For the last 15 years Leif have been writing for Scream magazine. And finally I will put all the energy and creativity I have invested in Scream into Metal Squadron. The focus will be on quality before quantity both when it comes to interviews, features and reviews.
While their new, and fifth studio album “Zenith”, are being received with what seems to be mixed emotions, I found myself enjoying the diversity of it a lot and got in contact with Olof Wikstrand for what I think is my fourth chat with the band. The last interview we did, can be read here, and looking at it, it’s already been four years since “From Beyond” came out. What does Olof think of the album when he looks back at it today?
– I think we kind of perfected our style and how we were seeing ourselves and had been seeing ourselves, up until then. You know this typical, aggressive speed metal stuff, but always with a hit factor. Looking back on “From Beyond”, I am really happy with it, but I think of it is a little one sided.
You also released the livealbum “Live By Fire”, since we spoke last time. Did the whole thing, songs, sound and packaging, come out as you wanted it to?
– I think so. I did everything myself, handled the mix, did all the layout, and the EP that was included with it. However, I really wanted to make the EP a separate release, but the record label didn’t want that because they thought we had promised the fans exclusive material on the livealbum. Those new songs we recorded, I am really happy with, but people didn’t kick it up, because the songs were hidden. That was one thing I wasn’t fully happy with. Also, we intended to release it in 2014, but due to several reasons, it got delayed to after the “From Beyond”-album. It doesn’t even contain material from that album! So yeah, the delay and the fact that the hidden tracks were so hidden people haven’t even heard them now, were two major let downs.
The new songs were certainly not left over material?
– No, they were exclusive songs. Our business partners were kind of forcing us to do this kind of thing to market the album. As a band, we are just not satisfied with leftover stuff or songs that are bad. I am really happy with the studio songs included on “Live By Fire”.
So at the moment, are you planning to do something else with these songs, to release them separately for instance?
– We been wanting to do it, but we haven’t been let to do it. We were considering re-recording some of the songs for “Zenith”, but in the end, we wanted to write completely new songs.
When we spoke last time you said: “The entire limiting thing was something we wanted to totally get rid of. Instead we wanted to be as open minded as possible, take all our inspirations, whatever they could be, that suited the atmosphere we wanted to create with the songs.” You can say pretty much the same thing this time around, can’t you?
– Yeah, but it is the same thing. I had the same attitude this time, but even more of it. I know that some of the other guys in the band have been coming with ideas in the past that I have been very negative to. Even though I have been sceptic, in the end I have always ended up saying: “Okay, lets use this.” But then when I return to the songs, maybe a year and a half later, and hear them, I am like: “Fuck yeah, this was a great idea!” Those kind of ideas, tend to not stick out very much, but this time around, all ideas were worked on 100 percent in the context.
Olof confirms that he thinks the band has showed more courage and been even braver this time around.
– I think we had a bit more attitude. “Fuck, we have nothing to lose”, was what we said. To do what we like to do, that’s really inspiring. After all, we are five albums down the line now, and at this point, you simply can’t continue doing the same things. Eventually you do music for yourself and not for anyone else, and in the end, you can’t satisfy everyone anyway so…
Did you know already when you started making the first song for “Zenith” that this would be a different Enforcer-album, or was that something that became clear as you wrote more and more songs?
– I think that was something we decided when we finished “From Beyond”. We started talking about the future, and said: “Four albums down the line, and we can’t do this style any better than on the previous albums. Let’s do something different instead.” Looking back at it now, I don’t think the album is very different compared to what we’ve done before, maybe that’s because I am way through this concept of changing the musical direction. At that time, I think it was early 2015, we were like: “What are we going to do now?” Then Tobias (Lindqvist, bass) had this song for his project Terminal, called “Zadnji Izlet” which we liked to such an extent that we decided to make an Enforcer-version out of it. The new version became “Regrets”. That was the first song we had, and with it we really set the bar high from the beginning. We wanted to play around with the extremes, and hopefully that song is gonna be a little bit provoking to people who think you can’t do something like that. Our version is quite close to Terminal’s version, but I think they used synth piano and computer generated drums, while we use real piano and real drums. We tried to be as close too the original
Apart from that Terminal-song, what was the first track you wrote for “Zenith”?
– Riffs and different parts have been flowing around for years, but the first song was “Die For The Devil”. Me and Jonas wrote the majority of the album in the USA, because Jonas lives there now. I went over there in 2017 for four months altogether, within a couple of weeks we had finished the skeletons of six songs.
The diversity on offer on “Zenith” really surprised me. Did you set out to surprise the listener?
– Yes, of course. The worst thing that could happen is if the people are like: “Wow, good stuff. ” You want a reaction, something more than that. When I am listening to “Zenith” now, and comparing it to the old stuff I think: “Oh, fuck we should have gone further.” I don’t think it’s different. It falls perfectly in line with the other albums . I wanted to do something more different, but it didn’t come out as different as I had hoped for.
This hard rock influence for instance, that you can hear in “Die For The Devil” and a few of the other tracks as well, you could already hear on an album like “Diamonds” for instance..
– Yeah, and it’s intentional to bring back a little bit of that hard rock stuff. I think, looking back on “Diamonds”, we got so critized for going soft, and I thought: “Oh no, Enforcer can’t go soft”. So, to compensate, we made “Death By Firee” so incredibly fast and un-hardrocking, just metal, metal, metal. But of course, you change your opinion when you get some distance to it, or maybe not change, but you see things you don’t see when you are in the middle of something. Now the hardrocking vibe is something that makes our sound stand out.
It seems pretty obvious that “Die For The Devil” was chosen, no only because it is a catchy little tune (yet in my opinion the weakest on the album), but also to provoke or to create some reactions among the fans.
– I think it is a song that falls in line perfectly with a lot of songs we’ve done before, so I don’t think it’s an odd song for us. We’ve been awfully critized for that song on the internet by some people, but I knew it would come, because retro, die hard metal fans with their heads up their asses, are like that. The choice to put it first on the album and also to release it at as the first single, is indeed meant to be provocative. I want a reaction from people! If we had released other songs from the album, that are more safe, people would have said: “Good”, and then nothing more would’ve happened. In the time we live in, where everything is about likes and shares and that kind of shit, you want to create a discussion on things. Releasing music videos is all about marketing anyway.
And people are very fast to judge a whole album based on one song alone. There are some pretty speedy and aggressive stuff on “Zenith” as well.
– We have not gone soft, we have just broadened our perspective a little bit.
Would Olof still call Enforcer a heavy metal-band or does he find it limiting in a way?
– That’s’ a very good question. For me, the concept heavy metal is very broad already, but I am more and more careful to put a genre on my own music, even if the music definitely qualifies as heavy metal. The problem is, putting a label on your music, make other people judge you, based on this label. So both yes or no, I would say to your question. I tend to be more and more careful with using the expression “heavy metal”, I usually say “metal” when people ask what I call our music.
I bought the first single when it came out and also the very first t-shirt you made with only the logo in red and white, and I am still here, enjoying what you do. In general, do you think bands should have some sort of respect for the fans who have followed a band since the start, or should bands only do what the want to do?
– Of course you should respect your fans, but eventually making music is about yourself, and you always make new fans too. People follow you for a reason, and its not that we changed completely, we are both true to our roots, but also true to our responsibility of keep on writing creative music, instead of just stagnating and writing the same shit all over again, like certain bands do.
Do you think you will be able to reach a wider audience with “Zenith” compared to what you have done before?
– To be honest with you, I don’t have such goals anymore. I know that the metal scene is 100 percent dead, and it’s literary impossible for young bands to reach a broader audience. I don’t have such ambitions anymore, since I realized that. Of course it would be fun if people could pick up on the album that aren’t among your expected fans.
The metal scene 100 percent dead?
– The metal scene as I know it at least, is just filled with nostalgia. The fans are just general rock and metal fans, which still makes out 98 percent of the market, then there is this two or or maybe even one perecent that are actually interested in music, like you and me. You have to realize that we are a very, very small part of the entire market. It’s just filled with people who want to go to shows and listen to the music they listened to as kids, for nostalgic reasons only. People that go to Iron Maiden-shows because they want to hear fucking “Run To The Hills” and fucking “The Number Of The Beast”. People are not interested in new music, and people are simply not interested in new bands either. We have been trying so fucking hard, but people clearly prefer to listen to “Run To The Hills” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane” on rock radio instead. Rock radios won’t even play new bands, and festivals like Sweden Rock and those kind of happenings, they don’t have one new band, they simply book the same, old bands that have been playing the same shit for 35 years. There are simply not any commercial interest at all for metal music.
The nostalgia thing you can even see at genre festivals like Keep It True, where great, upcoming bands are doing killer shows, but most people seem to focus on reunited acts headlining the bill.
– I love Keep It True, but it’s a festival for nostalgia, not necessarily a festival for music. I am nostalgic myself, I fall into this category as well, but I do appreciate a new band here and there too. Therefore, I think the entire scene is dead. Young bands are so freaking stuck up with playing genre. For instance, there are tons of retro thrash metal-acts, and they are putting up strict rules for themselves, how they’re gonna sound, what they’re gonna have on their covers, what clothes they’re goona wear. It’s so not interesting! We have been given the chance to play lots of bigger festival, so its not about Enforcer, but more about the state of scene.
If the metal genre as we know it is going to survive, festivals sooner or later have to put new bands on the top of their bills, which is exactly what Trvheim in Germany does with Enforcer this summer. Olof is more than satisfied...
– Of course. I think that’s the way to go. We are still an experienced band, five albums down and have a strong following. There is no reason not to do have Enforcer headlining.
You are always eager to find new bands, or new, old bands, are there something you have listened to in the last four years that have influenced you strongly on the new album?
– There are…but I am no sure I want to mention it in public… Before we released “From Beyond”, I was really into Russian metal, which has had an even stronger impact on this album. But that’s nothing new, of course. But, yeah I guess I can say that I have discovered Def Leppard, which made a huge impact on me, because just a few years ago I thought of them as this fucking, sucky band with shitty lyrics and stupid attitudes. Then a friend of mine said I should give them a chance beyond “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. I started listening to both “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” a lot and, suddenly I was like: “What the fucking hell, how could I have missed this for my whole life?”
So even “Hysteria” with the ultra slick production?
– Yeah, its so fucking great. It has some really incredible songs. I can also hear how much these cool, obscure British bands for example were influenced by “Pyromania”. If you listen to “Night Of The Blade”, by Tokyo Blade, they fucking stole half of the riffs from “Pyromania”.
In the last interview we did, we spoke about our fellow love for bands like Credo and Magnit. “One Thousand Years Of Darkness” from the new album, struck me as bit influenced by those bands?
– A little bit, yeah. These bands like Credo and Magnit and Yngwie Malmsteen as well, have forced me to listen a lot to classical music, real classical music, and not only neoclassical music. When you play so many, shitty rock clubs, doing long tours, you get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, when you hang out with People aftewards. I had this period of about a year when I didn’t listen to rock music at all, and pretty much only to classical music. When we started collecting material for “Zenith”, I was pretty much only listening to classical music, so it was a natural thing for me to bring in those elements, directly from the classical music, and not only from bands inspired by classical music.
The song “Sail On” also comes as a bit of a surprise.
– I was packing my stuff, going home after four months in Texas, and Jonas was sitting with his acoustic guitar playing this main riff in an odd signature. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was only something he used to play. In a matter of two minutes we had the entire song.
I suggest there is a bit of seventies influences in that song, but Olof isn’t quite sure.
– I don’t know what its influenced by, but maybe in the sense that we wanted all the parts of the song to stand out to each other. Jonas had a very distinct idea of how the riff should sound, not the typical metal chugga-chugga, but the opposite, so we were turning down the gain from 10 to 4 to really get that old Marshall tone, to really give an impact on the riff. When people say that it’s seventies, I kind of agree, but all that it is to it, is that it’s played with less gain. All bands nowadays play with full gain. Doing the opposite, I think gives the first part of the song a very strong contrast to the second part, where it goes to four/four and we go full on with distorted guitars. We have been thinking a lot about playing with the extremes when it comes to this, and you have to go back a little bit to have the dynamics, so when you go full on, you will already feel the energy instead of just starting with 100 percent and there is nowhere to go from there.
It also seems like your vocals are more diverse than ever. Have you tried to develop and make them more diverse?
– It’s just that I don’t think I had the confidence before to sing in any other mode, than the mode I am most confident with. I always wanted to play around with different types of voices.
“Ode To Death” is one of the songs were Olof shows a different side of his voice, and he admits that Manowar might be part of the influence for that track.
– A little bit, yeah. The idea for that song came from when I was listening to our old stuff, and wondered why we always have to have such a hurry between every riff and every part in a song. I wanted to do something in contrast to that, where you build and build and build one riff for like two and a half minutes and give the lyrics more room to tell a story. And yeah, I love Manowar, for example the “Into Glory Ride”-album, it’s amazing! So when it comes to the song structure, they might have been an influence for “Ode To Death”.
Olof has told me before that he hear music in his head more or less constantly. It appears not much has changed.
– I think it’s always the same. You hear music in your head and then try to transfer it from the head to the guitar or to a rough demo, but unfortunately 99 out of 100 ideas are shit. I try to record most of the ideas on a voice memo, both me and Jonas do a lot of that. When we made “One Thousand Years Of Darkness”, we were looking for a verse that was good and catchy, as everything that we forced through came out like shit. Then we went through our voice memos where Jonas found something we could use. We threw it into the song, and it worked perfectly with the rest and we suddenly had a verse.
Has Jonas had a stronger influence on this record than he had in the past?
– I would say a little bit more, definitely. We have been working more closely together, and I have been more accepting to his ideas since I really wanted to have the attitude to bring everything in. And I have been letting him take that room, that I might not have given him before. Before I have been very concentrated on realizing my vision. Me and Jonas have been writing 80 percent of this album. We do demos of our ideas and then arrange them with the other guys. Tobias also came with two songs that were more or less 100 percent ready, “Regrets” and “Worship The Dark”.
Joseph Toll who has been in Enforcer since 2007, first as a bass player then as a guitarist, recently left the band. Is this something you have seen coming?
– I could tell for a very long time that he was distancing himself from the music. In 2014 I remember thinking he was not gonna stay for very long, and then in 2015 things happened in his life that was making him not able to play, so we brought in Jonathan Nordwall as a replacement. And then Joseph came back for a few shows, but it became clear he couldn’t do it. We then took in Jonathan on a permanent basis. I’ve known Jonathan for a very long time. When we started Enforcer, he was a fan of the band. He is a few years younger than us and I remember we were playing somewhere in the north of Sweden back in 2008. Then we was 16 years old, but you had to be 18 to get in at the place. The promoter came to me saying: “There’s a bunch of guys here that are only 16, they say they have travelled from Stockholm to see you. Should we let them in anyway?” That was Jonathan and some of his friends.
Has the extra diversity in the songs also craved that Olof changes the way he writes lyrics, and what he writes about?
– I think we are bit more careful with what we write about. Before, we have been very focused on writing typical metal lyrics, pretty much not knowing what we were writing about, throwing in some clichés here and there to make it catchy. There was definitely something I wanted to develop, so there is so much more effort in the lyrics this time around. We haven’t been inspired lyrically at all by other bands lyrics, which I think is a mistake we have been doing a lot before, just listening to other bands, saying: “This is a cool concept, lets do something like that.” Instead we’ve been trying to inspire ourselves in different ways, from books, from movies, from our own thought patterns and our own experiences. I have been inspiring myself..
