Artist Spotlight: Maggot Heart (or; Switch Blade Women Take Back The City)

Linnéa Olsson began life as a baby, when she was born (see, this makes her relatable to everyone) somewhere in Sweden. “I’ve felt spiritually connected to all types of wild music ever since I was a child,” Olsson said. “I played several instruments as a child, and went to music school from the age of 10 where we had choir singing and music theory on the curriculum. My father was into stuff like the Stones, my brother listened to hardcore punk and metal…  At the same time, I listened to pop like everyone else in school around the age of 12-13, and I still love a great pop song. I became obsessed with Guns N’ Roses and wanted to be like them, so I taught myself how to play the guitar.”

By the time she was fifteen, Olsson was interested in journalism, and got her start by interviewing musicians and reviewing metal albums. At nineteen, Olsson was hired by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagladet, while also making ends meet by teaching guitar to children. Making a living by going to concerts and listening to records worked out great, until the paper shrank their metal column into nothingness.

Sonic Ritual

Olsson joined Stockholm metal band Sonic Ritual. The band’s put out a series of singles and EPs of Motorhead influenced metal from 2008 to 2013. After breaking up, bassist Christoffer Röstlund Jonsson went to play with Swedish hardcore band AC4, and singer/guitarist Henke Palm went on to be a hired hand in bands In Solitude and Ghost before going solo.

The Oath

Olsson moved to Berlin in 2012, as she grown tired of the Stockholm music scene. “I had grown tired with the metal scene in Stockholm, and I wanted to experience something new and get out of my comfort zone,” Olsson said. “I played my guitar as usual at home, and riffs started to pile up. By the time summer came, I felt the time was right to start a new band. My best friend Henke put me in touch with Johanna [Sadonis]. On her end, she had been looking for a guitarist for a band that she wanted to call The Oath. We had an instant connection, and we looked almost identical.”

The Oath generated an unprecedented buzz by going out and playing shows opening for Ghost and In Solitude.

“This album represents Johanna and me and our dedication to our music. Everything about this band is about me and her – our relationship to each other, our differences as people and musicians, and the unity that we are in The Oath. She possesses strengths that I lack and the other way around. Musically, my riffs are the dirt and her vocals, the diamonds,” Olssen said in January 2014 in press for The Oath’s debut album All Must Die. “There are a lot of hopes, plans and ambitions, but what’s even more important is that there is only now and that now is forever.”

Well, this is awkward.

Two weeks after the debut album release (in North America, it was released in Europe a month earlier), The Oath called it quits with this message: “Since our album now is released, it’s time to let you know the band is over — and has been for quite some time. See you in the future.”

Sadonis went on to form Lucifer later in 2014, which is like The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue” ran through an occult filter and stretched across 3 albums and 6 years. Drummer Andrew Prestidge went to Angel Witch, and bassist Simon Bouteloup went to the almighty German stoner rock band Kadavar.

“Heart-wrenching is a good term for it. But I knew that if I’d kept going, it would eventually be even worse further down the line. Some people thought I was crazy to turn my back on something clearly heading in a successful direction, but it just wasn’t possible to continue and still live with myself,” Olsson told Bardo Methodology in 2017. “I won’t go into any details because regardless of my feelings about Johanna. I don’t think it’s cool to air her personal business in public. And in this band there was no real distinction between friendship and our relationship as bandmates…  I broke up the band and cut contact. I considered stopping the album release as well, but I was in an impossible position and obviously didn’t want all the work to go to waste.”

Beastmilk / Grave Pleasures

After the crash and burn of The Oath, Olsson returned to Berlin and entered a deep depression. “What can I say, it did a number on me. I felt incredibly let down, also very much by the label who played a role as well. I lost my innocence during this whole debacle – I’m a lot more cynical now but as always, you live and learn,” Olsson said. “I lost a lot of hair and couldn’t sleep because of back pain caused by stress and anxiety. Not the high point of my life, that’s for sure. Then on top of it there were false rumors, gossip and all that bullshit. Hearing various unpleasantries about myself, things which simply weren’t true – that hit me hard. I perceived the whole ordeal as very unfair.”

In 2015, Olsson was invited to join Finnish post-punk band Beastmilk. The band had been touring behind their full length, 2013’s Climax and had serious interest from Sony Records, but their guitar player wasn’t cooperating, so Olsson was in. After the tour ended, the band changed their name to Grave Pleasures and released 2015’s Dreamcrash.

“Unbeknownst to me, they had their own internal problems so I was in the band for about five minutes before it split up. Then followed an intense year and a half of recording and touring with Grave Pleasures, a project formed from the ruins of Beastmilk, and many wonderful times were had. But again, there were issues of expectations not matching reality, so I chose to leave,” Olsson said. “When I was in Beastmilk and we were touring with In Solitude, strangers would come up to me after gigs and say the nicest things. ’Glad you’re back’, that kind of stuff.”

