So Tim, the band was founded in 1988, how did you get together exactly? Was AMENOPHIS the first band for all of you, where you were involved in?
I’m not a big fan of long introductions so let’s keep it short. Amenophis was formed in Norrköping in 1989 by me (guitars and vocals), Robert Hylen (bass), and Mikael Eriksson (drums). We did a few gigs before Esa Sorsa joined as second guitarist in 1990. Shortly thereafter, we started to work on our first demo, entitled Amenophis, recorded in 1991. Later that year Martin Gustavsson joined as lead vocalist. We finished recording our second demo The Twelfth Hour in 1992. Afterwards we started to play live more frequently. After Esa left in 1993, we continued as a quartet until around 1995, when we decided to call it quits. That’s basically the story. In the past, Robert and I played in a kind of Slayer rip-off band. I think we called the group Induction or something shitty like that. However, back then we were still trying to learn our instruments, so I wouldn’t call it an actual band.
What were your most important musical influences?
When we first started I think our main influences were bands such as Slayer, Possessed, Bathory, Death, and Kreator. Speaking for myself, I also liked punk like Discharge, The Exploited, and Septic Death. Although not so apparent in the music, I was stirred by such bands equally. We never said that we were going to sound like a specific band; we didn’t have a blueprint so to speak. I was certainly inspired, or maybe affected is the right word, by the spirit of the underground metal scene in Sweden, but in terms of our music, none of the Swedish bands really served as inspiration. With that said, I must add that I liked some of the Swedish groups on a musical level. If I’ve to name my favourites it would be Obscurity, Merciless, Grotesque, Grave, and Treblinka/Tiamat (the early recordings). Without hesitation, I must say that the most defining death metal band for me was Morbid Angel. When I first heard Altars of Madness in 1989 it changed everything. This was THE album that made me aspire to play faster and more brutal death metal. I still listen to it regularly. Utter perfection!
Would you say, that you belonged to the first generation of Swedish death metal along with the likes of DISMEMBER, CARNAGE, NIHILIST/ENTOMBED, GRAVE, MEFISTO, OBSCURITY to name a few?
We didn’t start as early as Mefisto and Obscurity. I consider them pioneers in the Swedish underground and certainly among the first to follow in Bathory’s footsteps. As for the rest of the lot, we were active around the same time, so it’s safe to say that we fall into that category.
Stockholm and Gothenburg were the centers of the Swedish death metal movement, but what about your hometown Norrköping? Was it a great and healthy scene in your town?
The extreme metal scene in Norrköping was very small in the beginning. If I remember correctly, Amenophis and Marduk were formed around the same time. There were a few other bands around, but they played more or less traditional thrash metal. If you take the whole region of Östergötland in account it’s a different matter. I guess the scene started fairly early in Linköping with bands such as Satanic Slaughter, Morbidity,Total Death, and Orchriste. The nearby town of Söderköping had bands like Allegiance and Grimorium early on. Finspång soon became the death metal centre with an abundance of bands, to numerous to mention. As for the rest of the region, I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment in detail. I guess the main centre for the whole scene was the place Nya Strömmen in Norrköping, at least in the early days. Most of the concerts arranged by Power Hour (a local radio program devoted to metal and hardcore/punk) were held there. The building also housed rehearsal rooms for the local clientele. I’ve very fond memories of this place, where I used to hang out and watch great bands like Merciless and Invocator thrashing away. I like to visit the old venue time and again and take a stroll down the memory lane, thinking about when Carcass played there around the time of their second album. They’d the great taste to use a slideshow of autopsy pictures as a stage backdrop. It caused quite a stir among the locals. Fun times!
What do you recall of your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming mostly on covers?
I remember that we initially did some covers such as Bathory’s “Call from the Grave”, Possessed’s “March to Die”, and Slayer’s “Raining Blood”. Later on we also tried to do Mercyful Fate’s “Come to the Sabbath”, but it didn’t sound right in our version so thankfully we never played it live. There’s a lesson to be told here, don’t EVER try to do a cover by Mercyful Fate! Their legacy is a sanctuary that should be left untouched by human hands. More to the point, we didn’t have the intention to be a cover band and started to write our own material early on.
Your first effort was a four tracks affair, that was released in 1991, in your opinion, did this demo come out too late compared to the birth of the band? Why did it pass three years between the foundation of the band and the releasing of the demo?
As I told earlier, we were still trying to perfect our instruments. We did record some rehearsals previously, but I didn’t think we were ready to release a demo until then. I like to add that we started to record Amenophis in 1990 but it wasn’t finished until the next year.
