Review 2188 : Gothminister – Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds – English

The Gothminister empire expands.

Barely two years after his last production, Bjørn Alexander « Gothminister » Brem (vocals), accompanied by Eirik « Blodøks » Øien (bass), Glenn « Icarus » Nilsen, Ketil « Turbo Natas » Eggum (guitars) and Christian « Chris Dead » Svendsen (drums) present us Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds, on AFM Records.

The album opens with the funereal melody of Battle Of The Underworlds, which immediately transforms into a warlike anthem led by jerky guitars and theatrical vocal parts, closely followed by majestic ominous keyboards. Female interventions temper the onslaught, leading into We Live Another Day and its pessimistic touch, to which the vocalist adds his motivating vocals sometimes aided by explosive drums. The airy final soothes the atmosphere before the heavy heady Creepy Shadows develops a sultry aggressive sound, with a much more danceable chorus. The terrifying break fuels this contrast, which continues with the unifying One Dark Happy Nation, shaped for live performances, creating a perfect balance between the catchier elements and a simple but effective rhythm before returning to the angsty additions on I Am The Devil, which still finds its solid riffs in due course to guide the march. The Procession offers us a horrific interlude that’s highly exploitable live, before the band returns to its overflowing energy on I Will Drink Your Blood, also exploiting a passage with marked and imposing Symphonic influences. Aftermath follows, giving us another moment’s respite under appalling Old School samples, then Tonight returns to those few waves of raw violence that perfectly fit the atmosphere of this stirring composition with its much more sing-songy choruses. Keyboards play a much more important role on We Are The Heroes, while allowing the musicians to offer us some more fiery parts that are later channeled into Monostereo Creature, a track that includes some ferocious growls and relies on mysterious effects to develop its identity. The final track is the catchy We Come Alive, the song that helped the band reach the Norwegian Eurovision final, and which closes the album by making us want to sing along.

With their ominous keyboards, motivating riffs and inimitable vocals, Gothminister are back on the Gothic Industrial throne. Having already experienced it, I know that live performances can only be monstrously effective with Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds’ compositions!


Version Française ?

A few questions to Bjørn Alexander “Gothminister” Brem, creator of the the Industrial Gothic Metal project Gothminister by Raven.

Hello and first of all, thank you very much for your time! Could you please introduce yourself and the band Gothminister without using the usual musical labels as “Industrial” or “Gothic”?
Bjørn Alexander “Gothminister” Brem: Well, Gothminister was started as a one man project in 1999 and I started back then with more electronic music. But since I come from, you know, Death Metal, Trash Metal scene before Gothminister. So, I quickly wanted to have a live band and after 2 decades or more, actually 25 years this year.
Raven: Happy birthday.
Bjorn: Thank you. So, I think the label Gothic Industrial Metal is okay. It’s mostly journalists who, you know, label music. You don’t do it yourself. You just make music. So yeah. And Gothic is no description for music, right? It’s more description of other stuff like literature, architecture, or the subculture in itself.And then so the whole package is Gothic. But I think the music is like, I said, it’s having Industrial elements, has Electronic elements. And yeah, the visual is definitely Gothic so, this is kind of the package. And we have a lot of focus on, you know, the visuals. We put a lot into the music videos and into the stage show. As the show you saw was the smallest show on the tour with a small stage. We had to skip a lot of, you know the stage effects in Paris. But normally we have a lot of stage effects and yeah, also a small portion of self irony.

Where does the name Gothminister come from, and what is its link with the music you play?
Bjorn: Well,  it started in the nineties. I had a friend of mine who wanted to invite me to a Gothic club in Oslo because I didn’t know too much about it, although I was a big fan of  Batman and horror movies and all that. But I came from a Thrash Metal band, a so completely different scene. And we went to this club, a small club in the cellar of this big venue and there was a DJ, DJ Batcap was playing. She was like a legendary DJ. She now moved to the US. But I got to know her after a while. But this was a Gothic club, and we were talking about having a few drinks and talking about,  just for fun, that they should have a leader (the Gothic movement), should be a more masculine leader ? Could we call Gothminister and be 30 meters tall? So, yeah, we had this funny idea and we were supposed to go to the after party, but I forgot my jacket and my phone, everything, and it was minus 25 degrees. I had to walk home in a t-shirt and holding my throat like this, and I got a horrible throat infection. So I couldn’t study, couldn’t work anything, so I started making music when I was ill, and this was the start of the project Gothminister. It started with a Gothic club and a throat infection, heavy throat, infection.

