(Photo: Luis Jordão) Just when I thought it was pretty safe to think about relaxing in front of the stereo with this year’s finest offerings of heavy metal, Portugal’s Ravensire unleashes a beast of an album on Eat Metal Records. In my opinion, “We March Forward” is a huge improvement on the “Iron Will”-EP, with new singer Rick Thor adding more power and aggression to the band’s sound. Ravensire are usually labelled as heavy metal or epic metal or even as a combination of the two – epic heavy metal. Do you think it’s important that the word “epic” is included in people’s description of your music, or do you feel it’s so watered down now that it has lost most of its meaning?
– Hi Leif! Thanks a lot for this opportunity to spread Ravensire’s words! Regarding you question, I don’t think “epic” is watered down! At least not if it’s referred to in the right context! For me, “epic” relates more to the lyrics and general lyrical context than the actual music in itself. That’s why we prefer to be called Epic Heavy Metal! Musically, we’re totally Heavy Metal; lyrically we try to be Epic! When you read our lyrics, there are “battlefield stories” in each of them. If we were singing about getting drunk or whatever, the whole package would surely lose its Epic leanings, says guitarist Nuno Mordred.
Before we continue, let’s have short look into the history of the band. Everything pretty much started some years back when Nuno and Rick Thorr (bass, ex-Ironsword) got the idea of doing something musically together. Even though the guys recorded some ideas in Rick’s small home studio, they didn’t find the right musicians to work with and everything was pretty much put on hold until late 2010 when the duo expanded to a trio by adding drummer F. In the summer of 2011, the band found a rehearsal space and started working with Rod Wolf (guitar), formerly of fellow Portuguese metallers Midnight Priest, but things didn’t really materialize until Singer Zé Gomes, formerly of Wild Shadow (a demo act which Ravensire covered on their first EP) and guitarist Zé RockHard completed the line up. The band then released the EP “Iron Will” through A Forja records before Zé Gomes left the band. Instead of adding a new member, the band decided to continue as a quartet, with bassist Rick Thor also taking on vocal responsibilities.
Asked what heavy metal is and means to you, you described it as an obsession. Even without playing in a band, I have no problem relating to it, as I simply can’t function without dedicating many hours every day searching for, listening to and writing about heavy metal. How would you describe your own obsession with heavy metal?
– It all started in 1985 or so… With Iron Maiden! From then on, not one single day was spent without thinking, breathing and listening to Heavy Metal! In the meantime, I discovered thousands of bands: some stuck, some fell on the wayside… I discovered hundreds of like-minded individuals: some became friends for life, some disappeared… I discovered going to local gigs or travelling to foreign countries to attend concerts: some were amazing, others merely great! And finally, I discovered the thrill of creating my own music and that’s the greatest thrill of all! To be able to have your own songs and play them live before people who are really into your music is the ultimate prize in Heavy Metal!
Even though the band consists of experienced musicians, Ravensire must be considered a new band. If it isn’t demanding enough getting people’s attention in a jungle of new bands, today’s acts also have to compete against tons of rereleases and reformed band occupying important slots at festivals. Do you see this as an actual problem for Ravensire?
– In a way, yes! My biggest regret is not having been able to advance further with the band when Rick and I started six or seven years ago. Back then, there were less bands around and the reunion fever, although already big, was still in check. If we had released “Iron Will” and “We March Forward” say in 2006 or 2007, we’d be right there in the frontline… And let me tell you that some of the riffs and song parts were already composed by then! But these last few years there has been a massive surge of new bands and the reunion fever is running rampart and it’s difficult for a Heavy Metal fan to listen to everything that’s available. But, having said this, I really believe in our work with Ravensire, so we hope that it’s a matter of time before people take notice of us. Nevertheless, our goal is not to be widely known! As we usually say: we’d rather have 100 die-hard fans, than 10000 “mere” fans.
“Passionate” and “raw” are words you use to describe your music. I guess there must be some kind of link between the two, a point Nuno confirms.
