Meet Marvel, the masked men of Five Smell City
Swedish trio Märvel are back... with a new album, a W.A.S.P cover, and a tour van from 1976
You remember when the Scandinavians saved rock'n'roll 15 or so years ago? I hope you do, man. If it wasn't for Turbonegro, the Hellacopters and Gluecifer, you might still be listening to Korn right now. Forget Jesus, you should be praying to Happy Tom every night.
Sweden's Märvel know what I'm talking about because they are following in Turbo's denim-bedeviled footsteps, delivering high-octane action rock with devastating pop hooks and tongues planted firmly in their masked-cheeks. Originally they wore capes and solved low-level crimes during their downtime, but as of late they've been spotted in Hamburgler masks aping 80's metal moves. In fact, their latest single is an all-balls cover of W.A.S.P.'s seminal '84 fist-waver L.O.V.E. Machine, bashed out with way more playful reverence than you'd expect. If rock'n'roll ever needs to be saved again, our pals in Märvel are most definitely up to the challenge.
The Burgher holds down the bottom-end in this mysterious trio. But as he explains, Märvel is not really a trio at all. It's more of an ever-widening rock'n'roll collective.
“Yeah, I'm really the third bass player,” he says. “We never actually lose any members. Even if you leave, you're still in the band. That's our philosophy, the more the better. We have a whole stable, basically, but I'm the one doing all the shows and recordings at this point.”
So what happens if somebody wants to join back up?
“We let them,' he shrugs. “At our last show, the last bass player joined us for a couple of songs. If they're around, they're in.”
Like the other members of the band, Burgher is from the quaintly-named Five Smell City. They wrote a whole album about it back in 2005. By all accounts, it's a helluva town. And even though Burgher can't even remember all five odours at this point, he assures me, it lives up to its regal name.
“Yeah, we're all from Five Smell,” he says proudly. “Lemme see if I can remember all the smells. There's a power plant in our city, it's got a very specific odour to it. Then there's anxiety and burnt electronics. Also spilled beer. I can't remember the fifth smell, but it's not great, that's for sure. If you come to Five Smell City for the weekend, you'll get to experience all of them, believe me.
It seems mystifying that a band named Märvel who once dressed up like superheroes has not been sued out of existence by the comic book juggernaut that shares its name, but like so many of us in rock'n'roll. Burgher suggests that they have been redeemed by an umlaut.
“Yeah the little dots have saved us, so far,” he laughs. “We're just trying stay out of their way as much as we can and the umlauts seem to do it for us.” And it is true, after all, that they're no longer dressing like caped crusaders. It's a whole new trip these days. “Yeah, we've toned that bit down. Now we're the three cornerstones of society, the Vicar, the King, and the Burgher. That's how we see it these days.” If, like me, you have no idea what a 'burgher' is, I'll spare you a trip to the dictionary. It's a member of the wealthy bourgeoisie. To be honest, they just look like cartoon bank robbers to me, which is fine with the Burgher. The whole idea, after all, is to keep people guessing. I mean, who knows? Half the band could also be in Ghost. “Yeah, I've heard that rumour,” laughs Burgher. “We don't really wanna comment on that.” He does, however, recommend wearing a mask in public more often. It can really make life more interesting when no one knows who you are.
“Most of the things I do in a mask I wouldn't do without one,” he says. “It's like having a get out of jail free card. Wearing a mask can really be a door-opener.”
So can arriving in town in a souped-up powder-blue 1976 tour bus, as Märvel often do.
“It's lovely, it's the perfect home away from home,” Burgher gushes. The King and [Märvel manager] Papa Bear really did a good number on it, they put a TV and everything in there. But then again, it's from 1976,” he laughs. “We were in Helsinki a couple months ago and it broke down in the middle of rush hour. I dunno, you just stay in the back of the bus and have a beer and pray everything works out.”
Somewhere amidst all the masked-mayhem and broken bus hijinks, Märvel managed to record a new mini-album, The Hills Have Eyes, a tidy little sampler of their hook-heavy Saturday night rock n' roll, anchored by the aforementioned W.A.S.P. cover. So what drew the hip young Swedes to this ancient LA chestnut?
“It's an homage to the Vicar,” says Burgher. “You should see him around the ladies. He really is a love machine. Also, it's just really fun to do. We love the first two W.A.S.P. records. The Swedish rock scene, it can be pretty generic. You know, it's like everybody has the same references. With us, we like 80's metal, Dire Straits, all kinds of different things.”
But have they ever met Blackie Lawless?
“No, not yet,” sighs Burgher. “He's a bit past his prime, but it would be fun to talk to him. His appearance has only gotten more hilarious with every year that passes. He looks like an old angry woman. It's pretty wonderful.”
So is The Hills Have Eyes, really. And with an mini-album like this and a forty-year old tour bus, the sky's the limit.
“We think the new record is gonna be a great and we're gonna promote it as much as we can,” gushes Burgher. As far as what you can expect from their live shows, he suggests you expect everything.
“Basically we try to act on every impulse,” he chuckles. “That's our philosophy onstage. And that's where the masks really come in handy.”
And while you're waiting for Märvel to invade your town, Burgher also suggests you download a stencil of their logo from their website and spray-paint it on every available surface.
“Yeah, I really hope that catches on,” he says. “It's great. People have been sending in pics. Especially the Germans. They've really gotten into it. They're really committed to petty crimes.”