Interview with vocalist Samuel Nyman
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 3, 2022
Manimal is a Swedish heavy/power metal outfit that formed in 2001 and have slowly but surely been building their sound and image over the years, especially with their last two albums, Purgatorio (2018) and Armageddon (2021). These Swedes arrived in Finland in June of 2022 for the very first time, booked to play the Tuhdimmat Tahdit Festival in Nokia on June 17 as well as On The Rocks club in Helsinki the next day. It was the first time for yours truly to witness the band, at their gig in Helsinki, and I have to confess the band put on a fantastic and energetic show despite the light attendance.
A few weeks later, I contacted the band for an interview and the band's vocalist Samuel Nyman accepted. We covered many things including the pandemic, playing live, Finland's status as a metal country, dress codes, the mighty Judas Priest, etc. Keep reading to find out about one of Sweden's hottest and best-kept secrets...
Hey Sam! How are things there in Sweden? Feeling good about the fact there's still some summer left this year in the north of Europe?
Samuel: The last couple of days it's been like autumn. It's been cold. They have promised that the summer will come back this upcoming week. Right now, it's pretty cold, windy, and cloudy and it could be autumn, but I hope that we have some days or maybe weeks left of summer weather.
Yes, I know. The summer ends way too quickly up here in the north of Europe. [*chuckles*]
Samuel: Just out of curiosity, how far up in the north of Finland are you, by the way?
I'm in the southern part of Finland here in Espoo, and the weather here is pretty good actually—like half cloudy, half sunshine and pretty warm, so that's OK.
Samuel: I hadn't thought of it before, but when we went to Finland, it struck me that the south of Finland is almost in the middle of Sweden so even if you are in the south of Finland, you are farther north than I am right now because I am in the Gothenburg area. Even the southern part of Finland is pretty much up north. [*chuckles*]
Yes, I know. We can't help our geographical position, can we? That's how it is. Anyway, now you mention Finland, I need to talk about your show here in Helsinki that you played with Finnish metal bands Silver Bullet and Psychework, on June 18th, which I attended.
First of all, it was my first experience seeing your band live and I have to say I was pretty much floored. Your gig was intense, although I would have liked it if the venue had been a tad more packed than it was. What's your take on that gig and the gig you played the day before at Tuhdimmat Tahdit Festival in Nokia?
Samuel: I'm so happy you were floored by the show in Helsinki because we went to Finland and we didn't know whether we would be able to perform because I had a cold a couple of days before we went away. I took a COVID test, and it said, "No, it's not COVID, it's just a cold," but it affected my voice. I was not affected in any other way. I was so afraid that we would be forced to cancel the shows. I told the guys, "Do you want to go? We can end up in a situation where we must cancel the shows. Do you still want to go there? We will wait and see how things go." They said, "Yes, we got the tickets booked and stuff. Yes, let's go." I'm happy that we did it. Even though I felt like I was not able to perform at 100%, the show in Helsinki was better, from my point of view, than the day before. The day before, I really felt I didn't have control of my voice. Hopefully, the audience didn't notice and I'm happy to hear that you said that you were floored by the show. That tells me that probably nobody but myself noticed. I was a little bit disappointed for my own performance. I'm very happy to hear that you enjoyed it, and that it was an awesome experience.
Even though there were more people at the festival, the show in Helsinki somehow was more fun to play because the people who were there, even though it was maybe only 50 people, were responding and wanted to be involved in the show. All four of us in the band said afterwards that this show was so much fun. This was one of the best shows we've done since after the pandemic because it was something in the air. It was something and it all has to do with the audience. The audience, they were involved. They wanted to be involved in the show and they responded when we tried to get them to shout along and put their fists in the air. It's very funny that even though it's fun to play in front of a big audience, it's not the only thing that matters because an audience of 50 people obviously can be much better for a band to play in front of because it all depends on the response.
