Never was a new Undergang album more welcome than ‘Aldrig I Livet’, the depraved Danes’ captivating fifth full-length regurgitation of malformed Death Metal delirium retched forth in the dying embers of a dumbfounding year of discontent, distress and dismay, when the world we took for granted was turned on its head and all changed, changed utterly. With truth becoming ever stranger than fiction, guitarist / vocalist David Torturdød provides some insight into the lyrical themes contained on the aforementioned new record and the macabre artwork he composed for its cover as well as discussing gigging during coronavirus restrictions, the pros and cons of lockdown and the essential nature of art in all its forms.
Death Metal could be interpreted as a visceral social commentary. Death is everywhere, always – often a consequence of heinous acts. There have been some particularly horrific crimes perpetuated throughout history and I stumble across new degeneracy on an almost daily basis. Murder everywhere. In homes, schools, workplaces, on the streets – nowhere is safe. The depravity to which humans are capable of descending knows no limits and reality seems to be way more sick and gory than anything fiction – or Death Metal – can conceive. I’m sure this homicidal madness is common in every nation all over the world. Do you come across much murderous debauchery taking place in Denmark? Who needs horror movies and books when it’s all going off in real life? Also, with real-life horrors thrust into your face every time you lift your smartphone or open your laptop, is it possible to become desensitised to this sort of stuff as it happens so regularly?
“Denmark is quite the safe place, so thankfully you don’t hear about too many murders and such, actually. The last one, besides whatever random drunken killings take place every now and then, would be the submarine murder that took place about three-and-a-half half years ago when the inventor / weirdo Peter Madsen agreed to an interview from journalist Kim Wall and took her out for the interview in his submarine, where he eventually murdered and dismembered her and scattered her body parts out in the sea. He did of course eventually get caught and is now in jail, but it was a bit of a wild story for Denmark at least. We even did a song about it, which is on the new album ‘Aldrig i livet’. The song is named after what our drummer Anders had seen used as a newspaper headline, ‘Man binder ikke et dødt menneske’, roughly translated into ‘You don’t tie up a person who’s already dead’, referring to the handling of the body of Kim Wall and the scenario that took place before and after her death. Horrible story and in no way something we want to glorify, it was just too crude and brutal to not use for a Death Metal song.
“I do think that you get a bit desensitised from the regular confrontation with human cruelties due to the internet and everything being only a click away or even just presented when using the internet or social media for various things. But I can still get uncomfortable with too much of it and it does leave me with a cold, empty feeling inside when I do. Last time I remember was when I was researching gruesome photos to make a flyer for a small tour we were doing with Pissgrave, and since all of their visuals are real life death, I wanted to try to make a collage based on that. After having spent a good three hours going through various real death photos and trying to choose and compile things, it became too much for me and I had to get away from the computer and, after a breather, decided to go for a scan of a Bernie Wrightson drawing from an old comic book I had instead, as it all got too uncomfortable, haha.”
Are there other incidents or outrages that inspired any of the songs on the cryptically-titled new Undergang LP, ‘Aldrig I Livet’ – or indeed any of your previous records? Do you tend to base your lyrics on real life or fantasy or a combination of both?
“With regards to the aforementioned song ‘Man binder ikke et dødt menneske’ and the Peter Madsen murder case, the lyrics were written by our bassist Martin. I don’t think we’ve had any songs about specific cases besides that since on our debut album, ‘Indhentet af døden’, from 2010, where the song ‘Englemagersken’ (roughly translated into ‘The Angel Maker’) is about a woman called Dagmar Overbye who in the early 1900s used to take in the children of young women, who couldn’t take care of their children themselves, in return for money, but would then kill the children instead of nurturing them.
“But as for newer songs off ‘Aldrig i livet’, they are more consisting of lyrical content written and built as various homemade gruesome horror stories about cannibalism, illnesses and other gory tales. It’s not uncommon that our songs are inspired by various real life atrocities or certain brutal parts of horror movies or comics. Everything surrounding us can be an influence for sure and the real world has lots of morbidity to offer.”While the world has always been an insane place and humans’ hunger for blood seems insatiable, with murder and mutilation a constant since time immemorial, the year 2020 seems more surreal than any before. A lot of people are at their wits’ end due to the measures that have been introduced on a global scale to counter the so-called novel coronavirus. How have you been faring in Copenhagen – have your human rights been infringed much by the government? Looking at the figures (not that they can be trusted), Denmark appears to be coping better than many other European countries, which are under tighter restrictions – why do you think this is?
