It’s been a long and rough ride, but finally the first album from Italy’s Battle Ram is out. Released to coincide with the Keep It True festival in late April, my guess is that the My Graveyard-stand shifted quite a lot of copies of this album during the festival. When I first heard the band’s demo back in 2003 (later pressed onto vinyl by Metal Supremacy), I never thought ten years would pass before the band was ready to unleash their debut. Since I can’t recall having read a single in depth interview with the band written in English, I contacted founder and guitarist Gianluca Silvi to talk about the history of the band as well as the brand new album.
First off, let us know a little about the time when Battle Ram was formed, back in 2001. Who formed the band, and what were your intentions?
– Me and Davide Natali were living in the same neighborhood and knew each other since we were really young kids. We were two of the few metalheads in that area during the nineties and both played guitar. One common friend, the artist Paolo Girardi, who actually painted the masterpiece for the “Long Live The Ram” cover, just told us we should form a band. Then we tried to find the rest of the line-up and I brought in Daniele Di Loreto, a school mate who had never sang before, and Davide called Mirko Santini, a friend of him who played bass. After a while we asked Pierpaolo Sita to join the band because he was a well known drummer in town and already into metal since decades.In the beginning we just started playing cover songs, both cult, obscure stuff from the eighties and famous heavy metal anthems. Later we tried to write some material on our own.
The new album includes a version of the song “Dark Command” recorded in 2001. I have to admit that I’ve always thought the 2003-demo was your first.
– I already had written “Dark Command” in the late nineties, so that one was probably the first official song of the band. The 2001-version with me on vocals was really a joke, just to let the other guys listen to the way I would sing it. It ended up to be the first recorded document of Battle Ram, so I thought it would be a good idea to put it on the album, which in my point of view is a summary of the band’s history from birth to 2012.
I remember when you released the demo back in 2003, you got many good reviews and created a small buzz in the underground. You also did a few concerts and festivals in Germany and had the demo being pressed to vinyl by Andrea and her Metal Supremacy. Why didn’t you manage to take advantage of this momentum and release a full length album back then?
– It is probably one of my regrets. We didn’t have enough material for an album and we focused more on the live shows at that time, trust me… we played really everywhere during those months. We slowly started to write more stuff in 2004 but that’s when the first of many stops and troubles came, first of all the original singer left. If I remember well, Daniele did his last show with us in late April 2004. He quit because he didn’t like to go on the road so often and I suppose he wanted something different. I’m pretty sure he also had some problems with Davide at that time, but the funny thing is that they put together a stoner band only a few years later.
So why did you choose playing live over writing songs at this time? Would it have been possible for you to sit down and write material for a full length at that time, or did you have to do all these shows to get that out of your system?
– We enjoyed playing live a lot, and we used to do it every time and everywhere we were asked to, even if me and the first singer were studying at university and living in different towns during that period. We probably thought we would have more time in the future to write new stuff, but then the line-up started to change…
Why was it so hard finding a new singer to replace Daniele?
– It was not easy to find a replacement because of the high standard I needed to go on playing the kind of music we wanted. High pitch metal vocalists were not easy to find in our area, a small town with just a bunch of metalheads. Franco was probably the only possible choice and he immediately accepted, but he was starting in a new job at the same time and was really busy for the first months, ot should I say years?
Back in 2005 Gianluca participated on the one and only EP by Jotenheim, also released by Metal Supremacy. I really liked this release as it was packed with unique, very heavy stuff with some quite rough vocals from Matteo Isopi. Why did Jotenheim break up after this release, and how involved were you in the songwriting in this band?
– Matteo was always the leader of the band and he decided to quit, so it made no sense to go on without him. The guys had already written some material before I joined them, I just added some ideas here and there and wrote half of “Excalibur and the King” but we were always writing and working as a team. I also arranged the instrumental, classic guitar piece “Hyborian Dreams” taking inspiration from the “Conan The Barbarian” soundtrack.
Did you ever consider letting Matteo sing for Battle Ram?
– As I already told you, I wanted a more classic metal vocal attitude for Battle Ram, we can say I was searching for a phenomenal US-metal-singer from Italy.
