Sorcerer – Lamenting SpiritsSunday, 17th May 2020
Purveyors of a mix of epic doom and melodic heavy metal, Sweden’s Sorcerer are enjoying quite a second run in the scene through their recent albums. Gaining critical acclaim and fan buzz through their previous two records In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross from 2015 and the follow-up The Crowning of the Fire King in 2017, the pressure could indeed be higher to elevate their craft to another dimension. These musicians continue to excel as their third album Lamenting of the Innocent showcases more hooks, stronger melodies, smart harmony sensibilities, and thinking about taking popular music concepts and applying them to the Sorcerer doom template.
We reached out to guitarist Kristian Niemann who was happy to bring us up to date on all things Sorcerer related. From how the band handles pressure when it comes to following up well-regarded albums to video work, cover art, how his first guitar teacher led him on the path to pursuing a career in music, and even some solid discussion of the Tony Martin-era of Black Sabbath.
Dead Rhetoric: Lamenting of the Innocent is the third Sorcerer album. Considering the critical approval and fan reception to your last album The Crowning of the Fire King from 2017, did the band members place more pressure upon themselves during the process to make things stronger and better than the last time?
Kristian Niemann: That would be a huge yes! We are always a bit nervous releasing a new record, and like you said The Crowning of the Fire King was very well-received and you always want to do better. We did struggle a little bit at the beginning of the writing process, we were second guessing ourselves, saying ‘is this really as good as that?’. We trust our instincts, trusted our guts, and do what we’ve always done. There was pressure from everybody to step up to the plate and deliver something which was even better.
Dead Rhetoric: Last time we talked, you mentioned that you were in a productive state with numerous ideas that had to be shelved. Did any of those songs make the final cut this time – and what were some of the challenges that took place this time around with the new record?
Niemann: Let’s see…old ideas, did they make it? Not from me personally, I went through all of my old ideas already. From the others, I don’t know if any of the ideas survived the first process. Almost everything was written for this one. I am writing and correcting ideas – we had one song that was supposed to have been recorded on the Fire King album, we took some parts and groove from that and twisted it around a little bit to make it a new song.
The challenges. I don’t think there were any particular challenges. We’ve all been doing this for so long with Sorcerer and other bands, we know how to make records. We went to the same studio, with Simon Johansson from Wolf at his studio. We had our mixing guy Ronnie with us, he was there to set up and mix the drum sound. We took the files home, we do our pre-production demos and they are really extensive. They have all the elements that appear on the album, pretty much 95% of the stuff is there. Maybe the vocalist at the last minute comes up with a change that can be cool, or I add a little guitar part. The challenge is in the writing of the music, not the actual production for the record.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it a challenge to decide song order and album flow to bring this style of music you play on record?
Niemann: I think so. It’s funny, it seems like in the band only myself and Johnny (Hagel) who are really picky when it comes to song order. The rest of the guys are like, whatever works. We have to really make this a good order, think about tempos, intros and outros, we don’t want two things too close together to sound the same. It took a while, we bounced ideas back and forth. He had the last idea, and just before we sequenced the album I made a change, and that’s what you hear on the album. Two songs we just flipped.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that you have an epic doom metal foundation to the music, where do ideas like “Deliverance” and “Path to Perdition” develop, that obviously expand a bit beyond the normal ‘expectations’ of the genre? Do you believe this is what helps separate Sorcerer from what others are currently delivering in the genre?
Niemann: Yes. It could be. We all are listening to stuff which is way beyond doom, all kinds of music, pop, 80’s rock, everything. We draw from everything we like. We are a doom band in the foundation, but we draw from heavy metal, and arrangement-wise some of our songs are really like pop songs when it’s like verse/chorus, verse/chorus, solo. If you listen to more of a traditional doom band, it can be more experimental and progressive. We really like to not over-complicate things, we try to make things as easy and as simple as possible, simple riffs and easy to remember and play. That’s the hardest part to come up with – a simple riff like Black Sabbath with “Iron Man”, that’s genius. That’s what we strive for, the clean and simple riff.
Dead Rhetoric: And how did the guest appearances come about for the album?
Niemann: With Johan (Längquist), Anders actually played in a band with his younger brother way before Sorcerer, that had to be in the early 80’s. It was when Johan had left Candlemass back then, they were always friendly with each other and kept in contact over the years. For this record, the idea was to bring Johan back, now that he’s back in Candlemass he’s singing again. They just asked him, and he did it. I think for “Deliverance” the ballad, it made the most sense. It would give him the most space to do his thing, and also a different side than what he is doing with Candlemass. You can hear his sensitivity and a bit more space with his voice. I think it was a good choice.
