Interview: Lords of Triumph

Of course, we are glad about every interview that we are allowed to present to you on this blog. However, sometimes it happens that we can provide you with something very special as reading material. That’s the case again today: Martin Meyer Mendelssohn Sparvath, whom you might also know from Altar of Oblivion, talked to me about his (epic) doom/heavy metal band Lords of Triumph, which returned last year with the EP Lost Times. The result is one of the most noteworthy interviews of the last three years. I hope you enjoy reading it – take a little time.

Martin: No problem, dear André. My girlfriend gave birth to our daughter three months ago, so I’m a busy sleepless man these days. How about you? In addition, life after 40 isn’t what you were taught in school, where the energy level reaches zero multiple times a day, haha.

Martin: Actually, this is a tough one to answer, as I have answered the questions over a long period of time meaning I have been listening to a lot of albums prior to answering the interview. Right now, I’m listening to the new Pyramaze album Bloodlines, which I like a lot. Prior to answering the first question of this interview, I put on the sophomore Riot City-album Electric Elite, of which I’m quite fond, especially after having witnessed them live at the Danish Heavy Agger festival. Party of the decade, for sure.

Martin: As a matter of fact, a friend of mine, who plays in the Danish black/death metal band Perdition’s Mire, just gave me a copy of their debut-CD The Doctrine of Losing Life, which I can recommend. The last new album I bought was Jethro Tull’s new album Rök Flöte, which was released some months ago (April 2023). In 1996, my father introduced me to their classic album Aqualung, and I have been a huge fan ever since, primarily of their 80s work, including Ian Anderson’s great solo album Walk into Light, which might as well could have been a Jethro Tull album. These days, I mostly buy second hand CDs, cassettes and LPs.

Martin: When my main band Altar of Oblivion released the 2007 Shadow Era-demo, Phil Swanson was the second one to order it from me, the first one being a dedicated metal head from Singapore. Back then, all correspondence was done over MySpace, haha. I knew Phil Swanson by name from acts such as Seamount and Hour of 13, the latter being signed on Shadow Kingdom Records, with whom we had just signed a deal resulting in Altar of Oblivion’s 2009 debut full-length Sinews of Anguish. Phil and I started talking, and I told him I liked his vocals, which I saw as a fine balanced mix between old school Ozzy and Jesper Binzer from Danish band Disneyland After Dark. He liked my riffing, and we thought it would be interesting to see what we could conjure up, and right away, I started writing material, soon resulting in a 8-track full-length with the working title Longing for Dimness yet to be recorded. To complete the line-up, I asked bassist Christian Nørgaard and drummer Thomas Wesley Antonsen (both Altar of Oblivion) to join Lords of Triumph, which they keenly accepted. In other words, Altar of Oblivion with a different singer, and of course, there are a lot of similarities, but I think, we managed to create a sound of our own, even though it can be argued that we bring nothing new to the epic doom/heavy metal table.

Martin: The two main tracks on the EP, namely “Lost Times” and “Into Nothingness” were written in 2015 in order for us to have enough tracks for our one-off concert at the 2015 Danish Metal Magic Festival. It was a horrible gig, as we didn’t have time to prepare properly, but it was cool to finally see singer Phil Swanson after many years’ internet correspondence and collaboration. As for the EP itself, I think it is our best effort to date with some crushing epic doom/heavy metal tracks with some great riffs, drumming, atmospheric parts and cool vocal hooks. Since the EP and the band in general have lacked promotion, there hasn’t been much feedback. The little feedback, however, has been great with people deeming this our best output to date, which is promising for our full-length, if that shall ever be recorded, haha.

Martin: When I was a child, I remember digging through my parents’ LP-collection and some covers caught my attention more than others. As a child, you have an unprecedented gift to see the world through “unfiltered” adventurous magical glasses, which unfortunately seems to fade over the years. I used to stare at these covers for hours imagining I was a part of the story told in the artwork. In the early 90s, when I started to buy music on my own, I quickly fell in love with the following cover artworks:

Metallica: Master of Puppets: Most likely the artwork that made the greatest impression. Actually, I didn’t have the chance to hear this album until May 1993, when I got the album on CD. Before that, I had only heard the Black Album, but I had seen the Master of Puppets-poster in the local youth club wondering how this album might sound like. Back then, my shitty stepdad owned a discotheque, and after school, I would go there to blast the album on full volume on the dj-stand. The combination of this album, a bottle of coke, peanuts and the smell of cigarettes and booze was pure magic, and I will never forget these precious moments. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until 10 years ago, I noticed the strings attached to the crosses and the pair of hands in the sky, as my eyes were focused solely on the many white crosses, which I always thought were a depiction/reference to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer (France). With the strings tethered to the crosses and the pair of hands pulling the strings in the blood-red sky, the title suddenly made a lot more sense to me, haha.

