Profaned – Summoning Ancient DreamsTuesday, 9th March 2021
These days thanks to affordable home studios and file sharing/ social media capabilities, productivity and connection to the right musicians can pay dividends for fresh output. Case in point: Swedish heavy metal act Profaned. Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Henrik Wesström reached out through Facebook to find a singer for his material – and vocalist Thomas Clifford accepted the opportunity, even if it was going to be vastly different than his death metal work with Throne of Heresy and Abscession. Their debut EP Surreal Existence contains a lot of doom/old school power metal qualities, the songwriting crisp and performances aligning well for followers of Candlemass, Nevermore, Morgana Lefay and other NWOBHM offshoots.
We reached out to Thomas through Skype and he was happy to bring up to date on the origins of the band, his thoughts on developing a clean voice, Alan Turing and his importance to World War II, as well as discussion on how Sweden has handled the pandemic plus thoughts on Candlemass and the future.
Dead Rhetoric: At what point did you start getting into heavy metal and eventually wanting to play/perform in bands? I remember from a previous interview we did you discovered Europe around the age of six or seven and then gained an interest in Helloween and Iron Maiden – did you discover these bands from childhood friends, family, or other sources?
Thomas Clifford: I think Europe in Sweden was a thing here. Everyone knew Europe, they were the big Swedish rock band, and they were played on radio and television. I was so small I can’t remember when I discovered them, probably through the radio and finding “The Final Countdown” to be a great song, which I find still. It’s overplayed nowadays, but still a good song. Moving on, for me it wasn’t a conscious decision, but paved the way for heavier music.
I was toying around with a little wooden guitar as a kid, throwing it around in the ceiling and my dad got really angry as I threw the guitar so high, missed it and it broke. That killed my performing dreams for a while. I was 15 or 16 when I got a real guitar and started playing, took a few guitar lessons. I was a crappy guitar player, and I still am. That wasn’t the route (for me) but I got into a few punk bands, three chords and screaming drinking beer. That was the level we could perform at as no one was good enough to perform at an advanced level in my bunch of friends.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you take advantage of the government programs where you could learn instruments and pull together bands to rehearse in your youth?
Clifford: Oh yes. We have the music schools in Sweden which are separate from the regular schools. I don’t know how it works today, but back then as a kid you could enroll for a class, I chose guitar. My parents paid like $10 to go to guitar lessons once a week. All the guys were rock guys who taught, some of them knowing classic guitar. They would ask what we would like, it wasn’t focused. Let’s play Iron Maiden then, and I had never played a guitar let alone held one in my hand properly. It was a good system just to get a feel for the basics. If I had been more talented, naturally that would have been a great thing.
In a year I went through three or four teachers, because they came and went, it wasn’t like a regular school. They did this on the side, a few hours on the side. In the small town where I lived, they weren’t educated as teachers, but they could play the guitar. And then we used the rehearsal room thing, full gear school. You can go take classes on any topic, and you can have your own circle of friends. We got together, they paid for most of it, played and drank beer, played punk music.
Dead Rhetoric: This probably explains why a lot of the musicianship and skill levels are much more advanced in a lot of Scandinavia – the ability to play and perform at a younger age and get that practice and rehearsal under you…
Clifford: I believe you are right. It’s a huge impact and at an age where you are very malleable. You have this time to be creative and all the energy that you have as a young person, you can really use that. We spent all our time in that rehearsal space, it was a pretty large space, we had three bands rehearsing there. It was like an old illegal nightclub, someone had run it without paying taxes. We got that place as a rehearsal space, there was a bar still there and in retrospect that was a bad idea to give to a bunch of teenagers (laughs). We could load it up with our own beer and pretend we had our own pub. It ended up making it so important for us, we hung out there, parties and playing music. It made the music a central point of it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about to start Profaned – and did you know right away the qualities you wanted to pursue with your metal influences or did things develop over the course of writing those first set of songs?
Clifford: Things very much developed along the way I would say. Henrik and I have never met- we never talked before, he made a post on a Facebook forum that he had a bunch of songs and it’s like heavy metal. I thought it sounded interesting enough, as I had been on the hunt for these kinds of bands, Candlemass kind of range. I listened to the tracks he had, and the first one was “Prisoner of the Mind” – and he didn’t have a name or lyrics. He sent it to me on a Friday, and I went into my home studio on a Saturday and belted it out, the better part of that song. Some of the final takes from that session are in that final version. I got into the right headspace and feel for the song. I started singing something at random and that developed into the lyrics as well.
