SIGN OF THE JACKAL: No candy or flowers

Promoshots 2012I have a soft spot for female fronted heavy metal bands, or should I rather say I have a soft spot for great female fronted heavy metal bands? Just like I adore great heavy metal-acts fronted by a male singer. The difference is that the really good female fronted heavy metal-acts are few and far between. Only a couple of acts, I am talking about pure heavy metal-stuff now, have left an impression, and releases by bands like Masque, Malteze, Acid and Chastain will always have a place in my collection.

After many years with operatic female singers fronting weak symphonic and gothic crap, the big thing these days seem to be occult, female fronted rock, you know acts like The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Jess And The Ancient Ones and Jex Thoth. Nothing wrong with these bands, in fact I really like some of them quite a lot (I won’t write about them on Metal Squadron though), and they’re miles more interesting than Nightwish, Edenbridge and stuff like that. However, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats straight in your face-heavy metal, and one of the few really impressive acts coming through the last few years, is Italy’s Sign Of The Jakcal. With their first full length release titled “Mark Of The Beast” out now on Europes leading vinyl expert, High Roller Records, we hooked up with guitarist Roberto “Bob” Condini and singer Laura Coller to get the details on a band that have existed for about six years already.

Bob: – Sign of the Jackal was formed in 2007 with the idea of releasing an album of female fronted metal sounding so old school that people should think they missed an underground band. After a while, we could not resist the call from the stage, and started our career in June 2008 at the Revenge of True Metal Festival. Our ambitions have always been the same, but we have been lucky to have the chance to reach a lot more people than we thought we would reach, and step onto bigger stages than expected.

Singer Laura is happy to share some more details on how she got involved in the Sign Of The Jackal back then:

Laura: – I was looking for a band. It was a long time since I had my last one. I always had one since the day I started being on stage. So, I missed being part of a band. None of my past bands gained any attention, after a few shows all of them split up. Me and Bob knew each other since a long time. In fact, the scene is very close and small here in Italy, so it’s difficult not to know each other. In Sign Of The Jackal, the circumstances are better than ever: Sergio (Heavy Mate, drums) and Bob are twins, me and Bob are partners in life, Roby (bass) and Max (guitars) are lifetime friends, and we got in touch at first thanks to a heavy metal community, but that’s another story! The idea to form the band came from me and Bob.  We had the drummer in-house, so Sergio was the first to be asked to participate. Then another guitar player was needed, we at a few guys playing and decided to ask Max who is one of the funniest persons in the world and a very good guitar player with. Kill entered the band because he was also looking for someone to play with, and he turned out to be a bass player despite being used to playing guitar.

Kill is now out of the band, but more about that later. Let’s let the lady with the very impressive stage presence do the talking first. Which singers are her biggest influences? Is she mainly inspired by female vocalists, or are there also male vocalists that have helped shape her as a singer?

Laura: – My biggest influences are both male and female.  I love Judas Priest, and Rob Halford’s style. But I also love Leather Leone’s roughness, and Barbara Malteze’s musicality. Then, of course Udo Dirkschneider and Ronnie James Dio. They master their art, both on stage as well as in the studio. I decided to devote my life to this when I witnessed Doro many years ago. At the time, I thought she was the only one to do heavy metal, but then I discovered she was only the top of the iceberg.

Please tell us a bit more about the experience you had when you saw Doro on stage and decided to be a singer.

Laura: – Once upon a time, somebody asked me what I would love to do when I grew up. I replied: I want to be a rock star. Then of course I discovered it’s not that easy, but I always enjoyed singing. I had many bands, experimented with different kinds of music, but when I reached my teens, I fell in love with heavy metal. I didn’t know there were women at all in that world. Every singer was male, and nearly every musician too. Girls could just be groupies and nothing else. Hahah! Then suddenly a band was looking for a new singer, they played thrash metal, which was the genre I preferred at the time. They were looking for someone who didn’t growl. I mean, all the singers around here either growled or were singing pop. A friend of mine who was the bass player suddenly told me: I do not agree at all, but my fellows think that we should try to have a woman behind the mike, just to try if this could be good for us. We are looking for a thin voice and someone who can scream a bit. I know you like heavy metal, so why don’t you try? I agreed, convinced them and joined the band. From this day on, I started to follow the scene from the inside, not just listening to music, and covering the likes of Metallica and Overkill.

