Interview: John Kevill of Warbringer
Interviewer: CJ Claesson
Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, volley’d and thunder’d!
The almighty thrash tank Warbringer has reentered the battlefield with another thrash metal assault in the shape of ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’, and they’re not holding back the ammunition. We sent CJ to have a lengthy chat with Warbringer’s own John Kevill about the new record, writing a Metal classic, thoughts on genre-bending, buying a house with Thrash, Warbringer 2.0 and much more…
The Razor's Edge: So the topic on everyone’s lips: the corona virus. Being in California how are you handling the stay-at-home order due to the pandemic?
John: Well, basically I’m going a little nuts right now. I've been at home pretty much the whole time and we've done very little. We've seen very few people so my wife and I are, in that regard, being good citizens. We are doing the lockdown and man we are sick of it! Right now, I want to go see people that I normally wouldn't even like, just for the sake of it. Pretty much the only thing I've had going on is a lot of press for the album, the normal indoor stuff that I'm sure everyone is doing as well; reading books, watching TV, playing video games and cooking a lot. Mostly it's been about the album release, but of course we can’t tour the album so it's not what an album release normally would be.
The Razor's Edge: Right, trying to promote the album much as possible in lieu of a tour?
John: Well, it's not in lieu of a tour, the tour is just delayed so we have to do what we can! It’s been mostly press interviews, podcasts etc. for me and the rest of the band. But we also made this three part documentary series. It's a 45 minute episode when you put it all together called “The Science of Thrash” and it’s behind the scenes of creating ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’, song by song in detail. Not just what the songs are about but how we actually wrote them, what our process was on each individual song.
The Razor's Edge: It's been three years now since the release of Woe To The Vanquished and you mentioned before that that's the definitive Warbringer album, so how did you go about topping that?
John: Well, if we topped it it is subjective but I like to think that we did at least as well! I think they're not the same record. I think that ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ side A comes out a little more like “rip and tear” and ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ is a more like an expansive thing that goes to a lot more places throughout, whereas ‘Woe To the Vanquished’ that side A really just hammers you. We try to keep the aggression from a record like that and here I think we've come up with something that's still going to look like a very extreme album, put next to 9 out of 10 albums that recently came out.
I think some of the diversity of songwriting we had on ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ side B, more on the epic side was kind of new for the band. It really crept into a lot of this record and I think is what makes this one standout and makes it special. I think the fanbase notice that and that has a lot to do with why this record is getting some of the praise it is. Some of the songwriting and the way that those epic numbers came together is something not everyone knew that Warbringer did. It's not the first time Warbringer has done this stuff but what we're known for and what we've done aren't the same thing.
”This is actually one of the most expansive and widest metal genres”
The Razor's Edge: Obviously it's a relentless thrash album - but I hear early black metal Bathory-esque influences - especially in Defiance of Fate. Do you think it's important to mix the genre up a little?
John: You called it! Bathory is my official favorite band ever. It’s not Slayer, it’s not Exodus - it’s Bathory. You would think it’s one of those doing what I do, but it’s Bathory.
I think not for the sake of just like “let's throw a different genre into this one” but what our thinking goes like is “what's an angle for classic style thrash metal that hasn't been explored, that actually makes sense?”. We don't want to fuse classic thrash metal with indie rock or with something that doesn't sound appealing to us, you know? Nothing wrong with that genre, it just doesn't sound like a great mixture to me, kind of opposite vibes there.
I think one thing that a lot of people don't pay attention to with thrash metal as a genre, is how mixable it is and how it's actually one of the widest metal subgenres. Very typically you'll see a lot of journalists writing that thrash bands are stuck with a pretty short playbook and I think that absolutely shows a lack of understanding of the thrash metal genre. This is actually one of the most expansive and widest metal genres. This genre contains both melodic and extreme vocals to different ranges. You have your Metallica, Testament on one side and you’ve got your ‘Pleasure To Kill’, ‘Obsessed By Cruelty’ or ‘Spectrum Of Death’ or any of these really extreme vocals. You have some stuff that's leaning towards straight punk rock with the simplicity and aggression of your crossover stuff like D.R.I or whatever, to other stuff that goes into tech and prog realms. You have some stuff in early thrash that pushes towards death metal like Possessed and you have some stuff that pushes towards black metal like ‘In The Sign of Evil’-era Sodom, you have tech stuff in Coroner and Artillery. Thrash touches heavy metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal and it's like the glue in between all four of those.
