Viral – Solid as SteelTuesday, 27th April 2021
Sweden has always been a hotbed for heavy metal – even in its purest form. Names like Hammerfall, Wolf, and Enforcer have penetrated the international landscape. Aiming their sights on pushing their blend of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and American influences on a current generation are Viral. They’ve worked hard at developing their charging sound, filled to the brim with twin guitar harmonies, gritty, melodic vocals and catchy rhythm section support. Their self-titled debut album has been gaining momentum from fans and critics alike, explosive and addictive this early in the game to set the table for a fruitful career.
After a brief technical difficulty getting all parties heard, we reached out to guitarist Larry Malinen and vocalist Albin Forsell to bring us up to speed on the origins and development of Viral, their love of traditional, NWOBHM, special cover art from Mattias Frisk, Swedish scene thoughts, and a special memory of Sweden Rock Festival and suits.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about your initial memories surrounding music growing up – and at what point did you discover heavy metal and then make the progression into wanting to pick up an instrument to form your own band(s)?
Larry Malinen: I started a little earlier than Albin did. It was late when I came to metal, but I think everyone has a phase where they listen to different things in their teens, they discover what they like. Metal came to me close to my twenties when I started listening to Megadeth, Metallica, the big names, Iron Maiden and stuff like that. I also have a lot of influences, as I am a retro-gamer. And they are influenced by 80’s metal, almost since I was walking some kind of metal with the pentatonics, it was with me in a way though I didn’t know it at the time, it was with me in eight-bit music and sixteen-bit music which is primitive. I really got engaged in metal from there, I had been playing guitar in my twenties for a couple of years. When I was 22 I formed my first band with Albin, it was called Frenzy. It was more about enjoyment, drinking beer and playing music together. It wasn’t a serious project, we just had fun. Albin and myself had high ambitions to push a little further so we started Viral in 2012.
Albin Forsell: I remember years ago we met Larry and I when I was fourteen years old. Larry was the first person to give me a heavy metal CD, I think it was Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden, as well as The Number of the Beast. I tried a lot of instruments, bass to drums, and I didn’t connect with them, so I thought I should sing. I started singing around twenty, in the beginning it was better in my head than what came out of my mouth. I started putting in a lot of hours, I thought if I wanted to be a great singer I needed to work a lot. Many, many hours a day and soon I developed the voice that I have today. Frenzy was something we enjoyed the music, but Larry and I wanted to take this to the next step with Viral.
Dead Rhetoric: Viral started in 2012 – how did this lineup come together, and did you know right away the traits you wanted to inject into your heavy metal style, or was there a feeling out process to arrive at the songwriting and approach that you emphasize?
Malinen: At the point that we started, I was playing a lot of metal. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal came out of me, I wasn’t very good. I would say I’m intermediate now, but I truly was a beginner at the time. I just went with it, what I wanted to create, and I think the first song was “Machine”, that is on this album, it was created in 2014. It’s been a long ride, we recorded it and the first recording didn’t sound like we wanted it to. We didn’t have the know how and money to do it properly. We didn’t have the help that we got from this album, all the lovely people like Niels Nielsen for instance.
Forsell: We have a lot of experience and the journey brought us here as far as the sound and all the other elements to make us sound better.
Malinen: We wanted to bring in the NWOBHM sound of the early 80’s, but it didn’t have the elements that the American bands were able to bring in later. It hadn’t been invented yet. So we are influenced by music from a bit later too, thrash metal and other genres but creating a foundation from NWOBHM.
Dead Rhetoric: Earlier this year you released your self-titled debut album. What can you tell us about the recording sessions and how do you feel about the final outcome? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or challenges to overcome through the process?
Forsell: For myself and Larry this is a dream come true. From when we started the band Frenzy until where we have come to today, it was one of the goals to make our own debut album together. Every year that we have worked, we have made progress and the different band members are important to us to create this. We had an issue along the way, but we fixed everything so that we can take that with us to create the next album.
Malinen: It was a challenging journey. We didn’t have the know how to do everything from the get go. We didn’t have all the band members that we do now. We didn’t have the equipment that we do now. Also, when we started creating this album, when we started the band, the family of the Viral members has grown with eight or nine kids between all the band members. We’ve had a lot of stuff going at the same time, so we tried to push as many hours into the CD as we could, with our vision. When you do something that you are not super familiarized with as this, you run into obstacles that you overcome by learning how to overcome them. It took a longer time than expected, but we didn’t want to rush this because we didn’t want the final product to suffer from our inexperience, and to release the album when it was actually finished.
Forsell: From my end when it came to recording the vocals, halfway through I started to get more raspy than I wanted, or almost injured my voice. I took a few steps back, tried to sing how I wanted to sound, and how I want to pronounce everything. I came back even stronger for this album. It was a journey for me, what is my sound and how I want to use my voice.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s evident throughout the record you have a love of NWOBHM artists and those offshoots – what traits captured your attention about this style, and what sort of unique flavor or stamp does Viral try to put on things through your own creativity and execution?