Samuel: I really hope we get the opportunity to come back because, just like Sweden, Finland is a metal country. There are a lot of people there, a lot of great bands and a lot of fans enjoying metal music. We went home with a smile. We went there uncertain whether we would be able to play, and we went home with smiles on our faces, and we were very happy that we did it and that we didn't cancel. I was great.
Great to hear that from you. It's been two long years when basically nothing happened gigging-wise, no festivals, no club gigs, no nothing. How does it feel to be back on the road after all this suffering, so to speak?
Samuel: It's great. Even though we haven't been suffering as much as many other bands because we didn't get any tours canceled or anything, we were about to start working on our fourth album when the pandemic struck. Also, this is not what we make our living from. I feel sorry for those who make a living on music and who saw their whole income disappear overnight. It feels great to finally be able to hit the stages again. We've been missing it for some time as has everybody else. It's good to finally get to meet people again, meet audiences. It's great.
BRINGING SOMETHING EXTRA TO THE AUDIENCE
When you are on stage, how important is some sort of dress code? I have to assume it's important as you want to bring a full show to your audience because the fans pay to see you, plus the type of music you play requires a strong and eye-catching stage presence.
Samuel: It's very important, but because we want to put on a show. The most important thing is obviously the music, but we think that almost equally as important is the stage show. That includes our stage clothes, makeup, stage props. All four of us love bands like King Diamond, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Ghost, bands who do that little extra and put on a show. Obviously, we are not able to put on such a grandiose show as bands like those, but we want to do what we can. Stage clothes and makeup, that is something we can always do, and we can bring it on tour.
Also, like you saw, we brought some skulls for our mic stands, some chains and stuff, and a straitjacket. Small things, but we think they make a difference because people come to our show and want to be entertained and we want to entertain them. That includes everything that I mentioned. We would like to develop a little bit of a light show. Since we can't afford to bring our own light guy to our shows, we depend on the in-house guys, and often they are really good, but they often don't know our music. They don't know when to press the button to have the right impact and feeling. When there is a hit in the music you want maybe lights to flash exactly at the right spot spots. That's something we're working on now.
It's nothing big but it's something, and I would think that will make a difference. A couple of lights that will flash and blink at the right time, synchronized to the music. This is something we're always working on. As I said, the most important thing is the music. The performance of the music, that should never be in second place. That's always in first place, but after that, we like to put on a show.
You started using makeup with the Purgatorio album that was released back in 2018. Whose idea was it to add makeup as a part of the band's image?
Samuel: Whose idea was it? I don't know. I know that we talked about ways we could stand out a little from bands we are obviously big fans of like Judas Priest and Primal Fear and also the German power metal scene with bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray, and how can we stand out a little bit from those bands that we are similar to. We said that something we can do that doesn't cost that much and can bring it on tour is we can focus on stage clothes and makeup. I think it was a common discussion between all four of us. I can't remember who came up with the idea for the makeup, but I know who didn't come up with the idea and that was Henrik, our guitar player, because he was very skeptical at first.
Even though he loves bands like King Diamond and Alice Cooper, he was very skeptical about wearing makeup and it took some time for us to convince him that this was the right path. I think now he has accepted it. I don't think he finds it hard to put on the makeup even though we make jokes about this nearly every day because grown men who wear makeup are hard not to laugh at. At the same time, we're very serious with it. We think it should be there. Sometimes people tell us, "Oh, it's like black metal makeup and stuff. You look like a black metal band." We don't care because this is something we want to do, and we want to do something extra and something out of the box. I know that Henrik didn't come up with the idea. I can't remember who did.
ARMAGEDDON IS HERE
That's OK. Your fourth studio album, Armageddon, which was released in December 2021, has been getting rave reviews around the world and most importantly the fans also love it. Does that make you feel like you are doing something right with the band?
Samuel: Yes, even though I know many artists say, "I don't care about reviews. I don't care." I think that we are doing this mainly for ourselves, but we wouldn't be doing this on the level that we do and tour around the world and play our music if we didn't care what other people thought about it. We will always create music that we like to listen to ourselves. That's been the thing from the very beginning, and hopefully, other people like it as well.
