Everything Must Go

The precursor for shedding unwanted baggage was the single ‘Bookburner’, now such problems have extended to This Sect’s debut album ‘Shake The Curse’.

Page after page is being ripped and shredded and the backbones holding these various pieces of literature together finally give way due to the pressure exerted on them before meeting a premature end in the roaring flames. The imaginary, or otherwise, bystanders fill the night air with accusations of “Philistine, philistine, philistine!” but the lone figure remains oblivious to such taunts, deep in thought and resolute in his actions when completing the task in hand and seeing it to its end.

With this being an interpretation based on real events, lead singer and chief lyricist Gøran Karlsvik of Norway’s This Sect was the man at the centre of this incident, which not only proved a cathartic experience, but also led to the creation of a truly gripping first instalment from their recently released album by way of ‘Bookburner’.

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There is, however, no self-explanatory road map when it comes to This Sect and the lyrical outpourings of their charismatic frontman, because despite what may appear obvious at first when considering the various song titles of their debut album ‘Shake The Curse’, the reality is far more obscured, and rightly so, as FLW found out for itself when seeking to get to the bottom of the aforementioned ‘Bookburner’ which, it transpires, was the result of a deeply personal matter involving a family member of Gøran Karlsvik.

“It’s not a very cheerful story,” replies Gøran Karlsvik with slight hesitation and followed by a nervous laugh before continuing.  “A few years back my brother died and it took me a while to get anything written about it. I had lots of books and memorabilia from our childhood, and there was this one moment during Christmas when I just started burning all of it [laughs briefly]. That was how the lyrics [‘Bookburner’] started, as it was a cleansing process by burning [all the] old books. Just having them around reminded me of him at that time. This felt pretty destructive, so I decided that I just had to get rid of it. So that was how the song lyrics started.”

Do you have any regrets now, when looking back, about burning all of those books and other memorabilia?

“No, no I don’t,” is the instant reply before adding facetiously. “There is more shelf space now!”

The personal mission to rid the shelves, cupboards and floor space of anything that was a reminder of a particular time in his life, Gøran Karlsvik is, in fact, a strong advocate of literature, citing Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, H. P. Lovecraft and a number of comic book writers Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis as particular favourites, and therefore leaving any suggestion of an existence bereft of culture as completely without foundation. Recognition of this fact came from Karlsvik’s fellow bandmates, who took it upon themselves to elect him chief lyricist for the darkened poetic tales now fully realised with ‘Shake The Curse’.

“The pitch from Are [Bøhm, synth player] when Gøran joined the band was that this guy can write and sing,” explains bass player Øystein Horgmo. “We needed that in the band at that time because we didn’t have a singer or any lyrics. The whole process works extremely well because when we start jammin’ musically with something, Gøran often has some unfinished lyrics lying about that we can use.”

“The famous cut and paste technique by Burroughs!” jumps in Gøran eagerly. “One of my early influences in writing song lyrics was Kurt Cobain. Nirvana blew up just when I started playing in bands, and to a kid from a small village raised on thrash metal and A-ha that opened a lot of doors to other musical influences. I remember reading an interview with him talking about using Burroughs’ ‘cut and paste technique’ when writing lyrics, and that had an instant appeal. I always had lots of unfinished lyrics, and started to assemble them into ugly little Frankenstein lyric sheets, which kind of made sense as our music was pretty chaotic and unschooled. I don’t know how my lyrics come across, but I like them to convey a certain mystique; more a feeling than a meaning, and open to interpretation. They might mean something specific to me, but hopefully the listener will get their own thing out of them.”

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“I also think Gøran’s lyrics make the songs more honest, as they’re about something and not just some lyrics thrown together to sound nice,” adds Øystein to the discussion. “I also think they’re open to interpretation because Gøran has his understanding whereas they probably mean something different to all of us in the band.”

While it may appear on the surface that This Sect is a new outfit considering the recent release of their debut album ‘Shake The Curse’, the truth is that this six piece has been steadily evolving for a number of years due to a number of different circumstances, but one that has finally felt ready to step forward and make their mark on the music world with their first, full-length album.

“It was because we were coming from a lot of different backgrounds,” explains Øystein on the slow yet steady progress of This Sect. “Before the band got together, I had been playing in a punk band and the other guys were performing in other bands as well. When I moved back to Oslo from Stavanger, our synth player Are [Bøhm] (A rather dapper fellow we hasten to add, FLW) asked me if I wanted to be a part of the group, which also included both of our current guitarists Thomas Alkärr and Ole Andreas Hagen, despite not really being a proper band at this particular time. Are [Bøhm] was actually the person most interested by post-punk during this time, so everything clashed and it took a while for a [distinct] sound to emerge from this. We didn’t really feel like a proper band until our drummer Klaus Kristensen joined, as we had another drummer before that, but not as skilled and he was more of a jazz guy [laughing]!”

