Mikael Stanne has had a full dance card in recent years.
Long-time front-man of Dark Tranquility, vocalist for extreme metal outfit Grand Cadaver and, most recently, front-man to melodic death metal super-group The Halo Effect (made up of Stanne and ex-In Flames members Jesper Strömblad, Peter Iwers, Daniel Svensson,and Niclas Engelin), Stanne is one of the preeminent voices of his generation.
During a recent Euro-tour with Dark Tranquility, Stanne sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into the origins of The Halo Effect, and whether or not the band will continue on following the release of their debut album Days of the Lost (out August 12th through Nuclear Blast), as well as his memories of the foundation of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, his early days in In Flames and HammerFall, the status on his various projects and much more!
Was it strange getting back in the grind of touring and getting acclimatized to this life that you've had for well over three decades after this unthinkable downtime in the last two and a half years?
It really was. I mean, it's easier to get back into it because you're so used to it. So even though it's been two years or actually three years since our last tour in America, for instance, you fall back into it very quickly. But at the same time it feels weird. And the worry and the uncertainty of not knowing if it's going to endure or if it's going to work. Are we going to cancel the tour and go home tomorrow or the day after tomorrow?
What's going to happen with all these things? Especially starting out here in Europe. It's a different story. Everything seems to be working fine and it's amazing to be back. And yeah, it's incredible to see the energy of the crowd, knowing that this is working again and we can be back in a room with people playing live music and screaming at us for hours. It's awesome.
Was there part of you that thought it was nice to decompress? Most artists release an album and tour, album and tour, write and tour. You've been relentlessly busy with projects for over 30 years with very little break. Was there a part of it where it was like, okay, I can not be a frontman of a death metal band right now and just watch Netflix if that's all I want to do?
Yeah, and to be a family man. That's what I do at home and that's what I love. You know, if there's something to love about this, taking that time off, being home with my family and just enjoying that has been great.
But yeah, specifically for this, being creative in a way that I haven't been before. Taking on projects that we'd talk about but would never happen where you go yeah, it would be fun one day if we ever have the time. So now we actually could do something together. But now since this happens like, fuck it, then we do it. I recorded three and a half albums and I wrote a fourth album during the pandemic. So yeah, that has been fantastic.
With The Halo Effect, these are guys you've known for decades. You mentioned discussing projects that you've always wanted to do. Did you see this as being one of those 'when we have the time' scenarios, or simply a pandemic project?
I mean, we did start before the pandemic. We started talking about this and also recording some demos as we were kind of in the writing process for Moment. And then we were like oh, this sounds good, this is fantastic, you know? Let's see what we can do, let's record some demos. And then it was all kind of like let's see what happens. Let's have fun with it. Let's do something together. Just because, as you said, we've been friends forever and we love working together, so let's do it.
When we finished recording Moment I was like okay, the pandemic is on. There's nothing happening. All tours and all plans are canceled. Now we can really get to work, and that's what we did. So I went from one 11 month recording to six months recording. But it was great.
I mean, Sweden wasn't locked down, per say. But you shouldn't really go out. You shouldn't really socialize with anyone else. So it was kind of like our COVID bubble was family and The Halo Effect guys and Oscar, the producer of the album. Those were the people I met and that was pretty great. You know, we can be somewhere and just do something and hang out with friends without going out, so that party was pretty damn good.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted The Halo Effect to sound like ahead of time? Obviously you guys are so rooted in what would become melodic death metal and that Gothenburg sound.
Well, when Niclas first approached me like, 'hey, we should do something together. I want to write, I want to make music.' And we share a lot of the same favorite bands and all that stuff … once we kind of got Daniel and Peter and Jesper on board, it's like no, let's play to our strengths here. You know, what is it that we know?
What is it that we truly love? What is the most amazing thing that we love to do and that we've been part of? And just focus on that. And I think when we started writing it became very clear that, yes, holy shit, this feels so familiar. We're not trying to reinvent anything. We don't try to sound different from any other. We just want to be like whatever comes out, that's what comes out. That really helps.
You guys are hopping on this massive European tour with Amon Amarth and Machine Head this fall. That's a hell of a debut tour for any metal band.
I mean, honestly you couldn't have asked for anything better. I think it's going to be the perfect way to kind of show this band and just introduce this band to an audience that's just perfect for this, I think. I've toured with Amon Amarth before and I know that In Flames have toured with Machine Head many times before and it just makes absolute perfect sense. I can't wait. It's going to be amazing. And we have a few festival shows first, but that's going to be like the first real time that we get out and do this properly… I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Getting your feet wet with this record, can you see this being an enduring project or was this a case of you all wanted to do it, it's done, it's a one off?
