When I got offered the opportunity to interview Leif "Leffe" Cuzner, one of the original members of Sweden’s Death Metal masters NIHILIST (that went on to become ENTOMBED, in case someone should still not know…), I originally was very enthusiastic about this whole idea. I figured he might be the right choice to bring up a couple more interesting details about the early days of the band. Unlike the other (still active) members he could be able to do this a little bit more in-depth for he’s not part of the business anymore and therefore might be less bored in answering email interviews… But the fact that it took him a couple of months (!!) and several "reminder" emails to return the answers should already have been a warning signal to me… Naive as I am, I still had hopes that the whole thing would be worth the long wait and hoped for a killer result… Well, the hurting truth is, nothing of that became reality in the end and when I finally received his totally uninspired answers, I was ready to delete the goddamn piece right away, because of its almost non existing value. But then I figured it might be a good idea to confront the band’s old drummer Nicke with the same amount of questions as well… Even though he’s not a part of the Death Metal scene anymore these days either, he nevertheless seemed to be the more dedicated one and delivered a bunch of informations to the whole NIHILIST phenomenom only one day after he received the questions!! So, here’s the result of two seperately done interviews…
Greetings Leffe and thanx a lot for taking the time to talk to us about the early days of NIHILIST… So, what have you been up to ever since you left the band back in 1989? Are you still living in Canada these days, still actively involved in music in any way?
Leif: "Living in villages and borrowing things. Yes, still here. Music….why not."
Are people in your area actually aware of your musical past? Have you met any old NIHILIST fans overthere already? Did you get recognized every once in a while from Canadian Death Metal fans?
Leif: "They are recieved well over here (ENTOMBED) and I get to snuggle up to Gene Hoglan once in awhile."
Are you still in touch with any of the other old NIHILIST members? Have you maybe even followed their career with interest ever since you had to part ways with them?
Leif: "Of course. They have seen me at my worst too. At one show in Vancouver this heavy dude stage dove and landed right on my unaware head which kinked the hell out of my neck… I should have stayed home the next day but instead embarrassed myself and everyone else by going to their next show the following night… hehe… plus LG put the mic to my face at a crucial part of the song and I sqweeled like a girl… sorry bro’s, guess I just aint that evil."
ENTOMBED have musically pretty much changed over the years – do you think you would still enjoy playing with them or do you prefer the classic Death Metal style of the early days?
Leif: "I listen to polka now."
If your parents wouldn’t have moved to Canada back then, do you think you still would be playing with ENTOMBED? Was it a big loss for you back in those days? Did the relationship with your parents suffer from that at the time?
Leif: "See, now your cutting me real deep."
Do you still recall how you actually joined forces with the NIHILIST guys? As far as I know you used to go to school together before forming the band, weren’t you? So, did you already hang out with each other before the origin of NIHILIST? Did anyone of you (apart from you, Nicke) have any bands before NIHILIST?
Leif: "Nicke got me involved real early. I was still wearing sweatpants and cycling gloves when we first met. He asked me to translate an intro of a Iron Maiden song. Of course I lied thru my teeth since I didn’t even know how to speak english. Him and Kenny Hakansson asked me to join their Punk band (PARODI) which got me and Nicke into BRAINWARP."
Nicke: "First of all my memory is not serving me as well as it probably should but I’ll do my best. I met Leif and Alex at summercamp. I was into Punk and was getting into Metal. They were into Metal as far as I remember. We kind of formed a band at summercamp called SONS OF SATAN, from the VENOM song. Don’t know about the other guys and bands before that but I doubt it, we were very young."
Nicke, you used to play in a band called BRAINWARP before… How would you describe their music? Did you record / release anything at the time? Leif, did you know of that band?
Nicke: "SON OF SATAN changed names more than we rehearsed. BRAINWARP I guess was the last name we had before changing to NIHILIST. ’87 was the year everything happened really fast. We got into tapetrading and into faster and faster stuff. Hardcore or Metal didn’t matter really. We thought SODOM were as good as CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER or D.R.I. We tried to blend evrything. Maybe we sounded like a poor mans VOIVOD I don’t know. We had a rehearsal tape that we sent to a few people."
Leif: "Someone stole my only copy of BRAINWARP, which was a live version and it was prolly the sweetest shit we did. But again I embarrassed Nicke by yelling out "Drum solo!!" and he almost thru his sticks at me."
