Seemingly out of nowhere rises The Unholy, another promising Portuguese act, following great newer bands like Ironsword, Ravensire and Midnight Priest. However, apart from sharing some members with the latter, The Unholy doesn’t have much in common musically with the aforementioned acts, as they have a sound that is close to the more melodic US metal bands from the second half of the eighties. The band’s new three song demo isn’t out yet, but the band was kind enough to send it to me to check out in its entirety. If you like the first sample, “Open The Gates”, you should be waiting in anticipation for the thing to be released, as the two other tracks also show a lot of promise. As bringing new exciting acts to people’s attention is one of the reasons why I started Metal Squadron, it felt natural to contact singer Sara Steel and guitarist Nuno Nightmare to get all the facts on this promising newcomer.I start by asking the pair to fill us in on the important details of who the members are, and what kind of musical background they have.
Sara: – The Unholy are a chain of savage warriors ready to unleash hell on earth through their vicious heavy metal music! Starting with the introductions, we have the beastly Alex Animal on the drums and rowdy outlaw Joe Dalton on bass, both of them also play for our good friends Midnight Priest. Nuno Nightmare handles all the guitars and is one of the original founding members of the band along with myself, Sara Steel, the vocalist. Both of us have been hard n’ heavy fans since our early teens and from there to having our own band was just a natural step.
The band was formed by the end of 2007 when Sara and Nuno decided to join forces and start a heavy metal band.
Sara: – By that time we got things rolling by rehearsing a few cover songs along with a friend filling in on drums. We kept playing as we looked for someone to pick up the bass. By 2010 Nuno got to play for Midnight Priest, and yet we had not found a bass player, so the band got set aside for a while. In the beginning of 2011 we finally met someone who was willing to play the bass, and when we thought we were ready to start rocking, our drummer left us… Fast forward to 2013, and after a few more line-up changes, we finally gave our first live show, in February. So we really consider 2013 to be our year zero as a band.
Nuno: – Our main goal is to write great heavy metal songs! Whatever happens next just happens. Of course we would like to play everywhere as there’s nothing more rewarding than playing your tunes live. Let’s see what the future holds for The Unholy.
Talking about Midnight Priest. Nuno performed on their excellent self titled album. Why are you no longer a member of the band? Does it have something to do with the fact that you wanted to focus on The Unholy?
Nuno: – I answered something like this in a previous interview. I think the guys got tired of me drawing the attention of all the girls during the live shows and kicked me out… Ahahah! Seriously, my departure from the band had to do with a variety of reasons, but wanting to focus more on The Unholy was one of them for sure. Having your own band is almost like a full time job though you don’t get paid, no way I could keep it up being in two bands at the same time.
Do you view the lineup you have at the moment as a stable one, or are you looking for someone to take Joe and Alex’s places as they are also involved with Midnight Priest?
Sara: – We sure hope so. You never know what might happen in this life, but we believe Alex and Dalton are true heavy metal warriors to the bone, and right now the band’s line-up doesn’t concern us. We see it as pretty stable for the time being.
When it comes to writing songs, Nuno is the guy that usually comes up with the main riffs and song structures.
Nuno: – Then we go from there in the rehearsal room. Sara works the vocal lines and melodies, and sometimes I get to help her. Dalton gives his take on the bass and we are yet to start composing since Alex joined in, but I expect him to destroy the drum kit as we go along. We enjoy having this full band approach since it allows our songs to sound more unique, though we need to have a stable line-up to make things work.
Your demo features three songs. Since you are doing concerts already, I guess you have some more original material ready, so why did you choose to record these particular tracks?
Sara: – Actually we don’t have any other complete songs because, as Nuno said, we need a stable line-up to write more effectively. Though we will start working at it now as we’ve just ended the demo recording. We really wanted to do this demo thing so that we could get a better feel of what we’ve been doing so far.
The demo was recorded in late September with Paulo Vieira. While the other guys had some studio experience already, mainly with Midnight Priest, it was the first time in a studio for Sara…
Sara: – I learned a lot for sure! It’s a very different experience from playing live, as the recording process lets you check all the small details you still need to work out. We basically recorded everything in less than twelve hours, it was great!
Nuno: – We wanted to do this recording so that we could understand a few things about the songs and the overall production. We play eighties inspired heavy metal, so it was clear to us that we needed to sound like back in the day as opposed to all the modern productions you usually get nowadays. I think Paulo did an awesome job in that regard, and we couldn’t be happier with the final result considering the time and budget limitations.
Sara: – We just can’t wait to get back in the studio again, and start recording new stuff. Expect these demo songs to get a real boost too!
