„We lost our way and inspiration a bit”

Steffe Karlsson and Ulf Pettersson told us everything about Mezzrow’s career – Part II

When did you start working on your debut album?

Steffe Karlsson: As you all know, we put all the demo songs on the record and we had to write some new stuff, too. We wrote three songs in a short time: Then Came the Killing, Distant Death and Where Death Begins. We went in the studio in the summer of ’89.

The majority of the album contains demo material, did you simply re-record the songs or did you somewhat change them?

Ulf Pettersson: We re-recorded the songs from the demos and added the new songs. We didn´t change that much in the older ones. I remember changing the chorus on The Final Holocaust a bit, Zebba wrote that riff, but that´s about it.

S. K.: And maybe Staffe changed the guitar solos a bit. There wasn’t time to write a whole album with new songs, because the label wanted us in the studio pretty much right away after we signed.

How did the recording sessions go? Did you have a decent budget to record the album?

S. K.: They went really good I think. We were well prepared after rehearsing for four hours six days a week before the recording. Pretty much first takes on all the record. The worst was for Uffe, who had to do all the vocals in one or two days and you can hear that a bit on the record, too. He sounds stronger on some tunes than others, haha.

U. P.: When I analyze the recording sessions, I think we really missed a decent producer. We recorded the album in the same way as we recorded the demos, which was a mistake. I remember doing vocals on six songs during my first day of recording, which should have been one or maybe two. But the budget for the recording was tight and the mixing in Stockholm was very expensive, so the time in the recording studio was cut a bit short. The mixing took place in a big studio in Stockholm (Stockholm Recording Studios) during one week, and this was a great experience for us. Mats Lindfors (R.I.P.) mixed the album and Marcel Jacob (R.I.P.) was also there during those sessions. The sound on the album never reached our expectations though. We got a first tape right after the mixing and that sounded great, but when the testpressing arrived, it didn´t sound like that tape at all. Mats Lindfors then analyzed the sound at Polar Studios and re-mastered it. Despite this, it didn´t turn out as we wanted. But I guess for the wider audience it was ok.

Do you agree that Then Came The Killing is an honest album with huge potential?

U. P.: Absolutely! It was very honest and it came straight from our thrash-hearts. Unfortunately, we recieved a reputation about sounding unoriginal and too close to the Bay Area-bands.

S. K.: Yeah, it was the music that we wanted to play at that time, but we also felt that the songs were pretty old. At least some of them. The album was scheduled to come out in the autumn of ’89, but was delayed until the spring of ’90.

Your influences are quite obvious, the material is very close to Testament. How do you explain this?

S. K.: We were all into Bay Area Thrash, so we wanted to sound like those guys over there, despite the fact that we were from Sweden. Bay Area Thrash was pretty much all we listened to, so that came sort of naturally.

U. P.: When we started out back in late 1987, the influences came from the Bay Area. We never let go of that and when the second wave arrived with bands like Legacy (Testament), Forbidden, Mercenary and Vio-lence, it just confirmed that this was our type of sound.

Would you give us any description about the album?

S. K.: Description…hmm. It sounds pretty decent and we acomplished to get that Bay Area sound we were after.

U. P.: Well, I suppose you could call it a Bay Area Thrash-sounding album!

In your opinion, is it pretty decent for the genre at least remaining measurably heavy and powerful?

S. K.: It’s an ok album I think. It’s not as good as the guys over there but hey we gave it our best, haha.

U. P.: Yes, of course. But as I said earlier, the production on the album didn´t meet our own expectations. If we´d worked with producers within our genre like Alex Perialas, John Cuniberti or Flemming Rasmussen, things would have turned out much better.

The production is heavy with an emphasis on guitars and strong, powerful vocals, correct?

U. P.: Yes, all is according to the Thrash Metal-cookbook!

S. K.: Hm, we weren’t so happy with the final product to be fair. I mean we compared it with Testament’s Practice What You Preach in the studio and ours sounded so much heavier and more powerful. It’s another thing to listen to it in a regular stereo. I think the drums are pretty flat, specially the bass drums. I told Mats to get them up, but he refused to do that but hey that’s me as a drummer, haha.

What do you think about that by 1990, Thrash Metal was out, and anybody playing Thrash Metal was either too late on the scene or looked like they were without enthusiasm?

S. K.: That was pretty sad. I mean there were a lot of great bands out there, who didn’t even get a contract with a label. Such as Sindrome and so on. But hey it’s back now right? Stronger than ever and that’s cool.

U. P.: It was a bit like that. But we didn´t see the Death Metal-wave coming that strong. Focus back then was more on the Norwegian Black Metal movement, than on Swedish Death Metal. The bigger Thrash bands were still very much alive, but then came Black album, which made most well-known Bay Area bands slow down a bit musically. By then Metallica (of course), Exodus and Testament were signed to major labels and headed in a more commercial direction. (Black album, Force of Habit and Practice What You Preach). You could say that Thrash Metal lost its way and Death Metal took over.

Did you manage to play any shows in support of the album?

S. K.: Yeah, we did a number of shows here in Sweden with Kazjurol and Hexenhaus. Mostly in the north of Sweden in the winter and it was cold as hell I remember, but it was a good time though.

U. P.: We played with Candlemass at Arenan (Stockholm) in mid-1990. It was a really cool show and Candlemass also recorded their live DVD the same night. We also did a festival with Pestilence and Morbid Angel. But mainly we had to book our own shows, which really sucked. We got some help from a guy called Peter Ahlqvist to put together the Active Thrashes Scandinavia Tour in the autumn of 1990 with Hexenhaus and Kazjurol. We only played on weekends though.

