Is it possible to still get excited for a new Thrash album in your mid-40s? You bet it is, and this is exactly what happened to me with the new SUICIDAL ANGELS LP, “Years Of Aggression”. This is a damn fine album and the perfect occasion to get guitarist / singer and founding member, Nick, on Skype to get a good scoop of how this solid album was made and what the band has in mind as far as touring is concerned. Ready? Set... Go!
Hey Nick, good afternoon from Chicago!
Good afternoon to you from Athens! How are you, Dimitris?
I am pretty good. How was the show with SLAYER? They did the last show in Greece.
Unbelievable. It was truly unbelievable.
Did you meet them?
I personally know them, especially Gary Holt. We have become friend after touring with EXODUS four or maybe five times. Of course, I’ve seen SLAYER lots of times in Europe when SUICIDAL ANGELS were playing live in the same area. The show was moving, especially in the end when Tom Araya said in Greek, “I’ll miss you, goodbye”. It was a hair-raising moment, I tell you.
I can only imagine. How do you feel when you see bands retiring especially of this caliber and when there is a group of people making a living out of working for the band?
When someone feels that he has had enough, especially from touring, no one can or should tell him otherwise. It is unfair to the musician who feels like that and therefore cannot perform onstage in the level he would like to. Once you feel like that, you should be able to say ‘I am done’.
Sure, but there are still bands out there that considering playing live as a day job.
Of course, everyone is doing this for the reasons he believes; but there is a point in one’s life when physically you cannot perform as you want or as you did. This is something everyone needs to understand and respect.
I see your point. Moving on, in less than a month “Years Of Aggression” will hit the stores; when did you submit the record to the label? I know that, the band needs to do this earlier.
In order to have to physical product ready for release, the label requires the master of the album at least 3-4 months before the release date. We gave “Years Of Aggression” to NoiseArt Records in February. We did some minor corrections in the master after I had returned from Sweden (early November of 2018). When I returned from Sweden, we stopped working / listening to the album to get away from it for a while, because after having spent 2 months recording, and if you add the 6 to 8 months of rehearsing, you understand that you need some time off to forget about it and return with a fresh perspective. This is our 7th album and this means that we have gained the experience of how to work on an album. So, during Christmas of 2018 we revisited the album, did some corrections and sent it to the label.
This means that you spent 2018 working on the album, right?
Yes, we worked from August until October of 2018.
This sounds like it went relatively fast.
Hmm, I wouldn’t say this; we have worked faster in the past.
Do you have release-worthy songs that did not make in the album?
I will tell you this; for every album we always write more songs than what we want to have. We have a collection of songs and then, we try to choose those that we like the best. What do we do with the rest? We throw them into the garbage. We will never release those.
Got it. This time around, Gus was in the band throughout the making of “Years Of Aggression”. He joined SUICIDAL ANGELS during the making of “Division Of Blood”, if I am not mistaken.
What was his contribution in the making of the album?
I write the basic riffs either in their basic structure or in a demo format like half of a song and then bring these to the rest of the band. We then start start working on them. Gus, aside from his guitar duties (which are extremely important for me), brought fresh ideas in the band.
Has this anything to do with the song-structures in the album? I mean, I think that the riffs are one step forward…
What do you mean, like technically?
I think that the riffs are more melodic in the vein of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal.
Oh, now I see what you’re trying to say. No, this does not have to do with Gus. He is an incredible guitarist and no matter how difficult a riff may be he will be always able to play it. His contribution was also significant in the guitar solos that have something to say; I mean, these are not the typical run-of-the-mill solos just to fill the spot. We worked a lot on them and I believe the results prove this.
The press release that came with the album says that the band did the production; was this a collaborative effort?
From the first day, we start recording the album all the way to the mastering I like to be there, behind the console. I do not like to let it go but I did not do the production. The band had exactly an idea of how the album should sound. I like to be there during the entire process because it is constantly in my mind not like a supervisor but be there, if you know what I mean.
Absolutely, this makes sense. Why did you choose to separate the recording of the drums working in the Soundlodge studios and then, do the rest in ZeroGravity studio in Greece?