Raven: That’s a legend. To be honest, I was thinking it was coming from the church (having a minister) or something like that.
Bjorn: No, it was just a fun idea. We were just having a lot of humor. Sense of humor and just doing something over the top, so the name itself. I don’t know. Maybe something, but it was just about preaching the message of the Gothic scene, I guess, and preaching about the darkness as an inspiration for us all, because I think it symbolizes that if you only choose, you know the easy roads in life, or the easy paths you won’t experience so much. For me it was like seeking more the dark sides, the unknown and getting inspiration from that. And my idea was that when you feel safe and you challenge yourself, you get a little bit scared, maybe, or a little bit uncomfortable. But this maybe starts a process in your brain to get back to safety. And then you start the creative process, and then you can kind of experience more than if you didn’t do it.
Raven: It’s the definition of courage.
Bjorn: Yeah.

The band is about to release Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds, its eighth album. How do you feel about it?
Bjorn: I’m very excited about it, because it’s a sequel. It’s a follow up from the first Pandemonium album and I don’t know if you have seen any music videos. But it’s in the music videos. We kind of tell the stories also in the lyrics. But it’s more visualized in the music videos and to try to explain it very short and simple in Pandemonium, Gothminister is the evil king from the old days, and he rules his country and city, and he rules it too hard. So his inhabitants want to kill him,  to end this evilness, and they succeed in killing him and he wants that because he wants his own to, you know, carry the city, so that the king is dead. Long live the King! But there is something wrong, because it’s not his own. There are intruders who actually killed him, because when we go to battle of the underworld, we go back in time to see who was the lady who was beheaded in pandemonium? And who was the guy, the man who killed the king? Well, actually, she was the leader of the witches, and he is the leader of the werewolves so they actually had the previous battle, and this is connected somehow. So, in Pandemonium II the king has to get up from the dead to make things right again. We’re building up to a big music video this autumn to have the final epic battle between the evil of Mr. King, who also can transform into a vampire bat against the new king, who is also aware of. This is gonna be like the end of this story. And if you put all the videos together in the right order, you will see the story like, if you see the music video, I Am the Devil. You can see this one Gothminister comes back from the dead after Pandemonium, but it’s also after Battle of the Underworlds and after the wolves took over. So you can see picking up some werewolf hair from the ground. You know I’m the Devil. So all the videos are connected to each other, and when you see it in the right order, you can see the whole story.
Raven: Oh, that’s interesting!
Bjorn: So the first video is We Come Alive from the modern world. 6 different people are mystically invited to a dinner party where this one girl, who also had been bitten and turned into something. She goes back, looks into the crystal ball, and this crystal ball is the portal to the Old World, to the old Kings world. So my last video is the first video, the sequel of all the music videos.
Raven: Ok, that remind me a lot about the theme with the bit literature. It come from “to bite” with lycans and vampires, and so on… 

What was the creation process of Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds?
Bjorn: On the previous album Pandemonium I we were recording some guitars in studio, but I didn’t feel it was good enough and I always wanted to have a better guitar sound. I ended up doing all the guitars myself, like 90% on Pandemonium I. And now I did all the instruments on the new album myself to be in complete control, because my band musicians are great live but I have more time in my home studio, and to do all everything. So, one thing is, that this is the first album I did everything myself, except for the bass guitar (but I can do that myself too). And I didn’t mix it but I did everything else. Secondly, I have spent a lot of time making these music videos and preparing the stage show that you didn’t see in Paris (laughing), but it was on the rest of the tour.
Raven: Sorry.
Bjorn: Yes, but it was too small. Of course we try to also tell a story live, to entertain the audience as much as we can. The process was basically me recording everything on my own, and I have the help from Henning Verlage from Germany. He used to play in a band called Unheilig as a keyboard player. He mixed the new album, the last two ones except for one song, and this was the collaboration with the Pop producer. This turned into a song called We Come Alive, which was also entered into Eurovision in the National Selections of Norway. But I didn’t win. I was number 4 in the finals. It was close. Not too bad. There were 2,000 songs, and you know Norway has a very high levels. It’s not like San Marino or Germany. All the other contestants are like Grammy winners or winner of The Voice, really really commercial. But what is interesting is that I could bring the darkness into a very commercial scene, and that was very satisfactory.

