THE LAW OF GRAVITAS - Dead Kosmonaut
When I interviewed Dead Kosmonaut’s founder Mattias Reinholdsson previously, he described the band’s sound by pointing out that the early metal bands had no restrictions on how their material should sound. “These were musicians who’d not grown up on metal music as it didn’t exist,” he said, “so their take on it had many different facets and albums had acoustic songs, jazzy songs, bluesy songs, progressive songs... I want Dead Kosmonaut to be that sort of band, so that when you listen to one of our songs you don’t really know what’s coming next...”
Dead Kosmonaut’s second album ‘Gravitas’ - due for release in January 2020 - certainly subscribes to that theory. Opener ‘Black Tongue Tar’ boasts some Uriah Heep-like flourishes, while second cut ‘Iscariot’s Dream’ has an element of Sabbath’s stomp and ‘Vanitatis Profeta’ has some nice Maiden-esque guitar runs. That’s not to say though this is a band without an identity – far from it, in fact. But in just three songs they serve up a variety of styles and song structures and display such an array of influences as to keep even the most discriminating metal fan as happy as a dog with two tails. Such is the mastery of Dead Kosmonaut.
The Swedish band opened their account with ‘Expect Nothing’ in 2017, and followed it up with the ‘Rekviem’ mini-LP in 2019. With a settled line-up consisting of Mattias on bass, vocalist Pelle Gustafsson, guitarists Fredrik Folkare and Pär Fransson and drummer Henrik Johansson, Dead Kosmonaut are largely based in Stockholm, although Mattias is quick to point out that he does not consider Dead Kosmonaut to be a Stockholm band. “And neither would I say that this town has inspired Dead Kosmonaut any more than the place where I grew up. I think our kind of metal is more a state of mind rather than a place. Sure, living in a big city like Stockholm exposes me to things I wouldn’t be exposed to elsewhere, but I think my view of the world is more important than what I see. If you get what I mean,” he adds.
“I have tried to put together a strong line-up for the band and I am confident that ‘Gravitas’ illustrates that. It’s more of Dead Kosmonaut. It’s wider and deeper. The heavy stuff is really heavy and the melodic stuff is even more melodic. We’re all very excited to put it out there. ‘Rekviem’, the four-track mini-LP, I always saw as a sort of appendix to ‘Expect Nothing’. The theme for the cover was that of vanity, the same as for ‘Expect Nothing’. And both the track ‘Rekviem’ itself and the instrumental were quite old songs, conceived back when I crafted ‘Expect Nothing’. So I did not write ‘Rekviem’ as much as it just, well, appeared. With ‘Gravitas’, once again I set out to create an album displaying a wide selection of hard rock and heavy metal songs. I was pleased with the way ‘Expect Nothing’ and the mini-LP came out, and I never thought of narrowing down the sound of Dead Kosmonaut; rather the opposite, in fact, as I wanted to put more facets and elements into it. “
The dynamics of the songs also played their part in how ‘Gravitas’ finally appeared. “When I began the work of putting the album together I knew I had two long songs to fit in as well as the more ‘regular’ length tracks. So I came up with the idea of making ‘Gravitas’ literally an album of two sides – the first more hard rock and the second perhaps ‘proggier’, more progressive. I don’t mean it sounds like Yes,” he takes pains to clarify, “but that the songs are, perhaps, more adventurous. ‘Proggier’ like Iron Maiden’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, say, compared to ‘2 Minutes To Midnight.’ So, the first side is four songs that will hopefully grab the listeners’ attention and lead them to side two with the two long songs. I also realised that I needed a transition between these two long ones, so I came up with the title track.
It’s an album of many highlights, but Mattias is more than happy to single out the band’s frontman. “All over the album are Pelle’s vocals,” he notes proudly. “It’s a real tour-de-force. I thought he was good on ‘Expect Nothing’ but on this one he’s really found more of his voice. His vocals on ‘Hell/Heaven’ are probably my favourite on the album. He had loads of ideas for the vocals and most of them we ended up using. And let’s not forget,” he continues, “the luxury of having both Pär Fransson and Fredrik Folkare. I wanted ‘Gravitas’ to be an album of great guitar playing. Guitar solos to remember. And I like to think it is such an album.”
A handful of guests played their part in the execution of ‘Gravitas’. “Daniel Moilanen (Katatonia, Runemagick) plays some drums as well as Fredrich Rönnholm who played on a few songs on the first album. We also have a proper church organist in Mats G. Eriksson performing on the song ‘Dead Kosmonaut’. Per Broddesson plays guitar on the two songs he recorded before he decided to jump ship – we felt that as he was a part of the process of creating the album he should be featured. Last but not least we have a choir singing on ‘Dead Kosmonaut’. It’s pretty massive. But on the whole I am glad we have a more stable line-up with this new album. Let’s hope it stays this way,” he laughs.
