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Lots of melodies without being sissy

THE LEGION neither want to repeat themselves, nor would they lose any brutality and intensity. With their third album "A Bliss To Suffer" the Swedes meet this high standard without any ifs and buts and move on, leaving behind blasting away from alpha to omega and opening up to further tearing down boundaries.

"On a scale from 1 to 10 I'd say 11 right away", states Drummer Emil enthusiastically. "No doubt about it. We have worked really hard with it and put many hours into it, so I'd be just weird not telling you that we are damn proud of the album. We haven't really got that much of a response yet except for some zines and folks that we have contact with, but all in all people seem to think it couldn't get any better and that our development from the last album "Revocation" is in the right direction." And guitarist Rikard Kottelin - also being very satisfied with "A Bliss To Suffer" - elaborates on the differences between "A Bliss To Suffer" and its predecessor "Revocation". "I would say that the primary difference between the two records is its dynamics. We were all pretty satisfied with the result after the "Revocation" session, thinking we had recorded a versatile and multifaceted creation, and it was, compared to "Unseen To Creation". Haha, I listened to "Revocation" the other day and it's not very dynamic at all!! It blasts away in full speed from alpha to omega, and we didn't want to do yet another album like that. Not that we don't like it, the album is great, but we just wanted to do something different. Expand our boundaries. The result is an album that offers everything from black and death metal to more heavy parts with some bits of classical influences."

Meanwhile, the creational process has been the same as always. THE LEGION compose with the guitar, including the orchestral arrangements. Originally written for the guitar these are then transcribed into the final orchestral and choir arrangements. "This is where "A Bliss To Suffer" differs itself from the earlier productions. We've put a lot more time and effort into these orchestral arrangements and this goes for the vocal department as well. For once we could afford to take all the time we needed to record the vocals. For our previous recordings this was something we did in just a couple of days. Also, this time we took the opportunity to experiment with some other kinds of vocals beside the usual black metal screams." Whereas Emil sees the personal major difference in his contributing to the song writing. "I did a whole lot for "Revocation", too, but for "A Bliss To Suffer" I'd say that it's way more than ever before. Of course, some of my ideas started off as sketches, then David and Rikard would dissect them into more 'guitarist friendly' riffs. Some were kept in their original form and some were executed into nothingness. The main reason why I wrote lots of materials is 'cause of an ambition to grow as a musician, and a state that I was in which in turn made a lot of creativity flow out of me. The others in the band got pretty tired of me showing up at rehearsals with new songs all the time, but in the end we got to make an outstanding album and we hope that readers can agree with us on that one!"

A big plus for THE LEGION is the return of Lazr Martinsson into the fold who concentrates on vocals and lyrics now. Guitarist David Svartz who never loses touch with Lazr sees this as a happenstance as it redundantizes the tiring quest for a new vocalist . "We hang out on a regular basis, even though he lives in Gothenburg these days, some 150 km away. When we started working on the lyrics on our own I pretty soon realized something was missing. So I asked Lazr if he wanted to give a helping hand and he was all in on taking on the role of a sort of ghostwriter. When he came down to the studio to lay down some demo takes of his lyrics I immediately realized how well his vocals fit our music. Some time later I called him up and asked if he wanted to do the whole thing and he was all in instantly. I'm very satisfied with that. Working with Lazr has worked out very well and I'm glad to have him back in the band. Without his participation we probably would've spent even more time writing and recording and wouldn't have ended up with such well-arranged and interesting lyrics." This statement certainly hits the mark as THE LEGION are able to express themselves atmospherically yet direct without getting lost in stereotypes.

Lazr rightly perceives this as a compliment and willingly gives us a deeper insight into his opinion on the role of lyrics. Still, he turns out to be hesitant regarding the lyrical contents. "There are only a few bands whose lyrics I find more important than the music (it's actually hard to come up with one single example), and the same goes for my relationship with THE LEGION. I put a lot of effort in the lyrics and I honestly think some of them say a great deal both of myself and of the perspective I have on my own and the lives of other people. However, I don't claim them to be as well worked out or as rewarding as the music. I hope our fans enjoy us because of our songs and not because of my lyrics, if not, I would like to take them by the hand and show them the library!

