Roy Westad has been on a long journey through heavy music, which has brought him to 2021 where his love of extreme metal has led to the passion project called ILLT. Bringing in a plethora of extreme metal talent to round out the group, Westad is joined by Dirk Verbeuren on drums (Megadeth), Speed Strid on vocals (Soilwork), as well as lead guitarists Karl Sanders (Nile), and Mr. Damage from Chrome Division.

Ahead of the release of ILLT’s debut album, Urhat, due later this year through Indie Recordings, we spoke with Roy about the project, his journey into heavy music, and his future vision for the extreme metal project.

You talk about decades of passion for extreme metal. Do you remember the band or album that turned you on to extreme music?

Roy Westad:Cannibal Corpse’s Gallery Of Suicide was probably the first big musical WTF moment for me. The artwork really stood out on the store shelf (laughs). I was around 16 years old at the time. Me and my cousin was really into extreme cinema and thought the artwork was super cool and bought it just to piss off our parents. The music was just so ridiculously brutal and over-the-top. We had virgin ears, so we needed some time to take it all in. But man, once we were hooked, we ended up craving harder and harder drugs and got obsessed with finding the most brutal music out there.

The album that really set the bar for me a few years later was Deathrace King by The Crown. The musicality, the riffs, the songs, the lyrics, production, everything is fucking 10/10. This is still in my all-time top three regardless of genre, and at one point I think I wore out the CD. A modern classic and I would go as far as saying ILLT wouldn’t exist without it.”

What is it about extreme music as a creator that really fires you up?

“Early on I really bought into everything as long as it had machine-gun drums and growling vocals, but nowadays I’m rather picky about my extreme metal. It has to be intense and brutal for sure, but the songs have to have some dynamics, contrasts, and variation. Extreme for the sole purpose of being extreme doesn’t cut it for me anymore. Four minutes of constant blast beats is cool, but that’s not necessarily extreme to me. It’s like sports. Nothing wrong with sports, but it seldom speaks my tongue. It’s like, if you’re yelling at someone too loud and too often, it will eventually start going in one ear and out the other. It needs to have some edge and meaning, and the will to be extreme not only songwriting-wise but also production-wise.

I still don’t get why some insanely brutal metal bands have mixes so polished you can see your reflection in it. ‘Hey, let’s write a song about religious genocide or butchering someone with a spork, and make it sound so neat and beautiful our grandmas will slide off their chairs!’”

Artwork for ‘Urhat’ by ILLT

And how did the idea come together for Illt? What is your vision for this band?

“I had my first kid in 2018, and being on paternity leave took my mind off work for a longer period of time, and I guess that made room for this passion project known as ILLT. I think the dream of putting out extreme music was dormant and having a kid woke it up! Kids will wake you up in many ways, not only 5:30 in the morning! Becoming a father altered my perception of time, and being nearly 40 years old, I somehow thought the timing was perfect (laughs). Now or never, I guess!

It didn’t happen overnight though. It started one day when the little man was taking a nap, and I hooked up my old laptop and lunchbox amp and plugged in my guitar for the first time in probably a year so. I was really rusty, but managed to come up with a pretty cool riff. Then another one. The two fit together, and before I knew it I had a whole song going. This particular song later became ‘Millennial Judas,’ the opening track of the upcoming LP Urhat.

You know, I have always beat myself up, and never thought anything I’ve done has lived up to my own standards. I am self-critical to the point where it really gets in the way of finishing things. And here’s the thing: I wrote the whole album in six months, which would be unheard of in the past, and I think the secret was that I didn’t have any expectations or plans around this at all. It was all about having fun, and so the block was gone!

I am already deep into the writing phase of the follow-up to Urhat, building further upon this principle of doing things. As for the vision, my only plan is to make as much kickass music for you guys to bang your heads to, never be too much coloured by outside opinions, and never stop following my gut feeling. There are some crazy genre-mish mashing going on here, which is a result of me not giving a rat’s ass about genres. Like my label once stated: hard to describe, but easy to like! Hopefully, it will make my music somewhat stand out from the crowd.”

In terms of the lineup, did you have an idea of who you wanted to join you and how easy was that to pull together?

“Yes, both Dirk and Bjorn were top of the list. When you hire some of the top names in the business, who’s touring half the year and have lots of stuff going on, booking far in advance is key. Other than that, it was pretty easy. They both loved the demos I sent them, and was quite enthusiastic about lending me their arms, legs, and voice. For a solo act like me, it’s crucial that I work with musicians that not only do what they’re told, but also give me what I didn’t know I needed. Though it’s a sandbox project for me, it’s, of course, important that they also get to put their stamp on it, and have maximum creative freedom within the given framework. I think that will shine through on the final product.”

Given the restrictions of the lockdown and the diverse locations of the various members, how does the writing process work?

“Since I write all music and lyrics myself, the pandemic hasn’t really affected the songwriting process. The only difference is that Urhat was written in the dining room, whereas the follow-up is written in the bedroom, since my girlfriend is using the dining room as her home office now during the pandemic. Urhat was in fact recorded remotely with Dirk in LA and Bjorn in Sweden in 2019, so the pandemic wouldn’t really have affected the recording process either.”

How have you overcome the challenges you have faced working remotely?

“There weren’t really any challenges. It’s of course easier to sing something for the vocalist if you’re attending the recording session and have some suggestions or ideas, but I solved this by humming the few phrases that needed reworking into my iPhone and sending them to Bjorn. That said, the first takes you get from these guys are already 95 percent there, so it’s just a matter of a couple of small details and boom, you’re done. I must add that my demos were pretty elaborate and detailed with scratch vocals all the way. So not much trial and error involved.”

The new single is out, inspired by the Second World War. Will this be a common subject running through the themes of the band?

“No, I don’t think so. The Battle of Narvik is kind of an untold story to many, and the lyrical theme fit the song. Other than that, it won’t be a common subject.”

The album is due in late 2021. Can you tell us a little about what we can expect from it?

“It’s a bit expect the unexpected. I have tried to create a wild, diverse and emotional ride for the listener, so you can expect elements from most extreme-metal subgenres.”

Once the album is out, what are your thoughts on touring? How easy will that be?

“Don’t hold your breath, as ILLT won’t be a live act anytime soon. Dirk is busy with Megadeth and his other projects, Bjorn with Soilwork and NFO, and myself with a demanding film music career and two kids flying around the house… there’s just not time. Maybe I could hire a full band to play my shows, and watch it all from the crowd with you guys? That would be mega!”

Aside from ILLT, what other musical/non-musical projects do you have in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond?

“Right now I’m busy finishing the score for a documentary series, and after summer, I will start on the score for a feature for one of the big streaming platforms. That said, life itself with two kids is of course the biggest project these days and beyond.”

Thanks for your time and good luck for 2021. Over to you to wrap things up…

“Thanks for having me, it’s been a real pleasure! Just want to say thank you to all my fans for the support, you guys keep my fire burning! Be sure to follow on SoMe for updates. Can’t wait to show you some more music!”

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.