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Ominous Spells From Patrik Jensen of Sweden's Witchery

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 @ 9:28 AM

"We’re not trying to change th

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Swedish cult favorites Witchery have one of the strongest pedigrees, yet strangest histories, of any death metal/thrash act to emerge from that nation’s fertile scene in the past decade. Formed under bizarre circumstances to begin with in 1998, the band has been overshadowed in recent years by the accomplishments of various members in bands they became part of after joining Witchery.

And as guitarist Patrik Jensen, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Martin Axenrot enjoyed considerable success with The Haunted, Arch Enemy and Opeth, respectively, Witchery sat in limbo for several years because of label problems and the hectic schedules of the aforementioned members. Now, as its fourth album, the ominously crunchy Don’t Fear The Reaper, is being issued —two years after it was recorded — through Century Media there is little Witchery can do to promote it because of Jensen, D’Angelo and Axenrot’s other commitments.

But that doesn’t mean Witchery will be going away quietly — or going away at all for the matter. On the phone from his home in frigid Linköping, Sweden, and battling jetlag from a just-finished tour of Australia and the Far East with The Haunted, Jensen explains that Witchery’s future actually looks fairly bright — despite the fact that its members have less time to dedicate to it that ever. So fans who’ve come under the band’s chugging, hook-laden death-metal flavored thrash spell over the years can expect more down the road.

KNAC.COM: How was The Haunted tour?

JENSEN: It was great. It’s still summer down in Australia. It was 38 Celsius in Perth, which is like 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and we have -21 here, which is really fucking cold.

KNAC.COM: Obviously you got the same brutal cold the news here had been talking about in the rest of Eastern Europe.

JENSEN: The whole of Europe has had a lot of snow this winter. Germany had a snow, which doesn’t happen all the time, Denmark has snow. We don’t even have snow every winter, nowadays, because of the climate change. But now there’s maybe 3 feet of snow outside. That’s cool. If its wintertime, I’d prefer it to be winter and not just gray and rain.

But we were in Australia for five days and it was nice to get a little taste of summer, even though all the traveling was a nightmare. We were gone for 12 days and did 14 flights. It’s insane. It took us 33 hours coming home because we had a five-hour layover in Singapore and when I got back to Stockholm I had checked two pieces of luggage and my suitcase was ruined and my guitar was lost, which was a nice scorecard.

But my guitar did show up, it actually arrived in a cab a few hours after I got home, and just today I got a new suitcase Fed Ex’d to me from British Airways, so that was nice.

KNAC.COM: Now that you’re home, are you going to be home for a while?

JENSEN: That was actually the last tour from the Haunted. We started touring for Revolver in October of 2004, so we were out for almost a year-and-a-half, which is a lot for us. We did some really good tours this time, and got to the states a bunch of times, so it was worth it.

KNAC.COM: I remember seeing Witchery here with Emperor in ’99.

JENSEN: We toured the states twice, but we’ve been over there a few more times for metal fests and stuff like that. The Emperor tour was a great tour. They pulled anywhere from like 500 people up to 2,000 people. That made for a great foundation for Witchery in the U.S. It was perfect, and then after that The Haunted started taking off and Arch Enemy has taken off and now Martin is in Opeth. People think of Witchery as some kind of all-star band, but the thing is everyone was in Witchery before they got things going with their other bands, it’s not like the other way around where a bunch of people backstage at a festival decide, “Oh, we want to do something together.”

KNAC.COM: Witchery has had kind of a weird history.

JENSEN: Yeah, that really goes back to even before the band started. I had left my main band, Seance, and moved to Gothenburg with the intent of starting a new band. I was still a member of Satanic Slaughter, just as a fifth member because they needed someone else on guitar. Satanic Slaughter was like an institution where the members were in all these other local metal bands, everyone in the scene played in Satanic Slaughter and then went on to form their own band. They had maybe 25 members over the years, but that’s just how things always were.

They asked me to join because they wanted someone from the scene and because I knew how to write my own songs, and it turned out that I wrote everything, basically (laughs). I hadn’t wanted to, but it was like “let’s get this moving and get this album done,” and the guy (Ztephan Dark) who had the rights to the name didn’t like the material, but didn’t dare say anything. So after we recorded the album (Land of the Unholy Souls) he fired us all (Jensen, vocalist Toxine, guitarist Richard Corpse and drummer Mique) and kept the name.

KNAC.COM: Typical music business move, I guess.

