MADDER MORTEM: An interview with Agnete M.Kirkevaag


Interview by Miriam C.

Are you ready for a trip back in time? Let’s just set our time machine back to 1999 as we were “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis‘s blockbuster movie “Back to the Future” and let’s read together with us this incredible, in-depth interview about “Mercury”, one of the masterpieces of the legendary Norwegian progressive metal Madder Mortem. On occasion of the 20th anniversary of the release, the band re-released back in September via Dark Essence Records their debut album “Mercury” with a revamped cover artwork, 3 re-recorded songs, and 2 bonus tracks. Ready, set, go!

Hi Agnete, welcome back to Femme Metal Webzine, how are you and how life is treating you? 

I’m really fine but I’m quite busy because there’s a lot going on the Madder Mortem camp. Tomorrow will arrive at our place a team for shooting our documentary so I’m also fixing some stuff for that too [laughs]. 

Finally, the fans are happy now because the long-awaited moment is here: so, on the 6th September, Madder Mortem début album b will be re-released. How do you feel about it? 

I’m really excited for this release, I mean, “Mercury” has been impossible to buy for many many years now. Considering that, Misanthropy Records closed its business in 1999, there was any CDs reprint and consequently, it was getting really expensive to get ahold of a second-hand copy and additionally, “Mercury” hasn’t been available digitally either. So, for the new Madder Mortem fans there was any change to get access to the back catalog and also, this reworked version contains 3 bonus tracks which are mainly 3 old songs re-recorded and they are supposed to sound updated like we have composed them with our current sound and it was really fun to do it. Well, as a singer, your voice changes a lot during the years [laughs], I was really young, then.

Yeah, I can imagine. You know, you are always the same person but then you listen to yourself after 20 years and maybe you don’t recognize yourself anymore, in a way.

[laughs] It’s totally another pair of shoes because now, vocally-wise, I have much more control and an expanded range which allows me to experiment more however back then, it’s interesting that now I have the chance to re-record them. Also, we were really curious to listen to these songs with a newer and improved production owing to the fact to the original production expresses a typical style of musical production that was really common during that era: there was a lot of reverb and it was really mystical. So, the jump between that album and the other ones was indeed big. For example, from “All Flesh Is Grass” I think we always had quite a proud in-your-face sound and our aim was to bring it closer to that which it is Madder Mortem‘s sound.

Let’s start a nice trip into history now, well, it’s common knowledge by now that “Mercury” was released back in 1999, though what you can recall about its actual production back then? I’m aware that 20 years have passed since then but it’s always kind to remember the début album of a quite important band in the metal panorama… so, if you have some nice memories or stories to share, I’ll be all ears…

[laughs] I don’t think I’ll ever forget it’s recording process, it has surely a nice feeling. You know, nowadays, production doesn’t represent anymore such a big deal nonetheless if compared to those times, production was a huge burden to deal with. We had to find a studio and we were inexperienced so we didn’t exactly know what to look for. Of course, we asked around a lot and we went to visit some studios too. In the end, the recording was a little bit difficult, I mean, the guy who owned the studio and who also it supposedly working with us, he wasn’t so often there. He just came, he started the process and then he left us with his trainees. He was a really nice guy however he didn’t have so much experience and neither did we [laughs]. So, everything has to be, in a way, try and fail…


Yeah, improvising and experimenting. Nowadays, B.P. is our sound engineer and throughout the years, we have accumulated a lot of experience and we have a fair share of albums on our shoulders, so it’s much easier to understand, sound-wise, of where we can head to before we plan to record something. Back then, we wanted to sound cool but we haven’t any idea to do such [laughs], so, we kept on trying different stuff, maybe this, maybe that. If compared to now, there was a lot of insecurity and additionally, there is this funny thing about the place where we recorded the album: there was a huge salmon factory and the place smelled like smoked ham the whole time. [Laughs] It was everywhere and I still remember during the summer, we were sweating and smelling like smoked ham [laughs]. Try to imagine that we slept in the studio room on the floor. It was a strange time, I know. [Laughs] Working nighttime and sleeping during the day. I also remembered that we had some strict deadlines and consider that, it was the digital recording that was really at the beginning of his long history and the only section that was recorded in that way was the vocals. Fortunately, we were lucky to not lose the entire takes but it was about to happen. However, it’s not the first near-death experience that we had to deal with and we managed to pull it off.

Well, it’s really a nice and funny story behind “Mercury”, if you allow me such… [laughs]

You know, we were basically kids and of course, you should expect that kind of outcome, if you are inexperienced.

Secondly, after 20 years from its publication, since we can basically deem you an experienced artist by now, what is your honest opinion about “Mercury”?

