Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, a teenage Nikki Brumen developed a love for the infamous Norwegian black metal scene. Now after the two most difficult, traumatic and eventually transformative years of her life, Nikki Brumen is waking up in Norway, adjusting to life as the vocalist for the death pop band Blood Command. The details of how the ex-Pagan frontperson ended up in Bergen, Norway, with the biggest headline gig of her life, a 36 date tour with Kvelertak and a Blood Command album on the horizon, are almost inconceivable to the mind, but her presence in Bergen right now and onstage in Oslo in mid-December is proof that if you want them badly enough, even the most improbable of dreams come true, as long as you're ready, willing and able to recognise and take the opportunity when it presents itself. A few days before jetting off to Norway to make her dream a reality, we had a chat with Nikki about how this improbable but inspiring tale came to be. This is the story of how Nikki Brumen of Melbourne, became Nikki Brumen of Blood Command.
Nikki Brumen of Blood Command, how are you?
I’m pretty good, I’ve spent the past few weeks scrambling to get things done before I go to Norway for four months, having just come out of lockdown in Melbourne, it's been a pretty overwhelming experience. Trying to catch up with people and see friends who I haven't seen in months and months and months before I leave, but I’m feeling excited!"
As you should be excited it is a pretty wild thing to be going from the lockdown life we’ve all been living in Melbourne to Norway, which is about as far away from Melbourne as you can get!
"I agree, it would probably only be further if you went to the North Pole. I’m going to get there in the heart of winter, and I was looking at the weather app on my phone the other day and in Bergen where I’ll be living, sunrise is at 8.15 in the morning at the moment and sunset is at 4 pm at the moment. So I’ll only be getting a few hours of sunlight, it’ll probably be raining the whole time, might get some snow, but I’m actually really excited though. I actually hate winter and I hate the cold, but the fact that I’m going to Norway means that I don’t even care. I’m just so excited to be with the band and be in Norway that I don’t even care that it’s going to be absolutely freezing and dark the entire time."
It’s going to be quite a bit of a culture shock, what does the schedule look like when you arrive?
"I head off on the 22nd of November, which is my Dad’s birthday, so there’s something kind of special about that to me because he travelled from Slovenia to Australia, and this is me doing kind of the reverse to follow my dream, going from Australia to Norway. I land on the 23rs of November, I’m there for a few weeks and we’ll be recording a new album when I get there. That’s going to be exciting, but I don’t want to say too much about that but it’s going to be some heavy music. I’ve been writing lots of lyrics for that. Yngve who is the primary songwriter of Blood Command, I’m going to be living with him and we’re going to be collaborating on that new album.
Then we'll record and on the 16th of December, we've got a show in Oslo which is our first-ever headlining show with me in the band. Which is just so crazy. I think it's like a 700 capacity room which is insane that that’s the first show I'm doing with this band. Then on the 13th of January, the Kvelertak tour kicks off, so I think we’ll be doing 36 shows for that."
How do you go from fronting Pagan, to becoming the frontperson for a band in Norway?
"Pagan announced are break up in early 2020 and I knew I still wanted to play music, so I started jamming with friends and then all of a sudden I got a message on Facebook from Yngve and he introduced himself and said that he knew my band Pagan had split up, and he loved Pagan and that he had a proposition for me, would I want to front Blood Command, because their singer was leaving and I’d always had his dream voice.
I was a fan of Blood Command already, I’d actually put Blood Command as one of my top 5 bands of 2019 in an interview with Kerrang. So the stars really aligned. I couldn’t actually believe it when I read the message, like every friend that I told that I’d been asked to join a band not only from Norway but from Bergen which is my favourite place I’ve ever been, they were just laughing, saying that this cannot be real, surely you’re getting catfished. But it was real and it is real and it’s just amazing. "
That’s such an amazing story. There’s a lot of life changes and logistical challenges that this move brings about, but there’s also a musical challenge as well for you, in the sense that to my understanding you’ve never sung clean in a band before Blood Command, which meant that you had to learn how to do so in order to learn and perform their back catalogue. Was that daunting for you?
