Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix AriseFriday, 22nd September 2017
When you get on the record/tour/record/tour revolving cycle as a metal band, it’s difficult to take a break. In the case of Swedish band Nocturnal Rites, following 12 years of fairly regularly activity that included eight studio albums, a significant singer change for Afterlife, and consistent touring, the band felt after the release and touring for The 8th Sin that they needed a break. Unbeknownst to everyone, the fans patiently have waited for a decade for the band’s return in their ninth studio album Phoenix – and they continue to embrace a melodic power metal platform that keys in on strong musical hooks, solid rhythms, and magical melodies from the vocal perspective.
It’s always a pleasure to talk to a veteran musician like bassist Nils Erikkson – who along with guitarist Fredrik Mannberg are the two remaining original members of the quintet. In this discussion, we of course find out how ten years went by between albums and why, have healthy discussion on some of the mentors that influenced Nocturnal Rites’ outlook on metal, and bounce around their discography to discuss key moments of reflection or change. And do not worry, Nils assures the listeners that we will not have to wait until 2027 for the tenth album…
Dead Rhetoric: Ten years have passed since the release of The 8th Sin – you probably planned a brief break to recharge your collective batteries, but what events/circumstances led to this prolonged absence from the studio? Do you remember the one or two events that led to the train rolling for Phoenix to finally get completed?
Nils Erikkson: Yes and no! (laughs) First of all, we never really planned for this break to be this long. We’ve made albums back to back since 1995, we’ve always made a record, then toured, then started working on the next record. That’s what we’ve done from 1995-2007. When we finished touring for The 8th Sin, I was starting a family and Fredrik was also having his first kid on the way. We decided not to make plans for the next record, and let’s not start writing it right away- that’s what we did. This time around, we took a short break and let things have their own sort of way.
Time just sort of passed. Our guitarist at the time (Nils Norberg) decided to leave the band, we missed a key component for the lineup. We got a new guitarist in the band (Chris Rörland), and that sort of got the ball rolling again. We started writing, we started recording a bit- and Chris left to join Sabaton, which we thought was great for him. We never stopped writing – Fredrik and I have been writing from 2007 until the last song on this record, we’ve been writing songs for the past ten years. Life just sort of got in between, and the break got really long. Just looking back on it, ten years passed and it’s just crazy thinking about that fact.
Dead Rhetoric: What does new guitarist Per Nilsson bring to the Nocturnal Rites fold that maybe differs from Chris Rörland – who left for Sabaton in 2012?
Erikkson: Per wasn’t really involved in the songwriting process, he joined when we had the skeletons ready for all of the songs. But I think he adds a really different flair as far as lead guitar work goes. Nils and Chris were great guitarists also, so we’ve been really blessed to have great guitar players in this band. I think he adds something different, he has a really unique style. He controls his guitar in a way that’s sort of surreal to me. It’s a new approach as far as the lead guitar approach goes, but he’s awesome to have in this band.
Dead Rhetoric: On Phoenix, one of the aspects that stood out to me is the fact that the band seems unafraid to embrace modern, heavier tunings or orchestral/cyber aspects sonically to flesh out the songs – while still sounding 100% like Nocturnal Rites. Do you feel it’s important to keep moving forward and keep one ear on present advancements while still not forsaking the melodic power metal you’ve been known for?
Erikkson: Yes, but you know- again, we never really plan out how a record is going to sound or production-wise how it should sound. We don’t sit around and say it should have more strings on this record, elaborate guitars. We let a record come alive in a way. We are not the kind of band that writes sixty songs and then we are going to pick ten out of the bunch, and that’s the record. We always write a record from start to finish. We write song by song, and we know what songs are going to be on the record so we are working on these songs in that way. It’s a long process, the first song we write dictates the storyline for the other songs we are developing. There is no conscious decision as far as the sound or production.
I think we’ve had the same tunings- I was asked the same question in a different interview – concerning the tuning of the guitars. I think we’ve tuned our guitars the same way since 1997. We started using seven-string guitars way back- I think it’s just they’ve come up more in the mix and we’ve add a bit more beef to the guitar.
Dead Rhetoric: Nine albums into your career – is songwriting an easy or difficult process to develop from initial demos to final results? Do you end up going through a lot of refinement to get things just so on both the musical and vocal fronts?
Erikkson: Yes. Writing songs can be really, really hard- and sometimes so easy. Songs can take a night, other songs can take ten years – which is actually a fact on this record. Some of the songs that we have on the record, started back in 2007. We write a record, we don’t write a bunch of songs and then pick them. We’ve lived with these songs over the past ten years, we’ve gone back and forward. Some of the songs we had a lot of trouble finishing, while other songs were really quick to write. It’s different for each song- but we go through… it comes down to us being really picky and meticulous when it comes to the details, melodies, etc. We try out many different vocal ideas, we change things around, it’s a lot of going back and forth. Writing can take a lot of time for us, but it’s so worth it.
Dead Rhetoric: After being a part of the Century Media roster for so long, what does it feel like to be on AFM Records – do you see major differences in terms of the staff, promotional aspects, and support/suggestions they give to the band?
Erikkson: It’s not really different. We were with Century Media for so long, since 1997 I think. That’s really all I’ve ever known as far as being on a label, so I can’t really compare that to anything else. They are both independent, metal-oriented labels. The only difference is AFM may have a lot more melodic, old-school metal whereas Century Media has a lot more modern, death metal-oriented stuff I guess. Style-wise, we may be better off with AFM, but I don’t think that’s really going to matter in the end. We have fans already, we aren’t starting from scratch.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the standout moments in Nocturnal Rites from a studio or stage perspective? Have there been key events that you knew you were making an impact and taking things to the next level in terms of a following or popularity?
Erikkson: I could start to see a big difference when we released The Grand Illusion album back in 2005. We started touring a lot more, a lot more people came out to our shows, we started to get some regular airplay in Sweden – we started headlining shows around the world. That record sort of pushed us forward a bit, it’s weird to go on a ten-year hiatus when you are sort of near the top of your career, but things happen.
Dead Rhetoric: How is Nils the person away from the studio and the stage? Do you find that you need that balance between a normal life outside of music to be able to give your all when you are focused on Nocturnal Rites?
Erikkson: I’m not really different. I think I am the same dude on stage as I am at home. Whenever you go on stage, you sort of fall into character a bit, regardless if you want to or not. It’s a different interaction, I’m not jumping around the house and headbanging when I’m not on stage. I think we are all pretty grounded and we know why we are doing this- it’s because we love the music and love writing songs and love creating stuff as a band. That’s what it’s really all about, and taking that on stage is really the ultimate reward. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than when you’ve sat and written this song and you come to Japan or whatever to see people sing along, they know the melodies and they know the words- and they are thousands of miles away, that’s a great feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering your tastes run all over the map, including thrash, death, and AOR bands – do you believe this helps you come at things from a fresh perspective as a musician?
Erikkson: Yes. Fredrik and I have always been the creative engine in the band, the two guys compiling songs and making sure that things are going right. I think the fact that he’s more into the extreme side of things as far as death metal and thrash metal, I love that as well and I grew up with that as well, but he’s more into that. I am a melodic guy, I’m not ashamed of listening to Keith Urban (laughs) or Lady Antebellum, or whatever. I like good melody, regardless of the genre. When we write together, it generates a great interaction.
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