It just coalesced there that became an entity. These other songs came into an EP but not all with the same feel. Henrik is a prolific writer – he had ten or fifteen songs when we started talking, and now he has probably over forty. He just keeps writing and sending me new stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: Surreal Existence is the debut Profaned EP. How do you believe the recording sessions went for this release – and was it a difficult process to hone down the material to the three specific tracks that appear here?
Clifford: No it wasn’t very difficult to hone them down. From the first songs he sent, he had five or six songs that popped out, and these three fit me best vocally and I got the lyrical idea and vocal lines pretty much in my head. We just went with these, we had finished two more but we felt they didn’t really fit on the EP. One of them is more heavy metal, faster, and one is very… sort of like “Enigmatic”, emotional and more like a ballad, a very sad twist to it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide to write about English mathematician/ computer scientist Alan Turing for the ballad “Enigmatic” – what fascinated you most about his life and achievements?
Clifford: I visited Bletchley Park where he was stationed a couple of years ago, an amazing place in England where they had this code breaking facility that cracked the enigma code that the Germans used to have their submarines, the communication encrypted. If there are some other historians out there I am sure they may correct me in the comments, as far as I recall the enigma machine was used to communicate the positions of the submarines, etc. Once the British cracked that code, they knew where they were and got a lot of information out of that. I realized how big this operation was and how massive of a secret, thousands of people working in and around this center. They kept it a secret during the war, and after the war no one could talk about this. Around 2000 they relented on that, and they opened the park museum for visitors and tell the story in a proper way. And also tell the story about Alan too – he got very bad treatment as a gay person in the 1950’s. He was prosecuted and sentenced to chemical castration, and eventually ate an apple spiked with cyanide to eventually die. Some say it was murder, some say it was suicide, some say it was an accident – we just will never know.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your lyrical content, are there specific subjects or topics you like to talk about within the Profaned platform?
Clifford: I think for the EP, it’s sort of about mental health in a way. “Prisoner of the Mind” is the most obvious example, trying to fight something that is there. Turing was looked at for “Enigmatic” as a hero, but also had this duality that he was a victim of this treatment that he received. The duality of human nature, maybe that’s more what I am after. How it can affect us in various situations. It’s not a strictly formed thing in my head, it’s a feeling I get when I write lyrics that can conceptually fit.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering your vocal work in death metal acts like Throne of Heresy and Abscession, did you have any fears or concerns about your clean, melodic approach for Profaned?
Clifford: Yes (laughs). I’ve been shirking this clean vocal thing since I was 16 years old. I’ve always wanted to do heavy metal of some kind, and I always had it in my mind that I’m not the guy who can do those things. I started growling as the best approach to the microphone, when I realized guitar wasn’t my instrument. I’m not much of a front man, I didn’t become a vocalist to be the center of it all and the outgoing guy. That’s not my intention, I really like singing. I have learned how to be the front man as it goes along. For Profaned and the other act The Sigil, which I am in and do clean vocals for, it’s something else and a new thing to do. When I record and listen to my vocals myself I don’t think it’s that good at all in the studio, I feel down – and then I send it to Henrik and he says it’s awesome, spot on. I’ve just started listening to him, I can’t really judge my own voice.
Dead Rhetoric: Will you consider taking some vocal lessons to strengthen your clean singing, or just work along as you go?
Clifford: I did get a few lessons from a vocal technique teacher. I got a few good ideas and techniques from her, in the end I feel the voice is such a personal thing. It’s really difficult to teach someone else how to sing. I’m sure it works fine for other people, but for me I do rather… I can’t be told how to do it, I have to find my place. I do a lot of experimentation in the studio, pitches, voices, and sounds in my throat. I want to be able to do this in a live setting as well. Trying to find things and teaching myself.
Dead Rhetoric: As I understand it you have enough material together for a couple of albums with Profaned. Are you content on releasing material on a DIY basis, or are you hopeful to seek out a record label to move things up another level for the band?
Clifford: We are actually talking to a label right now, nothing is set. They are giving a bunch of pointers if we want to be a part of their label, think about these things. We are in the ballpark but they want to hear something more after the EP for a final decision, and I think that’s fine. I have been in the music business long enough that I don’t want to jump onboard with the first label just because it’s a label – I want it to be the right label and I want a label that understands our music, and we won’t have to compromise too much with our vision to fit the label’s style. The label should empower the band’s vision and not change that. We are looking but we are not in a hurry.
Dead Rhetoric: When things open up for live shows again, will you be expanding the lineup beyond the duo that recorded in the studio? Are you hopeful to keep this an active band with full-time members?
