Canadian Crossover Command: Nihilist Death Cult Demands “Death to All Tyrants” (Interview)
Anyone living in this day and age can surely relate to the honest message and the aggressive attitude of Nihilist Death Cult’s debut album Death To All Tyrants. Lyrically, it’s about the little person standing up to the major tyrants. Musically, it’s a scathing punk/thrash hybrid full of power and intensity on its nine short blasts of aural ferocity. With the longest track barely two minutes in duration, Nihilist Death Cult quickly makes its point.
Consisting of bassist/vocalist Nick Sagias (Tribe of Pazuzu, Soulstorm, Overthrow, ex-Pestilence) and his brother, drummer John Sagias (Soulstorm, Abyss), along with guitarists Ethan Bolduc (Jaww, Abyss), and Rick Kowalski (Soulstorm, Bound By Defiance), the Toronto-based band formed in 2018 for the sole purpose of creating blistering, vicious and aggressive crossover tunes that relentlessly pummels the listener. During a recent Zoom chat with Nick Sagias, we talked about the formation of the band, its new album, some of the band’s lyrics, their future plans, and more.
How did Nihilist Death Cult form?
Around 2017/2018, I started writing for Tribe of Pazuzu, and that was the main focus at the time as well. While I was writing that, I was left over with a bunch of hardcore punk-sounding riffs and I had about five songs that I put together after I already recorded for Tribe of Pazuzu. So I had all these riffs, I sent five songs to my brother and he loved them right away. That's basically how it started. If he wasn't playing drums, it probably wouldn't have happened. He was the perfect guy for this job.
Compared to your previous band Soulstorm, did you just want to play different styles or express different ways of creativity?
I was doing Soulstorm off and on for 25 years. We were doing it in 2011/2012. I did the third album with the original guitarist from the first album, then he disappeared before it even came out. And then I found live guys and started (performing). Then in 2016, it had kind of run its course. I've been doing it for a while; always sticking to the drum machine and the industrial aspect of it. So I wanted to just kind of change and go back to the roots of the stuff that really energized me; fast stuff. Just totally do a 180 of what Soulstorm was. To just explore the stuff that I grew up on and I really loved as a teenager, and still love.
Were you into hardcore and punk back in the day, is that where a lot of your influences come from?
I wouldn't say that's where all my influences come from. But I did listen to a lot of hardcore punk for sure; Poison Idea, Minor Threat. A lot of punk stuff that we were listening to at that time. And I noticed that between ’82 and ’86 is where the good stuff is, where everyone was fast before it started slowing down and even getting into the crossover stuff. Which is actually good because it had more metal influences. But it took away from the shorter songs, the really direct impact of all the stuff that was going on. Making longer songs and (putting) slow parts in there. I like to keep the songs how they were when the people loved them. I just want to keep writing in that style, basically. So that's kind of another point of what I wanted to do with this band, not to change the style drastically and expect people to get it. I just want to be pure to the style, always.
Although Nihilist Death Cult isn't necessarily a political band, I think the lyrical messages are relatable to what's going on with the world. What were you trying to convey lyrically?
I don't want to be political or a political band, because I'm not into that. There are things that we wanted to say, and being in a more kind of hardcore band, that's what the lyrics tend to be. It's a totally different style from what I write for in Tribe of Pazuzu. I didn’t want to lean too much in any way, to be upsetting to some people or whatever. Maybe upsetting people is part of it with the name like Nihilist Death Cult; it’s not supposed to be apologetic. We were just trying to write about what we know and see and feel. It’s universal ideas, just blindly believing the media when they're pushing certain agendas. We see that stuff a mile away, but a lot of people don't because they trust the media. But you can see that they're always wrong, or backpedaling or saying things like that and are pushing weird narratives sometimes. We're just like, who are you guys to say what we should be listening to or what we should be doing in our lives?
The track “Obey & Consume” I believe was inspired by John Carpenter's They Live movie. Talk about this track please?
That quote, “obey and consume,” is straight out of the movie; all the signs and they're watching all the things that they're seeing in there. That's a big part of it because people just blindly agree and go along with everything. That's not the only way to do things. It's not always the right way. It’s different for everyone, of course, but that's not how I live my life. So, I just kind of wanted to spill it into the lyrics. Just my thoughts of what's going on in the world.
You mentioned earlier about punk songs being shorter in duration compared to other genres. This album is only 15 minutes in duration and the longest track is barely two minutes. Does the timeframe just lend itself to this genre?
When we started, some of those songs that are two minutes used to be one minute or less at the very beginning, because they have one or two riffs. But after a while we thought let's flesh this out a little bit, throw another part in there, make it a minute and a half now. So it wasn't a drastic change, but we knew something was missing and we wanted to keep everything short and precise just to convey the message. It’s just supposed to be about a relentlessness of style; savage, no holds barred and just go for the throat. That's the whole style of what we're doing. I didn't want it to be convoluted with intros and slow parts. It's just supposed to be angry, fast, short and to the point.
The album is self released. Will you be shopping for labels or are you prepared to handle it all on your own?
I didn't really shop it around. But after it was recorded and after I was ready to release it myself, I thought, maybe I'll check out a few labels. It's pretty cutthroat out there obviously with labels. A lot of them are just Indie labels that want to put out what they like. So it's hard to really get people to put it out because everyone has a release schedule, probably like at least a year in advance, and we wanted it out this year. There was no one biting really, so (I thought) I’ll just do it myself and we'll see where that goes. We’ll press up our own copies, that way we’re all in control of it and I could just give it out to other people to distribute and take care of it that way. So we'll see how that goes.
What are the pros and cons of doing it yourself; the DIY way?
I guess you can say there's more control. But we're playing a style of music that not many people tell you what to do. Whereas that was always the fear in the past, especially when we're younger in the ’80s. Like, “Don't sign to a label because they'll tell you what to do.” I guess that might be more true for a bigger label, putting a lot of money into your stuff. But you don't really find that in this kind of music, it doesn't really happen. We wanted to have a certain amount of control, especially sometimes you just give out copies to people to be distributed and you don't see the money back, depending on who you're dealing with. It’s kind of cutthroat that way too, dealing with people. You really have to be on a different level to get it out there. So, we're just going to do it ourselves and see where that goes and hopefully next year, someone picks it up. We’ve been talking with a couple labels about distributing it.
What's the band camaraderie and musical chemistry like between all the members, especially being in a band with your brother?
So far everything's been pretty cool. My brother actually took a break for about 10 years. He's married, has a kid, he worked toward a career; he does welding on movie sets. So he's pretty busy. But when I gave him the songs, he was really into it and he wanted to do something. I kind of brought him back out of retirement. And like I said, if he didn't want to play the drums for it, I probably would’ve looked for a live outlet for NDC. It's cool playing with him. He was in Soulstorm at the beginning, and that helped a lot. It was just a fun vibe having someone that's on the same page as you. We agree with a lot of things. Everyone in the band loves it so far. We got Ethan who used to be in Jaww and Abyss back in the day, my brother was also in Abyss with him. Recently, we got Rick from Soulstorm in the band. So it's kind of fleshed out into this bigger thing. The writing is going to start for the new album pretty soon, we have a couple ideas. I wrote everything for the first one; I was on a bit of a mission to have a certain style for the band. I think I've achieved that, now we're opening the door for more people to contribute.
Most musicians these days are in multiple bands, including yourself. How do you balance your schedule and keep the music separate for each group? I know all of your bands have different musical varieties and styles, but how easy is it to distinguish them?