I remember your actual singer, Franco performing with you at Keep It True X in 2008, but when exactly did he become a member of the band? Where did you find him?
– Franco performed live with us for the first time in late 2004 and became an official member immediately. He was the most talented singer I knew and we were already good friends, we also organized few cult shows in his live club called Brunch, we organized the first Manilla Road Italian show in October 2002 together. I know Franco started singing very early and he already had a really good stage experience back in 2004. He used to play around our area with a Deep Purple tribute band for years and has always been into progressive- and hard rock bands.
What was the purpose of the “Smash The Gates”-EP put out in 2009? This song must have been recorded with vocals back then, and so must “A Warrior’s Life And Death” too. But why weren’t the other songs completed with vocals at the same time?
– “Smash The Gates” was supposed to be the single taken from the album, but then we had some more good and unreleased material and decided to release an EP instead of a single. During the same recording sessions most of the vocals were recorded, we were only missing a couple of songs. We then had to delay the recordings for many reasons, so we decided it made no sense to put out a recording with a part of the vocals taken two years before. We re-recorded all the vocals and I think Franco’s voice sounds much better now than in the previous versions.
I always felt the artwork of ”Smash The Gates” was a bit strange, and when I saw the cover of the new album, I understand why – it’s simply just a small section of the full artwork of “Long Live The Ram”. Why did you do it this way? It certainly feels a little bit cheap.
– As I said, it was supposed to be a single in first place and all the music comes from the same recording sessions. Let’s say I wanted it to be an “appetizer” of what was going to be on the album, both visually and musically.
The material on “Long Live The Ram” was recorded between May 2007 and March 2009. First off, why did it take so long to finish the recordings? And why did we have to wait for 2013 until the album was released?
– We made our mistakes and I feel responsible for many of those, but sadly every small problem took months to solve, mainly for one reason, because we wanted to finish working in the studio where we started. Sadly, the schedule had to change every time, sometimes we wanted to go back, but the studio was not available because someone else was recording there, some other times the owner was busy on tour as a sound guy for well known pop-stars or something else. So even when the recordings were completed we had to spend months for the final mix and mastering.
What kind of mistakes are you talking about here, and why do you feel many of them were your own responsibility?
– Getting in the studio without a good pre-production and without any idea about how the backing and harmonized vocals should sound at all, being sure we had the time to do that once we were already recording , something we realized we didn’t have because the studio closed to open months later in a different building. I feel responsible somehow because as the leader of the band I maybe made some decisions which led to this situation. I always felt the weight of the band probably more than the other guys. But in the end, the album sounds the way I wanted it to sound, and I know this was the only way to get this result. We could have released it two or three years before, but it wouldn’t have been the same.
Would you say that the lyrics to the song “I Am HM” is autobiographical?
– Of course it is. I tried to write something about me that could be shared with all the metalheads out there, to let them know we all live the same emotions listening to that music. I also liked the idea of putting some quotes of metal- and rock songs in it.
The new album consists of material that is already quite old, do you still feel 100 percent comfortable releasing it? Is the release still relevant for where Battle Ram as a band, is today?
– The album in a portrait of the band’s history from 2004 to 2012. Now we have a new line-up with Giuseppe Bracchi, who already played with me in Jotenheim on drums and Fabrizio Sgattoni who is Franco’s brother on lead guitar, so we are living a new chapter with new enthusiasm. It was so hard to release this album and of course I have mixed feelings about it, for a while I will maybe get tired to listen to it, but I will probably never get tired of playing those songs live cause they’re a big part of me and my story.
Why did Pierpaolo and Davide leave the band, and was it an easy decision to hire Giuseppe and Fabrizio? How will this influence the sound of Battle Ram in the future?
