Miikka talks – Growler & guitarist of NERLICH
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
There´s never enough a REAL old school Death Metal around these days, is there? Nerlich, a relatively young Finnish old school Death Metal band, by age at least, have truly understood the basic idea of what the two words “old school” really mean. They’ve understood this since they started churning out their heavy and crushing Death Metal in the fall of 2003. In Nerlich´s uncompromising Death Metal one is able to trace down similarities to bands such as Death, Gorguts, Pestilence, and Suffocation – yet Nerlich are able to create something that gives them their own trademark sound.
Nerlich´s debut album, DEFABRICATED PROCESS, was released via California-based Old School Metal Records in January 2007, and Metal-Rules.com wanted to inquire from the band´s main song writer, growler and guitarist, Miikka Merikallio, a thing or two about the album itself. As well, we find out what he thinks about how people will welcome and accept them as one of those rare Death Metal bands that still have ´THAT SOMETHING´ special characteristic in their sound – and what so many other bands unfortunately lack these days.
Ok now, to get this interview started…
Hello there Miikka… how are things in Espoo?
As for the history lessons of Nerlich, let´s skip that part this time around simply because it´s available at: http://www.nerlich.tk, so curious readers can go and read it straight from there, right? However, if there´s some current news regarding possibly some line-up changes of the band (or anything else related to Nerlich that one still cannot read from your website), then go ahead and update with all that info, thanks Miikka!
That’s a good idea to skip it. There’s no point of writing a novel of our line-up changes because no one’s interested. On our homepage you can check out our discography and biography if you happen to be interested in that for some strange reason. Well, for the news. The line-up will change again, we have some new guys in mind, but the final line-up is not sure yet. We have also recorded a 4-song EP, which will be released probably around summer. Two of the songs will be brand new compositions, the rest two are older songs – a re-make of “Altered Form of Life” and one old song that we haven’t been recorded before. The EP includes a new drummer called Viktor Gullischen (and he’s going to stay in the band).
TIME TO GET OLD SCHOOLED… NERLICH
Your long-awaited debut album titled DEFABRICATED PROCESS has finally been released through Old School Metal Records. At first, would you tell us something about the recording process of that album, what kind of process it actually was to get everything done for it since you entered in the studio and started spending your time there with the recording itself? Did you f.ex. face any troubles or setbacks during the whole recording process, or was it more or less a relatively easy yet painful process to get it recorded?
We recorded the album in parts. First we recorded the drums in one day and had a month long brake before we recorded the guitars. The guitar and bass tracks were recorded in two days, though we re-recorded one short bass part later because it was out of tune. After that we had again a month long break. During that break I was on vacation in the Canary Islands, watching topless chicks on stuff. I also had to finish lyrics for two songs on that trip. I wrote about 75% of the lyrics to “Mask For The Faceless” and “Imminent Reprisal” in two weeks in the Canary Islands. But after that the problems started. I had severe problems with my voice. The first day recording vocals went ok, we got about 50% of the vocals on tape, but the next day my voice was like shit. I could barely get any noise out from my throat. So we tried week later again, and the same shit happened. But one month later we luckily managed to nail the vocals down, too. I think the main reason for the problems with the vocals were due to the coldness of winter. We had also some setbacks with the guitarist´s slot. Prior to the studio our previous guitarist Otso Kirvelä found out that he had a tumor in his arm, and that he couldn’t recover in time from the surgery. So we had to find another guitarist to the studio. I knew that I couldn’t record all of the guitar leads, due to my soloing abilities. All of the leads would have sounded the same (shredding Slayer solos). Fortunately we got Davi Moreira from Kataplexia and Side Effects to play guitar. So despite all the problems we got the album on tape. The recording and mixing took in total about 7 or 8 days, I don’t remember anymore, because the album was finished one year ago.
In my honest opinion, the outcome of the album just couldn´t be better!! Nerlich seems to be one of those few rare Death Metal bands around these days who have truly managed to understand, and to adopt that ´old school Death Metal sound´ into their own songs very successfully. Even the production on DEFABRICATED sounds crispy, unpolished and warm enough, sort of paying its own tribute to the studio technology that was used for the Death Metal bands in the late ´80s and early ´90s. What are your own thoughts about the album when some time has passed by? Have you had enough time to get some distance to the album?
