I have always been quite impressed by Sweden’s Air Raid, a band that arrived seemingly out of nowhere with their cool EP “Danger Ahead” back in the spring of 2012 and followed up with the full length “Night Of The Axe” towards the end of the next year. Both releases were put out by the great Stormspell Records, by the way.
Even though last year passed without any new releases from the band, Air Raid was certainly not inactive as they managed to play a lot live, including a gig at the prestigious Keep It True-festival and also parted ways with singer Michalis Rinakakis. Fast forward to November 2014 and a brand new album, “Point Of Impact” is ready to be released, this time through Germany’s High Roller. Metal Squadron spoke to bass player Robin Utbult, and it felt natural to start by letting him fill us in on the details on his involvement in the band. You joined Air Raid back in 2010. How did it happen and what convinced you to join the band?
– I was playing in another band based, more on old school rock’n roll way like AC/DC or Krokus. I didn’t feel that it was satisfying enough, because I always listened more to eighties heavy metal and classic metal than rock’n roll. I felt I needed to embrace that and see how it is to play this type of music. I saw Air Raid was looking for a bass player, but the problem was that I had never played bass before, only guitar. I went out and bought a bass, emailed Andy (Andreas Johansson) and said I could try out for the position in the band. I went to a rehearsal and everything went good. From then on we started playing every weekend, writing songs and searching for a drummer and a singer.
What was the name of the other band you played in? Did you know the Air Raid-guys when you emailed Andy?
– That band is called Siphon Fuel and they are actually still active but with another guitarist. No, I didn’t know any of them, it was just a shot in the dark. But it turned out great!
When you were willing to change the guitar for the bass, you must have been quite eager to join Air Raid?
– Yeah, I was still playing with the other band at the time, in fact I played with them until earlier this year. So I had two bands for quite a long time. When Andy and Johnny sent me some songs, I really liked the material. I have never played music that is this fast, with so many solos and double bass drums. I was really eager, as you say, to perform old school speed or classic metal.
The vision the band had back then, how does it compare to how the band sounds today?
– Back then we didn’t have as many speed and US metal influences as we have now. It was very neo classical metal like Malmsteen coupled with the NWOBHM sound of Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest. Since then we have developed a sound that leans slightly more to the US metal-sounding bands. Still we have the NWOBHM and neo-classic stuff, but have become a bit harder over the years.
How did this change in direction happen? Is it a case of Air Raid discovering the US metal scene?
– We have always listened to US metal, bands like Vicious Rumors, Liege Lord and Chastain. We also love a band like Agent Steel, which is more of a speed metal act. When we got the new drummer Dave, he was more speed influenced and faster than the drummer we had before. Dave started playing a bit more double bass drums and stuff like that, so it became natural to incorporate more US in our music.
Robin agrees that things have happened quite fast for Air Raid since the band made the first demo back in 2011
– Well, we worked on a few songs and recorded the demo, but didn’t knew that there was a wave of new Swedish heavy metal. We had no idea about the so called movement, we only knew one band, and that was RAM from Gothenburg. We had no idea if people listened to this kind of metal, but we did, so we just started writing. We recorded something we thought sounded good and just put it out there. As you said, things have gone really fast upwards for us, and since we have learned that there is some kind of new movement with an old school sound in lot of bands. I think it’s really cool that more and more people enjoy the old school sound.
Do you feel now that Air Raid is part of this wave or movement with bands you have things in common with?
– We have some good friends in other bands, but I don’t like to see it as a wave, I think that these are people playing the music that many people like, old school metal. I think the competition between bands here in Sweden is really hard. Bands are forced to rehearse hard and here in Sweden we are rather few inhabitants but have many bands. Even if I don’t like to view it as a wave, many people are using that expression. Because of the many great bands, everyone is forced to play more live and to write better songs. Of course we like and respect bands like Steelwing and Enforcer, and appreciate the music they’re playing.
