SOLITARY SABRED: Meddling with witches

Solitary SabredI have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of “The Hero, The Monster, The Myth”, Solitary Sabred’s debut album from 2009. In fact, I kind of forgot about the band until I heard one track from “Prelude To Redemption”, the two track promo released in 2012. The rough mix of “Burn Magic, Black Magic” really raised my expectations for the announced full lenght, and when I finally got my hands on “Redemption Through Force” a month or so ago, I was by no means disappointed. Simply a great album of US metal sounding steel forged in Cyprus. 

I contacted singer Petros “Asgardlord” Leptos to get some more information on the new album and Solitary Sabred in general. So, I believe the history of the band started already around year 2000, with guitarist Jimmy being the only original member left. What can you tell me about the history of the band from this point in time until the live documentation “Solitary Sabred” was released some eight years later. Was this a DVD release only, or was it made available on CD too?

– You are correct, Jimmy had the idea for Solitary Sabred early in the last decade, and was trying out a few ideas with some friends, but he was hard pressed to find regular members, plus he left for studies abroad a few months later and the whole thing fell apart. That is until 2007 when we met at a local gig, and a few weeks later decided to form a band together. We decided to keep the name Solitary Sabred, which is loosely translated as “lone swordsman”, since we both went through similar struggles to form an old school metal band the way we envisioned it. So I’d say the “official” birth of the band was in 2007, with Jimmy on guitar, myself on bass and vocals, and Antros Ioannou on drums. We used to rehearse, whenever Jimmy was back in Cyprus, because he was still studying abroad at this point, at Andros’ place, which was a two hour drive from where I live and about an hour from Jimmy, so there was a lot of back and forth back then! Great days though, we used to listen to rehearsal takes in the car on the way back, and we knew we were creating something special to us. Eventually there were a few difficulties in co-ordinating three people who all live in different cities, so we parted ways with Andros and Achilleas Michael B. stepped in, about two weeks before we filmed the live DVD demo. So we rehearsed like mad, and recorded our first gig at Power of the Night festival. We figured, oblivious to danger as always, that it’s the fastest way to get the ball rolling and try and find a label for the band. It turns out it really was. Performance wise I cringe when I look back on it, but it has a raw energy that I still appreciate to this day, and that we always try to bring into our music. There wasn’t any CD release, just home-made DVD’s, and I recall we had to re-print two or three times, there must be more than a hundred of the things out there!

Your first album, “The Hero, The Monster, The Myth” was self financed, distributed by Steel Legacy. Were you contacted by labels wanting to release your music in the wake of this release?

– We were contacted by labels even before the release of the album, but decided to work with Steel Legacy since Kostas is a good friend of mine and a fan of the music. When the album came out we were contacted by a couple of others as well, all very nice people, some even flew out to see us play!

How do you view the debut album in retrospect? Are you still satisfied with it? Were there elements you weren’t completely satisfied with and that you wanted to improve with the new album?

– The first album is essentially a live album. We had no idea whatsoever about studios, metronomes, and how to record a proper studio album! So we said “fuck it”, and just went in and recorded the whole thing live for the most part, we were all jamming along recording drums, guitars & bass straight from the amps etc. I remember we nearly gave Alex Markis, our producer, a heart attack. Haha! He wasn’t used to working this way, three dudes blasting (Josh Ioannou was helping us out with the bass back then) and one screaming his tits off, but he definitely helped us out immensely since we were completely clueless! He wasn’t a “metal” producer, more into rock stuff, so the album has a more garage-y sound to it which I personally think fits it quite well. It’s easy to diss your previous work, because you obviously get better as you go along, but if there wasn’t a “The Hero, The Monster, The Myth”, there wouldn’t be a “Redemption Through Force”, so I look back on them with equal pride. We recognized the good and the bad elements, and worked really hard in honing our musical skills before our next step.

So you obviously learnt a lot that you used when you went into the studio again to record the new one?

– For sure! The studio is one of those things where you have to have a hands on experience to know exactly the level of preparation that’s required. Both in terms of performance and composition. Some things that sound good in rehearsal, don’t necessarily translate well in the studio, and vice versa. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s really tempting to get carried away and start adding a million extra channels in the recordings, but thankfully everyone in the band is very old school in the fact that we want to be able to deliver everything you hear on the album live. I think we hit a good balance on “Redemption Through Force” in that respect, we have the intros that are more cinematic to get you in the concept’s mood, but the songs themselves are recorded without much fluff, what you hear on the album is what you’ll hear live, except live it sounds way better!

You released a two track promo “Prelude To Redemption” to bridge the gap between your studio albums. With this release, did you also want to test the interest from labels? Did you manage to get rid of the 150 copies?

– We didn’t really do it for the labels, the main reason was to give a sign that the band was still alive and kicking, because at that point we knew the album was going to take a while. That being said, we did get a few knocks on the door again, but we had already decided on collaborating with Phoebus and Pitch Black so… We did get rid of all the copies quite fast, I might still find the odd one lying around in a stack of CD’s, but for the most part they are long gone!

