BEHIND THE LIGHTS

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Chapter 6

October 20th, 2016
Munich, Germany
Stranded - Gojira

Søren knew it was early as it still was dark outside. He was dead tired, but his brain decided it was time to wake up.

After blankly staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, fighting the urge to knock himself into oblivion so the nightmares would stop following him everywhere, he took a deep breath and sat on his bed. The sensation of the cold tiled floors under his feet was like being brought back to life.

Leaning his elbows on his knees, he massaged his temples. He hated those mornings when he woke up in a haze, more exhausted than when he went to sleep.

Not sure how much time had passed, Søren huffed, put on his jeans, stepped into his black sneakers, and walked out of the room. Everyone else was still sleeping, so he grabbed his jacket and strode towards the terrace.

Mentally thanking that it was half-covered by a glass pergola, he lit a cigarette and looked at the scenery in front of him. The sky was painted in a solid navy-blue but a soft light could already be glimpsed on the horizon. The freezing weather made the dampness in the atmosphere visible as small crystal drops fell down.

With a sense of being an outsider to his own life, he inhaled the poisonous fumes. A blazing cloud went down his throat and straight to his lungs, making him feel both dead and alive at the same time.

The problems with their current discography were irritating, but that doctor calling him a few days before to tell him his father had been admitted to the hospital had twisted his gut in the worst way, bringing old ghosts into his present he didn’t want to face. Apparently, he was the only relative they could find, but Søren hadn’t seen or spoken to that man in almost two decades and wasn’t planning to start doing it now.

With the passing of the years he had learned to ignore the drama surrounding the group and enjoy life to the fullest, but sometimes the loneliness was just too heavy to ignore.

It probably didn’t make sense for most people since he was never able to be alone, spending most of the time with his band mates, Michael, music techs, or their fans. And as therapeutic as it had been for him to be surrounded by so many people that liked what he liked, deep down, he longed for something else. Something meaningful that filled the suffocating emptiness inside his chest.

“What are you doing here so early?” Alex’s voice snapped him back to reality.

“Couldn’t sleep.” He turned to look at his friend. The fucker had lost so much weight over the past few months he looked like a praying mantis and, after wearing his light brown hair long for years, no matter how much time passed, seeing his head shaved now felt weird. “Want one?” Søren asked, offering him a cig.

“Sure.” He nodded, taking one from the packet. “What?” Alex asked as he lit it up.

He had been staring.

“You look like a bowling ball.” Søren chuckled, exhaling a cloud of grey smoke that swirled around them.

“You think you look like Ken from Barbie?” the bass player retorted, a devilish grin on his face as he let out the smoke.

“No, and if I ever look like that, please kill me.” Søren laughed.

“Noted.”

They both leaned on the back of the wall and looked in front of them, silence settling in. As uncomfortable as that would be with other people, with Alex it felt just right. None of them had ever been very talkative—plastic figures spoke more. Søren still didn’t know how they understood each other so well, but they did.

Without words, he knew what Alex was going through at the moment, and Alex knew he would always be there if he needed someone to scream his frustration out on, to hold his shaky hands when the cold turkey hit hard, or even to follow him down to hell. No matter how many times he wanted to punch him in the face, Søren would always be there for him.

Alex could be blunt and he was harsh sometimes, even mean—hell, he could be fucking rude. He was reckless, explosive, and a hazard to himself, but he was one of the kindest human beings Søren had ever met. Protective, honest, and loyal.

Together with Astrid—the voice of the reason in their small family—they spent their teenagers trying to find their place in the world, annoying the shit out of their foster mothers—those poor women. Søren smiled at the memory.

The long hours they would listen or play music in their garage, the after school detention almost every day, the sneaking out of the house at night to go to a party or to the skate park… Those two annoying human beings had illuminated his darkness when everything seemed lost. They had been the ones encouraging him to form Dark Omen when the drummer of their first trashy band left. They were two of the few people that didn’t look at him with pity when they found out how his childhood had crumbled down, but maybe it was because they hadn’t had it easy either...

“What plans do we have for today?” Alex asked after some time, interrupting his train of thoughts.

“I don’t know,” Søren shrugged, smashing the stub of his cig in the ashtray. “We could do some more tourism today before the interview?” Søren suggested.

“Yeah,” Alex said, smashing his smoke on the ashtray too. “You know anywhere near here aside from the city center?”

“Well… I always wanted to visit Dachau.”

“Da—What?”

“It was a concentration camp.”

