Anders Engberg is a busy man. As MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings joins him at home in Sweden, Anders has just finished another interview with someone from Portugal. “They’re back-to-back this week,” he admits, but contrary to what some of us might think, the big voice of Swedes Sorcerer finds it enjoyable.
“I love it. It’s better to do it like this, back-to-back, than one there and one there. It’s easier to plan your evenings, but of course, it’s a bit flattering also that people want to talk to you. I think that one of the parts of why we do this is to reach out to people. So, for me, it’s no problem at all. I love it. I love talking about myself,” he laughs.
One of the original members of Sorcerer when they initially formed in 1988, Anders is well qualified to act as the voice of the band. There’s a long history, but in short, the band disbanded in 1992 before reforming almost two decades later in 2010. Since then, the band have released three albums, the last, 2020’s Lamenting Of The Innocent, possibly catching the most publicity, and have their fifth album, Reign Of The Reaper, about to arrive at the end of the month.
Anders is extremely enjoyable to talk to. He’ll give you chapter and verse on every topic, so we start back in 2010 with the decision to reform Sorcerer. “Yes, we had a small hiatus,” he smiles, “of about 25 years!” He continues. “Johnny Hagel, the original founder, founded the band with a guy called Peter in 88 or something like that. Then I came along, so there were the three of us that made the first demo in 89.
“But I knew him before that, and we’re still good friends. We still work together. I decided that I didn’t want to go out and play live anymore in 2000 after I did a lot of Therion touring. I was tired of it, and I concentrated on my two sons, my family and my work, really. I did a lot of studio work, but I didn’t want to play live anyway.
“So, in 2010 or whenever it was, Johnny called me up and said, hey, we got a suggestion to do a reunion gig at Hammer of Doom in Wartburg, Germany. I said no. But after a few minutes and when I thought about it a little bit, that itch started to come back. I called back and asked if he had said no to the festival. He said he had not talked to Oliver (the founder of Hammer of Doom) yet.
“If we’re going to do this, I said we’re going to pick people that that can play so we don’t make a fool out of ourselves. We picked a good bunch of people, and we had fun. You know, October Fest beers. We said it was important that we wanted a good spot. So, we played at 8:00 pm, I think, in the perfect spot. People are semi-drunk and maybe forget all the mistakes that we made anyway.”
Anders continues the story. “I said OK, let’s do it. And we picked Kristian Niemann on guitar, Ola Englund from the Haunted, and we had Robert Iversen on drums and Johnny on bass. We rehearsed three times and went down there and did that show and we were blown off the stage. There were people from all over the place, Italy, Greece, and they knew the lyrics better than me. It was a jaw-dropper, really. And that started it.”
I told you he could talk! After Hammer Of Doom, Anders and the band got the bug again, and with another show in Greece, the legendary Up the Hammers in Athens, that was it. Anders recalls that the show in Athens was crazy and tells me that there is some footage lurking somewhere on YouTube. As the band were heading for the check-in at the airport, there was an agreement between them that they should do their first album. At this stage, there were only two demos to the band’s name. The rest, as they say, is history.
I interviewed Kristian in 2020, just as Lamenting Of The Innocent was released, and he explained that Johnny had taken a back seat with Justin Biggs taking over on bass in 2018. At the time, Kristian had mentioned that Johnny was still very much part of the band. This remains the case. “He’s like a shadow member,” Anders explains. “More like a musical director or whatever you would call it. Reign Of The Reaper is originally his riff that we built a song on. He writes, and he helps out.
“He’s been in the record industry for a very long time. He does certain stuff in the band, and of course, he is the original sorcerer. We are happy to have him around. We can always lean on him for a little bit of direction. We all knew by the fourth album what we wanted to do. The first one was a little bit …how we’re going to do it? Are we going to do it full-out modern, or are we going to do a small step into the modern sound as we wanted? We wanted to take it even further where we are now already back in 2015, but we felt that we must stay a little bit true to where we came from.”
I suggest that this is exactly what Leif Edling did with Candlemass for a time, which Anders agrees is the same kind of approach. “Justin does a great job,” adds Anders. “He’s a fantastic lyricist. So he’s really a great part of the band.”
