Hi Nima, although Martjo and you already go way back, the seed for Steel Shock was planted just a couple of years ago. How did this happen?
Well, Martjo and I ran into each other at Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium in 2003 and we immediately hit it off well together. We discovered that we had many things in common: we were both fascinated with eighties heavy metal, we both lived in the Groningen are in the North-East of the Netherlands and we enjoyed, almost obsessively, Jack Daniel’s with Coca Cola light, nowadays Zero hehe. Oh yeah, and we hated Jim Beam and Pepsi, so we were really a match made in hell, if you will, haha. After that we used to meet at our local metal bar, Café de Ster in Groningen, and partied all night long, drinking, singing and headbanging. I later became a roadie for the legendary Vortex, in which Martjo has been active since the late seventies, and also became a writer for one of Martjo’s magazines at the time, Fury Magazine. So our friendship grew stronger and stronger during the years.
Back in the “Ster” days I used to scream my lungs out singing along with the music, and Martjo always told me I had potential and should sing in an old-school heavy metal band. Martjo himself was quite busy with Vortex at the time and I used to sing in several bands. We always talked about doing something together, but didn’t have the time and opportunity. After the “Warriors Of Metal” tour featuring Vortex, Wizard and Killer in 2014, Martjo became seriously ill and was on a hiatus for almost two years. After his recovery, we decided the time had now come to put words into action. And so Steel Shock was born.
What did you want to achieve with this new band Steel Shock and how did you come up with the band name?
Let me just start by telling you that Martjo and I are very straightforward and maybe even a bit black and white about what we consider to be heavy metal. We are sick and tired of the way the scene has turned out over the past few years. A lot of these bands that are being labeled and pushed as metal are not metal to us. It may sound arrogant, but I personally consider many of the garbage that is considered “metal” not even to be metal-worthy. Look at all these shitty core bands for example. All these whine-ass emo kids that take on an extreme image, scream some whiny-ass shit out and it’s supposed to be tough. Hell, a lot of hair and glam bands were tougher than these guys as those glam guys used to fuck shit up. The only thing the new generation of so-called metal bands does is get offended and whine about it. Or what about rapping in metal? It was never cool and it never will be. People can play whatever they like and listen to whatever they like, but don’t fucking call it metal. So the idea for Steel Shock was simple: to play metal in the way we wanted to hear it ourselves. And we were very clear about it from the very beginning: it had to be old-school, it had to be cliché and it had to be over the top.
Regarding the name; we were brainstorming a lot about it and had to do much research about whether or not this or that name was not already out there. And of course we needed a name that would fit the music: cliché, old-school and also powerful. It was Martjo that came with the name Steel Shock one day. He had found it by accident as he was going through his rather huge archive, and saw some underground photocopied magazine that was called that. I immediately loved it, so we searched the internet and surprisingly enough there was not one band that was called Steel Shock. So, jackpot, haha.
How long did it take you to get the line-up complete and where did you find the other guys?
That was actually a lot harder than we thought. Martjo suggested Lijon as the second guitarist, and since I knew Lijon was a great guitarist and also one hell of a guy, I agreed. We simply explained what we wanted and what we were looking for, and since he’s just as crazy as we are – well maybe on a more moderate level, haha – he immediately agreed, as it was clear that we were on the same page. Finding a rhythm section however, turned out to be a real headache. After some talks about possible drummers, we came to Tristan Sievers from the thrashers Destitution, who is a great drummer and a nice guy and he also lived in the same area. Plus, Destitution wasn’t doing much at the time, so the chances of his availability were positive. We asked him and he joined. Finding a suitable bass player was an even bigger headache. The few bass players we knew were not on the same page and didn’t share the same passion as we did.