If you compare Sweden to Norway (two similar societies, in many ways) Sweden are producing lots of great acts, Norway close to none. I remember some Swedish musicians that I spoke to in the past pointing out the fact that there are good possibilities to rehearse for up and coming acts…
-In Sweden, if you want a rehearsal studio, you’ll find one. I have had quite a few different ones with other bands, and we have changed rehearsal studio with Air Raid too.
More importantly, I guess is the fact that traditional metal has always stood much stronger in Sweden. I remember reading Okej during the eighties, my primary source back then to learn about heavy metal acts and their releases
– Yeah, we have those old pioneer bands like Heavy Load and Gotham City that were playing this so called true, old school heavy metal. As you say, the interest has always been big here in Sweden. Okej always had something about either Iron Maiden, WASP, Twisted Sister or Judas Priest.
Would you agree that being Swedish is a sign of quality when it comes to performing this kind of metal?
– No, I don’t know about that. As long as you write good songs, really like what you’re playing and have some good influences, you can come from whatever country you want. I think it’s like a circle, the more bands that come from one place, the better the competing bands need to play. Hard competition gives birth to hungrier and harder rehearsing bands.
Your first professional release was Danger Ahead. What are your thoughts on his release today?
– We still like the EP. We recorded it like five months after the demo, and the songs came together quite fast. I still enjoy them and we had a great cooperation with Stormspell who released the EP. I think the release still stands pretty strong.
Are there songs from this EP you will perform live when you go on tour next time as well?
– Sure, we always play two or three songs from that EP. I think we will continue to do so, as the people seem to like these tracks.
Which ones? I guess “When The Sky Turns Red” is one of them. A future classic, and perhaps a song people expect you to perform?
– Yeah I guess people expect us to play “When The Sky Turns Red” and also a song like “Annihilation”. We usually play those two and perhaps one more from that release.
Was the idea to release the EP on your own before you were approached by Stormspell, or were the label interested already around the release of the demo?
– We had some songs ready for “Danger Ahead”, and then we were contacted by Stormspell when they got a chance to listen to the demo. They asked if we had any plans for the future, and we told them we were working on five songs that were thinking of recording. “Make it an EP and let us distribute it”, Iordan said.
Was only the initial 500 copies released, or was there a second run?
– 500 hand numbered copies were made, and then the original plan was to stick to that, but the release sold out pretty quickly and Stormspell made an additional 500 unnumbered copies as well, so in the end the total was 1000 copies.
Robin feels that the band could have sold even more of this release…
– People are still emailing us and asking us when we perform live about “Danger Ahead”. The story between Air Raid, Michalis and Stormspell is very infected and they are not eager to deal with him again. Of course it’s a shame not to have the EP available, but we don’t feel so bad about it as we have a new singer now and are ready to release the new material, which we strongly believe in. The people that own “Danger Ahead” have a rarity in their hands though.
So is your old singer preventing Stormspell from re-releasing it?
– I am not to inform about that, but I think it has to do with the legal side of things as well as on a personal level, that they don’t want anything to do with it anymore. We had all these small argues and fights all the time with Michalis. It was not a good time.
We’ll talk more about that later on, but let’s turn the attention to “Night Of The Axe”, your first full length album released towards the end of 2012. I have an impression that releases put out that late in the year often gets drowned or forgotten as people have started looking forward to the new year and new releases. Did the album get the attention it deserved?
– For every release, people have been talking about Air Raid more and more. Personally, I don’t see a late release date as a bad thing, I think it’s more important to keep the band alive and let people know there are things happening in the Air Raid-camp. We recorded the album in August 2012 and its kind of usual to release it three or four months after that, because of the layout and the legal stuff as well. Stormspell wanted to release it before the Black Friday sale in the USA, so there were many factors that we had to take into consideration.
What do you think about the work Stormspell did for you on “Danger Ahead” and “Night Of The Axe”?
