Sometimes being a reviewer you unravel and decipher an album that just takes your breath away. From start to finish, Kult of the Raven by Sweden/US act Nattravnen reinvigorated the current state of death metal for me and proved wrong those that think death metal can only be played one way. The use of choirs and synths mixed with blast beats and riffs in every track was astounding. Nattravnen is one of a number of projects from UK based, Swedish born, Jonny Pettersson, who managed to enlist none other than vokillist Kam Lee. I swear Lee is getting better with age.
This made for an astounding release through Transcending Obscurity records, who keep on signing quality as well as quantity, and it was a pleasure to review it. I recently managed to catch up with Jonny and asked about Nattravnen, his other musical projects and how he manages to decide what riffs are for which of his projects. Thanks, Jonny, and I wish you all the best.
I have to ask you about the latest Nattravnen release. Did you ever consider doing the vocals to this yourself or was it intentional to branch out to death metal vocalists that influenced you when first starting out?
I actually had the songs written and demoed a few years before I even started looking at getting vocals done for them. By the time I revisited the songs, I had just released a couple of albums where I sing, so I wanted to have someone else do the vocals for these songs. So, I asked Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribspreader) if he’d be up for it. Rogga didn’t have the time needed to get the songs just right, so he suggested Kam. At the time I didn’t know Kam, so Rogga got us in contact and we clicked straight away. For the start we knew that we wanted the exact same thing and the album came together just as we both envisioned it.
You recently released Nattravnen through Kunal (Choksi) and Transcending Obscurity. I have to say that the digipak is one of the best I have seen with the artwork and the book from Kam. How did working with Kunal come about and was he the only choice that you wanted for this release?
Thank you, I am beyond happy with how it turned out, and Juanjo Castellano blew my mind with the artwork. I was already signed to Transcending Obscurity with a few of my other bands. I first got in contact with Kunal when I was looking for a label to release the Henry Kane debut album, and he’s kept proving to be one of the best labels out there. He gives it 110% for the bands under his rooster, so there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted Nattravnen to be singed to Transcending Obscurity, and thankfully he said yes to signing us.
You are actively involved in a number of bands and your own projects. What is it that keeps you motivated to keep writing?
I am obsessed with music, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last before I go to sleep. I’m as much a fan as a musician, and I have an ever-growing collection, more than I can fit in my home. So, I think that my main source of inspiration comes from my obsession with music, though I find myself getting inspired by everything from books, documentaries and films to different forms of art. When your brain doesn’t stop you have to have an outlet, or else you will go mad, so I am very fortunate to have music.
When you practice and create riffs, how do you know which of your bands suits the riff best?
Most of the time I can tell pretty much instantly which of my bands a riff would fit. Though sometimes I might be working on a riff meant for a band, and once I have it recorded, I realise that it would fit much better for one of my other bands. Then I’ll put that riff or idea to the side and start over. It’s something that I’ve had to force myself to learn how to do over the years. I get headstrong and stubborn at times, so it’s hard for me to let something go. It starts eating me up and I end up feeling really shit because of it. So, in the past I’ve written songs, that I ended up scrapping all together just because I had to finish it with that riff that didn’t fit. Which is kind of funny as I am the opposite in everyday life, I’m very laid back.
With so many of your own projects on the go at the same time, is it difficult to meet deadlines and schedules for record companies and getting releases out there?
I’ve dedicated myself to music, and I make the time to work on music, so when it comes to meeting deadlines and things like that I have no problem at all to make it. I have my normal Monday to Friday job, but most of my time outside that I allocate to music and my studio. I guess it would be different if I had kids and a family to take care off, but that kind of life is not for me. I’m happy in my little bubble with music, my dogs and motorcycles. A bit of beer and good food on top that and you have the perfect life right there.
You have almost forty official releases under your belt and must be proud of every single one of them. Are there any in particular that you are extremely proud of? Any that was a struggle to complete but most satisfying when finally released?
I am very proud of every single one. They all represent my journey as a musician and is what has brought me where I am today. The last demo I made with Disfigured Victims will always hold a special place for me. It was the first time I felt all the songs coming together exactly like I intended them to. The upcoming Henry Kane album that is out at the start of 2019 is probably the album I am the proudest of as it represents everything that makes me the musician I am. The debut Vholdghast album is the one that gave me the biggest struggle of all things I’ve ever done. Everything and anything that could go wrong, went wrong. Everything from technical difficulties to blown deadlines, personal expectations not met. It was an album that almost didn’t happen, so even if it didn’t turn out just like I wanted it, I’m still proud that we managed to get it done in the end.
What kind of set up do you have in your rehearsal space? With Nattravnen, what did you use to build the synths and the atmosphere to make the songs so unique?
I do most rehearsing in my studio. I’ve got it setup just the way like it and in a way where I can quick and easy make a demo of any ideas I have. Everything from drums to guitars and vocals is all setup and ready to go. Which I find very important, having to mess about with the technical setup and all that just dampens my creativity. This way I can kick out demos as I get an idea. And then when I have a solid demo, I can start focusing on the technical bit with mix, master, spending time finding the right amp, the right cab and microphones and all that. I used a combination of software keys to samples and real instruments. Some of the choirs are a mix of me recording myself doing the different harmonies over and over with a software called Symphonic Choirs. Most of the ambient sounds are sounds that I have sampled from everyday objects. It’s everything from the sound air in water pipes to metal pipes hitting, even banging on pots and pans. Anytime I hear an everyday object make a cool sound I sample it. So, I have a built a library of over a thousand sounds. Some of the keys is actually my guitar, run through a set of effects to make it sound like a key rather than a guitar.
