Olav Iversen (vocals, guitars): “I never expect to make any miracles happen or change people instantly, but I hope that through my lyrics I can influence somebody and inspire somebody to make changes that move us in the right direction. It makes people reflect and eventually maybe change the way they think and I hope they will try to be better people basically, because this whole album is about how we as human beings are ‘born demon”
Het was zes jaar geleden dat we met Sahg praatten over hun vorige album ‘Memento Mori’, maar dat deed geen afbreuk aan de opwinding die we voelden toen nieuw werk in de vorm van ‘Born Demon’ zich recentelijk aandiende. Als trio klinken de songs veelal iets minder gelaagd, maar vergis je niet: dit is een band met teksten die tot nadenken stemmen, ook al klinkt de muziek bij momenten opzwepend en fel. We ondervonden dit tijdens ons hartelijk gesprek met zanger/gitarist Olav Iversen die ons een geweten wil schoppen vanuit het magnifieke Bergen in Noorwegen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 24 januari 2023
The last time we talked was about ‘Memento Mori’ in 2016. It has been a while of course. What happened after that?
After ‘Memento Mori’ we did a European tour with Opeth as direct support, which was great for us. A really good tour. We played a lot of big venues in Europe for three or four weeks. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to spread the word. We are big fans of Opeth and they have inspired us a lot. To be able to share our music with their fans was great. So, after that tour we had pretty high ambitions, that it would escalate and generate in a lot of new offers from festivals and new tours and stuff like that, but instead we kind of quieted down. We did a few festivals after that, but not as many as we had hoped for and it kind of… well… I don’t know, but the whole motivation in the band kind of turned down. The air went out of the balloon, so to speak. So we decided to take a break and focus on other things and let the band rest for a while. During that break we did some writing and stuff for new songs, but Ola, our guitar player decided to leave the band during that break. Before he joined Sahg, he was a member of … – which he is still a member of – so he decided to quit Sahg and focus on his other band. That was pretty undramatic, but still it is never great when someone leaves. So we had to deal with that and find out what to do. Again motivation was quite low, so we spent some time figuring out how to deal with that. I think we were kind of down. We did pretty much nothing for six months and after that one of us – I don’t remember who – but one of us called the other two guys and suggested that we just met up. Just meet and jam and see what happens and discuss what would be next. We did that for a couple of times. Pretty quickly we felt that something new was happening when just the three of us played together instead of a four piece.
In which year can we situate that?
This was probably 2017. We had some electricity happening with just the three of us. We kept on jamming on old songs and some new ideas. We decided to try out the three format and see how that worked. We found out there was something there and then we started writing new songs based on the new format, based on a three piece. It was different. We had to simplify things and find new ways in songs which fitted a three piece format. That whole process made the motivation and the inspiration come back. So that was how we decided to move on.
Yes, because you are now the only guitarist in the band. I think it makes a difference…
It does, yes. To me it made a big difference; practically. I have to fill a bigger void after having been with two guitarists since the band started. All of a sudden I was filling that role on my own, which I had to do in a different way of course. So first we had to decide which old songs we could play as three piece, because two guitars have always been a big part of Sahg’s sound. So we had to be picky and pick the songs that worked as a three piece which turned out to be more songs than we expected. So we still have a lot of old songs on the set list. Then I had to really rehearse as a guitar player. I had to sit down and improve my skills as guitar player. I had to play leads and solos I had not played before and also the other guys, Mats and Tobi, had to kind of step up the game and become better players to fill in the void because of becoming a three piece. There are few tools in the tool box. So each tool needs to do a better job, simply. That is how we worked and actually for me the process of rehearsing and that I had to sit down and become a better guitarist really inspired me a lot. It brought back the spark. I would say, becoming a three piece is the main reason why this album ‘Born Demon’ is here now. That is what really inspired us to make this album.
In the meantime you are more own your own. You can decide what to do. I think you are the leader of the band?
Sure, yes yes. I kind of was before as well, but now it is like having even more control over at least what happens to the guitar sound in the songs. I can shape the songs in my own style as guitarist, which I think helped a lot making the new songs. It gave me a very clear image of what the songs were going to be and how they would end up. We brought that attitude to the studio where I ended up producing the album as well, because this time the songs were just so clear to me, also how these songs were supposed to sound like. So I took up the role as producer as well.
I can understand. You have a bunch of songs and you know best how they should sound like…
Indeed and with less people in the band , there are less discussions or arguments so when it comes to the point of recording, it was easier to make the decisions about what would end up on the album. I want to say that I don’t take the credits of everything. Even though I am the main song-writer and the main producer, I never could have done this without the rest of the guys in the band, So it is definitely a band effort, this album.