“Being a bit ignorant as I am and living in my own little Death Metal bubble most of the time, I hadn’t even really noticed the glooming pandemic on the rise, until suddenly the night before our country first closed down back in March, 2020. I was sitting inking on some drippy Death Metal piece when my partner Simon, who I was doing a small two-day Death Metal show with in April, texted me and seemed a bit freaked out with what was going on in the news, but since I hadn’t heard or read about any of it, I was completely unaware and dismissed his worries as something that likely wouldn’t be a concern several weeks ahead of where we were at the time. My girlfriend then came down to me in the basement where I was working and asked if I was aware of the situation going on and that the country was about to close down because of an aggressively-spreading virus, which I wasn’t except for what Simon had just texted me about. So a bit out of the blue (to me) Denmark pretty much overnight closed down all public institutions and recommended all workplaces to have their employees work from home, etc. I was working at a school as a janitor at the time and we had an emergency meeting there as to what to do and how to deal with the situation from then, so it suddenly became very real and it was from very early on handled rather strictly from our government’s side, which I personally support and think was why we first off were a bit better off here in Denmark than many of the other European countries and so on.
“I remember only a week or two before that we had flown to Poland to play a show with Undergang and in the airport going home there was a quite the number of travellers wearing facemasks and us joking about how ridiculous that was, as unaware and stupid as we were to the pending issues to follow.
“The restrictions have since gone a bit up and down during the spring and early summer of 2020 and eventually in July it was made possible for live events to take place again, albeit under ever-changing restrictions. That meant that thanks to a working relationship I had with a few venues in town, I was able to set up some shows with our local bands, which was fun and well supported by attendees, even if it meant only a limited amount of people were allowed to attend, that they had to be seated and eventually wear facemasks too. That eventually was ended in December, just after we had our release party for ‘Aldrig i livet’ at the local venue, Pumpehuset, and since then until now the restrictions in the country are harsher than before due to an increasing number of hospitalized citizens across the country, but naturally with the highest number around the capital region where we live.
“I don’t think any human rights have been taken away from the citizens of our country and I honestly 100% support the many restrictions and care for the well-being of our nation and the more vulnerable citizens, as I have both family and friends that fit in that category too that I care about. I think that people who don’t respect the necessary restrictions presented and maybe forced on all of us in my country are selfish jerks who can’t see further than their own comfort. It’s a hard time for everyone right now and it’s not easy for businesses to stay afloat with constantly having to be closed down for the public, but in the end I believe it is for the greater good and for all of us to come out faster and better on the other side compared to if we just loosen up and let people do what they want, as that freedom seemed to lead to unparalleled childish idiocy, like for example what you see a lot of in America at the moment.
“It’s a weird time to be alive, but with patience and respect for each other we will get through this sooner than later. All I hope is that people can then be a part of that and put their own selfishness a bit aside for some more months to come, possibly even the rest of 2021, even if the year has only just started.”
There was at least a window where gigs (albeit not quite as we know them) were still possible there and you held an album launch show on December 4th – something most of the world could only dream of. How difficult was it to prepare properly for that concert with so much uncertainty in the air? Also, how frustrating is it to have international borders effectively closed, preventing you from booking any gigs on foreign soil to put flesh on ‘Aldrig I Livet’?
