Killing – Revel in Madness

Tuesday, 21st September 2021

Many revered aspects of the metal genre go through specific waves of popularity and decline. For those that love thrash, the 80’s to early 90’s were a peak period – only to wane a bit in the mid to late 90’s. But since the 2000’s, there has been a vast configuration of the old guard pumping out killer records and still slaying on tour – while the younger brigade put their own spin and twist into the mix to revitalize interest. Killing is a newer act from Denmark that grabs the listener by the throat and doesn’t let go – vicious riffing, pounding tempos, harsh/speedy vocals into a template of songs that break necks and feed pit addiction. Their latest album Face the Madness leaves up to its title, possibly one of the best thrash records of 2021.

We reached out to drummer Jesper Skousen who was happy to provide details on his early musical memories, history of the band, thoughts on the new record, tons of favorite album/concert memories, plus insight into the Danish thrash/underground scene and what we can expect in the coming months/years from the group.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? At what point did you make the progression to discovering heavy metal and eventually appreciate thrash music – and when/how did you come to pick up an instrument to start performing in bands?

Jesper Skousen: Some of my earliest memories of music is when my mother was cleaning the house and put on some vinyl on the stereo and turned the volume up. She listened to everything from The Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones to ABBA and Diana Ross. Later when I became a teenager, I heard Guns n’ Roses’ “You Could Be Mine”, and I just fell in love with hard rock right there. I started to seek out more of this sort of music and after discovering bands like AC/DC and Iron Maiden suddenly Metallica was there. Their Black Album ruled MTV and was played in all places. So, I started digging into their old stuff and simply just loved it! Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament and many other bands followed, and I became a big fan of thrash metal. Also basic heavy metal, death metal, black metal and more, but thrash metal has always been one of my favorite genres since back then.

In the last years of my school time, I wanted to play drums in a hard rock band, but it first became a reality in 1997, when I started in business college and met a guy called Christian Jensen. He played guitar and together we started the band End My Sorrow. The style was gothic/doom metal with elements of heavy, death and melodic metal. In this band Killing’s guitarist Rasmus also played for some years and when he left, his replacement actually became the other Killing guitarist Snade. We have all known each other for many years. But I also played drums in other bands over the years. Among these there was a band called I Faderens Skygge, where Rasmus Soelberg was the vocalist. Now Killing is the only band I play in and that is cool.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the formation of Killing during 2013 – did you know straight away the qualities and characteristics you want the band to have with your influences, style, and approach to thrash or was there more of a feeling out, getting to know each other process to arrive at what you developed through those first rehearsals and songwriting sessions?

Skousen: We had been talking together for some years that it could be cool to start up a thrash metal band, but it never went further than talk. Then one day our vocalist and bassist Rasmus Soelberg asked us if we should try and do this for real, and we found the time to enter the rehearsal room in December 2013. In the beginning we didn’t have that much time due to other musical obligations, but we knew that we wanted to play old school thrash metal just like our own heroes from our teenage years. Musically we knew each other pretty well, but it still took a little time to find out precisely how we should work towards the right line of thrash we wanted. Slowly we got to the point. We created some rules for ourselves, rules we still maintain to this day. If riffs or ideas sound too far away from our musical goal, we throw them away or re-arrange them so they work. Our style is old school thrash metal and that’s the way it always will be. But luckily thrash metal has many sides so you can still make a lot of variation in your music as a thrash band. From when the first song was written and to this day, we still try to be better songwriters every time we do a new tune.

Dead Rhetoric: Your first EP Toxic Asylum came out in the summer of 2018. Why do you think it took so long for this first EP to come out, what do you remember about the material and the recording sessions related to this, and how do you feel overall about this initial EP this many years later?

Skousen: Like I mentioned, we had some other musical obligations those early years of Killing. End My Sorrow was on the way with an album, I also played in a punk band, who were recording an album back then and played many shows and there were some other personal stuff as well that took time. Therefore, the songwriting and everything surrounding Killing took a little longer in those early years. But we did some demo recordings and live shows and then finally, as the other bands started to fade away, we could put more engagement and hours into the band. We recorded Toxic Asylum by ourselves in our own little studio and Snade mixed and mastered it. Since he was a bit new in the role of producing, everything took a little longer than expected. He mixed it three times, because he learned something new all the time. The result became a rough but still decent sound that presented the songs, so they got a sharp old school vibe with an underground feeling to it. The recording sessions were fine but maybe a bit too long, since we could spend all the time we wanted. Looking back, it could have been cool if we had decided to put a deadline for the project. But in the end, it was a good experience for us and a real DIY-project. There are five songs plus a bonus track on the EP. All the songs have their own unique feeling and show some different sides Killing had at that time. We all enjoy music releases where there is a red thread but still shines with variation all the way through. Don’t get me wrong – of course we also love an album like Reign in Blood – it’s a masterpiece! But an album or EP often stands best when you can recognize and separate the songs from each other. That has also been one of our missions: to create variation in our songs and songwriting. I think we managed that with Toxic Asylum and with our new album Face the Madness. That is really important to us.