With only three songs on the demo, we can afford to go into detail about each one of them. “Open The Gates” is the heaviest and darkest tune, and also the first song you made available on the internet for people to listen to. Does this mean that you feel this tune is representative for what The Unholy is about? Is this perhaps the opening number when you perform live?
Sara: – “Open The Gates” was the first song we’ve written as a band. It kicks off the tale of The Unholy and how we came to release hell on earth! It’s all explained within the lyrics!
Nuno: – And yes we start our shows with that song, right now I can’t see us changing that. It just makes the most sense! Haha!
“Queen Of Thunder” is the big hit on the demo, with a driving riff and an extremely catchy guitar melody. A real hymn! I guess this is a live fave as well?
Nuno: – When we composed that song, I came in with the riffs and started playing it with the band at the rehearsal room. In the meantime Sara went along and composed the whole melody line. Something felt great about the melody and we kept perfecting it, but the song was born in a question of minutes. It still needs a few arrangements but it’s already a very well received song during the shows, mainly because of that maidenesque drive. It tells a story about a warrior Queen who rules the world with an iron fist, so it needs to sound heavy and majestic at the same time. As someone once said “it’s all about the melody”.
“She Comes From The Grave” has a chorus that reminds me a little bit of King Diamond with some really high vocals. Was this the most difficult song out of the three for Sara to perform?
Sara: – I love King Diamond but that chorus wasn’t intended to sound like him! I actually don’t consider him to be one of my influences. As for the difficulty… not really. The most difficult song to me is “Queen Of Thunder”, really fast with lots of ups and downs. “She Comes From The Grave” is a song I personally love to sing because it has that kind of hard rock feeling to it. When I was recording it I just pushed myself to reach further in every aspect… and I enjoyed it!
As mentioned in the very beginning of this feature, the demo is yet to see a release on physical format, but I guess some plans already exist? Which labels will be involved, and what formats are we talking about?
Sara: – We can’t talk about labels as nothing is set in stone and all the talks are confidential. At this time we still don’t know how we will release the songs, but something should be determined in the next few weeks. I can say we’ve had a few offers, some of them pretty serious, but we don’t want to rush anything at this point. The demo recording was more of a pre-production step for us, to see how the songs sounded like and what changes needed to be made going forward. But we are looking forward to share our work with the fans, so stay tuned.
I guess releasing the demo is your main priority right now, along with doing as many shows as you can. But if you look beyond that, what will be the next step? An EP or a full length release?
Nuno: – We will keep writing and I hope we can have enough material to get a full length released in the next year or two. It all depends on a lot of factors, in and outside the band, but after hearing what we did with the songs from the demo, we are really hungry for more. The feedback has been great, let’s go on marching forward.
If the band get the deserved chance to record a full length album, you’ll most probably hear the three demo tracks in revamped versions.
Nuno: – Yes, the songs are still very rough so no way these are the final versions. We’d like to use Alex’s influence on the rhythm section a lot more and see where it takes us. I can still hear a lot of my personal influences within the songs and I would like them to be more of a the result of our work as a band, and not just me trying to sound like my heroes. I intend to review some ideas and riffs, though the song’s structure and identity will remain the same. The overall performance of the band should also be mostly improved. In a way, what you get on our demo is the direct result of all the constant line-up changes and the fact that these are the first songs we ever wrote. The demos are important to us so that we can have a sense of what we’ve doing and where can we go from here.
It’s really not a problem on demo, with only three songs, but if you are going to record a full length, you will probably need material that is a bit more diverse. Can we expect a ballad and maybe some faster tracks to mix it up?
Nuno: – To be honest I don’t see us doing a ballad any time soon. I don’t see it fitting our imagery as a band, though you can expect some very fast tracks. We already went up a notch on the final section of “Open The Gates”, and there’s some vicious riffing on the other two songs, but if you’re refering to a more speed metal approach… get ready!
Overall there is definitely a strong US metal influence in your sound. Do you try to create something that is so close to mid to late eighties US metal as possible? Is it important for you to show people that you are a Portuguese band too?
Nuno: – To me the mid to late eighties period in the US had some of my favourite heavy metal sounding records. Those huge guitars, soaring voices and solos, devastating rhythm sections… that’s all I want for The Unholy. To be honest, I’m way more attracted to those productions than those of the European bands from the same era. As for being perceived as a Portuguese band, I really don’t care about that. I mean, I don’t support a band just because of where it comes from, I want to hear great sounding heavy metal and that’s what I want for my band. If people hear my songs and think about a lost demo from an US Metal band somewhere around 86, then I can say we’re on the right track.
