After a severe bout of shoulder arthritis during the recording of The Violent Sleep of Reason, Hagström commissioned a custom 8-string M8M signature axe with a 28", rather than a 29.4", scale.
Photo by Annie Atlasman

Tell us more about the new guitar—is it the same shape and specs as your M8M, just with a shorter scale?
Yeah, it’s the same shape, electronics, and hardware setup as the typical M8M. Fredrik’s been working on his Stoneman design, but I still love the same M8M setup. I have a few Iceman-shaped 8-strings called the IC8M, but I don’t take those on the road. I also have a new guitar that we’re working on that’s going to be a little different, but we’re still in the planning stage and I don’t want to say too much until it’s ready.

Have you played other builders’ 8-strings, and how do you feel about them becoming so normalized in the metal world?
Yeah, I’ve owned a bunch of bad ones and a bunch of really good ones from other makers. There’s one guy out of Arizona whose company is named EIR Guitars, and he makes really, really great stuff. That said, the guitars that the Ibanez custom shop delivers to us are always so incredible that I don’t feel much need to look elsewhere. Tak is always compliant to what we need, but also really wants us to try new things and push the envelope—and they’re always willing to discuss whatever new ideas we have. That kind of working relationship is unbeatable. You just can’t top having someone with that kind of knowledge and experience at your disposal who also wants to progress.

As far as how I feel about the boom in bands using 8-strings, it’s cool for us that it’s become so easy to get ahold of the spare parts and stuff! We never wanted to start a trend. We were just trying to go somewhere specific and new with our sound. I’m actually a bit surprised that it caught on the way it has, because if any band uses it the way we do, they’re instantly going to sound at least a little like we do. It’s a quirky thing that it’s become such a big deal, but it’s also pretty cool. That’s not to take ownership of tuning down—a lot of bands have tuned down this low over the years. And it’s not so much just tuning down that low. It’s that when you start playing an 8-string, there are certain ways your hands naturally want to move and do things, and those moves became a huge part of our sound.

We never wanted to start a trend. We were just trying to go somewhere specific and new with our sound.

What brought you and Fredrik back to tube amps after so many years with Fractal Axe-Fx units?
It just felt natural with the approach we took this time, agreeing as a group to finish the writing and rehearse the stuff as a band and feel the songs and hash through it all. When you rehearse the songs for almost two months to get them tight and then work with an engineer and go to a studio to sit down, old-school style, for weeks at a time, it just follows suit to go back to amps.

Another thing is that Fredrik’s been messing around with tube amps for his solo stuff for the last five years, so he’s amassed a really great collection. He brought a truckload of them down to the studio, so it all just felt natural and in-line with how we were working this time around.

What were some of the standout amps that wound up on the album?
The main sound is a modified Marshall that Mike Fortin [of Fortin Amplification] tweaked for us many years ago. We also used the Fortin Satan, and Salvation Mods’s C-Watt module for Randall MTS amps. We were running four or five amps most of the time, and what actually wound up on the album is a question for our producer, Tue Madsen. We gave him free rein on how to color the guitar tones on each track, although we were pretty rough with him during the mixing process—we threw a lot of mixes back at him and were extremely picky about it. Luckily he had the patience of a saint about the whole thing. He thought “Born in Dissonance” needed a tighter low end because it has a messier rhythm, so he went for the Satan amp. But on “Into Decay” he opted for more of the C-Watt, because it’s a sludgy track and that sound worked better for it. But the reality is the tones on the album are a patchwork and only Tue knows what’s what.

Mårten Hagström’s Gear

Guitars
Custom 28"-scale Ibanez M8M with Lundgren M8 pickups

Amps and Effects
Custom Fortin Amplification 50-watt head
Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II

Strings and Picks
DR Tite-Fit TF8-10s (.010–.075)
Dunlop 1 mm Nylon Standard picks

How about effects?
Fredrik’s been on something of an amp and pedal rampage for a long time now, but we actually didn’t use a ton of effects on the album because Fredrik didn’t write much of anything for this particular record, so he didn’t provide much input in the sound-shaping. We used the prototype for his signature boost pedal, the 33, a bit. It’s basically a booster with a sweepable bass filter. The TC Electronic preamp booster that we used back in the day to gain the fuck out of the signal before it hit a tube head is the template for the 33, but it’s got some tweaks to make it more useable.

Will you be using the Axe-Fx on tour again?
We’re using custom 50-watt amps that Mike Fortin made for our rhythm sounds, but all of the solo stuff and clean sounds come from the Axe-Fx still. The Fortin amps are single-channel, straight-up rhythm machines designed specifically for our sound. They sound fucking terrific. It’s been a long time since it’s been so much fun to just riff onstage, and these amps brought that back for me in a way I don’t think I’ve ever experienced—to the point that sometimes I just get lost in the riff and how powerful it feels.

The thing about the Axe-Fx is that it sounds really good. If you did an A/B test for use between the Fortins and the Axe-Fx for front-of-house, you’d probably only hear a slight difference because the Axe-Fx is really that great at modeling sounds. But when I have that Fortin head cranked up loud and I’m hearing it through my in-ear monitors, it’s a massive difference that really changes the game for us live. And there’s something that happens in the feel, too. It’s not a matter of latency or a matter of it being “direct” enough, but there’s still a tangible difference in using tube amps.

What are some of the tricks you’ve learned to keep lows so focused and crisp despite using so much gain?
The truth of the matter is that the whole signal path is designed around using that much gain. That’s part of why the Lundgren pickups we use are so flat—we want a pickup that represents what’s going on with the guitar sonically instead of just adding more power. It’s also got a lot to do with picking technique and how you attack your low end. I hit that 8th string in a different way than I chug on the 7th or play single-note stuff. It’s not easily explained, but there’s just a different way of approaching your pick attack when you go for the low stuff. I actually switched my picking angle from right to left when we wrote Bleed, but went back to it being angled to the right for The Violent Sleep of Reason to see if it would sound better for this material—and it did, so I stuck with it. So now I switch techniques subconsciously throughout the live set, because half the songs were written and recorded the other way. But pick attack has everything to do with how we keep things articulate.