Interview with vocalist and bassist Markus Makkonen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 31, 2020
Nerve Saw, a grinding, mercilessly shredding and shamelessly punky trio comes from the deepest forests of Finland and could be considered a sort of vile bastard child of a guy named Markus Makkonen. He formed the band about 10 years ago almost by accident as he had a bunch of dirty, filthy riffs that did not fit into the soundscape of his main band, Sadistik Forest.
He started as a one-man project and put together a bunch of songs in 2011. The first rotten fruit was a 4-track recording titled Call of the Casket on which he played every instrument. Sadly, despite some label interest, it remained unreleased for many years, just gathering dust. Some years later, Balazs from Old Skull Productions stepped in and released it officially in old-school cassette format.
Fast forward to 2020 and the band's debut album, Peril, was released on the German label Testimony Records. This time Markus didn't have to do everything himself as he had teamed up with Heikki Matero (guitar, also in Se Josta Ei Puhuta) and Michael Dorrian (drums, also in Anatomy of I). To learn what happened with this corpse-shattering and infamous group between 2011 and 2020 you need to read this in-depth and interesting conversation that The Metal Crypt had with Markus a while ago.
First off, could you tell our readers when you first had the impulse to form this raging, raw, and filthy sounding bulldozer better known as Nerve Saw? Was British war machine Bolt Thrower one of the biggest triggers?
Markus: Hi Luxi! Thanks for having me onboard mate! It is always a pleasure to talk with the mighty The Metal Crypt!
The very first impulse to form Nerve Saw, huh? Well, that goes back around 10 years from today. We were starting to get somewhere with Sadistik Forest and had been signed to Violent Journey Records, who were about to release our first, self-titled album. We recorded that one in 2009 and it was a straightforward, no questions asked kind of a thing. While we were working with the material that would end up on our second release, Death, Doom, Radiation, things started to go into a more technical direction with the music. There were plenty of reasons for this, but as this is more about Nerve Saw, I'll talk about those reasons in a Sadistik Forest interview instead. What mattered, though, was the fact that I was reading the marvelous Choosing Death book by Albert Mudrian at the time and was re-listening to all the excellent pioneering albums of death metal. All of these releases were fairly direct musically and listening to those albums influenced my song writing.
At some point, it felt that the riffs I was creating would not match the new SF album. They were too far off from the rest of the stuff to fit in. That was the point when I decided to start a completely new project and write even more simplified, but at the same time highly effective music. Nerve Saw was born, feet first from the grave, and bands like Obituary, (early) Six Feet Under, Master and Celtic Frost were the ones I had in mind at the time.
I am curious to know why named the band Nerve Saw. Please don't tell me how it must feel to saw your own leg off with a chainsaw, ok?
Markus: Hahahah! The name of the band is linked to my working career, yes, but as it was a good 10 years ago, I was not working as a lumberjack at the time. Around the time I was forming Nerve Saw, I was working with this dude who used to call all the unlikable people he knew "nerve saws." "That person is such a nerve saw, can't stand the man...", he would say quite often. It was such a funny way to put it and it rooted itself to my brain. While looking for a name for the new band, it occurred to me that Lemmy was asked in some old interview what he would call Motörhead if he was forming the band now and his reply was "Ripsaw." After some googling, it became obvious that there were too many Ripsaws around, so this was the moment when my colleague's term, nerve saw, surfaced in the right place and at the right time for a eureka moment of sorts.
The band's first 4-track EP, titled Call of the Casket, was released in May 2017. Did it come out the way you hoped?
Markus: Hah! Not the least, let me assure you! Call of the Casket was recorded in one weekend, in 2011, in between the first two SF albums. Songs for it were written fast and spontaneously after the decision to form a band like this was made. I recorded it with SF producer, Samu Männikkö (from criminally underrated Se, Josta Ei Puhuta), with yours truly performing everything. Even the guitar solos, which was the hardest bit. I never considered myself much of a lead guitarist and I was actually thinking of bringing in a guest guitarist for the leads, but as the recording process was such a fast affair and no one I had in mind was available on such short notice, I was forced to play the leads too. They were fast, spontaneous bursts in the spur of the moment. They sound a bit like the stand-up comedy of leads, but they got done nevertheless.
After the EP was done, there were two labels interested in it. One talked about all kinds of sweet things like a tape release and distribution and I handed all the materials (including the Turkka Rantanen cover art) to them and, bam! Nothing happened! Months stretched to years and eventually I asked for all the materials back. Fortunately, Old Skull Productions heard of the situation some years later and offered to release the tape. They did a great job with it too, so hails to Balazs and Old Skull Productions for being true champions! It took six years to be released, but one will have to remember I was also playing with Sadistik Forest and Hooded Menace at the time, so I was really not in a rush either.
