Knife – A Slice of Metal

Thursday, 10th August 2023

Germany has always had a solid foothold when it comes to traditional heavy metal support and its numerous offshoots. For those that love a blackened, speed approach, look no further than Knife for that satisfying, fist pumping atmosphere through their material. Their second album Heaven into Dust penetrates eyes and ears, a fierce approach that embraces a lot of the older 80’s influences from their European heritage while also adding some melodic hard rock touches, especially when it comes to the lead break spots. We spoke with guitarist Laz and vocalist Vince Nihil about their latest record, the mascot-oriented cover art philosophy, thoughts on bombastic videos, what would make an ideal dream festival for these musicians, how society will be coming out of this pandemic, and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? And at what point did you start enjoying heavier forms of music, eventually leading to wanting to perform in bands?

Laz: I was thinking about that today. The first records my father played at our house were Johnny Cash and The Beatles – Let It Be. Those were the first records I remember listening to.

Vince Nihil: I grew up slightly different. My older brother was listening to heavy metal in the early 80’s. I grew up listening to Helloween, The Scorpions – World Wide Live was my first record in 1988-89 when I was five or six years old. And then I had a tape with the Keeper of the Seven Keys – Part One from Helloween. Also, the Russian Roulette album from Accept on the B-side. That was my first contact with music more or less, and with heavy music at the same time.

Laz: I started looking for the heavier stuff. “Back in the USSR” was the hardest song I heard by The Beatles (laughs).

Nihil: Then things continued into listening to Metallica. I think Ride the Lightning was one of the first albums I heard. From there other forms of heavy music came into my life. I’m very influenced by the early stuff – Accept, Helloween, the early Running Wild material. Especially when writing the lyrics, I think about cool topics and of course I know a lot of words because of these bands so I try to put it all together. I was 12 when I started my first band with a cousin and a couple of friends, some kind of punk rock maybe. We weren’t that skilled, and you can imagine my voice as I sounded like an angry gummy bear (laughs). And later, when we started the next band in 2001, I was 18, a real band – it was fast and punkish, but not that heavy. It was aggressive, and it’s when Laz joined that band by 2005. Many years ago, we played together, being influenced by Turbonegro, The Helicopters, bands like this. We have been performing together now for over twenty years.

Dead Rhetoric: Heaven Into Dust is the second full-length album for Knife. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – and where do you see the growth or differences in this record compared to your self-titled debut from 2021?

Laz: I think one of the main differences is we had much more time to rehearse. Before the first record, we had one show. That’s the most important difference between the two albums.

Nihil: At least this is how I feel about this – the main difference is how the drums sound. Not the style of playing but the sound of the drums. We more or less stuck to the same formula that we had before. We always have the same process of writing the songs. It starts with Laz coming up with the riffs, as he said we had more time to arrange them in our rehearsal space. We had more time to grow together as a band. After the first record, we knew things were quite cool, of course there are places where you can still improve. After we listened to the album more, and writing / rehearsing new songs, there’s a natural development because we found our sound a little bit more. Many people may say our second record sounds exactly like the first one, but that’s okay because we think the first one was pretty cool too! (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lyrics, are you the type of band that has to get the music complete first before they develop, or do you have ideas at the ready?

Nihil: It depends. Usually, I vibe with the music and depending on the song the topics are usually the same heavy metal things. Horror stories, and the negative sides of life, real life events. When (Laz) comes up with the riffs, sometimes I will have a word or a phrase that comes to mind. Sometimes I have titles that may influence (Laz) on the other hand. We may listen to some older records, hear a phrase or word and match the riff to that because it fits the mood of the song. Usually I’m influenced by Laz’s guitars, but there are times where I have some words beforehand.

Laz: From the first album, “Black Leather Hounds” it was the other way around. You had the title, and I wrote the riff under that.

Nihil: That was a title I nicked from Venom, obviously on the Black Metal album.

Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be a part of the Napalm Records roster after being with Dying Victims Productions? Did you have any worries if they would want to change your style, or do you believe that their staff appreciate the raw attitude and spirit of the band?

Laz: We have no fear they wanted to change that.

Nihil: Of course, we had some discussions whether to stay with Dying Victims or move on to Napalm. This is a big step for us. It’s a huge label. Luckily enough we had the record written before they came to us. The production had already started, so we weren’t really worried about them influencing us. We have the freedom to write and produce the music that we want. It wouldn’t be authentic if this is changed, we can only play what we can play. They would never come up with the idea of us writing a ballad, because a ballad was something different for me, especially as the singer. We have the chance to reach many new people and get our music out to a larger audience. We are quite happy with the situation at the moment.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about to do the Sounds of Sacrifice EP last year with three versions of “Sacrifice”, including the two covers by Venom and Bathory?

Laz: “Sacrifice” was a left-over song from the first album session. We decided to not put it on the second album, so we decided to cover the other songs.

Nihil: At first the song was called “Sounds of Sacrifice”, when we discussed doing another tape with the song, we thought it was a good track but didn’t really fit on the first record. We thought it would be a cool collector’s album, it is fun to play these songs, especially the cover songs are really great fun. It was a nice gimmick in between albums, and we can also still use the song. We did a video of these sessions; we have a dark rehearsal space, and we did a live recording. It is nice for people to hear what we sound like live, of course it’s a bit rawer in our rehearsal space with the old-fashioned equipment.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe there are specific trademarks that are important to have to make the final grade with the songwriting for Knife?

Laz: I think yes – the ingredients are always the same. A lot of heavy metal stuff, I’m not really a good thrash metal player so I have a lot of hard rock influences in the writing and the guitar riffs.

