» Niclas Engelin - The Halo Effect
« back

Interview conducted August 8 2022
Interview published November 26 2022

"Everybody must be allowed to contribute. Nobody can stand in somebody else's way."

The Halo Effect's first album Days Of The Lost was out on August 12th. Just a few days before release date Metal Covenant talked to guitar player Niclas Engelin about the formation of the band, the album, and coming plans.

An interview with vocalist Mikael Stanne and bass player Peter Iwers was published on August 3rd.

Band lineup:
Mikael Stanne - vocals
Peter Iwers - bass
Daniel "Danne" Svensson - drums
Niclas "Nicke" Engelin - guitar
Jesper "Jeppe" Strömblad - studio guitar and occasional live guitar
Patrik Jensen - live guitar

Tobbe: The band was founded on your own initiative, I would say, and in which order did you take the guys in?

Niclas: Well, this has become somewhat of a tall tale. I mean, I was out seeing Peter and Danne in their brewery. And we were like, "Let's jam some day, or maybe for a weekend, and jam and hang out.". But I couldn't find the time at that point, because I had a lot of stuff to do, and We Sell The Dead was kind of going to some extent as well. I run into Mikael every now and then, and there was always a lot of talking about festivals, gigs, and especially records.

But it was probably on a train from Stockholm to Gothenburg, where the first seed was planted, which on Mikael and I started to hang out as well, and after a few beers, like, "Hey! Shouldn't we just try some riffing and feel the atmosphere?". But as we arrived at the central station it was like, "Have fun. See you.".

You know, what's funny is that this band might have been formed in '91 or '92 since we were part of the same circle. I mean, Jeppe and I have known each other since 7th grade and we formed our first band Poltergeist at the Tyrolen youth center.

We recorded two tracks on a Portastudio and played in the assembly hall at school in front of everybody. I think we played Good Golly, Miss Molly, which is a Little Richard song, if I remember correctly. So, in some way everybody has known everybody along the road, so we had a meeting, like, "Let's feel this out. It might be fun.".

We got some vibes there and we were like, "Shouldn't we give Jeppe a call as well? We must at least check out if the magician wants to tag along.". And he became really happy about this, and about being part of talking about what we were gonna do.

Because it wasn't obvious, you know, like, "What are we gonna play? What are we gonna do?". You know, stuff like that. The first meetings were more about hanging out, laughing and monkeying around, really. And then, "Well, let's give it a shot and feel it out.".

So we met at Peter's place and he had the first intro to the song Gateways. Well, which later became Gateways, which I worked further on with a bridge and a chorus and stuff, and then Jeppe put his magic on everything, with a melody play that is significant for him to a great extent.

That was the first song that we made together, you know, and we thought it worked really well. We called it the Kent song, because the chorus had kind of a Kent vibe. [Kent is a now disbanded Swedish rock band.] So then we were like, "Let's not overthink it and let's just do what we do and always have done." and therefore it comes out pretty natural. I think we completed the first demo in December 2019, and it was Gateways, Shadowminds and Feel What I Believe.

We had so much fun doing that, and so everything just came together naturally and not forced at all. That was our initial trial and then it was just an open highway. And then, just being able to be at Crehate Studios, at Oscar Nilsson's, day and night, you know, like, "Okay. I feel the vibe. Let's go down, go for it, rehearse, and put it together.". It was like a stream and everything was just open, like, "Just fill up the tank of ideas with stuff.".

Tobbe: You have a collaboration with Nuclear Blast. Well, it's the band's record company. So, why are you with Nuclear Blast?

Niclas: Okay. Let me then just continue the story. So, then we felt like recording another demo. We wanted to keep going. And that one was finished in the end of January, or in the beginning of February 2020. We didn't have a band name. We had just gone with the flow and the joy. And then the pandemic hit, which shut down the whole world, which led us to being able to work unhindered, as much as we wanted to.

So we kept it tight, just within the closest family and the closest friends, so nobody knew about the band. And we had no deadline, we hadn't signed anything. Nothing, you know. It was a really nice feeling, yet a little bit sad, because you want to talk about your band, or what you have been part of starting up. So we just kept working, recorded more songs, and hung out more, rehearsed, and put this together.

