Interview with Nir from SALEM (April 2010)

A big surprise for The Power of’s Thomas last month was the album ‘Playing God and Other Short Stories’ by the Israeli metal veterans SALEM.

Drummer Nir stands before the tribunal and answers a few questions from Thomas.

Shalom Nir! Your new album has made me regret deeply that I never actually listened to any of your albums before. Would you say that ‘Playing God…’ is a typical album from Salem?

Nir: "Playing God" is the result of Salem's evolution in recent years. I believe that our latest is always the greatest. If not, it will not see the light of day. We will not put out something that we are not extremely happy with… something that doesn't say something new. You should at least check the last couple of albums. Let me know what you thought of them.

As I wrote in the review of the album a while ago, I almost got to see Salem in Tel Aviv back in 1992 supporting Cancer, but you never made it to the gig. Do you remember that evening? We were told that you couldn’t make it because of the massive amounts of rain. In fact, I still have the poster from the concert – I found it somewhere in Tel Aviv the day after!

Nir: You know, this is funny. There was heavy rain that day. The show actually got cancelled and moved to the next evening and we indeed played the opening slot for Cancer. I think that you just showed up late that night?! It is so strange. I will look into this matter again. The guy that used to bring these bands to Israel in the early 90s is called Robby Forrell and he lives in Holland these days. I will run it by him and see what he remembers.

One of the things that strikes me about ‘Playing God…’ is your unique drumming. Who or what inspires you as a drummer?

Nir: Well, thank you first of all. My influences are many. Some of them are not even from the music field but I will try to confine my answer to drummers only. I like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Doudou Rose, Carlton Barrett, Thomas Haake, Neil Peart, Carmine and Vinnie Appice, Mark Gulianna, Jorje Rossi, Bill Stewart, Ari Hoenig, George Kollias, Phil Rudd, Efrain Toro… I can go on forever. I think that they are all present in my playing. I took something from each and every one of them and made it into my own thing. The drums stand out because it is not the usual death metal drum takes. There are more spices in my soup.

If you were to pick a favourite track from ‘Playing God…’, which one would it be and why?

Nir: I will have to go for 2 stories;
1. Drums of the Dead (both parts). I think that it came out exactly the way I envisioned it. I loved the comic book that the song is based on. The African percussion on part 2 is very moving to me.
2. Playing God turned out great and very personal. No other person in the world could have written the lyrics the way I did. This song was a big surprised. We didn't expect it to come out as strong as it did and I am happy for it. There is something epic about it.

Normally, your themes evolve around political themes, but this time the concept is superheroes. Explain, please!

Nir: It is hard not to be labelled as a political act when you come from Israel and deal with your daily existence as an Israeli Jew. We were always aware of who we were and dealt with many of our issues artistically. That is what made us unique. The world has basically either stayed the same or gotten worse since our last record. We have nothing new to warn people about. We don't like to repeat ourselves so this time around it just so happened that the subjects that were chosen for the album came from a different place; stories that touched us in one way or another and we felt that recording our musical take on the matter would be interesting and challenging.

Tomas Lindberg from At The Gates appears on two of the songs from the album. How did the collaboration with Tomas come into being?

Nir: Tomas has known us since the days of "Kaddish", our second album. When "Mark of the Beast" was written, I heard his voice on the parts that he ended up singing. Since we have known each other personally while working on the "Nail Within" album in Germany, we approached him with the idea we had. He liked it and studio time was booked. I can tell you that I had another part on the song "Exodus" that I wanted someone else that you all know too well to sing it and for many reasons it didn't work out.

If you look back at the 25-year history of Salem, what would you say were the greatest moments?

Nir: Getting signed. Being the first Israeli band to sign a contract with a European label. Being the first Israeli band to be featured on MTV's Headbangers Ball. Having both Ze'ev's girl and my son at the last concert we did a couple of weeks ago.

Is Salem a full time occupation for you?

Nir: No. At one point in our career we had to choose if Salem would become the only source of income for the band members and we decided against it for several reasons.
1. It is pretty hard to make a living playing Death Metal.
2. We wanted to stay true to the nature of this genre. We didn't want to think if a song will get airplay and change it around. We didn't want to have to put out an album when we were not fully ready to put one out, just because the industry says it is time. We wanted to keep our credibility intact.
3. We wanted to have families. So we decided that unless we were Metallica (who go on massive tours and can afford to take their families along with them) massive touring was out of the question.

Israel wasn’t much of a metal country back when I was in the kibbutz in 1991/1992. What is the situation now?

Nir: You know, I am married to an amazing American woman. Back in 2002 we decided to move back to Florida. I always knew that Tampa was the Death metal capitol of the world. During the year that we lived in Florida I kept asking myself how can it be that metal is not very present in such a city. Then I stopped feeling bad about the situation in Israel. The metal scene has definitely grown and matured since the last time you were here. More bands are coming to play in Israel. You will find Salem CDs in Tower record next to Britney Spears' CDs. I think the situation is tolerable, I don't expect it to get much bigger, not here and not anywhere else in the world.

Do you feel that Israel, because of its geographic and cultural situation is an isolated country in terms of the interaction with metal bands from other countries – I mean it’s easier for e.g. Danish, Swedish, German and UK bands to exchange ideas and inspire each other because it’s easier to meet on tours?

Nir: Very true. Although many Israeli bands are touring in Europe these days and the internet is a great venue to expose your music to the world, geography has worked and still is definitely working to our disadvantage. If there is a single reason for why Salem is not my primary source of income it would be this. It is so costly to take a band and crew from Israel on a European tour. It is very costly to work it the other way around, that is why many bands can not come and play in Israel. Ticket price would be insane.

What does your list of top five albums look like right now?

Nir: Tough one. I am still buying CDs on a weekly basis., and me are very good friends. I can try to compile a list, as incomplete as it might be; Last Nile is amazing, so is the last Despised Icon. I like both albums by Born of Osiris. I regressed lately and went back to Entombed's "Morning Star" and Sodom's "M-16". Got Hendrix's "Valleys of Neptune" and enjoyed some of it very much. I am into Jon Oliva… everything the guy was ever into, be it Savatage or the latest Jon Oliva's Pain "Festival". Sixx A.M, The Boy Will Drown, Anaal Nathrakh, Rammstein, Within Temptation, Katatonia…. I can keep going. I love music.

Nir, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Any last rants to our readers?

Nir: Jan from Sure Shot Worx, our PR office in Europe sends us weekly updates regarding the promotional campaign of the last album. That is how I became aware of your review a few weeks ago. I have to say that it is my favorite review to date. Of course it is great to know that someone liked your work but in so many ways you were right on. It is like we are on the same wave. I felt while reading your article that someone understood what we were going for with this album. Of course the fact that you spent time in Israel has made it all that much more personal and I always like that; a personal connection. So thank you for your kind words and I really hope that you will get to see us live in the very near future. It is way past due. Thanks to anyone who cared to read this interview thus far, who took/will take the time to listen to our music and one last cry for help; support music you like before it becomes extinct.



Salem - Playing God and Other Short Stories

Album available through Pulverised Records