Undergrounded.de were kind enough to give me a spot where I’ll share with you some of my rants, my hatred for incompetency and the passion I possess for my job despite all the obvious difficulties. I will conduct interviews with musicians in a way that is different to what has become typical. We will explore the technical side of things, with a healthy dose of dark humor and a glimpse into the backstage of the music industry.
Hell hath no fury like an audio engineer scorned.
I am a grumpy individual, trigger-happy and a music fanatic. I am grumpy, yes; but I am grumpy because I am tired. I am made tired by the mundane rhetoric of the music scene and the associated social media content that inevitably follows it. I am tired of the predictable nature many interviewers are diseased with, and I am easily annoyed by condescending millennial hipsters who only listen to early Darkthrone and think that they discovered fire. I am also tired of the lack of professionalism some bands display, and let me point out that this behaviour is not limited to new bands only - many old bands should have know better by now. I think these issues usually stem from large egos or alternatively a lack of experience which leads to far too little understanding of what I do in order to make these musicians “sound good”. This is one of the reasons I am picky about who I work with. I choose to work with bands that I love - bands whose music and attitude I appreciate and can relate to; where I feel my input and advice are genuinely respected and taken into consideration without bias or ego.
One of those bands is Naglfar.
Naglfar needs no introduction; they have been pioneering their genre since the 90’s and to this day remain one of the most well-known black metal bands in the world. Not only are they excellent musicians who have their hands in many other fantastic bands such as Bewitched, Malakhim, Ancient Wisdom, Bloodline and more, they also created a kind of “standard” insofar as black metal is concerned. Naglfar’s latest album, Cerecloth, is a unique album for me because I waited so long for this material from my dear friends. As is often the case when you wait for something - it’s mindblowing to finally get it. I can barely describe the feeling I got when listening to it for the first time – the excitement, the musical wrath and rapture. All I could think was “fucking hell, this is going to be exciting to mix live”. I was to plan mixing schematics for shows that were scheduled this year; shows that were all cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has left a historical landmark upon the world. It is a scar on the fabric of what we know, including my line of work. Cerecloth’s sonic venom was released in the midst of this plague. It became the background to my rage and fury for the cancelled shows, but that too was to change. Instead of rage the music became what felt like a refreshing breeze, giving me hope for the future, for life after Covid-19. Here to join me in an interview is Andreas Nilsson from Naglfar, Malakhim and Occasum.
Andreas is one of Naglfar’s founding members (I think, I’m not sure - is he?). He plays guitar in Malakhim and in his latest project, Occasum, he plays just about everything. He is a top notch gentleman and always a pleasure to work with on and off stage. Andreas is an easy going guy with a golden attitude of “keep it simple”, but like all good musicians he is strict when the situation calls for it. Andreas also enjoys pushing my buttons so today I will be pushing his instead:
Lior: Andreas, what’s up? How’s the weather?
Andreas: Hey buddy. Not much, other than staying indoors on this first day of proper spring, trying to answer these questions that you keep nagging me about
Lior: So, we’re like a couple of weeks after the official release of Naglfar’s “Cerecloth”, how’s the reactions and how well it has been received so far?
Andreas: I would say that the reactions have been very positive overall which feels good. We never intended for it to take 8 years to release something new, so there is always that idea in your head that people might have forgotten or moved on. This does not seem to be the case though.
Lior: How long are you playing guitar for, how did it all start and who was your guitar hero?
Andreas: I've played guitar since my early teens. My first instrument was actually bass and it all started in high school. I was hanging out with the kids who weren't considered the most ambitious around so we preferred to ditch class and hang at the local shopping mall and smoke instead. This came to a stop when a music teacher sat me down, put a bass in my lap and told me that I had 2 weeks to learn some songs that were going to be performed at a school concert. That's where it all began I guess. I must say that I had no guitar hero in particular back then but I remember when I first heard King Diamonds album ”Them” and was completely awestruck when first hearing Andy Larocque shred away in the song ”Welcome home”.
Lior: How did you discover black metal?
Andreas: It was a gradual evolvement. I was 7-8 years old when I discovered heavy metal. Seeing the videos ”Live Wire” and ”I wanna be somebody” by Mötley crüe and Wasp was the gateway that led me to ruin. As the years went by I discovered bands like Metallica and Kreator, and the search for something more extreme finally landed me in the world of Death metal and a couple of years later Darkthrone released ”A blaze in the northern sky” and that was it.
Lior: Many bands from Umea share similar musicians, sometimes even members of one band start another band with almost the exact same lineup. What the fuck?
