As long as there is some quality involved, bands that stick out by doing something different, have a good chance of being featured here at Metal Squadron. Finland’s Chevalier is one of those bands, as their newly released, so far digital-only, demo “A Call To Arms” features raw speed metal, pretty fresh and original song writing and a fitting minimalistic production. I caught up with guitarist and main songwriter Tommi to get the details on this newly formed, Helsinki-based act.
As both you and Mikko are active together in Demon’s Gate, my wild guess is that you guys are probably the ones that took the initiative to form Chevalier?
– Well, Chevalier was my own brainchild after moving to Helsinki in late 2015, I had already written “Under the Sceptre” and “The Awakening” years before and since in Demon’s Gate we have a Swedish drummer and only rehearse every couple of months because of that, I wanted another band to play with more often. Listening a lot to ADX and Omen around that time inspired me to pursue the idea about Chevalier full-on.
What do you see as the main link from listening a lot to those two acts and getting inspiration to create Chevalier-material?
– Mainly how the power and energy of their music is missing in lots of new bands I come across and that made me want to try bringing it back, what I myself would like to hear a new heavy/speed metal band sound like.
How were the rest of the members found? Did you search actively for them, or did you already know the others through the Helsinki scene and just approached them to hear if they were interested?
– I somewhat knew them all when I was writing the rest of the material for “A Call to Arms” and asked them if they were interested to play some speed metal.
Tommi says that finding people he knew he would get along with, was more important than musical skills and experience.
– Also people who share and appreciate the vision of the band of course. Musical skills and experience is what we gain by playing together but it’s not guaranteed to ever learning to get along with people you’d pick only because they’re able to play the stuff from the start. And I’m certainly not the easiest person to get along with, haha…
Most of you are involved in other bands as well. What decides how much time you will devote to Chevalier?
– Mikko and Sebastian are the ones more involved in other bands, Mikko’s other bands besides Chevalier and Demon’s Gate are based in Tampere so they don’t rehearse that often with him. I’ll let Sebastian speak for himself:
Sebastian: – You just have to work it out with the rehearsals. You play with one on the weekend and then other bands on the week and vice versa. Sometimes it´s at the same time so I just choose with what band I havent rehearsed in a while. It can be hectic at some times when you have three different rehearsals and then a gig on the same week.
Was the musical vision and direction there already from the start, or something that you developed while adding the other members to the lineup?
-I had the vision ready, as well as the logo and ideas about the lyrical concept. The main idea was to play pure speed metal as relatively few bands ever played before thrash and the later more extreme styles took over.
Why do you think the number of bands that performed speed metal was rather modest? What are speed metal to you personally, and which album do you think represents the style or genre in the best possible way?
– I guess it was because thrash took over so quickly and effectively worldwide and the ideal style to play was stripped down of more melodic, clean vocals and not-that-evil riffs and leads. Speed metal was just a short-lived thing between traditional heavy metal and thrash, unfortunately. If someone asked me what is speed metal, I’d put on “Suprématie” by ADX instantly. Sure not all the songs on the record are that fast, but the slower ones make the speed metal tracks blow your face off all the more. Especially on the live album “Exécution Publique” where the tempo in every track is 150% compared to the album versions. As far as I know, there doesn’t exist another band that released as much great speed metal as ADX.
You had help from Jori, also in Demon’s Gate, for the recording and mix of the material. Was it natural to ask him, not only because you knew him from before, but maybe also due to his recording experience from bands like Cast Iron and Gentry Lord?
– He offered to do the mixing himself once he had heard some rehearsals. The experience he has from his own bands is of course helpful, but I also knew that he understands what I’m looking for and how the release should sound since he’s a longtime fan of all our influences.
The demo is recorded in the rehearsal room. Did you look for this type of underproduced and “distant” sound with the vocals far behind in the mix, or is it just the way the whole thing ended up sounding due to the location and resources you had at your disposal?