The mixing could be a bit more professional, though the album has the right atmosphere. The digital and flat sounding “Promo 2005” was a fucking disaster sound-wise, so of course I’m glad that we got the right raw and dark atmosphere for this album, not some digitally polished crap. The vocals could also have been better, but considering that my voice was in a really bad shape at the time of the recording, it went quite good, I think. The next album is going to be recorded in summer because my voice should sound better by next summer. The coldness of winter works in the opposite way. I’m a perfectionist so those faults are probably not a big deal for anyone else but for me. As a wholeness I’m quite satisfied with the album, the songs are good, and it has the right atmosphere that the old Death Metal bands used to have back in the day that bands usually lack nowadays. And considering that the recording the album cost only about 700 euros it came out really good in my opinion.
BEING YOUNG DOESN´T NECESSARILY MEAN YOU COULDN´T BE OLD SCHOOL ENOUGH
You are all relatively young guys (except your drummer), all a bit over your twenties. Some people may wonder how on earth you guys are capable of sounding THAT old school as the cold fact is, you had no chance to live through those times when bands like Death, Suffocation, Pestilence, Morbid Angel, Autopsy and the likes, recorded their first albums – simply due to your ages?
We have been asked that same question many times, and I don’t exactly know the answer. It has a lot to do with our influences, which you mentioned in this question, especially some of those bands first albums. That’s what kind of Death Metal we wanted to play, raw and real. That’s probably the main reason. Also it has something to do with the production in studio. We wanted to have the right atmosphere, that same kind that those old Death Metal records have. The new Death Metal records sound usually too polished nowadays. And the main reason for that is the improvement of studio technology. I don’t think that many people can even mix Death Metal nowadays, so the studio technology has something to do with it. With an analog equipment and small recording budgets the bands had in the turn of both ´80s and ´90s, the result was always little bit muddy, raw and dark, but that was usually a good thing. Now when the studio technology has improved it makes records sound more clean and heartless. Unless you have a engineer who knows how to mix Death Metal, usually it sounds wrong with a digital recording equipment. I also think that most of the old farts have tired of that raw production of the early ´90s and want to get a more professional production – in order to develop, and in the end resulting the lack of the right Death Metal atmosphere. You should send fan mail to Jani Loikas who recorded our album, he’s pretty much responsible for the old school sound of DEFABRICATED PROCESS.
One who listens to your stuff, can easily pick up Death´s strong influence out from your sound. And speaking of Death, which still saddens me because of one obvious reason, if you got a chance to meet “Evil” Chuck face-to-face, what would you tell him?
I don’t know. At least I would say to him how much I like his music. And maybe I would say to him that I’m the best musician on the earth and that he must take me to join Death. By the way, the first extreme band that I heard was Napalm Death, and I was really impressed finding records like SCUM and HARMONY CORRUPTION. Those were so heavy and different (and SCUM was very funny record, too). But then, when I heard Slayer and Death for the first time, I knew what kind of music I wanted to play muself, too. I can still remember I heard “Zombie Ritual” for the first time, when I was on a history lesson at school. I was really enthusiast and played the song to my friends from my Walkman and told them: “Listen, this is really good stuff…!!”. The teacher didn’t like me disturbing his lesson and no one else seemed to like “Zombie Ritual”, except me. But I didn’t care and soon I was starting to form my own Death Metal band, which would later be known as Nerlich. Death has been the main influence for us, always.
Would you dare to claim that a good chemistry between each member in the band, is basically based on your similar musical tastes in the band – and that´s why you have a common understanding in the band how Nerlich should sound like in the first place?
We have quite similar music tastes. Some of the members have been more into Grind (Cryptopsy, Devourment etc.) or Heavy Metal, though all of us listen to basic Death Metal, too. How Nerlich sounds, has been up to me almost all of the time. I’m pretty much responsible how Nerlich sounds like, because I compose most of the songs and also do the vocals. The other guys have done some riffs or arrangement, but usually I do all the riffs, arrangements and lyrics. The other guys don’t mind when I’m dictating Nerlich´s music style. I think they’re are quite happy with the songs anyway. Someone has to do the songs and so far it has been my job mostly.
Talking about the album a bit more, as far as I can remember, you entered the studio without any recording contract in your pockets at that time. If none of the labels had been interested in releasing it, would you have released it on your own then?
If none of the labels had wanted to release it, we probably wouldn’t have released it at all. It probably would have been crap anyway, I mean if no one had wanted to release it. But in the other hand, the end result was the album turned out good, so if we hadn’t inked a record contract with OSM Records, then we would have pressed about 100 copies of it and sold it to friends and to the fastest buyers. We don’t have so much money to print 1000 copies of it by ourselves and we were quite sure that we would get signed anyway, so we didn’t think so much about it. I just wanted to record the album, and didn’t bother so much about the record deal. Maybe that’s why it turned out good, because we didn’t care about others´ opinions, whether we would have got signed or not. We just wanted to record a good album in our own way, with no compromises.
