The integrity of Nightrage

Marios Iliopoulos - NightrageNightrage are holding out. Although the Greek-Swedish band has welcomed many guests throughout the years (almost every artist the Swedish scene has to offer, really), they have never really been able to stabilize their line-up, and the turnover has been just as impressive. Today Nightrage are back as a three-piece (including a new singer, Ronnie Nyman) with a new record, The Puritan. True to themselves, the band elevate integrity as the most important virtue.

But the story of Nightrage is due for the most part to the determination of one man, guitarist Marios Iliopoulos, who literally lives for melodic death metal. In the early 2000s, he left his native Greece without a penny in his pocket and with no idea what the future had in store, to go and live his Swedish dream. Work hard, believe in yourself, don’t give in to what’s trending – all these precepts are still driving Marios in his musical adventure today. Speaking of adventure, his started alongside another Greek guitarist, his friend Gus G, who’s becoming well known today for joining the ranks of the Prince of Darkness himself.

Let’s talk about all this with Marios after the cut.


« Sometimes with the kind of music we’re playing, people want different things, looking for success… We’re looking for musical integrity here, you know, rather than money. »

Radio Metal: Both singer Antony Hämäläinen and drummer Johan Nunez have left the band, apparently with no hard feelings, to pursue other projects. Then you hired Ronnie Nyman as the new vocalist for the band. How did you hook up with him?

Marios Iliopoulos (guitar): It was through our mutual friend Jesper Strömblad (The Resistance, ex- In Flames). When we were looking for a new singer, he suggested Ronnie. He happened to be the guy that we were looking for because we clicked really fast. He’s been playing for so many years now. He has the same kind of experience. So we actually tested him on the Russian and Japanese tour, he kind of claimed his position; he really wanted to be the singer in the band. Actually we wrote this album together, on the lyrics and music, and we’re really working well together.

So you didn’t consider doing any audition?

No because at that point I had this suggestion from Jesper and I trusted him, you know, because he knows what he’s talking about. He happened to be the right guy, you know! So we didn’t even spend time on trying other guys, to be honest with you.

And who recorded the drum parts on the album?

It’s Johan Nunez who played the drums this time as a session guy because he decided not to be in the band anymore because he’s playing with my buddy Gus G, Firewind and also Marty Friedman, so he’s very busy doing that. It’s difficult, you know. With a band like Nightrage, we like to have a good team of people around us and sometimes with the kind of music we’re playing, people want different things, looking for success… We’re looking for musical integrity here, you know, rather than money. So it’s a little bit of a problem to find the right guys. But now with the line-up that we have as a trio, it works actually pretty well and we are thinking actually to work with a session drummer and a session second guitar player for our future shows.

So you’re currently not looking for a new drummer?

We have some ideas. Right now we’re talking with some people. Of course we’re always looking but it’s difficult to find a permanent guy, you know. So we’ll kind of get a session guy for the moment.

In 2011 Olof Mörck left the band, he just disappeared from the band live performances and photography. What happened? Did that have to do with his other band Amaranthe?

Exactly. The guy was lost. We couldn’t reach him. He didn’t show up for the tour. He didn’t answer emails. He was kind of lost so we let him be, you know. People are changing directions, like I said, they’re looking for other things, and we’re looking for… We just want to play the music we love to play! Melodic death metal. That’s though for some people, I guess it’s too demanding, you know… That’s the problem: people change their minds and they wanna achieve other things, so they change goals. But the thing that we won’t change with Nightrage it’s the goal, which is that we have to play the music that we love to play.

The band has known a big number of line-up changes in its history. How did you keep the band cohesive despite that?

It’s the energy and the inspiration that I have that never change. I feel like if it was for those kinds of people, Nightrage would be a dead band by now, but it’s not about them, it’s about the music, the songs and the connection with our own fans. If I still feel inspired and I can still feel that I have something to offer back, I will continue doing Nightrage because, other than the fact that being in a band for me is an ideal way of life, it makes me really happy to share our music with the people out there.

On previous albums – except for the A New Disease Is Born album – you always had another guitarist with you who also was a songwriter. Now you’re alone at the guitar, so did that give you an extra pressure songwriting wise?