When people say thrash is a creatively dead genre, I'm like “What? Do you fucking hate metal or something, what's your problem dude? Do you not like riffs?”. I've had a whole career where people are basically telling me that my band couldn't possibly do anything new with the thrash metal genre because nothing new exists to be done. I just think “Fuck you, do you want metal to be dead?”, because that's what it sounds that you're saying to me.
I'm happy with a lot of the new developments in metal, I guess you might call post-metal leaning stuff. I really like it, but it doesn't scratch the same itch of like “riiiiffs!” that I want from metal. I feel there's been a lack of straight up metal metal that innovates within that field and that's what Warbringer is trying to do and that's why we do the genre bending we do.
You'll notice it's not just black metal, there's also some early death metal elements like in ‘Unraveling’ or ‘Crushed Beneath The Tracks’ and there's also just some heavy metal influence like Iron Maiden type shit on a lot of it. Also with the kind of conceptualised songwriting which is straight out of Iron Maidens playbook. The theatricality of the vocals for me comes from your Dickinson, Halford, Dio, Eric Adams and those kind of classic metal singers. The fact that they play this theatrical character is not very common in extreme metal but I do it all the time even though we are a very extreme band, sound and speed wise.
“We started our career being the hardest working metal band on the planet.”
The Razor's Edge: How was the writing process on this album compared to the other albums?
John: It was basically the same as the last album and that's a very good thing for a band like us! The problem Warbringer has had is stability and consistency with a lineup. It has been really tough for this band and a lot of people will flack us for this and to those, a special “fuck you”.
The reason Warbringer has had such a hard time with this is because we started our career being the hardest working Metal band on the planet. That broke us many times but we kept going anyway. We lost people right and left. We lost our first drummer Ryan Bates in the first six months of touring.
To give you an idea what I'm talking about, the first year Warbringer ever toured we did 200 to 250 shows and in 2009 we did over 300. That doesn’t leave a lot of time where we’re not on stage banging our heads, and every day you’re banging your head means you drove 6 hours. In this time, we didn't have any crew, we did everything ourselves and that is a hell of a lot of work, so it was really hard for the first few albums to maintain this schedule. What’s really nice is since ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ we have this 2.0 of Warbringer. After ‘IV: Empires Collapse’ we re-forged and restructured the band and now it's been myself, Carlos Cruz and Adam Caroll that are the core song writers. These two guys and myself have been there for quite a while, Carlos since 2010, Adam since 2004. Through all the changes of the band we ended up with a pretty original and respectable lineup, which I'm really happy about!
What we've done and what we've changed is, we don't tour like we used to and when we write it’s an easygoing process. Carlos and I live close to each other and Adam doesn't so Adam will send over all these Guitar Pros of all these riffs he's making, because Adam always has endless amounts of riffs. Then Carlos and I will often work together to put those into song ideas and those ideas might come from a riff Carlos has or a lyric idea I have. We described this a lot more on “The Science of Thrash”, but every song has its own process and they all come about different. We don't close ourselves off to any process that we think can give us a good idea.
It's been pretty much the same process as ‘Woe To The Vanquished’, a lot of me and Carlos hammering it out and demoing tracks on his computer. The advantage of this process is that we can get really focused on a certain idea and it becomes a very focused thing. I think some of the coherence and how everything really fits together on these two records, ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ and ‘Weapons of Tomorrow’, is because of the structure of how we're writing the songs. There's only a few dudes there and we all have the same idea.
