Interview with Brymir — “It’s more of a guitar-heavy album, it’s more metal.”

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Finnish melodic death metal act BRYMIR recently got signed to Napalm Records. Now, they’re finally ready to release their new full-length album, “Voices in the Sky.” We chatted with bass player Jarkko Niemi about the record and touring plans. Watch the complete interview here or read the full transcript below…

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview even though it wasn’t your plan to do interviews [we had originally scheduled an interview with guitarist Joona Björkroth]. How have you been during these last couple of years?

Well, that’s a whole lot of time [laughs] considering everything that has happened. Where to start. 2019 was very good for BRYMIR in general. We just had “Wings of Fire” out and everything was looking great. Then 2020 happened and then things got a bit weird and things have only gotten weirder since. Well, personally for the last couple of years, I’ve been definitely luckier than very many people, I had a steady job, and BRYMIR as a band didn’t lose huge amounts of money. We didn’t have huge tours booked and already paid for that got canceled or anything like that. We were very lucky in that sense. It only become a disappointment of what could have been instead of something actually getting canceled. There were of course cancelations, for instance, our first trip to Spain and Portugal at the end of 2020, that was really disappointing, but we didn’t lose much of money due to that. On a whole, as a band and personally, we’ve been quite lucky considering all the craziness that’s been going on. 

I guess the biggest change that happened to you guys is that you signed to a bigger label. Congrats on that deal. How did that deal come about? 

I’d say that now that we’ve made a worldwide management deal with Management Events, they really showed their chops there. They put us in a very nice position to look at offers from multiple labels and then pick and choose which one looks the most promising. We chose Napalm Records since they had the best offer. Now, as things have been rolling out, we’ve been very happy and we’ve been very excited about what’s yet to come. The future looks promising [laughs].

Do you really feel the difference in terms of Spotify numbers and so on now that you are signed to such a big label?

We’ve started to feel it, for instance, we had a couple of Spotify firsts, first time we reached that 50,000 monthly listeners. It might have come anyway, who knows, but we are happy that it happened. I think the main thing that we’ve noticed – now that I’m talking to you – is that there have been so much more interviews, so much more media presence. That’s where they really showed their chops in that sense, oh we actually get to do this promotional work full-time. So that’s a happy thing that happened and we’re curious about where that is going to lead to. You could say happy problems trying to find the time to do interviews. [laughs]

Yeah, well I guess you’re still excited about doing them. [laughs]

Yeah, we’re not jaded yet. Maybe one day when we got rich from all this, why bother? But now, we’re like uh hype! Someone’s interested. [laughter]

That makes sense. This weekend I also saw you play at Dark River Festival. I guess you played some other shows in Finland. How has that been going for you?

The shows have gone pretty great in general, we’ve had like great audiences and great slots to play (Dark River main stage and Saarihelvetti main stage), not that many festival shows because the whole Corona thing was still going on, with this new album we got the singles out in a bit of a later time that we didn’t get to be in that many festivals in the Finnish festival season this year, but as the way things are looking, next year, things are going to be busier in that sense. The shows that we’ve done this year, have been great. We’re very happy to have done those, they’ve gone pretty good.

You also played the new singles at Dark River Festival, how did you perceive the audience’s reaction?

We’re more than happy to play the new stuff. It’s sort of funny, the way things go as a musician… you start playing one album and then you play it through so many times, then you get really excited, “Oh yeah now we get to play new stuff again,” this is like new for us as well now. As far as the audience goes, I think the show has gone really well, the way I’ve looked at the reaction people had. “Voices in the Sky” sort of gets emotional for me when the audience gets emotional and starts singing along to the choir parts. For instance, “Herald of Aegir,” that we played at Dark River and Saarihelvetti has shown itself to be quite a crowd-pleaser with moshpits going on and everything like that, people going crazy with blast beats and the speed and everything. The reception has been very good. 

Yeah, I think there are a few more moments like that on the record where fans can go crazy in moshpits. Now, what would you say is musically the biggest difference between “Wings of Fire” and “Voices in the Sky?”

If I have to put it to one thing, I think this album is more – you can hear it in the production values but also in the songwriting process itself – it’s more of a guitar-heavy album, it’s more metal, starting with the guitars, ending with the guitars, and then add stuff on that. In that way… because Viktor our main songwriter and singer, started to write things by playing the guitar first and then started coming up with the ideas, while on “Wings of Fire,” there are a couple of songs that started with a keyboard or where he just started programming something on music software. It’s a completely different process, you can also hear it in the riffs and the guitars’ front and center, more metal. 

You mentioned that Viktor is the main songwriter; was there a similar process with “Wings of Fire” or did you get more of a say this time concerning the songwriting?

