If you don’t know Zornheym, let me tell you that they are a Symphonic Extreme Metal band from Sweden; their music is highly dramatic, using a lot of symphonic elements, telling horrific tales about the asylum where insane things are happening… Add to this a brilliant guitar work, a drummer who pulverizes his kit in every performance, and a vocalist with great skills both at harsh/clean vocals, and with a theatrical stage attitude… And more fantastic elements that you’ll discover when you listen to their two full-length albums, “Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns” (2017) and “The Zornheim Sleep Experiment” (2021). Now, they have just released a new EP, “The Forgotten Inmates”, with surprising stuff…
Let’s talk a bit about it with Zorn (Tomas Nilsson), the founder and songwriter of Zornheym. He kindly agreed to answer (again!) to my questions for Blessed Altar Zine.
Hi Zorn, thank you for agreeing to this interview with Blessed Altar Zine. How are you doing?
Zorn: Hello Sílvia, thanks for having me once again! I’m doing fine here, thank you for asking. I have been playing a lot of guitar lately because I am recording the guitars for the third Zornheym album in early November here, so I need to be in shape.
Zornheym has been doing some gigs lately, correct? Which song do you enjoy the most playing live?
Zorn: Yes we have played a bunch of shows in Sweden, UK, France, The Netherlands, and Germany. It’s been great to be out playing again and to meet all the new and old devoted inmates!
My favorite song to play live? Right off the bat I would say “Whom the Night Brings…”
It’s a very energetic straight forward song with some cool lead parts in it! “Corpus Vile” is another cool track to play.
Do you have more gigs scheduled for the upcoming months, and for next year?
Zorn: We don’t have any more gigs planned this year, but we are planning to do some touring in spring again. Right now we are busy with preparing and recording our third album. A Zornheym album takes a lot of time to prepare and to record. Lots of people are involved and the classical musicians need the music in notation etc. We also have a large part of the lyrics to write. The general story and concept is mapped out, but we are still missing several lyrics for the songs.
Now, let me ask you about the present. How happy are you with the recently released EP by Zornheym, “The Forgotten Inmates”? How has the public reception been?
Zorn: So far I have only heard positive things about it, which feels great since this was something different from what we have been doing so far. I have seen a lot of people pointing out that the songs work really well in an acoustic format as well and have been pointing out that it shows the songs are well crafted. That makes me very proud! I also think Bendler has done a great job with re-working the growl parts into melodic singing.
What can you tell us about the 5 songs that shape this EP? And how did you come up with the idea of doing versions of these particular songs?
Zorn: Everything started with me and Bendler doing some acoustic interpretations of the songs for live streaming. People started pointing out in the comments that it sounded great. That made us want to try and record “Whom the Night Brings…” as an acoustic bonus track for “The Zornheim Sleep Experiment”. The original idea was to release that track digitally when the graphic novel got done. The artist, Anu Saari, who made the graphic novel got pregnant during the making of the comic. That delayed the comic for obvious reasons. So to reward our patient inmates we wanted to give you all something extra, so we decided to record a couple of more tracks. I have always loved Blind Guardians acoustic versions that they did after “Imaginations from the other side”, that was also a huge inspiration for this EP.
The following question is direct. Why a French version of “Keep the Devil Away”?
Zorn: Because the people of France welcomed us with open arms already on our very first show before our first album was out. Ever since then France has felt like our second home. So after last year’s touring in France and especially the show at “Rock Metal camp”, we felt that it was time for us to give the French inmates something back. However, the recording process was quite interesting since Bendler doesn’t speak French. Our booking agent, Brigitte André of Hell Frog Promotion, is French so she helped us translate the lyrics and then we had to have her in the studio so Bendler could mimic her words. I have heard that she did a great job with the lyrics and that Bendler did a great job with singing it.
Are you guys planning to do more acoustic versions in the future? What about playing any of these in your gigs?
Zorn: Yes, the acoustic stuff was so much fun so I think we will record “The Forgotten Inmates part II” when we are in the studio now recording the third album.