– Pierpaolo was already tired in 2005 and we already asked Giuseppe to join the band at that time, but then we played a couple of great festivals and Pierpaolo enjoyed it a lot so he decided to stay. Davide probably got stressed and tired of everything about the album, and in the end he decided to quit even if I know that Battle Ram was something really important for him too. I know it wasn’t an easy decision for him. Giuseppe, as I said, was ready to join in 2005 so it was a natural choice for us while Fabrizio is one of the most talented guitar players not only of this area, but of the whole country, I dare to say. He was a Battle Ram-fan since his brother got the job, so he fit the spirit and we kept it in the family. Well, during the next gigs, people will realize how killer this line-up sounds live. For the new material I’m sure the new members will introduce a more technical and top level US-metal flavor to our style.
“Long Live The Ram” includes a cover of Fifth Angels mighty “In The Fallout”. What is your relationship to this track and to Fifth Angel in general? It sounds like you have tried to make a version that is pretty close to the original, was that an easy decision?
– The first Fifth Angel album is one of those unbelievable masterpieces everybody should have in their collection, I can still remember when I was a little kid, listening to it again and again. Me and Arnaldo, our bass player, met the guys at Keep It True, and John Macko came into my car to listen to the pre- mix version. Checking the web, I didn’t find a single band covering Fifth Angel so we’re probably the first, which is a shame. We usually like to play covers as similar as possible to the original, that’s at least what I love.
You are not new to doing cover versions. Your first demo included a version of Cirith Ungols “Join The Legion”, and you also performed the “In The Fallout”, Jag Panzer’s “Symphony Of Terror”, Omen’s “Death Rider” as well as “Metal Gods” by Judas Priest and “Medieval Steel” and “Angel Witch” by the band with the same name at your concerts. Did you consider recording any of these apart from “In The Fallout”? Do you still perform some of these live, or have you added other songs to your liveset?
– We used to play tons of covers since Battle Ram was born, we will probably record some more of them in the future, because it is our tribute to the bands that inspired us. If I have to tell you some more titles we played over the years, I would add “Agents Of Steel” by Agent Steel, “In Union We Stand” by Overkill, “Rock You To Hell” by Grim Reaper and “Warrior” by Riot. We used to play that last song since 2001 and still do it every time we can, now more than ever in memory of Mark Reale.
On the new album, the short instrumental “The Road Of Light” is inspired by Mark Shelton and Manilla Road and you also recently performed with the band at the release party of “Mysterium”. Would you go as far as saying that without Manilla Road, Battle Ram wouldn’t have existed, or do you have other bands that have inspired you just as much?
– Of course I do worship a lot of bands and I took inspirations from many of them, Jag Panzer is the best example, but without Manilla Road more than half of the epic metal scene in the whole Europe would never exist. Everything started when they came to play at the Bang Your Head 2000, but that’s another long story someone should tell one day. I feel like one of the luckiest guys on earth, I saw just saw my 30th Manilla shows in ten different countries, spent a lot of time with them on the road, being a fan, a promoter, a tour manager and now even a member of the acoustic set line-up. Last but not least I visited the guys in Wichita last march. Would you ask more than this??
What about new Battle Ram-material? Do you have songs for a new album ready? Any plans to record yet?
– I wrote something in the last couple of years, but I’m going to start again working on new stuff with this new line-up and I’m really curious to see what will come out of it.
A while ago you were announced as one of two new guitarists in Doomsword, which are probably my favorite band. You have helped the band out before as a stand in live guitarist, but how will it affect the band to get not only one, but two new guitarists?
– In 2002 when I organized the Manilla Road show in Italy, I asked Deathmaster to play as support and that was Doomsword’s first show ever. Then Battle Ram supported Doomsword in Greece and Germany on their following gigs. We’ve always been great friends, so when The Forger left the band I was more than happy to help the guys on stage. Me and Matteo Carnio already made our debut supporting Warlord in Athens and played a new song written by this new line-up, you can check it on YouTube. Anyway, I love the new stuff we’re doing and you can probably trust if I say it’s going to be great, because I’m a Doomsword fan too.
I see you at the Keep It True every year, if I am not completely wrong, I’ve also seen you filming some gigs. Are you officially involved in the festival in any way?
– I played Keep It True twice and never missed any edition; after the 2008 show, I got in contact with Oliver “Bomber”Barth of Visions In Fear to get the Battle Ram video footage. Since then we are good friends and I also became a member of the crew who films the shows every year.