The unfortunate truth of writing about mostly music for a living is adopting a strong critical eye at the loss of other various talents: namely, the ability to simply enjoy music without giving it a deeper listen, without attempting to dissect its most special parts, to draw connections in order to share understanding through art with others. It’s not a black and white situation, surely, but it makes the moments when music overwhelms to feel especially memorable, even singular. In my young adult life, these can be counted on two hands, but few evoke the immediate spine-tinge of Swedish quintet-turned-quartet Makthaverskan, who entered my radar in the most organic way and never truly left.
There’s an age old adage in the music industry: artists make the best A&R (artist & repertoire, the folks who ink deals and launch careers.) That proves to be true in indie circles, too: when Swedish post-punks Holograms first arrived in America to play a handful of shows in 2012 (New York, as it is usually,) the Stockholm quartet told me over a radio interview that the best band in Sweden was not them, but another similarly chilling goth band called Makthaverskan, a word in their native language that doesn’t totally translate to English. It’s a fictionalized compound phrase for “the woman with the power” (there is a male equivalent of the word, which is fairly unsurprising. They altered the structure for effect.) Intrigued, I sought them out and within the first few seconds of “Enough,” a single from their self-titled debut LP—a spine-tingle. Plucky guitar placed too loud in the mix, challenged only by vocalist Maja Milner’s powerful croon: “Am I enough for you? / You are my everything” spoke to my simplest impulses. Obsession followed suit.
The band was inactive in 2012, Milner working in Berlin having left the rest of the band in Gothenburg for a change of pace. What existed was the single record on Swedish label Luxury Records, a driving, dream pop album of real punk ethos: limited Anglo-language made most of it’s exclamations of “Fuck you!” drive home real frustrations. Sweden is notorious for its production of some of the greatest pop voices, but Makthaverskan are different, purposefully removed from hit-makers Lykke Li and Robyn. They teeter a indiepop and punk line of their own creation without forcing the two together—they burrow under the skin for comfort. After enjoying minor successes overseas and eventually stateside, they recorded a sophomore LP, 2013’s Makthaverskan ll, once again on Luxury, eventually finding a home on U.S. emo label Run for Cover Records. A weird marriage, but a logical one: in the years since, RFC has attempted to rid themselves of the emo term and the stigma that it accompanies, but the audience persists and proved to react strongly to Makthaverskan, even if their sound varies dramatically from the often formulaic genre that made the label popular.
The band—Milner, guitarist Gustav Andersson, guitarist Hugo Randulv, bassist Irma Krook and drummer Andreas “Palle” Wettmark headlined a few large club shows here and abroad and toured consistently before quietly fading back into their industrial lives, until a few months ago when they announced Makthaverskan lll, their first new full-length in three years. In that time, Andersson, chief songwriter and lead guitarist of the band has chosen the leave the group in order to focus on his saccharine sweet solo project Guggi Data. This left the band in a tumultuous spot: the assumption was that they would always continue on, but what would change without one of its foundational members?
The answer is, well, not much—though they’d show all the signs of maturation that comes with a third LP: your first is an introduction, your second, catharsis, and your third something of a do or die moment: you’re here, what’s next? For Makthaverskan, there’s never really been a formula—they make the songs they love and have been as active as interest has allowed. There’s never been a sense of entering the music industry because they wanted to become the biggest band in the planet, but because they enjoy working together, and the songs they craft possess a particular kind of magic. That fundamental understanding of what the band is and who they are, together, as a unit, makes their third LP something glorious.
It opens with “Vienna,” militaristic, cadence-like drums and guitars like synth—a Gustav standard—but decidedly darker-sounding. There’s a new romance to the record, a sort of haunting familiar quality that recalls the first album, but more meticulous in its execution: where feedback was an aspect of limitation in the beginning, now they’re able to institute dramatics where and when it feels crucial—a gift that comes with time.
It’s hard not to liken Makthaverskan lll to a modern political climate, both here and in their native Sweden: the Scandinavian nation has been tagged the most alt-right country in Europe, fear of growing neo-Nazi populations plagues them with a similar kind of the fear that is felt stateside. When Milner sings with real purpose, “humanity equals misery / there’s nothing here to see,” in “Eden,” she does so outside of her own introspective frustrations—she’s speaking to and from a global helplessness, at times, hopelessness. She doesn’t offer much comfort, even in the track “Comfort,” but her careening voice and angelic call-to-action breeds a strong sense of falling and the desire to get back up.
In the coming days, months and years, survival songs will be our only musical solace. Artists don’t have to and shouldn’t feel the need to offer solutions, but kinship, a feeling that our own vexations, wants and desires are real and present, is crucial. Political punk often addresses sentiment with explicit angst, and so do Makthaverskan, but with musical nuance. Who knew a band who once elicited a spine-tingle five years ago could be a project of hope? I struggle to think that this was ever their aim, that they ever aspired to be a band whose life-force and irritations would resonate outside their community in Gothenburg, but that’s the beauty of hope: you never know where it’s going to come from.
Maria Sherman is a music and culture writer living in Philadelphia. She’s a contributing editor at the Talkhouse and contributes regularly to places like Rolling Stone, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Billboard and more. She most recently held the title of Senior Correspondent at Fuse Media and before that, worked to build BuzzFeed’s music vertical.