Sometimes it’s really fascinating how fast things are happening. Towards the end of the last month of 2018, the digital version of Sabïre’s debut mini album was published on Bandcamp. Since then, the band has established contact with labels who will make sure the musis is also available on all physical formats. A slot at this year’s edition of the prestigous Keep It True-festival was secured just a matter of days after the music was out there, and only a couple of days after this interview was done, further gigs in both Swedenand the UK were announced.Metal Squadron got in contact with Scarlett Monastyrski to get more information on the band.Please introduce yourself. Who are you, what have you done musically prior to Sabïre? How did you hook up with your drummer Paul?
– I am Scarlett Monastyrski, the Raven in Rags, King of Acid and Pain. The last band I seriously played with before starting Sabïre was an anarcho-punk band called Protect and Survive. A bit before that, I played in a black metal group called Guillotine Prophecy. Prior to that I played in another punk band called The Kidney Stones, and even further back yet another punk band called UNO 32 and then my first band, a synth and drums band called NS-19, then became NSN-19. With all these bands, I was doing half the songwriting at the least. During Sabïre’s existence I briefly wrote and rehearsed with a Sydney band, Saint Routine who were comprised of the two main guys from eighties Sydney metal band, Lotus. Paul and I have been friends for about six years now, and he has been drumming in the Sydney bands Devine Electric and Grim. I asked him to help me out and play drums on a recording of three songs as a demo to shop around. He agreed and we began rehearsing, and then finally recorded. I then decided to scrap the demo, and record three more songs as a proper studio mini album. So we rehearsed and recorded again.
When was the idea for Sabïre born? In what period of time was the material on the mini album written and recorded?
-The idea came to me like a lightning strike in December 2010 when I was playing along to Tank’s “That’s What Dreams Are Made Of” in my bedroom. It hit me then that the song I was playing along to was so undeniably natural, and I thought to myself, “you know, I do this too. I write little natural progressions and riffs but I keep them at home. That does it, I’m going to make a band where I play only what comes naturally when I pick up an instrument. It’s going to be personal (this kind of playing is very personal because it is totally unforced and fluid), and it’s going to be called ‘Sabïre’ (also extremely personal). The material written for that record ranged from early 2011 (“Black Widow”, half the bulk of “Daemons Calling”) to 2017 (the completion of “Slave to the Whip”) and even 2018 if you are counting “Helheim (Intro)” We recorded drums at the end of 2016, and mid 2017. We recorded guitars, bass and vocals on two tracks in early 2017, the two latter were scrapped. I had the beginnings of my own studio coming together at the mid end of 2017 and had begun recording vocals and guitar. Bass was recorded in 2018 and the vocals scrapped and re-recorded again for the almost-third time. On top of that, the record got mixed twice overall (to keep the story short) and had to tailor the drum mix to sound the same despite two different mic setups.To say that recording and mixing “Gates Ajar” was a nightmare is a gross understatement. There was one day that was such hell it inspired the name for the first track off the following full-length.
“Pure concentrated acid metal” is a description used on your Bandcamp-page. So how does a tag or a description like this come along? From someone within the band or from the outside?
-From inside. I saw that what we were doing, from our sound, production standpoint, aesthetic and overall approach, we could not just lump it in with everyone else, we needed a name for what Sabïre creates and there was no question that it was to be named “Acid Metal.” The “Pure Concentrated” thing is just a fancy and zealous way of saying the genre, ie “True Norwegian Black Metal.”
You are performing everything apart from the drums on your own. Do you feel most comfortable with the guitar, when you sing or when you play bass? Was it important for you to have a real drummer, and not only programmed drums, which quite a few seem to use nowadays?
-I’m comfortable with all three of those, to be truthful. I just adore creating listenable sounds, and those are my tools. There was no option but to have a real drummer. We had no drum program or anything. Every drum sound you hear on “Gates Ajar” is Paul’s playing. There are no samples, and no programming. The percussion on “Helheim” I did, but stumbled upon them by complete accident. I was working out the synth on it and had my rough (and slightly broken) cardioid mic in my hands thinking about vocals. I don’t know why I had my reverb set so high, but I kept dropping the mic into my palms and I noticed it made this fantastic drum sound. I then fully smacked the mic square into my open palm rhythmically and because of the bracelets I had on, the deep pounding had a slight “chain” sound to it. Like chains rattling on an ancient wooden gate if there was an attempt to break it open from the other side.
Is Paul, the drummer involved in creating the music in any way, or is all the songwriting done by yourself alone?
-While it’s true that I do write everything for Sabïre, Paul does contribute ideas for drumming and we come up with “enhancements” to songs together, when need be.
How would you describe the whole philiosophy behind Sabïre, reflected in everything from the music, the lyrics, the recording, the artwork and to your stage show?
-Honesty. Honesty is our philosophy. The idea of Sabïre was formed on playing the music that naturally came out, and developing the confidence to say “this is my music, this is what I play. Not what anyone else plays.” That same feeling is carried on with how we present ourselves in photos, what we say in lyrics, and what we want to depict in music videos and artwork. It’s all coming from a honest and personal place. There is no desire to be anything else but Sabïre.
The feedback on your songs so far have been overwhelmingly positive. What has been the best thing that has been said or written about the material, in your opinion?
-That’s good to hear. I think that the best thing I have heard came from a fan writing to me saying how amazing it was discovering the different layers in the music after listening to it more and more. Similarly, a reviewer mentioned about the bass’ hooks becoming more and more apparent, with another reviewer saying how well the instrumentation melds together. Another great thing I read was a fan from India saying how much he loved the music for its “zero pretense and totally natural songwriting.” All of those mean a great deal to me because all of them touch on what I was intending to do and give to the listener. It’s satisfying to hear someone even remark on it. Sabïre’s music is fairly straightforward, but a straight running river does not have to be shallow, and believe me this river is as deep as it gets.
Since there is not a title song on the mini album, please explain why you have chosen to name the it “Gates Ajar”? It seems symbolic, being the first offering from Sabïre?
– The mini album had a few working titles that I was not totally fond of, but all said the same thing. “Open Wide the Door,” “Door to the Beyond,” “Genesis,” and “Showcase” were all different ideas. They just didn’t work. I even tried those titles in different languages. I was determined to find a way of expressing that this is just the beginning. That this is a sampler of the wider scope of what’s been created. Suddenly, I remembered a name, a place that always frightened me as a child: Gates Ajar. It was perfect. Once again, an intensely personal name, fitting in metaphor, and just as eerie and ominous as I remember. Sabïre is a larger beast than people think, and it’s been trapped beneath the earth for a very long time and now that the gate’s ajar, so to speak, it’s coming.
What I, and many with me, really enjoy about the EP is how it goes in many different directions, something you also point out that is important for you. Do you set any restrictions at all on what to write and not write for this record?
– Sabïre has no restrictions besides, “don’t sound stupid.” The overwhelming majority of music that I write is for Sabïre. Every once in a while I come up with something that just does not fit with Sabïre and would be better suited for a solo record. So that being said, there is very little that does not sound appropriate. Regarding the material for “Gates Ajar,” not a single song was written for it, with the exception of “Helheim (Intro).” All the songs were simply chosen as best examples of what to say we are about if this were to be our only ever release. The material stretches over many years; two of the songs are from back in 2011, and only one, which is “Helheim (Intro)” is from 2018.
A full length release should offer even more options to include diverse songs, but at the same time it’s probably necessary to have a red thread running through. How do you think and work trying to get this balance right?
– Once again, it’s not a drama. All our material sounds like Sabïre so there is no need to reel anything in. The whole point of “Gates Ajar” was to show who we are, and to display some core facets. With following albums, we may have most songs focused on one facect, and four tracks that display others because it fits with the overall vision. The sky’s the limit. Now that “Gates Ajar” has made its point, we can now freely do what we want without worrying that we are not showing ourselves accurately. My method of picking the tracks for each album, and I work well in advance, is just knowing what is going to represent the overall thought behind the record. The way it will sound in the chosen production, the lyrics, the colour even, are all major factors in the selection.
One thing I really like, is the fact that you seem to blend hard rock and metal. In today’s scene it seems like you should be either one or another, and particularly within heavy metal circles there is a tendency to keep the sound as free from other impulses as possible. What do you think about this way of thinking in general?
– That kind of thinking is what had Sabïre lying dormant for so long. No one wanted to play it! Look, I don’t think like that, but that’s me. If it works for you to stay in your chosen lane, so to speak, then go for it. More power to you.
What kind of production and sound were you looking for for this record? To me the whole thing sounds very eighties-like, and maybe done in a home studio. With the material being so diverse, does that make it even more difficult deciding what is a fitting sound for the songs?
-Short story: I had an idea for how it should sound and I made it happen. Long story: I had an idea on how it should sound and had to go through two (more like eight) different mixes and the process was very painful. But, no pain, no gain. I had to keep telling myself that “Gates Ajar” would be the most difficult record I would ever do because it really was. It’s the first record I’ve ever put out publicly and it was, and has been, a steep learning curve because every single thing I did in production was the first time I had done it. Obviously things were going to go pear-shaped, but when that happened, I just had to start again and keep going til I got it right. I am very proud of how it turned out, and the remaster we did for the physical versions sounds even better. No, it was easy to get the right approach production-wise to the material. As you put it, the material sounds diverse, but it all sounds like Sabïre; it’s just a matter of what do you want this to sound like? The mindset going into “Gates Ajar” was this: if this is the only thing Sabïre will ever release, the sound (and the song choices) must be representative of the idea of Sabïre as a whole. We could not afford to try something one-off, like we will in future albums, we had to make the core essence of Sabïre the number 1 priority.
Who would you name as your inspirations when it comes to your vocals? Both here as well as in the music in for example “Rise To The Top” its easy to hear influences from American hard rock/metal shining through.
– Inspiration wise, there’s really too many to name. I really love and get inspired by vocals that have a tinge of sadness, and maybe a tragic aire. Regarding “Rise to the Top,” I actually had Rob Halford in mind when I was writing the lyrics. You might be able to hear what I was thinking in the first line of the first verse of the song. With the backing vocals I just thought it would be nice to have a light backing harmony. Some of my favourite singers that really strike a chord with me would be people like Wanda Jackson, Noddy Holder, Blackie Lawless, Doro Pesch, that sort of thing. I’ve said it before, I can’t really sing like anybody, so I just try to be confident with my own voice and let nature take its course.
What kind of function do the lyrics fill in the expression of Sabïre? Are they secondary to the music in any way?
-Absolutely and unequivocally not. The lyrics are more than important. Even when writing a thematic song, one has to put immense caution into the writing process to ensure nothing regrettable is written. When I say this I mean, I would never put something out that I would think would sound lame if sung by another band. There are too many poor lyrics out there, and there really is no reason for it. If it means not finishing a song for four years than so be it. Do not put it out until you get it right.
Listening to your mini album it strikes me that the music and the lyrics might have been made primarly to entertain the listener. W.A. S. P. was/is also a band that entertained people, and when looking at the promo pictures on your Facebook page, there is really no denying that you have to be influenced by Blackie and W.A.S.P in a way.
– Regarding entertaining the listener: Our music is made primarily to enrich the lives of the listeners on whatever level it reaches them on. If being entertained is the sole level that a listener feels enriched by, then so be it. We have four primary influences for four very distinct reasons. W.A.S.P. is listed as our third. Blackie is an artist that I identify with on many levels, but Quorthon of Bathory is the first and most strongest influence on me. W.A.S.P.’s influence in Sabïre is that of lyrical intention. I was watching an interview with Blackie around the “Headless Children” era and he spoke about writing about what he was really thinking and feeling. It clicked to me then, that if Sabïre is composing music from that real place, the lyrics need to have that same confidence to say what I’m really feeling and thinking about. W.A.S.P.’s influence on me personally was in reassurance more than anything. When I first listened to W.A.S.P. I was blown away by what I was actually listening to musically. Hearing the song, “B.A.D.” made me reassured with what I was wanting to do with Sabïre. It gave me the confidence that it is ok, and more importantly, good to be entirely yourself musically and nobody else.
Tell us how you felt when you were contacted by Oliver from Keep It True with an offer to play at the festival? What did you know about Keep It True from before?
-It felt pretty exciting to say the least. You have to understand, we had only put the record out on the 20th of December, then I think on the 23rd we put it up on Bandcamp. January 3rd was the day Oliver emailed us. That is an astonishingly short timeframe, and we were already bombarded with emails and messages of all sorts; fans, labels, and interviews. I’ll say it again, it was very exciting. I had seen a clip of a band called Stallion playing at a festival a few years back, and now of course I recognise that festival as Keep It True. I really know next to nothing about the European music scene in general, let alone the metal scene. All of this is new to me.
How many liveshows will you have under your belt before Keep it True? Will the band continue as a duo when recording and perhaps as a quartet for live shows?
-Sabïre will have two live shows completed before Keep It True. We’ve done one show as a three-piece, same with the next one coming as of the time of this interview, and we will be in Europe with an additional touring guitarist. As for recording, we’ll be a three-piece unless stated otherwise.
You are currently working with a few different labels. Skol will do the CD-version, while Ropes and Bones will release it on tape. What about vinyl? Will you try to get involved with a label for the longer term, or will you continue doing stuff on your own and then shopping for a deal?
–No Remorse will be doing the vinyl of “Gates Ajar.” I suppose we would consider working with a label for a longer period of time if the right one came along. With the way things currently are in the Sabïre camp, we have to keep to ourselves and continue to work on putting together the next few releases and meet our own set deadlines. I will not say at all that we don’t want to work with a label, because that is not true, but we do have the means to get our work done the way we like, and we have a very chaotic schedule at the moment.
How much material do you have ready at the moment? Are there plans to start recording a full length anytime soon? What can you tell us about the new material?
-Ok, so Sabïre has 75+ songs in its arsenal. There is eight years of material there, and counting! I can say that there are plans for a full length. In fact, pre-production began in the last few months of last year. The new album is called, “Jätt.” There is an overall thought behind and encompassing this album. I will share an excerpt from the album’s accompanying epistle to shed some light on it:
“December 11th 2018
Jätt: the Streckish word for Hell. Apptly fitting for this album’s title. The songs in collection here express in general, a feeling of discomfort, some more severe than others. Discomfort at its extreme is hell. Hell is more than a location, it is a state of mind, an emotion, and in some cases, a way of life.”
I never used the opportunity to speak with Witherfall in the wake of their self released debut album, “Nocturnes And Requiems”, neither did I bite when Century Media re-released the same product a bit later, but when the follow up, “A Prelude To Sorrow” was ready, in November last year, I finally got a chance to speak to the band. Usually it’s just one guy you get at the other end, but this time, both guitarist Jake Dreyer as well as singer Joseph Michaels contributed to this interview.
First guys, if I understand right, both of you were members of the band White Wizzard for a while. Was it in that band you learnt to know each other?
– That was the first time Joseph and I had met each other. We met each other and instantly bonded over music theory and King Diamond. We ended up forming Witherfall after the demise of White Wizzard, at least the lineup we were in. There was a terrible tour in the UK that got awful, and after that we decided to form a band that should do all the crazy things that Witherfall does, says Jake Dreyer.
