There are so many bands out there doing so many interesting things, it's hard to know where to turn. That's why we've created Crash Course, a recurring feature offering a concise introduction to an up-and-coming band or artist that we think slays, covering their origins, process and vision. Our latest subject is Orbit Culture, who, across their recently completed three-part song-and-video series, "Nensha," "Rebirth" and "The Shadowing," make a strong case for being Sweden's answer to Gojira — a fitting reference point since the French progressive metal outfit is largely responsible for putting vocalist-guitarist Niklas Karlsson on his current creative path. Ahead of the release of Orbit Culture's epic new album, Nija (due August 7th via Seek and Strike), we caught up with Karlsson to learn the full story and get some insight into what makes the band tick.
WHO IS ORBIT CULTURE? CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF HISTORY ON HOW YOU CAME TOGETHER?
NIKLAS KARLSSON We are from the small town of Eksjö in the southern parts of Sweden. A two-hour drive southwest you'll find Gothenburg and with a three-hour drive northeast you'll find Stockholm, so we live pretty much in woods between the two big cities of Sweden.
We started out as a small jam group with people coming and going. In the beginning, the main reason we started to hang out at the rehearsal space was to drink beer and have a place to hang out. In the beginning of 2013, me and co-founding member Maximilian Zinsmeister decided to start to record some demos. Both me and him did play in other bands back and forth but when we got the Line6 POD UX1, we really started to get into recording and that's when we wanted to put some songs out. We decided to record an EP during the spring and summer with drummer Markus Bladh and bassist Christoffer Olsson joining the band. We finished it around in August and shortly after, we released the EP under the title Odyssey.
During the writing of our first and second albums, In Medias Res and Rasen, some of the members left to pursue university and other interests. During the summer of 2016, Richard Hansson replaced Maximilian Zinsmeister on lead guitar along with Fredrik Lennartsson taking over the bass player role. A couple of years later in 2018, Markus decided to leave the band to pursue other interests, too — that's when our new drummer and latest addition Christopher Wallerstedt joined the band. With our EP Redfog, more eyes started to recognize the band, which has been a lot of fun.
IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE YOUR BAND'S MISSION STATEMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
As much as we love metal, we love other music, too. We love a good hard-hitting song as much as the next guy, but we've always found that blending and mixing genres seems more fun for us at least, rather than deciding on a specific genre to write within the metal scene. It really helps us to be creative and motivated. I'm guessing that is something that we'll always do.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS SHUT DOWN THE LIVE MUSIC INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW, SO EVERYONE'S REALLY MISSING SHOWS. WHAT TYPICALLY IS YOUR PRESHOW RITUAL?
I usually warm up my voice with some minor exercises, nothing fancy. I know Christopher uses his drum pad to get his hands and feet going for a good 30 to 40 minutes or so. Oftentimes, me, Richard and Fredrik just play one or two songs in the changing room before we hit the stage to get our hands warm. A beer or two also helps. [Laughs]
WHAT'S THE CRAZIEST THING THAT'S EVER HAPPENED AT ONE OF YOUR SHOWS?
Other than strings popping, computers failing and stuff like that, we have been quite blessed really. People do enjoy the shows, and some people tend to stage dive harder than others and so forth, but they have always been kind to each other and to us, so no problems at all yet. [Laughs]
HOW DID YOU GET INTO METAL?
For me, I started getting into metal with vocal styles like growls and screams around 2012 when I first heard Parkway Drive's Deep Blue along with hearing The Way of All Flesh by Gojira. Up until that point, Metallica, my favorite band, was almost too "brutal" for me. [Laughs] But the track that really did it for me was "The Art of Dying" by Gojira. I remember so clearly hearing that song sometime during a hot summer night with my headphones turned up to max, and when it ended, my eyes were filled with tears. The lyrics and music of that song just hit right home. That moment will live on with me forever. A minute or so after, I plugged in my guitar and wrote riffs all night and that's basically how my life looks now. [Laughs]
BEING IN A BAND, WHAT'S THE HARDEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE COME ACROSS SO FAR?
I guess the hardest part is to remember to enjoy every moment and have fun once the snowball has begun to spin. We are a fairly small band, but with bigger things happening with the band and bigger responsibilities come into the picture, it's very easy to get lost in all the work that needs to be done and sometimes that may suck the fun and passion out of it. It's also been hard with members leaving and in all of this, try to navigate through an industry that you have no real experience with. I've learned, though, that if you try the best you can, write the best songs you can and sacrifice the right things for the right reasons, something good will come out of it.
DO YOU HAVE HOBBIES OR PETS? WHAT DO YOU GUYS DO OUTSIDE OF MUSIC?
Yes! I love to shoot and edit photos. Color-grading both pictures and my own music videos and so on is something I enjoy very much. It's almost addicting, it's so satisfying once you come up with a pleasant result for the eyes to look at. Still, a day or two later, when seeing the same picture again, I always think for myself, what the heck was I thinking? Same goes for the music, I guess. I believe that's one of the key ingredients to become better at anything really. That horrible self-doubt we all have inside us. [Laughs]
I know Richard, the lead guitar player, has a lot of pets. His dog is called Pumba, and he also has a lot of cats. I don't know how many there are now, I'm afraid. [Laughs] Fredrik, the bass player, has got two cats, I believe. We love animals, for sure!
WHAT BAND OR MUSICAL ARTIST ARE YOU A BIGGEST FAN OF? PROVE YOUR FANDOM.
For me, it's always been and will always be Metallica. I don't know why, but the Seattle '89 show is something that I always come back to and I'm sure I'm not alone. That band in that era — what in heck?! I love the thrashier style on the previous albums a lot too with Cliff Burton, but the Justice era and those shows, damn ... I've seen them four or five times during the years and they always put on the greatest show. As mentioned, Gojira sits very close to heart, and I think the mix of Metallica and Gojira is very prominent in our music.
IF YOU COULD ONLY PLAY ONE OF YOUR SONGS FOR SOMEONE TO INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR BAND, WHAT SONG WOULD IT BE?
I think the latest single we put out called "The Shadowing" would be a pretty good choice. I think it showcases almost every part of where we are now musically. I think the fans that have been with us for awhile dig "Saw" a lot, so that may be something to check out, too!