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Gothic Knights

Maar liefst negen jaar na het verschijnen van hun vorige plaat 'Up From The Ashes' kwam het Amerikaanse heavy metal brigade Gothic Knights afgelopen zomer met de opvolger 'Reflections From The Other Side'. De band maakte in de jaren negentig een sterke start met het titelloze debuut, en vooral de opvolger 'Kingdom Of The Nights' en ook 'Up From The Ashes' was een sterk album. In de daaropvolgende jaren werd het ineens behoorlijk rustig in het ridderskamp, waardoor de band enigszins in vergetelheid is geraakt. Maar het laatste wapenfeit heeft wat mij betreft de nodige in huis om de band niet terug in de picture te zetten. Het heeft even mogen duren, maar het lukte ons uiteindelijk om gitarist John Tzantis te pakken te krijgen voor een interview via mail, om meer te weten te komen over de jaren van stilte en uiteraard de nieuwe plaat.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

First of all; welcome back to the metal front with the Knights and of course congratulations on your new album 'Reflections From The Other Side'. But before we get into that, let's look at the band's history! Gothic Knights was born 22 years ago and your first album appeared in 1996; in a time when this type of heavy metal was becoming rare. How do you look back at the time when you started the band and your motives to start playing heavy metal?
Times have changed! When we started out back in 1990, there was a still a thriving metal scene here in the US. But by the time we actually put out our first CD in 1996, the US metal scene particularly the commercialism of it very much disappeared. But for us, the desire to play and write heavy metal was strong since the beginning. After all we just started, and accomplishing our goals as young musicians was what matted most. So even as the US metal scene started to disappear, it didn't stop us. If anything it motivated us even more as the rebel in us refused to accept the grunge scene that took over the mainstream. Metal is who we are and there is nothing in the world that can change that! It's in our blood, it's a lifestyle really.

band image'Up From The Ashes' was released in 2003 and after that we didn't hear that much from the band. What happened after the release of that album that it put you on some kind of a hiatus for almost nine years? What did you guys do in the meantime?
A couple of us were dealing with some personal matters. Rick the singer started going to college and needed time to focus on his studies. And I was recovering from back surgery, which although was very successful, time took a couple of years to fully heal. We never actually went on hiatus as we still got together for rehearsal and writing sessions. Some of the songs, which we wrote back as early as 2003, ended up on our new CD. One song that immediately comes to mind is 1689, Trial of the Witch. A couple of songs that we also wrote several years ago and more in the epic power metal style will also end up on the following release. The last several years though were very transformative for the band. We in essence changed and developed our approach on how we write and record of our music. We ended up building our own recording studio and over the years we learned how to utilize it. It took some time to learn how to record and demo, and then to capture the best possible tones for the final mixes. In the end however, we feel that it paid off greatly. We are very happy with the sound of our new CD!

The album was already recorded in 2010 and mixed in the spring of 2011. What took you so long to actually release the record?
We spend that time shopping our CD to the various metal labels. We were also seriously considering creating our on label and looking into that avenue as well. Although we got a few label offers, we eventually decided to go ahead with creating our own label. After doing the projections and the math, we realized that we would be able to sell the same amount of CDs as the labels that were offering us deals. As we have been around for a long time, we established enough connections in the industry that we felt that we could deal with the distributors directly. We give special thanks to Denis Gulbey of Sentinel Steel as he guided us and helped us with the process of creating our own label.

The album has been released now for a couple of months, and the reactions are quite positive so far. However, the album is released through InnerSphere, which is a relatively smaller label than your previous record company Limb. What happened to the deal with Limb?
InnerSphere Music is the name of our self-created label. I was surprised that the name and the .com wasn't taken already! I do want to say that Limb did a great job putting together the 'Up From the Ashes' CD for us. The digipak version included bonus tracks, a poster, sticker, they really know how to put together a product! However, after the release, we had the opportunity to part ways with Limb, and we took it. I felt that because the music industry was changing so much that it was in our best interest to do this. We opened for Helloween a couple times back in 2004 when they came to the States. Funny thing is that I got talk to Michael Weikath of Helloween who told me that when it comes to record deals it is best to make them as a short as possible. In many ways, you can say that we followed his advice!

You know, I have followed the band since the release of the debut album and have always love the kind of heavy metal the Knights delivered. I especially love the straightforward approach of the 'Kingdom Of The Knights' album. Although I also liked 'Up From The Ashes', that album showed a more melodic, and somewhat European power metal, approach. At that time it seemed to me as if the band had adapted the musical course a little bit to maybe push it towards the success a bit more. Your opinion please…
It is true that the approach and style between 'Kingdom of the Knights' and 'Up from the Ashes' are rather different plus there was a different singer on each CD. 'Kingdom of the Knights' was in my opinion more in the epic metal style and the aura of the CD was consistent from beginning to end. 'Up from the Ashes' was different throughout as the songs varied in style. There were some dark thrashy songs as well as some very Euro power metal songs. Rick the singer, who is a capable songwriter, wrote some of the songs on 'Up From the Ashes' particularly the ones in the more Euro metal style. As far as 'Kingdom', I wrote most of the songs. And for that reason, the CD was inherently more consistent and straightforward from beginning to end.

For 'Reflections…' you have again chosen for a more straightforward, heavier and more aggressive approach, but also with modern influences. What did you have in mind for the album when you started working on it? I mean, was there a line set for the music or did everything come more or less naturally?
I am old school in the sense that when I buy a CD from a band, I listen to it from beginning to end. So the one thing that was very important to me was for us to put together a more straightforward and consistent album from the beginning to end. The band always wrote music in both the epic power metal style and the aggressive US metal style. And as artists and where our hearts were at the time, we decided that our next CD was to be more in the aggressive US metal style. We were simply in the mood to put out something dark and heavy. And because of this reason, the music came very naturally. The magic and chemistry while we were writing the songs was always there.

In my opinion the atmosphere on 'Reflections…' is also a lot darker than on the previous records! Does that also have to do with the lyrical themes you deal with this time?
Yes, the lyrics definitely delve on the darker side of things and some are based on some very personal experiences. The songs also don't have the traditional repetitive choruses but are more story-oriented. The atmosphere of the CD is dark all around because the lyrics and music were written so they complement each other.

In how far have the lyrical concepts and the subject you deal with change over the years?
We write lyrics that cover anything from fantasy/horror, historical events, to topics based solely on personal matter. We are all big fans of movies and books, which inspire us when it comes to writing lyrics. Some authors or movies that come to mind are J.R.R. Tolkien, Ann Rice, Michael Moorcock, Stephen King, Star Wars, Hellraiser, Stargate, Quantum Leap..etc…etc. As far as I can remember, we never wrote any politically oriented lyrics, and I don't seeing that ever happening. But most importantly, time and experience has allowed all of us to evolve as lyricists and as musicians in general. I actually wrote most of the lyrics on Reflections and maybe the best reason for that is because I had a lot to ideas and thoughts I wanted to explore. I have always written lyrics in the past. But over time the substance and lyrical content has become more important and personal to me, especially with this latest album. Personally, I feel that embracing and exploring personal matters as well as being able to write a story that takes twists and turns is the key to good lyric writing. Sometimes, even when I am writing fantasy or horror based lyrics, I might base them on a true life or personal event. As long as there is a focal point that can be immersed into and even twisted around, the story can take a life of its own and grab the listener.

Of course in the past nine years the metal landscape has changed a bit and many bands have entered the scene since then. So it's important to stay in the picture. Do you think that the fans may have forgotten about Gothic Knights? To be honest, I had a little bit…
I am sure they had forgotten about us but understandably so. Many years did pass since the last release. However, we have now set ourselves up so we can release new CDs more frequently in the future. I believe that a metal band here in the US has to invest and depend on itself especially if it wants to survive and thrive. In fact, one of the main reasons some of the more established metal bands are doing well out there is because they have their own recording gear. Bands these days can't rely on labels for advances because CD sales are not what they once were due to illegal streaming. This is one of the major reasons why Gothic Knights has put itself in a position where it doesn't need to depend on a recording budget from a label anymore. Because we have our own recording studio, we now have the ability to consistently release high quality sounding releases to the public.

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Fortunately heavy metal, and especially old-school metal in general, has made a great “comeback” in the last couple of years – well, at least here in Europe! Although 'Reflections…' is not entirely old school, the time for this type of music seems riper than a decade ago, and so it may also be in the band's advantage. In how far can you agree on this?
It is true that old-school metal has made a comeback. The Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Testament) came around. Ozzy is always on TV in some shape, way, or form. Maiden and Priest toured here in the States. But to be honest, I don't know how much of an advantage this is for any metal band here in the US. The US metal scene especially for new and up and coming bands is still very much in the underground. Bands here in general have difficulty getting gigs and support from the clubs. A lot of the bands have to pay to get on a show with a national act. Bands are basically buying tickets so the clubs can afford to pay the national acts. At times the openers bring more people than the headliners. The openers don't even get paid or get the appropriate recognition, which in my opinion is a huge travesty. Gothic Knights is a little more fortunate though when it comes to booking gigs because we have been around a long time. However, when Gothic Knights first started playing shows in the early 90s, it was never like that. The metal scene was on fire and the clubs had their own crowd that always came to the venue no matter who played. I blame part of that on the internet though. When I was a teenager there was no internet. My enjoyment was going out to the metal clubs, hanging out, and drinking beer!

Of course the years of absence have been a bit of a setback for the Knights, but 'Reflections…' definitely has what it takes to place the band in the picture. Do you see 'Reflections…' as a new start for the band? What would you do different this time around?
'Reflections' is definitely a new start for us. And although we haven't put out a CD in several years, as I mentioned before we spent time reworking our writing and recording process. The upcoming goal for us is to release CDs more frequently and to eventually perform at the big metal festivals in Europe.

Does the album title have something to do with that as well, or does it refer to something else?
Mario the bass player came up with the title of the CD and the concept for the artwork. One day at a rehearsal, he started describing an idea of a cover for the CD, the Grim Reaper with his hand going through a mirror. He also was coming up with album titles and he said the words “Reflections from the Other Side”. His ideas immediately connected with all of us. We all feel that the title and artwork truly represent the music on the CD. Artist Eliran Kantor by the way designed the artwork, and we are very happy with what he came up with!

By the way, how is the market for this type of heavy metal in the US nowadays?
There is and there will always be a market for metal here in the US. But the key for any band to break through and succeed is to get the right exposure and advertising. One of the big challenges up and coming bands face now is getting the attention of potential fans. It is true that bands have the opportunity to advertise and promote on their own especially on the internet. But at the same time there is so much advertising going on that it has become information overload for the average music fan. Touring and playing shows in my opinion is the key to getting established especially if a band has a good and finished CD to sell.

So what's the next step for the Knights? Seeing that the album was already recorded in 2010, can we assume that you already have some material ready for the next record?
We have recorded several songs already. In fact we have record the drum tracks to several songs at Trax East Studios. I have a nice Pro Tools rig in my home studio, which I use all the time to write and record new ideas. The band is also rehearsing and in the process of writing new material. Our next material is heading more into the epic power metal direction...majestic but real heavy! With regards to shows, the band knows that the next step is to play festivals and do some touring!

Is there any chance to see the band over Europe sometime soon?
We would love to come to Europe and play the festivals and to be honest this is a goal of ours. We plan to talk more with some of the festival organizers to discuss the possibilities and opportunities to come out there. We have had open invitations to some of the festivals in Europe but we haven't acted upon them yet. But we will eventually and hopefully soon!

Well then, I guess we can wrap it up for this time. Unless of course there is anything left that you'd like to mention…
Well, the latest news with regard to the band is that we parted ways with our singer Rick Sanchez. Although this may be disappointing to some of our fans, we very much needed to do this. His lack of interest when it came to performing live and cancelling shows last minute was something we could not live or deal with anymore. We have been dealing with him on this issue for many years, which in many ways has held us back. The rest of the band has desire to put in the hard work and energy to promote the shows and perform live. And when we do book the overseas metal festivals, we want to make sure that everyone is confident that each band member will keep to their commitments. So we are now looking for a vocalist who in many ways is also consummate front man. Because the world is also a much smaller place these days, we are also accepting submissions from vocalists worldwide. Anyone who is interested can reach us at metal@gothicknights.com. With the help of our friends and fans, I am sure the word will spread! Please check us out on [http;//www.gothicknights.com]our website[/url] and Facebook METAL FOREVER!!! \m/

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