– I think our cooperation worked really well. We really like Iordan and what he has done for us, helping us spread our music. We are forever thankful to him for being there for us and for being a really good guy too.
I guess he was interested in continuing working with you?
– Yeah, well…since both “Danger Ahead” and “Night Of the Axe” sold out, I think he was interested in doing it. But when we told him that we were going to release the new one on High Roller, he wished us all the best, without no hard feelings at all. We are really grateful for his support and for releasing those albums.
What if this new album turns out to be a success, and people start asking about those two first releases again? Will you consider re-recording them, or at least parts of them with the new singer to make the material available again?
– Maybe. I am not sure, we are a band that likes to put the past behind us. Everything we do is for the great of the band, and if that is something that feels good for us, we might consider doing it, but not for the near future.
“Night Of The Axe” was a very good album. When you started thinking about doing this new one, was there something you wanted to improve or change?
– First of all, thank you. That’s great to hear. When we started to write the songs, in January or February this year, we we experimented a little to see what different keys our new singer, Arthur, could sing in, and what his vocal range was. We realized that we could write songs in other keys than just E and F #, so we ended up writing songs in A and D too. Arthur has a wider vocal range, and it made us write more diverse songs. The songs we have now are more similar to the sound we had before we got Michalis in the band. This is more of the eighties, old school sound that we prefer. We are really happy to have Arthur in Air Raid.
Does this mean that Michalis changed the way the band sounded? Either due to his voice, or because of his contribution to the songwritng?
– Well, when we first tried Michalis, we were not looking for his kind of voice, but he was a good singer and had a interesting tone, so we went with him. He has more of an “epic-power metal” kinda voice and we had to make some adjustments to his usual way of singing to make his vocals fit the music of Air Raid.
Your first two releases were also put out on vinyl on the German label, Underground Power. Were you satisfied with how these two came together?
– Yes, we were! We were happy to hear that Helmut and Christiane wanted to release the album. It was around the release of “Night Of The Axe” that Stormspell told us a German guy would release it on vinyl as well along with “Danger Ahead”.
While Robin finds the CD-format okay, he has a love for vinyl too.
– Most people have a CD-player. You can put CDs into your computer or your car, but of course I like vinyl. I have my own player and a lot of vinyls and I think it feels better to hold a vinyl album. It feels more genuine, and it’s much more to look at. I like the sound too.
There is not a song called “Point Of Impact” on the album, but still that’s the album title. What do you want to express with the title?
– We were talking back and forth about possible titles, and had some ideas in our head that something from outer space was gonna hit something. We came up with “Point Of Impact” which felt like a good idea because of the image of something hard striking something even harder. It just felt natural to name it “Point Of Impact”, and of course a lot of the lyrics have a connection to the title.
How would you describe the connection between the title and what you refer to as “a lot of the lyrics”?
– For example: the lyrics to the song “Bound To Destroy” is about our logo on its way to hit the earth, just as the albumcover shows us. Its about the burning logo hitting the atmosphere and how it will impact the earth. We also have some connections to the album title in the song “Vengeance”.
I really liked the artwork on the last album, as it was a bit dark and mysterious. This time it feels a bit more generic, and something I have seen countless times before.
– For the artwork to “Night Of The Axe”, we had a vision in our head. The cover would be something about vengeance, and some poor dude was going to be killed by an axe. We thought it came out a bit dark when the CDs and LPs were printed, and we wanted something a bit more colorful this time. We wanted a bit more tension in the image as well. We contacted Gerald McLaughlin who has done some of our favourite covers, like Agent Steel and Omen. He hadn’t done any album covers for many years, and was happy to do it again. We love the airbrush style he is using. We like the artwork, it feels old school and expresses what were thinking when we were writing songs for the album.
And it looks like the space ship or what it is, will collide with the flying Air Raid logo somewhere over Europe…
– Yeah! I think the Air Raid logo shadow is right above Germany or something like that. We wanted to leave something uncertain in the picture, so people can make their own story out of the cover. Hopefully it will create a bit of discussion.