The Razor's Edge: So were all the pieces there before you entered the studio?
John: Not all, but about 90% I'd say! We are still a rock band and we do stuff live. We’re often playing without a click track, which a lot of bands just don't do anymore, so that's cool. We try to keep some of that rock element even though we're writing in a very meticulous way. We hate how that's gone from a lot of modern metal so what we do, is we’ll write our songs very meticulously but the parts we don't finish in our heads beforehand, we allow to go unfinished.
Some things that ended up being done right at the spur of the moment, like the drums for a few songs weren't actually written, Carlos went in and felt it out. The drum fills on ‘Glorious End’ weren't written, he did that in his head. It's not like he didn't think about it, but he went in there with an idea of what he was going to do. It was one of those situations where he feels it out and allows that room for improvisation and creativity. Another one that may surprise you is the lyrics on the blackened vocals on ‘Defiance Of Faith’ was something I wrote the night before we recorded. The first time in my life performing that whole vocal style on record was the time when I stepped into the room and did it and that's what you hear.
The advantage to leaving some of this room is, it lets you think in a different way. I think it's very much one part of your mind that does the meticulous planning of every detail and it's a different part of your head that takes over when you need to improvise something more expressive and open. I try to tap into different parts of my brain to unlock my whole mind so I can write all the ideas I really have and not restrict myself to just one part of my own ideas or creative being. Trying to figure out how to get the most out of yourself as a writer and artist becomes more and more important as you go on and you make your fifth or sixth record.
The Razor's Edge: With a new face in the band - bass Chase (Bryant) as opposed to guitar Chase (Becker) - did that change the dynamic of the creative process? Did he contribute anything in writing or anything like that?
John: Yeah both the Chases contributed certainly, but they weren't primary songwriters. They came in as instrumentalists and damn good ones too! Bass Chase is a more motivated and dynamic as a player than our previous bassist Jessie Sanchez. That was the one change we had to make, but I'm happy to say it was a really good one. Not that Jessie Sanchez wasn't a good bass player, but Chase Bryant is an incredible bass player! What’s really cool about a guy like this is he likes his thrash metal, but he also likes a lot of tech and prog metal and just prog in general. He's played instrumental prog jazz fusion stuff in his life as well as metal and you can hear some of that flavour in his playing on tracks like ‘Heart Of Darkness’. On ‘Notre Dame (King of Fools)’ he uses a fretless bass throughout the whole song, so he gets to stretch his legs and be creative.
As the newest member of the band he wasn't certain how much we would allow him to do. I personally tried to really encourage him to stretch his legs and to put his talent on this record and contribute to it. If you listen for the bass, you can hear a lot of interesting parts from Chase Bryant that made it on there. For Chase Becker it's a similar deal where we show him the song when we’ve got the skeleton of it. When Carlos, Adam and I have put together a song and we know what the lyric idea is going to be and what it’s going to be called, we show it to them and then they take it and they write their parts. In ‘Firepower Kills’ we give Chase Becker well over a minute straight to shred. We do that because we know what kind of a player he is and we know what he's going to bring to the table. Even though the Chases aren't involved in the meat and potatoes of the songwriting I don't want to give the impression that they aren't involved in the songs. A lot of what makes this record work is the instrumental parts and we’re proud about the players we have in our band. We will do things like write a minute into several songs for the lead guitar player to shred, because we know if we give him a spot like that then he's going to shine. We never had a player like that before and I think he really adds a special element to these last two records. We love to have parts where these players can just shine and where they can tear it up on the fret board and use that in the song, not to distract, but to reinforce it and benefit the song.
“My goal in the first place was to make something that people of today could call a Metal classic.”
The Razor's Edge: Would you say Warbringer is at its strongest now?
John: Yes, not a question at all! I think it wouldn’t matter if I said that if people didn’t generally think it. People will tell you that and that's the one thing that matters. It doesn't really matter so much what I think of the record. Of course I'm going to tell you it's great, but other people say it and that's what really makes me happy.
