The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn, Bloodbath fifth studio album, was released last fall and brought the Swedish supergroup on their first, proper international tour in twenty years. We could not miss the chance to meet guitarist Anders Nyström before their only Italian show, in Milan, and ask him about this new era for a band everybody has always considered but a side-project…
Bloodbath started as a jamming session between friends, with funny thanks list and meetings in Dan Swanö’s kitchen. All that has now turned into a big thing, touring with Kreator and Dimmu Borgir. How did that happen?
It’s been an interesting evolution. We started as a joke, the music we wrote at first was a joke, we were all drunk. Just having fun trying to record old school death metal, and all of a sudden we found ourselves drawing the attention of labels, they said stuff like: “You guys together, it’s too good to just leave it as a joke”. Our demo was never intended to be released, it was supposed to be some sort of fake-demo mocking late Eighties demos. Instead Century Media wanted to send it out to the world properly, we gave them a chance and things started rolling. As soon as we released it the feedback came in and we felt that wow, that music actually meant something to them. Bloodbath was becoming bigger than the joke, and it was becoming even more fun.
We thought: “Hey, these are just three songs, but we have a lot more in us”. All of a sudden we did a full length album that lead to another full length album, offers started coming in for live performances. We thought we should do a live show. The first and the last, at Wacken.
Exactly. But we did not keep our promise, that show could not be the last one, offers kept coming in, the lineup changed a little bit: Mikael [Åkerfeldt, from Opeth] left, Peter [Tägtgren, from Hypocrisy] replaced him, then Mikael came back again… So much was happening, and this band could not be a joke anymore. It was and still is a side project, but more and more serious as time went by.
You and Jonas [Renkse, bassist] put Katatonia on hiatus, and yet you still consider Bloodbath a side project?
Being on tour with Bloodbath right now is my main occupation. I focus 100% on a project while I’m doing it, so even if Katatonia is my lifetime main band, I leave it beside me right now to concentrate on Bloodbath. But there may be a time when I will put Bloodbath on the side to do something else, everything has its own time. A band demands full attention, and when we started doing summer festivals we understood Bloodbath was not just a side project anymore… It’s hard to explain, after all it’s been twenty years already since we started Bloodbath, but we have not been active all these twenty years. It’s kind of weird in that sense, it’s… [stops thinking about it] twenty years, damn. It feels like five years.
Probably the fact that you haven’t been active consistently helped, from this point of view. But I remember reading in other interviews at the time that you thought Grand Morbid Funeral would be your last album, while now there’s this new one and you’re touring to support it. I guess you’ll keep the wheel rolling?
Yeah, Bloodbath is now bigger than it has ever been and I do not see it stopping. We felt Grand Morbid Funeral would be a good way out, because we were making no plans, but after touring together we now know that this works out perfectly. Our current lineup is very solid, everybody carries a vision for our future, and we are already talking about a follow-up to The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn. There will definitely not be a stop.
And this I have to ask because I’m a big fan: is there any chance to see Dan Swanö involved in Bloodbath again?
The thing with Dan is that he does not want and cannot tour. He has a full occupation in Germany, a studio and he was never into the touring aspect. Even with Edge Of Sanity, he never wanted to do that.
I asked this specifically because I never had the chance to see or meet him live.
Yeah, that happens very rarely, I think I only saw Edge Of Sanity once, myself. Obviously he was on the Wacken Carnage, but it was a one-off show. He has seen shows, we invite him to do guest vocals, he has been coming on stage to do “Eaten”, he’s a huge fan of that one, and he is always welcome to come up and play any song. He can play drums, guitars, he can sing. Whatever he wants, we give it to him. But it’s hard to say right now if he is going to do anything more than that. As a guest, on the other hand, it’s very possible that he will join us from time to time.
Moving to the music itself: you said that for this album you’ve been putting more effort in lyrics. Would you elaborate on the subject?
Well, symbolism is a little bit buried beneath, because when you do death metal it has to be about horror and gore and slasher. All horror movies are a huge inspiration, and on the surface it will always be about that. Sometimes you veil it with some kind of hidden meaning, like the title of the album itself, The Arrow Of Satan is Drawn, is a good metaphor for what’s happening in the world right now: a very uncertain future, weird times going on in different parts of the world, this feeling of instability.
