INTERVIEW WITH THE FINNISH THRASH METAL N.N.S (National Napalm Syndicate) / NIKO KARPPINEN & JUKKA KYRÖ
N.N.S known as National Napalm Syndicate being is the first generation band of the Finnish thrash metal scene from the ’80s. The band has undergone up and down hills and been on hiatus. In 2020 A.D N.N.S still thrash out harder and faster as the fifth album will be seeing the light of day anyway. The band’s guitarist, Jukka Kyrö, and bassist Niko Karppinen, sat down to talk about the forthcoming, line-up changes and took a little bit back to see the old days.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
G’day, how is it going there in the N.N.S camp ?!
Jukka: We are doing very well, thank you. Writing new music, rehearsing cover songs and a new live set. Besides all that, I’m writing lyrics and trying to get a cool album cover together. So we are kinda busy, which is nice. II don’t have to think all the time how fucked up the world is at the moment.
Niko: Yes, we’ve been mainly focusing on new material as Jukka mentioned and currently working on the live-set. I bet we’re not the only band on this earth releasing new material because of COVID-19.
NEW ALBUM IN THE WORKS
Was the composing and writing for the upcoming album somehow challenging as N.N.S has a huge legacy behind since the mid-’80s? Or how would you describe the process of material writing?
Jukka: Let’s put it this way: We have shitloads of new songs demoed. Some songs are more in the TIME IS THE FIRE vein and the newer ones are more traditional thrash metal. At the moment, it looks like we’re going for the thrashier direction, more of that 1989 vibe. It’s always a challenge, but I think that the writing part is the most satisfying in the whole process. I think that all of us in the band know exactly what we should sound like at the moment to stay fresh, but still keep the old school Napalm Syndicate alive and well. Great minds think alike or something! The whole writing process has changed over the year. Nowadays, because of fast internet connections, it’s easier to exchange ideas within the band.
Niko: Jukka’s writing most of the material and the rest of us we’re giving our own perspective on his songs. We’re used to working very openly with the material Jukka’s been doing. For example, if you want to try something different, it’s ok as long as it sounds good and fits into the song. Usually, I and Hapa (Harri Lampinen) record guitar and bass together before sending results back to Oulu. We do have lots of material left for the next album, which I think would be released a bit faster than what it took for us with the TIME IS THE FIRE.
Did members of N.N.S bring their ideas into the writing process and how did you put these ideas together for new songs !?
Jukka: This time we will have more songs from the other guys as well. They have cool stuff that we will absolutely put on the next album. Hapa, Niko and Epe are doing their thing and Ville and I have our shit demoed over here in Oulu. It looks like all of us will have songs on the next one. I’m happy that we’re back in this kind of writing. I don’t want our albums to be like my solo records.
Niko: For me, there are 2-3 songs already left from these sessions and depending on the big picture of how’s next album’s going to be, we’re choosing songs that will be in it. As Jukka said, Epe and Hapa have some stuff ready too, so it’s gonna be interesting to see the result.
In which way, the whole band has developed musically and lyrically since the previous full-length TIME IS THE FIRE, which was released in 2018?
Jukka: Well, of course, we had some turbulence and we had to make some changes after Ilkka left the band some years ago. We didn’t exactly sit down and have a meeting about the direction the band should be going. We continued writing and then we had Matti in the band for a while singing and helping out with the demos. Slowly the music started to go into a harder direction and the thrash metal came back into the band. The southern members of the National Napalm Syndicate are all into hardcore thrash metal and have pushed us to that direction all the time. Our hardcore punk influences are more in the game now. All this is cool. I love the fast heavy shit. There still is the weird progressive vibe in some of the new songs, so we didn’t drop all that. It’s the Ville-factor, the drummer’s revenge! Lyrically we are going for the anti-religion. The world is full of assholes direction. I will let the listeners know how I feel about our society’s current state and politics in general.
Niko: The way I see this is that N.N.S. has gotten back to its roots by the vocal-style Epe delivers to the band’s sound. If you listen to the first album, you can sense the hardcore vibe from there too which is the key element making N.N.S. distinctive from the other Finnish thrash-metal bands in the genre 90’ties. I personally have always loved bands like Nuclear Assault, Ratos De Porao, C.O.C., D.R.I. and Crumbsuckers so getting back to the hardcore-/crossover-thrash direction is definitely not a problem to me.
So far no name announced yet, but could you say something about the title of the album? How does it refer to the song titles, does it?!
Jukka: I have a couple of titles in my mind. You could say that the title will bring the whole album together, all the themes and titles. Maybe you could say that the album can loosely be considered a concept album. It’s more like a hc-punk album lyrically than a, let’s say, power metal album.:) No dragons or swordsmen… Anyways, the title of the album will be announced later!
You recruited a new singer to the N.N.S rank, but did you have all the material written ready for the upcoming album before a new vocalist was found!?
