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Armory's Gustav Sundin: "I like to paint up different scenarios of the near or far future, that might or might not come true depending on the choices that we make and on what trajectory we set the course of humankind"

Interview with Gustav Sundin from Armory
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 15 June 2022, 10:35 PM

Looking up to the starts in the skies, one might indulge the thought that maybe, in a several years, perhaps a little more, our place would be up there, travelling between stars, or even inhabiting other planets. A lot of Sci-Fi based itself on the notion that mankind would eventually find the way some way or another, and from how our planet is progressing, or degrading, it might be proper to take action rapidly. The Swedish Heavy Metal band, Armory, always had their mindset on the far future, as Sci-Fi fans. Coming out with their new album, “Mercurion”, their debut concept is born. Steinmetal had a good talk with Gustav Sundin of the band, and he had a lot to share about the experience.

Hello Gustav, it is great to have you for this interview with Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Greetings from afar! It’s great that our new album has finally been unleashed and that we have gotten amazingly good feedback from the fans so far. Actually the album is in the top 20 most sold vinyl records in Denmark right now, which is just absurd when you think about it!

It is good to know that no matter what happens on Earth, the cosmic spirituality of Armory would be safe out there in space, somewhere, and safe. After nearly two and a half intense years of a worldwide pandemic, can you say that Armory was affected in any way?

We have always tried our best to not get affected by Earthly matters such as politics or fashion trends. By taking a stance for or against some cause or group of people, you just alienate the other side and that goes against what I feel Heavy Metal should be about. Of course some events, such as the pandemic, are a force majeure of such a magnitude that it is impossible to stay unaffected by. But luckily, we only had to cancel a bunch of live gigs and that was it. Other than that, we have continued rehearsing and writing songs like we always have.

Let’s talk about you in person, as a songwriter and musician, did these last couple of years have an effect on your mentality, your motivation to write and create? If there was, how did you confront it and mitigated its influence?

Oh yes, most definitely. At the outbreak of the pandemic, my first reaction was shock and disbelief. I was looking forward to the best concert summer ever, where Maiden, Priest, Mercyful Fate and many others would go on tour. And then all of a sudden we were supposed to just cancel everything for the sake of some flu? That would never have happened unless social media existed to amplify everything out of any sane proportions. In any case, after some months I realized that this new way of living (nothing to do on the weekends, much less time spent commuting etc) left me – and everybody else – with a lot of spare time than usual. And for me, the natural outlet for any surplus of energy and time has always been through creativity. Things just went snowballing from there on, so during the pandemic I have recorded three albums with three different bands, expanded the business with my record label dramatically, and also made a digital solo role playing game together with Oscar Carlquist from RAM that we are really proud of. There’s just no way I could have gotten so much done without the pandemic!

Eventually, as it seems, Armory held its grounds, maintained its ship in orbit and continued to work on its next adventure. However, it wasn’t a regular adventure but rather a storyline. First things first, let’s talk about the timing. How did you know that it was the right time to start working on a concept? Was it a sort of feeling that you gained enough experience, perhaps matured enough to take on this step?

We have always talked about making a concept album at some point, the idea was there already from the early days of the band. But we didn’t want to rush it and we felt that we needed way more experience before taking on such a project. Only after releasing our second album (The Search) we felt confident enough to embark upon the concept album journey.

Another reason is that we also wanted to take a step up compared to the first two albums, and a concept album was the natural way to take our work to the next level. I’m very proud of the result and I’m glad we didn’t try it before, as it was probably twice as demanding as compared to writing a “normal” album.

Your next step led to the new concept album titled “Mercurion”, which in your story is a starship, voyaging space. What is so special about this spaceship that inspired you to write a story about it?

The whole story grew organically in my mind from 2018 to 2020. At first the space ship in the story was just a nameless vessel, but after I had read up upon Roman/Greece mythology, I realized that the god Mercurius would be the perfect patron for an interstellar ship. Mercurius was the winged messenger of the gods, god of travellers, as well as the god of boundaries between different worlds.

As the story revolves around a message from the stars, and of mankind’s journey to discover the message’s origin and seek contact with the inhabitants of that world, it almost fitted too well. Our ship Mercurion is a messenger of sorts, sent out by mankind as a whole, as well as a traveller about to cross beyond the boundaries of our world into the unknown that lies out there. To invoke Mercurius for protection just felt right.

If there is something that makes Sci-Fi so challenging for the mind, it is that in a lot of cases it shares not just a story, but also symbolism, analogies to real life. Would you say that “Mercurion” holds secret messages or any sort of criticism towards our ordinary lives of the present?