“I got involved during the summer of 2003,” says Gøran. “I also met [the rest of the band] through Are Bøhm as we have known each other for many years, so he’s been the main hub for the band I think. I had been playing in bands for a few years, but decided to take a break. I had mostly been performing in hardcore bands and more noisy stuff. So our sound [This Sect] in the beginning was not mixing very well as it was kind of chaotic,” he finishes laughing at the memory of this.

When listening to This Sect’s ‘Shake The Curse’ the post-punk scenes of the late 1970s and early quarter of the 1980s immediately springs to mind, with the band’s echoing and skeletal sounding guitars, coupled with Gøran’s impassioned pleas and Are Bøhm’s often restrained synth. With such references being a reminder of an era confined to the annals of history, This Sect has successfully resuscitated, with careful precision, such memorable sounds for those old enough to remember these particular periods in the long lineage of music first time around but, in the process, given the whole exterior of these references a fresh lick of paint by applying a modern edge that should appeal to those with a strong affection for punk and hardcore bands, as well as those with a definite indie flavour in terms of the present.

Considering that the likes of The Chameleons, At The Drive-in, Fugazi, Bauhaus, Joy Division and The Church have been associated with the post-punk emanating from ‘Shake The Curse’, This Sect is fully aware of such comparisons and more than appreciative to be compared with such ground-breaking acts. Where the divide begins to reveal itself, however, is that there are no direct correlations with any one of these suggested artists, as This Sect merely possess fleeting resemblances with some of these comparisons or, more to the point, remain supporters of such bands.

“I think there are a couple of albums that have been quite important for us as a band and have become favourites in terms of reference points,” suggests Øystein. “I’m not saying that we sound like these albums, but one of them that has been important for us is ‘Script of the Bridge’ by The Chameleons and the other is ‘Inches’ by Les Savy Fav, which we listened to for the first time as a band when driving to a gig in Stockholm and it instantly clicked with us.”

“I don’t think we ever set out to sound in a specific way, as it more or less just happened,” says guitarist Ole Andreas Hagen. “Apart from being based on some of the influences suggested, there was no early plan that it was going to sound in a particular way. Our sound has progressed over the years, but there is still the natural mix of what all of us are listening to in the bottom there.”

“Someone has said that we’re somewhere between Fugazi and Joy Division but harder, so that’s some explanation,” comments Are Bøhm who remains relatively quiet throughout the interview.  “We’re influenced by the post-punk movement of the late seventies and early eighties, but also the DC hardcore scene as well.”

It appears that you are comfortable with the post-punk label, but is this actually true?

“I am comfortable with a genre tag such as post-punk because it’s kind of a middle point for everything that we like and it’s not cheesy as I can still listen to those bands, even though I discovered some of them when I was a kid,” answers Gøran on the subject of the post-punk label. “I think we’re kind of post-punk, but we also have the energy and the spikiness of the new wave [genre] and some of the fun from it. My favourite band of all time is DEVO; our band does not sound like DEVO but a lot of the humour and their subversiveness has been important to me. Other influences are Nick Cave, especially his early period with the Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds. I hold Morrissey in very high regard. Just when you think the lyrics are turning into total cheese, he pulls out these evil little jokes that kind of validate the entire thing. I don’t follow [Nick] Cave and Moz as closely as I used to, but they’re still doing quality stuff.”

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Quality control is definitely something that has been exercised when it comes to ‘Shake The Curse’ considering the lengthy gestation period the band’s debut album has undergone that began in earnest during 2009 and finally came to fruition this year. With family responsibilities and the daily call of work to contend with, any time spent in the recording studio was therefore greatly restricted, with the six band members meeting when a free weekend presented itself.

Once you have listened to the short, sharp shock to the system of ‘Shake The Curse’, clocking in at less than forty minutes, any gripes held regarding the eternity this work of art has taken to finally reveal itself instantly evaporate because it is one of those records that will leave you speechless by its conclusion. It’s an utterly thrilling ride high on energy and burning with anxieties as illustrated by the previously mentioned ‘Bookburner’, but also the immense ‘Copulation Control’ with its wonderfully compelling and almost stuttering line, “Pop-pop-pop-pop population control”. Standing highlight, however, has to be ‘Make Shit Shine’ as it is the final statement, in our humble opinion, as far as societies imperfections go, with its insightful observations pouring scorn on those more privileged with its quite brilliant, “Another silver spoon, blacks out the moon, there’s a hollow in your mouth, where your truth went missing”.

