He's been through some pretty tough times, both on a personal and artistic level. But, as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. When vocalist Erik Hagstedt, better known as Legion, divorced from Marduk, several doubts must have obscured destiny from his view. One thing that was certain, though, was that the next path to take would be paved in Metal.
This path was eventually named Devian, and is evolving into one of the most promising and exciting Death/Black/Thrash bands around. If with "Ninewinged Serpent" - Devian's first album - Legion emerged from the shadow of Marduk, then the impending chapter in his career could be a crucial turning point for him and for Devian. Production guru Peter Tägtgren (Dark Funeral, Dimmu Borgir, Therion, Children Of Bodom, Celtic Frost, and many many other bands) has also been hauled aboard as the band's accomplice.
When Legion phones me, he sounds knackered, having just got home from Stockholm (more on that later). Nonetheless, his enthusiasm when speaking about music and Devian is as impassioned as always. Taking advantage of his receptive mood I enquired about the band's recent European tour with Vader, Septic Flesh and Inactive Messiah. (Trivia geeks might want to know that Seth Siro Anton, vocalist/bassist with Septic Flesh, had also done the artwork for "Ninewinged Serpent".)
Legion: It was our first tour and we concluded it on the 9th of June. We did around 46 gigs in many states throughout Europe and in all the tour lasted around 50 days.
Chris: - Could you give me a brief synopsis of this tour?
L: Well it was really, really good. Before the tour we had done some club gigs to warm up. Then we did the premiere of the tour at Namrock festival, in Belgium. During those club gigs we noticed that people had really got into the band and this had given us a lot of confidence. But I still kinda had the butterflies before the actual tour because this was a new thing. I had been used to doing things in the ways of the past.
Anyway it went really well and I was actually surprised in a way because they [Vader] have a core audience that's really fanatical about their idols. They're also an infamous crowd because they'll boo the opening act off stage if they don't like them. Despite this we had a great response throughout all the tour, with the exception of 2 shows.
C: - Did you do any open-air festivals?
L: No. We only did an indoor festival in April…..actually it was March, in Belgium. We were talking to some open-air festivals for this summer but nothing really panned out. For example a festival in Spain had to be cancelled because there were no flight tickets available. Anyway, we figured we still covered the entire market of Europe since we were all over the place.
It turns out we're now going to be in the studio this summer. The entire album is written. After the tour, Century Media met us and told us: "We can see that things are going to pick up and we're surprised at how well you guys have been doing. As soon as you can please do record an album."
So I phoned Peter Tägtgren who told us: "Sure - right now I'm touring with Pain but [after that] let's talk things through on the recording." He agreed to produce the album at a very short notice.
C: - What exactly is the situation on the album?
L: We've finished tracking the drums and yesterday the rhythm guitar to the second song was done. We have thirteen [songs] to go. The album is being recorded in the same studio where "Ninewinged Serpent" was done but the difference is that Peter is producing it. Of course he has already been down here, tampering and familiarising with all the equipment and telling us, for example, what kind of microphones he wants us to use and how the mics are to be placed after having heard us play the new songs. Basically he's been sharing his expertise. I'm going to put down the vocals in 'The Abyss' studio so actually we'll be recording in two studios.
C: - Peter had also produced most of the albums you did with Marduk. What did he think of Devian's music?
L: He really liked it. I mean if he thought that he would be doing something that he didn't get a grip on, he has so much work that he can easily say "yes" as much as he can say "no". When I had sent him some demos he thought they were really cool and immediately envisioned a ton of good ideas for our sound. It actually wasn't difficult to convince him to be part of it because he thought this was something he could do good with. Basically Peter is in charge of everything, only that Richard Kottelin, who produced the first album, is going to be the engineer.
C: - How come "Ninewinged Serpent" wasn't also done at 'The Abyss'?
L: We already knew Richard as the guitarist with The Legion, the other band of Emil [Dragutinovic - Devian's drummer]. Emil is in fact the co-owner of the studio where Richard works.
