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Het is pas eind februari maar ik denk dat de beste thrash-plaat van dit jaar al op uitkomen staat. Op 31 maart brengt het Amerikaanse gezelschap Warbringer namelijk hun vijfde full-length ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ op de markt en ik kan me niet voorstellen dat er nog iemand in staat is om deze brok agressie te gaan overtreffen. Dat is met name te wijten aan het geweldige song materiaal wat er op de plaat te vinden is en aan de fantastische vocalen van zanger John Kevill. Met laatstgenoemde had ik een gesprek om de laatste stand van zaken in het Warbringer kamp door te nemen…

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder speed / thrash metal

Hi John, the last time we spoke was for the release of your 2011 album ‘Worlds Torn Asunder’, so we have some catching up to do. Let’s start with ‘Empires Collapse’, your fourth album that was released in 2013. How important was that album for the band, both from a commercial as well as an artistic perspective?
Artistically I think it’s pretty dawn cool and I don’t think there’s been another thrash record that sounds like that one. We were a bit more experimental on that one and some of the things we did on that album I won’t probably do again because those were not really my babies to begin with. But a few of the songs and especially the last track of the record ‘Towers Of The Serpent’ really combine the extreme aggressive thrash sound of Warbringer with a new somewhat epic melodic sensibility. So I think there’s a lot of cool stuff on the album artistically, but commercially it’s a completely different story. Right after the release the whole band fell apart and we were not able to really go out and tour for the record. Probably it could have done better if we would have been able to do an extensive tour, but because of the fact that Warbringer basically ceased to exist for a couple of years, the album did very bad from a commercial standpoint.

Between ‘Empires Collapse’ and your new album ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ a lot has changed in the band. So was your previous bass player Ben Mottsman replaced by Jessie Sanchez, who once was in Bonded By Blood. Also the guitar tandem John Laux and Jeff Potts were replaced by Adam Carrol and Chase Becker. Why did they all decide to leave?
Well, you should really ask them but I think everybody got a bit burned up due to the heavy touring and stuff. I was personally very sad about this, because at that time it meant that the band that I had spent my whole adult life to didn’t exist anymore. It was a really tough pill for me to swallow and I kind of completely retreated in depression for about a complete year, before I started to work on getting things back together again. It took a lot of perseverance but in the end it was all worth it.

How did you get the replacements in the band?
There was a line-up with Adam and me and three local musicians that existed for a short while in 2015, but they were still young and didn’t really have a name yet. We played a couple of shows in this formation, but except for Adam they all decided to leave as well. So after my band fell apart, I rebuild it and it fell apart again! We had a large two-month tour booked in the USA with Enforcer, Exmortus and Cauldron, but we almost had to bail out on that one. After losing a record deal it’s not a very positive message if you bail out on an already announced tour, it’s more like a bullet to the head for our business. So I had to get a new line-up together in about a month to save the band, which was in October/November of 2015, while the tour was in January of 2016. That’s when Carlos rejoined and he pretty much saved our asses as he already knows the songs. Once that happened it was pretty easy to get the rest of the line-up together, because we already had the core of drummer, guitar and vocals in place. On the tour “Conan” (Jadran Gonzales) from Exmortus played with us and Chase joined the band right after this. Jessie and Chase are just LA metal musicians who were active in different bands like Bonded By Blood and Desecrate, and they were keen on joining us, so Warbringer was a band again after that.

In the past there have been numerous line-up changes in Warbringer. Are you such a difficult person to work with or is it all just coincidental?
I guess so…haha…no, I don’t think so. I never had too many complaints about being a diva or a dictator or something. I can be a little scatterbrained and difficult but that’s the case with a lot of creative people. I think I’m fundamentally a nice person and I don’t think I’m very hard to work with. It’s really hard though to be a mid-level touring band nowadays, because you really have to tour your asses of to make enough money to barely survive. It becomes very difficult to have a proper balance between band life and home life and maybe people have a problem dealing with that.

