"The magical feeling of melodic death metal got lost along the way"
Being around for almost fifteen years and having released seven studio albums, Nightrage have earned a place among the most consistent melodic death metal bands. With the release of their latest album, "The Venomous", we had the chance to talk with the creator and mastermind of the band. Marios Iliopoulos answered directly and openly our questions, regarding the creative process of the album, the line-up changes, his composing and lyric approaches and the difficulties in the modern metal scene.
It took you less than two years to release the new album. How did you manage to get everything done in such a short time?
There were lots of ideas, since Ronnie Nyman joined in the previous album. We became more stable as a band; we found our new guitarist, Magnus (Söderman) and our new drummer, Lawrence (Dinamarca). We got a five-person line-up and we worked that way. I had lots of ideas after "The Puritan" and the shows we played for that album. We didn't think that much about it, to be honest. Everything found its own way.
Magnus and I jammed the songs, and that's how the music was written, by the two of us. We liked what we were hearing and we considered recording at Zero Gravity Studios, in Athens, with Terry Nikas, who is a friend; we recorded "Insidious" there in the past, so everything worked out naturally and we are all happy with the process and with the result.
That was something that I wanted to ask; how was the collaboration with Ronnie (Nyman)? How different was the way you worked as opposed to previous albums? In your older works I had the impression that it was mostly you, but this one seems somewhat more tied-up...
If you ask me, I see all the Nightrage albums as my children, they're all as good. About the other thing you've said, it's always been me. Since the creation of the band, its birth, I was the one pulling the strings, writing the songs and making the moves. But I'm a person that likes to collaborate with other musicians. I've proved that, I'm never completely by myself.
Definitely, I wouldn't be able to write this album by myself, and maybe it's more obvious this time, the collaboration with Magnus. I let him contribute with his ideas in the songs and maybe that's why you find it different or tied-up, as you put it. I like good ideas, and I don't want to reject them, I'm always open to them; with Magnus we got along as friends and as musicians, I think we had great chemistry, and we had great time creating the songs, the demos, the preproduction, and we had a nice collaboration in general. It is that collaboration, with Ronnie, with Magnus, and with Lawrence, that you can see in "The Venomous".
That is another question I had; how did you decide to have a second guitarist after all this time? It's probably got something to do with what you said.
Like I said, I've always been open to good ideas. Even in the era of "Sweet Vengeance" or "Descend Into Chaos", I wrote with Gus G. Later, there were songs on "Wearing A Martyr's Crown" and "Insidious", that I wrote with Olof (Morck). I've always eager to collaborate, but I think that in this album, I found someone with the same mentality as me. We have the same influences, we are musicians of the same musical education, I'd say, and with all that...
...you just got along.
Yes! And Magnus thought it was strange; he told me that he was impressed by the fact that I let him write and his ideas were heard, because that's something that doesn't happen usually. But when I'm involved, it's not like that; I'm open, I'm not selfish, and I definitely don't think that we should play only my own riffs. [Laughs] Although, truth be told, the sound of Nightrage is fixed. The band has a signature style that no matter the changes, or the different musicians writing, there's this specific sound, that I believe originates from me. The way that I play the melodies, the way that I compose, all that; I'm the one that starts the songs, the one that brings the ideas, and then we work on them all together.
The information that came with the album mentions that thematically it deals with the failure of humanity and its possible extinction. While I didn't actually get all the lyrics, the music gives that emotion!
Given the style of music we play, we couldn’t sing of flowers or cool cars! [Laughs] These things don't express us. I'm also against that logic; I believe that we should talk about the things that bother us, as humans. You see what is happening every day, what one man does to another. There have been crimes committed all over the world.
Basically the album talks about us, humans, and what we do to each other. If you see all those events happening, all those fanatics, those who kill defenseless people in airports, those bombings… violence and war have always been on human DNA, it's nothing new. I believe this has to change. We write about what we live, the stuff we see, from our point of view, and the fact that we'd like to change.
There is an amount of light in our lyrics, though. If read closely, you'll see that there is a dose of hope, I'd say. We want people to change; there is always the time and the chance for someone to change and be a better man. I think all this has a double meaning; we have dark lyrics, but in the end we believe that hope exists. For our own sakes, anyway...
