Blood Command: “It’s like this army of outcasts finding their place in the world”

When her old band Pagan split, it was almost the final straw for Nikki Brumen. Then she got an offer from the other side of the world from Blood Command, who shared her grief, her ambitions, and her fascination with cults…

Blood Command: “It’s like this army of outcasts finding their place in the world”
Nick Ruskell
David Alrek, Marcello Riffo

‘Blackpacking’, they call it – tourists heading to Norway for a nose around key places from the country’s infamous black metal scene. Thirty years since the truly shocking events of the early ’90s climaxed with the murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous in his flat by Burzum’s Varg Vikernes in August 1993 – the second killing to be linked to black metal, following a year of highly-publicised church arsons – it’s become just as much a reason to visit as winter sports and the stunning Scandinavian scenery.

It was as one such visitor that Nikki Brumen first visited from Australia, a decade or so ago, travelling with her twin sister. In Oslo, they saw where Helvete, the record shop owned by Euronymous (now Neseblod Records) used to be. They had a drink in much-missed metal bar Elm Street, a local of the various members of the Oslo scene. As a macabre treat, they stopped by the house in which Mayhem singer Per Ynve ‘Dead’ Ohlin died. Meanwhile, visiting the Eastern city of Bergen, home to, Enslaved, Gorgoroth and Immortal, Nikki fell in love with its mountains and lakes and “beautiful, cute little gingerbread houses”.

“It was amazing,” she says today. “It was almost like it wasn’t a real place, because it was so beautiful. I said to my sister, ‘One day, I’m going to live in this city.’”

And now she does, recounting all this from her flat in town, a stone’s throw from the art gallery run by former Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl, proudly adding that she’s not long had her citizenship come through. She’s also now part of the Norwegian musical milieu herself, about to release her second album with Blood Command, World Domination.

More than that, though, Norway is where Nikki found hope in the darkest of times, and where she rediscovered her own sense of self.

“I've been able to grow so much more as a musician and as a person being here,” she says. “And it's helped me in more ways than one. It sounds really cheesy, but it literally did save my life.”

Three years and 10,000 miles ago, Nikki says she was feeling like she was “cursed”. In January of 2020, just as the wheels were starting to turn properly Pagan, the band she'd fronted for seven years, announced that they were breaking up. In those 12 months, she had also lost both of her parents and a close friend. Around the same time, she’d broken up with her boyfriend. On top of it all, COVID had arrived, and with it Australia’s ultra-strict quarantine laws.

“When Pagan broke up, I felt like everything I was working towards was taken from me,” she says. “I was at a real low point of my life, because I dealt with so many deaths for people close to me. And I was grasping onto this one last thing, which was the band, and then that was also gone.”

The months that followed were, Nikki says, “the lowest point I've ever been, rock bottom”. She tried jamming with friends, which was alright, but not really good. Most days she’d just wake up and not be able to face getting out of bed. She didn’t know what she was going to do next, but she knew she had to get out of Melbourne, start over, “do something for me”.

This is when a DM arrived from “some random Norwegian dude whose name I couldn’t pronounce”. Actually, his name is Yngve Andersen, he played guitar in Blood Command, and he had a proposition: we’re a band looking for a singer, it went, and I hear you’re a singer looking for a band. Fancy it?

Yes, yes she did. Immediately bonding with Yngve online, they would make music together remotely, or simply chat daily, the guitarist becoming “a shoulder to cry on”, while the pair also discovered how much common ground they shared. When Nikki finally went to Norway, initially for three months, before returning permanently, the broken pieces all seemed to fall into place.

“I’d never met this guy, and I got to Bergen and it was like best friends instantly,” she laughs. “It was just bizarre. He is the most introvert, quiet person, and I am the opposite of that. I'm a super-enthusiastic go-getter. But we just worked for each other. And as soon as I got there, I felt like I'd found happiness.”

One of the things Nikki and Yngve found they had in common was an interest in cults. Having been involved in one for a period, the guitarist had made reference to them in Blood Command’s music for years. In Pagan, Nikki found similar inspiration, using Pagancult for the band’s socials, and making references in her lyrics.

This is something writ large in World Domination, most notably in reference to Heaven’s Gate, the American group started in the ’70s by Marshall Applewhite, 39 members of which attempted to reach what was called “the next level” through mass suicide in 1997. Nikki first heard of them during a visit to Los Angeles’ Museum Of Death, in which she saw first-hand one of the beds in which followers died, and took it as a sign when she realised the band she was being asked to join had a history of writing about them.

On World Domination, one track is unsubtly dubbed Heaven’s Hate, a minute of stomping, heavy hardcore, while Decades is a reference to “the shoes the cult members were wearing”. Blood Command’s fans, meanwhile, have been dubbed The Awake Team, in a nod to Heaven’s Gate’s ‘Away Team’ (a Star Trek term for those going to other planets), while the album opens with a superbly-titled number called The Band With Three Stripes, taking in adidas’ slogan, and a cultish preference for uniform-like sportswear. With a more positive spin, you understand.

“It's so amazing when you see fans come to the shows dressed like us – it's so cute,” Nikki laughs. “It's like this army of outcasts finding their place in the world.”

This is instructive of World Domination and its deeper meaning as a whole. Decades, for all its references, is actually about love and letting people go. Meanwhile, halfway through the album, after eight tracks of very good shouty hardcore noise, Welcome To The Next Level Above Human suddenly adds electronics to the mix, introducing a second side in which, style-wise, all bets are off. From here, quiet songs, dance bits, hip-hop elements all come into the picture. It also speaks of something more normal and human at the heart of the album; moving on, through grief and strife, to reach a more peaceful place.

“For me, the record is essentially about loss and grief, in many forms” Nikki says. “When Yngve and I met, we were both bonding over the loss of a parent, or bands, or members of bands, or someone who I thought was in love with me and then broke up with me, or having to let someone go because of unrequited love. With all those heavier songs, we were writing that feeling of, ‘Fuck you, I'm better than this loss,’ and it being us against the rest of the world. But in doing that, we realised that to talk about that loss, we also needed to show a vulnerable side.”

Like The Awake Team, through Blood Command Nikki has managed to find a place for herself in the word, and through it move forward from a place of loss and grief and negativity. Reflecting today, more than once she laughs at the coincidences that have led here, how right everything feels, how comfortably all the bits have come together once she found them and they her.

“While I miss Australia and I miss my friends, I was always meant to be here,” she smiles. “I’ve done therapy and stuff, too. But I from moving here, it's helped heal wounds that I never would have been able to heal if I’d been stuck in Melbourne. There’s so many little things that just feel like they were meant to be, like they were waiting for me. It's helped me in more ways than one.

“When I got to Norway, I it was almost like all my problem disappeared in this rainy fucking city,” she continues. “Bergen never stops raining, the weather was horrible, and I had to learn to walk in snow. But I've found what I was meant to be doing. And I finally found happiness and belonging.”

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?