RAVENSIRE: Beware of easter eggs

Ravensire_2Since we have covered almost everything there is to cover about the history of Ravensire before, let’s catch up with the happening after the release of “The Cycle Never Ends”. How would guitarist and main songwriter Nuno describe the reception this album got and how satisfied is he with the coverage the band got in the press and the opportunities to play live this album generated?

– First of all, thank you for the continued interest in our activities, and for skipping the “when was the band formed?” part. “The Cycle Never Ends” was a very important album for us, because it marked the beginning of our cooperation with Cruz Del Sur. The job the label did in promoting the album was second to none! We were featured in several publications from all around the world and, in general, the reviews and reactions were very warm. Of course, working with a bigger label like Cruz Del Sur also meant that our name would end up being featured in bigger magazines. Naturally, with our rougher around the edges approach and our orthodox heavy metal sound, we’d never be “album of the month”, but even there we felt we got fair reviews. This album also took us to various European countries, sometimes more than once, and we felt that as time went by, the crowds were genuinely getting more and more acquainted to us and the enthusiasm grew in proportion.

You contributed one track on a release that marked 30 years of existence for the Portuguese band Alkateya, a release that was special because it had five songs done by Alkateya as well as five bands contributing a cover each. Why was it natural to contribute on such a release, and why did you end up covering the song “The Call & The Crash (All Men Stand Still)”?

– Alkateya has been a part of our lives for, well, those 30 years! I’ve seen them live several times in the 80s, in the very early 90s, in the 00s, in the 10s… João Pinto, the vocalist, is our friend for a long time and, more importantly, their music is amazing and a source of inspiration… So, when the idea of being part of this commemoration was presented to us, we could only say yes without any reservations. When we started thinking about which song to cover, we shortlisted two or three songs that we felt were the most epic and iconic. These were “Star Riders”, “The Call & The Crash” and “Lusitania (Mare Clausum, Ruler of the Seas)”. To be honest with you, “Star Riders” would have been my immediate choice as, for me, it’s the hymn of Portuguese 80s Metal, but since Gargula had already covered it, we thought about taking another one a little bit less talked about, but also very strong, and give it some exposure.

Then in May 2017 you finally released the song “Tyrant’s Dictum”, a song left out on “The Cycle Never Ends” on a 7” inch together with a version of “Facing The Wind”. A way to pay tribute to your former guitarist Ze Rockhard, if I understood it correctly?

– Hmm… “A song left out” sounds like we might have thought the song didn’t have quality for the album or something, but that’s definitely not the case! What happened was that after we finished the recording sessions for “The Cycle Never Ends”, we had more material than the 40-43 minutes we were aiming for, so some decisions had to be made. Instead of trying to find which would be the “worse” or “weakest” song, especially since we didn’t feel we had inferior material, otherwise we wouldn’t have recorded it, we thought which one would work better as a single out of those songs that we didn’t consider to be the basic core of the album. You see, we love singles and already the split with Terminus was something we cherished a lot. So, “Tyrant’s Dictum” was kept for a future release, either as another split, or as a single on its own. Actually, the newer version of “Facing the Wind” had a similar genesis! It was recorded during the “We March Forward” sessions and didn’t make it to the album, again because its inclusion would make the album surpass the ideal length. Fast forward a few months, and right before “The Cycle Never Ends” was released, Ze Rockhard left the band, because he couldn’t commit to Ravensire as much as he wanted. That’s when the decision to release “Tyrant’s Dictum”, which was, incidentally, written by Ze, as a single took a more urgent appeal. It had to be before any new original material was recorded with the new guitarist, to close that particular chapter in the band’s history and honour our brother!

The single was, a bit surprisingly maybe, released on Witches Brew, and not by the band’s usual partner, Cruz Del Sur. Nuno explains why.

When we presented the idea to Enrico, he had some problems with the timings and opted to pass on it. So, I went straight away to Cheryl, whom I’ve known for a long time and who already had told me often that she’d love to release something from Ravensire, and she said yes right away. I always respected deeply the commitment Cheryl and her husband Hartmuth (Barbarian Wrath) always had for the underground, so I’m very honoured for Ravensire to have been part of their history!