Eventually Sasch came in the picture as he offered himself as a bass player. Sasch is a musical chameleon: he’s a great guitarist, he can play the bass, he can drum, and he can also sing pretty well. But he’s also producer and at the time he still had his own recording studio, the Mighty Monster Studio in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany. On top of that, he used to have his own record label, Mighty Monster Records, so he was very well-connected in the underground. He used to have Vortex under contract and had also been responsible for recording and producing several Vortex records and other bands/records that we liked. So, Martjo and I knew him personally and were familiar with his work. So with Sasch we had an incredibly skilled person, and a wonderful human being, so even though he lived 666 kilometers (no joke!) away from us, we decided to take him in.
Tristan’s time with the band turned out to be very short. He soon discovered that his heart wasn’t with heavy metal and that our approach didn’t really fit with what he wanted. So we parted our ways. Sasch introduced us to this young drummer, Pascal “Abigail” Ebert, whom he knew from his area. So we went to Sasch’s studio and he came to audition. We hit it off well on a personal level and the boy could definitely play as well. We seemed to have our definite line-up. Having two members living so far away being able to rehearse as a band on a regular basis was of course impossible, and planning rehearsals was a drag. The distance eventually became too much for Abigil and he left… It started to look as if we should change our name to Spinal Tap, haha! But anyway, Lijon came up with Erik “E.Klipse” Klip. Martjo and I were a bit skeptical at first, because Erik doesn’t really have a heavy metal background, but more of an extreme metal background, and having had troubles with drummers before, we wanted to have no misunderstandings and wanted to have all the bullshit out of the way before we even invited the poor guy to audition. We made a long list of what we wanted and what we didn’t want, some sort of “terms and conditions”, haha. But Erik agreed to all, so we gave it a try. And dammit, are we happy with him. Erik is not only a fantastic drummer, but also one of the nicest people I know. So, the perfect guy for us.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the musical background of the Steel Shock musicians? What did they do before joining the band
Martjo is of course mainly known from Vortex, which has been around for almost four decades! Martjo to me has always been the embodiment of heavy metal. Besides the traditional heavy metal background Lijon has a love for technical thrash metal. He has had his share of bands in the past and the most-known is probably Chronic Insomnia; a technical thrash band more in the vein of Coroner and such. Sasch is into all kinds of metal, but old-school hardrock and heavy metal is the definitely the main ingredient in his existence. Being who he is as previously mentioned, he’s been in a lot of bands, among which Highway Killer and his own Saintsbleed. And he’s been in Stormwitch. Erik is from a different caliber as he has more of an extreme metal background, mainly death metal. He is still involved in the punk rock band No-id as well as King For A Day, which is more metalcore. As for myself, in my teenage years I had a black metal project, and later on my own thrash project Damnator. As I discovered and started to develop my clean voice, I joined the power progressive band Act Of State, but it wasn’t really what I was into. Later I joined old-school heavy metallers Gloria Victis, and after that band fell apart I joined PPTA, which is thrash. But as Steel Shock came in the picture, I decided to put all my focus on this band.
Early 2017 you recorded you first demo called ‘First Strike’. How was this demo received by both the fans as well as the press?
The demo did really well. It made people aware of our existence and gave people who had heard the name an opportunity to get to know us. The reactions were all positive. We didn’t issue anything specifically for the press and just gave it away to people for free, most of them at the Keep It True festival. The reviews we got for the demo were all done spontaneously and they were all great. Apparently the reviewers though that we were worth mentioning and decided to write about us. And we are very, very thankful for that.
What was the actual intention that you had with this first demo? Was it meant as a first sign of life to the audience of was it also meant to score a record deal?
The idea was initially to release a five-track EP entitled ‘Old School Or No School’, which has also been our slogan since day one. We wanted to release the EP at the Keep It True festival, which is the perfect audience for the type of metal that we play, and to start searching for a label to release a full-length sometime in the winter or maybe even in early 2018. At that time we still had Abigail on the drums. But he had trouble with his hand and it turned out that he needed surgery. So that pretty much fucked up our plans altogether. But we had already announced the EP on social media and a lot of people were hyped up about it so we had to deliver. We didn’t want to be one of those “hot-air” bands that only talked but didn’t show action. So we decided to do a demo with songs we had finished and after that go straight for a full-length, for a September release, as we were already planning a small tour with Wizard.