Did you learn anything from the whole experience With White Wizzard? Something must surely be going on, as there has been a lot of back and forth and many musicans in and out of that band during the years?
– We learned what not to do. Don’t run a band that way. There was one episode of Seinfeld, where one of the main characters are doing the opposite and everything good starts to happening. Its kind of what we thought. That wasn’t really our band and our music, Jake and I had a little input as to what melodies he would play or I would sing, but in reality we didn’t have too much to say on the the songs or direction of the band. It was pretty much someone else writing the shit the entire time, says Joseph Michaels.
You have come a long way since you released the first album on your own. What is the most important thing that has happened?
– It’s probably getting this second album recorded. It was a struggle, and so much work, energy and resources. This record means a lot to us, it’s the best stuff I have ever written or co-written, and I am sure Jake agrees. The subject matter is very emotional and its one of those things that doesn’t only mean a lot to us, but also to Adams family, to have his name carried on, Joseph continues and points to the fact that the album is shaped by the death of Witherfall’s former drummer, Adam Sagan in 2016.
– I would agree, and then siging with Century Media, especially in Europe gave us a boost. If it wasn’t for that, we probably wouldn’t be speaking to you right now, as they have resources we don’t have on our own. That helped us move on to a certain level, says Jake.
Speaking about Century Media, they don’t seem to be signing a lot of bands even vaguely similar to Witherfall anymore, and according to Jake it was quite flattering when they got contacted by the label.
– A long time A&R guy, named by Philipp Schulte, a guy that was also involved with the likes of Nevermore and Iced Earth, approached us. That was one of the main reason why we wanted to sign with Century Media, because he came in and really understood the band, our vision and what we excpect from the label. Century Media has been good to us, especially the European office.
– We have some styles you obviously could put us under, but I don’t really see us as one style of music. I think the label thought so as well, that we would easily be marketable because we cross over into so many different styles within the genre of rock and metal. The first record is its own thing, and every song on the second record is its own thing too, Joseph adds.
But some people would also call the fact that your music is not easy to categorize, a problem.
– It’s not a problem, it something we would try to break band. Take a band like Queen, they got a fifties doo-wop song and then the next one has this country tinge to it, and they even got some metal songs. You couldn’t put on one of their songs and say: “This is how Queen sounds.” And they’re the biggest band in the world. It’s pretty much the same with Led Zeppelin or Guns ‘n Roses, Jake says.
– It’s such a short term view to think it’s a problem to have diverse music, and to not have every song sounding the same. It’s easier to market a band that has one sound, to just shove it out there. I think songs are more important, and honestly you are not going to have ten great songs that sound the same on a record. Unless you are AC/DC. Even the best AC/DC songs doesn’t sound the same. “Money Talks” doesn’t sound like “For Those About To Rock.” That type of thinking is one of the main problems with the modern music industry, Joseph says before Jake follows up:
– If you ate the same food every single day, it could be great for some time, but after a while you get tired of it
The first album was a really professional product with great sound, packaging too go with the excellent songs of course. Jake says it was quite demanding having it done without the backing of a label.
– We tried to act like our own record label in a way. We put together funds, and of course lost a lot of funds. Doing it properly is not an inexpensive job. It wasn’t like we were there recording it by ourselves in our kitchen or something like that. We spent a lot of money in the studio. Also the Kristian Wahlin-cover art alone probably was as expensive as the recording budgets of a lot of records that were made that year. Not bragging about having the money, but to get something out there in that quality, it took a lot of money.
How many copies did you manage to sell on your own?
– I don’t want to go into exact numbers, but our first week sales when we were self releasing, they eclipsed many bands on Century Media and a couple of other labels. We can talk about money and all these things, but in reality, what really sets up apart is how much effort we put into it, how dedicated we are, and how much we work on songs, writing and productions. Our really maticulate attention to detail and setting high standards, not only for ourselves, but for everyone we worked with, that’s what made our product look like it was coming from an already signed act. That first record would not have come out if we could not get it to those standards. We would have kept working, kept getting money together, says Joseph.
– One of the main reasons we wanted to do Century Media, was because being an American band, in order to tap into the European market, you had to go through a lot of the wholeseller stuff. So they were willing to put out the records, do a bunch of colours and everything. But the sales we had going on first, were really good. I was personally surprised by it, especially the first day and the first week, says Jake.
– The sales were pretty well spread between Europe and the States, and a bunch of interest in Asia, South-America, as well. As Jake can tell you, I don’t sleep. I get up in the morning and market the damn thing. And then we’re up all night writing. We are really determined to get this music out everywhere. And we’re not going to sit by, waiting for other people to do it, says Joseph before Jake continues:
– There were two days where we worked 17 hours straight with packaging all the vinyls. I remember one went to Costa Rica and another one to Taiwan. They were all over the Place. It seemed we made quite a big impact he Japanse territory where we got signed to Ward records.
You set the bar quite high with your first album. Did it ever occur to you that the album could end up as your best work, as it in hindsight does with quite a lot of bands?
– No, because if you start thinking like that, you already put some doubt in your mind and risk setting your standards too low. What I want to Write about, is what I am feeling right now, and not putting too much into the past work. If it ends up being that way, with the debut regarded as the strongest release, so be it. If you start killing yourself over it, you’re just gonna create a lot of stress, explains Jake.
Jake is pretty honest when asked how if the fact that both he and Joseph are involved in bigger bands like Iced Earth and Sanctuary, has helped Witherfall’s career?
– It has helped for sure. When you put names like that around the band, it automatically draws more interest to Witherfall. It was great when Joseph and I did that tour, in North-America in February to March. It was almost like a little, mini-Witherfall promotour. Both Nevermore and Iced Earth are great bands, so it’s not like were tying ourselves to these bands we don’t enjoy. It’s the opposite of the White Wizzard-thing too, you get to see a couple of bands that have run their organizations for a very long time. And have been successful, you get to see a little what it takes to maintain that level of success.In Iced Earth’s case for more than thirty years.
Let’s speak more specific about the new album. Of course “A Prelude To Sorrow” is influenced by what happened to Adam, do you think would have made a similar sounding album without that happening?
– I think Adams passing added this raw, emotional factor to it that would have been impossible for us to dive into and honestly feel it, says Jake. He continues:
– It was almost a therapy thing of grieving writing these songs. There is a reason why those parts sound very aggressive or sad. It’s a very emotional record for us. I think if we didn’t have that mindset going into it, when we were composing these songs, they would be similar I think but…
Joseph jumps in:
– I think they would be completely different, It’s no way these compositios would have ended up the same if they weren’t about what they are about. This isn’t a band where the guitar player or the singer or a member come in and says: “Here is my song, put your stuff on top of it.” Everything gets worked out at the same time in the room, there is no way it would be even remotely close to the same record without the tragedy.
I thought it was the same story with you as a lot of other bands, having all the time in the world to write the songs for the debut album under little pressure, while the follow up is created under some sort of pressure during a much smaller amount of time, but it appears that with you it was quite the opposite really…
– Yeah, it was. The first one we spent probably three or four months writing. For “A Prelude To Sorrow”, it was spread out over two years. If we sat down and had two or three months, we could probably have written the album. No problem. It just took awhile because we had other stuff going on with the band, like touring. Certain songs did take longer than others, because it felt like they needed to breathe for a while and then for us to come back to them. That’s part of the grieving process as well. “Nocturnes And Requiems” was definitely written more consistently, like every single day, while this one was spread out over a couple of weekends or so, here and there throughout the course of a year, Jake explains before Joseph continues:
– We worked on “A Prelude To Sorrow”, while “Nocturnes And Reqiuems” was kind of still the thing. Its not like we decided when to start on the second album, and draw a line behind the time devoted to the first record. We are constantly writing. We had continued writing after “Nocturnes And Requiems”, and that’s why Adam was able to hear pieces of some of these songs before he died. Time goes by quickly, look at the releases date of “Nocturnes And Requiems” on Century Media and the release date of “A Prelude To Sorrow”, it’s barely a year.
According to the Joseph, there are a no such things as “main ingredients” in a Witherfall-song.
– That goes back to the Queen-thing. Songs like “Epilogue” or Maridian’s Visitation” or “The Great Awakening”, don’t have any of the things most people assosciate with Witherfall, no high. crazy falsettos or arpeggiated 16th note sixtuplets. They’re just songs. I am really struggling to answer that question.
– One thing we’re always trying to do, is to write good songs. Whatever that has to be, we have parts of our song that have a lot of different percussion and also parts that are acoustic, but in other songs we dont use that. There is not really one single ingredient. It’s not like; We’re Witherfall, so we have to use this. We’ve been using seven strings, the next records could use just six, we will never go to eight though, that is too much, Jake adds.
Listening to both of your albums, to me it seems like you are just as much influenced by the metal of the nineties as what came out during the eighties?
– Yeah, there were great bands in the nineties, like Nevermore, Pantera, Alice In Chains and I am a big fan of the “Sound Of Perseverance”-era from Death which came out in the nineties. And King Diamond of course. People say there was no good metal in the nineties, but I disagree, says Jake.
The first taster you made available from the new album was “Ode To Despair”, and then you followed up with “Moment Of Silence”. Two quite different tracks, which I guess, is probably part of the idea?
– Yeah, it was. We wanted to keep people guessing and on their toes, what are we gonna do next? Hoping to fuel speculations about how the album was going to sound. A lot of our music you simly can’t put in one box, Jake explains.
– Those also happened to be two songs we thought were catchy and we wanted to put out as singles, Joseph continues.
Is it just as satisfying for you when people listen to single track as when they spend time with the full album? I ask because there is clearly a thought behind this album that goes way beyond a collection of song, with a red thread, well thought out running order and a certain atmosphere…
– We want people to listen to the album. You have to do it at least once, and then if you have your fave, by all means, do whatever you got to do. You won’t really understand any of the songs if you don’t listen to it in the context of the record though, Joseph says.
– It’s like the first time you listen to “The Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd, you have heard “Time” and all those other super popular songs, but the first time you listen to that record from start to finish its like “Wow, I completely understand the story now”. It’s not a lot of bands nowadays that do that, bands just put out singles or people go to these sites and buy whatever tracks they like. There is stuff to be said about putting a vinyl on and the ritual aspect of it, taking an hour of the day to experience something. I would always encourage people to like Joseph said, listen to the album once, and then pick the things you like to hear, Jake continues.
Witherfall had Kristian Wåhlin doing the coverart for both releases. It quite striking how his work suits different types of music. He did a lot of art for death metal or melodic death metal, doom metal and prog metal, and his paintings also fit Witherfall really well. Jake explains how the cooperation came together.
– Yeah, Joseph and I have always been fans of his work. He did one of our faves, “Voodoo” by King Diamond, and countless others like Dissection’s “Storm of the Light’s Bane” which is an awesome piece. When we were doing “Nocturnes And Requiems”, we wanted a real piece of art, as it is a huge part of the package. A lot of these bands use the same photo shop crap. There is not a lot of stuff out there that actuallly have painted pieces of art. That was one thing we wanted to do. Luckily Kristian was on the top of our list and when he agreed to do it, we instantly formed this bond with him. He has been amazing, we told him a little of what we were going for and sent over some lyrics and a couple of demo pieces only.
You have always been very good at marketing your Witherfall. I have received emails about the band for years now, and you also have lots of merch for people to buy. Do you hope to be able to live of your music one day?
– Yeah, of course. We are able to do some of that now. Joseph does all the promotion stuff for the states. Answers all the emails and things like that. When it comes to merch ideas, we collaborate. Basically we are travelling t-shirt selling men, these days. We would like to have a lot more merch, different pieces. There are always different things, trends and stuff like that happening that people want. Different types of shirt, there was one period where people wanted all bright colours and shit. I didn’t like it, but the fans seemed to, Jake explains.
Will the two of you continue to be involved in Sanctuary and Iced Earth?
– You can definitely bounce in and out of both bands. It’s definitely possible. Bands at that level, know ahead of time what the touring schedule is going to be. It’s not like they’re weekend warrior guys: “Let’s load up our van, were playing this weekend.” They know six months ahead, a year ahead, so we plan accordingly. Usually, when Joseph is on tour, I am here, or vice versa, so there is always someone running the Witherfall- camp, Jake says before Joseph brings this interview to an end with some words on his participation in Sanctuary:
– We working on a record right. I am supposed to fly and meet with Lenny Rutledge next week. There is no measurement on how far into the process we are, but we have some song ideas and a couple of incomplete songs.
I did a huge feature on Mausoleum Gate a while ago, and now it’s time to get to know Iron Griffin a little better. Iron Griffin is the solo project from Oskari Räsänen, the drummer from Mausoleum Gate. The new album, “Curse Of The Sky” is soon to be released.
As far as I can see, the first sign of life from Iron Griffin on Facebook was in August 2017, but how and when was the idea for Iron Griffin born?
– Iron Griffin was born somewhere in 2016. Then I got myself an electric guitar, after many years playing only drums. Of course I got some riffs and stuff done, and at first I tried to bring them out for Mausoleum Gate. But it really did not feel quite good, so I ended up keeping them to myself. And when songs begun to take shape, doing demos, writing lyrics and toying around with them, I thought: Why not make a release on my own? So I ended up recording a demo in 2017, which eventually turned out to be proper debut EP, explains Oskari.
When you signed to Gates Of Hell Records, how important was the link you already had to Cruz Del Sur through Mausoleum Gate?
– At first, the idea was to just make a cassette demo out of my material, but when I had the material recorded, I thought why not to send it to some labels? What if someone is crazy enough to release it on vinyl? The 12″ mini-LP is my personal favourite format in metal, but at the same time, it is a really uncommercial format these days. Ridicilous, but worth the try, was my thought. Of course Gates Of Hell and Cruz Del Sur came to my mind right away because our earlier business with Mausoleum Gate, so I sent the material to them. I was really surprised when Gates of Hell responded quickly, and they really were up to releasing the EP, on both vinyl and tape formats. So the deal was signed. I really don’t know if they could have released the EP without working with Mausoleum Gate beforehand. We can only speculate about it really. They’re great labels, anyway!
It appears that Oskari really enjoys reviews of his own music, but he doesn’t use them as guidelines when it comes to forging the sound of Iron Griffin.
– The EP got some really good feedback, and I am really happy with the final product. One of the absolute best things after a music release, is to read reviews of it. I love reading them! But they actually does not matter, I make my things my way and as I see fit. That’s what solo work is all about.
According to the press release, the new material you wrote for “Curse Of The Sky” craved a different singer. What is it about the new songs that the singer on the EP, Toni, isn’t able to do? How did the new singer Maija Tiljander enter the picture?
