INTERVIEW: Sami Yli-Sirniö – Kreator

KREATOR have been one of thrash metal’s biggest bands for years now. Since roaring on the scene in the 1980s, the German thrashers have been at the forefront of heavy music for decades. Despite musical experimentation throughout the 1990s, the modern era of KREATOR have showcased the band going from strength. 2017 saw the release of Gods of Violence, arguably one of the band’s best records to date, and before a show in Manchester (read our review here) we spoke to guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö to talk about their headlining run across Europe, the reception to their latest record alongside it’s themes and messages, and discussing the current political climate in the western world.

So we are approaching the end of this European tour, how has it been for KREATOR?

Sami: Well, it’s been really great! It’s been a nice nice tour and I just got here, two days ago we did the Bataclan, it was nice that they opened up the place again and there was a bunch of sold out shows so it’s been better than ever actually for a European tour so we’re very happy with it but there are still three hectic days in the UK! Then one more gig in Belgium and then back to Essen, which is where the rest of the guys come from so that’s kind of the end of the tour but then, there’s only one day off, and then we go off to Moscow. Then we have a week off and then we’re off the States. So there is a lot of touring planned!

You mentioned about playing the Bataclan, what was it like playing at that venue post the atrocities that occurred there?

Sami: Of course you start thinking about all kinds of stuff when you go there! I would have expected that there would have been more security but there wasn’t. But the good thing is that they opened it again and people go there again. For me, that is the only thing that counts.

It’s been quite a long-winded tour, has there been any standout shows?

Sami: Yeah, I guess so, the one in Hamburg was actually sold out and of course we are looking forward to the one in Essen because the Grugahalle is a legendary venue, we’ve always played in smaller venues so it will be interesting to see if enough people show up!

With this tour as well, you have quite a lot of time on stage. How have you balanced the setlist?

Sami: Well we are doing six new songs, I would like to do even more, but I guess some of the new songs we are saving for the summer festivals. That will keep it interesting for us and for anybody who wants to come and listen. So this setlist is old and new but it basically focuses on the new stuff.

Speaking of the new stuff, the new record, Gods of Violence, has been out for about a month. How have you found the reception?

Sami: Well, better than ever really! Even in Germany, it charted at number one, we did not expect that! But of course, times have changed, it doesn’t mean as much as it did say 15 years ago. But still, it is a good thing, it means bigger venues and it is great for any band. We can’t complain!

So with the themes and concepts on that record, what sort of areas were you looking to address?

Sami: Well one might be for example we were just talking about the Bataclan so World War Now is a little bit about that, it’s asking the question are we in a World War Now? A different kind of World War? Of course I hope not but it is just questioning that kind of stuff. Other themes, well, Mille writes the lyrics but I do see his point and I agree with all of it. Satan Is Real is a very naive title, even our producer said when we were in the studio “you can’t call a song Satan Is Real” [laughs]. But then it is about, if you think back in time, when you were a kid, you wouldn’t believe that in 2017 religion would still be so important so it kind of addresses that. So it kind of legitimises using that title! [laughs]

Given the state of the current political climate where you’ve seen events like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, do you feel that now it is easier to write lyrics?

Sami: [laughs] well like I said Mille writes all of the lyrics. I write some of the music but yeah he has been addressing themes like that for all of his life! These are of course negative things but sometimes inspiration can be drawn from negative things, especially with metal, it’s easy. If I think about now coming over here to the UK post Brexit, it is still easy to come here! I don’t know if it going to change, I hope not, but we will see.

Since Brexit happened last year, have you found any impact of that so far?

Sami: No, not yet but everybody is scared about it being more difficult for European bands to come and play here and getting work permits and all of that. I would hate it but it would basically be like going back in time. I remember how it was back then and it was crap! And then it was easy and now we are going back and it sucks. That is how it touches me as an individual for the work that I do but of course it has other negative setbacks to other people as well. But I don’t know so much about that.

So moving back to the music, with Gods of Violence, how do you think it compares to KREATOR’s back catalogue?

Sami: We used the same producer as we did the last time because we liked him so much and he did such a good job. He puts himself on the line for the music very seriously, and so do we, but to be able to find somebody who is like it so we thought it would be a good idea to work with him again. Also with the second time working with the same producer it is also good because you don’t have to be as polite, you can stop saying please and thank you, it is just straight forward so that is why we chose him and in that way I guess the new album can just be seen as a continuation of Phantom Antichrist.

Speaking about the modern era of KREATOR, since 2001 with Violent Revolution, every record seems to build on what came before. What sort of steps do you take when you approach a new record? Do you look at what came before or do you go in on a clean slate?

Sami: I guess the first step is to look at yourself and think is it in anyway relevant to put out another album, does it make any sense? Back in 2013 when we started doing the first demos of this we thought yeah why not! It might make sense and it did, of course the beginning is the toughest part because there is nothing there! There were a lot of demos flying around and the usual way of how it goes, ideas being tossed back and forth. And then meeting up as a band in the rehearsal room and then making a new demo of the songs with the whole band and then sending them to the producer and seeing what he say to say. It took a very long time so we took it very seriously, I don’t take music seriously, I think people often take music too seriously but I take it very seriously when we are in the studio when we are thinking about arrangements and structures, whatever comes with the music. That’s it and then afterwards no more!

So as soon as a record is out and released, you can just enjoy the good times of it?

Sami: Yeah exactly!

KREATOR have been one of thrash metal’s biggest bands for years now and the style of thrash has evolved a lot since it first exploded. How do you see the thrash metal scene today? Do you think it is in a good place right now?

Sami: It is! If you think of the older bands like the ones that come from Germany for example, like DESTRUCTION, everybody is evolving in their own directions which is good! Also, there are all these young kids playing this kind of music too which is great. In Finland you have LOST SOCIETY, in the States you have HAVOK, I wouldn’t of expect that because it is almost like a retro movement!

Do you think it is harder for new bands to break through now than say 20 years ago?

Sami: Well there are definitely more bands but I only see that as a positive thing. What could be a better way to spend your time than making music? If somebody notices it and people want to come to your shows then I see it as a bonus!

And really just to finish up, once this tour comes to an end, what else in store for KREATOR for the rest of the year? Do you have many plans for festivals in the summer?

Sami: Yeah! We’re going to do a US tour with OBITUARY which should be fun, I like their music. There’s a bunch of festivals that will start confirming the final confirmation pretty soon. I hope there’s something over here too, that would be great! It’s been a while since we’ve been to Bloodstock!

About six years, I remember seeing you guys perform in 2011!

Sami: Six years?! It feels like it would have been a shorter time. I hope so, that would be cool, and Wacken Open Air, that is already confirmed and Summer Breeze but those are German festivals and a bunch of other ones too.

Well brilliant, thank you so much for your time Sami, good luck with the rest of your plans for the year!

Sami: Thank you so much.

Gods of Violence is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.

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