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Reckoning Day’, that is the title of the latest effort of the Swiss band Emerald. For the complete philosophical reasoning about it you will have to read the review, but with a score of 85 out of 100 it has to be crystal clear that this Emerald album is a little jewel of its own. Weigh in the turbulent times for the band that came before this album, causing four years of radio silence, you have all the reasons to let loose some firm questioning upon the boys. This led to an extensive exchange of words with Al Spicer, the drummer of the fellowship.

By: Jori | Archive under heavy / power metal

It has been a while since the world has last heard from Emerald, so I guess there’s plenty we can talk about. But first things first, how are you guys doing shortly before the release of your new album?
Hi, Jori, thanks for the opportunity to talk about our new album! Well, right now we’re going through all kinds of emotions right before the album release. On one hand we are really happy that the album is finally finished and fully motivated for everything that lies ahead. On the other hand we’re also really nervous about the release and about how people are gonna react to it, because if you’re working on an album for such a long time, suddenly you can’t tell anymore if the songs are actually good or not and sometimes you even get fed up with them after having listened to them for a thousand times, haha! Therefore we have absolutely no clue how it feels to listen to the album for the very first time. But now, as the first reviews are dropping in, we’re starting to feel relieved since they’ve all been excellent so far.

Over four years of relative silence have passed, except for the occasional live show. This probably has something to do with recent line-up changes? Please fill us in here.
Yes, that’s correct! Line-up changes are always very tedious and annoying but in most cases also unavoidable. It all started in 2013 when former singer Thomas L. Winkler and guitarist Manuel Werro told us they wanted to quit. They each had their reasons and we weren’t really surprised by their decision. A new guitarist was quickly found in Julien Menth, who was already a friend and fan of the band. His integration into the line-up went extremely smooth as he already knew how to play most songs and added a lot of energy to the sound with his insane guitar playing. But to find a suitable singer here in Switzerland was a whole different task! In such a small country which isn’t really known for its big metal scene, good classic heavy metal singers are pretty rare. So we spent more than a year checking out all kinds of vocalists, both national and international. In the meantime we also had to recruit a new bass player since long-time member Adriano Troiano decided to call it quits due to his lack of motivation. To replace him didn’t take much effort though. Vania Truttmann had already been part of Emerald’s entourage as well and was ready to step up and become the band’s new bass player. She too was a great addition to the band and pushed the rhythm section to a whole new level. But still we were one member short: we needed a goddamn singer! Since every good singer in Switzerland, including Mace Mitchell, with whom we already stood in contact back then, was unavailable at the time, we realised that we had to widen our search radius and that’s how we temporarily ended up with American singer George Call… but more on that later. In January 2016, our search came to an end and Mace Mitchell finally joined our ranks and completed the perfect line-up for Emerald.

Your new singer, Mace Mitchell, really fits the sound of the later Emerald albums. Hopefully, you now finally found a singer that will stick around for a while?
Yeah, we’re pretty sure that we now have a bright future in a stable line-up ahead of us. Of course that’s never guaranteed and you cannot fully predict what will happen, but we really have a good feeling about this! When our former singer Thomas L. Winkler joined our band, he was still very young and we always knew that we were just a stepping stone in his career and that he would be gone as soon as he saw a better opening. Mace on the other hand has been in the music business for more than 20 years. He doesn’t have any false illusions about what we can achieve or not with Emerald. And on top of that he’s a really great and funny guy and simply the perfect addition to the Emerald family.

I feel that ‘Reckoning Day’ builds on the newer sound you first featured on the previous album ‘Unleashed’, an album that received mixed reviews. On ‘Reckoning Day’ though, you sound like you perfected the art of playing your new heavier style, a fact that contributes to this being your most versatile album yet. What is your opinion on this?
Well, I couldn’t agree more, haha! No, as I mentioned before, we weren’t really sure how the album would turn out and how people would react to it. It’s always difficult to record an album over such a long period of time and with multiple line-up changes along the way. We didn’t have any real plan for the album or ideas how it should sound. We just did what felt natural to us during the songwriting process. The thing that made it special was the fact that it was the first album that we had to write without having a singer in the band. We just recorded some demo vocals for the tracks ourselves without having any clue how the songs would sound with a real vocalist. Therefore we are really happy about how it finally turned out and extremely pleased to hear that people seem to like it!

