by Ryan Meehan
Inspired by imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis, the eerie aesthetics of sci-fi author Sean Williams’ Astropolis quadrilogy, and Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård’s explosive autobiography, My Struggle, there’s no denying the depth of thought as well as musicianship that underlies Sahg’s fourth, most ambitious release. And from the breathtaking, cinematic dynamics opening salvo Slip Off The Edge Of The Universe to the thundering muscularity of Firechild and the utterly cosmic, 11-minute sojourn of Sleeper’s Gate To The Galaxy, this is the stuff landmarks are made of. Get involved. Recorded at Solslottet Studios – aka Castle Of The Sun. Olav Iversen is the band’s vocalist and guitarist and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: The cover art of your new record features a picture of what appears to be an astronaut that has two other astronauts superimposed on top of it; which I assume is supposed to represent the schizophrenic nature of the album’s protagonist. Given Norway’s rich history of metal imagery, are you in any way worried that potential fans may be turned off by the cover and overlook this record as being a metal album?
OI: We like the idea of breaking with conformities, and the artwork of our album does that. Until only a few years ago, metal had become conform and norm-ridden. It had to sound exactly like this, and look precisely like that, or it wasn’t metal. That’s a huge paradox for a genre whose entire existence is founded on breaking with conformities. The limits for what metal was supposed to be had become way too tight, and the genre was suffocating under its own restrictions. Fortunately, this has changed over the last few years and opened up to a wider specter of influences and expressions, both sonic and aesthetic. That has saved metal from a certain death, if you ask me, and today you see a lot of great new bands bringing new influences into metal. Covers of metal albums today don’t need to be black with a bloody skull on it. That is why the artwork on ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ is the artwork of a modern metal album.
RM: Let’s talk about the new record “Delusions of Grandeur”…The disc was produced by Iver Sandoy who has also worked with Enslaved and Krakow, what is it about working with him that allows you to create a sound that has elements of doom and prog; among others?
OI: Iver Sandoy has known Sahg over many years and has a great understanding for the kind of music we play, and not least the kind of music we wanted to create on this new album. We wanted to break some boundaries and make some significant changes to our sound on ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’. Like us, Iver isn’t afraid of breaking with conformities, in order to create music that sounds fresh and new rather than something you have heard a hundred times before. It’s all about not going for the safe solutions, but rather make the extra effort to create sounds that add the extra factor and makes it sound new and different. In total, the album has elements of doom and prog, but also some psychedelic and experimental stuff, and it all adds up to something I hope you haven’t quite heard before.
RM: What was it about the new record that took you longer to complete as opposed to the other ones? And what were the sonic aspects of this record that you were particularly concerned with when it was being created?
OI: After our last album, we found it was time to redefine the expression of the band, and find a slightly new musical approach. After three albums, based on a lot of the same influence and philosophy, it is easy to fall into the trap of getting lazy, start repeating oneself, and make music on auto-pilot. So we decided to go back quite a few steps, rethink the way we create music, and try out new elements that could take the band’s expression a few steps further. So, preparing for this album didn’t just take the time needed to write and rehearse the songs. We had to redefine and expand our musical universe before we could start composing. We decided to record the album live in studio, to give the recordings a genuine live vibe. But at the same time, we wanted a more extensive and elaborate production compared to our previous albums. We wanted the album to have this atmospheric, spaced-out dimension that is inherent in the songs and the concept of the album.
RM: For those of us here in the states that might not be familiar with his work, who is Karl Ove Knausgård and in what way does he inspire the storyline of this album?
OI: Karl Ove Knausgård is a Norwegian author, famous for a series of award-winning autobiographical novels, entitled ‘My Struggle’. Knausgård is leathally honest and critical in the way he describes some of his closest family members. Some of them are described in very unfortunate ways. Knausgård sacrificed the relationship to pretty much his whole family writing these books, while making millions from the success. There is something bizarrely fascinating about the way Knausgård profits greatly on the expense of his closest family, and that was an inspiration for the main character in the story we made for ‘Delusions …’. He burns all bridges to everyone around him, in order to chase his delusive desires.
RM: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you stick to while on tour? What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you on the road?
OI: I need my two beers, a shot of scotch, and some time on my own to focus, get psyched, get changed and do some vocal warm-ups. Then I join the rest of the band for the last few minutes and get pepped up before we go on stage. A lot of strange things happen on the road, and one of the stranger incidents took place on our European tour in 2010. We were in Warsaw, Poland, it was early in the day and we were hanging out in the bus, waiting to get access to the venue. There’s somebody knocking on the bus door, and when we open up, there’s a young girl who had traveled for many hours to come and see us play. She gave us a jar full of cookies that she had baked for us. Each cookie had the Sahg logo carefully glazed onto it! There were a lot of cookies, each one beautifully crafted, and it was obvious the girl had laid down a huge effort baking them. They even tasted good too!
RM: The video for “Slip Off the Edge of the Universe” has some very spacey overtones; yet possesses a lot of visual elements reminiscent of “The Song Remains The Same” when it comes to the way it was shot…Where is the main character of the record at mentally by this point in the album? What were you trying to project with that clip; and are you pleased with the way it came out?
OI: “Slip Off the Edge of the Universe” is the opening track on the album, but it tells the final part of the story. The main character has reached the point of complete alienation from reality, and is permanently lost within his own mind. He is completely obsessed with the urge for power, and when he reaches the end of all there is to conquer, he is driven off the edge and left helpless, weightless, powerless, drifting slowly further into the empty space. In the video we wanted to tell the story through the character of an astronaut, who reaches too far out into space and loses control. We wanted to give the clip a psychedelic, animated look, to give the impression that this is happening in an imaginary universe, inside somebody’s mind. The song, the video, and the album as a whole, focus on the egocentric powers of the human mind, and how they can destroy you if you encourage them and let them take over. We found the right guy to bring the idea to life, and video creator Alexander Lillevik created a bizarre, spaced-out visual universe, which brings the story across just the way we had hoped.
RM: Doom metal and “stoner” metal seem to have really increased in popularity over the past five years…Why do you think that is; and what is it about the classic heavy metal bands that keep people coming back to influences like Sabbath and Zeppelin?
OI: It’s only natural to go directly to the source for the best inspiration. Zeppelin and Sabbath started it all, so most people who are into metal of some kind can relate to their music. That’s why I think retro metal has become so big. Sahg started up with very direct references to 70s heavy metal ten years ago. There is still a lot of that in the music we make today, but over the years we have tried to renew ourselves little by little, which I think we have really achieved with ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’. I think more of the retro influenced bands should start to focus on creating more original sounds, too many bands in that genre sounds too unoriginal to stand out from the crowd.
RM: What’s up next for you guys in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
OI: Touring is our main focus for the time coming. We have some headline dates and festivals in Europe confirmed, and we are planning a longer European tour this spring. With the album out in the U.S., we hope to get the opportunity to tour the States again, it’s been over seven years since we did that last! Besides touring, we have started working on some new music, and aim at putting out the next album in 2015.
Official Website: http://www.sahg.no/site/
Sahg on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sahgband
Sahg on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sahgband
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