It is not like separating one with the other; we have been working with Jörg Uken since 2012. He did the mixing and mastering of “Bloodbath”, he worked on the drums for “Divide And Conquer”, we did the entire “Division Of Blood” along with the mixing and mastering in his studio. We have been working together for a long time and have become friends. We did the drums there, because Jörg has deep knowledge of recording drums because he is a drummer. And this makes the entire process so much easier.
And then, Jens Bogren did the mixing and Tony Lindgren the mastering; was this the first time you worked with the two gentlemen?
Yes, this was the first time we worked at the Fascination Studios.
What was the sound that you were looking?
We had listened to a lot of Jens’ work; he has a huge portfolio and has gained a lot of experience after having worked with lots and big bands. We liked his way of working that is not based on a specific pattern but rather on what's the band’s character. And this is exactly what he did for us. Aside from the ‘basic mix’, Jens worked on the specifics of every song to highlight its character. Because, each of the nine songs of the album are different; it is Thrash but there are a lot of differences between the songs. And Jens made sure to highlight those differences.
Did you give any instructions to Jens or you just let him do his thing?
After finishing the recording of the album, I had in mind how I would like it to sound. And I was sure that Jens would be on the same page after listening what we had recorded. This is exactly what happened; after picking me up from the train station and went to the studio, he let me listen to what he had done on a song that we had already given him. And it was close to 85% of what I had in mind.
You also worked again with Ed Repka for the album’s cover artwork and I think you have been doing so for almost ten years. After all this time, do you give him instruction of what you want the artwork to show or just send him the album’s title?
Generally speaking, we give Ed the album's title and let him figure out the concept. For this, as well as in the previous record, we gave him a general idea and not anything specific. You do not want artists like Ed to become restricted or confined by a specific idea you have in mind. We are letting him do what the album’s title “tells” him to do. Of course, during the process he is sending us rough sketches or drafts (because everything is handmade) and after seeing these and discussing with him things like the colors, he starts painting. The entire process takes more than 6 weeks.
Have you picked a name for the central character of the artworks?
No, we haven’t yet. He is too young like, 10 years old. He cannot even drink beer so we better wait a while… (laughs)
(laughs) That makes sense… Traditionally, Thrash is opinionated with lyrics talking about society, politics and so on; where does “Years Of Aggression” stand lyrically? For example, to me the title means something that has been accumulating for a long time.
The album’s title has to do with the band’s history until now. It makes some sort of a recap of what SUICIDAL ANGELS have done until now. Lyrically, there is no concept in the album; I draw inspiration from stories that I hear from friends, or something that I have experienced, or something that I read on a book. For example, the lyrics in “Order Of Death” are based on poem I read and is about someone who is on death row and has a crosstalk with Death. I enjoyed this poem and got inspired to write the lyrics for this one. I read a lot; books, articles, I watch lectures about the current situation we all live in. This is how I draw inspiration. I do not like politics at all and what we are experiencing because of them [the politicians]. I will give you an example of how I get inspired; there is song, the last and longest one, in “Divide And Conquer” called “White Wizard”. I had written the lyrics for it but for some reason, I was not totally happy with them. One night, I met an old friend of mine from high school. He used to be a drug-addict using everything under the sun. After finishing school, I learned that he started shooting and he was getting worse every day. So, one night I saw him by accident on the street. He looked like an entirely different person being healthy without any signs of using. We went to have some beers and we ended talking until the early hours of the next day. He told me his story and how he detoxed himself with the help of his girlfriend. He did not go to any help-center or facility; he gave the keys to his apartment to his girlfriend and asked her to let him out only after he had gotten over it. After listening to this shocking story, I returned home and wrote the lyrics in 15 minutes for a 9-minute song.
Damn, this is tough…
Yes, his story shook me and made the hairs at the back of neck to stand up.
It is such a shame that nowadays there are not many people actually reading the lyrics. I remember back in the day, we used to memorize every single line of an album that he had just bought.
