By David E. Gehlke
"I'm a bit tired at the moment," laughs veteran Swedish riff lord Patrik Jensen. Jensen just returned from Japan with AT THE GATES, where he was tapped at the last minute to replace Jonas Stålhammar, who recently got the ax from the long-running melodic death metal innovators. While the guitarist professed he's not at liberty to discuss his future with AT THE GATES, he has another side gig with THE HALO EFFECT, ensuring his calendar will be full through the remainder of 2022.
But the purpose of this chat was to discuss one of Jensen's main bands, WITCHERY. (The other is THE HAUNTED for those keeping score.) The blackened thrash hybrid recently released "Nightside", their first LP in five years and their first concept album. As expected, it's a diabolical dose of Scandinavian menace with Jensen's trademark riffing and the surprisingly vitriolic snarl of vocalist Angus Norder topping it off. The album is also their first without co-founding bassist Sharlee D'Angelo, who bowed out to devote his full attention to ARCH ENEMY. However, D'Angelo's departure is nothing new for Jensen — he's been keeping WITCHERY afloat for 25 years while its members have competing priorities with nary a dip in quality.
Blabbermouth: You've known the AT THE GATES and THE HALO EFFECT guys for a while, but how did these fill-in gigs come about?
Jensen: "THE HALO EFFECT has been in the pipeline for quite a while. We're all friends with Jesper [Strömblad] and he has his 'challenges' — I don't know the best way to say it. [Strömblad is sitting out shows to continue receiving treatment for his alcohol addiction.] We all want the best for him. Being old friends from the old days in the Gothenburg scene, they asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and said, 'Of course.' Great songs, great guys and helping Jesper made sense. AT THE GATES came out of nowhere. We played the Tokyo show the other day. Getting a work visa for Japan takes time. I already had a visa with THE HALO EFFECT. It was either me doing it or them canceling. Of course, I only had three days to learn the set. But I also have 25 years of [Anders] Björler riffing in my arm [from THE HAUNTED]. [Laughs] 'What is he doing here?' Then it's 'He's probably doing his normal Anders stuff!' It wasn't too hard. It was great fun. We played two AT THE GATES songs during the early days of THE HAUNTED when we didn't have enough songs to fill a headlining set. It's a dream come true to play 'Slaughter Of The Soul' live. It's not like it was a burden learning the songs. It was all fun."
Blabbermouth: Switching over to WITCHERY. You stated early on that one of the band's goals was to release an album every year. The band started doing that, and it has tapered off since. Where does the band sit now regarding a priority for you and the rest of the guys?
Jensen: "We did start with that. We wanted to release albums as KISS did. Writing an album is supposed to be fun. It is still fun. THE HAUNTED took so much time all of a sudden. The band took off. ARCH ENEMY took off. Then we had Martin [Axenrot] on drums and OPETH took off. We were never at home. We wanted to be a rehearsing band. That's when you can write a song really quickly. Like, I would have a riff, then someone else would have a riff, try the drums, then change the speed or BPM of the song. It's a lot easier. You feed off of each other's energy. Since 2003, when everyone was on tour, I had to do everything on my own. You sit there and ask, 'Is this a good riff? 'Oh, maybe not.' It probably was a good riff and there was no one there to tell you. 'You're just tired.' That's why I had to slow down."
Blabbermouth: That dynamic sounds like it's crucial for a band like WITCHERY.
Jensen: "I believe the best songs are written — there are 'thinking man' metal bands, but I love those bands, too, but I wanted WITCHERY to be from the gut. Like, I feel this riff needs to follow that riff or needs to be spontaneous or on the spot. You know you're there when you play it and everyone starts to smile. You've got a song. But, when you sit by yourself, things take longer. It's a more time-consuming process. That's what happened and why we couldn't release that many albums. If we had kept that up…the band has been around for 25 years. We would have 50 albums out and that would be crazy. These days, I'm trying to get the band at least having an album out every other year. The pandemic put a temporary hold on things. We live in different cities; we couldn't travel to rehearse. Then I ended up having to write everything on the computer. I came up with the idea that it would be cool to do a concept album. I thought it was going to be easier where I could come up with one good lyrical idea and run with it for ten songs. It actually took longer to write a concept album."
Blabbermouth: I was going to ask you that.