A bit of background there, but Laura is slowly closing in on the out of this world-experience she encountered when she saw Doro on stage.

Laura: – My friends were attending a great show in Monza, it was back in 2002 (This must have been “Gods Of Metal”) and I was 16.  I cried and asked my mother a thousand times to have a weekend off, instead of helping my family with their activities. In the end I ran away from home, cause I would love to be there and catch bands like Sodom, Kreator, Slayer, Manowar and Rob Halford. I was stunned by the bill. When I was hanging around and having some beers, I heard a voice coming from the stage. It was a woman, and she had a great voice. She was not growling like the singer in Holy Moses or all those girls who don’t seem to be girls. The voice was clear, powerful, and I fell in love immediately. Then I turned my head and saw her: Dressed in leather and spikes and headbanging with her blond hair. I was stunned because I thought a woman could be in metal only if she was singing or looking like a man. And there she was, beautiful, feminine, and full of talent. So I decided not to ignore the fact that I was born a woman. I wanted to show everybody that I could play heavy metal and enjoying this side of my life, kicking asses and rocking.

By the way, when my previous band split up, I never found someone else into heavy metal who would let me try out for them. Every metal band already had a singer, or was looking for a man to front them. At a certain point I decided I needed to form my own band, but it was really hard since I wasn’t really a part of the scene. I put away the idea of forming a heavy metal band, but then I talked to Bob about this. He focused mainly on his own thrash project National Suicide, but he told me: let’s try, and things went on from that point.

You know what is funny?  Not so long ago, one of the bands I asked to join at the time, got in touch with me and told me: We saw you on stage, you rock, you aren’t a pussycat. You seem to enjoy what you do, and you are a good singer too. Would you like to join us now? Of course, I said “no, thanks”.

There, I guess that was what you could call the whole story about how Laura got hooked on metal and how she became the singer of Sign Of The Jackal. Let’s focus on something else – I bought the tape version of “Haunted House” when it was released. When I checked my copy today, I found out it was number 6 out of 36. Did you make only this one pressing? IMG_20130711_192121

Laura: – No, you own one of the 36 copies ever made! We did this pressing by ourselves. I mean, it is so self produced that we literary recorded one tape at a time, as we used to do when we were kids. Haha! We only found 36 cassettes, and so we decided to release it in a very small quantity in this very rare, old school format.

The tape should be a future collector’s item in other words. I can’t really recall how I got hold of a copy myself, but I vaguely remember being in contact with the band at the time. It’s easy to think you got the band name from the debut album of Damien Thorne. Is this the case, or is there maybe another explanation?

Bob: – You got the point – at least 50% of it. Our name comes both from Damien Thorne’s debut album as well as our passion for horror classics.  Damien Thorne took inspiration from the movie “The Omen” from 1979 and so did we.  It’s one of the best horror-occult productions ever, and even our first song written, which was “Sign of the Jackal”, and all the horror influence we adopted into the band, were inspired by this. By the way, our other great passion is US underground metal, and underground metal in general, so our name is an homage to both sides of our passion.

“Haunted House Tapes” was later pressed on to a 7 inch by Heavy Artillery in 2010 who also released your mini album “The Beyond” the year after.  Are you satisfied with the work Heavy Artillery did for you, and were you surprised when the label suddenly folded?

Laura: – Heavy Artillery strongly believed in us since the very beginning. We had a great time with them, a good team-work, and we are very happy that our first works carry their name. Of course we were surprised when they announced the company was about to close, but Dave explained to us what was going on and we never regret signing for them even if they did not carry us until our debut album was released.

Heavy Artillery suggested to put the demo out as an 7 inch. By the way, it was already released as a self-produced CD-R by ourselves. I think for a demo tape like ours, the best format is a 7 inch EP, because of the old school feeling it creates. So they gave us this great opportunity and the EP came out on three different vinyl formats.

If my memory serves me right, and it usually does, the single was released on black, violet and red splatter wax, the last two even numbered.

Laura: – We are truly satisfied with everything we did together, most of all for all the exposure they helped us getting. Heavy Artillery really believed in us and they behaved in the same terms.  We can say all the best about them, and it is because of them it was quite easy for us finding another label. I mean, we got the opportunity to sign for High Roller Records, which is one of the best labels in the world. They are one of the best known, have some great bands and are also very active.  

Already on the demo tape, you had the line “Born With The Mark Of The Beast” printed in the booklet, which I believe is from the song “Sign Of The Jackal”. Did you know already then that this would be title of your future debut album?

Laura: – We obviously did not know. We did not even know that we would gain enough attention to record a full length. But when the idea came out, it was obvious that it would be the title. I think we didn’t even discuss it. It came out in such a natural way. Somebody, talking about the album suddenly suggested “Mark of the Beast” as the title, and everybody simply behaved as if everything was already discussed. I do believe in destiny, and I think it’s the best name our debut album could possibly carry.

You have managed to keep a stable line up so far, only changing bass player once. When and why did Röby Knife replace Kill?

Laura: – Roby followed us since the very first show, and is a very good friend of everybody. We know each other since years.  Kill was also a friend, but he is very hard to work with and has a complicated personality. We decided that it was better to cut this relation and to look for someone else to join the band. We truly risked to split in this period. To avoid this, things needed to be changed… and the rest is history. I don’t like to talk about this, because I think that dirty undies should be washed inside your home, but let’s say I think that the band is like a family: Everybody has their job to do, everybody must know how hard they should pull the rope and where to stop, and everybody needs to behave in order to function well together. If this doesn’t work, there will be a lack of harmony within the band.  This is exactly the route we wanted to follow when we took this decision. A line-up shouldn’t be changed if it’s not absolutely necessary. Now we complete each other in many different ways, and most of all, we enjoy being together!

Listening to the best female fronted heavy metal-acts from the eighties, bands like Chastain, Masque, Malteze, Hellion and  Acid, to name a few, I get a different feeling compared to when I listen to bands fronted by a male singer. Do you agree, and is it a similar feeling you want to create with Sign Of The Jackal?

Bob: – There are plenty of male-fronted classic acts, and female-fronted bands are somehow less important compared to them. We simply bet: how would it be nowadays? And where did bands like Warlock, Acid, or Black Lace stop and where can we continue? We wanted to continue what was left unwritten and unplayed and see how the audience would respond to that. After all, Laura was looking for a band, and there weren’t many that wanted to have a girl in the front row, so everything was created from the beginning as a female fronted band. It isn’t necessary to have candy and flowers when a girl is involved, girls can kick asses like their male colleagues.

By the way, yes, the feeling is different. Let’s think about the fact you named a few bands, and all of them are performing a different style of metal. I say Warlock play different from Chastain and Malteze, who play different from Hellion and Acid and Masque, who play different from Black Lace and Meghan. But if you say“female fronted” it’s somehow a style in itself. Almost like talking about NWOBHM!

That’s absolutely a valid point. As there was a broad spectrum of bands within the NWOBHM, everything from really melodic stuff till savage speed metal, female fronted bands are just as diverse when it comes to how they sound.  However, when people speak about female fronted metal today, I guess most of them think of bands like Nightwish, Edenbridge and stuff like that. Do you think these kind of acts have helped giving female metal singers a higher status?

Laura: – I wouldn’t speak of a higher status for female metal singers, because I don’t think these bands play heavy metal. Heavy metal is something different. It’s not singing in opera style along to bass oriented distorted guitars, rap, piano solos and an orchestra. This is another thing. Not bad, not nice, just different. So, when somebody thinks about this style and confuses it with heavy metal, I don’t like it. Dark, queen oriented singers confuse all people who want to get near the genre!

I think I read somewhere that your full length was supposed to be released on My Graveyard Productions, a label which puts out albums by all the best newcomers in Italy. Why did you end up on High Roller in the end?

Laura: – That’s not true, but My Graveyard Productions showed an interest in us in the beginning, before we signed for Heavy Artillery. Giuliano is a very good friend of us, and one of the best supporters of the band. We might work on some project together in the future, but as our audience mostly is based abroad, especially in Germany and Spain, we didn’t search for an Italian label.

SIGN-OF-THE-JACKAL-Mark-of-the-Beast-LTD-BLACKWe need to speak a little about the new album of course. When was the recording of “Mark Of The Beast” finished? The release has been postponed several times. Has this been frustrating for you?

Laura: – Very frustrating. It was like being pregnant.  The album was finished in April. We had a lot of troubles with the studios, then Heavy Artillery closed their activity and we had to look for someone else, then we had some working troubles, I mean, in Italy there is a very bad economical crisis. As long as someone in the band found a job, everything stopped for a period and so on. Then we did things over and over again because we were not satisfied by the sound. We wanted it to be rough, and sounding like in the eighties. So we preferred to do everything “another time” instead of letting it stay as it was. Yes, we are control maniacs, but that was the only way to ensure that we ended up being proud of what we did.

As I mentioned in the review (to be found here: you have rerecorded most of the material from the demo and the EP for the new album. Why have you chosen to do this instead of including brand new material? As I own both the tape, 7” and EP, I have to admit I rather wanted some new material instead of rerecorded songs. 

Bob: – You made a mistake at the beginning of your statement. A band releases a demo first and then a full-length album. The demo is only for promotion and contains the “first” versions of the songs, rough ones. When you record a demo, you don’t pay attention to the sound quality and in most cases the songs need to be re-arranged. If you listen to the Lizzy Borden-demos for example, you’ll find that he recorded the songs and then re-recorded the same songs on the albums. This is exactly what we’re doing. “Haunted House Tapes”, even though it was rereleased on vinyl, was a demo, not an EP, or an official mini album. “The Beyond” was a demo collection, so until now the songs weren’t in their final shape. You can’t compose thousand of songs only because some people already listened to them. Now all the songs are in their“final versions”, the real versions we had in mind when we composed them.

Bob is right, the songs on “The Beyond” are indeed marked as demo versions on the back insert of the CD. However, I can’t recall it being promoted as this kind of release. Did you tell Heavy Artillery to promote it as a demo collection?

Bob: – To tell you the whole story Heavy Artillery proposed us to release a demo mini-LP for a special limited vinyl series called “Wax Maniax”.

This is the same series that brought us some cool, kind of low budget looking CD- and vinyl releases from the likes of Spellcaster, Excruciator and Midnight Chaser.

Bob: – We started collecting material, but at the time we were supposed to play at Keep It True, and without a full length album and with only a two songs demo, we decided, in order to make us some promotion, not to release it in “Wax Maniax”-series but as mini-LP titled “The Beyond”, inspired by the great Lucio Fulci’s movie masterpiece. The idea was to produce something which recalled Mercyful Fate’s “The Beginning”. So it was released as a demo collection containing some cover songs we play on stage plus three more demo songs: “Heavy Metal Demons” because it was only released on the KIT Underground Kodex Compilation, “Night Of The Undead”, and a very raw version of “Hellhounds”. It was funny that next to nobody that wrote about it, mentioned the fact that it was a demo collection.

People are probably aware of the fact that you recorded a cover version of Meghans “Head Over Heels” for “The Beyond”, but what some people don’t know (at least those who don’t buy vinyl) is that there was also another cover version of Black Knights splendid “Warlord’s Wrath” included on the vinyl version of the same release. Both songs are originally sung by a female singer, do you prefer to look for this type of songs when you do cover versions?