Tony Khoel has also painted that eye-catching cover for your debut album. How did you get in touch with him in the first place? Was he recommended by some of your friends, and what could you tell about the cover itself?
The label suggested using Tony as the cover artist when we were working with the release of our SUBSTANTIAL ALTERATION… demo compilation for Conqueror of Thorns Records. We wanted to have something in the vein of old Dan Seagrave covers and Tony did a great work, so we asked him to do the cover for the album, too. We didn’t want to have a basic dismembered torso type of cover art. We wanted to have something strange, dark and obscure; something that doesn’t mean anything. There was a mutilated corpse on the original sketch of the demo compilation cover. But when we discussed more about it with Tony, we said that it was too much typical Cannibal Corpse like cover. So in the final version of the cover there were obscure sculptures instead. It looked great and we decided to do something similar with the album cover. The listener can decide what the cover means, use your imagination.
NERLICH ON OLD SCHOOL METAL RECORDS
What kind of realistic expectations do you have towards both your debut album and your label, Old School Metal Records?
Nothing really. This is my first record contract and my first album – plus the label’s quite new, too – so I don’t really know what’s going to happen. Well, I hope that the promotion and distribution work well and as many people as possible like and buy the album.
When Patrick Ramseier, the CEO of OSM Records, decided to nail you to his roster eventually, did you make anything special agreements after the release of DEFACRICATED PROCESS? I basically mean by this – if the sales of your debut album turns out to be successful for both parties, OSM Records will most likely continue the contract with Nerlich, at least for the next album?
The contract is for one album only, but the label will release our next album if both parties want to continue this cooperation. So, just like you said there in your question already.
According the homepage of OSM Records, the distributional issues seem to be in a great order in the label. Basically your albums should be somewhat easily available everywhere; The End Records taking care of the distribution for the States, Code7/PHD for Europe, PHD Canada for the Canadian markets and T.H.A. for the Japanese territory and Trinity Records for the rest of the Asian countries. In other words, the distribution should cover the most important music markets in the world. What do you have to say about this?
It sounds good, also some of my friends who know more about these things have said that it seems that everything’s well with labels distribution. It’s great that it’s easy to get the album all around the world, because that’s really important considering the sales and the success of the album.
What about a Nerlich merchandise? Is it basically up to you whether you want to get some Nerlich merchandise out, or could OSM Records give you a helping hand regarding all that?
We have been thinking to do T-shirts, but we just don’t have enough money to that. We have been asked several times to join Miasma magazines compilation CDs by Vesa Ruokangas, which would have been really good promotion for us in Finland. But the fact is that we just don’t have money. All of our money goes to the rent of rehearsal place and to studio costs. It would be great if OSM Records could handle our merchandise, doing at least t-shirts. The t-shirt would be probably white, blue or grey with NERLICH logo and some picture on it. At least it wouldn’t be black because nowadays all of the band shirts are black and that’s boring. Plus, it would be cool to have oldschool´ish white NERLICH shirt.
So, when do you have plans to start gigging again? It feels like an eternity since you have played together last time…
We were supposed to play live in the end of year 2005 as a trio, but the gig got cancelled. We had a bass player, called Tommy Metsälä who was a fucking junkie and it didn’t work out with him so good. I don’t think it would have gone so well, so we cancelled it. That’s just one example why we haven’t been playing gigs. We have had just so many line-up problems so we haven’t had a chance to play live in a long time. Hopefully, if get the line-up together now, we’ll start to play gigs again. But you never know, if it works or not – we’ll see.
Are you also looking for a chance to perform outside of Finland within the coming months, like looking for an opportunity to get a mini-tour at least arranged outside of the borders of Finland? It´s certain that gigs are also an important part of promotion that every band should try to do in order to better sell their albums. It´s almost like a ´necessary evil´ that just needs to be done – agree?
Yes, I agree, gigs are definitely a necessary evil due to the promotional aspects. We have been thinking to play outside Finland, we have even been offered to do some gigs, but it hasn’t been possible to do those gigs because of our line-up problems. Last summer I was playing a mini-tour with Kataplexia in Spain. Davi and I played the guitars in that band. The trip was fun, and it would be nice to do trips like that with Nerlich, too. But this time it should be better organized. We were broke all the time and Davi had to do the driving, so all of us were quite stressed during the whole trip, but otherwise it was fun. Hola and Gracias to the gig organizers and to the people who helped us out in Spain.
