In a world where the old guard of Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Trouble will be retiring, new bands will have to rise and take their place. However, in these times many hard-working bands will also finally get their due, one of these bands are the spellweavers Sahg from Norway. With an excellent new album out in Memento Mori, it was time for vocalist Olav Iversen to reveal all about the album, the new line up, his influences and the band’s history.
Jack: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Olav [Iversen, singer/guitarist]: I’m doing very fine, thank you.
Jack: You’re about to release your fifth album Memento Mori, are you excited to finally unleash it upon the world?
Olav: Very excited. It has been brewing for a long time, and a lot has happened in the process. To make an album is like keeping a big secret. The excitement builds and builds, and it is a big relief when it finally comes out.
Jack: The album is about mortality, how much did the deaths of Lemmy and Bowie play in the theme of this album?
Olav: The deaths of Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie added a new perspective to the theme of the album. We were already deeply into the thematics of mortality and the inevitability of death, and this was yet another brutal reminder that everybody dies some time. Even “immortal” heroes like Bowie, Lemmy and Jeff Hannemann. Bowie and Lemmy died while we were recording the album, and losing [those] who have been our musical idols since we were little, almost feels like losing someone in your family. So it made a great impact on us, and affected the way we approached some of the songs in the studio. The deaths of these gentlemen put their hearable mark on the album.
Jack: What was your favourite piece of work by these artists?
Olav: My favourite Motörhead album, among many favourites, is Overkill. But Orgasmatron, Another Perfect Day, No Sleep´Til Hammersmith…there are so many great ones. Bowie has put out such a wide range of different music. Favourite albums are Space Oddity and Hunky Dory, but the way he ended it all by releasing the wonderful Blackstar only a couple of weeks before his passing. Even his death was a piece of art. He was a true artist in both life and death.
Jack: Given the depressing subject matter, was it depressing writing and recording the album?
Olav: You go through moods and dig into dark matters when writing on such a subject. But besides that, making this album was anything but depressing. It showed the strength of the new line-up we had got together, and it was an inspiration to see how things came together and evolved through a new-found enthusiasm in the band.
Jack: Before the album, drummer Thomas Lønnheim and founding member Thomas Tofthagen left the band. Why did they decide to leave?
Olav: I think it had been building for a while, both had to dedicate more and more of their time to family, work and other musical projects. It came to a point where they had to make a choice and to quit something. One might argue whether they made the right choice, of course. And the decision to quit simultaneously wasn’t great.
Jack: Sahg nearly called it quits at this point, what made you carry on and stay the course?
Olav: It didn’t take long before we went from a “near death” experience, to realising that we had too much undone to call it quits. We really felt we had a creative momentum going, which we couldn’t abandon just like that. The positivity we got when we started asking around for new members also gave us a clear impression that we had made the right choice. There were a few who really wanted to join, but had to decline for practical reasons. But still, when we found two such great replacements so quickly, there was no doubt in our minds that we had made the right decision.
Jack: You have new members in guitarist Ole Walaunet and drummer Mads Lilletvedt. How did you find them?
Olav: Ole had joined us as stand-in lead guitarist on two tours already. So he was a very natural top choice for new guitarist. The reason he was with us as a stand-in, was of course that he was the best man for the job in the first place. A truly outstanding player, and the fact that he accepted to join permanently was crucial for the decision to continue the band. We didn’t have a clear first choice for a drummer initially, because that was a scenario that came very unexpectedly. So we started asking around with a few guys, and pretty soon we approached Mads. He was truly surprised and honored to get the request, since this came as a complete surprise for him as well. But in a matter of hours he replied that he was ready for the job. And voila, the new line-up was in place.
Jack: What did they add to the recording process?
Olav: They added a lot of new energy, enthusiasm and new influences into the process. They both hail from the more extreme end of the metal genre, with a past in black and death metal bands, like Grimfist and Hellish Outcast. Their natural aggressive approach added an extra “metal injection” into the mix, and gave the sound some extra bite. Even at such an early stage after joining the band, Ole also contributed on some of the songwriting on a couple of tracks.
Jack: What artists influenced the album?