C: - Of course Emil already played with you when you were in Marduk. Were the reasons he left Marduk related to the reasons you yourself left the band?
L: I left around November of 2003 and just 6 months later B. War - the bassist - also left, for basically the same reasons. Both he and Emil had said everything changed when I quit. Obviously Morgan [Håkansson - Marduk guitarist and mentor] wanted to change the band as well. In fact, as you can see on their subsequent albums, the conceptual ideas are a little bit different. B. War also wanted to go and live in the States with his family.
Emil actually thought about quitting at the same time as B. War but although he had his tattoo studio going he still stayed with the band. He had admitted, however, that when the new line-up came together with Daniel - or Mortuus, as he called himself - the band had really changed. Of course Mortuus is a great guy and when he and Devo joined Marduk, Emil got along great with Mortuus. Emil wrote most of "Plague Angel" [2004 Marduk album] but when we came up with Devian and things started rolling on more and more, it took up more and more of Emil's time, to a point when he said: "Now I've had it. I'm out." At that point we started focusing all out on Devian.
C: - In my opinion the new Marduk album, "Rom 5:12", is very different from anything previously done by the band. What do you think of it?
L: Although I had listened to "Plague Angel" when it came out, I haven't heard the new Marduk album so much. Therefore I can't really give you my views on it. Without doubt, however, it doesn't sound like the same band anymore.
C: - In fact there are even clean vocals on it…
L: Yeah. I think Alan, of Primordial, did those.
C: - In your opinion, what are the fundamental differences between an album like "Panzer Division Marduk" [1999 Marduk album] and Devian's "Ninewinged Serpent"?
L: Well…..what can I say….."Panzer…" was more of a statement. In a way we had thought that this was going to be a step back for us in respect to "Nightwing" [1998 Marduk album]. First, in "Heaven Shall Burn" [1996 Marduk album] we got the momentum going and then, when we toured for "Nightwing", we saw that the venues were getting larger and the reaction for us better. We had felt that "Panzer…" was just something we needed to do so badly. This would be something for our die-hard fans and the rest would say: "Thanks, but no thanks." At the time we didn't really care, it was just something that had to come out.
To our great surprise people thought that it was refreshing and it was very successful. An album like that, however, we could only do once because it was as much a statement as it was music. I guess that's why the "La Grande Danse Macabre" album  turned out so differently and, to be honest, I don't think it was so good. I mean we had toured so much for "Panzer…" and afterwards everyone was pushing us to record another album straight away. In fact, I remember just 2 months before the recording we had maybe 2 or 3 riffs and no lyrics. We ended up fighting and the spirit in the band was really bad. The only reason that "World Funeral"  sounded like a recharge of batteries was that Emil came along and he brought in a lot of fresh ideas. Maybe he also brought back the fun element into the work.
Devian is very different from Marduk in a lot of ways. Marduk had such a Punk attitude that we did not work on the songs at all at rehearsals. Whoever wrote the riffs would come into the rehearsal room, played them to the band and we'd say [speaks nonchalantly]: "All right, that's fine, we'll put those riffs there then." And when we arranged some riffs together, we had a song. And that was basically it. All the little nuances and finesses around the albums are basically Peter's doings.
The first Devian album originated from Demos done in my own studio when I was living in Germany as well as from Demos done in Emil's own home studio. When we started working on Devian we rehearsed a lot. You know, I really suck as a guitarist but Emil is quite a decent rhythm guitarist. Then again, he's nothing compared to Joinus and Tomas [Devian's guitarists]. Joinus was the only other band-member until then and he helped us a lot in shaping up the band's music. The difference between the first album and the new songs we've written is that now they're written by the entire band. And the only way that we'd consider the songs to be good enough is after we've rehearsed them, produced them, changed them around and then seen them grow on us. If the songs wouldn't have grown on us, if we don't feel that they would be some really good shit, then we just throw them away and it's back to the drawing board.