Andreas: It is true that some bands share musicians but I can't recall any band with the exact same lineup? Anyways, Umea is a rather small city that is situated up north, away from where most of the scene resided. So lack of people might be a valid argument.
Lior: Let’s talk about your guitar sound. It feels like you have different tuning and guitar sound for Naglfar, Malakhim and Occasum. Do you have different guitars for each band or do you actually tune it differently every goddamn time and ruining the locks and setup?
Andreas: I have different guitars for different bands, and the common thing is that they are from ESP. Naglfar has standard E tuning while Malakhim and Occasum tune in D at this point. I'll probably go lower with Occasum in the future.
Lior: Besides your guitar and pedals, you don’t have a touring rig and you always need to rely on the backline the promoter or festival provides. What’s your prefered signal chain and what will you never accept?
Andreas: I like to keep it simple. I usually ask for a 5150/6505 with Naglfar. That gets me what I need to get the job done. No need for any pedals other than a tuner then. Earlier we used to bring Pod xt:s to be on the safe side, but that's not necessary nowadays as most promoters provide what we ask for.
Lior: One of the things that pisses me off is when mixing monitors, specially from Front Of House, sometimes you get musicians who want an extremely loud monitor mix with all of the instruments on stage, as if it was an album-grade mix. You like your monitor mix on stage simple and relatively low, why ask for so little when you can get so much more? It’s free you know.
Andreas: Once again, I like to keep it simple. I need to hear what Efraim is doing behind his kit, and I want some of Marcus guitars. If I have that I can get into my zone when performing, and that's how I always liked it. If I want to listen to an album grade mix I stay at home and listen to albums. Live is about a different energy and something more primitive. If it gets too polished it ruins the experience for me.
Lior: We had some shows in difficult conditions where the monitors on stage were nothing more than merely a decorative piece, yet no one from the band complained and just went for it with full force and delivered. That was impressive, not many bands can pull it off, especially a band that plays “loud” music and monitoring is essential for them. Elaborate on this phenomenon.
Andreas: I guess it comes down to having been in that kind of situation many times before, and that everyone knows that complaining won't make it better. I'm sure that every band out there has dealt with a shitty venue, but then usually it evens out with a good crowd, cool promotor or similar.
Lior: What’s the most bizzare request you have on your rider?
Andreas: I don't think that we have anything bizarre these days, except for a local surprise that is more or less optional. Earlier when we did more touring we had 5 packs of socks and cigarettes on the rider, just to see if we would get it. It happened once.
Lior: What do you hate the most when it comes to live shows and what was your most horrible show ever?
Andreas: All the waiting leading up to the show. When people tell me it must be so cool to go out and play they don't realize that most of it consists of waiting. Waiting at airports, waiting for shuttles, waiting for an eventual soundcheck, waiting for food, waiting backstage, and so on and so forth. But those 50-60ish minutes on stage makes it worth it. I try to forget the shitty shows as they luckily remain only a few. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing this.
Lior: When you work with different sound engineers, do you ever tell them how you wish to sound or give them any references? Do you even talk to them or just go on stage and do your thing?
Andreas: It depends. If it's someone we know then sure, but usually they already know how we sound. If it's a festival and the time schedule is strained we usually just make sure that the monitor guy knows what we need.
Lior: You never had another live sound engineer before you took me in, what was the reason for it? Is it money? It’s almost always goddamn stinking money.
Andreas: Yeah, money was a factor. And still is. But you made yourself essential so we have no choice but to bring you along nowadays. Good thing you are fun to hang out with, and know what you're doing.
Lior: Do you feel any significant change in your live sound since you hired a sound engineer?
Andreas: Fishing for compliments are we? People have stopped throwing rocks if that is what you mean. On a serious note we are very satisfied with our current sound engineer and think that things overall have improved for the better.
Lior: What’s your do’s and don’ts when working with a grumpy sound engineer?
Don't complain about unnecessary shit that the grumpy sound engineer can't do anything about.
Don't ask for an album mix in your monitor.
Don't tell a grumpy sound engineer that you are at an awesome taphouse when he is back at the bus trying to cure a bad cold. He will find you.
Do buy fancy beers and treat your grumpy sound engineer. He has earned it.
Do offer smokes at all times. He will need it.
Most importantly DO put tomatoes on your rider for your grumpy sound engineer. He will have your back at all times.
Lior: Recording an album is not an easy task, you need to gather bits and pieces of ideas and somehow combine them all together in a conceptual piece and then record, mix and master it. What was the hardest part for you with recording Cerecloth?
Andreas: Honestly, it was finding the time to schedule writing sessions. In the past we always met up at Marcus place to write, but personal life and work made it difficult. So the few times we actually had to meet up we focused on rehearsing setlists for the shows we kept getting offers for. So we started around 2014, but didn't get focused until around 2018 when Century Media asked if we had something new coming up.