I really see this as being an enduring project. We wrote way more songs for the album than what ended up (using), so we're already halfway through the next album in terms of songwriting. So we've got that covered. I mean, it's great.
It's been difficult, of course, to kind of launch a new band, figuring out how things got to look, what an album's going to look like, logos, pictures, all that kind of stuff. But that's been fascinating to kind of start from nothing, but of course using all of our experience and contacts. So once we kind of get this going we're going to keep doing it, and everybody's super busy, obviously, with everything. So maybe it's going to be like whenever we play it's going to be more exclusive, I like to think.
But no, we're going to keep doing it. We had a blast recording the album. We started rehearsing just before I went on this tour and it felt fantastic just to be in a room together and just going to play these songs. And so yeah, I think we have a good shot at continuing this. The reception so far has been fantastic. It's a fun thing but yeah, of course during the pandemic it's very easy to say yes to everything. And it's not that I regret it, but I realize that I'm in over my head here because I'm never going to be home again (laughs). But it's all good.
Thinking back to the late eighties, early nineties and the early roots of bands like Dark Tranquility, In Flames and At the Gates. Did you guys realize at the time there was something unique happening in Gothenburg? Maybe we look at these things through a lens of hindsight, but did you feel the importance of the scene at the time?
Yeah, I know what you mean. No, we really didn't. We knew it was different because that's what we wanted. All we ever talked about in our bands, and also in between bands since we were all hanging out, was how important it is to be different, how important it is to be unique and original. So we always talked like we don't want to sound like this band or that band or that scene or that sound or whatever.
It was always very important to me. It was something that fueled us to know that we were at least trying very hard to be different from anything else out there. And that was not because of then we can carve our way into the market or whatever. It's not about that. We wanted to be different because as much as your identity is like a fucking metalhead in the late eighties and nineties, that's also trying to be different.
You wanted to be different from anyone else in school. We were two metalheads in my high school and it was me and Fredrik from HammerFall and no one else in the entire school, that was it. And we kind of looked at each other in the hallways like yeah man, you understand. And it was kind of like that with music as well. Like you wanted to be very different from anything else that we were watching or listening to.
But it was only later, I think 95, 96 when we started touring. I remember I was sitting in the bathroom at a German shitty venue. And on the floor there was a flier from some German band, they said playing true Gothenburg death metal. I was like whaaaaaattt?!? I was like what the fuck is that? I had never even heard of the term. It was this band trying to kind of sound like the bands from Sweden. And this was in 95, 96, maybe just when Jester Race and The Gallery and Slaughter of the Soul had come out. So yeah, that's how that started and that's when I realized, okay, someone considered this a scene.
We noticed when we started touring like people from all over Europe and we were like holy shit, these guys are unique. On our first ever tour, we were on Osmose Records in France and they only released black metal and then us. People came out … thinking that this was going to be a black metal show. And they were sorely disappointed, but hopefully surprised in a positive way (laughs). But you have no point of reference or something to compare to. But we always joke about this, me and Niclas and Peter, how fun and how cool it felt to be in a band in the early nineties in Gothenburg because everybody's very supportive.
We arranged shows together, we hung out together, we drank beer all the time together, we exchanged demos and tapes and records and we went to each other's shows all the time at a youth center or a tiny venue or whatever. It was just very, very supportive. No one was left out, everybody was encouraging. And then we just shared experiences.
At one point there was this rehearsal space in the middle of town in a basement, and it was us, At the Gates, Dissection, In Flames in a row, like four rehearsal rooms like that. And we just exchanged equipment and borrowed distortion pedals from each other and drank beer and sat in on each other's rehearsals just like I can't wait to hear your new stuff! So it was really cool.
Thinking back to that 90 to 96-97 window, you had your involvement with In Flames and time with HammerFall. Did it feel normal to be bouncing around projects? Was it hectic to the point where Dark Tranquility needed to be the top priority?
It was normal because Dark Tranquility is always my main thing. So for In Flames, for instance, that was Jesper. He was in Ceremonial Oath which was the band from Oscar from HammerFall and Anders Iwers, Peter's brother and he played guitar there and he felt like ehhh, I want to do something else. He felt creatively frustrated, whatever. And so he started In Flames together with some of his friends. But then he asked me, because we'd known each other since the late eighties, to sing.