Olav: That’s a long list, so I will avoid to mention the obvious. Morbid Angel, Gojira, Celtic Frost … we sought some more aggressive influences, which resulted in some pretty heavy tunes, like Sanctimony and Blood Of Oceans. Pink Floyd, Mastodon [and] Voivod had influence on the more psych and proggy elements. David Bowie, Motörhead. As mentioned before, Lemmy and Bowie’s deaths made their marks on the album. When some of your big idols pass, you dig back into their legacy and cherish their memory, like you do when someone you care about dies. That way, David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister affected the album and inspired a different approach to some of the songs.
Jack: Were you influenced by any other pieces of art such as books, pieces of art or films?
Olav: Not so much this time. It is more about the harsh realities of life, faith and death. The darkest truths of our history. The horrors of the world here and now. That was a huge inspiration on this album.
Jack: Closing track ‘Blood of Oceans’ featured original Sahg drummer Einar Selvik, what was it like working with him? How did he become involved?
Olav: I go way back with Einar. He was the original drummer of Sahg, and one of the founding members of the band. He quit Sahg to focus on Wardruna, which has become a huge success, and has made Einar the most profound composer and musician in Norse-inspired music. So, when ‘Blood Of Oceans’ started to take shape, it was obvious to ask if he wanted to get involved. The idea for the song is based on natural religion, in this case a religious relationship to the ocean, which again has its root in the old Norse beliefs. It is also a hymn to the people of the stormy Norwegian coast, who live with the ocean as their biggest threat and most generous helper. We presented the idea, and the lyrics, and the song to Einar, and he was instantly turned on to it and wanted to contribute. We shared some ideas of how he could help make the song even more genuine by adding some Norse musical elements, and what he came up with totally lifted the song to new heights.
Jack: This track is heavily inspired by Norse and Pagan works. Are you inspired by Norse and Pagan culture outside of the band?
Olav: Yes, I am. There is a lot of sense in how the ancient Norse practiced their religion. They related to actual powers and phenomena which you can see in nature and based their gods and belief upon them, instead of relating to a completely abstract god, like most other religions do.
Jack: Sahg have been around since 2004 and have released five albums, are you surprised to have made it this far?
Olav: If you asked me 12 years ago, I definitely never would have guessed that Sahg would come this far. Like most bands, it started as a creative “playground”, which has just kept evolving and taken new shapes ever since. Some would say that we haven’t “made it” because we haven’t broken through to a bigger, more mainstream audience after all these years, but that is not what Sahg is about. This band is about making and playing exactly the music we want, with no compromise. I never expected many other people to like our music, but it turns out many other people do. Not “most people”, but that is not the point. I’d rather play to a few interested people than “everybody”, who would offer less attention.
Jack: What’s your fondest memory of your time with Sahg?
Olav: There are so many. But I want to mention the shows we did together with Iron Maiden and Motörhead (there’s Lemmy again). These were two separate occasions, but the feeling and anticipation from sharing the stage with some of your all time biggest heroes in music, is the same. You walk on for soundcheck and you see Lemmy’s Rickenbacher basses lined up and his “Murder One” Marshall stack up there. And you walk on stage to open up for Iron Maiden, and the stage props from ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ are on there, and you see the huge Eddie behind Nicko’s drum kit. These things are just surreal, it’s almost like a dream. It’s something you dreamt of doing since you were a kid, and then it finally happens.
Jack: What’s been the biggest challenge with the band?
Olav: It was to resurrect after the band had been split to pieces. It was a tough time not knowing whether the band would survive or not. It was a feeling of emptiness, and we had to dig deep to find the strength to get the band back on its feet. Fortunately, it turned out a smaller challenge than we had feared.
Jack: What are the upcoming plans for the band? I know you have some shows in October/November I believe.
Olav: That is correct, we head down to central Europe for some shows along with Jess And The Ancient Ones and half UK act Powder For Pigeons, starting in Hamburg, Germany, on October 28th. Very excited about the tour line-up, it is quite different from anything we have joined before, since we mostly toured along with typical metal bands in the past. We plan on more touring next year, so more tour and festival dates will come. So touring is the main focus for the time to come, before we start working on new ideas for the next album.
Jack: Finally, as you’re influenced by Pentagram, what is your favourite Pentagram album?
Olav: ‘Relentless’. Fantastic debut. Magic. Bobby Libeling for president! A million times better than Trump, anyway.
Jack: Thank you so very much for your time and I hope to see you in the UK soon!
Olav: Thank you, we certainly hope to publish some UK tour dates soon.