Grand Cadaver – Crawling in DecayTuesday, 22nd August 2023
Photo: Richard Bloom
What do you have when you take five Swedish musicians that possess decades of experience, including work in acts like Dark Tranquillity, Katatonia, and Tiamat among others and create a fresh act dedicated to a mutual love for old school Swedish death metal? That’s where the genesis of Grand Cadaver came into being – now quickly arriving at their second full-length with Deities of Deathlike Sleep. The credibility of songwriting, tones, production, and performances carries this songwriting to ideal places rarely heard – bringing the listener back to Sunlight Studios in the late 80’s/early 90’s. We reached out to guitarist Alex Stjernfeldt to hear how the group came together, their fun attitude to songwriting and recording, the limited live performance aspect that will keep shows unique, thoughts on favorite death metal albums, the underground diversity thanks to streaming and playlists, plus what the future holds for Alex between Grand Cadaver and his other projects/bands.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your first memories of music growing up during childhood? At what point did you discover heavier forms of music, and eventually the desire to pick up an instrument to perform in bands?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I think one of my earliest memories is actually how I got into heavy music too. I was watching a Kiss cover band on tv, and I said, ‘oh shit – these girls look awesome!’. My mom said, no that’s a band called Kiss, and they are all males. This was the coolest thing ever. That birthday I wished for a Kiss CD, and I got Dressed to Kill. From there, it just went downwards and into the darkness. My uncle tried to get me to play the guitar first, but I actually hated it. Never touched an instrument for a couple of years. I discovered early AC/DC, and I wanted to play the bass because it’s awesome. I started out as a bass player.
I picked up things from record and ear. Blasting songs away in my bedroom, trying to figure out how the instrument works. Then when I figured out the song and how it works, it was about doing that and figuring out how to headbang at the same time. I wanted to have that stage persona from the start. I was nineteen maybe when I picked up the guitar again. We started a band, and the bass player in that band had been playing that instrument since I was born. Let’s play guitar then, how hard can it be? And I experienced that it was harder than I thought.
Dead Rhetoric: Grand Cadaver began during the pandemic lockdown in 2020 – can you discuss how five long time friends came together for this outfit, and did you know straight away the classic HM-2 driven death metal style you wanted to go for, or was there a feeling out process to arrive at the sound you deliver?
Stjernfeldt: We started the embryo of the band a couple of years before the pandemic. Daniel texted me, and he thought we should play some death metal together. I didn’t know him, but he played in Katatonia as I knew that, so I was so starstruck that he texted me and told me we were going to do this. He visited me the next weekend, we started hanging out and feel like we should do death metal together. Since I used to play with Stefan from Expulsion, I felt if we wanted two guitarists, we should ask him. The three of us knew we wanted to play death metal, but life got in the way. Things just worked out during the pandemic; Daniel texted me again to say now is the time. I was out having a beer with Mikael, told him two friends were going to do this, do you want to lay down some death metal vocals? He said yes, and from there we asked Christian who we both knew.
We then booked a studio, and the first time everyone met for real was in the studio. We knew from the start that we wanted to play old school classic Swedish death metal in the style of the Sunlight Studios sound. That’s where we all bonded together music-wise.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel about the response to the first two singles you released which led to the debut Madness Comes EP?
Stjernfeldt: Overwhelmed, I think. Personally, I knew that I liked it, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. We were very proud of what we created. The response was so overwhelmingly positive, it was really great. Awesome of course. You knew that what we wanted to do was the right thing to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it a quick process from the development of the EP into the debut album Into the Maw of Death?
Stjernfeldt: I think so. The pandemic was still raging. We all had so much fun recording the EP, but I don’t think we straight out said let’s do an album. We just continued writing songs, the label was very happy with Madness Comes, they were easy to work with. We told them we might have enough songs for an album, do you want to release it? The label said yes, we booked the same studio, the same producer, the same crew as the first EP. All five of us were in the studio for six days. We did everything, so it was a super quick process drinking beer, playing death metal, and having fun.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve arrived at the second full-length album Deities of Deathlike Sleep. What were the songwriting and recording sessions like – did you keep things very spontaneous and quick as far as tones and sounds, and where do you see this record compared to your debut album Into the Maw of Death from 2021?
Stjernfeldt: I think that once again as with Into the Maw of Death we never said that we should do another album. It just happened, we have enough songs for a new album, and once again we worked with the same people behind the scenes, the same studio. The producer came up with more ideas for the songwriting process, we came up with where we wanted to go as far as the sound. We wanted it to be different from the first one, we wanted the sound of this album to be influenced more by noise/rock bands, Steve Albini productions, to have a more live feel to it. When we did the songs, we did them all to know what Grand Cadaver is and can be.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about being on the domestic record label Majestic Mountain Records? Do you enjoy the special attention they give the band, including the limited-edition physical media with different color vinyl versions of your records?