However, reading my lyrics should deepen the experience of the music conveys. I read a comment on the net the other day where some guy remarked our lyrics 'gel' better with the music than most in the scene. That's flattering, and that's the way it's supposed to work. We want the lyrics to reflect the over-worldly experience of the music, and there's a sort of unspoken formula for what those lyrics may contain. They may appear to deal with only the random metal bullshit but I would suggest there's really a red thread running around in pretty spectacular formations in there. You could never 'translate' a riff into a series of words but if you summarize the experience of the THE LEGION sound as well as the themes of my lyrics, they would correspond. The lyrics range from the most absurd fantasies to wholly experienced, true events - which is probably impossible to decipher, and I wouldn't want to dig much in it either. Some are merely form, others are 'message' or 'story'; the point is however to grant the music a complement in pictures for the mind to work out itself. I don't want to ruin the experience with too much explanation, and that is not because I don't know what I'm talking about but because the lyrics are simply better if there is a veil of mystery shrouding their meaning."

Musically THE LEGION place emphasis on midtempo parts, orchestral arrangements, atmospheric interludes and even choirs more than ever before, stating to take the music to new heights, giving it a new level of impact. This could result in a higher impact level than it could've been with a plain and high speed black metal release. But one could also see it as plainly different. "It sure would differ a lot", agrees Emil. "I was actually joking about it the other day that we would do two versions of this album, one with the production that it has now and one that is really dirty and old school, kind of Darkthrone-production without keyboards or editing, just one take all in all! No one else thought it was a good idea though..." What a surprise! Once you evolve would you play around with stepping back? Probably not.

These changes were a natural development and not a deliberate decision when firing the starting shot for the work on "A Bliss To Suffer" as Emil confirms. "We had it pretty much coming all natural which is the usual way in this band. For example when we were doing the drum sound check, I didn't have to say a word to Rikard. He knew right from the start what kind of sound I want. He just pressed his buttons here and there on the mixing table and then looked at me and I nodded. That's how simple it goes! Same thing for the development - we hardly have to discuss in which way the music should go. Otherwise it would mean that we do music just to please others and that is not how we work. We do music to please ourselves. This is our art work and we paint it with our uncompromised musicianship."

The Legion
Picture provided by The Legion

So does uncompromised musicianship allow influcences? Let's hear it from Lazr if any recent or new influences come up and find their ways into the music of THE LEGION. "I wrote one riff for "A Bliss To Suffer" and that was in early 2005 so I wouldn't say me or my influences had an exactly tremendous impact musically. The only 'new' stuff on the album I can hear clearly is Keep Of Kalessin, the people are going on about Dimmu Borgir but I don't reckon any of us listens to them so that's more coincidental really." Emil adds that "the new album has been under production during a period of two years on and off which makes this question really hard to answer but I'd say that one band that contributed to my inspiration through some time now is the mighty Immolation. They have made a great impact on all of us in the band. Not many bands can craft so much evil through their music as they can so I salute these brothers of ours!".

Still they keep an eye on what's going on in the musical world anno 2009 as Lazr's answer to this question shows. "The year 2009 so far seems to be a rather solid year for black metal and related: new, strong releases from Drudkh (Season Of Mist debut, best one since the second album), Impiety (worse drum sound, better songs than the last one), Striborg (terribly eerie Burzum/Xasthur style black metal from Tazmania), Funeral Mist ("Anti-flesh nimbus" is hands down the greatest song of the year), 1349 (amazing), Orcustus (as good as the 7"), Wolves In The Throne Room (honest, intelligent individuals that deserve all support), Den Saakaldte (90's revival melodic black metal BUT very dark)... and still there's the second half of the year to anticipate with a new Xasthur album... Outside the obvious circle of music I found the new Big Business album to be a rather exciting piece of typically American aesthetics and atmosphere, sounds a bit like gunfight under the desert sun + electric guitars. I'm sure the new Mars Volta will be a kick ass record as well."