If I understand it right, the whole new album, titled “A Stone Engraved In Red”, by the way, is dedicated to Hartmuth Schindler from Barbarian Wrath. When did you get to know Hartmuth and how would you describe his importance for Ravensire throughout the years?

– Actually, we have a specific song called “Dawning in Darkness” directly dedicated to Hartmuth. I met Hartmuth and Cheryl online in the early days of the internet, around 1997 or so, and we immediately hit off a friendship that later would transform into a “real life” friendship after we met in person a few years later. What always impressed me about them, was their genuine passion for underground Heavy Metal and their work with the labels they formed throughout the years (Nazgul Eyrie, Barbarian Wrath, Witches Brew). They never yielded to trends and would often release the true underdogs of the underground! How can you be indifferent to this!? All of this, unfortunately, would come to a halt when Hartmuth, during a somewhat routine surgery to his lungs, went into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead for five minutes. Although the doctors managed to revive him, the damage to his brain was irreversible and since then he’s on a vegetative state with no prospects of getting better. This was almost two years ago… Can you imagine the hell that Cheryl’s going through? And Hartmuth trapped in a mindless prison?

Since the last release, your drummer F left Ravensire. Was this something that came out of the blue, or were you prepared for it? As Alex is also involved in Midnight Priest, my guess is that there aren’t a lot of available drummers willing to play metal the Ravensire-way?

– We were a bit caught by surprise, yeah. F was going through some turmoil in his personal life but he kept it more or less to himself, although we could see it was gnawing on him. We thought that eventually things would settle and all would be cool again. But the erosion all of this provoked on his spirit was more than we anticipated and so, one day, he turned to us and said he was going to leave because his mind was not into playing music anymore. There was nothing we could say that would change his mind and so we accepted it and kept on being friends as always. When we lost F, and since we had a gig in a couple of months in Spain, the first thing I did, after talking to Rick about this, was contact Alex and ask him if he wanted to play with us. We’ve known Alex since Midnight Priest burst into the scene and we’ve always liked him as a person and as a drummer. Since I knew he also liked a lot Ravensire, it would all depend if he had the time for us. No need to worry as he was overly enthusiastic about the prospect of joining us. According to his words “it’ll help me learn how to play slower” and agreed right away. So, he was the only one that was actually taken into consideration.

With Ze Rockhard’s replacement Mario settling into the band, Nuno confirms that the new guitarist has also contributed to the songwriting this time around.

Mario was a bit shy at first. He’d come up with some cool riffs, but wouldn’t “dare” compose a complete song. It took some psychological warfare from my part to force him into leaving his insecurities aside and go for the full throttle. He composed the song “Dawning in Darkness” and came up with the initial idea for ‘The Game of Titus’ that I helped build into a full song with other parts I composed and the general structure. It was the only co-written song on the album. All the other songs on the album were composed by me. Rick’s (Thor, vocals and bass) department is the lyrical one.

Nuno explains, that the title of the album,“A Stone Engraved In Red”, is a line from the track “After The Battle”, and is not directly connected to the opening song “Carnage At Karnag”, as I first believed.

In “After The Battle”, there’s a passage when the warrior is dying and falls into a sleep where he sees a stone engraved in red and his sons and their sons drinking to his memory and name. We felt this would be a great title for the album because we, too, want our name and music engraved in red in a stone, metaphorically speaking. As for “Carnage at Karnag”,  I had the idea to write a song about Karnag after visiting that amazing place a couple of years ago. I was so mesmerized by all the stones, tombs and archaeological sites I visited in Brittany, that I came back and told Rick we had to do a song about it! The song came out very spontaneously and then Rick proceeded in writing a story about sacrificial victims being slaughtered by druids and all that. The most interesting thing is that we got to play it some time ago in Brittany, no less, during the Courts of Chaos Festival and the reaction was beyond our wildest dreams!

Judging from how difficult you told me it was writing lyrics for the song “Crosshaven” from the last album, my guess is that you have left all the lyrics to Rick this time around?