Let us focus now on some songs. For ‘House Of Worship’ you have a video clip. I think it is about the media, isn’t it? What do you think about the media and what are they doing in Norway these days with that communication channel?
I think the song ‘House Of Worship’ goes actually back to a motto I have: don’t let anyone tell you what to believe, make up your own mind about things. Don’t let anyone teach you what to believe in, whether it is religion or politics or whatever. Try to make up your own mind and don’t be tricked by anyone, because if someone tells you what to believe, they have some agenda. They want to take power over you, that is why they do that. That is basically what this song is about and the video is illustrated through religion. A very strict religious environment where people are kind of caught in , whether they like it or not. They are born into it basically and it is hard to get out of. I think many of those people don’t really believe in what their religion is saying, but they are kind of trapped. They cannot get out of it because they are born into it and it comes with the family basically. It is hard to get out. That is the worst kind of religion, where people are forced to believe something. That is the opposite of freedom of religion, you know? They are kind of forced to believe something that they maybe don’t really believe.
How is the situation in Norway?
Yes, there are some strict conservative religious environments in Norway as well. We have the friends of Smith or Brunstad Christian church or whatever and we have a lot of different movements who ware very strict. They shut everybody else out and they trap the members in and they exploit all the members. They want all their money to put into their church or into the belief. Most of that money goes into the pockets of the leaders. It is disgusting. It is the worst kind of fraude basically. They trick the members to give them all their money. It is crazy. It is wrong in so many ways and they hide that behind religion and belief in some God. It is really a disputable way of taking people’s money and make it their own. We have many such environments in Norwa, just like we have in most European countries and parts of the western world and not at least in the East there are some very strict religions as well going on.
I think it is getting worse, there is something going on…
Yes the whole idea of organized religion is… I am not saying that it is meant to be bad as an ideology, but what happens is that in all such environments, there is always someone who wants to exploit it and gets in power of people, that is what happens all the time. Look at the Catholic church. It is the worst organization ever existing on the planet in terms of humanity. If you go back to medieval times and the crusades when they slayered and raped people all over Europe. Up to the modern days when they break choir boys. It is disgusting, it shows the worst side of mankind.
Don’t you think Islam is doing that as well?
Probably not any better. I mean… I am not blaming anyone, but I think, these things happen in all big communities. There are always people who want to exploit that power.
When I listen to your music, it is kind of uplifting and cheerful, but there are lyrics that go deeper…
The song itself has gotten an upbeat feeling to it indeed. I would not say ‘happy’. But that is good to bring it to the masses. Right, that is the idea behind it. We want to write songs that people can headbang on and sing along with it on the chorus and take part in it in order to reach more people. We want as much as possible tapping to the masses basically. On the other side we have songs like ‘Black Cross On The Moon’ that appeals more to my Pink Floyd feel and ‘Destroyer Of The Earth’ is more atmospheric. ‘Black Cross On The Moon’ is a song about anxiety. It is written about someone who has basically a suicidal personality, someone who is in a deep depression and wants to end his or her life, but he/she is part again of a religious community who says that suicide is a sin. If you commit suicide, you will go to hell. A lot of religions preach that. So this person doesn’t dare to take his own life. So this song is about the person’s prayer to evil forces – or to dark forces – to come and take him away and he is looking for this evil sign which is the black cross on the moon. It is a sign that the devil will come and help this person to end his life.
That is heavy…
Yes, it is pretty dark. The thing is that I have never experienced the depression or anxiety myself, but I know many people who have. This lyric is kind of inspired by them and the things they told me of how they were affected and how they have experienced that anxiety and depression they had. I just try to paint a picture of somebody who had this kind of suffering in his life, so that is the inspiration behind the song. There are so many people – even young people – who struggle with those things now. I want to be a part of giving them a voice and try to – in a way – help them. Like I said, I haven’t suffered this myself, but I think they can relate to this song and recognize things.
That is noble from you…
That’s what I hope.
Another song that intrigued me was ‘Destroyer Of The Earth’. Do you think we are destroyers of the earth?
Yes, you hint on what exactly we are. It is pretty simple, to be honest we are probably the worst thing that ever happened to this planet. If you are really honest, I think the world would be a better place without us humanity. It sounds harsh, but this song is basically about how we destroy everything around us. We destroy the foundation of life, for all living creatures on earth including ourselves. We are destructive and also self-destructive, because what will happen in the end I believe, is that we will eradicate ourselves. The earth will survive in some form, but we will probably disappear at some point and we only have to blame ourselves for that. So that is the paradox: we are actually killing ourselves most of all through the way we live and the way we destroy the planet. So this song impersonates mankind into one person who walks around the world and everywhere he steps things break apart and he hails down the forests and poisons the air and everything. It is a very simple lyric in my opinion, because it just paints a very clear picture of how we destroy the environment around us.