Dead Rhetoric: You toured across Northern Europe to support the EP and also released a single “Raise Your Anger” the following year. How would you assess the response on those live shows, what are some of the memories surrounding the band’s live performances, and did you feel like you were gaining traction and a better following as a result?

Skousen: Those shows after the EP were very essential for Killing. I can’t remember how many concerts we played after the release, but it was many. Starting out with a handful of shows in the calendar and suddenly we had so many, we could call it a tour. For each time we played live, it was like we got more of a following and support, and people started spreading the word about our band. Mouth to mouth and on social media we received positive response and our merchandise sold pretty well. But I won’t say we got the attention while sleeping. We worked really hard and pushed the band forward with ambition. All of us love to play live and give everything we have, when we are on stage, and often the audience can feel that. And that is where the magic happens. When we play our asses off, the people in front of us give so much energy back that we just want to go even further. We played many great places in that period.

To keep the train rolling, we recorded the single and did a music video in 2019 and we hit the road once again. Opening Viborg Metal Festival was insane. There were many people from the start and the show went really great. We also played Metal Magic Festival, Raise Your Horns festival, Tornvang Open Air and Copenhagen Metal Fest, we did a little tour with our friends in the old Danish thrash band Lipid, opened for the Danish death metal band Baest, visited Poland, Germany, Sweden and many other fantastic things. 2018 and 2019 really gave us a lot as a band!

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut album Face the Madness is out now on Mighty Music. How did you gain the attention of this strong Danish label, and what are your thoughts on the songwriting and recording sessions with this record? Were there any challenges, obstacles, or surprises that came up during the development of this material?

Skousen: Well, Mighty Music contacted us. Michael H. Andersen from the label wrote to me one day, why hadn’t we sent him our promo and he was interested in signing us. I have been a metal head for many years and own a lot of the releases from Mighty Music, so I thought it was pretty cool. We started discussing the contract and after a period with negotiating, we came to an agreement.

Regarding the songwriting we had some of the songs we wrote after the recording of Toxic Asylum. Actually, I think, we had six songs ready, when we started talking about the contract deal with Mighty Music. When we realized the album was going to be made, we did these pre-demos of the songs so we could find out if they worked the way they should. There were a couple of changes some places and after that we wrote and finished the last songs. I remember we talked about what kind of songs the album was missing to give the listener the right amount of variation and we came up with “Legion of Hate” and “Killed in Action”. We wrote “Legion…” to add a more speed metal kind of track and “Killed…” was our ‘heavy’ tune. As we worked on “Killed…”, suddenly it got a more epic kind of feel, but we felt it did good for the song and went all the way.

When it came to recording the album, we wanted to go into a real studio this time. We still wanted to keep a dry and not too polished sound, because a lot of the stuff that is released these days sounds a bit too clean, if you know what I mean? Thrash is not supposed to sound too sterile, and it’s cool when you can hear it’s a real band playing. So we talked to three or four different producers we felt could be great to work with and who might give us the sound we wanted. In the end we went with Jacob Bredahl in Dead Rat Studio. We booked ten days and he managed to give us the perfect sound. We were a little bit afraid that people would think the production actually was too dry, but now we think it fits the music really well and judging by the feedback we are getting, most listeners also like the production.

When all the songs were done, the next task was to agree in which order they should be placed on the album. One thing is to have nine songs ready, but how should these (songs) be presented to the listener. That took a lot of discussion before we settled for the right order, but I think we all are happy with the result today. It works.

Dead Rhetoric: Mario Lopez designed the cover art for the record. Tell us about the specific piece and how the process worked between Mario and yourselves – was it a collaboration and back and forth process or did you trust his ideas and execution? What are your thoughts on the final outcome?

Skousen: We came up with the title Face the Madness before we started talking about the artwork. Mario also did the artwork for our EP and single as well as our shirts, so we wanted him again. We simply love his work! Really fantastic. But we talked about getting a more iconic kind of album cover. You know, those albums where you just have to see it once, then you recognize it immediately. Among the Living, Power and Pain  and Bonded by Blood are good examples. We didn’t want another ‘riot in the city’ or ‘evil demon’ cover like so many other bands out there. After a long period of thinking, one night I had a vision of this priest standing in front of a baptism font with a baby in one hand and some kind of weapon in the other. Behind him should be a cross of television screens showing all kinds of evil. The symbolic meaning was that the priest had lost his beliefs and gone crazy because of all the shit that goes on. His work is pointless. People must face the madness.