Not exactly. I mean, maybe it was a bit harder for me to write those songs because of other reasons, because I wanted to wait for a while until I felt inspired and had the right songs and material. And it was also a big challenge for me because I didn’t want to repeat myself. I wanted to do something more refreshing. But it happens that I’m always the main source of inspiration in the band, the main composer and lyrists. But on this new album Ronnie helped me a lot, we wrote the lyrics together and he helped me with the arrangements of the songs. So I can’t get all the credits for that, you know. I would never have been able to write this album without the help of Ronnie, my bass player Anders [Hammer], Daniel Bergstrand and George Neranzis from Dug Out Productions studio… So I think it’s a collective effort. I don’t wanna feel like Nightrage is my solo project because it is a band. It’s a team effort with people working for the same goal.

Nightrage - The Puritan

« If I wanted to have more possibilities for my music and my musical future, I had to go somewhere else and Sweden was the place. »

But did that change anything artistically to be one guitar player? I mean, you play melodic death metal, and one of the characteristics of that genre is the dual guitar actually…

We still play the music that we used to play before. We didn’t change drastically, you know. Maybe the sound we got this time from Dug Out Productions was a bit refreshing and it’s kind of an evolution for us. The Puritan is a new evolution for Nightrage. We still wanna be as metal as possible. We’re not ashamed to be a metal band. We try to put all those riffs and all those emotional melodies, sometimes we play very calm songs like the “Lone Lake” instrumental song. And on the other hand we play songs like “Son Of Sorrow”, which is almost a black metal type of song. We try to combine all those different emotions and atmospheres on a Nightrage album.

The first single of the album was “Kiss Of A Sycophant”, which is the last track of the record. It’s pretty unusual to place a single, which is usually the most catchy song on the record, at the end. Why this choice?

We don’t wanna do what other bands do. We feel like every song on the album is interesting. It’s not like the first three songs are the best and then all the other songs are there to fill the space. We feel like every song is a good song. It doesn’t matter where they belong on the tracklist. So that’s the reason for this.

The first song on the album is the title song, “The Puritan”. What do you put behind this word that pushed you to use it as an album title?

The Puritan as a title is a kind of symbolic title. We wanted to portray with it the hunger for creativity and the purity in our music, by the fact that we never change and we don’t want to let ourselves down as songwriters, we don’t won’t to let our fans down. We believe that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Also lyrical wise we tried this time to reach the essence of the human soul and dig a bit deeper, I guess.

Is it important actually to not change too much when you do music, especially for the fans?

We don’t really care about those kinds of things. We Don’t plan things here. We don’t wanna change or not change… It’s just about being honest, you know, playing music from the bottom of our hearts, playing my guitar, putting it on the dusty demo tape recorder that I have and then go with Ronnie to write the lyrics… It’s not like we do any particular plans. We’re just being ourselves. That’s the main point in Nightrage. I believe that in music, in composing, as a songwriter and a musician, you have to be as honest, hundred percent, as possible.

We can hear in the middle of the album a very calm and almost acoustic interlude called “Lone Lake”. As this is a very intense album, did you want the listener to have a break, to breathe for a moment before diving in again?

Yeah, exactly. One of the reasons was that we didn’t want to sound one-dimensional, like we stay fast and play very intense. Sometimes we feel we have different kinds of vibes and we like to put those vibes on a Nightrage album so it make a nice balance. We love that soft and calm side, we’re not afraid to put it out there and make a nice contrast with the other songs.

The previous album Insidious was apparently self-produced – except the mixing and mastering done by Fredrik Nordström – whereas you hired producer Daniel Bergstrand this time around. Wasn’t the self production experience conclusive?

This time we changed studio and recorded the album with Daniel Bergstrand and George Neranzis. Daniel’s an amazing producer, he’s worked with so many cool bands and he worked his ass off, man! These guys have worked so hard! It was like the first time that we felt we had found some guys that really appreciate the music that we’re doing and put a lot of work effort in that. That makes a whole difference. The sound they gave us is so big and brutal. We mainly worked before with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman, so I guess it was time for us to change, to go somewhere else and finally with producer Daniel Bergstrand, I think I found the guy that I was looking for. We treated ourselves as friends, he appreciates the music we’re doing and he worked his ass off, he wasn’t looking at his watch, like: “What time is it? When do I leave the studio?” All of that makes a lot of difference for me, personally. I feel like you need to put a hundred percent of your time and effort in this, and that’s what the guys did for Nightrage. It was a really nice collaboration. I found actually the studio that I was looking for and we would like to go back there with our next album as well.


