Quality thrash metal is not something that many people would expect to emerge from the Norwegian realm, yet, the guys playing under the name of Imbalance have delivered an outstanding full album before, and have a fresh pressed one to be released in few days. For an interesting fact, the new release will only be physically available on vinyl, along with the digital options. In order to find out the story behind their brutal and very technical sound, I had a chat with the band's vocalist, bass player and text writer, Harald Eilertsen who delivered a brief history of the band, an insight in their song writing process and their skills, plus some personal thoughts on various aspects of today's music industry. I hope the lecture of the below interview would be as pleasant as the interview itself was for me and that, in the end, you will end up with a new band in your list of favourites. Enjoy!
For those who don't know your band, can you introduce Imbalance as a band to them?
We are a pretty brutal thrash metal band from Oslo, Norway. The roots of the band go way back with a couple of friends who started the band in 1996 actually. At the time we were called Frost as all Norwegian bands at their beginnings. We released a demo back then that made us really happy, but we were just a bunch of friends and students at the time so we didn't put too much effort into the band. It was more for our sake.
A bit later we decided to move the band to Oslo from Trondheim, and since the old drummer couldn't join, that was the first member we had to replace. It took quite a while, like 3-4 years to restart again, even if we kept rehearsing. Around 2004 we pretty much got the new members in and recorded a new demo using a session guitar player. We had the old guitar player, Anders and the current drummer, Lars and after that Thormodr, our current guitarist joined us. But when releasing this demo, we thought it's been quite a while since our previous release in 98, so we looked for a new name and image, thus Imbalance emerged.
Where did the name come from?
It's actually inspired by the mental instability…
Of the band members?
Especially of the band members. It's actually the old member, Anders, who came up with the name. We never really agreed on anything in this band. We still don't. Especially names, that's always been a big problem. When we started in Trondheim, I had to write down a list of 25 names and we had to choose from them. For finding a new name, again, everybody had different suggestions, nobody liked the others' ideas. In the end we figured that Imbalance was good since we didn't find any other band called Imbalance at that time. So that's us. We're imbalanced.
You called it brutal thrash metal. As far as I know, Norway is not necessarily the biggest breeder of thrash. Does it make it easier to make a name since there's not much competition or is it more difficult since the interest in this style is lower, hence smaller support and fewer events?
It's true that Norway is very known for its black metal scene. Especially when we started back in 96 Norway was pretty much only about black metal. But it's not the case any more. The metal scene in Norway is very varied. We have everything from brutal thrash like us, to progressive and melodic metal to great doom bands or old school death bands. So the situation changed a lot since the mid 90s. Nobody played thrash then, but the few who heard it back then liked it. We were leading maybe a new wave back then, but I guess we didn't push it too much, didn't promote the band nor the album so in the meantime it's been quite a thrash revival in Norway. I can mention Aura Noir who started with their black thrash or you have some great new thrash metal bands like Necromanteion, which follows the old school yet creates their own way. I think thrash metal has always been in the Norwegian scene, but it has been growing lately.
So do you think the market is more open now for this kind of music?
I don't like to think of it as a market. It sounds like I should wear a suit and tie. I'd rather call it a scene. It's a bunch of bands and then the bunch of people liking that kind of music. We haven't been the most popular in the genre but I feel people are open to it now. But for example when we went and played in Germany we heard people wondering how come we don't play black metal since we come from Norway. And we're happy to break this stereotype.
Your first full length album is called 'Period three implies chaos'. Let us know few things about it. Was it a collection of old songs or did you write them just for this album?
It's a mix of both. Two of the songs come from our first demo recorded as Imbalance, called 'Burial of consciousness'. So in the end we ended up mixing songs that were composed once we decide to make an album together with some songs that were already 6 years old. It's a fairly representative album for what Imbalance actually is.
The album was finished in 2010, right?
Yea, we managed to finish it just before going on a tour with Master. If we hadn't gone on that tour, it probably wouldn't be finished yet.
And now, that you're going a new tour, you just finished a new album. What do we get to know about the new album?
It's going to be a bit round. And flat. And with a hole in the middle. Quite black too. Everything that you expect from an album, really. Though this time we have taken a bit newer songs. I must say that Imbalance doesn't necessarily work very fast. We play fast, we work slow. The oldest song of the album, which is also the title track of the album (silence)
Do we get to know the name?
Yea, I just have to remember it. It's called 'Readymade contraptions of descent'. And the song with this title was supposed to be on 'Period three…' album. But we didn't manage to get it right when we tried to record it, so it was dropped back then in order to focus more on the rest of the songs. Now we tried again and it worked much better, proving it was the right thing to do to let it rest for a while.
So you keep the same feeling since you mention a song that could as well have been on another album?