And for Svante Henryson, the same thing. He played cello on a Lion’s Share album, so Anders was the contact. We asked him, sent him the lyrics, and he did it very quickly, no problem.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoot for “The Hammer of Witches” you did with Daniel Wahlström of Heavy Groove Media – which intertwines a narrative storyline with actors and the band performance scenes? How did the concept develop, and what do you think of the final product?
Niemann: I really love the final product, it looks really cool. The concept was worked out between Anders and Daniel. We saw a video of theirs online and thought they were really cool. The video shoot, we are working on something right now that kind of documents the whole process. It’s going to be some footage from that video shoot. We went underground, in Stockholm, somewhere deep down below the city and filmed a bunch of stuff. And then Daniel took the stuff back, the band footage, and he filmed on his own all the acting scenes with his friends, they did that together.
Dead Rhetoric: You also have some very striking cover art for the record – who worked on this, and was it a collaboration of ideas between the band and artist to reach the final product? What are your thoughts on cover art and heavy metal over the years?
Niemann: That was the great Dushan Markovic, he’s done a lot of stuff for other bands, and I think he’s doing books and games also, tabletop games. Again, Anders found him online, stumbled upon his art, and we said we had to use this guy. We looked at his stuff, and we gave him the title of the album and what the album was all about, witch burnings and that kind of stuff, and he said let me work on it. It took him about a month as he was busy with other stuff, came back with a sketch which was cool but not exactly what we wanted. We wanted a bit more of a majestic type of scene, so we told him it should be a church-type of setting. He said sure, worked on it for a couple of weeks, and then he presented us with what you see, our cover art. We were like, holy cow- that’s really cool. I think it ties in very nicely with what the songs are about, it’s a great visual representation of what the album is all about.
There’s been some amazing cover art. For me, going back to the Derek Riggs stuff with Iron Maiden, classics. You can’t beat that, that’s the best. There is a lot of great stuff. Our album is more drawn, and then you have computer graphics, photoshopping. You can reach great results with everything. One of my favorites right now, which I just saw a couple of weeks ago is the new Katatonia album City Burials. That looks amazing. There are many talented guys out there for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: What are mistakes or missteps that you see younger metal musicians making that you wish they would really think about and correct for the future?
Niemann: That’s a good question. Mistakes… hmm. I learned quickly to be surrounded by great people to just work hard, don’t be an asshole, work hard on your craft to practicing your instrument, practicing your craft, practicing songwriting, then good things are going to happen. The mistake is probably people realize this quickly, you need to be a social person and be nice to people. Maybe the focusing for instance with guitar players- it’s the type of instrument that forces you to write. If you are a bass player or drummer, you don’t write as much. Learn a harmony instrument like a piano, and if you are a guitar player, learn how to sing. Because if you are a guitar player, but if you can do back up vocals, it will make you more attractive for any band that is looking to hire you. If two guys are equally great at the instrument, all things being equal, the guy who sings probably ends up getting the gig.
Branch out, do different things. Get into production. That’s one thing I would have done sooner – really learn how to record. Getting good sounds, and thinking about everything when it comes to the music. Everything comes together and is really important as part of the whole package.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe Sorcerer’s resurrection couldn’t have happened at a better time, considering the interest in not only the history of doom metal but also the wider array of newer bands globally playing in this niche style?
Niemann: I think it was great timing. We really lucked out for sure. I personally didn’t really follow the doom genre very much. Of course, Candlemass growing up in the 80’s, other than what Leif was doing with other projects and bands. Krux is one of my favorite bands, everything Leif touches is gold, a doom god. Avatarium of course. I think we lucked out, totally. The interest right now can’t be compared, but there are a lot of really great doom bands coming out right now.
Dead Rhetoric: While everyone is well aware of the Ozzy and Dio-eras of Black Sabbath, there seems to be a lack of high regard for the Tony Marin-era of the band. Feel free to state your case for our readers to investigate more of those albums – where should they start, and why do you think in the 1990’s they didn’t get the respect they deserved?
Niemann: First, where to start. I’d say start with Headless Cross. Classic album, I would say. I think it’s on par with the Dio-stuff, the songs, the playing, the singing, everything. It’s a matter of taste, if you like Dio and don’t like Tony Martin, that could make it difficult for you. Give it a shot, the songs are great. Start with the song “Headless Cross”, “When Death Calls” amazing songs. You can go to Tyr, and the Eternal Idol album, “The Shining”.
