Interview with Kristian Niemann
Interview by Demitri Levantis
We caught up with Sorcerer’s guitar player Kristian Niemann to discuss the new album and how he finds life as an established musician.
Thank you for your time. Sorcerer’s sound is described as Epic Doom Metal, would you personally say this is fitting and if so, what makes the sound so epic and makes you stand out from other bands of this genre?
Well, there is no doubt that Sorcerer once was a true Epic Doom Metal band. That’s our roots. However, these days I feel like we might just as easily be called just “metal” or “heavy metal” if we need to use labels as I think our sound has developed quite massively over the years. When we write songs we don’t think about labels, we just write what we feel like but if you insist on calling us Epic Doom, that’s fine too.
It’s difficult for me to describe why we stand out in the Epic Doom genre without sounding like a pompous asshole or like we’re better than everybody else but if I try I can think of a couple of factors:
1) We have a lot of great songwriters in the band. Most bands have 1 or 2 guys that do the bulk of the writing. In Sorcerer we have 5. Everybody contributes and everybody brings in a lot of different influences which creates diversity.
2) We are not afraid to write stuff that doesn’t sound traditionally “doomy”. Hell, I admit it: I love pop music! There are some unbelievably talented songwriters in the pop/rock field and we’d be crazy to not draw inspiration from them. How they orchestrate, arrange, how they approach form and production. So much good stuff to learn from.
3) We have an absolutely world-class singer in Anders Engberg. Now, there are of course some other doom bands that have great vocalists but Andy is something truly special.
4) Our albums sound pretty modern and “well-produced” compared to other bands. Let’s face it: a lot of doom bands try to sound as dirty, gritty and as “old-school” as possible. That’s fine but we did that 30 years ago. Now we do the opposite.
5) We don’t tune down. Most bands tune their guitars way down to get a heavier sound. Again, that’s all well and good. We chose not to do it and it makes our sound clearer and cleaner. Everything has its place in the mix, nothing is fighting for space. The drums and bass are the low foundation, the guitars live in the midrange and Anders’ vocals soar on top. That’s our sound.
As well as guitar work, did you have any other creative input on new album, “Lamenting of the Innocent”?
Yes of course as I’m one of the songwriters in the band. I wrote the songs The Hammer Of Witches, Lamenting Of The Innocent and Path To Perdition to which Anders added his vocals melodies.
I also wrote a large part of Institoris and was heavily involved in Where Spirits Die and Age Of The Damned. So yeah, I’d say I have a fair bit of creative input.
What made you want to join Sorcerer and how did it come about?
Anders and Johnny contacted me in the late summer/early fall of 2010 and asked if I wanted to play a festival with their old band Sorcerer. I knew nothing about that band at the time and there was never any talk of me joining the band, at least not that I can remember. We were just supposed to do one gig at the Hammer Of Doom festival in Wurzburg, Germany. We did the gig and it was a massive success for the band.
Everybody in the audience sang along to every word and we were absolutely blown away by the audience reception. Without that positive experience I doubt that Sorcerer would be here today. After that we did a gig at the Up The Hammers festival in Athens, Greece and the crowd reaction was very much the same: it was totally crazy. That’s when the idea of recording a “real” album started to take root. So see, I was never actually asked to join the band and I STILL haven’t been asked!
“Lamenting of the Innocent” is somewhat based on the Spanish Inquisition and witch hunts, can you tell us anymore about the themes/concepts it covers?
Anders Engberg answers:
It started with the song The Hammer Of Witches and I had no goal at that point to make a concept album. But the idea of writing songs revolving around the book The Witch Hammer or Malleum Malleficarum (in latin) came up and we decided to go with it.
There are some facts but mostly just fictional stories written around the subject.
Do you have a favourite track from this album and if so, why?
Honestly, I love all songs. They are all different and they all make me feel very different when I listen to them. That said, the title track is special because it was the first one we finished writing the verse and chorus on and it came out great and it made us feel confident that we could indeed make another great record. You never know, it’s always scary trying to get those first goosebump-inducing moments happening. Once we had that track it got the ball rolling and we just soldiered on, inspired and confident.
Does this album feel like a progression for Sorcerer’s music or is it just a continuation of what you were doing before?
It’s actually both. We are continually progressing.
What was the first band you ever joined and was the industry everything you thought it would be?