Some would think that visiting that place was morbid, but Søren thought otherwise. He loved history and, as terrible as that had been, it was what it was. A piece on the puzzle of human society.

“Hmm… Yeah, why not?”

“It’s barely forty minutes away by train.”

“Sounds good,” Alex agreed as he pushed himself away from the wall. “Let’s get the other fuckers up, so we can go.”

“Sure,” Søren gave him a small smile.


After the four-hour tour in Dachau, an amazing lunch followed in the Hofbräuhaus. It wasn’t just a wonderful architectural Bavarian example, but a truly majestic place inside with its high, colorful ceilings and wooden panels covering halfway up the pastel yellow walls.

Later, they went back to the hotel to change into a more formal outfit, and while Mikael went to a meeting with a label whose headquarters was in Munich, they called a cab and drove to the industrially decorated building where they had the meeting.

“Good aftern—” The black-haired girl at the entrance cut mid-sentence when she raised her head, eyes opening wide. She probably was used to seeing all kinds of musicians, but maybe not such a famous band. The magazine was published in a lot of countries in Europe, but it was an indie one, and not as big as Rolling Stone or Metal Hammer.

“Welcome, guys!” She beamed, lips stretching from side to side. “I’m gonna let Julia know you’re here…” She trailed off as she typed on the keyboard of her laptop. “Alright! Come with me, I’ll take you to the meeting room.”

The concrete floor spread across the entire open plant as they walked inside the office. High ceilings, light wooden furniture, exposed installations painted in matte black, matching the window’s frames. It was quite modern.

“It’s good that you came today and not any other day. The office is almost empty since Thursdays and Fridays most people work from home,” the girl blabbered as they walked up the stairs. “Though, that’s probably why Julia told you to come in today.”

“That’s appreciated,” Jørn said.

“She’s really thoughtful,” the girl slightly turned to them and grinned. “It’s here.” She stopped and opened a translucent glass door. “I’m gonna get you some water, do you want a coffee or anything else?”

“We’re good, thanks,” Ian replied.

“Okay, be right back. Make yourself at home, Julia will be here soon.”

As she left the room, the musicians took off their coats and left them on the black leather couch.

“She was kinda nervous,” Alex commented, smirking.

“Yeah…” Søren chuckled as he sat down.

“And cute,” the bassist added.

Before they could say anything else, a stunning, tall, light caramel-haired woman stepped into the room. “Hey, guys!” She smiled. The four men stood up. “Thank you for coming. It’s such a great honor to have you here.”

“Thank you for inviting us.” Søren gave her a quick nod as he shook her hand.

“It’s so hard to get an interview with you—”

“Sorry to interrupt,” the receptionist said as she knocked on the door, opening it.

“Come on in.” Julia gestured with her hand.

“Here you have some water.” She put five bottles on the table. “If you need anything else, just call me.”

“Will do. Thanks.” Julia smiled at her. “Okay... How’s it going?” she asked as she sat in an armchair in front of the couch after greeting all of them.

“Been quite busy lately, but we’re good,” Ian commented.

“Even your knee?” she quizzed, settling a recorder on the coffee table between them.

After finishing the recording of their last album, and before they began touring, Ian took Frida, his wife, on a vacation to the Alps. They both loved winter sports and used to go to Switzerland to ski. However, during the fourth day, he had an accident and broke his right knee, forcing them to postpone for the next year some of the tours.

“Yeah, I’m still in rehabilitation, but it’s going great,” the guitarist declared. “Look.” He extended and flexed his leg, slapping on his thigh. “Ship steel!” He laughed.

“Good to hear that!” Julia giggled. “Well, then... You’re here this weekend to play in the Dark Winter Festival. How does it feel to be back in Germany? You haven’t been here since two thousand fifteen’s Wacken.”

“It’s amazing,” Jørn started, “we love it here. The food, the booze, the people. Can’t complain about a single thing about this country.”

“And even if you did, you wouldn’t say it to my face,” the reporter quipped.

“True, true.” The drummer laughed. “But I’m serious, it’s great. It’s always amazing to perform here.”

“But they’ll have to wait a bit because you’re one of the headliners of the festival. Again.”

“Yeah…” Søren shook his head. He didn’t remember those times when they were the opening act. It was crazy. “But I tell you, they only accepted us because, when we started all this, we tried year after year, annoying everybody, and they were like, screw it, let them in.”

