Hazy Rear Views Reflecting Stark Realities: An Interview with Ofdrykkja

 

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Credit: Nicky Hellemans

Resilience has been a common thread throughout the narratives of metal’s various sub-scenes. Perhaps by drawing influences across the board, Swedish melancholic three-piece Ofdrykkja has managed to form a super-infallible entity that’s persisted through hits to weak spots like death, addiction, and the corruption of music into a superficial artform. In a rare event, all three band members—Drabbad, Pessimisten, and Associate—took time out from pursuing new material and indulging sobriety’s refuge in nature to reflect on the beauty-in-the-bleak theme that’s dominated the band’s six year history.

DIAG:  If you wouldn’t mind, perhaps illustrate the scene in Sweden in the current moment. It seems as though Scandinavian black metal tends to only be spoken about in the past tense.

Drabbad: Maybe it’s for the best if someone else would answer this question since I have very limited insight into the scene nowadays. I might add that I definitely wouldn’t consider us to be a straight up black metal band, although the influences are obvious. Our music is created by me and my old friend Associate. We’ve been making music together on and off for about 20 years. In the beginning of our friendship, we were listening to the exact same kind of music, more or less. It was mainly second wave black metal or other projects featuring people from the black metal scene. Darkthrone, Ved Buens Ende, Ulver, Burzum, are some examples, but also some other stuff. Dark ambient and Cold Meat Industry bands. Bo Hansson’s Sagan Om Ringen (1972) is another album I would like to mention that Associate introduced me to. His dad had that album in his record collection. Indeed, a splendid piece of work.

Over the years our influences has changed a lot, of course, while others have remained. Personally, I would like to mention Agalloch, Alda, and Downfall of Nur as a couple of bands from within the atmospheric black metal realm that I really enjoy listening to. Mgla, of course, is one of the best straight forward black metal bands of all times, beaten only by a select few. Another band from within the depressive realm that I would like to mention is Krohm. My point is that our music is based on a mix of influences drawn from different kinds of music. Classical, ambient, folk, atmospheric black metal, classic rock, depressive black, etc. Anyway, I do realize that I’ve strayed quite far from the actual question that you presented here. Hence, I shall say no more.

Associate: I always try to see the big picture and that’s always an easy answer for everything. If spoken in those terms, I might say that [the scene] isn’t interesting enough. We have had this sub-culture here for over 25 years and it has been a slow declining process ever since. When bands continue to overuse the conceptual key elements, the scene will naturally stagnate. My own experience is that the culture is very strict and not really open for new ideas outside the box. That is why we see this lack of innovation or at least very slow-paced progression at best.

DIAG:  I’m currently working on a comprehensive history report on depressive black metal. One interesting finding I’ve come across thus far is how DSBM takes the resentment and hate of traditional black metal and projects it inward instead of out. How is this narrative consistent with Ofdrykkja’s?

Associate: I think the perception of our narrative is slightly different for all of us. When we began with Ofdrykkja as a band I thought we had a interesting story to tell surrounding Drabbad in first hand and Pessimisten, who had experience from his former band Apati. We wanted to present an authentic life scenario that was really on the edge. Our narrative fit well into the DSBM sphere that I thought had some attractive elements, but even more that I found repulsive though with bands sounding the same, looking the same and acting the same, and in many times, in a pretentious manner (at least from my perspective). To break free from the deep tracks of DSBM has been a huge thing. It’s hard to find your own conceptual path and we are still in progress.

Drabbad: I think in some ways, this phenomenon has existed to some extent within black metal as a whole, since way back. Or at least with certain individuals within the black metal scene, and not only within the DSBM scene. The first guy that comes to mind would be Dead of Mayhem. But, of course, many other individuals too—both musicians and fans of the music—that I personally know of. This idea is both for better and worse, I guess. The “good” part would be that a person who finds things within himself that he despises likely has a certain level of self-insight and also the willingness to see within himself. Acknowledging his own flaws and weaknesses.

To my knowledge and experience, most people are the other way around. Always blaming everyone else for everything, never admitting doing anything wrong. Refusing to see things from another person’s view. It at least shows that you aren’t completely self-absorbed. The bad news is that this is only true to a certain extent. Self-hating people can of course be extremely self-absorbed, and in many cases they are. The universe revolves around them and how everyone and everything is unfair to them. Their whole life is dedicated to feeling sorry for themselves and making themselves victims. Victims of circumstances in a cruel world.

