Denied – Swirling in MadnessSunday, 31st July 2022
Many artists remember their final gigs before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entertainment industry. In the case of heavy/thrash metal act Denied, they would play one show in March 2020 three months before their last album The Decade of Disruption hit the streets. Considering there was nothing to do but work on more material that’s what the quintet would do across their respective homes in Sweden and Denmark – which is where we stand with their latest album Humanarchy. Another nine-song outing that contains sturdy riffing, stellar lead breaks, fine/versatile vocal delivery and melodies, conveying everything from thrash and power to heavy metal and doom, adding a bit of robust groove to the proceedings.
We reached out to guitarist Chris Vowden once again for a delightful conversation regarding the work behind the album, their attention to detail when it comes to the songwriting, the help from Unleashed guitarist Fredrik Folkare plus artist Alexander Lifbom and their professionalism that adds to the overall output for the band, plus thoughts on guitar technique, the Swedish gig scene opening back up, Chris’ love for playing shows now versus his younger days, and the unnecessary outbreak of war in the Ukraine.
Dead Rhetoric: Humanarchy is the latest Denied album – almost two years after The Decade of Disruption. Did the pandemic have any direct influence on this output either consciously or subconsciously – and where do you see this set of material sitting in the catalog of Denied material?
Chris Vowden: Oh, that is a long question. Yes, lyric-wise I can’t answer that question because Søren is the one who writes the lyrics. I think definitely there is an influence from the pandemic. The title says it all, but it says so much more than that. It’s more about the situation in the world, with the climate change, you have the invasion of the Ukraine, and those two elements come down to what we call Humanarchy. It just felt natural with that title in regard to what’s going on in the world.
We’ve always taken quite a long time to write the music and record the material. This time, obviously we had two years to write stuff and come up with ideas. We really took our time on this one. With every album it’s important to Andreas and myself to go through every riff and every melody, and make sure it must be good. Otherwise, the song would not be worth the effort. It sounds like a cliché, but that’s how it sounds.
Dead Rhetoric: I think it’s a unique time period for musicians. They’ve never been in an enforced, lockdown situation like this for such a long period of time. Especially in terms of no live shows and just focus on the recording and songwriting aspects…
Vowden: Yeah, that’s true. Our issue was that, just a couple of days before the pandemic broke out, we had our comeback gig. We hadn’t played together in two years, and this was in March of 2020. Just two days after that, the lockdown started. We just did one gig in 2020 and then we couldn’t do anything else. We were already writing material for Humanarchy, so it wasn’t really a problem for us. We didn’t have any more gigs booked or any tours going, we were just starting out that promotion cycle for that album. We are not that big of a band; we don’t do this for a living.
Dead Rhetoric: I’d love to know your thoughts on specific songs that stood out to me with the new record – “Maintenance of Insanity” as well as the extremely catchy “Death by a 1000 Cuts”. Do you know immediately in the demo stage when Andreas is developing material if it’s going to be a winner and make the grade for Denied, do you think he has adequate quality control as a songwriter?
Vowden: I actually have no idea, because when we start out if he’s writing the demo material, then we write the rest together where we work out the melodies, we have no idea how it will work out. We have a clue, but the end product can sound very differently from where we started demo-wise. A song like “Death by a 1000 Cuts”, to be honest I wasn’t very keen on the idea from the start. To me, it sounds something like “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden. I love that song, but it didn’t really do it for me if I can put it that way. When the end result came and Søren put his vocals on the recording, that’s a different thing. That’s when you realize what songs you can keep close to the heart. And the same with “Maintenance of Insanity”. I wrote many of the acoustic parts in the song and the riffs, and Andreas wrote the chorus. We didn’t know where we were heading with that song, really.
That’s a part of why it takes such a long time. We take a very long time, sitting down together, writing this stuff. And we aren’t really sure what the end result will be, that’s why we take our time, and it can be something really different from what we started out with.
Dead Rhetoric: Out of these nine songs, were there any specific tracks that took on the greatest transformation from the demo stage to what came out on the record?