In 1987 you (Nicke) and Johan Edlund finally formed NIHILIST… Have you (Leif) and Alex actually been part of the band right away or have Nicke and Johan already been practicing before both of you joined them?
Nicke: "I don’t know where you got that info but Johan was never in NIHILIST. See we’re all from the suburbs of Stockholm and Leffe and Alex were in Kista and I was in Vårberg 1 hour away in the opposite direction. At roughly the same time as BRAINWARP or whatever we called ourselves I got to know Uffe and L.G. through an ad in a record store called Heavy Sound, the only place to buy extreme music at the time. They lived a couple of subway stops from me. We became friends and started kicking around ideas and had as many names as BRAINWARP had. I think it was when L.G. started to play drums in MORBID that me and Uffe hooked up with Johan who was from yet another suburb but he was never a part of NIHILIST as far as I can remember."
Leif: "Who the fuck is Johan Edlund? If you mean Johnny Hedlund from UNLEASHED, he got involved very much later (no, I am talking about Mr.Edlund, who went on with TREBLINKA / TIAMAT shortly after! – Frank). But man what a sense of humor the boy had. Still cracks me up what he said about his…. wait… no gossip. And Alex was a part of BRAINWARP with his pink beast almost right from the start."
Had the four of you already written any own songs and played shows with this line-up?
How long did Johan actually stay in the band until he quit to form TREBLINKA? Has he been singing in NIHILIST before Mattias Boström came into the picture?
Leif: "Oh, you’re talking about that guy. Those TREBLINKA guys were sweet. But wherever you’re getting your juice is my question. And that Mattias guy was a complete dork and had issues… I hope he’s alright though."
When and how did you hook up with Mattias, who then became the vocalist of NIHILIST?
Nicke: "Again I don’t remember really but he was a guy we hung out with that liked the same kind of music. Probably met him at some Metal show. He never really sang in the band either I think."
Leif: "Man… we got to spend one day just me and him and I saved his ass from getting it kicked."
What kind of cover songs did you play in your early days rehearsals? I heard about some SLAYER and MASTER tunes… Tell us about this a bit more detailed…
Nicke: "I wish I could but I can’t recall a single tune at the moment. I know we did SLAYER’s ‘The Antichrist’ but that was later when Johnny was in the band. I think. Sorry."
Leif: "It was a lot of fun playing the tunes you looked up to. Still is."
Do you still recall which the first own song was that you wrote as NIHILIST?
Nicke: "Could be any of these 3: ‘Carnal Leftovers’, ‘Sacrificed By Government’ or ‘Sentenced To Death’."
When and where did you play the very first show as NIHILIST and what kind of memories do you have on this particular gig? Do you still recall the setlist, how many people showed up and what kind of reactions you got?
Nicke: "No memories. It was probably at the Kista youth center in front of kids even younger than ourselves. The overall reaction to our music in the beginning was usually "what is this shit?" The were a few Thrash Metal bands around in Sweden but I think they just regarded us as untalented little brats."
Leif: "Again I got too drunk and made an ass outta myself by staying on stage after the show was over by attempting a solo… I will rot in hell for that one, or rotting somewhere where people will walk by me and show the utmost disgust for my pitifull soul."
Did you already consider yourselves as a "Death Metal" act at the time or was it still the "Thrash" thing to you?
Nicke: "It was sort of like once you discovered bands like REPULSION, MASTER, NAPALM DEATH, R.AV.A.G.E., INSANITY, DEATH etc. there was no turning back. Thrash and Speed Metal was weak to us in a matter of weeks literally."
Leif: "Pelle Ohlin called us "Life Metal"… Rot in Peace ya bastich."
In March 1988 you finally entered Studio Z, in Stockholm to record your first, three song demo "Premature Autopsy"… What made you choose this particular studio and how many own songs did you have written already at the time, to choose from for this demo?
Leif: "Ask Nicke."
Nicke: "It was an 8 track (could have been a 4 track even) studio where me, Uffe and L.G. used to rehearse. I think you could record a demo for free if you were practicing there. They probably had some kind of governmental funding. We had a few more songs but 3 seemed like a good number."
Surprisingly Mattias didn’t record that demo with you, even though he was still a part of the band at the time (and was also mentioned on the demo cover)… So, what kind of problems did he have that prevented him from the recordings?
Leif: "Surprisingly my gosh yes. Look him up and ask him. You found me didn’t you?"
