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Escape Velocity

Straight Edge & Confusing Pig Heads: Purified In Blood Interviewed
Toby Cook , August 5th, 2010 06:45

Norway's Purified In Blood talk to Toby Cook about splitting up, getting back together and having people threaten to piss on their graves

For many, to subscribe to a hard-line, set-in-stone ideology is seen as a bad thing. We like to believe that in the end rationality, pragmatism and above all common sense will overcome ideology; to have such a strong and unwavering belief in something, be it a religious, political or even social ideology is so often more hindrance than help, especially in metal. Probably the most obvious example of this is the much maligned Straight Edge movement. More commonly associated with punk and hardcore, the no drink, no drugs, no sex and pro-vegan ethos couldn’t be more at odds with the stereotyped trappings of heavy metal were it to encourage the playing instruments made of soy-based cheese with your dick, and thus by default, consigns many of it’s associated bands to forever plough their furrows unappreciated in the underground.

Yet despite the militantly conformist nature of straight edge-ness, there are groups who will apply the common sense rule, and simply don’t allow themselves to be defined solely by their beliefs, such as Norway’s Purified In Blood.

Formed in 2003 out of a mutual love of skating, listening to Judas Priest and, tellingly, Minor Threat, the group’s straight edge-centric 2006 debut LP, Reaper Of Souls, barely registered before half the band decided that they liked McDonalds and cigarettes after all, causing them to split.

Having now decided to bury the double X’d hatchet, PiB are back and although now keeping most of their opinions to themselves, have released Under Black Skies, one of the most promising hardcore/metal cross over LP’s in recent years. Over a cup of, surprisingly, black coffee, members Tommy and Anders fill in a few blanks...

Although the Norwegian metal scene is more known for Death Metal and church burning Black Metal bands, PiB were originally a Straight Edge, hardcore influenced band. Was it a struggle to find acceptance on more than a local level?

Anders Mosness (Drums): Well to be honest when I was like, 12 years old, I listened to Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, Immortal – all the traditional black metal bands; they’ve had a huge impact on me musically. They did have a few conflicts with our political stances thought. For example, Mayhem would have pig’s heads on stage and being vegetarians we were like, "Oh shit! Can I listen to this?" It was hard to find the right balance, but we were 13 years old, so what did we really know!?

Tommy Svela (Guitar): Those bands have been the biggest part of the metal scene in Norway for a long time now, so maybe it’s time to start with some new stuff – rather than black metal being the only thing that people think about when the think of Norwegian metal.

AM: Those bands have definitely had a huge influence on us, but we’re not going to spend our time all dressed up in corpse paint, and performing satanic rituals. We love it though – it’s not us, but we love it!

TS: It’s a big, big part of the Norwegian culture too – you can’t escape it, which is pretty crazy – that’s why people think of Norway as the black metal country.

AM: ...It’s part of the Norwegian metal heritage, so even on the new album we have the Norwegian song, with Norwegian lyrics – Under Den Svarte Himmel, which translates as Under Black Skies – and that’s more like a tribute to Norwegian black metal, and the bands that created the scene.... and singing in Norwegian is a good thing too I think.

Agreed, there seem to be so many bands from non-English speaking countries that sing in English purely to pander to the market and it’s a real shame that they feel that they have to do that.

AM: And in metal you can get away with singing in Norwegian! Well, it sounds pretty cool doesn’t it!

AM: Yeah, exactly! I mean, a lot of it is just growling anyway!

After your first LP, Reaper Of Souls, the band split up – or at least, when on indefinite hiatus – can you clear up exactly why that happened?

AM: It was because of the vegan straight edge thing. We just found it too hard to continue because we couldn’t stand the fact that some of us sold out on being straight edge, and on being vegan too; we had too take a break. Actually the two of us [Anders and Tommy], we quit the band, we didn’t take a break, it was more a case of never again!

TS: When we used to tour Germany and such, we were there as the straight edge band, not a metal band, and people from that scene came to see us and expected the straight edge mentality...

AM: ...We were the new Earth Crisis!

TS: ...Yeah, people actually told us that!

AM: ...Even Karl Buechner from Earth Crisis was like: "OK, these guys are the new us!" But the thing is – and I love Earth Crisis, they’ve had the biggest impact on me of any band with, their specific political message – we found out that it’s hard to be six childhood friends, still telling each other: "hey, you can’t drink – abstain, be vegan, stay straight edge." But now we’ve grown up and it’s like, OK, do what you want to do, although we still believe in the message.

TS: It just seemed stupid not to [reform] when you love playing together so much.

AM: We’ve actually had hate mail – people telling us that we’ve dragged the vegan straight edge name through the mud, or that they’re going to piss on our graves and stupid shit like that. But, y’know, whatever, I feel that I’m a better person and that we’ve got a positive message.

AD: Tommy and I, we’re still straight edgers... basically half the band. It’s good, it’s like ying and yang, y’know!? And since we are also as good friends as we are, we’ve really struggled to keep it that way. And I think that’s an important part of being in a band: keeping the same guys in it, not just changing a member every album.

So what prompted the reunion then?

TS: Well, Andres was travelling in Mexico at the time...

