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ALASTOR's Hampus Sandell: "When you’re playing a show, listening to a record, writing a song, or rehearsing in the studio, nothing else exists. It's only you in that moment and everything makes sense.”

Interview with ALASTOR from Hampus Sandell
by Gary Hernandez at 17 September 2021, 5:03 AM

ALASTOR is a Psychedelic Doom Metal outfit hailing from Sweden. They formed in 2016 and have two EPs and two full-length albums to their credit. Their latest album, “Onwards and Downwards,” was released on May 28, 2021 on RidingEasy Records. Gary Hernandez, writer for Metal Temple, caught up with Hampus Sandell (Guitarist) to discuss the evolution of the band, what Metal has meant for him, and the impact of COVID on the metal scene.

So let's start from the beginning. Take us back to 2016 when you guys first started. What was your vision for the band back then?

I joined in ALASTOR in 2016. I was in a band previously, but we didn't get anywhere. We had some different ideas of what we wanted in a band at the time—I wanted to play live but our drummer didn’t. We were like kind of in between and decided not to do it anymore. Then suddenly, I was without a band. That was when I contacted Robin (Arnryd). I had bought an amplifier from him some years before, so I knew what kind of music he was into. Just by chance, I contacted him and asked if he knew any bands that needed a guitarist. It turned out that he played in a band with three people—him and two others. He asked if I wanted to try out, so I did and that's basically how we formed.

Did you guys always know you wanted to do Doom as opposed to any other types of metal?

Yeah, we did. Me and Robin talked about it. We we're both into early 70’s bands like BLUE CHEER and SIR LORD BALTIMORE.

A lot of people categorize you as Cult Doom, so I have to ask: Do you have an interest in the occult or is it more of an aesthetic that you're going after?

For me, I've always been interested in the darker aspects of arts and films, so it springs from that. It's more of an interest. We don't go around sacrificing children and stuff like that. Sorry to disappoint anyone! And that's something that we all share in the band, especially the love for the old Hammer horror movies. I love that feel and the aesthetics, so I wanted to incorporate that in our music.

If I listen to your early EPs and then I listen to your latest album, there's a lot of evolution musically and lyrically. How do you think the band has evolved over the years?

I think one of the most important aspects is that, sure, we listen to Doom, all of us, but we listen to a lot of other music as well. I have played in Hardcore Punk bands, and I listen to a lot of Black and Death metal, but I also listen to a lot of Swedish pop music. And that's how it is with everyone in the band. We have never tried to limit ourselves to have to sound or play traditional Doom. Like on the latest album, we have faster songs, for example. I think that's an important aspect in how we have evolved.

Do have any plans of rerecording any tracks from your early EPs?

Not with the first EP, but we have been discussing maybe rerecording "Blood on Satan's Claw" and putting it out on vinyl. But we’ll see what will happen in the future. One of the things is on our first EP, "Black Magic," two of the songs were already written when I joined—“Enemy” and "Nothing to Fear." The track "Black Magic" is the first song we wrote together after I joined.

You did a cover of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVIAL's "Bad Mood Rising" back then as well. Any plans on doing more covers?

We’ve talked about it. We played some covers when we played with ELECTRIC WIZARD, like “Walking on My Grave” by DEAD MOON. I like doing covers. They're fun and challenging. When we did with the CREEDENCE cover, it started as a joke. I said, "Have you listened to the lyrics? It's kind of dark when you think about it. Maybe we should do a cover." And we tried it. So, yeah, we’ll see, but there is no plan of recording another cover at the moment . . . but who knows, maybe.

In 2018 you released "Slave to the Grave," which got a lot of acclaim. How did it feel going into studio after that album? Was there any pressure?

The thing I was most worried about was how the new record was going to be accepted by our audience, especially people who had heard and gotten into us when listening to "Slave to the Grave." This new record is a single LP compared to the double LP. Shorter songs, faster songs. I think we all realized this was something new, but it was also a natural progression. So, for me, there was nothing worrying there. It was more like whether people were going to like this record as much.

The lyrical content of "Onwards and Downwards" seems very introspective and has some serious commentary and deep implications. Where did the inspiration for these songs come from?

I'm not the one who writes the lyrics, so I'm not the best one to answer this question. But the world around us has inspired us pretty much. It comes from a personal place. And I think also some lyrics on "Slave to the Grave," like "Gone," deal with a lot of personal issues.

There seem to be more keyboards on the latest album, including the Hammond organ. You brought in Christopher Carlson from THE DAHMERS.

Yeah, they’re from the same city as us.

What led to the decision to play up the keyboards?

Experimenting. We have always had keyboards. There's even some on "Black Magic," if I'm not mistaken. We definitely had it on "Claw of Satan." It's always something that we have added. Both me and Robin always hear maybe some organs when we write music. So, it's always been a part. And now it was really cool and fun to have Christopher Carlson be part of it. We are all big fans of THE DAHMERS, so it was nice to have him there also with his input and the solo he did on the track, "Lost and Never Found" in the outro. It was a really good mix with my guitar and his playing.

How was it playing with a new drummer, Jim Nordström, coming in?

With new members it always feels a little scary in the beginning. But it's just been going great. Our other guitarist (Johan Björmander) was the one who brought him. He knew him from before in some other bands. But Jim had never played Doom before. He played in some Indie Pop bands and hardcore Crust kind of Death Metal punkish bands. He grew up on bands like NIRVANA and stuff like that. And I think that brought a whole new sound and feel to the music than with our previous drummer, because Jim has not been steeped in Stoner or Doom. Also, I think Jim is more of a straightforward drummer in some ways, which, personally, I think it's very fitting with our song progression.

What do you think the next step is for the band? Any other styles or techniques that you want to experiment with?

