NOBLE BEAST: A genre reborn?

Noble Beast

Even though I haven’t featured many of them here yet, apart from the huge article on Scanner that is, I am a big fan of a lot of fast and melodic stuff from Germany , with bands like Rage, Running Wild, Helloween, Heaven’s Gate, Flanez, first Chroming Rose and Blind Guardian to name a few. However there are years since I heard some new and interesting bands in this genre.

Lately, two new releases impressed me, not as much as the old stuff of course, but enough to get me interested in listening to some of the bands of the genre again. One of the releases came from a German band in the form of Evertale and their album “Of Dragons And Elves” released towards the end of 2013, while the other, and also the one that impressed me most, was from an American band. I am talking about Noble Beast out of Minnesota and their self titled debut album.

The band was formed back in 2007. What were your intentions back then, and do any of the songs on the album hark back from these early days?

– In 2007, I was an 18 year-old kid who thought power metal was the greatest form of artistic expression ever created by man. I wanted to make my mark in that genre with music that was big, uplifting, and heroic, but still with enough muscle to be taken seriously, and that encorporated all my diverse influences from across the metal spectrum. Essentially, I wanted to write the music I always wanted to exist but didn’t, which I still believe is the best reason for anyone to write music. Several of the songs on the album actually came from those days. I actually remember writing the lyrics to “The Noble Beast” while not paying attention in trigonometry. I remember riffs practically pouring out of my ears in those days. I had so much creative energy and drive. It’s that innate human need for self-expression which drives the creation of all art, says vocalist and guitarist Rob Jalonen.

You released a demo consisting of four songs back in 2010. What was the purpose of this recording? To hear what a real recording by Noble Beast sounds like, to spread the name to get gigs, or to get a record deal? What kind of feedback did you get on the demo? Anything you could use to improve as songwriters or musicians?

– We recorded the demo in 2010 when we realized how ridiculous it was that we’d existed as a band for three years without having any halfway-decent recorded output. There were a couple really awful demos I recorded for the MySpace back in the day, but that’s neither here nor there. We felt as though all the shows we’d played in those three years were essentially for nothing because we had nothing for people to take home with them. The legacy of any band is built on studio output, and we had none. So ultimately, the function of the demo was to give people who liked our live show something they could actually take home and listen to. It’s a good thing we didn’t send those to any labels because I’m sure it would have ended up as some Century Meda A&R rep’s coaster.  It was not a great recording from either a production or performance standpoint. The guitars sounded weak, the tempo fluctuated wildly, and the vocals sounded nasal as fuck. We got a lot of positive feedback at the time, but I’m not really sure why. I can’t even listen to the damn thing nowadays, Thankfully, it taught us a lot about the recording process, mainly about what not to do. The album sounds roughly 50 times better.

All four of the songs on this demo are rerecorded for the album, was this a natural decision for you, or did you consider leaving them as demo material only?

– I’ve always believed in the actual songs on the demo. I just wasn’t happy with the execution. People who knew them always sang along when we played them live, so I knew the writing was strong. So yes, it was always the intention to have them on our eventual full-length album.

“Iron Clad Angels” is the opener of the album as it also was on the demo. What makes this the perfect opening tune in your opinion?

– “Iron Clad Angels” has all the elements of what I consider to be a great metal openner. It’s fast, it’s energetic, it has a big, building intro that gets you excited for the rest of the song, and its informative of what to expect from the rest of the album. It has a little bit of everything we do as a band. It’s got a driving speed-metal opening riff, some soaring guitar melodies, a couple harmonies, a big chorus, and even some black metal-inspired blasting and tremolo picking. If I had to pick one Noble Beast song for people to hear first, this would definitely be the one.

As you are starting the album with the three first songs from the demo, in the same order, I was wondering if there might be some sort of connection between these tracks, or maybe you just liked the flow of those songs?

– I always felt those songs flowed well together. Perhaps it was just from listening to a lot of Metallica in my middle-school years, but I think starting the album with a very fast song, then a moderately fast song, and then a slower, groovier song is a pretty effective tactic.

What about the other songs on the album, are they from around the same time as the demo, or are these additional songs written between 2010 and 2014? What is the newest song on the album? What kind of progress is there in your songwriting from the early days until your newest tunes?