Other artworks which impressed and stunned be for some reason or another: Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath & Vol. 4, Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction & Youthanasia, Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of OzzDiary of a Madman, The Ultimate Sin & OzzmosisSlayerSeasons in the Abyss, Iron MaidenPowerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Crimson GloryTranscendence, SaxonRock the Nations.

I could mention a shitload of other cover artworks, that had a great impact and influence on me, and I could attach an interesting story to each and everyone one of them, but I’ll save that for another day and/or interview.

Martin: Thus far, I have been in charge of music and lyrics with Phil doing the vocal melodies. In my mobile “laptop-studio”, I record demo versions consisting of guitars and sometimes keyboards, after which our bassist Christian Nørgaard is in charge of the computer drums and bass. Then, the “complete” demo version is sent to Phil, who works out the vocal melodies after which I write the lyrics based on his phonetic outburst. A well-functioning internet collaboration.

Martin: Being the sole lyricist in 90 % of the projects and bands, I have been involved with, as strange as it may sound, lyrics mean next to nothing to me when listening to music myself. This is a bit surprising considering that I mostly write concept-albums and that I have written lyrics for almost 1000 songs by now, of which many still only exist in early demo-versions. When listening to music, I rarely listen to the lyrics, as I tend to see a vocalist as yet an instrument telling a story not by words but by the sound of his/her voice. To me, writing lyrics has always been the easier and often not that interesting part of the songwriting process, and I can conjure up lyrics in no time. Every time, I have an idea for the lyrical content of a song, I write it down, which has resulted in many lengthy Word-documents by now.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this strange behaviour. When I was a child, when listening to music in the radio or when my parents put on an album, I would listen to the words and memorize them: a habit, I abandoned when I was in my teens. To this day, I can still recite/sing along to all the albums and songs, I used to listen to over and over again, even if I didn’t (and maybe still don’t) understand the words in a context. I never had an interest in analyzing and interpreting lyrics, and I have always had a tendency to take lyrics too literally, which gives many songs a totally different meaning. No wonder, I’m often told I have autistic traits, haha.

These days, when writing lyrics, they mostly surface and come to life as a stream of consciousness, where I am choosing the words that sound great in context. That obviously doesn’t apply when I’m writing conceptually, but I haven’t written a full-fledged concept-album since Altar of Oblivion’s 2012 Grand Gesture of Defiance-album, which was about organized religion, yet with some cross-references and comparisons to certain historical events, among other things the horrors of war. Grand Gesture of Defiance is a conceptual album about an imaginary, totalitarian religious group that through cryptocratic gatherings and decision-making processes is trying to attain world domination. A “nice” little conspiracy theory depicting the leaders of the world as figureheads, serving merely as puppets for an influential secretive elite, and who despite holding significant titles wields little to no influence at all.

My favourite epoch is World War II and what led to this almost worldwide catastrophe. Since high school, I have been very fascinated by this period, especially what took place in the European Theatre. When I started composing music, I kept this WW2-theme in mind, and I figured it would be natural as well as almost inevitable not to integrate this subject into the lyrical contents of my music. I have been doing a lot of reading, been watching a lot of documentaries and been visiting museums about this particular and unique era.

Wars and conflicts have ruled the globe since the dawn of time, and it seems the urge to wage war is a big part of human nature, like some kind of remnant from ancient times, in which man had to fight to survive: which could be one of the explanations why even civilized countries choose/chose to go to war.

Nowadays, news is spreading like wildfire, and through the diverse supply of media, we are subsequently force-fed all kind of information from around the globe, including far-away wars and conflicts. I think modern-era warfare is extremely interesting as horrible as it may be. I don’t think war in itself has a beautiful aspect but the feelings and atmospheres, you can extract from war zones, contain several layers of epic dimensions which I have depicted and reproduced in many of my songs.

Actually, after having finished my bachelor in German at the university, I began studying history as a subsidiary subject, but soon realized the approach was too square, conservative and stale (in my eyes). In hopes of obtaining valuable knowledge about (forgotten) times of lore, I was quickly disappointed, as too many of the lessons were more or less about source criticism, search engine optimization etc. Evidently, these are very important issues, but at that point, I just wanted to get straight to the point and core, which was history itself. After all, I had already passed some similar exams during the “German Years”. Since I started writing lyrics, even before I started playing the guitar in 2003, I have extended my vocabulary plus broadened my lyrical horizon, and thus, I started writing about other themes such as the bigotry, close-mindedness and stupidity spread through religious (groups) and outdated doctrines, which since then has taken up a great deal of my time. I don’t consider myself a great lyricist, but since I always could come up with some useful lyrics in no time, it just seemed like a good idea to let me be in charge of this task. To get back to the original question: Yes, it is important to me to tell the listeners a good story, but as mentioned earlier, I would rather captivate the listener with my music rather than my words, but I always strive at making both music and lyrics work well together with the music reflecting the lyrics and vice versa.