My first real band was called Kokt Kranium (Boiled Cranium) and we didn’t make much of an impression on the industry haha. The first band I joined that was successful internationally and was a touring act was Therion.
I still don’t feel that I know what the music industry is like. I don’t think even the people working in the industry really know what it’s like because it changes so much, so fast all the time now. New technology gets invented and suddenly you can have your entire record collection on your phone! You can listen to music from all around the world in an instant and it’s pretty great I guess…unless you’re the artist and trying to pay rent with record sales. The streaming thing is a blessing and a curse for sure.
If you didn’t become a musician, what other professions would you have chosen?
Professional football player, no doubt.
How did your time in Therion help build you as a musician, did it teach you a lot about touring or the best way to establish yourself as a musician?
It was certainly groundbreaking for me. Maybe I would’ve joined some other band and would have gotten “discovered” that way, maybe not.
I was pretty free to contribute material and play in the style I saw fit. Both Christofer and I are huge fans of Uli Jon Roth so I tried to let that part of my playing come through a lot. If people know my playing it’s usually from those Therion albums.
It also taught me pretty much everything I know about touring. We lived on night-liners and airports for 9 years! We toured a lot, and it was a blast.
What non-metal genres do you listen to and have any of them found a way into your inspiration or influences?
I’m a big fan of pop music in general, there are so many talented writers in that genre and yes, I absolutely think it has rubbed off on my metal writing. Whatever you listen to and enjoy are bound to come out in your writing one way or another.
For me, it’s chord progressions, arrangements, form.
Were you into metal as a child? And do you think parents should let children listen to metal or wait and see if they discover it themselves?
Yes. I discovered Kiss when I was about 9 or 10 I think and soon after Maiden, Metallica, Accept, Saxon etc followed. I’ve got two kids and we listen to all kinds of music at home. My son is into metal and my daughter is mostly into pop. I don’t think you can plan that stuff out; just expose them to the music you like, tell them WHY you love the music and the rest will come naturally.
If it turns out they both get into Gangsta Rap or some shit like that, then you’ve fucked up.
With your brother Johan also being in the music industry, do you and he practice together and have you anything like a collaboration planned or a shared idea for a project/album etc in the future?
Nope, nothing like that right now.
Who out of you and Johan got into music first, or did you both start at the same time?
I started playing guitar and he picked up the bass soon after.
Whom would you cite as the biggest influences on you as a guitarist?
Thats a big question. Overall biggest influence, if I could only pick one I’d have to say Yngwie J Malmsteen. The way he played in the 80´s changed guitar forever and his playing on those early Alcatrazz and Rising Force albums have never, and will never, be topped.
It’s the pinnacle of rock guitar playing right there. However, I don’t think I sound much like Yngwie so just mentioning him doesn’t tell the whole story. I was heavily influenced by the Shrapnel era: Paul Gilbert, Bruce Bouillet, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins. Tony MacAlpines album Maximum Security was a big one for me, as was the first two Dream Theater albums. Then Vai and Satriani of course. A big gamechanger was Uli Jon Roth, I abolutely love everything about him. Also Marty Friedman and guys like Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather and Shawn Lane. My other really huge influence is Allan Holdsworth. His soloing is just beyond everything you can possibly imagine. Still to this day no one is even close to coming up with such an original language on the guitar like Allan did, and his compositions are the same way. Incredible. Probably my favorite musician and composer of all time. As far as “new” guys go I’m a huge fan of Jeff Loomis, Per Nilsson, Brandon Ellis (TBDM) and Doug Rappoport. Ian Thornley from Big Wreck and Shawn Tubbs are two others that continually inspire me to practice more.
How different is Sorcerer from your past bands like Therion – any similarities you wanted to continue or is it a whole new world?
Totally different. There are no elements of Therion that I consciously want to bring into Sorcerer but then again it’s all just “metal” so….
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you, and before it happened, what did you have planned for 2020?
Like everyone else, we had some gigs planned but not that many. We all have jobs on the side so the pandemic didn’t hurt us much economically, it just put a dampener on the whole release thing.
Hopefully, people haven’t forgotten about us when it’s time to go out touring again.
When you get back on the road, what would be the first venue or festival you would love to play or attend?