We send the idea to Mario and when he sent the first sketches back, we knew he was on the right path. Shortly after came the final result and we were totally blown away! He captured just what we wanted and made it look even more brutal and cool.

Dead Rhetoric: Many comparisons have been made to the attack, riffing, and spirit of artists like Slayer, Sodom, and Kreator when taking in these songs. How does that make you feel, and how do you attempt to differentiate yourselves as artists to what’s already been done from the originators of the thrash movement?

Skousen: We feel very honored when some critics or fans compare us to our own heroes, but at the same time we also feel very humble. We have looked up to these bands as long as I remember, so being compared to them is a bit too much. Killing will never reach those people because they are legends. We are not. We are just four old friends playing the music we love. Of course we are inspired by these bands, and you can hear a lot of their music in our riffs and ideas, but that has been our main goal from day one – to write music together with inspirations from Slayer, Kreator, Exodus, Metallica, Overkill, Annihilator and so on. We don’t think too much about differentiating Killing from the original thrash metal. We just do what we like without thinking about being original. Why reinvent something that works and feels good? Our purpose when writing a new song is to do what it takes to make a track work in its best way possible. We try to do something different from the last song we did. Sometimes add some more melody in the mix, maybe build a riff in a new way or simply just cut everything down to a minimum. On the other hand, we don’t try to copy anyone, because then you could just play in a cover band instead. I don’t see any problems in being inspired by other artists, just as long you don’t become a parody of them.     

Dead Rhetoric: You are a part of the Danish scene that has had many strong artists over the years – especially the work of Artillery and Invocator within your sub-genre. What are your thoughts on the Danish metal community, do you have the proper support from bands, venues, promoters, and the fans, or do you find other countries/parts of the world seem to be more supportive of Killing?

Skousen: I have always been very interested in the Danish metal scene and have collected a lot of the releases from many bands. I especially love digging into old stuff from the 80’s and 90’s. Since Hatesphere came forth and achieved massive support, the Danish metal scene exploded completely. From around 2006 and forth countless new metal bands just popped up from all around our little country. And today it’s even more crazy! I have never seen so many Danish metal acts before. It’s cool we have so much going on, but at the same time, it is a bit too much since a lot of bands just drown in each other. I am not collecting every Danish related metal release anymore. But one of the things I try to keep up with is Danish black metal. But that is almost impossible, due to all the releases that are thrown out every week. Insane, I tell you. But besides that, I buy and support the stuff I like. Both new and older bands. Lipid, Crocell, Anoxia, Wayward Dawn, Denial of God, Chronicle, Altar of Oblivion, Demolizer and many more are good examples of great Danish metal you should check out.

Regarding shows I have never witnessed so many Danish metal concerts than now. Each week you can choose between five to ten shows – at least! All over the country. That makes the competition a bit rough, since most bands want to go out and play. But we can’t complain in Killing. We have had our share of shows and have been lucky to receive really fine and kind support from the Danish bangers. We have had some support from outside of Denmark, but it’s recently after the album came out, we have seen more interest from other countries. We really hope to play more shows in other countries, so if you’d like to see Killing on stage in your country, feel free to contact your local booker and see if things can be done. We are more than ready!

Dead Rhetoric: Half of the band currently also is a part of the gothic metal band End My Sorrow – how do these members divide their responsibilities between multiple acts? Does one act take priority over the others, or is everyone involved understanding of the workload that happens?

Skousen: Easy answer – we don’t have to divide it anymore, since End My Sorrow and the other musical projects have been laid to rest for an uncertain amount of time. Officially we never closed End My Sorrow, but after our album Of Ghostly Echoes came out in 2016, we just stopped playing and rehearsing. Other members of that band also play in other acts, so that is how things are at the moment. But who knows, maybe one day far out in the future something will happen again with End My Sorrow or some of the other bands, but not right now. Killing takes all our time and that is more than enough.

Dead Rhetoric: What are three albums that you believe had the greatest impact on your views and love for heavy metal – and what have been some of the best concert memories that you have had, purely from a fan perspective? And what made those shows so special to you?

