Blame Nightwish. Hypocrisy frontman / founder Peter Tägtgren does.
His relationship with the Finnish / Swedish quintet is anything but sour, however. On the contrary, Tägtgren considers it an honour and a privelege to have had the opportunity to take his industrial side-project-turned-priority Pain out as the main support act on Nightwish’s recent European tours. The resulting exposure resulted in Pain’s latest album Cynic Paradise growing longer legs than it would have without the push, making for something suspciously akin to commercial success. Rather than dwell on further mining of the power-pop audience Tägtgren returned instead to his first love, Hypocrisy, coughing up what is one of the strongest albums of his career. The aptly titled A Taste Of Extreme Divinity is as far away from Pain as possible, a long awaited return to the clash and burn that made Tägtgren a household name amongst death metal fans over 15 years ago. It’s been a long time coming according to the soft spoken Swede, and folks have Pain to thank for it.
“It’s different music,” Tägtgren offers with regards to Pain’s success. “It has more of an appeal so that the average Joe can get into it, more than the death metal or more extreme fans will. Things have gone kind of backwards, though, because when Pain started getting really popular in Sweden people thought that was the only thing I’d ever done (laughs). They’d never heard of Hypocrisy and the didn’t know anything about my background. The only thing I could do in those interviews was just sit back and smile (laughs).”
The smiling continues with A Taste Of Extreme Divinity. Between the sarcastic “fatal if swallowed” title and a sound falling somewhere between the realms of Slayer and Strapping Young Lad, Tägtgren made certain that Hypocrisy’s return had a skull-rattling impact.
“People didn’t expect the album to sound like this, but the reactions have been really good,” he says. “People really seem to like it. The thing is, when you have a long time to make an album it’s easier to look at things and throw them away, so it definitely helped doing this album in the long term. I think I did four or five tours with Pain since the release of Virus, but whenever I get free time I just sit and write. Sometimes I write Hypocrisy riffs and sometimes they’re Pain riffs. I think we were kind of burned out on Hypocrisy from touring, because we did five tours for Virus as well. So we didn’t really want to do anything for a long time. That’s why it was cool to just sit down and work on some riffs, then put them in a computer file so I could open them back up when we started recording and throw out the stuff that wasn’t good enough. I think it’s a good thing to let the music grow like that because sometimes you can make an album pretty quickly, and then you go back and ‘Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have done that…’”
Far from being the troubled artist pulled in too many directions at once, Tägtgren was focused solely on making a Hypocrisy record once he got down to business. No waffling on using certain riffs or shoving ideas into the Pain box for later.
“I set my mind to doing Hypocrisy riffs and that’s what they’re going to be. Michael (Hedlund / bass) contributed a little bit to the songwriting, but basically what I did was take all the stuff I’d come up with over the last few years and turned them into songs. Put a drum machine on the stuff so Horgh (drums) could listen to them, then Michael came over and really started putting things together. I was thinking that I wanted things either super-slow or super-fast on this album. That was really the only goal with the tempo, but with the riffing I didn’t even think about it. I just kept putting the riffs together, building one on top of another, and set the standard really high. It’s just a fist in the face kind of thing. The tone is set right away and that’s what the whole album is like.”
“Another important thing on the album are the vocals and how I went with the growls. For my taste I think this album has the best vocal performance I’ve done for a Hypocrisy album in years. I tried to keep things to a low growl as much as possible, put some more colour into the vocals, and go back a bit more to a death metal sound.”
Tägtgren’s vocals are indeed the most striking aspect of A Taste Of Extreme Divinity are the vocals. His entrance on lead-off track ‘Valley Of The Damned’ is a jaw-dropper with regards to setting the tone; definitely the stuff of nightmares for the uninformed Pain fan. Tägtgren still loves singing clean, however, no matter how good it felt to get back to his inner beast.
“I think I have a wider range now because of the Pain stuff,” says Tägtgren. “I definitely have better control over the vocals now. It is nice to not have to hit every note exactly right (laughs) but sometimes it’s harder to do the growling and keep it going at the same level. The way you express yourself with the growls makes it harder, but I think it’s important that you do it like you mean it. The attitude is really important with certain words you say or certain screams you do. You have to articulate, and that can be hard when you’re growling.”
“The whole production sounds really good, I think.” He adds. “It’s crystal clear but it’s still in your fucking face. I even went back to using Marshall amps again. I’ve been investigating other amps like Mesa and Peavy over the past 10 years, and it’s funny to see that I’ve gone back to Point 0. It’s killer because now I’m sponsored by Marshall, too (laughs). I’m not saying that Marshall is killer because I’m sponsored, by the way. It’s just weird that when Mesa and these companies came along you threw away your Marshall, but now I’ve come full circle and I’m going ‘Wow!’ The tuned down guitars sound really great now, and I think that made a difference on the album. It definitely made songwriting exciting again.”
Switching gears between Pain and Hypocrisy, says Tägtgren, isn’t as big of a deal as some people might think…
“I just tell the other me to take a hike (laughs). It’s not really that hard because it’s a totally different riffing thing in Hypocrisy compared to Pain. I’ve learned a lot from playing live with Pain because with the way the music is – with that chugging rhythm – you’ve got to be so fucking tight. People are going to know right away if you’ve fucked up. Doing those Pain songs for so long live, it’s going to be easier to play the Hypocrisy songs now.”
“I don’t catch too much shit and I’m surprised about that,” Tägtgren says of dividing his time between Hypocrisy and Pain. “I think people have gotten used to the idea of me doing both bands, and they’re happy I’m not putting Pain stuff in Hypocrisy and the other way around. I think the Hypo fans have forgiven me for Pain’s commercial success (laughs). I’m glad I have the artistic freedom to do these different kinds of music, and that I’m able to put Hypocrisy aside for a while to do other things, otherwise Hypocrisy would be sounding a lot different nowadays.”
“Still, in Hypocrisy we definitely try to progress. We haven’t making the same album over and over since 1992. I’ve seen so many death metal bands do that sort of thing, and where are they now?”