I was kind of surprised that the album starts off in quite a melodic way and not completely aggressive. Did you aim at surprising your fans that would probably press play waiting for blast beats or was it something else?
We always did that kind of thing. We always had the opening track being the fastest one. This time we chose to chill a little bit; we don't have to prove that we can play fast. Everyone knows that by now. We wanted the opening track to be slower, more melodic, so that the melodic side of the band is highlighted. I think that's what this band is, a mix of melody and raw riffs, this is Nightrage. And I believe that with this track we welcome, in a way, a new style, that fits with the Nightrage sound.
The blast beats come right after that, on "Day Of Wrath"...
Oh yeah! Like a reminder! [Laughs]
You make songs of that style sound really natural. Does it feel as natural writing them?
It's all a matter of inspiration. We never do something just because we have to. Everything that you can hear on "The Venomous", everything Nightrage play for that fact, is natural. It comes from the way that we play, the way that we express ourselves as artists, as musicians. This is who we are, we don't pretend and we don't try to do something new. We know that we play based on metal stereotypes, but we try to give our own view on music. I believe that Nightrage has a voice of its own. If you listen to some other band, and then to Nightrage, I think that the melodies, the way that we make the songs, it's our own; it's unique I'd say.
Another song that hit me from the very first listen was "Affliction". It's almost catchy, isn't it?
Yeah, it's one of those songs you'd say that it's made just so it sounds radio-friendly!
It's perfect, actually! It kind of reminded me of "A New Disease Is Born", but in a more heavy way.
It was based on some of Magnus' ideas, actually, and we worked on them together. I like it a lot. I'd say it has nice groove and a really strong melody; without missing the metal element, of course. It's definitely one of the songs that we'll play on our live shows and I'm really glad you liked it!
Despite the variations in speed and volumes, given the acoustic themes and everything, in the end I was left with the impression that you tried to use the basic Nightrage ingredients and create something with them. Did I get it right?
I think you're right on that. Like I said, we have a certain style that we always try to improve, we try to find new ideas. We don't want to recycle the same old stuff, obviously; but on the other side, we don't want to be a band that plays something that doesn't represent its own musicians.
We want to love what we play. Above everything else, you have to be yourself. This is what Nightrage is, music that comes from the heart, not trends or commercial success or anything else of that matter. We want to be true artists. I know that it comes with a cost, but I want to have my mind at ease; I want to do what I really love.
I think that the production in "The Venomous" is really great. It's clean, but not too much. Did you get involved in that?
The production was handled by me and Terry, in Zero Gravity Studios, and we had a great time in Athens during that month. Terry helped with the technical stuff, and as a sound engineer he handled all the recordings; but production wise, it was the two of us. I'm glad that you liked the sound, because I believe that after all these years, we know what we have to do as musicians and as producers to achieve whatever we want in our music.
Also, I have to mention that the mixing and mastering was done in Sweden, Uppsala, by Lawrence Mackrory, singer of Darkane; he also did an amazing job. I believe that the result is just right; because, of course, every album can always be improved in some way, like the saying goes "when does an album end -- never"! [Laughs] But I think the outcome this time was the desirable one.
You released a new video clip recently. It looks pretty cool, if I may say. [laughs]
The truth is, we got cold! [Laughs] You can see it, really! Actually we shot two videos, just now I've uploaded the second one on facebook; you can find it, it's "Affliction". We worked with Themis Ioannou of Raw Rec, he's also the guitarist of Foray Between Ocean, he's a great guy. He travelled all the way from Greece to Sweden, and despite the difficulties we faced, we managed to shoot those two videos, and he did an outstanding job. We are very pleased with the result, and we hope that for the next album we'll get to work with a better timetable, in Greece, and it'll probably be even better. Even so, we're very happy, given the time and budget we had, that we managed to do these videos.
Now, something about you; the melodies in your songs are really distinctive. Do you have a specific way of thought when creating them?
I've always tried to replicate what Iron Maiden was doing lots of years ago; I'm really affected by them, as well as by guitarists who had a lot of feeling in their playing. I don't want to mention names that'll probably cause confusion, but, you know, your influences always follow you around...