« Don’t try to jump on the bandwagon, try to be yourself and stick to your guns, that’s my motto. »

At the beginning of the band’s career you moved from Greece to Sweden in order to find musicians to work within a good musical environment. Is it that hard to develop a metal band in Greece?

At the time I left, I used to have this Greek melodic death metal band called Exhumation and when that band split up, I couldn’t find members anymore, it felt like for me it was a dead end, there was no serious people around me. Actually Nightrage was born in Thessaloniki but then I had to go somewhere else and I felt Sweden was a good place for me because of this melodic death metal movement that was going on over there. All that stuff led me to understand that if I wanted to have more possibilities for my music and my musical future, I had to go somewhere else and Sweden was the place. That was a good choice, I guess, even if it was a bit risky for me because at that time I didn’t have any money or home or anything else, except my passion for music. I’m really happy that we ended up doing all those albums and being very inspired, and that I’m still doing that with Nightrage. I’m very grateful for that.

Did you have the idea before hand of playing this Swedish melodic death metal kind of music or is it the scene in Sweden when you arrived there that motivated you into this style?

To be honest with you, I always played that kind of music with Exhumation, you know. We recorded three albums back then. I had these ideas with me and pretty much Nightrage was a continuation from the Exhumation thing. It was a little bit more professional, I think, and more to the point. I felt I found my own kind of sound with Nightrage that we developed, and we’re still trying to develop that sound. On the metal side of things all the time, we don’t wanna be another kind of Manowar… We wanna be ourselves.

Being from Greece, how did you get interested in the Swedish scene and get that Swedish vibe as a music composer?

I think Nightrage is something better than that, I guess. Of course we’re influenced by this Swedish melodic death metal but I think we have a lot of other influences, because I’m a big fan of the 80’s metal, the bay area thrash movement, the Floridian death metal and all that stuff. All of that let me create the Nightrage style. Nightrage has its own style. It’s not about trying to copy paste other kind of bands rather than being yourself and finding your own voice in music. And I think we achieved the later with Nightrage. We sound a little bit different and I’m really happy about that.

And do you think this is how you manage to stand out in this Swedish scene, as there is a massive amount of melodic death metal bands over there?

It’s all about hard work and never letting down your dreams, always believing in yourself. Just be yourself and just follow the path that you are destined for in music. Play music from your heart, not trying to follow trends or what other people are telling you to do. Don’t try to jump on the bandwagon, try to be yourself and stick to your guns, that’s my motto.

Parts of the previous album, Insidious, were recorded in Greece. Did you feel the need, at the time, to find back you roots?

Yeah. I think that with all these technology things nowadays, even in Greece now there’s a high level of producers and studios, you can record everywhere. And if you surround yourself with people to work with that love your stuff and have a good chemistry with, I feel like you can achieve great things. One of the reasons in 2011 to go back to Greece was probably that I wanted to get back to my own country and record an album there. It worked really well. The outcome was really cool. We took all that stuff and mixed it and mastered it in studio Fredman in Sweden, anyways.

More generally, do you miss your home country sometimes?

I’m always homesick, you know. It’s part of what I am. I was actually raised in Thessaloniki, Greece and lived there for thirty years, so I guess it’s a bit hard sometimes, you know, but you need to follow your dreams. You need to sacrifice some things you take for granted in order to achieve your life goals, and in my case, my musical goals. So you need to be a little bit risky and be bold, and good stuff will happen in the end, I believe.

Do you think that someday you’ll go back to Greece, maybe to record a full album there?

Of course, yeah, that’s always a possibility. Maybe for the next album Daniel Bergstrand will go to Greece with me because he likes Greece a lot as well. You never know. There are a lot of possibilities.

What do you think of the music scene in Greece and of bands like Rotting Christ and Septicflesh that have well established themselves?

Yeah, those are some of the best bands now in Greece. There are actually a lot of other bands that are trying to grow. We kind of have a better scene since the last decade and that’s because of people trying to be more open minded, they understand the business now and that they need to work really hard. I like that. I think there’s a bright future for the young generation of bands in Greece, especially now with the internet and all that stuff that really help. It’s like globalization, everything’s connected together. But it’s all about hard work, I think. It doesn’t really matter where you come from. You find any kind of cool bands from anywhere, as long as they believe in what they’re doing and have faith in themselves.