Malinen: It’s very hard to answer such a question. I’ve been influenced through the years from many genres of metal. We wanted to continue the NWOBHM, I usually find that the type of bands I liked and the sound was not as well produced as music is nowadays. We wanted to take the old sound and modernize it without destroying the punk sort of influences. We wanted it to sound garage-like, dirty is the wrong word, we wanted it to be rough and organic. We wanted to take the old, and modernize it but still keep it clear to the old sound. When you put on a NWOBHM song at a party that is mastered very low, people don’t appreciate that you put it on but it’s a great song. And that’s such a shame. We wanted to keep rolling and have it live on.
Dead Rhetoric: What you can tell us about the cover art from Mattias Frisk – how did the concept and process work from initial contact to the completed product?
Forsell: We had an idea, Mattias Frisk has done a lot of good work with oil, he’s done things with Ghost so we thought he was the guy to do our cover. We discussed what we wanted to do and have on the front. We wanted to have a figure to present our album. We have chosen the figure holding a clock. It was interesting to discuss what we wanted to do more, and he suggested doing this painting in more of a rock style. We loved it and we would take that.
Malinen: We met him and went to his office, his pit of portraits so to speak. I felt like a kid at Christmas, there were so many paintings around. When you stand in that room with an artist in front of you, you can tell that he made many of them by oil and by hand. It’s an amazing experience. You sometimes know a person is nice and genuine by talking to them for five minutes – and he was definitely one of these people. He asked about our vision, and for me it’s about what you look at matching how it sounds. Generally when you look at a playlist or Spotify, you pick with your eyes because your eyes can tell this is power metal or heavy metal. We wanted it to look heavy metal in color and theme and style, and also not to the point of lacking uniqueness completely. That’s where Mattias fit – we are very thankful that he provided us with this amazing masterpiece. It’s made in oil, which I find amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Viral when it comes to your live shows and performances? What do you hope to get across to the audience, and what have been some of the more standout performances the band has done to date?
Forsell: When we go on a stage and listen to a band, you hear 80% with your eyes, because you are looking at it. When you experience a band, it’s more than the sound, it’s how you feel it and be a part of it. This is one of the areas we have most developed on our journey, with the live scene. We have full energy, a lot of love, with every fiber of our beings.
Malinen: I also think it’s a lot about the energy and the experience. That’s what we want to do. You asked if we had any memorable gigs. It’s been kind of hard, we’ve had some bigger gigs but not in the sense that we have been touring the world. We want to do that with this album, but we couldn’t because the (pandemic) happened. I hope to get to deliver more energy and love from the stage very soon.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Viral faces currently in gaining more of a foothold in the worldwide scene?
Malinen: There’s the boring, logical answer and then there’s just the more fun answer of playing more. We want to gig more, but then there’s also the logical more boring answer that today’s music industry is more about commercializing. What you need is help, and we don’t have the money ourselves as we are independent, it’s hard to be the person that keeps finding new ways to present metal to new people all the time. That’s challenging, to find new channels and find new fans that haven’t heard you yet. While trying not to be annoying to the people that actually like you.
Forsell: To find those fans and share it. In a good way.
Dead Rhetoric: What are three of the most important metal albums that shaped your outlook on heavy metal today – and what would you consider your favorite concert or festival memory, purely as an attendee from a patron perspective, and what made that so special?
Malinen: There are so many festival memories that it’s impossible to pick one. As an attendee, because you are living loose. From the album side, I would say it’s so hard. I know Iron Maiden and Killers are two albums that are really exciting for me. I don’t want to give credit to just the old music because nowadays I listen to a lot of new wave of traditional metal bands. Night Demon would be another pick – Curse of the Damned.
Forsell: Killers is one of them, that was my start with NWOBHM. That’s a difficult question. When I was younger, I listened a lot to Saxon a lot – one of those albums. The third one, let me see here.
Malinen: Speaking of Saxon live, they are amazing. I’m really surprised at what level they are performing, only a few years ago, considering their age. They are amazing at what they do.
Forsell: They always deliver high quality metal. It’s always enjoyable. I will say the third one is The Number of the Beast album.
Malinen: Festival attendee memories. Maybe we will pick the suit one?
Forsell: We have a lot of fond memories attending Sweden Rock Festival, Larry and I. We went to see Heaven and Hell with Dio the year before he died. You didn’t understand how big this is at the time and why, and soon after when Dio died that was an amazing show.
