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Nothing Sacred's Karl Lean: "…we have never really seen the band as Thrash. In our youth, we were fast, especially live, but we probably owed as much to a band like Thin Lizzy as we did to Anthrax"

Interview with Karl Lean from Nothing Sacred
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 22 July 2021, 9:35 PM

If there is one thing that Metal music has to be fortunate about is that there is a great chance that older bands would perhaps come back into the fold, return to playing and writing music, yes even in the days where the modern version of Metal takes quite a toll. We are supposed to be all brothers and sisters, a big community for all right? Sometimes yes, but the competition is still there, and of course the need to have a backing from the fans and potentials. The Aussie bred Nothing Sacred were once one of the strongest in the Australian Metal scene, yet over time simply broke contact. Now they are back, with a fresh lineup, armed with a new album, "No Gods", and ready to blast but a little differently. Steinmetal had the chance to talk to the veteran member, Karl Lean, about "No Gods" ended up and what is up with the band.

Hello Karl, it is a sheer pleasure for me to talk with one of the Metal icon of the Australian Underground Metal scene, how have you been doing sir?

Good to have the chance to talk to you too.  Life is mostly good right now, getting the new album done and released has been huge for us, exciting times after so long wondering if we’d get to this point again.

A lot of bumps and bruises ever since Nothing Sacred returned to action, have you stopped yourself just once if it was all worth the headache of once again recruiting new members to fill in the blanks? Hasn’t it been really tiresome to put your trust once again on other people to help you achieve your goals?

I’ve always just taken things as they come, all part of the journey.  Lineup changes happen for all kinds of reasons, but one real positive that can come from it is a sense of freshness.  New members bring new ideas, a change to the dynamics -  yet we also have continuity and history.  When it’s done right, when it works, it’s the best of both worlds.

Gladly, your conviction triumphed and Nothing Sacred came through. How did it feel to get back in the studio and record freshly written material? I can assume that it is a kind of sensation that is never really lost right? How were the energies while the recording took place?

Well, we initially planned to record with drums and bass in a studio, then once the backing tracks were in place we’d look at doing the guitars and vocals at the same studio.  But COVID arrived and we had a lot of time in lockdown in 2020 (over 100 days), so we have to be flexible and adjust to the reality of things.  Most of the recording ended up being done in a home studio, with Sham (drummer) taking on a lot of the production roles.  Turns out he’s excellent at it!  It was great to finally commit the songs into a full production recording, feels really good to have new songs released.  It's been a while since that last happened for us.

In what stage of the album were you when the pandemic hit Australia hard? I heard that from a few confirmed Covid-19 cases, the government simply sent everyone into lockdown, has that been really happening?

Yes, the lockdowns have been long and strong here.  No movement more than 5 kms from your home; no visitors to the home, and that includes family; only allowed out one person at a time for food; pretty much everyone either out of work or working from home.  No overseas touring bands have been here in Australia for over 18 months now.  Local gigs are sort of back, but with crowd limits, and they get cancelled pretty easily if new lockdowns get announced (we are in another one right now).

We had been recording some pre-production versions and demos through 2019 and into early 2020, and we’d pushed 2 tracks right through to get them out on vinyl as the First World Problems single in early 2020.  But the plans to head to the full studio and record in that ‘semi-live’ style had to change after the lockdowns started.

A fresh start for the band lineup wise, but also a new start with a brand new label, with you signing with the Italian Rockshots Records. What are your expectations from your new label home? How do both you guys and the label plan to promote the new record?

Really happy to be working with Rockshots, a great label and easy people to work with.  We’d been looking around at options for how to bring the album to the market, and they came into the picture very late through Sham and his involvement with another Melbourne band on the label, Greystone Canyon.  Rockshots have been taking care of the promo and doing it so well, been a great time for the band and definitely the most support we’ve ever had, back in the ‘80s the idea of the local industry in Australia supporting a metal band was impossible.

The album is out now, hopefully, it's going to be a success for us and the label.  Our goals are pretty open-ended really, getting the album out to as wide a market as possible is a great first step, beyond that we just wait and see what comes.  Really, with the way the industry is affected by COVID, it’s hard to know what to expect at the moment.  There is no ‘normal’ right now.

