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Keiser's Mikael Torseth: "Any time I encounter some light/medium obstacle in life and feel down in any way, I try to imagine what people have gone through in different wars…"

Interview with Mikael Torseth from Keiser
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 31 October 2020, 1:21 AM

Trying to find positivity in an ocean of bleakness and negativity, now that is quite the challenge to even accept to begin with. However, some argue that the measure of conflict, or war that can be stated, actually brings out something that can be rendered as positive, like peace, or at least temporary peace that can last long. Mankind proved that its existence is an actual task on its own, to have society sustain itself without crumbling. The Norwegian Keiser's new album, " Our Wretched Demise", creates a universe for the listener to understand where positivity is, and it is quite interesting. Steinmetal talked to Mikael Torseth of the band about the new album, the concept within it and the band's musical influences and export that contributed to the album's diversity.  

Hello Mikael, it is a pleasure of mine to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing mate?

Hi! Pleasure to speak to you as well. I’m doing fine. I’m keeping myself busy with Keiser, my other two bands and work. Other than that I’m trying to be reasonably social, enjoying some beers with my friends now and then.

If there is a place that I haven’t heard from in regards to the ongoing pandemic is your home country, Norway. How are things looking when it comes to the reaction to this supposed 2nd wave of this spreading virus?

That’s a good thing, I guess. We have dealt with it pretty sensibly compared to a lot of countries, but you can tell that people are tired of social distancing, hand sanitizers and other measures. We have had an increase in Covid-19 cases recently, but nothing major.

The effect of the pandemic on the culture has been massive, similar to other types of industries, do you see the venues, clubs etc. coming back from this? Is there going to be major financial help from the authorities?

Yeah, I think it’s been hard on everyone in the culture sector. There have been some government handouts here in Norway, meaning that most clubs and venues manage to scrape by. It’s far from sustainable, though. Of course you get the feeling that culture isn’t prioritised as much as other sectors, but that’s nothing new or unique for Norway.

Thanks to your label and PR, I got to know Keiser and your doings, in particular your new album, “Our Wretched Demise”. On its own it is practically the next stage of Keiser musically and as a factor in your career. Let’s begin with the signing to the Dutch Non Serviam Records. What are your expectations from this important step? What were you looking for when you signed with the label for the release of “Our Wretched Demise”?

That’s a good example of what we were hoping to achieve! Most of all we wanted to bring our music to a lot more people that we managed previously on our own. We did all the promotion on our own when we released our first album. It was a lot of work, and not too much to show for it. This time it’s a whole other thing. There’s a lot more interest. We couldn’t be happier with Non Serviam Records.

To interpret such a strong title as “Our Wretched Demise” may bestow a discussion that could last for ages. However, I would still like to ask you how do you find it? Where do you see humanity go in regards to this statement of a title?

It’s certainly a bleak statement if read without any context, and you could spend quite a few hours interpreting it. By no means do we believe that a wretched demise is imminent, but you could interpret it as a warning. There’s so much going on in the world that is not sustainable, so something at least needs to change.

In your opinion, if you could make an analogy with what is going on nowadays with the pandemic, where do you find the relevance of “Our Wretched Demise” as a concept?

There’s certainly a link there, although the album was written and even recorded before any of us had heard about some virus emerging in China. The pandemic puts the title in a new light, although I don’t think Covid-19 will be our wretched demise.

Since the record is mainly focusing on war from various angles, do you believe that mankind was solely born for conflicts and struggles, isn’t there a shred of hope that the younger generation of the digital age might be up to peacekeeping?

It could seem that way, but there’s absolutely hope. I work as a teacher in primary school and I honestly believe we are in good hands. The coming generation seem to care more about fairness, environmental issues and human rights than our generation does.

Which of the points of view in regards to this immense conception of war do you find most interesting, a kind that would you like to further explore and understand better?

We actually find the technical and strategic part interesting, but we find it hard to write good songs about. Besides, that’s kind of Sabaton’s thing! For me personally I find the human side of it the most intriguing to write songs about. Any time I encounter some light/medium obstacle in life and feel down in any way, I try to imagine what people have gone through in different wars. Losing your loved ones, trying to stay alive in a battlefield, knowing that you could basically lose everything.