Jukka: Yes, we did. We had an album written, we had Matti doing the vocals and had a more melodic approach to the singing. That album would have been much closer to the TIME IS THE FIRE style than the one we are working on right now. Some of that music will be on the album and some will have to be reworked to the current lineup and the direction. Of course, we could have had Epe (the new singer) do the whole album we demoed with Matti, but this is a better way to do it. We write music for Epe to sing.
Niko: Right from the start, we gave Epe free hands to do his thing and quite soon we realized that the melodic approach we had with Matti will be abandoned. Once I heard Epe’s demo of the “Deathwish” it sounded so fresh and angry that it almost was a whole new song – Just love it! Most of the new material will be written, keeping in mind Epe’s vocal sound so that there will be less melodies and more aggressive sounding vibe on it.
How would you describe any new stuff?
Jukka: It’s old school thrash metal. There’s fast stuff and middle tempo stuff and some doomier shit to keep it heavy. The first single is called “God Plutonium,” and it’s the first one I wrote after I heard Epe sing our older songs. Some of the riffs are from a previous song we had. I just took the thrashier parts and put some more aggression to it. You could say that “God…” is pretty much the starting point for the new album, fast old school thrash with some weirder ingredients to make it interesting. The next single is written by Epe and Hapa. It’s a really kick-ass thrasher, back to the basics type-song. The will be some minor surprises, some progressive song parts, but all in all this will be the most aggressive album we’ve done since the RESURRECTION OF THE WICKED album. I’m really happy about the new songs. Epe fits really well into the band.
Niko: The new album will probably be faster than TIME IS THE FIRE. There are not that many mid-tempo songs in that one like we had in the previous album. As Jukka put it, the new one will be much more aggressive and faster old-school thrasher. There will not be progressive stuff in that either.
Regarding the lyrics, who is mainly responsible for them and what kind of topics influence you to write about?!
Jukka: I have written most of the lyrics now. Epe did the lyrics to his and Hapa’s tracks and I believe Niko will write for his. Ville has one song ready, so I think he does the lyrics as well. I just give them a subject matter for the big picture, not that any of the guys would write any “baby baby love u- shit.”
I get the ideas from the news and the surroundings, the stupid Jesus freaks and fucked up nazi wannabees, we live in desperate times and watch idiots destroy the whole planet. So there’s a lot to write about. There’s some personal shit written and hidden in the verses, but nothing you could point the finger at.
Niko: To me, there always has been a story in my lyrics. I get ideas from books, movies or pictures.
I‘m not used to writing about politics and you could say my lyrics are for fantasy or hating religion, but there’s always something in it that refers to the world today.
Do you have certain favorite songs from the upcoming record and why?!
Jukka: Yes, one is called “Venomous Encounters,” and the other is “Snakes and Ladders.” The first one is a strange one, melodic but mean with a twisted story in the lyrics. “Snakes…” just has some cool riffs in it. Of course, both of the new singles are great.
Niko: I’d say “God Plutonium” and the new single, which is not released yet. Those two songs both sum it up quite well what’s going on.
RECRUITING A NEW SINGER
The members of the band all live in different villages or towns all around Finland. Does that cause logistical and scheduling problems for arranging rehearsals and other matters?
Jukka: Of course, it makes rehearsing a bit of a task. We usually start working on the set separately before a gig, me and Ville over here in Oulu and the rest of the band in the south. Then we get in the same room and put all the pieces together. It has worked so far. Besides I don’t think we would have weekly rehearsals even if we’d all live in the city. The songwriting and studio work is easy nowadays. We have home studios and can send the demos and tracks fast and easy through the internet. But we do things the old way too, I was at Hapa’s place some time ago and we worked together on some of the new songs. It’s just a state of mind. If there’s a will there’s a way.
Niko: Rehearsing has always been like this since I got in the band in late 2013. Me, Hapa and Epe living in the Southern-Finland are one unit and Jukka and Ville living in Oulu are another unit. We’re used to rehearsal together here in the South and once we are going to a gig, we just put our shit together and go to a stage. Of course, it could be even better if we would have an opportunity to get together for rehearsals.
Some members live up in the north and some guys live in the south. How do you carry out rehearsals besides a few guys have other bands, how the heck do you coordinate the schedule ?!
Jukka: First we communicate through Messenger. If there’s a gig coming or we need to make some schedules, we start from there. When the overall picture is ready, we start to arrange the details. Most of us hate the telephone and despises social media, but messenger seems to work in our scheduling the best. But you have to remember that we don’t do much touring and we can always clear time for Napalm Syndicate if something cool is coming up. I miss the old-time rehearsals from time to time, but we have to work with what we got.
