Even though “Point Of Impact”, was a letdown compared to both the EP “Danger Ahead” and especially the Swedes first full length releases, “Night Of The Axe”, I conducted an interview with bass player Robin Utbult. The bands new offering “Across The Line”, featuring new singer Fredrik Werner, sounds much more interesting again, and we once again hooked up with Robin to get the latest on the band.
What are your thoughts on “Point Of Impact” when you look back at it today?
– I have to say I am still happy with the sound of the album, and I am proud of what we managed to accomplish. I like the musical direction of “Point Of Impact”, you can see where our songwriting is heading. I still think it’s a really solid album with great tunes. It’s a bit more high pitched than our previous and our latest album, but that was the moment back then, and I still see it as a strong album.
Was there something about “Point Of Impact” that you deliberately wanted to change when you approached the songwriting for the new album?
– Andreas (Johansson, guitar) is the one writing most of the stuff, but I write stuff as well and some lyrics too. We never really think of what we want to change, we just know that it will come at us. It’s all about the inspiration or the mood at the moment, we always try to get that feeling down on an album.
Robin views “Across The Line” as more of a continuation of what the band did on “Point Of Impact” than a distinct change of direction.
– I would definitely say it’s an extension of “Point Of Impact”. It’s more melodic, more guitar oriented, and “Point Of Impact” was more melodic compared to “Night Of The Axe” which came before that one, so we have been going more and more melodic with each release. Everything is a bit more maxed out, it’s a little bit more of everything, and you can really feel the heavy edge.
Since the last album you have had some changes in the line-up, most notably you have a new singer in the form of Fredrik Werner. Why didn’t it work out with Arthur who sang on the last album?
– We really like Arthur, like his voice, his pitch and enjoyed touring and doing shows with him. He is a great guy, down to earth and everything, but the fact that he had a kid when he joined the band and got another one during his time in the band, made things a little difficult. We had been discussing it for months, how we should arrange everything for him to be able to do longer tours with the band, like three or four weeks, and during a band meeting we came to the conclusion. He said that he couldn’t do more than two weeks in a row with his family and everything, so we parted ways on good terms, for the best of everyone involved. The meeting took place in the middle of last year. We wished each other good luck and started the hunt for a new singer.
Are everyone else in the band in a position where you can do more extensive touring than Arthur could?
– None of us have kids, and we all have pretty flexible jobs, where we don’t have to take vacations at certain times. It suits us really well now that everyone can adjust their days off and put them together for a tour, like we’re doing pretty soon.
Robin confirms that touring is important for the band.
-Yeah it is, but we haven’t been out that much, playing that many shows yet. We have done a couple of shorter European tours, and our goal now is to get out more, and show what we are all about. We are a band that should be experienced live, and we want to put as much buzz around the new album as possible. We love playing live, whether it’s in Europe or in Japan, where we’ve also been.
What is the main difference between the audience here in Europe and the fans over in Japan?
– We’re going to Japan in November to play the Japanese Assault fest for the second time. It’s a really different mindset over there, it’s really crazy. We loved every second of it last time. They show a lot of respect for the artists. It’s not a big difference when it comes to the crowd, they still go crazy in Germany or Spain. But being over there, they are all super friendly and very keen on getting the band to have a good time. Everything is very well organized, and you can be pretty sure you get a great sound when you are on stage. The people have a lot of pride and really appreciate what you do.
Because life on the road here in Europe for a rather small band like yourself is in general not too glamorous, I guess…
– The organization is a bit different, because in Japan they want pre-production meetings where they want to know everything about which monitor is gonna stand where, what kind of amps you are gonna use and so on. They are very detailed when it comes to the sound. They are also throwing a big afterparty at a good restaurant. They are filming the gig with the crew from Loud park in Tokyo as well. They are really professional guys. In general, they are very structured. In Europe, the level of structure can vary very much from one country to another.
Have you experienced a real disaster yet when it comes to touring?
– No, everything has gone pretty well. Europe is always great. Of course there has been some hassles with the promoter here and there, and one time in The Netherlands a couple of years back, they had to change the venue. They changed to a smaller one since the first one suddenly went out of business. It ended with the police coming and pulling the plug on us since we played too loud. So some minor things like that have happened, but its more of a good story to tell, you are not really surprised. You already know that everything can happen.
Your new singer Fredrik is from Gothenburg as well. Did you knew him from before, or did you put out an advertisment like you did when you got Arthur on board?