That’s a little bit the motivation that lies behind this re-release because we have been talked about it for ages and we love the songs and the ideas there but the début’s production is really bad. It’s mysterious, foggy and very dreamy in some ways it took away some of the aggressive sounds that originally included in the songs. It looks good but it’s too much softer of that we have intended. So, I love the songs and it feels good to listen to them with the new and improved vocal range [laughs], I mean I sing a lot better now and that’s how it works hen you practice something for 20 years. In conclusion, I generally love the songs and the ideas behind them, that’s why we wanted to work on this project and to give them back what they deserve.

As previously said, “Mercury” was released on the 8th of February 1999 via the legendary label Misanthropy Records. Do you still have memories related to the first meeting with them and on the side, since the label went bankrupt, how difficult was it for the band to gain back the rights? 

Well, first of all, the label didn’t go bankrupt and that’s one of the coolest things about Misanthropy Records because the owner has just simply closed it. The founder decided to close it because he didn’t enjoy it anymore [laughs] and the scene was developing in a way she didn’t like and simply she didn’t want to run the label anymore. I do have a lot of respect for her for the choice she did because she has just followed her heart. Also, what made that label great was her attitude: she worked with artists who really believe in it and she had a sense of what would be interesting. Additionally, several artists decided to sign up with her label and release their début there. It was quite avant-garde, experimental and as well as very underground in the north. At the moment, according to my latest update, she’s a Buddhist monk [laughs]. At the end of the day, it wasn’t that difficult to get the rights back. We have contacted her straight away and she literally supported in our choice by wishing us the best and giving us her blessings. She was always dedicated to the music and the arts and she no interest in the money, in effect I’m not surprised by her reaction because she always had a lot of integrity. Actually, it’s the same motivation that led to Misanthropy Records’ closing and people like her are really precious because we are in dire need of someone with the same attitude in the metal scene. As for our first meeting, it did happen back the day when you were still able to get signed by a label through a shipment of physical demo [laughs]. Unfortunately, nowadays it doesn’t work like that anymore. Literally, it was quite simple: we recorded a demo in 1997 and we have just started sending them out to a few labels that we heard about the owner of Misanthropy Records immediately replied with a serious offer of contract. After that, we figured out the situation, we realized what was happening and we jumped on it. We wouldn’t be able to say no to such a legendary label. I can tell you that we had a great time working with her and if she hasn’t shut down the activity, we would certainly stay there.

However not all the bed comes for nothing because this brand new version features 5 bonus tracks of which are 3 re-recordings and 2 are previously unreleased. Let me start with an order by asking you why did specifically include a new version of only these three songs which namely are “He Who Longed For The Stars”, “Remnants” and “The Grounding Silence”? For example, why don’t you re-record the entire album?

We were talking about re-record the entire album but we just don’t have enough time and resources because working on this album would have required the same amount of time as it was a brand-new one. Consider that, if we had to cover “Mercury” entirely, we additionally needed a further process of re-arrangement which would cause for sure a long delay on our next full-length. Actually, we want to really put the focus on new songs too and so, our plan turned to be different and we tried to fit it in between in order to have something ready for the anniversary as well and this led us to think that we really were not able to work on all the songs. We just one year of time and B.P. had a lot of ideas on how we would modify the arrangements due to their lack of power and aggressiveness. For example, I’m really happy to sing anew “The Grinding Silence” because on the first instance, with my improved vocal skills I was able to correctly interpret its feeling of darkness and secondly, we were able to put more emphasis on its lyrics and bring out that darkness that lied at the bottom of it. Instead, for “Remnants” I specifically think that it’s the song on “Mercury” that suffered the most for our lack of experience in production. The idea behind it was to create a scary atmosphere but production-wise, we never quite got that and I’m really happy about its outcome [laughs]. Basically, we also talked about the other songs such as “Under Another Moon”, “Misty Sleep” and “Undertow” however they sound better and we didn’t feel the need to re-arrange them. Tho’ it would have been fun to re-record the entire album, unfortunately, it’s a time-consuming process and you have to prioritize.

Additionally, we have “Shadow Coming Home” and “Vigil” which are 2 previously unreleased bonus tracks. What insights you can specifically share about these two songs? Are maybe remaining songs from that particular session? 

They are completely new written songs but they are based on riffs that we collected during that period, consider that one of the riffs of “Shadow Coming Home” dates back to 1994. So, we had these ideas lying around and we had always been so unfortunate because we have literally a huge amount of raw material which can form a totally new album. I believe we never have had leftovers songs due to the fact that if we have a complete song, we just insert it in the album. Of course, we had all these ideas we also got a bit stuck owing to the fact that B.P. has an entire catalog of riffs from the last 20 years. As you can see, you don’t throw away anything [laughs]. In a way, we are a few musical hoarders. Instead of “Vigil”, the idea was entire of our guitarist Christian who had this idea around 1995/1996 and we have been talking about this specific plan for a lot of years. The thing is that we really loved the idea but we weren’t able to figure out how to properly use it. However, the gained experience help you to improve you as an artist and now, it was the appropriate time to develop this idea since it was really brilliant and such a waste to not use it. Basically, at the base of both concepts there are two different ideas: for “Shadow Coming Home” there was mainly mine and B.P.‘s ideas in conjunction with a jamming session while “Vigil” was us exploiting Christian‘s idea in the rehearsal room and add that modern flavor on something that was conceived quite differently. On a final note, “Shadow Coming Home” can sound almost progressive metal with a folk touch whereas “Vigil” is almost post-rock that can evoke an emotional landscape but they are both based on material from 1994/1995/1996. 