Niko: It does demand a lot of planning. Mainly through the Messenger so that we’re all at the same table. We’re used to checking first the setlist and start to practice it on our own. After that we’re booking 5-3 possible spots for rehearsals and check what we can do.
As stated above N.N.S. recruited a new singer – Where did you find that new singer by the way?!
Jukka: Epe is an old friend of Hapa’s and they have/had a band called Braindrain back in the day. When Matti told us that he didn’t have the time to do Napalm Syndicate full time because of his work schedules, Hapa brought up Epe and told me he could be the man for the job. I listened to their old demos and it just worked. I knew that with his vocals, we could get back on track. The strange thing is that we didn’t think of Epe earlier. He’s got this cool aggressive but nice tone that fits the NNS music perfectly.
Do you have to re-arrange the older N.N.S songs for these live situations to match his vocal range?
Jukka: No, we didn’t. Some of the high notes that Ilkka used to sing will be toned down a bit, but we don’t have to arrange anything. Epe can do all the old stuff, the Aku songs, Ilkka songs, basically everything. When I heard him sing the first album songs, I had goosebumps. He was that good.
Niko: I think that Epe’s vocal sound fits perfectly to the Aku’s-era and surprisingly there were no problems when it comes to the material Ilkka was singing. So when it comes to the question: No.
Did you have any criteria and expectations when looking for a suitable frontman for N.N.S?
Jukka: Yes, we did. First you have to understand the silence and behavior of Finnish men in general. If we have to get a new member to the band, he has to be able to adapt to our manners and the ways of the band. We don’t do any brotherly love rituals or have fun after parties. We drink and have some conversations, but we don’t do any of that other shit. So when Epe came to the band, we had some drinks and checked out what he was made of. He was like all of us, kept his shit together and didn’t throw up on the table…Of course, it helps if you have experience and know how to work the stage, Epe knew how to make the older NNS songs work for him and he has the same musical background as most of us have.
Niko: It was a relief to have somebody in the band who’s about the same age as we are (old as hell) and having experience of doing gigs and playing in the band. We have basically seen everything you could ask for in this business and I bet nothing comes us by surprise. On the other hand, Epe has the same wide range of music he likes as we all do, which I’m seeing as an advantage for us. So basically there’s no limits, no barriers – nothing’s sacred except doing power metal.
N.N.S has undergone more than a few line-up changes in the long 30-year history. What keeps you still going after all these years ?!
Jukka: Well, what else would I do? The band has been a part of my life for over 34 years. If I started a new band, it would be a thrash metal band and I‘d probably write the same kind of songs that I write now for the NNS. So why would I do it? These guys in the lineup right now are excellent musicians and we get along well. No drama, no BS. There have been times when I have been ready to put the band rest and leave the shitty music business behind. Here’s a little example of the downside of what I am talking about. I have been told that I’m difficult to work with or that I’m an asshole and mean fucker who kicks people out of the band without reason. But that’s not the case. Most of the guys who are no longer in the National Napalm Syndicate have left the band for whatever reason. Only a couple have been sacked. And if the man has been given the boot from the band, there’s always been a voting and a good reason. We have made the decisions democratically. I just wanted to say that. That kind of shit sometimes takes away the fun of being in the band, but soon the itch is back and you want to do gigs and write new music.
Now back to the question, it might sound cliche and stupid, but I do this for the love of the music. I have to do it to survive and keep at least some of my sanity intact. I believe that heavy metal music keeps you young at heart and is good for your mind. Something like that.
Niko: I think it’s up to the commitments people have and about the commitments people just cannot perform. When you’re in the band, you just have to understand where you’re about to bound yourself into. You intend to make sacrifices when you are playing in the band, mostly on a personal level. I understand it’s not for everybody, especially when you have a family. In the end, family’s the most important thing which goes overall. No member of the band is bigger than the band itself. I see this as a hobby nowadays, which I’m doing for a love of music. Nothing beats that feeling when you’re on stage with the band.
FROM EMI TO IRON SHIELD
You are on the German label called Iron Shield, who released your previous album, TIME IS THE FIRE, in 2018. How has your cooperation with the label worked out so far? Are you pleased with how they have promoted and supported you?
Jukka: I like the label, it’s an old school metal label and Duck is a cool guy who shares our love for thrash metal. They release music for metal fans. They don’t do it for the money or some trend. They still believe in physical releases and know how important it is to keep the music available in the stores, not just in some streaming service. They have supported us as much as they can. Of course, you can always expect more and demand more, but I’m happy with Iron Shield considering the way they work. The boss man Duck came to Oulu last winter. He checked out some of our demos we had at the moment and pointed out that we needed more thrash on the album. So you could say that he was one important part of our current musical direction. Thanx for that!