– We did not put out an ad this time, we had a meeting between the four of us left in the band, and were looking around on YouTube trying to find out what kind of singer we were looking for. We knew that the singers that are good, would most likely be busy, so we started looking at other bands in the region, to check out which singers they had. We thencame across Fredrik, who had moved to Gothenburg something like ten years ago, from a smaller town outside Gothenburg. We knew he was singing in this AOR-oriented band, more like a classic rock kind of thing, and we listened to the band and heard that his voice would fit very well with our music, even though he had never done the real heavy metal thing before. We contacted him and asked if he wanted to try out some classic heavy metal. During a rehearsal we found out that his voice suited the old songs, as well as the “Point Of Impact”-songs and we aslo heard that he would be a good fit for the new songs we had in progress at the time.
According to Robin, the new singer had heard of Air Raid before.
– Yeah, he had heard of us, but never really listened to us. In Gothenburg, everyone knows somebody who knows somebody, so you will always come across the other musicians, if you are out drinking or go to concerts. So you can say that we both knew about each other, but we didn’t know each other.
It has been said about the new album that it was written in 8 months, this must mean that you started the process when Arthur was still in the band?
– Yes. We had already began doing preproductions of maybe three or four songs with Arthur on vocals, then we had this meeting I referred to, and of course we had to rewrite some stuff to make it fit Fredrik’s voice instead.
Was it big changes you had to make, or are we mainly talking about minor adjustments?
– No big changes, maybe a song had a verse in D, and we changed it half a step in one direction, to an E or to a C or something. The structures of the songs are still the same, but we rewrote some lyrics and we also changed some vocal melodies to make them suit Fredrik’s voice better. Every singer has a sweet spot and we were working our hardest to find were Fredrik has his. We found out along the way, and in the end, I think we got the best out of his voice.
So most of the songs were written after Fredrik joined ?
– As usual, the album was written by Andreas and me along with the “half New” guitarist Magnus. Andreas does most of the music, and him and I do about half of the lyrics each. Magnus also did some Music this time. Fredrik didn’t do any vocal lines, but he did some minor changes in the studio while singing, but that is not really credit stuff.
Johan Karlsson who was one of the founders of Air Raid, also left after the last album. Why did this happen, and where did you find his replacement Magnus Mild?
– Johan left in 2015 after our gig at the Rock Hard festival in Germany. It was also because of lack of time. He is studying at the Chalmers university of Technology in Gothenburg. He didn’t have the same ambitions as the rest of us, and in the end he choose to focus 100 percent on studies. It was kind of the same story as with Arthur.
Where did you find Magnus then?
– We put out some ads, but unfortunately they didn’t result in any response from the kind of guitar players we wanted. Andreas had had his eyes on Magnus for a while, as they were both on a guitar forum together years ago. He had heard some of his stuff through internet, and knew he was still active in other bands. We arranged a meeting with him, had a few beers, discussed and showed him the band. He was interested, liked the music and turned out to be one hell of a guitar player. We started rehearsing, it all sounded really good, and eventually he quit the other band and joined us instead.
As you mentioned, he is involved in the songwriting pretty much straight away. What is his contribution to the album?
– The album would definitely not sound like it does without him. Magnus is also heavily influenced by the neoclassical guitar stuff, the old eighties guitar shredders. He has a bit more progressive background, so you can hear some of the songs have very delicate guitar leads and build up. When you hear both the old Air Raid in the songs, and some new elements as well, a lot of it is thanks to him. His different background and all the great riffs he came up with. Also, we recorded everything on on our own, without a studio engineer in Magnus’ own studio. The whole album is for once, produced and done from scratch by us. He also knew the guy who mixed the album.
It was of course really convenient to have a studio which the band could use pretty much as they wanted.
– This was the second time we recorded in Gothenburg. It was quite easy to arrange now, just to go down to the studio. When we recorded “Night Of The Axe” up in Nyköping, which is 100 kilometers from Stockholm, it was a lot of planning involved just to go up there, record, and stay there for a couple of days. Now it was very convenient. We could actually sit at our appartments in Gothenburg and rehearse the day before.
As you mentioned, you have been involved in the lyrics as well. What are your main inspirations and how important are the lyrics?
– On our previous releases, like “Night Of The Axe” and “Danger Ahead”, our singer at the time (Michael Rinakakis) wrote a lot of lyrics. They were often about classic metal stuff like epic battles, death and society. When me and Andreas write, we want to write about things we have experienced ourselves, so the listener can recognize some of the stuff. The songs on the New album are about giving it all you got, even though its hard sometimes. You love what you do and there is a reason to do it. One song is about when you are on tour and on your way back to Sweden. In general it’s more down to earth-stuff, that we can all relate to.
There seems to be a positive message in many of the lyrics. Is that important for you?