Malinen: We usually have all sorts of shenanigans going on when we are at a festival. We are there to have fun, drink and enjoy ourselves. Since we were always sleeping in tents, one year I said instead of crawling out of tent and be sweating or freezing, because Sweden can be minus or plus depending on the weather. If you look terrible, I said jokingly instead of crawling out of the tent looking as if you were giving birth or trying to walk again, what if I came out in a suit and look top notch. The next year I told Albin to bring a suit also, and one day we woke up and wore them with no explanation. The attendees were flabbergasted that we were in suits at Sweden Rock for no reason. The best part of that memory was Anthrax playing, we joined the mosh pit in our full black suits. It was sunny, so hot and my buttons were filled with the hair of rockers I had been bumping into. People didn’t know if they could tackle us – Albin and I in suits.
Forsell: We took pictures with other people standing in our suits. With determined eyes we tried to look cool, but we realized we are not those kind of people. We like a good laugh, with music we share the love for it and the laugh together. We are a metal family.
Malinen: Productive, but not outwardly serious or angry. We would rather laugh with the people we are playing with than the people we play to and try to look cool.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the chemistry and vibe within your local Swedish scene as far as heavy metal and the offshoot sub-genres in general? Do you believe you get fair and faithful support as the international bands that come touring through your country?
Malinen: Yes they do. Most of our Spotify plays are in Sweden. Albin can also answer this given his vocation.
Forsell: The metal scene is really strong in Sweden because we’ve had a lot of bands that have shown the way. They have expanded things and played in other countries as well. It’s growing stronger all the time. The more we play in Sweden, the more we gain fans and share our thoughts on other bands. We help each other out, bands of the same level. When bands come from other countries, we have to take care of them more. After this pandemic is over, everyone should be going out and see these bands, and show the love for the music.
Malinen: The Swedish metal scene is very good in that regard. We have the most metal bands per capita in the world in Sweden, almost. We also have heard, Swedish bands are generally respected and met well internationally. Why I mentioned Albin’s vocation, he works with both music and culture, he’s helping bands and the people to work with culture. That really helps, we have support for bands in ways that are unique. It depends on the city and region in Sweden of course. We have been provided such an opportunity, we can play for little money and it is pretty easy to get gigs. However it’s harder and harder to get people to gigs, and engage the Swedish people, at least that’s what other people are telling us. The bars and venues need your support, the bands need an audience to help the support locally and internationally. That is the strength and weakness in the Swedish scene. That has to do with people being busy, I suppose, and they have a lot to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it help to look at the success of bands like Hammerfall, Wolf, and Enforcer internationally and give hope to Viral for that bigger picture?
Malinen: I suppose so. Enforcer specifically, they initiated the new wave of traditional heavy metal. It has risen in popularity when they started to grow as a band. They have paved the way that many more bands can follow. I can’t say I have been thinking personally what would Hammerfall do in this situation. We do what works for us. If they wouldn’t have paved the way for us to do what we do, it would probably have been harder. We are very thankful that these metal giants are opening up the metal community for us.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you content to keep the band on a DIY basis given the social media / internet tools at your disposal, or would you like to move up into a solid record deal? If so, what concerns do you have regarding this next step?
Forsell: We’ve discussed it, but if we can do it by ourselves, we probably will do it as long as possible as we can do it our way and at our own pace. We have goals of how we want to sound and we want to be happy with things. If we get any record companies that have a deal that suits us, maybe we will do it. But we have done things our way, we have the opportunity to take things at our own pace and take things step by step.
Malinen: That pretty much said it all. A record company can be almost anything nowadays. It depends on what kind of deal you get, I suppose. Of course, help is also appreciated as it’s hard to get the money and the right venues as you said. We also have everybody but me in the band has several kids, and full-time jobs, so its hard to make things work. Family comes first, and we are trying our best to produce as much music as possible. We would be happy to have a deal that would be open to what we do, but it’s a give and take thing. We just try to push things for now independently as much as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Viral? Has work begun behind the scenes on a follow-up album – and if so, how do you see this new material shaping up compared to the self-titled debut?
Malinen: Of course given the times it’s hard to do much more than produce music, right? That’s what we are focused on, the next step. We are working on the next album, we have a lot of ideas, but the recording makes it the reality. We have a small release in not too long. We have a bonus track from this CD “Rusty Metal”, it didn’t fit on the vinyl format because the sound quality would have suffered. This song was kind of a parody in a sense. We tried to make it fun, use all the heavy metal cliches that we possibly could do, lyric-wise and insert them in the same song. It’s as stereotypical the lyrics as humanly possible. It’s about a junk car that is worthless. Albin brought out his inner Lemmy voice in this. He drank whiskey the day before he recorded.
The second thing that is next in the plan will be an EP. We have some songs we are working on. It will have a foundation very similar to what you’ve heard, but we will also try a few new sounds. We have several songwriters in Viral, naturally we have a mixed bag of songs. We are broadening the spectrum of metal a bit, but it will still sound very much like Viral. I can tell you it will be more of a mixed bag than the debut album.
Forsell: It will be totally awesome.