Sorcerer – Interview 2020 – ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ – “Songwriting…is heart breaking…and painful”
When the opportunity arises to speak directly to one of the hottest metal bands on the planet right now, you’d have to be mad to refuse wouldn’t you? I definitely thought so, which is why I found myself mid-lockdown chatting to guitarist and co-songwriter for Sorcerer, Kristian Niemann, over possibly the worst internet connection in the entire history of the world. We both sounded like aliens or robots, and the buffering and delays were bordering on the ridiculous. However, no amount of technical issues could hide the fact that I was speaking to one of the nicest guys I’ve ever interviewed over a ‘career’ that has spanned 15 years so far.
“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic like everybody else but it’s alright”, Kristian begins in his wonderfully calm and happy tone, accompanied by an almost audible shrug of the shoulders. “We’re still working and still healthy. Same with the family too, everybody is still healthy.”
“In terms of the records, they have got a load of great reviews and had a good reception”, Kristian continues, perhaps revealing part of the reason for his friendly warmth. I mean it’s always nice when your music receives some acclaim, not that it is all plain sailing of course, as he explains. “But it is a different thing to turn that into merch sales at gigs for example, so we’re still a baby band when it comes to those things. We’ve done quite a few festivals since we started but we feel like what we really need to do is get out and tour; get in a van or a bus or whatever and tour with some other bands. That’s what’s really needed. The pandemic sort of stopped that.”
“But that’s the same for every other band. But it put a dampener on things I have to say. We were really looking forward to getting out there and play as much as possible. We have a great booking agent, Dragon Production, so hopefully they can promote us and do their stuff. But at the moment, it sucks.”
And yet Sorcerer decided to release their new album, ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ in the heart of such a difficult time. I’m keen to find out the thinking behind the decision and Kristian kindly obliges.
“Some bands will wait to release their new albums in the fall or whatever. We had that discussion with our label, Metal Blade, but we felt ‘nah, why not put it out now?’ The fans can hear new music and I don’t want to be sitting on an album that’s going to be a year or year-and-a-half old while nothing is happening. We’d rather just put it out so that we can start writing new music.”
With ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ being such a massively positive release for the Swedes, there must surely have been a little pressure on the band to follow it up in a way that maintained the growing momentum?
“Absolutely”, Kristian responds honestly and with a chuckle. “I would be lying if I said there wasn’t any pressure, mainly from ourselves. No-one really put pressure on us, but we felt pressure. It was a little bit the same when we released ‘In the Shadow Of the Inverted Cross’. That was pretty well received also, but it came from nowhere. No-one knew anything about us or had heard anything except the 20-year-old demos maybe. When you’re starting a new record, it is about getting those first few songs to gel and sound really great. Before that, we always wonder if we have what it takes and can we do it again? So yeah, it was a bit nerve-wracking.”
“I just think it is a combination of all of our influences”, Kristian offers when I deviate a little and ask about the band’s influences and how they ended up creating such epic, heavy and melodic metal all in one glorious package, a package that continues with ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent. “Obviously we have the doom influences from way back – Candlemass, Sabbath and all that stuff; the really slow, heavy, grinding dirge-like riffs. But all of us are flans of melodic music as well and not just in heavy metal but pop music, rock music; those big choruses. It’s just an amalgamation of five personalities and we’re all suckers for those anthemic choruses. It’s a natural thing. Maybe we need to shake it up in the future but I think that element is never going to go away. We always want huge choruses that you can sing along to, and you can almost imagine the audience reaction to some parts. I think about that a lot actually, thinking about what the audience will think, what will it feel like and what will they respond to. You try to envisage it and imagine what will be the best part. I guess we’re lucky to all have this in common.”
“I think we wanted to expand the sound out in all directions”, comes the considered and thoughtful answer when I bring things back to the present day and enquire as to the initial master plan with ‘Lamenting…’. “We wanted to make it more melodic in places, make it more anthemic, make it slower, make it faster, just broaden the whole thing. We wanted to have more variety tempo-wise than we had on ‘Fire King’. For instance, we have ‘Institorius’ and ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ which are a bit faster. Those were the main focus points I believe. We wanted to keep the sound, to create a big wall of sound but we wanted more variety in the material.”
