Greeting Immortality, Eucharist's Markus Johnsson & Daniel Erlandsson Talk Life Eternal

Photo by Patrik Johnsson

Photo by Patrik Johnsson

To a small number of people, Eucharist are legends. They were, in effect, part of the new wave of Swedish death metal, where outright brutality was replaced by cleverly designed aggression and insane heaviness was supplanted by unheard of musicality. That Eucharist, for a spell, shared rehearsal space with early incarnations of At the Gates and Dissection should speak volumes. And it does. When the group issued its second demo, Demo 1, in 1992, traders, with an ear for the good and the different, went nuts, trying to learn more about Eucharist's style. When the Greeting Immortality 7" hit the same year on Obscure Plasma (predecessor to Avantgarde Music), it was clear, on the west coast of Sweden, something new was happening, a new witch's brew. Despite several starts and stops (essentially break-ups), the Swedes, lead by frontman Markus Johnsson, released two pivotal full-lengths, 1993's A Velvet Creation, and 1997's Mirrorworlds. By 1997, however, Eucharist were merely shadows in what would be the Gothenburg Sound. The very groups breaking out of Sweden onto the world stage--Dissection, At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames--had become more than just studio bands. They were professional touring acts, engaged in industry cycles. Nevertheless, Eucharist's influence on death metal remained strong. From the time they officially quit (for a fourth time) to today, the Swedes imprinted musicality on death metal. That they've reformed (after a one-off reunion show in April 2016) and are working on a new album should kindle new, as-yet-seen flames in death metal's storied edifice. Decibel chats with Johnsson and drummer Daniel Erlandsson (also in Arch Enemy) about what it's like to greet immortality again.

I’ve always wondered why Eucharist, as a band, failed to stay alive. I remember Wez at WAR said the band relationship was one of love and hate, and that was likely the reason why Eucharist didn’t survive.
Markus Johnsson: Well, me and Thomas Einarsson [guitars] couldn’t get along at all back in the '90s. During the demo and Velvet album time. He was too damn decisive and stubborn in a negative way. But we were only young teens, back then--fourteen and fifteen, respectively, when the demo was recorded and about a year older when A Velvet Creation was recorded. Okay, so we split up after the demo, but then me and Daniel picked up the pieces and started again and somehow Thomas got back in and Velvet was recorded and then we split up again. Then, I met Daniel years later on New Year’s Eve 1996/1997, and the two of us decided to work alone and so we asked Wrong Again Records about another deal and got it, so we made Mirrorworlds, but then I personally was wasted on drugs and alcohol on a constant basis so it is a small miracle that the material for Mirrorworlds made it out of my head. But, of course, Daniel was also inputting riffs by then, but it was a rough time and then we had two small mini-tours October '97 and March '98 and after coming home from the last it all just fell apart. I couldn’t hold my stuff together anymore and Daniel chose to join Arch Enemy permanently. He had recorded Black Earth with them earlier, but I think it was a studio thing but when Eucharist crashed he probably wanted a somewhat more stable platform, I suppose, so we put Eucharist to rest, although we were still mates. So, Eucharist was of a turbulent nature, one could say and it probably wasn’t meant it was supposed to go on, I suppose. After this I never thought I’d do anymore music. Many years did pass from 1997 until 2015!

What importance, if any do you place on Eucharist’s contribution to the evolution of death metal? Eucharist added musicality, in a classical sense to the genre.
Markus Johnsson: I rarely got any musical influences from other bands, but rather from nature and from my mental states. So, it was never about trying to copy existing bands to melt into an existing genre. But we made music that was interesting to us personally and that we enjoyed playing and I can’t tell you whether we were actually aware of that the music we created was different from the kind we all listened to. Classic composers had an effect on me, though, and that was why I started to experiment with harmonies, you know two guitars playing different tunes to create harmonic chords, kind of, but only with two tones. That is pretty much what we did, but at the same time as we stood in our rehearsal room, so did At the Gates and Dissection. And us three bands used to share rehearsal tapes with each other and we learned that we were all experimenting with harmonies and Dissection used a lot of loose chords. But instead of copying each other we all had such an energy and drive within the bands that the creators never influenced each other that much. I’d like to say, Jon Nödtveidt was a genius and so was Alf Svensson in At the Gates, but at the same time we were all creating a new kind of genre without having it as an intention, you know. I’m sure that if Eucharist had continued to live on and were a bit more productive back then, we would probably have made a greater impact than we did. We kind of fell behind. The others continued and it really did change the metal scene and not to brag but we were doing the same thing. We all did it our way, but it probably did develop the scene towards a new and richer darkness than the classic horror-themed lyrics with dark, skull-crushing heavy riffs. This was a subtler way of presenting our tunes and by our time the lyrics became very important as well and then the music was trying to back up the feeling that was in the lyrics, you know, and this wasn’t really heard before so in a way I guess we did contribute in a small way with some stuff that went against the natural way that this underground genre developed through evolution.
Daniel Erlandsson: I have a feeling that we didn’t stick around long enough to really affect the scene in any profound way. Surely, there were people who connected to our music more than others, but I think as a whole, we split up before really establishing the band.  