Stjernfeldt: I think the best thing is the communication is really tight and more like friendly. It is like having a friend that releases the album. Majestic is very supportive of what we want to do, he has so many great ideas about the limited-edition vinyl. He’s very hands on at how the album should be and what it should look like. They look amazing. He’s able to communicate quickly and it’s an easy relationship.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about for the cover art between Illusive Illustration and the band for the new record? Is it a collaborative process from initial ideas to the final work that we see between yourselves and the artist?
Stjernfeldt: Kind of. Illusive was in the studio with us when we recorded Deities, he had some ideas and did some sketches while we recorded the new album. I think it was day two or three that he had given it a lot of thought process, and asked if it was okay if he went with his own idea after hearing the music. We said yes, go for it. A couple of days later, he came with the rough sketch of how Deities would look with the burning coffin exploding from the sea. Directly we were like, yeah man, you have nailed it. We couldn’t have thought of a better art piece for it. It’s weird in a good way, eerie.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to play out live a little bit now that the pandemic is over with Grand Cadaver. How would you describe the response, and how the band is live compared to what they hear on record?
Stjernfeldt: The response has been good. The people realize that due to all of our other bands, it’s hard to do shows. One to three members are always on tour with other bands, so when we get a chance to do a Grand Cadaver show, it’s unique for the audience and for us as a band. I hope that portrays through the music live. We sound like we do on the album. We use the same HM-2’s and max out the volume.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there plans to hopefully play some live shows as Grand Cadaver now that things are opening back up – or is this solely dependent on Mikael’s schedule because of his activities with Dark Tranquillity and The Halo Effect?
Stjernfeldt: To be honest, I think all of us want to play live, and when we get a chance, we will do it. It’s hard to make five people’s schedule work together. We want to perform live when we can, it’s looking bleak to tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Grand Cadaver faces at this point in your career?
Stjernfeldt: I don’t know, to be honest. I haven’t given it a lot of thought. Grand Cadaver exists because we have so much fun together. That’s what the goal is with the band. As long as we continue to have fun, we’ll continue to do it. Which means we don’t think so much about what’s going to happen. Maybe the biggest problem together is that all of us have so many bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between yourselves and the original generation of old school Swedish death metal acts that came about during the late 80’s through 1990’s?
Stjernfeldt: Two of our members were there when this all started, and a part of creating death metal, so that’s an advantage for us. Another advantage is, we have a broad spectrum of musical influences besides death metal. That can blur its way into our music. Our disadvantage is, no matter however we do, we will never be considered original. We are always considered playing old school death metal. Yeah, we do! It’s a hard genre to live up to.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important death metal releases that influenced your outlook on the genre?
Stjernfeldt: This is a hard one. If you asked each of the five members this question, you will get three different albums from each member. For me, personally I would say Entombed- Wolverine Blues, Grave – Into the Grave, and Tiamat – Sumerian Cry.
Dead Rhetoric: You also have a number of other bands/projects in different styles beyond Grand Cadaver. What is the status of each act, and have you always been interested in expressing your ideas through many different channels/players to capture the right energy and atmosphere?
Stjernfeldt: I have a grindcore band called Child, and we are in the middle of the process of recording our second album. I have a solo project called Novarupta which is kind of art rock, post rock. For me, to have different outlets to create music gives me more energy to focus on each different band. When I write, I might be like this is a good riff, but it’s not right for Grand Cadaver. When I finished recording Deities of Deathlike Sleep, I was kind of burnt out on death metal, but I wanted to create something else. Now we put that on hold, and create more post-rock, guitar effects driven music. And when I am done that, I say I want to play something hard and fast. Each outlet gives me the focus to be creative in all three.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of the heavy music scene in the world today?
Stjernfeldt: I would say the state is good, the underground is really thriving. The youth with streaming services, Apple Music, Spotify, they don’t listen to albums as much – they listen to playlists. That gives them such an eclectic music taste. When they start to create music, they use every influence. There are a lot of things to happen in the scene. When you look at the bigger acts like Metallica and Slayer, that is where it gets scary. I don’t think we will ever have those big bands ever again, especially when Metallica is done. I can’t think of one band that could be on that kind of stage again. Slayer is gone, Black Sabbath is gone. The music scene in general doesn’t have a place for the big metal acts anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies, interests, and passions that you have away from music that you like to engage in when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Stjernfeldt: Oh, I’m such a video game nerd. I play a lot of video games; in my house some people may say too many video games. I try to read books when I get the chance. Hanging out with friends is a big part too.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Grand Cadaver once the album hits the streets? And what else can we look forward to from you personally on other records/ live show/tour situations in the next twelve months?
Stjernfeldt: I think that we’ve worked for a year on this album – for now we will enjoy the release. It feels good to finally see it out there. We will do one show for this in Sweden in October, and that’s it at the moment for Grand Cadaver. We take things as they come. For me personally, I will finish the new Child recording, and hopefully I will finish the fourth and final Novarupta album sometime in the next fifty years (laughs).