First, there was Extol; now, there is Lengsel. The names of these bands are two of the greatest words one can utter in the realm of Christian hard music/metal. And, rightly so. Both play some of the most technical and progressive extreme metal you can find anywhere, so it should come as no surprise that they now share two members amongst them (Tor and John Robert). With the release of their first album, "Solace," Lengsel has provided a tapestry of creativity that manages to remain distinctively black metal while maintaining a fresh air of originality. The following interview was conducted with John Robert (bass) in November 2000. Interview by Jason D.
Thunderline - First of all, could you describe the sound of Lengsel for someone who has never heard the band? John Robert: On the promos that are sent around to record-labels, magazines, etc., our music is labeled 'progressive black-metal'. This description is an easy way to say what our music is basically about, but it is also a wide term that involves and allows various different style-interpretations. The bands that we are most often compared to are Emperor, At the Gates, Ulver and Arcturus, so both death and black bands that are fast, aggressive, musical, technical and intelligent in my opinion. But I really don't think we sound exactly like the ones mentioned; they are different from each other as it already is (!), though I agree that there are some similar traits in style and thinking. Actually, you could say that our music is built up of various components.
Thunderline - Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Favorite Albums? John Robert: It is difficult to say. We listen to so much different music, mostly metal/rock, but it's hard to pinpoint what exactly is the inspiring part. For instance, what is only the entertaining part, and must it always be music? As for favorite albums, I dare say any of Anathema's newer albums, some Björk, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Cure and so on. On national level, I would say A-ha's "Scoundrel Days" is the ultimate release.
Thunderline - How long has Lengsel been together, and how did you guys get started as a band? John Robert: The band has been together under the name 'Lengsel' for five years now, but the original members have been playing together even before then. I guess we were just three regular guys that wanted to play in a band and play our own music. We were all deeply into music, especially the real heavy stuff, so it was just natural that we formed a group. In the beginning we tried out different instruments, made songs on the guitar and all that, and later we found our more or less «permanent» instrument: Tor/guitars, John Robert/bass, and Ole/drums. On the record "Solace," however, Ole played keyboards as well, and today he even plays guitars for Lengsel. Tor also used to play bass in Extol, so it is no wonder they are called multi-instrumentalists!
Thunderline - What kind of response have you received since the release of "Solace"? Do you find that there is more recognition in Europe or the U.S.? John Robert: The response from the audience has actually been overwhelmingly good. People seem to have liked Solace for being something entirely new and especially fresh compared to the regular black metal scene. The crowd also seems to understand the music although it is not straight forward; I guess they enjoy being presented with something more demanding than usual. In the U.S., it seems like the bands of the more aggressive kind are having an awakening, so we are being welcomed by the fans over there. In Europe, there has been little response, except from the people we know. The reason for this is that the record has just been released over here, but it will be exciting to see what the Europeans will think, especially the Germans.
Thunderline - It was great to see you guys on tour with Extol this summer. How did you guys hook up with Extol, and now that Ole has left, are you and/or Tor now permanent members of Extol? John Robert: The guys in Extol live in the same city as we do, Oslo, which is the capital of Norway. Since we made friends with them, we have been in touch whenever music was involved, so when they needed a new bassist, Tor stepped in for the 1999 U.S. tour and the "Undeceived" album. When Ole decided to work on other things and quit the band, Tor took over the guitars and I played the bass. This is still the line-up today.
Thunderline - Has Lengsel ever performed live, and are there any future plans for touring? John Robert: Unfortunately, Lengsel has not yet performed live, though we have always desired to do so. Right now, we are completing our line-up so we will be able to play some shows in the near future. This of course depends on whether there is a want among others to see us perform, and, if so, where. Maybe we will wait until after the recording of our second album, which is not that far ahead in time either.
Thunderline - The intricate and complex songs on "Solace" showcase some very progressive instrumentation and incorporate a variety of influences. I'm curious as to the process used in writing both the music and lyrics. Does one precede the other, or do they tend to develop together? John Robert: Usually one of us has an idea for a riff, tune, rhythm or whatever, and when it is presented we work on it together in our rehearsal room. This process may sometimes take a long time, but it is important. We all contribute in our own way, but there is always one of us that has the one idea that we all build upon. Tor and Ole made most of these ideas on the album, thus the music on "Solace." As for the lyrics, they are usually written independently from the music. A lyric is a separate entity that unites with the music. We choose from our selection of texts whichever one suits a song the best, both in length, style, and mood. All three of us write lyrics and then decide together which are good or not.
Thunderline - Is there a single goal or purpose that you hope to accomplish through Lengsel? John Robert: It would all depend on the situation, I think. We have so many different intentions with what we are doing, and to say that we only play for one single reason would therefore be a lie. We play to have fun, to release our thoughts and energies, good or bad, and in order to communicate with our friends and the audience, to create with our lives an artwork for others to observe and enjoy. We play for a multiple of reasons, and they are all connected together.
Thunderline - Do you see Lengsel as a ministry in any capacity? John Robert: Lengsel is a ministry in the sense that Christ is our savior and we point at him. Still, we are who we are, and through our musical lives we paint a picture of what we experience and know. Lengsel is not a band that goes on and preaches of the good news to those who already know it. We do not want to stand responsible for building walls.
Thunderline - Has your association with the "Christian" market hindered Lengsel any way? Has it helped? John Robert: My first response would be to say that it has hindered us in almost every way, but then again, Endtime Productions and Solid State were the ones that released our album, which of course we are very thankful for. I am divided in my opinions about the scene, so I am extremely careful at what I say now, for I know that this subject has many different angles. I believe that the market has good and negative sides, and when you weigh them up towards each other you find out where you personally stand in the whole of things. For Lengsel, the market causes problems because we often are labeled, cherished, and promoted as something we are not; we are given a false identity that hinders instead of helps. For other bands, it is different, no doubt, and I see nothing unique in Lengsel in such a context. Also, Europe and America as cultural continents differ immensely. I do not judge anyone, because I know intentions are always good, but I really question the mentality people carry around with them sometimes. In certain situations, I feel extremely uncomfortable, like I am just about to burst. I guess throwing up is just a sign of growing up, or maybe not? (he-he)
Thunderline - Overall, the lyrics on the album are very personal and poetic. Are there definite meanings to each song that the listener can pick up on? Any specific examples? John Robert: The lyrics on the album circle to a large degree around the same topics. The album-title, "Solace," is our personal, human ambition--what we are striving for, the alleviation/annihilation of pain and misery. The lyrics describe what we are facing in our daily lives, physical and spiritual worries, the revival of aged problems, the opaque picture of ourselves, restlessness, duplicity, dead silence, the inevitability of death, the monotone world in which we surf on through our entire lives asking no questions whatsoever. You are right in saying the lyrics are poetic, but they are allegorical also. We have physical references all the time, stating a personal and highly realistic viewpoint.
Thunderline - What can we expect in the way of future albums? Are you currently working on one? John Robert: Yeah, we are working on our second album. It will definitely be different, more fresh, groovy and direct. Some parts are slower, whereas some parts are faster and more intricate. Technically, we do a lot more catchy things; musically, we play less cliche-melodies and more rock 'n roll. We are all looking forward to the recording, and I can assure you it will be a genuine metal release.
Thunderline - Finally, I always like to end with this question. To you, who is Jesus Christ? John Robert: I believe he is who he claimed to be, namely The Son of Man, as it is written in the Bible. In short he is the God that died for mankind, my hope as savior in life, and more.
Thunderline - Final Comments? John Robert: Get hold of our CD if you are looking for something new and different. We also have a web page that you should check out if you are curious. www.durling.com/lengsel