Interview with throat tormentor Johnny Nuclear Winter and guitarist Seba Forma
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 14, 2014
Thrash Metal has been making a strong comeback for the past few years. Disbanded groups are getting back together and a ton of new forces are flying the flag of Thrash Metal proudly and letting the music do the talking rather than counting on cheap gimmickry.
The far north hasn't missed the boat, Finland in particular, and one of the leading bands from that country is Axegressor, who have been spreading their violent and uncompromising Thrash Metal terror for the last eight years. Axegressor just inked a deal with France's Listenable Records and is getting ready to put their third full-length studio album, Last, to be released on June 10th in Europe.
The Metal Crypt contacted vocalist Johnny Nuclear Winter and guitarist Seba Forma to talk about the band's latest (but not last) album, about their deal with Listenable Records, the "fuck you" attitude of their lyrics, the difficulty finding gigs, etc. Find out more about this relentless and vicious Finnish Thrash Metal troop by reading the following interview with Johnny and Seba.
Luxi: First off, congrats on inking a deal with Listenable Records. What made you decide to go with this long running French label that released the first EPs from both Immortal and My Dying Bride back in 1991?
Johnny Nuclear Winter: Thanks Luxi! They had a down-to-earth mentality when corresponding with us and seemed to be honestly enthusiastic about our music. I didn't realize Laurent/Listenable released those two cult vinyls back then, but it's a cool detail in their catalog.
Luxi: Were there other labels that showed interest in Axegressor when you were searching for a deal for your third opus, Last?
JNW: Besides Listenable, there was another long-running European label that made an offer and, to be honest, the decision between the two was one of the toughest this band has had to face during its existence. Also, a couple of "we love your music but cannot sign new bands at this moment" answers were received. Maybe they were just being polite, he-he!
Luxi: Did you basically pay for the whole Last album out of your own pockets, hoping to sell the master tape to a label that understood what Axegressor's music is all about and, most importantly, believed in the band 100%?
JNW: Something like that. We approached labels with a full package; music, cover art, etc., and without sky-high demands. We just wish to spread the Thrash gospel of Axegressor to a wider audience and the steps toward that goal are not necessarily measured in Euros.
Luxi: There are nine tracks on Last. Could you give us a short description of each song?
Seba Forma: "Freedom Illusion" – We wanted to start this album in a way that was different from Next. This song has a twisted intro that differs from the stuff we usually do. It is very intense, fast and a bit chaotic, and, in my opinion, it sounds like Kreator. It is one of my favorites and I like to play this song.
"Lead Justice" – A very traditional Thrash Metal song but, for some reason, it was the hardest one to compose. It changed a thousand times and I'm still not sure what the next riff is when I play it, ha-ha! I really like old traditional Heavy Metal, too, so it was nice to add and Accept-style mosh part in the middle.
"Mind Castration" – This is a Heavy Metal song with a few progressive parts. I don't want Axegressor to be too technical, because that can take away from the heaviness, but the "tricky" parts add some variation.
"Merciless Reality Check" – It has a nice mid-tempo that will break your neck and it might be the gloomiest song. Everything clicked with the arrangement and I think this is the strongest song on the whole album.
"15" – This song is heavily influenced by early 80's Speed Metal or Power Thrash (whatever you want to call it). If we had a specific musical direction, this would be it (from my point of view). It is the longest song on album and maybe the most boring, ha-ha, but we like it for sure!
"Social Pressure" – This is the oldest song on the album. Usually, when I start to write riffs for a new album or whatever, this is the kind of song that bursts out first. There's very little sense to this one, just shredding like a maniac for three minutes. A very HC-type of a song.
"Fistful of Ignorance" – Two-part song and one of my faves. It has a slow start and the second riff is more Death Metal, but the middle part is shit-hits-the-fan neck-breaking Thrash Metal and it must be one of the fastest part on the whole album. Then it slows down again like the beginning. Love it or hate it!
"Command to Last" – Every Axegressor LP has a song like this; full speed ahead for two minutes! Fuck off and die!
"Determinator" – This is the last song on the album and the newest one. It has an easygoing feeling so it must be our happy song. You can hear the influences from bands like Anthrax, Megadeth and Exodus on this one.
We aimed to make nine different songs and not just repeating the same pattern over and over again but still keeping it tight and heavy.
Luxi: Did you have any "leftovers" when you entered the studio to record Last? If so, do you have any plans to use them on some future Axegressor release?
JNW: No, we have never had any leftovers. We aim to put our best riffs/ideas/lyrics into the songs when arranging them and then make the album as good as possible.
SF: Our minds are empty now, need brains! Well, there are leftover riffs, but usually I (want to) forget those after recording new shit, even if they are usable. They didn't make it, so better just move forward.