– The two terms complement each other. There’s no denying all of us (present and past members!) are very passionate when it comes to Heavy Metal. And that translates to our music as we play every single note with intensity and determination. On the other hand, we’ve always loved Heavy Metal played and sung with grit teeth and clenched fists. We don’t care much for pristine technique, or virtuoso dexterity… We prefer emotion! And that’s where “raw” comes from! When you listen to stuff by Omen, Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, Solstice, Slough Feg, Ironsword, Midnight Priest, etc. they exude emotion and metallic aggression on the way they play and sing… That’s what we strive for!
– We would never do a full length right away! First, we wanted to get our name out, play live and see what people thought of us. A full length requires quite a bit of experience and a financial investment that we simply didn’t have to start with. To be absolutely honest, we weren’t even considering in starting out with the EP. Our idea was to record a few songs, release a demo and go from there. But Francisco, who used to attend our rehearsals, liked our stuff so much, that he decided to help us out recording the five songs and releasing the EP on his label “A Forja”.
Nuno denies that the process of creating what is obviously a much stronger product in form of the new album has changed his view on “Iron Will”.
– Absolutely not! We’ve had a few people telling us how the new album is superior in terms of songwriting to the EP but, quite frankly, I don’t get that! I wrote the songs on “Iron Will” and most of the songs on “We March Forward” and my approach to write music hasn’t changed at all! In fact, I think a song like “Stay True Stand Tall” is as “complex” as anything on the album… And a song like “Facing the Wind” as diverse as anything on the album, too… If anything, the vocals are different and people may relate more to Rick’s vocals or something. But in terms of musical content, we pretty much did the same… And Zé’s (“Mire of Delusion”, “Beyond the Portcullis” as co-writer) and F’s (“Iron Pits”) contributions add to diversity in musical styles, but follow the same general pattern! “Iron Will” is Ravensire’s proud First Chapter and nothing will change that hehehe
The first EP was released by A Forja, a label that seems to be a stepping stone for Portuguese bands with the ability and desire to go further. Did you consider staying with them for the release of “We March Forward”? What was important for you when you started looking for a new label? Why did you choose Greg and Eat Metal?
– Curiously enough, Ravensire was the only Portuguese new band that A Forja promoted from scratch! Francisco re-released the demos by Sepulcro on tape, but that’s an 80’s band! He also released the LP version of Midnight Priest album, but they were originally on Stormspell (Your right, my fault). The other original releases he did were Eliminator (UK) and Gatekeeper (Can). Francisco is an amazing guy… Whatever he’s done for Heavy Metal (and believe me, he’s done quite a lot!), he’s done for the genuine love of this genre. If he hadn’t put A Forja on hold for indefinite time, we surely would’ve been with him until he got fed up with us! But after his decision, which we fully respected, we started inquiring around for possible alternatives and we got quite a few responses… Around seven or eight proposals. But Greg is a long time friend, and we share the same vision when it comes to Heavy Metal and the underground, so that was basically it! You simply can’t beat an offer by a guy that has offered his hospitality time and time again without asking anything in return, and that screams to you in the middle of the Athenian night: “If there’s ever anything you need, I’m here for you”! And this was before we even had any band going… These are the things that we in Ravensire cherish!
According to some interviews on the net, you heard Rick’s potential as a singer already when you started jamming with him years ago. Why didn’t he become the singer of the band right away? Did you have to convince Rick to try out as vocalist, or was he generally more positive about it now than in the beginning?
– When we did our first jams, there was really no Ravensire… He had ideas for a Thrash project, which I helped “expand” and I had ideas for a Heavy Metal thing. We even considered in merging both into the same band, but soon it was apparent than it wouldn’t work. The first vocals he did, were precisely on those faster songs (which would evolve into the Perpetratör we hear today). Back then, I wasn’t really sure if his singing would work in a more Heavy Metal setting. When we started Ravensire, I asked him if he wanted but he was very hesitant so I didn’t push too hard. Then Zé entered the picture and so things were rolling for a time. But when Zé left the band we had big decisions to make… I told Rick that now was the time to really try it out and we set up a small session with our producer. In between Perpetratör recordings, Rick had 15 minutes to lay down his vocals for the song “Ravensire”. And what he did blew our minds away! Both me and Paulo, the producer, were staring at each other wide-eyed! Of course Rick was still hesitant, but after that display he simply didn’t have any chance… He had to be the vocalist and that was it!