Noble Beast-cover– All the songs on the album were written over a period stretching from about 2004 to 2011,and some of those riffs date back even earlier. The songs on the demo are four of the first five songs I ever wrote, with the very first one being “On Wings of Steel”. You may notice that the other five songs are a bit more dynamic and diverse. As I progressed as a songwriter, I learned to incorporate other influences, mostly thrash and black metal, into my work so as to give Noble Beast a unique identity. That’s not to discount my earlier work, though, as it was written with all the passion and conviction of a high-school kid who believed wholeheartedly in the greatness of power-metal. The newest song on the album is “The Dragon Reborn”, and is the only one to have been written in collaboration with Matt Hodsdon instead of just by myself. The first few years of the band were tumultuous from a lineup standpoint, and I assumed I was the only one I could rely on. But Matt has been a vital part of this band for a long time now, and the second album will be a much more collaborative effort. There are already eight songs written for it, and a few of them were with Matt’s help.

If I understand correctly you recorded the album without a record deal, then secured one with Tridroid before the album was released.  Were you prepared to release the album on your own if no one were interested, or did you know that this label, which I believe is located in your area would probably show an interest?

– Yeah, the original plan was to press the album, release it ourselves, and then possibly secure a distribution deal with someone in the future once we had a higher profile. But when Andrew from Tridroid offered us a deal, we jumped at the chance to have someone do it for us. Tridroid has been great for us, and has gotten our album promoted in a lot of places that we wouldn’t have been able to reach on our own.

I found this on your Facebook-page: “We probably have at least one song you like”.  I guess this is meant in a funny way, you are deliberately trying to be as versatile as possible to reach a wider audience?

– Noble Beast is influenced by a lot of stuff. As it says on the Facebook, we obviously take after Maiden, Priest, Helloween, and all the usual suspects. But we also love a variety of black, death, doom, thrash, and progressive metal bands. And there are no limits on what kind of riffs or melodies are appropriate for Noble Beast, so all those influences come out in their own way.As a result, I’m proud to say that each song on the record has a unique identity. I have heard every single one of those ten songs named as someone’s favorite song on the record.I wouldn’t say it was deliberate, though. Very little of what we do is deliberate. We just kind of go wherever the song wants us to. These damn things have a mind of their own sometimes. Honestly, it’s kind of like the song already exists and we’re just figuring out what it is.

The main inspirations for the band seem to be European acts, and I would also have guessed that Noble Beast was from Europe if I just heard the album without no other info. What is it about the European sound that appeals to you, and why do you think there never was a US scene parallel to the late eighties, early nineties German scene with speedy and melodic bands like Running Wild, Blind Guardian, Helloween, Scanner and Rage to name a few?

– Modern American metal sucks. Can I say that? No offense to anyone who likes Born of Osiris, Chimaira, et cetera, but all that drop-tuned, mid-tempo “groove” stuff does absolutely nothing for me. Ninety percent of the time, “groove” is just code for “we play the same note over and over a lot of times.” The vast majority of the bands I like from the last 20 years are European. This has a lot to do with the fact that when I got seriously into metal, it was through bands like Maiden, Priest, old Metallica, and Megadeth. Those bands still define my whole paradigm of what metal should sound like. European bands still operate within that paradigm, even if it’s within a subgenre that is ostensibly a totally different thing. Obviously, bands like Hammerfall and Edguy worship at the altars of Manowar and Maiden, but even a band like Amon Amarth still has riffs and progressions that invoke the spirit of ’82.In America, metal has been stuck for years in the “Vulgar Display of Power” mold, which was a fine album until every shitty band started copying it. It’s all about these knuckle-dragging, drop-tuned riffs that do nothing interesting or impressive and make my eyes glaze over. The vocalist is probably angry about something, but I can’t tell what because the lyrics are so inarticulate. And these bands are so hesitant to play fast. Metal should (mostly) be fast, damn it.It’s a shame America never had the kind of power metal scene that sprung up in Europe. We had some great power/speed metal bands, but nothing like the Noise Records roster circa 1987. A lot of it had to do with what American metal fans wanted. The demand was for either the slick commercialism of hair metal or the breakneck extremity of thrash and later death metal. Bands that were both fast and melodic didn’t really have an audience. Poor Metal Church!