For the new album you also switched record companies and decided to sign a contract with Napalm Records? What was the reason that you left Century Media and joined Napalm and how does the record deal with them look like?
We couldn’t re-sign our deal with Century Media because there actually wasn’t a band anymore. Before ‘Empires Collapse’ came out they offered us to re-sign and if we accepted they would give the album the full release promotion and such. If we didn’t re-sign they would just release it and do the bare minimum, because they didn’t have any security if we were going to stay with them, so it makes sense from their perspective. For us it sucks, because I didn’t have a band at that time so I can’t re-sign the record deal. So as a result the record didn’t get any promotion and it became our worst selling album which is stupid because there’s a lot of good material on there. Between ‘Empires Collapse’ and this new album we got an opportunity to work with Century Media again, but they seem to be moving in a more mainstream rock direction and that’s not Warbringer, so we never felt that they really believed in us to be honest. Napalm Records has been interested in us since ‘Waking Into Nightmares’ and that’s part of the reason why I have such a positive feeling with them. I want to be on a label that really believes in the music and tries everything to grow the band. They kept reaching out to us after every release, so when we were separated from Century Media in 2013 and after I got the band together again I asked if they were still interested and they were, so that led to the deal we have now.

What was the game plan that the band had for ‘Woe To The Vanquished’?
Basically we just wanted to make the best record that we could and to show everybody that this band is alive and well and that we’re still a force to be taken seriously. Musically we wanted to take the adventurous progressive elements from the ‘Empires Collapse’ album and put it on a record that’s a lot more mean and merciless. We were just trying to make the sweetest thrash extreme metal record that we can!

Was the song writing process different when comparing it to ‘Empires Collapse’ and if so, in what way?
The song writing process was totally different, as this time we would often start with a lyric or an idea and create a song around that. We used to write in a very traditional way, all the band members jamming together in one room, but we weren’t able to do that this time because people live to far apart. We were able to meet a couple of times in Carlos his garage, where he has the possibility to record stuff and there we build the songs around the basic ideas that we had put forward. We wrote the record by doing our own self-recording of the whole thing and then we went in a recording studio to actually record it professionally.

You already mentioned that you incorporated more progressive elements into the typical Warbringer thrash metal style, but was this a deliberate choice or a natural evolution?
It’s a deliberate choice based on what we thought would be the best natural evolution, so a bit of both. We thought that in this time of our career it would be best to combine some of the more advanced musicianship, songwriting and progressive elements with the aggression that was present on ‘Waking Into Nightmares’. We want to have the brutality but also the memorable songwriting in place. We’ve had that philosophy since the third record and we will probably continue that into the future.

As the first single you’ve chosen ‘Silhouettes’, for which you also recorded a video clip. Why this particular song?
We put it on as the opener because it goes off with a bang, like you’re just hit by a bomb. It’s a cool example of the combination of brutality and songwriting that I was talking about, as it is really extreme and fast but at the same time it has a lot of unconventional transitions within the song structure. For me it was a natural choice to release this tune first.

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Is it nowadays still worthwhile to record video clips in your opinion as many bands are releasing lyric videos instead and there aren’t too many channels around to broadcast it?
Well, Youtube exists which is still very popular. We not spending large amount of money creating a video but you definitely still need to have one to get noticed as a lot of the younger generation are more into visual media nowadays. We have a second video coming out actually in the beginning of March, which is for the song ‘Remain Violent’, which is more hooky than the crazy and wild ‘Silhouettes’. The two songs together show a really good cross-section of what ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ has to offer.

Another track that really stands out is the more than eleven minutes long closing track ‘When The Guns Fell Silent’. How did this song materialize as it is the first time that Warbringer has released such an epic track? Do you think that the fans will appreciate it?
That’s probably the one that I’m most proud of, because it’s really an achievement by itself. We’ve always been inspired by the classic hard rock and metal acts, who wrote these giant epic songs like for instance Iron Maiden with their ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’. You can really tell a bigger story with a song like that, so that gave me the chance to tell my story about the first World War period and the duality between the awful nihilistic sadness of the endless war versus the bravery and the heroism of the soldiers participating in that war. So there’s a great human emotional tragedy there which provided good subject material for a song like ‘When The Guns Fell Silent’. I wanted the song to capture that mixture of pride, boldness and valor with soul crushing sadness and bleakness and I think we really accomplished that.