My goal in the first place was to make something that people of today could call a Metal classic. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but if I'm not trying to do that, I don't really have a right to exist as a Metal artist. If I'm not trying to make something of that stature by 12- 15 years in my career, I should hang it up and get the fuck off the stage. I need to deliver on that level, or I don't have a right to be here anymore. I think we couldn't be where we are without the whole experience of the band before, the level of musicianship, songwriting and professionalism from our own group.
Warbringer is still a mid-level band in the Metal scene and that's good. We're very thankful for where we are but it's not where we want to be to consider our career fully successful. Unlike where a lot of the classic bands were on album six, I joke that where we are now, we would be putting out ‘Load’ right now if we were Metallica. If you compare us to a lot of classic metal and thrash bands, you're already looking at their twilight of their golden era and for us it feels like we're just getting started.
We’re successful to the extent that you've seen us on festivals and club tours for the last 10 years all over the place. But we’re not successful to the point where it's ever paid our bills or we've ever been able to do anything close to live off this and that sucks to be honest, that puts a chip on your shoulder. That makes you feel like you're still fighting, and you’ve got something to prove. Not because the point of this was to buy myself a house but goddamnit, I put 15 years into this, I want my god damn house! There's more to me psychologically here. My parents never wanted me to do this. My family wished I did something else, so I’ve got something to prove here personally as well. I’ve got to make this work and buy my god damn house with the money from my thrash metal band, and say “See? I was right all along!”.
We regard ourselves highly and we think that we've done a great job being true thrash-fucking-metal in the adventurous and creative spirit of original Metal that we love, that began in 1970 with Tony Iommi playing the tri-tone. That's what I mean when I say, “fucking metal”. l mean a very specific thing and that's the tradition we're trying to continue, so for every new record we have to crank out like a 100 new riffs and that’s not easy. But that's what keeps us going, this hunger. We may never be a particularly commercially successful band doing what we do in the time we're doing it, but what we can do is put out a lot of albums and never have a shitty one. Then whenever we do hang it up people will say “those guys had one of the best runs in the history of heavy-fucking-metal!” and that's what I'm hoping for at this point.
You have to aim high. If I’m just another guy trying to make a record, get me the fuck off stage! Why would anyone want to hear just a guy who just wants to make you another of the thing you heard? I want to make the closest thing I can do a modern classic! It pisses me off as a metal fan that there are few to no universal classics of the post-2000’s and now we're 20 years into that. What’s the ‘Number Of The Beast’, ‘Rust In Piece’, ‘Reign In Blood’, ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘Pleasure To Kill’ of the 21st century? In the 80s you get ten of them every year, as far as I'm concerned. Doesn't that suck for modern metal fans? That there just isn't that level? One might argue that something like ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ is a classic record, it’s a great record, but even then I don't think it can hold up to the ones I was just naming. The songwriting and the riffs are fucking great, but I must be critical of my metal. What’s not just sweet and good, but what’s best of all time? By six albums in, you have got to be thinking on those terms. It bothers me a lot that there isn't a record or a band or anything that people can get behind and go: “this is fucking metal at its highest form”. That's kind of why we're playing Thrash in the first place! I felt this way when I started the band, and now 15 years later, I think we're at the point where we can actually start putting out records of that kind of quality. Or at least we feel we've done everything we can to make it as close to that level of quality while being true to ourselves.
We feel like we're carrying this mantle. No one put it there, we’re just choosing to pick it up. This is what we feel metal as an art form needs and we're going to break our bodies trying to do this quest.
The Razor's Edge: The amazing artwork is done again by legendary Andreas Marschall - what did you tell him when briefing the cover idea?