On top of everything, I was really intrigued by the re-envision of the artwork. Why did you opt for this solution and why didn’t reprint the original one? 

One of the issues, it’s strictly practical. Well, it was released in 1999 and nowhere on Earth there are any digital files remaining, there aren’t any other solutions since we aren’t in touch anymore with the artist and there’s no way that we would have found the original file for reprint purposes. The only choice left was to try to reproduce the artwork with an HQ scan however it wouldn’t have turned out as good as the original. On the second account, this is a re-release and not a shabby version from the original one so we figured that it was much more interesting to let Costan get loose with his own creativity and get his own personal interpretation of it. I really like the new one because it picks up a lot of the original elements like the color and the mood but how you can decisively perceive Costan‘s style; it also represents who we are lately because it’s a nice release that attempts to capture the mood from the old one without pretending to be it. Additionally, we wanted to give more to our fans. Instead of a mere reprint, we wanted to offer something interesting and worthwhile to own. Value the money [laughs].

Yeah, exactly. Why creating new artwork, at the same time, you try to respect at the same time the old one and let Constantin take inspiration from that. Maybe it can be how I might interpret it? 

Yeah, I think you can say that you know, Constantin has a lot of respect for “Mercury” itself. So, what he did was simply listening to it while he was painting and giving an attentive look at the original one with the final goal to create something that had a close connection with the new and the old. 

If we consider the period post- “Where Dreams and Day Collide”, in the recent years Madder Mortem artistically speaking regained some primordial energy and out of a sudden, you became quite prolific. So, what is the cause or the reason for this re-found band synergy? 

I think the main reasons lie behind the release of “Red in Tooth and Claw” and going on tour. Especially, touring allows you to closely meet your fans but also the crowdfunding helped us a lot to realize that there are people who care about our music. Essentially, the fact that we aren’t doing music for ourselves and consequently it has meaning for people give us the right kick in the butt and believe me, for us it has never been a lack of material because we have constantly keep rehearsing every week and writing music all along. Mostly the fact is related to the fact that yes, we are good musicians but we lack business strategy [laughs] if you get my idea. 

Yeah, yeah. Now I get the whole picture of the thing. For example, if I start to ask myself why and during the interviews, the artists have always in a certain way lamented a certain bothersome feeling towards the musical business. I can definitely sense what happened and I don’t mean to delve into it, however, it’s up to you if you want to clarify for me and the readers. I will also understand if you don’t prefer to speak about it…

[Laughs] I think it has to do more with us (the band) than anything else because as you know, we formed back in the 90s and back then, things worked like: the band produced the music and the label took care of all the promo-related stuff and unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that anymore. If you want to be a band pretty much active in 2019, you have to be involved in a first-person basis. You have to take more control of the promotion and production side and we were really slow in realizing this issue. Connected to that, we just recently understood how important are social media. You know, we just wanted to write music and not deal with this other stuff and it was good for us to receive this wake-up call and if not nothing will never happen if we don’t do anything.

I’m happy because after the release of a great album such as “Desiderata” I was wondering what was the reason for this prolonged silence because every social-related band media was practically dead.

Well, we were just being idiots because we were still in the rehearsal room writing tons of material [laughs]. For some reason, we kept it as a secret in the deep woods of Norway by basically hoarding music. Looking back in time, it feels quite idiotic how we behaved [laughs]. You know, musicians tend to be too focused on music and quite idiotic at the use of a telephone [laughs].

However the relationship back then with Peaceville back then was good, I might think or…

I mean when we signed with Peaceville was great but unfortunately, then happened as the first time with Misanthropy Records, they simply retired [laughs]. They quit running the label and they moved to Spain and I wish them well because they deserve it, however, the outcome of this proved to be a bit shocking for us: Peaceville become a sub-label of Music For Nation and the only person who worked for Peaceville was a kind of an administrator. So, the feeling that actually someone cared for your music disappeared and it turned out to be a kind of a disappointment because working with them during the promo of “Desiderata” was awesome. Actually, working with people who care for your music is much more fun than sending your material to someone who’s sitting in a desk for a job office.

Is now with Dark Essence Records working differently?