AM: ... This was in 2007 – Because I think it was around Christmas 2006 what we called a halt to it.

TS: So after that [Christmas '06] I didn’t listen to our album or anything, I didn’t even think about the band for almost a year! And then in November I listened to Reaper Of Souls again and weirdly Andres did the same thing, and texted me form Mexico saying that he had!

AM: I was saying: "Why did we split up!? We need to get back together again!"

TS: So basically we arranged a meeting, almost a year to the day that we split up, and just said, OK let’s try it again.

So initially when you started rehearsing, was it a good feeling?

AM: Yeah, really good! It felt the way that we had always dreamed of; we can handle selling out and having some people hating us, but also we felt like we could end up having people liking us, because we’re honest and we’re a real band, y’know? We’re really in it, there’s no fake image; this is us and we found it necessary to continue.

Having split up and reformed, did the group feel any added pressure whilst writing the LP to show just how much the band had moved on?

TS: Yeah, of course. You want to show that you’ve evolved and you don’t want to just make the same album over and over again. You want to show new influences and make music that reflects them, and I think that’s what we did.

AM: And we’re more mature, not just as a band, buts as people now – our influences have changed and we’re listening to new bands. Reaper Of Souls was written in a couple of weeks back in 2005 – then eight days in the studio just blasting through things...

TS: Yeah, really fast – 10 songs in eight days!

AM: But with Under Black Skies we had almost a year and a half of just writing tonnes and tonnes of riffs, then tossing a lot of it and ending up with the 10 tracks. And we’re really, really happy with the result. It feels like we’ve maintained the same core sound; it’s still Purified In Blood but we’ve reached a new level, and for us that’s really important. I think that this is the best we could do to show who we really are as a band.

Clearly you’re a band with a strong social and political conscience, but is there much to protest in Norway? Certainly from the outside, it has the reputation of being on of the more democratically sound countries in Europe.

AM: Well yes, democracy is obviously a good thing, it works, but there is always corruption, although I obviously appreciate that we’re very privileged to live in Norway.

At the last election though, we did have problems with one of the more extreme nationalist parties – FRP [Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet)]. Friends of ours that we thought had more going on inside their head, even they voted for this party because they’re saying that they will lower the taxes on alcohol and tobacco...

TS: ...They’re really trying to appeal to younger people, especially those who are just turning 18 and can vote for the first time. Although a lot of their policies are quite extreme, people only really see the small issues – it’s pretty fucked up!

AM: They want to throw out all the immigrants, for example!

TS: Oh yeah! One of their MP’s actually said – although I don’t think he really thought it through before he said it, but it makes you wonder about the real agenda of the party – he said that all the immigrants should be put in camps, on an island! He was fired for saying it, but you suspect that that’s what all of them want, they just don’t say it!

AM: The problem is that it seems like a joke, but the FRP aren’t a joke; the FRP are actually one of the bigger, more central parties. So it’s hard to keep them from power because they are traditionally supported by the people with the money.

To a point, isn’t being straight edge basically taking the easy way out? Wouldn’t it be far harder, and perhaps more rewarding to exercise a degree of personal responsibility? Just because you have a beer or two, doesn’t mean that you have to get drunk, does it.

AM: Yeah, totally, and we’ve been there; but I feel good about not doing those things. Maybe I’m afraid of getting drunk and being wasted, but I also feel comfortable, and I don’t even have to think about it. I mean, I’ve even worked in a bar, and as a straight edger it’s fine, y’know, I feel really comfortable being drug free – I don’t need the label. But as I get older, who knows? If I’ll want to smoke weed or something, I don’t know?

TS: As long as you are comfortable with it; we tried to make it a collective thing within the band, but it’s hard because it’s such and individual choice, you can’t decide for everybody else.

AM: We just see things like that [drugs and alcohol] as more damaging than uplifting, but its a big decision and it’s better that people just choose for themselves. That’s what we found out in our gang!

I can’t help but notice that your both drinking coffee as we speak. I take it that the two of you are more liberal straight edgers? You’re not against prescription medicines and the like?

AM: Ha ha! Yeah, ok, we drink coffee, we drink Red Bull; that’s our ‘straight edge of darkness’, and I know it’s bad. But that’s life y’know!

TS: You have to decide for yourself, and that’s the key. For me self control is not drinking, like, eight Red Bulls at once!

I’ve got nothing against the straight edge life style, but to me some people – namely Karl Buechner – can come across as being very preachy and a bit of a knob. Was it ever a concern, especially in your days as a card carrying straight edge band, that you would be seen like that and alienate a lot of your potential audience?

TS: Oh yeah, we were right there, pointing fingers, and we alienated a lot of people. There were even some metal festivals saying that they didn’t really want us there because we were too preachy.

AM: Despite the fact that we have pointed fingers in the past we still feel that we have made an impact on our scene and have started some of those people thinking, and that’s the most important thing. Even just provoking people to think, at all, even if you say to someone "You shouldn’t eat meat", and then that person goes home an eats only meat, at least they’re thinking, and there’s a reaction there...

TS: ...At least they’re not acting like a dead fish in a stream.

Purified In Blood’s new album Under Black Skies is out now via Spinefarm records

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