Manimal – Breaking Free

Tuesday, 19th January 2016

Sweden has a long history in the metal movement – dig deep and you shall discover that beyond its impact on the melodic death and extreme metal scenes, there are a number of more traditional and power oriented bands that can stand toe to toe with the elite from any other country (Heavy Load and Silver Mountain obscure picks from this journalist). Forming in 2001, Manimal is a quartet that may have only released two albums in their 14-year history, and yet that doesn’t diminish their anthem-oriented approach to the traditional/power genre. One listen to “Irresistible” or the latest album’s title track Trapped in the Shadows and you will hear melodies, harmonies, double bass play, and screams that rival the classic 80’s and early 90’s sounds from Judas Priest and Queensrÿche.

So after copious playbacks of both studio records, we reached out to vocalist Samuel Nyman – who was very excited to field my questions. His deliberate pacing of this interview was very refreshing, as he would thoughtfully express his answers while making sure to be cohesive. Prepare to learn more about the heart theme that runs through both album covers, why Painkiller is one of the best records of all time, and his thoughts on how the music business and record labels are still adjusting to the new consumption model of heavy metal by its listeners.

Dead Rhetoric: Unlike most metal bands in today’s scene, you actually took most of the 2000’s to work on demo material prior to releasing your debut album The Darkest Room in 2009. Is there something to be said for slower, steadier progress for Manimal, and what do you remember most about those early demos as far as recording, production, and songwriting?

Samuel Nyman: Well, we are very slow to progress when it comes to songwriting, and that is mainly because we are so picky. We have such high quality filters that almost nothing passes through them. It takes us far too long to write a whole album. We often find ourselves going back, even when we are finished a song we go back and see if there is something that we can improve. Is this chorus really optimized? Can it be a bit better? Stuff like that is the main reason we are taking so long to write.

When it comes to the early demo recordings that we made, actually some of those songs made it to the final albums and some of the songs are down the trash. There are a couple of songs we haven’t done anything with. I remember that for this new album we used a riff from our first demo we recorded in 2001, it’s the main riff of the song “The Dark” on the album, that was the only thing we used from that song. The years pass and you think you progress and improve your skills in songwriting and as musicians so you often find the older material that is not good enough for Manimal in 2015.

I remember that myself as a singer I felt I improved so much between the pre-productions in 2001, we recorded some songs in 2005, and then maybe 2007 before we actually recorded our debut album. I find myself when I listen to those recordings now I can hear that I improved for every recording I did. There is a big difference as well between the first album and this new album, we have improved as songwriters and musicians.

Dead Rhetoric: Any particular circumstances that took place to explain the prolonged six-year plus gap between albums? How do you feel about being on AFM Records given their strong roster of bands in the particular genre you play in?

Nyman: As I said the main reason is our problem with being so picky when it comes to our own songwriting. Also that is probably both our blessing and our curse because it’s not good for a band on our level to take six years to produce a new album. It’s almost devastating for your career. Nevertheless, we will never release something that we are not 100% satisfied with- but we have promised ourselves, AFM, and our publishers that it won’t take another six years to make our next album now. It’s way too long of a time.

(For us) AFM is an honor to be on their roster. You automatically get much more attention when you are signed by a company as nice as AFM. When they send out information to the media, it gets much more attention than if we had done it ourselves. We have our own record label here in Sweden so we are releasing the album ourselves there as we did the last album, but for the rest of the world it’s through AFM. They’ve done a fantastic job so far- they are nice guys and we have met them in 2009 when we signed the deal for our first album. We will for sure stop by in Hamburg, Germany to meet up with them when we are passing by for our tour in March and April. There are always things you can improve as a musician and with a record label but we have found each other and we get along great.

Dead Rhetoric: Trapped in the Shadows is your latest record – a heavy/power metal effort that contains a lot of Euro-finesse and your soaring, multi-octave vocal range. Can you tell us a bit about how the songwriting and recording sessions went, and if there were any obstacles or challenges that you worked through?