Anyway, we had already done a professional recording for ‘Shockwave of Steel’ with Tristan on the drums, the other two were recorded at home and have programmed drums, which were good enough for demo standards. Seeing that the time was very short and we definitely wanted it done for Keep It True, we announced our new plans. And doing things in the old-school tradition, we made 250 copies, and hand-numbered it and announced that this was a special limited edition free give-away at the Keep It True festival. The demand for it was greater than we thought and many people came to us asking for a copy. We already had a deal with Alone Records – more about that later on – so the demo was meant to spread our name and to make people curious about what was coming and that was absolutely a mission accomplished.
Of course it’s very obvious that you adore the eighties metal, but what are some of the bands that have been responsible for this adoration?
Oh man, that list is endless, haha, but yeah eighties it is. We are obviously inspired a lot by the NWOBHM and I think it’s audible that especially Judas Priest has left a great mark on us. But also bands like Maiden, Saxon, Raven etcetera, as well as Anvil, Manowar, Mercyful Fate, Scorpions, Motörhead, AC/DC, Rainbow, Dio, and of course the mighty Black Sabbath. You know the usual classics. But of course also a lot of lesser-known acts as well as hair/glam bands. The eighties just had and still has this charm about it. I started listening to metal from a very young age and the aforementioned bands as well as Alice Cooper and Guns ‘n’ Roses pretty much formed my childhood. That love, feel and adoration has always remained deep in my heart and has grown stronger and stronger over the years. And the same goes for Martjo and Lijon, although, due to the age difference, they are also a lot more influenced by older (hard)rock acts.
You are very extreme in your eighties adoration, not only musically but also in the lyrics, the artwork and the overall concept. Aren’t you afraid that this will be seen as cliché or maybe even childish?
Afraid? Not at all! That’s what we’re going for! Well, not the childish part of course. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we do take our music seriously. But the cliché part is definitely true and is something we were going for since the beginning, as mentioned before. I personally LOVE clichés, and I do believe that everybody is a bit cliché in his/her own way, but with some – like us – it’s to a higher degree. We have very strict “rules” for what Steel Shock is and we definitely limit ourselves to old-school eighties heavy metal. But there is plenty of space to move despite the limitations. More importantly, we are doing what we love and our music comes from the heart and we are having a great time doing it. That’s what matters at the end of the day. It’s up to people to decide whether or not they take it seriously or not, or want to go with it. Looking at the reactions so far, we are not alone in our adoration.
You’ve been able to achieve a record deal with the Greek label Alone Records. How did you get in touch with them and how does the deal with them look like?
Well, seeing that we had introduced the name Steel Shock to the world already, we thought it was the time to finally introduce the music as well. We had already made a professional recording of the song ‘Shockwave of Steel’, which was supposed to appear on a compilation album. But the plans for that compilation fell through, so we made a lyric video for the song and put it on YouTube. A mutual Greek friend of ours, Vagelis Papadakis, whom we knew from and always meet again at the Keep It True festival, had introduced the song to his friend, Emmanoel Emmanouilidis, who is the owner of Alone Records. Vagelis contacted us and told us that Emmanoel liked what heard. So we asked him if we shall we contact him and see if he’s interested or not, Vagelis said: “No, he wants to sign you already!” That of course was wonderful news as it came so fast. We started talking to Emmanoel and quickly found out that we were on the same page, and that he was the right guy for us. He started Alone Records as a record store over twenty-five years ago, which is still running, and since a few years he has started his record label as well. He’s an old-school dude like us, with the same passion and vision, and also seemed to be a very cooperative and easy-going guy. So we knew we were making the right choice signing with him. As you see the deal came quite fast and easy, which we are very thankful for and consider ourselves extremely lucky. Hail to Vagelis and Emmanoel, and hail to Greece.