I asked this precisely because a few months ago I was talking to Mikael Stanne, and even if of course Dark Tranquillity has a totally different approach than Bloodbath, he was saying that through music we have to express the way we feel about the world. And even if it’s just gore and slasher movies there is some connection.
There is, indeed. You can make it weaker or stronger, but it’s hard to escape it. It’s your everyday life, you have to elaborate it in some kind of form, and obviously with lyrics it is easier to illustrate that.
Talking about everyday life, you’ve been a musician for almost thirty years. This means you lived a period when in order to have a band you had to put a bunch of people together in the same room rehearsing. On the other hand you are now touring with a band scattered all over Sweden and, apart from Jonas I guess, you do not see each other very often. More than that, you admitted that the only Bloodbath jam was that very first one at Dan’s, back in ’98. Pros and cons of these two opposites?
These days it is way less magic. The magic was in the jam. When you meet, on a social level, that’s when it happens. But nowadays it’s a hell lot more comfortable, doing this from your sofa. You have many, many shortcuts, and you save a lot of time, which for Bloodbath is essential. That’s always been the point with this band: the lack of time. All of us has such a different schedule from all the others and everyone is pretty much unavailable, always. Even if we manage to get half the band together, half the band is still unavailable, most likely touring the other side of the world. So the only way for us to keep this going is actually through the technology of 2018 and the helps it provides. We are never in a studio together, we are always going in and coming out, that is also one of the reasons why it takes such a long time for us to complete an album. But we are at peace with this: it’s the way it has to be, or there would be no Bloodbath at all. On the other hand, indeed, you are taking some of the magic away from the process.
I was asking this also because more and more bands today are debuting as one-man-band, bedroom projects. With Bloodbath, technology is the only option, but for many others is a choice.
I think the rehearsal moment is a fundamental step through which every musician should go. With band members. Discussing. Changing ideas. Learning from each other and uniting as a band. If you just sit in front of a computer and think you can do it all, with a drum-machine and a software… Well, you actually can, but there’s no magic. It’s technology allowing you to do that. I’ve been there as well, Diabolical Masquerade, my solo project, it was me and a drum-machine and everything else was out there, but before that I’ve been in a rehearsal space for years and years. And the feeling of going to the guys saying “Hey, I have three new riffs, check these out”, “Oh, cool, I’ll add a beat to that” and we’d sit down and discuss what we wanted to do with this band… Talking about everything, from designs to future plans, that was great.
Talking about magic: Century Media is part of Sony, Candlelight of Universal, Nuclear Blast was recently acquired by a French streaming services company. A common comment to the situation is that when the music industry enters the metal world they have no idea how to deal with it.
The industry thinks about numbers and figures, they have no clue about a band’s attitude or ideals, or what they stand for. Therefore is important that between guys in the offices and bands there are people who understand both. If someone big puts their claws on you and they start demanding that you just deliver this and that, it takes the fun out of the music. As soon as you start to think of music as business, you kill it. You need to leave the spirit in it. A good example in this case is Avantgarde Music, our first label which is based here, in Milan. They remained independent and do not have to guess what will work and what will not, they know that, because they’ve been part of it since the beginning.
It appears Bloodbath succeeded in keeping the fun alive in their music.
What we wanted to do on the album was expanding what we did on Grand Morbid Funeral, but taking it to an unexplored path of black metal, which some fans will not appreciate and some others will. We might lose some fans, we might gain others. I always said Bloodbath is the chameleon of death metal: different colors, different branches, jumping around. We explored the American death metal sound on an album, then the Swedish, then something more modern on The Fathomless Mastery, then we went back to old school with Grand Morbid Funeral, now this, and we are always having a fucking good time.
And is there any goal that you set for the band and you haven’t achieved yet?
Well, I am totally happy with what we are doing, and playing at festivals is what I enjoy the most, but I would love to record an album in Morrisound Studios with Scott Burns and have a Dan Seagrave art on its cover! [laughs]