I know many people don’t agree with me, but the vocals were the one thing I really didn’t enjoy about “Iron Will”. I find Rick’s vocals a lot more powerful and diverse, adding more dynamics to the songs. Has his voice opened up new possibilities for the band, or would this album have been pretty much the same musically, with Zé Gomes behind the mic?
– I don’t think the album would be that different musically. Actually, we started rehearsing two album songs with Zé Gomes. Zé came up with the vocal melodies on “Drawing the Sword” and also some melodies on “Mire of Delusion”. Our songwriting process is basically the same always: the first thing we compose is the main guitar part. And then we add all the other things… Of course, sometimes we might change the structure to suit better the lyrical content, or spice things up. But I have this idea that the song has to be interesting without vocals. So when I come up with riffs and ideas for songs, I like them to stand on their own. Interestingly enough, the contributions from F and Zé Rockhard also follow this pattern so maybe this is already in our genome.
“Iron Will” didn’t come with any information about where it was recorded, but since you used Paulo both then and now, I guess the studio is also the same, Iron Pit. A funny fact is that one song on the album is called “Iron Pits”. What came first, the title or the name of the studio?
– Here’s a secret: there is no studio! ahahah We recorded both “Iron Will” and “We March Forward” on our rehearsing space (a garage). Paulo has all the studio material needed to record and he can take it anywhere. That way, we had full control of the recording schedule and also helped cut the expenses! I thought about baptizing the garage after we started working on the layout of the album! So, yeah, I got the inspiration from the song title… But “Iron Pit” describes very well our rehearsal space because to access it, you had to go through a huge metal gate and the actual door to the garage was also metallic on the outside. Unfortunately, we had to leave that space recently, so probably our next release will be recorded on a proper studio…
It seems Paulo is the man when it comes to producing great Portuguese heavy metal, as I believe he worked with Ironsword and Midnight Priest in the past, as well as Ravensire and The Unholy more recently. Nuno has only positive things to say about the guy…
– Well, he actually listens to what the bands want! Instead of trying to make every release sound like the “norm” nowadays, he sits down and tries to understand exactly what the band is looking for and he even asks for albums that have the sound we’re more or less looking for. It also helps that he grew up with the same bands we did, that he has played (and plays) on bands, and, last but not least, that he know his way with the knobs, buttons, mics and whatever else is needed!
Talking about all these bands, the Portuguese heavy metal scene seems quite healthy at the moment. Why are so many bands coming through at the moment? Is it a coincidence, or are there other explanations?
– There are two types of musicians playing in newer Heavy Metal bands in Portugal right now. You have the old timers who, for a reason or another, have been dormant or playing in other genres; and the younger guys who are growing up in Heavy Metal and, naturally, find the urge to form their own bands. The Portuguese scene since the late eighties / early nineties has been biased toward “extremity”. The most popular genres were Black, Death, Grindcore, etc. Then, with the Moonspell explosion, lots of people turned into gothic, etc… Heavy Metal has been more or less forgotten for the major part of the nineties and the better part of the 2000’s, except for Iron Maiden who still pull huge audiences and, to a lesser extent, Manowar. With the underground Heavy Metal scene growing bigger internationally (thanks to festivals like KIT, UTH, HOA…), with reuniting bands exciting old fans and new fans, with bands like Ironsword and Midnight Priest gaining recognition everywhere, with promoters bringing a few smaller but great bands (Slough Feg, Ram, Enforcer and others), and with a community gathering in online forums or, more recently, Facebook, it was just a question of time for bands to start popping up. As with everything, maybe some of these bands won’t last long, or will change… But I hope that some stick to their guns and, more importantly, that a host of hardened, dedicated, fanatic fans never turn their backs on the scene!
The artwork of the new album is done by the same guy who did “Iron Will”, and is held in black and white yet again. Are you looking to make this kind of art a trademark for the band?