To some extent, I think most people have both of these personality traits within them. At least if there’s not some kind of defect in their personality preventing them from taking certain turns within their psyche. For example, a true pathological narcissist can never truly admit, either to himself or one another, that he is anything [other] than perfect. On the contrary, a person suffering from borderline personality disorder can be something of a antipole to this—always feeling useless and worthless, blaming himself or herself for everything.

How this narrative is consistent with Ofdrykkja’s or the people that listens to us, I don’t know. I don’t know most of the people that listen to our music, though I suspect many of them probably have lots of issues. In a way, I am no different from them. I’m a troubled individual, I guess. My intent with this band has never been to glorify mental illnesses, drug abuse or self harm. Or at least I don’t think so. It’s all kind of hazy looking through the rear view mirror, but as far as I can recall, I have always seen Ofdrykkja as a window into a another reality. My reality. No matter how unfortunate it may have been, it is not something that I celebrate or wish upon anyone else, but rather, [something I wish] to capture the essence of it. The feeling. If someone can find something in it that touches their heart and makes them think, then it has served its purpose.

DIAG:  Irrfärd dropped last year in a month that couldn’t have been more seasonally fitting—November. The album bridges the crisp tones of fall and the harsh tones of winter through a melancholic folk approach. What inspired you to take the folkier, acoustic-fused route? While melancholic folk seems to be a little bit of a trend at the moment, few other artists seem to contextualize it so decisively within the realm of black metal as Ofdrykkja.

Pessimisten: We have all recovered very well from our different drug abuses and found a certain peace of mind within the tranquility of the forest. The fact that all three of us have chosen to leave the path of destruction and started individually wandering onto the hidden trails of self-enlightenment has surely influenced us to change the direction of the music. As nature has been a huge part of at least my own recovery from mental illness, I found it very natural to focus more on nature and folk. Studying the way of my forefathers and spending most of my time in nature has helped me find myself in a way I never thought was possible. And, of course, not being completely broken as persons anymore makes us less broken as musicians and poets as well. The raw ugliness that was the music of A life Worth Losing (2014) feels outdated as a part of our lives, and as our music has always been a way to express our own realities, it wouldn’t feel authentic to keep on walking that path. However, we are all still battling mental illness, so keeping the melancholic sound feels right, and our music is still a way to channel our depression as well as a way of therapy. As for therapy, progress makes more sense than to continue walking in your own footsteps.

Drabbad: To me, it just felt [like] the natural direction to take. Sure, we’ve always wanted to do gloomy, melancholic music. However, we have said from the beginning that [we] don’t want to do music or follow a concept that is all about total negativity. That’s just not something we want to do. There’s about 3,000 other bands already doing that. Everyone sounding exactly the same, using the same kind of lyrics and the same kind of aesthetics. Some of them are good at it, others are but tired clichés of each other. I’m maybe not as determined as my colleague, Associate, to make everything surrounding this project fundamentally groundbreaking and original in a never-heard-before kind of way, but I would like to explore other emotions too and not just negativity.

For example, autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying. Winter is beautiful, too, yet everything is dead. If you look up into the sky at night you’ll see darkness, of course, but you’ll also see tiny specks of light born out of the darkness. The stars. Just like we are all tiny specks of dust in the face of an ever expanding universe. Or at least so we think. Is all of this, our existence, essentially meaningless? Maybe so. But then again, perception is everything. Reality is nothing. After all, this is really all just a dream and in the end nothing really means anything. Everything and everyone we know will turn into nothingness and cease to exist. That’s just the way it is. The naked truth. And sure, to a rational human mind, desperately craving purpose and meaning, it is depressing. No doubt about it. But in the same way, it is also extremely beautiful. For me personally, it’s not just about finding the darkness. The darkness is easy to find, but to find the beauty that dwells within, that’s more of a challenge.

Associate: We went through a whole lot of changes during the two albums, both individually, within the band, and in almost every aspect, I guess. I think the name Irrfärd itself describes our rambling journey. Irrfärd is Swedish for a journey without a clear destination. Everything was new and not really well-grounded, but I think it turned out pretty well considering the circumstances. I think this album should be looked at as a stepping stone for higher possibilities and the name Irrfärd is the perfect description of the process we went through.

DIAG:  Musically, Ofdrykkja is markedly understated for black metal, possessing a great deal of humility and nuance in its delicateness. As a result, a first-time listener would probably not guess that the band has overcome great adversary in order to continue making music—addiction, jail, the disappearance and death of bandmates (RIP), and so on. At the risk of sounding trite, what has kept Ofdrykkja moving forward despite it all?

