FeaturesManimal – All About Honesty

Manimal – All About Honesty

Conveying a tough as nails attitude and presentation, Swedish group Manimal aims to appease the ardent heavy metal followers who enjoy traditional and power aspects put into a modern production and tonality context. Their latest record Armageddon keeps the purity, aggression, and melodic textures that put acts like King Diamond, Queensrÿche, and Judas Priest in the hearts of old school mavens – but doesn’t forget about the current generation of metalheads either looking for younger bands to fuel that aural fire.

We reached out to vocalist Samuel Nyman again through Skype, and he was very happy to converse extensively on the new record. We handle the topics of honesty through the band’s approach and output, the numerous singles/videos prior to the actual release and subsequent delays that occurred, special artwork designs, Judas Priest talk, and special memories touring that include gigs at ProgPower USA and Russia.

Dead Rhetoric: You mention in the background information for this new record Armageddon the importance of honesty shining through when it comes to your belief in your music. Discuss the process of channeling this honesty properly as far as the work behind this record – did you notice any specific moments or instances where you may have second-guessed specific parts that had to be worked through?

Samuel Nyman: To start with when it comes to the honesty in our music, it all comes down to playing music that we like to listen to ourselves. Basically, it’s nothing more complicated than that. We write and perform music that we like to listen to ourselves. We are not set out to create something new or original. We are here to play music that we like. I think also, it’s dangerous for bands to listen to what people want to hear. To try to create something which is not completely honest. I think that can shine through, in the opposite way. We love to play this kind of metal music, we love each and every song on this album. That is the best and most honest way to create music.

Sometimes there are things, parts in the music, which need to be discussed. It’s not obvious that everyone in the band will stand for it. For example, I did a rap part in one of the songs on the new album. I honestly didn’t think Henrik our guitarist and main songwriter, would buy it. But he did, I recorded a demo of it and I thought it sounded pretty cool myself. But I wasn’t sure everyone else in the band would like it, especially Henrik as he is pretty traditional when it comes to metal music. But he liked it, and we said why not? If it’s sounds cool, it’s cool – the same goes for some other parts. On the song “Chains of Fury”, in the chorus we have a choir singing in the background, like prisoners working at the railroad. That was not obvious that everyone would like that when I created this. Sometimes we discuss things because we all want to be able to stand for what we do.

It needs to be honest. And that is the way we create music.

Dead Rhetoric: Guitarist Henrik Stenroos is the main songwriter when it comes to the musical components. What is it like watching him come up with these compositions – and how do his various influences come into the picture, as it’s obvious he has a love for the work of Judas Priest, Queensrÿche, and King Diamond, just taken a bit into more modern directions to these ears?

Nyman: Yes. It starts out with a riff, a rhythm, an idea from Henrik, which he presents to me. Sometimes he has ideas for the vocal harmonies, and we send demos back and forth. That is the way we work with the songs until we are satisfied. Sometimes it goes pretty fast, like I mentioned in the song “Chains of Fury”, that was a smooth process with that song. Sometimes we will work a year or two years with one single song, because of one part that we can’t get it to work and sound the way that we want it.

It’s a privilege to work with a songwriter like Henrik. He is a master. He has this great feeling when it comes to guitar riffs and rhythms, the way he often creates the songs around them. When it comes to great vocal harmonies as well. I have to admit I sometimes have my doubts, he presents harmonies to me and plays them on guitar because he isn’t very comfortable with singing. I doubt sometimes it would work, because I think it’s too simple when you hear it played on a guitar. And then I try to sing it in different ways, and often I end up accepting the harmony he wants and embracing it. It’s a good harmony, he has a great feeling for that.

We have never tried to hide our influences. Those three you mentioned, among others are present indeed. Henrik loves the modern, heavy sound of bands like Rammstein and Primal Fear. We like those modern productions – and that is often a sound that we aim for when we record, mix and master our songs and albums. We are very aware of what we want and how we want it to sound. Even though the foundation of most of our music comes from bands like Judas Priest, Queensrÿche, King Diamond, and other bands – we would like it to sound more modern and heavier than maybe most of those bands old records sounded like. It’s pretty spot on there.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve released a series of music and lyric videos in preparation for the album’s release – which was delayed due to the pandemic as well as issues getting a proper vinyl release on time due to the wait times with the manufacturing plants. Do you believe this built-up anticipation with the fans for your release – and do you still enjoy the process of making videos and gaining feedback for your work?

Nyman: It was very unfortunate that the release had to be pushed back one time. And then we had to push back the vinyl release once more. Obviously, I think we gained on releasing all those singles as we did. The main idea was to release four singles before the album and release the first single in May. Try to build hype, to build something – and also by releasing singles, those songs get a little bit more focus and attention from media and the fans than if they were released with the whole album. We picked four songs that we felt we wanted to have more attention. And then when the release was pushed back the first time, we decided with our label to release another single just to keep people busy while they are waiting for the album.

