“Like everyone else, I go through various phases. I listened to a lot of heavier metal when I was a kid, but right now I find that I listen to a lot of ‘old man’s’ music,” laughs Johanna Sadonis. That’s readily apparent after one listen to “All Must Die,” the opening track from the Oath’s scorching self-titled debut. Guitarist Linnéa Olsson favors the kind of riffs first hammered out by heavy metal legends like Black Sabbath and Trouble, and Sadonis’s straight-no-chaser vocal style is the perfect mix of ferocity and emotion.
Sadonis’s greatest contribution on The Oath is her relationship with the Occult, so resilient and convincing it could persuade a Pentecostal snake handler to step into dark. Paired with Olsson’s gut-rumbling guitars that alternate between bottom-heavy blues and jean-jacked retro-metal, the Oath has delivered nine tracks that are both commercially accessible and almost palpably evil.
Back in the day, bands like Coven and Black Sabbath were criticized for their interest in the Occult, as there was a thought that they were somehow trying to bring listeners over to the dark side.
When Black Sabbath came around, it was a whole different scene — it was more difficult in that society than it is now. Now, you have a lot of bands that are interested in the Occult, or Satanic spiritual content. So I don’t think it is looked at as critically as it was during their era. So far I haven’t really heard any negative feedback about our lyrics, but I know that my lyrics are blunt, because I use words like “Satan,” “Lucifer,” “demons,” and so on. But I wouldn’t take everything so literally. A lot of it is very metaphorical. “Demons” can be demons that you have inside you. I think that in general, spirituality should be taken metaphorically. I’m a big heavy metal fan and I love bands like Mercyful Fate and Danzig, and they used these terms very bluntly as well. I just love the very old-school, classic approach to it.
It is possible that when I start writing again I might be a bit subtler about it. But with 20 years of being a heavy metal fan, I needed to get it out of my system.
Was Linnéa also interested in delving into the Occult?
Not as much as me. I think I’m the most spiritual one in the band. Linnea is a little more punky. You can hear that in her riffs — a very punky, Motorhead style. It mirrors her personality. I am the emotional part of the band. I dwell a lot more inside of my head. She’s a huge heavy metal fan too, so these things are not far away from her. But it is more coming from me.
How did you first develop this spirituality? How long has the Occult been prominent in your life?
I’m in my 30s now, and I think I went to my first metal show when I was 14. I saw Danzig play — that was the first Satanic metal show that I saw. I started to work in an Occult bookshop here in Berlin, and when I was 16 I started to read a lot and got really involved in the metal scene here. I’ve been interested in this for more than 20 years.
In terms of generating your own fan base, are you concerned about how you, as an individual, are perceived outside of your band? Do you have a fine line between what is public information and what is personal?
I know we have a following, but I’m really, really careful nowadays. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very sociable; I talk a lot and, like I said before, I’m very emotional. So it’s hard. When I speak to a journalist, there’s definitely a line, and there’s stuff that’s not anyone’s business.
Would you still purchase music by an artist whose personal beliefs differed from yours? Would you be turned off by an artist or a band if you found that they had misogynist, homophobic or racist views, like Burzum?
When I was growing up, Burzum was one of the first bands — as well as Mayhem and Emperor — that I listened to. They played a big part in the metal scene here in the early ’90s. I listened to Burzum when I was like, 15 or 16, but it became more and more clear how limited he is in his intellectual capacity [laughs]. I was really into his music as a kid, as he makes killer music, but I wouldn’t buy his stuff.
I really distance myself from a lot of racist bands. It’s a big issue being German, because we learn at a very early age to be conscious what side you are on. It’s a very sensitive subject here. With Burzum, you would never see [Varg Vikernes] in Kerrang! or [any other] German metal magazine, because then the magazine would have really big problems in terms of the public’s reception. I also think that politics don’t belong in music, anyway. I listen to music because I want to escape from this world, and politics is certainly not an area in which I want to go.
What has the response to the Oath been from your contemporaries? I heard Darkthrone’s Fenritz named you as his Band of the Week a year ago. Coming from such a well respected musician, was it an indication that your band was on the right track, or did you just take it in stride — just the icing on the cake?
When we became Band of the Week [for their 2013 single, "Night Child" — Ed.] that created some buzz. We had a number of different labels approaching us: some big and some small ones, but when we received an offer from Rise Above [the label run by Cathedral's Lee Dorrian] — we had not met any of the representatives from the label before, but it was a great compliment, as I was a big Cathedral fan as a teenager. Another reason [is that I like] how Lee runs his label. He puts all of his love into it. If we landed on one of the bigger labels, we would have ended up on the bottom of the food chain. We knew that going with Rise Above would be a good call because they were really dedicated.
The production on this album really matches the label’s ethos.
We wanted to have access to old-school, vintage equipment. We loved the sound of In Solitude’s record. The owner [of Studio Cobra, in Stockholm] also grew up on metal and we loved his approach, as he had a full-on metal studio. He had a really cool selection of collectables, and it was a really weird atmosphere there, and he was really good to work with.
What music are you listening to right now?
On heavy rotation, I would say a lot of hard stuff, but also Fleetwood Mac. I also listen to a lot of ’70s hard-rock stuff, and I’m a big Rolling Stones fan — a lot of their music from the ’60s and ’70s.
I’ve been listening to a lot of the early Deep Purple albums. Trying to figure out who was the best singer for the band!
I totally understand! [Laughs.] Rainbow is pretty great too.
I grew up when Ozzy (Osbourne) was a solo singer, so I didn’t really get turned on to the early Black Sabbath records until I was an adult.
He was fantastic but even now he is still good. Ozzy has a great tone to his voice — you either have that tone or you don’t.