John: Very little this this time! A lot of my lyrics are very civilisational, geopolitical, yes about war, but also about the societies that create the war and all of that. I'm writing all this kind of stuff and Andreas Marschall just really gets me on that level. The stuff he draws embodies it and I couldn't think of a better picture for the kind of lyrics I'm trying to write, than what he's done on the last two records. On ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ I found this real photograph from 1919 of this pyramid of Kaiser-era German helmets in New York City. 20,000 of them in the middle of the city and to me that was pretty creepy because that's basically an implied pile of skulls in the middle of New York City, in the 20th century. That's crazy because the way it looks with the eagles and the Nike goddess of victory and all that, like the kind of iconography you would see in a Nazi rally some 15 years later, but it's not, it's in New York City! That pyramid is on the ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ cover and it’s a real thing. The only difference is, it's not New York City on our album cover, it's a front of some Romanesque looking palace.
‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ is continuing that theme and basically what I told Andreas, which was very little, I said “the weapons of tomorrow are emerging from the past of the industrial Great War era”. You'll notice in the background of the ‘Weapons of Tomorrow’ cover, there's that same copper brown tone that was on the last album cover, and that’s not accidental. That's the past, that's the 20th century, that's World War One and World War Two. Moving forward you've got your helicopters, jets, cyberwarfare, guided drones and who knows what they'll come up with!
That open-ended question, “what are the weapons of the future?”. Because the weapons of the past included things like the atomic bomb and that’s older than your grandpa. Think about how scary that statement really is, especially if you actually study atomic weaponry, holy shit! By the 60s what it was, compared to the ones they dropped in the 40s, when you think 2020 and that your iPhone is stronger than the thing that designed those, that’s scary. The concept of ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ is about the idea that warfare was that devastating in the last century, what's next? What's on the horizon for us and our kids? God, that's terrifying!
Andreas did a great job getting this concept across. I’ve got to give credit to the artist on this one. I pretty much just told him what I told you and he managed to represent that idea in an image. Which are the frightening weapons of the future, coming out of this past we have of industrialised warfare? We built the military industrial complex to win the two world wars and it didn't go away. It didn't go anywhere, it's still strong, it's still getting really good funding. Warbringer is there as an artistic statement to say: ”look all of this horrible mass warfare stuff, it didn't go anywhere, is sitting there dormant right now and we have to do something, so that's not our children's fate!”.
“There aren’t any shape shifting reptile people controlling the government.”
The Razor's Edge: As is very evident in your lyrics and knowing that you're studying to become a history professor -you're very into history. How important do you think it is for everyone to learn about history? Would you see yourself as inspiring people to open the history books a bit more?
John: I would hope so! If you want to know what's going to happen next, you can't look at the future. The present is still clouded so it's the only thing you have. If you want to predict the future course of society there is no other thing to look at, so that's why I think it's valuable. Secondly, if you just want to be entertained it's actually a lot better than you’d think.
I think that a lot of the stories that are out there for entertainment are fucking garbage. People are upset if anyone spoils the ending of any of the Marvel movies to them and I’m just like “holy shit, the good guys win and no one dies” or if they die, they come back. Fuck, that’s a shitty story! What I really like about stories in history is that they’re not written to tell you a story, they just happened. Sometimes the thing you expect to happen happens and sometimes it's wildly different.
A lot of how I got into history in the first place was studying the history of Heavy Metal. From Sabbath to Priest to NWOBH to speed and thrash to blackened death, that whole progression, that's cultural history. Heavy metal is cultural history! If someone says they’re not interested in history I'm like “my mind is blown, how the fuck could that be true?”. Do you mean that in the whole realm of all human experience that ever happened, you don't think anything's interesting? That's so stupid! It’s sad that we live in a world where people are so willing to look at crystals and astrology on one end and on the other end, deep state conspiracy bullshit. If you just know the last 150 years of world history on a basic level, none of that makes sense and people act like the truth is this unknowable thing. No, it's not! Open your damn book, start with the French Revolution go to present and just look at geopolitical interests and you get a pretty clear idea of what's going on in the world. There aren’t any shape shifting reptile people controlling the government. Governments are just doing that they've always done and looking out for their geo-political self-interest, and yeah that's a nasty fucking business. Power is ugly shit and that's something you learn from studying the past. Warbringer is often about that core message of the evil nature of power.
