Hi Harv, and congratulations on album number six no less. How are things in the Stormzone camp?
Hi Jori, it's great to be talking to you. Everything in the Stormzone camp is very positive at the moment. The release of a new album is always an exciting time for a band and with each album we are always really curious to see if reviews describe a development in the band. We're not expecting all the reviews to be great but we always look forward to discovering if those with previous knowledge of the band have noticed a development or progression. Fortunately for us we have always had a majority of good reviews for each of our albums and with 'Lucifer's Factory' the common theme amongst reviewers is that it's our best release so far, and that means a lot to us because we really do strive to improve as we go along and to not be seen as just constantly releasing albums which are completely similar in style or concept to each other. certainly we have developed what I think is regarded as a unique Stormzone sound, and that is hugely important for us to be noted as having such, but also we like to experiment a little with our approach to song-writing from one album to the next without abandoning that Stormzone sound or varying too far from classic heavy metal and with 'Lucifer's Factory' in particular I think we have reached a stage where we have really found our niche in the heavy metal genre, and we're very very happy about that. The reviews for 'Lucifer's Factory' are telling us that as well, they have been brilliant so far and that definitely improves the mood in the camp also! As well as that we have gathered together the best team who, behind the scenes, are guiding our path towards what's happening next and that means we'll be touring more than ever before and the prospect of doing much more live appearances has us excited too. So all in all the Stormzone camp is in really good form!
The last interview we had with you was with my esteemed colleague Nima for the release of ‘Three Kings’. This was the first release with guitarist David Shields in the Stormzone fold, and also the last. With new guitarist Jr Afrifa, do you think that the line-up for Stormzone has stabilized now? And what can you tell us about the departure of David?
David was a highly valued member of the Stormzone team and he never ever let us down when it came to past live appearances and we did some brilliant shows with him including Sonisphere, Bloodstock, Metal Assault and two tours with Saxon. On stage he was an incredible asset to the band but unfortunately when it was time to write the songs for our 5th album 'Seven Sins' David found himself unable to commit to the time and energy required to bring his talent from the concert hall to the studio. We do all our album recording 'in-house' and there are no major restrictions with regards to the time it takes to create an album. Our guitarist Steve Moore is at the helm of everything we do in the studio, we use his FireMachine Studio to lay down album tracks and then he does all the engineering, Production, mixing and mastering. he is an exceptionally patient man but also understandably demanding that we all put in the effort to ensure that he has everything he needs to make the album sound excellent. When one person seems to be contributing less than the others it mounts up over time to a lot of wasted time and therefore frustration on Steve's part and it just appeared to us that David wasn't as interested in the studio side of Stormzone as much as the on-stage side and we unanimously agreed to address this and it led to David's departure from the band. he is still a very close friend of mine, everything was done in our usual Stormzone style with a sense of mutual agreement and therefore difficult decisions can still mean that we remain on good terms with people who have come and gone from the band. Junior's arrival definitely stabilised things, he is a very level headed young man and apart from being an excellent guitarist and very cool and confident onstage he has contributed some amazing music to our newest album and has, I believe, been integral to our swing in direction from 'Seven Sins' to 'Lucifer's Factory' which has been noted in most reviews as a very positive progression for Stormzone. Junior has been in the band now partnering Steve Moore for over three years now and based on his total proven commitment to live work as well as the studio I see this as being the line-up that will see us through many for Stormzone adventures for years to come!
Despite some line-up changes, you never let down on releasing new material every two or three years. Your fifth release ‘Seven Sins’ is still among my favourites. This is the second Stormzone album that featured a more progressive style compared to the first albums. In the earlier interview with Nima you mentioned that this was not a deliberate choice, but rather a natural process in the song writing. Please tell us something about how Stormzone songs come into existence.
