IRON KINGDOM: Out of obscurity

Iron Kingdom1Seemingly out of nowhere Iron Kingdom from Canada was booked to be one of the opening bands at next year’s edition of Keep It True. I have to admit that I didn’t know the band before I heard of the booking, but as soon as I had checked a few tunes available online, I contacted their singer and guitarist Chris Osterman who was kind enough to send me both the brand new album “Gates Of Eternity” as well as 2011s debut “Curse Of The Voodoo Queen”.  After having digested the albums, I already had quite a few questions that I would like to ask the band . Even though the band is on tour at the moment, Chris was happy to shed some light on a band that until now seems to have been hiding in obscurity in North-America.

When was Twisted, as you used to call the band at first, formed? Why did you change the name into Iron Kingdom? I mean, both “Iron” and “Kingdom” are words that are used very frequently in the names of heavy metal bands. I almost feel that your band name is so common that it’s quite easy to forget or confuse with the names of other bands.

– Twisted was formed in 2004 by me, just for fun really. We did not take it very seriously until around 2008 when Amanda (Osterman, Chris’ sister on drums) and Leighton (Holmes, bass) joined the band. We changed the name because we wanted a fresh start, we never liked the name Twisted, there are a million bands with that name and we couldn’t get a website or anything really. We wanted a name that was more old school heavy metal as the music we play has that style. We chose Iron Kingdom because we liked it the best, sure there are some bands with the word Iron in it, but we chose the name for its meaning and message. Iron Kingdom is where heavy metal rules the land, a place where metal heads unite and destroy the mainstream bullshit that doesn’t allow people to think or have opinions.

Sometimes when a band changes the name, they also throw away all of their old songs and start composing new ones. According to Chris, all the songs on “Curse of The Voodoo Queen” were written when the band was still called Twisted. The band simply carried them on with the name change.

Did Chris ever feel reluctant about having his sister in the band? At a young age, playing in the same band as your sister is probably not the coolest thing in the world.

– Ha-ha no, it has never been lame being in the same band as my sister. She has a very strong personality, and drive for heavy metal. If anything people think it’s cool that we can deal with each other, and have for so many years.  At first I was a lot more into hard rock bands such as Deep Purple and Van Halen, and she was into some other styles of rock and latin along with classical music from her piano playing. With time her influences, just as mine, had grown to more metal bands and even though she may like the odd band I don’t care for, I would say we more or less agree when it comes to music.

I can’t really recall hearing about the debut album when it was released. Did you do any promotion in Europe for this release?

– We did not have any promotion in Europe or any other country, when someone hears about us they share it to their buddies and that’s how we did it for the first album. With the second album we paid for a little promo in Europe and so far it has paid off.

“Curse Of The Voodoo Queen” featured guitarist Jordan Wright. Why has he since been replaced by Kenny Kroecher? Generally speaking, is it difficult or easy to find good guitarists into heavy metal in your area?

– Jordan decided to leave to focus on schooling, you also have to keep in mind he was only a rhythm guitarist and we needed him to be much more than that, he did not want to put in the effort required to move the band forward. Kenny on the other hand, can keep up with the guitar solos and his knowledge of technical theory has helped us improve as a band. I think there are a lot of great guitarists, but most of them are in bands already, so it can be difficult depending on the time you’re looking, but that goes for every instrument really.

Do you think that the fact that you learnt to sing along the way, and never was a vocalist from the beginning has shaped your voice and approach to singing? I would say that you sound a lot more assured on the new album than on the debut.

– Yeah I think every musician is always developing their style and technique, on the first album I was going for a much cleaner vocal sound, where as on the second album I was trying to get a little more power and strength in the notes. I like the style I found for my vocals on ‘Gates Of Eternity’ but I’m pretty confident that my vocals will sound somewhat different on every album, because I like to sing in a way that will compliment the music as best I can, and the music will always be growing and changing.

So do you have any influences at all when it comes to singers, or are you simply driven by what the music asks from you as a vocalist?

– Absolutely, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Michael Kiske of Helloween, and Ian Gillian of Deep Purple among others are huge influences on my vocal style and techniques. I also have to let the music guide me as well to make sure that I keep things original and interesting.

iron kingdom2If you hold “Gates Of Eternity” up against your debut, it seems to me that both the songwriting and production have improved. Are there other areas where you wanted improvement and feel that you have succeeded?

– Well thanks! Yeah, we are always trying to improve in any way that we can. Leighton and Amanda have improved their technique since the debut, also the addition of Kenny was a really great step forward. As it was our second time in the studio we were able to spend more time on new ideas rather than learning about how we were going to mic the drums and guitar amps with seventies and eighties techniques.

“Gates Of Eternity” also strikes me as more focused and confident than the debut. Is it only due to experience?

-I would say experience is a large part of it, from writing the new songs to recording we knew what we wanted and we went for it. We wrote the majority of the second album in a period of two months which was a real challenge, but it helped us to not over think the songs keeping them quite fresh and exciting.

Were you forced to come up with the songs in such a short period of time, or did you choose to do it? Do you see this as a method you will pursue in the future as well?

– We chose to write the album quickly in order to keep our momentum strong. I like to think that when Scorpions and Iron Maiden, released an album a year it helped them move forward. That was my idea in at least the first two albums, although we will have to wait a little longer for the third but that’s okay. It gives us time to properly promote the first two albums. We may use that method in the future, but it all depends on what our goals are at that point in time.

