The newest addition to Dog Knights Productions took me completely by surprise! Borlange, Sweden’s TOTEM SKIN have just released their new album called “Still Waters Run Deep” and simply ripped me to shreds. The last time I was that excited is was when I discovered another extreme hardcore/metal band from Sweden called THIS GIFT IS A CURSE. TOTEM SKIN consist of 6 individuals who poured every drop of passion they could harvest from the bottom of their hearts. The band saw its dawn in the fall/winter of 2012 as a three piece, which produced and recorded two EP’s themselves while adding members as recording went along. The full line-up was completed in March 2013, allowing the band to further expand on their musical horizons and create mind-bowing apocalyptic, insane soundscapes.
Check out the full stream of this amazing album below (originally premiered at this location) and dive into our interview to find out more about their inspirations, passions and plans for the future. But beware! It’s honest, but very misty, emotional and full of desperate atmosphere.
Uufff… I’ve just run through your bandcamp releases and I must say I’m really having a hard time focusing back on my day job. Fuck me, how on Earth had I not heard about it before! Tell me what and who is TOTEM SKIN?
Thanks a lot man! We’re basically a collection of six guys from the middle of pretty much nowhere, a town called Borlänge in Sweden, who love heavy and emotional music. We consist of Henrik Dahlqvist and Glenn Zettersten on vocals, Christoffer Öster and Jesper Sundström on guitar, Jonas Axelsson on bass and Sebastian Engström on drums.
Yeah man. It’s rumoured that you’re on the verge of a new chapter called ‘Still Waters Run Deep’. Your first proper full length release will be distributed by Dog Knights Productions and we can already check out a teaser in form of a an amazing 2-song sampler. Please share your thoughts on this new work of yours and how it fits in progression with your previous work?
It’s really different from our previous two recordings, since we were only three people (Christoffer, Henrik & Glenn) in the band during the writing of those songs.
TOTEM SKIN actually started with the purpose of being a “studio band”, but in the winter of 2012/2013 we were asked to play a couple of shows so we asked a few friends if they wanted to play those with us. After those shows, we just kept rehearsing.
We didn’t have a steady bassist for a while, but in the spring of 2013 Jonas joined the band, and that’s when we started writing for the album. In a way that makes this album feel more personal to us, because it’s the first time we’ve written songs together as a whole group with the intent of performing them live.
We feel like this record is more cohesive than the others. It’s the first we’ve done that has a more or less running theme in the lyrics as well as the music, so it feels less disjointed to us. Also it feels like we’ve grown into our musical roles so to say, especially our vocalists feel much more secure in what they’re doing now than they did last year.
And we couldn’t stress enough how much better it turned out thanks to Lewis Johns (GOODTIME BOYS, ex-THE LONG HAUL) who engineered the album than it would have if we had recorded it ourselves, like the first two releases.
Yeah man! How do you remember the time spent at The Ranch Production House? How was working with Lewis Johns? How has working with him influenced your overall sound?
I think it had a big impact on all of us. Most of us have never been to a real studio before.
It was quite an experience to travel all the way from one of Sweden’s remotely places to the outskirts of Southampton, England.
And we were there for 8 days to record 9 tracks, so we didn’t have to stress the recording at all.
The Ranch House is a really cool place. It’s actually an old farm and we slept in old horse stables haha.
Working with Lewis was great as well. He knew what we were aiming for soundwise and contributed with some cool ideas for the songs as well.
Overall it was a great experience for us as a band and it made us more dedicated to creating music.
Cool. Tell me about the cover art and the package prepared for the outing. The front cover looks really amazing.
Thanks man! The art was made by Adrian B. of Coven Illustracion. It depicts a creature of Swedish folklore called “Skogsrået”, which is called either “Huldra” or “wood nymph” in English. It fits into the theme of nature that we’ve used throughout the album, as she was said to be the ruler of the forest and the keeper of its animals. If you look closely on the full artwork you can see she has a tail to her side.
How does it correspond with the lyrics?
A big aspect of the lyrics on the album deal with nature as a grand phenomenon, and how it and our dealings with it reflect on our society and problems in our personal lives. We wanted to use the legend of the huldra as the forest’s ruler to accentuate the impact that nature has on all of us. In the legend the huldra can be a force for both good and evil, often depending on how humans interact with her and the forest, which we think is an apt comparison to a lot of the themes in our lyrics. It also allows for an easy and pretty recognizable way for us to show our roots, so you can kinda see were we’re coming from from the get-go.
Accompanied by the sick wrath vocals, this story starts to feel more like a horror trip. Really, the last time I was struck by an atmosphere created by a hardcore/metal band was when I learned about “As the Roots Undo” by CIRCLE TAKES THE SQUARE. Where did you get the idea for such ominous and dire vocals, spitting such venom? Damn, it takes you to a place you don’t want to be.
Well, we feel like most often the best lyrics are those that are very personal and also go hand in hand with the atmosphere of the music, and the same goes for the vocal style. We write about subjects that are important to us, and we view those subjects from the perspective of the music we write. Because the music is rather dark the lyrics tend to be too, and since our lyrics also tend to get quite personal it’s very easy for us to just let loose as far as vocals go. We always favor emotion over technique.
We couldn’t honestly tell you where we got these ideas, it just seemed like it was the right choice given our preferences and states of mind. Again, we just write about what is important to us, and while we may question why those things are important to us we never intentionally seek out a certain subject. Instead, we let the subjects come to us so to speak. Sweden is a very ominous kind of country, with deep forests and fairly few hours of sunlight, so it is very probable that we draw inspiration from our environment. We do get inspiration from nature as we’ve already stated, but also from society. Particularly the way that we in certain societies treat the world and ourselves.