Where there any other labels interested in releasing ‘For Metal To Battle’ and if so, why did you choose for this Greek label?
Emmanoel acted so fast that no one else had the chance to make an offer, haha. I did approach a friend of mine who owns a record label similar to Alone. He was interested, but he already had releases scheduled at the end of the year, so we would be up for a possible release sometime in 2018. We didn’t have time to wait that long, and besides, deep in our hearts we knew it would be Alone. And now we are sure that we have made the right choice. Emmanoel has been very supportive and helpful and comes up with interesting ideas. The album arrived even ahead of schedule. Also regarding promotion he does his best for us.
How does the song writing process in Steel Shock look like and what is needed in a good Steel Shock tune before you decide to record it?
Martjo delivers the majority of the material, and he doesn’t come up with only ideas, but with a song that is done for 70-80%. Both guitar parts are written and he programs the basics for the drum parts. I’m the first one to hear the song, let it sink in for a while and sometimes come with suggestions to adapt the song to go with a certain vocal melody I have in mind. Some pieces shorter, some longer, etc. etc. Once we think the song is what we both have in mind, Martjo re-records it and sends it to the rest of the guys and they can go crazy with their own parts. When there is time I even record the basic vocal parts before sending it to the rest of the guys. Everybody in the band has artistic and creative freedom and can make his parts the way he feels comfortable with, based on the blueprint. But there is of course one rule: if it’s not old-school, it won’t get in.
The song titles and lyrics are of course very much “over the top”. Who’s responsible for the lyrics and why don’t you use other, maybe more “modern” or “sensible” lyrics in the songs?
Hey man, metal is serious business, haha! I’m responsible for all the lyrics and I’m happy that you noticed that they are “over the top”. That was the whole point from the very beginning. Metal has been my life for decades and I’m very, very, obsessively passionate about it. The music, the lifestyle, the feel…everything. You know, I hate it when people say: “yeah, I used to be into metal!” So, what happened? You pussied out, became “mature”? What the fuck do you mean, you “used to”? I’m convinced that a metalhead is born a metalhead and sometime in his/her life discovers it. And once you’ve discovered it, there is no way back. It’s not something you grow into and out of. It’s a love and passion that only the ones that embrace it in their heart truly understand. And that’s what I sing about and try to reflect in my lyrics. Furthermore, music for me is mainly a form of entertainment. When I listen to music and especially when I go to a concert, I couldn’t care less for technique or what education the guitarist has had, how many strings the bass guitar has or whether he plays with a pick or his damn fingers. As long as it’s tight and performed well, I don’t give a flying fuck about how good this or that technique is. Even more so, the beauty lies within simplicity and I just want to be entertained. I want to enjoy my drink, put my fist up in the air, bang my head, sing along and forget my everyday struggle in the “real” world for a while. And that is also something I want to reflect in my lyrics. They should be catchy and even if you don’t know the song, you should be able to sing along the second time the chorus comes along. Pretty simple, but I think they are damn sure entertaining, haha. The macho attitude that some of these type of lyrics have in general, have always helped me get through hard times, so hopefully some of my lyrics will have the same effect on other people.
Having said that, I do write more serious lyrics as well. The song ‘Eyes Of Fire’ is dedicated to the mighty tiger, such magnificent animals that are becoming extinct thanks to ignorant human beings. It really pisses me off that these wonders of nature are being killed off for basically no reason. And we’re supposed to be the “intelligent species”? Give me a break. So I decided to dedicate a song to the glory of the tiger. Also the song ‘Stand Tall’ is a serious one as it deals with bullies in all its forms. It makes me sick to my stomach when people are bullied by others who are – often – only physically stronger. How many people have taken their own lives because they couldn’t take it anymore to be bullied by some assholes? It’s just sick and it makes me feel ashamed to be a human being. I mean, the political and religious leaders of the world are making our lives miserable enough, so there is no need for us to pick on each other. The message of this song is to fight back, never give in and to stay strong. “Beat the bastards and stand tall”. Sensible enough, right? And I’m sure I will deal with more serious subjects in the future as well, just as long as it fits to the Steel Shock attitude. But also be sure that the “over the top” and the glory of metal lyrics will continue. I don’t think I will ever get too political in my lyrics, I’d rather leave that to my thrash and grindcore colleagues. And forget about ballads and love songs! Not in Steel Shock!
