Κυριακή 3 Φεβρουαρίου 2019

COUNT RAVEN interview with Dan Fondelius: Day of Doom is what you'll learn.

There is a key moment for every person that will define a part of his life. For Dan Fondelius, guitarist, singer and founder of Count Raven, one of those moments was the first time he heard the music of four blokes from Birmingham. With the recent (2018) vinyl reissues of Count Raven's first four classic albums on Metal Blade Records, Dan speaks about those albums, doom metal, Black Sabbath and everything in between.

With Metal Blade Records re-releasing your first albums on vinyl, let's remember how the Count Raven legacy was forged. You released your first album 'Storm Warning' in 1990. Sweden had already Candlemass leading Doom Metal but which were your early influences and what do you remember from the recordings and the release of 'Storm Warning'?

Dan: Well our influences were mainly from the '70s at that time, but as we plunged through the '80s with our own band and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, that too was influential. But off course, we said that we would keep to our own interpretation of our music. The preparation of the 'Storm Warning' album was very short and intense. Luckily we already had the songs finished and testing them live a year before it's recording. To record the album was indeed a magic moment for me, and to the other members as well, I guess.

We had 5 weeks to do it, thats the time it takes to play a doom record… haha, no, but seriously we needed that time. Tomas Ahlen, who was the studio owner and producer was one of the coolest persons I have ever met. You could ask him anything and he came up with a solution. We became good friends as well and his crew were also nice people. I had a guitar tech/producer named Marcus, who helped me out all the way and through the mixing procedure. The studio was not the biggest, but big enough. As it were back "in the old days" the control room, off course had to be a factory size mega hall  room with the mixers channel 1 starting at one side of the hall room and channel 10.000 ending at the other side. There were no digital mixers then, only analog, so for instance during the mixing, when all channels had to be muted, we had an army of people all over the table, using all they got, fingers, toes, noses, and at the giving signal, cutting it off. The tape recorders were from Polar studios, the same as ABBA recorded all their albums. We recorded our four first albums on these machines. You can clearly hear the similarity between 'Dancing Queen' and 'Until Death Do Us Part', don't you think? 

We were on tour with Saint Vitus when the  album was  released. It was a nice feeling to have your first international record in your hands. The press really liked it and we were pleasantly surprised. We were then under the impression that press generally hated doom rock. The record was released by the German label Hellhound Records and the British label Music For Nations.

Singer Chritus Linderson left Count Raven after your first album. He joined Saint Vitus after a while for the 'C.O.D.' album (1992) and you took over vocals. Was it a necessary evil and did you look for another singer?

Dan: Yeah, after he left, we were looking for other singers but nothing worked out and the deadline for starting recording  the next album closed in, so I decided to ask the producer and the guys in the band if it was okay that I took over the singing. I remember that everybody just screamed YES. I had already been singing through out the '80s with Stormwarning, so it was ok.  So we just went on.

'Destruction of the Void' (1992) and 'High on Infinity' (1993) followed with you on vocals, and here we have the complete trademark sound of the band. With two albums in two years, what were you thinking about the future of Count Raven and what was the actual feedback of the audience and press at that time?

Dan: Well, the ideal way would be to be able to combine hard work and to reflect at the same time. Unfortunately that is seldom the case. Work became so intense that we had no chance to even breathe. Luckily I had more than enough material in the christmas bag to use, so we took the best and kept on working. I remember we had real fun all through the recording and there was an atmosphere of total peace of mind. Once released, the press once more took it to their hearts and thankfully loved it. Once more, thanks to all of you. Hope you all have good lives.

When we got out live, the audience were surely there and by now we were mostly headlining during tours. So things progressed faster than we could keep up with. The audience were amazing I remember. The places were packed and they shouted and sang along so much, that when I sometimes missed the lyrics, I just read the lips of the audience and went on from there. Thank you for that, our beloved audience.

'Messiah of Confusion' (1996) is the last album of your classic period but it took three years, despite the fact that you had already recorded and released two albums in two years before. What were you doing during this period and do you consider your music as a mirror of your personality?

Dan: Ok, it is a long time ago, so I had to check back myself, but my record says 1995, so I guess it is not that long. Yeah, I guess you could say that it is a mirror of that. And still is. As I write the new material it is even more so now. And it makes me wonder about the future of things, with all the hateful persecutions of free thinkers.

Would you change anything if you could, during those years?

Dan: Not that much really,when it comes to the albums. Nuclear Blast approached us then I remember during the High on Infinity tour, but Hellhound rejected them viciously. I did not like that. I just know that if we had gone over to them, things had been much better. It was out of my hands, but that I do regret.

