The Chilean Metal band Nuclear took a few years to release their new album, Murder of Crows, but it was worth the wait. What fans received was an interesting evolution in their sound, but not a shift in their sensibilities. While the guitar parts bring in the warmth of traditional Thrash, the vocals often take us more into Death Metal territory, but often the songs contain more than one echo of influence.
The band’s tendency to be outspoken in their songs remains very much intact, and Murder of Crows actually takes on a very specific theme which any audience might easily discover by exploring the tracklist: the often forgotten darker side of human nature waiting to come out under pressurizing circumstances. This is something all too relevant to our experience of 2020, but for Nuclear, the idea has been on their mind for some time. Nuclear finished off an epic European tour in the early days of 2020 before having to spend a prolonged time apart. Guitarist and songwriter Francisco Haussmann spoke to me about the sonic and conceptual direction of the new album and just how relevant it’s proven to be to his recent experiences.
Hannah Means-Shannon: 2020 seems to have been both a very big year and a very challenging year for the band. How are you holding up?
Francisco Haussmann: It’s been a very difficult year for the band, you can imagine. We’ve spent seven months apart, without seeing each other. Matias [Leonicio’s] wife is a doctor, who has been in touch with Covid patients a lot, so we couldn’t see each other. So we’ve been playing at home and sending each other videos. We were lucky enough to finish the European tour at the beginning of the year, and we finished the album, which was quite a milestone considering this year.
We were doing a tour with Abbath, 1349, and VLTIMAS, David Vincent’s new band, and it went really well. We had a blast. We stayed in Europe until February 24th and then we had to run from it. When we landed in Chile, things were already crazy and strange, then the lockdown started. Putting out the album was a really good thing, with a really nice job by the label, and hopefully next year things will be better. It all depends on the vaccine and many other factors.
HMS: I’m go glad that you were able to do that European tour. On that tour, did you get to play any of the songs from Murder of Crows live?
FH: Yes, we got to play one, “No Light After All”, the second song. The feedback was great. We played it in 90% of the shows. It was really exciting to do something new since our last album is already five years old.
HMS: That’s a great teaser of the new album. Information about the album, and reviews that have come in so far, hit on the combination of classic Thrash elements, possibly looking back to the 90s, and Death Metal aspects. Is that combination something you thought of and planned to do, or does it have to do more with the direction the band is moving right now?
FH: I think it has to do more with how the band has been evolving over the years. We listen to a lot of musical styles, from Classic Rock to Punk Rock and Death Metal, Grindcore, you name it. When we wrote the first song for this album, “Hatetrend”, something happened and Matias’ voice was different. It was deeper and everything sounded more like Death Metal. When he was singing live, he sounded angrier, too, like he was in a Death Metal mood. We thought a few Death Metal riffs wouldn’t hurt. It fit. We were really happy with the result and the other songs just came out the way they did. It’s not something we planned but in that moment, it seemed correct and sounded good. We just went with the flow.
HMS: It sounds almost like a mood that developed in a subconscious or unconscious way.
FH: Yes, something like that. I write most of the songs alongside the other guitarist, Sebastian [Puente], and I listen a lot to Death Metal. It’s one of the genres that I love a lot, so I think that had something to do with it. We just soaked in Death Metal at some point, and we’ve just gone with it. There have been really great feedback and reviews for the album.
HMS: I was looking on social media and I saw so much praise and so many responses coming in from all over the world. The Japanese release is out and you did some interviews on Japanese sites, reviews from Germany and Denmark have been great, and you even made the Swedish charts, which is a very big deal in Metal, I know.
FH: Actually, that came as quite a shock. We didn’t expect that. When we got the news from the label, we said, “What??” Black Lodge/Sound Pollution has really been doing a great job and we are really happy with them.
HMS: This does all suggest that the band has reached out to an international following over time. How do you think that developed for Nuclear?
FH: I agree. I think the band has been growing constantly. The first time we toured overseas was about ten years ago, and we came back to Europe a lot. That’s where a lot of music business is right now for us. Though we’d love to come to the United States, that can be very difficult with visas. But we went to Europe seven times in ten years. We’ve also been to Argentina, Peru, and Russia. We work a lot and that has helped the band reach out. The Russian tour was really complicated. It’s a big country and the language is really difficult. No one spoke English.
HMS: Is it surreal to play to an audience when you know that they can’t understand the lyrics?
FH: [Laughs] Yes, it’s kind of surreal. The music speaks for itself, always. I remember one time in Moscow, we started playing, and we were four songs into the set, and the promoter had to stop the show because some guys were beating each other up. There was a really big fight so the promoter asked us if we could somehow play slower. We said, “Hey, we play Thrash Metal. We cannot slow down.” So after two or three more shows, the guy decided to end the show. The music speaks for itself!
HMS: I shouldn’t laugh, but I am laughing because it’s a wonderfully strange story.
FH: We were trying to say to the crowd, “Hey, calm down!” But they couldn’t understand us. We’ve also been in Eastern Europe many times as well, from Bosnia to Bulgaria and Serbia. The audiences are really passionate and it’s really nice, very similar to Latin America. There are less language barriers there.
HMS: The music is definitely a shared culture throughout the world. It just feels normal to talk about Metal with people from other cultures.
FH: It’s really nice to talk with fans after the concert and just talk about basic things and get to know people, too. It’s really interesting and it’s one of the reasons we love touring. As long as we can keep doing it, we will.
HMS: What kinds of writing did you personally do on this new album?
FH: I wrote about 50% of the guitar parts, and Sebastian did the other 50%. I wrote most of the lyrics, about 80%, and Matias did the remaining 20%. There are really interesting lyrics on this album, and I love the fact that we did another song in Spanish. The background for the song is really heavy.
HMS: Is this “Abusados”?