Due to the whole Corona thing, it was really isolated, the whole process. The reason why it took so long is that we were thinking that we’d have the album out by 2021. Then the Corona thing happened and we thought it would speed things up because we don’t have any shows to play, so that must mean we have more time to focus on writing and producing and making more music. Actually, the opposite thing happened. For Viktor, his main co-writer or the person he throws his ideas at and gets feedback from is Joona and they do that with wonderful chemistry that is so natural and flowing. They are used to being in the same room when that happens and now they couldn’t do that and they had to throw musical ideas and demos basically like we’re doing now… talking. That sort of took the oomph out of it. It took a bit longer to do the whole thing. As far as people have input and everything, I think it’s pretty similar to “Wings of Fire,” there’s for instance my one song that I basically wrote at the end, “All As One” and I wrote the lyrics to that. We all look at what are good ideas, then there’s this whole process of skimming the fats of the top and see which full songs are ready and whether we put those on the album and whether these ideas fit together. In that sense, if you think about the band’s democracy, it was pretty similar to the last one. 

Well, you mentioned you wrote the last song, is there anything you can talk about related to that song specifically?

You could say [that] it’s a long story because the song was originally intended… its first version was written for the 2016 album “Slayer of Gods,” as a closer for that one. We didn’t have quite the things to put it all together, produce it to that fine edge. We’ve been molding on the song already for the previous album, thinking whether we should do this and whether we have fresh ideas to make it happen. Now, it was like finally, we thought it fits, now everything works. It fits very well into the sort of soundscape of this album, it had this proper tone and proper tempo and tonality to end the album with. It’s sort of weird that it’s such an older song but it fits so well into this album as a whole, I could talk on and on about what’s in the lyrics and what some things mean, but I want you to have some surprises at least. You can make your own conclusions about those. You could say thematically it’s more in the “Slayer of Gods” realm that there’s these sort of layers of mythological symbolism in there, not just the surface level of what’s actually being said, but there are things to pay attention to and analyze in there. 

I’ll have to listen to it again after our talk. I know that for “Slayer of Gods” you wrote more lyrics for “Wings of Fire,” how about this album? 

I did do some proofreading. This time because it was so isolated, we didn’t have this natural back and forth between all the band members, so Viktor did most of the lyrics by himself and then he asked whether I could proofread them or if anything sounds stupid, just making sure that there are no weird mistakes. But Viktor is a perfectly competent lyricist. There were very little for me to do on the songs that he had basically finished from beginning to end by himself. For “Slayer of Gods” I was more active. On “Wings of Fire” a bit less and here [on “Voices in the Sky”] I would say that it’s mostly the “All Is One” song. There were just things like how things turned out and what seemed to be the best songs, best lyrics, and how much input was needed in certain songs that ended up on the record. It was quite a nice process of having quite a lot of material to choose from and then we could just go okay these are the best ones.

How many other tracks did you have then originally?

I have no idea how many Viktor had. There were so many, I had a whole couple of demo songs that were just “Okay these just need more work and maybe we’ll come back to them in the future.” Minutes-wise, I think there would have been material for another album as far as it goes, but then it would have been compressed anyway, so I don’t know how much. Still, we were in the position that there were all these kinds of ideas [and it was] just about choosing which ones are the best ones. 

I really like the flow of the album too. What I thought about the album is that the heaviest parts sound heavier than ever, the folkiest parts sound folkier than ever, and so on. Do you feel like the pandemic maybe had an effect on the recording process? Did you feel like you could put all your emotions into playing bass?

Sure, the bass recordings happened quite late in the album process. You can do quite a bit of it up until the end until you actually want to record them. For instance, usually, you want the guitarists to have the most freedom to go with so you don’t want to lock the bass in too quickly in the process. I don’t think the pandemic really affected the playing of the bass, but then the war in Ukraine happened and it was a bit of a downer time for us all. I wouldn’t say it exactly helped in any way, but as far as for instance the final group shouts and roars that we did as a band on the album, it definitely had more aggression to them because of the whole horrible mess of the war. 

Yeah, speaking of that. There’s also a song named “Borderland,” which has a poem by a Ukrainian poet. Is that something you added in later as the war started?

The poem is by Taras Shevchenko. The song started as being about war, a bit different. Then the war happened and Viktor really went in and couldn’t think of anything now, so I have to re-write the lyrics and do it about this because Slava Ukraini, all the support we can give them is more than deserved. So in that sense, we were in a creative space where we had to do something, we can’t ignore this. Basically, for me, as I look at the album now, starting from the halfway point of the album, it starts to go to more war idea, there’s the “Landfall,” “Borderland,” “Far From Home,” and “Seeds of Downfall,” you could think that [this is where] the war side of the album starts. It’s impossible for me not to think about Ukraine when I’m listening to that album, it makes it especially emotional for me to think about what it’s going to be like to play these songs live. Because it’s so obviously about the horrible stuff that we have to witness in our time in Europe.