Vowden: Oh. Yeah, I think that would be “Maintenance of Insanity”. Because it’s quite a long song, almost seven and a half minutes long. From the start it was such a different idea. It was going to be completely acoustic for one thing. And then it turned out to be so heavy, we decided why don’t we put in more distortion to make things more doomy. Once again, it would take a long time to develop that. We have to because we want the end result to be something that we sit down and like to listen to ourselves. And I do – I listen to the album once every week, I love it and I like listening to it. I admit it (laughs). I am a fan. (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with Unleashed guitarist Fredrik Folkare in terms of the mixing and mastering aspects, plus he added some keyboard parts to the record. Discuss your relationship with Fredrik, and how you see his professional abilities and skill sets providing that extra special touch to make these albums stronger and everlasting?
Vowden: Fredrik has great input, and we have been working with him for over ten years. If we ask Fredrik if he could put keyboards on a song like “Maintenance of Insanity” or “Death By a 1000 Cuts”, we know he will do a good job and we know what the end result will sound like. We have the same ideas. It’s a safe haven to work with Fredrik, as we know how he works. This is the fourth album we’ve done with him.
Dead Rhetoric: Alexander Lifbom handled the cover art once again for Humanarchy. What do you think of his work for the band considering your friendship, does he take into account a lot of the themes that the band got across lyrically for this album, and were you looking for a vibrant color scheme as well this time around?
Vowden: Oh yeah. Like Fredrik, Alexander has been with the band for many years now. Since Let Them Burn. So, he knows what we like. And also, Andreas has always in mind for an album cover, he always goes back to the Megadeth album Rust in Peace. That’s his starting point for an album cover. He likes the colors, the concept, and it has a mascot in the cover as well. We have a guy with the blindfold in there somewhere on the Humanarchy cover. I’m not trying to say we play it safe, but it’s great to work with friends like Alexander and Fredrik. They know what we want. That album cover really represents what’s going on in the world. He may not look like Putin (laughs), maybe he’s heading in that direction. He needs to get a bit fatter.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the war that is going on in the Ukraine, how do you view what’s taking place? Does it seem surprising to you that this would take place just as we are coming out of a global pandemic?
Vowden: Yeah. It’s totally unnecessary. Come on, we live in the modern world – who want a war, who needs it? No one benefits from a war, to be honest. He’s burning bridges, this guy. He’s making enemies everywhere. What could he possibly win by this, I can’t understand it? Sweden hasn’t been to war for 200 years – and we know that it’s totally meaningless. No one wants a war, so why? I know why he wants it, but I don’t understand it. It’s total madness.
Dead Rhetoric: How has the live club/ festival market been in Sweden coming out of this prolonged absence of shows due to the pandemic? Do you believe there is a newfound appreciation for the entertainment industry, where people may not take this for granted as much as they had in years past?
Vowden: It’s been explosive. People for one thing, they want to go to gigs, they want to start living again. Beside having the climate change, people want to see bands again. All the clubs in Stockholm, the ones who were running before the pandemic, have opened up again. Where I live in Linköping, there’s a club called Hell Yeah and they opened up again, international bands are playing here almost every week, I guess. There is a huge demand.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you been a regular attendee of Sweden Rock Festival?
Vowden: No, I haven’t. That’s the irony (laughs). I would love to, but I have a case of tinnitus. I have to be very careful when I go to concerts. I have been to a few shows with ear protection. I saw Steve Vai about thirty years ago, and I think he destroyed my hearing. That’s where it started. I usually don’t go to many concerts because I try to be careful these days. Besides, I want to keep playing music myself, so I have to be very conscious.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in our first interview years ago that you tend to be an over-exaggerator when it comes to your lead breaks, a la Yngwie Malmsteen, while knowing how to capture work that services the needs of the song. How challenging is it to maintain that balance between showcasing your abilities as a guitarist but also not overplaying to put the best foot forward for the band?
