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Nanouk de Meijere
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Respect. If you want to characterize Raised Fist –one of Sweden’s longest-running yet most vital acts in the hardcore scene –with just one word, respect would be it. Respect is what you have earned when people like Lou Koller of Sick Of It All describe you as “one of the world’s three most progressive hardcore bands”, when Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden fame plays you on his radio show or when a young icon like Jona Weinhofen (I Killed The Prom Queen, ex-Bring Me The Horizon) cites you asa huge influence. Just to mention a few people from all across the heavy music spectrum who respect and admire Raised Fist on the basis of both their music and their work ethic.
Respect is something you get when you sign a record deal as teenagers in 1993and still stick to it 21 years later, after Grammy nominations and countless offers from major record labels. Respect is something you get when you turn down most offers from mainstream festivals, because you’re afraid of losing some of the fun and spontaneity in your live show. Respect is something you get if you turn down touring offers from far more popular bands, and instead bring along local support bands to support you around the world.
„Either we feel like doing something or not,“ says singer Alexander Hagman. „It’s not a matter of stubbornness, but we want the art to be projected on our own terms. No one glances over the shoulder of a painter and suggests what brush strokes be drawn. And we have a golden rule: the band must never be influenced by economic interests. This is why we say NO a lot and why there can be a five year gap between releases.“
Five years in the making, their eagerly anticipated fifth album „From The North“ comes with a title that reveals far more about the band than its geographical background. In their home country Sweden, being from the far north definitely means something.
„I think our work mentality is associated with being from Luleå and the lower working class,“ says the frontman –who not only performs with Raised Fist, but is also a self-employed businessman handling three different businesses, runs an MMA gym and keeps athletes ranging from martial arts professionals to Swedish professional hockey teams in top shape. His drive and ambition can easily be traced to his childhood in which he never got anything without fighting for it.
„My dad worked as a cook and was in debt up to his ears“, he recalls. „Without welfare we would not have had food on the table, and sometimes we still didn’t. Andreas Johansson, who I started the band with, has a similar story to tell. Our newest member Jimmy Tikkanen immediately found his place in our band, as he comes from the north of Finland and shares our natural roughness. It doesn’t matter if Raised Fist brings in a lot of money or not, he gets up at five in the morning and goes to the auto paint shop where he works. There he drinks his coffee, puts a pinch of snuff in his mouth and goes about spraying that poison paint crap all day, with a mask on all too seldom. Yes, I think the way we work as a band has a lot to do with us coming from the north.“
After 2009’s metallic „Veil of Ignorance“, this album harkens back strongly to Raised Fists roots in punk and hardcore. To make the most of this new approach, the band turned to Roberto Laghi, one of Sweden’s most internationally renowned producers of hard music. Granted, Alexander Hagman describes Raised Fist as „a band you cannot produce“, but Laghi was more than capable of making sure “From The North” sounds like the band steps up on a stage two feet away and just breaks loose in your living room or on your headphones when you press play. Thanks to him, „From The North“ has a living, breathing sound with a lot of spatial and acoustic atmosphere, especially when it comes to Alexander’s vocals.
„Laghi has ensured that I am truly in your face“, describes Alexander. „My voice is not appealingly compressed so you can just keep on turning the volume to max, but very raw and naked. I have never done a vocal performance like this before. It’s crazy how many different voice modes I’ve used. The sound almost moves around in a way that makes you feel you want to grab it and try to hold it down. Laghi did an insane amount of different mixes before we got it just right. His importance for making this album what it is –a classic –cannot be overstated.“
And although Raised Fist are the kind of band that regularly posts pictures of bloody instruments on Instagram, they have some serious playing and songwriting skills to support their furious energy. „Raised Fist is not this classic hardcore band that sounds like a pitbull terrier and thrives on that alone“, says Alexander. „We have a bit of New York hardcore in us, a bit of Swedish punk, and some metal, but we write music in a different way than most bands in our genre. Significant for Raised Fist is fact that the band is made up of very talented and creative musicians who have great taste and imagination when it comes to composing heavy music. But even more exceptional is the fact that we now have a sound that’s completely our own. At this point, we’re an influence, a band that other bands want to sound like.”If the music has become rougher, that’s nothing compared to the lyrics Alexander spurts out in tracks like „Flow“, „Sanctions“ or „Ready to Defy“. He usually keeps the lyrics a little vague, so they can be applied to many different situations. He usually tries to keep a diplomatic tone even when he’s angry and prefers to avoid the f-word. Not this time. „I usually keep a fairly neutral linguistic line and,for example, do not use the word ‚fuck‘ a lot, but this time I even sing it in many choruses,“ says Alexander. „‚Let it be said / They should be fucking dead‘, over and over again, goes a chorus that is about people who waste their lives on social media. Now that I have calmed down and read those lines again, I’m all: ‚Holy shit, that’s harsh!‘. But when I wrote some of the lyrics I clenched my fists until my knuckles whitened. I thought that Epitaph was going to call and tell me to tone some stuff down a notch or three. These songs will not be played on the radio.“
Spontaneously, the singer begins to recite the song „In Circles“ to stress how direct he is with this album. „‚You move around in circles / But I never saw you in the pit / Stand back admit / That you will not commit / To the scene that you and your friends ripped into shit / Counterfeit / I’d rather slit my wrist than be such a hypocrite’”, blurts Alexander in one breath. „The feeling I want to convey is that when we get on stage, you will feelthe pain in the whole room.”
Now, months after the band recorded “From The North” in Bohus Sound Studio in Kungälv, Sweden, the singer still listens to it on a daily basis.“After a hundred spins it still gets me banging every time“, he enthuses. „It’s sweet when every piece of the album-making puzzle falls into place. This time we have a foundation of extremely good riffs, we have great arrangements, some extremely fierce and elaborate vocals, an amazing production and it all comes together as the best album we could possibly have done at this time in our career.
The vocalist sums it all up with a line from the song “Man and Earth” –“We are standing on top of this beautiful world”.“That’s exactly how we feel about ‚From The North”, says Alexander.
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