Growing up as a teenage metalhead, listening to great bands like Jerusalem and Leviticus, it was easy to imagine that all Swedes loved to ski and shred on guitar. When Yngwie Malmsteen, Swedish virtuoso, became a household name even in America, this did nothing to dispel this stereotype for me. Sweden always seemed to have more than its fair share of heavy metal bands. And with current bands like Sabaton, the delightful trend continues. Only sociologists could hazard a guess if the love for loud guitars there is the remnant of some viking heritage, but I, for one, will just enjoy it and not over think it.
Swedish guitarist Björn Stigsson is no stranger to christian metal fans. His band Leviticus should be mandatory listening for our readers, as they were one of the early pioneers of the genre. Björn’s legacy did not stop there. He went on to form XT, and put out 2 solo albums, one in the 80’s and a second one in 2016. Björn’s album Together With Friends is a true metal classic, and its reissue on Roxx was a great excuse to connect with a true metal missionary.
Chris Gatto: Björn, looking back over the past 40 years, Sweden has had a huge impact on christian metal with bands from the early days, such as Leviticus and Jerusalem, and you stand out as being one of the greatest axemen of our time. I thank you for bringing the gospel to the heavy metal world. What started you on this musical journey? Why did you decide to play your guitar loudly for the Lord?
Björn Stigsson: I have been playing guitar since I was 12 years old, and I had a lot of bands in the 60`s and 70`s. I grew up in the 60`s and bands like the Beatles, Kinks, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers inspired me. Guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Peter Green were my guitar heroes. Early on, I started to write songs for the bands I was playing in and writing songs has always been close to me. In 1979 everything changed when I met Jesus, I got saved and a new life began that was very different from my old party life.
The day I was baptized I got a message from God that He wanted me to spread His word and His kingdom through my music. From that day on I began to write new songs about Jesus and the kingdom of God. I played heavy music and it was my life. In the 70`s, Deep Purple was and is one of my favorites. I saw them at a concert in 1970 and immediately felt a connection with the heavy music, so I turned up my Marshall to eleven! (ha-ha). It was natural for me to use the music that I liked the most and that God had given to me, to spread the kingdom of God. I think it`s important to be like God created you and not like someone else.
Who were some of your musical heroes growing up?
Björn; My guitar heroes from the day were: Richie Blackmore, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix. I also liked Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
Your first solo album Together with Friends was originally released in 1987, during your years with Leviticus and still stands as one of the finest moments in christian metal. What was your reason to record a solo album separate from your band Leviticus at that time?
Björn: I think that God led me to do this record and He gave me new songs for the record. I wanted to use different singers to make an album in new ways. We had a awesome time in the studio with lots of joy!
I’m glad that Together With Friends is about to get the royal treatment, with a remastering for gold disc and for vinyl. Working with several different singers really made for some excellent songs. One of my favorite songs of all time “Come On,” comes from that recording. I think that was the first time I ever heard a worship song that rocked that hard! What are some of your thoughts about that album?
Björn: My thoughts were to worship the Lord with heavy music and with a heavy message from God, that He loves every single person and all kinds of music.
These Bible verses were and are very important! It`s the Vision!
“I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from all nations and languages standing in the front of the throne
These are the ones coming out of the great suffering.
They will never be hungry again or thirsty because Jesus
will lead them and be their shepherd and lead them to
the springs of the water of life and God will wipe their tears”
(From Rev. 7:9, 14-17)
Five years ago you released your second solo album A New Beginning. This is a very different album from Together With Friends. Much more subdued, something of a softer rock worship atmosphere. You played a lot of the album yourself, including the vocals. What kind of mindset did you have this time?
Björn: I wanted to make softer worship songs and use a little bit different music. I’ve always liked groups like Pink Floyd and Genesis. It`s a love record from me to God. It’s about giving all the love I feel in my heart to God.
How did you become a believer in Jesus? And how did the band Leviticus begin?
Björn: My wife was the first to meet Jesus in 1978. Then after a few months in the spring of 1979 I had a meeting with Jesus. One late evening when I had partied, the darkness surrounded me, but then Jesus came to me like a light. I got on my knees and let Jesus come into my heart. Everything changed and I got a whole new life. I also became free from a lot of things that had imprisoned me for several years.