FH: Yes, “Abused” in English.
HMS: I do think the lyrics are really interesting on this album. Is there a common concept that ties all the songs on this album together, or are they more independent units?
FH: I think there is a backbone to this album. It has to do, basically, with social behavior in general, when under extreme circumstances. In those circumstances, we behave like animals, and that’s why the album title is Murder of Crows. It’s what is happening nowadays under lockdown and confinement. It’s been difficult for everyone and though everyone is trying to make the best of it, sometimes people get nervous and violent.
When this lockdown started, we were running out of supplies in the supermarket. We behaved like idiots, like real animals. I saw people filling their shopping carts with 20 or 30 of the same items. I approached someone once who was doing that and said, “This is not the way to do things.” And he got really violent with me.
We haven’t changed that much as a society. This album is trying to say something about that. We are a violent society. Obviously, countries have been improving themselves. Social demands have pushed authorities to improve in how they do things, but in the end, people haven’t learned how to behave under difficult circumstances.
HMS: That’s a great way of putting it. Do you think it’s dangerous for us to forget that this is a part of human behavior? That under pressure, we could change?
FH: Definitely, yes. That’s really one way to look at this album. Under pressure, I think we are capable of doing anything. We are even capable of harming someone we love. Human nature is really unpredictable in this regard and that’s what this album is all about.
HMS: That’s really cool that you are addressing that idea in this album. Were you already thinking about these themes before the pandemic?
FH: We thought about them before the pandemic, and we polished some of them after the pandemic. But maybe nine out of the eleven songs were finished before the pandemic.
HMS: Wow! You were already thinking about these very relevant ideas ahead of time. Let’s circle back to “Abusados”. Can you tell me about it?
FH: That has to do with the social upheavals we had last year here in Chile. Did you hear about it?
HMS: I did hear about it, but I don’t know much about it.
FH: It had to do with many cases of injustice, social oppression, low salaries, and poor healthcare. In October of last year, the metro fare was raised and that’s how it started. It was raised by thirty cents. Then some students didn’t pay for their metro fare. Then it escalated really quickly and within one or two months we had two million people in the streets demanding better social conditions. Better quality of life.
When the government tried to stop this, they asked the police and the military to take to the streets. It got really violent. I think 36 or 37 people died and 400 people were blinded by it. We, as a band, decided to write something about this. It was the last song that we wrote for the album and it was difficult to write. Did you see the video for it?
HMS: Yes, I did.
FH: It’s a really graphic video. It’s got violence in the streets and stuff like that. It was a really eye-opening song for many fans and, obviously, we’ve been receiving a lot of hate mail from the Right Wing. But that’s okay. We really like the idea that Right Wing people hate it.
HMS: The video just shows real-life footage from, the events that happened. I’m not sure what there is to hate about using that footage. Is it because by showing the footage, and presenting the lyrics from the song, you’re being critical of the use of police and military violence?
FH: That’s correct, yes. But it’s like telling the story of what happened. Sometimes people don’t understand that. They think that we are trying to convey Left Wing thoughts. We’re not Right Wing. We’re not Left Wing. We just tell the truth. Sometimes that’s difficult for people to swallow.
HMS: This reminds me of the band GWAR. They feel similarly and criticize both the Left and the Right during their concerts, using satire, costumes, and puppets. But it’s only the Right Wing who gets angry about it.
FH: I think Left Wing supporters right now realize that the Left Wing is not doing enough to counter the Right so they can accept criticism.
HMS: Generally, I think the band Nuclear is already associated with politics, current events, and truth-telling. Would you say that this something you’ve done before?
FH: Yes, we started talking more about politics in 2008, really, with our second album. But I think that became clearer by the time we released an EP called Apatrida in 2012. We created this image that was a mixture of the Dictator Pinochet and the President Salvador Allende, and it was really a strong piece of artwork. And we got hate mail for that as well. With that album, we were trying to say that the Left Wing and the Right Wing were the same based on the legacy of these two people.
Pinochet took over the country in 1973 and Allende killed himself the same year. That started a 17-year-long dictatorship in Chile, and once that was over in 1990, the Left Wing took power, but nothing changed, really. It stayed the same. That’s one of the things that people were demanding last year, saying, “You have had 30 years and you have done nothing.” We are a very critical band. We like to expose the truth and say what we really think. Sometimes people just don’t like that, but we prefer to talk about that rather than demons and things.
HMS: It makes sense to want to talk about the times that you have lived through, as a band. You also mentioned Punk influence, and Punk, of course, is anti-establishment in many ways.
FH: I think so. Whether the Metalheads like it or not, Punk started it all in some ways. I think Thrash Metal is some kind of evolution from or mutation of Punk. I think if you mix Motorhead, Venom, and D.R.I., maybe you get Slayer. A lot of bands just started by listening to Discharge or D.R.I. I think Punk is one of the roots of Metal music.
HMS: It certainly could have dramatically changed the direction of Metal if and when they collided in the UK as well as in the USA. Those early bands were interacting a lot. What was your motive in going so acoustic on “Pitchblack”, the intro to the album? It’s really beautiful.
FH: Thank you. We’ve always wanted to do an acoustic intro, but it didn’t work in the past. I don’t remember how it started, but I do remember calling Sebastian one day on the phone and saying, “I have some interesting guitar work. Do you want to hear it?” He said, “Yes”, and came over. When he heard it, he said, “We have to make this the intro to the album.” I was thinking of using it in the middle of a song or something, but we developed it, and it finally became something sweet and obscure at the same time, which worked as an intro. I really liked it.
HMS: Are there guitarists who work acoustically who you really respect or like to listen to?
FH: Yes, I love Paco de Lucia. He’s really an inspiration. But I am more into Metal guitar players like [Eddie] Van Halen and Gary Holt.