From the often humourless Stockholm metal scene, Deathstars come shining through with their self-styled 'death-glam' sound. (Think of a nod towards KISS, a sideways grimace at Rammstein and a fart in the direction of Front Line Assembly… with glitter.) Since 2000, they have released three hell raising albums and are gearing up to make their first Australian visit, before which I sit down with Andreas "Whiplasher Bernadotte" Bergh (singer and hat wearer) to shine some light on the dark and glammy world of Deathstars.
"Our band is kind of like a circus in hell". Andreas begins with a smile in his deep, accented voice. "I think it's important to entertain and scare the hell out of people at the same time." As a youngster Andreas was fascinated by the look of Kiss and the elaborate staged horror shows of Alice Cooper. He says, "I was very attracted to these kind of theatrical displays that went hand in hand with the music, particularly in the late '70s and early '80s. Bands then wanted to shock their audiences and give them something more than just music." He adds, "I mean Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare live show was so incredibly dark but also very, very funny." Some humour wouldn't go astray in Scandinavian music, so is there room in Deathstars shows for the odd laugh? "Our shows are very dark", He says, dragging out 'dark' to 'daaarrk' as he continues, "We are not really able to have the theatrics because of how many shows we play. We sometimes have to jump straight off the plane and go to a club and start. It's that crazy at times."
Despite the hectic touring, it's a relaxed sounding Whiplasher speaking today; "I'm actually on holiday in Norway enjoying some good coffee and some sun. I'm having a little break before we devastate Australia." There's good humour in his voice as he tells me he has no concept of what to expect from our land or even how the band will be received. "I might get my board shorts on and have a run on the beach." He laughs, "I have only been to the airport in Sydney to catch a connecting flight to New Zealand back before the band when I was a documentary film maker."
The Deathstars 'look' is all five members in white face paint, black hair and military style uniforms with Andreas crowned by a marching band leader's cap. Topping off the look, he half glitters his face and carries a cane leaving no doubt as to who's wearing the pants. "I like to think I am the leader but I am really just a prostitute in this band." He says, giving a low rumbling laugh and the first indicator today of that booming voice heard on the recordings. Our talk turns to the roles of the other members of Deathstars on the album. "We have a very bad democracy in the band". He explains, "I write all of the words and Nightmare Industries (Emil Nödtveidt – producer, guitars and keyboards), who is the dictator, writes all of the music. That is how we have always worked since we were in bands together in our teens. It was also because up until this year we all lived in different countries. Now that we are all living in Sweden, who knows maybe we will write the next album with more input from the other guys."
The album they are touring is Night, Electric Night. Recorded over two years, it is essentially a darker album than its predecessor Termination Bliss (2006). "It is difficult to make happy songs about suicide". Andreas explains, alluding to Via The End, written about Nödtveidt's brothers' death. "Most of what I write about comes from our everyday lives, things that are real and have some sort of impact on us." Does writing come easy to the well tailored frontman? "I am writing all of the time. I enjoy it so much and I never have to really force myself to work on my songs… I am not a lazy songwriter." Andreas is very strict on what goes in and what stays out of his songs. "Nobody gets to see what I write until it is completed, I am happy with it and it is ready to go into the song, and nobody gets to see what I am not happy with." On this point, he sounds deathly certain. I wonder if Andreas happy then with his band being tagged as 'death-glam'? "Of course, and anyway, it is a name we came up with." I suggest you can attach the word 'glam' to just about anything, but what does it mean to him? "I think it tickles a nerve. It makes me think of a time when bands cared about their presentation and had a laid back, sort of chilled attitude."
With their striking image and powerful music, Deathstars have attracted the odd… well, odd fan to their fold, Andreas coolly discloses. "I met this guy in London who had his car all painted up in Deathstars artwork and he had gotten seven tattoos all over his body of us". Enough to either delight or horrify I probe, "Actually I found it very erotic." Another of those guttural laughs escapes Andreas's throat and he ads, "I'm only joking!"
(above) with Skinny Disco
(middle) with Whiplasher Bernadotte
Deathstars live in Melbourne 2009
venue - Corner Hotel (review)
Here are Deathstars; the accessible brand of industrial metal. The album their touring, Night Electric Night, is loaded with all the theatrical gloom references fully owned and paid for by Scandinavian bands. The themes are dark in the same way Batman is with its gothic loaded imagery and style. Sweden's Deathstars cater more to metal fans who love the massively exaggerated posturing and the bizarre clash of macho-campness that Kiss used to specialise in. They don't have a political edge and no matter how 『serious' they might sound on the surface – there's far greater absurdity underneath it all. Frontman, Whiplasher Bernadotte – a composite of a young Alice Cooper and a zombie military band leader - is tailored, uniformed and glittered, his unholy band in similar dress and white face-paint. Despite Bernadotte's commanding presence it's his lanky bass player, Skinny Disco who draws the most attention as he swings his two foot long dreads around and screams his lines into the microphone. His shrill squawks are responses to Whiplashers deep ballsy calls throughout the entire set. It's quite amazing how these guys can maintain their throat-shredding vocals unfailingly for the hour-and-a-half show. On stage it must be around 20 degrees hotter than the room as maintaining the well-tailored look is another matter - after only three songs, Whiplasher's disheveled hair is clinging to his face, he ditches the jacket and hat and has lost most of his glitter. I'll bet by the end of this tour he'll be going on stage in a wife-beater and trackies.
The story going around is that last night's show in Sydney was pretty average, but there's no evidence of sloppiness tonight - in fact it's almost impossible to fault the band at all. Whatever they were selling I wanted to buy it, and the beefy onslaught of (D.E.A.D.) The Mark Of The Gun, Tongues and Night Electric Night were some very tempting offers. The concert is both thrilling unrelenting but somehow the audience manages to remain fairly motionless – except for horns aloft and restrained clap-alongs - in which case Whiplasher's invitation for us to top two fans supposedly fucking in the moshpit at a concert in Madrid is unlikely to happen.
Cyanide, Death Dies Hard and Revolution Exodus all in a row. It's taken most of the night but finally the room temperature has reached sauna level. Goths simply do not generate body heat. Whiplasher is stalking the stage drenched in sweat saying; 「Melbourne, you have a very strange climate!」
Depending on what you like to get out of a concert - Deathstars succeed absolutely as a live band. Personally, I like my shocking attention span catered for, eye bulging excitement from go to whoa, loads of visual stimulus and a sing-a-long part. They ticked all of my boxes tonight, plus if I ever find myself under a full moon in a frosty Northern European graveyard, Deathstars would be the only possible soundtrack.
CORNER HOTEL SET LIST:
Night Electric Night
Mark Of The Gun
New Dead Nation
Blood Stains Blondes
Death Dies Hard
Photos by me and Mary Boukouvalas