– Absolutely! Pedro Rebelo is an illustration-wizard! He has drawn a few covers in the past for bands like Iron Kobra and also the live tape of Atlantean Kodex on A Forja Records, to name a few. I really like his drawings and the John Buscema / Frank Frazetta influence attached to them. I also enjoy immensely the dark and raw feel that black and white drawings have, as it has everything in common with Ravensire’s music!
The title of the album is “We March Forward”. As there isn’t a song with that title, I was wondering if it’s mainly meant autobiographically, portraying the progress or maybe the stubbornness of the band?
– We like to spice things up and have subtle references. Both our releases have titles that, on one hand, reflect our stance in music and, on the other hand, refer to one of the songs. “Iron Will” is our resolve in forming an underground band but also a reference to a passage on “Facing the Wind” (Defying my enemies / with an Iron will). “We March Forward” nods, of course, to our development as a band and stubbornness, but also to the song “Warriors to the Slaughter”. If you read the lyrics, that song talks about warriors marching towards a battle and the last verse (“The Ravensire holds up the sign / All about it the fray will be chaos unleashed / But forward to the end we march / March On”) portrays the inevitability of marching forward no matter what!
Even though the lyrics seem to have something in common with the ones written by Zé Gomes, they seem more ambitious and advanced now that Rick is penning them. Nuno agrees that there is a difference between the two.
– Zé Gomes liked things more direct and more to-the-point whereas Rick has a storyteller approach to his lyrics. For me, direct lyrics work fine in some songs, but not on others… Rick writing the lyrics is a department where I think Ravensire evolved a lot. Nevertheless, I have to say, that although Rick writes all the lyrics, all of us also contribute to the themes of the songs. For example, on “Beyond the Portcullis”, it was Zé Rockhard who came up with the concept… “Homecoming” was my idea to have a song inspired on the poem by Robert E. Howard, and so on. Thing is: Rick has a gift for writing amazing lyrics. We give him the inspiration, and in 15 minutes he comes up with a great poem! Also, his vast knowledge of History (he works as an Archaeologist) also helps when writing about real events like, for example, on “Gates of Ilion”.
– We’re both fans of the twin guitar attack! In my case Murray / Smith, in his case Tipton / Downing! So, on most of the songs we like to trade lead parts as we feel it makes it more exciting to the listener and also helps us both develop as guitar players. On this album, only two songs don’t have both of us soloing: on “Fate is Inexorable” there’s only my solo; on “Beyond the Portcullis” only his. That’s mainly because cramming additional solos on those songs seemed excessive. Both songs have instrumental middle parts that develop nicely and melodically, and the additional solos would only sound forced.
Let’s talk a little about some individual tracks. “Night Of The Beastslayer” is one of two songs that you have made available on the net prior to the release of the album. When I first heard it, I thought it was brilliant, but when I have heard the whole album, it’s not even among my favourites! Why did you choose this one as the opener of the album?
– All our favourite albums start with a rocking track! And that’s no coincidence… A rocking track in the beginning grabs the listener and sets the mood! We had a few to choose from, and after some voting, “Night of the Beastslayer” was chosen. The fact that it’s a song we’ve been playing live for some time also weighed on the choice, as a few people are already familiar with it. Personally, I’m really satisfied with this track, I love playing it live and I rate our solos on this track as probably our best!
“Homecoming” is a standout track, and in my ears the one that differs most from the rest of the songs. It’s a really heavy tune with several tempo changes and it feels like the tempo escalates for a while before it slows down again towards the end. It seems there is more emphasis on arrangements and maybe also giving the listener a surprise or two this time?
– The idea for “Homecoming” started with those seventies inspired riffs (the beginning and first slower part). When I first came up with it, that first segment of the song was full of odd time signatures and other weirdness. But when we started jamming to the song with all instruments, it was pretty obvious that such oddity was just too much… But, at the same time, the feeling of the song was simply great and, yes, different from the rest! So we kept some crazy parts (the slightly dissonant and off-tempo chorus, for example) and adapted others to let the music flow better. The idea to have the tempo escalating was on my mind for quite some time… Some of my favourite songs build like that (here’s a few examples: “Stairway to Heaven”, “How Have the Mighty Fallen?” by Sabbat and “El Aquelarre” by a Spanish band called Byron) and “Homecoming” was just perfect for this! Also, there’s a close link between the lyrics and the music. Personally, I think this song will probably the most difficult for some people to get into but, once you dig in, it’s also one of the most rewarding! Speaking about escalating, check how the first 4 leads also increase their urgency to the final crazy tapping!