Nicke: "I actually don’t remember how things ended up the way they did but my guess is that we had no singer when recording so we asked L.G. I think he probably sang on that first gig of ours. Now I remember we did ‘Evil Dead’ by DEATH with him anyway. So Mattias probabably joined just after we did the demo, hence his mentioning on the cover. I don’t think he was in the band for many weeks before he quit or got the sack. Can’t remember that one either I’m afraid. Maybe he wasn’t as much into it as we were. I was so into it that my life more or less depended on it. So we asked L.G. and he said yes."
How did you get the idea to ask Lars Göran Petrov, the drummer (!) from MORBID, to come in and sing for you on the demo instead? How did things actually develop so quickly at the time and who’s idea was it to use MORBID’s Ulf Cederlund as the second guitarist in the studio as well?
Leif: "They were more advanced than me and Alex… Nicke was the fucking voltron. The man is obviously a genius."
Nicke: "I partly answered that and like I said before me, Uffe and L.G. had been playing together before. When you’re 15-16 a year seems like an eternity and that’s my only answer to how things developed quite fast. I was a determined young man as well and wanted to move forward fast."
The reactions in underground zines on that demo were pretty overwhelming already, weren’t they? Did you actually expect such a great response when you recorded the material?
Leif: "I never knew about any reviews."
Nicke: "I remeberer imagining having NIHILIST mentioned in the same sentence as my favorite bands in the "cool" fanzines. That may seem weird today but that was something I thought about a lot at the time and when people actually wrote about us in the very same "cool" fanzines saying we sounded like MASTER or whoever, it was awesome! We didn’t expect shit but we thought we were good."
How many original copies of the tapes were made for sale and underground promotion? Did you already send some of them out to labels as well?
Nicke: "I have no idea how many copies we did. Promotion is a funny word in this case. I mean we did this only to release a demo and then another one and so on. There wasn’t even the tiniest of thoughts regarding an album. As far as we were concerned all good bands just had demos out. There were a few exceptions like DEATH, NAPALM DEATH, POSSESSED and maybe 1 or 2 more but that was it. The only label who got a copy was Dig at Earache when we opened up for NAPALM DEATH in Stockholm. And I don’t think the purpose was to get a deal with Earache. We just gave him a demo. We were an ambitious band but in a strange way I suppose."
Leif: "That part as well I was just the bimbo along for the ride it looks like now that you ask me."
After the release of the demo you continued on as the original four piece and played a bunch of shows in Sweden and Norway, with Mattias on vocals… Wasn’t that a bit confusing for the people or did he have a similar voice as L.G.?
Nicke: "Like I said Mattias never did a show with us."
Leif: "Who’s confused here?"
Do you still recall any intersting shows from that time? Did you play with any other soon-to-become Death Metal "legends" already?
Leif: "The NAPALM DEATH show at Frys Huset was damn strange. Either Lee Dorian had a boner up on stage or his combat pants were well endowed."
Nicke: "We didn’t really play that much at all. I mean people laughed at us and our music so it was really hard to get shows. A little later in ’88 is where things slowly began to turn if I remember correctly."
When exactly did Mattias tell you that he was gonna leave the band and what were his reasons? Did you part on bad terms or was it a mutual agreement?
Leif: "What’s with all the Mattias questions? He was such a minor role in the hole picture."
Nicke: "I don’t remember any bad blood so it was probably cool."
Did you contact L.G. right away to join NIHILIST as a temporarely fill in once again or did you ask him to become a full time member this time around? Wasn’t he satisfied in MORBID anymore or why did he accept the offer?
Leif: "He had alot to offer. Me and him were eating his Mamma’s fattiga riddare after banging south side sluts when I noticed his "talents"."
Nicke: "You’d have to ask him about his time in MORBID. Haven’t got a clue."
When did Johnny Hedlund become the band’s new bass player? Were you actually looking for a new member or did he offer his services to you, so that you, Leif, could switch over to guitar? Are you actually a guitar player in the first place, just having played the bass because no other bass player was available in the early days?
Leif: "I was always the guitar player. Happened to fill in for bass just cause I fit the bill."
Nicke: "I think Leif always wanted to play guitar so I guess we needed a bassplayer. Johnny was actually in the band before Mattias was out so it must been early spring ’88."
I suppose this line-up played a couple of shows again until you returned back to the studio, didn’t you? Tell us about them and if you personally considered this line-up as a progression from the original four piece…
Leif: "We started to mold the "Sunlight Studio sound" and got heavy as fuck."
Nicke: "This is when we became a "real" band having both L.G. and Johnny on board. Not a whole lot of shows."