Why did you opt for ‘For Metal To Battle’ as the album title as there’s no song to be found on the album with that title?
Well, we did think about having a title track, but what would that have been? And furthermore, what makes a title track a title track? And why do bands choose that particular track to be representative for the record? Is it the best? The most meaningful? I still haven’t figured that out. I used the words ‘For Metal To Battle’ for the first time on the final lyric for the song ‘Metal Fire’ and the words made sense to me for what Steel Shock stands for: we fight for what we feel is real metal and for the glory of metal in general. So I suggested the words and the idea behind it to the rest as the album title, and after we all took the time to think about it, it seemed that we were happy with it and it was something we all stood behind. We had the title already before I had written all the lyrics, so I decided to have it return in a couple of songs and with that create some sort of red line through the album.
The cover artwork, done by Eric van der Heijden, really fits in the band concept. Why did you choose for Eric to create the cover and what was the assignment that was given to him?
We were thinking a lot about what we wanted as the cover artwork and who would do it. Orion Roos, the other guitarist in Vortex, introduced Eric’s work to us. Eric is a fantasy comic artist and we were quite impressed with his style of work, the monsters, the muscles, the warrior women… and the tits, haha. We got in touch with Eric and he was interested to do the cover for us. He had never done an album cover before so he saw it as a challenge and was really excited about it. He listened carefully to what we wanted, how we wanted it and what would fit to us. He really put a lot of effort into it and kept us updated throughout the whole process. And the result is just fucking cool, so beautifully ugly, haha.
Who came up with the idea for the cartoon that is to be found in the album booklet?
Basically the idea was that our sword was stolen by some evil demon, which Eric has named Haroc, and that we were going to battle to take it back. On the front cover you see the demon in his realm, with our sword behind him, cast in stone. And of course we wanted some titties, which are Haroc’s prisoners, haha. The army of the dead approaching, which is in the inlay, illustrates us. We didn’t want to have faces, so we went with skulls and Eric has done a great job keeping each member recognizable. As said Eric is a comic artist, so Martjo came up with the idea to have Eric do a comic for the booklet just as a nice little extra. Eric had freedom to do what he wanted and came up with this story, and we love it.
There are ten songs offered on the album, but if you had to pick one song that you’re most proud of and that would represent Steel Shock best as a band, which one would that be and why?
That’s a real tough one as this album is very special to us. Apart from it being our first, we faced a lot of difficulties creating the album. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and at some points it was a real nightmare. So in its entirety the album has a special meaning for us and we are proud of all the songs. Anyway, I think every song on its own represents Steel Shock quite well. Although old-school heavy metal is the law here, I think we have delivered something versatile that represent us and our influences. And of course we all have our personal favorites and for some the lyrics have a special meaning too. But I think in general ‘Shockwave Of Steel’ is the song that is our ultimate anthem. It was the first song that was completed under the Steel Shock banner and what defined our sound from the beginning. And it was the first song with which we introduced ourselves to the world. Again, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the songs are less superior to us, but if we had to pick just one, this would be it.
Do you have more material available than the ten songs that are to be found on this album? If so, which ones and what’s going to happen with them?
At that moment we had two or three more songs that were almost ready, but we weren’t hundred percent satisfied with them, so they had to be re-written. And seeing that the time was short, we didn’t want to rush into it, so we skipped those songs. At the moment the music has been re-written, so now I have to come up with new lyrics and vocal melodies and finish them for the next record. So the final titles aren’t set yet.
