The True Protagonist with Thomas Strømvig
Art: Morten Grønnegaard
Thank you for showing interest. I hope it was not paid for, and if it was, then I hope the price was appropriate. I am a huge fan of your undivided support of dark art and metal and have tried to keep up with MMA for a long time now. Please feel free to correct my grammar and sentences. I did this one straight from the hip. I hope readers will read my words even though I didn’t take off from a list of questions directly.
It is about Death Metal from Denmark. One band out of so many.
The latest Urkraft album – The True Protagonist – is my Titanic journey. Everything is a little extra. Extra metal, extra careful considerations and an extra last chance to do or don’t in this business with this band. On my journey, I unexpectedly hit a wall of obstacles, but I probably saw all the signs on the way. The question remaining is whether I am blind or arrogant.
Urkraft started in 1994 as a heartfelt and pure talk between Mikael S Jørgensen (Drummer) and myself, Thomas Strømvig (Vocals and guitar), after we recently met on an educational trip in music to the thousand lakes of Finland. We both soon learned about each other’s interests in metal music and decided to go down that road based on a very strong friendship and did the first two demos between ’96 and ’98 and then paused the band almost voluntarily due to everybody from the band was moving away from our childhood town and at the same time far away from each other.
From 2000 to 2003, we recorded another four demos and spent most of our free time playing music also started catching some attention worldwide. Especially our Nordic name and Danish lyrics turned some heads back in the 00s. Back then, we were just weird before that combination was accepted, normalised, industrialised, marginalised, standardised, you name it.
We changed and started writing English lyrics in 2003 to fit in and knew well enough that that was the way to reach people outside of Scandinavia—or even Denmark.
Recorded and toured with our debut album, ‘Eternal Cosmic Slaughter’, in collaboration with Cartel Media in Germany. Great f***n people with limited resources picked us and our 1st real album up and gave us everything they could. We played an Icelandic festival twice during those years, which stands out to me, and although we went in a more melodic direction, we stepped up our writing from there.
Recorded and toured with our 2nd album, ‘The Inhuman Aberration’, in collaboration with Earache Records from England / US. They did a lot for us due to their major network. No doubt. And there is a sense of pride in being part of this legendary label. The core part of Earache Records never really believed in us, so after waiting for them to follow up on the album for more than a year, we told them we moved on. They accepted. But we toured for three weeks with Cannibal Corpse because of our contract with Earache Records. We felt almost cool from time to time in their company and even sometimes shortly turned from musicians to escapisms and enjoyed being on the tongue of the worldwide media. Who wouldn’t?
Dark times. MySpace PR times. We released/gave up our 3rd album, ‘A Scornful Death,’ and ended the band. Some of us are full of regrets. Some of us are also full of great experiences and plenty of bucket list sign-offs, but still really hungry and definitely in our prime. During that period, I personally always felt last, left out and not respected for the music we made, but we were just compared to everyone else, and I felt sick about it. A Scornful Death would not have been the deep, crunchy and brutal album it is if it wasn’t for our devastating situation. Then there is the fact that we recorded everything ourselves, far away from any normal modern studio, so there is a little grey in there, too. Light-grey. You can purchase A Scornful Death on vinyl now, which makes it sound even crunchier.
We re-surfaced post-weddings, kids, houses, education, jobs and a sea of other music projects and released our 4th effort, Our Treacherous Fathers. All by ourselves. From a discographic view, this album is the heavy, dirty and much slower package added to the collection compared to the previous 3, which for us was musically exciting and, after ten years, also the right choice, but it was predictably expected to be the opposite, sad enough. The media used it against us and sometimes ridiculed us instead of encouraging us to take it further. That is a hard bench to sit on. But it gave us a fantastic first trip to Tokyo and a warm, welcoming Japanese audience in the middle of the Shibuya sea of neon lights. Standing in freaking Japan feeling you needed to fight for it and apologise for it instead of enjoying it is a new experience. No ‘media’ in our own home country ever even noticed.
2021 – 2023
Massacre Records kindly offered us an accurate record deal and an opening back into the scene, and in 2022, we finally made a full-length release with The True Protagonist. We played one great festival every second month during 2022 and raised our game on social media with relatively boring pictures, half-hearted efforts in short see-me one-liners on Facebook and tried to create some awareness about the heavy subjects of the album. But little did it work. We haven’t posted anything since December 2022; I don’t believe anyone has noticed yet. No one cares. I have yet to learn how the reception of The True Protagonist has been except for the few interviews I made almost a year ago. I am not sure if it has sold anything or if it is a part of any streaming services, but I find some reasoning in knowing that compared to when we released our debut, there is a good chance that our music rotates somewhere out there and that It catches a new metal fan here and there.
Music should be able to speak for itself and not be promoted every 5th hour like animals being forced-fed. It is exhausting. For both parties. But I guess I should probably know better. I am not going to ask for it, though. The recognition. Not from the media, not from the business, not from anyone. And not like that. I released an album. It should sell itself.
Mikael and I used to plan letters and stamps, and which magazines to contact first, and to be honest, we are just great musicians with the least interest in spending 2-25 hours a day behind the screen.
Do we lose to that? Are we actually too old to create metal music due to a lack of online presence? But no matter what, you can’t ignore the facts. I do not deny it; you can’t be a part of it. I don’t want to be the blabbering smart-ass who thinks he has everything deep to contribute just because I know how to change my voice, be aggressive and anxiously need to faceplant myself on as many screens as possible to tell about my music. I don’t have any tattoos, and my hair is thin and short, on the edge of being hairless. So you either post or you leave. I am 45, so I might have some experience to share online.
At this point, I will always sound bitter and old to your readers. I know. And I feel sad about it. My future place in the band has been removed, and in many ways, I have been pushed to leave the band, and it is too late for any rationalisation.
But the music is there, and unless or until someone deletes the world wide web, it will be there for a long time. Being online might be illegal in 5 or 20 years. Listening to music is illegal in some countries—especially metal.
The True Protagonist is a concept album with a strong message in every song. It might be a little long for an album, but who decides?
I wish the music, artwork, and lyrics would be enough. I want the dark artwork to turn your head, feed your interest in the music, guide you towards the lyrics, and eventually let you enjoy the full package at the end of the dirty side street called Urkraft.
I have only read a handful of reviews where the person behind it actually did spend the minute it takes to read the concept description we sent out with the album. The other judges went with the flow for a minute or two without displaying any real groundwork. But the damage is real.
The protagonist takes another hit. One song is about little boys getting their genitals disfigured, girls getting victim-shamed, and loving parenthood sliding straight into the social welfare office, and the tracks are hard-hitting, melodic, and technical yet redemptive and like our other albums; I think the variation is pleasantly moderate. It would be strange to deliver 11 totally different tracks on one album. It is the most completed album we have made. And that is what bands think every time they finish a new album.
It is just not enough, unfortunately. Not music, lyrics, artwork, concept, network, experience. None of it. And if you take yourself and your product too seriously, you are too much. You are more than enough, thank you. The music may not be good. I believe so, but I am the lead singer. What the hell do I know about metal music?
The True Protagonist is melodic death metal but definitely more brutal than our previous albums. And Tue Madsen from Antfarm Studio – our friend who has supported us for more than 20 years did all the production, mixing and mastering, so you know it sounds amazing.
We spent hours feeding each other ideas and eventually came up with a compromise. In the aftermath, you don’t blame yourself. But the compromise, especially when it turns out unsuccessful. ‘You’ should have listened more. It’s like a card game. The egos have been dealt with. The heat is on!
Egos are also a huge part of the Danish music ‘industry’ – especially the small media focusing on metal music. They are the real rock stars hovering above all bands, artists, and music. They come up with important issues and make them their own important issues and make them even more important according to themselves and blame the rest of us for not thinking the way they do.
Today’s Danish scene seems different regarding collaboration and joint ventures between artists, venues and promoters, and the media’s focus is thinner than ever.
We do owe a warm thank you to a bunch of great festivals in Denmark, who kindly added us to their rooster, but there are just as many who keep rejecting us. Unfortunately, that is also the festivals the media have their narrow focus fixed on, so even though we play a great concert for a few hundred, it won’t get any attention because the biggest festivals draw all the attention from the small ones.
Some of the festivals we participated in in 2022 were bankrupt, and the big ones raised their prices and narrowed their audience down to the standards. I’ll bet they don’t even pay the minor bands the minimum fee. There are plenty of bands to choose from, so if you dare to ask for more, you are out.
Writing, recording, and releasing metal music is supposed to be fun and giving. And it used to be. The process with The True Protagonist was hard, but it should be. Great results come from agony if you turn it into something productive. I don’t know what happened to us, but we did something. Slowly and ad hoc, but we did it.
As the tracks came along and we narrowed the numbers down to a tracklist, the lyrics started circling around a central subject about victims.
Victims of misinterpreted parenthood, love, and circumcision based on religious beliefs, deprived human rights, incompetent and distorted so-called role models, and frustrated childless couples fighting the health system. They are all left as possible true protagonists. You don’t choose to be one if that was your next question. I might sound like it, but I never chose it.
From the lyrics, a concept collected them all under one person as the album’s main theme. The public speaker Mr Case, with a double personality, whose One Man Show contains presentations that are every track for the album. So this release contains so many layers if you search them. The artwork itself is dark and almost biblical in its storytelling.
You should check it out. Thank you!