Simply titled “No Gods”, it occurred to me that there was a lot of exploration going on, whether on a social belief or plainly on the social system basis that has been running throughout the modern world. What would you say is the center of your concerns with this record?

Not sure I can say too much on this, I have no real involvement in the lyrics, that was James’ work.  As a band, I think we’ve always tried to walk a line with what we say – not wanting to be preaching or overly political, and not wanting to be cheesy and corny.  Find that middle ground and have something interesting to say, but still, just be a metal band and not a philosophy lesson.

How would you say that the band’s image changed with the arrival of “No Gods”?

Not much, other than a significant loss of hair compared to the old days!  Actually not so much a loss of hair but more a displacement from head to chin. Attitude-wise, it’s always been the same.  We try to write and play just how we are, Sacred are not a band where there are ‘stage personas’ and ‘private people’ – what you see on stage is pretty much how we are every day of the week.

There have been a lot of bands out there usually stating the problem, yet without an actual solution of what to do next. I can understand that no one wishes to become political in any form, yet in your personal opinion, do you have an answer or solution to either of the problems mentioned in “No Gods”?

I suppose you can view the phrase “No Gods” in a number of ways.  For me, when this was suggested as the album title, it really worked for me on at least two levels.  Literally, there are no gods.  If I gave out a list containing the names of 100 gods that humans have worshipped, pretty much everyone on the planet today would rule a line through 99 of those names as being ‘not real’.  I and others happen to rule out 100 rather than 99.   So we’re all pretty much in 99% agreement, and the title kind of captured that for me.  On a second level, we spend way too much time and effort in deferring to ‘heroes’ and ‘gods’ like sportsmen, politicians, and yes musicians.  They are all just people, for better or worse.  Again, ‘no gods’ feels like a good way to see the human world.

“No Gods” also had me thinking of perhaps the future of the Metal scene in general. Soon, all the classic Metal gods that we grew up on, and names not needed to be mentioned, would eventually disband due to age. Even if it is far off the record’s theme, has that thought run through your head once? Are there new gods for the young generation to cling its hopes on?

Metal as a genre is in a strange place right now, I guess it’s just evolution in action, nothing ever stays the same.  On the one hand there are so many great new bands around, writing terrific music.  It’s rich and diverse.  On the other hand, the ‘legends’ are getting older and there are no real clear heirs coming to claim the throne.  I’m not sure what this means, is it good or bad? Smaller gods, fewer big gods … I guess we wait to see what this might bring.

Listening to “No Gods” had me intrigued. The fact that “Let Us Prey”, your debut, was the next promise alongside Mortal Sin’s records of that era, the new record felt different. The new material sounded to me as if I was listening to a heavier version of Saxon, both musical direction and sound. What is your opinion about that? Would you say that Nothing Sacred slowed down a bit when it comes to Thrash Metal, perhaps connecting with earlier roots?

Ah, well this is a never-ending conversation.  For us, we have never really seen the band as Thrash.  In our youth, we were fast, especially live, but we probably owed as much to a band like Thin Lizzy as we did to Anthrax.  But people have always seemed to find it easier to just drop the ‘Thrash’ label on us.  It doesn’t really trouble us although it has never really felt like a great fit from inside the band.  Definitely, the new album is slower, but it still feels like ‘us’ – remembering of course that ‘us’ really involves 3 members who were not part of ‘Let Us Prey’.  We didn’t set out to write “No Gods” with a genre in mind.  We wrote/recorded about 15 tracks, then culled it down to the 10 we felt worked best for us.  Fast or slow, thrash or doom - these weren’t conversations we had.  We wrote, we recorded, we picked what we felt made for a great album.  At the very least, it’s an album we enjoy and are proud of.

In context to the previous question, one of the major proofs is the difference between the two late 80s tracks and the new material. The vibes are different. Concerning “Final Crime” and “Oracle”, both exceptional tracks, are those the only songs that weren’t released by Nothing Sacred earlier on? If not, is there plan to unleash more unreleased gems anytime soon?

Yes, it's true that these two tracks have a different feel.  They have been a mainstay of our live work for a long time, it felt good and right to finally get them released.  And yes, there are probably another 5 or 6 tracks from back then that were written and played live that never got recorded.  We talk at times about bringing some of these up from the shadows.  Perhaps we will, it never really feels wrong to play a great song, no matter when it might have been written.  We’d like to look at another recording pretty soon, especially with the live scene being so limited at the moment.  And that would probably include one or more unreleased older tracks I think. We shall see.

