Netherbird is a Swedish extreme metal band that has been around since the early 2000s, their music reflects perfectly the Scandinavian darkness both in an emotional and in a melodic way, with lyrics that talks about inner human struggles and introspective themes. I had the pleasure of interviewing Nephente (Johan Flid Fridell), the vocalist and lyricist in the band, in order to know a bit more about Netherbird and also about some of his thoughts.
Hi Nephente, starting with a mandatory question: how are you doing after more than a year with no gigs, social distancing, and lockdowns? And how are things now in Sweden?
Hello Silvia! Good to hear from you! I am doing okay, but I am very tired of sitting and working from home and the lack of interaction with people is now starting to really get to me. So some days I feel low, but spring has come so that makes it all a bit easier to endure. But more generally speaking I should not complain, I got my health and we are starting to see the end of the pandemic, just hoping to get vaccinated as soon as possible and that the general state of things will start to be more promising.
I really miss going out for spontaneous gigs, hanging out with more friends and I sure miss travelling. But that will of course come, so it is just a matter of enduring this a little while longer.
As for restrictions Sweden has done it a bit differently from most countries, so we haven’t really had any lockdowns, just restrictions banning bigger gatherings and urging people to stay at home when sick. First the maximum was 50 people, then lowered to 8 people so no gigs etc. Restaurants and bars have been allowed to stay open until 20.30 in the evenings.
So in one way, Sweden has had quite relaxed rules, but still, I have been working from home for over a year and so have most people and I have really done my best to stay away from the metro, etc. So in practice, it has been isolation but with the option to go out whenever I wanted to. All in all, it has still been tough and Sweden has been hit very, very hard when it comes to a number of infected and dead so that naturally influences how we all have been feeling regardless of restrictions.
Netherbird has already recorded all songs for the upcoming album. Can you tell us something about it? Is there a release date marked in the calendar? Is this album in the vein of “The Grander Voyage” and “Into the Vast Uncharted”, where you guys show a more mature style? There will be surprises maybe, something that can be said?
Yes, we realized quite early last spring that this thing will not go away quickly. So we decided to start writing a new album. Bizmark, who is the main composer, was stuck in lockdown in the United Kingdom where he currently lives, so he had time and managed to write the songs, and then we arranged them quite fast this time. Then Fredrik went into the studio to record the drums by the end of last summer and then guitars, bass, and vocals were recorded during autumn. So the album has actually been finished for some time and we are all quite happy with how it came out and that we could use this strange time to actually be creative.
When it comes to my general impression of the album, I would say that this album is the natural continuation of “The Grander Voyage” and “Into the Vast Uncharted”, the final part in a trilogy if you will. I think fans of the previous two albums will feel that quite instantly. The album is called “Arete” and it is a dark piece that deals with how the pursuit of excellence also comes with a heavy price to pay.
As always, I hope there are also moments on this album that might surprise listeners, perhaps due to the fact that we have let more of our heavy metal influence take place resulting in some more elaborate guitar works. I am quite happy with it and look forward to sharing it with the world. It will be out on July 30th. The first single “Towers of the Night” is already out and the second single “Void Dancer” will out during June.
Can you tell our readers how is the creative process for the songs in Netherbird?
Almost every song we write starts with Bizmark writing the basic song with different parts. Then he and I talk it through and try to see if anything should be altered. When we feel it is solid, I put a title on it and then I write the base lyrics. Then the rest of the guys listen to the thing, write their solos and tweak their things and then we record an album when we have enough tunes. We tend to trash one or two songs every time, things we feel didn’t really sound the way we want it, so we usually start with a few more tunes than what finally ends up on the album. We always strive to keep our albums rather short, around 40 minutes is what I think is optimal. That way we can keep all tunes vital and avoid any “fillers”.
Your lyrics talk about darkness, human existence, inner struggles, death… Where does your inspiration mainly come from?
Oh, that is a big question. I guess I do spend quite some time reflecting on things, and sometimes I find some axiom, some element that I think is worth pondering and sharing with the world. So most of my lyrics are very personal, but I do my best to present them in a way that is open to interpretation by the listener. So I write the words, but if all goes like I want it is the listener that creates the meaning of those words.
My inspiration mainly comes from conversations with other people, from things I read, and things I see around me. I very seldom take inspiration from music to be honest. The best place for me to go is museums because there I am bombarded with fantastic art pieces and the general grandeur and timelessness of art itself. Museums also tend to be quiet and still so that is also a factor that makes them ideal for exploring thoughts on a deeper level. So that is where I go when I need to relax and find inspiration.
Which bands were you listening to as a teenager metalhead? Do you think any of them influenced you when you started to create music with your own band?
I started to listen to heavy metal very early. The first band that really got to me is ”W.A.S.P.” and I loved all aspects of it when I heard it in 1984. I was 9 years old and it changed my life! It was dark, scary but also damn good. I can still listen to their debut album and get goosebumps. So, I started out with more classic rock like Mötley Crüe, Accept, Helix, and Heavy Load. But I guess I was always looking for something more extreme and when Death Metal exploded in Sweden around 1990 I knew I had found my music. I had listened to doom and thrash some years earlier, but it was death metal that made it all click! Then I also trekked into black metal as that music rose just a year or so later. I still listen to a lot of extreme metal, and I do my best to keep track of things that come out. The music I listened to from 1990-1994 influenced me the most, no doubt about that.
The artwork of your albums deserves a special mention, it has some “romantic” feeling, and it’s obvious you like classic art a lot. But there’s no classic painting in the cover of “Arete”; could you explain the meaning of that image? And also the meaning of the album title?
