'I Was Taught I Should Put My Own Needs Aside': Møl Dissect the Emotional Heart of 'Diorama'

Friday, 05 November 2021 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Cornelius Qvist

It’s just gone 8pm in Aarhus, Denmark, and Møl frontman Kim Song Sternkopf is at the end of a long day spent reading reviews. As he talks with Stereoboard over Zoom, his band’s second album, ‘Diorama’, is less than a week away. Its transcendent blackgaze has the heavy metal press swirling in a hurricane of hype.

“So far, it’s been pretty fucking epic,” the singer chuckles, with 8s, 9s and 10s being frequent sights over the last few hours, and deservedly so. ‘Diorama’ is the sound of a rulebook being obliterated as Møl rewrite what we thought this genre could achieve.

A decade ago blackgaze’s icons, predominantly Deafheaven and Alcest, soared to prominence by routinely interrupting the blast beats and screeches of black metal with shoegaze ambience. But by draping delicate melodies atop a foundation of extreme heaviness ‘Diorama’ asks: “Why don’t we do both at the same time?” 

Lead single Photophobic has a guitar lead sweet enough to make Slowdive nauseous, adding levity to a soundscape otherwise defined by rampaging rhythms and Sternkopf’s seething wail. The vocalist adopts a more radiant role on Itinerari, singing cleanly over an anthemic chorus in a model derived from the triumphs of melodic metalcore. 

By the time ‘Diorama’ has closed with its title track, there’s even been a silky smooth duet with post-metal idol Sylvaine, where blissful verses are exchanged before one final plummet into a tangle of feedback. However, despite the album’s idiosyncrasies, Møl’s goal was not to outshine the blackgaze masters; it was merely to subvert the precedent set by their first album ‘Jord’ three years ago.

“We were our own competition, thinking of what we’d done before and knowing we didn’t want to do a ‘Jord’ 2,” says Sternkopf. “Nicolai [Hansen, guitarist and lead songwriter] was really focussed on developing the guitar sound and bringing it more front and centre on this record. There were a lot of details that he wanted to bring out that he didn’t get too much into with ‘Jord’.”

Sternkopf describes ‘Diorama’ as a “warmer” experience than its predecessor, which was defined by abrasiveness and gloom. He exclusively screamed on that debut, while the fabulous guitar leads we hear today were still being incubated: they were not complete melodies as much as a handful of slow, chilling notes. Nonetheless, its concise rage still shocked and exhilarated like no blackgaze bow had before and by the end of 2018 ‘Jord’ was a fixture on album of the year lists.

“There’s always a fear with the sophomore album,” admits Sternkopf, and that’s especially true when it’s one that’s the tonal opposite of what’s come before. “There’s a lot of joy in this album; it’s pretty light in some senses.”

Then, the singer reveals a caveat: “Even though the mood might be lighter, there’s a stark contrast with the lyrical content. I feel that the lyrical side of ‘Diorama’ is the darkest stuff I’ve ever written.” 

“When we recorded ‘Jord’, I considered myself a believer [in God],” he elaborates. “‘Jord’ was my way of trying to reconcile the fact that I’ll end up in the ground one day. There were so many existential things that I had to voice. I see ‘Diorama’ as a continuation. ‘Jord’ was a look out into the world and how my worldview fell apart; ‘Diorama’ is my way of processing: when meaning is lost, what do we end up with?”

Repeatedly, ‘Diorama’ alludes to this uncertainty, describing a purgatory between a traumatic past and a clouded future. On the opening track, Fraktur, Sternkopf unloads the line “I am fearing the lesson I have been running from” over rolling drums and guitar chords that thrash and shimmer all at once. “I will never find a home, only the bruises of my inheritance hidden within myself,” Redacted adds, using growls so gut-churning that they border on death metal muscularity.

The story of the lyrics to ‘Diorama’ is Sternkopf’s life. The singer was born in Odense: a gorgeous medieval city 167km (103 miles) southwest of Copenhagen, as well as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. His father was a Danish carpenter, while his mother was a senior care worker who had been adopted from South Korea as a three-year-old. Both were devoutly Christian, meeting one another and falling in love through their faith.

“Finding purpose or a goal, that’s always been a thing they’ve done,” says Sternkopf. “I know my grandparents on my father’s side had that calling; it’s hereditary. We also have a long history of mental issues in my family and that just doesn’t go well with religious thinking.”

Sternkopf was “five or six years old” when his parents began worshipping under a charismatic Nigerian preacher, who lured them with false promises of miracles and divine purpose. It was the first of many cults that the pair fell into. “They wanted all the miracles and everything that entailed,” he remembers. “Being a burning believer was the gold standard. They realised really late that that guy was really fucking crooked, and we went from him to something way worse.”