The Razor's Edge: You have your Slayer, Sabaton, Amon Amarth etc. who lure people into history. Is that something you think about when you write your lyrics?
John: Yes, but I do a really different. You'll notice in Warbringer songs you will never once hear a date or a year something happened, not once. I'm not trying to read you a book, I'm trying to write you a song. If I write a song about the First World War, I won't write about a specific event that happened during it because there's a jillion different battles in the First World War and that's not really the point. I want to capture the emotion and the feeling of it. What it felt like to the guys who were there, what it actually was. That's a different thing than a bunch of facts about it.
Music is about communicating emotion. I’m not trying to give you facts. There's a very big difference between the situation or the events themselves and the human experience of those events. I'm writing about the second. That’s why you'll hear a lot of first-person lyrics, to make you imagine it like it's a movie and not read it to you like it's a book. Don't get me wrong, I think people should read books with facts in them and citations with proper sourcing and the whole nine yards. I think it will benefit you in your life no matter who you are, but a song is something else. What I hope to do with the songs isn’t just to make people interested in the subject but to make them feel it.
I get interested, not just when I read these dry words on the page, but when I then imagine the situation and I imagine what the different people that are there would be feeling. You're not in one of the Western Front battles or in Mao Zedong’s Long March or whatever crazy event in history you want to name. You can't know what it's like to be there, but imagining what it might have been like will bring you a lot closer.
‘The Black Hand Reaches Out’ is about if you’re Gavrilo Princip and they're giving you the order to shoot the archduke [Franz Ferdinand] right now. I don't mention the assassin's name, I don't mention the archduke, I don't mention any of that. I'm not even talking about the events directly; I'm talking about imagined inhuman scenarios within those events. You'll notice if you read my lyrics and then you read some Sabaton lyrics that there's a totally opposite approach.
The Razor's Edge: Which three adjectives would you use to describe the record?
John: Vicious. Lethal. Emotional.
I'll comment on that third one. Not emotional in the sense of emo or that this is the whiny record, but it's a sad record. Every song, with a couple exceptions, ends with a tragic dark ending and it's angry. I don't want it to be angry like in the “Hey bro, you wanna fight me?”-kind of meat-headed stupid way. I wanted the anger to be deeper and to mean something. As an art form the anger that you hear in the record won't mean as much if it's not real, if it doesn't come from a deep place in me.
What is my anger about? It's just that we don't have a better world than we do. That has nothing to do with the past, that has everything to do with the present. Why aren't people better than they are? Why isn't the human species better to itself and others of its own kind? If you're a reasonable, compassionate person, you look at the world past and present and you see that people can be fucking horrible to people in all these different ways. It's happening right now during coronavirus.
It's just sad and it just makes you furious because you know in your head and in your heart there's a way that it could be better. I live in Los Angeles and if I drive around, I’ll see hundreds of homeless people every day and that pisses me off! That’s societal failure in the richest country in the world. We have Jeff-fucking-Bezos ruling the place, it feels like, and you can’t give this guy a box to sleep in? We can pay for guided drones that can blow up a dude on the other side of the world with pinpoint accuracy, but we can't give this guy a fucking box to sleep in and an apple or something? That's where the anger comes from and that's why I'd say ‘emotional’ is one of the words for the record.
I'm trying to make an actual artistic statement. I'm not just screaming in the microphone because I think it sounds tough. I really think that there's a lot that makes it worth screaming in the world and that makes Heavy Metal a valid artistic statement. Anytime anyone tells you that Heavy Metal is basically some artistically irrelevant bullshit, you look him straight in the eye and you tell him “no, everything you're listening to is”. Heavy Metal is in one way the one genre that captures this truth about the world. It's the only one that is willing to look at this ugliness right in the eye and not blink and I think that is an essential artistic statement for 2020.