Nyman: There were times when we (wondered) if we would ever get through it and finish the record. I know myself and (guitarist) Henrik (Stenroos) who are the main writers of the band, we hate the recording part of an album production actually. I know many musicians who love that part but we see it as something that we have to go through to finish the album but we don’t look forward to it. The songwriting mostly starts with an idea from Henrik, and idea of a rhythm or a riff, often both. He will record them in his home studio and then he sends it over to me. Sometimes he has ideas of vocal harmonies, sometimes he says ‘hey Sam do your thing’. It always starts there and we build the song around this. It can be starting with a chorus, a riff, a hook. It could be anything, it starts often with an idea of a rhythm, and we build it piece by piece to build up one whole song. We will often try four or five ideas on the same part of a song before we settle with the best of them.

The recordings we made a little bit different this time. The last time we recorded almost everything in a professional studio. This time we recorded the drums in Studio Fredman, a well-known studio in Gothenburg mostly known for the sound like At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames. We chose to record our drums there, and then we recorded guitars, bass, and vocals in our own home studios. We brought everything together and sent it to Achim Köhler, a German guy who has worked with Primal Fear for example. We love the work he has done with Primal Fear and we asked if he would like to mix our album. He did a great job of that.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it safe to say that Painkiller from Judas Priest is one of the favorites amongst Manimal as a collective? And who else would you say Manimal hopes to model themselves after, either in terms of discography, live performances, or just overall professionalism?

Nyman: Actually, the first song of the album, we haven’t done much to try to hide our influences on that song. It’s our tribute to Judas Priest and to Painkiller. All four of us think that Painkiller is one of the best heavy metal albums ever made in history. We love it, and therefore we had to make something as a tribute to the band, that era. So we wrote “Irresistible” as our tribute to the Priest.

If I would choice one band that we all (agree on) we have such different influences and references in the band actually. Kenny (Boufadene) our bass player is mainly listening to death metal and stuff like that. Henrik and I we listen to a lot of the 80’s and 90’s metal, Judas Priest, Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Rammstein. (Drummer) André (Holmqvist) is more into the more progressive stuff. If I would pick one band, I think that would probably be Judas Priest. We love the way- if you would give us a large budget for a live show we would do the same as them back in the days, the metal bands. We will blow up a huge show, mascots, light show, pyrotechnics- we love that. That may have got lost in these (current times), it’s hard to make a living for bands in this business and unfortunately they have to cut costs and that’s often the first thing you cut out, the bombastic live shows with all the stuff that’s in there.

Judas Priest has been such a big influence, and also Queensrÿche, I love the way that they have walked their own path. Even though myself as a fan I can’t appreciate what they’ve done the last 10-15 years, I don’t think it comes up to their level they once had. I have respect for them doing what they want and what they like- as a musician I can respect that. People may not like it, I can identify myself in that (philosophy)- do music for ourselves. With Manimal we write songs that we would like to hear ourselves, music that we love and hopefully other people will also appreciate it. Those two role models in two different ways we all have in common.

Dead Rhetoric: It looks like the video for “Irresistible” was enjoyable in terms of the mixture of conceptual footage and band performances. How did the shoot go, and did you work hand in hand with the director for the treatment?

Nyman: Actually we gave the director Chris Westerstrom free hands. He knew what we liked, we’ve known him for a couple of years- make something that’s not the regular metal video when you are just shooting a band playing. Of course we want that too but we can’t fill five or six minutes with that, we needed a story part too. All these crazy ideas, so it all ended up in the story about the mental institution, breaking free, getting caught again. It was really fun to record (the video), I think the viewer can tell. It’s a low budget production but we wanted it to look expensive. Much of the stuff in the video we borrowed, built it ourselves, Chris made it look professional and high budget. We are thankful for his work on this video. We spent one day shooting the performance part, and then we spent several evenings shooting the mental institution part- which was the corridor outside of our rehearsal studio. It was our first real music video and it was great to be involved and see how it works when a professional is working and shooting a video. I hope there will be more videos in the future, it’s an important tool now with the internet that people can share, spread and watch.

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