Jensen: "You write the lyrics and want them to have some dynamics. Kind of like a movie that starts with action, then a slower part and a reflecting part — I don't want to say I went 'artsy,' but I wanted something dynamic. I wanted that reflected in the music as well. Usually, when we write an album, at least with THE HAUNTED, you write a bunch of songs, and whatever comes is what goes on the album. Then, you record it. These ten songs turned out great and there's a sleeper song that turned out the best and let's put that first and we'll keep these two for Japan. With a concept album, it's like, 'This is a slower lyrical phase, then you make a heavier song out of it. I need to write a heavier song, but I have a bunch of fast songs in me.' That takes a little bit of time. Then, also, whatever you record, you can't just throw out song number three because it didn't turn out cool. And this has to be the first song since it's where the lyrics start. It was a lot more work writing a concept album. It was cool. It was challenging and a new way to think and approach writing music. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out."
Blabbermouth: Is it weird not having Sharlee in the band and Victor (Brandt) now on bass?
Jensen: "Victor is a great bass player and a great guy. But, ARCH ENEMY, they've toured their asses off. Sharlee felt that he was holding the band back. He was never at home and when he was at home, he didn't want to hang out in a rehearsal place all the time. We've had Victor on bass the last few years when we played live. The transition of Sharlee leaving and Victor joining the band was really easy because of the routine and we have been friends forever. That was easy. Sharlee was a big part of the band. Victor is also a songwriter and a guitar player. He writes riffs and has lots of ideas. I think Victor is going to be more than able to fill Sharlee's shoes."
Blabbermouth: You've had a nice run of vocalists starting with Tony (Kampner),then over to Legion, Emperor Magus Caligula and now Angus. How is he working out, especially when working on a concept album?
Jensen: "Angus has such incredible range. Whatever we throw at him, he delivers. The other singers we've had have been great, but they had their own range. This is where they were going to be. Whatever we ask Angus to try, he will do it. The next step is probably clean vocals, but I don't see that happening. We're not going to do that, but he could do it. But he has a really good death metal voice and can do the black metal stuff. Finding a guy, a frontman and vocalist like him, in our city, which isn't that big, it was quite a find. We're really happy to have Angus. You know the whole debate about which singer is the best? That happens to every band. I'm sure some people think Blaze Bayley was the best singer for IRON MAIDEN. That's fine. I think it's good that people care enough to complain. It means they're invested in the band."
Blabbermouth: Hank Shermann (MERCYFUL FATE) and Jeff Walker (CARCASS) appear as guests on the album. How did that come about?
Jensen: "Hank has been guesting on every album since "Symphony For The Devil". MERCYFUL FATE is probably my favorite band in all categories of all time. As long as Hank says yes, he will be asked. [Laughs] I'm not going to turn that down. I also play in BRUJERIA, so I've played many shows with Jeff. Asking him to do a song was something we talked about. He has a great voice. He was happy with how it turned out; I'm happy. It was really cool to have him in there, too. With WITCHERY, if I say it's a 'fun' band, people will think it's a comical band. It's more fun to invite great musicians and singers than not to. If we can have people who want to participate, we will do it. It's fun for us on a personal level. I think it adds to the music. It's interesting."
Blabbermouth: If you think back to the late '90s, there was little fun in metal. Then WITCHERY came around with this tongue-and-cheek approach and a play on words for album titles. Do you remember the initial reception?
Jensen: "It was very good. But there was no one else doing it. It was a breath of fresh air. We have moved away from it. After a while, we felt that people didn't take the band seriously. We were serious about our music, but if we can throw in a few puns here and there that ten percent of the people who listen to us actually get, that's cool. But we tried to move away from it because it actually hurt the band after a while. In the beginning, people were super into it."
Blabbermouth: You have enjoyed quite the prolific career with lots of great riffs to boot. Do you ever run out of them?
Jensen: "This might be something common with a lot of people that do creative stuff. You think that 'Okay, I'm out of ideas for good. I'm spent. It's over.' But then, you need to have a work ethic. Inspiration can fall out of the sky and hit you on the head and you have a good riff or idea for something, but it's also a lot of hard work. You sit those hours and play all those bad ideas until something good comes up. I've heard that the creative flow, the ideas will dry up. It's not true. I think everyone can be creative. Even if you have a dry spell, it will get better. You just need to — not push too hard because then you'll develop writer's block — be able to have fun playing the guitar. Okay, no ideas are coming? Then sit for one hour and play SAXON riffs. You need to associate guitar playing with something fun and not a burden. It's not like doing chores or homework."
Photo credit: Per Addenbrooke