Photo by Daniel Falk
Interview with Nikolas
By Eric May
How did you go about approaching this new album right on the heels of We Are The Void? What did you want this album to sound like and do you think that you achieved that goal?
It usually takes a long time – often several years – before I know what I truly think about a record and whether or not it “succeeded” in living up to what it should have been. We rarely make any grand master plans regarding the nature of an album, and for Construct we just began writing music without any real idea of what kind of an album we were making. Perhaps the basic mindset was that we felt that it was time for something different. When we started out, DT was seen as a pretty experimental and innovative band that surprised the listeners with every album. The previous 3-4 records are all very good by themselves, but they have a pretty similar approach to the riffs and arrangement, so it was time to one again step out of our comfort zone. From that perspective, I’m very pleased that Construct offers something different.
Construct is filled to the brim with melodies and guitar soundscapes much in the way of earlier works like The Gallery. Yet there are also more electronic influences in the band than ever before. Could you elaborate on this?
The focus on melody is definitely similar, but The Gallery is more of a riff album than Construct. We’ve already made a couple of albums where the guitars are all over the place with licks, riff variations and lots of different embellishments, so at this point it feels more challenging to just think about the totality of the music without necessarily having the guitars do a million different things in every song. As for the electronics, it’s partially a matter of the keyboards being more organic and well integrated into the mix, and Jens Bogren really knowing his stuff.. Even of the earlier albums, Martin B. would come up with elaborate and layered stuff, but most of it wouldn’t make it to the final mix.
Can you describe the recording process for Construct?
It’s nothing too interesting, just basic studio work. We did most of the work in Rogue Music, a studio owned by our keyboard player. The mixing as mastering was handled by Jens Bogren, known for this work with Opeth, Kreator, Paradise Lost, and so forth.
What is meant by the album title, Construct? It seems to be about constructing a new world, because we’ve failed this one.
Every opinion has its own value. I’m more and more leaning towards a “blank slate” approach to lyrics and titles – by explaining or trying to elaborate on exactly what the writer had in mind, a lot of the magic and appeal gets lost. We like one-word titles because of this reason. They’re ambiguous (especially something like Construct which is both a verb and noun) and leave room for everyone to interpret freely according to their own worldview and references. When brainstorming for possible titles, Construct felt like a winner right away, and of course it carries some kind of inherit commentary on the creation process and creation in general. But we also call the 7” EP that comes with the LP version Deconstruct, which also fits within the same parameters. So it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
The lyrics on the album come off as quite grim in nature with songs like “Uniformity” and “Weight Of The End” among others. Do you think that we’re heading into a cold and heartless future?
I’m not that informed about what Mikael had in mind for the lyrics, so my guess is as good as anyone’s. There’s always a risk of oversimplification when talking about what a song is supposed to mean, and it’s equally impossible to say that the future will be this or that. Most likely, the upcoming 500 years will be a patchwork of great tragedy and suffering as well as major advance and improvement, just like the past 500 years have been. But metal lyrics are often about polarizing. You don’t sing about being mildly skeptical of a certain amount of people behaving in a slightly disagreeable way and that you would prefer if they please could consider changing their behaviour. You sing about throwing the whole of humanity in a sea of fire and brimstone and laughing while doing it.
You chose “For Broken Words” to be a single for this album. Can you talk about that song and why you thought it would be a good track to represent the release?
It’s always hard to pick songs for videos and singles. In the past, we’ve often played it safe and have selected the most typical song for a pre-release, but “For broken words” is actually not very representative of the album. It’s a mid-paced droning song that focuses on atmosphere rather than technicality so it’ll be interesting to see how people react to it.
There seems to be a great deal of clean vocal work on this album. Can you discuss that? Did you want to hearken back to albums like Projector?
We’ve always had a complicated relationship with clean vocals (laughs). When we used clear singing on Skydancer, it was something extremely rare. To the best of my knowledge, only Celtic frost and Paradise lost had used “real” female vocals the way we did (i.e. singing whole verses and not just a simple melody line in the chorus) and having clear male vocals also was very unorthodox in the early death metal scene. However, this approach got popular very quickly and after a while it felt like it was the lazy default option of getting more atmosphere in the songs. It was a much needed breath of fresh air on Projector, but after that we decided that unless a song really demanded it, we should stay with screaming vocals. Construct is the first album in almost 15 years where we felt that clear vocals actually were warranted.