Yes, they stick with you.
Yes! And you'll always, in a way, try to reproduce in your own way what you listened to when you were younger. My starting point is Maiden, the old Testament, Ozzy, all those '80s metal bands that we grew up with; and I try to mix them with a modern metal style, melodic death metal, or thrash, or anything closer to our age, and create something nice. But I always start from Iron Maiden, I don't know why. They're always on my mind when I try to play melodies. I hope I manage to do it! [Laughs]
I think so! [Laughs] When composing, do you prefer to work with melodies or rhythms?
To be honest, I have a strange way to start working on a track. I always start with a title. I see a title that I like and I draw inspiration from it. I usually write some riffs in the beginning, then some melodies, and then I put them on Studio One, a program that I use, add some drums, something like that. But it's all about momentary inspiration. I'd say that I'm like a street musician. That is the way that I've learned to play; through experiences, and life itself. I have an experiential relationship with music, I try to express my feelings; maybe that's the reason why my melodies have a certain style and sound.
Among all the melodic death metal bands you are one of the few that continue on the same sound. Have you followed the works of any of the other bands?
Thank you for saying that! It’s really an honour, and I also believe that we're one of the bands that carry on this type of music. It's probably not very popular these days, but it doesn't really bother us. I follow some of the other bands, and I see that some of them change according to trends, or try to go after other kind of things.
Of course, anyone can do whatever he likes with his music, and no one can tell him what to do; but I believe that in a way, and I might be wrong on that one, this genre lacks honesty. That beautiful feeling that was there when the whole thing started to get off, with At The Gates or Dissection, is missing. I believe that this magical feeling got lost along the way, somehow, and I believe that we are one of the few remaining bands that play this type of music in that specific way.
In your scene there have been lots of collaborations. Were there any thoughts of a supergroup?
Well, Nightrage was a supergroup in its first album! We already did that! [Laughs]
Yeah, that's true! [Laughs]
We were a duet, Gus and I, we didn't have anyone else, and out of the blue Tomas Lindberg, one of the most prominent figures of melodic death metal, was our singer. We also worked with the drummer of The Haunted, there were a lot of great people involved; but it was more of a project. That album had to be created at any cost, so we did that.
As for new collaborations, of large or small scale, I'm not really interested. What I want is to continue what we have with the new members and create more albums with them. Because there will definitely be more Nightrage albums, and I really hope that we'll continue with this line-up, with the same passion and appetite. We've got a lot of that.
A long time ago I saw Nightrage perform with Septic Flesh. To this day it's among my favourite concerts that I've attended in small clubs. Is there any chance for something like that to happen again? Not necessarily with Septic Flesh...
We'd love to play in Greece, but we're waiting for the opportune moment. The goal with the new album is exactly that; to go out and play as much as possible. But, you know, things are getting harder, even in that field. There are too many bands and the fans don't support that much. You go out with all the good vibes, to play and give all your best, but sometimes you see that there's not enough support.
A lot of people don't come out at live shows, they don't buy albums - although that's a different story, no one buys albums today. The only way a band can survive is to perform live. If the fans, the people who love this kind of music, don't support that, many bands will be lost. Many great bands will be lost, and it'll be a shame. They should be given a chance.
Indeed, it's a strange situation. The way people treat live shows, the way bands work sometimes...
There's a large number of bands, way too many. Everyone can be a rock star these days, they can go on facebook, or youtube, and have their day. But you know, this only makes things harder; and I don't know where it'll lead. Perhaps in the end only the good ones will remain standing and everyone'll listen to those who deserve it. But it's really strange, especially in the metal scene. Of course, everyone has a right to music, everyone should have a right to try themselves, but with the internet, and facebook, and all that, it's so easy that anyone, from home, can be a rock star for a day.
That is all from me! Thank you very much for your time...
Thank you, Antonis, for the interview. I really appreciate it, because you never take it for granted that you'll give interviews just because you release an album. And I'm really happy that you liked it, I hope all our Greek friends like it, and hope to see you soon!
I hope so, too!
Take care and support "The Venomous"! Buy it, steal it, stream it, but give it a chance! Thank you so very much!