A Finely Balanced Act

Still raging against the tide but using a wealth of experience to do so, newcomers Damokles is already proving their worth.

Under the current curfew, time spent in isolation is being put to good use when it comes to new band DAMOKLES.

Emerging during a turbulent period when the precariously balanced Sword of Damocles is becoming all too real for many of us and no longer a tale associated with those in positions of power and authority, what started out as a trio including Frode Pettersen (No Life Orchestra, Schtöggminator), Kristian Liljan (Dunderbeist), Gøran Karlsvik (This Sect, Contrarian) has now become a four-piece with the recent addition of drummer John Birkeland (Dunderbeist, Melkeveien).

A new developing unit therefore, and one entering a new dawn that is currently filled with uncertainty, bottled despair and overt grief, yet this has not dulled the creative senses of Damokles, more that such a crisis has fuelled their creative prowess. Evidence of this comes from the birth of two singles, barely weeks apart and fast gathering attention from “stay at home” music lovers of emo and post-punk in Norway.

Further reason to fall for the creative charms of Damokles can be found in their quest for reviving a somewhat 80s tradition regarding single releases, by featuring a B-side with a cover of a former hit song. Far from being a publicity stunt, Damokles show their sincerity with, for example, a gritty, ballad-esque rendition of classic A-ha single ‘Manhattan Skyline’, lifted from the Norwegian popstars’ sophomore album ‘Scoundrel Days’, and now featuring on the flipside (albeit digitally) of Damokles’ debut single ‘It’s Closing Time’.

When it comes to Damokles own vision and sound, then bands such as The Afghan Whigs, The Jesus Lizard and Snapcase can be heard crawling all over first single ‘It’s Closing Time’; an angry and perceptive record that barks incessantly at a long lineage of what appears to be the privileged few and their (implied) illicit dealings, put to the sword via throaty, rasping vocals and red-hot crunching guitar riffs making for a compelling knockout blow as far as debut singles go.

Follow-up, and more recent single, ‘Our Special Touch’ is a slightly different beast where you begin to hear Damokles shifting their sound, where the rhythm is slightly restrained and influences peeled closer to home (i.e. This Sect) considering its increased darker tones and coded language of its words. The feelings remain equally incensed as its predecessor, yet its lyrics suggest a more secretive corner of its world is being partially unravelled.

This is the wealth of experience Damokles bring to the table considering all band members having been a part of the DIY punk and hardcore scenes for some time, and where “post” said genres continues to perform a vital role, musically and lyrically, because there’s plenty to grumble about regarding life in its current state of affairs. Also, such experience allows room for more diverse influences to emerge, which appears to be happening via current single ‘Our Special Touch’.

Considering the brief time Damokles has been in existence therefore, the band has achieved a sizable amount of recorded output that would put other bands to shame. Additionally, if the present debacle had not occurred rendering all social activities temporarily unlawful, there may have been a few live performances to speak of as well. For the moment, however, there is more than enough meat on the bones to run a background check regarding one of the newest arrivals to Norway’s roster of emo and post-punk artists, Damokles, with vocalist and writer Gøran Karlsvik given the task of spokesperson for this latest interview with the band, which he gladly accepted one day in late February this year.

“It [Damokles] started after I had finished working with my friend Frederik on the Endtimers’ album [Another of Gøran Karlsvik’s bands]. I had a couple of weeks without a band project, and it wasn’t until last autumn that I was approached by Kristian (Liljan) who informed me that him and Frode Pettersen had put some tracks together and mentioned the bands that he’d been in before, and they were bands that I liked. He mentioned that they liked This Sect, and the lyrics, and therefore asked if I would like to sing on some of their tracks. They sent me some demos, and I really liked them. I thought that it would be fun and rewarding to put lyrics to those rough demos. So, after a couple of days communicating, we met up and had a few beers and talked. After working late one evening, I was on my way home listening to one of the demos and I thought it was so fucking catchy that I had to go into my rehearsal space. However, I did not have time to set up the recording equipment, so I just shouted the vocals into my phone and sent it to them. They loved it! So, we met up again and started recording vocals on the tracks.”

It all sounds rather seamless in terms of how Damokles came together.

“We all get along great!” replies Gøran. “We like a lot of the same bands as we’re kind of the same age, with similar backgrounds when it comes to DIY music and we all have families and therefore tolerant to each other’s work and home spaces. So, we are often agreeing on most of the stuff we are doing. Creatively, we are moving at a fast pace. Also, being the age that we are and the experience we share having been in, and still are in other bands, things came together quite easily.”

FLW agrees having noted the band’s work ethic which, as you mentioned, is moving at some pace.

“We know how the album’s going to sound as we have about eleven tracks,” continues Gøran on the progress of the band. “We’ve been constantly doing something each week since late February this year (Damokles has followed the social distancing rules as much of their current output has been achieved via the internet and only two members at any one time in the recording studio keeping two metres apart). We have been sending demos back and forth. We all have a certain skill set. For example, I am familiar with film and lyrics and graphic design, so I am doing a lot of the visual stuff. Whereas Kristian’s areas of experience are with touring and all the mandatory parts. And Frode is very experienced when applying a plan for grant money and thinks two steps ahead on everything. So, we have become great friends in a short amount of time. Frode and Kristian went to folkeskole together and had a year together in their teens, and that is how they got to know each other. They work great together, and they live quite close to each other, so they’re constantly meeting up and recording demos in their living rooms.”