What would you say were the band’s main focuses when it comes to the musical elements on “No Gods”? Which of these elements was the so-called gamechanger, even the carrier of the torch for the album?

I’m not sure we really had any specific focus.  The Sacred style has always been fairly simple; this isn’t a math-metal band.  We do like to add small twists in the writing, just small things that keep it a little interesting as players but which might not really stand out to the listener.  One thing I think did have an influence on us for the album was to try not to just recreate exactly that 80s sound and style.  We can’t escape our past, don’t really want to, but also don’t want to just repeat it.  It was important though to let the guitarists shine through, with George and Stu we have a pretty impressive twin-lead setup, so working that into the writing was always important.

Even though you are one hell of an experienced songwriter, with the twisted direction of “No Gods”, would you say that the new record challenged you both while writing and also adding the instrumental aspect?

Actually, no not really.  We just played what we wanted to play, with no real expectation that we had to move in any specific direction.  It's true that the album is diverse, and we kind of like that.  It’s ‘organic’, it just found its own direction.  Everyone in the band is a songwriter, some songs reflect more of a specific writer’s style, others are blends.

We talked about yours and the band’s vast experience and adding to that the band’s reputation in the Australian Metal scene, do you still believe that Nothing Sacred has to prove itself once again?

I don’t think we are looking to prove anything to anyone.  We are who we are, we’re proud of what we’ve done on the album.  It’s up to others to decide how they approach the music.  The Australian metal scene today is strong, there are amazing players in fantastic bands, and we’re just happy to be a part of something that is so good.

 “No Gods” introduced two new members into the Nothing Sacred lineup. In regards to your vocalist, which has that fine NWOBHM driven vibe in his voice, how do you find his style? How did you know he is Nothing Sacred material?

You are right, for this album we felt that we wanted the vocals to capture some of the 80s styling, less of the modern metal growling.  James is exactly that, he captured what we were looking for in his melodies and lyrics.

One of the album’s greatest factors, and advantages, is its sound. I couldn’t help myself by finding a striking resemblance to Saxon’s 00’s sound pattern. I like it. Who engineered the album and blessed it with such a strong wall?

Thanks, the sound is definitely something we are proud of.  As I mentioned before, the way the recording eventually evolved was our drummer Sham who took the lead on the production.  He has a great ear and fanatical attention to detail that really drove the process to a new level.  It wasn’t necessarily how we planned it, but in the end, it has given us exactly what we wanted.  Sham is the heart of the rhythm section, a key songwriter, and a skilled producer.  And plays some wicked guitar to relax.  Safe to say that “No Gods” wouldn’t be what it is without him.

Which of the tracks would you care to elaborate about? Perhaps that tune that means to you more on a personal level, maybe an oddity that has to be mentioned?

My personal favourite is “Oracle”, just a killer number to play live and I love the way the drums and bass bounce off the guitars.  But as a band we have also found “Stoner” to be a great track to play live, it just grooves along and leaves space for everyone to play into.  “Ice” was the track that seemed to consume so much time during the early writing and demoing.  We tried a few different drum timings and styles behind the riff, reordered a few things at times, and spent a huge number of hours on the simple rolling riff in the heart of the song trying to get it to sit ‘just right’.  It’s one of Sham’s riffs, and he can (and did) play it for hours on end while we worked on it.  For such a simple concept, it really did just take a while to shake it down and get it happening.  Not sure we’ll ever play it live, we’ve played it a hell of a lot already in the rehearsal rooms!

With a door opened in Europe, which I am sure that has always been opened for you guys, do you intend to invade European grounds anytime soon or mainly focus on your area?

Definitely, the next step that we want to take.  The day we finally play a gig on European soil will be the culmination of a long journey!  It all depends on so many things though. We are under a government travel ban at the moment, unable to leave the country.  And they say that may last until mid-2022, so it's pretty hard to be making many plans right now.

Karl, many thanks for your time, it was amazing, thank you for coming back strong with a fierce record that shows your talent. I wish you all the best, cheers.

Thanks for your support, hope to see you at a gig someday.


 



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