It feels a bit different and probably that's the current combination of the songs. The song with the German title on the album, Totentanz, goes in the black metal direction. That's what we like to do in our band actually. We're mainly a thrash band, but we like to pull our music in all directions and we try not to cross. Actually we cross the line all the time. We don't want to get locked in one genre, but always go different directions. And I believe that having a foundation in thrash metal allows us to do that.
How's the writing process in the band?
Thormodr writes the songs, we try to play them. As it is now, he makes most of the music and I write the lyrics and do most of the vocal lines.
Does he write for all instruments or…
He mainly writes the guitar parts and rarely comes up with finished songs. But a lot of times he has ideas, he has a framework and we work it out in the rehearsal room. Thormodr is a very strong-willed man, he can make up his mind. But he also has the capacity to get a holistic view over the music and the entire song. He has an idea of what he wants to express and he tries to find the right ways to express that.
Are you guys musically educated?
No, except our drummer. You kinda think of drummers as this kind of funny people who like to pound on things. And of course he likes pound on things too and he does it really well. He's also a composer and he's been writing scores for TV and movies.
Besides the main combo, guitar, bass, drums and voice, is there anything you tried to experiment with on the new album? Nowadays almost every band tries to add the sound of this or that instrument.
Yea, we have a really long didgeridoo solo. Besides, we had a small bit of an industrial arrangement and that's actually Lars, the drummer, who came up with this atmospheric idea.
When it comes to your lyrics, one can get an apocalyptic image
Yea, we don't really sing about bees and flowers
…and a society in decay. You don't seem to be too fond of humans in your lyrics.
That's an accurate observation. I am the one who writes the lyrics and almost everything inspires me. I write a lot of things, not just for the band. A lot of it are never used, they're just written down somewhere, plenty of notebooks with incoherent thoughts. We're playing an aggressive brutal music so we're not writing love songs. We may write about the darker side of relationships and such. The songs deal with imbalance.
As far as I personally noticed, you don't go much into mythology or..
Sometimes. I'm very inspired by social issues and social imbalance that we see around us. But a couple of songs on the album are about war. I find it such a ridiculous concept and I don't really understand the motivation behind it at all. But it's very interesting to explore it from psychological and social points of view and that's what I am trying to do in the lyrics. As for the new album, I think there's more mythology.
So there's no exact purpose when you write, it's more to fit the music?
I try to find what the song wants to tell anyway. Not always too easy.
Do you get hints from Thormodr as well?
No, he doesn't care too much about the words. He gives me some pointers on how he wants the vocals to appear but he doesn't interfere with the writing itself. I can bounce ideas to him and get some feedback, but that's that.
When people describe your music, I often encounter the word 'technical'. Also after seeing you live, I know how tight and fast you play. The speed of the fingers as well as the drumming is at pretty high standards. How much work is there to reach such a level?
When we started out in mid 90s, the music was of course a lot easier as we didn't have a plan to progress or anything. And that was all that we wanted back then. But as time passed and as Thormodr got into the band, he has this way of setting goals to himself and a tendency to write music that's more difficult that he can play. And then he has to learn how to play it. And of course, the rest of us has to learn how to play it since he has already learned how to play it. And that's where the struggle is.
But this also means that we had a pretty tremendous technical progression since he started in the band. We had to push our limits all the time, especially when recording. It usually takes way more than an attempt when we go to the studio. I also feel it's a very positive thing for the band as we came up to a level where we can pretty much do whatever we want to do. We can create the kind of scenery we want in our music without the limitations of 'No, I can't play that fast' or 'No, I cannot play that stuff'. Of course we always have to work hard to keep up the level. Our first rehearsals always sound rather lousy.
For somebody who never heard your music, can you name some of the technical artefacts that they might try to look for in the songs? And stuff that you never thought you'd end up doing?
I never thought I would be playing this fast. We are not just up tempo all the time either. We go down sometimes too, but it's all about making the song very dynamic, even though you're playing with full energy all the time.
Is there any special techniques that you're looking into?
Not me. I am just trying to be able to play more or less right on bass and keep the vocals going at the same time. That's difficult enough. Thormodr has a very special guitar technique, which I am not able to describe. But his picking is quite unique and he got quite noticed by more established guitar players who were surprised by his style.
In some of your songs people notice the breaks that get your songs out of the ordinary predictable verse-chorus. Some seemed to like those, some didn't. Is it something well planned in your songs or is it the result of many trials?
I'm probably not the right person to answer that. That's more Thormodr's department. But when we work on the songs in our rehearsal room, we try riffs in one order then another and see how they best fit together. The breaks are intentional though, as they are needed. We also try to surprise the listener, by fooling them sometimes that they think something should happen and then something completely different comes up. Let's see how predictable we get by album number ten. But for now we try to keep the music interesting, especially even after listening several times. There's a lot of stuff to be discovered as we layer a lot of sounds when processing and some are at lower volume, but even just the basic song structure it's meant to be in a way to keep the listener interest at every time.