Call of the Casket undoubtedly was a good calling card to get the band's name on the map of extreme underground metal music. Did you feel as if it did the trick by invading people's living rooms efficiently and destructively?
Markus: The idea of Call of the Casket was always to be something very underground. A tape release was only my first idea. It was not plotting world domination, rather just a small underground release. Something for only a handful of people. Dedicated ones. Old Skull Productions have a Bandcamp edition of it out by now, as the tape is sold out. So, those who want to check it can do it on the Bandcamp platform digitally.
But yeah, it did what it was supposed to do. It got released to a small bunch of like-minded people. I've received some really heart-warming feedback from it too, especially from Australia and Germany, so I cannot complain.
Nerve Saw was a one-man outfit in the beginning, and you took care of everything. When did you start thinking it would be nicer if you recruited some like-minded members to share your vision, which eventually happened when Michael Dorrian (drums) and Heikki Matero (guitar) joined?
Markus: I've played in many bands with Heikki going back to 1997, so we go back A LONG way. He was/is a member of brilliant group called Se, josta ei puhuta, which I really like and in which I filled in as a live bass player a couple of times. Heikki was also filling in for Sadistik Forest, when Matti Salo, our former guitarist was not available for a couple of gigs we had. Heikki is one of my most trusted and oldest friends, so having him onboard was a no-brainer, really. At the time Se, josta ei puhuta was not active and I knew this brilliant, brilliant guitar player had all these beautiful Jackson Randy Rhoads guitars hanging on his wall collecting dust. It was a crime against his talent and to those marvelous war axes, so I asked him to join and Heikki did not hesitate.
Mike is somebody I've known for a good 10 years. He has his Anatomy of I going and I really liked their debut album a lot. We talk almost daily, via several messaging platforms. Besides being a brilliant guitarist and a killer Jeff Walker-type vocalist, I knew he had been a living room drummer for decades. He was really into the idea of finally performing drums on a record, so all of a sudden and without too much planning I had a full band. Going solo has a thing to it, but I'm an old-school guy who started out playing in a garage before the Internet, so I find being in a band is simply much more fun than sitting at your computer and sending files all over. The world has too many projects anyways these days, and too few real bands, so I'm really happy where we stand with the band.
The band's debut full-length studio opus, Peril, was released in March 2020 on Testimony Records and turned out to be a pretty sweet surprise for the band by how well it was received by metal fans around the world. Can you tell us your recipe? You must be pleased with all the positive response, correct?
Markus: When I was recording Call of the Casket in 2011, old school death metal was having a revival. There were not so many bands going for it, but the interest towards the subject was rising rabidly. It felt like a right thing at the time to do something like the first EP but as it took so many years to see the light, the number of old school death metal bands releasing albums grew to quite a huge amount and the whole sound started to feel a bit saturated. It is fair to say that not every old school death metal album released in the past couple of years has been a new classic, if you know what I mean? There was so much stuff coming out, sounding like Call of the Casket had years earlier that I had no desire to duplicate the EP. If there was going to be a new Nerve Saw release, it needed to be different.
A few years ago, I was listening to my old Finnish punk albums and had another eureka moment. I came to the thrash and death metal scenes from a punk background, so combining punk and death metal felt like the most natural thing and it felt like a fresh idea. This gave direction to everything on Peril.
The album itself seems to be winning people over. Those who like it, genuinely like it, and I love that fact. I hate everything "ok" in music, to be honest. Metal, and music in general, should create emotions! Love, hate, disgust and enthusiasm. Not just "ok". Never. Aaargh...! Of course, we've got some "ok's" as well. Some of the journalists don't seem to really bother with debut albums, so a couple of reviews we had felt like the album had been listened for 15 minutes and then just copy/pasted the info letter into a review. But after being in a band for quite a long time, I don't mind. I know it is like this in the beginning. It was like this with the first SF album, too. And I guess with everybody, who don't have a hype of sorts behind them.
Some people have been asking for another Call of the Casket and they were surprised as these two releases have been so different from each other. That, once again, is very understandable. But like I said, there have been some completely new people, people I have never spoken with before, mailing me about the album, how they like the direction and have been looking for something like this for a long time and every email of this variety has justified the recording of the album for us.
Was the songwriting process for Peril more demanding than the recording process itself or vice versa?
Markus: Actually, everything about Peril was quite easy. After coming up with the musical direction, the songs were finished quite quickly. In the studio we tracked things really fast as well. The vast majority of what you hear on the album is first or second takes. The vocals (hopefully) give the album a more energetic and a spontaneous feel. You can hear some hiccups here and there, but there's also a lot of straightforward energy captured on those tapes. The world needs more music like the first Black Sabbath album and less laptop engineer masturbation. Heheh...