You recently added a new drummer, Andrew Rasmussen to your lineup. Why did David The Wratchild, who I believe performs on the album, leave the band, and how did you hook up with Andrew? As I have the impression you have not stopped gigging, have you used a stand in-drummer while looking for a permanent member?

– David was never a power-metal guy. He liked the songs well enough, but it was never his main thing. One day, it came to pass that he had to leave two of his three bands so he could focus on his main project, and we were one of them. There were never any hard feelings, and David is still a good friend of the band to this day.I became aware of Andrew when I saw him play with his black metal band Astral Blood. We needed a drummer and he clearly had the skills. I wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in playing power metal, but upon hearing the material, he became incredibly excited to do Noble Beast.Truthfully, we did stop gigging for about six months after David left just by virtue of not having a full-time drummer. And before David joined, we hadn’t played a show in a year. It’s tough to find a drummer in this town. They’re all in at least three bands already.

Your vocals are quite diverse , who would you name as your main inspirations as a singer? There is also a lot of identity in the vocals, because of the character in your voice, but also because you are using several different styles and techniques.  As I’ve heard some people say that they like the music, but not the vocals, have you ever considered sacrificing some of the uniqueness about what you do for a more streamlined approach?

– A lot of my big vocal influences are the folks you’d generally expect for a singer in this style, like Bruce, Ronnie, Rob, etc. One of my biggest, though, is Hansi Kursch. It’s no secret that Blind Guardian are my absolute favorite band and Hansi is a big reason why.  Hansi’s greatness has nothing to do with technical ability or range or any other measurables. It’s that x-factor, the ability to bring a uniqueness and a presense that no other singer in the world can bring, not even that guy from Persuader who sounds just like him. That, I think, should be the goal for every singer of every genre.Another big influence was Matthias Blad from Falconer. Early on in my singing career, I found that hitting those big, high notes that guys like Halford made so popular was just not natural for my voice. And before I taught myself how to do it, Matthias was a great reference point for how a guy with a lower voice like myself can still sing power metal. As far as my approach, my voice is my voice. I could probably train myself to sing differently, but I don’t think it would sound genuine. Honestly, I enjoy knowing that my voice has a unique quality, even if it turns some folks off.

Often, when you perform music similar to the one you do, the live versions of the material are more basic and stripped down, creating a quite different atmosphere from the one you hear on the album. Is your aim to recreate what you do on the album or are your out to present alternative versions of the songs?

– Since day one, Noble Beast songs have been written to be played with two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. Even if we add things in the studio, the songs still work without them. I think it’s important that fans not be disappointed when they see us play live. I’d hate for our songs to sound thin and insubstantial on stage because we lack the layers upon layers of overdubs that it’s possible to do in the studio. Of course, one thing we don’t have live are all the backing vocals you hear on the album. But the vocal melodies are still based around one main voice, so it still works even if we only have one singer.

Clocking in at over an hour, the album is quite long.  Still, I feel it’s very consistent, something which is quite rare with so long albums. How do you work to secure that each and every track is up to the desired standard?

– When I’m writing a song, I go over every riff, every melody, every rhythm, and I ask myself, is this interesting? If I were the listener, would this engage me? This, I think, is the most important thing a songwriter can do, to put themselves in the mindset of someone hearing the song for the first time and really assess whether what you’re doing will make anyone want to keep listening.  I want every part of every song to be interesting, to do something notable. I don’t ever want the listener to be bored. Whether or not we’ve succeeded is, of course, entirely for each individual listener to decide.

The feedback on the album has been very good it seems. What’s the most satisfying thing that has been said about the album so far?

– Any time I’ve heard anyone say that they hadn’t listened to power metal in a long time or that they’d given up on the genre, and that our album reinvigorated their interest. That’s definitely the most satisfying thing. It’s also fun to hear people say that they’re generally not into power metal but that they like our album in particular.

As the lyrics seem  at least partly fantasy based, and the music is also very adventurous , do you see Noble Beast as an outlet for a need to escape from trivialities of real life for a while?