Yes, I remember reading the lyrics on the bus on my way home before even listening to the music. I don’t like to write lyrics just because the song needs them. I write lyrics only if it is about something that has touched me. I may end up waiting 6 months to find something to write but this is what I will do.
As a listener, I do like to see my interest piqued by the lyrics. Once that happens, I end up like the song or even the album more and I will definitely revisit it again.
Yes, you are absolutely right.
In the last three albums, the last song of the tracklist is also the longest one; has this become some sort of tradition for SUICIDAL ANGELS?
I guess so... We do this since the longest song happens to also be the slowest one (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, that sounds about right… Honestly, even though “The Sacred Dance With Chaos” is 7 minutes long, I think it deserves to get into the setlist.
We are already thinking about this. Of course, it needs some work to adjust it and do it the way we would like, but yes, we would like to play it live.
Speaking of lyrics, what does “D.I.V.A.” stand for?
This is our version of “fuck you”; it means we do it versus anyone. This is 'raising the middle finger'.
This is also a song to consider for live shows.
We’ll see, we have not decided yet. We have time for this.
And since playing live came up, what are your plans for touring?
The reason why we did not play in any summer festival in Europe is because the album will come out on August 09th. This means that we will start playing live after that. We will play one show in ‘Party.San’ festival in Germany [the band plays on August 10th] and the touring cycle for “Years Of Aggression” will start after that.
Is there any chance to play live in the US? I know that you have played in Latin America but I am not sure if you have toured North America.
We tried to come to the North America but without success. This is not the easiest thing to do.
Definitely it is not, and also it is quite expensive.
Sure, the cost is included in 'being difficult' but there are other things to consider too; finding the right touring bill, get the working Visas etc. However, I strongly believe that once we do that then we will be able to do this every year.
I am sure you will, because the Thrash SUICIDAL ANGELS play appeals to the US audience and therefore, it would be such a shame for this to not happen.
There are a lot of comments in the SUICIDAL ANGELS Facebook page from fans from the US asking when we will play live there.
Well, I can think of EXODUS, OVERKILL, DEATH ANGEL as touring buddies...
Yeah, you got it right, but the problem is how to set this up… (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, for me it costs nothing to name bands… What about a music video? Do you consider making one? Although the lyric video for “Born Of Hate” is not the typical lyric video, since there is footage of the band performing.
Yes, we did a ‘performance lyric video’. We did not want to release another typical lyric video. We thought about it and we ended doing a combination of a performance and lyric video. I believe it came out really good. Although, to be honest, I was not sure if it would work but it did.
Yes, it looks great. There is more work involved as compared to a lyric video.
Yes, but don’t you think that doing a lyric video like we did for “Endless War” does not require work; there is the video editing, the graphics and putting everything together to follow the music. And to answer to your question about a music video, there is a good chance what we will do something and release it on the day of the album release.
Awesome! I have one more question for you, Nick; how much do you feel that the economic situation in Greece has affected the band?
Personally speaking, I see more of a crisis in moral values; I mean, it seems to me that people have stopped to respect one another. Economically, you really do not need to own two cars - do you see what I am saying?
Oh yeah, things did go out of hand at some point in Greece.
And on top of this, people are aggressive and show no respect to anyone. You go to a super market and the negative attitude you receive is just too much.
This may not resonate to people outside Greece but I see what you’re saying and I have also experienced this. But really, I cannot explain how or why this has happened.
I cannot either but one of the reasons seems to be watching too much TV. There is so much negativity there and I really believe that we should try to get away from that. Stop watching TV, get off the social media and enjoy the simple things in life, like reading a book or do some gardening. By doing so, there will be a change. At least, this is what I am doing. For example, I do not have a personal Facebook page. At one point, I did have one but now I do not remember the password or even the email I had connected that to reset it (laughs).
Yeah, staying “connected” has become the new addiction, and honestly, I do not see any hope in the future. And on this “happy note”, I would like to thank you, Nick, for taking the time to talk to METAL KAOZ. I hope we will see SUICIDAL ANGELS live in Chicago soon.
Thank you, Dimitris for the interview, and yes, we would love to come to the US and play live.