What are your thoughts about the two gentlemen you have brought into the band?
Markus: Like I said earlier on, both of these dudes are long-time friends. Heikki for over 20 years and Mike for 10. It is very uncomplicated to work with these gents, as we know each other so well. We can discuss things in a direct fashion and there's no need for silly ego bullshit. Both Heikki and Mike contributed to the album too, as everybody was molding their parts to a format that would be the most natural for everyone to play, BUT we also finished the music together. So, what you hear on the album, is music written by all three of us and I really like it to be that way too. It is a band thing, after all.
Do you believe that without the obvious punk influences each of you has in your veins the band would sound a whole lot different?
Markus: I guess Nerve Saw allowed us all to explore our most natural grounds, as far as being a music fan goes. You can hear my Motörhead, Sepultura and Finnish punk stuff there, along with Heikki's Raised Fist and Kreator, mashed up with Mike's Suicidal Tendencies and Obituary. They are all our very first influences and it was easy to follow that route musically. I think it is a solid trio-format record, where you can hear what each musician is bringing to the table. With different people, the album would have most certainly sounded different.
"Less is more and the more stripped down and rawer sound you can produce, the better..." Is this type of thinking a crucial part of the band's songwriting process in order to get this primitive, uncompromising, and aggressive punk vibe?
Markus: I would not say Peril is very unproduced album. The sound is straightforward, but it is also mixed and recorded very well by Javi Félez of Moontower studios. It is a professional studio, and it produces professional sound. Our goal WAS NOT to produce a mushy, lo-fi garage record either. Rather, execute a well-sharpened axe, straight to the forehead.
As far as the songwriting goes, this was very much a no-nonsense album, as you pointed out. We wanted to write good riffs and did not want to hide them behind unnecessary gimmicks. Instead of hiding the hooks under layers and layers of stuff, we wanted to put the riffs on a pedestal. Yes, we doubled the guitar tracks in the studio, but the guitar always plays the same thing. To underline the trio element, all the harmonies on the album are built between the guitar and the bass, instead of typical guitar harmonies. These are the decisions that are making a difference on how the album turned out.
What are some of the most important punk bands in your history that have inspired you to adopt some of that punk edge for Nerve Saw?
Markus: Well, I lived through a short, but very passionate punk phase in my teenage years, before discovering thrash metal and then death metal. From those times, there's definitely a punk genome in my blood. Sex Pistols, for example, was one of the very first bands I got into, after discovering music in general. But if you think of Peril, the sound of it is built from combination of influences from bands like Carnivore, Amebix, Rattus, S.O.D., Disfear, Motörhead, Sepultura, Bolt Thrower (first album!), Raised Fist and even Musta Paraati, who were maybe my main influence when writing the last song of the album, "Wolves of the 80's."
How do you manage your main band Sadistik Forest and Nerve Saw, the latter which I guess you still consider as a project/hobby band? Is it easy to keep both bands active and going or do they both require some planning regarding when it's time to focus on one or the other?
Markus: When writing music for them, the overall vibe dictates where it goes. Nerve Saw stuff is way different to what Sadistik Forest material sounds like, so there really is no competition, musically or schedule wise. If it is more like Discharge, then it will be on the next Nerve Saw album and if it is more like Napalm Death, it goes to SF. This would be the main principle, in a very simplified form. I don't worry too much if writing music for one would take something away from another. It takes a bit of scheduling to keep the rehearsals and pre-production days in control and not double booked, but if you keep your calendars checked, there should be no difficulties. So far it has been smooth. Things will happen when they happen. There is no point stressing about it.
You mentioned to me a while ago that you have plenty of songs ready for a follow-up album. Would you like to share some thoughts on this new material and how it compares to the songs on Peril? What's new, what's old, and what is borrowed?
Markus: Yes! That is correct! I have around 13 or 14 songs for future Nerve Saw albums and Heikki and Michael have both contributed a tune each as well. We could definitely record Vol.2 quite quickly if the possibility came up. Right now, with the Covid-19 and everything, we are really not planning anything, as no one can say for sure how things will be in 2-3 months, so there is no point to do that just now. We will record it when the time is right.
Musically, "the new" would be maybe even more hooky riffs that are bubbling up right now, waiting to be heard. There is this Carcass-meets-Discharge vibe, with touches of Kreator-type of choruses that I think people will really like. Direct, hard-hitting, no-nonsense stuff. That would be "the new". The new level of effective, if you will. "The old" would be the formula; stripped down, constantly moving, death/punk thing, with some occasional nods to Darkthrone. And "borrowed," well, I guess the thing that is borrowed would be the vibe of our idols – Sepultura, Discharge, Motörhead and Kreator. That relentless beating that made them the kings.
