Withering Surface Returns With ‘Meet Your Maker’
Founding guitarist Allan Tvedebrink discusses how the Danish melodic death group’s comeback and how it is also a bit of a family affair
By Justin Smulison
It turns out that Withering Surface’s 15-year absence was really more of an extended hiatus. The Danish melodic death metal trailblazers returned in June with Meet Your Maker, an album that harnesses modern recording techniques while paying homage to their signature sound.
The band was revered for four stellar LPs and one EP between 1997 and 2004 before disbanding. Its original members have remained active in the global metal scene, like guitarist and riff-master Allan Tvedebrink, who formed the brutal metal band, The Kandidate. And vocalist Michael H. Andersen is still an ace growler who has become perhaps better known as the managing director of Mighty Music in Denmark (the label which released Meet Your Maker).
Rounding out Withering Surface’s current lineup is original drummer Jakob Møller Gundel; keyboardist Morten Lybecker, who played in the band from 1999 to 2005; guitarist Marcel Lysgaard Lech, who played from 1998 to 2000; and new bassist Jesper Kvist (Invocator, Raunchy).
It is an exciting time for the reinvigorated sextet – though they are older, wiser and a little more tech-savvy, they are as heavy as ever. Check out their first single, “Leaves In The Stream” for proof. Blessed Altar Zine contributor Justin Smulison caught up with Tvedebrink to discuss Meet Your Maker, how it furthers some themes from prior albums and what the future holds.
An Interview with Allan Tvedebrink of Withering Surface
Blessed Altar Zine: What inspires you to write for Withering Surface?
Allan Tvedebrink: I’ve always had a tough time answering that question. I think the creative process is the funniest part of being in a band. It’s not that I walk around and have this energy in me that I just NEED to have an output, but when I sit down and write music, it just flows. I love to explore all the possibilities and options and really get into nerding every riff or composition. I guess inspiration comes from everything from old and new music in various genres to the sounds in nature and emotions from my life.
How did technological advances in recording foster the creative process for Meet Your Maker?
The only thing I used was a four-track recorder for the second album, The Nude Ballet because I was the sole guitarist and composer for the majority of the material. Otherwise, we’ve always been a rehearsal room band, where we’d create a song from ideas and riffs I would bring.
Meet Your Maker would not have happened if it wasn’t for the technology of today. We are living pretty far from each other and we all have lives that do not allow us to hang out in the rehearsal room. So when we decided to give the reunion a go, I sat down at home and made full demos with guitar, bass and programmed drums to give the other guys a good picture of where I wanted us to go. Then they worked on their parts and thus we sent the entire record back and forth online before we did the recording. A strange way to create music as a band, but it really worked well for us and the constellation we have.
What do you love about your metal genre? How does it create more opportunities for you?
I used to listen a lot to melodic death metal when I was young and it was really what drove us to make music as Withering Surface. I’m actually not listening to much melo death at this point, but to me it is the ultimate style of music when you love to play melodic music and have aggression and growls included. I think that with melo death pretty much everything is “allowed” and it is a wonderful playground for creativity and fun.
There are clearly influences from other metal subgenres in Meet Your Maker. How do they influence the lyrical content, or vice versa?
I don’t know too much about Michael’s approach when he’s writing lyrics, but musically, I – and the other members – am very diverse in the taste of music. Both in genres and individually. I’m a big fan of progressive rock and metal and I just love guitar-oriented and instrumental music, I guess that can be heard. And I’ve always loved melodic and catchy rock and pop songs which is where the whole melodic aspect comes from. I think it’s really nice to have influences from a lot of genres and artists – even if it doesn’t have a direct influence on the material.
What song(s) from Meet Your Maker do you feel a longtime fan would gravitate to most?
I think that “Alone” and “In A City Without Soul” are the ones that have the most comparable features to the old material. And of course “I’ll Soon Be Gone,” which is kind of a part three of the “ballads” from the first two albums.
Obviously, this is a tribute to what we did so many years ago, but also broadens the diversity of the album. It’s funny how I thought that song would be the least interesting for many people, but counting the streams it has gotten, it really took off compared to the others!
I’m glad you mentioned “I’ll Soon Be Gone” because it is a total left turn from the other songs and is very affecting. That song features Michael’s daughter, Elizabeth on guest vocals. It is one of the few – if any – father-daughter duets in melo-death metal. What was that experience like for the family and the band?
Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard of that before. I was quite surprised, when Michael brought it up. And then on the other hand, it’s totally his style to do something like that. When I wrote the song, I had in mind having someone else singing it together with Michael as we had done in the past. It is a tip of the hat to the old songs “Farewell” and “The Last One,” but as this is a reunion where we’d like to keep the Withering Surface DNA, we don’t want to just copy ourselves from 20 years ago.
So I thought it would be cool to have another guy sing the song. Also Michael had been thinking of famous Danish singers to collaborate with, but then he came up with the idea of involving his daughter. It meant a lot to him to do the duet with Elizabeth. She’s now 19 years old and she’s been a part of his musical life forever. Now she’s leaving to live by herself so the meaning of the lyrics suddenly made sense on a whole different level as well.
I think it was a really great thing for them to do. And I’m happy for them. From my perspective, I think the result is excellent and it makes the song more personal and involved than if we had some stranger do it.
Aside from the personnel shuffles, what are some of the biggest changes—positive, negative, or otherwise—that WS has experienced?
Overall, a lot has changed since we were a band in the 1990s and early 2000s. First of all, there’s the technology and the whole writing/recording/mixing process. Besides the sound aspect, the visual aspect is also very different. We are now doing all of the material ourselves, as I am working as a graphic guy. In the old days, we were very much left to the mercy of others in everything we put out. It feels really good to have full control of everything. Also nowadays Michael has his own record label. We considered shopping the album around for a deal, but we decided to release it through Mighty Music to have full control.
On a more personal level, we have of course evolved as people. We have a lot more experience and skills and a more mature approach to life. We haven’t played live with the reunited installation yet – for obvious reasons – and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that will go. We are planning on using in-ear monitoring and other technicalities that should make everything easier and more comfortable, which is also a big change.
What was the Scandinavian metal scene like when Withering Surface began in the early 1990s? How was it unique from other regions and internationally?
The melodic death metal scene was very concentrated in Sweden. It was very strong because there were a lot of bands who knew each other, toured with each other and had the whole pioneer spirit going on. MDM will always be a Swedish thing as Black Metal will be Norwegian and the rest of us are just trying to do what we like to do and not be compared too much to the Swedes as it will always be lower ranked.
We didn’t feel we were a part of a Scandinavian metal scene as there was one other MDM band in Denmark far away from us. The rest of the Danish bands played traditional death metal, thrash or whatever take they would have on metal.
How do you feel the scene has changed, evolved or improved over time?
The whole internet thing has meant a lot for the scenes all around the world. It’s not local anymore and it is really easy to connect to similar bands and set up tours and collaborations on a whole different level. And of course it’s easier for music fans to discover new artists and for artists to get noticed. I think it is the greatest thing that ever happened to music in general. Of course it is really easy to release music and the internet is kind of flooded with all kinds of crap that should have never been released (or uploaded), but overall it’s great.
How closely do you have your ear to the metal underground?
Not too close, I’m afraid. I discover a lot of music from Spotify and Bandcamp but I guess that underground bands have a hard time breaking through on those platforms. I used to go to a lot of concerts which was the easiest way to discover new acts as they supported the bigger names, but lately I haven’t had the time for it. I have a crust punk band on the side called Parasight. We have toured a lot in Europe, primarily in squats and youth clubs and there are a lot of talented bands tour there, but we have been inactive for well over a year.
But as I mentioned before there are also many crap bands and everyone can upload music to SoundCloud, YouTube or whatever from their bed rooms these days. The great underground bands, I’ve discovered at concerts.
What do you feel underground metal bands need to do to survive, considering the current state of the world (and even factoring in COVID-19)?
That’s a tough one. As I would always encourage bands to get out and play live, that will always be the best advice from me. But during COVID, I don’t know. If you are really eager to get your music out there, I’d probably spend some time on doing some quality streams or videos. From the rehearsal room, writing or recording sessions, Q&A, trying to get a lot of views and followers online with interesting content. Maybe that’s the way to go these days.
What are the chances WS will create more new music?
Pretty good, I’d say. We are soon to hit the road and we have great plans. Besides headlining gigs in Denmark, we are planning a European tour as support for some else. We’ll see if the touring will boost the energy or totally slap us around, leaving us not to pursue the Withering Surface adventure further. But the intent is there and I definitely feel good about doing another album.
What would you like to say to fans who may have thought Withering Surface had closed the door forever?
Please give us another chance. I know it is kind of cliche, but I really feel and believe that Meet Your Maker is the best album we have done, by far. I have a lot of love for the old material and I do believe that we have succeeded in the reunion, as we have kept the DNA without being stuck in the past.
And hopefully, we’ll see you somewhere on tour when COVID and all this distancing bullshit is over!
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