In 1991 you released a demo; how did it sound like compared to Then Came the Killing?

S. K.: It was more technical because every one was better at their instruments. Staffe really developed and was a pretty great guitar player in my opinion. He and Zebba came up with some really good riffs. I had also stepped up a bit and practiced a lot to better follow the music. On the record, the drum playing is pretty lame, haha. It´s a shame we couldn’t do a follow up to Then Came the Killing. I think that record could have been awesome.

U. P.: One of our best songs ever, Echoes of Damnation, was recorded during those sessions. Unfortunately the sound is terrible and we used a studio that was far from being as good as Studio Svängrummet. We had grown a lot musically and the song structures were much more complex, even though we kept true to our roots. It sounded like a mix between Testament, Forbidden and Vio-lence.

Ulf Pettersson in 2011

Was it a better, more mature representation of the band?

S. K.: For sure it was. It was faster and more aggressive. The songs were put together in a different way. Everything was better in my opinion. Like I mentioned before, it would have been nice to put those songs on an album with some more songs in that direction.

U. P.: Absolutely!

When and why did the band split up? Did you remain in touch with each other after the break, or everybody went on their own ways?

S. K.: We split up in ’93-’94 after we had sent that last demo around trying to get a new deal with no luck. On that last demo Uffe played bass also because Conny left and joined Hexenhaus. Shortly after that Staffe left to form a kind of Grunge band so we recruited Peter Rosén from another Thrash act here in Nyköping called Mortality. They were the rest of Uffe’s former band mates in Witch Hammer. We hanged in there for a while and did a couple of shows with Peter but then we lost the spirit to go on.

U. P.: We lost our way and inspiration a bit after we were dropped by Active. We recorded the Echoes of Damnation demo after that and we were quite close to signing with Noise Records, but in the end they felt that our genre wasn´t right at the time. Staffe quit the band in 1992 with former R.I.P-guitarist Peter Rosén filling the gap. We did a couple of new songs where As Fear Unfolds stands out as really good. (We should have recorded that one!) We did two live appearances with the new line-up, but then I got an offer to join Rosicrucian and joined them. I recorded one album with those guys and that felt really good at the time. In late 1995 we formed Tingod and recorded two demos. It was Staffe on guitar, myself on bass, Conny on vocals and Steffe on drums. We sounded like a mix between Metallica (Black album), Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Quite catchy actually!

What reasons did lead to your reformation in late 2005?

U. P.: We got an offer from a local promoter to do a reunion show. It was to celebrate 10-year anniversary of the company which owned the building where we´ve always had our rehearsal studio. There were a lot of bands on the bill that night, from different genres, and we were headlining.

You reunited for a special show; was it easy getting involved everybody again?

S. K.: Yeah, it was no problem at all. Everybody was up for it, so we did a couple of rehearsals and then did the gig. It was great to be on stage with the boys again.

Steffe Karlsson nowadays

Did you join your forces only for this special event, or was there perhaps writing newer songs or recording a new full length in mind?

S. K.: No, it was a one-time thing of but Zebba e-mailed Sweden Rock Festival to see if there was an interest of us playing there and there was. Unfortunately Uffe had other duties that summer, so it didn’t happen, I am sorry to say.

U. P.: We joined forces for this special event. Nothing else was planned, but as I said earlier, it felt really good doing the show. Staffe, Conny and myself then wrote a new song 5-6 years ago, based on material that Staffe had written. We recorded this at Conny´s studio and when Staffe passed away, me and Conny decided to finish the song. It´s still not ready, but I hope it will be ready during this year. It´s called Dark Spirit Rising.

The show was filmed and released as part of a double DVD, titled Then Came The Video and it was made available only from the band. Can you tell us more about it?

U. P.: It was Conny´s idea and he´s really skilled when it comes to producing, mixing and fixing this kind of projects. It´s a compilation of different shows/videos from the past, combined with pictures and other interesting stuff. I know Conny sold copies through his homepage during a short time, but from the beginning it was for the members in the band.

S. K.: Conny collected all the photos the others had and made a huge collection of photos and some live shows to put on the DVD. Shows from Fagersta, Sandviken, Stockholm and some more. Turned out pretty cool.

Two years ago unfortunately Staffe Karlsson passed away. What caused his death? How do you want to him to be remembered?

S. K.: Yeah, that came as a shock to all of us. Me and him had a cover band called Horns Up and we played 80’s metal just for fun. He then complained over a stomach ache and he went to the doctor and at first they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. They run lots of tests and scanning and saw that he had cancer. Unfortunately it had spread to the liver because they thought he had had it for six years. He was gone in three months and we still miss him a lot. I want people to remember him as a very talented guitar player and a very nice, cool and funny guy, a man who was a lot of fun to hang with. Always with a smile and some funny stories to tell. We miss you bro.

U. P.: He was at my place, in good shape, when I turned 50 and three months later I went to his funeral. I still can´t believe it and the whole thing feels unreal. He was a really wise and nice guy with fantastic abilities to write good riffs. A true King of Riffs!

Guys, thank you for your answers! What are your closing words for our readers?

S. K.: Thanks for keeping Mezzrow alive. We never thought it could be in such a cult status and sorry we didn’t do that second album. Would have been killer.

U. P.: Stay true to your roots and thrash hard!

Mezzrow in 2013
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