– As with the EP, the songs on the new full length release were made by me, and I also sang on the demos myself. The songs are not arranged for some specific vocalist. Toni could have easily sung on this album as well, and I had in fact spoken with him in advance, to make sure that when the album came, he was available to do the vocals. By the time I was in deep “USPM-psychosis” and thought I would like to have more raw power in the vocals for my music. I actually asked Pekka Montin (from Judas Avenger, Amoth, ex Evil-Lyn etc) if he was interested in a project like this. He’s a hard boiled professional and phenomenal vocalist, who really could do the job…But then, when I thought about vocalists I know and who I have witnessed performing live, I remembered something a couple of years back. In Henry’s Pub in Kuopio, there was a tribute band called Spirit Of Steel performing power metal covers, stuff by Rhapsody, Edguy, Helloween, Galneryus and so on. There were a couple of guys playing there I knew from the past, but the vocalist, she really ripped! When that gig came to my mind, I immediately tried to find out who she was, and contacted her. She was up to doing this album project, so we arranged a demo session in Joensuu. At first I had some mixed thoughts about this combination, but during the next day when I listened to the demos again, it was pretty clear to me that this really was an unique sounding mixture, and that she really had the power I was looking for. The process was not too easy, and in the end I had to transpose almost every song to fit her vocal range, something that was a challenge for an amateur like me. But after the base was right, the recording sessions went really smooth and she made some amazing work. I am so grateful to Maija for being part of this album!
From what I know, drums are your main instrument, but in Iron Griffin you handle all the instruments yourself. Which one is most challenging for you to perform?
– Drums are my safespace, that’s for sure. Guitar solos, on the other hand, are my worst enemy. I really don’t have the patience and devotion to practice enough, something like scales or theory or techniques… Argh! So yeah, in a way guitars are the most challenging part. But that’s the magic of making your own music, you don’t have to make it too difficult for yourself. Hehe! But of course I want to become better, and I’ll promise in the future there will be more solos and leads.
Oskari finds it difficult to describe the idea behind Iron Griffin, and how everything from the logo, the artwork and the lyrics to the music itself tie together…
– I really enjoy old folk music, atmospheric dungeon synth, medieval stuff, fantasy and nature, and lots of other stuff. Iron Griffin is a combination of things I love, and I prefer my music epic, dark and organic. My lyrics are nothing special, I think. They do not create whole new worlds, nor are they very poetic. They tell tales in an earthly and melancholic way, and there’s nothing fancy about them. I have a new song brewing which tells about agriculture, for example. With an Iron Griffin twist of course!
Where do you look for inspiration for the lyrics? Do you have bigger ambitions with the lyrics than to write something that fits the music and the overall concept of the band?
– I go with the music as the main priority. Usually I have the melodies in my mind, and then I start making lyrics around them. As usual in heavy metal, how the vocals and lyrics sound, is more important than the actual content. This far, the lyrics has been mostly about fantasy and battles, as they fit with the music, but I’ve been thinking about more sci-fi-oriented stuff also… But we’ll see what the future holds.
What does it give you personally to have full control of a project like Iron Griffin?
– Working alone gives me the opportunity to do thing exactly as I want, and I don’t need to listen to any opinions or ask anyone for approval. I find this very fascinating. I’ve been playing in “real bands” since high school, and without those years of playing and learning, making solo music would not be possible for me. This is part of a long journey to become a better musician and composer. I really like recording and mixing stuff also, because I am interested in audio in general. Making artwork and layouts are among my interests as well.
That being said, I see you have been helped out by a few more guys in the recording process this time around, with some stuff like synthesizers and acoustic guitars. Are these things you can’t do on your own?
– F.F. Nieminen made such a good job with the intro on my first EP, so I wanted him to play some synths on the album too. I am no good at playing keyboards, and I did not have the suitable gear either, so I found it easier and more pleasant to have him playing them. We had a nice session in his apartment in Helsinki producing those synths. The same goes for the acoustic guitars, they’re performed by the ex- Mausoleum Gate guitarist Kasperi Puranen.
The press release names seventies proto metal, as an important source of inspiration. Would Oskari say that Iron Griffin’s sound is closer to this genre than to late seventies/early eighties heavy metal?
– That’s a tough question! I surely like old Black Sabbath, Flower Travelling Band, Lucifers Friend and others, but I don’t find them very inspirational when it comes to Iron Griffins music. Of course the sound of this album is maybe more towards that era, but it is only because I want to have my music sound natural and real. And I believe I succeeded. If you come to my rehearsal place and listen to my drum kit, it sounds pretty much the same as on the album. This sound policy has already created mixed opinions among reviewers, and I like that! Because it is fun to see how some people think this is a lo-fi recording, because it is actually pretty hi-fi, as I used some high quality microphones and preamps. So the album sound is closer to to the seventies.
The new album opens with a short instrumental “Prelude” before “Reign Of Thunder”. Why did you want to open the album with these two tracks?
– After a long process of thinking about the album entity and the overall flow, I ended up in this order. Nothing more than that actually. I wanted to have an acoustic intro, and “Reign Of Thunder” started really well after that. Of course a fast rocker song is also a good start for an album, but the whole album entity is the most important aspect.
“Curse Of The Sky” is the kind of album that will most probably divide people. The music is certainly not for everyone, but on the other side it’s also one of those albums that will end up high on other peoples best of the year list. What do you think it is about your music that causes such mixed emotions?
– This album is not an easy one to listen. It might require an experienced ear for underground metal, and it is certainly not for modern metal listeners. I want to, and try to produce “musical” heavy metal; with strong melodies, living tempos and atmosphere. It is all more important than technical instrumentation or guitar solo wanking. Different people want different things from their music, but I try to cherish more the moody stuff than just” headbanging rock’n’roll beer drinking”- stuff.
I see that some people have already complained about the production on the album, did you achieve the type of production you were looking for, and what qualities did you want the production/sound to have?
– I am satisfied with the production, the instruments sound as they sound live. That was my goal, to make it sound natural. It seems some listeners don’t like it, and I can’t blame them! It is tough, as the album is pretty gritty. I think heavy metal should be wild. Everything should not be calculated and measured, and exaggeration is often better than being restrained.
Change of subject: There is this festival coming up in Helsinki , called “Heavy Metal Nights”, with quite an impressive lineup of Finnish bands performing, including Mausoleum Gate. Apart from those performing at the festival, there are also interesting Finnish bands like Legionnaire, Tyfons Doom and Chevalier to name a few. How would you describe what’s happening in the Finnish heavy metal-scene at the moment, and do you have a couple of favorite acts?
– A lot is happening in the Finnish scene at the moment. All those bands playing in that festival, and many more. The Chevalier-LP is soon here, Lord Fist and Angel Sword are both recording new albums as well. I really enjoy the Finnish roster of heavy metal, lots and lots of great bands and people! Keep an eye for a new band called Orphan Devil, they will surely deliver. Borley Rectory is one of the newest act in Finland, their recent demo tape is all right, but as a live band, they are excellent. So there are lots of great things! Beside these great acts, there is a somewhat more commercial movement also, with bands like Lazy Bonez, Tyrantti and Coronary, but this is not really my cup of tea!
Speaking about festivals, Oskari confirms that it is a dream of his for the future to take Iron Griffin to the stage as well.
– I would like to have Iron Griffin performing live some day, and I often think about it. But right now, the lack of time and resources keep it from happening. We’ll see about this in the future. If you, dear reader, would like to play in Iron Griffin, don’t hesitate to contact me.
We have to round off with a question about your main band Mausoleum Gate. The band recently announced a new singer and a new guitarist. When can we expect a new album, and will the new recruitments get a chance to put their mark on the material?
– The new Mausoleum Gate 7″ single is coming soon! It already has one brand new song, “The Demon Age of Aquarius”, with both new members Jarno (vocals) and Jari (guitars) performing. The B-side features one of the earliest Mausoleum Gate songs, “Before the Snake Sneaked In”, which was recorded during the “Metal and the Might”-sessions in 2016. A new full length album wwill hopefully come some day!
When you get a chance to speak to someone like Mike Howe, you simply don’t say no. His vocals on the three Metal Church albums from the eighties and early nineties are a huge part of my youth, and represented some sort of musikal awakening.
– Well thank you very much, it’s cool to speak to you too, Leif.
It’s been 30 years since 1988, and what must have been a pretty crazy year for you. You did a demo with a band called Snair, then you joined Heretic and then finally found yourself as the singer of the migthy Metal Church.
– Yes, that’s right. Those are my early years. You know everyone has their stories from their youth and this is mine. It was pretty crazy indeed, and exciting and fun and all sorts of things and a lot of things happened in a very short time. When you’re young, things do move pretty fast, mainly because you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do.
Did you feel it was one step up the ladder for each of those bands? I mean, first the demo and then an album with Heretic and then finally joining Metal Church which was quite big back then.
– Things went pretty fast, but you know the first band, Snair, that you talked about…I was in the band with those guys back in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan for a couple years. They were like my first band ever, my childhood dream of being in a successful band, making it with those guys. When we disintegrated because of differences and because the scene in LA was really tough for us, it was more of a business decision from there on. I joined Heretic because they needed a singer . They were a big band and I really liked those guys and they were on Metal Blade as well. Then Kurdt Vanderhoof came in to produce the Heretic-album, “Breaking Point”, and he and I immediately hit it off and had this chemistry together in the studio. It was really undeniable, so when he asked me if I’d be interested in joining Metal Church, I accepted of course. Because like I said, although I respected the Heretic-guys and liked them, they weren’t my brothers in arms from when I was a kid. So like I said, it was a business decision to do that and I took it. The rest is history as they say. Kurdt and I have a great history together writing and making music, and I feel very lucky to have made that connection.
And it also was a quite a unique story with you joining Metal Church, replacing David Wayne while he joined the Heretic-guys, forming Reverend.
– Yeah, that was quite strange, but it’s a small world and, you know, if you moved down to LA from, from Washington, there’s only a few bands down there in the same network because it was hair band days. With all those bands going on, true hardcore metal fans were few and far between.
I have always wondered if you joining Metal Church was a about trying to make the band a bit more radio friendly, as your voice was probably easier for people to like than David Wayne’s voice.
– Well I don’t know about that, but we just did what naturally came to us, you know. The way we wrote music with my voice in there, was just a natural progression. It wasn’t anything we tried to do or forced. It was just as it is today, we write the same way nowadays. It’s just organic and what comes out of us, you know what feels good, what sounds good. If it sounds good and it feels good to us, we keep it. If it doesn’t, if we’re not feeling it, then we throw it out. It’s as basic as that. And as far as Dave Wayne’s voice versus my voice goes, you say mine’s more commercially viable, I don’t know if that’s true, but if you say so. There are two types of singers, at least in my mind. We’re two different sides of the metal singing, he was the screaming, screeching, high pitch metal singer and he was great at it and people revered him and he deserved all those accolades. I am more of an operatic, yelling, controlled singer so that’s what made it easier for me to step into the shoes and take over the reins as the singer of Metal Church, because we were completely different.
When I listen to the last album “XI” as well as the new “Damned If You Do”, it seems like you have taken very well care of your voice through all these years. Have you kept singing, or lived a very healthy lifestyle or perhaps both of them?
– Once a singer, always a singer you know. Whether I’m singing in a heavy metal band or or not, I’m annoying those around me in my life because I can’t keep my mouth shut at all. But, you know, not singing and screaming any heavy metal for 20 years did has preserved my voice. You can’t go back in time and revisit, but that could very well be part of the factor. The other factor could be that I, back in the day, learned proper operatic breathing and singing techniques. To use my diaphragm and project correctly. If you can do that, I think that you can have longevity in your voice. Look at James Hetfield, he’s a powerful singer like me. He uses his diaphragm and his breath control as well, so I think if you have control of your instrument which is your body and your voice, the whole thing together, then you can have longevity. The other part of that is I do take care of myself. I don’t smoke, and live a healthy lifestyle, take care of myself, eating healthy and getting enough sleep.
So what have you been up to for all these years since you quit Metal Church after “Hanging In The Balance”. I think I read somewhere a very long time ago that you lived in Europe for a while?
– No, I never lived in Europe, but I’ve been to Europe a lot. I have just lived my life like every other person. I am married, have raised two boys and I am a carpenter by trade, so I build things. Just a family lifestyle, I’m a family man.
From what I have read, Kurdt has approached you several times about to rejoin Metal Church. What made you decline throughout the years?
– Kurt never approached me up until the end of 2014. That’s the first time he ever called me to ask me to do that. When he called and asked me, it was a wasn’t a “yes” right away. “I don’t really want to do that, but I’m open to listening to you”, I said. So we had several talks, were we spoke about how the music industry has changed and recording and how we can do things over the internet and share files and do things like that. He told me it would be less invasive to a family lifestyle, and taking less time away from home. Because of the internet, we can easily share files. That was very appealing ,and so we just took it from there. After a while I said: “I’m open to listening to some music that you have written”. At the same time I told him that I wasn’t gonna come back to Metal Church for nostalgia, and that I wanted to make a new record first and see how it went. You know, everything for me starts with the album, and if we can write an album with quality that we feel proud of and can stand behind, we can move forward after that. But until that happens there’s nothing really to move forward with. So we worked for like a year on putting an album together. We were both very excited and very proud of what we’ve done and then we decided to take it on the road. So we took the same approach with this album. We were like: Okay, that was great for two years and now we got to start over and see if we can do another one that we feel is equally strong or stronger than the last one. But if this it falls short in any way and we don’t feel very confident in what we’ve done, then that might be it for the band.
Mike has as long as he has been in the band, contributed to the lyrics. Of course he has this time as well…
– We write together and as you know ,Kurdt’s the main songwriter and driving force of Metal Church. You can feel his style and… his everything through the music. When we’re ready to start writing new material, Kurdt gets inspired and then he’ll write like four, five or six songs and put them down on his computer. It’ll be a basic outline of the structures of the songs with guitars, drums, bass, and then he will send them to me and I’ll listen to them. When he gets a handful of them together, that we feel are something we would like to work on, I will go to his studio, and he will sit in front of the computer and throw up a microphone in front of me, and I’ll just start singing out melodies and generally what I feel. We rearrange the music together, move this around and that around and that’s the beauty of digital recording. Nowadays you can do pre-production stuff out of your writing, and shape the song by moving parts around or taking parts out and it’s really a great tool for songwriting. We do that and sometimes when I’m singing and screaming out, ideas for lyrics or titles will pop out. Sometimes we say: “That was really cool, let’s keep that and then we’ll build on that”. Or it’s more like: “That was average but we’ll keep it just as a reference track”. You know for the melody, and then we’ll carry on, and when we’re finished with that, we work together, finishing up the lyrics.
When I listen to this new album, it seems to me that you have had a stronger input now compared to the last album, because I can hear more of your signature vocal melodies.
– Well, you know, most of the melodies on the record are me doing exactly what I just said, and for some reason maybe we succeeded a little bit more the second time around and got back to the “The Human Factor”- days or something. The way I described the writing process, is the way we always do it and nothing changes. Kurdt looks at me and says: “Are you feeling it?” I say “yes” or “no” and we’ll build something out if we both feel it. We are usually, both in complete agreement about the way things sound because we both know how we want Metal Church to sound. It’s very simple and it’s a great chemistry and it’s very organic and it’s not hard, In fact, it’s a lot of fun.
Mike says that the chemistry between him and Kurdt was there immediately when they started working together again.
– I think if you have a chemistry with somebody and you’ve worked with them before, it’s always going to be there. We try to remember how fun it was making music in the past. We said to each other: “Let’s have fun!” If you’re not having fun, I am sure it will show.
The band has sounded more like hard rock and less like metal, at least until you rejoined, but do you feel that Kurdt’s songwriting has changed since, let’s say, “Blessing In Disguise”.
– Well I think everybody evolves and changes, but Kurdt’s also affected by his vocalist and who he is writing with. So when he knows that I am going to be singing the songs, he can keep that in the back of his mind. He has said in many interviews, that because I’m here now, he knows that I’m going to sing more melodic than the past singer, so he can write songs that might be a little more appropriate for my voice I guess.
