Soothing Complexion: A Conversation With Nicolai Hansen of MØL

As serene as it haunting, the quintet's latest masterpiece is an experience worth basking in.

Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):


In a world of compositional experimentation and sonic bridging, few do it quite like Denmark's MØL. Earlier this month, the band's sophomore effort, Diorama, hit shelves via Nuclear Blast and excelled at establishing an awe-inspiring duality as a record steadfast at coming for the top spots across all year-end list. At mere hours after release, hundreds across the web raved about the instrumental interplay meticulously layered throughout and the soul riding on each guitar melody. Their rich musical backgrounds become subconsciously integrated and the end result expands ten fold in variety. However, for as much acclaim as they've received since releasing 2018's Jord, MØL's persona isn't swayed into narcissism. Quite the contrary, they remain honest and true to their craft, only looking to please their creative ambitions as an insular unit who put their heart on the line one track after the next. This is a band still climbing towards a culminating point and yet their maturity extends beyond their brief existence.


We welcome guitarist Nicolai Hansen for a brief discussion on Jon Gotlev's abstract and minimalistic cover artwork, finding a balance in sound, their fast-rising trajectory, and more:

As you know, ‘Jord’ was amazingly received and set you on a course of inevitable growth throughout the metal ranks, even landing a recording deal with Nuclear Blast. Though you as artists compose music to please your own creative ambitions, do you feel as though there’s a sense of pressure to “deliver” with ‘Diorama’?


Nicolai: Thank you for your words about ‘Jord’ and we’re still amazed by the general response which that record got. When I compose music for MØL, I try as much as possible to write music that I like to listen to. That’s kind of the first step when composing. I ask myself “I this something I would listen to?” But of course, there are expectations, not necessarily from our label but perhaps more from our fans. Obviously, we want to deliver something that lives up to ‘Jord’, but for me personally, it does and it also contains some of the best music that I’ve composed to date.


Touching further on that point, in what headspace does this new record find you all as a band?


Nicolai: ‘Diorama’ was written at a time were the COVID-19 situation in Denmark was at its peak. We couldn’t meet, so a lot of the album came to be by sending demos between me and Ken who plays drums. Then Ken, Kim, and myself were able to meet a couple of times and work on the ideas. I'm usually able to compose the music and then try it out at our rehearsal space, like we did for 'Jord', but this process was very different for 'Diorama.


The pandemic definitely brought upon some obstacles to composing, but shoutout to all of those like yourselves who worked around it. For those wondering, you certainly “delivered”. After multiple listens, it’s evident that you establish a duality of sound so well. There’s serenity, there’s aggression, there’s complex instrumentation. All in all, there’s much for audiences to love and it came about organically. How does it all come together so seamlessly? There’s a variety of influences present here.


Nicolai: Thank you so much. It’s taken a lot of practice of course ever since Ken and I started making music together. The first two of our EPs were important in exploring how to combine metal and shoegaze, but a lot of it also comes naturally with seeing what kinds of trajectories the music can take, e.g. whether or not it can go to a serene or atmospheric place or whether it should explode into aggression.


It does both things very well and at moment's notice, which is really why the record keeps you on your toes. Jumping into the visuals, you entrusted Jon Gotlev for cover art duties once more. Looking back at the initial collaboration for ‘Jord’, what drew you to Gotlev’s work? He’s done some neat things for Hiraki.


Nicolai: He truly is an amazing visual artist. Both with his graphics but also with his music videos. It’s mainly that what he does is abstract and that there is some sort of tactility to it. This is what drew us to his art initially. Also, we definitely didn’t want some classic metal artwork for our album.

Cover Artwork by Jon Gotlev

It's very unique and quite distinct to what many are doing in the genre. For ‘Diorama’, Gotlev takes the abstract route and depicts a scene of contrasting complexities. It’s simple, yet riddled with depth, a good fit for the themes you’ve embodied within. When approaching him for the project, what did you look to envision this time around?


Nicolai: Whenever we approach Jon to make artwork for us, we give him the music and the lyrics with maybe like a description of the themes. We’re very open to what he comes up with so we never say what exactly we want (maybe because we don’t know). Luckily, he has an ability to come up with some amazing stuff that really fit our music.

mol jord
'Jord', Shot and Edited by Jon Gotlev

You’ve of course worked with him a few times, a sure sign of understanding and strong camaraderie. Is this a partnership you wish to expand upon as MØL continues?