So far you’ve made two tracks from the album available on the internet. Why did you choose these songs? Was it a band or label decision?
– High Roller had nothing to do with it. We discussed it back and forth within the band. When we released “Wildfire” as the first one, we didn’t want it to be too slow or too fast a song. We wanted people to be able to relate to it and to think that this is what Air Raid is about. It’s kind of higher mid tempo based and has some great guitar solos and some neo classical parts. We thought it had all the parts that make Air Raid what it is. With “Madness”, which is more of a mid tempo song, we did something we haven’t done before, with the song breaking off in the middle where we change the beat. That was something new we haven’t done before, we want to show people the combination of new and old stuff. The song has a pretty strong chorus too.
What is your personal favourite song from the album?
– Its so hard to choose, I really like all of them. But I think it will have to be the song called “Victim of The Night”. A classic metal song, with an acoustic intro and a certain cold vibe to it. There are some great guitar solos as well, something I really enjoy in metal.
As we already covered briefly, this is your first album with your new singer, Arthur. Where did you start looking for a replacement for Michalis?
– Well, we put out an ad on the internet and on Facebook, saying we were searching for a new singer. We had some guys mailing us and sending us some samples. We had this guy sending us a few songs of an old project, which we really liked. We enjoyed his high pitch vocals. We invited some singers to try out for us, and felt it worked well with Arthur. He was different to Michalis, more down to earth and really easy to deal with. He had the right influences in heavy metal too. It felt natural to ask if he wanted to join us.
It’s no secret Air Raid parted ways with their old singer due to personal differences.
– As I said before, we had small fights all the time. The four of us, Andy, Johnny, Dave and me had one vision while Michalis had another. We got so sick of the fights, and at last we decided it’s either him leaving or the band will cease to exist. We simply couldn’t deal with it anymore. We have to make sure that all choices benefit the band most. It wasn’t gonna work any longer.
How would you describe the difference in visions between his and the vision the rest of you shared?
– Honestly I don’t know his vision at all, there were just some very strange reasons that lead to fights all the time.
Was the tension so strong that it was getting hard for you to do live shows?
– Yeah, sometimes…But it was more of the usual decisions that our fans don’t see or hear about. Michalis is a really good singer and we usually had a great time on stage, but it was the other 95 percents that didn’t work. You have to have fun to have the passion for heavy metal.
You spoke about a big difference , was it mostly as persons or as musicians?
– I think it was most as persons. There were big personal differences.
Are you still in contact with him?
Michalis had a lot of admirers, and I guess there must be some people that are a bit skeptical to the change of singers?
– Of course there will always be people who don’t like Arthur, but also some people enjoying him more than Michalis. So far it seems like there are more people who like the change compared to those who don’t. We don’t feel like it’s a problem. Its only music after all, and people are allowed to have their opinions. Apart from that, we really like what we are doing with Arthur.
Are there big differences between Michalis and Arthur when it comes to the way they act on stage?
– I think they’re both good performers, but the big difference is that Arthur tells a story on stage. He is better at giving the audience the history behind the songs and a certain feeling for the songs.
I believe Arthur came to finished lyrics and vocal melodies this time, did he get a chance to put his mark on this album the way he would have liked to?
– When we started to make the songs, we asked if he wanted to do the lyrics and the vocal melodies, but I don’t think he was really expecting to do so much on this album. He seemed kind of unprepared for that. Me and Andy did most of the vocal melodies and lyrics, but of course Arthur added his own touch when we rehearsed the songs and were in the studio. We have asked him about it after the album was finished, and he seems satisfied with what we have done. We think it worked well too.
Will Arthur do the lyrics in the future?
– I think me and Andreas and Johan will continue to do the lyrics, but I think Arthur feels more secure in his position now, than earlier this year, and will contribute more for the next album.