– To be honest, new completely polished and devoid-of-mistakes recordings of new heavy metal bands, no matter how old school they claim to be with their retro equipment and clothes, bore the shit out of me. We had the possibility to handle the recording ourselves, with drums, bass and guitars, except for the solos),recorded live and definitely without a click track, so we decided to do so with recent good experiences with Demon’s Gate handling stuff the same way. Doing it live adds more to the authentic feeling that it’s actually a band playing. I wanted the vocals to be a bit eerie and behind in the mix in the way of Brocas Helm’s “Black Death” because it just sounds so damn good to my ears. As they’re clean and high, they push through enough.
Even though most people like the unusual sound of the recording, there will obviously also be someone having problems with it. I wonder how much you think you can you change or improve the sound/production on future recordings without losing a bit of what Chevalier is about?
– I’m definitely not looking to improve the sound too much, I think the production we have on “A Call to Arms” suits the music and the band itself very well. We might try out a certain studio for some small release in the future to see how it turns out though. What I’m planning to improve is the songwriting and performance.
What kind of improvement are you talking about? Have you identified certain areas in both the songwriting department and performance wise, that needs to be improved, and will be improved for the new material?
– Songwriting itself first of all, the structures of the songs were pretty randomly compiled from riffs I just chose to put together on “A Call to Arms”, but now I have some material to learn from when making new stuff, which things work and which don’t and so on. And we can all reflect on what to do better next time, I think this is the main reason for artists on all fields to keep going.
Did you knew already from the start that you wanted a female singer for this band? Emma’s vocals are certainly something different. As it doesn’t sound like she has a lot of experience, did you give her instructions on how you wanted the vocals to be, or have she kind of developed her own style along the way? There seems to be quite bit of male vocals on the demo as well – is this combination something you will explore further in the future?
– No I didn’t, we don’t have Emma on vocals just as a gimmick to gain attention or anything. All I knew when writing the songs was that I wanted the vocals to be higher and better than what I could do myself and I had a few friends in mind to ask to try it out. But around the same time Emma had started taking singing lessons and me and Mikko went to play some Judas Priest-, Omen- and Kimmokuusniemi Band-, a Finnish heavy metal with female vocals in some songs on their Moottorilinnut LP, covers with her and as it sounded good, I asked if she would like to join a real band. I named some references to her how I wanted to vocals to be, but mostly gave her free hands working on the vocal delivery. She doesn’t have much experience but huge potential still to fully explore, for her first band’s first recording I think the results are damn good. I handle the backing vocals and the sorcerer’s parts in “The Sorcerer”, but whether I continue to add more of my own vocals depends on the future material. I’m definitely not planning to take over 50% of the vocal duties or anything.
While Tommi Points to bands like Brocas Helm, Omeen and ADX as the biggest conscious influences, other acts have also been important for him.
–There’s always some Judas Priest, Running Wild and Mercyful Fate present because I learned to play most of what I know on guitar with those bands. French metal in general has been an important influence for me and the original idea to play more traditional heavy/speed metal in the vein of Sortilege, H-bomb, ADX and so on started back in 2011 when I also planned to use the name Cavalier.
There are already plans for a tape version to be put out through Sarlacc. Did this come together due to the cooperation you had with the label through Demon’s Gate? Will the demo be a tape only release? If so, why? I guess you have already been approached by labels wanting to release the recordings on other formats as well?
– Yeah, Sarlacc did a great job with the Demon’s Gate tape so when Chevalier started to shape up I asked Mairtin if he was interested to cooperate again. We have been approached by several labels about CD and vinyl release too but want to have the tape done first before making any other plans. Since “A Call to Arms” is a pretty full package and not just a demo really I think it should be out on vinyl too in the future.
What in your opinion makes it more than a demo?
– It’s six songs with a conceptual story properly recorded for a possible MLP release. It’s our first one, and pretty much just a demonstration of the vision that I have, but we wouldn’t have put so much effort to it if the aim was just to make a demo.
