The Norwegian death/thrash metal group Sovereign are in the Meet The Band spotlight this week. Their full-length debut is Altered Realities. Guitarist Tommy Jacobsen introduces us to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Sovereign.
Tommy Jacobsen: Sovereign started up with Simen and me in early 2018. We both have played in several different bands over the years but had never quite had the opportunity to play exactly the kind of style we both have been striving after. Once we started up it would not take very long to find the sound we were looking for. Initially with both Simen and I being guitarists, the original idea was for us to do guitar duties with Simen on vocals and I do leads. Eventually Simen switched over to bass and Vidar stepped in on rhythm guitar.
However, the songwriting process has remained the same where most of the time it’s Simen and I with our guitars and a couple of beers for hours trying to hatch ideas and riffs. Our first drummer was Kristian Horn who was with us for a couple of years where we did our first demo, before Thomas Ødegaard (Nocturnal Breed) joined and was a part of the early days of the writing process for Altered Realities. In 2021, Cato Syversrud (Execration) joined us and helped us finish the latter stages of the creative process before we entered the studio in early 2022 and the lineup was complete. Many years of our time as a band has been affected by the pandemic but we have already shared the stage with many great bands such as Obliteration, Kill, Stress Angel, Left Cross, Witch Vomit, Concrete Winds and Diskord.
Describe the songwriting process for Altered Realities.
Over the years, there has been an established way for us to write. The process sets off with Simen and I getting together with riffs and ideas trying to put them together to create a skeleton, or a structure for a composition. Simen will usually have the more imaginative mind, whereas I have more of a structural way of thinking. Together it works in a way where we always find room for both of our riffs in the all the songs we write.
We then often move to the practice room where an idea for the rhythm is hatched with Simen behind the drums as he is a decent drummer as well (now you can try to guess where on the album he briefly shines as a drummer). When we’re finishing up the songs it’s all of us together and the practice space coming up with ideas for how we can make any song better, be that transitions, speed, technicality, grooves, or time. Together we have found our way of creating a certain style of death thrash that we like to think differs from a lot of what is the modern way of doing it.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Personally, it will have to be finishing up tracking the guitars in the studio knowing that we managed to capture the intensity and dynamic that we sought after. We felt ready when we entered the studio, but it doesn’t always pan out the way you keep picturing it in your mind. However, everyone did an amazing job and it all clicked. I’m very proud of how it turned out.
What was the biggest challenge in its creation?
All the setbacks beyond our control. I can’t say for certain, but I’d like to think if we weren’t constantly being held back by the pandemic and lockdowns, I’m certain this would’ve been finished earlier. For some people creativity will flourish when you have all the time in the world to sit at home in your own mind, but that is not the case for me. We find inspiration in everyday life and when that is not happening for you, the ideas will not come and there is nothing to build on.
How would you characterize its style/sound?
Late 80’s/early 90’s thrash and death metal. We draw heavy inspiration from the darker, more technical part of thrash and death metal. Heavy, riff-driven music with high intensity which will take you in all sorts of different directions and keep you on your toes. After going back and forth in my mind I decided to mix the album myself, which is a decision I’m happy about now even though I doubted myself at several points in the process. The sound is heavily inspired by early Sepultura, Nocturnus, Sadus and Morbid Angel.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
Technology, alienation, existentialism, and human nature. The lyrics are thought-provoking and a highly important part of the music. There’s a common thread through the album that deals with these different topics and culminates in “absence of unity.” As a kid getting introduced to heavy metal, I used to love to sit with the lyrics for every album I heard and follow it as it went along, I highly recommend you do the same the first time you listen to our album.
How did you come to sign with Dark Descent?
We reached out to Matt from Dark Descent after we had finished the album completely as we felt that it was the right label at the right time for us. We’re all fans of the label ourselves and he is constantly releasing good bands, a cut above the rest. He believed in our material and has been a great supporter for which we are very grateful. Ever since we released our demo/EP in the U.S. through Redefining Darkness we have gotten a lot of support and it felt right that our debut album is released on a top, underground U.S. label.
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
We want to reach further and for the right people to hear our music. We still think of ourselves as a live act, that is still in our minds, what we do best. We want to grow as a band by taking our music to the stage and always try to improve as a unit and as musicians. For the album, I hope everyone with a heart for heavy music will enjoy it and support us because this is without a doubt, only the beginning.
What has been your most memorable Sovereign live show?
A tricky one! I have two shows that stick out in my mind. One is our very first show supporting our good friends in Obliteration for the release show of their fantastic album, Cenotaph Obscure in late 2018. More recently it would have to be in December 2023 at TV Eye in New York along with Stress Angel, Left Cross and Witch Vomit. It was fantastic to get the opportunity to play in New York and we went in all guns blazing. The whole show is on Youtube if you feel like checking it out!
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
We’re working on a European tour for 2024, but I do not have the details on that as per today. We’re doing a release show for Altered Realities in our hometown Oslo, January 27th joined by our good friends and excellent bands, Abhorration and Töxik Death.
How did you get started in music?
I started playing guitar at around 9-10 years old, mostly self-taught until I studied music at both high school and university level. The first band I ever toured with was Virus from the UK when I was living in London around 19 years old, but I got more serious about doing music after moving to Oslo. Nowadays besides Sovereign, I do live guitar for Nekromantheon, have a side project called Dødskvad and more of a studio band called The Konsortium from my hometown of Stavanger, Norway.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
I’m pretty sure it was WASP live at Folken, Stavanger in 2006 or 2007! I remember it mostly being me shocked by the menacing size of Blackie Lawless. (laughs)
When did you decide to become a professional musician, and was your family supportive?
Like every other young metalhead playing guitar I was always very keen on playing in a band, dreaming about playing in front of big crowds. As I got older it became more about creating and playing the music I want with like-minded people, creating something together. I don’t think it ever was a decision, it was always just about working with the right people at the right time for a common goal. Though I enjoy studio work and recording, nothing beats playing live for me. That is the ultimate rush.
The family has always been very supportive, everything from moral support to buying me my first guitar and gear over the years when I couldn’t afford it myself!
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
My other job is also one of my main hobbies, it involves working with beer as I run a microbrewery in Oslo named Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri. I’m also very big on sports with ice hockey and
association football being the favorites. If there are any sports on the TV in the pub, I’m likely to be watching regardless of what it is.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
The Royal Scam by Steely Dan, Tumultuous Travelings by Timeghoul, Bursting Church by Stress Angel, Unquestionable Presence by Atheist and 2112 by Rush.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
The death and thrash metal scene in Norway. There are so many good bands and albums being produced nowadays but I especially want to highlight a young thrash band from my hometown called Autonomie, these kids can play! Inculter’s last album Morbid Origin is fantastic and keep your eyes peeled and ears ready for Abhorration’s debut album coming this year, it will be a skull crusher for sure.
(interview published January 13, 2024)
Listen To Sovereign – “Counter Tech”