What are in your opinion the biggest differences and/or improvements when comparing ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ with the previous Warbringer albums?
I think it’s just more refined that our previous efforts. I think we’re a better band now, I think I’m a better lyricist and singer now and we’re just so much more disciplined than we were a couple of years ago. Instead of fundamentally changing what we are, we’ve been trying to evolve and refine where we started from. Therefore I think it’s our best record by a mile!

Who was responsible for the mixing and the production side of things and how happy are you with the end result in that department?
Mike Plotnikoff was responsible for the production side of thing together with his engineer Hatch and as a team they were excellent and very easy to work with. It was really a smooth and pleasant process and compared to the last record the production of this one has become way better. The balance between the different instruments and my vocals is just as it is supposed to be and they’ve been able to really capture the aggression of the band on this record.

The artwork fits the lyrical themes that are presented on the record. Who was responsible for the cover art and what was the assignment that you gave him?
The artists is Andreas Marshall who most metal fans will be familiar with as he has done a lot of metal covers for bands like Sodom and Obituary and such. Together with Dan Seagrave he’s my favorite artist, so we were really happy to have him do this one. There’s a historical photograph of a pyramid of German spiked helmets from New York City in 1918, which looks really evil and fascist. A monument of twelve thousand helmets is kind of grim as it means that twelve thousand men have died and to celebrate that is even more grim. The photo has a lot of the fascist iconography, like the eagles and the goddess of victory, which looks exactly like something from the Nazis, but in fact it’s in America. So that’s where the cover idea comes from and Andreas blended the fascist looking theme with imperial Roman kind of iconography. So as a result of that the palace behind the helmets came in place which really makes it look huge and monolithic. Andreas contributed in one big way by removing the people that were on the original photo and replacing them with the cannons that you see on the cover.

Warbringer has often been named as the future of thrash metal. What do you think of that statement and how does that make you feel?
Statement like that are a lot of what gives me the determination to soldier on through all the difficult stuff about being a musician in 2017. People enjoy what we’re doing and that’s fundamentally why I keep on doing this. I like these songs and I want other people to hear them and if possible like them too. It’s great to hear statements like that and it’s really encouraging.

Although Warbringer always releases top-class albums, the true strength of the band is in my opinion on stage. Isn’t it about time to capture that live-energy on an album or maybe even a DVD? Do you have any plans in that direction?
I think for us to really justify a live album we need to be a bit bigger than we are. We could record a live DVD, but we’d really like to have it to where we could pull a really solid headline tour, which right now we can’t really do. We just aren’t big enough for that now. I hope this record will be able to change that for us, so that we’re able to capture our energy on stage on a live album or DVD, because I agree with you that we’re a very good live band.

To promote the album you will do a European tour in April with Havok. Do you already have other more long-term plans concerning touring?
There’s a lot more coming up, but the Havok tour is the only thing that’s currently announced. We’re basically going to be on the road non-stop this year as there will be another European tour in the July and August period combined with a couple of festival appearances.

You will be in the Netherlands in Tilburg on the sixth of April. What can the fans expect from this show and how is the set list going to look like?
The set list is probably going to be focused a lot on the new record, because we’re really excited about it. We’re not going to forget our previous four records though as fans will love to hear some stuff from those albums as well. I think we have about forty-five minutes to blow your head off…

The band has been in existence for more than ten years now. What have been your personal highlight and maybe also low points during that period?
The low point has been the couple of years after the ‘Empires Collapse’ album, where I had to remake the band twice in order to get where we are today. There are however also a bunch of highlights like getting Gary Holt to produce our second album, the tours with Exodus, Kreator and Evile and also opening for Iron Maiden at the battle of St. Bernardino in 2013.

As a band you’ve accomplished quite some things already, but what are still some of the dreams that you want to realize with Warbringer?
We would like to be taken out by a big band like Megadeth, Slayer or Metallica for a full tour with a good spot, that would be my major dream for now. To be supported by the bands whose footsteps we grew up following and now we fully matured into a band that can compete with anybody in terms of the quality of our output. I would like to get the band to that next level, that would be my ultimate dream.

Okay John, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
Thanks to everyone for your support! Keep up with your passion for heavy music!

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