Niko: From my point of view, our cooperation with Iron Shield has been smooth and been working out well. I agree with Jukka that you can always have expectations, but I’d like to point out that we’re in the middle of the industry, which is undergoing big major changes when it comes to the ways how people consume and use music. All that has changed and has brought challenges to the record companies, studios and bands/ artists how they could financially stay profitable while they should be able to release new music that is not making money enough to “pay the bills” so to say.
How did you end up signing to The German Iron Shield Records?
Jukka: Ilkka sent him the TIME IS THE FIRE album link back in the day and he liked what he heard. I liked the idea that he knew our history since the ’80s and had most of our releases in his collection.
What are the biggest differences between all these labels that N.N.S has been on all over these years ?!
Jukka: Let me think. EMI was ok for the first six months after the first album was released. After that, they just lost interest in thrash metal. We had a moment when we could have gotten out of Finland with the album, but they just dropped the ball. Don t know why. Maybe at the time the whole idea of taking the Finnish metal to the world seemed absurd to them. Of course, a few years later we had Amorphis, Sentenced, Impaled Nazarene etc., who opened the gates for everyone.
Then we did the comeback album for Trinity Records, big plans for touring, etc. Nothing happened, and the label disappeared. Violent Journey was ok. The guy who ran the label was our first singer Vesa Ruokangas. Nothing bad to say about that. Then we were back with EMI, they released a compilation 2cd and we got a chance to remaster the first album. But they didn’t do shit after that. Who knows, maybe the next one will get some serious airplay and get to do some cool gigs. I don’t know if it’s that much up to the label anymore. The promotion is everything of course.
Proper promotion is the essential key in order to make your band known worldwide. How has this promotional side been looked after in N.N.S?
Jukka: It is very important. I do it myself all the time. I hope that we will get some exposure to the new album and maybe we will get somebody to help us out with it.
Niko: Social media has been quite a good tool for promotion but only IF you do your stuff nicely enough so you won’t get banned as we did when we tried to promote “God Plutonium” on Facebook.
N.N.S started out back in the mid-’80s and released a few demos and a self-titled debut album already in 1989, all in all four full-length albums. How do you rate these albums nowadays?!
Jukka: The first one is cool for what it is, some nice tunes, a few that we will have to play until our graves. The musicianship is not what it is nowadays, but the times were different. We didn’t have a strong heavy metal culture at the time in Finland. The studios and the producers didn’t know what to do with a thrash metal band of 18-year-old metalheads. We had to bring some albums to the studio so that they let us play fast. They thought we were out of our minds. Well, Exodus showed them.
RESURRECTION OF THE WICKED was the “comeback” album. I still like it. There are some good thrashers on that one. We did quite a lot of touring for that album in Finland. Good times and great memories. We had plans for a European tour, it didn’t happen, too much money would have been lost. “Nothing but Anger” and “The Cross” are great, still love playing those live. The production is good and it’s the first album with our in house producer Jukka “Jeesus” Jokikokko.
DEVOLUTION OF SPECIES, this one is difficult to rate. There are some good songs and cool riffs, but all in all it’s a sad example of a band on the brink of self-destruction. Everyone had a different opinion of what the band should sound like and it shows. Too many spices in this soup. This is my least favorite NNS album. We don’t play any of the songs live. Maybe that tells you something.
TIME IS THE FIRE I still like this one, it’s a bit too long and some of the more experimental songs fall short, but there are some great songs in it. “Kuolema”, “Bringer Of Pain” and the not so hidden last song Overkill’s “Blood & Iron.” It’s the first album with our drummer Ville. I remember that some people really didn’t like the keyboards on TIME IS THE FIRE, but we thought it was a nice touch.
Where did you get an idea to name a band N.N.S (National Napalm Syndicate)
Jukka: I got the idea from a Finnish hc-punk band called Kansanturvamusiikkikomissio, KTMK. I thought they were the greatest band in the world at that time and they had the coolest album covers etc. So of course, we had to have a long band name. First I wrote the name NATIONALNAPALMSTORM then NATIONALNAPALMSYNDICATE. Fortunately, we came to our senses and came up with the current version. We had the great idea for the name sitting in a tree shitfaced totally out of our minds, me and our first guitar player Markku. If I remember correctly, one of us fell down from the tree. We were probably 16 or 17 at the time.
What do you expect from the future of N.N.S?
Jukka: I hope we can do some new albums and continue our band until we just can’t do it anymore. Maybe touring, videos. Hopefully, we don’t have to go through any more band member changes.
Niko: New album and as many gigs as possible in this situation prevailing. After the new album, we will stick on the next one for sure!
Thanks for the interview, and the last words are yours!!
Jukka: Thank You, Arto and Metal-Rules. You have supported us for years. Check out our new lyric videos for “God Plutonium” and “Naulapää!!! ” Keep on thrashing!
Niko: Thanks for the interview! If you have a possibility to see N.N.S. live I urge you to check us out!!!
The Official N.N.S (National Napalm Syndicate) Sites :