PANTOKRATOR: Consistency and Chaos

Consistency.  When life itself has become completely unpredictable, there is something to be said for consistency.  When each day we wake up not knowing if we’ve contracted a highly contagious virus that indiscriminately has killed thousands while seemingly has no impact on others.  When government systems that have existed for hundreds of years are suddenly unstable.  When even truth, considered unchangeable by some, suffers daily whitewashing from others to promote their own selfish agenda.  Looking for some consistency in this chaotic world?  Enter Pantokrator, who just released their fourth full-length album, Marching Out of Babylon.  Arriving seven years after their last album, the new music is fully Pantokrator, yet it exhibits intentional nuances that result in a next-level listening experience.  Seven years may seem like a long time between albums, but remember…consistency is time’s virtue.

It has been seven years since your last album, Incarnate.  It was also about seven years between Incarnate and the album before that, Aurum.  You seem to hold to the “quality over quantity” approach.  Why so much time between albums?

Karl Walfridsson: Because there is so much more to life than metal. 

What was the writing and production process like for your new album, Marching Out of Babylon?

Jonas Wallinder: With this album we had the opportunity to record with our own studio equipment. That gives great possibilities to work on the details and really get things the way we want, but perhaps it is also one of the reasons why it took a while to complete the album. For this record, most songs have started with Rickard writing the framework of a song and then introducing the ideas for the band. Then we come together to work on the arrangements and such.  When we had a bunch of songs and felt satisfied with all the tracking, we left the recordings to the magic hands of Jani Stefanovich to work with the mixing. After that Ulf Blomberg completed the work with a really solid mastering.

What inspired the name for the new album, Marching Out of Babylon?  The title song seems more relevant today than ever.  What does the song mean to you? 

Karl: The inspiration comes from the visions of John and also the Visions of Nicolaus Farel 1914 (of Ordo Aurum / The Golden Order of the Almighty lore). Inspiration also comes from looking out the window, and finally from Governour Andy (another Swedish musician)—let’s give credit where credit is due. What does it mean? I could not explain it better than the song lyrics: “I turn my back on your values and on your fears, your false safety that is said to justify your ever present, ever watchful, artificial eyes. You breed monsters that you never raise your hand to strike, then you blame the monsters for your systems of control…”

The music on Marching Out of Babylon is unmistakably Pantokrator, yet there is some refinement from past albums.  For example, there is a greater use of background vocals/group singing, such as during the epic ending to the last song on the album, “Phoenix Rising,” when the music fades and the voices are left singing, “From my ashes like the phoenix, I will rise like the sun” over and over.  Why did the band diversify with more group vocals this time, and will it be challenging to replicate this in a live setting?

Rickard Gustafsson: Well, I guess we felt that we wanted a more dynamic album than ever before. I used quite a lot of clean vocals on the Melech debut album and I felt that a great refrain or passage in a song will almost be perfected with the right kind of vocal melodies and band arrangements. With today’s technology there is no problem to using our bigger choirs from “Phoenix Rising” or “Marching Out of Babylon” live using backing tracks. All the other clean vocals we will be performing live. 

Speaking of live settings, when considering the world pandemic, etc. do you plan to play any live shows to support the new album?  As of now, how difficult is it to plan ahead for these shows?

Karl: It can’t be done.

Jonas: But we’re really eager to hit the road and play these songs live as soon as possible. 

If you could choose any one or two other bands to go on tour with in 2021, who would they be and why?

Karl: I think I speak for all of us when I say Crimson Moonlight.  For those who know them, the reasons will need no explanation, and for all you others, it could not be explained in the short time of an interview.  I guess the second one might be different for all of us.  For me personally it would be Symphony of Heaven because I would like to see my favorite redneck, Logan Thompson, in the flesh before I die.

You had an on-line release party for the new album and also recently played an on-line concert for Nordic Fest 2020.  How did these events go from your perspective and would you consider doing similar events in the future?

Karl: The ideal would be a combination. A real live gig that is also streamed worldwide.

On the new album you have a song titled “Wedlock” that poetically describes the love and desire one has for their spouse.  It very much reminds me of the songs from your EP, Songs of Solomon (which is based on the Bible book of the same name).  Not many bands—especially death metal bands—explore this subject.  What inspires your continued exploration of this topic?  What is the general reception of fans to these songs? 

Karl: The truth is that those lyrics were written in 2001, close to Songs of Solomon.  After that release, those lyrics never fit our rather strict themes.  Maybe they don’t fit in this one either?  I always LOVED it though, so now it was forced in with a crowbar.  19 years of waiting is long enough.

In the liner notes of the album, your lyrics are preceded by quotes from various authors and theologians, included those from the Bible, along with G.K. Chesterton and Andreas Capellanus.  How does your study of the Bible and other philosophers influence your lyrics? 

Karl: Well, a lot. But for the observant nerd It will not be hard to find references to movies and fictional books either.

Now that Marching Out of Babylon has been released, what are your feelings or memories as you reflect on its making?

Rickard: That if this was our last album, we could die happy! 

A couple years ago the band released a single—your take on the Rich Mullins song “Awesome God”.  Your lyrics are always Christ-based, but would the band ever consider making an entire album of worship songs?  I do believe it would be well received!

Karl: I am pretty sure that will not happen.  “Awesome God” was by request. He who pays the piper calls the tune.  We leave the worship songs for our other band, Melech.

As I mentioned your lyrics are always Bible-based, but remain balanced—not “turn or burn”, etc.  Have your lyrics ever caused issues with record labels, fans, other bands, etc.?

Karl: Not that I can recall.

What is your favorite Pantokrator song to play live and why?

Karl: Probably it will be songs from the new album; however, we need a stage and a crowd to find that out. 

Pantokrator has been making music for about 25 years now.  Looking back, have you been able to accomplish what you feel God’s purpose was for the band, or is there still more you would like to do?

Karl: There is always so much more to do.  As for God, His ways are not our ways.  Waiting is frustrating.  I started laying my hand to the lyrics of the song “Marching Out of Babylon” in 2007 I think, and the music has been around for a long time too…but looking back it seems obvious that it was holding out for a time like this.  However, even if there is more we want to do, this album would be a good way to leave the party.

Do you have any closing comments or prayer requests for the Heaven’s Metal readers?

Karl: In this time of digital totalitarianism and digital conformity remember your history:
First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

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