Have you followed Metal Church career closely when you have been out of the band?
– Not really. I mean, here and there I was curious of course, and was listening to a couple songs to hear what they were doing. I have not been listening to all theier albums though and havent really been a full fledged fan of theirs. Howe-ver (pun intended), I’ve always been a fan in spirit and in heart of Metal Church from the very beginning until now. I feel like I am lucky to be part of this thing called Metal Church. It’s like a big family you know, there has been a lot of members involved over the years, and to me it’s all good and it’s all a beautiful thing. All the music that Kirk has written through the years, whether it’s with Dave, me or Ronnie, it’s all part of the same thing.
There are some new guys in the lineup nowadays. Do you get along well with the new guys?
– Oh yeah! That’s the great thing about being older guys, one of the positives about all of us being in our fifties. With age, we have learnt how to get along and how to talk to each other. Everybody in the band nowadays, are just good, down to earth guys that like to play music together.
But when you team up for a tour or concert with Armored Saint or Megadeth, is it like it was 25 years ago or do you feel that things have changed, that things are different?
– For me and things are completely different. And I think there’s a lot more of a camaraderie between the bands nowadays. At least for Metal Church, because I always felt we were a little bit on the outside because we’re from Seattle. But like I said, all of those bands are older too and they’re all grown up men now. We went out with Armored Saint, and those guys are great guys and we got along and it was really nice. You know, there weren’t any of these, 20 year old egos or anything like that. It’s a lot more enjoyable to be relaxed and comfortable in your own skin. When the other guys are as well, you can just go out and really, really appreciate how lucky you are to do what you’re doing.
In what ways do you think “Damned If You Do” is different from, from “XI”?
– Obviously, we have a different drummer so there’s always going to be a little bit of a difference, I also think that we have a little bit more of an aggressive attack in the songs, and our performances are reflective of that. And then I really liked the way Kurdt made this album, because everything is up front and you can hear all the players really just giving it their all. I think that really shows on this album. The guitar, my singing, the drums and the bass and the leads, they’re all just right out there in your face and it feels like a live, jamming record to me. It gets me excited, so yeah I really, I really like this album.
I just watched the video for the song “By The Number”. Mike confirms it was a lot of fun making this one.
– It was beyond a lot of fun, really. I mean, grown men getting to jump around and act and play like big kids. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that?
Mike continues by speaking about where the idea for that video came from.
– I talked to the director, Jamie Brown who I knew from before. In the past, he helped us with the video for “Needle And Suture” and also the for “Reset”. He’s very open minded and creative. I talked to him on the phone about, the basic concept of the song and what it is about. I suggested that I just played the guy, the main character. He thought the idea was great and so then I pulled together some stuff and came down to LA to shoot it in a house down there. We spent like an hour and a half at the beginning of the video shoot just talking about the story with the director and the cinematographer, and it was just a lot of fun. It was kind of shooting from the hip, but we had a basic idea, and it all came together in the first hour. The lyrics are a little tongue in cheek you know. Everyone is frustrated with their life sometimes. They feel like they just g to work, are coming home, being with their kids, and doing the same over and over. It’s quite okay sometimes, but sometimes you wish you could do this or that, or could be somewhere else. It’s a good fantasy, so we kind of took up that theme. We made it with this guy being a successful, maybe accountant or a businessman who got all the things in life that money can buy, but he’s really just wants to be a rockstar. Unfortunately, he had to give up his dream, as he had to make money instead of just rocking out. Maybe he’s a little regretful about his decisions. It’s just a light hearted, take on that kind of theme, and I’m sure lots of people relate to it in different ways.
Did you try to distance yourself from the metal scene when you quit Metal Church back then, or did you keep some of the friends and buddies from the Seattle scene?
– I kept my close friends from the band. John Marshall is still a really close friend of mine. Duke Erickson as well. When I left the band, I was very frustrated. The whole experience made me dislike music in general. Not only metal, but all music because of the business and how it was beating me down. I love music, but got very unhappy about the music business, so it was tough. But once I got away from it for a while, I got back into music. I am not a heavy metal fan exclusively. I like all music and I believe there’s great music in all genres if you look deep enough. There are artists out there that are diamonds in the rough. And music is art, so it’s special to each person. Each person has their own likes and dislikes and that’s the beauty of it. When people say they don’t like Metal Church , I tell them that’s fine, as it’s not for everybody . Everyone have different tastes and that’s the beauty of it. Music should make your life richer and make you feel good.
Have you done anything musically at all for all these years?
– Nothing serious or anything like that, just house jams you know with guitars and things like that. Just for fun.
There is a song on the new album called “Out Of Balance” which kind of brings me back to the old days with what seems like a reference to the title “Hanging In The Balance” from the 1993-album.
– We didn’t really think about it at the time, but of course you can’t help but draw parallels between that song and “Hanging In The Balance”. It’s just kind of a good heavy metal theme that goes right along with “Living By The Numbers” and living your life out of balance and all those kind of things. Heavy metal, and especially where we come from, is about getting out your frustrations in a positive way with the music.
It’s not easy for Mike to pick a favorite from the three albums he did with Metal Church in the late eighties and early nineties.
– Well, I don’t really have a favorite one because, like I say about songs that we write, they’re each individual products on their own and they’re like our children. You write them, you put them out and they’re very personal to you. So, I love them all in their own way. You love them for their differences and they all mark a specific time of our lives, so when you listen to them, they take you back to a different period and help you remember what you were going through.
Is it different for you when you do the old stuff on stage compared to when you sing the new songs?
– Yeah, it is hugely different, because, in a way, when you’re singing the old songs such as “Human factor”, “Fake Healer” or “Date With Poverty” , it’s a throwback to another era. That was me, but that was so long ago. Don’t misunderstand me, they’re great, fun songs to do, but I really enjoy doing new music, that’s what drives me. It was also one of my main points for coming back to Metal Church. I really am someone who doesn’t look to the past, I am not nostalgic, even though I enjoyed those songs and love those songs, I’m very much more interested in the new material that we are doing and I am living today in the moment.
How is that when you tour and open for Megadeth and do a three quarter set and only get to play a few new songs along with the older stuff?
– I’m okay with it, and like I tell people, it’s a great problem to have. How many bands can really say: “My god, there’s so many songs we would love to play. Which ones do we play?” It’s a good problem to have. It can be difficult as well, but in those moments, we’re just happy to be able to be out there and play music with Megadeth and in front of our fans, so, we take what we can get.
Being away from the business for quite some years, Mike says he can see the changes in the whole record industry,
– Oh Yeah, I mean there’s huge, huge difference. The major label companies are virtually non existent and now we have Rat Pack Records and Nuclear Blast helping us out. We’re on King records in Japan, but Rat Pack is our main record company in the United States. They’re doing an amazing job, working super hard marketing us and putting our stuff out. And we can call them anytime we want. As matter of fact, I do. A lot. The owner, he’s an amazing guy and we’re very happy to be able to speak to our record company and see how hard..
“The Poisoner” is here, the follow up to the highly acclaimed “A Funeral For The World”, and it’s pretty natural to get in contact with the New York-based trio for a chat about the past as well as the new offering. All members of the band, Jeremy (guitar), Erica (vocals and bass) and Nathan (drums) that is, contributed to this feature.
First of all, you debut release was a digital only EP through Bandcamp featuring four songs back in 2015. What kind of exposure and feedback did you get on the material?
J: – The 2015 demo was released for the purpose of promoting shows. We wanted to give people a taste of what we were about if they were going to come see us somewhere. We also made a cassette version to sell at the merch table.
Then in 2017 you released your debut album independently before Cruz Del Sur did a vinyl version the next year. Do you think the fact that you released this album as a CD helped, or do you think it would have gotten the same attention also from labels even if it was a digital release only?
J: – We wanted to release it on any format possible. Music fans consume music in all different ways these days, so it’s important to get it to as many of those channels as you can.
E: – We also self released 300 colored vinyl copies. We wanted that for ourselves and our vinyl head fans.
I guess the debut album is still rather fresh to you, but were there aspects about it you weren’t fully satisfied with and wanted to improve when you started working on this new one?
J: – I’m personally quite happy with “A Funeral For The World”. Of course there is a mistake here or there I’d fix if I could do my parts over again, but overall I am happy with how it has held up.
E: – “A Funeral For The World” came out just as it was supposed to. I don’t have any major regrets. We were limited in time and budget. I would love to have the luxury of time. To not have to press through feeling ‘maxed out’ during a session.
N: – We didn’t rush anything when we were writing the debut album. Because of that we were able to take a lot of care in writing those songs, and making sure they were concise and compelling. As far as being fresh for us? Some of the riffs date back to 2013.
Was the trio format something you where looking for from the start, or did it just materialize when Erica joined as she could both sing and play the bass?
J: – It’s just how it came together for us. Having only three people makes a lot of things easier in terms of songwriting and band decisions in general.
N: – In the beginnings, Jeremy and I were jamming with a few other people, and we had some serious delusions of grandeur, with Hammond organs and second guitarists, etc. I think once we got into a room with Erica, it became immediately clear that we could very easily get the point across with the three of us.
Cruz Del Sur is a label with a great and well deserved reputation in underground metal circles. Sanhedrin undoubtedly have a different musical approach and a bigger crossover potential than most acts on the label, do you still think the usual Cruz Del Sur-customer will check you out, and those who haven’t heard you before will give you a chance even though you are on a label mostly associated with a specific type of heavy metal-releases?
J: – Cruz Del Sur has done a great job for us to date in terms of helping us achieve certain goals as a band and expanding our reach. I’m sure that fans of their other acts will come check us out just as a matter of curiosity. I know that I will explore bands on certain labels simply because that particular label is known for quality releases and artists.
N: – With Cruz Del Sur, we’ve been able to maintain and expand our creative outlet. Enrico has been extremely pro active and energetic on our behalf, so we’ve been very happy with the relationship so far. Hopefully while Cruz Del Sur helps us gain some traction in Europe with their established base, hopefully we can help serve as a gateway drug to some of the more specific releases they’re putting out with our more diverse sound.
E: – Enrico is a brave and lucky soul to have taken us on. I am grateful for his participation and the work he does for underground music.
The deal with Cruz Del Sur means you can spend more time on the music and less time on the business side of things, is that the main reason why you are not releasing your albums on your own?
J: – There are many benefits to doing things yourself, but in our case the drawbacks outweigh them. For one, the amount of time it takes to get a record recorded, mastered, duplicated, getting the artwork together and so on takes a lot of work and time. I’d rather focus on making music. Secondly, the three of us in the USA cannot do as god of a job getting the band known across Europe without the resources of a label like Cruz Del Sur. They have a far better understanding of how to get us exposed there than we do.
N: – It was a no brainer.
E: – Self releasing and running a label is a huge amount of work if you want to do it right. It a never ending job. We already have employment obligations because we need to put food in our mouths, roofs over our heads and instruments in our hands. I think we would all rather be playing and writing music when we are not working our survival.
Both your albums strike me as very diverse. Is this something you set as a goal when you start the creative process? Do you write individual tracks thinking about the album as a whole and aiming for a certain kind of diversity?
J: – We start out writing songs by themselves, and as we accumulate songs we start seeing a bigger picture for an album. In terms of the diversity of material, that’s just who we are. We all like a variety of music, and we like to explore things outside the boundaries of a typical heavy metal band. While some bands are happy writing the same song or album over and over, we are happy trying to take our music to new and different places when we can.
N: – We write music we want to listen to. Having played in thrash bands and punk bands over the years, you get tired of doing the same thing over and over.
E: – I’m a music head, not just a metal head.
You got a couple of long tracks surpassing the seven minute mark and also a short one under three minutes. What are the different challenges you are faced with when you have tracks that are developing and growing larger compared to when you want to keep them to the point?
J: – Every song dictates its own arrangement. The three minute song “For The Wicked” came together very quickly. If you listen to it, one can’t imagine it plodding along for any longer than it does. However, other songs are more of a journey and take time to resolve. Every song is its own beast.
N: – I would say when we’re writing a song we actively try not to be formulaic. Not every song should be “Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge/Solo, Chorus.” Some of the songs on this record have been reworked, rearranged, and even frankensteined from other songs before they made the cut.
E: – The long ones are long because thats what it took to tell that story. Same with the short ones.
The new album was recorded during August of last year. Are all song of a newer date than the material on “A Funeral For The World”, or have you reached back and revisited older ideas as well? Do you see a kind of development in your own songwriting when you compare the new songs to the old stuff you wrote?
J: – “The Poisoner” was recorded in the same studio with the same engineer, Colin Martson, as our first album. Colin has done a great job of getting our vision to come through the speakers and is very easy to work with in general. Some of the songs were born of ideas going back a couple years while others were written after the first album was recorded. In terms of development from the first album to this one, there is definitely an evolution. That said, fans of “A Funeral For The World” won’t be in shock by what they hear on the second one.
N: – The songwriting process hasn’t changed, but our working relationship is definitely stronger. For “A Funeral For The World”, there was no buzz, no pressure, no legacy to maintain, and the only limiting factors were what we could afford to do, so we took our time and made the best record we could. This time around I think we may have been a little less prepared going into the studio, but there’s something to be said about having your proverbial back against the wall.
E: – I feel really lucky that these guys keep throwing great music at me that inspires lyrics and vocal lines in my head. It is a prolific relationship.
You have chosen “The Poisoner” as the title of the album. Is that because you feel strongly about the titletrack, or because you think the title is relevant and has something to say about the lyrics on the album in general?
E: – Maybe so… I hadn’t thought about it that way, not consciously at least. It felt like a special song for a couple of reasons. When Jeremy brought in the chord progression he suggested it needed strong vocal support because it was so stark and covered so much territory musically. Secondly, the lyrics came to me channeled from beyond. All of a sudden I had a poem in my head, when I listened to our rehearsal of Jeremy’s new chord progression I realized the poem was for the song. It’s rare when that happens and it is good to take note of it.
Album titles like “A Funeral For The World” and “The Poisoner” sends a pretty strong hint that the views presented through the lyrics are not very optimistic, some might rather say realistic? Is the state of the world today perhaps one of the main inspirations for the lyrics?
E: – Artists always reflect the state of the world in some way. It’s part of the job. But I think I am genetically pre disposed to seeing the Dark Side perspective. My paternal grandmother had a saying: “ Life is a bowl of shit you eat one spoonful at a time.” It sounded better in French. While I don’t live my life by this I can’t escape it either.
“Meditation (All My Gods Are Gone)” is not only the first track you made available as a taster from the album, it’s also the opening cut. Why do feel this song ticks both these boxes?
J: – When looking at this group of songs as a whole, every song was placed on the album where we thought it was have the most impact. Song order is very important on a record, and “Meditation (All My Gods Are Gone” being the opening track is what made the most sense to us while choosing a running order.
N: “Meditation” takes you on a journey. It has heavy riffs, triplets, a 6/8 rhythmic bridge, a killer guitar solo, and to top it off Erica’s performance is simply sublime. It was kind of a no brainer for us.
You have said about the artwork on the new album that it captures the the essence of the album. What’s the link between the artwork and the musical and lyrical content?
