Marko Tervonen Tells Us Why The Crown Welcomes The Death Metal Police With ‘Royal Destroyer’ (INTERVIEW)

In 2020, Swedish Death Metal stalwarts The Crown celebrated their 30th anniversary and went into production for their tenth studio album. To mark the occasion, they reissued a number of their albums on vinyl, and of course have had to postpone some of the party to a later date. But you won’t have to wait much longer for the album that’s in many ways a “sequel” to the very well-received Cobra Speed Venom. Royal Destroyer lands on March 13th from Metal Blade, and the single and video for “Motordeath” are already in the ether. Like Cobra Speed Venom, the new album was intentionally driven towards a live sound and some of the songs may even share some DNA from those earlier recording sessions. 

But Royal Destroyer also takes its own stand as a statement of the band’s identity thirty years on, rampaging through the different varieties of the Metal experience with consummate ease and familiarity, as well as testing out new approaches to tradition. One of the most important things for the band, too, was to welcome critique, even in the form of their beloved Death Metal Police, and they may well get their wish with their second single’s release, a ballad. Royal Destroyer is an album with a couple of firsts for the band: it’s the first time they’ve released a ballad, and it’s also the first time any of their songs have contained Swedish lyrics, showing that mastery always clears a little more room for growth, too. The Crown’s Marko Tervonen recently spoke with us about all things Royal Destroyer and his view of the band’s place in Metal tradition. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: For Cobra Speed Venom, I know that the album was recorded in an older style that the band used to use, which was to go into the studio and record pretty quickly. Did you take the same approach on Royal Destroyer?

Marko Tervonen: Yes, because we were so happy with what we rediscovered with the Cobra Speed Venom session. It made us a better band and made for a better album. Everything just felt better. We discovered that this old school approach really suited the band. We tried a couple of albums with a different approach and they didn’t really turn out as well as they could have. We discovered that this is a band that needs to rehearse together a lot, be in the studio at the same time, and be a bit more spontaneous in the studio together. 

Also, like on Cobra Speed Venom, we decided not to go in super-produced, but we went in to play actual performances, and move from one song to another when it felt good. Actually, this time it worked even faster because we managed to record everything, including vocals, in seven days. Which is ridiculous since we had booked too much studio time. We could have saved money there! Our goal was to go in and capture a band, instead of using a lot of samples and presets in a way that is quite common today. We wanted you to be able to hear Hendrik [Axelsson’s] drum kit. When you do one or two takes and move on, it creates a very intense feel. It gives a little bit of a rough edge to it as well, which suits us.

HMS: It seems like a new era, ever since Cobra Speed Venom. Now that you know your potential recording this way, there’s no going back.

MT: Exactly. It also brings a bit of a Punk edge to things. It’s also a good thing that Fredrik [Nordström], our Producer, who has done a lot of mega-productions with bands like Dimmu Borgir, is also very open minded. When we approached him and said that we wanted to be a bit Punkish, he said, “Let’s do it!” He was supportive. It says a lot. In the end, I knew that no matter what we did in the studio would be professional because of him. Then it was about what kind of attitude we wanted to capture. 

HMS: I know you’ve joked in the past about the “Death Metal Police” and the bubble that the sub-genre can be. Does belonging to that live play-focused group tie into to the band’s desire to keep the new album sounding like live play?

MT: In a way, because it’s a bit kind of rebellious thinking. These days, you can hear a lot of albums that sound so fucking perfect. Everything is perfect. But when fans hear this album or Cobra Speed Venom, they know this is what they can expect to hear live. Occasionally we’ll add details that we can’t really play live, but when it comes to guitars, drums, and bass, I like the fact that we can play them as good as they are on the album. If you’re a new band, maybe you’re not as confident in yourself, and when a Producer suggests that he can edit it to make it sound better, what is that young kid going to say? They are going to want to sound like a guitar god. The evil spin starts there. But you need to be confident enough to show your limitations as well, and we’ve been around a while.

HMS: I know on this album there’s a wide range of sounds and ideas from your history, but I also know that The Crown usually has very tightly crafted albums. Is there a close relationship between the songs we’ll find on Royal Destroyer ? 

MT: Yes. Usually, with every new album cycle, we don’t start off with a big picture and a specific goal. Instead, we start with song number one. And around song number seven, we start to look back and ask, “Okay, what is the sound here we are trying to create?” And maybe by the end, you start to think about the details, like adding a slow song. But we always start with a blank canvas. It’s more interesting for us and also for the listeners for us not to start with a specific recipe or template for how it should sound. 

Obviously, we are a Death Metal band, but ever since Hell is Here, we have been a bit all over the place. We’ve never been afraid to take the tempo down and mess around with ideas. Also, there is a song on this album that is as close to a ballad as anything we’ve done so far. I’m usually the guy who prefers a lot of melody, and I’ve never been afraid to toe that thin line where it becomes cheesy. I’m a sucker for old Scorpions and stuff like that. I love melodic stuff. Sometimes I like to combine that with high-speed stuff, like the last track on the album, “Beyond the Frail”. It’s super-melodic, but also super-fast. It creates interesting combinations. I think our best albums are where we manage to capture quite varied songs which we somehow connect together in an album.

HMS: I think this album makes a big statement about who you are as a band because it is wide-ranging. It feels like you are confident with almost any aspect of Metal. You’re taking your position in the history of Metal here.

MT: I appreciate that. In a sense, you’re totally right, because we are ten albums in at this point. We have been all over the place. We have the thrashier side and the slower side. This album captures what we have always been about, adding some fresh production to it. In a way, it’s a sequel to Cobra Speed Venom’s approach. What’s the best way to approach a sequel? Well, you need to step up, turn everything up to eleven, and try to top that one.