In December of 1988 you already recorded another three songs for what was to become your second demo "Only Shreds Remain"… this time at Sunlight Studio with Tomas Skogsberg producing. How did you manage to do this so quickly? Had those songs already been part of your live shows or did you write them with the new line-up?
Leif: "It was a joined effort and with Hedlund on bass he too had ideas of his own. But I think Nicke was still writing my solos since I sucked."
Nicke: "My guess is that they were simply written in the time between the 2 demos. I don’t really see it as being done quickly. We were just doing it you know."
"Only Shreds Remain" also gave birth to the typical NIHILIST guitar sound, that got copied to death in the years to come by millions of bands… Do you still recall how you ended up with this sound?
Leif: "Had an amp named Hagstrom that was a pinnacle for that sound, buzzy grewly thickness."
Nicke: "Not exactly but it was definetely Leif. I didn’t realize it at the time but he had this Boss distortion pedal called "heavy metal" and basically cranked all the nobs. It has that extra mid range to it. We were really into the two R.A.V.A.G.E. songs off the "Raging Death" compilation LP and their guitar sound kicked ass. When Leif got this sound that kicked even more ass we were thrilled to say the least."
How would you compare the studio work on "Premature Autopsy" with the one on "Only Shreds Remain"? Was it a big progression in every aspect to you guys or did you maybe miss anything from the Studio Z days?
Leif: "Studi Z was a community center for school kids if I remember correctly that MORBID used and we got in there due to Uffe and Zoran."
Nicke: "Can’t remember too much about the studio situation either. We went to Sunlight because MORBID had recorded their 2nd demo there. That was more towards a Bay Area Thrash sound so we were the first Death Metal band there. I remember we weren’t too pleased with the result. I had to use one real bass drum and one d-drum for the recording and I didn’t like that. So we didn’t return to Sunlight ’til we heard TREBLINKA’s demo that was recorded there."
When "Only Shreds Remain" got released, this time the underground was already aware of the name NIHILIST… So, apart from all the great reviews that you once again received on it, did you also have people or zines that maybe didn’t like the musical evolution of NIHILIST as it was definitely a lot more towards the Death Metal style this time around?
Leif: "Beats the hell out of me."
Nicke: "I guess I was excited to see what people would think about our new songs which I thought ruled. I can’t remember (I must have written that 300 times by now) any negative reviews. And if we had any we probably just thought of them as something a MEGADETH loving poser would write."
Nicke, yourself and Alex both did artwork for the demo covers… has anyone of you also designed the band’s logo by the way?
Leif: "It was always the both of them… they even had their own zines and swapped demos with bands from all over."
Nicke: "Yes. I did."
This demo not only was the real beginning of NIHILIST’s international breakthrough, it was also the last recording that you (Leif) participated in as your parents decided to move to Canada shortly after its release… Tell us a bit about this particular time and if you at least got the opportunity to play some final shows with NIHILIST in order to support the demo release?
Leif: "I was pissed at my Dad for years for his decision on moving but now he’s my bro as well as my Father so fuck all y’all who resent your parents for bringing you up."
Nicke: "I have no idea if we did any shows after the demo got released with Leif before he left. I do remember thinking it sucked that he had to leave since I felt we were really getting somewhere with the band."
Afterwards you once again contacted Uffe to become Leif’s permanent replacement… And as MORBID had split-up anyway (singer Per "Dead" Ohlin had moved to Norway to join MAYHEM) and Uffe’s own band INFURIATION didn’t really work out, he accepted… If Uffe wouldn’t have been available, do you know if there would have been any other option to fill in? Did you (Leif) help the guys in any way to find a replacement?
Leif: "You’re asking alot from someone who had no choice in the matter… I was fucking 16 years old. What parent in their right mind would let a 16 year old boy stay behind?"
Nicke: "Uffe was the obvous choice and I don’t think we even thought of any other options. So without Uffe, who knows what would’ve happend. The end of NIHILIST maybe."
What can you tell us about the planned compilation EP, that NIHILIST should’ve been part of together with PARADISE LOST, BOLT THROWER and CARCASS and that SLAYER MAG’s Jon ‘Metalion’ Kristiansen wanted to put out? Why did that never materialize in the end?
Leif: "If it was the label Necrosis you’re talking about (no, I don’t! – Frank) I believe Earache Records snatched them up from all those dinky little procrastinators."