So, in August 2020, I think, we filmed the video to Shadowminds, and that was for the demo, and that was what Nuclear Blast signed on. One song and the video. They were like, "We must be part of this.". They were very stoked, and that felt really great. And from that point on we started recording the record.

Tobbe: If I say that you are the band's main songwriter, what would you say?

Niclas: Well, I guess I'm a motor, who sets things into motion, like coming up with the framework to songs, coming up with ideas, and all the time keep things rolling. I think it's so incredibly fun to create music, you know. Well, just starting something from scratch. And I'm also still so childishly enthusiastic about music in general. You know, records, playing guitar and everything. I want to know.

I'm still curious, I would say. Like, "How did this specific band found out about their specific sound? How did they make that song?". Geekery, you know. I think this is incredibly fun, and very giving, and hence I create a lot of music.

But everybody else has done their thing and been part of the creating as well. Hm, how will I put this? I feel that I'm about to be profound now. You know, I've been doing this for so long now that I have obtained my own fingerprints, in a way. Like, found out my style, and, "This is what I want to play. This style works for me.".

So the first meetings that we had, like just sitting down with everybody, and having coffee, and just laugh and monkey around, could sometimes be very inspiring. I could just go home, pick up the guitar, and something just came out, out of that meeting, you know. And that's what I think is so cool.

So it's not like I put on a record and get inspired, even if I would subconsciously get that also, but now it's more about meetings. You know, what I experience and stuff like that. And I think that's awesome, and that also permeates much of the record too.

Tobbe: It seems like you're open to all ideas.

Niclas: Well, I think you have to use your antennae, and be interested, and think it's fun. It must not be boring, but it has to be fun, inspiring and in a way curious.

Tobbe: So you're the one that glues it together. Yet, on coming records different members will maybe come up with other ideas of how they would like to stitch together an album, which maybe don't go hand in hand with your ideas, and therefore it might become a little bit more difficult, right?

Niclas: Well, I don't think so. I don't want to believe that. Like I said, everybody fills it up with their ideas. It's not like I wrote the album myself. I really don't want to say so. You don't do that. We did this together, you know. We could try out ideas and stuff, and then on the next day Danne comes in, like, "I have a different drum arrangement. What do you think about this?".

And then it sounds awesome, and, "Of course. Go for it!". Everybody must be allowed to contribute. Nobody can stand in somebody else's way. I think this has been a contributing factor to why it sounds like it does too. I know that this comes out boring, but, you know, we play together, we are a band, and that's how it should be.

Tobbe: I would see you as the most important one in the band since you glue the parts together. Yet, Jeppe Strömblad pretty much has a cult following and it's kind of hard to outdo that, you know.

Niclas: Absolutely. He is totally amazing. Of course he has earned that. No question about it. He's a magician, you know. I mean, there were moments in the studio where, for instance, I had some thing and couldn't decide what to do, and, "You hear something here, right? I feel something like this." and then he just put a very beautiful melody line on top of it.

And at that point I get a feeling of, "It sounds like this line has been there the whole time.". He just picks it up. It's amazing. It's just so beautiful and so handsome, you know. And there you have a guy who really has fingerprints with his guitar play, which has this melancholy; this Swedish folk music, mixed with death metal and obviously heavy riffs. And to sit in that stream together is great. Something great always comes out of these meetings.

Tobbe: It's pretty funny if we look at some new band and then at your band, which is actually a new band too. I mean, what an advantage you can draw in comparison to a new, younger band. You know, like playing at Wacken at midnight on a big stage and, I mean, what new band would ever get to do that?

Niclas: Yes, we have reflected on this as well, like, "This is crazy. We get to do this and that.". Sweden Rock, Wacken, and during large proportions. We have to pinch ourselves. I mean, we get to do Download Japan, and we're out with Machine Head and Amon Amarth during this fall as well. So it's fantastic. I'm very humble and grateful for this.

Tobbe: The Halo Effect's music differs quite a bit from Engel and We Sell The Dead, and besides meeting old friends, what took you so long to get back to a time period that existed, like, 27 years ago?

Niclas: As you say that, let me put it like this: I think that the last We Sell The Dead album Black Sleep had a lot of this melancholy and these melodies, you know. That was probably a starting point for me, as a songwriter.

Engel and Gardenian have been pretty heavy, and more towards death, and maybe haven't relied so much on melodies. Well, at least not these kinds of melodies. So I think that the Black Sleep album was important for me to create, in order to get this result with these guys.