Aside from the unflinching honesty and wonderful swirling electronics of Are Bøhm’s synth adding to the increasing tension  of ‘Make Shit Shine’, there is a general impression that ‘Shake The Curse’ is attempting to cleanse its soul of various impurities, often the result of outside sources, as one only has to scour the song titles and the contents within to gain a degree of understanding that this album is severely coming from the heart but one, as Gøran Karlsvik suggested earlier, that remains cloaked in mystery. The intensity and often frantic energy of the songs throughout ‘Shake The Curse’ is further reason to suspect that This Sect, whether in person or wrapped in a third person narrative, is trying its hardest to shake off a few lingering demons that simply won’t take flight. Whether such feelings extended to the whole recording process when putting the parts together for ‘Shake The Curse’ is an issue worth considering.

“Well, the recording process and the band process have always been enjoyable,” remarks Gøran. “During the years that the album took to record, it was a frustrating time for a few of us, but with the band getting together once a week and rockin’ out our frustrations was a great way to release some of those demons.”

Was there ever a point though, when you thought the album may never see the light of day?

“Lots of people thought that, ‘Yeah, you play in a band? Yeah, right!'” says Gøran mimicking those who dismissed his claims that he is the lead singer with This Sect and that the band were working on their first album.

“I think we knew that it was going to come out at some point, but of course, at times, it was a bit frustrating,” comments Ole Andreas Hagen on the working progress of ‘Shake The Curse’. “Then again, we also felt that things improved, despite various aspects taking time, because the songs and [song] arrangements got better and everything improved by using [more] time. So in the end, I don’t think we regret using so much time as the album is totally different now compared to how it would have sounded in 2009/10. So in the long run, I think it was a really positive thing that the recording process took some time.”

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“With this album, we had the attitude that it had to take the time it took, as we didn’t want to rush it,” adds Øystein on the recording process for the band’s debut album. “We wanted it to be the best that it could be, without being perfectionists. For example, we didn’t sit around and re-record stuff and things like that, but I think that by working on it for so many years, we didn’t want to rush it at the end just to get it finished. So we decided to take the time and make a really good album that we could stand for.”

This Sect has definitely achieved such aims as ‘Shake The Curse’ is a reminder of a glorious yet brief moment in music’s rich tapestry but one that should be regarded with the greatest importance in the present due to being among the minority as far as any claims regarding genuine quality go. This is music worth getting into a frenzied state about. This is music with a social conscience. This is music from the soul. This is the truth. This is This Sect.

FLW - From the Tapes

It’s not all about the songs. Gøran Karlsvik explained to FLW the reasons for the choice of album cover, as well as some historic details regarding this particular image explained in two parts.

Part One

“The photo was taken at Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenland by a photographer friend of ours, Carsten Aniksdal – great hair, and looks like a younger version of Ron Pearlman [actor]. He was in Greenland doing photo-shoots for a book he’s currently working on. The cover image [‘Shake The Curse’] was just something that he produced unintentionally, as it is not meant for his book. We were nearing completion of the album, but were struggling to come up with a proper cover idea. We’ve always been pretty self-contained in what we do, imagery-wise, but this time we started to feel the need for a fresh pair of eyes. In addition, we also wanted to remove ourselves a bit from the ‘dark’ image we’d gotten a little stuck in, as we often felt misunderstood as a band.

“I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, but I was looking for something dreamy, weird and beautiful. Carsten’s photo came up in my Facebook stream and it brought tears to my eyes because it was perfect. For example, it had the light and the darkness, the hope and the loss, the contrasts that we were trying to convey on the album. As bleak and misanthropic as the album may be, there is a feeling of positivity in the sense of trying to rise above and shake the curse.”

FLW - From the Tapes

It’s not all about the songs. Gøran Karlsvik explained to FLW the reasons for the choice of album cover, as well as some historic details regarding this particular image explained in two parts.

Part Two

“The more I started researching the location of the photo, the more it started to make sense. The symbolism was overwhelming. It was shot at the cemetery for an old sect, the Unitas Fratrum, ‘The Unity of Brothers’ who settled in Greenland in 1733,
and probably didn’t do too well as most of them gradually died and the whole operation was abandoned in 1900. Their parish hall, The Moravian Brethren Mission House, can be seen in the background. I think there’s a community house there now, but in the photo it just looks like a dead empty shell. It remains a mystery in terms of what went wrong, but I like to speculate.

“Despite its downfall, life still goes on with regard to the photo. There’s a serene, calm blue sky and animal tracks in the snow. Nature moves on; it just fixes itself, if given a chance. Hope blossoms from the remnants of our homes.

“The view towards Baal’s River, a.k.a. Godthåpsfjorden, is a perfect period mark for the symbolism of ‘Shake the Curse’. The tongue-in-cheek semi-religious sectarian-dystopian vibe also added to the whole disturbing feel that we adore. The image just sums up the album in its own way. Everybody apart from Klaus [Kristensen] loved it instantly. He thought it reminded him of his backyard in Hammerfest! He finally succumbed to peer pressure and gave in to our totalitarian band democracy.”

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