– Not really! I wrote the lyrics to “Dawning in Darkness”, the tribute to Hartmuth. It tells the tale of someone that’s stuck in a world where the dawn doesn’t bring any light… a world in perpetual darkness. Kind of like what it must be to be stuck in a vegetative state and not being able to get out of it. It’s a very bleak lyric, without a happy ending, but unfortunately life isn’t always about cheery events. To be honest, this one wasn’t as hard to write as “Crosshaven”. The thing is, I need some sort of theme or idea that appeals to me, or resonates deeply within me, to be able to come up with lyrics. Rick, on the other hand, comes up with great stuff almost out of thin air! I think I’ll keep writing some selected lyrics here and there, though, because it’s something I’m surprisingly enjoying.

With his excellent historical knowledge, Rick is able to write lyrics about some really fascinating themes. Does he present the themes for the lyrics for Nuno early in the process, or does he get to read the lyrics first when they are fully finished? Are there lyrics/themes on this album that made Nuno interested in investigating further to get more knowledge about the event in question?

– Some lyrics I might give him a broad theme, like “Carnage at Karnag”, but most of the time it’s him who comes up with the topics and asks me if I think they’re ok. Never, ever, have I told him “nah, that’s not ok”. I might suggest some tweaks here and there, just like he did for “Dawning in Darkness” or “Crosshaven”, but that happens very rarely and it’s usually about some minor detail or something. Normally, when he picks up some historical or mythological aspects I’m very curious about it, especially because Rick always goes for the more obscure stuff. For instance, on this album “The Smiting God” talks about a god with two big hammers: one on his hand and another between his legs. Kind of like Thor but with the extra hammering, haha! This is based on a very recent discovery made here in Portugal, where an image carved in stone, not in red, though, was found depicting this strange deity. Even funnier is that it predates Thor and other Celtic hammer gods by quite a few centuries. Speaking of Thor and Nordic history… If you check the album cover, you’ll notice that the stone has some rune-like inscriptions. They are not runes, though… They’re characters from a mysterious language found in the southern part of Portugal written almost 3000 years ago! It’s still to be deciphered and has been a puzzle for archaeologists and historians.

One minor criticism that I have with regards to the new album, is that it might sound a bit similar to the previous album. The sound seems quite similar, and there are parts here and there where I get a slight feeling of deja-vu, believing that I might have heard it before, on one of your earlier albums.

There’s a very fine line between having an identity and repeating yourself. The only riffs that I can remember being very similar to others from the past, one part of “Dawning in Darkness” sounding akin to “Facing the Wind”, are actually intentional. It’s one of those easter eggs that we put in there. There were others before… I’ll let you find out which ones! It’s a passage, it’s a detail and we view it as a way to consolidate what we think is our identity. It’s that age old debate: people complain because you change and people complain because you don’t. Haha! And to be honest, unlike you, I feel this album to be more different from “The Cycle Never Ends”, than “The Cycle Never Ends” was from “We March Forward”. There are songs in here like “The Smiting God” that explore high speed, intersped with some slight disharmonies! Or “The Games of Titus” with all that acoustic intro… Or even “Carnage at Karnag” that uses those folky motives in an opposite parallel way. Did you notice that in the middle after the drum break there’s a crescendo towards the solo and in the end there’s a de-crescendo until the finale? So, yeah, there are things that I feel need to grow on the listener as he gets to know the album.

Ravensire_1While there are some moments of deja-vu that occurs while listening to “A Stone Engraved In Red”, Ravensire is one of the bands that are easiest to recognize, partly because of Rick’s vocals of course, but also because the atmosphere and songwriting. How do you balance the desire to build a strong identity against the wish not to repeat yourselves?