Skousen: Like I mentioned earlier Guns ‘n’ Roses was my musical awakening and the band that got me into hard rock and made me seek out metal. But if I must put hard rock albums aside and only choose among metal albums, please give me a second. Hmm…I would pick Metallica with either Kill ‘em All or Ride the Lightning. Love both albums and it depends on which day you ask me, which is my favorite. But one of those two. And as a second pick, it would be Iron Maiden with The Number of the Beast. I could have picked the debut as well since both those albums had a huge impact on my early years of becoming a metal head. But the first Maiden album I listened to was The Number of the Beast, so that has to be it. And the final album has to be either Megadeth with Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, King Diamond with Fatal Portrait, Slayer with Reign In Blood, Judas Priest with British Steel, Sepultura with Arise or Black Sabbath- self-titled. All albums that really got to me and made me dig further down into the soil. But there are many more albums on the list! It’s hard just to pick three.

When it comes to live shows I remember standing out… Well, I have seen so many concerts and unfortunately, I have been drunk many times, so it’s not everything I remember so clear. Bear with me!

Hatesphere and As We Fight on the venue Musikcaféen in Århus around 2005. The little place was packed, and everyone went totally crazy. The sweat was literally running down the walls that night. So much energy in one room. Black Sabbath on Roskilde Festival. I also think this was in 2005. It was the four original members and they played like a monster! For an old fan seeing one of his favorite bands for the first time and with the four original guys – that was just amazing!

Guns n’ Roses on Roskilde Festival in 2006. My favorite band! Also seeing them for the first time in my life on a stage was just magic. I know a lot of people are claiming this was just Axl & Friends and so on and all that, but like a guy said “Axl could have entered the stage alone and played a flute for fifteen minutes, left the stage and said goodnight, and it would still have been incredible”. I totally agree.

Evil Invaders in Heavy Agger Festival in 2017. This band is the greatest live band out there at the moment! I simply love that band. Great music with a brilliant mix of thrash and speed metal. When it comes to their live shows, this is pure insanity and energy. I have seen them three times now, and all shows were just amazing. But the first time in Agger, that was freaking awesome. I can’t even come up with words to justify what they did on stage that night. Maybe the best show I have ever seen in my life.

Iron Maiden many times and many places! Not so much to say. I have seen Maiden countless times and most of the shows have just been a thrill. Twisted Sister at Copenhell in 2014. Dee Snider proved he’s one of the greatest front men ever! Holy shit what a concert. Everyone and I mean literally EVERYONE was just pulled in by the band and sang along. All over the area in front of the stage and far down in the back on the hill. All of the audience had a party!

I could keep going, but let’s just stop here.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges facing Killing right now at this point in your career? And where would you like to see yourselves in terms of a career over the next two to three years?

Skousen: It’s a difficult question. We have been talking about what we should plan for the next year, and one of the main missions is to play more concerts outside of Denmark and work on new songs for the next album. It will be a challenge to reach out to foreign bookers, venues and festivals out there and get things through, but we’ll do what we can to make things happen. In three years we hope to have our second album out and it could be cool to have played some interesting support gigs for bigger bands and play some cool places.

Dead Rhetoric: What concerns or worries do you have about the world that we live in today? Where do you think the leaders of the world need to place more of an emphasis on to make things better, safer, and more sustainable to the average person?

Skousen: I don’t really know. I am not a fan of injustice and dictatorship, and I am used to live in a country where we have a pretty good welfare system that is taking care of our old people and the weak ones. Sure, some things could be much better, but compared to other places around the world we really can’t complain here. But we do anyway sometimes.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies, activities, or passions/interests the members of Killing have outside of music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?

Skousen: My biggest hobby is music. Collecting and playing. I couldn’t imagine going through a day without listening to music. Call it an addiction in some degree. I have a big collection of tapes, LPs and CDs and other stuff. Primary from hard rock to extreme metal. Besides that, I have my girlfriend and her children, our two dogs and many friends. So I’m never bored. I also have a big passion for beers. I love tasting different beers and especially enjoy those dark ones. Porter and stout! And I like seeing a good movie once in a while and of course reading books – especially biographies of musicians or actors. Killing is taking a lot of my time so I don’t have that much free space on an average day basis.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months playing out for Killing to support this record? Has work already begun behind the scenes on the follow-up effort – and if so, what direction do you see this set of material taking in comparison to Face the Madness?

Skousen: The next four months we’ll play a bunch of concerts here in Denmark, and in the beginning of 2022 one of the members will be a father, so that will put the brakes down a bit regarding live shows for some months. But we have plans to write a lot of the material for the next album in that period. We are currently working on three songs, and we are trying to up our game even more in the songwriting. There is plenty of aggression and speed in these songs, but we also try to create intensity on other levels. Personally I am looking very much forward to see how our next album is going to be, but I am sure we’ll do our best to make a decent follow up to Face the Madness.

Thank you for the interview.

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