“It certainly has been a shame to see many of our plans, trips and tours cancelled, especially as we were trying to support and promote the release of ‘Aldrig i livet’, but in the end there’s nothing you can do and crying about it doesn’t make a difference, so we’ve just dealt with everything one week at the time and then had to deal with the ever-changing restrictions both nationally and internationally. In 2019, I started doing some Extremely Rotten Productions showcases (something in addition to my label and store of that name) around various venues in Copenhagen mainly, that I call Extremely Rotten Death Metal Vol.1-2-3-4-5-etc., with one or two exclusive international bands and some of the bands from our great local scene. In July, I got the option of doing a show at the outdoor stage at Pumpehuset and that was the first metal show after the first round of lockdown in Denmark, so it was well supported and attended, with people queuing up down the street for a couple of hours before the doors opened, so they could make sure they got entrance to the 200-capacity that was allowed there at the time. I had booked Undergang and our friends in Deiquisitor for that show and it was a fun and good time, even if it was a bit weird playing in front of a sitting audience for the first time. I was then offered a second date in early September and did a similar show at the outdoor stage at Pumpehuset for our local bands Taphos and Chaotian that night. Same conditions applied to that gig as had done in July. Later in September, I had a show at a library, that was originally booked for April, 2020 but was then moved ‘til later in the year, rather than a cancellation, and at that time the restrictions for live events and gatherings had changed to 50 people, so that was done with only 50 people allowed in attendance. At that point, travelling was still allowed, so my friend Jesus from our UK label Me Saco Un Ojo Records even flew over with his girlfriend to attend. A bit of a weird experience with a Death Metal show at a library in the suburbs to Copenhagen, but we were all hungry to take what could get at the time and were happy to accept the offer. I also got to do an ERDM show there earlier in the year. At that show we had Undergang, Chaotian and Ascendency playing and it was a fun night, too. Then in October, I had a fourth ERDM show, this time with performances from Strychnos and Taphos at the smaller venue Beta in the eastern part of Copenhagen where I live myself and at that show, due to the size and the restrictions at the time, we were only allowed 40 people in attendance, so that was naturally sold out in pre-sale too, haha. Likely the one time we constantly have been able to say that a row of death metal shows with only local bands were sold out! Then, at the end of November, I had worked out sending a package of our local bands to the western side of the country to play in the city of Aarhus at the venue Atlas and show a bit of what was going on in Copenhagen anno 2020 and we made a road trip with Undergang, Deiquisitor, Strychnos and Chaotian. There were supposed to have been a local band on the billing too, but they cancelled the week leading up to the show due to some member having caught the virus. At the time, restrictions were a bit more loose again, so the venue were allowed to have I think 150 people or so attending. Finally, December came around and on December 4th it was the official release date for ‘Aldrig i livet’ and I had the show set up to locally promote and celebrate that at Pumpehuset. That evening we had live shows from Septage, Dead Void and naturally Undergang. The venue had moved the shows inside after the summer period and had made a set-up a bit similar to a beer festival with long tables and benches up through the big hall. They then had individual chairs set up in front of the stage, for those in attendance who wished to be a bit closer to the stage. The room up there has a normal capacity of 600 people, but due to the restrictions we were only allowed to have 200 people attending and the show was sold out in advance too. A second date with the same line-up was scheduled for the 19th of December, so everyone interested in the release party and the three bands would get a second chance to be part of it. Sadly, only a few days after the first show on the 4th, the restrictions changed in the country as the number of people catching the virus increased in an aggressive way and live events and all sorts of gatherings of more than ten people were prohibited. At least we did get that one release party, which I am happy about.
“Currently Denmark is under the strictest curfew we’ve had during the pandemic and no more than five people are allowed to gather and all retail stores and shops, etc. are forced closed. We’ve just moved our store and stock to a new address more central in the city, so we’re busy getting everything sorted out for that and I’m currently replying to this interview while we have a plumber here fixing some issues with some pipes in the main storeroom. So at least I can isolate myself without many worries in my own little bubble in the Death Metal basement again for now.”
Driving around last night, listening to ‘Aldrig I Livet’’ on my car stereo, both the music seeping through the speakers and the landscape all around reminded me of a scene from a zombie apocalypse. It felt like the ideal music for this journey through empty streets in the midst of a pandemic. But I was struck by a supreme irony – the terrain was deserted not because a killer virus was wiping out the population but because everyone is under house arrest and essentially banned from leaving their homes by authorities that have over-reacted to an illness that’s patently nowhere near as bad as we first feared. It’s not the virus that’s going to transform us into zombies, it’s the restrictions…
“I both agree and disagree with that statement; to me it seems very much that the virus is something needed to be taken seriously, as we do not yet know what the long-term defects are to having caught it, and I personally know that my father-in-law is still having respiratory complications from having had the virus back around the summer – and he’s a man in good shape without any health complications. I hear and read about various other defects following other people’s interaction with the virus, too, so I think it’s wrong to not take the virus seriously. At the same time, I’m sure a lot of people are suffering on a different level. To be isolated from your surroundings and the lack of physical and emotional contact with other human beings is very hard for some people. I’ve heard of some people around the circle I interact with normally who have committed suicide, which they likely wouldn’t have done had they been able to get their fix of happiness to keep them going during the forced self isolation and various restrictions. Granted, those people were likely very unhappy to begin with, but they might not have felt forced into terminal escapism had it not been for what is going on with the world right now. So, no matter what, it’s not an easy situation for anyone and I don’t think we’re able to foresee the consequences of everything at the moment. Life goes on and we all had to make the best of it and make it out on the other side. But it’s already weird to imagine a world where you can freely travel to different countries and participate in festivals, etc. Again, even if it’s only less than a year ago since it was still a normal part of most people’s life.”
Governments are allegedly following the science and the science can do no better than ‘the best way to stop a virus from circulating is by stopping people from circulating’. Such measures are ludicrous, in my opinion. In order to apparently save some lives, everybody is effectively having their lives and livelihoods and self-esteem taken away indefinitely. Where do you stand on all of this? Do you believe we need to accept that the virus is there and take our chances rather than cowering at home like scared rabbits (many of us against our wills)? If we can smoke cancerous cigarettes, drink alcohol, skydive, play dangerous sports and drive cars, surely we have the right to move about as we want despite the presence of a bug that’s statistically no worse than ‘flu?
“Again, I’m no doctor or scientist, but from what I’ve seen the virus is likely carrying more with it than just a normal ‘flu, as it seems to still have various long-term consequences for some people. Being someone who has friends and family I deeply care about and love who are vulnerable to the virus on a life-threatening scale too, I think it’s the right thing for people to stop circulating, as you put it yourself. There’s no doubt that the virus spreads because of people interacting with each other and even if I myself aren’t especially vulnerable to catching it first off, I wouldn’t want to live with it having been me who passed it on to someone else who might then get ill or even die. Not even to a stranger. The idea of spreading a disease first hand is disgusting to me, too, and receiving or giving it is something I very much care for not to happen, even if it does seem inevitable to happen at some point.
“That people choose to do unhealthy things with their lives, to their own bodies and minds is something that is widely accepted, and I’m not playing holy here as I do drink regularly and have done many other stupid things in my past, too, but I do not find that as dangerous as carrying and spreading a potentially life-threatening virus to others, as it is mainly harming oneself.
“I generally believe that people should be allowed to do basically whatever they want with their lives, as long as it doesn’t force anything directly harmful down on others in the process. So I think the restrictions about isolation are helpful in this matter, even if it’s extremely hard for some people to live with. It is a bigger thing than ‘just’ the individual here.”
In these challenging times, has music become more important than ever? Listening to good music, we can pretend that everything is normal outside our doors. I feel that horror and Death Metal themes in particular have the power to provide an invaluable release valve or distraction from the everyday shit that is floating all around us. Right now, more than ever, with the world sinking further into the sewers, we could do with it. The fifth Undergang album was initially supposed to be released during the summer, but winter might prove to be a more poignant time for this record to arrive and offer Death Metal fans something sick and twisted to help them through the darkness that undoubtedly lies ahead?
“I strongly believe in the necessity and importance of art (in all its various forms) in people’s lives as a needed escapism from all the other aspects of life that might otherwise overshadow and depress people. On a personal level, I need music, but playing it and listening to it, to enlighten my existence and create happiness around the other – both positive and negative – things in my life. Other things have certainly brought happiness to my life, but music has been there as a constant since around the age of ten and it has helped me through life until now, as clichéd and lame as that also might sound. On a different level, culture and art also help ‘calm down’ people and not make them question and perhaps rise against the government and various other things in society that might otherwise cause conflict and riot, so from a bit of a more dark point of view, I also see it necessary to contain peace in a society. We all need our drugs in various forms; it just doesn’t have to be classified by pharmaceutical measures.
“I know that my writing and playing music has worked a bit therapeutically on my life, as something I likely need a bit for my happiness, as even though I’m a bit of an uncomfortable and to some degree a shy person, playing live brings immense joy to me, even if I don’t like showing it. I hate being the centre of attention, but when on stage and presenting my art, it feels like no other similar situation I could imagine.
“As someone who also makes his living from releasing and distributing music, I can tell that the pandemic hasn’t really seen a drop in sales and people are either very supportive of the arts during these hard times for artists all around and / or they’re in need of new entertainment while a bit incarcerated in their homes and cut off from their friends and family, which might otherwise help lighten up their existence. I’ve been busy with my own things and am usually so busy that I can’t even remember the last time I was bored, so having a bit of extra time to spend at home watching movies or listening to music has been a bit of a relief for me. Being self employed and working mostly just alone from a basement, the self isolation hasn’t really made a change to my life either, as I still tend to work most days of the week from early morning ‘til late at night. But back to your question, if anyone has been able to benefit a bit from listening to our new album, ‘Aldrig i livet’, then that makes me happy and if we’ve been able to even bring a bit of escapism and joy into even just a single person’s life with the new album, then that’s about the biggest compliment I could wish for in these times.”