Nihil: I think a trademark is the contrast between the harsh vocals and to a certain extent the really melodic leads that Laz plays. It’s more like two antagonists that work together, more or less. Of course, we have many bands doing this blackened speed sound, I think with us we have that hard rock influence that can be a trademark. It may be why people will claim the first album and the second album are sounding more or less the same. This is the sound that we want to play, and we like to hear that. It’s supposed to sound like how we will sound live.

Dead Rhetoric: You worked once again with Timbul Cahyono for the cover art of the new record. How did the concept work itself out between the band and Timbul – and where do you see the importance of strong imagery to set the tone for albums these days, is it as important as it once was say twenty, thirty, or forty years ago?

Laz: It’s important for us.

Nihil: It’s especially important for us that we didn’t want any photoshopped artwork. We like the old school cover art work that was done for Iron Maiden with Derek Riggs, or the old Blind Guardian and Running Wild stuff. The Ken Kelly art work too from Rainbow and Manowar. It references what the album is going to sound like, so it was very important on the first record. We have this slasher dude, and its cliché, but so is our music and it’s very elemental. We have the band called Knife, and if you look at the art work you get an idea of what the album is already going to sound like. It’s fun to put these gimmicks in there, you will find influences by Iron Maiden, Manowar. Some people may compare the colors and fiery imagery of the new one to Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath. Who knows?

It was very important to go public to create a certain image. We had been together in another band for twenty years, so we started something new. You need to get in the right mood to listen to this kind of music. It’s metal, and the imagery is important.

Dead Rhetoric: The performance videos you shot for the title track and “Night Vision” convey a lot of the strength, energy, and bombast that makes heavy metal exciting. How did these video shoots go for the band, and do you believe it’s a fair representation for what the band is all about when experiencing things live?

Nihil: For the first album we also did two videos. We didn’t have a real budget, so we thought about what we could do. We had to make it as good as possible. This is our second album, so we knew that people needed to be impressed with the first contact with the new label. Especially the “Heaven Into Dust” video was very important for us, the attitude of the 84-85 Venom shows with the amps, fire, leather, chains, bullet belts. If you watch this video, this is exactly what to expect when you see us live, even though we don’t have the pyro because it’s very expensive (laughs). Again, it’s the atmosphere, the headbanging people surrounding the cage for the “Night Vision” video, this was very important for us. This is the way we bond, they see the imagery, and they get into it. I think it’s heavy metal, and people should look like they are in a heavy metal band.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges facing Knife at this point in your career, especially in terms of grabbing a stronger foothold not only across Germany but on a global scale?

Nihil: Of course, the biggest challenge is that we all have to work full-time. Everything we do is during the latter part of the day – we have to rehearse in the evenings, we have to do the interviews in the evenings. We can play weekend shows. What makes it easier for us is we all work together, so we all have different tasks. Some people are responsible for the social media, some for the interviews, our drummer maintains the car and produces our shirts. The bass player does some design stuff for us. We all have different tasks, which makes it a lot easier. We also don’t feel as much pressure – we are all older. We do what we can, and if we can’t, it is the way it is. As long as we don’t lose the fun of playing in a heavy metal band, everything is fine. It’s hard work, but there are basic rewards you get from the fans. As long as we have this feeling, we will be fine.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to assemble an ideal all-day/night festival with your favorite seven to ten band lineup – from any era past or present – what bands would you like to see play your dream festival?

Laz: Metallica has to be there, the 80’s era with Cliff Burton. The Helicopters also.

Nihil: The original lineup of the Ramones. And the lineup for the first Running Wild lineup, with Preacher on guitars.

Laz: Led Zeppelin of course. The first record.

Nihil: Helloween, with Ingo on drums. Metallica would be the big headliner. So many bands. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse era. That would be a great festival! We have played festivals here in Europe where you will have Marduk and Mayhem and also thrash metal and hard rock – that’s great.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you sense humanity has been reacting to the world coming out of a prolonged pandemic? What are the long-term effects that you are seeing or experiencing?

Nihil: It depends a little bit. When we talk about the music scene, bands and festivals had a hard time as they weren’t able to play live. We had clubs that had to shut down. On the other hand, many people are still in doubt of science, conspiracy theories, it makes a huge effect on the whole society. You can talk about climate change, coronavirus, whatever, they doubt the truth – they have strong opinions even in the metal scene, which can be quite dangerous. Like Jon Schaffer and the Iced Earth dilemma. Part of the music scene did move together though. I’m glad the pandemic is over.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal currently? What do you enjoy most about the genre, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of all parties involved?

Nihil: What is great, we have so many bands – a few years ago, it wasn’t as easy to find so many good bands, so many newer bands like Night Demon, Riot City. We have a good festival scene in Germany, it’s growing. We have smaller festivals, and big festivals. There are sometimes though on the other hand too many bands, and you can’t support everyone. Only the really good bands will stay together, some will not be able to stay together that long. We may not have any future big headliners as a result. The bigger festivals may be headlined by Parkway Drive, a newer band I’m not as familiar with. You can’t compare them to Judas Priest or Metallica. Even a large band these days isn’t that large anymore. This might be problematic – we still have Iron Maiden, and I’m sure we will have Iron Maiden for at least the next fifteen years. At least I hope so (laughs).

Social media platforms, you can connect with many bands, make new friends, exchange gigs. You can be influenced by other bands, and hopefully that will influence quality over quantity.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for shows, tours, festivals, promotional activities for Knife over the next twelve months or so?

Laz: We have a little tour run at the end of the year, with Sodom and some other bands.

Nihil: We will have some shows this year. Maybe we will get the chance to play on a longer tour next summer, because of work it needs to be organized to find the dates and have us all go together on tour. We will write new music, but there is no plan of releasing a new record next year. If we have enough material, there will be. We will focus on the promotion of this new record.

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