Netherbird has always had three equally important pillars: music, lyrics, and artworks. So we have always invested a lot of time and thought into the artworks. We began using classical paintings from the “Abysmal Allure” EP that came in 2011.
But with this upcoming album, I felt we should change things up a bit since people started to expect romantic paintings on everything we do. So, this time around we have collaborated with my friend Nihil who is a French artist living in Norway. The artwork is a marvelous piece that ties together with the theme of the album perfectly: the painful pursuit of excellence, of Arete, is a long and tough journey and the goal is many times questionable in itself. But the artwork and the interpretation of it and the songs on the album is something I better leave to everyone to discover for themselves.
You are in a Death Metal band, Riket, where you sing in Swedish, and Tobias plays guitar there also. With two EP released so far, is the band working on some new material?
Yes it is correct, we have another band together. In RIKET we let out more of our passion for more crude death metal and to keep it interesting for me to write lyrics, I do all in Swedish. We have just released two EP:s and focus mostly on doing live gigs. It is great to blow some steam with this band and it is less pressure compared to when we do shows or recordings with Netherbird. No one has any expectations so with RIKET we can just try different things out. Actually long list of current and previous drummers from Netherbird have played with RIKET on the recordings and also live. It actually started out with me, Tobias and Adrian Erlandsson on drums who also did drums for the first two Netherbird albums.
I am pretty sure RIKET will keep being an active band and we always look for gigs so if anyone is interested to have some harsh Swedish death metal on a stage, let me know. Our only demand is to play as early as possible on the bill. No headlining spots, we prefer to focus on the beer at that time!
You once said “I don’t live from Metal, I live because of Metal”. That’s a serious statement! What does this music represent for you, in a broader sense?
It is very much my approach to music. I am mainly an underground metal fan. I love being in the crowd and see bands play on sweaty, small and crowded venues. That will never change. That is where I find my passion and energy in life. I have also been an active musician (bassist and vocalist) since 1990. I have played on both bigger and smaller stages, but to me it is impossible to beat the feeling to play a crowded venue in a city you didn’t know existed and then sit and have beers with people. We share so much and always have tons of things to talk about. That feeling of borderless community is what always makes me find new energy to keep doing what I do. But I do make very little income from the music, I rather lost tons of money doing this, but I have gained priceless moments of passion, sweat and actual tears. So I hope to keep playing, but I know I will always go to gigs for as long as I am alive and I will always pick a new underground band over some established act.
As we are not living in tape trading times anymore, how do you see the underground metal scene nowadays? Is internet a good tool for the less known bands, in order than more people can reach to them?
Every since I got involved in the underground scene in 1990 I have heard older people saying that “the scene is dying and not what it used to be”. Same thing today. Truth is that the scene is everchanging and that is how it always will be. In the early 90:s the bands that rose were doing something new and many of the now classic albums were released then. Being early is certainly an advantage, but there were also less “rules” in those days making bands a bit more creative I think.
Today we have tons of more music coming and I discovery new talent all the time. So the scene is doing fine but things have changed, mainly how music is recorded and distributed. Today anyone can record with really good quality and get their music out. The downside is that we are flooded with new music and it is hard to find it. So in the end you still need good music, hard work and the right contacts to reach people. But today bands compare their stream numbers with huge acts and feel like they are failures. But compared to how many heard a demo in the early 90:s I would say most bands today reach more people. It is just that perspectives have changed and that people have some sort of idea of reaching “success” that is killing a lot of the joy I think. If you are a new band and want more listeners than Behemoth you will be disappointed. You must be willing to invest all your time and every penny you earn into if you want to reach that level of reach. Aaaand you must be fucking good. Because that is still what is needed. No amount of fake views on youtube or paid playlists on Spotify will replace the need for GREAT SONGS. No way around that: only fantastic songs will last forever. I also think that really good music will find listeners with enough time.
More than a year of social distancing has affected our society in many ways. How do you think the live metal scene will be after this pandemic? Do you believe that gigs and festivals will be the same as before?
I actually think that things slowly will go back to how it was before the pandemic. It will take some time but first there will be smaller gigs and then the huge concerts and festivals will be back. I think most of us will be hesitant at first but mankind is pretty quick to forget and if we want something we tend to go for it. Same thing with travel: currently air traffic is down by a lot, but also that will pick up pretty fast even though we all know it isn’t so good for the environment. I am sure we all learnt lessons during this strange period and it will go down in history, but as a collective mankind is pretty fast to forget. At least until the next time we get slapped with some sort of problem that require us to change how we act. Now we have seen that it can actually be done.
What do you miss the most of doing gigs? And which is the funniest thing that has happened to you while being on stage?
What I miss the most is meeting people, especially after the gig there is a certain feeling that lasts for a while and then I can also relax a bit and talk to people. As for incidents there is no shortage to be honest! I do remember that I fell backwards from the riot fence at a small gig in Prague and I managed to get stuck with my ass between the fence and a monitor speaker so I was stuck. Thankfully some people in the first row managed to reach me and help me get up. I bruised both my ass and my ego, but it was pretty hilarious in hindsight and must have looked ridiculous. When I am on stage I am in a completely different “place” mentally so afterwards, it is all a blur really, but I sure miss hanging out with people in different places.
Thank you for taking your time to answer some questions for Blessed Altar Zine. Wishing best things for you and for Netherbird to come. Is there anything you want to add?
Thank you Silvia, thank you for the questions. I wish you and all the readers of Blessed Altar Zine a good summer and that we all get to enjoy gigs again. ¡Salud!
For more about Netherbird, please visit:
NOTE: Thanks to the band for the photos. Nephente photo by Jens Rydén.
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