So you're not putting down some songs just for the sake of having an album out. You really work on your sound and only give out the material you yourselves are satisfied with. Still, do you set goals for album releases or does it happen only when things are right?
We do say that it would be nice to have an album ready by this or that time. And then a year or two may pass and nothing happens. We never manage to do it on a strict schedule. It has to come by itself. We keep writing songs all the time, we have a lot of ideas lying around at all time. Probably there's always anywhere between 5 and 10 songs that aren't finished and that could always end up on an album. But we cannot work by the idea 'Now we're gonna write 10 songs and release an album'. It's not our style.
There's not so many bands that work as trios. How easy is it to get everything from the sound to the logistics part done in 3?
Actually we're four, but the fourth one is invisible.
You're even more imbalanced than I thought
We started out as a four piece band and when Anders quit we were quite determined to replace him. We tried several different guitar players. But it's really difficult to find someone who could keep up with Thormodr because he has his unique technique and plays really fast. When we wanted to do the tour with Master - a very big step for us as we had never been on a big tour and then we had to tour Europe - we were all trying to get a guitar player, even if as session musician. But the point came when we wouldn't have had time to rehearse the songs anyway. Thormodr was very skeptical but it worked out really well in the end. We can't, of course, do all the harmonies that are on the album, but since we rehearse in 3 anyway, the songs are written to work in 3. It is easier to play live as we already re organised the songs for rehearsals. Speaking of organising, it's also much easier to handle fewer people when we tour. And 3 is already hard enough, I don't want to think about 4. I would have even less hair.
You have a tour ahead of you, in Norway only this time. It is called Thrash and Burn Tour 2012 and it also features Exeloume and Ninth circle. Are there any other touring plans ahead, in the rest of Europe to promote the album?
This is the first time we do a proper Norwegian tour. No firm plans yet, but we're more than willing to go around. We have some vague plans, but it's not easy as we do everything ourselves. We don't have a manager nor a record label to fix this for us. In a way, that's how we want to keep it. It gives us a lot of work, hence we cannot go on too many tours a year. But we are thinking of trying something later this year. We'll see.
You were supposed to play in Romania in 2010 but the gig got cancelled…
H.E. Yea, they never managed to get ahold of the promoter. We'd really like to play there, it's a spot on our map that looks interesting to play there.
I hope you're going to find out one day.
We'd like to play anywhere, but especially East Europe is an interesting territory for us. The response we got so far from Czech Republic and Slovakia was amazing.
What do you think of today musical approach. Back in the days, everybody was excited to get their hands on that cassette or CD. Now, do you think that it is more focused on live shows as some people say?
People say many things. I personally believe both are important. For a band like us, who are fairly unknown, it's important to go touring as it's the only place where we can convince people to listen to us. You can sure send emails, but I personally get 4-5 of those per day and I wished I had the time to listen to them, as sometimes there's a lot of good stuff. It would probably happen the same with our emails. When you get the support spot, there's every evening somewhere between 50 and 100 people seeing your stuff so it's a lot easier to get your name out. Then you can send emails that might actually be read.
I also believe that people are quite pessimistic about the business side of music. To me, I'm thinking more and more this is a positive thing because the business side has been ruining the music for a long time. Of course, we all want to make money and maybe a living from the music we play. Maybe we will be able to do that, or maybe not, but with all the distribution channels nowadays, with all online sales that are available really easy, Spotify or other streaming services, it's so easy to get the music out there. It doesn't cost a whole lot. It means there's more music available, more variation and in my opinion more quality.
You think there's more quality?
Yes. I can't remember the last time I bought an album from one of the big metal labels. They want to play safe, they want to release the music like that, it doesn't make me more interested in their music. I prefer to get the stuff I actually like to listen to, and not because it's released by X or Y.
Don't you feel a bit cheated or stolen from? I heard musicians complaining about how little they get from services such as Spotify.
What I would feel stolen would be if it had happened to us like to a band I recently spoke to. They're releasing their albums themselves, but they got a distribution deal for it. It costs a lot of money, so hopefully they will sell enough to cover this cost. But the thing is, to get the album into the biggest record stores in Norway, they have to sell it so cheap to the record store, that if the record store sells it, they lose money. That's stealing. If that's the model to go after, it's not where I want to go. I know Spotify doesn't pay much everytime you listen to a song, but they do pay for eachtime the song is listened to. So it's just to get the numbers high enough.
With many thanks to Harald for his time, the interview ends here. I hope you will give Imbalance a try, by listening to their music on either of the media sharing channels available, or by visiting their website at http://imbalance.no/ or their Myspace or Facebook.