2023 promises to be one of the best epic metal years in a long time. Contributing to this is a newcomer who unveils his debut album, Among Ancient Pillars (No Remorse): Mace’n’Chain. With this band name, nothing can go wrong, right? Behind it is the Swede David Nilsson, who in our lively interview turns out to be a very likeable maniac with whom you would like to have a beer… or some more.
André: Thank you very much for taking the time for us. How are you?
David: Oh, the pleasure is all mine! Beside the nerves that come with putting out new music I’m doing good, but that is to be expected.
André: Have you already bought an album that was released this year?
David: For sure! I buy a lot of physical media, especially vinyl. The latest release I got home was Megaton Sword – Might & Power. I also finally got my hands on Sordid Blade’s debut album Every Battle Has its Glory, which technically was out last year, but the vinyl version had to be remade due to some manufacturing error and was out this year. Other than that, my recording buying has been a bit slow during the winter due to several reasons, but when answering these questions I actually have a lot of pre-orders I’m waiting for. Smoulder and Gatekeeper among some other.
André: David, you play in bands that are stylistically very different from each other. Please tell our readers why it was time for Mace ‘n’ Chain?
David: Yeah, that’s the whole point of it actually. I don’t see any reason to have several different projects that all sound the same, so typically the ones I’m involved in sound vastly different from each other. I’ve been asked to join some really interesting bands or projects in the past that play almost the same style of old school death metal that I do in Feral. Usually, it doesn’t work due to geographical reasons or due to the fact that the day only has 24 hours, both could be worked around of course but I really don’t see the point to do it either when I already have an output for that. In general, I think bands are too afraid to experiment and vary their material. If your heavy metal band for some reason comes up with a thrashier track, use it. Don’t force yourself to write seven more thrash songs and start a side project. Albums from the eighties have a tendency to mix chugging motorcycle-tracks with songs with stadium choruses and crawling doom numbers, it makes for exciting listening! If you can fit it into a band, you already have going, do it! As for why Mace’n’Chain saw the light of day now; the pandemic forced us to put a lot of activity on hold with Feral and gave me the chance to purse this idea that I’ve had to do something like this. This is the genre that initially drew me into metal back when I was ten or eleven years old. The idea quickly grew into something larger, however. From initially only recording a single track to upload on my personal social medias, to a three-track demo and into a full-length album. I treated it somewhat like a musical exercise or challenge, with the idea being that I should write and record the whole thing within a year. Which I managed to do with only days to spare. It might not sound very fast to some, but for me it’s a vast difference to how I usually work. Mace’n’Chain however isn’t a one-off thing, as I suspect many “side projects” that were pursued during the pandemic are. I already have plans for the future.
André: Which bands have influenced you the most? And which epic metal albums do you spin most often?
David: I would say my absolute main inspirations have been Virgin Steele and Savatage, along with Manowar. But of course, the “usual suspects” like Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol should be mentioned as well. Both David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) and Jon Oliva (Savatage) are two composers that I admire very much, even though I don’t use any keys or piano parts in my songs like they do. There are some European influences as well of course, like Grave Digger and Blind Guardian. There are so many albums to choose from, and I am bound to miss some essentials here, but if I were to throw together a quick answer, I’d say these are probably my most listened to metal albums that have influenced Mace’n’Chain:
Virgin Steele – Invictus or Noble Savage
Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King
Manowar – Into Glory Ride or Hail to England
Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Grave Digger – Knights of the Cross
André: What do you think of the new Manowar song “Laut und Hart, Stark und Schnell”?
David: Well, the chorus sure does rhyme… is probably all I have to say about that.
André: Which epic metal album has the perfect sound in your opinion?
David: Oh, that’s a hard one. It depends so much on what the band is going for, but I guess each album can only be judged individually. To mention something more contemporary I have to say that I am always blown away when I listen to Obsequiae’s The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, talk about an album that carries you away! And those meaty, kind of warm and soft sounding, riffing guitars heard in the beginning of “Ceres in Emerald Streams” sound just perfect, but probably wouldn’t on a more traditional epic metal album. I love the rawness of the production on the first four Manowar albums as well, before they started recording all digitally. You can hear that a couple of them were recorded and mixed over a very short time, but man can you hear that you’ve got a well-rehearsed band in the studio! Especially the tracks where Joey uses the eight-stringed bass, like “Secret of Steel“, “Mountains“ or “Battle Hymn“ are massive sounding.
André: On 24 March your debut will be released: Among Ancient Pillars. First of all, please tell us something about the artwork. Who is responsible for it?
David: It’s done by a good friend of mine, Bram Bruyneel, who is an art and history teacher from Belgium. He is also better known for his work within extreme metal, designing shirts and cover art for death and black metal bands. He actually also did the art for the demo cassette I released in 2021. I approached him kind of carefully since I didn’t know if he was into this kind of music at all or if he was strictly an extreme metal guy. And I believe his initial response was like: “Power metal? You mean you want bare-chested barbarians and dragons and stuff?” and after I had made clear that was in fact what I was looking for he was like “HELL YES! It will be a nice change drawing something else than zombies and guts!”. I think he did a killer job catching the essence of the album. The art is based upon the track “The Key to Ancient Riddles”, and it has that DnD feel to it and invokes a sense of adventure. There are a lot of great artists out there, but the problem with choosing someone who is already very established in your particular genre is that he will never be “your” guy. The goal is for people to be able to spot from a mile away that “that is a Mace’n’Chain album!” you know. Not “Oh, Mace’n’Chains album cover sure looks like band X or Y”.