N: – We are extremely fortunate to have found someone like Jack (SeventhBell) who we can give music and they can translate it to visuals. In both cases we gave him rough mixes, and some very vague starting points, and he’s just knocked it out of the park.
E:- When we were throwing idea’s around for the cover the I listed snakes, blood and arrows as things I talk about on the album and Jack came up with that. None of us are visual artists, unfortunately. I draw like a five year old and how album art gets sorted out has always been vague for me. Jack has made it easy.
You have performed live with a whole host of different metal acts. What have been the two most different experiences for you when it comes to the other acts on the bill? What are the type of bands you feel you make the best bill along with, and which of the bands you have played with have impressed you the most?
J: – I think the benefit of having a diverse sound that’s a little harder to classify is that we can play with a wide array of bands and not seem out of place. On one hand, we have played with Eyehategod, then after we played with Coven. Two very different acts. Ultimately though, it’s not that different for us. We do our thing when we’re on stage and hope it reaches people in the audience.
N: – We’ve played with solo acoustic guitar/soundscape acts such as Aerial Ruin, dynamic occult inspired acts like Sabbath Assembly and Coven, and with heavy metal bangers like Khemmis and Magic Circle. I particularly enjoyed our run with Sabbath Assembly last summer because in addition to them being wonderful humans, they play with such power, conviction and skill that it’s a real treat to be a musical counter point.
E: – To date one of my favorite shows we played was with Magic Circle and Crypt Sermon. Our sound makes us compatible on a lot of different bills. Playing with Sabbath Assembly was another highlight. I love Jaime and she and I are both alumni of Hammers of Misfortune. Another favorite show we played was Aerial Ruin and Insect Ark. Both ambient and at the time. Both one piece bands.
This spring you will be hitting the road with Gatekeeper for many dates in Europe. What are your expectations for this tour, and how do you view the combination of Sanhedrin and Gatekeeper when it comes to drawing a decent audience and so on?
J: – I think it’s a great tour package. Both bands bring their own style to the stage and the audience will be the real winner. In terms of expectations, we hope to play well for our current fans and gain many more new ones in the process. All of this recent success has been a surprise to us, so we’re really just going along for the ride.
N: – My only expectations are of myself. We’re dragging our asses all the way out there, you’d better believe we’re going to deliver.
E: – I’m with Nate, my only expectations are of myself. I have wanted to tour Europe as a musician for a long time.
It’s still early days of course, but it will definitely be a good year for heavy metal if the new album from Germany’s Metal Inquistior doesn’t end up in my personal top ten list in December. “Panopticon” is the band’s best output since the modern day classic “Doomdsday For The Heretic”, packed with excellent songs delivered with real class. While Blumi (guitars) has always been the main songwriter in the band, and the natural guy to speak to, like we did here, the other guitarist T.P. has challenged Blumi as the main songwriter this time around.
While I am sure you all agreed it was your best album at the time, how do you view the quality of your 2014-release “Ultima Ratio Regis” today, both when it comes to the songwriting, the production and the musicianship?
– First , I want to say thanks for the interest in us, and for supporting Metal Inquisitor for many years! For me, “Ultima Ratrio Regis” is still a very good album, a result, like the other albums before, of the same procedure and working in the same way. It was finished with a very Clear, but powerful sound. I like the album very much because of the sound, but also due to some special songs. But this as well, is the same with every album. Every one of us has got his favorite songs on each album, says T.P.
Do you know anything about the sales of “Ultima Ratio Regis”, compared to the previous releases?
– We have released albums now for many years, and during this time, so much in the music business has changed. It should be considered a big success to hold the number of sold albums more or less constant. That being said, we don`t have any exact information about the number of sales of the first albums, so we can`t compare them with “Ultima Ratio Regis”. However, Massacre gave us detailed information several times. The information is very interesting, but not easy to understand without having studied operational economics…
I remember you had hopes for better promotion by Massacre for “Ultima Ratio Regis” compared to what Hellion did for you on previous albums. In hindsight, are you satisfied with the work Massacre invested in the album?
– I noticed that Massacre did a lot of promotion, especially on the internet. Of course it is nice to see, but in the flood of all these record releases nowadays, one has to do it this way, or the album will not be recognized at all. We also did lots of interviews and got many reviews. It all feels very good.
It’s been five years since the last album, that’s a long time, even for Metal Inquisitor. Is it the attention you pay to details and what seems like an urge to make everything as perfect as possible that have been really time consuming?
– Well, when we are prepared and ready to go in the studio for the recording sessions, most details of the artwork, band photos and so on, are on it’s way, but yes indeed, details are changed very often, until we are completely happy with the result. For sure it takes a lot of time, but not five years. Haha!
The band was in the studio already in Sept 2017 recording “Panopticon”, T.P. explains why took more than a year to have it released to the public?
– The production took its time, I agree, but we mostly recorded a few hours in the evenings after work, and at the end of the recording sessions, we had forgot, how some songs were composed and how they had to be played. Haha! No, not really, but during this recording period, the studio had to move into another location, which was not planned to begin with. We ended up with some weeks without doing any recording at all. Finally, we needed enough time to mix the album, and last, but not least, the album had to be mastered as well.
I am really impressed by this new album, for sure your best since quite a while. I guess you agree with me that it’s a very strong offering, what are you most satisfied with this time around?
– I`m really happy about the reviews up til now. I was a little bit excited about how people would react to my own songs, as “Panopticon” is the first album, where Blumi and I have shared the songwriting. It seems like the people enjoy all songs, and that they do divide the album into Blumi-songs and TP-songs.
What do you think are the main differences between your own and Blumi’s songwriting?
– The songwriting depends very much on the music that you like and listen to. So you can imagine that Blumi and I both really enjoy the first Iron Maiden- albums. The biggest difference may be, that I’m a little bit more interested in thrash and speed metal. That is the music that I mostly listened to, after I started With, and spent a lot of time with Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Accept. Blumi is more interested in the bands of the NWOBHM, and you can for sure hear that.
I remember Blumi telling me the band had long discussions about the running order of the songs , the sound and the artwork for “Ultima Ratio Regis”. According to T.P. some of the same discussions occured this time as well.
– It’s the same procedure as every year. Ha-ha! There are five people in the band, five different opinions…It went quickly with the cover art this time though, to get one common imagination. The running order turned into a pretty hard fight, but we had to move in a small circle. You must remember, if you do the album on vinyl too, you have to take into consideration that the total playing time of each side of the record should be nearly the same. The running order always seems to be the last of our discussions on each album. Most of the time, it starts directly after the mix is done, and it goes on to the day of the mastering.
How much do you think the running order has to say for how people perceive an album? I mean, if the songs are good, the album will also be good regardless of in which order the songs are put on the album, or?
– An album should be like a good movie. What I am saying is that there should definitely be this climax thing, some kind of development. If it is perfect, the listener can enjoy one song after another, one part and one note after another without having the feeling that a fast song would fit better, or later on, a slow one. After a while, we get a special feeling for the songs which is not yet there that at the beginning of the recordings. So it’s a process for us as well. If we are doing it right, the listener should not want to stop listening, and at the end, he or she would want to hear it over again.
There is not a title track on the album, so why have you chosen “Panopticon “ as the title? The panopticon is an old idea of course, but still relevant in this digital age, where “Big brother” always can see you, and now even more than before.
– The song “Discipline And Punish” fulfills the role as the title song, because the lyrics are telling about a prison called Panopticon. And as you say, this terrible concept for a prison can symbolically stand for modern oberservation tools in our society. There are definitive parallels. Sad but true….
All songs on “Panopticon” are on a very high level. Did you decide on these tracks pretty early on and spent time perfecting them, or did you have more songs to choose from and picked the best ones?
– Normally, we use all songs that we start to compose. Sometimes they are easy to arrange together as a band in the rehearsal room, sometimes it is better to work on them at home, if there is no satisfying Development when we are performing them together. It always takes a lot of time, because you are not always able to be creative. I remember only one song that we have not finished, up to now. I’ m not sure, but I think, it was a song from the “Unconditional Absolution” session. Even though the idea hasn’t been used, we see lots of potential in the riffs.
As we have already indicated, you are a lot more involved in the song writing this time, having delivered the music for some outstanding tracks. When you hear songs like “Re-Sworn The Oath”, “Trial By Combat” or “Discipline And Punish”, I wonder why you haven’t contributed more before?
– Thank you! That is a great compliment for me. Blumi is the main songwriter in the band. His compositions always convinced us in the past. If not at the start, then no later than after they were recorded. So we normally had no reason to change that. But on “Ultima Ratio Regis”, we included the first song written by me. I prepared the song in some kind of pre-production, as a demo, nearly finished. And the other guys, including Blumi of course, liked it. So we decided to include this song on the album. Also the intro to “Confession Saves Blood”, was done by me . Certainly, there were many ideas from me in some of our songs in the past, but they were additional to Blumi’s construction of the songs and belonged more to the arrangements of the tracks. After the last album, Blumi asked us to participate more when it comes to songwriting. Partly due to lack of time, and maybe also because of Blumi’s other band “Midnight Rider”. So I had to collect my ideas and to construct a couple of songs. I liked the songwriting sessions very much, but it only worked, when I really had a lot of time and accidently a creative phase. When that happened, it was hard to realize, that the night also comes to an end.
Were you unsure about how your songs would be received by the other members, or were you confident I in the quality of your own songwriting?
– Blumi is well known as an excellent songwriter. We always trust his ideas and imaginations of his songs, because history showed us, that he is right. So I certainly was not sure how I could convince the other guys. Maybe this was the reason why I produced a demo? For the other guys, it’s probably the easiest way to get a new song. All they have to do is to say: “Yes, we take it” and to learn how to play the song.
Asked what his fave song is from the ones he has written, and how he developed this song in his head before he presented it for the band, T.P. really take a deep dive into the process.
– I think it is “Re-sworn the Oath”. No surprise, I guess, and it is indeed the song I can tell you most details about. It started with this riffing before El Rojo begins to sing. Some years ago, I played it several times in the rehearsal room and the guys told me to go on with it. But it took some months, until I got creative enough to continue. It is very annoying and frustrating to forget the good ideas after a while, so I tried to record and to collect all the ideas. Part after part has been recorded, guitars added, and a drum computer programmed. While listening to the finished parts, I tried to get deep inside, to feel what should come next, what the song needed to make it more exciting. After the core of the song was composed, I felt that it should og in a different direction, that it should have a turn…so I started working on the instrumental part in the middle. It went quickly, after I found the starting riff. Finally, I decided to make the whole part shorter and to cut it, to get more to the point. It is still long enough, I think. At last, I had the idea for the intro. First I was not convinced, if there was any need for one, because there was already an atmospherical intro. But I had this short melody line in my head, and when I found time, I went on working on it, completing the melody, finding a second guitar line, working on the rhythm, and finally the opening theme. I think it cost me a whole night, but it didn’ t matter. I listened to it many times and was happy about the result and certainly, that all the parts, including two intros, seemed to fit together. After the music was written, I met El Rojo to work on the vocal lines. And that went up to the recordings and some small changes were done several times. I don’ t know, how other bands can write and produce an album in one or two years. We obviously need some extra time. “Re-Sworn the Oath” was the last song of the album, that El Rojo recorded.
Metal Inquisitor is not a band that is touring all the time, not performing at all kinds of festivals during the summer and not releasing a new album every second year. How important is the band in the lives of T.P and the other guys?
– The band is still important, and personally I like playing live the most. I’m visiting many festivals and metal shows each year, so for me, it would be perfect to play at these places with Metal Inquisitor. I could promote the band and don’t need to spend money for a ticket…
Most of you have kept together since the start of the band. How important is the friendship in Metal Inquisitor? Do things sometime take a bit more time than usual because it’s important to you to keep this lineup intact? I mean, some bands changes members because one of them can’t follow the schedule of the others?
-Metal Inquisitor has existed for 21 years now. You can imagine, in that period, a lot of things have happened in the lives of the band members. So for sure there has been both ups and downs. Everyone in the band has to live his life, but Metal Inquisitor, and even the members, are part of it. I think we take care of each other in a special way and try to keep everybody in the band. We know each other quite well and that influences us and makes the bands engine powerful.
Judging from the quality of your releases, Metal Inquistior should get much more attention than you have done and currently do. Do you think the fact that you were already an established band when the interest in heavy metal got bigger about 8-10 years ago, worked in you disfavor? I mean, many new bands with young musicians suddenly got a lot of exposure without delivering real quality?
– Of course we can speculate, what could have happened if… But to begin with, none of us wanted to be professional musicians. I think the band is in a quite comfortable situation. We can release an album when we want, and we can play live when we want to. We have families and jobs, and it’s great to make music without any liability, without pressure, without the usual album-tour-circle, and without financial aspects. To do it just for fun and having fun. But of course we can only think about what would happen, if we played more live.
Do you feel that you are able to reach out to a wider audience with each album, or is your main core of fans those who have followed you since the very start?
– I don`t know if releasing a new album changes anything. I think, it depends more on playing live, and trying to reach other people that way. The chance to get some attention from new fans, is certainly higher, when you play festivals with all kinds of metal. These are challenges we really like. But otherwise we love to play for fans, which know and support us for years and which we know as well. It`s always nice to meet friends, you know what I mean?
Traveler was featured here at Metal Squadron less than a year ago when their superb demo was released. Things have happened really fast for Matt Ries and Jean-Pierre Abboud since they recorded the demo tunes. A record deal is in place, the lineup completed and the band is already confirmed for some prestigous underground fests. Have Matt simply followed along with all the stuff happening to the band, or has he had to put on the brakes somewhere in the process?
– Yeah, it’s been pretty insane, and I have been following along as best as I can. Not much has slowed down since. There is no sense in putting the brakes on anywhere. Having the ball roll this smoothly for a band is the best possible thing that can happen! So we’re taking full advantage.
Even though thing have gone quite smoothly for you, I guess there has been some difficulties along the way. What has been most demanding about this whole thing so far?
– It wouldn’t be music if it were easy. Haha! I think the most demanding thing has been making sure everyone in the band’s schedules line up. Working out of three different cities can be a struggle. But surprisingly, it hasn’t been overly difficult. All we have to do is show up prepared. Luckily everyone is experienced enough to have total faith in them. Couldn’t have asked for a better line up!
It’s obvious that Traveler is more of your own band compared to what Gatekrashör and Hrom was, I guess there is a lot of things to be learnt when you are more or less in charge of the band? What has been most satisfying and what has been most demanding about being the “boss”?
– There’s definitely a major difference between the two rolls. I’ve learnt a lot on how to manage a band properly. Which directions to take, which offers to turn down. There’s a lot of fine details I’ve never dealt with first hand. And I’m still learning. Though, I’ve always had my opinion on how things should be handled. So now I get to test those theories out for myself. The most satisfying thing has probably been the fact the songs I’ve written have resonated with a lot of people. And in a extremely short amount of time! It makes me wonder why I didn’t do this sooner. The most demanding so far has been making sure all the band mates life and work and band schedules line up with what Traveler is trying to accomplish. It can get a little hectic. But in the end, we find a way. Other than that, it’s just a lot of emailing and interview questions. Haha!
So why didn’t you start your own band earlier on then? Was it about gaining enough experience or belief in yourself and your own abilities?
