Brothers of Metal – Dancing on a Thin LineTuesday, 3rd March 2020
We don’t have many eight-piece bands in heavy/power metal, especially with three singers and three guitarists. Such is the case for Swedish act Brothers of Metal – friends who developed a sound that has mighty choruses, strong musical hooks, and this anthem-like presence that contains aspects of folk, symphonic, and even melodic death nuances against its steady platform of power and heavy metal riffs and melodies. Their second album Emblas Saga expands upon their Prophecy of Ragnarök debut effort – creating wider dynamics in terms of atmosphere and sonic presence, as the band confidently strides into their songwriting and performances knowing where the line can be developed and where not to cross things into cringeworthy territory.
Reaching out to vocalist Mats Nilsson, he was very happy to bring us up to speed on how the band came together, thoughts on the two albums to date, memories regarding the band’s best performances plus recent touring escapade with Elvenking – and also digging a bit into history, mythology, and his love of film among other topics.
Dead Rhetoric: The band started in 2012 – and finally released a debut album Prophecy of Ragnarök in 2017. Can you bring us up to speed on how Brothers of Metal became an eight-piece lineup and how you fleshed out the style and direction of the band?
Mats Nilsson: Yes, sure. Basically, we are just friends, having fun. How it all started was basically when we party, we like to stay at someone’s apartment and not go out to the clubs. We stay at home and we write music and have been doing so for years and years. Trying different genres out, just as a group of friends. This night in 2012, we decided that we would make a song that Manowar would be proud of. So we did “Son of Odin” that night. At the same time four of the guys that are now in Brothers of Metal, they had a different band and had an offer from a local club promoter if they would like to play, in two weeks. At the moment, their drummer had quit, and he told them that they didn’t have a drummer but maybe they could check this new project out. He sent them the song, and the promoter said sure – come here and play in two weeks, a 30-minute set. Joakim the singer accepted, and that’s how it started.
Then we needed to write five more songs so that we could play for thirty minutes – and no one was worried. This was going to be fun – we wrote five songs, and people seemed to really like it from the get go. That’s how it all started. There was no really big idea behind being eight people with three vocalists and three guitarists, it was what we ended up with, more or less.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts in reflection on that debut album – do you believe it set the right tone for where you wanted to go with the songwriting, performances, and versatility of your heavy/power style?
Nilsson: The first album, for sure – it was recorded already in 2015. We realized we had enough songs to record an album, so let’s do it. We wanted to have something to look back on when we grow old, more or less. We sat on it for two years trying to get a label deal, which would never have happened if we didn’t release something. We just released it and it blew up – we couldn’t quite wrap our minds around what was happening because people were listening so much to it. For us at least, compared to where we were, at that point it was a huge success. We were really, really happy with it.
Of course if you compare it to the album we just released, it’s quite different in many ways. We developed quite a bit for the second album. Some of the songs on the first album, even though they are crowd pleasers and very heavy and straight-forward, but they aren’t as advanced, the songwriting wasn’t advanced as the songwriting we do nowadays. We’ve evolved, it set the right tone, and we are trying to keep the core from that album while going forward.
Dead Rhetoric: The new album is Emblas Saga – take us through the writing and recording of this effort. Where do you see the major differences or distinctions between this record and the previous one?
Nilsson: The process of writing the album was kind of easy. I don’t think we felt too much pressure. Of course it was way different, as I’ve explained from the first album. We recorded that for ourselves, and we had played all those songs live so we were well rehearsed on the songs. The recording process was really fast for the first album – for this album, we didn’t rehearse any of the songs outside of one we played live. We finished some of the details in the studio this time, we wrote the last lyrical pieces in the studio this time. It was quite different. The recording process in the studio took way longer, but more or less (with) the same feeling of great fun doing it.
The biggest difference is it’s a bit more playing with different timings and some weirder melodies. You can’t go too far from the core I think when you are a band like (Brothers of Metal). You need to stay true to the core and know what is essential in our music. We need to have choruses that are catchy, we need to have melodies, we need to have this big, bombastic sound. It’s an interesting way to write songs, more or less – we can play faster and more advanced if we wanted to, but this is what works for us.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the fact that you have three singers and three guitarists within the ranks, how do the members decide to split up the work and duties song to song? Do you take things on a case by case basis, or is it a trial and error process to see what works best?
Nilsson: It’s always a bit different between every song how we do it. But I would say that, usually we try to do what’s best for the song and put all the egos aside. So far we (haven’t) really had any problems doing this. It feels quite natural when you start putting the lyrics into the music, who should do what. At least when it comes to the vocalists. The guitarists- I think they just give each other stuff, can you do this solo please, can you do this melody? They are quite different in their styles, as are we as singers. It just feels natural, and it’s a very organic way of doing things so far.
Dead Rhetoric: You shot videos for “Njord” and “One” – can you tell us about the choices you made, how the video shoots went and the importance of imagery and the visual aspect to Brothers of Metal as a whole?
Nilsson: Yeah, the only choice that we made was to choose the director, I guess (laughs). We wanted to leave a lot of it up to the director. Because we are doing this hard dance on the thin line between cringy and cool. We wanted to be on that edge – we always want to have some fun, and put some jokes inside the videos. That’s probably the most important thing, to have fun. We don’t think too much about it. There should be some sense of humor in it. Most people have seen some metal videos of guys standing somewhere cool and playing and looking cool. We want to do something a wee bit different than that.
Not within the band, some people will always find us super cringy because they don’t get our kind of humor. They go to saying it’s cringy instantly- and that’s fine. And some people think we are dead serious. It’s always like when it comes to that, it’s subjective. It’s up to the viewer to interpret what they see, of course. There is a lot of discussion with the director when we are filming and then when they edit the shots – we discuss a lot for sure. We are really happy with the videos for this album, I must say.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope to get across to the audience when Brothers of Metal performs live compared to the studio recordings? And what have been some of the more memorable shows/tours/ festival appearances the band has done to date?