'Seven Sins' was taking us definitely in a direction that we wanted to develop and expand. There were still lots of similarities to previous Stormzone albums but it hinted at what was to come at times, certainly from a drumming point of view and how songs can be written by the same band but sound completely different with a little experimentation. In the past we have written songs that have had just plain straight drumming all the way through and others that featured double bass pedals from start to finish. With 'Lucifer's Factory' we wanted to blend both styles together into most of the songs so that they had straightforward sections to keep your attention, but then crazier sections to make listener's ears jump to attention. With vocal melodies I try to bring out the other side of myself as a painter when creating what I'll sing. When I am creating artwork I'm very aware of what makes a painting good on the eyes, a variety of colours and drawing people's attention to focal points within the frame, and I guess that's why the melodies on 'Lucifer's Factory' in particular are all based on interesting verses leading towards a huge chorus. All the guys in Stormzone are avid concert-goers and between our experience as musicians and knowledge of what gets an audience excited we always strive to create songs that make people feel the way we feel when we're hearing great songs.
It can't always work with every song but that's not for lack of effort, and none of it is contrived in any way, our influences always shine through but with now having six albums out we're very much aware that we have found the formula we enjoy for making Stormzone songs and for them to sound like Stormzone songs with a hint of influences rather than the other way around. The process is always the same though, each individual member develops a great musical idea on his own, it's brought to the other musicians in the band who form a circle and develop the idea into what generally becomes the music part of the song, intro, verse, bridge, chorus, middle section, ending and once that has been established then that's put together by Steve Moore in his studio and sent to me. I generally won't have heard any of the musical ideas until I receive them from Steve, and I then get down to writing the vocal melodies and lyrics. That is usually a fairly fast process, with most vocal additions to the song being laid down in my own studio the day after receiving the music. Steve then gets that all returned to him to mix it into a good demo and that's a song for a new album's filing cabinet. We'll repeat that process over and over until we have fourteen or fifteen songs to choose twelve or so from for a finished album choice and that's when we'll re-record everything in earnest having worked out what's great about a song, changing what's not and doing any necessary editing. Some of our previous albums have been dominated by fairly long songs and a feature of more recent Stormzone releases has been a real attention to editing, getting to verses and choruses quicker without the necessity for over-long intros, shorter solo sections etc. Everyone is told not to be affected by reviews, they are subjective and generally the views of one person, but we do actually listen to constructive criticism and actually value it, and I think that's why our reviews have gradually become better and better because hopefully those reviewers who follow Stormzone closely can see that they have been a part of our development.
Do you feel that the addition of Jr Afrifa to the band has changed the sound in a signature way? After all, he joined the band around the release of ‘Seven Sins’, so I’ll go ahead and guess here that none of the songs on ‘Lucifer’s Factory’ were existing by the time that Afrifa joined, and he definitely put in some killer solo’s on for example ‘Cushy Glen’.
That's the beauty of finding the right guy who not only fits in to the Stormzone family in a personal way but he also embraces our whole ideology on song writing, and instead of bulldozering his way into that process with insisting on a whole bunch of new ideas and directions alien to the band, he studied our history, worked out what it was that enabled us to keep on creating great albums and instead of insisting on making a completely new mark he took what works for us and simply adding his immense talent to that formulae. The thing is he is such a great guy that he would never have been entering the band in a dictatorial fashion, and the ironic thing is he is almost 7 foot tall, so really if he'd have stated, “I want to make changes!” then we smaller guys would have answered, “how many would you like sir?”, hahaha! In the unlikely event of a fight I would definitely want him on my side!! 'Lucifer's Factory' is definitely a Stormzone album, you can hear similarities to previous releases, but as well as the general decision to head in a more Power Metal direction with the new album we also has Junior's writing contributions and everything has combined to make it a very exciting listen. I hope so anyway as it was very exciting to record!
The new album ‘Lucifer’s Factory’ is a logical successor to ‘Seven Sins’ in every way. It has the more straightforward songs like ‘Dark Hedges’ and ‘We Are Strong’ and the more complex compositions like the title track and the amazing ‘Broken Windows’. How do you feel yourself about how the album turned out?