How does the process work, therefore, if you are all having creative inputs when it comes to Damokles’ sound?

“Damokles is a 90’s band to some extent when it comes to sound,” explains Gøran. “There’s a lot of Fugazi in there, Afghan Whigs, and some Faith No More influences thrown in to name a few. We are influenced by the more emotional side of DIY punk and hardcore, plus related indie rock, as well as 80’s pop music, with equal focus given to noisy anger and toxic pop hooks. We like our songs to be aggressive, but they need to have hooks, so it’s trying to create a logical mishmash of sounds without being cheesy, I guess.”

The first single, ‘It’s Closing Time’, has quite a hard edge to it and FLW certainly noticed a grunge influence as well, in addition to the “hooks” you mentioned, not forgetting quite a rockier sound, would you agree?

“Yeah, the first track sounds like Helmet, Quicksand and Snapcase, which is a band I really love, but the later tracks that are coming are quite poppy and influenced by At The Drive In, for example. One of the tracks is kind of dark and post-punk, and there is a bit of that too. As I mentioned earlier, Frode and Kristian like This Sect and they are not going to deny me following that route as I am kind of good at doing that [lyrics]. I think ‘It’s Closing Time’ comes across as quite a fun and unexpected mix of things, I guess.”

What was the reason for choosing ‘It’s Closing Time’ as Damokles first single?

“It was not the first track we made and was probably the second or third track we composed together. I think we chose that one as it is not a political track, but more social commentary and pointing the finger at people in charge, I guess. I’m not very hopeful for the future with the way things are going, so there is a bit of an apocalyptic vibe surrounding it.”

There’s a strange irony regarding these comments because it’s important to note at this juncture that the discussion with frontman Gøran Karlsvik of Damokles was held during late February 2020 as previously mentioned, and before the COVID-19 crisis had become a global pandemic. Therefore, we had no knowledge of what was to become only weeks later. Furthermore, the “apocalyptic” reference(s) regarding the single, ‘It’s Closing Time’, came to the surface due to current news in the media highlighting environmental issues and those people in positions of power and authority. Further exploration is required therefore, regarding a combination of incidents adding to the ingredients of what is a thoroughly engaging debut single by Damokles.

“Well, I am a dad and the other guys in the band are too, and I’m looking at the state of the world that they’re in, and inheriting from us, and it’s looking quite bleak. I am not trying to be particular in any way when it comes to ‘It’s Closing Time’, it is more [to do with] the people who move the world. You know, pointing the finger to the guys at the top that we are on to you and it is being noticed. Our single, ‘It’s Closing Time’, is slightly revenge tainted when it comes to the lyrics because it is an incredibly angry song. When I feel something is veering towards political [comment], I find myself moving away from it as I do not want to be Rage Against The Machine [laughs]. I guess it’s a bit of the old anarchist talking.”

Are you referring to the media as well with ‘It’s Closing Time’?

“It’s a huge conglomerate; a multicorporate idea,” replies Gøran nodding his head in agreement. “I guess it’s also commentary on the whole consumerism thing because we’re being quite easily fed products and…it’s hard to describe…it’s [‘It’s Closing Time] trying to rock the boat a little bit on the whole bleak direction that I think we’re heading towards.”

When you mention that “We’re on to you”, are you referring to society being fed misleading information here, or are you implying something else?

“It’s more that we can see what you are doing,” begins Gøran. “We can see through your ideas and concepts of brainless consumerism. We know what you are up to. Obviously, they (Gøran chooses to remain vague here) are getting away with it, but not without consequence. So, I guess there is a bit of vigilante justice in there as well [laughs]! I think it will make a bit more sense once the video is released because it is kind of self-explanatory. The way I write, it is always hard to define and describe because I never intend to put ideas into someone’s head. That, to me, is probably the most dangerous and most inhumane thing to do. So, I guess ‘It’s Closing Time’ is also commentary on that as well…freewill.”

Referring to Damokles’ recorded works to date, you mentioned that the band has enough tracks for a full album. Any details regarding a completion date for the album?

“We’re looking at autumn this year. We’ve around eleven tracks now, and probably going to make it eight or ten in terms of the final album. We are looking at some soundbites and film samples to spice things up and put some context between songs. So, there is going to be some soundscapes here and there between the tracks to tie them together. As said earlier, we’ve moved forward at a very fast pace, but we’ve also had great help with mixing tracks with Nick Terry (Kvelertak, Turbonegro, Primal Scream, Libertines, etc.) mixing ‘It’s Closing Time’, in addition to our very own Kristian Liljan producing the single.”