City Girls EP / “Show Them Your Teeth” (2017)

“I thought Maggot Heart sounded cool. It’s also a nod to the album – and in particular the song – ‘Maggot Brain’ by Funkadelic. It’s the most emotional, insanely good solo I’ve ever heard,” Olsson said. “Had you told me two years ago I’d be singing in my own band, I never would’ve believed you… I’ve never wanted to front a band – I’m a guitar player, and that’s where I’ve always felt comfortable. While I might come across as a loudmouth at times, truly being the center of attention makes me nervous. I hate having my picture taken, all of that stuff, so I never had any previous aspirations of going solo… The idea terrified me, which of course makes it the only path to go down.”

Olsson got together with the rhythm section of In Solitude, and after many trials and errors (with equipment), was finally able to piece together enough recordings for Maggot Heart’s debut EP. City Girls was recorded in October 2016 and released May 2016, and the following stand alone single “Show Them Your Teeth” was released October 16, which was recorded at the same time.

The EP is primitive and feral, in the best way. It’s a mix of punk, post-punk, hard rock, and a slight sheen of metal, and it leans further into the metallic aspects than later releases will. “City Girls” is an observation of nocturnal life in Berlin, while “Razorhead” fakes you out with a few seconds of an intro that could’ve been from Appetite For Destruction. “Show Them Your Teeth” is most like what Maggot Heart will become, so maybe that’s why it was left off the EP, Olsson didn’t think it fit. Or maybe it just wasn’t done yet.

Dusk To Dusk (2018)

Immediately after the release of City Girls, Olsson resumed work on what would be Maggot Heart’s first full length. “It was written and recorded very quickly. I think you can hear the urgency on there,” Olsson said. “I wrote it during the summer and autumn of last year, then got Uno and Gottfrid over for one week of rehearsals. After that we flew straight to Sweden for one week in the studio. I just wanted to do something… and not dwell on it very much.”

The album has a “stomp” to it, but it’s also much more post-punk than the band was prior. I don’t want to say it sounds like Killing Joke, but it walks that line in the same way where the music has a definite post-punk beat, but is also heavy, but not metal, and you would be forgiven for thinking the music is flirting with goth rock and/or deathrock.

Dusk To Dusk was nominated for a Swedish P3 Guild Award in the best Rock/Metal Album category. Former The Oath bandmate Sadonis was also nominated in the same category, for Lucifer’s Lucifer II. When asked about them being nominated in the same category, Olsson was asked if there was bad blood or was she happy that they both were making well regarded music, Olsson replied, “I really don’t care what she does, to be honest with you.”

Mercy Machine (2020)

While touring for Dusk To Dusk, Maggot Heart managed to open for Voivod and tour North America three times… and I missed all of them! Meanwhile, bassist Gottfrid Ahman had left the band, but still works closely with Olsson and worked on pre-production and arrangements and some additional guitar in the studio. He was replaced with UK bassist Olivia Airey, who previously played with Dungeon and Hybris.

Olsson also started a label, Rapid Eye Records, with “Ricky”… and I can’t figure out who the fuck Ricky is, everything is listed as “Ricky & Linnéa”. “We want Rapid Eye to serve as a platform and connective ground for independent artists, and to hopefully help nurture and inspire the scene. So yeah, there are more releases coming, by other bands,” Olsson said of the venture. “I have been signed to mid-sized independent labels and to major labels in the past, and honestly there isn’t much difference. Everything is done according to a certain formula, which is correlated with a touring schedule centered around a release, festivals that have stages and slots saved for certain labels, and magazines where favorable reviews and space is determined by ad sales. It’s phony and uninspiring.”

Mercy Machine was released July 10, 2020, and continues down the same path as before, but a little noisier and a little rougher. Olsson is definitely more comfortable with her voice here, which helps a great deal. The guitars are a little more angular and dirty, they really add to the urgency of the whole thing.

Naturally, like everyone else, touring plans were sidelined because of the pandemic. “I think at first it was almost like a pressure, like, ‘oh, I’m supposed to write a new album now.’ But actually, it’s been really, really good for the band and for myself,” Olsson said. “We haven’t had the pressure of rehearsing or recording for new tours, so when we meet up to play, it’s just for the sake of playing. It’s for the enjoyment of playing. Like in the way we used to practice, like when you’re younger… We have a ton of other projects in the works. We haven’t released any videos yet. We were supposed to do some videos, but then this happened and then you couldn’t work with anyone, of course, because nobody could leave their homes.”

So, that’s all for this installment. Maggot Heart is one to watch, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I’ll leave you with a quote from a discussion about how heavy music is a male dominate field. “You don’t want to stand out more than you already do, so you sort of downplay the problem. But the truth is that still, after over a decade of releasing music, hateful and degrading comments about my looks, my hair color, my breasts, whether or not I’m good in bed and so on, are still highly prevalent. This is a direct result of playing a type of music dominated by men,” Olsson said. She went on to explain that this is the reason her early promo photos are her covering her face. “Looking too pretty isn’t good – but if I’m not pretty enough, that’s wrong too. Sometimes I get well-intended comments like ’you must be proud of being respected in the scene, it’s not really common with girls. Like, okay, I should be happy I got the male seal of approval? Should I put a sticker on my next album?… This hate is everywhere on an everyday level; from catcalling to groping in bars and public transport, all the way to domestic abuse. On my next tour, I want to hand out Maggot Heart switch-blade knives to all women and encourage them to use them. This city, every city, is ours – let’s take it back.”