« You need to sacrifice some things you take for granted in order to achieve your life goals, and in my case, my musical goals. »

Have you ever been tempted to put a bit more of your Greek culture into your music like these bands do and like Swedish bands do with their own culture sometimes?

I never thought about that. I’m not sure if that’s something that interests me, to be honest with you. Of course I respect and appreciate when bands try to be a little bit bolder and try to incorporate other kind of influences. But, to be honest with you, I’m an old school metal guy, so I always listen to my old Iron Maiden albums. That’s where I’m coming from. But of course, there’s always room for improvement, even here.

At the very beginning, you founded the band together with your close friend Gus G. Were you disappointed that you couldn’t keep him in the band?

No, I’m not disappointed. I’m actually really proud for the guy. I mean, he was never a melodic death metal guy, anyways. He doesn’t really like that kind of music, to be honest with you. So, I’m really proud that he achieved a lot of great goals. We’re still best friends. He’s doing amazing stuff with Ozzy, with his solo band and Firewind. He’s a maestro, you know. He deserves to be where he is right now. I’m really happy, as a friend and as a musician, that he’s living his dream out there.

What did you think actually when he joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band? Were you surprised?

Well, I was a bit surprised but the first time he told me that he had this audition, I knew right there… I told him actually: “You’re gonna be the next guitar player for Ozzy!” He couldn’t believe it himself! But I knew because I saw that he had it in him, that he was the guy that they were looking for. I was a bit surprised in the beginning but then I realized that, yeah, that’s the guy [laughs]. So I believed that before him actually!

Do you still see him or talk to him sometimes?

Yeah, we always talk and we’re in constant communication. He still lives in Thessaloniki in Greece. Recently they played here, in Gothenburg, with his solo band, so we met and it’s always a pleasure to hang out together. I enjoy his shows all the time. The guy’s amazing, I mean, if you ask me personally, he’s one of the best metal guitar players out there.

When as journalists we ask him about being Ozzy’s guitar player we get the usual “It’s great, I do whatever Ozzy tells me to do” type of answer. But what does he tell you as a friend?

Sometimes he can’t even believe it himself! He has to play after all those great guitar players like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Zakk Wyle, all those great amazing guitar players, and he’s the next guy! We used to joke about that before, like: “How would it be to play with Iron Maiden or…” That kind of stuff, but he’s actually doing this right now! If you think about it, it’s crazy, man! Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to be sure if it’s true or if it’s a dream. But they took the right guy for Ozzy.

You played with an impressive number of prestigious musicians with Nightrage: Tomas Lindberg, Nicholas Barker, Jesper Strömblad, Tom S. Englund, Mikael Stanne, etc. How the hell do you manage to get all these big names guesting on your albums or playing with you?

I guess it was the quality of the music of Nightrage. That’s the only thing, you know. Because all these people, they listened to the songs we had and they loved what we were doing back then. So that’s the quality of the music and they saw how serious we were. We’re not kids hanging around trying to make it. We were really serious about our stuff. That’s the reason, I guess.

I’m not sure: are there any guests on The Puritan?

There’s actually one guest: Lawrence Mackrory from Darkane doing clean guest vocals on the song “Desperate Vows”. That’s the only guest because we didn’t want to put any more guests on the album. Because I thought that with Insidious we had too many guests and that confuse people sometimes. I just wanted to keep it in the house this time, concentrate on the Nightrage name and ourselves, to be honest with you, because I know we can do that ourselves as well but sometimes, some songs call for other type of people, like Lindberg or Gus G or whatever. And also we composed a song together with Gus on the new album. That’s pretty much all.

And will Ronnie be able to sing live the clean part that Lawrence Mackrory does?

Yeah, we can both do it. I can do some clean vocals live. I’m doing actually some clean vocals, so it’s not a big problem, you know. He’s an amazing screamer and we’re not a clean vocal type of band anyways. Who cares? He’ll just scream! [Laughs] It’s all about the song, it’s not about these clean vocals. Some metal people just want to listen to riffs. I don’t think they really mind about clean vocals too much, you know. So in that case we’re ok! [Laughs] [In the past] when we had some clean vocals, I could sing some of those and it’s cool. I’m not Ronnie James Dio but you know what I mean.

Interview conducted by phone 18th, march 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription and traduction: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Magnus Ewald.

Nightrage official website: www.nightrage.com.

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