It comes out almost two years after the album Pandemonium, is it a follow-up?
Bjorn: It’s only 2 years. It’s not even 2 years, because Pandemonium was released in 2022 in the autumn. And now with spring 2024 so it’s just one and a half year. But the album was ready last year. I wanted to release it in 2023, but the record company said: “No!”. So I’ve been just waiting. It was finished in October last year.
Raven: Maybe they were thinking it was too early.
Bjorn: Yeah, because Pandemonium was still selling and streaming so good, they said that it would cannibalize the album, they kinda eat each other up if we release it too soon, which is like, you know, it’s business. But the point was that I wanted to release it like really fast, because some people have before criticized that it’s too long between albums. I want to shock everyone to have an album right away. But it’s also some business related questions, so I can’t control everything.

Gothminister’s sound is always anchored into this contrast between keyboards and cold riffs, topped by theatrical vocals. How do you manage to give each element a place?
Bjorn: I don’t know. I think I can also be better at it, because I have a challenge that is I want a lot of stuff in my music, and maybe sometimes it’s too much, you know. So I want to strip it down. And I have some ideas that when the guitars play there will be no sense, and you know they just play alone. But it doesn’t work as easy as that, so I often just combine it. And I just very often put on more and more elements, you know. But what I think is good about it is that I can only speak for myself, but I’m not bored of any songs, because I put a lot of details into all songs, so you can discover new things every time you listen to the song.  I think at least a lot of commercial Pop artists, they just copy and paste. Here, for example, there is a Norwegian album. I won’t mention any names, but there is a Norwegian Pop artist when she sings in the chorus her voice breaks and that’s nice one time. But when you hear it 3 times in the song, and it’s the same you can hear. It’s a copy of the same recording next chorus and next chorus. Then it’s not human enough.
Raven: Mechanical?
Bjorn: Mechanical. I try to, even though I have a lot of electronics stuff, I always want to have organic elements and to have some feeling, and I also know some Metal bands in this genre. To me it’s more mechanical. And I try to add some flavor, some human flavor into that and some soul. I would say to me it’s important that the music has soul. It’s not like a copy of a copy of a copy like Nine Inch Nails things, but there is also some human soul in it, that’s important.
Raven: I understand that, with too much copy paste about the song. It comes to be impersonal, something created like, not by a person but just a computer.
Bjorn: Because, of course, we all, when we make songs today, of course, we all copy a lot. But the thing is that I think the human brain, and we are human beings, not machines. And the natural thing is that you play a song one time, right? And it’s the first time you play it and then you will have some a few mistakes or some human touch and not like a machine. So this is really important that you have some feeling and some soul in it, even though it’s like electronic, industrial whatever. Even some of the old Synth bands, they have programs, but they often put live bass guitar on top and this is why it sounds so alive, because it’s actually also live musicians, not only machines.

What is your inspiration source to create your music? Whether it is for music or lyrics.
Bjorn: It’s lot of different things. It’s of course other music. Otherwise, I wouldn’t understand what music is, but it’s kind of more often what I see. I visualize things. If you see a big storm in the ocean, I can hear a riff, a guitar riff, and if you see beautiful buildings that could inspire, and then films can inspire. Literature can inspire a lot of things. I think it’s a combination. But I believe that you have to listen to all the music, to create music more or less, but to me it’s more often actually what I see than what I hear, but I think that the music I heard like one week ago. It’s melting inside my brain, you know. It’s all the impressions together. If you hear someone a week ago, or one year ago, maybe some things of your brain still pick it up and put it together into a new melody or new stuff, and then combined with all the impressions in life, it combines. And then to me this music just comes into my head. I always walk around with my mobile phone and my wife is sometimes furious, because if we go shopping, or whatever I stand there and sing into the mobile phone because I get this music coming in all the time. It’s a lot more than music. I think it’s old impressions as long as you can see and hear and feel and smell. Well, I can’t smell so much anymore, because I had the nose surgery and my smell is almost gone. But at least all impressions together. And some people use this to create, other people maybe use it for something else, but for me it’s constantly music coming in and coming out. So after the last month, I wrote 20 songs already and 7 of them are now ready for the next album.