We ended up with five singles, but I think it turned out pretty well. Like many people these days listen to the first four or five tracks of an album on Spotify or any other streaming service – the other songs are often missed or forgotten. We made two official videos and two lyric videos for these songs – which makes them get a little more attention on YouTube as well. The plan worked out pretty well. I think we have gained a lot of new fans thanks to this marketing plan. It’s unfortunate that the release is pushed back – its out of our hands, what can we do? The lack of vinyl in the industry, it is what it is – and the pandemic, the impossibility to play live, you just have to live with it.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the work of Stan-W Decker for the cover art of Armageddon? Do you enjoy the work and interpretations different artists give to your winged ‘mascot’?

Nyman: Stan, we found about him through our label and our booking agency, which they both have worked with Stan previously. They were very satisfied with his work, we checked out his work, and we thought this could be the guy. We asked him to start working with the album cover. We had some ideas of how we wanted it to look, but we wanted Stan to make his own interpretation of the mascot, of the Manimal. And he did. And it turned out awesome. The idea of the manimal coming up from the ground, coming out of the ground, and we wanted a lot of fire, lava, and skulls. We wanted a lot of cliches in there, stuff that we connect with metal music.

Already with the first draft that Stan sent us, we were very satisfied, even though it was only a draft. We had no hesitations. And then we decided since we were going to release four singles, which ended up being five, we also wanted Stan to make single artwork, original for each single. Sometimes you just use a part of the album artwork as a single artwork, but since we were working with a talented artist, we wanted to use his talent. It did cost us a lot of money, but we don’t regret it a second. It’s all worth it, it looks so good when you post this artwork and see it on Spotify or social media. We will use some of this to print on merchandise.

We love his interpretation of the manimal on this one.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s great to see. You don’t often see bands doing that these days – you used to with Iron Maiden doing unique cover art for the singles beyond the albums. I think it can be applied today and get some mileage out of it…

Nyman: Of course. It does cost a lot of money, these guys don’t do what they do for free and it’s not cheap. But it’s well worth spending the money on this, it’s worth so much to have great artwork. For Iron Maiden it’s not a problem to spend the money, for us it’s a big part of the production budget. It was not obvious, but we wanted to do this and don’t regret it.

Dead Rhetoric: Given your appreciation for Judas Priest over the years, I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on their last release Firepower – and what to you is your favorite era of the band? Also, what do you enjoy most about Rob Halford that has helped shape your delivery and outlook as a singer?

Nyman: I think Firepower was Priest’s best album in years. It is a great album. Even though I know that we released our new album Purgatorio in the same year, and Firepower was in the top of many best lists of that year’s best albums. I loved the fact that Priest was back in business. They had made some mediocre albums for many years, and this was the first album in years I listen to a lot from the band. If you ask Henrik, he would pick the older stuff – Screaming for Vengeance or Ram It Down. I would say Painkiller for me. I love that heavier Priest style – which is represented on that album. It was one of my top five metal albums of all time. It’s not one single song I skip when I listen to that album. I enjoy every single moment, every single riff, every single solo.

I can’t tell you how much Rob has meant to me. Just listen to our albums and one can tell he has made a huge impact on my singing. I started out copying other vocalists – singers like Michael Kiske of Helloween, Geoff Tate, and Rob Halford. I tried to copy what they did – obviously in the beginning it didn’t sound like that but over the years I started to find ways to use my voice and sound something similar to what I heard when I listen to those singers. All the singers I like, it’s boiled down into one soup, you know? Even though he may have lost some of his range as he got older, it’s natural. Your body changes, the vocal cords change, he has a character in his voice that can’t be copied. I enjoy listening to his voice on record and live.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe your views and personal life have changed considering the almost two-year pandemic situation that has overtaken the world?

Nyman: It makes you humble, you know? It makes you grateful, you take being healthy for granted. I’m healthy, my family is healthy. Sometimes during the years, I’ve been jealous (of) the musicians who can make a living with their music. But over the past few years, it’s been the opposite. I was happy that I didn’t make my living on my music. All these friends of ours, it was their jobs, and their salaries were taken from them overnight. They had a rough time – and I am happy music is still a hobby even if it consumes a lot of my free time and spare time. It’s not what I make a living on. I’m pretty happy with that right now over the past two years.

Dead Rhetoric: A few years back in our previous interview for the site, you mentioned the business adjusting to the new music consumption models and the fact that the album may be less important than previous times. Would you say these predictions ring true – or is there still value in the album format for all listeners to cherish?

Nyman: I think in the metal genre with the metal fans, the album is still important. Most important for the musicians themselves. For us, we will always keep on doing albums. You have this bunch of songs, you want to record them and release them so you can move on and write new songs. You want to have them documented. In this genre, especially the albums, they still mean something. Maybe in the pop and rock genres, it’s not that important for the fans.