Was it recorded in a studio or at your rehearsal room? How was it recorded at all?
No studio involved, it was strictly recorded in our rehearsal place. We used a four-track cassette recorder, which somewhat explains the lo-fi quality. Very primitive. For some unknown reason we decided to record the drums last! This is why they sound out of sync at times. With this in mind, our drummer Mikael did a great job.
How would you described this first demo? What kind of memories did you have in terms of songwriting, recording, cover artwork, sound etc.?
Most of the songs which ended up on the first demo were composed early on. For instance, the song “Obscure Apotheosis” contain some of the earliest riffs I wrote. Those with a keen sense of hearing can without much difficulty trace its origins, at least partially. “The Church of Abaddon” was the first song co-written by Esa, and it’s also, I think, the most diverse composition on the recording. As for the artwork and lyrics, I was the main protagonist. Besides the usual horror movies, I took much inspiration from horror/occult fiction with writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood. I’ve always liked the tales of the uncanny and supernatural, and most of the lyrics were written in this style. Not very original though, I must confess. We didn’t have a specific sound in mind when we put those first songs on tape. It was more of an anything goes attitude.
Do you agree with, that the demo shows a rather rough and rudimentary sound, incorporates some slight black metal influences and dark atmosphere?
Yes, I agree, it sounds rather rough and rudimentary. I like those words – “rough” and “rudimentary”. This is also what defined the Östergötland sound of early extreme metal; it had a more “rural” (in Swedish “bondsk”) or primitive feeling than for example the raw and melodic sound associated with Stockholm and Gothenburg, respectively. Black metal influences? Very slightly if you ask me. We all worshipped Bathory like gods, but in my mind the first recording is pure death metal. In hindsight, I can see some similarities, primarily in the vocals, but they were quite unintentional. I was trying to sound like a young David Vincent or Jeff Becerra. I’ve to admit, the first recording has a certain eerie feeling to it all.
Could have easily been the band snatched up for other lower tier bands like SORCERY, EPITAPH etc.?
Well, like those bands we kind of worked in the outskirts of the established ones. Does this answer your question?
Before the second demo was released you decided to focus on your guitar playing and Martin Gustavsson joined the band, how did he get in the picture exactly? What about his musical background?
We were part of the same metal community. The crowd from Söderköping, where he came from, and Norrköping was basically the same. I think we first met up at Nya Strömmen during some “Thrash Bash” concert or similar. I know that Darkified used to rehearse in those venues, so that's probably the location for our first encounter. But really, I don’t remember. It’s all a bit hazy. In addition to Darkified he also sang with Grimorium and Allegiance.
Did he also take part in the songcomposing?
No, maybe he did some suggestions, but the music was solely written by me, Esa and Robert.
In 1992 you released your second demo titled “The Twelfth Hour”, would you say, that you turned in a more mature and technical direction?
Yes, I like to think so. By the time of our second recording, most of the baby fat had fallen off the bone, so a more technical approach was only natural. The sound was also a clear improvement compared to our first effort. In addition it captures more of my personal imagination regarding the musical development of the band. When we started to write new songs for the second demo, I’d become increasingly tired of the stale sound of death metal. As I wrote in the liner notes to the compilation CD, I wanted to go back to the black/thrash/speed metal roots but still retain the aggressive and brutal side. At this time I was mostly listening to early Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, Possessed, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, and similar acts – the bloody family tree of death metal! I think this becomes apparent when you listen to the two songs “Eyes of Fire” and “In the Dead of Night”, mainly written by myself.
Do you think, that the general obscure, occult atmosphere of the first demo is lost, and in its place the band decided to concentrate more on delivering a more technical output?
I don’t think the atmosphere is lost, it’s merely different. The lyrical themes were more or less the same, usually based on subjects such as demonic possession, black magic sorcery, ghostly hauntings, and other niceties. That eerie feeling is also still there, at least I think so.
Was the fresh version of “Church of Abaddon” a clear improvement on your 1991 sound?
“The Church of Abaddon” was one of those songs which we always did live. A real crowd-pleaser if you ask me. We all liked the song and decided to re-record it when we did our second demo. Since the first demo was so poorly spread, we thought it was a good idea to give the old “Church” another spin.
Were the demos shopped around to attract labels interests and to draw the fan’s attention?