What did the reunion show tell you about Eucharist?
Markus Johnsson: Wow! It told us how loyal metal fans could be because we had been dead and buried for 18 years. Still the interest was massive. People traveled far, not only from distant places in Sweden, but from many different continents like Australia, North America, Europe and Asia. There were people from more than 10 different countries: Russia, Japan, Croatia, Germany, Holland, etc. and we had followed this event on Facebook from the start and during the six month period that it was planned, we got to see a lot of response from people all over the world that wanted to come but couldn’t because of the distance and cost, of course, but also others who did come and that we got to met at the gig. That was awesome to meet up with fans from way back and actually meet them and talk to some of them. So the reunion show told us that even if Eucharist has been lying down, the fans had still kept us alive during the entire time. That was really cool! So I guess we learned that what we did back then was so appreciated that people actually cared about it today so many years after. That was amazing.
Daniel Erlandsson: Taking my expectations into account, a lot of people showed up--more than I could have hoped for. This proved, amazingly enough, we are still remembered by our fans. It was really humbling to hear stories of fans traveling from all over the place to come and see us.  Since we hadn’t played together for some 18 years, we spent weeks rehearsing daily to be able to play the songs with the right touch. So, there was a build up and anticipation unlike any other show. And the show itself was just great! We never played shows like that in the past.

Did the response to the reunion show open your eyes and ears to new Eucharist material? After all, it’s been many years since Mirrorworlds.
Markus Johnsson: Actually, we had been discussing the topic of writing new material, me and Daniel, and that was what we wanted to do. We had to wait to after the reunion gig to see whether we still were appreciated and if we managed to get through the gig. With a quite a few mishaps, mostly of my behalf, we got through the concert and people seemed to be more than happy about the result and we haven’t heard anything negative about it since, rather the opposite. Now we knew we were going to work on new material and we said, kind of, let’s see what we will come up with just to see if we still had that creative spirit within us. By now we actually have several new songs and have had the time to rehearse some of it too. It felt just fine. This time we know what we want to do.
Daniel Erlandsson: To be honest, I had been thinking about a return of Eucharist of some sort for a while. I had been working on demos that didn’t fit in with any bands I am in, and I started realizing that the music I was working on sounded more like Eucharist than anything else. But that idea was still taking shape when we got the invitation to do this reunion show. The history of the band involves quite a few split ups, so there’s always been a feeling somewhere that we could do more, like we haven’t yet written our finest material. But obviously, that remains to be seen now that we are working on new music!

Is the new material singularly your own or do you have co-writers/bandmembers?
Markus Johnsson: All new material is written by myself and Daniel Erlandsson. He plays the guitar very well, so he is able to really contribute in a great way. We could actually sit down and play together, check out new harmonies and riffs that needs two guitars and play through it like two guitarists would which I see as a golden asset. I still do most of the riffs though but Daniel is extremely dedicated to the project at the moment and is producing great stuff for us. Can’t wait to hear him blast his ass off in those new songs.

How would you describe the new material in light of what fans already know from A Velvet Creation and Mirrorworlds?
Markus Johnsson: Firstly, we are 25 years older than we were during the Velvet era and 18 years older since Mirrorworlds. I have gotten off the drugs and alcohol by now and we both lead stable lives. That is having a great effect on the creation process of this new album. We are, of course, interested in the production of the new album, the final sound we will come up with, you know, after having two so different productions as Velvet, which sucks, and Mirrorworlds, where we wanted to have a more '80s heavy metal sound, so we kind of got what we wanted there but it will be different this time! We are taking a narrower path than before and we are exploring new areas within our own psyches and inner darkness so as to produce music that is truly as we want it to be. I hate to put labels to music, so I won’t do that. It will be harder and heavier yet at the same time hopefully a feeling of soaring, floating in the music. It will be interesting, that is for sure. At least for us. It feels very good so far. I can’t really tell you anything more because it is very hard to describe our music but it will be metal, hopefully with quality attached to it, too. [Laughs]
Daniel Erlandsson: If you take a listen to those two albums, you’ll soon find that they are diametrically different in some ways--but similar in other ways. That just happens naturally, as every album is like a photograph of that particular time. But Markus has a pretty specific and individual touch when writing riffs! I think fans will get that same impression now. The new material will probably stand out as different at first, but at a closer glance you’ll see or hear the thread connecting to our past. As vague as that sound, I can reassure you and say that its still metal--and its still gonna be heavy as fuck!

I’m sure you’ve had label interest. A lot has changed since Mirrorworlds. Do you plant to sign to a label or issue the new album yourself?
Markus Johnsson: We are planning to sign a deal for our new material. With whom and when is yet to be decided. We are negotiating at the time with some labels that interest us, but we need to record a few demos ongs to be able to present our new music and sound, of course, and that will take a few months before that is done. The songs have to be structured and lyrics for them are needed. Not all lyrics are written yet.

Can fans expect merchandise too? Logo t-shirts, for example, available directly from you?
Markus Johnsson: I do not dare to promise you a new batch of merchandise in the future since it is not planned for yet but we will almost certainly offer merch. At the moment, you can buy t-shirts and hoodies from our Facebook page that are leftovers from the reunion gig. Actually we start selling it today so hurry up if you are interested! Click HERE to order.

After the new album comes out, what’s next? Any plans to play festivals, write a new album, make Eucharist a name again? I know step by step.
Markus Johnsson: Hopefully we will create another album, but let’s see where we land with this one to begin with. Concerning playing gigs and at festivals we will unfortunately have a hard time due to Daniel's schedule with Arch Enemy, who plays on every main event plus their long tours too so don’t expect to see us on a regular basis but surely we will play live again, we just don’t know when and where yet. As for making Eucharist a name again is up to the old and new fans! We will do our best having a great time creating what we consider to be good music and if you like it—support us—and you will help us out making a name again!
Daniel Erlandsson: It’s really a step by step process, and it starts with creating new songs that we feel are strong enough to be presented to the world, or at least to those who want to listen. It can be like a chain reaction, where we have such a good time writing/recording a new album that we want to do it again. But that process can’t be forced, so let’s see what the future brings. Playing shows is a different subject though! We are not dead, so don’t be surprised if there are shows announced in the future.

** Eucharist are currently writing new material for the follow-up to Mirrorworlds. Follow them on Facebook (HERE) and, if they have merch left, order a shirt or two.

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