The music works still I think. About the lyrics, there is a couple of songs that I wished turned out different and when we do them live these days, I I do put in the changes. But since  I am OK with 95% of the lyrics I am satisfied. When it comes to business situation, things could have been better. The albums did sell like crazy. We were young and naive, so the record companies off course stole every penny from us. And I mean that literally. And this was the main reason the band disbanded after 'Messiah...' was released. Many years later, our producer Tomas, who is a professional in economics, and me sat down and calculated the whole thing for me. He showed me that I had lost several millions in cash by these thieves. That has been rather difficult to swallow. Personally I don't care much for money, but that  money would have been nice to have for my two handicapped children as security when they get old. Now they don't have that.

Speaking of lyrics, that's one important thing about Count Raven, and they stray from typical rock and metal themes. Which are the best songs you have written according to lyrics and why?

Dan: I thank you very much for saying that. I suppose this music maybe is not the easiest music to start write lyrics to, but for me that was not a problem. I just started doing it. Off course at first I had no idea how it would sound like at the end of the day. But almost directly, I felt that I wanted to write the lyrics in a communicational way, despite if you listen to it live or on a record. Best lyrics, I think I like many of them, 'Hippies Triumph', 'Jen', 'The Final Journey' and 'The Viking Sea' from a personal perspective. 'Childrens Holocaust' ,'An Ordinary Loser', 'Angel Of Death' for the deliberate destruction of family and life itself.  'Masters Of All Evil', 'Leaving The Warzone', 'Shadow Box' and 'Lost World' about Satan's people who want to conquer us with peace and hate! Or 'Cosmos', where science finally meet God. 'Northern Lights' for the best gift we got, mother nature. 'Europa', a humble ode to a continent that brought us science, reason, art, justice, creative thinking, a modern world and made us walk on the moon. I could go on…

Do you think that the 90s was the best Doom Metal decade? Did you follow any bands or you stick to the classic stuff?

Dan: I think that good doom bands have been around since we started until now. New ones coming up to the surface all the time. We did recently attended Doom over Scania here in Sweden with Iron Void and Desolate Pathway from the UK, that I haven't heard before. And they were both great.

What about the reasons of Count Raven's split in 1998?

Dan: Well I contacted the guys and asked them to pick up the band again and they said yes. I had some demands on them that if we should do this they have to work with me on this, to get the project going. They agreed and we  started to work on some new material. The idea was to record four songs to get a record deal and to pop up some interest.

We started recording these songs, and one extra track called 'Regression', who is now an extra material song on 'High On Infinity'. It is a Black Sabbath medley, that we just did for fun. The recordings started and finished with me on the bass as well, since Wilbur never turned up again… I called him up after several months. He gave some half ass excuse that he forgot it all!? I saw no reason to continue. That was that.

And what made you return in 2003? Did you ask from the previous band members to join you?

Dan: Yeah i did... I wanted to try again a third time. We did concerts during 2004-2005. And the last gig was at Wacken in August 2005.

However, it took you a while to record an album and since then, it seems that Count Raven is a "part-time" band with few live shows and not so much activity. How easy or difficult is to keep the band alive?

Dan: Well the idea was then after Wacken that we should work on a full album. I spent six months full  time working on new songs. Wilbur turned up a few times and the drummer did not turn up at a all. Then I took in Jens on drums and Fredrik Jansson and the 'Mammons War' lineup was born. This was in 2006. It is very difficult to keep a band going due to several factors. Since it is all based on a free basis and friendship, and that no one gets paid at first. It is off course difficult to force, so to speak, everyone to go all the way. Especially if all have families for instance.

Are you familiar with C.O.T.D. (Circle Of True Doom) movement, that was comprised of musicians from bands such as Reverend Bizarre, The Gates Of Slumber and few more, with a goal of spreading True Doom Metal in the 00s? If yes, what's your opinion on this?

Dan: I heard about it at the time. I think they continued the idea that Solstice guitar player Rich Walker, a very nice guy, started attacking people with already in the 90s. I respected want they wanted to do. But times moves on, and as I said earlier, good doom bands still pop up.

For you, what's the true essence of Doom Metal?

Dan: Doom is more than just rock music, it is many things. Sabbath were the first ones to express that vibe in 'Into the Void', were you literally "leave the earth to find a new world unknown". Doom expresses a wish and demand for inner and outer changes of yourself and this world, and by doing so, becoming a true child of God, and always living in His presence.