No musician I have ever spoken to has ever been 100% happy with the end result and Sorcerer are no different as Kristian explains.
“I hope that there is going to be room for improvement”, he states with honesty. “When we look back at this album in a couple of years from now, we are going to feel like we could have done this thing or that thing a little bit better. But right now, we are really happy with this album. We probably wouldn’t have released it otherwise, if we weren’t super happy with it.”
“It is difficult releasing an album”, Kristian continues whilst the Internet connection I have does its best to make him sound like a stuttering robot, “because you put so much of your time and your life into and you want to make sure that it is the absolute best that it can be. We have always done that with all our records. When you have the perspective of time and you go back and look at it, you might think ‘that song was too long’, ‘that bit got boring’, ‘this part didn’t sound great’. But that’s hindsight for you, you always see those things later on. And I hope we will be able to that with this one as well when we come to write the next record.”
“Haha, you are absolutely right”, Kristian laughs loudly when I suggest that Sorcerer are not a band to settle for anything less than the best. “We do not settle for anything. We give 150% to better ourselves and make it the absolute best we can. Of course, people are going to have different tastes and some will say that it is too long, or boring, or slow, or whatever. That’s fine because not everybody will like everything, I have no problem with that. And if we wanted to write any other kind of music, I’m sure we could. But we’d not be called Sorcerer anymore and we want to be honest and play what we want and like. If we can listen to it ourselves, that’s the thing. After working on the album for a year and a half, I still put it on and go ‘yeah man, I want to hear this part, that vocal part or that chorus’. I still get goosebumps and that’s the good thing. You can always tell in the writing process based on the goosebump factor!”
At this point, I want to get Kristian to do the thing that makes most musicians the most uncomfortable, and that’s picking out something that they are particularly proud of. It’s normally even worse when the band are from the UK because we cannot take compliments very well at all. However, I feel bad that I may have put Kristian in an equally uncomfortable position. To his credit, he does offer a reply nonetheless.
“Thank you” he responds, albeit reluctantly. “I have to say that I am proud of the solos, like all of them. I’m usually never that happy with my solos but this time, for some reason, I dig all of them. But I’m also really happy, and you mentioned it in your review, the song ‘Lamenting of The Inncocent’, especially the chorus. It’s one of the first songs we wrote for the album and made us think ‘yes, we’re going to be able to make another great record!’”
“But”, he strongly emphasises, “I don’t know exactly how good something will be until the vocals are on there. The way I work, or we work, is that I record a whole demo vocal-less with just the riffs and some other scraps. I then send it off to Anders and the others, and let them do their thing. I can be really excited, thinking how good it can be, but they have to put their parts into the song. When I get it back from them and I hear this amazing melody, I’m like ‘yes, this is so cool’. To me, the most important bits are the riffs and the vocal melodies. All the rest can be fixed. But if you’ve got the riffs and the vocal melodies, you’re in a good place.”
I think it’s because the interview is such a warm and friendly affair that I feel brave and try my luck again, cheekily asking whether or not new material is already in the pipeline, considering that touring is currently out of the question. As is the trend of the chat, Kristian takes my question in gracious spirit, answering incredibly honestly, offering a real insight into his mind in the process.
“I need to let this one sink in and let it go at least a couple of months before I want to start thinking about writing new music”, he answers before pausing for a moment. “Writing music is not something you want to dive right into, not for me anyway. I feel this way. It is heart breaking, it is painful and it takes a long time. You’re usually feeling like shit when you’re writing because you’re always second guessing, thinking ‘is this good, or is it shit?’ I’m looking forward to when the process is over, when the record is done. I love that bit but it is a struggle to get there and it isn’t always fun.”
I’m genuinely shocked. Here’s a guy that has contributed heavily to creating some of the best heavy metal that I have heard in the last few years and he has the same insecurities as the rest of us. I shouldn’t be surprised, I know that, but you get in the mindset of thinking that it’s just you that is plagued with doubt. I certainly do, reading, editing, and re-reading my work on this website a million times before setting it free. It’s strangely comforting to have it affirmed yet again, that I’m not alone with self-doubt. I must sound incredulous, but I have to clarify with Kristian that he really does feel this way when writing new material.