Martin: As I was hinting at earlier, around 2010, when Phil and I first talked about forming a band, we quickly thereafter wrote an 8-track full-length named Longing for Dimness. For some reason or another, we just never got to record it, probably because of clashing schedules, too busy a schedule with other bands/projects etc. After a period of 5 years, in which Lords of Triumph were laying dormant, we decided to record an EP instead as a forerunner of the aforementioned full- length, resulting in the 2015 Reaching the End-EP, which was rather fun and different to make. That said, I’m still hoping that we one day will find the time, fire and energy to record the full-length, as it contains some killer tracks. Maybe, we will do yet another EP first, since I still have tons of unused Lords of Triumph-material lying around.

Martin: The word/notion “epic” obviously has several definitions, but in my eyes, when it comes to music, it means that a certain piece of music tells a “larger-than-life” story, narrating the historic events and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or persons. It can be argued that all music tells some kind of story or another, but in order for a music piece to be categorized as “epic”, the outcome of ALL instruments combined must be greater than the sum of the individual instruments. In other words, 2+2=5 or more, if that makes any sense, haha.

Of course, music doesn’t have to be epic to be great, and many epic metal bands are plain boring, in my opinion. My favourite band of all time is Black Sabbath, and even if they have conjured up many great epic songs, the majority of their godly work isn’t what I would define as epic, but when you produce such otherworldly sonic journeys like Sabbath, you don’t have to be epic to be master of your doom craft.

Within music, some bands, especially nowadays, tend to think that “epic” means long, which the word “epic” in its traditional sense can be defined as, but creating a long song/album etc. isn’t hard by itself. The (individual) ideas have to make sense, be coherent and consistent both musically and lyrically. Within recent years, Iron Maiden for instance have had a dubious tendency to make overlong songs, that in my opinion aren’t epic but merely way too long, as the ideas aren’t good enough. The ideas that are good enough tend to be repeated way too many times, destroying an otherwise good hook-line.

In the 80s, Iron Maiden were masters at composing relatively short yet epic, straight-to-the-point/no bullshit tracks, which told an elaborate and interesting story with many layers. Yet, in the inferior 90s, they simply started repeating the same, often lazy, chorus-line over and over again making it way too oversaturated. Many Maiden fans people beg to differ, I know.

Martin: Senjutsu however, was a surprisingly great return to form, and even if many tracks are very long, the numbers make sense, since the musical ideas are top-notch and they actually tell an exciting story and there are not too many lame “going-nowhere”-repetitions.

Martin: That would depend on the amount of time spent in a certain past, I guess, but the following three choices are the first ones to come to mind:

1: If I were to choose on the top of my hat, I would with no hesitation go back to the mid-80s, as this decade is the best ever when it comes to music, looks and logic (or the lack thereof). It was a time with a shitload of cheesy action movies with a lot of superbly served one liners and plot holes, which you simply wouldn’t do without when push comes to shove.

I was born in 1979 and witnessed the glorious 80s from the front row, and I deem myself utmost lucky to have been born at the threshold to the heyday decade of “larger-than-life” behavior. Everything was just so over-the-top, and it seems that everybody tried to top each other in all areas and matters of life, be it curls, disgusting yet brilliant mullets, muscle cars and hyper-masculinity fronted by muscle-master Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brought up in this decade makes me realize how privileged I have been and it makes me think that even if all else fails, this fact alone means my life hasn’t been totally in vain.

2: Being my all time favorite band, I would have loved to have experienced an early/mid 70s Black Sabbath concert, when they were in their youthful prime and when they were just getting started. My father watched them in 1971 in Holstebro (Denmark), and he remembers sitting next to the band in a bar at a hotel prior to the show, star-struck not daring to make a move and ask for an autograph, haha.

3: When I was around 15, I fantasized about travelling back to the 1950s to meet younger “editions” of my maternal grandfather and great grandmother. I don’t know exactly why, but my best guess is that I wanted to see how a conversation might have turned out, and to see what themes we would come up with. I have always been interested in the dialect prevalent in my region, and I would have loved to hear how big a difference in the way of speech, pronunciation etc. there was from my grandparents’ to my great grandparents’ generation. I can still remember my grandfather’s voice but I can’t recall the voice of my great grandmother, who died in 1989, when I was 10. She was the only great grandparent, I got to know, as the three others died just after of prior to my birth.

I still have a few time travelling wishes but I’ll leave that for another day or interview.

Lords of Triumph on Bandcamp.

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