On paper, it would be difficult to ascertain what Nikki Brumen and Yngve Andersen have in common. The former is a Melbourne resident that’s bubbly and talkative; the latter, meanwhile, resides in the Norwegian city of Bergen and is much more stern and introverted. Not knowing anything further, you’d struggle to see them get along – and yet, here they are together.
As it turns out, both are musicians that cut their respective teeth in bands that carved extremely similar niches, slitting the fine line separating almighty heavy metal with certified pop bangers. Both bands – Brumen’s Pagan and Andersen’s Blood Command – were riding similar wavelengths entirely independently, without one knowing the other existed. It was only a matter of time, however, before their paths crossed.
“I have this Swedish friend who showed me Pagan,” Andersen explains. “She said, ‘Y’know, this kind of sounds like your band.’ I agreed it kind of did. When I heard Nikki, in particular, I couldn’t stop thinking: ‘Why isn’t she fronting Blood Command?’ I then read an interview with her in Kerrang! where she mentioned five records she’d been listening to – and one was one of our records.” Brumen, meanwhile, came across the self-described “death-pop” band while guest-hosting triple j’s punk and hardcore program Short.Fast.Loud.
The singer’s plan for the show’s playlist was “as many non-cis-white-male punk bands as possible,” and her then-bandmate in Pagan suggested Blood Command get a spin. “I automatically fell in love,” says Brumen on hearing the band for the first time. “I immediately sought out Cult Drugs, which is their album from 2017.” Brumen stops herself, laughing incredulously, correcting: “…our album from 2017?” She’s still coming to terms with being an official band member, prompting a discerningly-rationed smile from Andersen.
Yep, spoiler alert: Brumen is the new lead singer of Blood Command, which came about following Pagan’s final shows in February of 2020. “When our previous singer got pregnant and was heading out of the band, I took a chance and contacted Nikki,” explains Andersen. His attempts at contacting her, however, were something she almost missed entirely. “You know how there’s like an other inbox on Instagram?” Brumen says.
“It’s all the messages from people you don’t know – it’s normally, like, dick pics or something. Anyway, the message from Blood Command was in there but I never saw it – Pagan had just broken up, so I just wasn’t in the right headspace to respond to all the messages I was getting. Eventually, I got a random message on Facebook one day from this Scandinavian guy, who said he had a proposition for me.”
Both parties were immediately excited about the premise being presented to one another, in spite of two glaring issues that immediately became apparent. The first, of course, was the distance between them – approximately 16,250 kilometres or 10,097 miles, depending on which system you’re faithful to. The second, which neither could have accounted for, was the ongoing pandemic – which would make the 16,250 kilometre journey literally impossible.
Nevertheless, they persevered: “I just wanted to try it,” reasons Andersen. “It’s a pretty dumb idea – I don’t think you can get further away from Bergen than Melbourne – but I just felt like I had to get a hold of Nikki before anyone else.” As for Brumen, this long-distance relationship strangely couldn’t have come at a better time. “I kid you not, I said yes straight away,” she says. “The reason I said yes is because I wasn’t ready to end Pagan. The boys were, and I respected their decision, but I didn’t want the band to end. I never felt like I had closure, and I sure as hell didn’t feel like my musical journey was over.”
Soon enough, new Blood Command music was in the works. Although Andersen had already written songs for a prospective new album, the recordings thus far all featured previous vocalist Karina Ljeone. The challenge, then, came with finding opportune times for Brumen and Andersen to work simultaneously but also remotely. This proved to be one of the first of many hurdles faced by this incarnation of Blood Command – 9am in Bergen, for example, is 5pm Melbourne time – but the wheels were soon in motion at Melbourne’s Avalanche Studios.
“Callan from Dream On Dreamer was recording it, and Yngve was on Skype producing it,” Brumen explains. “Because of the hours Cal works, Yngve had to be up at like 2am – which was so brutal.” Andersen winces recalling the extremely late Bergen nights. “Yeah, yeah, but that’s okay,” he says. Brumen’s eyes widen at his Norweigan nonchalance: “You are tough as!” she remarks. Andersen, all business, continues: “It went pretty well. We’re going to do the rest of the record like that, too.”
The first taste of the new-look Blood Command came last month with the release of ‘A Villain’s Monologue’. A boisterous, charging comeback single, the track is also notable for showcasing the expansion of Brumen’s already-impressive vocal range. Formerly centered on a Rita Repulsa shriek in Pagan, her new role sees her additionally adding in sprechgesang/spoke-sung passages and distinct runs of cleans. Needless to say, this was a considerable adjustment for the frontwoman. While her previous band had a distinct style, it was singular nonetheless – and Blood Command, as it turns out, requires multitudes at play.
“I was absolutely shitting myself,” says Brumen. “I was really intimidated. I kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m not gonna be able to do this.’ I wanted to do it so badly, but I didn’t think I was good enough to do it. As the months went on, and I got more used to the songs, I realised that I could. I put in hours of singing lessons – I’ve been training five days a week to get to this point. I was really scared, but I’m confident now. They’re really amazing songs, and I wanted to do them justice. I wanted to put in the work.”
Andersen name-checks noise-rockers Daughters and 2018’s You Won’t Get What You Want as a key influence when writing ‘A Villain’s Monologue’. “That’s the best record of the last 10 years, if you ask me,” he says. Specifically, Andersen hones in on the track ‘The Reason They Hate Me’ – a song he describes as “the hit” from the album. “It may not sound like it when you hear it, but I wanted that exact sort of vibe,” he says. “It’s a song about hating people, and presenting it as us versus them – we’re cool, and you’re not.” Andersen offers another surprising rarity: A laugh. “That’s basically every Blood Command song,” he concedes.
When the new era of Blood Command began last year, their new singer found herself in a country slowly starting to open up again while her producer and guitarist were in a largely closed one. At the time of writing this, Norway was on track to have 50% of its adult population fully vaccinated in the coming months, while Australia… well, you probably know that story. It’s a weird new world that the band have entered into, but both Brumen and Andersen are ready to take it on together. This will serve as Brumen’s official introduction to the Scandinavian music world, while here in Australia listeners will largely be discovering Blood Command for the first time due to Brumen’s involvement. It’s a win-win for both parties, and things can only get bigger and better from here.
“I think it’s incredible, the way he thinks about music,” says Brumen of her new bandmate – who, as you may have gathered by this junction, she has not yet met in person. “Being in Blood Command has seriously pushed me so much further than I ever would have [gone] with Pagan. They were all incredible musicians in their own right, but I maybe got a bit complacent because we had our sound and I had my thing within it. I wasn’t particularly willing to really push myself out of that comfort zone. With this band, it’s just made me push myself because of Yngve’s talent. Because he’s a perfectionist, it’s made me have to step it up.”
As for his band’s new leader, Andersen is ecstatic to have the former Pagan vocalist on board – at least, he says he is, all while maintaining a solemn look. You believe him nonetheless: “Nikki is the first singer we’ve had that actually seems to want to be in the band,” he says. “She’s all in – she wants to be frontperson and wants to make this music. She has some real aptitude and she knows that this is real. This is not pretend, y’know? I can’t explain it, but it just feels so fucking right.”