Sorcerer – Shining Like a Morning StarSunday, 5th November 2023
When it comes to epic doom metal over the past decade, there hasn’t been a better run of studio records for this scribe’s money than Sorcerer. Since resurrecting themselves in 2010, we are now on a four-album run of tremendous output – the latest record Reign of the Reaper providing a bit more faster tempos to the cause without sacrificing the jaw-dropping riffs, stellar lead breaks, and soaring melodies we’ve come to know and love from this group. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with guitarist Kristian Niemann, who was happy to fill us in on other special EP’s the band worked on during the pandemic prior to the release of the new record – his idea capturing into songwriting work ethic, lead guitar approach, how the team of artists, producers, and mixers aid the best final products, challenges in selling records to make a healthy living as a band, fatherhood, as well as what’s in store for the group on the live show front.
Dead Rhetoric: At the end of our last talk for Lamenting of the Innocent in 2020, we were in the beginning stages of the pandemic lockdown where you mentioned Sorcerer would have time to start working on some fun things, including covers. Can you discuss the special releases you did independently during that downtime in 2020-21 with The Quarantine Sessions and Reverence EP’s – which were acoustic versions of previous songs and covers with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Saxon, and Ozzy Osbourne tracks? Did this help ease the uncertainty and unsure feelings surrounding what was taking place?
Kristian Niemann: Yeah, I guess it was the same for everybody. We didn’t know anything; we didn’t know how long this was going to take. When we released Lamenting, we talked about whether we should release the record (then) or hold onto it and wait until this thing is over. We didn’t know, so we released it – COVID-19 could have gone on for ten years. Then when those covers came about and The Quarantine Sessions, those were fun things to do, present this to the people to say we were still here, but weren’t ready to write new material. We picked some favorite covers, the original idea was to just do like Europe where they played a song in the rehearsal room, did a quick thing. Then we got a little bit more serious, recorded it for real.
We voted very democratically on the covers. Everyone chose like ten songs – and then everybody voted. I didn’t have any songs on the list (laughs). I would have picked pop songs or something that wasn’t metal. But I think it was the right decision to choose these songs.
Dead Rhetoric: In the background information for the newest album Reign of the Reaper, you mention about 150 ideas that you went through to develop your songwriting for this effort. Can you discuss how you sort through things and the quality control you go through to find out which ideas can develop into the songs that make the final cut for the record?
Niemann: Sure. I have my phone, I voice record with that and whenever I have an idea, with or without the guitar, I sing into my voice recorder. Then I download it into my computer, and put it into a folder, for this album there was one called ‘S4’ for the fourth Sorcerer album. Put all the ideas in there, and when we start thinking about working on an album, I sit down with a couple of beers and listen to all of the songs, the snippets of ideas, and I make notes. Slow groove Sabbathy, fast Yngwie part, whatever – just so I can get sort of a reference. Then I grade my ideas, put stars on the ideas – one will be a five, I go through it like that. Once I’ve made the first selection, I know what to start working on.
With most people who write, the ideas may not even be that thing that was the initial spark. Then the song develops from there. Just to have something that gets you excited, working on it. For me, it’s often a groove, or just a drum groove, a tempo, a feeling, or some type of riff.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there certain songs this time that took more time to develop compared to others?
Niemann: Yeah, absolutely. “Morning Star” was the longest to develop. I had the original melody, the one that opens the song. Most of the people really liked it. We started working on it, in conjunction with the band. It went through so many iterations with so many combinations of different riffs. If I would play you the first demo, the only thing that was left was that original melody. And then the verse was different, the chorus was very different – very up-tempo. It sort of didn’t work dynamically – we worked other things out. It went through a lot of iterations. I really love that first melody, and I wanted to do it justice and not just throw it away. That took a long time – probably the longest for the songs I wrote.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the first single/video for “Morning Star” – directed by Daniel Wahlström of Heavy Groove Media. What was the video shoot like between the band spots and narrative/acting sequences – do you feel that the style of music you develop works very well for the visual medium?