TOURING TOGETHER WITH THE GODS OF DEATH METAL
What bands would be some of the most ideal touring mates for you if you had all the power to decide?
I heard that Asphyx is going to reunite with Martin van Drunen (at least for one gig). Playing with them would be great. A very good band reunited with one of the best frontmen in Death Metal. And with Morbid Angel´s “Domination” line-up. Other good ones would be Slayer, Megadeth, Immolation, Suffocation, Obituary, Sadus, etc. Playing with Death and Pestilence would be also great if those bands still existed… Maybe the ideal touring mates would be those which I mentioned first, Asphyx and Morbid Angel.
You have used to play live f.ex. “Twisted Truth” by Pestilence and “Catatonia” by Suffocation. Are those songs still a part of your set or have you changed them to some other cover songs maybe? Now where on earth is a Death cover song done by Nerlich? ;o)
I think we would play at least “Twisted Truth” by the mighty Pestilence. And probably some songs from bands like Morbid Angel, Slayer, Demigod, Suffocation and Possessed. No, why the hell should we play Death as that band sucks!! Gotcha! I´m just bullshitting here, ha-ha!! Yeah, we have thought to play Death live, but we just didn’t. At rehearsals we have played “Crystal Mountain” a few times. I would like to play live songs like “Suicide Machine”, “Leprosy”, “Zombie Ritual”, “Open Casket”, etc. We’ll see, maybe “Leprosy” and “Twisted Truth” would be on our set list.
Your current drummer Teemu Mutka is the oldest dude in the band, and he also plays drums in a Finnish old school Thrash Metal band called Jumalation… a true old school pioneer if you ask from me. Does that fact give Nerlich any extra headaches as far as dividing time between both Nerlich and Jumalation is concerned?
There weren’t any problems dividing time between Nerlich and Jumalation, at least not for us. Teemu doesn’t do barely anything else but plays drums, so he has a lot of time for several bands. When we recorded our “Promo 2005”, Teemu was playing in about 4 bands. That was a bit too much and he had to quit one of those. Though Teemu has played in several bands at the same time, it didn’t affect on Nerlich so much because I think that Nerlich was his 1st priority since from the beginning.
How does Jumalation´s old school Thrash Metal make your ears warm as I gotta believe your musical taste is not that restricted to old school Death Metal only, but you are open-minded enough to some other musical styles as well?
I like Jumalation, I have also seen them live once. Yeah, I have a quite wide music taste. In addition to Death Metal, I like also some Speed – and Thrash Metal bands like Megadeth, Slayer, Exodus, Sadus, etc.etc. But I don’t listen to metal only; I like some rock bands too, like Pink Floyd, AC/DC and funk/acid jazz/jazz (Jamiroquai, James Brown, Nuspirit Helsinki, Miles Davis, etc.) – and many other music styles, too. However, mostly I listen to old school Death Metal and funk. We have even a funk/acid jazz project with Viktor, the new Nerlich drummer. We have recorded already one demo, but it’s not been released yet. You can check the band out at Myspace (http://www.myspace.com/acidfunktion). So yeah, I´m not only interested in Death Metal, but some other styles of music as well.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT DEATH METAL IN THE PAST AND NOWADAYS… BY THE WORDS OF MIIKKA
Do you find today´s Death Metal scene any appealing for yourself at all, or do you rather stick with so-called ´old guns´ and share your time with them?
I listen mostly to the old masters. There are a few good bands nowadays (Immolation, Hate Eternal etc.), but I find the old ones more appealing. Most of the bands today just lack the right atmosphere and sound just boring, like played with routine and not with heart. The best Death Metal records we’re from the turn of late 80s/early 90s. There were lots of b-class bands, but most of those have already been forgotten, at least so that I can’t find these bands´ records from anywhere. So almost all of the old albums I find are really good. It’s the same thing with today´s Death Metal scene, but you have to dig deeper because the b-class bands haven’t been forgotten yet. And like I said the most interesting Death Metal records were from the time when the old guns weren’t old yet.