One of the songs you released from this album was We Come Alive, which is also the song with which you participated in Norway’s Eurovision. How did you work on the video clip of this song?
Bjorn: The video clip was made in a hurry. We have barely had time because of, you know, the deadlines and all that. I had this idea that like I said before the start of the story of the Evil King, because all these music videos will be… We have some cinemas putting it up this autumn in Norway. All the music videos together in the right order for people to see. But I wanted to kind of make it as realistic as possible so the story with the evil king starts in the modern world. So We Come Alive is from the modern world. It’s just 6 regular people getting this creepy dinner invitation, and it seems like it’s themselves who are on the menu.So, because from this tray with the butler, the vampire pops up and bites all the guests. But this one girl like, I said. She returns, the black-haired girl, and she finds the crystal ball, which is the portal to the old Kings world in the old time.
Raven: Please remind me not to have lunch with you.
Bjorn: Yeah.

How did you decide to bring it to Eurovision, and how was the whole experience?
Bjorn: You know I was in the Eurovision, Norway in 2013, with the song Utopia for the first time and that was one of my guitar players. He’s a very Metal guy, and he said that we have to send this song to Eurovision, and I protested, but we tried and it got actually in 2013. I did it the old-fashioned way. I just sent it in and this person from the broadcaster called me and I’m asked if they want to join. But back then I met this Pop producer, he knew about Gothminister, and he liked it, and they said he always dreamed of doing something. So, I called him 10 years later for a follow up. And then I made this song, and he produced, and we were sitting in the studio, and then he said: “maybe we should send it to Eurovision, because I have, like a direct line to the general, and I can talk to him and he seemed to rock”. We called him from the studio, and he wanted to give it a listen.  But it took a long time before he decided and actually, we were stressing so much because we thought it was the right song for Eurovision. So we actually almost sent it into Germany instead because it’s possible to go from another country, it was close that we didn’t participate in Germany instead. But I think it was good to be in our home country. And then he finally decided. I was quite surprised it went so well. So this time I qualified from the semifinals, and I think I was the winner in my semifinals, and I came in number 4 in the big final. In Norway Eurovision is a big thing, we had 2000 songs that were sent in and I was one of the 18, and I was top 4 of these 18. A top 4 of 2000. In the finals we performed in front of 9,000 people. Live! And then almost 1 million people watching live on TV plus Internet. It was kind of live performing for like 1 million people I think. It was quite big.
Raven: I just can’t imagine that.
Bjorn: I have to stay focused and do well.
Raven: And how did you feel when you were playing the song on stage?
Bjorn: I was very sick in the semifinals because I had sinusitis so I ate chili before I went on stage to just open it up, and I could barely sing. But in the finals, I was so healthy and well again, and it felt like one of these big festival concerts. So, it was great because in the semifinals there was like 200 people in the studio and in the finals there was like a big venue with 9,000 people watching it. It felt more like a live concert, I felt more at home. I was less nervous in front of 9,000 than in front of 200, because when you only have 200 in the studio and it’s a TV studio you kind of feel this television thing. But when you’re on a big stage with like thousands of people and better lights and more live setting, you feel more at home. I was more nervous in the semifinals because I was really ill, I was scared not to get anything out of my voice. It was great in the finals, and we met a lot of nice artists, but I think they picked the wrong song. It’s a strange competition, it’s a bit strange to compete like song against song. It’s not so natural. And then the competition in itself has some issues, but the artists were really nice, and all the artists were friends, but there was a lot of noise with the fans, a lot of comments. And lots of things are going on outside.

I also noticed a few more heavy riffs, as well as more theatrical parts on some songs, just like on Creepy Shadows or I Will Drink Your Blood. Do you also feel an evolution of songwriting?
Bjorn: Well, I like to play around. And since I come from the Metal scene you can hear in Creepy Shadows. I try to blend in some other musical styles as well. I think it’s fun, because maybe people don’t expect it, it’s fun to create something, some surprising elements I think.

