On January 10th I had the distinct pleasure to talk to Mille from Kreator, and it was a great conversation. We talked about their uncompromising new album “Gods Of Violence”, which sounds very fresh, yet has that signature Kreator sound. It took almost three years to make, because they didn’t want to rush things, Mille told me. We talked about how music never should feel like a job, the themes we can find on the new album, and how he doesn’t actually believe in Satan. I would have loved to share this great conversation with you, unfortunately the gods of technology decided otherwise. My up to then always trustworthy call recorder no longer functioned due to an Android update, leaving me with what sounded like a conversation with Swedish Chief. Fortunately, we got a second shot to talk to the band on January 12th, this time with Sami!
Hi Randy, how are you doing?
Good, good! Thank you very much for taking the time for us again.
Of course. I’m over here in Essen now. I usually live in Helsinki, Finland, but I came here for rehearsals. We are doing a little warmup show in Berlin next week, so I’m here for the music!
And how are the rehearsals going?
Great! Of course we did only one so far but we’re going to do a few more. Just figure out which new songs to play, and how many, and where to put them in the set. It’s fun because it’s fresh. It’s the best moment for a musician when you get to play your new shit. *laughs*
Yeah I bet! When I talked to Mille he said the band hadn’t decided on which songs to play yet, so did you reach a decision already?
Yeah. The opening song, and the title song, Satan Is Real, Hail To The Horns and so on. Fallen Brother, lots. *laughs* I think at least six, because they’re so much fun to play.
It should be hard to pick new songs to play, they’re all equally good!
*laughs* O thank you very much!
It really is a monster of a record man. I had it for a few days now, but I think I’ll be playing it for a month.
Thank you very much for your compliment!
Did you have a lot of fun creating this album?
Absolutely. Well it took a really long time, but we didn’t feel under pressure or anything like that. We were sending demos over back in 2014, and we met for the first time for a rehearsal in the beginning of the winter of 2015. That’s a long time ago, like two years ago. But we were doing demos and demos and demos, and throwing out songs and bringing them back, you know? It’s fun, for me at least. I see music as a friend, and it gives you a kind of a spiritual release.
It took three years to finish it, that’s a long time!
Yeah, I mean not constantly, but sending stuff back and forward, then doing a session over here in Essen, playing almost every day for two weeks, and then having a break from it again, then getting back at it… You know how it is. You can imagine.
Yes I can. Where it comes to the new record, which elements of the new album are you the most proud of?
Do you mean which songs?
Which elements! It could be songs of course.
Elements? Oh, well, I guess I would have to say, basically the whole band really. I can’t think of any special element. I mean, I’m a guitarist, so I concentrate on the guitars and the ranging, but I can’t really give you a better answer than the whole band! *laughs*
There’s a lot of nice new elements on this album I think. The whole album has the distinct Kreator sound, but there are a lot of small surprising elements thrown into the mix. I also asked Mille about this, did you do things differently while recording this album?
I guess it’s always a little bit different when you record a new album. When the songs develop, as a musician you then start thinking, what is the thing that this song might need? Then you always try to serve the composition, as a musician. But I guess what is new, what we haven’t really done before, in the intro and in a couple of songs there’s a little bit or orchestration going on. We got some help on that front from an Italian band called Fleshgod Apocalypse, so that kind of brings a new element there. But it’s mostly dominant in the album intro, so there’s not much of that stuff going on elsewhere. I also think Mille sings a little bit differently, very well. Full of energy, which is nice. The band is in very good shape! It was a lot of fun making the album.
How do you feel the band chemistry is at the moment?
Oh, it’s good! I mean, for me it’s easy, because I live in a different country. For me the band chemistry is always okay, because I’ve got time in between where I don’t see these morons at all *laughs*
*laughs* You have some time off, yeah. Do you actually need that?
Well, hard to say, because I’ve always had it. *laughs*
I love how everything fits together on this album, all the instruments, all the themes. It’s a true unit, a well oiled machine!
Well thank you very much! A lot of effort was put into it. For fitting everything together sonically, we also have the producer Jens Bogren to thank.
He did a good job, yeah!
Absolutely! I mean, we were there for the second time already. Usually when you work the second time with the same producer, it’s the best. Third time might not be so smart, but the second time is when you know each other better than the first time, but you still have some respect for each other *laughs*, which might disappear when the first one comes around *laughs*
The second round you know what to expect from each other as well.
How does a typical recording process look for Kreator, the creation of a Kreator album?
