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From post-metal to old school hardcore in one nasty step

How Cult Of Luna's Johannes transcended into the world of breakdowns

Riwen, a Swedish word with no direct English translation describing an animal attack, a vicious mauling, is all too appropriate a moniker for a band releasing an album with as much feral animosity as The Cold, their debut full-length. It’s the sound of pent up frustrations released, a roughshod, antagonistic rush of old school hardcore that at first listen sounds light years from the experimental voyages for which their guitarist and principal songwriter Johannes Persson is best known, a fifteen years and counting journeyman of uncharted musical territories with post metal alchemists Cult Of Luna.

The difference between the two bands might at first glance seem profound, but for Persson, starting out in the hardcore scene and ending up in a band that writes music so compositionally ambitious was a natural process of evolution. “If you look at them now, (Cult Of Luna’s most recent album) Vertikal and Riwen, they are very different,” he says, “but for me, I still listen to old hardcore records, and it was during a Cult Of Luna sound check – we can sound check for 2-3 hours – that I started feeling like I wanted to do something… more direct.”

Such a response begs the question of whether Johannes became fed up of being part of such a complex organism. 

“Not fed up. I just wanted to do something simpler. I had two weeks where I didn’t have anything to do, so I decided to write one song every day. When I had 14 or 15 songs I contacted Christian (Augustin, drums), he also plays live drums for Cult Of Luna and this freaking Swedish tornado called Total Fucking Darkness – they’re amazing, and also Fredrik (Lindkvist, vocals) who sings for them. We met up, rehearsed for one day, recorded overnight and that became the first 10 inch.” 

After recruiting “the most loved and hated person in the Swedish hardcore scene” Christoffer Röstlund Jonsson on bass and Marita Jonsson Mätlik on guitar, the album came about quickly. “We recorded really fast,” remembers Persson, “two takes maximum. No fucking about!”

For Johannes, a perfectionist, Riwen is all about immediacy, following your heart, an ideology that has very much informed the writing process, a purposeful escape from his meticulous approach to Cult Of Luna. “I contemplated the idea of starting something new because being in a seven-piece band, it’s sometimes very hard to get things done, and sometimes it’s been so frustrating I’ve thought ‘fuck, I should start my own thing just so I don't have to think about what any other person would think about my ideas.’ Cult Of Luna is me, in my core. Riwen is me trying to do something filtered from them, from the person I am. When I write with Cult Of Luna I get so many ideas, but the threshold to keep them is high, maybe 1 out of 100 riffs; that’s an exaggeration, but you get what I’m saying. With Riwen, one song had to be ready by the end of the day. It probably means that I ended up keeping worse riffs, but still!”

At this point conversation drifts from talking specifically about Riwen and into more abstract territories, whether it’s a fair assumption to divide hardcore and metal along lines of emotion versus technicality. “There’s so many great musicians playing hardcore," counters Johannes. “The problem with being too technical is that you start writing too much from your head. You shouldn’t be technical for the sake of it. What I love with a lot of old hardcore albums, not only hardcore, a lot of my favourite albums aren’t perfectly recorded. If you can hear the small errors and mistakes you’re capturing a moment.”

Riwen is a wilful resurrection of old school hardcore’s spirit, a ‘fuck you’ spat through bloodied teeth, testament to Sweden’s proud tradition as a bastion of filth encrusted d-beat, a million miles away from modern interpretations of hardcore that irk Persson. “We’ve been touring Europe for the last 15 years and as I understand it, hardcore and metal has kind of merged. I’ve seen so many bands doing this metal/hardcore thing, the perfect playing, the breakdowns; it’s so boring. Maybe I’m not the right person to judge it but I don’t see the value. Its empty shells, soulless music.”

Superficiality infects popular culture on a much larger scale than just modern hardcore, a mainstream content with being fed the same old thing, endlessly repackaged, style taking precedent over substance to such an extent that it has ultimately led to a lack of an ability to appreciate depth, to be able to cope with controversial ideas expressed controversially. It is something that frustrates Persson; that fuels him. 

“I like poetry that forces me to read between the lines. That doesn’t limit to lyrics. There’s a lot of people that have a problem with reading between lines and cannot for the life of them think that what a person is saying might not be what they’re really saying... People get offended for the most childish reasons. I wrote the lyrics for (The Cold’s seventh track) Stalking A Wounded Wolf. It’s about not fearing confrontation, instead actively seeking it out. I don’t have a problem calling an idiot an idiot, and I’d hope people call me an idiot when I act like one. The main reason I write that is that people, especially in Sweden, have a hard time having a different opinion without it becoming infected. You and I might have a disagreement, we might have a loud discussion about it, but then, at least I can, forget and say ‘let’s grab a beer and talk about Slayer!’ There are a lot of people who cannot do that, that think that having a difference of opinion says something about you as a person…” He trails off again, before effectively summing up the animosity which makes Riwen such a viciously mauling listen. “I could go on and on and on about what I think sucks about Homo Sapiens 2015.”

Riwen's new album The Cold is out now, via Indie Recordings. Get your copy here.

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