Back to "A Bliss To Suffer". THE LEGION produce the album entirely on their own at Art Decay. More and more bands seem to think this is the perfect way to work instead of trusting respectively cooperating with more or less known producers. On the hand there are surely also some disadvantages... Rikard's answer doesn't really come that unexpectedly. "No, don't do it yourself! Come to Art Decay Studio for all your recording needs! Haha, no, just kidding. I think one of the biggest advantages is that you obtain an original sound with your recordings. Maybe it won't sound as 'good' as if you went to a big famous studio but I think it's easier to find your own sound when you record everything at your own pace. If that complex guitar riff just won't work out or if the vocals sound like shit one day, you can just drop it, go home and drink beer until you puke, come back the next day and everything will hopefully work out a little better. Obviously you can't do that if you rent a big studio for a small fortune every day. The downside is - as in our case - that it can really prolong the recording process, and we struggled a lot with 'not to over produce' the songs. If you get an unlimited amount of time you can fix all the blemishes that occur, and by that, removing all of the rawness and character. We had to slap ourselves on the fingers a couple of times to remind us of that."

Emil totally assents to that. "Yes, things can get over produced and the rawness isn't there due to way too much perfectionism and editing. Furthermore a good thing with an outside producer is that he sometimes can give you objective ideas on how parts of a song can work differently, that way it's a 'think outside the box' moment which can be really good for a developing band. We felt that we knew what we wanted to do with our songs for this release and we were confident in recording the album on our own. That's why we ended up doing the whole thing in Art Decay." David and Rikard are responsible for the keyboard arrangements which are a homogeneous component on "A Bliss To Suffer", emphasizing that THE LEGION know exactly what they're doing. "Just as Rikard said; we always compose the songs with the guitar. We don't work like many other bands do today, you know... adding some simple guitar strokes to a pompous orchestral part just to make it sound heavier. When we feel that a certain part needs to sound 'bigger' we add some orchestration more like a background to complete the whole thing. I'm hoping people don't start comparing us too much with bands like Dimmu Borgir or other symphonic black metal acts just because we've added a few atmospheric and orchestral parts here and there. But still, I realize that some comparison is bound to occur."

With "A Bliss To Suffer" the Swedes will certainly gain new fans but also may chase away old fans. Some reviews on the album even talk about a 'little catastrophy' in this context. Still Lazr could imagine opening up for Immortal on their comeback dates, being asked what could be a suitable tour package for THE LEGION. "They are still huge and I guess their audience could appreciate similar stuff in our music: epic yet rather technical, arrangements, lots of melodies without beging sissy, fast drumming, cold atmospheres, etc. Too bad if we scare away old fans, it would only be natural if those into the "Bloodseasons" demo do not appreciate our creative turns some ten years later. We would not bother much, though, but instead welcome new listeners with open arms. I tend to get sick and tired of bands myself after a couple of records, bands rarely keep my interest up for more than a couple of years these days so I am understanding and all in these matters."

There are no tour plans at the time of this interview. With the third album sill fresh The LEGION have to see "how well "A Bliss To Suffer" is doing - nothing is impossible. Playing live is an intense experience and we would definitely take the chance should a good one come our way. Too bad we're all pretty busy individuals and the likeliness we could all have weeks off from our respective occupations to mock around on stages across Europe is limited." Meanwhile Emil is "so not looking forward to our live shows! Well, yes I am but I'll be the one who takes care of the orchestral parts through a computer. We have a sampler which I use for live shows, and I suppose that we will have click tracks to keep in time with the orchestral arrangements and sound effects - kind of like Septic Flesh do for their live shows."

And it's also Emil to end this interview. "Be sure to check out our brand new homepage and our myspace if you haven't heard us! Thanks for the awesome interview!"

Interview done by Endrew. April 2009.

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