C: - So all the band-members are involved in the creative aspect of Devian...
L: Yes. And what I think is so good is that no-one has the ego to say things like: "Hey, but my riffs are so great so we shouldn't change that." For example I wrote a song in my home studio and in it I also played the riffs. Afterwards Joinus and Tomas redid it. When we realised it wasn't going to be so good we just discarded all the shit. When someone writes a song, nobody gets offended if we tell him: "Look, this idea is not really working."
C: - You have the discipline to keep good ideas but not hesitate to discard unworkable ones...
L: Yeah, exactly. And I really like that. It's all a common struggle with Devian and decisions aren't taken unilaterally. It's different from that point of view, it's really healthy and I think it's working.
C: - I'd like to focus on the Black Metal scene of Scandinavia in the early 1990s. The musical extremity of this scene, particularly in Norway, had evolved into something unprecedentedly more violent. Churches were burnt down, people murdered, insular communities terrorised - all this supposedly inspired by Black Metal. The mainstream media had practically introduced Black Metal to a wider world.
How had you reacted to those events and do you still retain the same point-of-view today?
L: I remember when it started out…..what had really turned me on about the Black Metal scene was probably the mythic and clandestine aura and that this was something that was ours. None of us that were in there from the beginning probably foresaw that Black Metal would ever be commercially successful.
Before all that, I remember the Swedish Metal scene and a Thrash band from Sweden called Agony, who were the first to be signed. All of us were tape-trading and trading fanzines and we told ourselves: "What the fuck is this? A Swedish band that is not trying to be Europe and they're actually getting signed and getting to release an album?!!" It was the same thing when Entombed came out and everyone was saying: "Wow! This can't be happening!" But Black Metal was always so much more extreme and it was also like a protest movement against 'trendy' Death Metal. I'm probably using the wrong expression here but you know what I'm trying to say.
I just loved the Black Metal scene back then. Earlier on I told you that I've just come back from Sweden - well I also met up with all of my old friends in the Metal scene. And it's like you know who everybody is and there's a kind of bond between all of us. It was great to just have that network. Of course all the shit that came with it was so extreme but at the same time it was also exciting because it was also so fuckin' wild and out of proportion. If I think about the mindset of that time I think we were all at war.
I remember when Marduk first went into 'The Abyss' studio - the next day the guest area was completely wrecked, there was a hole in the wall, we had a food-fight in the kitchen and all the beds were wrecked to shreds with splinters all over the room. Peter came into the room screaming: "Whadda fuck?!!! You assholes had better shape up 'cause I'm gonna bill you for this." That was our typical behavior and when I look back at such incidents I just have to shake my head and laugh. I wonder what the fuck had been going through our minds.
C: - I don't think Peter was laughing though!
L: Oh, I don't think he was pleased at all!
[We both laugh.]
L: Those were very different times but in a way the 'war on Christianity' was very childish and stupid. You can always say what you think and if someone else respects that, then it's great. Sure, you can always promote your idea if you think it's really important and you feel you need to educate people about it. Other than that it's stupid running around destroying old buildings and saying: "Yeah, I did something really important today."
C: - For sure religion isn't something that appeals to Devian. However, what do you think is more damaging to religion - hatred or indifference?
L: Good question. In a way, if you hate then you feel, so it's got to affect you in some way. It's the same thing with Marduk - as much as there were many people who loved the band, even more people had a problem with it and hated it. Some people talked so much shit about us that even more people had got interested. The hardest guy to get to is the guy who doesn't give a shit, you know, because he's not going to respond. So yes, if you want some appreciation and if you want to be in the spotlight, those are the guys that are dangerous.
C: - Back to the subject of the forthcoming Devian album, what shall the style be like? Will Devian pick up from where "Ninewinged Serpent" got to or will the music represent a retrospective expression of Black Metal?
L: It's a little bit of everything. In a way it sound more modern though not in the sense of trying to look cool to 16-year-olds that would never have heard of us before. At the same time I'm an old bastard and we're all children of our time so the original influences will still be there.