That makes sense. It also sounds a bit heavier towards the end and if you count in the bonus track, it really ends very darkly with the DARK FUNERAL cover. Who came up with the idea of doing that cover?

We’ve been thinking about it for a long time. We all love DARK FUNERAL. That was the initial bonding thing when Patrik Fält, our current drummer joined us in 2013, that we wanted to take the band in this more blast beat-heavy, faster, heavy, more aggressive direction. We sort of bonded over the fact that we really love DARK FUNERAL, this extremeness of it. In that sense, the final bonus track, we can do this and we want to show this really raw, total aggression of having fun energy of letting it go and roar at the whole world, and be as evil and fast, go full-on out. It was really fun and cathartic to do that. We’ve been thinking about doing it for a long time.

Are you ever playing that song live one day?

We’ll see, we’ll see. I have no doubt that Patrik would be very happy to show his chops. He does play in FEASTEM and if you’ve checked them out, it’s like… [laughs]

Yeah, that guy is crazy. [laughter] I also thought it was really cool that Antti Nieminen, who is your live guitarist, was also included in some way in the new tracks. I’m not sure if he’s ever been involved like that in the albums. How did that idea come about? 

It sort of came so naturally. He’s a great singer, arguably the technically best clean singer in the band, but the way he sings in “Far From Home”… We were struggling with that song production-wise for a while, “How are we going to do this? How are the lyrics going to go? How are the vocals going to go? How do we make it sound believable?” and then, Viktor just asked Antti to come in and do this high-pitched stuff that sounds so ethereal and nice. “Okay, now it fits.” We were so worried that we would have to drop it from the album. Antti has done quite a lot before, he sang choirs on the “Slayer of Gods” album and stuff like that, but now he got this really good showcase of showing his singing skills in a more proper way and I think we’re very happy with that. We’re lucky that things turned out the way they did. 

I also noticed that at Dark River Fest, I think Viktor introduced a song as fish metal. We were initially confused about that, but it turns out there is a song about fish, a more political one for that matter. Would you say that those sorts of themes in music are becoming more and more important as the world gets more fucked up?

Well, I think those themes are always going to be important, environmentalism. Ever since the industrial revolution, we could have done at all times a bit better. I don’t think there are that many new themes for us. 2011’s “Breathe Fire to the Sun,” has very much of this climate change overarching themes that are there and pollution and stuff. Now more than ever we see all the horribleness and it’s becoming more acute, so of course, that’s going to affect the art that people make, because the way things are fucked up will show in the art of the time. It’s very natural.

Yeah, you are also joining FINNTROLL I think on their European tour. Is that the longest tour you have done outside of Finland?

Definitely, basically the longest tour in general that we’ve done. You don’t play 39 shows in Finland, you run out of places to play. Then you have to start thinking which pizzeria we’re going to play next [laughs]. In November, and December, with FINNTROLL and SKÁLMÖLD, we’re looking forward to what that’s going to be like… 39 dates, 39 shows, no breaks, just full-on blasting, that’s going to be quite an ordeal, but most likely a very rewarding ordeal. Finally, we get to go out there! This is what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve had some little bits, we’ve been to Japan twice for a couple of days each time, and then we have had a 5-date show tour with BATTLE BEAST in 2019, but this is on a completely different level. This is an actual proper tour. Some people would say this is an insanely long tour to do in one sitting, just like 39 dates, 39 shows, and no breaks. In that sense, we’re starting it big. We’ll see how it goes, most likely it’ll be awesome, I’m sure of it. 

You’re playing also in some pretty big club venues all over Europe, so it will be very cool to visit some places you maybe haven’t visited before… 

Yeah and the bands we’re touring with are very much a match made in heaven. Of course, FINNTROLL when they started with “Jaktens Tid,” were a huge influence to us when we were teenagers, so this is very exciting. You could also say this is our crowd, this is our audience that we want to show ourselves to. This is finally a good way to showcase our stuff to a very potential audience. We’re looking forward to showing our faces and hopefully winning over some hearts. 

Yeah, I’m sure that will happen. You also just announced your album release show at Tavastia. Is there anything that fans can expect from that show in Finland?

We’re definitely working on making it something special. I have very few details to give yet, but it’s going to be something bigger, better, stronger, and faster. Because of the venue and for us to headline that place has been… the stakes are getting higher and things are getting bigger. We’re definitely going to try to up the production, the whole show, whatever is going to be happening. We have quite a few ideas, let’s see what the end product is going to be like, it’s something you don’t want to miss!

I personally was planning to go anyway! [laughter] I think that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans?

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Finnish melodic death metal meets all kinds of extreme metal elements put in something like power metal, put in everything, and have it produced by Viktor Gullichsen, who is one of the best metal producers in Finland in my opinion at the moment, check us out! You won’t be disappointed!

Interview by Laureline Tilkin