Majesties – Unclaimed Deadly TreasuresThursday, 2nd March 2023
Musicians these days explore multiple genres in the metal landscape, enjoying the collaborative process as they find like-minded people as they gain traction in the scene over the years. Such is the case for Majesties – a three-piece outfit churning out a form of melodic death metal that harkens back to those early years, when the sound was a little edgier, experimental, and exciting as a fresh take at colliding the worlds of traditional and extreme metal. Their debut album Vast Reaches Unclaimed conjures up emotions that took place during those innovative times of the 1990’s, intertwining riffs, hooks, harmonies with the aggression and energy that changed the landscape for that time period forever.
Take the deep dive into the world of Majesties through all three members of the group: Carl Skildum, Tanner Anderson, and Matthew Kirkwold, as they handle topics ranging from the formation of the band, album discussion, lots of melodic death metal memories including specific albums/bands that they treasure, musical advice, plus hints as to what to expect from other projects/bands in addition to Majesties down the line.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the inception of Majesties – did you know straight away the specific influences and era of melodic death metal you wanted to put across in terms of style or songwriting, or was there a feeling out process with the initial ideas to arrive at what you want to get across?
Carl Skildum: The idea of Majesties really kind of came up when I was part of the live band for Obsequiae. I was playing around with some riffs, and something caught Tanner’s ear. And later on in that same practice, Tanner pulled me aside and said let’s write a melodic death metal record. From there, it snowballed into a thing where the weeks that we didn’t have a full-on band practice for Obsequiae that we would get together and pass a guitar back and forth on the computer. We naturally gravitated to the earlier style of melodic death metal that was in the formative era for a lot of the big-name bands. Everyone has been saying In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates. For us it was a little bit more than just those bands.
One thing that was kind of common among all those first records is they really wrote in a linear fashion. It was just riff after riff, idea after idea, the boundary lines and genres were a little blurry too. It felt like it had black metal, death metal, and traditional heavy metal, all of that stuff mixed together before it became melo-death. That name started to come around, and by the time people were starting to use that name, the sound had developed that maybe Tanner and I hadn’t fallen in love with. Both of us were into the early sounds, and fixated on it when we first heard it.
Tanner Anderson: I would agree. I think we definitely fell in love with… it’s one thing to say I prefer the first album, like a protective idea of a style of a certain band. Just because of the nature of how popular death metal rose and fell by 1992. What was left? You had to play around with black metal, or more extreme death metal. Someone naturally wanted to say, let’s make Iron Maiden into death metal. Let’s explore power metal with speed metal. Especially like German speed metal was really informative to Dark Tranquillity, stuff like that. There’s something to even though there’s a little age difference between Carl and I, I was still writing this in the 90’s and still discovering it towards the end of it. That makes a difference, those formative albums, not just because they were the first of a discography that you could say whatever about now, there was a lot of magic happening. You didn’t have to put your hand out very far to find exciting, new things. I felt like it was really fun to have that in common with Carl and want to do something like this. Especially because even though this style hasn’t gone away, it has morphed into a parity of itself. Majority rules, it is what it is, the older sound is missing. When you do find traces of it, you find it in experimental death metal now, or more melodic black metal, but you don’t hear In Flames – Subterranean, you don’t hear Eucharist – Mirrorworlds, except within those confines of those albums.
Dead Rhetoric: Vast Reaches Unclaimed is the debut album for Majesties. How did the recording and songwriting sessions go for this effort – were there any surprises, challenges, or obstacles to overcome in this process?
Skildum: It was actually really fun. We had no vision for what was going to happen with it, other than this was a way for Tanner and me to hang out and geek out. I’m still blown away with what we were able to do just with two dudes sitting in front of a computer passing a guitar back and forth. To make this music that we heard in our heads and wanted to play forever, every week we would come back with something to listen to that was rewarding to listen to. That was the writing and recording sessions. We eventually did go back and redo everything once we had… we had 25 song ideas and we whittled it down to the 10 songs all the way back in 2017, when we knew what the record would be. We lived with that for a while, that’s when we started to talk to different people about participating, that’s when we got Matt involved. We had talked to several other friends, and it made most sense to just stay with the three of us and finish this one up together. We would get excited, someone would say I’ve got a riff, someone else would say I’ve got a harmony, it just sort of flowed out of us. That process was really rewarding, enjoyable, and why we wrote so much material that is still cool, but didn’t make the final cut.