For sure the lyrics are full of deeper layers of meaning and symbolism. I always strive for making my lyrics easily accessible upon first listen while also giving food for thought when actually trying to decipher what they mean. It’s a tricky balancing act! The name Mercurion is a good example of the multi-layer approach that I’m after – a name that sounds really cool but also has a deeper meaning behind it. Of course I’m influenced by the environment and circumstances which I live in, but in general I try not to criticize anything in the real world too much. Instead I like to paint up different scenarios of the near or far future, that might or might not come true depending on the choices that we make and on what trajectory we set the course of humankind. Whether those scenarios are utopic or dystopic in their nature, I’ll leave to the listener to decide. However, in my own view my lyrics tend to lean more to the dystopian side – that theme simply works better together with heavy metal music which is quite dark and foreboding in nature.

In light of the story of “Mercurion”, I wonder where your system of beliefs is in the storyline? Does the story of the album reflect upon what you believe in?

I wouldn’t really write something into the lyrics that I strongly disagree with, or rather: it’s all angled from my point of view. That’s unavoidable. But I would never go as far as pushing my opinion on somebody else. Every individual has to think for themselves! Like I said previously, everything is open for debate and individual interpretation. I know for instance that our singer Pete has his own interpretations of many of my lyrics, which differs quite much from what I intended when I wrote them. So what’s right or wrong? The intention I had as a lyricist, or the message that Pete conveys when he sings the lyrics? Or how the listeners interpret the song? Can’t say, there’s no right or wrong. Everybody can choose their own interpretation.

Looking upon the amazing artwork, made by Anders Muammar, it is hard to deny that there is an 80s look to it, even though, and I have no idea why, I had a thought of Issac Asimov’s books. What can you tell about this creation? Was the initial vision just a plain, wicked looking, starship?

Our story with Anders begins back at the release party for our second album. Anders missed the whole damn evening and didn’t turn up until five in the morning, while we were still hanging around the venue and drinking up the last of the beer. He brought with him this wicked star ship replica, well over a meter in length, that he had built for us! Best gift ever! The reason why he showed up so late was that he didn’t finish the space ship model in time and then the power went out in his studio, so when the power finally came back he sat up all night in order to finish it. When the time came to dream up some artwork for the new album, we simply told Anders to make a gatefold painting based on that space ship model. On top of that he contributed some amazing illustrations for the booklet as well. Anders is a big sci fi fan just like us, and he made sure to sit down with us to read through the whole story of the album and get to know our vision behind it. Probably the biggest inspiration for the visual side of the album was Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, but I’m certain Anders grew up with those Asimov books (just like I did) so he’s probably influenced by those covers as well.

The roughness of Armory is still evident, and present, on “Mercurion”, crossing between a blackened type of Speed Metal and highly melodic Traditional Metal of the Scandinavian influence. Nonetheless, there are also additional directions present, which made the difference for this conceptual release. What can you tell about these elements? Would you argue that those are the main game changers for Armory on this album?

It’s always nice to hear other people’s impressions of one’s own music. I’m too near-sighted myself to be able to analyse it properly. Of course we are influenced by everything we listen to, as well as the surroundings of where we live, the lives we live, the books we read and so on. But as much as I love Judas Priest or Agent Steel, we are not trying to imitate the masters – instead we are seeking what they sought. And to paraphrase Rob Halford; whatever you call it, in the end is all just Heavy Metal.

There is a mention of dramatic, and I might add haunting, features on “Mercurion”, which helped it to become a flowing storyline. What can you tell about the songwriting process and the integration of these elements in order for you to be able to accomplish this release?

We spent a lot of time on getting the flow of the album right as well as the integration between music and storyline. The lyrics and the songs themselves grew organically alongside each other. For some songs, we wrote the music first and then tried to find a suitable slot in the storyline where the song might fit depending on the mood and images that particular song evoked. Other times, we had some particular part of the story in mind that we then tried to put into music. This way of working turned out to be much more time-consuming compared to our old method of just writing a bunch of songs with no plan of how they should fit together on the actual album. But the benefit was that we knew right from the start exactly where on the album each song would end up. That meant that we could work a lot on the flow between each song as well as the overall dynamics of the whole album, which I believe benefitted the end result tremendously.

We mentioned earlier the pandemic, and you did need to record an album, needless to say to rehearse on the songs. Were there any hardships during these stages of the record?

None whatsoever during the rehearsal period. Sweden never had any total lockdowns so we could see each other and keep rehearsing as normal right throughout the whole pandemic. The very same week that we were supposed to enter the studio we actually had a positive Covid test within the band though. That led to some logistical challenges, but it turned out alright in the end.

Writing such an album as “Mercurion” I assume that it was no less than a challenge, what can you tell about what did this experience, working on this album, teach you about yourself as a musician and a songwriter?