As Mattias was more than happy to talk about the songs, here’s his song-by-song guide to ‘Gravitas’:
‘Black Tongue Tar’
I seem to draw inspiration from Judas Priest’s ‘Dissident Aggressor’ quite often. On this song it’s the mighty double bass drum and the overall style of the song – guest drummer Daniel Moilanen really channelled Simon Phillips on this one. But the guitar chord progression came first and the rest followed quite easily. Since it’s the first song on the album, and I decided pretty much early on that this would be the opening song, I added the intro to it. That the song is about depression is no secret – it’s literally there in the lyric! The cover of the album was an image I had carried with me for a while that went with the lyric and when Pelle suggested we should use artist Martin Jonsson it all came together perfectly. He pulled the image into reality beautifully.
Once again the music came very easy. The bassline started it off. I thought it sounded like a strange combination of Judas Priest and Jethro Tull, so the flute was sort of an in-joke, but a nice touch, all the same. I like the way the song keeps changing and ends with a bit of doom, and the guitar duel turned out fantastically. Lyrically it’s a bit political, first playing with the sort of ‘ride free’ clichés often heard in metal then twisting it into harsh reality. It wouldn’t have been a lyric of mine had it not turned out that way. I am a bit of a killjoy!
The intro and the verses are very old, dating back at least twenty years or more, but it’s undergone a lot of changes and additions on the way. For me it sort of took off when I understood that it worked best if played a bit Dio-era Sabbathy. Then the refrain and the midsection followed by itself. The lyric on this song is blatantly blasphemous. I really don’t believe there is a god or any other other-worldly powers. So, as the title says, I am the prophet of vanity. Did I say I am a bit of a killjoy?
‘The Spirit Divide’
This is also an older song. It was one of the unused songs from the ‘Expect Nothing’ sessions. At first I had it planned as the opening song for the ‘Rekviem’ mini-LP, but it was a toss-up between this one and ‘Frozen In Time’ and in the end co-producer Fredrik decided we should use ‘Frozen...’ instead. I have to confess I don’t remember now how the music came about. But I am very fond of the Maiden-esque midsection. This is another song for which John Gaffney wrote the lyrics. He really is a part of the Dead Kosmonaut crew now. When I get stuck with the words, he’s the one I turn to.
I have already come out as an atheist so I started to think that, if there really was a Heaven and a Hell, what would they be. That Hell is here on Earth was a bit of a no-brainer: the things we do to each other is Hell. Heaven was a bit trickier. Where is life eternal? Where does time stand still? On the Event Horizon, of course! On the ‘edge’ of a black hole time does stand still. So – spoiler alert! – I came up with the idea of a bunch of people trying to reach that eternity by building a space ship called Bifrost to actually go there and, of course, it doesn’t work out so well... The lyric for Hell was pretty easy to come up with but I got bogged down with Heaven. So who do I turn to? John Gaffney, of course! He got the concept and really made it so much better than I could have done. The music went under the name ‘Wishbone Ash’ for a long while. I had all these bits of songs and I am very glad that I pulled it off; it did take a bit of creativity to put it all together. And a bit of trivia is that it’s me playing the piano. All two tones! And it really is an actual piano I play.
When I started to put the album together and came up with the concept of a rock side and a progressive side I thought that in-between the two long songs I needed something short as an intermission of sorts. So I came up with this piece on bass. It’s my version of Swedish folk music, a very slow ‘polska’. There’s some who may find it a strange song on a hard rock/metal album, but to me this song is really heavy.
‘Dead Kosmonaut Parts One and Two’
So, finally, the song that named the band is unveiled. As I have mentioned before in interviews this song was written for a different project that never took off. When the change of name to Dead Kosmonaut took place the first album was already well under way so I couldn’t use it for the debut. So here it is, in all its glory! It’s an obvious album closer, because what else could follow this behemoth? The lyric is a fantasy about the inner life of a zombie. But maybe the zombie is someone fighting with depression? Who can tell? Part One of the song is a choral piece I put together. My friend Love Bergman wrote the score from my recordings of each and every vocal part, and then we asked friends who can read music and sing to come and record it all. However, in my opinion the ultimate instrument for doom is the church organ. So to get a church organ on the song was a dream come true. We did find out though that mixing a church organ is quite tricky. It really is a massive wall of sound, and to make that work with all the other instruments was tough. Fredrik had to tweak quite a bit to fit it all in, but he did it, and I’m very happy with the results.
As for the cover art, as mentioned above this came from artist Martin Jonsson and was inspired by the lyrics for ‘Black Tongue Tar’. “To me the sleeve depicts anxiety,” says Mattias, “that pressure on your chest that makes it hard to breathe. It’s something that weights you down, immobilises you.The title ‘Gravitas’ also reflects that, as well as the dead kosmonaut in the song.”
Asked how he would describe the album, Mattias thinks for a moment or two. “I would describe it as a hard rock album that excites me,” he says, simply. And believe me, it is an exciting album. Trust me on this.
© John Tucker January 2020 (originally written October 2019)