How important are the lyrics in Chevalier and how do they connect with both the band name as well as the title of the demo “A Call To Arms”? I have seen the term “medieval speed metal” being used, is “medieval” something that applies to the lyrics?
– As I just mentioned, through the songs runs a concept story although not as obvious as on well-known concept albums of King Diamond for example. The lyrics go hand in hand with the songs and are rather important part of them, but I always concentrate on the songs themselves first and let them determine how the lyrics should be. Medieval themes and imagery are something that fits the music and the name of the band of course. The name should be Cavalier in English, but because of my long-time love for French metal and hearing the word Chevalier in several songs, I decided to go with the French version. Lately I noticed it’s also a still common surname in France, but I hope any French metalheads named Chevalier will just be amused by our choice for the band name.
Is the six track of the demo the material you had ready at the time, or did you choose from a larger amount of songs?
– I had these songs ready which we then started rehearsing with the full band, aiming to record them as the first release. We started rehearsing another new song I had written before the recordings, but decided to leave it for the future since the six songs already formed a complete package.
As this is a rehearsal room recording, my first thought was that these tracks will obviously be rerecorded for one or more future releases. Is this what you have in mind, or will you move on to new songs, leaving all these song to be exclusive for the demo?
– We’re not planning to record any of them again. I don’t think we could so greatly improve them that it would be worth it and I’m satisfied how they turned out. I want to concentrate on new material anyways.
Since Chevalier is the brainchild of Tommi, it doesnt exactlly come as a big surprise that most of the songs come from him.
– I write mostly everything, when I start working on a song I often continue until the guitar parts and structures are finished. I sometimes have some bass and drum ideas as well since I’ve played them too, but mostly Joel and Sebastian have free hands with their own parts. Emma writes more lyrics now, but for “A Call To Arms” I did most of them since I had the concept ready.
Apart from speed and “medieval” lyrics, what are the main components in the Chevalier-sound? From listening to the demo, it seems its up to the guitars to supply a lot the hooks, as the vocals are somewhat buried, but there are couple of quite catchy choruses as well?
– Guitar leads were an important goal from the start and there are certainly going to be more of them in the future material. For example in “The Awakening” the “chorus” of the song is just a guitar lead and I think it works well alone, I’m bad at writing catchy, simple choruses anyways. Maybe Emma will come up with some in the upcoming material. “A Call to Arms”” doesn’t yet have much harmonies since I just started exploring them and being a completely self-taught amateur guitarist it’s a lot of work to do them just according to what sounds good in my ears and what doesn’t.
You just had your live debut some days ago, and in a month’s time you are peforming at the Heavy Metal Cauldron Support Club with Legionnaire and Rapid. It seems like both the metal scene in Helsinki and the scene in Finland are a lot healthier now than compared to the Spinefarm-and Sonata Arctica-days, when there were a lot of crap coming out every month. Do you think it just reflects the stronger interest in traditional heavy metal world wide, or do you see these new bands as a reaction to all the shit that came out in Finland for years and years?
– There still aren’t much new, more traditional sounding metal bands around here but definitely more than five-ten years ago. It most likely reflects the globally grown interest, Finland just always comes some years behind the trends going on in Sweden and Germany for example. But then again a myriad of style-over-substance consensus bands isn’t any better I think. Legionnaire is a band that deserves more attention abroad too, we asked them to join us for our first gig because we share a lot of the same ideals and mentality and will probably play many times more together in the future.
Apart from doing some concerts, what will be the next step from Chevalier?
– We’re going to play more gigs before starting to work on future releases since playing live is something that me, Emma or Joel haven’t done before the first Chevalier gig a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s a vital part for this kind of band and will also positively affect the songwriting and performance in the recording process. I have almost an album worth of songs written which we’re starting to slowly work on one by one.