What instruments did use on this album? What kind of guitars and drums and programs did you use to compose this? What kinds of brands and tuning do you prefer?
We used Mayones guitars, Drumcraft drums and an Ibanez bass. Tuning is 3 semitones detuned all over the board. Peavey amps. Everything was recorded in Cubase. That’s about it I guess.
What do you believe about alien life? Some say that they’ve seen ships, and some say they’ve seen videos of a mothership. Still, there are those who say that alien beings in places of power might very well be living on the planet in human disguise.
Yes, but people also see religious icons manifested in breakfast pancakes, or believe that they can communicate telepathically with inanimate objects or animals whose brain structure isn’t developed enough to even support conscious awareness. Our brains have evolved to find patterns and connections where there are none, but – as they say – extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I rarely want to talk about non-musical stuff in interviews, but as a science buff and skeptic I have to take the opportunity to recommend every UFO or conspiracy theorist to read Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World to get a new perspective and to place the ET or abduction phenomena in social and historical context. Well, to answer your question, I think that it’s very likely that the universe is filled with intelligent life, but that the vast distances and the relatively short lifespan of civilizations makes it unlikely that we’ve ever been “visited” be it by grays, fairies or reptilian shape shifters. Well, getting carried away here. Back to the metal!
If alien life is among us, do you think that they would help us to save our world or choose to let it ruin so that they could plunder it later?
I think that what Stephen Hawking said about the probable outcome of an alien encounter sounds pretty reasonable. If there are any “cosmic overlords” approaching, they’ll be more likely to treat us as a lunch snack than to show us the secrets of interstellar travel or teach us how to be nice to each other.
What are some of the best tour experiences that you’ve had? What are some of the most requested songs that you get while on tour? What are some of the worst or most embarrassing things that you’ve ever had on tour?
Most of the crazy stuff are things that are insanely funny there and then, when you’re part of the touring context, but that just would get a “huh?” reaction when retelling it later. The best tour experiences are when the shows are working out, and when you get a sense of adventure from realizing that something we began as a bunch of kids had the power of taking us all around the world. Meeting people that have our lyrics and artwork tattooed on their skin and hearing how this or that song made a significant change in their life…that kind of stuff.
As for requested songs, there are a few “classics” that we’re expected to play (“Punish My Heaven”, “Misery’s Crown”) but we’re usually not very flexible when it comes to requests! (laughs) We have a setup with pre-programmed video projections and samples, so it’d be hard to decide to switch songs around on the spur of the moment. Sometimes it feels a bit bad when you see that someone in the front row really, really wants us to play a song that means a lot to him, but you can’t really stop the show and explain that the song in question was recorded with a different line-up and that we’d need a lot of time to re-learn it, program the guitar sound changes and samples and make a suitable animation for it. And that we then would have to exclude another song from the set that maybe someone else was really looking forward to hearing.
Being one of the pioneers of melodic death metal, what do you think of the genre now and are there any bands out there that have really surprised you?
Hmm…I’m not that well informed. After spending so much time on our own music during rehearsals, recordings and tours, the interest in listening to other bands in our own genre isn’t that high. But I have to say that the Finns are doing it well. Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum are great bands, but simply calling them “melodic death metal” would be a bit unfair since they’re so much more.
Finally, there was a tribute compilation to your band (VA – The Final Resistance) released in 2013 featuring the likes of The Descent, Skydancer, Apotheus, Thee Orakle, The Agonist and more. Have you heard it? If so, what did you think?
Yes, I’ve heard it and think that there are some good and creative things on there. It’s very hard to elaborate on this. On one hand, getting a tribute album released is the ultimate honor and it’s humbling that so many people have invested their time and efforts into this. At the same time, a musician is usually super-critical about his own material and after having played a song thousands of times in rehearsal, live and in the studio, you end up thinking that it’s the only way of playing it. For this reason, I tend to enjoy covers that are completely different from the originals. If they’re too close (usually meaning played in the same way or being in the same basic genre) they usually end up in an uncanny valley zone where you just notice the small differences as being something negative.
Thanks for your answers and for such an impressive masterwork. I’m truly impressed and consider this to be one of your best releases by far.
Purchase Construct here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Artist/Dark_Tranquillity/11305