– I think I was stuck in a bit of rut mentally. Maybe it was a lack of confidence. Or not believing I needed to branch out, given how much I enjoyed playing in Hrom and Gatekrashor. But with Gatekrashor on a hiatus, it was more so a window of opportunity to do my own thing. It gets a little too busy juggling three bands. It’s way easier to perform at your best that way.
In addition to the tape release of the demo, last year also saw a split release with the Finnish band Coronary where the demo songs got pressed onto vinyl as well. Do Matt feel it made sense to pair Traveler with Coronary for this type of release?
– Yeah I think it’s cool! Those guys are great. It was far more than I expected to begin with anyways. So why not get the name out there more with a split? Obviously, Coronary is a little different on the spectrum of metal than us. But we’re happy to rock along side them. Hope to hear the full length from them soon!
In April last year, you told me you had 12 songs written, why did only eight of them end up on the album?
– It basically came down to picking my favorites at the time. And I think the others can use some tweaking. I would rather not take the pizza out of the oven too soon. Eight songs is a classic good amount of material. It rounds out to about 40 minutes. If that still leaves the listeners wanting more, then we know we did a good job. I’m sure the day will come where we release a longer album. But this is a good starting point.
You have put together a full lineup for the album. What were you looking for when assembling the lineup, the best possible musicians, or people you know you get along with?
– Friendship is super important. But what really should come first is the musicianship. Bonding can come later. I see a lot of bands forming around friendship. Which is totally cool. But it makes it that much harder to break the news that they can’t play their instruments. Haha! It’s important to never settle out of convenience. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a history with all the members before. A couple of the guys never really knew each other face to face. But so far, we all get along and everything is great! So all the pieces fit.
Different styles of metal crave different abilities from the musicians. What kind of abilities where you looking for when you were assembling this lineup?
– I think a varience in styles is important with all the members of a band. I like knowing exactly who I’m hearing as they are playing it. Like when you throw on a Iron Maiden record and the solos hit. And you think “Ah, there’s Adrian!” Everything you hear on the record is exactly what I was looking for. Driving bass lines, high range vocals, trading leads, pounding drums. All the shit I love!
I believe the bass player Dave Arnold, who has been involved inStriker for many years, is the last piece of the puzzle. How did you convince him to join?
– Yeah! Dave fucking rules. Again, we’ve known each other for quite a while now. Back when he was in Striker, we played a lot of shows together. I actually didn’t have to convince him. He caught wind of the demo and shot me a message about being interested in joining. Which came to a total surprise to me. I thought someone else would have picked him up a long time ago! It was a total blessing. At the time I really had no idea who could play bass at the level I needed. And his mom makes us breakfast. Long live Dave!
You have had your debut as a live band on more or less local soil. Which aspects are you specifically looking to improve before you advance to bigger things like Keep It True and Legions Of Metal?
– I think we just need to get completely comfortable with the songs so we can play them in our sleep. Then we can focus more on our stage presence. These debut shows were a great ice breaker. So it’ll only get better from here. It’s a little tricky for us, since our members are split between three cities haha. We only had three jams as a full band before the debut. All that said, they went so well that I have no doubt we are ready for bigger shows!
I guess traveling to Germany for the Keep It True will be a big thing for you. What are you expecations for the festival and your own show and which other acts do you plan to see in action?
– I honestly don’t know exactly what to expect. I imagine it would be a pretty insane crowd out of everything I’ve heard from friends who have played. It just sounds like an amazing time. And I can’t fucking wait to get over there. So far, I’m reallly looking forward to seeing Cities and Satan. But all the bands are killer. It’s gonna rule hard.
You have decided to re-record the three songs from the demo. Some people claim that the first recording of songs will always be the best, and in all honesty it wasn’t an easy task trying to improve these tracks. Why did you choose to re-record the songs and in which ways have you succeeded in improving them?
– Truthfully, the biggest reason we decided to record them again was I just really liked the songs. And felt they deserved a proper recording. For starters, the demo was recorded with an electronic drum kit. Haha! And on the demo, I’m just playing solos back and forth with myself. It worked out. But I’d much rather hear them done properly. If the listeners like the demo recordings better, then that’s cool! But now they are recorded as you would hear them in a realistic live setting.
When the demo was released, we spoke about how surprised you were on how it was received. Is the situation different now? Are the expectations higher, and do you expect the album to be received in the same manner as the demo?
– I wouldn’t say things have changed much mentally. I’m just extremely grateful this all happened. I think it would be pretty silly to expect an equal or greater reaction to the full length. It’s pretty easy to inflate your head with wild dreams only to fall flat on your face haha. I’m really digging the ride we’ve been on so far. Whether it does well or not, this has been a fucking blast. And I won’t stop.
The first reviews have started showing up. Do you feel reviews still have a role to play in a time when everyone can check out music online before they buy? Do you read reviews yourself? What will please you in reviews of your own music?
– I’m really not sure what kind of impact they have. I’ll appreciate any type of review. Whether it’s good or bad. It’s all just fun to read.But I personally don’t read reviews of other bands. Whether an album is good or not is all subjective. Just like not trusting other peoples opinions on if a movie is good. You like what you like, so who it shouldn’t matter.
Since you have found place for the instrumental “Konamized” at the cost of a track with vocals, I guess you feel it adds something important to the album?
– That’s actually just something I always thought would be fun to do haha. It’s a cover song from the game “8 Bit Killer”. First time I heard it, I knew I wanted to cover it some day. Some of those old games have the coolest sound tracks. Probably doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. Maybe a bit annoying for fans. As a fan myself, sometimes I find it annoying when a band adds a cover or an instrumental to an album. So, I get it. But I think it sounds cool so go to hell!
You have said that the lyrical themes are mixed with real life experiences and total exaggerated scenarios. Do you keep these things apart in different songs, or are there also examples on the album where one of the lyrics contain both elements?
– Sometimes they merge together. Like with “Starbreaker”. There’s an underlining message about the state of our world. And the poor values a lot of us represent. But obviously, we’re not all bad. This is speaking purely from the negative side of things. But rolling with that idea and creating an earth destroying bad ass monster. Haha!
You feature on a compilation album put together by Temple Of Mystery with a whole host of great new Canadian bands. How did you choose the track “Betrayer” for this album? I guess it must be some kind of honor to open the A-side on this compilation as well? What are you other fave acts and songs from this compilation?
– I didn’t have a release date last time we spoke, and thought it would be out a lot sooner. Looks like we’re all set to release that by Jan 25th. It wasn’t a matter of choosing, rather than just writing a whole new song for this release. I had an idea floating around that I worked off of. It’s a total honor to open the LP. But what’s more of an honor was being able to work work with JP Fortin of Deaf Dealer on bass! He’s a hero of ours. So to have worked with him was a dream come true. It’s hard to choose an absolute favorite. I’m stoked to share a release with my good friends in Blackrat. And I’ve been loving what Metallian, Occult Burial, and Freeways have been doing lately. This compilation is going to absolutely kill!
There are a lot of exciting Canadian bands coming through at the moment, just a coincidence, or are there certain factors that are contributing to this in your opinion?
– I wouldn’t say its a coincidence at all. The underground eighties metal scene has expanded massively in just the last five-ten years! Maybe even more so in the last five. I see more and more younger kids posting, repping amazing underground bands lately. And starting bands of their own. It’s almost gotten a little trendy. But really, it’s fucking cool. All the starving bands from back in the day are getting tons of the well deserved recognition these days. It’s great. So if this paves the road for more amazing bands to start surfacing, I see that as all positive. The world doesn’t need another Nickelback. The world needs another Riot.
With the stellar first full length, “Illusions In Infinite Void”, Sacral Rage from Athens, Greece showed that they can provide competition for absolutely everyone out there. Their brand new album, “Beyond Celestial Echoes” is more or less of thee same sky high quality, and I needed to get in contact with singer Dimitris K. once again. I take for granted that you still have strong feeling for “Illusions In Infinite Void”, but do you sometimes go back and listen to your first EP, “Deadly Bits of Iron Fragments” as well?
– Yeah, off course! We don’t defy anything that we have done in the past. “Deadly Bits Of Iron Fragments” has some very nice heavy and speed riffs. We composed, rehearsed and recorded it when we were a band for only four months without using any ideas we had before that band. All the ideas were Sacral Rage from day one. So the outcome was the best that we could do regarding the time we had. That’s something that connects us with our music. We are still playing “Master Of A Darker Light” and until recently we used to play “Return Of TThe Dead”, confirms Dimitris.
Fast forward to “Illusions in Infinite Void”, your first full length release which we covered here when it was released. The album got some fantastic reviews, did this make it more difficult working on album number two?
– “Illusions in Infinite Void” had a blessing beginning in its first steps to find a place in record collections. Metalheads around the world embraced it as something nostalgic and fresh at the same time. So it was only natural to be a little anxious for our second strike. People have expectations from us, we’ve set a high bar and we were aiming to surpass ourselves. We concluded with an apocalyptic outcome that sometimes gives goosebumps even to ourselves.
What about the reception you got for “Illusions in Infinite Void” was most satisfying for you as a band?
– Despite the fact that the most important reason that we play metal is to satisfy ourselves, it is a great feeling to meet with people who can understand your vision, follow it or even make it their own. When “Illusions in Infite Void” was ready, we didn’t had high expectations. We play something that doesn’t follow any trend, needs your full attention and you can’t put it under a certain label so you can trigger specific target groups. It was a big surprise that our music established itself in the underground scene.
Many people view the first album as almost perfect. Did you see room for improvement in any specific areas when you started working on “Beyond Celestial Echoes”?
– From our perspective, it didn’t have to be an improvement. We wanted it to be somehow different compared to the first one, but without losing our main core. All we did was to blend more influences. From the chaotic prog of Rush to the brutality of Morbid Angel and everything in between. So to answer to your question, I could say that we saw some room for experimentation and we still do.
Before we move on to the new album, it would be interesting to hear a little bit more about how you became a singer. How did you discover that you could sing, and when did you start singing heavy metal?
– It wasn’t a discovery at all. I started singing when I was fifteen years old. Back in the school all of my friends were playing an instrument and they were planning to start a band. I didn’t want to be left out, so I volunteered for the vocals. I didn’t know how to play any instruments nor had any vocal lessons so as you can imagine, the outcome was at least funny. But I kept trying because I liked a lot the fact that I was doing it with my friends and I liked even more the feeling I had when I was trying to scream. It took me at least eight years before I finally understood how to use my voice.
Dimitris confirms that both King Diamond and Alan Tecchio are some of his influences as a singer, but adds a whole host of others to the list…
– You are totally right about them. They are two of the top names in my list along with Midnight, John Stewart, John Arch, Harry Conklin, Warrel Dane, Jason McMaster, David Byron, Geddy Lee, Freddie Mercury and more.
You have been doing a lot of live shows in the wake of the debut album. How have playing all these shows influenced what we hear on “Beyond Celestial Echoes”?
– I don’t really see any connection between gigs and composing. The only relative thing that came up in my mind, is that we meet a lot of people and we have great conversations with real metal fans. Conversations about their perspectives in our music that might lead us to some new ideas. Also the vibe you have after a gig or a tour is very uplifting and it gives you a lot of enthusiasm for new stuff.
Some people claim it’s a big disadvantage being a band from Greece, and there is no doubt your county produces some great acts that are never getting the same exposure as Swedish or German bands for instance. Have you encountered anything that make you think it would have been easier for you if Sacral Rage was from another country?
– There are two problems for a band located in Greece. First of all Greece is very far away from the rest of the European countries. So that’s makes it even harder getting booked for gigs outside of Greece since the flight tickets would be much more expensive compared to those who come from Sweden or Germany and they’ll probably be more known already. The second and most serious problem is the ten years of crisis. We have met a lot of bands from Sweden and Germany on the road, and we couldn’t believe that most of them had quit their jobs to og on tour. They weren’t anxious about it at all. In Greece, quitting your job might mean that you will not find another one for one or two years. So of course we have thought that it would be much easier for us if we were a band from Sweden or Germany. On the other hand, Greeks are known for their unique way of thinking and for not following rules, so if we were actually a band from another country we wouldn’t sound like we do now.
Do you have a certain formula you are using when you are writing songs, or does it differ from song to song how a riff or an idea is born and then developed into a track? How much do you do individually, and what do you do together as a band?
– We are against of following a formula. We believe that doing such a thing will make our originality disappear. So we let each song guide us to its destination. Spuros (bass) and Marios (guitars) are preparing the main structure of the songs and then Vaggelis (drums) and I are adding our parts considering the aura and atmosphere of each song.
Some of the songs on “Beyond Celestial Echoes” were written about a year and a half ago. Which are the oldest numbers, and did these early songs give you the direction for the album? Are you a band that can still write or work on songs while you are in the studio, or do you need to have everything ready and prepared before you enter the studio?
– Believe it or not, the first song that we finished was the 15minute music novel named “The Glass”. “The Glass” is a very unique song that contains structure, influences and length that we haven’t tried in the past, so I can’t really say that was the guidance of the album. Regarding the recordings, that actually happened with “Beyond Celestial Echoes”. We have tried so many new things that we didn’t know how they gonna sound. Some of them didn’t have the feeling we wanted, so we had to change them during the recordings. We don’t like to have to search for a last minute solution, but if have to, we are gonna do it.
The lyrics seem to be very close to what you did on your debut album. Do you see this as the type of lyrics you will continue writing also in the future? Do you view “Beyond Celestial Echohes” as a concept album?
– We always try to combine the lyrical themes with the atmosphere of the songs. The main core of our music is still the same, so it makes sense that the themes for the lyrics move along in the same paths. With “Beyond Celestial Echoes” each song has a unique story. So practically it’s not a concept album. There is general concept behind the band though. That connects all of our releases with our live performances. It’s about an android named UL, who have been made by an alien race. In his search for energy quantities, he ends up on earth. There he discovers that huge amounts of energy is transmitted from human bodies when they are in a state of fear, despair and ordeal. Every song is a testimony of UL.
There is not a song on the album carrying that particular title , but Dimitris explains why “Beyond Celestial Echoes” is a fitting name for the album nevertheless.
-The name of the album, as in our previous releases, describes the music and its aura and not the lyrical themes. This album is darker and frostier, feelings you might have if you get lost in space and the songs are the only echoes that can reach you in this world you are dragged into.
How did you cooperate with Dimitar Nikolov to get the type of cover art you wanted for the album? Did you let him read the lyrics and perhaps also listen to some of your music?
– When we had the first discussion about the artwork, we all agreed that we wanted a cover that would be a reference to 70s sci-fi novels. From what we have seen by the works of Nikolov, we knew that he was the man we were looking for. So we send him the lyrics from “The Glass”, which has the most suitable story for that feeling and we let him do whatever he wanted. He told us the most strong image that he had in mind when he was reading it, was the one at the final battle. If you read the lyrics you’ll understand why…
Many bands have performed technical metal, but few have mastered the art of writing memorable songs that sticks in the head of the listener. Is there a contradiction between the two, and what is the secret of combining high class musicianship, complex structures, time changes and catchy songs?
– I can’t really say if we know the secret combination, but I can tell you how we see it. Our first goal is to write killer music. We don’t care whether this comes from the simplest or the most complex riff. We just happen to be attracted to the paranoia that comes out from the complexity. So we use it to create a certain atmosphere, rather than ability demonstration.