Pessimisten: Our past has definitely been a rough one. When I look back at my life, I see myself as an extreme example of mental illness. I had my first psychotherapeutic visits before I even started school, and I was put on my first anti-depressants at the age of nine. My problems only escalated when I reached puberty, while alcohol and drugs opened up the gates of hell for me. Looking back, it is clear to see how my desperate tries to feel like a normal human being only made it so much worse in the long run. I was 17 or 18 when I started Apati together with two friends who were dealing with issues themselves and this started a new era of my life. I could now channel the negativity to create something beautiful. The more I fed the negativity, the more creative I would become. I believe this made it worse for me. As a band member died in 2011, Apati disbanded, and Ofdrykkja was born soon thereafter. After his death I’ve lost more than ten other friends, all of them to either drugs or suicide. I think the reason why I’ve been able to keep on doing this is because it has been my therapy. All the negativity surrounding me was the fuel to do my part of the band. If I would have had an easy life, I would never have found the inspiration or even the motivation to make anything like Ofdrykkja.

I can only speak for myself, but I know I’m not the most extreme example of us. Drabbad has been fighting a severe drug addiction for 20 long years, and even I would say it’s a miracle he’s still alive. As he was shot by police and imprisoned after going berserk with an army knife in early 2014, I would have never believed the turn his life would take. After several failed attempts on 12-step programs and being institutionalized more or less the whole time since 2003, he [has] now managed to quit drugs completely. I believe that for him and me, as well as other members, the band has paradoxically been working as a fuel to keep on fighting, as well as a fuel to our darkest sides.

DIAG:  You highlighted that some of the band has been in and out of institutions for addiction and assorted mental health issues. I understand that you guys are not alone in that regard—institutions are often revolving doors for the same core of people. How do you think medical and/or cultural approaches to these issues fall short, thus yielding a revolving door effect? Is there a more effective way to deal with addiction that you propose, or is there futility in the fight altogether?

Drabbad: I think the biggest problem with addiction is that the addicts themselves don’t want to quit using drugs. There are some proven methods to treat addiction, such as the 12-step program and cognitive behavioral therapy, for example. Both of these methods are proven to be successful in many cases, given that the person undertaking the treatment is serious about it, and has the willingness to follow through with all [of] the commitments. Ultimately, the only person that has the power to change anything in their life is that person himself or herself. No one else can snap their fingers and change their lives for them. Maybe in the future we’ll see something like that being done with genetic engineering being put into general practice. Seems like a likely scenario, especially since I believe they are capable of doing that as we speak. I read an article recently about mice being genetically modified to resist cocaine addiction. Pretty interesting. I guess it’ll take a while before they’ll start putting it into practice on human beings, though. Then it’ll become a moral dilemma on a whole other level, of course, and opens up for all sorts of highly dubious and questionable medical procedures.

DIAG:  I don’t know how much you guys follow Soundcloud rap, but the representation of addiction in music is a very hot topic currently in that scene, particularly in the wake of the death of one of its stars, Lil Peep. If the layman was to look at “I Skuggan Av Mig Själv,” they might assert that drug use is being glorified or romanticized. However, I would argue that such a conclusion is short-sighted, and not just because I’m a fan of your music. How would you respond to accusations of glorifying substance abuse? Personally, at the risk of coloring your response too much, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the honesty of that video.

Drabbad: I would say it’s meant to give the feeling of authenticity, and it succeeds in doing just that. It’s obvious to the viewer that the footage is authentic. Dramatizations and faked footage never—or almost never—manage to give that genuine feel of authenticity. It always somehow shines through that what’s being displayed isn’t for real. Authenticity is something very important in music. Not only in black metal, but within all genres of music. Not only in music, but within all forms of art. Apart from that, it’s up to everyone to draw their own conclusions. I don’t think everything has to have a straightforward purpose or an obvious meaning to it. Sometimes the same thing can mean two different things to two different people. People tend to interpret art differently, and that’s a good thing.

Associate: It was our way to present an authentic on-the-edge lifestyle, but without the intent of glorifying. My moral stand is that drug abuse and self loathing behavior is not cool and shouldn’t be presented in that way. On the other hand, I think the full perspective of life should be out there for people to see, and people have contacted us and said that they could relate and feel that we helped them. That’s a very positive outcome of our authentic storytelling.

Pessimisten: I have always taken a distance from the glorifying of addiction and mental illnesses. I don’t even listen to similar bands because they most often lack the feeling of honesty and authenticity. I laugh when I see other bands doing drugs in their studio recorded music videos. For me, it feels very immature to glorify these things, and I can’t see any other reason than to impress kids. I can’t really remember the first lyrics I wrote for Apati, but they are surely more immaturely written, as I was a teenager, but [when] I see bands with members older than I am today acting so immature it becomes nothing but pathetic.