Well, it's too early to say, really. I would like to try maybe incorporating more alternate singing. Maybe a song with both me and Robin singing, for example. "Death Cult" was the first song that I sang on a recording. I think it turn out pretty good. So maybe experimenting more with that. We just have to see. I try to not think ahead that far, because then you just limit yourself.

How was it recording during Covid? Were you able to physically go in the studio together, or did you have to record tracks separately?

Thankfully we could be in a studio at the same time with the necessary precautions. The main thing was before we started, we discussed whether we should we record “Onwards and Downwards” now because we wanted to be able to tour with this record. Should we wait until this is over? Do we know when or if it's ever going be over? So, we were in that spot before going into the studio. But then we decided that we don’t want to wait, even if we might not be able to tour with the record. It's better to just record it before it gets old to us, before we get tired of the songs. I think a song is always evolving over time, so maybe if we would have waited one or two years the result would have been completely different.

The album seems like it was really fit for these times. Even the album cover. Who did the cover art, by the way?

His name is Christopher Friedman. His Instagram is called houseoffriedman. Actually, it was our label that found the cover art. We got a bunch of alternatives, but this was the first one that really got me. I decided right away, "That's the one." I think I already had an image in my head once we got into the studio and this one was just perfect right away. A lucky coincidence, really.

When I grew up, everything was on vinyl. You would just sit down and stare at that cover, back and front and just listen to the music. And this is an album cover that kind of allows you to do that. It really pulls you in.

Same for me. Album covers have always been a huge part of my upbringing. I grew up listening to a lot of IRON MAIDEN when I started to really get into music. I could stare at those record covers for hours. I remember when I was in elementary school, I would spend my recess sitting and trying to redraw the album covers, getting it just right. So, it's very important for me that the album covers go well with the music.

That's pretty intense, staring at IRON MAIDEN covers with Eddie coming out at you!

Yeah. I'm a little disappointed at the album covers now when it's just like a black background and Eddie right up front. I miss all the background stuff, like "Somewhere in Time," finding all those little hidden details.

You mentioned that you listen to other types of music. What are some of your musical influences?

Everyone listens to music from when they are very small. It's natural in humans to listen to music, but I think the first time I realized that music was something more for me was when I discovered IRON MAIDEN. That's the band that's been with me for the longest. It's a really hard question. I've been thinking about this a lot in my life. I've noticed that I like melody a lot. Melody is very important to me. It doesn't really matter if it's Swedish Pop or Heavy Metal. I remember when I was very small, there was this Swedish duo called NORDMAN. I don't think many people outside of Sweden have heard about them. They were big in the 90s, and they mixed pop music with the Swedish folk melody, like folk music. I think that's stuck with me in some way. I know Jim, our drummer, said one time when we were in the rehearsal sitting around talking that he thought he could hear a lot of folk music in the riffs I write. Who knows? Maybe he's right.

I've talked to a lot of musicians who have said that playing music has helped them to deal with the world. And I've heard a lot of metal fans talk about how listening to metal helps them deal with the world. How important has metal been for you?

Music has been a life saver. It has always been there in there for me. Something to listen to when the world around you doesn't make sense, maybe. There's so much going on in this world that we can't comprehend, but when you’re playing a show, listening to a record, writing a song, or rehearsing in the studio, nothing else exists. It's only you in that moment and everything makes sense, especially when playing a show. Like for maybe forty-five minutes or an hour, you don't have to think about going to a job you don't like or the fact that people are dying or about paying bills. It's an escape and a comfort. It gives you something that you can be in control of and the world around you pretty much has to go along with it.

When do you know it's time to go back into the studio?

I think it's like an ongoing thing, like you're always one or two steps ahead, always thinking about the next move or what you are going to do next. You just feel it somehow when the time is right. We have already started to experiment with new songs.

Have you been able to play any live shows recently? Are things starting to open again in Sweden?

Some venues have already had some shows, but we have not been able to play anything yet. It's still very new. People are talking about the Delta variant and even with the vaccination, people are already starting to talk about boosters.

If you had a crystal ball, what do it would say about the metal scene post-COVID?

I hope that one of the many positive things about this is that people will realize just how important the music industry is. I think we have taken it for granted. For example, there have been a lot of venues here in Sweden that have closed because they couldn’t make ends meet. We live in a pretty small town, and we don't have so many venues. Overall, though I think people's mentality can sometimes be kind of lazy, like: "Oh, there's a show in town. Should I go? Maybe I should just go to the one next month." Maybe that will be different now.

You mentioned you are already thinking about going back into the studio, any gigs coming up?

We have we are working on a delayed release show around November, but it has not been settled yet. It's too early to say. I would not be surprised if we get new restrictions, especially now when people are getting back from vacations and are able to travel a little more. I think I'm a little pessimistic in my nature, but I would not be surprised if it closes down again, so it feels more logical to focus on writing new songs at the moment instead of working on getting shows.

Any plans on doing more videos or maybe a livestream?

We were discussing it, but I don't know. I've seen a few livestream shows. For me it hasn't been the same. It hasn't satisfied my urge to be in a crowd, just sitting in my chair on a Friday watching a livestream. I've seen some great livestreams during the pandemic. There was a band from Gothenburg called HORISONT. They are like a more 70's rock band, like BOSTON. They did a great live stream in 2020 with SPIDERS. It was fun to watch, but it just wasn't the same. And it's so much work that you have to put in to be able to do it well, because I've seen some livestreams that have not being so great. It just feels more natural to focus on writing music for now. And, of course, when we are able to, we would love to be back on the road.

Awesome! Thank you for your time today, Hampus. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Listen to MAIDEN, a lot, that's important! \[laughing] And thank you to everyone who has supported us, we hope you enjoy the new album. And thank you to Metal Temple for reaching out to us.


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Edited 28 March 2023

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