When we think of black metal, images of burning churches and men dressed as badgers spring to mind. Scores of bands from the Norwegian second wave rarely – if ever – made it to British shores on account of being incarcerated, dead, or working full-time in a post office.
Lifelover began after that era of anonymity. Formed in 2005, the Swedish outfit were born to a world that demands everything, all the time. The UK never saw Lifelover and, on 9th September 2011, that chance apparently vanished; founding member Jonas “B” Bergqvis passed away in his sleep, succumbing to an accidental overdose on prescription drugs. B was the genius pushing Lifelover’s pedals for their four albums and sole EP, so the band played a hurried tribute show and ceased activity.
Four years later, they have returned. It’s been a decade since Lifelover began warping the boundaries of black metal, dragging it further into the depths of sorrow than ever before. Drugged-up. Self-harming. On the brink of annihilation – they made My Dying Bride sound like Blink 182. Black metal was merely the launch pad from which they jettisoned their unique brand of hatred; post-punk, gothic rock, ambient and even hints of polka and poppy hooks crept into the mix. They pushed the concept of human suffering to the nth degree yet, seeing as the majority of the music was composed solely by B, the gig being billed as an opportunity to “give the fans what Jonas and us [the band] always had in mind” doesn’t sit right with everybody.
“I wish they’d just called it ‘A Tribute To Lifelover’, or something like that,” says one attendee tonight. “Obviously I’m still here. I’ve never seen Lifelover so this is the next best thing, but it’s the same as having a Pantera reunion with Zakk Wylde and actually calling it ‘Pantera’. It’s not.”
This viewpoint is further bolstered by tonight’s bill. Of the four bands playing, three are spearheaded by Lifelover vocalist Kim “( )” Carlsson; were that Pantera gig to happen with Down and Superjoint Ritual supporting, we imagine there’d be a bit of furore. Nevertheless, the 300-capacity pub is paunchy with punters as Lifelover play in the UK for the first and only time.
( ) is dressed as a butcher/murder victim, his face smeared with circus make-up; he grins that macabre grin clowns do before they murder you in your nightmares. He is the director of dichotomy, swaying to the tremolo-picked M/S Salmonella, bouncing along with Paradise Lost-esque centrepiece Cancertid and demanding the crowd clap along like they’re at a Green Day gig. One song he’s sipping Guinness, the next a bottle of something else. Dancing to the dismal death of his band, with each song he regresses from suicide commando to Sloth from The Goonies, yelling incoherently over discordant riffs.
Lifelover dabbler Johan “1853”Gabrielson grapples the mic for a few songs, adding a sober, more sombre tone to proceedings. ( ) has disappeared backstage and, upon his return, he’s absolutely rat-arsed. Playing until almost midnight, he roars out of key and straight from the heart, the depleting crowd not wavering him nor his band one bit. The backdrop of blood-spattered band members churn out imperiously tight musical abortions ‘til the very end and, as the likes of Spiken I Kistan and En Tyst Minut wrap things up, we head to the rear of the pub and chat to an inebriated man on a sofa.
“It’s just the best fucking music out there,” he slurs, almost matching ( ) in sheer alcohol consumption. “It makes me feel happy. Then sad. Then happy. Then really sad again.” At this point, the poor bloke probably has more alcohol than blood in him and tonight’s memories will be sketchy at best, but he’s right. Whereas fellow countrymen Shining are often cited as kings of DSBM (Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, thank you very much), they tend to waterboard the listener in misery whereas Lifelover drip-feed you titbits of sadness. B was a huge fan of Eminem as much as he was Slipknot; his influences encompassed all genres and, as a result, the sheer breadth of the music never felt disingenuous. Even the scope of a band like Vampillia is thwarted by over-ambition, flitting from one style to the next a little too erratically. Lifelover never had this problem. B was one of the greatest songwriters in modern black metal, a music lover through and through.
As the gig concludes and ( )’s performance falls victim to the effects of alcohol, the faithful trickle onto the streets of London knowing they’ve seen something special. It’s been a mess. An imperfect, emotional, absolutely glorious mess. If this truly is the last we’ll see of Lifelover, we can only pray to Lemmy that some young band will find what was left behind, mould it into something new and carry the torch into the deepest caves of depressive black metal. For example, Vulture Industries picked Arcturus’ carcass clean and, after dressing up in the skin and realising it’s not quite as good that way, created something innovative. Something exciting. Something wild. Somebody, anybody – start listening to Lifelover. We need more of this.
RIP B and RIP Lifelover.