"Blood Command has been an established band for years, so they have a very big back catalogue. When Yngve asked me to join the band it was early 2020, and we didn’t know that the world was about to shut down, and we had a tour booked with Kvelertak in September 2020, and ahead of that, they had an album that they’d already recorded that I needed to record my parts on and I had to learn the whole back catalogue. So to say that I was shitting myself would be putting it mildly.
I had sung in the past, but I never had the confidence, I didn’t think I was a good singer, but something that I have learned having cleaned up my voice and gone back to vocal training is that I can definitely sing I just didn't have that confidence, and I just never thought of myself as a singer. I always thought of myself as somebody who was a screaming vocalist, and when I kind of built up the confidence and realized that I can sing these songs, if I work really hard. It was nowhere near as scary as I originally thought. I still push myself every single day to be better and better and I I want the band to sound as good as possible live so I really put a lot of pressure on myself to make it as perfect as it can be. It's such a geeky thing to say but doing vocal scales every day, actually helped and being a geek actually helps.Myy voice has improved tenfold since when I was asked to join the band, I'm really proud of all the work I put in and I'm so excited about singing live because I know we’re gonna kick ass!"
The asskicking starts very soon! This headline show in December, will that actually be the first time you’ve sung these songs live with the band?
Yep, the first time I’ll ever be singing with them live, I mean, we’ll be rehearsing the hell out of the set before that but it will be my first ever live set with Blood Command and my first live show since the final Pagan show in February 2020."
That was a great show too, the pressure’s on!
"I know! I even book out a rehearsal space in Melbourne quite regularly and I blast the songs and I rehearse that way, because I don’t want to find myself in a situation where I’ve been rehearsing at home, and singing at a certain level and then when I get into the rehearsal room with the band in a few weeks time, I’m not used to hearing music that loud and so I start to force my voice. So I’ve been very dilligent in rehearsing everyday, as if I am on the stage."
That actually sounds like a really good technique and a bit of a hack for other isolated vocalists out there. Now you mentioned you’re going on tour with a band that is quite close to my own heart, the very rad, Kvelertak. Which is a good opportunity to ask you about your favourite Norwegian bands and the influence Norwegian music has had on your life. I know you’re a big fan of Norwegian black metal and you strike me as a Turbonegro fan. So what acts inspired this love affair with Norwegian music?
"When I was a teenager, and I heard about how extreme bands in the black metal scene were, that's what kind of just made me interested in Norway in general. There was something about the climate, especially in winter, when it is always dark, I could understand why the bands wrote such heavy music and why the music was so dark. You really get a feel for it when you go there too, and you see the history and the churches and think about burning them down. It’s just such a rich history.
Especially with a band like Mayhem, with all the stories behind how insanely serious they were about their music and like the stories behind how insanely serious they were about their music. I kind of didn't really know if a lot of it was just a myth, or if it was the truth and when I went there and I went to the outside of the house where Dead shot his brains out, which was the cover of Dawn of the Blackhearts, I went to Oystein Arseth’s grave, I went to Helvete. I saw a lot of the churches and the places and I realised just how kind of young and naive a lot of those black metal musicians must have been to behave that way. It was a bit eye-opening for me.
I wouldn't say I'm as much of a diehard fan now of black metal as I was when I went to Norway in 2011, but it was really interesting for me just to see how passionate they were and there’s something about that I really liked. On that trip as well, my twin sister Liv came along with me, it was my own self-directed black metal tour, and we got lost in Oslo, and a guy came up to us and asked us if we needed help and he was wearing a Kvelertak t-shirt, and that’s how I ended up getting into and loving that band. Now I’m moving to Norway to tour with that band and it just feels like my life has come full circle. "
It’s almost fatalistic or pre-ordained, this story has a lot of those elements. If you do go on to become a bit of a local institution in Norway with Blood Command, you’d make for a good local Netflix series. The story has all of the right angles!
"They probably won’t believe it, it all sounds too coincidental."
Now you mentioned your twin sister, Liv, am I right in saying this is going to be the longest time you’ve ever been away from each other?
"It’ll be the longest time ever and we are both freaking out a little bit. She’s just really proud of me for following my dreams. We’ve had a really rough couple of years and we’ve had a lot of death and grief and trauma, and I really hit my rock bottom about two years ago, I was at the lowest point in my entire life and to see that I’ve really rebuilt myself, I’ve been given this opportunity by Blood Command and by Yngve, I owe so much to that man, he’s saved me, but I’ve also earned this opportunity because I’m a talented person, I am really proud of myself for not just getting this opportunity but for following through on it. It’s so beautiful Olivia says every day that she’s proud of me and that you can either let hard things get the better of you and defeat you or you can use them to push yourself and go do things when you realize that life is fucking short, so go get it."