With both single releases accompanied by music videos managed by key players from the Dead Snow films and directed by Kenneth Olaf Hjellum, considering the time delay from publication of this interview to current single release ‘Our Special Touch’ (produced by Kristian Liljan and mixed by Fredrik Ryberg), Damokles is shaping up to be a very interesting and chameleon-esque unit which, judging by BREAKING NEWS of straight out of the recording studio Damokles’ version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, sees the band continue to flex their wealth of experience and use to their advantage by breaking with tradition and go against the grain in order to do something a little bit different rather than repeat the same routines. (Obtain exclusive premiere of Damokles’ cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ https://therealdamokles.bandcamp.com/)

“Yeah, but it’s also the whole concept of moving forward as I wouldn’t want to do a band similar or identical to another band that I’m involved with because that would be boring and an easy way out. All of us, as musicians, need to be involved and try to challenge ourselves. This [Damokles] doesn’t sound like the other guys previous bands either, so it’s a proper new band but also sounds like a bit of throwback to what we would have probably been doing as teens, I guess, because a lot of us are jokingly referred to as “punk-rock lifers” but it’s kind of true as Damokles is probably something we’d have liked when we were sixteen.”

Does it differ in any way writing lyrics for Damokles compared to writing the words for your main band This Sect?

“It’s a bit different, “considers Gøran. “This Sect is more riddles and a very mysterious thing, whereas Damokles is a bit more aggressive, more social commentary and putting a bit more of my own opinions of the world at large without being specific. At the same time, Damokles is quite angry sounding, so it’s very emotional, which we’re always kidding around with as us being an emo band, and kind of true, because a lot of the 90’s hardcore things we like are basically emo before emo became what you know as guys with cool hair. So that’s all the DC hardcore, post-hardcore, emo scenes and bands like Quicksand and At The Drive In of course. I think it’s sounding kind of natural to me.”

Bearing such comments in mind about Damokles being quite angry therefore, do you find yourself just as angry as you were when you were younger?

“Oh, getting angrier, I guess. I have always been angry. When you’re young, you’re angry for change, and when you’re older you get a bit demotivated because you see that there’s a slight groundhog day thing happening of the same mistakes being repeated, and that comes with experience and knowledge of human traits and history. I am more well-read now than when I was sixteen for example. I guess there’s a lot more frustration going into it when you’re older because you see that some things are hopeless.”

Finally, Damokles has chosen a rather appropriate name considering the pressures facing society right now.

“Imminent danger is where we’re at right now,” is the immediate reply. “Something’s off, and finally people are kind of getting the feeling of some things being off, but there’s also a sense of it being too late for change (We’re referring to environmental issues and associated problems and not COVID-19 crisis) and that’s not a good feeling! There are some things that you can do, but now we’re at the part of human history where we really have to roll with the punches because some of the change we were fighting for, we lost the fight. This should not feel good, you should be concerned. That does not mean you have to give up because, of course, you must recycle. I know that certain parts of the effort that we are doing is basically meaningless and a drop in the ocean, but that is not a message I can give to my children. You should recycle and you should do your best and you should be good to your fellow neighbour. It’s a feeling of frustration.”

DAMOKLES’ ‘It’s Closing Time’ and ‘Our Special Touch’ are available via all digital platforms.

(Photography courtesy of Gøran Karlsvik. Music video ‘It’s Closing Time’ courtesy of Damokles and Kenneth Olaf Hjellum)

FLW - From the Tapes

In his own words, Gøran Karlsvik of Damokles provides a few more details regarding the rather cryptic and latest single ‘Our Special Touch’ with accompanying music video, in addition to reviving a tradition of B-side cover songs for their two single releases to date.

“’Our Special Touch’ was the first track we composed as a band, early October 2019. I had been working late and went to my rehearsal space/studio to do some music. A few hours prior to this I got the instrumental demo for the track by email, and it gave me a serious ear buzz plus tons of lyric ideas. So, I went to the studio, did not bother to set up microphones during the middle of the night, shouted demo vocals into my iPhone – the melody and lyrics worked out for me instantly. I sent the vocal demo to the other dudes [Frode and Kristian at this time], and the next day we formed our band. When talking about songs, I don’t like to elaborate on my lyrics that much, but a few keywords for the meaning behind the track [‘Our Special Touch’] can be negative eroticism and a hunger for demise. ‘Our Special Touch’ is not to be confused with the Midas Touch, as pretty much everything we touch ultimately turns to shit. The fall of mankind, basically. Not exactly ‘Lust For Life’, ha-ha! We tried to incorporate that vibe visually in the music video, a certain morbid beauty.”

The cover songs explained.

“The cover of A-ha’s ‘Manhattan Skyline’ was the “B-side” for our first single ‘It’s Closing Time’, which may seem weird for those on the outside, but made perfect sense to us. The cover artwork for both tracks share a theme and visual vibe. The same internal logic can be transferred onto single no. 2, ‘Our Special Touch’ in combination with the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’. That is about the straightest answer I can give. Plus, we love the good old tradition of providing A-sides with cover song B-sides, and plan to give all our hit singles the same treatment. Next time, we might not be venturing into the 80s again, although…”

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