I’ve only tried to show the sad parts of life as a pathetic human being, and the video of “I Skuggan Av Mig Själv” depicts that very well. It was put together from different video clips recorded mostly in my old Västerås apartment during a period of a few years. I never thought about using them for Ofdrykkja as the videos were recorded, but [I] later found the clips to serve a purpose—showing the reality of the sad life we were living at the time. I would also like to take the opportunity to distance myself from DSBM. Even if Ofdrykkja has been influenced by it musically, I don’t see ourselves having much in common with other bands within that scene, nor do I like the portrayal of a life in total negativity.

I’m curious to hear more about what you meant when you mentioned off record that the band has historically not rehearsed much. How has your music shifted since you’ve started integrating more rehearsals into your routine?

Drabbad: The fact that we’ve never rehearsed isn’t an exaggeration by any means. As an example, I will fill you in on some of the details surrounding the recording of Irrfärd. When we came to the studio, I had a number of riffs that I had written during my time in prison. I hadn’t played these riffs for a year and didn’t remember most of them. As a matter of fact, I almost hadn’t practiced playing guitar for a year either. These riffs weren’t even arranged into songs. Other than two-three riffs, none of the other guys had heard any of these riffs before. We didn’t have any melodies or ideas whatsoever. We came there completely unprepared and started to put the songs together. Just going with the flow, more or less. Pessimisten sat there in the sofa looking tired after a couple of hard days, drinking a few beers. He hadn’t heard the riffs or anything either, but he had the chance to listen to the songs as they were taking shape in real time, so to say.

When it was his time to start doing his vocal parts he had just finished his last beer and was looking kind of tired as I remember it. But he managed to pull it off and it became good, too. Since Bödeln was out of the band due to personal reasons, we were lucky that Angath of Mörkerhymn were willing to come by and help us out with all the drums, and also some guest vocals on one track. He did a remarkable job with that. Especially considering he had never even heard the songs before and the songs are made up with riffs that are somewhat difficult to understand. Some riffs take almost one minute to play from beginning to end and consist of 14 different chords, etc. At one point they actually had to call me at home and ask me to mark out exactly where the riff begins and where the riff ends because they couldn’t understand how the riff was constructed.

After we had finished recording, the studio technician, Pontus, said that he was genuinely impressed and somewhat surprised that we actually managed to put all of this together and that it turned out as well as it actually did. In the beginning, he was sceptical, to say the least. He thought we would end up with nothing. I remember asking him if it was common that bands come there totally unprepared and just started to improvise, going with the flow, and he said no, no, definitely not. When people come here they’ve usually rehearsed their songs thousands of times and know exactly how they want everything.

Throughout the years, we have met up a couple of times with two acoustic guitars to exchange some ideas and play a few riffs, but we’ve never had a place where we have met up and played with vocals and amplifiers and drums on a regular basis. In fact, we have never done that, not even once. Me and Associate—who are the composers—have met up maybe 10 times with acoustic guitars since 2012. This is also something that can be clearly heard in the execution of all the songs we’ve recorded. It could definitely be tighter in places and arrangements could definitely be better. Things like that unfortunately can’t be avoided when you’re choosing to work like this. However, the new material has been given much more thought and care than earlier. I can’t really say it has been rehearsed either, but it’s more organized and it will not consist entirely of improvisations. This time we know pretty much how we want everything to sound when we start the recording process—that’s the biggest difference compared to the old songs.

The new material will sound like a mix between the first album and the second album. The early sound and the later sound. The reason for that is that on the first album, A Life Worth Losing, it was Associate who was the main composer of almost all the music and on Irrfärd it was me. We both have very different approaches when making music, mainly due to the fact that we are inspired by different music. Conceptually it will continue in the same path it has taken with Irrfärd. Musically, it will be a mix of bleak atmospheric black metal/melancholic folk with more melodies and less complex song structures while incorporating the more original sound of A Life Worth Losing. As for the concept, it might evolve or take other shapes in the future, but for now, this is what what feels right for us. To do what feels right is very important for us. Honesty and authenticity can be heard in music, the passion shines through and can be heard, and vice versa. Therefore we feel it’s extremely important to do your own thing that feels right to you, and only you. If there’s no flame of passion, it will reflect in your work. It will come out as dull, unoriginal and uninspired.

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