I remember getting really excited when I heard “Burn Magic, Black Magic” from the promo. Did you get the impression that people’s interest in a new Solitary Sabred-album grew with this release, or were the people that heard it already fans in the first place?

– Back then we had no idea, we just really wanted to get some new material out there, and show where we were at that point in time. But when we saw the feedback to the two songs, we were completely blown away, and in hindsight I think that they helped build the anticipation for the new record! Judging by the fact that the first pressing of “Redemption Through Force” is almost sold out in about a month and a half that it’s been out and we’re getting ready for the second batch, I think the promo definitely helped our fan base grow. We are overwhelmed by the response the new album is getting, and I’d like to express our gratitude to all the people that have supported us. Your support is our fuel to work that much harder and deliver even deadlier metal in the future!Solitary Sabred3

Why did you choose the songs “Burn Magic, Black Magic” and “Redeemer” to feature on this release? Were they the ones ready, or could you have released any of the songs off the album?

– They were basically the only ones that were recorded at that point. “Burn Magic, Black Magic” was originally done with Achilleas on drums, but we had to re-record most of it when we switched drummers and Andreas came on board. It was one of the oldest and most well worked out tunes we had at that point, plus it’s structurally more straightforward than most of the other songs, so we decided to test the waters with that one. “Redeemer” was the second one we recorded, and although it wasn’t planned to have both on a single, it turns out they complement each other quite well, since they showcase different aspects of our music.

If I understand right, “Burn Magic, Black Magic” was the song that made you decide to do a concept album?

– Indeed! I can’t pinpoint exactly which dark entities led us to the decision, but when I sang the “All of them witches, all of the burn” line, it sounded really powerful in my ears! Being a huge King Diamond fan, I just really wanted to fill an album’s worth of such stories, hahaha! Then Jimmy came up with the “Burn Magic, Black Magic” line, and we were initially thinking about using it as an album title! I think that by that point we only had “Disciples of the Sword” and the music for “Stigmata” ready, so we didn’t have to change much to be able to fit them in the concept context.

Would you say that King Diamond and a concept album like “The Eye” is a source of inspiration, at least lyrically for “Redemption Through Force”?

– Definitely! Both Jimmy and I are huge King Diamond fans, and we spent countless hours listening to all his albums, so it’s only natural that the influence would somehow show up in our work. When you grow up listening to “Abigail” and “Them”, it haunts you forever! I think his influence extends to my vocals as well, there’s times when I go back and listen to the early Mercyful Fate albums, and I can’t believe how many of his vocal parts I’ve unconsciously tried to bring in Solitary Sabred’s music!

I was a bit surprised with “Disciples Of The Sword” wich is the real opener of the the new album, the song called it has a pretty unusual chorus, and didn’t actually strike me as a standard opening tune. Is it perhaps written more to be the opener of a story than the opener of an album?

– “Disciples Of The Sword” is the oldest song on the album, we were actually debating whether to use it on our first album! Back then it was about the Disciples of Kain from the Warhammer universe, so we had to change the lyrics quite a bit. I’ll have to disagree with you on this one, I think it fits quite well as an opener, since it starts out quite bombastic, which is exactly what we were going for since the album sets off during the siege of Jerusalem! Plus, unlike most of our songs, I think it has a quite “sing along” chorus. We tend to use it as an opener in our last few gigs as well.

As far as I can understand, “Redemption Through Force” has been a long, hard journey. What has been most time consuming? Was it to get a new line up together?

– You can say that again, it seems that the fates were really keen on testing our will! We switched drummers during the recordings, so Andreas had to learn the songs and re-record some parts. I had also recorded quite a bit of the bass and then Stainlesz came in the band, so it was only right that his playing would be on it and not mine and we re-recorded that for the most part as well. Nikolas joined up when everything was pretty much done, so you’ll hear his wonderful playing on the next album. Add preparations for various gigs in between, Andreas studying in England, George being in the army, Paris recording with his other projects, crushing work schedules and trying personal times for some of us, and you can understand why it took five years to get it done! That’s what you get for meddling with witches I guess!!! We aim to get the next one out much faster, and we’re already writing music for it!Solitary_cover_1

For this new album, you have some help from Pitch Black to promote and distribute the album, but you have released the thing yourself. Why is that?

– Τhat’s a really long story! The short version is, no one gave us a convincing enough reason to sign our music over to them. If we’re going to pay for the recordings, mixing, mastering, layout, artwork Et cetera ourselves, we might as well release it ourselves. The times are long gone where you were invisible if you don’t have a label backing you. That being said, we are very happy with the work Pitch Black is doing for us promotion-wise, and I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved : They are not in any financial risk if the sales numbers fall through, and we get to give the album directly to the fans. We are of course open to working with a label in the future, so we don’t have to take care of every single aspect of the release, but one will have to come up with a fair deal.