Vowden: It’s difficult. As you said, I myself personally tend to overplay. Because I want so much to fit in my lead breaks. But I have to think about the song as well, the rhythm, and what goes on as well. And choose wisely. As Yngwie said, more is more – but less actually can be more. Sometimes less is more. I always have to argue with myself about how much I play in the lead with a guitar solo. Sometimes I do exaggerate, and you want to knock yourself out and go bonkers. Play as much as possible in that little space where there is a solo going on.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you see a major difference between younger players when it comes to their technique versus the older generation?
Vowden: Yes, I do. When you see these younger guitarists on YouTube, they have the eight string guitars with the fifty-two frets. All that is very cool, really fun, and taking things a step further – but in the end when I want to listen to is a great guitar player with great feeling and great vibrato. Someone who doesn’t exaggerate. I always tend to go back to guitar players like Gary Moore, Zakk Wylde, or whatever. When it comes to this, you have to have a good feel when you play – you don’t have to just play fast, or don’t have to punch in as many notes as you can. It’s all about feeling. What’s good for the song. Some guitar players tend to forget that – I tend to myself. I have to work on this.
Dead Rhetoric: I agree with your assessment. A player like Gary Moore could emote so much feeling through sometimes one or two notes that he would hold, versus someone playing a million miles an hour…
Vowden: Yes, exactly. Take his song “The Loner” for instance. Wow. He plays with such great feel, and he doesn’t shred all over the damn song. Or “Still Got the Blues”. Paul Gilbert said it once, it’s all in the fingers. Doesn’t matter what you’ve got, what kind of guitar, what kind of amplifier, what kind of sound, it’s all in the fingers, more or less.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe that’s what sets guitar players apart – not necessarily the gear or the equipment, but the hands and the mind?
Vowden: Yeah, definitely. I’m not much into what kind of pedals or technique, amplifiers. I want to have a good guitar sound; I need some good equipment. I use the same equipment for over twenty years, and it still works. I enhance it sometimes, I’ll put in some new pedals, but it’s the same setup I’ve had since 2000 maybe. As long as it works, why fix it?
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as a pivotal or critical moment or two that helped shape your musical career when you look back on your work in this field?
Vowden: I would actually say the release of Let Them Burn. Because that was a time when people started to take notice of Denied. And that’s almost ten years ago. For me, personally, that was a period when I was the new guy in the band. I would say that time period, that album release, the release show, and the gigs that we did after that. I’m a bit nostalgic, that’s why.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel there’s a good chemistry now in the band, with everyone now being together for a couple of albums?
Vowden: Oh yes. These guys are very professional. Great players, great musicians. We work together really well. We don’t meet and have parties or rehearse together very much, but when we do get together, there’s a good chemistry and we get the job done.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think you’ve changed your mind the most about personally or within the music business over the past three to five years? And why have you changed your mind about this area?
Vowden: Not much has changed, actually. I have the same opinions I had then. Especially when it comes to the music business. It’s the same crap that’s it’s always been. We need the music business, but it’s like this quote – you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. I’m not a big fan of that. People tend to use each other for their own gain, and that’s pretty much the music business for me. Wow, that sounded really bad! (laughs). I love music, I love to write music, I love to play music. I moved out to the country a couple of days ago for a reason, just to be alone and have my space. A couple of beers, the cats, and my guitars (laughs). When we are ready to play gigs, just call me.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s left on the bucket list of things to accomplish either with Denied or in your own personal musical pursuits?
Vowden: That’s easy. Play more gigs. Maybe play Sweden Rock or Wacken. I am happy and content to play gigs with the guys. It’s much more fun playing live now than it was thirty years ago when I was younger. I was inexperienced, nervous, and I couldn’t really appreciate the situation. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in real life – if you like horseback riding or skydiving, you appreciate it more because as you get older, you feel more and more mortal. We are not immortal, there’s an end somewhere and it’s closing in. You learn to appreciate the stuff more.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for the next year or so for Denied?
Vowden: This time we will play more gigs. There’s no stopping us. Let’s just go out there and do the gigs.