Dead Rhetoric: The first single “The World Unseen” features a verse riff from guitarist Carl Skildum’s tape pile back in 1997. How does a musician know when to hold onto a musical part and have it come to life so many decades later – is it hard to exercise a certain level of quality control to make the final grade for Majesties?
Skildum: That’s what’s great about having a collaboration with other people that I trust and have a strong friendship with. When something is not up to par, where I think I love this riff, Tanner or Matt can listen to it and very gently let me down if it needs to be changed. Or if I see their eyes light up with glee, I know it’s a good one. That was just one example for a riff that I had had for years, written in the 90’s when it was hard to find people that wanted to play this type of music locally around the Minneapolis area. I knew people who were interested in all kinds of different styles of music, but not this. A lot of those ideas I wrote in the 90’s just sat on tapes, and never really left my brain because they meant a lot to me. I was able to dig some of those out and see what we could do with them.
Anderson: There is something about having old riffs that’s really special, because I also didn’t have an outlet for a lot of what I was doing, or the technology or the people with the skill set including myself. When I listened to how I played back in the day, I wasn’t technically able to play well enough to catch up to my ambition. There’s a magic point or intention like that where you push yourself to become better because you have an idea that’s greater than what you are able to do. I think of this style of music and how sort of universal it was for a generation of people who got into extreme metal around this time. Everyone and their little brother and sister had killer riffs that they might not have played, or been able to.
It’s so easy to hear something new, like tapping your desk with a beat that you heard. There is a lot of magic to capturing that – it’s totally in your head but when I listen to old riff archives, which I was a lot recently that I was trying to excavate for this (band), it was so fun to listen to how poorly I fucked up but how totally weird my ideas were. There aren’t set rules about how to write melodic death metal, say like Ablaze My Sorrow’s If Emotions Still Burn or Fatal Embrace’s Shadowsouls’ Garden, it’s very strange. There are Baroque elements to Fatal Embrace, all kinds of dual guitars in the first Ablaze My Sorrow, the way they structure leads, the dominant voice is really tricky. It’s hard to find where the prince of palace is in this. It’s fun to listen to yourself and think about what you were listening to at the time. Keeping riffs for a later date, I hope that’s something that everyone does. Everyone that is able to record nowadays, if they have an iPad or a phone, is writing the melodic death metal record now that they may have wanted to say 25 years ago.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it important to replicate the exact tones and production values of that era? For instance, did you use the infamous HM-2 guitar pedal to get the classic guitar tone?
Anderson: It’s funny. I don’t know if you guys know this. Adam Tucker when he was mixing the guitars actually ran it through an HM-2, and we were like, ‘uh’. (laughs). It didn’t sound quite like it. There are definitely lead layers that are really warm, mid-range sounds that you don’t think are HM-2 unlike an album like The Jester Race, or when you think of Left Hand Path. The little boost you get from it is interesting. I think it’s cool to replicate the feeling of those albums more than necessarily the production quality because it comes down to how those things interact with each other, the emotional impact that it leaves. A lot of times in metal that just equates to reverb, let’s be real.
Skildum: Reverb is the magic tool to pull it all together. We tried a bunch of different re-amps, we ended up going back to what we had been listening to since we started, which was Tanner’s idea of the guitar tone. It was the right one all along, in the end we had already built things in the early days, coming up with the sound, was what was right with this album. We didn’t try to make it match anyone else in particular. This is what sounded right to us – and that goes in line with us not wanting to copy anyone specifically. We wanted to do our own take on this. All of those early bands had their own character and sound, we wanted to have our own personalities come through this (record) as well. We didn’t aim to sound like anything specifically like anyone else.