“Warriors To The Slaughter” reminds me a little of Doomsword . As far as I understand, this song links up with “Ravensire” from the EP. I guess it’s not a coincidence that both songs are placed at the end (“Ravensire” before the cove tune obviously) of the records as well?
– We have this idea to tell a continuing story with Ravensire’s adventures throughout the albums. “Ravensire” was the first chapter, explaining how Ravensire joined the dark abyss. On “Warriors to the Slaughter” we continue the saga, with him commanding his soldiers to war. As a side note, the intro to the album (“Dark Abyss”) also lends a line from the song “Ravensire”. We like to have these connections between the releases, as it helps to construct our identity and keeps things interesting for those who take the time to look for these kind of things. Speaking of Doomsword, I have to say it’s a huge influence on me, as I’ve been hooked to them since I first heard their first album in the late 90’s, so I guess some things might transpire to my song-writing.
Mike Scalzi of Slough Feg is a guest on the killer track “Gates Of Illion”. A bit surprising though, is the fact that he doesn’t sing, but does some narration. How did you sell in the idea to have him participating on the album, but not letting him sing on it?
– When I wrote the song, I wanted that middle part of the song to have some kind of narration. You know, like that eerie part on “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”… Later, when Rick was writing the lyrics (heavily inspired by Homer’s Iliad), on that part he opted to use Sarpedon’s speech (a different character from the main narrator)… So we had two options: either use Rick’s vocals or find a guest vocalist to give a different twist to that speech. And that’s when I thought about inviting Mike Scalzi. The reason is very simple: we’re all fans of Slough Feg and Mike is a great guy whom Rick and I know personally and have the greatest opinion of him! Mike agreed instantly and we told him what we had in mind. If you listen to “The Great Ice Wars”, you’ll see that he already had experience on these “voice-overs” hehehe So we basically told him to do whatever he wanted. And a few weeks later he presented us with four different takes to choose from! So, a big thanks goes out to Mike for doing this and for Adrian Maestas for helping out with the recordings!!
“We March Forward” isn’t the only new release from Ravensire. In fact, there is also a split single with Terminus coming out. Was it an idea that the bands came up with, and Helle Mueller of Underground Power said yes to release, or did the initiative come from him? Does a different mix of a “Drawing The Sword”, a song that’s already on the album, warrant a purchase of this single or should people simply get it because of the Terminus-track?
– It all started when Terminus were approached by an American label to release a single. Since Ravensire and Terminus are kind of “brother bands”, they suggested the doing a split-single, which was promptly accepted by both the label and us. So, we entered Iron Pit “studio” and recorded “Drawing the Sword”. The split was supposed to be out during summer and everything was going great. We’d have a new song as a teaser for the album which would be released in the Autumn and Terminus would release a new (fantastic!) track! But things didn’t go as planned and the American label couldn’t go forward with the project. Fortunately, there were other options and Helle stepped in. But with all these setbacks, the whole project was delayed and the single ended up being released basically at the same time of the album. As for the single itself, people should get it for everything! Our song will serve as an introduction to those who don’t know us; the Terminus track is a monster song and both artworks (by Pedro Rebelo) are amazing! We’re very satisfied with the way it came out and since it’s a very limited press, I urge everyone to get one before it’s sold out!
Thanks a lot for this interview!
– We thank you Leif, for this great in depth feature! If anyone is curious about Ravensire, please check our facebook site on http://www.facebook.com/Ravensire; our youtube channel on http://www.youtube.com/RavensireEpic or get in touch through email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our album is already out and if someone is interested, drop us a line or contact Eat Metal Records! Also, support Metal Squadron!!!