Yes, I mean with Dark Essence Records we are already familiar with them because we have known the main owners for a long, long time. One of the owners, Martin, we know him since the 90s and the nice thing about them is that we personally know them not only for their business and this it’s always a super-nice thing. Well, some of the things are easy because we are both located in Norway and there isn’t any risk of miscommunication but on the other way around, Dark Essence is a small label and there’s a limited budget. What’s really counts for us is that they are dedicated people committed to publishing nice releases. No matter as we like them if our contract stops we have to see which options we have and what’s better for us. 

Let me ask you one thing, what 2019 has in store for Madder Mortem related to touring and releases?

Well, “Mercury” was re-released on September 6th and for us, it’s really a big deal. At the moment, we are working on a lot of stuff like a video clip for one of the bonus track, “Vigil” and this video is tied with another project that we are currently filming: a full-length documentary with a professional film crew based in Munich but it’s originally American. We started filming during the recording of the bonus tracks in February then we met them while we were on tour in May and now, they are here to follow us with the latest preparations. However, this is a big project but we don’t know when it will be finished.

So, we have to be patient as usual?

[Laughs] Yes, you have to be patient as usual. I think it’ll be a combination of diverse elements: there’s a major contribution to how our relationship between art and the location works, additionally how the local culture affects our music and our performances. It will be quite interesting but we are just in the initial process. The downside of it is that it’s quite a complicated project. Then on September 7th, it was the big Madder Mortem anniversary and we play this unique show in Oslo where all the former members show up in support of it.

Did you ever think to record this event for a DVD? 

We have filmed some parts of the show however a DVD production isn’t gonna happen because it’s too expensive and people don’t buy them anymore. Of course, we’ll try to use this material in the best way possible but I highly doubt that we’ll release a DVD out of it. Perhaps, if they are interested in it…

Well, Agnete you can always consider crowdfunding…

Actually, a lot of people started to ask more about this and showed interest in the idea. Naturally, we’ll see what we can do and we have recorded quite a good part of it, so at least we own the files and at the moment we still haven’t decided how to release it yet. Once again, it will be expensive because everybody who has played in Madder Mortem it was present on stage due to this fact, of course, we have played “Mercury in its entirety and with its original members. The same happened with “All Flesh Is Grass” and “Desiderata, so, everybody who was there played. Essentially, I don’t know who else can do that…

Only The Gathering

Only The Gathering can do such a show…

They did it already…

Ahhhh… cheeky bastards [laughs]. Anyway, a lot of people flew over from all over Europe and besides Madder Mortem former member we’ll two additional guests. It will be a great and long show with inclusive a break in the middle, I would like to mention especially the fact that Costin will take care of the visuals because he has painted for 9 songs on the show and during our performance, we will screen the entire creative process but last but not the least, he’ll bring all his pairing for a dedicated exhibition. It will be quite a unique event that involves a shitload of work [laughs]. After this, I think the rest of 2019 will be focused on writing new songs because we really want to release a new full-length soon. It’s really cool to go on tour after a release but then we start thinking that we want to try new ideas and we need to concentrate a little bit. 

It’s recent news that you recorded a song with the US neoclassical legends Autumn Tears. How was that experience and since I love them, I’m so eager to listen to it too. I mean, in a way, even them they are coming back from a long artistic hibernation. 

Yeah [laughs], I mean, Ted has simply contacted me on Facebook and he inquired if I was interested to collaborate with them. He’s very patient because I received the files a long while ago and I also had a super busy spring. In the end, I managed to record it and the outcome is awesome and actually, we are talking about to work together on more songs in the future. We’ll see how time-wise it works. Ted is a really really good artist and even his musicians too. It will be a special release and the song which I sang I’m really satisfied with it. The problem lies in the fact that you would like to share it straight away and it’s so frustrating for me to wait. Here’s the thing: what Ted sent me is a very clean and spacious arrangement with just piano, violin, cello, and oboe. Compared to what I usually work with, it has more room for me as a singer and I don’t have to fight over other instruments. On the other side, it was a bit challenging because with Madder Mortem, I always use the opposite process so it means I’m writing from the other way around: for example, songs like “Far From Home” and “Until You Return” from our last album “Marrow” were solely based on vocal ideas. I’m always present during the entire process but in the meantime, I also write the melody line while the song gets written and sometimes, the vocals decide how the vocals should go. Actually, it’s a process that goes back and forth. However, writing the lyrics is really the last step in the whole process. Instead, if Ted‘s process allows me as a singer to express myself, on the other way around it can come with a lot of constraints which forces me to step out of my comfort zone. 

So, Agnete, first of all, I want to thank you for this interview and now, it’s your space. You can be free to say hi to your fans and our readers as you prefer.

[laughs] I think we have the nicest fans on the planet and I hope to have a new album ready in one or two years. Thank you so much for this interview!

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