Nicke: "I wish I knew. You should ask Metalion really. It sounded like a great idea at the time. I mean SLAYER MAG was THE ‘zine and we were fans of the other bands. It would’ve been a classic going for shitloads of cash on ebay today!"
Well, at least the song ‘Morbid Devourment’ exclusively got recorded for that purpose… I never really understood though, why there’s only two songs on the third and final NIHILIST demo "Drowned", that was recorded in August of 1989… I mean, there’s the tracks ‘Morbid Devourment’ as well as ‘Face Of Evil’ and the REPULSION cover ‘Radiation Sickness’, which were all recorded, but never officially released… What were they originally meant for and how did they end up on bootlegs in the end?
Leif: "Look it up… I left Sweden in May."
Nicke: "Well ‘Morbid Devourment’ was recorded first of all those songs you mentioned. I’m not sure where we did it but quite possibly at Studio Z again. I’m not even sure Uffe played on it. It could have been the last thing we did with Leif. I’ll have to ask Uffe about it. I know it was done not long after the 2nd demo. The rest were done at a studio called Kuben and we weren’t happy with the sound on that one either. We didn’t get the guitar sound right. We even borrowed or bought Leif’s guitar when he was leaving for Canada because we thought it was the guitar that made that sound. He never told us about the pedal. Shortly after the recording Uffe figured it out and made his version of it. Not surprisingly I can’t remember what ‘Radiation Sickness’ was intended for and I have absolutely no idea why we re-recorded ‘Face Of Evil’. The bootleggers might have the answer about the bootlegs."
Leif, how do you personally like the "Drowned" demo, the only NIHILIST release that you weren’t part of?
Leif: "I never got a copy. That just blows, but I would have probably lost it or it would have gotten stolen out of my trailor or something… you fuckers stole all my good demos… hope you all die a sweet and fluffy death!!!"
What actually lead to the split-up with Johnny Hedlund (who went on with UNLEASHED then) after the release of that final NIHILIST demo and how did you temporarely get together with DISMEMBER’s David Blomqvist and then Lars Rosenberg in ENTOMBED?
Have you been aware of the fact that several bootlegs were already circulating with all the NIHILIST demos before Threeman Recordings recently ended up releasing the official version of it after all? Tell us a bit about the origin of this official demo compilation? Was any member involved in the making of it? How do you feel about its release after so many years?
Leif: "Let it reign."
Nicke: "Not really. When Alex called me up about the compilation earlier this year I thought it was a good idea. Not only to hear the stuff myself but there might even be of interest to other people. Threeman Recordings is owned by ENTOMBED so it feels really good. I dug up some old photos and Alex did all the work compiling it. We even talked about an "extended" release ’cause we keep finding these old tapes that are pretty funny."
Have you ever been approached to get together again for a NIHILIST reunion show or anything like that? Would you accept such an offer or is this chapter closed for you forever?
Leif: "Hell that would be nice."
Nicke: "I haven’t heard anything about it but I’m all for it if I have the time. Would be fun."
How old are you these days? Do you actually still listen to Death Metal these days? Have you continued to follow the scene over the years? Any newer bands that you really like?
Leif: "32, and yes I still flip on the Metal… Myrkskog is one of my all time faves… if you got any info on them I would be more than ecstatic."
Nicke: "I’m turning 33 this summer. To be honest I lost interest in Death Metal years ago mainly because I didn’t like what I heard. In my view Death Metal should be dirty and preferably have a little bit of sloppyness to it. The slick producion ruins it for me. To me the rawness disappears when you get too good at your instrument. A lot of times it seems to be more about showing off than to deliver something brutal and powerful. I can do without all that symphonic synthersizer shit. I prefer VENOM & DISCHARGE to YES & DREAM THEATER you know. Don’t really know of any newer Death Metal bands. Please let me know if there’s anything good out there that I should buy. The last ENTOMBED record was really good. DISMEMBER’s last too. Recently I got back to REPULSION, MASTER, early DEATH, R.A.V.A.G.E., AUTOPSY, CELTIC FROST etc and realized how much I love it. Now I’m waiting for someone to reissue the old NECROVORE and DEVASTATION demos."
Ok Leif, that’s about it. Hope you enjoyed this historical rollercoaster ride. It was a please to talk to you about the good old times. I’ll leave the last words up to you… Cheers!
Leif: "Cheers ya drama queen!"
Nicke: "I enjoyed it alright, just wish I remembered more. You really should talk to the other guys too, I might be totally wrong on some of the questions. I’m proud of what we did and those early days were a lot of fun."