– That brings up an interesting point. I keep reading reviews that describe our lyrics as being specifically fantastical. There’s really only three or four songs on the record that consistentlyuse overt fantasy themes. A lot of my lyrics are somewhat general, so I think people project fantasy themes on them because it’s a metal album and that sort of thing is expected. But “We Burn”, for instance, is about how we as a society have historically dealt with people who question the social order. And “Nothing to Repent” is about living a life you can be proud of.I love fantasy literature and lyrics, but I also want Noble Beast to address the world we actually live in. Though of course, there will be songs about dragons from time to time. Because sometimes you write a batch of riffs over which nothing else would truly be appropriate.

Some of the lyrics seem quite positive and reflects a belief in humanity. As this is a genre where the listener expects a certain kind of lyrical content, was it challenging to write lyrics that both stay true to the themes associated with the genre and that also carries a message?

– Power metal is generally very positive music. In fact, the main criticism tends to be that it’s too “happy”, ignoring, of course, bands like Iced Earth and Morgana Lefay. So I don’t think there’s any real conflict there. I think the triumphant bombast of power metal is a great view to espouse my belief in the potential for goodness that is innate in all of humanity. Too often we hear that humanity is innately sinful, or greedy, or selfish, and that there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I’m here to provide the dissenting opinion that humanity can be compassionate and decent if it’s nudged in the right direction. And I think there’s plenty of precident for this approach to power metal. If you go back through the discography of Helloween and Running Wild, you’ll find humanistic themes all over the place.

Judging from your Facebook-page, it’s been a long and hard and demanding journey making this album. In fact you say that “it’s remarkable that the album is coming out at all”. What was the biggest obstacle you encountered along the way, and do you feel all the problems contributed in making the album stronger in the end?

– The biggest obstacle to recording the album was the actual act of recording the album. Recording sucks. It’s a lot of time, a lot of repetition, and a lot of frustration. Through it all, I learned just how much work goes into every album we listen to. An album that takes 40 minutes to get through is the result of hours turned to weeks turned to months of hard work, broken guitar strings, and stomach ulcers. I have a lot more appreciation for everything I listen to now, especially the stuff that sounds really good.As far as whether it made the album better, I’m not gonna bullshit you with some “I wouldn’t change a thing” crap. These problems were the inevitable result of trying to record for the first time, but I still would rather have skipped them. I would prefer to have just known how to record an album effectively and efficiently right off the bat instead of having to learn through several agonizing months of frustration. But, of course, that’s not how real life works.

Do you think it was more difficult to create “Noble Beast” compared to most albums, or is the feeling mostly due to the fact that this is your first album and you don’t have anything to compare it to? Also, do you feel you have yourself to blame, or were the problems mostly due to factors out of your control?

– Once again, I feel that much of the frustration around the album had to do with it being our first. We’re older and wiser now. I’d place most of the blame on us, since we were basically new to the recording process and couldn’t possibly have known what horror show awaited us. But once again, that’s the sort of learning experience you can’t really avoid.

NobleBeast2It seems you got another perspective on how demanding creating an album is after this experience. In a time where some people speak about the end of the album as a format, and where popular artist are focusing more and more on creating singles, do you see this experience as an argument for or against the album format?

– The ten songs on the album all come from a specific time and place. They represent all that Noble Beast was during that period. They are a complete artistic statement. Anything less would be an incomplete picture of our artistic intention, like a book with missing chapters. And that’s ultimately what I believe about the album format– that it still represents the base unit of artistic expression in music. Songs are great, of course. But one song, unless it’s something like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, is not going to show me the length and breadth of what a band is capable of. I want a 40 to 80 minute disc that has everything you do on it. Show me how you do fast songs. Show me how you do slow songs. Show me the peaks and the valleys, the highs and the lows.Yes, it’s a long and tedious process. Yes, it might behoove a band financially to release a new song every few months instead of a full album all at once. But I would feel like I’d be short-changing people. The act of making art is essentially the act of exposing yourself; of saying, this is all that I am. And if I’m exposing myself, I’m not teasing you with just a little piece, oh no. I’m giving you the full monty.

Have you learnt anything that can be used to make the next album a smoother experience?

– The biggest lesson: before you go into the studio, rehearse your ass off. It’ll save you time, money, sanity, and the disdain of your audio engineer.


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