Obviously, we are very happy to see that this latest album was so well received by both the media and fans. Our Spotify numbers, the streams there went through the roof. It was beyond our expectations, both sales-wise and stream-wise. We read many of the reviews because it's interesting to hear what people like, what they think about it. Obviously, we're very happy that this album has been so well received.
The album name, Armageddon, has a pretty fitting yet unfortunate ring to it, especially if you think back to these COVID years, and what happened in Ukraine this year. It makes me think ironically, you guys must be some sort of "Nostradamuses of The New Age" if you will. Anyways, speaking a bit more seriously again, how did you come up with the name?
Samuel: It's funny you mentioned that, because on our last album, Purgatorio, we had a song called "Black Plague." Then came the pandemic. We have been joking about this because it's a little bit creepy. Now, we're making an album called Armageddon with a song with the same title. Now crazy Russians have invaded Ukraine. It feels a little bit creepy...
We were looking at the song titles because we didn't have an album title. We looked at the song titles and thought, "Is there any of the song titles which are fitting and could be representative for the overall feeling of the album and we ended up with 'Armageddon.'" We thought it was maybe not that original but it's pretty punchy and it's heavy metal. Also, we thought that the song "Armageddon" is a great song on the album, so we agreed that it's a fitting title. We had some other ideas as well, which were not song titles, but we ended up with choosing a song title.
You mentioned something about Priest and, as a Priest fan myself, I cannot help but notice a strong Priest vibe in the songs on Armageddon. How significant and important has Priest been for you guys, both as an inspiration and influence?
Samuel: Priest is probably the most important band for us, I would say, because both Henrik and I, who are the main songwriters, are both big Priest fans. We think that they have done everything right. We don't want to hide our influences within the music, even though we don't want to do a complete rip-off. We see our music as a celebration of other bands that we like, which we are inspired by. To be original, for us, has never been something that we have striven for. We simply want to do music that we like to listen to ourselves. Priest is one our favorite bands, and therefore, our music is going to end up sounding a lot like Priest.
We know that there are many Priest fans out there. When Henrik and I write songs, we are confident when we like a song ourselves and we think, "This is pretty good. It would be strange if nobody else but you and I, liked this." Since there are so many fans of this kind of music, there must be somebody else besides us who will enjoy this. Priest is probably Henrik's and my number one influence. We still put on the Priest albums often and listen to both the old and the new ones. I maybe rank Painkiller as one of the top heavy metal albums ever, but I also enjoy listening to their older stuff and their latest album was great.
QUALITY MEANS MORE THAN QUANTITY
Manimal has been around for 20+ years and I bet some people have been wondering why there aren't more records in your discography than the four full-lengths. Has this something to do with the fact you guys don't want to rush things too much and go with quality over quantity?
Samuel: Yes, definitely. Spot on. We founded the band in 2001 and the first album wasn't released until 2009, and the whole reason for that was that we didn't think that we had a whole album of songs that were good enough to be released as an album. That is the same philosophy we are working on even though we have been speeding up the process of producing an album. It's exactly that. Our record company wants us to release albums more often, but we have told them that we will not release something that we are not 100% satisfied with. We don't want to do things that maybe some other bands and artists do. Even though we know it's important to keep momentum and release one album every second or third year, even though that is our goal to do that, after two or three years, if we don't have songs that we can fill a whole album which we are satisfied with, we will not release it. We will wait a little bit longer until we are 100% satisfied. It's definitely quality before quantity in our world.
Have you started the songwriting process for the band's fifth album? As I understand it, Henrik, or let's call him "Hank," is the main songwriter in the band, so have his creative songwriting juices started flowing?