Julia chuckled. “Germany loves you, it’ll have happened, eventually…”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Okay, let’s get to the point of this interview. Your new album, Salvation. I have to tell you, I went on a road trip last summer with some friends, your music blasting through the speakers and, guys, you cannot imagine how perfectly it fits Croatian coasts.”

“Thank you! Croatia’s beautiful. I wish we got to play more around that area,” Ian said.

“It’s definitely a must…” she agreed. “You’ve probably gotten this asked before, but it’s the first time you’re here, so... did you guys feel pressure following up this last album?”

“The hell we did! When people say that they can’t wait to hear our next album, it’s a message, and we receive it,” Alex explained. “We’ve been in the industry for ten years, released six albums, and we always try to improve, being loyal to our style and our beliefs. And we have to keep surprising our old fans and engaging new ones. So, the pressure is always there”—he chuckled—“but for us, it’s not just about writing songs and selling CDs. This is our life.”

“Yeah, and we’re very picky,” Ian added. “We breathe the music we create. Sometimes there’s something in a riff that makes you vibrate… It’s more than producing sounds. We have to do something that feels special for us so it reaches our fans.”

“That’s a great way to see it: if you like it, they’ll like it,” Julia commented.

“Exactly,” Jørn confirmed.

“We were jammed for months to create this. Alex and I composed most of it. We wrote part of it while on our last European tour, but when we got back home, we locked in a room for weeks to pump out all the ideas we had. What we wanted to write and how we wanted to say it. If something didn’t feel right, we couldn’t sleep until it was perfect.”

“That sounds like a lot of suffering,” the reporter noted.

“Who doesn’t like a bit of pain?” Ian joked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Julia laughed, shaking her head as she wrote on her notebook. “How is this different from other Dark Omen albums? Did you have a vision for it going into the process?”

“There’s less bullshit,” Jørn stated. “There’s more intensity and simplicity at the same time. Drum-wise, for example, it’s simpler, yet more technical. Experience definitely shines in it.”

“We had a lot more freedom for writing this time too,” Søren explained, trying not to give away too much about the shit going on with their label, how they controlled everything they did. “I’d say it’s more intense and ambitious. It’s more... “ He looked at Alex.

“Expressive?” The bass player shrugged. “I don’t know, man.”

They all laughed.

“I guess it’s hard to choose an adjective to describe your music... But you’re saying it’s more ambitious, more intense, and expressive. Is this something you planned, or it just turned out that way during the writing?”

“We never think about it. We just go to the studio, to the practice room, and play together every day. That’s how magic happens,” Alex replied.

“It really works that way,” Søren chuckled when Julia glanced at the bassist with a questioning look. “Personally, I had a dream for this album. It was something deep, full of colors, sounds, and shapes, like a storm on a summer day. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. Sometimes Inspiration just hits, but I have no idea what will happen until we get our four heads together in the studio.” He paused to drink a little. “Jørn did a lot on this album too. He’s always very active with the structure of the songs, but he was really creative this time.”

“I guess I was inspired.” The Swedish laughed. “But I gotta tell you, having these guys as bandmates is a blessing. I sometimes came up with an idea, like energy I needed to release and I went all like”—he hummed some drum sounds—“and Ian or Søren would pick up their guitar, and in five seconds they proposed something to me.”

“Working together for so many years does really help then,” Julia noted.

“It really does, but it’s also the fact that we’re all really close,” Ian explained. “It’s like we’re connected, you know?”

“That sounds great, and it really shows in your work. By the way, is there any lyrical theme in this Salvation album?”

“Hmm…” Søren stayed pensive for a few seconds. “I think you could say it has a concept, like a walk across life? We’ve been long-time collaborators with several charities and we’re really committed to mental health, animal rights, and environmental issues, and we wanted to put all this in the spotlight somehow, we kinda always do. I think that, as a band and as human beings, having something else to focus other than our music, something bigger than ourselves, it’s really important.”

“Of course. And that’s great. Okay, let’s talk about your studio. Even though you’re still working with the same label, you built the Silver Cord Studio in Oslo, where you actually recorded this amazing new album, and now it’s also available for other bands to use it, right?”

“Yeah, we knew the vibe we wanted and how we like our drums to sound, ’cause like everyone in the scene knows, this is basic for metal music. So, we built the whole thing around it. We knew it was going to be hard to balance our time with this new project and our musical career, but we wanted to open the door for new bands to show the world what they have; help them give that step, you know?” Ian explained.

“That sounds like a lot of work because I know you’re also the owners of a club... Is there something you’re not good at?” the reported quipped.

“Nope!” Alex replied, smirking.

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