When we solve the human condition then sure, maybe you don't need Metal anymore, but I don't see that happening. That's why this kind of deeper emotion is key to have in Metal and why you shouldn't regard it as “we're just playing riffs because they're heavy and cool”. No, why are the riffs making you feel anything in the first place?
“This is a band that really believes our best days are in the present and the future…”
The Razor's Edge: Which song from the new album are you most excited to play live when the pandemic is over?
John: Fuck, any and all of 'em! So far we've done two live because they were singles previously. We’ve done ‘Firepower Kills’ and ‘Power Unsurpassed’ and you’re god damn right there's a lot of power on this record! We've done those two and they've been great, can't wait to do the rest.
Honestly, on ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ we did the whole album front to back and we might do that again. This is a band that really believes our best days are in the present and the future and not just the past. Some people say, “it's their best album since Waking Into Nightmares” and I go back and listen to where we were on our second record. Not to disparage ourselves, but we’ve come a long way. We couldn't play like that anymore. I really hope we can keep that streak going and we can keep everything truly fucking Metal. Keep our hearts in the places that they are and not just try to make sweet records for the sake of doing so, but for the sake of the art. That's the only legitimate reason for me to be there. If I had any other answer for you I think I should get the fuck off the stage basically.
The Razor's Edge: Do you have high hopes that the upcoming European tour with Destruction will take place?
John: Of course yeah! I'm not Nostradamus, I’m a guy in a fucking band. I have no idea what's going to happen with this. It seems unprecedented and it seems, that in my country at least, they’re just making a mess of it. I'm sure you guys over in Europe are reading about it and cringing over what the States is doing.
I think they've maintained this lockdown about as long as society will tolerate it. I don't think they can keep people indoors too much longer because it's been a couple months now. I would hope that by November things are relatively back to normal. It seems that the curb for infection and fatalities is really slowing down, it's not what it was couple weeks ago to what I've seen. I hope that means that by November, not only is it over, but it's long over. And we, not only have a tour, but we have a successful tour where people turn out in numbers and support the music they love. Not just them supporting us, but on our end I hope we're able to deliver an A-fucking-plus Thrash Metal show to these people and give them good value on their ticket. We’ll work our asses off to give them a show! It’s very important to me that other people see us that way and that's what we do.
The Razor's Edge: As metal fans, merch is very important. What's your favourite piece of Warbringer merch that the band has made?
John: Shit, there’s a lot! I think we have a lot of cool shit basically. I really liked the box sets that Napalm Records did for ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ and ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’. The red and blue thing where ‘Woe’ is red and golden and ‘Weapons’ is blue and silver. I designed that when we were putting out ‘Woe To The Vanquished’. I came up with that my head and now it exists, so I'm really happy about that.
I think my favourite thing is probably just the flags that came with those. The flags are really cool. Like the flags on the album covers and one is red and gold and the other is blue and silver. If you're a collector and you have both the records, you can put them next to each other. I was thinking about something like Wellington versus Napoleon at Waterloo where the British are dressed in red, the French in blue so it's like Red Army versus Blue Army. I really like how that turned out. It's an idea I had three or four years ago that now exists, so anytime something like that happens I'm really happy with it.
The Razor's Edge: Do you have any merch ideas you would love to see come to life? (Kiss-style coffins, Warbringer swords?)
John: Yes! Not so much in merch because my mind goes to the music and the art first and business second. For KISS, maybe it’s the other way, and some people may respect that but I'm not that person. I like some KISS songs and all but just the ethos, fuck that! I'm not usually the guy thinking of what our next shirts are going to look like, but when we do, I deal with.
What I'm really thinking about is I'd love to do some stuff with the stage. I've always wanted to make the drum riser entrenched. Set up the stage like a trench line with sandbags, barbed wire in front of the monitor and around the drum riser and stuff like that. If we have a really big stage, put a couple of artillery pieces on there, that would be awesome. Or do something like on old Iron Maiden tours where they bring the album cover to life. I think with the ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ cover there's some stuff we could do with the W’s and the statue guys. I'd love to do some of that with the stage.