I started Leviticus in the spring of 1981 together with Håkan and Kjell Andersson. After 2 weeks we got our first gig and then everything was up and running. The first record was released in 1982, it was an EP with four songs called Stå och titta på. In 1983 our first album Jag skall segra was released. Both of them were in Swedish and then in 1984 came the album I Shall Conquer which was the English version of the album. After that everything rolled on.
Did Leviticus face a lot of opposition from the secular world or with the Church in the early days?
Björn: It was a tough time, especially from the churches, as they told us that we played music from the devil. They sent back posters and we got letters, and they weren’t love letters. But we wanted to reach the people who didn`t go to church.
Leviticus released the albums I Shall Conquer and The Strongest Power with Hakan Andersson on vocals. In my review of the Leviticus boxed set, I named The Strongest Power my favorite Leviticus album, with Hakan’s deep voice and the 1-2-3 punch of “The Winner,” Deborah and Barak,” and “On the Rock.” Ez Gomer and singer Terry Haw joined you for one album Setting Fire to the Earth, before leaving to start Jet Circus. Then Peo Petersson came on board for the last Leviticus album Knights of Heaven, which you recorded in the US with the Elefante brothers. In 2003 you reunited with the band for Live at Bobfest. Do you have a favorite album or lineup from that era?
Björn: Yes, I think The Strongest Power is my favorite because the time we had in the studio felt so powerful. This record touched a lot of people outside the churches and opened a door for us out into the world.
How much control did you have over the Leviticus boxed set that came out five years ago?
Bjorn: Together with the record company I put together the Leviticus box set: 35 years Anniversary – In His Service, which was released in 2016.
Why did Leviticus “retire” with the end of the 80’s?
Bjorn: The band took a break after an American tour in 1990 because I wanted to go to a Bible school and get more from God. The plan was to have a year-long break but we ended up having almost 13 years where we did not play any music together but we still had our unbreakable friendship.
A couple years later you had a new band XT with Motherlode singer Sonny Larsson, and put out the albums XT, Taxfree, and Extended Empire in the early 90’s. and more recently Saved by the Blood and Revived… Standing for Jesus Christ with an all star cast playing with you and Sonny. Did you get to play any live shows with the more recent version of XT?
Björn: Yes, we toured with XT in Europe and Scandinavia. If you go on Youtube there is a video from a concert where you can see us play at Flevo in the Netherlands in 1992. We got off to a great start, Japan liked us very much and we sold very well there.
What made XT different from Leviticus?
Bjorn: When Sonny Larsson and I started XT we wanted to work a lot more with synths and samples. I think that XT is a little bit heavier- not the first album, but certainly from Taxfree onward.
Revived… Standing for Jesus Christ had a different format. Instead of new material, the new lineup rerecorded the best of XT and it came out beautifully. Have you thought of having this same lineup rerecord the best songs of Leviticus for an album?
Björn: No, I don’t think so. We have our live album and the box set with Leviticus.
All these years later, there are many new styles of heavy metal, but still new bands are playing shows, and fans are still headbanging for Jesus. What advice do you have for christian metal bands and for the fans?
Björn: It is important that you always choose God first and let Him lead and inspire you through the Holy Spirit. Believe in the gift from God you have received and use it to let the kingdom of God reach as many people as possible! Be strong, believe in God- let Him open the doors for your music.
Covid has turned the whole world upside down. How have you been surviving in Sweden? Do you think we’ll ever be able to go to rock concerts again? What are your plans for the future?
Björn: Yes, it`s a difficult and different time now for all of us. We had to cancel concerts with XT last year. Maybe it will be better times for rock concerts in the future, I think there are many people who are longing for that.
My plans are to make more music filled with the Holy Spirit to touch people’s hearts and let them know that real freedom is coming from Jesus.
Björn, anything else you want to say, feel free to do so. On behalf of myself, Heaven’s Metal Magazine, and all our readers, I want to thank you for being a faithful metal missionary for the Lord. Your music continues to live loud and proud! Love you, brother!
Björn: Thank you Chris, and Heaven’s Metal! It is an honor to do this interview. God Bless you all and don’t stop rocking and dancing for the King!