"As a newer thrash band you have to work ten times harder in many respects"
After a long tough period for themselves, with the band at the edge of the cliff for disbanding repeatedly in the years 2013-2016, Warbringer came back this year with their fifth album, the stunning "Woe To The Vanquished". That's how we grabbed the chance and had a discussion with the substantive leader and singer of the band, John Kevill, about everything, including between others the clarification of some important details about the new album and their general composing perception. The rest follows.
First of all, congratulations for your new album! "Woe To The Vanquished" is an excellent album from start to finish and, for sure, another step forward for your music...
Thank you! I feel the same about this record, I am very proud of our work here.
So, many things happened the past few years. The band almost broke up, back in 2014, but then you resurrected and just keep going forward. Do you want to tell us a few things about that period of the band, because there are so many questions about what really happened?
Well, essentially, everyone bailed before the release of "Empires Collapse". I was then rejoined by Adam Carroll and we did the (very short) touring cycle with a fill-in lineup. Then the band sank to inactivity for a while, and did not re-sign its deal with Century Media, as there was no band with only 2 members.
We rebuilt a lineup in 2015 which was active maybe 6 months before these three guys also quit.
At this point things were looking pretty awful, but fortunately Carlos Cruz reached out to me at this time, wanting to play with Warbringer again. With the core of myself, Adam and Carlos we were able to forge forward out of this dark period 2013-2016 and really create a new beginning for the band.
You have two new members in the band, guitarist Chase Becker and bassist Jessie Sanchez. How do you decide to choose them join the band and what new did they bring to your music?
These guys we have known for a long time and they are loyal, dedicated people on and off stage, and simply excellent players. Both of them contributed a lot to the sound of the record and both have been killing it in the live shows. Very happy to have Chase and Jessie aboard and I think we may finally have some stability within the line-up.
Let’s talk about your new album. Back in 2013, you released "IV: Empires Collapse", which was probably your most complete record until that time. So, was there any pressure to succeed and compose at the same level of songwriting for the new album, since you had set the standards at a pretty high level? Or the creating process was something like good friendly violent fun?
No, we definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Our thoughts were "This must be the best Warbringer record, or there’s no point in making it". That lends all the writing a more serious tone.
Fortunately we had a specific vision and idea for exactly how to achieve that, and I think we met our goal on this one.
Some weeks before, you released a video for "Remain Violent". In my opinion, this track is probably the most accessible of the new album, having this groovy, catchy Kreator feeling. How did you achieve to sound like this, but in your own personal way?
Well, I had the lyric in my head for a while ago, and Carlos sent me a track full of riffs that he came up with. I really liked the first one, and we said, "What if we basically stripped this down to that one riff?" and this song was the result.
My favorite song of the album is "Spectral Asylum", a song intense and atmospheric in the same time. Could you tell us a few more about its creation?
This song was largely a Carlos Cruz composition. He had these main verses fleshed out on guitar, and I had the title and some lyrics from a prototype old song. They fit very well, and since the track had more open space on it than we usually do, it left a lot of room for the multiple vocal layers, whispers, and other creepy stuff to really give it that eerie atmosphere.
The most special moment of "Woe To The Vanquished" is definitely "When The Guns Fell Silent", a unique composition, which is also the longest you’ve ever done until now. How did you decide to create such a long and complex song? Is it something like a statement of evolution by you?
This one is my favorite song we’ve ever done probably. We have always had ambition to do something more epic, I think "Towers Of The Serpent" hinted at that on the last record, though not in track length.
So we had the basic idea "close the record with a long epic song" and for inspiration we were looking at the longer epic works by Bathory, Iron Maiden, Justice-era Metallica. I had also been reading a lot about the First World War and drew on the imagery and literature of that time for the song, and it all just fit.
I do think the song represents an evolution for the band. Anyone who still says we are just playing some retro music I think just isn’t listening at this point. This is not a song we could have written on our early albums.
It seems like you have a different point of view to the lyrical part of your music, as you write in a very critical way, unlike to some other bands of your genre. Do you want to tell us a few more things about the way you write about those war themes?
I like irony and sarcasm in lyrics a lot, and I reject the notion that heavy metal lyrics don’t matter or can just be random nonsense. I try to make the lyrics a bit more thoughtful than usual, and to be really bitter and soul-crushing in their nature.
There are some other topics, such as the greater destiny of mankind ("Divinity Of Flesh") and police brutality ("Remain Violent"), as well as paranormal/insanity ("Spectral Asylum").
But for the war themes, I am studying to be a professor of history as well, I study a fair amount of military history, and though I am fascinated by it I think warfare is perhaps mankind’s most evil impulse. I am fascinated by the human duality in so many aspects of struggle and trial and warfare, and tried to reflect this in the lyrics.
In a recent interview to our site, Bobby Ellsworth from Overkill’s fame said that, even though the thrash metal revival back in the '00s, with those highly energetic bands (including you of course), was the reason that brought a lot of the older thrash metal bands back in action, it’s those older bands that are doing right the thrashing thing because of their experience. What do you thing about this opinion? Is the experience a better skill than the flame of youth?
I disagree entirely. Why then were the older band’s best albums almost universally made while they were younger?
I feel like as a newer thrash band you have to work ten times harder in many respects. We will write songs like "Hunter-Seeker" or "Demonic Ecstasy" or "When The Guns Fell Silent" and people still write us off as a knockoff of (insert your choice of '80s thrash band here, doesn’t really matter if it’s an accurate comparison at all).
It’s really frustrating. That being said, play "Woe To The Vanquished" next to the most recent outputs of any classic thrash band and I think it compares favorably, and is significantly more vicious.
Which bands would you name as your main influences after over 10 years in the thrash metal scene? I suppose that Kreator and Slayer rank among the favorite bands of yours?
Those ones both are. I gravitate towards the more extreme end of thrash metal. I also really like the fast era of Sepultura, Demolition Hammer, Sacrifice, Exodus. But there’s a lot I enjoy, these are just my “traditional” answers for this question, these are some of the roots of our style of thrash metal.
Last one from me. What plans do you have to support your new album? Is there any possibility to see you in Greece for a live show?
Nothing yet this year (unfortunately!) but I hope to at the end of the year or next summer. Right now there are just many, many tours, about to embark on the second tour supporting this album with Destruction in the USA.