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Steelwing

Al snel na de release van het debuut ‘Lord Of The Wasteland’ (2010) groeide het Zweedse Steelwing tot één van de populairder namen van de nieuwe old-school heavy metal, en wist de naam, reputatie en positie keihard te bevestigen met het ijzersterke, ‘Zone Of Alienation’ (2012). Drie jaar na de laatste plaat kwam de band eind vorige maand met de derde langspeler, ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’, waarop Steelwing een andere kant van zichzelf laat horen. Alhoewel de basis nog altijd traditionele heavy metal is, is men minder clichématig tewerk gegaan en is met een extremer en duisterdere benadering gekomen. De band klinkt veel volwassener en heeft een erg sterk album afgeleverd die de band een stap verder zal brengen in haar carrière. Ondergetekende sprak vocalist Riley die ons uitleg geeft over de visie en missie voor/van de geüpgraded Steelwing.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

First of all, hails and congratulations on your new album, ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’. I know the album has just been released for a couple of days now, but are you satisfied with the reactions from the fans and the press so far?
We knew the change of direction with this album could be controversial – we wanted it to be – and so far we have received mixed opinions. I would say that most of them are on the positive side, with a lot of people already saying this is our best album so far. Then again, there are always some who are disappointed and wanted something just like the previous albums, but the point is these albums are still out there, you can still listen to them and there are other bands that play similar music. To be honest, we don’t mind if people hate the new sound as change is not necessarily convenient. We do want to provoke a reaction, be it positive or negative.

It took the band three years to come up with a new album. After the release of ‘Zone Of Alienation’ you did quite a few shows, but what was it that took the band so long to deliver a new album?
Many of the songs on this albums are made of ideas that were spawned three years ago. Since then we have mutated, scrapped, re-done everything, really just turning every note inside out until we felt that we were on the right path with the songs. Sometimes we could go for months without getting anywhere with the songs, and suddenly someone had a new idea that turned everything around. We had to find a sound that felt fresh, keeping everything we liked from our past and purging anything we did not think belonged in our concept anymore. But we were also very careful to not only make it complex and different but also make good songs, hooky in their own way. This was the real challenge. All in all, we had to allow the process to take its time, we did not want to rush it or release something we were not 100% satisfied with.

As I mentioned in my review, ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ shows a different side of Steelwing. The first striking point is of course the new logo and the different style artwork. And I must say that both the logo and the cover artwork remind of old-school thrash/death metal. Please tell us a bit about the choice to adapt the logo and go for a different approach artwork-wise.
The old logo and artwork were perfectly suited for our previous two albums. You can tell instantly by looking at the album covers that you’re about to get a studded fist of old-school heavy metal in your face. This was also the case with our stage shows and clothes. Naturally, as the sound and concept evolved for ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ we wanted the visual approach to reflect this as well. This included logo, artwork, stage props – everything. We didn’t want to do anything half-assed.

Musically the album has turned out darker in general as well. One of the striking points is also that although the music is still utter heavy metal, the new album is further away from the traditional and NWOBHM-influenced sound the previous records showed. What did you have in mind for ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ when you started working on the album?
We decided that we would not limit ourselves to what worked in the classic heavy metal context, but adopted an “anything goes, as long as it’s good” approach to song-writing. It’s more difficult when you suddenly don’t have any templates to work with, but it is also a very inspiring sense of freedom. We would now allow ourselves to draw inspiration from anything from death metal, black metal, technical thrash, punk, post-punk, industrial and electronic music, 70s rock and whatever… Being who we are, we didn’t really have to think about how to incorporate it into the heavy metal sound, it’s just the natural base of anything we do as a band. We also knew that this album needed to feel darker and more real in every way.

At some points the music also reminds me a lot of your compatriots Portrait, and also the vibe bands like RAM and In Solitude breathe. Was this an conscious choice or something that turned out this way naturally?
We never set out to copy anyone or anything, but credit where credit is due: we have always appreciated RAM and Portrait, and with the last release In Solitude really showed that they had the guts to evolve from their early sound. Generally speaking, the Swedish metal scene does have a certain darkness, so I guess it’s only natural we would move closer to that sound when we took this new direction of ours.

One thing is for sure and that’s the fact that the music – although it’s still utter Steelwing and quite traditional – has more depth and is a bit more complex as your previous albums. I loved ‘Lord Of The Wasteland’ and was blown away by ‘Zone Of Alienation’, and definitely appreciate the path of ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’. However, the first two records were instantly catchy, and although the new album is also immediately catchy, it requires more time and multiple listens in order to come into its own. In how far would you agree on that, and did/does it “worry” you that some listeners won’t take the time to let the album grow and therefore write it off?
This was definitely a conscious decision to not resort to the cheap and cheesy tricks of Heavy Metal 101, but to make it more demanding for the audience. In the end, if you do enjoy it you’ll enjoy it so much more than if it was just the same Iron Maiden twin guitars and Accept choruses that everyone has used to death by now. It does not worry me at all that it could be commercial suicide. For me, the important thing is to create something you’re proud of. If you’re after money or success, don’t play heavy metal – you will get neither.

Along with the musical approach the album also has a heavier and darker production. How important was Fred Estby’s role as a producer and how different was it to work with someone who is mainly involved with more extreme forms of metal?
Actually, Fred is just as much about punk and rock ’n’ roll as death metal, he is just always looking for something that is raw and real in the sound. This is why we chose to work with him, to move further away from the over-processed modern metal sound. As all musicians know, working with a producer who does his job – as opposed to just pressing the REC button – Is going to be uncomfortable at times. But in the end, he got that raw and gritty sound we were going for, which would not have been possible if we would have just done everything like we always do.

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The new album will definitely open new doors for the band and expand your audience. But looking at the success of the previous records, would you say that with ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ was a bit of risk regarding the fan base you have built with the previous records?
Yes, it’s a risk, and some people will be disappointed, but then again if you just release the same album over and over people will get bored instead. We know that many of our fans don’t only have Iron Maiden and Judas Priest patches on their vests, but also Kreator, Slayer, Morbid Angel, etc. so why shouldn’t they appreciate these influences in our music as well? I think most metal fans are pretty diverse within the genre anyway.

When it comes to lyrical matters ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ also shows a different side of the band. I think you have let go of clichés and – I’m not a big fan of using this word – deal with more “mature” and everyday subjects, and especially with how we are destroying our planet in general...
We have always had kind of a post-apocalyptic theme with our music and specifically a fascination for the nuclear apocalypse. Where the first two albums had more of a “cartoonish” approach to this, for this album we wanted it to have a more urgent and genuine feel. I consider it more art than entertainment this time. I guess you could say that if we were inspired by post-apocalyptic movies like ‘Mad Max 2’ and ‘Escape From New York’ in the past, now we were inspired by current events: increasingly warmongering great powers, global warming, religious terrorism and growing right-wing extremism all over Europe – even in previously liberal and welcoming Sweden.

How important were the lyrics for this album? Are you – in any way – also trying to bring a message across or raise awareness with this album?
As the lyricist for this band, the lyrics are very, very important for me. It seems a lot of bands only treat lyrics as something you need so that the singer has an excuse to sing melodies, and I think this is a shame, a waste of an opportunity to give the song a purpose. I pay close attention to get a message or vibe across, make it coherent, use the right amount of syllables, proper accentuation, rhyme structures, etc. – the lyrics should be poetry, not a bunch of random crap. I also like to have a clear lyrical concept for each album. For ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ I wanted every song to revolve around the intersection between hopeless apocalyptic misanthropy and the salvation of Nietzschean trans-humanism. The opener and title track is inspired by Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, most of the A-side deals with the decline of civilization and the demise of the current state of humanity while the B-side explores the evolution of new life-forms, wrapping everything up with the highly depressing ‘We Are All Left Here to Die’.

With ‘Och Världen Gav Vika’ the new album contains the first song in your native tongue. How did you come up with the idea to do a song in Swedish and what are/were the advantages and disadvantages to do this?
It was something I’ve wanted to do for a while. We played around with some ideas over the years, but this was the first time it felt 100% right. It was much inspired by the Swedish punk scene which often touch on the same lyrical subjects of nuclear annihilation. The advantage is that for us, it feels much closer to home, which moves you in a deeper way and makes you relate more to it. To our international fans, I hope it feels exotic and interesting instead. The disadvantage is that I’m really not used to singing or writing lyrics in Swedish, it took some time getting used to, and somehow you feel much more exposed and honest.

For this year you have done a short tour in September across Europe. As far as I could see there aren’t further live dates planned to support the album yet. Are there any plans to take the band on the road across Europe in 2016?
We are working on these plans currently, but as we get older it’s more difficult to make the touring plans work for everyone with employment, families and economic responsibilities. We can’t just say “fuck it” and go on tour for several months on end anymore.

Speaking of gigs, nowadays it is not that easy to get a decent gig, let alone planning a decent tour for up and coming bands. How is the situation regarding shows for a band like Steelwing? Both nationally and internationally.
Sweden has never been a very hot market for us, we were much more widely promoted and appreciated on the continent. There are always offers but we need them to make sense, we’re all living in four different cities in two different countries at the moment so we can’t just take any local gig for shits, giggles and a case of beer. And pretty much the same goes for touring internationally, of course we need to plan it right so that the fees and expected merch sales can cover expenses for van, gas, tolls, crew, etc. or we could end up broke from touring.

And finally, what can we expect from Steelwing in the near and far future?
Expect the unexpected, but whatever we do, we will give it everything we’ve got – as we’ve proven time and again over the years on the road and in the studio.

Well Riley, I guess we can call it a day for now. Unless of course there is something left that you’d like to mention…
If you haven’t already, check out ‘Reset, Reboot, Redeem’ with an open mind. Love it or hate it – either way, let it get to you, let it inspire you to make a difference in a rotting world.

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