Robin confirms that he and Andreas have brought new subject matters into the lyrics.
– We are not writing songs about epic battles of the past, things out of our hand or total destruction, at least not to same extension we did in the past. We have deeper lyrics now, stories and feelings that people hopefully can relate to more.
Did you write the lyrics on your own or did you sit together?
– We did some on our own, and also quite a few together. Fifty-fifty I would say. When we are writing material for an album we talk to each other every day, and see each other every second day or something like that. So we are pretty close. I think both ways work very fine. If you sit alone, you can put your headphones on to listen to demo tracks, take your time and really think about the theme. That’s one good thing, but when you are writing together, you can have a discussion, and if you are missing a word or something like that, the other guy might have it.
The last album was around 40 minutes, while the new one is 35 or something. Is this about the perfect playing time for an Air Raid-record?
– I think between 35 and 40 minutes is a good playing time. We focus so hard on the songs and don’t want filler tracks on the album. There is so much work behind every track on “Point Of Impact”, and it’s a product we have worked on for a long time. If you put everything into an album, it doesn’t have to be 55 minutes long with lots of epic parts. We like an album when its more straight forward, just full armed heavy metal non stop.
At the moment, it seems, at least in the traditional metal circles, to be a reaction to all these albums lasting for 60 and 70 minutes…
– I think so too. This album is faster, there are no three minutes breaks with percussion solos or whatever, it’s more like the old days when a LP had four songs on each side. I think music in general should be viewed for its quality and not for the quantity.
“Bound To Destroy” is the opener of the album. Was it an easy decision?
– We had a few songs that we discussed as possible opening tunes. This song kickstarts the album in a good way, with the drum intro and by being a quite fast song with lots of great vocal melodies, a high pitch shout at the end, a lot of guitar parts in the classic Air Raid-vein. I think you have to listen to it a few times to really discover all the guitar, drum, bass and vocal parts in it. There are a lot of things happening in this tune.
Apparently you are also discussing making a video to one of the tracks as well?
– Yeah, we have talked about it. We have spoken a little to High Roller about it too, but for now we haven’t decided which song it will be.
Is it about finding the song that is best suited for making a video to, because of the lyrical content, or is it about choosing the song that promotes the band in the best possible way?
– I think we want a song that represents Air Raid, with good guitar, bass and drum parts. The vocals have to be memorable, and the chorus really good, one that people will remember. The theme of the song is also important, it has to be easy to get into. We have quite a few songs that have all those qualities.
When I conducted this interview. I knew that the Japanese version of “Point Of Impact” was supposed to have a bonus track, but I didn’t have any further information on the track in question.
– In fact, it’s the first cover we’ve recorded. It’s a version of the old Swedish band, Insane, and the song “Soldiers Of The Dark”. An old, forgotten, really good song that we felt we wanted to give a polish by adding a better production.
One of those mid-eighties, demo only-bands, right?
-Yeah, they only released one or two demos back in the eighties (two I think). We didn’t want to cover those big, acclaimed bands like Judas Priest or Savatage, because those songs, in our heads, can’t get any better. They are already fulfilled pieces of music. We wanted to take a forgotten, old song that not many people have heard of, and to get people to listen to some of the more obscure music from Sweden. It was Andy, who found the band on YouTube many years ago, and he has been listening to it a lot since.
You are just back from performing at Swordbrothers. How was that for you? Compared to Keep It True for instance?
– Swordbrothers is a smaller festival, but we really enjoyed playing there. A lot of the same people who was at KIT were there too. We got to play with Jack Starr again, who also performed at KIT. We also met the guys in RAM along with a lot of our German friends. Overall, the festival was well arranged by Volker and the guys. A lot of good people, the sound was good, and we feel we did a good show. We love Germany, it’s a great country to play in. They’re so into metal. We played three songs from the new album, “Wildfire”, “Madness” as well as the instrumental track, “Flying Fortress”.