Nicolai: I don’t think anything is given. A time could come to explore new ideas in terms of artwork, but so far, we love what he’s doing for our music. I feel that as long as anything continues to have something to contribute with to the creative endeavour of MØL, it is worth keeping.


Agreed, but here's hoping that partnership continues as his minimalism fits the band very well. Beyond the cover, Tobias Scavenius has been helping put together a magnificent set of music videos that really capture the atmospheric and emotional elements of ‘Diorama’. It’s clear that you’re very intentional about every aspect of the release. How important was it for you to have the visuals (cover art, video) expand upon the message(s) of the record?


Nicolai: Tobias Scavenius did the music videos for 'Vestige' and 'Serf' while M2 Film did the video for 'Photophobic'. It is very important for us that everything sort of fits together or at least has some sort of intriguing aspect to it, whether it’s the music, artwork or music videos. That’s also why we like to work in close collaboration with the people doing the music videos so that they fit our vision. We did that especially with Tobias. For the videos with him, we had certain visions and therefor wanted a close collaboration with him in terms of the art direction.

'Photophobic' Video Still by Jens Nordhausen

It certainly pays off to be involved and see your vision fully realized. Blackgaze as a subgenre has always been met with a wide set of criticisms and comparisons, particularly to Alcest, Harakiri For The Sky, Les Discrets, and so on. For a while, Deafheaven was and still is considered to be Alcest worship. Though ‘blackgaze’ is an adequate way of describing the music, do you feel as though it can be dismissive of the many qualities and elements present within a record itself?


Nicolai: I feel that blackgaze sometimes is a misnomer for our music. Obviously, it’s a combined word of black metal and shoegaze, but I feel that we draw on other kinds of metal as well. The purpose of putting a label on a piece of music is mainly for the purposing of categorizing it and being able to describe it so that you can compare it to artists of the same ilk. However, that is not necessarily accurate and I think it can sometimes limit what you expect from a band or artist or limit how you experience their music. You’ll get people saying, “Oh they’re a such and such band they play such and such music like such and such band”.


The genre tags certainly serve a purpose, but as you mention, they can be as harmful as they are helpful. Touching a bit further on the impact of the record, the pandemic brought the world to a temporary halt that allowed for many to sit back, reflect, and engage with media and its many forms in a different manner. Lyrics, artwork, liner notes, instrumentation: all of these layers become more apparent when you sit and let it unfold. ‘Diorama’ is a record of deep introspection but from a universal point of view that is accessible by all who wish to engage beyond the surface level. Do you feel as though this can often be lost in the contemporary fast paced world where music sometimes tends to be background noise?


Nicolai: I guess that with the way music streaming works, there’s much more of an emphasis on singles and fast consumption of music where the composer tries to cater to what will get the most amount of streams. So in a sense, it becomes more formulaic, but that’s just the way it is and if you want to remain relevant you need to be mindful of the way music is consumed. I like to compose music and records as something that clearly belongs together but also work as individual tracks. The lyrics Kim writes are definitely also written with the overall narrative in mind so that it all kind of fits together. I hope that people have approximately 45 minutes to spare to allow themselves to listen to the records as a whole and dive into the lyrical content.


By the looks of it, many are engaging with the record in that fashion, which is great to see! With a string of shows alongside Ithaca recently announced, in addition to a release day performance in Copenhagen, fans will have an opportunity to witness ‘Diorama’ via the live setting. Is there a cathartic feeling nearing the finish line and being able to see the record in the hands of fans after having invested so much into this long awaited follow up?

Nicolai: I don’t know if it is catharsis or anxiety. Personally, I’m always nervous about the reception. Luckily, reception so far has been awesome, so that’s amazing and relieving. It’s also very nice that the album finally gets a life of its own in the hands of fans. As a musician, you have a connection with the album but listeners always interpret the art on their own terms, and that’s really how it should be.

Diorama is available now via Nuclear Blast Records. Order your copy HERE.

moel
Cover Artwork by Jon Gotlev