Even if I happen to know you are still such a young fellow, somehow I just gotta assume you have done your homework with the past Death Metal scene by researching the heavy ground what it had on offer back in the day. Bands were both talented yet lucky enough to make themselves known amongst the underground Death Metal maniacs via their albums. Some other bands unfortunately didn´t quite have the success to have albums out due to different reasons. Now I´d like basically to ask your opinion about those latter mentioned ´unlucky´ groups whether there was/were 1 or 2 bands out there from those days that stayed, for some reason or the other, unsigned through their whole lifespan without getting signed to any label. Bands that only managed to record a handful of quality demos that would have deserved an attention of record companies even more than some of the signed ones. Could you pinpoint some of those Death Metal bands from your point of view that could have been worth record deals even if that unfortunately never happened to them?
I don’t know much about those unlucky bands because of my age (I was so young back then). Most of them have been already (unfortunately) forgotten, and tryimg to get their stuff is really hard (and knowing that some of the bands even did exist…). One really good unlucky band is Eulogy from Florida. They sounded quite original, if I had to compare to some bands I would say that they sounded like a mixture of Morbid Angel and Monstrosity. The band included the vocalist Jason Avery (ex-Monstrosity). They recorded several demos / EPs during early nineties (about 1992-1995), but never got signed. They would have deserved to get a full-length album out, but I think they were not signed because they were a few years late. When their great DISMAL demo was released in ´92, there were already lots of Death Metal bands around, and the labels were searching for b-class bands that would sound like Deicide, Death or Cannibal Corpse instead of taking risks with bands that were more original.
WRITING NEW NERLICH MATERIAL
I assume you have also written some new material since the song writing sessions for DEFABRICATED. What could you tell about your new material? Does it still follow the same musical old school Death Metal path that you have had since the beginning when Nerlich´s music was catapulted out from the dark cellars into the daylight?
We have only written two new songs since DEFABRICATED PROCESS sessions, because of two reasons. First, I needed to have a break. I had used all of my ideas of composing an album that contains over 80 riffs and complicated songs structures. So my head was quite empty. So it was good to have a break to get some new ideas before starting to write new songs again, and not using the same ideas over and over again. Second reason is that it was necessary to get some distance from the album and start to figure out what direction we should go to musically. The new material isn’t going to be so fast and complicated as on DEFABRICATED PROCESS. The new songs are going to include a bit less riffs. The song structures are still going to be quite complicated. But instead of having 15 riffs in one song, we’re going to keep it a bit more simple and “calm”. The songs are also going to include more slow and doomy parts. But I think in the end it sounds pretty much like before. You’ll hear how we sound like when you listen to our upcoming EP. I think it sounds even more old school now than before.
How seriously do you take Nerlich anyway? I bet since you put the band together in the end of 2003 by you and your ex-drummer (Lari Pyykkö), it was more or less a hobby for all of you, but now when things have taken a bit more serious turn over the years – and realizing you have signed to a small, international label, somewhere in your silent depths of soul you at least must have carefully been thinking it would be cool if you made your living out of Nerlich some day. Just admit it, Miikka! ;o)
Yeah, I have thought that it would be cool to make living out of music. But I really don’t believe it’s possible, at least not with Death Metal. It could be possible to cover the studio – and touring expenses and the rent of rehearsal place with Nerlich – if everything would go well. So the “hobby” could cover its expenses if the band gained enough success. With several quality albums, good promotion and with successful tours that could be possible some day. I take Nerlich seriously, but I don’t think we could do more than 3 albums, because after that I don’t think that we would have anything special to offer musically. And that actually goes with most of the Death Metal bands. First albums are basically great and all that, but the later stuff is just dull and boring, like a routine and that kills the music. We’re going to do our best with getting three quality albums out, do some good tours and get this thing as far as possible, and it’s gonna be good for us if we get some money out from it, too. But like I said before, this is more like a hobby for us, we’re not trying to make our living out of this.
So, what do you hope from 2007 it could have in store for Nerlich?
I hope that we get our line-up together and could start playing gigs again. Especially playing abroad would be great. I hope that with this record we could get good response from people, could get rich and get lots of groupies, drugs and blowjobs. We’re also going to write new material for the next album. But before the next album we’re going to release a 4-song EP this year, probably around summer.
Ok, thank you very much Miikka for you time and efforts to get this interview done. If there´s still something you´d like to add to conclude this interview, may the last ´ voodoo tricks & curses´ be yours – just go ahead Miikka!
Buy our debut album DEFABRICATED PROCESS from us, or from some other place. If you want to know how we sound like then I suggest you to check our Myspace site (http://www.myspace.com/nerlichband) or mikseri.net (http://www.mikseri.net/nerlich) where you have a chance to listen to some of our songs.