Adam Zaars (Tribulation) interviewed

I’m trying to put a finger on The Formulas of Death, but I can’t. Was the intention to make an album that’s hard to fit into one easy category?Adam Zaars: No, that wasn’t the intention, but I’m not surprised to hear the question. The intention was just to create flowing music. It would have been hard not to do it in the way we did it, we just let it happen. We didn’t have an agenda to stir the pot or anything, although it seems now that we did.

My initial impression is that it’s a bit of a time-span record. There are bits from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s throughout the soundscape. What was it like writing music for The Formulas of Death? Adam Zaars: We take inspiration for the atmosphere and the song and riff structures from anywhere, so I’m not surprised to hear that either. I know I just said that it was easy to write the album, but it also took time. We always waited for the music to come to us rather than trying to force things out. Trying to make sense of everything was at times a bit confusing, but in the end I think we managed to do just that, I think the music is very coherent.

I mean, I notice all kinds of things happening on the record. Like “Spectres” could be a descendent of Unanimated, but then you throw in the black metal reggae part at 2:36. “Rånda” has that old Opeth bounce. “Spell” has that old Bathory peel to it. Are purposefully referencing the music that you like? Adam Zaars: No, we are not and we always get compared to bands that we don’t listen to (except from Bathory in this case). I still don’t get that reggae thing either. I think that’s a narrow-minded comparison, or maybe I’m just so far removed from that genre that I just don’t hear it. I hear we have disco beats in the album as well. I mean, come on, are people so imbedded in their own cultural pattern that they can’t even take a beat for what it is? It’s a beat! It’s got nothing to do with any style of music, it’s just a beat. Listen again, and forget what you have heard before. I know that can be hard, but I really think those beats on our album are just there for the right reasons and we certainly didn’t put them there to be outlandish or anything, you know.

What role do the instrumentals play? Each one is vastly different from the other. Adam Zaars: The whole album could have been instrumental really. Instrumental music has that 'free' way that I was just mentioning, it can just flow freely and that’s an inspiring thing to me. "Laylah" and "Ultra Silvam" were originally intended to be one song, but it turned out that we needed to make two! I don’t know why really, we don’t really analyze it while we do it, we just go with what feels like the right way.

I’m curious where the inspiration to “Ultra Silvam” came from. I know it’s an old term for Transylvania, but the song’s not creepy or dark. It’s more of a groove, shake your money maker-kind of thing. Adam Zaars: It’s a beautiful area with a lot of history and myth that relates to the band to a certain extent. That said the title is a metaphor rather than a hymn to a piece of land. And I have to say that to me that song is very dark. I think it has got a lot of what I would call Swedish darkness in it. I always start humming on other old Swedish songs when I have listened to it, songs that are dark and somber yet beautiful to me. It’s all in the eye (ear) of the beholder I guess, and this time it might be my cultural background that getting me to that conclusion, although I have a feeling that it isn’t.

Back in 2009, you told me Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness was tops. Do you have movie soundtracks or scores that you feel are exemplary and, as such, part of Tribulation’s fabric? Adam Zaars: It still is! In particular the (Herzog’s) Nosferatu and Suspiria scores.

Was it important to keep things aggressive? For all the experimentation and curveballs, The Formulas of Death is still very much a death metal record. Our music is emotional to us and it carries a range of emotions to us, and aggression is a strong emotion hence it’s not surprising to me that it’s still in there. Again, we really just did it without too much analyzing, we didn’t go, "We should really have an aggressive one as well." Because of the time it took to get the right feel of everything I’m not surprised to hear that people have so many different thoughts about it and feel so many things about it. It’s varied, I guess.

What is death metal in your eyes? Adam Zaars: If I could name one album that is death metal to me I would say Covenant. But that’s not all there is to it, of course. I never really listened that much to death metal, except for the albums and bands that really stood out, and they were always so good, like Morbid Angel. When death metal isn’t creative it might be the dullest genre there is. I have more patience with old heavy metal bands than I do with death metal bands, because it seems like it’s very hard to make anything at all that’s the least interesting. To me that is. I don’t really care to be honest. Good music is good music, bad music is bad music. It’s obvious isn’t it? I don’t get why you have to be loyal to a certain something that someone once upon a time made up. We weren’t there; there is no nostalgia in it for us. Genres seem like a good thing for journalists, something that makes their job a bit easier, and for people that make documentaries about music and for people that have to fit in to a, again, certain something that someone made up.