Samuel: Yes. Every song starts with Henrik. It starts with an idea for a riff or a rhythm or both or a whole song maybe, and it starts in Henrik's head. He has given me some sneak peeks of new songs. They are just loose ideas and embryos still, but he is always creating something. As soon as he finishes one album, he starts working on ideas for the next one, so it's an ongoing process. He has told me that he has some ideas that he soon wants to present to me and then I do some lyric work and vocal work on those ideas. We send files back and forth and we build the songs from there. It always starts with Henrik, and he has some ideas already, so it's a work in progress.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VIDEOS
Making videos has always been a very important part of getting the band promoted around the world. Do you prefer making videos in which the whole band is present rather than lyric or animated videos?
Samuel: I prefer real videos with the band in them over lyric video ones. We have worked with a guy from England when it comes to lyric videos. I should know his name. His company is called Very Metal Art, I think.
Oh, okay. Now that's a pretty cool name for his company.
Samuel: Indeed. And Andy Pilkington is the guy. He did two lyric videos for this album and in the past, he did one song. We did a duet with Udo Dirkschneider on our Trapped in the Shadows album, which was released in 2015, and he did a great lyric video for that one as well. His lyric videos are great but, obviously, we prefer a real video but we don't have the money and the time to produce videos for every song, so it's a quick way for us to buy a lyric video from somebody else. Especially a guy like Andy, who does such great work. He did the lyric videos for "Armageddon" and "Chains of Fury" for this album. We put a lot of effort into our videos even though they are all low budget. Our goal is that it should not look low budget, so we put a lot of effort into those videos to have them not look low budget and to fulfill their purpose and stick out a little bit maybe, I don't know. It's something.
Kenny, who has both mixed and mastered our latest album and the album before, is the guy behind many of our music videos. He is sometimes behind the camera, but those times when he has to be in front of the camera, we hired some friends to come and help us film, but Kenny is the one who's editing and finishing the stuff in post-production. He's good at it. We are very satisfied with the videos. We had a small budget for the "Burn in Hell" video for this album. There we hired some fire artists, and we bought a flamethrower and stuff. That was the first video which we had at least a small budget and we went all in because the song's called "Burn in Hell." We said that there has to be a lot of fire.
Of course. A song titled "Burn in Hell" just screams for massive walls of fire... [*laughs*]
Samuel: It's important these days, like you said, with the videos to present the band and to have something to post that people can share on social media. It's very important. I think, equally, it's fun to watch videos with the music. Sometimes a good video can even lift the song and make you feel like, "Hey, this song is great." If you only heard the song, sometimes you think, "Oh, it's okay. It's a decent song." When you also have the visuals, when you see a video which fits the song, sometimes your overall impression is like, "Oh, this is awesome." It's very important. We put a lot of effort into the videos, I would say especially to have these low-budget videos to look like an expensive production. [*chuckles*]
You have a short mini-tour coming up in Germany next month (September 2022). I assume it's safe to say that you are really looking forward to playing some shows in Germany again as all of those venues are new to you, except Backstage Club in Munich where you played in 2016.
Samuel: Yes. It's one of the other venues that we have played before, but like you say, most of the venues are new to us, yes. It's going to be great. We've been looking forward to this tour. We haven't done a whole tour since before the pandemic. It's something special when you ride a nightliner together with other bands. It's something special and something that we really enjoy doing. Also, to be doing these shows in Germany, which is maybe our biggest market, the biggest market for our music. Really looking forward to it.
Okay, it's time to wrap up this conversation by asking what the future may hold for Manimal?
Samuel: We have some touring options which haven't been confirmed and announced yet but there will be some touring. Also, we are hoping for a lot of festival shows. We love those as well. It's always special to come to a festival and play. It's often a bigger audience than we usually play for. It will be a lot of touring and festival shows, festival gigs next year. We will also be working with our next album. The goal is to release an album in early 2024, maybe, so we have to speed up the process a little bit. [*laughs*] Next year I think we will try to play as many shows and tour as much as we can.
All right. I think that's all I had in my mind for this chat with you, Sam. Thanks a lot for your time. Now, I let you go to enjoy your Sunday. Bye-bye...
Samuel: Thank you very much. Bye.
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