It starts like with a lot of people in the 21st century, that we make demos at home and send them to each other. Mille usually starts that. He actually sends entire songs, with lyrics and programmed drums and everything. When I send stuff to him or to the other guys it’s more like parts, or guitar themes, or melodies. I don’t even bother programming any drums with them. I just try to present what’s going on there. Then we see if we use it or not, but Mille is the main songwriter of course. He also writes all the lyrics. After this first round has happened then we meet up in the rehearsal room in the old way. As we’re doing right now, but now we’re just rehearsing stuff that’s already been done.
The creative process I always like the most. Being a musician playing in a band, the studio and the creative process, that’s the most interesting part. When we go on tour you’re just basically repeating what has been done already.
So your input process usually is like “here’s a cool riff”, and stuff like that?
Well yeah, or a chord movement, or a C part, or something that might fit to something that already exists, and so on. Yeah! Something like that.
Adding stuff to the puzzle!
In what ways would you say is your involvement in Kreator different than your involvement in your previous projects like Waltari?
Well, with Waltari I’m not really in the lineup anymore, but maybe a lot of songs were born out of jamming a bit more there. But then I had this other progressive Death Metal band called Barren Earth, with them it’s also more like making demos, but also writing notes *laughs*. It depends. The basic idea is similar.
I actually was reminded of Waltari last week. I actually own a copy of “Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! (Death Metal Symphony in Deep C)”, the album with Avanti.
Alright! We just played some snippets off that last October. We had a 30th anniversary show of Waltari in Helsinki, at the Culture House. We had a string sextet and a very famous opera singer called Johanna Rusanen-Kartano, so we played some parts of the Death Metal Symphony after a long time. It was fun.
Very cool, that should be fun indeed! I actually picked it up of the store back then, solely on the title *laughs* Mille has a lot of really nice words about you by the way! He calls you a musical genious.
Well that’s maybe a little bit exaggerated! *laughs*
It’s in the press release! *laughs*
Ah shit, I didn’t see that!
It says “While the rest of us are self-taught, Sami is a musician to the core, who has already played concerts in opera houses”. That’s a lot of praise man!
Well that is a lot of praise, yeah. I mean, my opera house experience in Helsinki, I have to diminish it to twelve shows now, but yeah. It happened! *laughs*
*laughs* well you can put that on your resume! Where it comes to the new record, what can you tell us about the themes on it, and how you feel about them?
Of course, when you think about Kreator albums and Metal in general, the themes are usually the end of the world, and death, and blood, and splatter *laughs*
Don’t forget Satan! *laughs*
*laughs* Well, of course we’re all atheists, and we’re very aware that Satan is *not* real, but the evil in men *is* real and that’s what the song is about. And of course, the inspiration to songs like World War Now are the terrible things that happened in Bataclan last winter. Of course it makes you think, has the world war now started? Are we living in the middle of it, without noticing it? The other lyrical themes, well there’s stuff that’s happening around you. Death Becomes My Light is about near death experience, Side By Side is about homophobia, and Satan Is Real is about atheism.
Yeah, I actually asked Mille, do you really think Satan is real? *laughs*
Absolutely not. When I was a kid, when I was five years old, I was put into a Catholic school. The teachers were nuns. Ever since then I was an atheist, from a very young age *laughs*. They made us pray before eating!
Was the food that bad? *laughs*
The food was terrible. *laughs*
Then it might help, yeah. But it’s a scary world we live in at the moment. There’s a big comeback of religion right now.
That’s also what Satan Is Real is about. If you think about our lives back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then look forward to the year 2017, you probably would have never thought that it would make such a comeback. It’s very sad, of course. It often results in violence and misunderstandings and shit like that. I don’t want to get to deep into this, but it’s something that bothers a lot of people in Europe these days I think.
It’s a very hot topic, absolutely. What would you say is the biggest threat we face in the world right now?
Oh *laughs*, that’s a very difficult question. It could be anything. It could be Donald Trump, or it could be a terrorist organization. I don’t know. I think that the only thing that I might have to say to that is just to keep on going and show no fear. Live your life and treat others with respect. If you think about Kreator as a band, looking at our lyrical themes, nobody’s trying to offer any solutions to anyone *laughs*. Neither am I as a human being. I’m merely an observer, like you!
Well, you do have a partly solution, I think. You make these kind of things discussable and bring it into the public’s view that these issues exist.
Well yeah. That happens a lot anyway but it doesn’t hurt to bring it up more. I think so too.
Where it comes to the song “Fallen Brother”, I was wondering who it was about!
Well, of course it’s about remembering the dead, but there’s also a personal thing there. Maybe you should ask Mille about that song. I can’t say anything *laughs*. But it’s about remembering and respecting the ones that have fallen. It’s really self explanetory, isn’t it?
It really felt like it was for somebody special, and I forgot to ask Mille. He did give a nice explanation about “Lion With Eagle Wings” though.
*laughs* Yeah, what is it about? It’s about…
As he put it, it’s about taking a different perspective, and it’s modeled after the symbol of Babylon.