I’d love for Rock Hard Festival in Gelsenkirschen to be the first gig we play. We were there in 2016 and had a great time and we were scheduled to have our release gig there this year before the pandemic hit so that’d be awesome.
What is your favourite brand or model of guitar and what advice would you give to any beginners?
I played Ibanez guitars for pretty much most of my guitar playing life so I’m obviously a very big fan of those instruments but a few years ago I started playing and endorsing Solar Guitars and they are killer instruments as well. Really solid, well-built road guitar that can take a beating and still deliver every night. I also have a Fender start that I love and a newer Charvel, a DK24 which I use a lot for teaching as it doesn’t have a Floyd which my Solars do.
Advice to beginners: follow your dreams and never let anyone tell you that you “can’t do” something. You can do ANYTHING. And oh….practice your ass off. Play play play…all the time. And write songs, write tons of songs! Write ALL the time!
How did you get into teaching guitar? And what age do people usually start at?
I got into guitar pretty late, I was 16-17 when I started. Typically kids are around 10-12 when they start here in Sweden. I’ve always loved sharing my knowledge with others so I already had my first guitar student when I was 18, after playing less than a year.
It comes naturally to me; it doesn’t feel like a job. I really enjoy it.
How has Sweden’s metal scene changed in your opinion in the time you’ve been active and what do you make of it today?
Anders Engberg answers:
There are fewer venues to play in general today and at the same time more festivals. Everything will be turned over after this pandemic that we currently suffer. There will be a whiplash that will affect the whole business.
Do you also feel you personally had a big impact on the way Sweden’s metal is evolving today, as in the styles employed by guitarists for instance?
Haha, no! Neither I nor Sorcerer have made any big waves in Sweden. Occasionally people from abroad message me or come up to me and say I’m a big influence on them or I’m the reason they started playing the guitar. That’s an incredible compliment to me and it’s hard for me to understand but it’s very very flattering nonetheless. That’s usually due to my time in my previous band. I haven’t had it happen with Sorcerer yet I think but hey, it’s never too late!
If you could play in any metal band, past or contemporary, which one would you choose and why?
Iron Maiden! They were my favourite band growing up and just to be standing on the same stage with those guys would be mindblowing.
Are there any countries or festivals you really enjoy playing, or favourite bands you like to tour with?
ProgPower in Atlanta, USA is a favourite. The people working there, the bands playing and the fans coming to the show are just amazing.
Wacken is cool just because it’s so big. It’s just a sea of people! Of course, Hammer Of Doom where Sorcerer got reborn…that’s our home. We’ve played there 3 times now and it’s always a huge kick to go back there.
Do you like to read anything in particular or watch any types of film or television when looking for creative inspiration?
I’m an avid sci-fi and horror movie fan but I wouldn’t say those things inspire me to write music. I get musically inspired by new music!
What is it you like most about being a musician? What are the pros and cons?
There’s a famous saying that goes “If you want to play music it’s gonna be difficult for you but if you HAVE to play music it’s the best job in the world.” It’s very true.
There are no cons. To be able to connect with people through music and touch their souls with music you’ve written is the greatest thing I can imagine.
I mean I know how much Maiden, Kiss, Metallica and a lot of other bands means to me. It’s indescribable. I can’t put it into words. Then when a fan comes up to you and tells you that YOUR music means the world to THEM…it’s like full circle. That’s what it’s about….making people’s lives better through music.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?
Apart from collecting and watching scifi- and horror movies, not really.
What advice would you give to someone who might want to start a band of their own? Is it important to be signed to a label to get noticed?
Same thing I would say to a beginner guitarist: follow your dream, play the music that YOU like, not what is cool and hip right now. Of course, everybody starts off that way, imitating others, and that’s important, but further down the line it’s crucial to find your own style/voice but as a player and a songwriter. Actually WRITE SONGS ALL THE TIME should be tip number one. It’s a craft, you have to practice doing it, just like playing the guitar. And if you’re a guitarist, start singing also! Backups at first and then maybe even try to sing lead if you can. It’s gonna open up so many doors for you when it comes to making money in music.
Of course we have to ask; Favourite three bands/albums of all time?
I’ll give you my five favourite metal albums:
Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Marching Out
T-Ride – T-Ride
Dream Theater – Images & Words
Faith No More – The Real Thing
Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
Thank you again for joining us and we wish you all the best for the future.