Do you believe you'll continue as a trio or have you had any discussions within the band about adding another guitarist and/or bassist to find out what it might bring?
Markus: At the moment, no. This trio thing feels really good right now, so we are not changing a functional formula. When playing in a trio, we all have a role, and no one is hiding behind anybody's back. It is rewarding musicianship. Also, if we get to play gigs after the Covid-19 smoke clears, a trio will be way easier to move around than five guys, for example.
How far do you believe you will be able to stretch the band's concept about being true to your original master plan without repeating yourselves from one release to another? Or is that exactly you'd like to do, bang people's heads and rape their eardrums the same way you did on Peril?
Markus: Hard to say, really. Speculating has never been a strength of mine, but I'd say as long as it feels natural, things can evolve in any way they want. I have some ideas about the future, but let's record that second album at some point and see about the future when we get there. The world and the music industry could be a whole different place by then. With the current events, it is really hard to say anything certain.
Do you guys have any plans for putting one or two promotional videos out to get the word out and make the band better known abroad?
Markus: There have been talks about doing a video, definitely. And with the next album, I think there really needs to be one. Everything happened quite fast with Peril, so there was not much time to plan a video and with musicians living in two different countries, that was a factor, too. But yes, this has been thought about and will be thought about. So, once again, all I can say is watch this space!
I am pretty fed up with topics related to Covid-19, but I cannot completely skip this subject matter. Everyone knows that bands are in big trouble due to gigging restrictions, so here's my mandatory question regarding this area. I know that some of us are already dying to see the band conquering stages, so how much (if anything at all) have you planned for 2021?
Markus: When the world opens up for gigs, we will be there too, no doubt about it. We want Nerve Saw to be first and foremost A BAND and playing shows is what bands do. I think we will try to record the second album quite quickly after things normalize (if they normalize) and organize a bunch of shows after that one. It will be nothing short of a dream scenario, to bash this stuff in people's faces in a sweaty club somewhere! Can't wait, really.
This is an off-topic question, but I felt an urgent, burning need to ask. Some of us know that you are one of the two guys responsible for writing a book on the history of Finnish death metal. The book is aptly named after Sentenced's second demo, Rotting Ways to Misery. What was this project like to make? As far as I know, the book was quite a long time in the making, so did it ever feel like you were building up the Saint Isaac's Cathedral for the second time, at least at some point in the writing period? How happy are you with the final result? Did you cover everything that was essential for this bible about the past underground days of Finnish death metal?
Markus: That is correct. I did write such a thing with Kim "Kena" Strömsholm, who used to sing in Festerday and ...and Oceans, and in many other bands. It took us about five years to make, as I did it alongside work, family and two bands and the situation was more or less the same with Kena, only he had way more bands going than I did! Hahah! Well, anyways, it was a big task, but the book was just released a week ago, so it is happily all over now. I have not seen a physical copy of it yet, but as far as the layout PDFs go, it should be a really authentic read for anybody into the subject.
Of course, it was a story that needed to be told and as nobody in Finland was doing it, I thought I might get it written myself. Around 2017 Kena got in contact, telling he had been planning the same kind of a thing. It was a quick decision to join forces and work on the thing together from there on.
There are at least 90% of all the bands that were going around the time mentioned, so it should be thorough and paint an honest picture of what it was back then, to be playing in a death metal band in Finland. So, if this is your thing, it could be worth investigating this book of ours.
If Nerve Saw was a building of some sort, what kind of building would it be?
Markus: Hahaha! Now THAT was a new one! Hahahah! Well, I guess Nerve Saw would be a little shabby, down to earth street bar, with only hard alcohol, black coffee and strong beer served and punk and death metal in the playlist. A place where people go to hang out when they want to have a good time and get real drunk.
We made it and I sincerely want to thank you, Markus, for having this chat with me and let's hope our rotten but still-existing world will confront and suffer from another plague soon, this one named Nerve Saw. Any final comments perhaps?
Markus: A MASSIVE thank you for having us onboard Luxi! Nerve Saw is an underground band, and we love talking about underground music with like-minded people. This was a really enjoyable interview, and I did not want to rush through it, as it deserved full attention. Let's hope this plague raging will indeed pass some day and we, the denim and leather horde, can fully wander on earth again. Like stray dogs and pestilent rats, swarming the corners of streets. Until that day, Nerve Saw raises a pint to each and every soul who actually soldiered through this interview, keeps on supporting underground noise and feels like listening to Peril, right now. Cheers!! This one is to YOU!!
|Other information about Nerve Saw on this site|
|Review: Call of the Casket|
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