Onwards we sail into the musical borders of “Our Wretched Demise”, and it is highly apparent to be quite varied, crossing between classic Metal to old school, yet melodic, form of Black Metal, which your country has been greatly known for, to modernity. That is quite a step no doubt. How do you find this progression by the band while working on the record?

We try to show our influences on our sleeves. We are inspired by all the music we listen to. When we wrote "The Succubus", the band consisted of only me and Geir (drums). "Our Wretched Demise" is the first album we’ve done as a complete four-piece, which makes it more varied too. We always try to grow as songwriters and we always have the whole album in mind when writing songs.

Other than the fusion of what could be rendered as 1st wave Black Metal, al’a Mercyful Fate, along with old school and a few contemporary elements, what do you think that “Our Wretched Demise” brings to the table, especially since Black Metal has been going on through changes over the years?

What I love about black metal is that there’s essentially a “basic sound”, but none of the classic black metal bands sound the same. Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Enslaved and Immortal all sounded massively different, but they all sounded 100% black metal in the early days. We are basically trying to do our own take on the genre. For example, we listen to a lot of classic heavy metal as well, and Mercyful Fate is one of the bands I’m personally influenced by.

Talking about the modern edges of the record, merely Post Metal features, what were the influences that engulfed you while the songwriting process was done?

I don’t think anyone in the band listens to a lot of post metal, but I agree that there are some post metal sounding parts. I think it stems from the fact that we are trying to make the music varied. Sometimes exploring different sounds and atmospheres is a way to do that. The middle section in "Scourge of the Wicked" is a good example of that.

How do you find the contribution of the melodic features on the record? Would you say the melodic element would become even stronger in the band going forward?

I’m not sure to be honest. I think there’s been a strong melodic element right from the beginning, but the improvement in production has made it easier to pick it up. As for our music in the future I would say that it could grow into something more dynamic, but it’s hard to tell yet. We have only recently started writing material for our third album.

With Keiser going progressive in its own special way, what were the band’s main challenges in the songwriting process that made you go through brainstorming to find something that is near perfection in your view?

The biggest challenge is writing songs that work together. We don’t want two songs to sound too similar to another. As for going progressive, a lot of our songs are composed by me trying to fuse together different riffs and ideas, whilst trying to make it coherent. That’s something that results in time changes and sometimes even tempo changes. The title track is a good example of this.

 “Cannon Of War”, my album’s favorite, took me cross decades between the early 80s and the early 90s, serving me a platter of 1st and 2nd wave vibes of Black Metal, simply nostalgic. How do you find this rather special tune?

Glad you like it! It stands out as the simplest and straight forward song on the album. There are only four different parts/riffs, so it’s all about building the atmosphere. Geir and Jon spent a lot of time producing the intro and outro effects, with the battlefield sounds.

One of the album’s most intense tracks is “When Fire Rides The Nightsky”, a superb melodic tune that also inhibits a great classic Metal riffery and soloing, alongside a few features that made it quite special in comparison to the genre’s tracks. What can you tell regarding this song’s creation process? How does it impact the magnitude of the record overall?

"When Fire Rides the Nightsky" started with the guitar melody from 3:30, which I wrote on my acoustic guitar. From there on I sort of wrote it from the end to the beginning. The first two minutes is the last piece I wrote for it. It was a strange process, but it has become one of my personal favourites. It has few repeating parts and nothing akin to a chorus, making it one of the more progressive songs on the album. It also goes through a lot of different emotions, with the ending being quite melancholic.

Covid-19, while being a wretched piece on its own accord, provided a change for bands to have a substitute for live performances in the image of live streams. What is your opinion about this phenomenon? Is it important to keep in touch with the fans in any way possible or better be patient and wait for an actual live performance?

I think live streams are great. I remember the early days of live streams, with bad resolution, thin and horrible sounding soundboard audio, bad connection etc. I’ve seen a few since March, and most of them have been amazing. I think it’s a great way to keep in touch with fans.

As for ourselves, we are lucky to be able to play a few gigs this winter. The audience will be sitting down and socially distancing, but I also think it will be a hungry audience. And who says you can’t headbang and raise your fists whilst sitting down?

Mikael, I am glad that we had this talk, it is great to know Keiser and its rich music. Thank you for this well-made sophomore. All the best.

I very much enjoyed this talk. Thanks for the kind words. Take care!



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Edited 30 September 2022

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