Do you think this message will reach the fans and crowds?
I hope that it will make people think, that is what I try to do in my lyrics. I never expect to make any miracles happen or change people instantly, but I hope that through my lyrics I can influence somebody and inspire somebody to make changes that move us in the right direction. It makes people reflect and eventually maybe change the way they think and I hope they will try to be better people basically, because this whole album is about how we as human beings are ‘born demon’. We are born with this evil side that we cannot control. It is our curse, it is a part of us and we can’t get rid of it and that is why we end up destroying everything like we do. So this song fits perfectly under that beam, you know.
In that respect I want to say and emphasize that it is not about Satanism, it is about evil things in everybody…
Absolutely. In my opinion you should be open about that. You should show the world: ‘I am a human being and being a human being means being an evil creature basically. I am not saying that people are exclusively evil, most people have good sides as well. They can love each other and animals and nature and others… whatever… as well as other living creatures, but I think everyone should admit that we all have our dark sides and that is what’s going to kill us in the end.
And maybe that is what’s going to prevail in the near future…
Do you live in nature or in town?
I live kind of in the outskirts of Bergen.
Ah with the seven hills…
That’s correct. I live just besides one of them. I hike there a lot. I did not use to be a nature guy. It’s grown on me with the age. As I grew older, I became more and more fond of nature basically. Now it is an important part of my life. I hike several times a week and I use nature in a different way than when I was a younger man. I have learnt to appreciate nature more with time. I am really happy for that, because everyone should embrace nature. I am really happy about the nice things and the pleasures that nature has given me, here, just outside the door of my house. It is a blessing to have that so close to my house. There’s enough people in the world who live in the big cities or other places where you don’t have that immediate contact with nature. To me nature is very important and – like I said – it has become more and more important as I grow older. I think it happens to a lot of people.When you are young, you want to be where the action is when you grow older, you appreciate peace and quietness. That makes sense.
Did you already play live concerts after the covid-19 era?
Yes, we did one show during the covid-19 time, in 2021 edition of BTG Fest. It was kind of a small, limited edition of the festival, because there were still strict restrictions, people had to wear face masks. It was a very limited amount of people that could attend the concert. We played there and we played again this year at Beyond The Gates, which was a full scale festival and it was amazing by the way. I have never seen so many smiling black metal bands (chuckles). It was special and a fantastic atmosphere there. We also played a few other shows around Norway during the last years. We have tried out the new format of the band you know, the three piece form. I have to say that from the first show as a three piece, we just seemed to have the right magic. I think we are in a very good shape now, with the band as three piece. It worked from the first minute. Now we cannot wait to play more shows.
I see you do an Autumn tour in Norway…
We do now indeed. That is going to be great fun to travel aound Norway and play the new songs and some of the old songs. It has been so long you know; since we have done a Norwegian tour it has been probably ten years. We played a concert here and there, but never a decent tour. That is going to be great, really go out and meet our Norwegian fans.
If you look back, what was the most amazing tour until now?
I think there are two tours that I specially remember and one is the tour we did with Opeth six years ago. It was our last European tour so far. I just watched Opeth every night and it was great, playing with a band you admire so much. Also – like I said before – it was amazing to present our music to fans of Opeth. We hope they will also become fans of Sahg. That is a great opportunity. They were friendly people and everything was great about that tour. Also the very first tour we ever did was a huge adventure. It was in Northern America along with Celtic Frost in 2006. Then our first album was out and Celtic Frost toured for ‘Monotheist’, one of their best albums. We crossed North America with Celtic Frost and played all the big cities in the Northern States.
That must have been impressive!
Yeah that was an experience I will not forget. That was very, very special. Celtic Frost are great people, we are still friends with Tom Warrior. We were also friends with Martin E Ain who passed away a few years later. Unfortunately, but again… great people and a fantastic experience.
Didn’t you play with Sólstafir as well?
We did yes. Another great tour! We have done so many great tours. We toured with Sólstafir twice. Great people! Icelandic Vikings you know (laughs), but it is also a while ago.
Everything is years ago now…
Yeah, with the pandemic… all of a sudden six years passed since the last album. It’s too long. If it was not for the pandemic, the album would have come out earlier I think, but time stood still for a couple of years.
If there is something you want to say to occlude…
I just want to say to everyone out there, it feels great to be back with this album, because it feels like an amazing start again.