Do you feel that you have found a style with “Gates Of Eternity”, that you would only like to improve in the future, or do see yourself as a band that will mix things up a bit from release to release?

– I’ve always found it boring to keep the same sound on every album. I think we will always be changing.  It is hard to say which direction the changes will be in until we actually start writing the songs. We always will write with melody and old school metal in mind, but there are so many new things to try and I’m excited to find out what the next release will be like.

Tell us a little about the song writing for the new album, as this one doesn’t list the songwriters as the debut do. Is all the music on the new album also written by Chris with lyrics contribution mainly from Leighton?

– I definitely wrote the majority of the riffs, and I put all the songs together, but every band member wrote their own parts unlike the first album. We felt that to state who wrote what may start to get complicated as to exclude a member from any song would be unfair. Lyrically Leighton wrote the majority, but Amanda had written “Demon Of Deception” with a little bit of help from Leighton and I wrote “Shadow Of Death”.

You have released both on your albums by yourself. Has this been due to a lack of interest for labels, or do you simply like to be in control of your own products? How important is it to be tied to a label these days? Do you see the situation changing for your third album, or will you continue releasing your own stuff?

– We like to have control of our own product of course, no one will ever tell Iron Kingdom how to write a song unless we ask for an opinion. We will never be one of those sell out bands. I feel that a band can make its own destiny in this day and age, labels can be very helpful, but they can also ruin your career. If we come across a record deal that we see appropriate for Iron Kingdom then we will sign, otherwise we will continue making our own path the way we know best.

Apart from artistic freedom, there are also other aspects that are important to Chris and the band when it comes to a possible cooperation with a label.

– Yes of course, they would have contacts and a means of getting us on larger tours with bigger bands, along with more promotion and money to fund it all. We would have to be successful enough to pay them back, but I definitely see benefits to it.

Both on your debut as well as on the new album, you have one really long epic track. Just as coincidence, or is this the type of song that will most likely always feature on your albums? What is your favorite long track done by another heavy metal band?

-This is something we pride ourselves on accomplishing, we plan to continue the epic’s in other albums, but the lengths may vary from album to album, the grander the idea, the longer the song. For me to pick one particular song would be too difficult, Iron Maiden has multiple long tracks that are incredible, but then so does Helloween and Rush.

One of the really striking aspects about the two releases of the band, is the cover art, done by local artist Nicholas Frenette.

– It was not easy finding an artist as unique as Nicholas, we spent months checking out local artists until we found him. We send him whatever lyrics seems appropriate and the album name along with our vision of the cover, he goes through some sketches, some with our ideas more obvious and other with ideas of his own incorporated in. But in the end we always have a say as to how the artwork will end up, we usually meet up with him a few times to discuss the progress. He has been very good at bringing our visions to life and so far we have been very happy with his work and wish to continue with him.

You even made a t-shirt with the motive from the debut. I guess it’s not the hardest thing spotting a person on the street wearing one of those with striking green colors?

– Haha yeah it’s really cool, because no other band really has the same artwork as us, so we stand out as unique. It’s always exciting when we spot someone with one of our shirts, but I’m certain every band feels the same.

You participated in “Canada’s Got Talent” last year. Tell us more about this experience. What song did you perform, and what kind of feedback did you get? Apparently you got through to the second round, when and how, did it all end?amanda

– We performed ‘Legions of Metal’ off of the debut album. We had great feedback, in fact it helped us tour through Canada. Unfortunately the way it ended was completely out of our hands. The producers were unwilling to pay for a metal band to bring all their gear 3000 kilometers, which is understandable being that Canada is not exactly known as a metal country, but I think it could have been interesting to see how our next performance would have went. We are actually still on the tour I speak of, we are about half way through it. At this point in time there are 25 dates across Canada, which we booked ourselves. We are touring on our own, except for a few small sections of the tour where other bands are joining us for a few dates in their local area.

When a heavy metal band chooses to participate in something like this, they are usually seen as something different and funny that people can laugh a little about. Overall was this good exposure for you?

– It was good exposure as we are an independent band, and can use any exposure we can get. I’m sure the odd person finds it strange that we participated, but we just wanted to play a gig, and on TV sounds pretty cool. I mean Judas Priest and Iron Maiden performed on Top of the Pops didn’t they? I don’t hear many people laughing at those bands.

Do you remember the day you were approached by Oliver to perform at next year’s edition of Europe’s premier metal festival Keep It True? Did this come out of the (True) blue, and did you know the festival from before?

– I knew of the festival and had always been excited at the thought of maybe one day performing at it. I never thought it would actually come true though! I do remember the day he contacted me, it was a very exciting day and the whole band instantly agreed to perform. For us it really did come out of the blue, we had heard someone posted something on their forum and it got some attention but we did not expect anything more than that so soon!

After being confirmed for Keep It True, I know for sure that you have experienced some interest from Europe. How many copies of your albums have you managed to sell in a couple of weeks since you were confirmed to perform here?

– I believe we sold close to 200 CD’s to Europe in just a couple weeks from being announced which is just incredible, we cannot wait to perform and really show Europe what we’re all about!

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