Even though Nihilist Death Cult has a lot of death metal influences in there, it still has a hardcore punk feel. And I hate using the word punk because it's obviously become something different since even 1986. The ’90s totally destroyed punk I believe, and everything since. To say punk, a lot of people just (think) that soft stuff. It's completely removed because of Green Day and all these kinds of bands. That's not punk, that's just pop masquerading as punk. Mostly people know that and the people who are into the hardcore stuff, when you listen to a band like Poison Idea or early Bad Brains, it's considerably different. One is angry, and the other one is trying to sell you some kind of pop formula. And it's pretty obvious which one is which. So, when I write for Tribe, it's more of a death metal mentality; there's a lot of tremolo picking, that really fast stuff. There's a lot of double kick in there, which we do that stuff in NDC, but it's not the main focus. That's just a couple little things that we like to throw in just to have a little bit more variety of what we're doing there because we do a lot of the D-beat stuff. That's also the difference of the feel, too; the D-beat feel versus the double kick blasts that we use in Tribe. The writing does have a different feel to it, in my opinion. There's a certain style to it for sure.
The guitar leads were handled by Ethan, while Randy Harris (Tribe of Pazuzu) contributed a couple of leads on “Obey & Consume” and the solo on “You Get What You Deserve” was done by Ian Mumble of Overthrow. I believe there’s an interesting fact about that solo and song?
That was our first song that was written in 2017, and it kind of set the template of what I wanted to do. Because it was short, fast, punk and still had a grind part in it and at the ending was this other double kick part. When I was writing it, I already knew in my mind what I wanted to do. So I had this riff from “Within Suffering,” the first riff that I wrote from an Overthrow song, and I just tried to repurpose it for this idea that I had for this song. Not steal the riff, because it has to go with the lyrics; everything has to do with it. And then Ethan guesting on it as well and to play over an old Overthrow riff, I thought it would be poignant to a certain extent. Thirty years later, here's an Overthrow riff, a totally different band, totally different style, but still heavy. That's all that was behind it, it wasn't like a huge thing to do. But I did repurpose one riff out of all of those songs. That's not something I do a lot because I never look back to that kind of stuff. I never try to repurpose anything, I've never done that. So I thought it was kind of fun to try it in this context, and it worked and everyone loves it.
The album was recorded and mixed by Scott Middleton. What was the experience like in the studio working with him? Did you seek out anything specific regarding the overall vibe or sound of the final mix?
When I was looking for a producer, we always listen to the work that they've done and stuff you could compare it to. We wanted something in your face; a production that was really strong drum wise. That's what I always looked for a lot. When we found Scott, we knew that he could do it. It was a really tight kind of procedure. It was a while since we went into the studio, so we thought let's bang out nine songs really quick, because they are all short and easy. But we didn't really think of the intensity of it all because it is pretty intense and relentless for 15 minutes. It wasn't challenging in the studio, it actually went really smooth. Scott really helped out a lot; he made the tempos all perfect that we wanted. We already came in with the tempos we wanted, but I remember he was fooling around with some of them and bumping them up. Because John was way ahead of the play click at some points, he just bumped it up and he fell right into place and it was perfect. There's other little things too when you have a producer, you can't hear everything and you're always concentrating on trying to do it all. But it's nice to sit back and let someone else do that kind of stuff and just focus on your parts. In the past, I used to be a little bit more hands on with the production, recording and mixing. But now I just let the pros do it and I'll just give them some notes later.
What's in store for the rest of this year and into next year? Do you have any live dates set up or anything being planned? Will there be new music for Tribe of Pazuzu soon?
We played a show in August, our first show for NDC, and that went really well. Nobody even heard the songs or anything and they just saw us play and they loved it. That reaction was great. We have another show coming up in less than a month in December with some cool bands from Toronto. There's more shows in the new year; we have February and March planned out and then hopefully we'll start going down to the states more. Obviously, live is where you prove your worth. Recording can only go so far and that is the measure, they want to see you do it live too. We have a lot of plans for next year. March 24th will be the release date of the new Tribe of Pazuzu album. Everything's ready to go, we were just waiting for the label. For the new NDC, I have a couple of new songs. Rick, who just joined, has a few ideas that he wants to bring forward to us. Hopefully we'll start writing again. I don't want to go into the studio too soon because I really want to start exploring the whole live thing and hopefully we’ll find a label for the next release.
Death To All Tyrants was independently released on December 2nd, 2022 via Bandcamp.