Tomas used to be our bass guitarist and now he plays lead guitar - his influence has blended a lot into the mix and brought a touch of modern metal into the new stuff. We also have melodic sections that, while not being faster, are different and better. We're also having blastbeats this time around - something we didn't use previously.
C: - Is there a title for the album?
L: No, not yet. For now it's still 'Devian 2'. At first we were going to do a full concept since the first songs that came together were lyrically so much about death and I had even figured out a cover for it. However, when we listened to the songs we realized they weren't so dark and depressive but rather ravaging and nihilistic. We didn't feel the music was related to the concept of death. So around 2 to 3 weeks ago we had to redo everything.
Anyway, the vocal patterns, the themes of the songs, as well as several lyrics are already there but in the coming weeks it will all come together and I'm presently working my ass off every day.
C:- Has a date been set for its release?
L: Definitely this year . We plan to have everything together on the 15th of August. So probably the release-date will be around late October or early November.
C: - While reading the lyrics to previously released songs such as 'Instigator' and 'Suffer The Fools' I began wondering whether any Devian songs are inspired by specific individuals?
L: Some people expect us to write certain lyrics but doing just that would sound very limiting. So we allow whatever is evolving around the band to trigger our creativity and whatever comes out lyrically…..that would be it.
For example 'Suffer The Fools' is about not taking any shit from anybody. It's like 'who the fuck does someone think he is to dictate your life and push you around!' At the time of writing that song my own life was pretty much fucked up and chaotic. 'Scarred' was also written during this period. From that point of view - I don't want to say that everything emerged more maturely because when you think you're making mature music you know you're going downhill - but it was interesting to be more personal and let something that happened to us come out in the form of a lyric. If something moves you emotionally and you can spell that out on paper then it's going to be so much more interesting. Anything that you lived through you can express so much better than something you would have imagined.
Case in point is a 7-minute epic song on the new album called 'When The Vultures Have Left'. As you were asking, that song was inspired by one of the very best friends I've ever had, one of the very few I'd refer to as a brother but not in a cliché sort of way. He was a guy that always stood for me even when I wasn't in a state to do so by myself. Last Fall he was killed in some gang-related violence when he was merely 31 years old. His funeral was the toughest shit I've ever been through. So although that song wasn't inspired by him specifically, it was inspired by the emotions I felt at his loss. Some time after the incident, my son's best friend - who's own father was a good childhood friend of mine - was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer…at four years old…and in fact died shortly afterwards. At that time I was surrounded by people so close to my family that were just dying. That's why that song has so much emotion - I was just releasing whatever I felt into it. And it felt so good to do so, you know.
C: - What bands and music do you listen to beyond Black Metal?
L: Oh, a lot! From Jethro Tull and many classic Rock bands to Metal bands from the 1980s like Iron Maiden. I even like bands such as Muse.
C: - Actually so do I love that band. Their music is commercial but also very dark and emotionally intense.
L: Yeah, you can see that their guitar harmonies aren't borrowed from commercial sources although their music is of course poppy. I think they're a very talented band. There's also this Swedish band called Kent who have a little bit in common with Muse but it's more of an Indie-Pop thing. You know, I don't give a shit what some may think but I really like their music. I come across so much different stuff…..even Lacuna Coil is a band I like listening to. There's all sorts of stuff I listen to and I don't really want to discriminate - it's no fun when you just refuse to listen.
C: - I agree with you absolutely. Do you think any of these influences will be felt in the forthcoming Devian album?
L: Probably not in the sense that you can pinpoint them but the fact that all the band members have really opened up to such a larger variety of music, that is definitely going to be felt in the new album. It's not that far from "Ninewinged Serpent" but everything has blended together so much better this time. I mean it's not like we intentionally want to throw in a shitload of different styles but if we wouldn't be listening to such a broad variety of music, we wouldn't be sounding like Devian, you know.