The simple answer to that is that the album turned out exactly as we hoped and expected. I felt quite early on in the development of the ideas and demo recordings that we had something special with 'Lucifer's Factory', there is never an assumption that this album will be 'the one' but I did know that if we kept on writing and recording songs like those you mentioned which are all, coincidentally, amongst the first written, then we had the makings of an album that would at least show us at our best and hopefully show that we were developing stronger and stronger with each album and maybe, just maybe, at last someone would realize that Stormzone was a marketable proposition very capable of going to a higher level! We have attracted those sort of people since the album's release and we are pinning our hopes on them combining to make the band more successful and to be heard by many more people around the world. I think everyone in the band put in an excellent shift with regards to recording their parts, and then Steve Moore put in another shift producing and engineering the final product. He is brilliant because you would think that after all the additional hours he put in on the studio side of 'Lucifer's Factory' that after sending it off for manufacture he would be wanting a long period to rest and recover, but in all honesty as soon as those masters go into the mailbox and he is free again he basically sends everyone an email asking 'well guys, who wants to record a new album?'!! And he isn't joking, it's just been a matter of two months since 'Lucifer's Factory' was released and I am already receiving music from the guys for the 7th album!! It's predecessor 'Seven Sins' was a very dark tale, a concept album in a way because every song linked itself to the next one. The songs on 'Lucifer's Factory' do all have a connection with one another, but only from the point of view that every song is based on a particular myth and legend from our history here in Northern Ireland, and although there are some exceptionally scary tales and characters involved as subject matter I think that the feel of the new album is lighter in spirit, more uplifting, a book of great horror stories and tales of tragedy, but not designed to frighten, more to enlighten you on some of the great characters and places that we have here in our homeland!
Any notes on the signature song ’Cushy Glen’? This definitely has to be one of the most uplifting songs I have ever heard about a serial killer!
Hahaha, then you have definitely got it, that was certainly my intention with ‘Cushy Glen’! I didn't want to glorify horrific murders and robbery, and the lyrics do reflect the fact that Cushy was a twisted highwayman, but I wanted to expand the story a little so that people could be a part of his outlandish crimes but also feel part of the determination of the local people to catch him and put an end to his criminality. The verses of the songs were designed to be looking at him planning his attacks and the woman who was involved in his robberies plus his desire for her not to be given any blame when he was eventually captured. The bridges reflect the areas where Cushy lay in wait for his victims and where he eventually fled to when he knew his number was up and then the choruses are seen from the perspective of the gang given the responsibility of pursuing and detaining Cushy and we're not really sure if the jubilation in the choruses and that uplifting feeling that you've described is because Cushy has been found and hanged or because he is defiant to the very end happy that he is meeting the hangman's noose but his female accomplice is free from prosecution and as the first line of the second verse goes 'Helped by a girl twice as bad as himself', so there is the capacity for him to live on in her with the potential for more gruesome murders!!
I already mentioned ‘Broken Windows’ as being one of my favourite songs on the album, the guitars on this one are just to die for, and the lyrics sound very intriguing. So please, tell us all about this great song!