Do you think you improved yourself as a singer and songwriter with this album?
Bjorn: I think I always constantly improve myself on every album, because I learn from mistakes, and I try to make things better. But actually, my voice is better and better than since I started, I’m not too old still to sing good, I think. And also you see other artists like in Eurovision, we have this woman in the band called BobbySocks! ( They won in the eighties when you wish to be in the eighties, and she’s 66 years older, and she has a great voice, still much better than almost all the other artists, so there is still hope. I mean, you can just stay healthy, you can always improve yourself and continue for a long time.

What led you to the music universe back in time? What was the very first album you ever bought?
Bjorn: The first album I bought. I have to try to remember, because my family, my great grandfather, owned the biggest music store in Norway, and also the biggest recording studio. It was later sold to EMI, the record company EMI in Norway and one in the family became the managing director of the New Record Company, so I always got records from him when I was a little kid but I didn’t buy them myself, so I have to remember the very first. I think that the first one I bought was actually a present to my friend but he already had it, and that was Dr. Stein with Helloween. So that’s why I was very much into because he tried to give me. He tried to teach me Heavy Metal, I was 9 years old, something like that. That was one of the first, and not one of the first was man workings of Metal. My friend was really into Helloween accepting all these bands, and I listen a lot to Helloween, and maybe I was a little bit inspired. You know the Keeper of the 7 Keys, part one and part 2, then Pandemonium. Part one and part 2. It’s somewhere in my brain, probably an inspiration. And they also have this like storyline and all that. I will say I was lucky to meet Kai Hansen in in Oslo a few years ago to get backstage with the people from Helloween. That was great and a bit weird, because I was looking up to them, and later we played festivals with them, together. I was listening a lot to Helloween at an early age.

Last year, you organized a European headline tour and played a handful of shows between the Netherlands, Germany, France, the UK and Belgium with King Satan and Psycholies. We attended the Paris’ show, so how do you keep in mind about this tour, and especially about Paris’ show?
Bjorn: I think even though the Paris show was a small show, it was. The audience was great, I think it was very welcoming. And we also had another French show, which was great. But it was good to be back, because we haven’t played too much in France, and I think the last time we played there was with Samael in 2008 or maybe it was on tour in 2009. It’s been like many years.

Gothminister – Paris 2023
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Raven: The fact is that there is a really small public for Industrial Metal and Gothic in France. The public is more, maybe in Germany or Belgium.
Bjorn: Yeah, it was the smallest and the much bigger was in Germany, Netherlands and the UK. But I think there is a scene in France too and we’re gonna come back. We just haven’t played too much in France, and we need to play more. But the tour will be next year, because now it’s full, all the venues are full. We were planning it for this autumn, but we have moved it to next spring. And then we’re gonna include Paris I think so next year.

While talking about visual aspects, how do you work on Gothminister’s live shows? According to you, how much input a band’s visual aspect has to its music?
Bjorn: I think music is number one. Always like the music is most important, but I think that’s at least for me I want to give something. I want to surprise people a little bit with stage effects, new effects, and try to tell a story in the concert. To me it’s like playing in a band is being an entertainer and an artist. You know a lot of Norwegian bands, they look like the audience and the Norwegian journalists say this is great because you’re not supposed to think you are anyone. You’re not supposed to think you’re a star. You should be like really plain and nice, just jumping up from the audience and playing guitar, and then go out. And I’m more old-fashioned, in the old days entertainers and artists were distinct from the audience, they dressed up and put on the show. And this is what Gothminister is all about. We also feel better. The guys in the band, they dare more on stage when they get the makeup on and they feel like we are altogether as one. We unite with the same facial makeup and the clothes and everything, and I think that it’s cool for an artist to stand out from the audience, although if you play at the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig, then the audience will look better than you, of course, but because that’s exceptional. But normally an artist should look like an artist, at least, in my opinion. He shouldn’t look like the audience, because the audience came there to watch something, not just to see somebody with a black t-shirt, I mean. That’s also nice, but not for Gothminister. It’s different.
Raven: What looks like an artist, how? I don’t have an answer to that.
Bjorn: It’s just entertaining. And putting on what makes you feel comfortable on stage, I guess, because I’m mostly doing it for myself. I’m making the music for myself. I’m putting on the clothes for myself to feel good, and then just hoping someone else would like it to. I guess. What I will see and what I want to listen to, because you can’t do it for anyone else but yourself.
Raven: What I understand is that you want to represent your music, in fact.
Bjorn: Yeah.
Raven: Okay, I’m not too stupid (laughs)