JENSEN: Yeah, really. That album is as much Witchery as the real Witchery because it was the same four members that went on to be Witchery. He (Dark) didn’t even participate on the album, me and Richard and Toxine did most of the takes. So Witchery has always been important, but I knew when I got to Gothenburg that I was looking for something else, so that’s when I formed The Haunted. Sharlee came onboard for the first Witchery album (Restless and Dead). He wasn’t in Arch Enemy yet, he was in Mercyful Fate though. He’s played with a lot of people (Dismember, Spiritual Beggars, etc.).

Martin came along later (for 2001’s Symphony for the Devil). It wasn’t until last year that he hooked up with Opeth. He’s their drummer for touring, at least right now. I know they have had a lot of problems with Martin (Lopez) over the years for whatever reason (panic attacks, a blood disorder). It’s funny because Martin joined the band last and all of a sudden he’s the most busy out of all of us because Opeth has been touring a lot.

KNAC.COM: You should do an Opeth/Arch Enemy/Haunted tour and have Witchery open the show.

JENSEN: No kidding, we wouldn’t even need much more room on the bus because everyone plays in each other’s bands.

KNAC.COM: Witchery did do a tour here with The Haunted a few years back, right?

JENSEN: Yeah, we did one in 2001. Witchery was supposed to do a tour right before The Haunted, we were gonna have like two days off between tours, but 9/11 happened so all the tours were canceled. Witchery still needed to go on tour, so when everything finally got going again we brought them along with The Haunted. And it was no problem playing two shows a night, it’s just one hour less of being bored. I don’t think it would be a problem with Opeth either if Martin did two shows, but that would be up to Martin if he had the stamina. But I don’t think Arch Enemy would want Sharlee doing two shows, because Witchery went to Japan with Arch Enemy and that was only three shows and everything is super taken care of and you sleep well in luxury hotels, it’s not like you’re burnt out, but we had to find a replacement for Sharlee. He was watching the gig from backstage, don’t ask me why, but it’s how it went down.

KNAC.COM: Given that this album is coming out two years after it was recorded, will Witchery do any touring for it?

JENSEN: We really do want to do a tour because we all love this album. But given the circumstances it might be tough. I’m done with my own touring but that means that The Haunted is writing a new album (to be recorded in late spring). Sharlee has been home for like a month, but I know Arch Enemy is getting ready to go back out (the band will tour the U.S. in April) and the same thing with Opeth. They are out all the time. They are going to play in Israel and Australia and Turkey, so they are busy guys. If nothing else works out we’re gonna do some festivals, maybe the New England Metal Festival and there’s a bunch here during the summer.

KNAC.COM: What happened with this album?

JENSEN: Necropolis Records went out of business and then Music For Nations disappeared, so we didn’t have a label all of a sudden. If we had had one, this album would have been out at the end of 2004. But that happened and then I started to tour with The Haunted in October 2004 and I’ve been so busy that I didn’t have the time to send out demos to other labels, so it wasnt until the beginning of Ozzfest (2005) that I finally started getting them sent out to everyone and labels started to get back with us.

We decided to go with Century Media because both me and Sharlee know all the people who work there, they are great people, really dedicated, plus with made sense to have Witchery on the same label as The Haunted and Arch Enemy because there wouldn’t be any tension. I know, speaking for my experience with The Haunted, there have been no headaches with Century Media, and I’m not saying this to kiss ass because people who know The Haunted know that if we don’t like the label we tell people. They’ve been top notch, first-class people.

KNAC.COM: What was life like on Necropolis?

JENSEN: Necropolis did a really good job back in the day because they hired the same people that a big label would. I suppose Necropolis realized Witchery was a band that could really help them grow. But you need a lot more backing and professional people working at the label, you can’t just hire people. They really did try. I’m still good friends with the people that worked there. No bad blood at all. But it was a long shot.

Still, both Satanic Slaughter and Witchery owe their existence to Necropolis. I knew the owner of the company and he said, “Do you have any bands that you want to do a record with?” And that’s how it all started. That was the initial spark and without that you and I would not be talking.

KNAC.COM: What ended up happening to Necropolis?

JENSEN: I don’t really know. I suspect that the owner just got tired of the whole music business, because there’s a lot of backstabbing and bullshit that you don’t have to deal with in other business situations. So he’s moved on, he has a degree in business, maybe it was a dream when he was a teenager to have a record label but when you’re approaching 30 and you’ve been dealing with all this crap for all these years you start dreaming of doing something else (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Since the album was finished two years ago, did you go back in do anything to freshen it up?