'Broken Window' is also one of my favourite songs on the album also and it's a real pity that within the confines of a four and a half minute song I can't completely put the whole story into words, but at least with great interviews and questions like this I can expand on it because you've asked me to! A man finds himself in a cold dark cellar, the only light coming from a small window high up on one wall with the word 'Goodbye' written on a rusty sign nailed underneath it. The door to the cellar can be made out with the word 'Hello' written on another rusty sign nailed to it. The window has it's glass broken and spiked around it's inner edges, the light shows that it is obviously a way out and the 'goodbye' sign would suggest this. The man's thoughts begin to clear and he begins to remember that he was not a particularly nice guy and he didn't do particularly nice things to other people, a thief, a drunk, a mistreater of women and a bully! It would appear that he has been confined to this cellar to dwell a little on the sort of person he has become and the only way he can get out of there is to figure things out. he can reach the window if he jumps high enough, but he would surely slash his hands in gripping the window pane, and to pull himself up and through the broken window might result in finding escape but at the cost of perhaps bleeding to death. The word 'goodbye', to him, signifies that the only way to get out of there is through the broken window, he has beaten the door until his hands are raw shouting 'hello' as the sign on that way out seems to suggest he should do, but he knows that it's not an escape route because it's apparently sealed. He has a decision to make, and the words 'hello' and 'goodbye' are the only thing he can think of, and he repeats them in exasperation confused as to what is the best thing to do. He is going mad with despair and anxiety and it dawns on him that the reason he is in there is because of the person he is outside of that room, someone was capable of putting him there, and if was put there once, then even if he escaped there would be the constant fear that he would be detained there again. It's a situation that if faced with the same thing I'm not sure what each individual listener to the song would do, and it's only in a circumstance like this that I'm able to give the answer, and it's maybe one that some of your readers have already guessed. The man has to say 'goodbye' to his former self, represented by the broken window and its potential to do damage, and he has to say 'hello' to an all new him, represented by the closed doorway which he has to open within himself to become a better person. You and I now know the answer, but will he work it out?
It might have been due to all those line-up changes, but over the past few years I haven’t seen Stormzone on any large billings. The bigger live things such as the tour with Saxon and you appearances at Wacken and Headbangers Open Air, they were all quite some years ago. Any plans on picking up the live things again?
We most certainly are Jori, it has been much too long since we did any extensive touring, it's really where we are at our best and most exciting! It's great taking time off to record an album and it's thrilling witnessing it's release and then gauging reaction to that afterwards, but we love the idea of having a whole new set of songs to add to our live performances and trying them all out in the rehearsal studio to see what works and what doesn't. We have been maintaining a live profile, but not across the water and most of our shows have been here in Ireland, which is okay because we don't really get to play here that often when we're preparing for tours abroad and festivals and it has been nice introducing our new material to our Irish Stormzone fans, especially as all of the songs are based on stories, myths and legends of our homeland. Doing shows in your own country doesn't get the same exposure as tours with big bands in mainland Europe and festivals, but over the last 6 months we've managed to do shows here with, amongst others, Y&T, Inglorious, Warrior Soul and Anvil. It's good that we have been active but under the radar because when it comes to what we have lined up we'll be fully match fit and ready for action. Already confirmed is a Stormzone appearance at the Icerock festival in Switzerland and a tour of Spain in October which will take us through until the end of November, and before that we'll be playing a series of dates in the UK, something we haven't done for a while. All the up-coming shows will be headline appearances, something we haven't been able to do before now, we've always been support to much bigger bands, but we're really looking forward to expanding our performances to much longer than support length sets and putting on shows that fully represent the band's live abilities which are now better than ever!
Well I believe that is all I had to ask you. Thanks for having this interview with us. And if there’s still anything you would like to get off your chest, now is the time!
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you Jori for giving us the opportunity to give you an insight into everything that has been happening in the world of Stormzone lately and all the visitors to your very excellent Lords of Metal website for taking the time to read this interview. Most of what I have written about revolves around the band, but believe me there would be nothing to write if it wasn't for the fans of rock and metal around the world who unite to form a huge family that bands and fans alike should all be proud to be a part of. We want to tour so that we can prove ourselves capable on stages everywhere where people would like to see us, but at the same time a lot of our desire is to meet the people personally around Europe and beyond who we speak to regularly by means of social media, they are the people without whom it wouldn't make sense to persevere in this business and they are the people who support us in incredible ways, buying our albums and t shirts as well as demanding promoters to give us a break. It all adds up to being hugely important to us, without it we cannot function and we will endeavour to write and play metal for as long as there are great people out there asking us to do so. Thank you Jori, thank you Lords of Metal, we hope to see you all soon!