There is one song on the new album that I would like to make a version from another person’s perspective. I think I will put that idea in “The Forgotten Inmates Part II”.
I think the acoustic format would work great live too. Could be cool to do live in a radio station, at a signing session in a record store or just a special live occasion.
A new graphic novel has also seen the light. How important is it for you the visual part, accompanying your music?
Zorn: I think it’s very important. So far we have only merely scratched the surface of all the ideas we have for the visual story part. Scucca has been talking about his ideas for a board game around this concept for a while now. I want people to be able to read about our stories and listen to the music. To have game nights with buddies, put the Zornheym albums on the turntable and then play the Zornheym board game. We are also putting a great deal of effort in all the visual stuff that goes along with the albums. We always have very nice packaging and the booklets are designed to be a part of the stories too.
This comic book is, let me tell you, a stunning piece of art, made again by Anu Saari. It’s full of details, depicting the horrific sleep experiment done at Zornheim asylum. I’m curious: how did you know Anu, and how was she the chosen person to draw these novels?
Zorn: When I was writing the first songs for Zornheym in 2014 I found Anu’s art on Instagram. I think it started with that I saw her writing stunning portraits of King Diamond. That made me follow her profile. After I had seen her posting other really cool art, like her Iron Maiden tribute stuff, I one day DM:ed and told her: “I’m working on this big concept album and I see that we have a lot in common musically and artwise. I would really like to incorporate your art in my music show. Would be cool to have some comic strips included in the release.” She then told me that a dream of hers was to make her own comic book. I told her that her style would fit perfectly with my stories so we decided to make a graphic novel together. Now we have made two together and I am beyond grateful for all her work and dedication that she has put into making our music come to life.
How pleased are you with this new graphic novel? It seems that this Finnish artist caught perfectly the concept of the story, bringing ink-on-paper the horrors committed by Dr. Bettelheim in the asylum.
Zorn: I’m very pleased with how the imagery turned out. I think it brings you there and makes the whole concept and music more impactful and real. I am so eternally grateful to Anu for bringing the concept to life and being with us on this journey. I also think that Noble Demon found a great manufacturer that made the physical version into a real piece of art. I simply couldn’t be happier with how this product turned out!
Of course, there’s a connection between Zornheym’s two full-length albums released to date. The story, the characters, the horror… But, can we expect a continuation, even if it seemed like the doors of Zornheim were closed forever?
Zorn: We have plenty of more stories to tell about the asylum and the people there. On the third album we will go back in time and learn more about Dr Bettelheim’s past and how he got to the asylum.
If I ask you to go back in time in your mind, what can you tell us about the primitive idea of writing such an horrific story? When did it come to your head? And, it was easy for you to transform that idea into music?
Zorn: The idea of making a concept album came to me in my mid ‘20s. I have always been interested in epic projects, horror stories and fantasy novels. After I studied lots of King Diamond albums I was curious to try and do something like that myself. I never really found a suitable band to do it with. I wrote some concept albums with “Aktiv Dödshjälp” but they dealt with other subjects, but it was a good learning period for me. So in 2014 I decided to form a band alone and make a perfect concept band. The rule was simple – make emotional, cinematic music and stay in the same world throughout the band’s existence. People have always told me that I have written music that would suit video games or soundtracks to movies, so for me it’s very natural to write that kind of music. I always see pictures in my head when I write music, and music in general is a more powerful language than spoken words to me.
Are you currently working on any other projects besides Zornheym?
Zorn: Not really. I want to build a whole world around Zornheym with graphic novels, board games and other cool stuff. I have a new song recorded with Aktiv Dödshjälp that I should release, and also a couple of demos, but at the moment there is simply no time for it. I rather put my eggs in one basket.
Many thanks for your time doing this, Zorn. Is there anything more you want to say?
Zorn: Thank you so much for your interest and thank you, the reader, who read this far! Lots of time, sweat and passion is invested in Zornheym and if you are into concept bands I dare to say that we are one of a kind. Please check us out!
Interview by Sílvia
Check out this new EP by Zornheym for something different, and check their graphic novel too, it’s an amazing piece of art!
Anu Saari (illustrator)
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