Clifford: Yes and yes. We are actually already expanding, we have a guitar player that is interested. He’s written songs that he’s sent us, it’s my friend Lars (Björkens) from Throne of Heresy. Nothing is set yet, but if we got him onboard we would be a strong trio. We also have a drummer we are talking to, he’s busy for another six months or so but then his schedule opens up so he can join us in time for live concerts. We keep writing our stuff and doing the programmed drum thing, once the live shows happen we will find a drummer.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out your life between your day job, being married with young children, and all of your musical activities?
Clifford: I don’t, short answer (laughs). I sleep too little and stress with everything. I try to be present. At the moment I am at home, on parental leave with corona going on. My workplace is pretty much closed down. I am at home with my youngest son, he’s a year and a half. My daughter goes to school. I usually sneak out for an hour or two in the studio which I have on my property here. I do some vocals when I have the time and energy for it. I try to record in the evenings and hang out with my family during the daytime. Once I go back to work in August, we’ll see how I can balance things out. I haven’t really decided yet.
Dead Rhetoric: How are things in Sweden with the pandemic – do you believe the public has been staying safe and things are returning to a level of normalcy now with the vaccine distribution?
Clifford: I think Sweden has handled it in a very peculiar way, as we are one of the other countries that have mostly taken the other path. When all the countries were in lock down with masks, Sweden said no lockdown, no masks, just keep your distance and wash your hands. A lot of people died, I think a lot of people were afflicted with other things too. We have a lot of deaths that are COVID-19-related. Sweden has a lot more dead people per capita. So something has failed. I’m no expert but I have seen our government being slow in its response, a lot of these things take time and they come to decisions too late. We have laws in Sweden that say you can’t lock down the country. We have a very strong freedom for the individual. We only have one law that allows them to do so, that is the wartime law. They can’t really say this is a war, so it’s been a problem for the government to put these harder line stances in place.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the metal scene today within your home area of Sweden? Do you believe you still have the same fire and passion for the movement today that you had maybe ten or twenty years ago?
Clifford: In the area here where I am at, we have a very strong metal scene. We have old bands like Edge of Sanity, Mithotyn, Dawn. A bunch of great bands, this has been a hotbed outside of Stockholm and Gothenburg – there are a lot of smaller towns. It’s not all death metal, there is something in between of its own. There is a lot of great music, and more to come. I sent you Viral, they are from around here as well.
Maybe even more passion than I had ten or twenty years ago. Joining Throne of Heresy years back turned up my engines and fired me up, being passionate about being in the scene. I was always a fan of metal, but being a part of it, meeting all these bands and playing together, just doing this it’s given me something in these past eight years.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned loving the idea of working with Profaned because of some of the Candlemass influences- how important has that band on your outlook of heavy metal?
Clifford: I would say they are immensely important. I discovered them when I was a teenager, and I’ve been listening to them ever since. Messiah years, and the first album with Johan as well. I’ve been following Leif and his other bands forever. I’ve seen them live, they opened for Ghost at one of the big hockey arenas. It’s a very important band, and the underdogs when it comes to Swedish heavy metal. They aren’t as big as they should be, they always put out high quality music and you can immediately tell its Candlemass you are listening to.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Profaned over the next year or so? And can you bring us up to speed on what’s happening with your other bands Abscession and Throne of Heresy?
Clifford: For Profaned, we are lining up the songs. We are going through all the material we have. He writes new riffs and songs, we will go through it all and see what is the best fit. We want things to be varied so we don’t just choose the same ten songs all over. I want to find what the core of what Profaned still is. We have probably four or five tracks with vocals on them – two finished and two or three works in progress. Every now and then Henrik sends me a new song, he can’t stop writing. It’s a blessing in disguise to have all this material. In the end it’s all good.
Abscession, we just released the first song from our upcoming album which is coming out on Transcending Obscurity. It’s old school Swedish death metal, chainsaw and a bit melodic as well. More like Edge of Sanity than old school Dismember. We have had some great response to that track. Throne of Heresy is on hiatus, the drummer is involved with Vanhelgd, a couple of years ago, and we haven’t come around to picking it up again. We’ll see what happens, it’s not dead but it’s definitely on ice. So what happens there is the guitarist and I are doing this project called the Sigil. It’s more modern rock-ish, clean vocals, very melodic guitars. Sometimes borders on Blue Oyster Cult, various rock influences. So I have all these different bands, and it’s great. We have two songs on Spotify now, and we will put together another one for an EP. We have three to five more songs in the works.