*laughs* Yeah, yeah. Like seeing humanity destroy it’s own planet and home. That’s a little of what it’s about. I do read the lyrics when we’re at the studio, you know? It does effect your guitar playing, especially when you think about a solo. It’s important to know what’s happening in a song. But that’s the kind of view I had about “Lion With Eagle Wings”. Somebody observing the downfall of the planet from above. Watching from above somehow *laughs*. That’s the idea that’s in there I guess.
Watching from above as the nations crumble. Nice. In what ways does lyrical content influence your own creative process?
Well, with the Gods Of Violence demo the title was already there. With Satan Is Real also. Of course, when I first heard the title Satan Is Real, even the producer told Mille “wait a second, you can’t sing this! That’s so naive, you can’t say that!” *laughs*. But then, after checking out the lyrics and thinking about it some more we saw it’s about atheism and more against the whole idea that Satan exists. Then it kind of makes sense, and it gives the name of the song the right to exist *laughs*. Of course it sounds pretty naive at the first glimpse, but there’s kind of an idea behind it. Sure it influences the riffs and everything. Of course.
There’s always a second layer.
Yeah, there should be.
What I also really liked was in the intro of the title song, there seems to be a small nod to Metallica’s Fade To Black. Is that on purpose?
*laughs* You mean <hums the part>. I was more thinking about Pink Floyd’s Goodbye Blue Sky. There’s the same chord there too!
It’s called a.. It’s got an E and a B and an F# and a G. So it would be an E minor 9. I don’t think Metallica invented it *laughs*.
*laughs* No, I don’t think so either, but I thought the nod was fitting, since that’s a song about suicide, and this deals with violence and religion.
Yeah, it is similar. I pointed it out in the studio. First I pointed it out that it sounds like Goodbye Blue Sky, you know? (sings: But the pain lingers on) You know that right? The Pink Floyd song. It’s a pretty beautiful chord I think. It’s very simple, it’s only got four notes, and it always works! It’s in Welcome Home (Sanitarium) as well, it kind of is in One as well. James Hetfield seems to use that one all the time *laughs*
He loves it! *laughs* I love the little addition to it of the middle eastern sounding elements.
Yeah, it’s an electric sitar, played in the Lydian scale!
Very nice. As I mentioned early, many nice little elements on this new album! It’s very cool.
Yes. I do play the acoustic sitar, but back in Jens’ studio in Sweden, there happened to be an electric guitar sitar hanging around, so that’s why I picked it up and played it. It’s just like a guitar, but it’s got the sympathetic strings ringing there in the background, like there is in an acoustic sitar. That’s what makes it sound like a real acoustic sitar.
Yes, that sounds cool. You like different kinds of instruments, right? LIke indeed the sitar?
Yeah, I played it since the nineties already. I did a lot of guest appearances as well, like for Nightwish, do you know that band?
On the album called Once, there were two songs on there. Then for the bands Samael, and Tiamat, Grip Inc… For a whole lot of bands I did guest sitars back in the day. Not so much recently, but yeah.
Where it comes to the guitars used on this album, I also asked Mille about this as well, he switched from Jackson to ESP. Do you feel that influenced the sound of the record in any way?
When you think about Metal guitars, which are played with huge distortion, if you have a good pickup on it, like a Fishman pickup which I use and which Mille uses, then all you need after that is a decent neck, and a good sounding guitar. For Mille it works with ESP. He’s been using them for, I don’t know for how long. I have a deal with Ibanez guitars from Japan and from the States, and I’m very happy with them, but in the studio there was a luxury of course. Jens had the really cool stuff, like Gibsons from back in the ‘70s, and SG’s, Les Pauls… Also our good friend the Stratocaster and Telecasters for clean sounds, so there were a lot of guitars being used on that album. Which is fun, I love it.
Yeah, you got to be a guitar freak to be a guitar player, right?
Yes, music is kind of a friend.
Where will we be able to see you on tour this year, what are the plans?
Yes, we’re going on tour! We’re starting in February, and in The Netherlands we’re playing in Tilburg pretty soon.
One of our reporters will be be attending one of your shows in Denmark.
Cool, in Copenhagen!
That’s the one! But we also have a lot of readers in the US and other parts of the world, I believe you’re heading there as well right?
Yeah, we are! Check out our tour schedule!
That leaves me with one final question, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?
Last messages, of course! Well if you’re in Holland you have to come to the Holland show, I hope to see you there! And anybody who is reading this about Kreator, the whole band is very excited about finally getting the chance to play new stuff, fresh stuff for anyone who’s interested to come check us out. We’re very excited about getting on tour again, after a long time!
And well deserved. Thank you for your time, and we’ll see each other on the road man!