Correct me if I am wrong, but most of your influences seem to be US metal from the mid to late eighties, and bands ranging from heavy, via progressive to technical metal. Please name three bands and albums which without Sacral Rage wouldn’t have existed. Please also tell the readers how each of these three bands/albums have influenced your sound.
It is true that we are big fans of US metal, as well as Canadian and European. We can understand why people refer more often to US influences. They are very strong in our music. So, three of them that could change our entire sound if they didn’t existed are: Crimson Glory and their album “”Transcendence”, “Control And Resistance” by WatchTower and “Spiritual Healing” from Death. I don’t really think there are much to say about these three beasts. We love to combine great melodies with technical parts, aggressiveness with complexity and extreme, high pitched and dark vocals. Well, these three are the reason why.
“Necropia” and “Samsara (L.C.E)” are already made available online. Do you feel comfortable releasing single tracks from what is an album that is clearly meant to be listened to from start to finish? Do you feel these two tracks represent the album in a good way?
– We believe that our music should be presented in its entirety too. But we understand that all this happen due to the need of promotion. We also gave “Vaguely Decoded” for a compilation CD in the Greek Metal Hammers October issue and by the time this interview will be published, you would see our new video for “Eternal Solstice”. We don’t stand out our songs. We would be as confident as we are now with any song published online.
This confidence, does it mean that you wrote the exact numbers of songs needed for this album and simply used them, or do you have left over songs from the writing process for “Beyond Celstial Echoes”?
– If the song doesn’t proceed as it should, we are leaving it out. We have left three or four half songs out. But sometimes we may go back after a long time and try some of them again. I have two very good examples in my mind that we are working on these days. You’ll listen them in our next release, which, as it seems, will be out much sooner than the second one.
I read an interview where you mentioned the fact you are incorporating new elements to the songs. What kind of elements are you speaking about, and is there one track where you feel you are showing a bit different side of Sacral Rage than before?
– Well, “Samsara (L.C.E) for instance, has a technical speed/thrash core, with US style of singing, a prog mid-tempo part in the middle and an extreme ending with death metal riffing and black metal atmosphere. A very unique mixture. “The Glass”, on the other hand is a whole festival of new ideas that makes it meaningless to try and analyze them. The 70s prog-rock aura, clean melodic vocal lines and the fact that this song is 15minutes, are some of the new tools we used.
“High-tech metal lunacy” is a term that you use to describe your sound. What does “lunacy” in creating and performing music mean to you?
– It is this weird atmosphere that I was speaking about earlier. The aura of dizziness that comes out from maziness parts. In our new chapter you can find the strange structures, the complex riffs, the unorthodox vocal lines and some groundbreaking subgenre mixtures. So I can easily say that the lunacy reign supreme in this one.
The album is closed by “The Glass”, a nearly 15 minutes long song. Was this track planned to be an epic, long one, or just one that grew much larger than you expected it to?
– For “The Glass” we tried, for the first time, to do the opposite while composing. Instead of writing the music first and then the lyrics, I had the story and some lyrics in my mind and I told Mario to bring them in life. If you read the story and the lyrics you’ll understand that we knew that we were going to need the space of three songs. But instead of writing three separate songs, the outcome was proceeding smoothly and we ended up with one. It is much better that way. An integrated result.
A lot has already been said about the Fifth Angel comeback album, “The Third Secret”. While I don’t share the view of the most euphoric ones out there speaking about album of the year, the Americans have produced a decent comeback album for sure. I got on the phone with bass player John Macko for a chat about the past, present and future.
If we start a while back, Fifth Angel performed at Keep It True in 2010. Why didn’t anything happen in the wake of that appearance?
– We’ll we did try. I wanna tell you that, but it was really one road block after another. After that show we decided that we wanted to make some new demos, with Peter (Orullian). That didn’t work out because Peter, he is also a writer. He writes science fiction, and he was under contract to write, so he told us he didn’t have any time to work on songs at all. It was going to be at least six months until he could even start thinking about it. So we thought, if we wait that long, we would lose some momentum. We thought we would try making it work with a couple of other singers, but that didn’t work out either. And then some of the band members had some health issues, it seemed like it was one thing after another. So, we did try, but we decided to put in on hold for a while.
Then it was pretty silent until you got an offer to play Keep It True again for the 2017 edition. It seems it was around that time the ball really started rolling again?
– Absolutely. That definitely kickstarted the whole process again. Six months before that show, Ken Mary, who had not been involved in the band since the old days, actually kind of got things stirred up. He called me and told me how he, when he was out on the road with other bands, met a lot of enthusiastic fans wanting him to sign old Fifth Angel-records. He asked me if maybe we could think about starting this band up again? That kind of lead to the 2017 Keep It True-festival, where we met a representative from Nuclear Blast. He really enjoyed the show and asked us what we thought about doing a new record. That’s really what got everything going.
When did Kendall Bechtel enter the picture as a singer?
– After Keep It True, we decided that we would start working on some demos. We did do a couple of demos with Peter who sang for us at the festival. The strange thing about singers, is that they’re not like guitars. You know, a guitar is a guitar wether you are playing live or in the studio. With singers, you have some who sound very differently when they are singing live opposed to when they are recording in the studio. Peter does a great job for us live, but when we recorded, his voice didn’t have the right sound. It wasn’t the right fit for the band. We had the same problem back in 2010 and 11 when we tried to do demos with some other singers. At the time, the labels said that the songs were good, but the voice wasn’t the right fit. It’s not a matter of wether you are singing good or bad techinically, but the songs have to fit with the voice, and Peter’s voice in the studio, wasn’t a good fit for Fifth Angel. That left us with “now what”? Trying out Kendall was Ken’s idea. “Lets do a couple of demos with Kendall, and see how that works out.” Even if Kendall has been a part of the band as long as I have, from the “Time Will Tell”-album, I honestly hadn’t even thought about him as a lead singer or the band. I knew he could sing, but it never entered my mind that Kendall would be a good fit for Fifth Angel. We tried it and did three new demo songs with him singing and sent them off to Nuclear Blast, and they loved it. So we figured that if we kept it in house, maybe the fans would be more accepting than if we got a total stranger to sing in the band. Does it make sense?
Were you surprised by how good Kendall was?
– I was. When I heard him, I was like: “Vow, this is amazing”. Of course he doesn’t sound like Ted (Pilot, original singer), but again, who does? Ted has a very distinctive sound, and I have only heard a few singers ever that sounds like him. For us to find somebody that sounds exactly like Ted, is almost impossible.
This three track demo, did you send out this one to other labels as well?
– We did send it to Metal Blade as well, but that was pretty much it. We really wanted to sign with Nuclear Blast. We really didn’t wanna sign with anybody else. Metal Blade was suggested to us by a friend, and they are a good label too, but we really wanted to be with Nuclear Blast, so we didn’t bother sending it out to ten different labels.
You are definitely a small fish in a big pond, but obviously not afraid to get lost among all the mega acts that are on Nuclear Blast?
– I am not worried about that. It’s possible I guess, but I feel really confident. We have a really good working relationship with the label. And I think there is a mutual respect. From what I have seen on how they’re working this record, I am thrilled with it. I really believe they feel it’s a great record. And if they feel it’s a great record, they will do their job.
Metal Blade recently did reissues of two previous albums. What is your personal relationship to these albums, you only performed on “Time Will Tell”.
– The first record is really tough to beat. There is no way that we could ever make another record like that. Even if we had all the people, we would never recreate that particular record. Its impossible, we’re older, we’re different people and when we made this record, we realized there is no way we could go back and recreate those records, and we’re not even gonna try. Our intention was to make new music, reflecting who we are at this point in time, but still try to capture the essence of the older records.
“Time Will Tell”, the second album, seems to divide the fans more than the first one. How big a part of how it turned out was due to the record label and the people around the band at the time?
– The record label at the time was pushing for something more commercial. They were wanting a hit like a Whitesnake song or something like that. There is some of that stuff on the record, and while some of those songs are not my favourites, there are still some great songs on “Time Will Tell”. On “The Third Secret”, there are no pop songs. The album is heavier, darker and more like the first album.
John starts speaking about the song writing, and the fact that Ken and Kendall teamed up together as the new song writing team.
– I don’t think anyone saw that coming, I certainly didn’t . When Ed Archer left the band, because he had personal family issues he had to deal with, it left a hole in the writing process, so we decided to try to make it work. All three of us are songwriters, but personally I haven’t been able to write songs in the Fifth Angel-style. My songwriting style is more modern metal, so Ken and Kendall really came together . I definitely had an influence, but they came up with the core ideas. I would put in some suggestions here and there and in “Can You Hear Me”, I wrote the solo section. The solo section Kendall had, wasn’t really inspiring, so I suggested I could try it, and came up with a different chord progression. Then on “This Is War” I came up with the ending section. I would do small arrangement things, maybe change a chord progression here and there. That was mostly my input songwriting wise. There is one song on the album, called “Hearts Of Stone” which is a song I wrote originially. It was part of my personal repertoire of songs. I did not write that song for Fifth Angel, and if you heard my original version, you would be pretty shocked, because it sounds more like Slipknot than Fifth Angel!
Who took on the challenge trying to turn it into a Fifth Angel-track?
– Kendall did that, and to be honest, I don’t know how he did it. I don’t even remember how he got the song, but he dug it up and reworked it. He told me he had found this old song of mine, and reworked it. What do you think? he asked me. It’s still not my favourite song off the album. To be honest, I am not crazy about it, but Kendall and Ken really seemed to like it and thought it was a good fit, so I said: “I don’t care, as long as you two like it, let’s put it on the record”.
“Stars Are Falling” was that an easy choice as the opening cut for the album?
– Absolutely! That song has a lot of energy, and it’s right in the face. It was also one of the three tracks on the demo that got us signed to Nuclear Blast.
“Can You Hear Me” is the first digital single from the album. A catchy song that should be pretty easy to relate to for the old fans.
– Yeah, I think so too. Nuclear Blast decided they would do a lyric video to that song. We thought they maybe wanted to release a faster song, but they chose that one, and that’s probably as you said, because it will hit a good chord with the fans. It’s one of my faves and a very strong song. But you know, when you have been working with all of these songs so closely, it’s really hard to be objective. People keep asking me what my favourite song off the new album is, but I am not sure really, as I haven’t had a chance to step back and listen to them from a different perspective yet.
There album also contains the song “Fatima”, with some pretty interesting lyrics.
– That song is tied to “Third Secret”, which is the reason why they are back to back. The whole story of the “Third Secret” is from the vision of…and we didn’t make this up… There is a small town in Portugal called Fatima. In the early 1900, there were three young children in the town of Fatima who were visited, they had some visions. They were visited by the Virgin Mary who told them of three secrets. The Catholic church has documented this as an official miracle that actually happened. We thought it would make an interesting story, and we would base it around the description of the third secret. The description of the third secret is very apocalyptic, it talks about the pit of hell, angels and demons and all that kind of stuff, so a pretty good story to base this record around. The song “Fatima” talks about the children and the vision, and the song goes into “Third Secret”. “Fatima” is one of the coolest songs on the whole record. It’s a different song and it has a lot of emotions. I love the whole intro part, and it’s a very moving song for me personally.
Judging by your Facebook-page, you seemed to be a little concerned by the fact that among those who recorded “The Third Secret”, Ken was the only original member. Where you afraid that people would ignore the band and the new album because of this?
– Ed left right at the beginning, when we were working on the demos. We were very concerned about it. We knew we couldn’t continue as a three piece, that is crazy. There were som negative comments, but again it wasn’t something we wanted to happen, but things just happen in life as we get older. Things we have no control over. When we talked to Ed, and he was ready to come back into the band, it was a big relief. We didn’t have to talk him into anything, he came back on his own, because he had worked through his personal family issues. He will contribute to the songwriting in the future, at this point we are pretty open. We even asked James (Byrd) to play some leads on “The Third Secret”. The only reason he didn’t end up doing it, was because of the timing. He said he wanted to do it, but he was right in the middle of moving across the state. He didn’t have any of his equipment, didn’t have his studio set up, and we were near the deadline, so unfortunately, he was not able to do it. Assuming that we write another album, which I definitely forsee, we will ask him again. Who knows…maybe we will ask Ted Pilot again too? Maybe we will finally get him to sing? With this band you never know.
So if there was any bad blood between you when James Byrd left to do his solo career, it’s all forgotten now?
– With me personally theres not any bad blood, and I know James and Ken have a good relationship. I don’t know if there are still some bad feelings between him and Ted and Ed. I don’t know, you have to ask James.
You mentioned your previous singer Ted Pilot as well. Did you check out if he was willing to do it, both back in 2010, again in 2017 for Keep It True, and finally when you started recording this new album?
– Absolutely. Always. Every step of the way, we have contacted him and asked him if he wanted to be involved. It’s been one reason or another, but so far, he has declined. We’ll keep asking, so who knows? His voice is not in shape, that’s the main problem right now. As you know, the human voice is a bit different compared to picking up the guitar or the bass.
I think the material on this album should go down quite well with the old fans, the issue some might have is the production…
– We were looking for a modern production, and that was actually requested by Nuclear Blast. When we asked them what they were looking for, the answer was very simple: We want the style of the old songs with a modern production.
Was this type of wish, some might call it an intervention, something you found all right?
– Absolutely! I am not a big fan of the sound of the eighties production. I prefer more modern production, and so does Ken. This record sounds pretty big and pretty heavy.
John starts to speak about the recording and his own role in the process.
– Basically we produced it ourselves, with Ken being the main guy. We have been doing this for a long time, that’s why we didn’t feel we had to hire a producer. We all know how to record and write our parts. It’s not like we’re a band in the twenties that don’t have a lot of experience. Nobody has to tell me how to play my bass parts. In the mixing process, I did assist Ken with some of that. I assisted with the drum sounds and working with some of the guitar sounds, and then Ken would come up with the mix, send it to me and ask what I think. We worked together as a team, but Ken really did the majority of the engineering and mixing work.
You were close to being rock stars with the second album at the end of the eighties, what is it that drives you in 2018?
– It certainly isn’t to become rock stars again. I am not expecting that at all, none of us are. The reason why were doing this, is because we love this band and we love to make music. We feel we have the opportunity, the time and the energy to move the fans. So why not? How often does somebody in their lifetime get a second chance to do something like this?
You have also said that its important that the music moves yourselves as well. Did you have a lot of songs to choose from?
– Not a ton of songs. We probably had fifteen or sixteen song ideas, some of them were more basic ideas than songs really. We had a lot of old stuff, but unless it was like a really great idea, we tried not to use elements we wrote ten years ago. So most of the songs are not older than a year or two.
How do you think these new songs will hold up against the old material in a live setting?
– I don’t know. You tell me…
They got some strong competition. And people always want to hear the old stuff…
– I think so too. For the most part, people want to hear the old stuff. So for future shows, it will be the majority of the old stuff, and maybe three or four songs from “The Third Secret”. You know how that goes. We have to wait and see about the live stuff, we really haven’t figured out how to do concerts at this point. We cant expect Kendall to do all of that guitar work and then to sing. We’re gonna have to hire another person. Is it going to be another guitar player or another singer? Maybe we split some duties? We really haven’t decided. Our plan is to put the record out and to see what the response is. If we get a favourable, positive response, maybe we can line up some kind of a tour?
Another singer, is that really a possibility?
– I think it might be, but I really don’t know at this point.