Touching back on the music, you worked a lot with Callan Orr here in Melbourne, to record the tracks that we’ve heard so far, The End Is Her and A Villains Monologue, what was that experience like, recording material remotely for a band that you’d never met, let alone been in a studio with?
"It was really interesting, it was different to anything I’d done before too because that album had already been written. Yngve had written all the lyrics and the old singer had tracked all of her vocals for it too, so I had to actually learn everything that she’d done and then track it. So in one way, it was easy, but in another, it was difficult, because even with screaming, it was a different way of screaming. If I had been given the songs, I probably would have come up with something different. It was a really interesting process for me, it was really challenging, but in the best kind of way, it pushed me in a way I’d never been pushed and it made me look at my voice completely differently.
Every day I went into the studio with Cal and we had Yngve producing from Norway via Skype, so through my headphones in the recording booth, I could hear both Cal and Yngve and it was as if they were right there in the next room. It was a bit rough on Yngve though because the sessions were all from 2am - 10 am his time, but he’s a bit of a night owl, so I think he liked it. It was really cool, it was an experience I found challenging in a good way. I’m so excited to get to Bergen and work with him in person though."
Of course, because the music will feel more organic when you can vibe off of people and get some real-world feedback from people via their body language, which as an actor is probably an important tool for you?
"I love that you brought that up because something that training as an actor has helped me in the recording studio is that I’m really good at taking direction and taking feedback on board and doing take after take after take without getting my ego bruised. That’s been really important for me as a vocalist because I want to be the best vocalist I can be and listening to a producer is the only way that you can really do that and acting taught me how to do that."
As you’re setting off to Norway, is there any part of you that is sad to be leaving Melbourne, the city you’ve called home for your entire life, behind? And should we expect to see Blood Command touring Australia?
"We have to do shows in Australia, without a doubt. A cool part about me joining Blood Command is that they didn’t have a huge following in Australia, but now we can really grow that fanbase here. I’m 95% excited and 5% terrified because I’ve never met the band face-to-face. I’m going there to start with for four months, I didn’t want to move over there right away, I want to dip my feet in and see how I go. With the amount of stuff that myself and the band have been through over the past year and a bit, I feel like we’re going to get along like a house on fire. I think we’ll need to get to know each other and I think we’ll need to ease in and this is the best way to do it.
There’s a part of me that is sad to leave Melbourne, but I’ve had a lot of things happen to me recently that have made me feel like this isn’t really home for me anymore, I feel a bit burnt by a few things and I’m just ready to turn over a new leaf."
Now, Nikki before I let you jet off to Norway, I need to know the answers to a few very unimportant questions. The first is outside of metal, what’s something that you consider yourself to be a bit of a Maniac for?
Okay, what are your top three hot chips in the world?
"Okay, the B.EAST in East Brunswick is the best chips in Melbourne, in my humble opinion. The second one is a really random and bougie one, but there’s a restaurant in Carlton North called Neighbourhood Wine Bar and the same owners have a bar in East Brunswick called Old Palm Liquor and the hot chips from there are the best things ever. Then the third one is probably the Trippy Taco fries because I want to put some french fries in there!"
Fans of Pagan would know that you used to be quite a fan of dousing yourself in red wine, so I’m curious in Blood Command are you going to choose a new on-stage drink?
"The red wine days are over. That was definitely a Pagan thing. I always had to plan what I was going to wear and which shows, when I was doing the red wine and became a little bit of a full-time job in itself. I can’t tell you Brenton that the smell of my bras and t-shirts, was so bad like I'd hang them up in the tour van to dry and it was so bad. So I’ll be sticking to what’s on the rider and some throat coat."
One final question, if like a professional wrestler you could have any song play whenever you enter a room, what song would you choose and why?
That is such a fun question! I don’t know why this is the first thing that is popping into my head, but probably How Many Licks by ‘Lil Kim."
Listen to Blood Command