The cover art for the new record is both arresting and intriguing. At first, I thought it was a suicide I was looking at and then I noticed that the evil, laughing, haunting figure in the background is holding the blade. Still, it’s possible this figure isn’t real but a figment of the victim’s imagination. What’s your interpretation of this scene? Murder or suicide or is there any real difference? Ultimately, I guess we are all responsible for our own paths in life and our actions can contribute to our downfall or survival, so we perhaps hold that blade ourselves regardless of who we choose to blame?
“As the artist behind the cover, I always find it interesting to hear various takes on what people think when they see it. My intention and thought behind it is a scenario of the character looking at his reflection and his reflection cutting his own throat, ending the misery. The title of the album is a Danish saying which I guess equals the English ‘Over my dead body’, so I wanted to do a sort of scenario showing someone choosing death over ‘insert your own horrible alternative here’. Our drummer Anders suggested something similar to the scene in ‘Evil Dead 2’, where Ash’s reflection comes to life and grabs him out from the mirror, so I went with the same build up (even still gave the character black hair and a blue shirt for the fun of it for the people who recognized it), but with the reflection instead sort of showing his haunted and tortured mind or soul and the reflection committing suicide. It’s a subject I’ve dealt with a lot in the lyrical side of Undergang actually, the whole ‘Life sucks, it’ll never get better; death is the only exit from the torment’. Being a person who’s suffered on and off from depression throughout most of my life, it has been an interesting thing to write about and express, maybe to some degree to reflect a bit more about it, more than actually moving towards that solution myself at certain dark times.”
‘Evil Dead’, that wonderful seminal horror movie and sequel from the 1980s, definitely sprung to mind as soon as I saw the cover. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place but I don’t believe I’ve seen a half-decent horror film in years, maybe decades. I enjoyed ‘The House That Jack Built’ a couple of years ago but nearly have to go back to ‘Hostel’ or ‘Wolf Creek’ for something half watchable prior to that. Anything you could recommend or should we stick to the old classics?
“Yeah, as stated above, the cover art is certainly a heavy nod to the ‘Evil Dead’ movies. They’re still as great today as when I saw them the first time as a kid. I generally stick to re-watching my favourites which are usually ‘80s and early-mid ‘90s horror movies, but I do try to watch never horror movies, too, even if often they do not give me the same satisfaction. I thought ‘The House That Jack Built’ was decent when I watched it the first time in the cinema, but revisiting a second time I lost interest along the way and found it too long for its own good. The ‘Hostel’ movie was okay too, but I never really cared much for the ‘torture porn’ horror that seemed a bit introduced with the ‘Saw’ movies, but prefer a slightly more dark and mysterious take on horror. I liked both ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommer’, to mention some newer horror movies; those are the first ones to come to mind. I thought that the prequel to ‘The Thing’ that came out maybe a handful of years ago now was entertaining, too, but since the John Carpenter original is one of my favourite movies, too, I did enjoy the sort of explanations of how they found the Norwegian campsite connecting the two. Even if the CGI fest was a bit too much and I disliked how they (like most other newer horror movies) showed the monster WAY too much, which makes the scariness disappear. I prefer for the evil to be kept in the dark from the viewer for as long as is fitting to keep the mystery hidden.
“And then, while we’re at it, I can recommend some Danish horror we’ve used for samples for our albums over the years: I would suggest checking into 90s Danish horror like ‘Sidste time’, ‘Nattevagten’ and the series ‘Riget’, the latter of which in the mid-2000s had a not-so-good American adaption made called ‘Kingdom Hospital’. But the two series from the Danish show by Lars Von Trier are excellent in all of their weird glory.”
Death is the final destination for all of us. In a century, we will be gone and forgotten. Does this mean our earthly toils are futile and of no consequence or do we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the small window of opportunity granted to us? Not particularly to leave a legacy but so as not to waste the time we’ve been afforded in the greatest lottery of all?
“I think that is a very individual case, but generally trying to not leave the world a worse place than when you were born ideally is a compassionate way of living, but that is likely also a very hippy-sounding way of thinking and hard to 100% live in practice. Indeed, hardly any of us will likely leave a mark that’ll be noticed 100 years from now and are likely to be even forgotten after just one generation of even our own family, but I feel like it’s our human obligation to nonetheless act respectfully towards our planet and ourselves, as good as we can in a very consumerist environment and society, which is inevitable unless you move out to live in the woods, isolated, or so. Sadly, all of the things we do wrong are more noticeable than what we do right, but most things in life are like that; when you do something right, no one notices but as soon as you take one wrong step the entire world will notice…”