JENSEN: No, there was no real time. I fronted the whole recording because I knew this was the only time we’d have for Witchery and it had to be ready when we found a label. What I sent out on the demo, the three songs, is what you hear on the album. I wanted the companies to really tell what they were going to get.

KNAC.COM: With all of the band members’ other commitments, how does the process of recording a Witchery album work?

JENSEN: This is what a typical day looks like, we start at 5 in the afternoon, we’re in the basement of a building with an office right on top of our rehearsal space, so we can’t make any noise until they’ve gone home. So we try to come up with stuff and we might have a food break or go to someone’s house to have some coffee, but we usually end up sitting there until 2 or 3 a.m., then go home, get some sleep and them I’m usually back there at around noon and I work out the problems that we might have encountered the night before and try to come up with different ideas. And when the other guys come down I show the guys what I’ve come up with and we try it out and we might find something that works and if it still doesn’t work we try to solve it and then go home at 2 or 3 in the morning and them I’m back at noon the next day and it goes on like the for about a month.

Everybody can contribute. Sharlee doesn’t live here, so he sleeps on the couch over at Richard’s house, and they might be working on something. So it is a group effort even though I usually have a greater output of material. But it’s a democratic band. Even if I don’t like something that I’ve written myself, the other members may decide, “this is good, we’re gonna use it,” and that’s how it works.

Just because it’s such a tight schedule, I don’t write the lyrics until we get to the studio. So it’s a lot of pressure. It takes like two days to get a good sound and then it’s just 1,2,3,4 and we record the whole song. We record live. We might do two or three takes on every song and maybe fix guitars here or there, but that’s it. And once Richard starts recording his solos, I go to another room and I start writing the lyrics. Then I show Toxine my ideas and talk it over until we have something we both agree that is cool. Once I’ve written the last lyric and shown it to Toxine I collapse on the sofa (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Damn. What do you do for ideas?

JENSEN: Witchery lyrics are fantasy, they’re entertainment, we’re not trying to change the world or comment about the Mohammed drawings or something. But there’s only so much you can sing about the fits the Witchery mode. It’s a challenge. And I really try to work my way around the stuff that we’ve done before and usually it’s a load of agony. I don’t really like writing lyrics, I grew up in Canada and English is easier for me than the other guys. It’s not that I write great lyrics, it’s just easiest for me, I guess. And afterwards, I am kind of proud of what I’ve accomplished. But it is agonizing.

KNAC.COM: Is hard flipping the switch to get into Witchery mode?

JENSEN: It’s not that hard because we’re all the best of friends and we rarely get to see each other or rehearse. So when we get together, everyone is laughing and talking about what it was like last time. It’s kind of like how people talk about it when they’ve been in the Army, how they romanticize about it, even though they may have hated it at the time. And we do nine hours of rehearsal every day, so it creates a lot of bonding as a band.

So when we do see each other we start playing the old songs just for fun and have a lot of fuck ups and mistakes and from there you just get going. It’s all fun and then we get started on new stuff, which usually happens by accident, somebody will make an error on one of the old songs and we’ll be like “Hey, what was that? Let’s do something with that.” It’s not really that hard.

KNAC.COM: What are the prospects of another Witchery album?

JENSEN: Since the Haunted did all this massive touring, I’ve left Gothenburg and moved back to my old hometown where Witchery is located, Linköping, it’s about 20 minutes from Norköping where Marduk is from. So I see Richard and Martin and Toxine a lot more than I used to. And now that I’m writing stuff for the Haunted I’m using our rehearsal space. So we get to fool around with stuff a lot more that we used to, so we might have 60 percent of the new album written already. So yes, there will be more from Witchery. And the stuff we’ve already put together is faster than probably even the first album. People ask me, “Why does Don’t Fear The Reaper feel darker than the other albums?” And I don’t know, it’s just the how it worked out. But right now it’s fast songs.

KNAC.COM: What do Richard and Toxine do? Do they have other bands going as well, or are they working regular jobs?

JENSEN: In Linköping, everyone works are Saab, so that’s what Toxine does. It’s where they might fighter jets, it’s where I used to work too before I was able to start doing music full time in 1999. And Richard, he makes bazookas or some kind of cannon that fits on the side of a tank. That’s pretty metal!

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