NEKROMANTHEON – How to thrash Roman and Greek mythology, Norwegian style
Playing thrash metal about Greek and Roman mythology, Norway’s Nekromantheon is a relatively young band, established in 2005, but with enough energy and skills to get some good reviews for their 2012 release, ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’ and most of all, with a stage presence that makes you go home and give their discs at least a couple of spins. The three band members, Arild (Arse) – Guitar and vocals, Christian (Kick) – Drums and Sindre (Stressminister) – Bass and vocals, are also involved in other projects such as Obliteration and Audiopain, thus contributing to the hugr amount of skills the band has developed in such a short time and has proved through their music. I was very nicely impressed by their live performance at this year Øya festival in Oslo and hence I tried to get to know some more details about the band from Kolbotn. Their bass player and stressminister Sindre took some time to tell me stories from the band’s US tour, to explain why they hate over processed music and how you end up with thrash music lyrics inspired from Homer’s Odyssey. Read below to find out for yourself.
What’s happening in the life of Nekromantheon at the moment?
Sindre: At this very moment we are playing a lot of shows. We were in Holland and Belgium last weekend, two weekends ago in Germany, we have one in Stockholm, with Maim, next weekend, the weekend after that we’ll be in Oslo, then next weekend in another place in Norway, so overall we played a lot in the weekends ever since the album came out. We will probably be finished with the live stuff soon and do some more writing.
But was there any tour to promote the album or mainly single shows?
We had a tour in Norway with Aura Noir, but not like a proper one through Europe. We’ve only played at festivals and some shows here or there.
Are you still considering such a tour?
If we get a really cool offer, maybe, but it’s been so long since we released the album so I don’t think we’ll work for a proper full tour for now. But we’re always up for single shows if anyone has an interesting offer. We have plans to also go to Finland and Barcelona for example. But like I said, we felt like we played a lot now, so the focus should shift on writing. Besides, me and the guitarist, Arild, we are almost finished writing the next Obliteration album (our other band). So we’re gonna try to focus a lot on that. Besides, our drummer is playing in Audiopain, and even if he hasn’t been on their recordings until now, he is rehearsing with them for a new album. It looks like for a while the other bands will have priority. Everything goes in some sort of circle with all these projects and Nekromantheon will come back in focus when we’re going to write our third album. It will be a bit different, probably not as fast.
Oh, so you already have a vision about it.
We have a few parts, it will be a bit more mid paced, maybe like ‘Hell Awaits’ by Slayer. It will be good.
Nekromantheon live @ Hove 2012 (Photo: Kenneth Sporsheim)
I saw that you got the chance to do a tour in the US. Was that something you organised yourselves? I guess you didn’t have a very big name back then, so how did it happen?
Yes, the tour was in 2010. That was a cool tour, with my other band Obliteration. So me and Arild actually played two shows each night. It was trending. How it happened, well, we got booked with my other band, Obliteration, to play at Maryland Deathfest, which is like America’s biggest extreme metal festival and we just got Nekromantheon on the pre-fest, the day before the festival really kicks off. So we thought that since we’re already there to try to book a tour. We got help from our drummer’s girlfriend at that time, who’s now booking cool shows at Revolver, so me and her more or less booked it ourselves. It was a lot of work, we had many days off too, just hanging out in Baltimore after the festival and other cities.
How does the whole US experience feel?
It was very good I’d say. People were really into us, especially people who knew Obliteration from before, since the band had just released the ‘Nekropsalms’ album, which was pretty well received. And Nekromantheon just came out with the first album, before the tour so people into the scene had a chance to hear about us. We also had help from friends in the US to spread the word, so overall it was a surprisingly good experience. I recall that we impressed people by how young we were and how we sounded. We also have good memories about meeting our heroes, especially Autopsy that are heroes for my other band, Obliteration. Also, the promoter in Canada was selling some, well, other stuff on the side and he offered lots of that, just the day before we were going back to the States. There was no way we could get that over the border. That was pretty funny. It was also cool in Montreal, when Blacky from Voivod took us to eat Asian food. Another cool experience was to meet the guys from Nature, going to their rehearsals, we played songs for them and them for us. That was really fun.
Any bad memories?
When we were in Philadelphia, we stayed at a friend’s house, in the South. A pretty harsh neighborhood. The first night we got there, people were shot and killed like two blocks away. The next day we saw blood on the streets on our way to eat breakfast. On the border control on the way to Canada, we had to get a stamp when we declare our instruments and such. The guy yelled at me like the Vietnam war veteran does ‘you don’t play any of that crap shit about selling drugs and killing babies, are you? If you do, you won’t get into Canada motherfucker’. I was a bit freaked out, but it was fun overall.