Actually it is our other guitar player Niclas Ingelman that has written the majority of the music on the album. So what we have learnt is that he is one hell of a song-writer and that he just keeps on getting better all the time. The rest of us are decent song-writers as well, and of course we have made contributions here and there to all the songs, but this time around we simply had no chance of keeping up with Ingelman’s productive flow.

The sound of Armory on “Mercurion” sends massive barrages of nostalgia, as if I was back in the mid-80s, delivering the band’s strength, emphasizing the melodic notes and flamboyant solos, without being devoured in the mix. Magnus Lindberg and Nicklas Malmqvist did quite a service for you guys. Would you say that this is how you expected Armory to sound in 2022?

No, I wouldn’t really have expected Armory to ever sound this way if you had asked me four or five years ago! Back then I strongly believed that recording the whole album live was the only way to go, anything else would just kill the spirit of the music. I still believe that raw feeling and passion wins over perfection and skill every day of the week, but I think we found a really nice balance between the two extremes this time around. It’s easy to get lost in a maze of studio tricks and end up with a sterile and boring, over-polished album that lacks all personality though. To avoid that trap, we didn’t “cheat” by using studio tricks to achieve the level of perfection that we were after, what you hear is instead simply lots of practice and plenty of retakes.

One of the album’s strongest songs, and quite unique, is "Music from the Spheres", as if it serves as a channel towards the future, and it lets you imagine an alternate futuristic reality, cosmic, celestial event. No doubt one of the band’s creative songs. What can you tell about the creation of this particular song?

Musically it is completely Ingelman’s brainchild. What stands out most about it is probably the softer middle section, but some riffs during the fast parts are actually amongst the most challenging to play that we have ever written. Live it is even worse, as our drummer Ace likes to play his usual little trick on the rest of us and play some songs about twice as fast as they are supposed to be.

Lyrically it is the most philosophical song on the album and acts as the calm before the storm at the end of the album. The crew of Mercurion has just made their way through the Wormhole and believes that the worst now lies behind them and that they can safely return back home. On their way home they come to reflect upon what they have gone through and how those events could have turned out instead. Basically the song revolves around the question “is humankind ready for the stars?”. Naturally this question is intended to be reflected back upon the real world that we live in and is a continuation of the questions that were asked on the last album, The Search, which revolves around the idea that it might be better not knowing the answers to the big questions in life.

As usual, no clear answer is presented – that’s left to the listeners to think out for themselves.

Another exceptional track, turning roughness into a goldmine, and with a sense of melody that is intense and tight, is the hooking tune “Wormhole Escape”. What is your personal appreciation of this song? Would you say that it serves as an impact on the story, and the album's overall musical effort?

Wormhole Escape was the hardest song to write and it took a really long time to finish, probably a full year if I remember correctly. It’s also the song that I contributed the most to, so maybe that’s why I like it the least, ha ha! But I still agree that it adds a lot to the dynamics of the whole album, as it is a song with both slow and fast parts. Speaking of the tempo, we found out that by just playing it a little bit slower or faster, it turned into a completely different song. And since we recorded the album without any metronome, it was very tricky to get the tempo just right.

After you completed the album, did it feel to you that you needed a break in order to grasp what you just did and give your burning mind a little rest?

Oh yes! We always take some time off after every studio session or major gig. After rehearsing intensely during the weeks before the studio, and then all the pressure and clashes of willpower and long nights in the studio on top of that… The truth is that you’re totally fed up after an experience like that, we usually don’t want to see each other or even play our instruments for a while. And most of all, we get tired of hearing and playing the same songs over and over again! But then after a couple of weeks, the cravings for metal always kicks back in again and we get back together to start the next project.

Let’s look forward towards the remainder of 2022, what is planned for Armory in order to support the record? Where is the band headed in the Summer?
So far we have played our release show at a sold-out The Abyss here in Gothenburg, as well as the Metal Magic warmup show in Denmark. Next up we took on Muskelrock festival, a well-known power vortex that is sure to attract metallians from all around the galaxy. Other than that we have nothing planned until the autumn. We would love to come out and play more (Twisted Sister/Warriors movie reference intended), especially abroad, but it’s not easy and so far we haven’t got many offers. This year it’s even harder than usual, since all the festivals have their line-ups fully booked since even before the pandemic started. Hopefully we will start to attract more attention through the new album, but that remains to be seen.

Gustav, I wish to thank you for your time for this interview, and also for a well-made album. All the best to you and the boys, make the best of it out there

Thanks for the interesting and deep questions, keep your eyes to the skies and see you “out there” somewhere in time.



 



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