André: Which song would you classify as a signature track?
David: That would be the album closer, “Upon the Anvil Formed”. It was the first song I wrote for the project, and it is the song that features the lyric “The mace and chain I wield” in the chorus, probably the closest I will ever come to writing a self-titled song. It summarizes the album quite well in the end and hopefully leaves you hungry for more.
André: Let’s look to the future. Shall Mace ‘n’ Chain remain a pure studio project?
David: I won’t say never, but at the moment I am happy with this being confined to the studio. The ease of being the sole dictator in a band should not be underestimated. For one thing I do not really know what my role would be if I were to form I live line-up, maybe bass? My free time is spread quite thin as it is, with having a band that rehearses weekly and plays live shows and a couple of more projects that are studio based. Adding another live ready band to that mix would be hard, but of course not impossible. I also live in a small town in a sparsely populated area of the country, so the choices of potential band members isn’t really that large either.
André: On our blog, we focus on metal with epic elements. How would you define the term “epic” regarding music?
David: “Epic” to me implies a large scope, or I guess that is in fact the definition of the word. But either way, it has to have it throughout its entire being in order to truly be epic. I have always been very much interested in lyrics, and I would say that when it comes to whether something is epic or not the lyrics are the key. At least for me. If you want an example, I don’t think “One Rode to Asa Bay” by Bathory or “Bridge of Death” by Manowarwould be rather epic of the lyrics dealt with sorting laundry or fixing your car, even if they musically are among the most grandiose compositions I can imagine. But this guy on the net called “Colin Rudd” can sit alone with an acoustic guitar in front of a sixteen year old webcam and recite Tolkien’s “Song of Durin” or “Lament for Boromir” and I will be moved both to goose bumps and tears. That is epic.
André: Is there an event from Swedish history that you think should definitely be dealt with by an epic metal band?
David: I think there has been a couple of songs made about “The Bloodbath of Stockholm” that took place in 1520 (or MDXX), maybe not by an epic metal band though. One event I think lends itself much more to an epic metal song might be “Brandskattningen av Visby” in 1361. I don’t think there is a good translation to English for “brandskattning”, but something like “fire taxation”. It is basically a word for when a conquering force has taken a city, and instead of sacking the city they demand a ransom to not return and do it again next year (which they usually did anyway), or to leave the city at all. It was not a terribly unusual practice of Vikings during the Viking age. It’s basically large-scale robbery. Either way, this particular event happening in the Swedish High Middle Ages is not very documented in contemporary sources. So, the facts are hard to tell from the fiction, which of course makes it perfect for making something epic. The battle outside the city is said to be one of the bloodiest in the history of the North. Apparently, the invading Danish king took Visby after it’s people had capitulated and the king placed three beer kegs in the town square and demanded that they, before the rise of three suns, would be filled to the brim with gold. The slain from the battle were buried in six mass graves, that have since been found, all still armoured.
André: You are from Norsjö. I suppose if you live there and want to go to a metal concert, you have to travel far, don’t you?
David: I grew up in Norsjö, but now live in a town called Skellefteå. Not much difference though other than that Skellefteå is by the coast of the bay of Bothnia and Norsjö is eight miles inland. But yeah, the location is not ideal if you’re an avid concert goer. Driving from Skellefteå even just to Stockholm takes about 10 hours, and Malmö 16. And that is if you aren’t taking any breaks at all. I can fly or take the train to Stockholm, but if your destination is further than that you need a second flight. Very few tours reach up here as well, except for the most of commercially successful bands. So, there is no need to hope that the latest up and comers from the underground scene will pass through on their next summer tour in Europe. I often see gigs or festivals I would like to attend in southern Sweden or in Europe, but the time away from work, long travel and high cost of traveling often puts a stop to my plans before I even get going. Most of my mates are into metal as well, but very few that are 100%, or close, into the same things that I am. So, getting some traveling company that would be excited for the same festivals and shows as me is often hard as well. For example, I have a ticket to the upcoming Keep it True festival, but I sadly won’t be able to make it this year either. Hopefully some day!
André: Last question: Let’s say you could put together a one-day festival of young metal bands as you please. Who would you invite? Let’s say you can offer 8 slots…
David: Oof, once again I’m sure to miss some essential bands! But here are some I’d love to finally get to see, in no particular order: Visigoth, Smoulder, Megaton Sword, Riders of Rohan, Oathbringer, Monasterium, High Command and Stormkeep.
André: So, this is a festival I would love to see! David, thank you for the interview and I wish you all the best for your debut album and the road ahead with Mace’n’Chain!