Exactly. I know what you mean. So, let’s name it :) Borlange – tell me about the place.
It’s a small town in the middle of Sweden. It’s semi-famous for the Peace and Love festival that is usually held here in the summer, but recently went bankrupt. It’s a perfect town to write music in since there is nothing else to do. There isn’t much of a hardcore scene here, there are maybe 5-6 bands who play hardcore from here and the neighboring town of Falun where a couple of our band mates are from.
Borlänge is said to have a rich music life, and while it’s true that there are a lot of bands and artists around here, it’s gotten to the point where it’s become saturated and rather counter-productive. There are so many bands that people really don’t seem to care that much about any of them anymore, there are few people here who actually go to shows and such. It’s a shame because there are some genuinely good bands from around here.
Gimme some names :)
As far as hardcore-ish music go, our guitarist Jesper plays bass in a sludge/post-metal band called PHANT, who recently released their first demo. They’re really cool and worth checking out. We also have a great grindy band called LIVET SOM INSATS from around here.
Moving away from the hardcore spectrum, there’s a progressive metal band called LETTERS FROM THE COLONY who are very good and really nice guys. Then there’s a stoner band called DOZER who have actually managed to become pretty big, and deservingly so.
Did you go to shows and play your own gigs locally when you were younger? Tell me about the origins of your musical endeavors and how you got into metal and hardcore.
Well, the answer to this question would change somewhat extensively depending on which member of the band you’d ask. We got into heavier music mostly in the way that many others do, through friends and family and such. When it comes to earlier bands it’s kind of diverse actually, because we encompass quite a large range of experience so to say. We’ve got some members such as our bassist Jonas who has been in tons of different bands over the years, and we’ve got some like our vocalist Glenn who hadn’t really played in any band at all before this one. Most of us have had previous bands with which we played locally, but we’ve grown very tired of our local scene for the reasons we’ve stated. We’ve only played in Borlänge once with TOTEM SKIN and we don’t really have any plans to play much around here in the future. Not that we’re totally against it but we won’t go out of our way to do it either.
Cool. What touring plans do you guys have for the coming months?
We’re going on a short euro-tour with our friends in TENGIL between the 18th and 23rd of November, visiting Denmark, Germany and Belgium as well as playing a show or two in Sweden. More info about that can be found on our facebook-page. After that we don’t have any concrete plans but we’d love to get out on the road more.
Alright, let’s go back to the line-up revolution you mentioned before. Was “These Ghosts Are Haunting Our Halls” recorded as a three-piece?
Parts of it were written as a three-piece, but by the time we got to recording it we had become a five-piece. We were missing a permanent bassist, so we had a couple of friends stand-in during gigs. We actually got together with Jonas right as that EP was released, so we had a full band just in time for us to start writing the full length.
How that big line-up change effect the band so far?
It has definitely made the band feel more steady to us. Just knowing that we don’t have to try to chase down people to stand in during gigs is very comforting. We know that we can trust each other, basically.
Of course it has also affected our music, as we previously said. We get more input while writing music and the “band feeling” as opposed to the “studio feeling” that we had as a three-piece makes everything around our music feel more personal to us.
How do you compose your songs? How do you share your duties within the band?
Now that we are a full band, it usually starts with someone in the band writing a riff or otherwise laying the groundworks to a song.
This can be pretty much anyone in the band, as Chris, Jesper, Sebastian and Jonas have all written the foundation to at least one song.
Chris is the one who does this the most though. We then work on it together in our rehearsal space, putting it together and trading ideas about where to take the song.
When we feel like we have a somewhat complete song musically, we record it crudely to take it home and write lyrics to it.
Most of the time either Glenn or Henrik write the lyrics, but Chris has written some as well. We decide who writes lyrics to what songs depending on different circumstances, like what sort of vibe we get from the song and what our personal lives are like at the moment.
When it comes to the non-musical aspects of the band, like tour planning and handling social media, we all take part in it to the extent we feel that we can. We try to divide everything as equally as possible so that one person doesn’t have to carry the whole burden.
Are you all, more or less, into the same genres and styles of heavy music?
Sort of, but not really. There are several bands and genres that most of us enjoy, but there’s always one person who doesn’t quite much.
Maybe because we are six people in the band the odds of finding similar taste are slimmer than with bands that consist of three or four people.
I think the main thing we have in common is that we enjoy loud music.
What do you think about modern day black metal? Its modern post hardcore / post metal hybrids are known for its unique, hypnotic sound. Do you feel a part of the new movement including bands like NAILS, THIS GIFT IS A CURSE, OATHBREAKER, DEAFHEAVEN, etc.?
Not really, even though some of us like those bands.
But there is no movement were we come from. We are just some friends that like creating music together.
We really try to avoid putting labels on our music since we want to focus more on creating an atmosphere or a specific feeling when we make these songs.
If people want to describe is in different ways or consider us a part of a musical movement, that’s fine. But we’ll continue to calling ourselves a hardcore band.
TOTEM SKIN sounds folkloristic. Tell me about the origins of the band’s name.
Wow. Sure it is!
Are they one of your biggest influences?
More or less, yeah. Again, there are few (if any) bands that all of us like, but PAGENINETYNINE is one that most of us enjoy very much. They were definitely an inspiration to those of us who started this band.
Ok guys. Thanks a lot for this brief introduction to the band and congratulations on the new album!
Let’s keep in touch! Cheers!