Luxi: As for the lyrics on Last, it seems like you wanted to concentrate on the negative issues and values of today's society rather than sing about killing, zombies and the pleasures of satanic rites. In fact, I found your lyrics to be very well written on this album. They are to-the-point, cleverly put and, at times, very ironic in a way that brought a wide grin to my face ("polished sport music, kissing every ass, the circle pit of emo boys we shall fucking blast, show no mercy, have no fear - total hell breaks loose, it's up to you, in or out, no one else will choose.."). Ha-ha-ha! Could you elaborate on the subject of the lyrics?
JNW: With Axegressor, I have always wanted to get to the point without using too many metaphors or lyrical gimmicks. I try to avoid the most obvious Thrash Metal clichés, except in a couple of songs for which I have written truly bone-headed Thrash party/mayhem/fuck-up lyrics on purpose (e.g. "Command to Last", "Axegressor", "Apocalyptician"). However, even the lyrics you quoted have a deeper meaning behind the 'fuck-you' mentality. In life, many things are up to you, in the end, and no one else. If you want to be nice and decent and dance with the pretty circle pit boys or if you want to get exhausted, sweaty and bruised in the old school whirlwind mosh pit and probably get knocked to the floor once in a while, that's your decision. At least it SHOULD be your decision and not what other people suggest or force you to do.
Luxi: How do you get inspired for writing lyrics? Do you need some sort of excuse to get irritated or pissed off in order to capture your thoughts about the annoying things of life?
JNW: Mostly, I just need to look around me. Everyday events, people I know or don't know and what they do or are up to, TV news, and documents about how fucked some people/country/politics/religion/tradition can be are an endless inspiration for writing down the anger and channeling the negativity into this violent kind of music.
Luxi: On the Axecution EP, released in 2007, you had a Finnish-sung song titled "Luoti Päähän ("Bullet to the (Poser's) Head")", which had very radical lyrical content, though not meant to be taken seriously. It isn't the kind of song that you could sing in English because there's a bunch of people out there that lack any sense of humor. Do you still play that song live and do you have any plans for another Finnish-sung track with as over-the-top lyrics as "Luoti Päähän"?
JNW: We rarely play that song anymore but it's not because of the lyrics. Why shouldn't I sing "bomb USA / napalm attack to Russia / the shitty Europe won't last long / in Asia I trust in tsunamis / with AIDS I reap in Africa"? Yeah, it doesn't rhyme or fit so well in that song, ha-ha! If somebody gets offended by some random Thrash Metal lyrics, it's their own fucking problem and I truly hope they feel so bad about it that they cannot cope for a while and miss something important in their life. Basically, "Luoti Päähän"' is about the sacrifice one has to make if he wants to live a life his own way and not to give a fuck what society around you teaches and preaches about "right" or "wrong".
SF: To be honest, it doesn't even sound like us, musically, anymore. It had its time. Maybe we will play it in the future, but right now I don't know.
Luxi: Where do you draw the line between good and bad taste when it comes to Axegressor's lyrics? Are there some topics in the morbid minds of Axegressor that you'd rather leave untouched, just to avoid making any apologies as to why, on earth, you wrote such lyrics?
JNW: I prefer to cross, and desecrate, this line of good and bad taste with my other band, Cannibal Accident :) I would NEVER apologize for anything I have written and released; it would not make sense at all. Again, if somebody gets offended, I really don't care. If somebody wants to know why I have written something, rather than just making their own, possibly wrong, conclusions about the ideas behind the lyrics, he/she should ask me and I'm more than willing to elaborate. Just to be clear, even though I wrote "15 hits in her face / 15 times more shall end it all" for a song on the Last album, it doesn't mean I stalk the city for teenage drug moms and kill them. They are able to destroy themselves without any help anyway.
Luxi: As for your forthcoming album Last, to be released on June 10th, 2014, and I've been able to listen to it a few times in a row now, do you believe it will lift Axegressor to the next level the way things worked out for Legion of the Damned when they signed to Napalm Records?
JNW: Well, as I said before, with Last we wanted a deal which would allow our music to be spread wider and farther than before. The two previous albums were released by a small, one-man label with limited resources and, despite everything working well with him, it was just not possible to foresee any growth in the band's career if we stayed. All the best to Ville and Dethrone Music, of course!
Luxi: Were the recording sessions for Last different from your previous album, Next? What did you learn from the recording experience of Next that made recording Last better?