I did very little promotion for the band. I was incredibly involved in the creative process of writing music and lyrics, but I sucked at the business side of things. The first demo didn’t make it much beyond our circle of friends and the like. I do remember we sent one copy to Close-Up Magazine for review. It was not well-received. They thought it sounded too crude or rudimentary. There’s that word again – “rudimentary”! At the times, all Swedish death metal bands were supposed to sound like they came straight out of the Sunlight studio in Stockholm. Entombed’s Left Hand Path was the measurement of all new recordings. I can honestly say, I’ve never craved success or desired to be a fucking rock star. I felt very content in the underground scene. However, overall the second demo was more ambitious and spread fairly well in the metal community. We also got some good reviews and fine response from the underground scene. I even received a fan letter from Japan, which I thought was very cool. I haven’t the slightest idea how the demo ended up there. Shortly after dissolving the band in 1995, a couple of record labels expressed interest, but none of us felt like continuing.
How often did you play live?
We played live on several occasions. I think we were first and foremost a live band. I guess the most memorable gig was the one we did with Marduk at Vilbergen’s youth centre in our hometown in 1991. This was originally intended to be a youth music festival, but without consent from the main organizers we did most of the booking. Eventually, the whole event turned into an extreme metal and punk extravaganza. Imagine all the families with children having to endure loud hellish music with distorted guitars, blasting drums, and screaming vocals. Fun times indeed!
The band splitted up in 1993, what kind of reasons did lead to the demise of the group? Why couldn’t go further, like other bands, such as DISMEMBER, UNLEASHED, GRAVE etc.?
The band didn’t actually split up in 1993. Esa decided to quit the band that year and the rest of us continued as a quartet. We kept on rehearsing and writing new songs until early 1995. By then I think most of the fire was gone.
Nowadays Martin is in PLAGUE WARHEAD, Robert is playing in DEATHQUINTET, but what about you, drummer Mikael Eriksson and second guitarist Esa Sorsa? Did they stop playing metal and stepped out of the metal scene?
After Amenophis folded, I sort of drifted out from the metal scene altogether. I became more involved in industrial/noise movement, where I felt more at home at the time. I played guitar as well as other instruments in Sharon’s Last Party until 2004. Although we haven’t been active in a while it’s not a closed chapter. Just to clarify, by “industrial/noise” I mean music with roots in Throbbing Gristle, S.P.K., Whitehouse and similar stuff, not that crossover bullshit. Mikael is somewhat of an enigma. After the split-up he devoted himself to painting. I know he held at least two exhibitions in our hometown in the late 90’s. He was very gifted, so I hope he’s continued on this path. In later years he’s become increasingly reclusive and impossible to reach. Believe me, we’ve all tried! To my knowledge he hasn’t played in a metal band ever since. Esa and I didn’t have much contact until we started to finalize the CD compilation. These days we’re on good speaking terms and have been out boozing a couple of times. I know he played in Morgue from Linköping after he left Amenophis. He’s still making music on his own in Northern Darkness. Very Bathory inspired and old school sounding.
This year I Hate Records released a compilation titled “Demos 1991-1992” featuring your two demos, how came up with the idea to release this material?
It was Robert who initiated the whole thing and got in touch with I Hate Records. Originally, we intended only to release the second demo on CD, but the record label also convinced us to include the first one, which I’m very pleased with now. In addition, the CD took some time to finish since the original master tapes suffered from old age, but I’m glad we didn’t hasten it. The sound on the CD is very close to the cassettes. Very authentic.
Did you have songs written, that didn’t make up on the demos at the end?
I’ve a few cassette recordings of our first rehearsals, which contain some unique material as well as early drafts of the songs on the first demo, but they sound way too – hmm, what’s the word? – “rudimentary”. Needless to say, they didn’t make it to the compilation CD. We also recorded another song called “House by the Cemetery” when we did our first demo. It just didn't sound right so we discarded it from the finished version of Amenophis. We played it live on a few occasions though.
Was it done only for old, die hard fanatics or do you think, is it a good chance, possibility to discover AMENOPHIS for younger fans as well?
There’s still hope for the young.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the underground scene?
No, I haven’t followed the scene for years. These days I’m more into progressive rock from the early 70’s, in particular Zeuhl and bands connected with the Rock In Opposition movement, such as MAGMA, Henry Cow, Univers Zero, and Art Zoyd. I still love metal, but I prefer the old stuff. Sadistik Exekution still makes me purr like a FUKKING cat!
Tim, thanks a lot for your answers, anything to add?
Thanks for the interview. Great to hear from Transylvania/Romania. I love E.M. Cioran by the way. Is he like your national hero?
Interview by Leslie David