Lior: Malakhim. This is an exceptional band, you really hit the spot there and brought something refreshing and unique to the table. It has a different vibe to it than Naglfar, even a touch of psychedelics here and there. Who’s the mastermind behind it all? Please don’t say it’s a joint effort because no one will believe you.
Andreas: Well it IS a joint effort. Everyone in the band contributes to the songwriting and E takes care of all the lyrics. I think joining Malakhim was the best thing I could do as it forced me to think outside of the box when writing riffs. I was pretty set in my ways before that so it definitely helped me improve as a songwriter.
Lior: Occasum is another project of yours, you recorded and mixed it all on your own. This is a total 180 degrees from Naglfar and Malakhim, both musical and lyrical concepts together. Tell me about the process of finding that death metal sound after years of playing black metal, and about your vocal recordings, as to my knowledge this is the first recording where you sing.
Andreas: I've always loved Death metal, and that has been with me since my early teens. And I would say that Naglfar has elements of Death metal in it, but not like Occasum. It wasn't as much as finding a sound rather than that ideas for riffs started to come that didn't fit any of my current bands. So I decided to start up Occasum in order to give those ideas a home. Initially I had a vocalist on standby, but when recording the ideas at my home studio I started to try out vocal arrangements as well. I thought that it sounded pretty decent, so I decided to try to do everything on my own to see where it went. There is a special sense of freedom to be able to take care of everything without having to compromise with other members, so Occasum is definitely here to stay. There is a digital EP out now, and I have about 9 songs done in total, so we'll see what will happen with that in the future.
Lior: In the year 2020, bands don’t sell as many records and merch as they used to in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, it feels like bands rely on the releases to get shows and that’s where they get more rewarded. Covid-19 has hurt the music scene more than any other business out there and it surely has affected you as well, how do you feel the impact and how do you think we can recover from it?
Andreas: Well for us as a band the pandemic hasn't had that crushing financial effect as for many other bands/promoters/crew, as we don't have the music as our main income. How long before the business recovers remains to be seen, but I have no doubts that it will. Until then I think it's important to find other ways to show support. If you are able to, then buy merchandise from your favorite bands, hang on to that ticket for the show that got postponed, hire a sound engineer for your eventual online gigs, and so on and so forth. Try to make sure that the smaller clubs/promoters are still around when this is over. You get the idea.
Lior: Which bands are you looking forward to seeing on stage next year and which bands or styles are you fed up with?
Andreas: Since the shows this summer have been postponed I haven't even started to look into what bands I will be able to see on stage next year. I do hope that I will be able to catch Mercyful Fate at some point, as I've never seen them live. If I'm fed up with bands I just don't watch them. I see no point in calling them out in an interview, and most venues/festivals do have beer you know.
Lior: You’re known as a beer enthusiast, tell me what’s your beer of the day?
Andreas: Unfortunately I haven't been drinking beer for quite some time now, but can't help myself if I find something interesting so the collection is growing. I usually prefer Imperial Stouts that border to a dessert, or IPAs. I have a bottle of ”Smoldering holes” from Warpigs that I've kept for a special occasion that is an Imperial stout aged on a bourbon barrel with mexican vanilla. Looking forward to trying that one for sure. Next time you are around I'll pick some other good stuff out of storage.
Lior: What’s your highest goal in life or any achievement you wish to fulfil before you kick it?
Andreas: To shake the hand of King Diamond. Oh, and inner peace. They might be connected though.
Lior: When and where do you return on stage and with which bands?
Andreas: If all goes as planned and Covid-19 doesn't fuck things up for us we are playing in Belgium in November at Mass Deathtruction festival and with Malakhim at Never Surrender festival in Berlin.
Lior: Alright Andreas, thanks for the interview, hopefully this plague leaves our lands quickly and we will meet again soon!
Andreas: It will, and we shall. Thank you for the interview.
There you have it kids, keep it simple and don’t go looking for gold in the desert. Metal isn’t about the latest trends or latest piece of gear, it’s about knowing yourself and your instrument. Naglfar’s attitude is what makes it so easy for me to mix them so I can really give them the attention they deserve and get creative in the mix. Be like Naglfar. Stay safe and wash your filthy hands.
Picture Andreas - Marcus Norman
Lior Delman is an audio engineer based in Germany, working with bands such as Naglfar, Firespawn, Bewitched, Grade 2 and many others. In his spare time he’s also the president of Hole In The Svn, a promotional team for black and death metal shows in Kassel and Zürich.