JNW: Personally, I had serious problems getting focused on writing and arranging lyrics for the new songs, which had been written over a 2-year period. Without a clear goal, deadline or anything that would force me to complete my part of the process, I felt a bit frustrated at times. My inspirational outbursts have been rather productive, in the past. But the positive side of all this time, sweat and tears (not to mention beers consumed), was that the recording sessions went really smoothly. We had 99% of the material ready when we entered the studio so the sessions didn't last (pun intended!) so many days. From the Next sessions I learned the power of "piimä" and "salmiakkiaakkoset" to keep my throat lubricated so I wouldn't lose my voice during the recording of the vocal parts. Also, one should not go into the studio to practice.
SF: We really concentrated making this our best sounding record so far and I think we managed well. It took almost three years to compose nine songs and it was a 24/7 job, in our heads. You don't want to do things hastily and ruin everything. I think we are finding a way to make things sound right.
Luxi: What is the plan after the release of Last on June 10th? Will you be bringing some unforgiving and lethal aggression on the road both in your native Finland as well as outside the borders of your home country?
JNW: The album will actually be released in Finland on June 13th and we have a release gig and party on the 14th at a local club. Some gigs are and other will be booked for autumn at different Metal clubs around Finland but we will publish those later when they are confirmed.
Luxi: You have experience arranging gigs for other bands and would undoubtedly like to keep the strings in your own hairy hands regarding bookings for Axegressor. But have you considered finding the right guy to take care of selling Axegressor for gigs? That can be a very time-consuming, and even frustrating, job.
JNW: Previously, I have always wanted to keep the strings in my own hands and have intentionally avoided booking agencies. I always thought agents were for lazy groups and a band at our level would not need someone like that because they are only for the bigger, "more commercial" bands. Also, over the years, some amateur dickheads, calling themselves "promoters," "managers" or "agents," have contributed to this stubborn mentality I have had concerning the art of concert booking and gig arrangement. But, over the last few weeks, I have decided to break out of my comfort zone and started to search a booking agent for Axegressor. None in Finland have agreed so far, for various reasons (they cannot take any more bands on their roster, our music is something they cannot "sell," etc.) so it seems I will have to continue this hobby of mine which I have practiced for around 15 years now.
Luxi: There's been a clear Speed and Thrash Metal boom going on here in Finland for the last 2-3 years, along with of a very fruitful Death Metal boom. Old-school and retro Thrash bands like Forced Kill, Bloodride, Lost Society, Nuclear Omnicide, Malicious Death, Ranger, A.R.G., Speedtrap, Jumalation, Inkvisitor, etc. have been doing their best to keep people happy with recent releases and gigs. Are you pleased with the current state of Speed and Thrash here in Finland? Do you feel like Finnish Speed and Thrash Metal has a second chance to prove there is something special happening here?
JNW: It's great to see the rise of young, Thrash-hungry bands playing this style of old-school Metal which was invented years before the band members were even born. The integrity of some of older bands is also very admirable. Nowadays you can easily arrange a pure Thrash Metal concert, with several bands, without having to compromise by booking some modern Metal/Metalcore/Deathcore or what-fuckin'-ever. Traditions in Metal are important to cherish because, without knowing your history, you cannot understand the present.
Luxi: Are there any split-up Finnish Speed or Thrash Metal bands that you'd personally like to hear start making new stuff again?
JNW: Not necessarily. The best (A.R.G.) has already been exhumed and they deliver their ancient reindeer Thrash more than well enough to fill the gap.
Luxi: What can people expect from Axegressor in 2014, apart from this new album, full of neck-snapping Thrash extravagance? A set of gigs with "show-no-mercy" attitude and true determination to thrash everyone, perhaps?
JNW: See #12.
Luxi: The 2014 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships is coming May 9th-25th (unfortunately, Finland lost to Russia in the finals – ed.). So my question is; Jos ruottalaiset tulee meitä vastaan puolivälierissä tai välierissä, niin paljonko hurrit ottaa meiltä ns. pataansa? ;o)
JNW: Satan älskar oss alla. Katson ehkä loppuottelun, jos Suomi pelaa.
SF: Tykkään jääkiekosta ihan hulluna. Enemmän seuraan tosin änäriä kuin esim. MM-kiekkoa, mutta eiköhän ne Suomen pelit tule ainakin katsottua. Pikkaisen nuo Olympialaiset rokottaa näitä tulevia kisoja, mutta vastatakseni kysymykseen niin sanotaan että 6-5, Suomi nousee 1-5 tappioasemasta ;)
Luxi: Thank you for taking some time to do this interview for The Metal Crypt and, of course, I want to use this opportunity to wish you all the best with your future endeavors with Axegressor. If you have any last words, swear words or curses, feel free to shoot 'em freely...!
JNW: Justify your life and make your short existence worth something. Besides that, pre-order the upcoming Axegressor album at www.recordshopx.com/artist/axegressor. Thank you, Luxi, for this cool, in-depth interview and keep up the good work you have done since the dawn of time! :)
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