ASTRAL DOORS – Bringing the Past to Present

ASTRAL DOORS – Bringing the Past to Present

Sweden’s Astral Doors burst on the scene with their 2003 debut album "Of the Son and the Father" – and over the past 11 years have consistently released high quality heavy metal records deep with a lot of the tenets of their 70’s and early 80’s predecessors. Vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson has a set of killer pipes, often bringing to mind the work of the late great, Ronnie James Dio. The band isn’t afraid to employ the use of Hammond organs, the type that made Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Rainbow infamous.

Their seventh studio platter "Notes from the Shadows" is another head turner, especially for those of us who enjoy primitive, old school tones and flat out straight ahead power and finesse. So I felt it was more than necessary to fire off a series of questions to Nils, and he was more than happy to answer them. Read, learn, and investigate another Swedish pillar in Astral Doors.


What are your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – who do you think helped shape your music tastes? Can you tell us some of the early albums you remember hearing and buying- and at what point in life did you decide you wanted to perform in the hard rock/ metal realm as a musician?

NPJ: "My dad was a musician so it was a natural part of my life from the start. In the early 80’s I discovered Iron Maiden and my big interest for Heavy Metal was born. In 1982 or something me and a friend of mine started our first band. From that day I knew what my destiny was."

You’ve recorded 7 studio albums in Astral Doors to date – I’m curious to know what you consider the benchmark recordings that you feel everything aligned as far as songwriting, production, and style for the band – and is there any particular record that maybe you feel could have been a little bit better in retrospect?

NPJ: "My favorite has always been our second album "Evil is Forever". It contains a bunch of razor sharp songs and my singing is much better than on the debut "Of the Son and the Father" which, on the other hand, also is packed with classics. After that I think that we have delivered only strong albums. The weakest is probably "Requiem of Time". Not because it’s bad, but the red thread is missing. I also think that it contains too many songs: 14 or 15. If we had kept only the ten best it would have been so much better."


The new album is "Notes from the Shadows" – appearing on the market after a 3 year absence. Can you tell us a little bit about the songwriting and recording sessions for the record? At this point is it a comfortable experience because you’ve been working with this set of musicians for so many years, and what do you consider some of your personal highlights vocally on this album?

NPJ: "We wrote and recorded the album in three months. It was really tough, but fun. To work under pressure really makes us perform better. The recording procedure was about the same as always with Astral Doors with the only difference that this time I recorded my vocals by myself in my own studio. It was mixed and mastered by Jonas Kjellgren (from Raubtier) at Black Lounge Studios. The vocal highlight? Well, I’m God damn proud of every song but on the nine minute long "Die Alone" I really show many sides of my voice. Love it!"

Can you tell me a little bit more about the lyrical themes in the 9 minute epic "Die Alone" as well as "Walker the Stalker"? Are lyrics easy or a challenge to come up with at this point in your career- and are you the type of person who needs to have finished music before coming up with particular melodies and words or are you consistently writing?

NPJ: "To write lyrics is really my strongest side. It’s always easy for me. "Die Alone" is about a man who reflects upon his life. Pretty dark and depressive, but in the end he sees the light in the tunnel. "Walker the Stalker" is about paranoia. About someone who is stalking himself. About songwriting: it all depends. In Astral Doors we usually start with the music and then I create the melodies, but Civil War for example we build many of the songs from a melody. Either way can be cool."


You’ve been involved with Metalville now since 2010’s "Requiem of Time" – how do you feel about the label at this point? Is there any particular reason why you’ve stuck with them outside of seeking a bigger independent label like Metal Blade, Century Media, SPV, or Nuclear Blast at this point?

NPJ: "We have worked with the Metalville folks since we started the band. We were signed on Locomotive, you know, and their German department contained most of the people that now run Metalville. When Locomotive went bankrupt or whatever, the German guys started their own label, Metalville, which now is one of the strongest in Germany. They have the best possible distribution (Rough Trade) and are super pros on marketing so I really don’t think that we could have a better label. Our deal is based upon friendship."

In a given live set list for Astral Doors, is it a struggle to balance out the tried and true favorites while injecting the newer material, especially if you are given a short opening slot or festival set time? What are the 3-5 songs that have to be played on a regular basis?

NPJ: "We have a bunch of classics we "must" play: "Evil is Forever", "New Revelation", "Cloudbreaker", "Of the Son….", "Black Rain", "Time to Rock",  just to mention a few. So it will be tough to squeeze in the new ones, hahaha."

Your voice has often been compared to the classic Ronnie James Dio. How do you feel about this comparison, are there any special techniques or tricks that you use to keep your voice in shape? I’m also curious to know what are some of your favorite Dio songs or albums through the years with any of his bands (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, or Dio)?

NPJ: "If someone compares me to the best singer ever: I have no problem with that. However I believe that I have pretty much developed my own style by now. A mixture between RJD, Coverdale, Gillan and Blackie Lawless or something. I have no tricks to keep my voice in shape. It’s just a matter of practice. My favorite RJD stuff is everything on the two Sabbath albums "Heaven and Hell" and "Mob Rules" and his early Dio albums. His Rainbow period was also outstanding."


In Scandinavia there seems to be a multitude of great musicians and bands consistently recording and performing in the hard rock and heavy metal genres. What circumstances do you think lend themselves to the high quality artists that come from those countries? Is it important to have a foundation in childhood with access to equipment, time, and family/ friend support – or do you think there are other factors involved?

NPJ: "Not sure. I guess the long and tough winters force the kids to stay inside and play an instrument, haha. The fact that we in Sweden had free music school until a couple of years ago may have been a factor to the "Swedish wonder". However: now it’s not free anymore, so let’s see what the future brings."

You are also involved in a number of other acts, including Civil War, Wuthering Heights, and Lion’s Share among others. Can you tell us what is going on as far as current activities for these bands in 2014 or possibly 2015 in terms of recordings and/or live appearances?

NPJ: "Wuthering Heights seem to rest. I haven’t done anything with them since 2010 or something. It’s the same with Lion’s Share I guess, we have new songs but Lars Chriss doesn’t wanna release them yet. Civil War will release the second album early next year. It will be one of the best power metal releases ever I can tell you that much."

What type of hobbies or interests do you like to pursue in your free time away from music to recharge your creative and emotional batteries so to speak?

NPJ: "I like fishing very much, especially trolling. I also like to watch my favourite team, Leksands IF, play ice hockey."


How do you feel about the metal industry in 2014? Is it exciting to see big festivals like Wacken Open Air sell out 70,000+ tickets within 12 hours for next year’s festivities? What changes would you make if you were in charge to keep the movement healthy and fervent for decades to come?

NPJ: "What can I say? The metal scene is getting so main stream now so I just wait for a new Nirvana to appear on the scene. Could be good, I mean metal is supposed to be dangerous, not something nice that everyone from 7 year old kids to 70 year old ladies listen to. No offense, I just think it’s so mainstream now that it makes me sick. But I’m happy that Wacken is doing so well. I love to play there!"

What is the best piece of advice you ever received concerning life or music? Also, do people ever ask you for advice- and if so what do you tell them?

NPJ: "The best advice I gave to myself: always do your best and never play drunk. That’s my best advice to any musician!"

Please let us know what the upcoming activities will be for Astral Doors over the next 12 months?

NPJ: "We will play live a lot this winter, starting off in November with a big release party in our hometown. It was supposed to be in September, but since our drummer injured his hand we had to postpone it. Hopefully we will visit a lot of countries to promote the new album with live performances. See you on the road!"