“Eager are those still in blossom / Not those whose faces bliss once adorned / Whose eyes saw a plague cast its shadow / and in time were broken and left forlorn.” —ROBERT ANDERSSON, “Reduced to an Ember” (The Eternal Resonance, 2020)
SWEVEN'S DEBUT, The Eternal Resonance (Ván Records), was released on 19 March 2020, just as everything around us went to shit. So throughout last year, the above passage from “Reduced to an Ember” took on an almost prophetic meaning, and really cut deep for anyone who spent time hiding within The Eternal Resonance’s many layers of progressive/psychedelic death metal, neoclassical and neofolk.
For Robert Andersson, the multi-instrumentalist mastermind behind Sweven, personal and artistic strife had begun a number of years prior to 2020’s deluge of global misery.
“It has been over five years of enormous struggle and slow progress,” he confirms, wearily. “From a personal perspective, everything has been ridden with so much negativity and frustration, and it’s a bit hard to break free from that. Finishing the album was a victory in itself.”
Andersson rose to consciousness with his previous band Morbus Chron. The Swedish death metal act started as a throwback to their legendary home scene, nailing the nasty guitar tones, asphyxiating atmospherics and signature riffs and rhythms carved bloody by Carnage, Entombed, Dismember and their U.S. equivalents at the dawn of the ‘90s. But with 2014’s Sweven, the young band emerged as a singular force. Prog rock, death metal, math rock, black metal and psychedelia—all coexisted in harmonious balance on an enthralling album of vast scope and supreme execution.
“Sweven was a big milestone for the band, [and] for me personally,” Andersson admits. “I found a way of expressing myself through music that at the time was completely new to me. It’s always impossible to predict people’s reactions, but I think we were expecting a much harsher response [to that album]. A good response is fun, but at the end of the day it’s a bonus that I try not to think too much about.”
Morbus Chron, 2014 (Photo By Joakim Andersson)
Sweven is rightly regarded as a modern DM classic because of its wildly adventurous, boundary stretching compositions. But Morbus Chron, however, would not last long enough to capitalise on the critical acclaim: they split in 2015, much to the shock and disappointment of those who saw boundless promise in the band. Andersson confirms that the split was down to a difference of creative opinions with guitarist Edvin Aftonfalk, the other core member of the ‘Chron.
“I wouldn’t call it shock,” he says of the call to disband, “but naturally you’re a bit bewildered in the immediate aftermath. It was a big decision after all.”
In the years that followed the break-up, Aftonfalk (who is the half-brother of Entombed legend Nicke Andersson) went on to form Tøronto, a punk/thrash/hardcore band with galloping NWOBHM overtones, while Andersson pressed on in a more complex and forward-thinking direction with Sweven, the natural musical extension of the MC swansong of the same name—right down to the raw vocals that still scream bloody gore.
Usually for Andersson, he enters the writing process with a wealth of new material under his wing. However, after Sweven, the talented composer found himself drained of inspiration—“an emptying experience”, as he puts it. He took some deep breaths, dealt with personal struggles and, over time, riffs and passages of compositions started to come together.
Andersson then brought in two players from Swedish death metal upstarts Speglas—lead guitarist Isak Koskinen Rosemarin and drummer Jesper Nyrelius—to assist with the songwriting.
“Isak played live guitar with Morbus Chron at the end, and Jesper I’ve known for a long time as well,” he explains. “Unlike me, they’re actually well-rounded instrumentalists, and I’ve been able to put that to good use. Isak came up with some finer details here and there, and of course contributed with the solos. Jesper had a lot of freedom when interpreting the material on the drums. They both shaped the sound of this record in their own way. Before them, I usually recorded a demo where I played all the instruments myself. This time I worked a lot with Jesper from the start, letting him get a feel for things himself. So that’s been a new experience.”
“From a personal perspective, everything has been ridden with so much negativity and frustration, and it’s a bit hard to break free from that. Finishing the album was a victory in itself.”
As essential as the contributions by the Speglas boys are to the album as a whole, Andersson’s guitar playing is simply a joy to behold. He has a very expressive, open playing style that’s melodic, classical, and yet still within the dark, knotted confines of death metal. Whether it’s his way of displaying Swedish humbleness or just obliviousness to his unique abilities, Andersson calls himself a “pretty lousy guitar player by normal standards”, a description we wholeheartedly disagree with.
He adds, “I might be somewhat capable at what I do, but put me in an unfamiliar situation and you’ll be surprised by just how much one can abuse an instrument. I was self-taught from the beginning and what I’ve picked up doesn’t always translate too well outside of my own sphere. I think I have a better ear, though, and always gravitated towards music that challenged me in some way. So I’ve been able to probably grow more as a musician than as an instrumentalist, if that makes sense. It’s very hard for me to perform this stuff consistently. Eventually I could benefit from some actual training.”
Despite fresh creative blood and a wealth of excellent material, Andersson claims that the last writing sessions for The Eternal Resonance up to the mastering of the album were “a nightmare”.
“I don’t want to go into the specifics, but let's just say that the list of fun and uplifting anecdotes is short,” he notes. “I wish I could see it in a more positive light, but it was a bad time, and it stretched over such a long period. I’m proud that I didn’t throw in the towel at some point. There were a few close calls!”
Thankfully for the listener, the efforts made by Sweven were eventually fully realised and released to the virus-splattered world.
As alluded to at the outset, the lyrics throughout The Eternal Resonance are as poignant as the music is—a rare feat for death metal. In saying that, though, Morbus Chron’s thematic direction was also pretty highbrow for the subgenre; Sweven had an overarching theme based on our insignificance in a universal context. Sweven’s first full-length does not have a uniform concept, but an insight into the artist’s mindset is found through an exploration of the often profound lyrics.
“It’s a harder nut to crack,” says Andersson when asked about his lyrical stance on The Eternal Resonance. “But if there’s a theme to be found, it’s that the lyrics often talk about locations and circumstances that were of importance when conceiving the music, and in many cases, also the emotional response I get when listening back to it. It’s a bit meta. [Laughs]”
The Eternal Resonance is completed by artwork from Raul Gonzalez, who worked with Morbus Chron in the past and therefore has an artistic understanding with Andersson. The colourful painting of a human form setting off a ripple effect speaks of the grandiosity of the cosmos and our place in it.
“Inside the album layout there’s a poem about a moment of creation and diving into a state of flow,” explains Andersson in mindful fashion. “Becoming one with your task as everything else fades into the background. Resonating with something larger for a moment. It ties into this ‘meta’ concept. I wanted the cover art to be some sort of metaphorical representation of a flow state.”
Flow state, the act of being totally in the zone mentally, is conveyed through The Eternal Resonance by the way the songs unfurl in instinctual long-form patterns. The results of which create a brief moment of needed escapism for any listener willing to disappear within the otherworldly space offered here.
With another incredibly significant record in the canon of this young, highly imaginative artist, the only question that remains is whether or not we will hear more Sweven music in a post-pandemic world?
“Yes, absolutely!” Andersson says, reassuringly. “I love writing this kind of music. I don’t know exactly how things will sound in the future, but I plan on treading this weird path as long as my heart is in it.”