People, they listen to single songs. They take their favorite single songs on their streaming services and make these playlists. I do it myself. I seldom find myself listening to a whole album from start to finish. There are only a couple of artists which I wait for the album and listen to the whole album. Most of the time these days I pick the raisins out of the cookie, like everyone else. The album format is getting less important for the fans and the listeners, but for the musicians it’s still important and therefore the album format will be there. It will not disappear.

Dead Rhetoric: Manimal has had the opportunity to tour with a variety of bands over the years. What insights and takeaways have you learned from the road that have made the band stronger and more professional over the years?

Nyman: Just by being out there and doing it, you gain so much. To be humble, to be easy going. Since we’ve been a supporting act on all the tours we’ve done so far, you have to be easy going. We take care of our stuff. Nobody has to tell us when we are supposed to be at certain places. We will deliver our show each night. We have learned a lot, maybe not anything that new but we have things we have confirmed as people and as a band, we are four humble guys and easy to hang around with. We have so much to win by being humble. Just by playing live, the more you play live, the better you get, and tighter as a band. You learn stuff during tours, the group dynamic. Even though we have done several tours together, I can’t recall even one time we have had a fight within the band. We are four different personalities but compliment each other in a good way. There is so much you experience just during one tour. When you get questions like this, you start to think about what you learn and experience. We have learned thousands of new things – how to pack your stuff and mark them with yellow tape with the band name on it, so you know instantly what is your case. Small stuff like that, how you act against other bands and other people, personal things about the venues, crew.

And that is what we want to do. Recording albums is okay, but none of us thinks that is jolly fun. We love to play live. We know we have to record the albums and release them to be able to tour, so we do it. We are in it for the live part, playing our music for people, make new connections, new people, bands.

Dead Rhetoric: Would you say two of your most memorable live experiences were playing ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Georgia and shows in Russia?

Nyman: Yes, those two are in the top. It was an awesome experience. ProgPower USA would be number one. It was my first time in the US. That was an experience in itself. The festival, the venue, the people – it’s such a great atmosphere. The crew are so friendly, the whole thing was such a great experience for us as a band. And also, Russia – I had never been to Russia. This was outside Moscow, we took a day off after the show at that festival to be a tourist in Moscow. To visit new places in general, is an awesome experience and you gather memories for life. Two of my most cherished memories are from ProgPower USA and the show we did in Moscow.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the career of Manimal currently? What are your most satisfied with, and where would you like to see improvements made?

Nyman: That we still think that this is fun. That gives me a sense of satisfaction. This means so much to all four of us, to be able to do this. We are privileged that people request us, request our music, travel around the world to play our music. I’m most satisfied with us sticking together, coming along so well. For us four being friends and doing so many fun things together, and creating great music. We still have more to show the world and deliver.

When it comes to things that I wish we could develop and do different. We want to develop our stage show. It’s hard, because it’s more or less about money and what you are able to bring on tour. If we had an unlimited budget for a tour, we would bring our own Eddie on stage, bring the manimal as our monster and have a bigger stage show with a lot of things happening, like theater. That is something we want to develop even further. We have done this in small portions, we want to develop that part. To keep on developing as musicians. When I listen to all the albums chronologically, I hear that we have developed during the years, and as songwriters. I want to keep on doing this. We don’t want to sit down and be satisfied, we want to see how far we can take this.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or so shaping up for Manimal when it comes to live touring, festivals, and promotion? Have you been able behind the scenes to get some work going for the next release while waiting to play again?

Nyman: I know that Henrik is focusing on creating new music. When we finished the album mix, he immediately started to write new material. What goes for next year – we hope that the shows that we have booked already now will happen. These times, nobody knows. We have a headliner tour, not officially announced, in the fall of 2022. We were supposed to be on tour now with Rage and Bonded here in Europe, but that was cancelled because of the pandemic restrictions. We want to play live as much as possible. It is what it is. We have a pretty unique show booked in our hometown. In a theater where we played with Circus Maximus a couple of years ago. We have booked this theater to do a show on our own. It will be spectacular, a lot of theater, fire, skulls. We will go all in on this one – film it and record the audio. If it turns out well, and the material is good enough, we will release the songs on YouTube or if our label wants to release it as a live DVD, we will go for that.

We have a couple of festivals coming up next year. The Karmøygeddon festival in Norway – which has been postponed two years now. And then we have one in the Czech Republic, one outside of Berlin, Bang Your Head in Germany. There will be possibilities for the European fans to see us live next year. I hope we get to play in the US again. It’s very expensive to go there, the visas, flight costs, nightliner. It’s not that simple as compared to touring Europe.

Manimal official website