Bob: – Yes! We prefer to cover rare and obscure female fronted heavy metal-bands instead of mainstream ones. Our intent was, and is, to make people re-discover these bands, their records and works. In our opinion, it makes no sense for a band like Sign Of The Jackal to cover Judas Priest. People just know them, and in most cases have seen them perform live as well. How many of them have listened to Meghan? I think they’ll appreciate to listen to a cover song that they have never heard before rather than a famous one.

Talking about cover versions, there are two this time around, but a different one for the CD and LP-version.  On the CD version you have recorded Fastways “Trick or treat”, but why have you modified the lyrics?

Bob: – Hahaha yes we made some changes to the lyrics… The original one says: “Rock n’ Roll… Rockin’ on midnight…” but we don’t play rock’n roll! It was kind of funny for us to change it into “metal rock”, which was the first Italian expression for heavy metal. The line “Demons in the midnight is a little hint to our background”.  

I am not sure about the cover song for the LP, but as I see a track called “The Gates” mentioned, my guess is that you have covered the opener from Taist Of Irons debut album “Resurrection”.

Bob: – “The Gates”, right, is a cover by Taist of Iron, a very obscure and ultra underground band we love. You should listen to them! The album has been reissued recently by Skol Records.

And that’s the one I got, since the original is very expensive and quite hard to find. “Classic heavy metal inspired by Italian horror flicks”, says the promo sheet from High Roller. Can this inspiration be heard in the music as well, or only in the lyrics?

Bob: – No, no, no, you’ll will find in the music as well. Let’s take the song “Paganini Horror” for example. It is a tribute to the soundtrack composed by Vince Tempera who made a rip-off of Bon Jovi’s song (must be “You Give Love A Bad Name”, as it was impossible not to think of this one when I listened to the version included on “The Beyond). We play the vocal line, not Bon Jovi’s, but Tempera’s, at the beginning of the song. But even when it comes to the atmosphere I think our sound is obscure and scary, so it matches up well with horror.

What set Italian horror movies apart from horror movies produced in other countries?

Bob: – The Italian style of horror is a masterpiece. We have a background which makes the difference compared to splatter or Hollywood’s horrors. All the best movies in the genre took inspiration at least from Italian authors.

After having listened to “Mark Of The Beast” around ten times, my impression is that while some songs on the album are pure metal, there are also hints of hard rock in some tracks.  Do you draw inspiration from hard rock just as much as metal, or aren’t you concerned at all with the distinction between these genres?

Bob: – That’s a difficult question, because it depends on personal taste. If you listen to “Heavy Metal Possession” it’s without doubt a heavy metal-song. “Queens Of Hell” for instance is always heavy metal too, at least for me, but in different way. If you have Acid or Killers as examples of heavy metal, it’s maybe not in the same genre, but if you compare it to some US underground metal acts like for example Megattak, Antix or Villain, it follows their street. For some people it’s hard rock, for others hard n’ heavy and yet for others again heavy metal. It’s impossible to be 100 percent pure heavy metal for everyone. Of course we are aware of the “differences”, but the main one is between nu and old school, this difference is the real matter! We have two main inspirations. The first is female fronted heavy metal, and the second is US undergound metal. You’ll discover both of them on the album. “Heavy Metal  Demons”, “Night Of The Undead”, “Sign Of The Jackal” and “Queens of Hell” are two ways to play heavy metal, or hard’n heavy or whatever you like to call it.  

Do you see some evolution in your songwriting when you compare the four new songs on the new album with the rerecorded stuff? I mean, a lot of time has passed since you wrote songs like “Fight For Rock” and “Sign Of The Jackal” which both featured already on “The Haunted House”.

Laura: – Of course we see an evolution. The last songs are much more killer and complicated, and a lot heavier than the first ones we wrote. We know each other better as musician and we know what sounds good for us.

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