Here’s a theatrical ass idea I had; in the end of ‘Glorious End’ when it talks about the gas, if we could get green fog to fill the stage, that would be awesome. Maybe some gas mask soldier dudes run out on stage and die, theatrical shit like that.
One thing about Warbringer, that's also different from other bands in Metal who do warfare as a theme, is it's never ever glorious in our band. It’s always a horrible thing that costs the people who do it. That's very different, and I think any stage iconography I would have would drive home the horror and the brutality and the inhumanity of the whole thing, rather than waving flags around. I would still have the flags! But here’s the thing, it’s like the song ‘Glorious End’ and why it's an emotional gut punch. It’s because you do all the flag waving and the bravery and the heroism in the first 3/4 of the lyrics and then the end is what it is. I think that's what gives it that depth of emotion. It's not just about the heroic values, it's about a betrayal of those heroic values and you have to question if those noble ideas are real. You and I probably believe a lot of the same stuff that the speaker in ‘Glorious End’ believes in; duty, honour, camaraderie, glory, all of that. I think pretty much any man growing up in a Western country, and not just Western countries, believes a lot of that even today in 2020. I would say I admire a lot of those values, I really do. But the reality of modern combat is very different from the heroic legend you see in your movies or whatever. It's just about the separation between those things and I think that it's kind of tough to get at that from a lyrical angle. But I'm trying to tailor the whole band style and iconography to be about that. Where it's about the brutal inhuman tragedy of the whole thing. That’s actually really crushing and Metal, it's not just going to destroy your body, it'll destroy everything you thought was good in the world.
The Razor's Edge: 10 rapid-fire questions, I'm just going to say this or that and you give your preference:
Denim vest or Leather jacket?
Beer or wine?
Book or movie?
Stage Dives or Circle Pit?
John: Circle Pit
Touring or recording?
John: Recording is way easier on the body and mind, I love touring but it kills me.
Death Metal or Black Metal?
John: Black Metal
Night or day?
Eddie The Head or Vic Rattlehead?
John: Eddie. Ey c’mon, you know Vic Rattlehead was the result of the guys in Megadeth sitting around being like “we gotta have an Eddie too, man”.
Burritos or tacos?
John: FUCK! Here is the true secret of Mexican food; 90% of Mexican food is the same basic set of ingredients. Just because I'm a hungry boy I'm going to hand it to burritos.
Festival or club?
John: Even split for me! I don't really care what stage I'm on as long as people are there and they're enjoying it, that's what determines the show for me.
John Kevill on true metal:
John: What is true metal and what is false metal is not anyone’s sound. It's just about the spirit of trying to make real fucking art and not trying to do it as a commercial product. You do it without that logic. That’s why metal talks about ancient warriors and fucking battles and the horror of death and mortality and all this shit instead of “it would be nice if you had money”. That's why metal deals with that. it needs to be there, trying to be an honest art form. If you're trying to sell me something, get fuck out of the building. If you're some weirdo who's got a three-part concept album about the Fall of Troy or something that no one cares about for the last 1000 years, bring it on! Metal is the place for that shit. And hey, if you dig into it, you might see that the guy really did something intelligent with it.
The Razor's Edge: If there's anything you would like to add about the new album, the stage is yours!
John: We're trying to basically live up to the albums we love and just do what we think is the potential of heavy metal as an art form, we’re trying to add our voice to that. That this isn't a dead genre and still artistically relevant and important and that it's a great art form which deserves to continue. And not just continue in a tribute way, but in an explorative forward-thinking way. That's really what we're trying to do while also maintaining the things we like about it in the first place. That's the tightrope Warbringer is trying to walk and if that sounds interesting to you, check out ‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ and our whole career because it's all been a journey on this basic goal!
‘Weapons Of Tomorrow’ out via Napalm Records now!