– See what I told you before? When does it stop becoming an identity and starts being repetition? Probably it’ll depend on the listener and if he’s really into what you’re doing or not! When you listen to the long epic Iron Maiden songs like “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”, “Alexander the Great”, “To Tame a Land” and so on, have you noticed how similar they are in structure? They follow basically the same pattern. The same with most of their choruses… When you take the most iconic Judas Priest songs, they have the same basic formula between them. Or take the first four Metallica albums, have you noticed how the flow of the albums is always the same? First song: fast, second song: longer epic; last song: fast; instrumentals – check. Does it occur to say to anyone that these bands repeat themselves? No, it’s their identity! They crafted their sound and they kept at it. When they change drastically, they fuck up. The thing is: We’re very happy with playing no frills, melodic, raw, passionate Heavy Metal. As long as the pleasure to play is there and the riffs that come out are something I’m proud of, it’ll be like this. If there’s anything that might get more adventurous, it is the structure of our long songs. I enjoy a lot having different moods within the songs and take the listener through various paths. If inspiration strikes, I might dwell into longer songs with even more changes and storytelling. Have you checked the Horisont-track, “Odyssey”? Now there’s something absolutely great! That’s one of the songs I’d love to have written. The way the song flows throughout the story that’s being sung is amazing. Another great example is the song “Howling Nights” from Silver Machine. Lots of changes, moods, great haunting atmosphere intertwined with explosions of aggressivity. That’s what I’d love to achieve, minus the blastbeats Hahah! I think we’ve touched it slightly on “After the Battle” or “The Games of Titus” but there’s a lot of room to improve! Speaking of songs I’d love to have written, here’s another one: “Pray to the Gods of Wrath” by Paradox.

There are clearly depth and qualities in the compositions that make them suited for many, many hours of listening pleasure, and there are elements here that will probably not be detected by the listener upon first listen. How much time do you pay to small details in the music, and isn’t a little bit frustrating that many of these details will never be recognized by the usual listener?

– Yes, but when someone finds them it’s so great… On “The Cycle Never Ends” there was one reviewer who spotted not only my Greensleeves “rip-off” on one song, but also the psalm from where the latin interlude on “Procession of the Dead” was taken! Actually, the fact that we have this attention to detail, leave out the obvious choruses and hooks and go for different song structures is probably why we fly a bit under the radar. That and the fact that we have a “rough” vocalist. But, for me, Rick’s voice is exactly the voice I envisioned for Ravensire. High pitch vocals or wails or operatics or whatever is not what Ravensire’s all about. It has to be raw, dirty, smelly and coarse! I was reading the other day a scientific paper that said that “familiarity and repetition” is one of the key points as to why some things get so much praise, or “get viral” in today’s slang, and others go unnoticed. If you look at the metal scene, although we like to pretend that we’re different, maybe it’s probably the same. When you check all these new bands making the rounds on the internet, you’ll notice that they follow more or less the same template. Tthere are exceptions, of course… Eternal Champion comes to mind, but the thing with “immediate” hooks is that they tend to wear out fast, whereas stuff with more depth give the listener a lot to discover. The problem is that with the amount of releases appearing, maybe there won’t be time for a second or a third listen. I miss the days when we, the fans, would get an album and listen to it repeatedly for quite some time, before we’d make up our minds if we really loved it or not. I still do that, to be honest. That’s why I can’t keep up with so many releases being done. In regards to Ravensire, we like to believe that maybe in the future more people will eventually understand what we’re all about… Maybe in 2231. Haha!

For the song “After The Battle” you have secured the services of Terminus-vocalist James Beattie, a guy that I really miss as a part of the scene. Did you have to try hard at all to get him to contribute? Was it always the intention to have his voice in this particular track?

– In all honesty, when we were writing “After the Battle”, I always thought about having James singing that part. It wasn’t hard at all to get him to agree to this because I’m really great friends with him and he has always enjoyed our sound, a feeling which is of course, mutual. But in addition to James, I also have to mention David Gillespie who was the man responsible for recording those vocals. So credit where credit is due! Regarding James’ performance, he blew our minds… When I sent him the song and lyrics, I made a point of not having any kind of vocals or guide on where he was supposed to sing. I told them that I wanted his interpretation and he was free to do whatever he wanted. Not only did he come up with this brilliant performance, but he also tweaked a bit the lyric, making it breathe a lot more. The only demand I had was to leave the phrase “a stone engraved in red” alone, for obvious reasons. My dream would be that one day he’d hop on stage and perform this song with us but I highly doubt that it’ll happen!

The song itself is a tribute to the late Mark Shelton who passed away late July 2018. What was his and Manilla Road’s biggest impact on the music of Ravensire?

– Above all, attitude: doing things your way, with whatever you got, not caring for your limitations but emphasizing your strengths! And persevere!!

It really feels like his passing left a big hole in the whole epic metal scene. Do you see anyone else…bands, musicians, young or old, being able to step forward and fill that gaping hole?

– I don’t see the other older guys from iconic bands as committed to this post-80s scene as Mark was since 2000. So, it would have to be a newer guy or a band. But for that to happen it will depend on the scene as a whole accepting to get out of the past and start embracing the present. The problem nowadays is that most of the people are so busy looking at the 80’s that they almost forget that there is a vibrant contemporary scene going on. It would be great that there were more festivals where the lineups had a ratio of 80/20 of newer bands vs older bands, instead of the other way around, although, in the underground’s underground you start to see it happen. Only letting these bands and individuals progress and giving them opportunities to play and be heard, could the charisma of someone really shine through and step up to the task. Although Mark was around in the 80’s, he only started to be the “fatherly” figure of the scene in the XXI century, thanks, no doubt, to his commitment and enthusiasm but also, and this is very important, because Manilla Road was “there” in the 80’s. If Mark was 25 years younger and Manilla Road had formed in 2000 and released the exact same albums from 2001 – 2018, I seriously doubt the scene would’ve taken him to the throne! And he would’ve deserved it all the same!

The press release mentions two songs «A Stone Engraved In Red» and “Procession Of The Dead”, and neither of them are on the album. Are these working titles that someone forgot to change in the press release?

– I fucked up Hahah! The PR writer sent me some questions asking about the new album, how it compared to the other ones, etc… And I sent him the replies. Of course, I didn’t mention any song called “A Stone Engraved in Red” and “Procession of the Dead” came up as a comparison to another song. The thing is, he did send me the final text for review and I obviously didn’t read it as thoroughly as I should and those glitches passed through the cracks. Actually, there never was a song called “A Stone Engraved in Red”. The name of the album was taken, precisely from the “After the Battle” lyric, just like we do on every album. “Iron Will” from “Facing the Wind”, “We March Forward” from “Warriors to the Slaughter” and “The Cycle Never Ends” from “Temple at the End of the World”. Another eastern egg!

For the first time in your career you have included an instrumental piece in the form of “Bloodsoaked Fields”. What function does this short track fill on the album, and why have you placed it as track number five?

– First, a correction: it’s not the first time! On “We March Forward” we also had a small instrumental called “Dark Abyss”. Now, regarding “Bloodsoaked Fields”… At first, the acoustic part was attached to “After the Battle” and it served as the beginning of the song. But as time went on, I started really digging the atmosphere that it brought and tried to expand it further. That’s when the solos, keys and other elements came into play. But the orchestration had become so complex, there are like five or six notes playing harmonies at one point, that it would be virtually impossible to play live. Besides, it already had got a life of its own and that’s when we decided it would be better for it to be a stand-alone track but still connected to “After the Battle”. If you listen on the album, there’s no gap between the songs – one flows into the other. I think this instrumental really builds the momentum to “After the Battle”, giving it the perfect launching pad. We’ll probably use a recording of it live, before playing “After the Battle”, or something like that.

Ravensire_CoverYou are truly a riffmeister, as the Germans say, always delivering plenty of killer riffs one each album. What are a few of you favourite riffs on “A Stone Engraved In Red”?

– One of the guitar parts that I came up with that I really think I nailed it, is the acoustic part of “Bloodsoaked Fields”. It’s an unusual chord progression, full of weird positions but it transmits such a nostalgic feeling. Of the more aggressive ones, the main riff of “Gabriel Lies Sleeping” is so fun to play and so uplifting! On “After the Battle” there’s the fast part! That riff is so raging! Moreover with Mario really ripping the solo over it, it gives me goosebumps. Haha! Speaking of Mario, the final part of “Dawning in Darkness” is amazing, the way it goes from a doom part into a twin harmony finale. I think I could go on like this forbasically every song on the album, but I’ll spare you!

“Carnage At Karnag” and “After The Battle” are the two songs that have been published on the Internet before the actual release of the album. Nuno thinks the songs are representative of Ravensire.

– That’s all I ask for! Having to decide which songs to put forward before the release of an album is always a headache. You want to grab people’s attention, but you don’t want to use a song that might be an outlier sonically or give away all the gold. I think “Carnage At Karnag” and “After the Battle” are two of the strongest songs on the album, but there are plenty more to discover and different ones, too. From the few reviews I’ve read so far, I was actually quite surprised that a few people mentioned “Thieves of Pleasure” as an highlight because that song was more or less a “gamble” as it’s a bit different from what we usually do.

I couldn’t help but notice that you got into a pretty interesting discussion in the commentary section when “Carnage At Karnag” was released on Youtube. One guy claimed there are labels making a lot of money on underground releases in the vein of Ravensire, while you seemed to have another view on the whole thing, even saying that you have gained much more with Ravensire than you have spent. I have always had this impression, that not a lot of people are making a lot of money off underground metal, what’s your take on this?

– I’m sure there might be some who make a good buck, especially in Germany where all the action is. But most of these guys are simply running a business and making their living. Having a label is their everyday job. They have to work on this as many hours, if not more, than I do on my day job. They have to do tedious work, have to take gambles on the bands they sign, they have to run distro’s because lots of stock is dispatched through trades, etc. It’s not like CD’s / LP’s sell by the hundreds of thousand or, even, the tens of thousand, for that matter! So, let’s pretend we take out the labels and do only private pressings, so that the money stays with us. Recording an album on a budget will cost 2000 euros; paying for the artwork, say, 500 euros; manufacturing 1000 CD’s, around 700 euros; manufacturing 500 LP’s, let’s be overly optimistic and say it’s 2000 euros. Total money spent: 5700 euros. After all this, we have 1000 CD’s and 500 LP’s on our hands. If, and it’s a big if, we sold out every single copy, for, say, 10 euros each CD and 15 each LP, we’d have 17.500 euros. Total profit: 11.800 euros. Great, right? But that won’t happen! There’s no way we’ll get 1000 different people wanting our CD or 500 different people wanting the LP and coming directly at us. Some distros will ask for wholesale prices and you have to sell them cheaper. Others will ask for trades from their catalogue and then you’ll have to set up a distro yourself to sell the stuff you get. Then you have to go several times to the post office and ship everything to anywhere in the world… See where I’m getting at? If, for us, sending 25 tshirts on the mail is a headache and sometimes involves extended lunch breaks from the job, imagine if we’d have to send 1000 CD’s + 500 LP’s. And all this for an utopic profit of approximately 3.000 euros each band member. That is not enough to make a living! Hahah! We’d have to release one album each two months to live with that money haha! And on this hypothetical scenario I’m not even considering stuff like taxes, or the likes… So, I have no problem that Enrico, or Iordan (Stormspell), or Greg (Eat Metal), or whoever else make a living out of their labels. They work hard for it. As long as they’re fair towards the bands that work with them, I’m ok with that. And all the labels with whom we’ve worked so far have been fair, so no complaints. I’m sure that the day an album of ours sells 100.000 copies, they’ll be more than happy to increase our share of the pie ahah! Having said all this, that doesn’t mean there aren’t leeches hanging around hoping to cash in on bands with delusions of grandeur, or who have no clue how all this works. I’ve received my share of outrageous offers. I really don’t understand why some people fall for these… But fall they do! So yeah, with Ravensire we’ve been fortunate enough to make more a lot more money than we spend and with that we can invest on material, recordings, merchandise, travels, whatever. We make a point of using the profits within the band because that’s how we can perpetuate it financially, without having to recur to our private savings. To be completely honest, if it ever comes to that we’ll pack our instruments and Ravensire is over!

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