– To be honest, I have never been a lyrics guy myself, I want cool riffs, heavy drums, and interesting instrumental parts. But it feels good to write about own experiences and to see that if you work hard it acutally pays off once in a while. It feels good to get that down on paper, for your own sake as well. However, I do like lyrics that are totally the opposite as well. Lyrics like Megadeth have, they are great, but it can’t be claimed they are very positive.
A lot of the songs on this album are quite fast, and make me tap my foot and bang my head, so it doesn’t feel completely out of Place with a positive message.
– Yeah, that’s great to hear. It’s full of hooks and you can surely have a couple of beers to the album and have a good time listening to it without having to think to much.
Sometimes that’s all I crave from an album, something you can enjoy, not something you have to analyze too much or spend too much time to get to know the songs.
– Exactly. This has always been the Air Raid-way. The songs should make an impact at first listen, at more or less full speed from the start to the finish. The new album is only 38 mintues long, that’s a good length, as long as its interesting all the way.
You have chosen “Across The Line” as the title of the album. There is no title song this time around, I don’t think there was one last time either, but there were some songs that were in a way connected to the title “Point Of Impact”. Is it the same this time around?
– Some of the songs surely has to do with the title, but there is nothing obvious in it. The story of the title is pretty much what it sounds like, it’s all about going those extra miles in everything you do, to make the best possible effort. The line itself can be the border between sanity and pure madness, which we crossed many times during the writing process. When Andreas came up with the title, it felt natural to use it. Everything is more maxed on this album, for instance the choruses and the solos. There are a lot of solos on this album. It’s all about going the extra mile.
According to Robin, the band was very satisfied with the work High Roller did on “Point Of Impact”.
– We really like the label. They did a great job with “Point Of Impact” and with this New one as well. They are super supportive and really professional in everything they do. As soon as the album is recorded and mixed, they send it right to the mastering guy they use for every release. They have a really professional promotion company as well. Everything is on time, and we don’t have to wait for ages for answer from them. They are supportive and doing a massive job. Stormspell did a great job for us too with “Night Of The Axe”, but with High Roller, everything is larger in scale. There are more money involved, and they have better distribution.
You have made three songs available on the internet already, even though there are, at the time of writing, still some weeks until the album is released. . Do you think “Aiming For The Sky”, “Northern Light” and Hold The Flame” together show what the whole album is about?
– Yeah, I think so. “Northern Light” is more midtempo oriented. You can really hear some of the neoclassical influences in that one. “Hold The Flame” on the other hand, is the opener of the album, and is what we usually do for an opener. It’s fast, with an easy going, sing along chorus and lots of shredding guitars. Then you have “Aiming For The Sky”, which is again kind of neoclassical, with a good chorus and lots of solos, five I think. I would say those three songs sure give a good hint of what to expect, and also show the diversity of the album. There is a lot more to it, it’s like a book or a movie, carefully constructed to tell a story, but you can easily list those songs out for a taste of what it sounds like.
Three songs is a decent part of the album, do you think the Internet and YouTube in particular, is well suited for promoting the music of Air Raid?
– All promotion is good promotion. One of the reason why we did three songs, one music video and two regular songs, is that we want to give the people a real impression of on the album. We also want to throw out some songs that we are going to focus on a bit more, because we will go on tour on Sept 29th, the day when the album gets released. For the first couple of gigs ,some people will not have heard the whole album, so we wanted to give people some new stuff before we head out on the road as well. I think last time, we released two songs prior to the actual release of the album, and we just think of it as a great tool to get the word going.
Yngwie Malmsteen has been mentioned a couple of times already as a response to what those new songs sound like…
– Yeah, we have heard it a couple of times already. It’s no secret that we all know Yngwie, and of course Andreas and Magnus both grew up with him. I think a lot of Swedish musicians looks up to him. He is untouchable of course, but we have heard the comparison. What many people tend to forget, is the fact that there is lot of different neoclassical approaches. There are a couple of American guitarists, Chris Impelliteri for instance, which we are all big fans of. That being said, of course most people will relate the neoclassical stuff to Yngwie Malmsteen.
Air Raid even performed some Yngwie-songs live.
– Last year with did “I’ll See The Light, Tonight” live. We have done some shows this year as well where we covered “Rising Force”. It’s a good one to cover, its pretty fast and fun to play. Its probably a bit more known than “I’ll See The Light, Tonight”, and it suits Fredrik’s voice really well, because he has this roughness to his voice. Back in the day, we did Judas Priest and Iron Maiden-covers. It’s a bit more unusual with Malmsteen, but as always with Air Raid, we try to go against the stream.