Your New guitarist, Nicholas, is also involved in the band Hardraw. What can you tell me about this act? I heard some rumors about a possible split release with this band?

– Hardraw are one of my favorite local bands, they are in the old school heavy genre. They’ve released a few demos over the years, and this summer they brought out their debut album “Night of the wolf”, which they recorded and mixed themselves. We are planning to release a split 7” next year, featuring a new track from each band. It’s the old school metal way of declaring a brotherhood, and the guys from Hardraw have been our brothers in metal way before Nicholas joined Solitary Sabred! I’d also like to mention that our bass player, George, also has his own speed metal band called Stainlesz, while Andreas has a prog rock band called Akkamar and also plays in the melodic death metal band Seventh Sanctum.

You have a couple of new members since the last album. Why did these changes happen, and in which ways have the new members helped shape the new album?

– Like I said before, it was never something personal, mostly conflicts in schedule and such, and at this point I’d like to thank all past members of Solitary Sabred for their contribution and friendship. Most of the album was composed by Jimmy and myself before the “new guys” came on board, but we re-visited some of the songs and modified a few parts based on their ideas. I really look forward to completing our new material, everyone has an input in the compositions and it’s shaping up killer so far!

After two albums, do you feel that you have found “your own” style, which you want to do to perfection, or are you a band always looking to evolve? Will a stronger input from the new members next time, make things sound differently?

– Good question! We never sat down and said “look, we’re going to try and sound like this or that”. The U.S. Heavy/epic/power/callitwhatthouwilt style is what comes to us naturally, because that’s what we listen to and what we grew up listening to! Power chords and screams is what runs through our veins and pumps us with energy not just to play music, but to go through everyday life as well. So we’re not suddenly going to start playing jazz, but we don’t intend to run stale as well. “The Hero, The Monster, The Myth” is different to “Redemption Through Force”, though they follow the same general direction, and I’m sure the same will apply for the next one. There’s no point in releasing the exact same album twice. So in that respect, you can expect something in the same genre, but with a fresh perspective. The new members help a lot to that end, their ideas for new material are incredible, and what amazes me is that they sound fresh, but very Solitary Sabred at the same time, as if they’ve been in the band since the beginning!

Paris Lambrou helped you a lot with the recording of the new album. The result is a very powerful and raw sound. How did you want the album to sound when you started recording, and how close to achieving it did you come?

– When Paris asked us the same question, we played him Skullview “Kings of the Universe”, and Cage’s “Hell Destroyer”! Sound-wise, we were aiming for something in between those two and Paris, being a childhood friend and fan of the same kind of music, knew exactly what we were going for! His contribution during the recordings was paramount, he was really the sixth member of the band during the entire procedure, and we definitely plan on working with him in the future. Now don’t ask me what we want the next album to sound like, because we have different plans this time around. Haha!

Howie Bentley from Cauldron Born and Briton Rites performs the guitar solo in the song “Sarah Lancaster”. Is he involved just because you wanted a “guest”, or was he chosen because you thought he could add something to this particular song?

– We would never have a guest for guesting’s sake! Howie is a legend, and a huge influence on our music. Hell, “Born of the Cauldron” is a big reason why I decided to play music in the first place! So to have him on our record is a huge honor, and it brought us as much joy as the release in itself! We decided to have him on “Sarah Lancaster” because it has a quite “proggy” structure and rhythm, so we thought he could really unfold his talents on it, which he of course did and completely blew our minds with his incredible solo.

“Redemption Through Force” is obviously a concept albums, seemingly a combination of fiction and facts and dealing with sacrifices, witches, demons and so on…Give us a little insight into the concept itself, and let us know where you found the inspiration for the lyrics as well.

– We wanted to do something that was part fiction, part historic elements, and I just thought that the story of a Crusader turned exorcist would be really bad-ass as a base concept! So I did a bit of research to match names, places and a loose time frame to make it more believable, and then we started putting together the story with Jimmy. Of course when we came up with the character of Sarah Lancaster, little did we know that there was actually a convicted witch of that name, and that her story was quite similar to the tale of Sarah on the album! Plus, the girl that posed for the cover artwork, was also named Sarah! Spooky stuff, I’m sure some unholy force wanted this album to come to fruition. Haha! Fiction aside, we also wanted to touch on some “deeper” issues, like religion and fanaticism (we even paraphrased some Nietzsche quotes on the lyrics of “Damnation”), without getting too preachy or choosing sides. I was always a fan of concept albums such as Queensrÿche’s “Operation Mindcrime”, where you can listen to them for entertainment value, but if you pay attention to the lyrics they can get you thinking. Or stuff like Grave Digger’s “Tunes of War”, where you can actually learn bits of history. I guess we were going for something in between, but at the heart of it all, it’s just a kick ass tale of sword & sorcery, just the way we like it!

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