With the economical and political crisis in many countries, wars and the decadence of modern man, the world today might be a perfect place for Doom Metal, right?

Dan: It already is! Doom is the music style that has least help from the music business, and still it is out there. They already sense their "new world unknown" and they will survive I'm sure. The meek shall inherit the earth… haha

It's already ten years since the last studio album ('Mammons War', 2009), so do you have any plans or working on a new album?

Dan: Yes thats the plan. We are still negotiating on a new album, so we will see. One way or another I know it will come this time. We have a stable line up now that for the first time wanna go through with this. We have been out there playing live since last summer and the band is tight. And everyone is having fun.

 Count Raven, 2018

Let's close the interview by mentioning the importance of Black Sabbath in your words...

Dan: Well they started doom with 'Electric Funeral', 'Children Of The Grave' and 'Hand Of DOOOOOM'… There you go…haha. I grew up as a very young kid with '70s Sabbath. I remember that not only did that created a completely new form of music, they also created a very new form of lyrics and lyrical approach. When all was still very much peace and love stuff, suddenly out of nowhere you hear this voice going: "Have you ever thought about your soul, can it be saved. Or perhaps you think that when you are dead you stay in your grave"… Or: "I am the world that hides the universal secret of all times"… And everyone just went… What the hell is this? It literally blowed your mind. Suddenly the intellect and soul met for the first time, created by four working class guys. Let that sink in.

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COUNT RAVEN vinyl reissues (Metal Blade Records, 2018)
'Storm Warning', 'Destruction Of The Void', 'High On Infinity', 'Messiah Of Confusion'

Highly inspired by Black Sabbath, Count Raven remains until today as the most underrated doom metal act. Their debut album, 'Storm Warning' was released in 1990. Slow, gloomy and groovy, this is the beginning of a true revelation in the name of rock n' roll. Or doom metal, to be more specifically. Count Raven always had a more street and rock n' roll attitude, closer to the feeling of bands like Saint Vitus  and less to some of their Swedish fellow mourners. Clean and monolithic, the debut album of Count Raven sets high standards for every traditional doom metal album that will follow in the 90s.

After the departure of singer Christian Linderson, guitarist and founder Dan "Fodde" Fondelius takes care of vocals and while at the same year (1992) Tony Iommi was reunited with Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbah released 'Dehumanizer', Count Raven's 'Destruction of The Void' is the album that Iommi would be proud to release if he was reunited with Ozzy, instead. The second Count Raven album is Fondelius' triumph and the beginning of the classic trademark sound of the band. Not so much different than 'Storm Warning' but yet you can clearly understand there is a different vibe, even if for some people the debut remains as their best effort. Fondelius' vocals are so similar to the Prince of Darkness, that in moments you just wonder if he does it on purpose. But not. And I cannot imagine most of these great songs with a different voice and approach, since everything works perfectly here. If you will combine this with the general huge Black Sabbath influence, a clear vision and love for music, great and diverse lyrics that stray from simple and typical themes, you have one of the best unsung doom metal bands. Fight for a new society, or you will die in sorrow.

"Tomorrow's child he cries but only in his mind. He gets so cold inside, he leaves his ones behind"... line from 'An Ordinary Loser' one of the best tracks of the third Count Raven album, 'High On Infinity', sums up what doom metal from the gutter is all about. True in every sense, less majestic than the epic doom legends (Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus) but more human and closer to reality, Count Raven delivered the ultimate Black Sabbath-worship feeling and yet, they sound as a unique act with diverse lyrics, great riffs and sadness all around. And if their music sounds more up-to-date than ever, in 1993 where 'High On Infinity' was originally released Count Raven introduced more unique elements even from the opening track, 'Jen', a fan-favourite and a great opener. And the best is yet to come, with songs like 'Children's Holocaust' or 'Masters Of All Evil', where the keyboard background and lyrics expand the atmosphere and the artistic expression. 'High On Infinity' is a doom metal triumph, so join the astral caravan.

In 1996, three years after 'High On Infinity', 'Messiah Of Confusion', the fourth Count Raven album is released and the legacy is continued. Keeping the same formula, the album is great but not better than the previous ones. However, the closing monumental track 'The Viking Sea' reached the top of Everest in terms of greatness. Nineties were supposed to be difficult for some metal bands but that was especially in the United States. Still though, just two years later after the release of 'Messiah of Confusion', Count Raven disbanded. Count Raven seemed to be in the shadow of the doom metal scene during 90s where doom started to stray from its traditional form and got confused with other sub-genres, but their albums are still among the best of their kind. Day of doom is what you'll learn.

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