Nilsson: We pride ourselves on being a live band and bringing an energetic show. Our show… you need to waste some energy at our shows, because of the rest of the audience we also do this. We are always having so much fun playing live, and the audience can see this – it’s contagious to the audience. Some of the more memorable gigs, last year we played the Sweden Rock Festival. The biggest rock festival in all of Scandinavia – and we played quite early on the Saturday, 2:30 or so, midday. We had low expectations, maybe 1,000 people will come and that will be awesome. And we went out on stage and there’s like, 10,000-11,000 people in the audience, everyone is cheering and jumping. And also the first time we played in Germany – we played the Rock Hard festival in eastern Germany. There was also, the first time in Germany – will there even be people there? We were the second band on the festival, the same thing happened – 10,000-15,000 people showed up, and it was just amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the recent tour with Elvenking across Europe go – was this your first major tour across mainland Europe?
Nilsson: Yes, our first tour whatsoever. The Pagan tour with Elvenking – there was so much to take in. We had a lot of fun. Elvenking were great guys as well – they are way more experienced when it comes to touring, they’ve been together for over twenty years and releasing ten studio albums. We had a blast, almost every show. Some venues were super hot because of the smaller venues, like 300 people that were packed. We’d love to do this again.
Dead Rhetoric: Who do you look to in the history of metal as mentors or benchmarks that you model Brothers of Metal after – either when it comes to their musical output or overall way of handling themselves on a professional and business level?
Nilsson: Let’s start with … the musical inspiration for this band is probably why the way we sound the way we sound. Almost every one of us is involved in the songwriting, and we have so many different styles of music. Different sources of inspiration – everything from John Williams to death metal bands like all the melodic death metal from Sweden like Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, The Haunted and of course there are a lot of power metal fans in the band. That’s the biggest reason for us sounding like we do – because of the different inspirations.
As far as the handling of themselves, our friends in Sabaton. We are from the same town, Pär the bass player and manager of Sabaton, great with the business and great with how you portray the band image and how you do interviews and business. He’s a great inspiration when it comes to that. People not taking life to serious, they are great people in the industry. Be it music or the business end of things.
Dead Rhetoric: Does a band like Sabaton give you hope that when some of the older bands retire, they can take over the mantle and headlining bigger festivals like Sweden Rock and Wacken?
Nilsson: Yes, for sure. They have headlined both- they did Sweden Rock and last year they did Wacken on two stages. I think that’s the lifeblood of heavy metal music right now. Sabaton is one of the ones in front when it comes to keeping it alive. Hopefully we’ll be… we are a bit behind, but I hope that we’ll be able to carry that flame someday.
Dead Rhetoric: If you were able to take a time travel device and live your life through any specific period of history, what era would you choose to live in and discuss the significance or reasons why you would choose that era?
Nilsson: There’s only one answer to this, when you ask us! Between the 8th and 12th century in Scandinavia, during the Viking era it would be so interesting to go back and see how they lived. The main misconception of Vikings is that they were warriors and raiders, just doing that. They were great traders and travelled all over the world, you could find diaries and so on that show that Vikings were living in Constantinople at the time that was the biggest city in the world, guards for the Sultan. You can find Damascus Steel in Sweden, or Persia. The Viking age, just to go into their minds and see what was driving them to do what they did.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about your film and television studies that you took up at college – and what you learned the most that you’ve been able to apply to the benefit of life and Brothers of Metal?
Nilsson: You are well read! Film has always been a big interest for me in my life. I come from a very small town and there wasn’t very much to do so film has been an escape. My friends and I started doing films, we had no idea what we were doing. I kept that interest and went to a musical theater school, and decided that film is the right thing. I can bring a lot of it into the band – myself and the drummer Johan, he is a composer when he is not in the band doing movie scores and music for commercials, stuff like that. We listen to a lot of music scores, and we bring that into Brothers of Metal.
Also, we put small homages into the lyrics to different films. To mention one in “Sleipnir” we say ‘show us the meaning of haste’ and that is Gandalf in Lord of the Rings saying to his horse Shadowfax or in “Siblings of Metal” we start with ‘Gods of war/ May your hammer be mighty!’ and that’s from Hot Rod, a comedy movie with Andy Samberg and those guys. We are always picky with who we work with when it comes to shooting the videos. And the storytelling in the songs, that’s also very important to us and a big reason why we do the symphonic parts as well, it helps lift the story in the songs as well. As most of the songs are stories that we tell.
Dead Rhetoric: The tales that you tell regarding history, fantasy, mythology – were these things that captivated you during childhood?
Nilsson: Norse mythology, it’s our heritage so we more or less grew up with it. Whether we wanted to or not, we read these books as kids, Swedish/Danish comic books that we love that myself and Ylva talk about still. It was great, when we started reading the real history the stories in those old comics were (based on) were very good and kept things true to the original stories. I didn’t know if we would incorporate these things into something that we would do. The interest has always been there – I have the same kind of interest in Greek mythology as well. These are amazing stories.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for Brothers of Metal for the next twelve to eighteen months as far as promotion, shows, tours, festivals, etc.?
Nilsson: Now we are in a dry period until the summer, where we will start to write some new material. We have summer festivals, not all of them are confirmed yet but there will be five to ten festivals around Europe. We will maybe try to go east as well – like Russia and Japan. Nothing booked, but that’s an idea we have. We are also looking into another European tour and with a Scandinavian leg because we haven’t really played those countries. We have only played festivals there, no club gigs. There are still some great venues in Sweden that we would like to play, Norway and Finland as well.