When it comes to mixing, mastering and producing the album, do you have a favoured team to work with or is this something that you can take care of yourself?
Majority of my releases I’ve handled mixing, mastering and producing myself. Over the years I’ve built up my own studio, and with that my knowledge of studio techniques. It would be a dream to learn a bit from Tomas Skogsberg, Daniel Bergstrand or Peter Tägtgren though.
It’s quite clear from your own projects that you worship old school Swedish death metal, however you have drawn influences from further afield with some of your releases. Who influenced you as a musician and who do you look up to today?
One of my biggest musical heroes is James Bernard, who’s written the music for loads of old horror movies. He always manages to capture the true essence of horror. I find people who a driven in general very inspiring. As far as bands go, it’s hard not to look up to bands like Incantation, Autopsy and Immolation. They keep releasing quality albums regardless of trends.
You have had the pleasure of working with some of the legends of the scene, namely Dave Ingram and Kam Lee to name a couple. Is there anyone else that you would love to work with for an album?
It’s been honour to be able to work with guys like Dave and Kam. There is quite a few that I would if I could dream a little work with, Devin Townsend, Matt Harvey, Scott Carlson, Chris Reifert, Joe Duplantier, Erik Rundqvist, Tobben Gustafsson and John McEntee to mention a few.
What would you say is the reason for the explosion of the Swedish death metal scene and its longevity today? Are bands still getting funding from local government or is music still mandatory in school which is different in the UK?
Bands can still get funding from the government, and you have a lot of youth facilities with free to use rehearsal spaces. So, there is a sort nourishment for musicians which has played a big role for developing the Swedish music scene, and not only metal, but music overall. Another thing is a healthy competition between the bands. If your buddies in another band are kicking out some awesome music, you don’t want to do less than that. The longevity I think comes from a passion for the music. You can see bands that comes and goes, and usually it’s down to the members not having that passion for it. I mean if you are going to something as extreme as death metal for as many years as some bands have, there has to be a certain amount of passion involved. Especially for underground bands where there is little, or no money involved as well.
Although bands in the old school Swedish death metal scene have ended, such as Entombed or Dismember, how do you fell about the scene today and is there a healthy local scene where you are from in Sweden?
The extreme metal scene has always been strong in the Sundsvall and the surrounding cities, and it’s no different these days. Some of my favourites from those cities at the moment is Gluttony, Soreption, Cerecloth and Diabolicum. All quite different bands that show high quality and diversity. And you have bands like Aeon and Naglfar. Though I have to admit that I don’t know much about the current demo scene as I have been moving across Europe for the last 10 years, and is currently located in Bristol, UK.
Are there any of your older projects that have not been active for a long time ever going to have new material. For example, Cave Vomit or Human Harvest?
There has been an idea to resurrect Human Harvest, but playing something slightly different than in the past, still extreme stuff though. Me and Rogga Johansson have been talking about a project for a long time now that will see us depart from the old school death metal style. And we are most likely going to use Human Harvest as the name for it. It’s going to be a fun project for the both of us as we get to venture outside of our normal domain. I don’t want to say too much, but I can tell you that it will be very dark and gritty.
How do you find other musicians to meet the requirements of some of your projects? For example, with Ashcloud, how did you find Gareth Nash?
When you play festivals, you meet a lot of other like-minded musicians, and after a few beers bands are formed, haha. Most of them never see the light of day though. These days it’s so easy to get in contact over internet, and to showcase ideas to each other. Me and Gareth met at Bloodstock about 7 or 8 years ago, and we started talking about making some old school death. I told him I had Ashcloud, and already had some ideas for songs and some of the demo tracks and he was on-board straight away. A few years after I ended up in Bristol, which made it easy for us to work together on the debut album as we were now living so close to each other.
There is nothing more in a band than I love is having more than one vocalist as it can just add so much diversity to the song. What makes you decide whether your vocals are enough for your project or enlisting someone else to contribute to vocals?
There’s never really a matter of my vocals being enough or not, it’s more to do with wanting to work with other musicians. Each vocalist has their own style, and even the most diverse vocalist has a pattern that they follow, so to get some fresh views on how to attack the vocals it’s nice to bring in someone else to put their spin on it all.
Over the last couple of years, you have become extremely active with projects of your own, such as Ashcloud, Heads for the Dead and recently Nattravnen as well as being involved in other projects, such as Wombbath. What would you say is the reason for this latest push?
I’ve always been very active and always had several projects on the go, but over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to build a bigger audience and had my albums released and promoted in the right way. Having a platform to be able get my stuff out on is worth a lot. I haven’t really change the way go about making music, or how much music I make, but with the momentum I’ve along with the support from labels like Transcending Obscurity, I’ve been able to reach more people.
Do you have any plans to play with some of your bigger projects live in 2019?
2019 is already starting to get booked up with festivals for both Wombbath, Gods Forsaken and Just before dawn, so it’s going to be a great year. We are looking to get some live shows setup with Nattravnen, Heads for the Dead and Henry Kane as well, but those will probably not happen until 2020.
I have to ask. Are you mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest beard (I said beard)? I hope it doesn’t get mixed up with your guitar when you play live!
I am not, there is a guy in India who has a beard all the way to the ground and back up to his chin again. However, I am pretty sure I have the longest beard in metal.
A fun question to end this interview. If you were a DJ and were allowed to bring 5 CDs to the party, what would they be?
That’s a hard one, but it would have to be:
- Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream
- Skitsystem – Enkel Resa Till Rännstenen
- Malevolent Creation – Retribution
- Wolfbrigade – In Darkness You Feel No Regrets
- Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Any last message for our readers here at Moshville Times?
Thanks for the support, and I’ll see you for some beers at one of next summer’s festivals!