I don’t remember who mentioned this to me, but he said that the crowd in the US is somehow more open, they listen and then they judge, while in the Europe they are more judgemental from the very beginning and if you don’t fit some standards, you’re not good. Did you get such a feeling?
Maybe. Perhaps they’re open-minded in a way, but, without wanting to be rude, I believe they have more indulgence for lower quality as well. Here in Europe, we have high standards and are more selective, while in the States it felt like they believe so many things are cool. We, of course, met dedicated people and with a wide culture in this field, but the general feeling is that people are there to have fun and listen to whatever thrash concert there is. Probably that’s why they also have so many crappy extreme metal bands, a lot of the young ones, while the scene is flourishing here in Europe with great underground acts. There’s obviously very good bands coming from US as well, like Negative Plane, Nature, Pilgrim, Satan’s Satyrs and stuff like that. I don’t mean this in a band way, though. In the States, probably they’re not so uptight and this is probably not a bad thing. Here in Europe, we’re more tight and not going so much with the flow like they do. There’s pros and cons about both ways, so can’t say which one is right.
If we talk about the thrash scene in Norway. There’s obviously this stereotype by now that Norway produces black metal and well, death metal that comes from the neighbors is another Scandinavia product. But hardly anyone thinks of Norway and of thrash together. How did you end up with this style of music and how much support fo you get from the local musical scene?
I’m not exactly sure about the overall thrash metal scene here, I like to see ourselves as part of a cool musical scene in Norway. We are good friends with people who play good black metal, good death metal, punk or doom, we’re all working together and make good music. We feel like we are part of the same small group of people who share the same vision, a scene for alternative and extreme music. I do believe the thrash scene here is getting wider and better, there’s bands like Death Hammer, Condor, Minion’s Hill, Toxic Death, Black Magic and a few more that I consider very good. There’s also bands I dislike, but usually they’re all high quality. Norway has never and still doesn’t have that many bands in the genre, but they’re often of very good quality.
Not being a big scene, how do you find the concert crowds here? Is it easy to get people to come to your shows? Or does it take a huge effort for that?
I’d that few years ago it took a lot of effort and it’s probably the same with younger bands starting up now. I heard it many times how hard it is to get a good crowd. Few years ago I used to work at this Club Maiden where we put on a lot of good shows which had crappy turn outs quite often. But now it feels that the metal shows have a much better audience and I even notice it at our shows.
Nekromantheon live @ Hove 2012 (Photo: Kenneth Sporsheim)
Back to the Nekromantheon related stuff, the band had some split releases. Why and how did you end up doing them?
First we actually did an EP and then a split with Abigail from Japan. We like the idea of split seven inches, we think they’re cool. They derive from the punk era which I really like. For this split we were asked by Relapse Records because they did split series with thrash bands, and the same with death bands. So it was a bit lucky. Later on, we did one with Audiopain, a bit older and great Norwegian thrash metal band.
How does it work on a split album? Is it a main band and then you come up with an extra song or is it fifty-fifty?
It’s fifty-fifty. On both splits we only did one song each, meaning that the whole thing only has two songs. Personally, I find this a pretty common thing especially in the punk and hardcore scene.
Maybe I am not too familiar with those scenes. I know that bands either make a tribute album and many bands put together cover songs, or sometimes they get guest appearances from other band members…
That’s a complete different thing, which I am not that a big fan of. Splits represent more two cool bands coming with a song each and it’s usually limited.
If we’re talking about the latest Nekromantheon album from 2012, how would you describe it to someone who has never heard it?
Rough, dark energy, really fast, really intense and slightly hateful thrash metal. It has rough edges, goes fast, but it also has some elements of the classic Iron Maiden and a bit more melody that come up once you have listened to it several times. We are huge fans of organic and raw production, and that’s how it kinda sounds.
Is that your way of describing the ‘old school’?
That is the essence of thrash school metal. I just avoided to use that word, because if you present it to people who haven’t listened to thrash metal, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them. Most definitely we are old school, but we are not trying to copy old stuff. So let’s say we are raw, untamed, non conformist thrash metal.
If you were not playing in the band but listened to this album, what do you think would stand out?
I think that I’ll use my diplomacy and say the whole package, because that’s the most important thing, the wholeness of an album. I believe that is very good, thus making it a good album in which everything works well together. I can say that the lead guitars stand out since we deliberately had them louder in the mix. They should be in the center of attention afterall. The vocals are also loud, but everything is well mixed together.
I agree with the compact feeling one gets from listening to the album. Was there anyone in particular who helped you with some good advice in between the two albums so that you evolved to this level with only two releases?