A (lyric) video was released for the song ‘Shockwave Of Steel’. Why did you choose for this particular song and are you planning to create a “real” video in the near future as well? If so, for which song(s)?
As I already mentioned, this was the first song ever completed under the Steel Shock banner. Plus, it just happened to be the only one at the time that was recorded properly, so the choice was obvious. We would love to do an official video clip and we have been talking about it. But there are no plans as yet and of course money is always an issue. I have no idea for what song if might happen someday. Maybe with a new song for the next album? I don’t know…
The album sound was created by your bass player Sasch “Machyne” Menschl. Why did you choose for this and what do you think about the actual end result sound-wise yourself?
As mentioned earlier, Sasch is a great producer, so the choice was obvious. And even though he is in the band, he is very, very critical and we knew he was able to put his producer hat on and look at it objectively. Plus, it wouldn’t cost us a damn thing, haha.
So, we were supposed to record the album with Sasch in his studio, but he took seriously ill and all the plans fell through. The release date for the album and the strict deadline to realize were set, and the tour with Wizard was in full preparation. We didn’t want to postpone the plans and go on tour without a record, so we decided to record everything at home, with our limited knowledge of the whole thing. Martjo went through a lot of trouble and effort in order to get the recordings done and at a certain point we were all overworked and on the edge of a burn-out. Erik had joined the band only one month before recording his parts, so he had to work his ass off to get the job done in time. And time was something we didn’t have, so we recorded the guitars and the vocals with programmed drums. Then drums were recorded. Sasch was feeling better at the end and was able to record his part and also take care of the mixing and mastering, so that took a lot of pressure off in the end.
But hey, what do you know, Sasch’s computer crashed during the process and he had to start all over again. Eventually he ended up mixing and mastering the album on his old laptop. And more power to him, because he has done a tremendous job, and we are very, very satisfied with the sound. The production is clear and powerful, and has the old-school charm that goes perfectly with the music itself. It doesn’t sound modern or overproduced, but same time it doesn’t sound dated. In my opinion the sound is powerful and genuine, just as the band and the music itself.
The record was released in September, so what were the first reactions from both the press as well as the fans?
The reactions have been good to overwhelming. I’m still waiting for a bad review, haha. No, but seriously, it seems that the people get it and understand what this band is all about. Of course the term cliché is mentioned in almost every review, but that’s obvious. It seems that the cover artwork is more a matter of discussion as some love it and some hate it. But hey, you can’t satisfy everybody. The reactions from the fans are even more overwhelming, and some have even said it’s the best heavy metal album of 2017! We are absolutely overwhelmed and honored, to say the least. Mighty hails to all the support from both the fans and the press.
You’ve already done some live-shows, so how were these received by the fans and what more do you have in store for us in the coming period? Any concrete new shows on the horizon?
The shows we did with Wizard were very successful and very fruitful for us. Of course the majority of the people didn’t know Steel Shock, but the reactions were very positive, and to be honest only positive. Also the amount of merchandise we sold during the shows proved that we were doing something right. At the moment we are planning a few shows in the Netherlands and other European countries. I don’t want to mention anything and make promises before the bookings are final, so just keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for the announcements. But be sure that you will see us on stage again soon.
Besides live-shows, what will the (near) future bring for Steel Shock as a band? What are your plans for the next six to twelve months?
We are already working on songs for the next album, which we hope to release some time at the end of the year, so 2018 is going to be another busy year for us.
Okay Nima, 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?
I would like to say a big THANK YOU to you and Lords of Metal for giving us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the metalheads around the world. Furthermore I regret to say that the release date for the vinyl version of the album has been postponed. An official statement from our label will follow soon. But be sure that it will be released. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for the latest news and announcements, and make sure to catch us live when you get the chance. Until then, keep it safe, keep it true, keep it metal and Shock that fuckin’ Steel!