Anderson: I think it’s really easy to manipulate things you have. Everything we write is essentially already a pre-production demo, we are not in a room together playing all the instruments. Matt should chime in on this as he is a professional engineer, but this stuff is in capable hands. You could give me a couple of rocks clacking together, and you sculp the EQ enough it might sound a little like a snare. We know what we are doing individually, you can take something great and make it sound horrible, you can take something horrible and make it sound great.
Interestingly enough, we did remaster it, which is interesting to say about an album before anyone had heard the original masters. It was a little loud and took a couple of listens from me and the other two guys for us to hear that. That was a significant thing we did that lends this to more dynamic range in the master that you hear now.
Matthew Kirkwold: I don’t think Tanner and Carl gives themselves enough credit for how much of an organic talent they have for crafting sound. A lot of times in my career as an engineer my job is to make it better, and a lot of times the clients don’t have an understanding of what that really means. They want things to sound more hi-fi; these guys have been around in that world, where hi-fi doesn’t lend itself well to the song. These guys try out guitar sounds and drum sounds left and right, they really have a deep understanding of the style of music that was referenced in a loving way in this record. Also having enough sense to know that they’ve crafted their own individual sounds and it’s important to stick to that as much as you can and not try and come off as a derivative of sorts from those things. The beauty in this record is I’m just the bass player, I didn’t do any engineering outside of my own bass tracks. They knew from their start; their gut was right. Like Carl said, they hit upon what they wanted right from the get-go, it took them a few times to deviate from that and realize their initial decisions were the right ones to go with. They have the ears to make the right moves, and that’s most important.
Dead Rhetoric: Will it be a balancing act to record/perform within Majesties beyond your major duties in other bands like Obsequiae and Inexorum – or is there enough creative juice to keep multiple projects/acts going consistently?
Skildum: The creative juices are not a problem. This is a release valve; we are all still bursting with ideas. Although we do have our own respective bands/projects, we have got energy and creativity to expand out to different avenues. This is important to us, Majesties, just as much as our other projects. We will make time for this just as much as we have to continue to make time for our other existing projects. They are all important us, it’s a matter of discipline. You have to sit down and say, I’m going to spend tonight and work on project A, and that’s a big lesson we’ve all learned. If you don’t structure your work time, it can be a little bit aimless and frustrating. When you do say this is what I’m going to work on, I have a specific goal, it’s just easier and you always walk out with something, whether you love it or not. You made some forward progress. From my standpoint, it’s not too much to juggle.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s so special to you about the Swedish death metal scene from the 90’s/early 2000’s – as there are elements of acts from those No Fashion and Wrong Again Records days beyond the normal influences from that time?
Anderson: I guess it’s a question that each of us would answer differently. I would summarize mine, absolutely musical discovery. It’s what made me want to play guitar was melodic death metal and adjacently melodic black metal. Because No Fashion stuff like Noctes – Pandemonic Requiem, or Fall of the Leafe, even Sentenced is arguably a little more ferocious, high end during the North From Here days. So many seminal albums from Scandinavia in general, but the Swedish and Gothenburg sound, I think T.T. from Abigor talked about this with black metal. In his words he would say even idiots around Austria, or anywhere in Europe, it was so prevalent that you couldn’t help being inspired. As Americans, in the midst of grunge going away and metal… at a very strange point culturally with bands like Korn, Deftones, or Tool, it was very refreshing to hear heavy metal. Not just Mötley Crüe, but like cool, someone’s big brother playing up Maiden with a Satanic and fun angle. It wasn’t like you were in on an inside joke, it didn’t have the grimness of all the sensationalism of black metal, it was earnest, sincere, and undeniably exciting to hear. It made me want to play music.
Skildum: I feel the same way. What I liked about those earlier bands and earlier records, it synthesized so many elements I loved. The aggression, the extreme vocals, the heavy metal traditional elements of twin guitars and leads. Whenever I hear those harmonized guitars, my ears perk up. What was special about those early bands I loved was it wasn’t a formula I had heard before. It was a bunch of interesting sounds coming together. It didn’t have a rule set in those early days. That’s the mindset I try to put myself in for this. Operating under some constraints and rules. Because that was what was so fun about those early bands; I felt like I was being almost surprised. I didn’t know what was going to come around the next riff or part of every song, it wasn’t predictable. It helped to set the stage for what I wanted this band to be like.