Niemann: We were a little unlucky with the weather in Sweden. The weather during the summer was rather abysmal. We were supposed to film in a castle ruin at dusk, with flames and candles. We couldn’t do that because it was raining, we just rented an indoor location, a black box pretty much. We made do with that. He filmed all the stuff that wasn’t the band, he filmed himself with the actors and he did a great job.
Does this work, the visual medium with the music – yeah, I think so. I think most music can be accompanied by film or visual material. I’m really picky – for “Morning Star” the song is kind of intense, it needed to be quick editing. That was the important thing. If we had a massive budget, I would love to make a really cool movie-type video.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the progression of the band through this fourth record – does it still remain challenging to maintain a consistent style while keeping things fresh, creative, and evolving to satisfy yourselves as musicians while hopefully meeting/exceeding expectations for the listeners?
Niemann: Yeah, it gets more difficult every time we do an album. I’m scared to death every time we release an album and let people hear it. There’s a level to which we set to ourselves and then to our fans, it goes up all the time. When you hear people say they’ve outdone themselves, there’s no way things could get better – where do you go from there? We have an idea this time – we wanted to make a shorter album. We wanted everything to fit on one vinyl record, because the last album was 63 minutes, and that’s kind of long. There are not many albums which are that long which are that good these days. We wanted to have focus, we wanted things a little bit faster. We always think about what songs are going to work good in a live stage – we didn’t have as many fast songs, so we decided to write more. The progression is natural that way. We discuss things here and there as a band. Maybe the next album will be three songs and sixty minutes – who knows? We try to do that and satisfy ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your approach when it comes to the lead sections – do you plan things out or are you more of a spontaneous player to get the best work?
Niemann: I’m more of a spontaneous guy. When I do the demo songs, the solos because I’ve done this so many times over the years, if I fall in love with a demo solo, I know I’m never going to be able to top it on the album. What I do is I play sloppy crap, play something – when I go for it on the album, I know that’s going to be the best thing I can do at the time. I improvise over it, if I’m inspired in my playing, it takes maybe just an hour or two to have the solo. If I’m not in good shape, it could take a day just to get something down. It really varies with my mood and how good my hands are feeling. When you start to build from the beginning, you find a part you like and discover where you think it should go. Should be fast, or a noisy thing – it builds like that.
Dead Rhetoric: Beyond the band members, you’ve always surrounded yourselves with key guests or producers behind the scenes for Sorcerer to achieve the best final product record to record. Where do you see the importance in finding the right additional support from people like Conny Welen, Simon Johansson, Mike Wead, Ronnie Björnström, Joakim Ericsson, and Jani Stefanović over the years?
Niemann: They are incredibly important. Conny has been there all the time, since the first album. Jani has as well, I think. The key person is Conny, he’s directly involved in the songwriting. He helps Anders come up with the melodies, they make arrangement suggestions. He’s really like the sixth or seventh member. With Joakim, we didn’t work as much with him. It wasn’t like a back-and-forth thing. With Jani, he’s really great at taking the artwork and designing the whole album around it. We know he’s always going to do a killer job, so why mess with a good thing? I trust him, he’s a cool guy. Ronnie has always been there from the beginning. We trust that he will come up with a great sound, he’s so easy to work with. He keeps raising the bar with his mix.
With Simon and Mike, they’ve been involved with the drum recordings for the last three albums. Brilliant musicians, both of them. With their skills and knowledge, they can come up with a great sound. It’s a combination of Ronnie, Simon, and Mike working together to up the game from the last (record). They always surprise us, in this case with the drum sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel as older musicians you are at an advantage when it comes to incorporating the new recording technology against the old techniques of getting stuff down on tape to perfection?