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’Evolution In Reverse’ showcases the brilliant George Call on a guest vocal spot, turning this one and also ‘Through The Storm’ into true highlights on the album. Since the man worked with you before, did you ever consider continuing with him as main singer?
Originally, that was the plan! Since he really enjoyed our collaboration on ‘Eye Of The Serpent’ on the previous album ‘Unleashed’, George wrote to us back in 2014, once he found out that we were looking for a new singer, and offered to take over and join our band. We agreed on trying to make the long distance relationship work and headed straight to the Little Creek studio here in Switzerland to record the songs in their instrumental versions under the supervision of producer V.O. Pulver (Poltergeist, Gurd, Destruction…). Right afterwards, we sent the tracks to Texas where George was supposed to record his vocals. But due to his involvement in some other projects it took him more than a year to finally start working on our songs. In the meantime, as we grew more and more impatient, we started talking to Mace Mitchell again, who was finally available. We didn’t want to wait any longer, so we told George to stop and let Mace do the remaining songs. We’re really happy with the three songs that resulted from the collaboration with George. He did an amazing job on those! But we’re also extremely glad that we found Mace, who has in my opinion the perfect voice for Emerald, and with whom we are finally able to hit the stage again!

What’s the story of the beautiful ballad ‘Beyond Forever’?
It’s a typical love ballad, written by our founding member Michael Vaucher. Although there have always been ballads like this on the first four Emerald albums, we weren’t sure if ‘Beyond Forever’ would fit on this album among the other, much heavier songs. I must admit that I was rather sceptical at first about including it on the album, as I found it rather cheesy. But as I witnessed the song evolve and heard Mace’s amazing vocal work and Julien Menth’s emotional guitar playing, I changed my mind and feel totally ok now about having this song on the album. Of course we are fully aware that there will be a lot of people who won’t like this ballad and think songs like this don’t belong on a real heavy metal album. But for those people, there’s always the skip button, haha!

The second part of the album features a storyline, based on the novel written by your keyboard player Thomas Vaucher. Please elaborate some more on this.
It’s a 7-track mini concept called ‘The Burgundian Wars’ and is based on Thomas Vaucher’s novel ‘Der Löwe von Burgund’. It tells the true story of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, and his conflict with the Swiss confederates in the late 15th century. I won’t tell you too much about the story though, I don’t want to spoil anything for our historically interested fans! But musically, those 7 tracks, including a spoken intro, 4 songs, an instrumental track and a spoken outro, are definitely more epic than the first half of the album. We wanted the concept to really stand out on the album.

Speaking of Thomas, I found his performance in ‘Signum Dei’ truly breathtaking. The keyboards are tuned in just perfect and the piano part is gorgeous. Any plans of bringing this song live with full experience?
He’ll be glad to hear that! And I agree, ‘Signum Dei’, with its almost doomy vibe, is indeed a very special kind of song. We’ve never done anything similar before. And yes, the song is already part of our current live set. Of course our live version is somewhat slimmer than the album version because we absolutely refuse to use backing tracks live. Therefore we only have one layer of keyboards live but it still sounds pretty epic! If we really wanted to do the album version justice we’d have to use a real orchestra! But that’s something for the future… maybe, haha!

While we’re at the topic of live shows, are there plans to bring Emerald to areas and venues where ticket prices are expressed in Euros rather than Francs?
We sure plan on doing some shows all across Europe, but so far nothing outside of Switzerland has been confirmed. We hope to fix some more dates soon!

I think that wraps it up nicely, unless of course, if there is still something you want to mention?
Well, I’d like to thank all readers for their interest in Emerald and all our fans for their loyalty and endless support over the years. We really appreciate it and I promise that it won’t take another five years to release our next album! We’re already in full songwriting mode and want to hit the studio again as soon as possible. Emerald are back, stronger than ever, and you won’t get rid of us anytime soon, haha! Let’s raise our horns up high!

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