To have opinions about anything. But you know what ?
Metal is a big FUCK OFF to conformity and to “normal” lifestyles. If you have a problem with that … well maybe you don’t really like Metal.
Do not try to make this scene yours. Metal is not about politics. To say that Metal bands have a political agenda is ridiculous. Where the fuck is that in the lyrics. Don’t look for things that are not there. This is Metal. Metal is a fist in your face.
Now it’s time to end this interview, if I forgot something, it’s time for you to tell whatever you want !
Thanks for the interview ! Listen to Mark of the Necrogram !
Interview created by Geoffroy Lagrange and Silenius.