Do you already have plans about Gothminister’s future? Especially playing live, and stuff?
Bjorn: First we’re in April now we go to the U.S.A. to play and then we go to Germany 3 times and in Norway and next spring we go to Finland and Sweden, I think, and also repeat hopefully, Germany, UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands. We need another tour with the battle album but that’s gonna be probably spring 2025. 

Raven: And do you have a public outside of the U.S.A, outside of Europe, in other countries?
Bjorn: No, we have an audience, and of course we played in Russia which is partly in Asia. But… Now it’s difficult. That was many years ago, but we have a lot of fans from Russia and also from South America. We’re trying to set up some shows, but we postponed it. But I think South American also. I know now that Asia is really interesting. A friend, Mortiis the guy with the long nose and ears, he just went on tour in China with actually one of our crew members. I’m gonna be interested to hear from them how it was. Because, you know, Japan and China have are huge markets. I think South America, of course we release albums in South America and were requested, but we never went there. So South America, the east and Australia. A lots of requests from Australia. And yesterday I got a message from a guy in New Zealand who is always listening to Gothminister when he drives his car or to work, and also works in the fields or somewhere. And he sent me a video and he wants a CD. But it takes 6 months to 12 months to get a CD to New Zealand, so he won’t have the CD until next year so I promised to send him the CD.

Maybe you know and like some French bands?
Bjorn: Well, gosh! You know, it’s Gojira, but it’s obvious. I saw them live many years ago, but I think they’re much better now than they were. Who else can I try to remember? It’s a bit difficult, because if you’re thinking of Metal or Gothic bands, and who else is there? Not too many, actually, maybe. But I have to think a little bit. Do you have any ?
Raven: Currently on French Metal bands? Shâargoth ! It’s a French Industrial Metal band.

Are there any musicians or bands you would like to collaborate with? Whether it is for one song, an album…
Bjorn: Would be great to collaborate with on the production side, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, of course, because he’s a sound genius, although I don’t like so much the latest stuff. But I love the old stuff of Nine Inch Nails. We have a lot of great bands, you know, in the shelter, and I think Trent from Nine Inch Nails would be like number one. Also, I would say maybe Swans or Gojira. I met them in Oslo, couple of months ago at the show. So I know the drummer. And yeah, great great band. It’s more Hard Rock.

Which bands would you love to tour (or play, considering only one show) with? I let you create a lineup with Gothminister as opener and three other bands.
Bjorn: I don’t know if you’re an opener, you don’t get loud enough sound and don’t get the best stage show so it wouldn’t be.  But it would be cool, of course, to play with Rammstein, maybe, or the old Marylin Manson, the one from the 90’s. Would be great, I think the show he put on around Antichrist Superstar was really really cool.
Raven: I agree totally. And maybe another one ?
Bjorn: Maybe Muse.
Raven: I didn’t expect that !

Last question: What if I ask you to compare Gothminister’s music with a dish? Which one and why?
Bjorn: Maybe, maybe I just would go for a pepper steak because it’s heavy and spicy.  because it’s heavy and then you have to have a lot of exciting stuff on the sides, you know, like a lot of vegetables and potatoes. Cause of course, I eat a lot of Thai food, but it kind of doesn’t fit, you know, because I’m not from Thailand, and it’s not like thai inspiration either. The satay is one of my favorites.

That was the last question for me, so thank you very much for your time and your music, last words are yours!
Bjorn: I would always recommend people to go out and see live shows instead of sitting behind computers or mobile phones. And I would say to everyone that go and see a band you never saw before, because you need them, and they need you. And it’s great for, especially also young musicians to have people at the concert. So go out and buy a concert ticket instead of sitting on your phone. It’s boring on your phone to sit there all the time, stop it, and just go and see something live. I hope to see you in Paris next.

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