We move forward from Hammer Of Doom to the release of the third album, the stunning Lamenting Of The Innocent. As we’ve learnt over the past few years with the pandemic, timing is everything, and it was probably as bad a piece of timing as you could had for this album. I asked Anders if there was pressure from Metal Blade to release the album or whether the band were keen to move forward. It was certainly a choice that many bands found difficult.
As it happens, it was straightforward for Sorcerer. “No, we had a short discussion, really because none of us wanted to hold on to it. We wanted to release it because we had other songs that creatively we wanted to come out. We didn’t know back then how long this pandemic would last. So, we said to the company that we wanted to release it, and they supported us, and I think we did a pretty good job anyway. Not being able to play live in connection to the release was bad, but I’m proud of that album also and what we did.”
If you were into the band at the time, then you’ll have read positive review after positive review. Whilst Sorcerer, like every band, writes primarily for themselves, Lamenting Of The Innocent made a good number of end-of-year lists. Were they pleased with the response?
“That was fantastic,” Anders says. “We’ve had a great response since the first album, really. All the albums have been received very well. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was glad that it got the reception that it did. When you are in the position where we are, you’re certain of what we’re doing music-wise, and if people like the sound of Sorcerer, then we can’t go wrong. We just do what we do.
“Of course, I’m nervous every time before the release of what the press would say because I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t important. Of course, it’s important to have good grades on the album and good reviews, but I’m not really anxious because I know it’s good.”
In between albums, Sorcerer also released the four-track EP Resonance, which comprised four cover versions. I recall that Kristian had commented in our previous interview that he wouldn’t have touched Stargazer, the Rainbow Classic, which Sorcerer did on the Inquisition demo back in 1992. He referred to it as sacred.
Then, of course, on Resonance, Sorcerer delivered a stellar cover of Gates Of Babylon, which is another absolutely massive Rainbow track. Anders and I are close to each other in age, and I note that they are a huge influence on the band. “All that period in the late ’70s, early ’80s, that’s in our genes. I think it shows through the songs that we picked for that one and how we sound. We have taken so much of that mystique that they created in Rainbow. I think Rainbow is the common influence we all have, but then Justin loves Pink Floyd. We’ve got all these other influences. But if I would round it up, it would be there somewhere. You know, Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll, especially one of those albums with Ronnie James Dio.”
As I’m working chronologically through Sorcerer’s journey, the next place that I land upon is Catton Hall in Derbyshire in August 2022 as the band finally played the UK for the first time. I recall there being many more people there than expected. But what did Anders remember?
“It was damn hot for one,” Anders laughs. “It was very, very hot. I played without underwear! The reception… I was surprised by that many people in front of the stage in the middle of the afternoon. That was amazing for us. I think it was 15-20 thousand. It had to be. I got a photo taken of the stage from out in the crowd, and it’s full.
“I was very glad, and I think we did a good job, even though it was daylight. With summertime festivals, it is what it is. All the bands can’t play at midnight, so you try to do your very best with what you have.”
This prompts a conversation about preferences for times and locations when playing festivals. Having seen Candlemass deliver a stunning show in the Sophie Tent at Bloodstock this year, my view is that this would have been slightly different on the main stage in the sun. I express this to Anders, for Sorcerer surely have a sound that would work in the indoor environment.
He’s sanguine about the argument. “The preference is to play in front of a lot of people. That’s the preference. I think if you could bring out the mystery and the mysticism of our music and the epicness and everything, it would be with red, blue and green lights and fire and in the darkness. At Hammer Of Doom, we do a headline show this year, our fourth time playing there, so that’s gonna be awesome.
“You take the good with the bad. It’s such a benefit to play in the festival. You don’t sell many T-shirts and stuff like that, but you widen your audience, so it’s a lot of bang for the money to play at a festival, especially a big one like Bloodstock or Hellfest that we played also. So, I think that’s good.
“You know it’s very nice to play in front of 150 people in a sweaty club where everyone loves what you do and knows the words and the songs, but where we are now, we need to expand our fan base so festivals are what we’re looking for.”
Having discussed the strange sight of seeing Paradise Lost in bright sunshine, we move on to the reason for our conversation: Reign Of The Reaper.
Anders talks about Reign Of The Reaper in Part Two, which you can read here.
Reign Of The Reaper can be pre-ordered from Metal Blade Records.