Niemann: Hmm… good question. I’ve never thought about it. I grew up and started playing late. When I started my recording career, I already recorded some stuff on portable studios. The first Therion album I did was recorded on tape. Had I been born ten to fifteen years earlier, getting things perfect on tape would have been even more important. Now with computers you can fake things and get things done easier. I was right in the middle. If I had to record on tape more, I perhaps would have been forced to practice even more. Nowadays, I can sort of get it down, punch in and edit things. We have to play things live, so at some point I know I’m going to have to learn those solos and what we put down on the album.
Maybe things were a bit better before as a musician. There was no Autotune, you couldn’t fix vocals in the same way, you had to sing. Only the good musicians would be allowed in the studio. You can create different things now and make it sound awesome. It’s music. However, you get your ideas down, whatever- more power to you.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel the band is at an advantage having a high caliber singer like Anders in the band?
Niemann: Oh yeah. For me personally, this band starts and stops with Anders. If he would leave the band, Sorcerer would be over. The rest of us are definitely replaceable. The singer is such an important part of any band, and for my money Anders is a great metal singer. He’s up there with the best of the best. He’s such a cool guy, he doesn’t have this lead singer disease, he’s an awesome guy, down to earth. The day he stops singing for Sorcerer, that’s the day this band stops.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you been enjoying for bands/music as of late? Do you continually feel inspired by the music of your youth versus paying attention to what’s come out from newer artists over the past say five to ten years?
Niemann: I have a really tough time getting inspired by the old stuff. Because I’ve heard it so many times – I can’t go back to a Maiden album, Metallica, or Queensrÿche. I can listen to it for enjoyment, but not for inspiration. New music inspires me, I can hear some drum beats or a guitar sound and that will be an idea to borrow, dress it up in a way so that people will not recognize where it comes from. What have I been enjoying? Let me check my Spotify playlist. Turnstile is a band which I didn’t know, I discovered them this year. The latest Cattle Decapitation, I love that one. The new Katatonia, I love them. Those are a few of the ones I’ve been listening to a lot. There’s a lot of good new music, and the tragic thing is, I’m never going to hear it all.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges you see metal musicians facing in the current industry business model that are harder to navigate than how things were for you say ten to twenty years ago?
Niemann: Just the fact that selling records is really difficult, and you don’t make any money from streaming. Playing live is very difficult, because so many bands are out there now, and competing for the same spots in the same venues. When streaming was big, people were like, ah- but we can still make money from touring. You know how much money it costs to tour? Unless you are on the top level, then you can make money. For a band like ours, we don’t make any money. We sell a little bit of merch, and we put all that money back into the band. Maybe we can buy a new backdrop for the next tour. It used to be better – you could sell a few records, get some royalties, and live an okay life. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: How has fatherhood changed your outlook and perspective on life? Do your children show any aspirations or inclinations to follow in your footsteps within the music industry?
Niemann: It has changed my perspective on everything. I guess every parent would say the same thing. You are not the most important person anymore – there are a couple of little ones that are more important than your ego. It’s a balance, you still want to practice and keep your skills up. My daughter, she sings a little bit, she takes singing lessons, and goes to dance lessons. That’s her thing. My son – not so much. He listens to a lot of music, but he’s more into cars and weightlifting.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to teach a high school or college-level course about any subject matter that you would develop away from your skills as a musician, what type of course would you cover – and why do you think this would be important for people to learn?
Niemann: Woah! (laughs). Well, I don’t have any skills. If I had skills, imaginary skills – film history, that would be great. Maybe sci-fi, horror- that sort of stuff interests me. It would be fascinating to do that. It wouldn’t help humanity move forward, but it would be entertaining in that sense.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for things related to Sorcerer over the next year or so to promote the new record?
Niemann: We will be promoting it, the first gig on this run will be November 17th. We will play a long set; it’s going to be a lot of fun. We are playing the Hammer of Doom festival, which is the first place the reunion took place back in 2010. The reignition. We get to headline that festival; we’ve played there three times already. We will do something special. We have a new booking agent working for us, we hope that we can play some cool gigs. We will play in Poland in February, Germany in April, we will still work on filling up the spring and summer. Keep your eyes posted on our Facebook page for all the gig news.