Tobbe: I've heard some people say, or rather I've seen people write, that The Halo Effect sounds like In Flames with Stanne on vocals. What's your take on this?

Niclas: Well, I think that this is a summary of everything that we have done, from when we were taking part of starting this genre up until now, you know. I mean, the verse riff in A Truth Worth Lying For is from Sarcazm, my first thrash metal band, which I was just noodling around, and our producer Oscar thought it was awesome. I was just practicing a little bit to warm up.

So that riff came into use, you know. And that demo is from '91. So it's kind of all the way, via Gardenian and Engel, on my part. Everybody has brought their own parts, and Jesper is the one he is, so he has brought his parts. And this is what we sound like today.

Tobbe: To rate your own albums is maybe something that you don't wanna do as a musician, because the new one often feels great since it's the current one. But anyway, is Days Of The Lost pretty much the best record that you've been part of making?

Niclas: Hmm, that's a question musicians get, like "Which is your greatest moment as a musician? What's the greatest thing you've experienced?". Well, it might be Wacken, it might be an arena tour, it even might be club gigs, it might be a show that you've been part of creating. Engel did a beautiful show at the Lorensberg theater, with Hellmans Drengar, which is a 50-man choir. I mean, so grand and just wow!

And you're passionate about what you're doing. I think it's important to have that motivation, like, "Now we're doing this." and at that point I wanna do it to a 100 percent. To do it to 70, 80 or 95 percent isn't relevant to me, because then I have failed, and then I go home and feel that I could have done that better. But yes, this is a milestone to me. But so was Black Sleep by We Sell The Dead as well. It was beautiful to create, with Jonte [Slättung] and Apollo [Papathanasio].

And what's great by creating is to get and give inspired, like a give and take, like, "I was thinking of this. Have you heard this? Have you heard that record?". You know, it never ends. And it mustn't end. If the day comes when you think that they are boring, then just screw it, take a break, take a breather, and come back in a couple years if it feels nice again. But I never get enough. I need this. I must have the discussion.

Some questions that have often popped up in the studio in the last couple of years, and to which I want the answer to is, "Why do we record this? Why should I do this?" and my answer is, "I record this because I have to record this. I love what I'm doing and I'm deeply involved in this.". Oh, I got very profound now again. I think it's important to at least question, "Is this relevant? Why am I doing this?". And then maybe one shouldn't dig deeper into that, but just leave it be at that point.

Personally I play music because I think it's so fun. This is just an extension from another association. You know, I used to play soccer, and that went great. But as I was 15 or 16 I had to make a choice, and I chose Glenn Tipton, KK Downing, Jake E. Lee, and Vivian Campbell. At that time it was just pure joy, like when I was at the youth center. And I have taken that with me.

It has to be on those terms. Don't overthink stuff, but just use the flow and tell yourself that it will turn out fine. You know, if you start thinking too much, then it might be like, "Well, I'm not inspired now. I don't feel it now.". No, it's best to just put on Dio's The Last In Line or Holy Diver and, like, "Okay. Done. Let's go.".

Tobbe: Stanne is with Dark Tranquillity, and you have a couple of other projects too, but the other 3 guys haven't got anything else that's really productive music-wise. So, what happens if The Halo Effect goes big? What will happen to the other music related stuff that you've got?

Niclas: We have been very thorough from the start. We have talked about stuff like this. We have talked about pretty much everything. So it's just open your large calendar, make plans, and be open to suggestions, and to how things might work for one another. We've been doing things like that so far, and it has been working very well, so we will keep functioning like that. Calm and easy, and be respectful to one another.

Tobbe: Peter and Mikael told me that you guys actually have a bunch of songs for a second record. What might you tell me about those songs? We're talking about somewhere between 7 and 14 songs, really. They were giving me some different numbers, like at some point it was 17 songs in total and at another point it was 24.

Niclas: Well, because the album has been done for so long, and we started this with the first single Shadowminds in November last year, it's been like, "Hey Jeppe! Do you wanna meet up in the studio? I'll buy some croissants and put on coffee.", which has resulted in more songs. I still live in that flow, and as long as it's inspiring and we go forward I don't think there's a reason to stop.

See also: an interview with Mikael Stanne and Peter Iwers a few months earlier

Related links: