Having an archive with close to 200 interviews without a single feature on Portugal’s Ironsword is a fucking tragedy. It must have been Tann himself who sent me the 1998 promo tape for a review in Scream Magazine more than 20 years ago, and even though I have loved all their album since the self titled debut, I believe this is the very first time I have spoken to the man who is certainly one of the best songwriters of the European heavy metal scene for the last two decades. “Servants Of Steel” is the title of the new album, and Tann is the man answering all the questions.
How do you view your last effort «None But The Brave” released in 2015? In my opinion it was a very good album, although not your strongest release. What do you view as the strenghts and weaknessess of that particular release?
– I honestely think it’s a good album and I was extremely pleased about the way everyhing turned out. I’ve always seen «None But the Brave» as the missing link between «Return of the Warrior» and «Overlords of Chaos». The feedback I got from some fans and press made me understand that people were expecting «Overlords of Chaos» part II, although everyone seemed to enjoy the album, somehow they were dissapointed about the direction we went. It had mixed reviews, some claimed it was our best album to date, others claimed it was our weakest. «Overlords of Chaos» was a very demanding and challenging album to write. It was much more complex in song structure than any other previous album. I wasn’t in the mood to repeat the same formula, that’s why I tried a different approach and wrote stuff that was much more direct, raw and in your face. To put it simple «Overlords of Chaos» was our «Open the Gates» and «Mystification», while «None But the Brave» was our «Metal» and «Crystal Logic».
Prior to this new album, Ironsword released an EP, “In The Coils Of Set” featuring along with the title track, two songs that are exclusive for this release, «Disciples» and «Fallen Brothers». Tann gives us an Insight into what the intention was with this particular release.
– We wrote 15 songs, but only 12 were part of the original track list for “Servants Of Steel”, so we had three songs that could be used as bonus material somehow. Our label Alma Mater Records, had the idea to release this collector’s limited edition EP prior to the new album. «Disciples» and «Fallen Brothers» are the only songs that were written after Mark Shelton passed away. Sure they sound different from anything we’ve done before, but that was the main goal anyway.
It seems like the song “Disciples” could be like a tribute to Mark Shelton.
– You can say that. «Disciples», «Fallen Brothers» and the entire «Servants of Steel» album is dedicated to Mark Shelton. «Disciples» is a song about following the footsteps of our idols and their spirit and feeling still lives through our music.
“Fallen Brothers” is a very special song when it comes to Ironsword, as it is by far the longest song you have recorded on an album, more than double the length of “Overlords Of Chaos” which I believe held the title for the longest Ironsword-track until now. Was this track planned to be of such length, or did it just evolve into a really long one?
– It was planned to do this 15 minute long, epic song. I already had some ideas and we started jamming in our rehearsal room. It was an easy song to write and everything came together really nice. I’m sure no one was expecting a song like that from us. We really stepped out of our comfort zone with this one. To me it’s the music that matters and as long as it sounds great, I really have no problems in dealing with it nowadays. I know in the end that we will always remain faithful to our own identity and attitude. I believe by doing this we keep our music interesting and exciting.
Is it possible to step out of the comfort zone more often and remain faithful to Ironsword’s identity and attitude?
– I think the song «Fallen Brothers» proves that. It’s something I would never imagined doing in the past. Songs like «Keepers of the Crypt» and «Isle of the Damned» are other examples, as both are a bit more progressive. I remember writing material for «Return of the Warrior» and «Overlords of Chaos» which I placed on the shelf because i thought it was way over the top back then. It was probably a mixed feeling of insecurity and uncertainty holding me back. Sometimes you’re so attached to a certain style, it’s hard to let it go. Nowadays I don’t think too much about it! If it sounds great and our identity is still present, I don’t try to improve or change it.
Tann has a new bass player, Jorge playing on the new album. He shares some thoughts about Jorge’s contribution on “Servants Of Steel”, and also has some information on why Aires, who played on the last album, is not in the band anymore.
– Aires is the bass player of Moonspell and due to his commitment with the band it would be too hard for him to play in both bands. That’s why he didn’t stay longer in the band. Jorge joined the band while we were still mastering «None But The Brave». I know him since the late eighties, and he always was a dedicated and hardworking bass player. He’s got that Steve Harris meets D.D.Verni vibe. He brought some cool and refreshing ideas to the band. Our drummer João Monteiro also did an amazing job on the new album. Both are important pieces in the band and somehow help restrain my craziness a bit.
How is the craziness reflected in the song writing?
– Sometimes I just get carried away! That’s it, no big deal. I’m a bit of a clown joking all the time and I improvise a lot when writing music out of the normal standards. This happens until we reach a final conclusion and we have a lot of fun doing it.
You write both the lyrics as well as the music on your own. Are there any room for band democracy in Ironsword, or do you make all the decisions regarding gigs, festivals, merchandise and so on? Is it hard finding members as they know they won’t be very involved in the creative side of things?
– No, all decisions are made within the band, no matter the subject, even though the final word is mine. Probably, I was more bossy in the past than I am today. João and Jorge respect the fact I am the founding member, main composer and writing all the lyrics. They understand that for all this to work, I should keep doing it. Everyone is involved with ideas, share opinions, each one puts his own input in the music, so there’s room for everyone to shine. We were really focused during the songwriting process. We were in the same mindset for the entire time. I guess you can be much more creative when you’re collaborating with other people. It provides a more enriching and fulfilling experience.
How do you work with the other musicians to make sure you are in the same mindset, as you say?
– I guess this is just the result of playing together for so many years, knowing each musically and what to expect, so things just flow naturally. We all shared the same goals and we were not going in different directions.
You have been on a few underground labels in the past, Miskatonic and Shadow Kingdom, and I have to admit I was a little surprised to find out that Alma Mater is releasing both the EP as well as the album. What can you say about the work your former labels did for the band, and what lead you to believe that Alma Mater can do a good job for you?
– Miskatonic and Shadow Kingdom Records did everything possible to support the band. I am eternally thankful for everything they have done, and there is absolutely no bad blood between our former labels and the band. Alma Mater Records is a young label with a policy of investing in Portuguese heavy metal talent. They saw huge potential in Ironsword and made us an offer we simply could not refuse. Our records are still hard to find in several countries, so having a very good distribution and good promotion is very important and I believe and trust in the work of Alma Mater Records just like they believed in us. They are very professional and their support has been tireless.
“This is definately the most challenging album ever written and stands out from all previous works.», you said about “Servants Of Steel” in the press release. Why was the album so challenging to write, and how do you feel it differs from what you have done in the past?
– Our goal is always to re-invent ourselves for each release without losing our own identity. I don’t like to repeat the same formula over and over. So, after 25 years and this new one being our fifth album, I guess it’s pretty normal trying a different approach in songwriting, arrangements, vocal harmonies etc. That’s why it was so challenging for me during the whole creative process. I wanted complex stuff, out of the norm song structures. I was just letting myself go with my bandmates, pushing the boundaries of each other’s playing. It stands out from all previous works for me because of the stronger playing, the musicianship and the powerful riffs. I’m not saying it’s our best album to date, as I like to leave that to our dedicated followers to decide.
It’s interesting to see that the band has used Harris Johns for the mix and mastering. He is most known as a legendary producer of course, but I can’t remember seeing his name on many records these days.
– Harris is back in activity. He has done the last Protector album. We had a list of several well known producers of the so called old school scene, that somehow could boost our sound even more. Harris Johns was on top of my list. It was Alma Mater Records that got in touch with him first. He was one of the first producers showing interest in working with us. He really liked our music and already had ideas to improve our sound. The man is a legend and he’s so cool to work with. We all gave him total freedom to mix and master the album. I am extremely pleased of having his blueprint on our album. It did surpass all my expectations and it was a dream of mine come true. That wall of sound is just mindblowing!
I really fell in love with the track “Tower Of The Elephant” at first listen. What a totally crushing, poser destroying track. Tell me about how the idea for this heavy as hell track came to you and how worked out both the music and the lyrics?
– Thank you for the kind words. «Tower of the Elephant» is an adaptation from the original Robert E. Howard tale. This is one of few slowest songs on the album with a catchy sing a long chorus and several melodic parts. Classic epic heavy metal from start to finish. You can clearly hear some Angel Witch and Manowar-influences in this song.
Robert E. Howard is obviously important for you, as you have also used his works in the past. What is it about his writing that is such a good match for the music of Ironsword?
– I remember most of the power metal bands from the early to mid-nineties were singing about Tolkien, namely «The Lord of the Rings» or the Vikings. To be honest, I never really liked Tolkien. So, when I started the band, there weren’t too many lyrical options for me, according to my tastes. Probably, it would make sense to sing about the history of my own country, the conquests and the Portuguese discoveries, but several other Portuguese bands have done that in the past. Our music was more raw, aggressive and unpolished than all those power metal bands. To sum up, it was barbaric. As a teenager, the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie and of course «The Savage Sword of Conan» comics had a huge impact on me, even before I knew who Howard really was. Reading the original Conan stories only came several years later. So, probably it’s just a reflection of all this, I honestly don’t know. All I know is that this Robert E. Howard-thing somehow became naturally our trademark over the years. It suits our musical style perfectly.
What is your personal fave song on the album, and which one do you look most forward to playing live?
– My fave songs on the new album are «Keepers of the Crypt», «Isle of the Damned», «Red Nails» and «Son of Crom». «Isle of the Damned» is probably the one I look most forward to play live simply because it is such an intense song with several tempo changes and totally out of the norm. It will be interesting to say the least.
Obviously Ironsword was always hugely influenced by Manilla Road. What was Mark Shelton’s biggest contribution to the metal scene in your opinion? And what is it about him and his band that have influenced Ironsword the most?
– Everything….from Shark’s singing style, guitar soloing, songwriting, the list goes on and on. He’s definately the father of epic metal Music, and I can point out his passion for heavy metal, for playing and creating music, his loyalty to the fans, his honest views, his resilience, I guess that’s the biggest contribution and lesson to a lot of underground bands like Ironsword. I’m glad in the later years, they got the recognition they truly deserve.
Asked about what his favourite Manilla Road-releases are, struggles just as much as most of our would probably do.
– That is really a though question because I love all of them from «Invasion» to «The Courts of Chaos» and all for different reasons, but to answer your question I will pick up the ones I probably heard most or made most impact on me. «Metal» to me is where I think the band really started this epic metal thing, people might say «Crystal Logic», but I believe they already achieved that with «Metal». Definately the one that inspired me the most in the early albums of Ironsword, specially Mark’s rough vocals. Then «Crystal Logic» which I think it’s everyone’s fave album. That’s a classic! Then, I would say «The Deluge». It’s a very addictive album. The songwriting is totally out of the norm. Randy Foxe’s drumming, Mark’s vocals, guitar soloing, all that is simply out of this world. Songs like «Dementia», «Taken by Storm» and «Friction In Mass» are completely wild and crazy. Still to this day it always makes me think: «What the hell are they playing here?».
On the new album, Bryan Hellroadie Patrick is guesting on a couple of songs. What is he contributing that you couldn’t do yourself with your rather diverse voice?
– I’ve always had in mind Mark Shelton to do some guest vocals on our new album. I was fortunate enough of having him as guest on “Overlords Of Chaos” album and I was hoping he could do it again. Unfortunately, when he sadly passed away, I knew that the only person that made sense by doing this was Hellroadie, and it was not a question of having someone to do the parts I could hardly sing. I really wanted him to be a part of this humble tribute and homage from our side. Mark and Bryan shared vocals not only on stage but on the latest Manilla Road recordings as well. I wanted somehow to recreate that feeling. Afterall, I’m a Roadster for life and I take as a huge compliment when people label us the “European Manilla Road”!