It seems like many people are considering Malmsteen a joke these days, as he seem to place himself in the spotlight even more than before, as one can see in the videos recently posted from his live shows…
– Yeah, I actually witnessed it all live at Skogsrøjet last month. He headlined Friday there. Of course the Marshall-stacks occupied most of the stage, and the drummer, and the keyboard-player who is also singing as well as the bass player were tucked away in the corner. I think he should put more effort in getting a good singer like he had back in the day. I can’t reallly say I am surprised either. After all we’re talking about Yngwie Malmsteen, he is the one living Swedish rock star left. He is crazy and full of himself, and I don’t think he should change, but of course it looks ridicolous on stage.
For “Point Of Impact” you did an interesting cover song for the Japanese version of the album, is there a bonus track for Japan this time as well?
– On that album we did an obscure kind of song, by an old Swedish band called Insane. This time the album will be released by Spiritual Beast again in Japan, and they always want an extra song, and this time we chose to rerecord an old song of us, “A Blade In The Dark” From “Night Of The Axe”. I really think we improved the songs, but in reality, we didn’t change anything. It suits Fredrisk voice really well. Since we perform it live pretty much every time we’re on stage, we thought it would be nice to have a new version with the current singer and an updated Production. I think this new album has a lot better production and sound compared to “Night Of The Axe”.
Have you considered rerecording more of these old songs, because as you told me last time, the albums they are on are not likely to be rereleased?
– They will not be rereleased, that’s for sure. High Roller has already asked us about it many times, but we don’t want to involve our first singer in anything again. It’s too much of a hassle to deal with him for us, its simply not worth it. Of course we think the first albums should be available to the fans, but it really is more destructive than constructive for us to do it. I don’t know if we’re going to rerecord any other of the songs from the early days, but we sure had a good time rerecording “A Blade In The Dark”, and we still think the songs we did back then are great.
The band picture you have used as cover art for the new album, was that something you had to settle for in a hurry, or something you really wanted?
– That was actually something we wanted. Some people have asked about the same thing, and nowadays, many bands have these classic, painted album covers. Even if its old school metal or modern metal, they all seem to use pretty much the same artists. Many of the covers start to look the same. We have never been a part of a trend or anything, and want to move away from that even more. Think about the classic album covers like Scorpions did in the seventies and eighties, it’s like a classic concept, but nobody does it today.
I feel that “Across The Line” could have been more diverse. Of course you got the instrumental on there, and also a song like “Black Dawn” which is certainly a bit different, but for instance the tempo seems to be pretty much the same in many of the songs.
– When it comes to tempo, most of the songs are upbeat, but the album as a whole is more diverse compared to what we have done before. We might think differently here, but a lot of songs are usually four by four beat, but on this album we have three songs that are recorded in triplets. On “Point Of Impact” there wasn’t a single one. The structures of some of the songs are different as well. It’s not just the classic intro, .verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo and double chorus. Its thrown around a bit more in the songs.
Asked if he has examples of where he feels the band has done something different arrangement wise, Robin returns to the aforementioned “Black Dawn”
– We have never had a chorus like the one in that particular song. There is also a song like “Aiming For The Sky”, where we do the first verse, no bridge or chorus, just a solo, then the verse again and then the chorus. All in all we do like five different solos as a duel in that one.
High Roller mentions the song “Hell And Back” from the new album as sounding similar to Saxon. Of course the title is similar compared to the glorious “To Hell And Back Aagin”, but I don’t really think the music has too much in common with Saxon.
– We also heard that from some of the guys at High Roller. The song is about playing shows and being on the road. It’s full of ups and down, and you really go to hell and back. Its super fun being out there playing, but its also a really hard time. We never thought of the song as similar sounding to Saxon. It’s a triplet song and I don’t think that is something Saxon do a lot.
You recently performed with two real veteran bands in form of Riot V and Cloven Hoof.
– It was in Belgium at the Blast From The Past- clubshow. It was really fun, we all really like those two bands, and have grown up listening to them. They are all great guys, we hung around backstage with them and enjoyed their shows of course. Belgium is always good to come to. The crowd had a good energy, and it was probably the sweatisest gig so far, as they had to turn of the air conditioner for some reason.
Do you feel that these veteran bands that have been a part of the scene for ages, show respect for a newcomer act like yourself?
– I think so. It seems they enjoy seeing a younger band pay homage to what they were influenced by, and in some way, carrying the classic metal torch. Both bands still deliver really good shows, and Todd Michael Hall in Riot V is one hell of a singer. He really does the songs great justice.