Why didn’t they get the respect. After Dio left, there was such an influx on new singers. Ian Gillan was in the band, Glenn Hughes was in the band, Ray Gillen and Tony Martin. It became a big mess, and some people maybe thought they lost their soul in a way with Iommi bringing different guys in and out. With Headless Cross, Cozy Powell is on drums, and it doesn’t have any guys from the classic Sabbath era. People need to rectify that by listening to Headless Cross.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think are the main responsibilities of a band once they release a few records to sustain and hopefully grow their following? Is it tough to balance out what you as a musician hope to get across and what the expectations may be from a long-time follower of your work?
Niemann: Another great question. I would think it would be more difficult if you are a very successful band that’s sold millions of records – getting up to a big level. Where the record companies try to interfere and tell you to just do what you did the last time, because they know it’s going to work. I’ve never been in a situation where people have told me I need to write in a certain way. If all the fans are expecting something – for us, we can only do what we do, what we write and what we like. I’m not going to write a song that sounds like The Strokes or Aqua, you know? We try to keep our foundation of the heaviness, and try to expand the sound out in different ways. We have some growling on this (album), and that’s different for us, keyboards on the faster songs. We are stretching out in different ways – and if you compare Lamenting to say the old Sorcerer demos, it’s a huge difference, as it should be.
And we will lose some fans along the way – I’m the same way when it comes to my favorite bands. I can listen to Iron Maiden up to 1988- after that, I don’t really enjoy it. The same with Dream Theater. Just follow your heart, follow what you believe in. If people follow you, that’s good, if not- then you’ve done your best.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the relationship between Sorcerer as far as band chemistry, friendships, and respect?
Niemann: I would say it’s a great group of guys. We have the utmost respect for each other, otherwise I don’t think this lineup would be together for this long. That’s such an important part – the playing is almost taken for granted. You can play great – but can we get along with you in person? You are on stage one hour, and you see each other the other hours. There’s a huge amount of time spent hanging, and that hanging has to be great. Mutual respect, and respect people when it comes to privacy. We are older now, and between 45-50 other than Justin. It’s not worth it anymore to be around people who are not fun. That’s old, when you are starting out you don’t know any better. At this point, we just want to have fun, hang out with our friends, and also make good music along the way.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the best investment that you’ve made in your life? It can be a specific investment of time, money, energy or other resource – and how did you come about making the decision of that investment?
Niemann: The first thing, investing in myself. Getting on this track of being a musician and playing the guitar. Finding my first guitar teacher was the catalyst for everything that followed. When I started playing, I started around 16-17 and I felt like everybody at my age was already so much better. I really wanted to find a good teacher. I lucked out, I went to a concert with a friend I went to see W.A.S.P. on their Headless Children tour. At the entrance inside there was an ad for a guitar teacher, I took his phone number and called him up. I went to Hasse Lindén – everything he instilled in me, diligence, practice, intent. He went to the Musicians Institute, GIT in Los Angeles, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. So I did a couple of years later and I met a bunch of great guys there. That was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
And then when it comes to a physical thing. Early on getting my computer so I could start recording, one of the early power Mac’s. I had Cubase, the early version, and start to mess around with that. I’m happy I did that pretty early. It doesn’t mean I’m great at production, but it’s a natural thing to manipulate things to make songs. It’s a quicker process than what was around at the time, which were four-tracks and eight-tracks.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a day job as a guitar instructor. Have you had to adjust your teaching to more video/Skype sessions because of the virus?
Niemann: Absolutely. We are doing everything online since a month back. I work three days a week, I go to my work place because I have some drum students so I have a kit there and work with them on that. The rest of the days I sit with my computer, Skype and What’s App. It is what it is right now. I prefer teaching person to person in the same room, but it still works. I hope that things can go back to normal sooner rather than later.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Sorcerer over the rest of 2020 into 2021 – as it probably puts you in a unique position to pick and choose what types of touring/festival opportunities you’ll do while in this holding pattern for live shows?
Niemann: We have a couple of gigs that are booked around the release of the album – I don’t know if those are going to be there. Otherwise, I read a report that concerts and festivals may not come back until next year. It’s all very up in the air. The record comes out, but as far as any playing to support it right now, I’m very unsure of that. Which means we have a lot of time to start working on some covers, something fun. I would rather work on that, maybe do that to pass the time. Sorcerer has done “Stargazer” from Rainbow, and I think that was a pretty ballsy move. One of the holy grail songs ever for me. We would pick something weird, poppy maybe and try to make it heavy. Great choruses, great melodies- it’s what we strive to have in our music.