It’s just from what we learned, after listening to more music, getting more into the stuff we are doing. It was a natural progression or degression or whatever.
So no producers or anyone involved…
Ah, fuck producers, I hate that shit. We record ourselves in our drummer’s parents’ basement, we produce it ourselves, we mix it ourselves. The only stuff we get help with is mastering, since that is pretty expensive equipment. We learned a lot how to get the sound and how to capture the feeling of the music that we play at rehearsals. We spend a lot of energy on that.
Nekromantheon live in Trondheim 2012 (Photo: Irene Dominguez Marquez)
Earlier, you mentioned the word hatred when you spoke about the music on the album. What’s the hate addressed to?
We dislike and hate a lot of things in the metal or music scene, like the stuff that’s being so over produced and sounds so soulless. The title of the album, ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’, is actually a symbol. Vulcan is the Roman God for blacksmiths and volcanoes and sculptures. His Greek counterpart is Hephaestus. To us he symbolyses the old spirit of real metal. We want to make that rise again, since we genuinely hate the new modern metal, over produced, like pop metal that you see on the charts and that they play on MTV and stuff like that. Of course, we need the anger since couldn’t play this style of music if we were fully contempt with the way of life.
Is it a mythological themed album?
We’ve always been a bit into Greek mythology so I guess we put our visions and the stuff we want to sing about into the music we play. We often create stories that worship the villain in the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies, that’s kinda been the concept since we started the band.
In my experience so far, when it comes to mythology you either have progressive bands, or some pagan, folk, black metal, but rarely any thrash bands with such themes
Perhaps not so much in thrash, but we’re actually reading Homer’s Odyssey and such stuff when we are writing lyrics..
So people who read that stuff, would they find references to it in your lyrics?
Hopefully. The drummer writes most of the lyrics. On this album, I only had the concept for ‘Blood wisdom’ after reading a book about the ritual magic, a book that used Homer as reference. Of course, overall the lyrics are not high culture poetry, they’re just a way to express what we feel, adapted to our music, so that the two create a wholeness of our product.
As far as my Greek knowledge goes, Nekroman is related to the dead and teon means temple..
It indeed means the temple or the Oracle of the dead. We’ve actually been in the ruins of Nekromantheon, which is on the West coast of Greece I think, in a city called Parga. It was a place where monks communicated with the dead and the spirits of the dead, back in the ancient times. People would also go there to be treated by these monks. I guess they ate a lot of psychedelic shrooms, then went down in the cellars where they’d spend days and communicated with the spirits to grant them wisdom of the future. That’s where the name derives from.
Is it related to the river Styx as well?
Yea, actually the place is really close to the Acheron river which we visited the same day. It was both us and Obliteration guys, as we are all close friends, and we went there on vacation before the first Nekromantheon album was out. The title from the first album, ‘Divinity of Death’ comes directly from the information written above the temple. That inspired me to write the lyrics for ‘Divinity of Death’. That’s the essence of nekromantheons, a very ideological point of view I guess.
Are you guys musically educated? Or self taught?
Self taught. Our guitar player went one year to NISS, but for learning how to be a sound engineer. Me and him learned how to play guitar when we were kids, but that’s not musical education if you ask me. Actually my mum forced me to learn how play an instrument, so she sent me to piano lessons, but I hated it. My mum talked to Arild’s mother if he wanted to join for guitar lessons and I guess we never looked back ever since.
You are a young band also as age average. How does it feel when you go and play with bands made of much older people. Do you feel nicely treated or are they looking at you ‘from above’?
It’s a lot of friendship. We’ve been lucky, we almost always had older people liking our music so we made a lot of friends among them, in the whole music scene in Norway. An example is the legendary old thrash metal band, perhaps Norway’s first thrash metal band in the nineties, Infernö. With Carl-Michael Eide from Aura Noir, and Olav, who plays guitars with us live. On a side note, they did two albums in the nineties and in the two thousands they did a couple of seven inches which are, in my opinion, some of the best thrash metal albums. One of their seven inch album is much better than everything Testament and Exodus did together. Both Infernö and Aura Noir have a bit of a Norwegian edge I think, their stuff doesn’t sound like anything else. Infernö is not doing so much at the moment, Carl-Michael is more focused on Aura Noir and this amazing project, Virus – a band that everyone should check out. But still, Infernö is doing a one time gig in two weeks at ‘Til Dovre Faller’ festival and since Carl-Michael can’t join, they invited Arild from Nekromantheon on stage. That is quite a pleasant mix of old and new and it shows the respect we have gathered.