“Yeah, I do”, he answers with a chuckle after an interminable delay over the airwaves. “I mean not the other stuff. Not on stage or playing wise, it’s just the coming up with good songs that people care about. Sitting there riffing and thinking ‘didn’t Metallica already write this?’ Or someone in the band will say ‘that’s a Candlemass song’ so it goes in the garbage. That’s what it’s like all the time and you need dedication to do it.”
Fortunately, it isn’t up to Kristian to come up with everything, as he is eager to tell me.
“Oh no, hell no. I would not be comfortable with that”, he laughs with more than a hint of maniacal nervousness. “Peter (Hallgren – guitars) does as well, Justin (Biggs – bass) does, so does Johnny (Hagel – ex-bassist) – of course Johnny is also involved in the song writing. I write my stuff and I send it to the other guys. Peter does the same thing. When Johnny writes, he does demos and he needs Peter and me to flesh out the ideas. Justin is something in between – he wrote some stuff almost completely by himself, then another one he collaborated. Basically, everyone is contributing stuff for sure. Anders obviously, and even Richard (Evensand) our drummer comes up with stuff which is very inspiring. Everyone is creative and we are very happy to have it that way. It is one of the most fun parts of being in a band.”
It is a question I always ask when confronted with a scandinavian band, and this occasion is no different. I have to enquire as to why Sweden in particular has given birth to so many great bands. Naturally, Sorcerer are definitely in this bracket for me, but I also throw around names like Evergrey, Katatonia and Dark Tranquillity to illustrate my point.
“If I knew that, I’d try to put it in a bottle and sell it”, laughs Kristian with genuine amusement. “I don’t know, some people say that maybe it is because we have such long periods of cold, shitty weather and everyone stays at home and plays music. That might be true, I don’t know. We used to have a great system, like a music community where kids could learn an instrument after school. And it was cheap. I’m not sure if that’s the way it works now. All the bands that you mention, we all come from that generation; we’re getting old. We have to be real here because we are old. I’m not sure if the younger generations have he same creativity and drive, but we will see I guess.”
“Being the next Metallica would be great”, Kristian offers with cheekiness when I ask about the future plans for Sorcerer, “but I don’t think that’s on the cards for us. I want to keep on doing what we are doing. I would like to do some more touring, draw in more people and, like everyone does, I want to get a little higher on the ladder. But who knows? It feels like we can’t really do anything more to influence that or change that. All we can do is make the music we make, the best we can do, and if everybody wants to see a doom metal band, and play in front of like 10,000 people, we will definitely be at the forefront of that, I hope. But I don’t really see that happening. So I think we’ll concentrate on making more great albums for the next ten years…and then we’re sixty…holy shit.”
I’m just delighted that I got to see Sorcerer live on stage before the pandemic hit with all its might. They are a force to behold and make an incredible impact on me earlier in the year, even if they were ‘just’ the support for compatriots Evergrey in Malmö. Based on his last reply to me, it would appear that the stage is his happy place too.
“We do what we do, we have fun on stage, we love being on stage and performing for people. That’s our right element, I would say. The connection with the audience and seeing happy faces in the crowd, it means everything for us. And we’d love to play in the UK. We’ve played in Wales and Scotland before, a couple of years ago. But it’s just a matter of promoters taking a chance on us or people mentioning our name in the right places. We’d love to, but obviously we have no plans right now. I’ve heard people mentioning Bloodstock, they have some amazing line-ups and so yeah, we’d love to be part of that someday.”
At this point, the connection over Skype finally descends into unworkable territory, so I have no alternative but to end the interview at this point. Kristian makes a genuine offer to continue at some other time and I agree. Unfortunately, life, kids, career, and a little bout of ill health mean that I never really get the opportunity again. Nevertheless, speaking with Kristian is a joy, an experience I hope I can replicate again one day, hopefully face-to-face when the world returns a little more to normality. For now though, we can all take great enjoyment from their stellar new record, ‘Lamenting of The Innocent’ and imagine the songs being performed in all their glory in the live environment.
‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ is out now on Metal Blade Records.
If you’re interested in reading my review, it can be found here.
And my review of the live show with Evergrey in Malmö can be checked out here.