That was 94 and I just started singing in Dark Tranquility and stopped playing guitar. So I was like yeah, I need the experience. I need to be in the studio as much as possible, sing as much as possible to try to learn how to do this. He just sent me all the songs and then we recorded the album in a week and that was it. And then we did two shows and that's like the extent of my kind of time in In Flames. That was it. But it was amazing fun. We had one show in Berlin and one in Stockholm, and then we played three songs in a backyard at a friend's birthday party. And then that was it for me.
And HammerFall we did once a year. It was like this annual rock contest that went for a couple of weeks during the summer where every band played three songs and you get to the semifinals and you could win and you get a record deal or whatever. And it was great fun. So two years doing that, but that was just like a week of rehearsals as well. And then we got to the semifinals, actually, in our second or third year. And that's when I went on a tour and that was 96 … I said I can't do the semifinals. And they asked Joacim to sing. And it was heavy metal history.
Isn't it amazing, all these projects that are still successful decades later. You're all still doing your thing and carving out your own path.
And honestly, that's something that I'm really, really proud of and happy how the whole community of metalheads in Gothenburg, all my friends from when we were 15, 17, 20, everybody's still doing it. There's very, very few dropouts, so to speak, that have gone on to do other things. And if they have, it's still in music.
One of my friends was a fantastic bass player. He's now a music journalist. One of my friends who was really into the scene back then writes books about metal. Another friend is still doing artwork for the metal bands, even though he's not playing anymore. That kind of thing. It goes to show how important and how formative those years were as a young person and because of what the metal community in Gothenburg was. It forced us to kind of stick with it and no one is growing up, basically.
Just to end off with a few quick status updates on your many projects. Dark Tranquility has been a huge part of your life for over three decades. You released Moment in 2020 and now you're touring pretty relentlessly. Any movement on a follow up to record?
I know Johan and Martin have some songs written already. I haven't heard anything because I was like no, we'll leave it 'till we get home and we have some quiet time. We have a lot of touring to catch up on basically, so that's what we've got to do. This whole year is fully booked, and the beginning of next year is starting to get booked as well. So I think spring next year I guess we're going to start writing. That's the idea.
Grand Cadaver was a project that really I think took a lot of people by surprise last year. Expanding on what I said about The Halo Effect, is that the type of thing you'd like to continue with? Or was that one and done?
No, we're going to continue. I mean, Alex has written a lot of songs already and I can't wait to get home and just dive into that and start writing some gristly, gnarly, horrific lyrics. But it's such a great thing. Alex writes fantastic songs and he writes super fast and writing lyrics and vocal lines for that is easy for me because you can just use all the cliches that I stay away from in Dark Tranquility and everything else (laughs). And it's so much fun. That album was recorded in six days. All of it. So it can be done.
And that's the beauty of the band, I think. Like everybody's so honed in. We just get together jamming and then it feels fantastic. We get a vibe and then we just go. So we're going to do shows. We've done a short tour supporting At the Gates a few months back, and it was amazing. So we're going to do some shows this summer and then we'll see. But yeah, we're going to keep it going because it's so much fun and people seem to be loving it.
9/8 – Nottingham, Arena
9/9 – Cardiff, Arena
9/10 – London, Wembley Arena
9/12 – Manchester, Arena
9/13 – Dublin, 3 Arena
9/16 – Zurich, Hallenadion
9/17 – Vienna, Adalle
9/18 – Krakow, Tauron Arena
9/20 – Tallinn, Saku Arena
9/21 – Helsinki, Ice Hall
9/23 – Oslo, Spektrum
9/24 – Stockholm, Hovet
9/26 – Copenhagen, Forum Black Box
9/27 – Hamburg, Barclays Arena
9/28 – Frankfurt, Fesalle
9/30 – Oberhausen, König Pilsener Arena
10/1 – Berlin, Velodrom
10/2 – Amsterdam, Afas Live
10/4 – Milano, Lorenzini Dirict
10/6 – Barcelona, Sant Jordi
10/7 – Madrid, Vialegre
10/8 – La Coruna, Coliseum
10/9 – Lisbon, Campo Pequeno
10/12 – Paris, Zeni
10/14 – Munich, Olympiahalle
10/15 – Leipzig, Arena
10/16 – Prague, Tipsport Arena
10/18 – Budapest, Barba Negra
10/20 – Esch Sur Alzette, Rockhal
10/21 – Brussels, Fore National
10/22 – Stuttgart, Schleyerhalle