I hear some similarities with Italy’s Sign Of The Jackal, a band we’ve already featured here at Metal Squadron. Both have a female singer of course, but also a strong love for the US sound. Sara and Nuno see similarities as well as some differences…
Sara: – We’ve seen them live at the Keep It True XIV, and they left us a very good impression back then, and we also have some of their recordings. I like their songs a lot and I can hear their US Metal influences, though they also expose some European sounding mainly from bands like Warlock, and I’m not just refering to the female singer. I can see some level of comparison in there, though I think we have a different aproach in terms of our overall sound.
Nuno: – I think our sound is heavier and darker, Theirs is overall more energetic and up tempo. I like them a lot and the songs are very catchy. It’s great to witness such a diverse scene composed of so many young and quality filled bands.
You have done some live performances already. How would you say The Unholy in a live setting differs from what we hear on a studio recording? I’ve noticed that you have peformed Queensrÿche’s “Queen Of The Reich” live, do you have a set of cover songs to choose from, or is this the only one?
Sara: – I think we were able to transpose some of the live chaos to the studio recordings. A few people who already had the chance to see us live and who also listened to the demo songs can confirm that. We are still a very young band so we have some ground to make, but we hope to get the same intensity to our music be it in the studio or in a live performace. As for the covers, we also play “Hall Of The Mountain King” by Savatage. We plan to start mixing it up a bit and do a few other covers as we continue to build up our set with more originals.
I am really fond of Sara’s vocals. Do you draw inspiration from female US metal vocalists like Barbara Malteze, Leather Leone and Ann Boleyn, or do you have male idols?
Sara: – For sure I have some female influences in the likes of Leather Leone, Jutta Wheinhold or Lee Aaron, but my main inspiration comes from male singers. I love listening and learning from Tony Moore, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, David Wayne, Geoff Tate, etc… but my main influence is and will always be Carl Albert. I never took any singing lessons, so I consider Carl to be my “teacher” though I could only hear him sing on records.
Why has Carl Albert been that important for you?
Sara: – Believe me, Carl is a huge reference in my life. Unfortunately I never had the chance to see him perform live or meet him, that’s a shame! I started singing heavy metal because of Carl, I thought I couldn’t sing and it was just too hard. Carl inspired me to embrace this music style. The first song I was pushed to sing was “Hellraiser” (a track from the band’s self titled 1990-release), and then I tried to learn from it and other songs from Vicious Rumors. Other than Vicious Rumors, I love every band where Carl sang and when I practice that’s what I do: I listen and learn from him. I think Carl was very versatile and he managed to reach all the notes he wanted, in such an easy way that sometimes it’s even hard to believe! He had a softness in his voice that he tried somehow to hide when singing more raspy in some songs, but that soft feeling was always there. I know his musical background wasn’t heavy metal and so I think he was able to mix both worlds.
Most of the bands that you feel you have some similarities to, like Savatage, Villain, early Queensryche, Ruffians, Crimson Glory, Leatherwolf and Helstar had two (Leatherwolf even three) guitarists. Is it possible to create something similar to these bands, especially in a live setting, with only one guitarist? Will you remain a quartet, or have you discussed adding another guitarist?
Nuno: – That’s a good question. Since we started doing this, the greatest problem we’ve faced has been line-up related. If we can find someone who shares the same passion for the band and heavy metal in general, then we might give it a shot. Knowing the scene here I don’t see it happening anytime soon, but you never know. Being a quartet also helps with the overall logistics within the band. But there’s definitely a difference in the live sounding and we will always be limited in that regard, though I like to think of it as just being different, not worse. One thing is for sure, we will not delay the band anymore just because of one missing live guitar. The gates of hell have now been opened…
As I am a huge fan of eighties US metal myself, it would be interesting to hear you name five records that have shaped you as musicians.
Sara: – Just five records? There are so many good ones! Let’s go with the first five that come to my head then. Riot’s “Thundersteel”, I love Tony Moore’s voice on that one and the songs are killer. Savatage’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” is a must in any US Metal list. The first EP from Queensryche is also a landmark and one of my favourites regardless of only containing four songs. I love Carl Albert’s work with Vicious Rumors, but I have to go with the underrated bands he was in namely Villain’s “Only Time Will Tell” and Ruffians’ “S/T” record. Both of them are filled with great songs!
Nuno pretty much supports Sara’s choices.
– Though I have to say that my favourite from Savatage is “Gutter Ballet”, the B side is just too good. I also want to mention Leatherwolf’s first record, in a way Michael Olivieri’s voice on that one remembers me of King Diamond, and the songs are awesome compositions. Keep your eye out… for the Hook!