Lyrically, where are you taking the reader? There are all kinds curious things. The intro title, “Vagina Dentata,” for example. The Hebrew titled, “Night.” Or, the Lovecraftian “Wanderer In The Outer Darkness.” Adam Zaars: The lyrics are personal and purposefully dark, obviously. They are metaphors and they are literal. I don’t want to get into too much detail since I find it nice to hear that people really make up their own minds about what they are about and that doesn’t really matter to me since I know what they mean to me. "Vagina Dentata" doesn’t mean what most people think about when hearing the title, it’s about a passage way and an opening, an initiation. That’s mostly what the rest of the album is about as well. It’s about spiritual death and rebirth and about becoming. The Hebrew title paints a picture for people that don’t know Hebrew, it’s a beautiful set of letters isn’t it? For the people who do know their Hebrew it might have even more depth and suggestions.

Would you say the lyrics are tied into your spiritual outlook? Adam Zaars: Yes, they are. They are a part of it, the music is as well. I would say that it’s the output of a spiritual life. They don’t fully reveal it, that’s for sure, but I find spirituality and creativity very much intertwined. I can almost go as far as saying that I couldn’t be creative and stand for what has been done if it wasn’t. Art is spiritual for me, and to us what we do is art.

Describe your spiritual outlook. It’s not like it’s obvious as Glen Benton’s burned-in forehead cross. Adam Zaars: What is he? An inverted non-spiritual Christian? I don’t know the guy. It’s quite difficult to make sense of my views in a short space like this because I can never say a thing like “I’m a Satanist and I follow these rules,” or “I’m a Shaivite and my heart strives for union with the blabla” mainly because I find it hard to put a name to it as easy as that. I mean, except for the superficial namedropping and attitudes towards life there isn’t that much difference between the goals of a Western Satanist and a Hindu ascetic. It’s a quest for the ending of the life-cycle and either a union with something you put a name to or a dissolution from whatever it is you put a name to. Some may argue, of course, but I look at it from a wider angle. At the same time I’m not saying that certain names are not important, they certainly are, but I think it’s the intent and the belief and the will and maybe even the history behind it that is very important. My spiritual outlook isn’t tied to any religion, but I do find what could be called Indian philosophy appealing, maybe because of its vast variety, but it’s also based in Western as well as “new world” thoughts and ideas. I think pretty much all religions could be useful as long as you know how to approach them and as long as you see all the external bullshit, I also think that many religions can be useful if you fully embrace them. Paradoxes are always a part of spirituality, I guess. In a western environment I have always found the “left hand side” of things more attractive and I would probably be called superstitious. It derives from both faith and experience with an emphasis on the latter.

Where’d the cover idea come from? Kind of reminds me of a dark post-punk album cover. Like something The Chameleons might’ve done after Script of the Bridge. Adam Zaars: Funny thing, I just heard The Chameleons last week actually, maybe a bit too "nice" for me. The cover was drawn by Jonathan, the guitar player, and the original image he made it from is from an old fin de siècle magazine. I find it perfect for the album really, we couldn’t have used anything else. I like how it has this uncertainty to it that I think the album has as well. It’s folkloristic in a way that is in accordance with the album. It has got that dark old fear of the unknown that still lingers in man, it’s also very sensual and it has a divine quality to it as well. Not that farfetched, I guess.

It was done at Necromorbus Studios, correct? It’s probably the best recording to come out of the studio. I feels vintage but not detrimentally so. Adam Zaars: We needed the freedom of having a lot of time and we needed to do it in an environment that was nothing like a big city where we could make the studio into our own. We did the drums in Necromorbus (Tore also did the mixing and mastering), then we relocated to our home town in the western parts of Sweden to do the rest with Jonas Wikstrand. We had two rooms and pretty much rearranged them completely into what felt comfortable for us. It was an inspiring time, I never really wanted to leave the studio. It was great working with both guys really, and I am really pleased with what they both contributed.

As for current happenings, what did drummer Jakob Ljungberg bring to the table? I like his switch between hard rock pounder and progressive rock creativeness. Adam Zaars: It’s great playing with him, he’s a great addition in a lot of ways. We’ve know each other since we were kids and we have always played together, so to have him in the band is great. He adds his kind of drumming which isn’t the typical death metal way of drumming and that’s exactly what we needed.

Alright, final question. Plans for 2013? Domination or sit quietly back and let the music do the talking? Adam Zaars: We have plans. Hopefully we can make them happen!

** Tribulation's new album, The Formulas of Death, is out on Anja Offensive. It's available HERE, and if you're smart you'll check it out. It might be the hippest "death metal" record ever recorded. No, seriously.

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