Narcissistic preacher after narcissistic preacher indulged the Sternkopfs’ need for meaning. “Suddenly, someone knows the way and then, two and a half years later, you throw that out and start over and find someone new,” he says. “We practically moved house every other year.”

This relentless manipulation distorted the singer’s childhood. The grown-ups insisted that he was a preordained prodigy (“I was one of the chosen: a person with purpose”), while anything that could upend blind faith in God was to be disbelieved. “I’d been taught that doubt is something you have to fear,” he recalls. “My way of seeing things was with a lot of fear and a lot of entitlement. The main concern I had during my childhood wasn’t how good my grades were, but if the chores in my maths book were trying to possess me.”

Sternkopf’s parents divorced when he was a teenager, after his mother was diagnosed with a mental health issue that he’d prefer not to discuss and suffered a breakdown. Although his father distanced the family from the intense religious groups they’d grown up around, Sternkopf, the eldest of five children, was thrust into the role of de facto second parent: “I was taught that taking responsibility for my siblings has always been the pivotal thing and I should put my own needs aside.”

Eventually, he was sent to boarding school, “where I had the option to be a teenager and not a grown-up,” before moving to Aarhus to study at university. It was there that he met his future bandmates in Møl, doing photography at their gigs. “The weekend that Nicolai got in touch with me [about joining the band], that’s the weekend I had a full-on meltdown,” the singer says.

“It was at Spot Fest: a music industry festival here in Aarhus. I had done two 20-hour shifts taking photos and then, on top of that, I knew my father had his 50th birthday the day after. For some reason, I wanted to go. A really good friend met me at the festival and was like, ‘Kim, what’s going on? You’re really distant right now. You’re not finishing your sentences.’”

The vocalist’s past had caught up with him and given him a panic attack. “I grew up in a family where you could mention something really traumatic and then ‘Are you having a second cup of coffee?’ in the same fucking sentence,” he rationalises. “I never felt that I had a choice in committing to the family project. Knowing that you always have a choice is one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve had out of the last couple years.”

He continues: “I didn’t realise I had anger issues. My screaming was acting; it was me trying to impersonate a feeling that I honestly didn’t want to acknowledge, because I perceived anger to be a sin.”

As a result, Sternkopf describes “a half-year of burnout” around the time he first joined Møl. Elsewhere, by the time he’d encapsulated his crisis of faith on ‘Jord’, his parents had not only remarried; they’d fallen in with an evangelical Christian group called The Last Reformation and its leader Torben Søndergaard, who spent the pandemic hosting ‘Big Tent Revivals’ in the US, after contentiously alleging religious persecution back home in Denmark. 

“During lockdown, my parents got out of it and they wanted nothing to do with anything religious in that way, but conspiracies came after that,” Sternkopf says. “The grand fear of shadow governments and stuff like that has overtaken that space.” When asked if they’re anti-vaxxers, all Sternkopf does is quietly nod: “Yep.”

For the frontman, ‘Diorama’ is much more than an epitaph to his faith and childhood trauma. It’s a direct letter to those closest to him, communicating the scale of the hurt he feels in ways he couldn’t otherwise articulate. That’s why the album’s closing duology, Tvesind and the title track—described as containing the most personal lyrics on there—are in Danish. They’re for Sternkopf’s confidantes, not the metal masses.

“I got to have some profound conversations with my father that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t get to write this,” he reveals. “Sometimes it’s difficult to talk to people and say, ‘You did something really wrong to me,’ but if you have it on paper, a song or movie or something to speak out from, there’s something we can examine from different angles. That’s where the title ‘Diorama’ comes in. Despite the odds being against us, I believe there’s a lot of hope because I’ve found a way to talk to them.”

It’s just gone 9pm in Aarhus, but Sternkopf still has one more revelation to impart. When faced with the immortal question of “What’s next?” he replies: “Nicolai has already sent me some demos for new music that I’m trying to work my way through. I don’t know what I’ll do lyrically but, mood-wise, we’ll try something different again.

“No rest for the wicked,” he quips. “And we want to tour a lot for this album. This album and the last one together will make for a lot of great live sets where you can juxtapose things; I can’t wait to put them together.” Møl won’t reach the UK until next year but, between now and then, at least we have the most original blackgaze album in a decade to keep us satiated.

‘Diorama’ is out now via Nuclear Blast. Møl will tour the UK with Ithaca in February.

Møl Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun February 13 2022 - MANCHESTER Satans Hollow
Mon February 14 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Dead Wax
Tue February 15 2022 - BRISTOL Exchange
Wed February 16 2022 - LONDON Boston Music Room

Compare & Buy Mol Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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