Anderson: I think it’s funny, this right now, to talk about. Part of what makes it so wild, not in a feral way because it’s very capable music, it is very structured for even how linear it can be. But at the same time, it’s not experimental thrash like Voivod. There is a lot of youthfulness to it, let’s see how much we can do with a song. How far can we take this. When you think of the rules of what melodic death metal might be, it is fun to also be like, oh – fuck it. Don’t you think it’s funny to go back and try and tap into a sound that has everything to do with naiveite, you know?
Focusing more on that has been an element that has made this so rewarding. We can safely do that. We are letting ourselves run free, off the track.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received regarding your musical endeavors? And what do you think younger musicians within the metal music spectrum need to think about or take into consideration that you wish you had thought more about back in your early days?
Anderson: When I was 15 years old, Nick Pagan from a band in Atlanta called The Changelings, he was in his later 30’s, and he said, ‘just so you know, you aren’t going to be at your creative peak until your 30’s.’ I don’t know if that’s the best advice for everyone, so long as someone is there to tell you that whatever age you are in, that’s the age, that’s good advice. If you can find ways to tell someone that what they are doing is worthwhile. It’s crazy on Instagram how many people I’ve had direct messages from, both Majesties and Obsequiae, hey – check out my stuff. And it’s not just spamming accounts, and it’s awesome. Half of the metal audience has bands; some have three bands. They are all good. There is someone listening to the Majesties album and has an album in them that’s twice as good as that. It’s awesome. If you can get people to be excited about their own stuff, I think that’s the most important thing. I wish I had believed in myself more when I was younger, I would have found people like Matt and Carl sooner in my life when I really needed them.
Skildum: As far as advice, I never really got that much. A lot of what I was doing in my twenties in my first bands, I had to figure things out through trial and error. I had some ups and downs because of that. I wish I would have made sure as a younger musician that I kept more focus. I was more selfish than I should have been. Carl was a hard driving person to be in a band with. I tried to learn from that, and it’s helped me to be a better collaborator, and hopefully Tanner and Matt haven’t been too annoyed by me through the course of this band.
Kirkwold: To just keep going. I didn’t know what success meant to me when I was young. I knew I wanted to make music. People ask me questions about when I think I would be famous. I don’t have an interest in that. I knew from an early age as a guitar player that I wanted to be the guy on the side, a hired gun. I never had any dreams of rock and roll, I wanted to play guitar and be with people I liked, playing good music. And heavy metal was my first choice, I gave up on it when I was younger. I never met people like Carl or Tanner until ten or twelve years ago. I didn’t come back to metal as a player until then, I followed it somewhat and made a lot of records that had nothing to do with heavy metal. I never gave up on that thing that if you can’t find it right away, just keep going and improving as a player. Eventually you will find people that are not only great players and writers, but they will be your friends for life. Don’t stop, you will never stop hitting your creative streak as long as you just keep going. Keep moving forward and you will have a blast with it for a very long time.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the recording or live show front for Majesties or any of your other bands, side projects, etc. that we can expect over the coming twelve to eighteen months?
Skildum: Some of that is not ready to announce yet. Any project that you know of that we are associated with, are still active, and we are working on different elements. Matt and I have an Antiverse record that is written, and we are working on trying to figure out a recording schedule for that. That is one thing I can say is it in the works. For Majesties, we are writing new music for the second record. We have already been writing new things as we have been waiting for this first album to come out. We are pretty excited to be able to move forward with new songs for this band too.
Anderson: One of the tricky things is that when we started Majesties and it started to become more real, we hit the pandemic. A lot of the roles we have weren’t how they started. I wasn’t going to be the singer, things just happened. We can’t do this band live as just a three-piece. We have a drummer John K. in Pittsburgh, since then I’ve moved to Boston. The whole friendship angle, this is why we are doing so much. We will try to post some fun things on Instagram that will allude to what the future holds. For me, Aduanten, a band from Texas that I do vocals for, we should have a vinyl pressing for a record on Nameless Grave. And there is some other stuff I wish I could talk about, but I can’t (laughs).