HMS: How strongly do you mean “sequel”? Is it a double act?

MT: I think it’s in the feeling. There’s something we captured, really, that we continued. It’s that state of mind. Actually, last week we discussed this and said that we needed to make a trilogy of this. We need to continue with the same mindset for the next one, too.

HMS: I know that the writing was fast for this album, but did you end up with extra material?

MT: Yes, we had a surplus already with Cobra Speed Venom. Now we have like twelve extra songs. It’s ridiculous. In the early stages of discussing Royal Destroyer, we wondered if it should be something like a triple album. [Laughs] But it’s almost impossible to maintain quality on an album like that. We didn’t rehearse a bunch of songs and then pick the best ones, we just got to up to twelve or thirteen songs and said, “Yes, let’s cut it now. Let’s focus on these. We’ll continue on the rest later.”

HMS: That’s a great position to be in.

MT: It is, because I remember on the first six or seven albums, we were starting from scratch with each album. That’s extremely frustrating, because you start to doubt yourself and think you’re the worst songwriter ever. 

HMS: The song “Motordeath” and its rather awesome video have already been released. I was very impressed with the video because most people are having to be a little dialed-back during this time of global disruption, but this has a great setting for the live playing and a live action segment. It’s very high quality.

MT: It is! It’s by a guy we trust, and he helped us do the video for “Iron Crown” for Cobra Speed Venom and also the title track. We’ve known him for a long time and he lives in the same town as us. He’s done a lot of documentaries. We actually shot two videos with him at the same time. “Motordeath” is a good introduction to the album, but the next one is actually going to surprise people because it’s going to be the ballad! 

HMS: Oh wow! That’s awesome. 

MT: The Death Metal Police are going to be on our asses. Everyone is going to scream, “Sell out!” I’m looking forward to that. I’m ready. I’m just waiting for it. It is actually pretty fun because it’s surprise people with brutal stuff these days, so we are going to surprise people from a totally different angle. We’ll see what the purists say about this. 

When I first did the demo for it, I sent it to the guys and said, “Yes, I know we’re taking a giant fucking leap here.” And all I got back, first of all, was silence, then when it was time to rehearse, some people thought it was way off. But then when we started playing it, we realized it wasn’t so super-soft. When we added to it, it stepped up to the power-ballad level, which was okay. Let’s see what people say when the shitstorm begins. 

HMS: You are so correct that it is hard to shock people with horror these days. Do you usually shoot in such beautiful locations as we see in the “Motordeath” video?

MT: We didn’t want to just shoot on a black background. We knew we wanted to come up with something different. That’s also in our hometown. There’s this pretty cool old building. We liked the heavy, dark wood. We really wanted to capture the room and bring a vibe to that. I like it. It’s too easy to do things in the standard, brutal, way, so it’s important to come up with something fresh.

HMS: I think people love to see live performances right now, since we can’t go to any, and this video captures that, too. It’s a little concert. Regarding the live action parts, I love how ambiguous the hooded figure is. We don’t know if this is a person using magic, or a symbol of the fates against mankind. And it really suits the lyrics.

MT: The idea was to create something where you couldn’t really figure it out. Your imagination would have to start working and people would have to draw their own conclusion. There are two ways of doing things: either you create a full narrative that makes perfect sense, or you go down a side road to try to create a separate thing, where it both makes sense and doesn’t make sense. That was the goal here.

HMS: I know that on the new album, the song “Let the Hammering Begin” is a tribute to Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. And I already knew that Slayer held a big place in your hearts as a band. In what ways is the song a tribute to Jeff? Are there musical elements that refer to him, or is it more about the emotion?

MT: We’ve seen them many times. Two years ago, we saw them on their farewell tour, and that’s got to be the best stage show that I’ve ever seen. It was unbelievable! 

I was expecting more Hanneman-type riffing when I heard about the song, but when we started playing, I didn’t hear that as much, though maybe in the middle part. I think it’s more an emotional tribute, remembering a good old fucking Thrash Metal god. On Cobra Speed Venom, for the song “In the Name of Death”, the working title was actually “Hetfield” and it was definitely Metallica-inspired, but this one was definitely more of an emotional influence.

HMS: I also think the new song, “Ultra Faust” is really interesting. I saw some commentary about the fact that human beings always push themselves so far, and that can be a bad thing and a good thing. It seems like that may be one of the defining things about being human. How do you feel about those ideas in this song?

MT: There is basically a blessing and a curse in that mentality. The whole idea of “Ultra Faust” ties to the old Goethe play, Faust. It’s a “sell your soul” type of play that’s very interesting. I like the cool approach that Magnus [Olsfelt] took. Magnus is actually a psychologist, so he’s pretty smart! He takes that shit seriously. Sometimes he sends us a list of twenty titles and thinks about these things deeply. The word “ultra” in that title gives it a kind of 80s feel, also, and in German, the word “Faust” also means “fist”, so it’s an “ultra-fist” in German. That’s typical Magnus with his cool ideas. 

He also came up with “Scandinavian Satan” and stole mythology from an Old Norse text, the kind of stuff that we used to read in school. There’s a second verse in that song that’s actually sung in Swedish, which is a first for us. That adds a bit more of a Scandinavian touch to it, too. 

HMS: It seems like mythological themes connect really powerfully with audiences right now, having been through this time of upheaval. 

MT: That’s true! Let’s hope we can actually learn something from the past. That’s the next step.

 

The album ‘Royal Destroyer’ is out March 13th from Metal Blade.

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