By Sean Palmerston
(This article was originally printed in the final issue of Unrestrained! Magazine, issue #39. Said issue was only made available as a PDF off of the Unrestrained site after the unfortunate death of Adrian Bromley. If you would like to read the rest of the issue, please go to http://www.unrestrainedmag.com to download the issue in its entirety.)
One of the most exciting, invigorating slabs of true metal to make its way into my grubby hands this past year has been Overlords of Chaos, the third album overall by Portuguese power trio Ironsword. After two previous releases through Solstice guitarist Rich Walker’s Miskatonic Foundation, the band has found a new home on Pittsburgh’s Shadow Kingdom Records. The label has quickly been making a name for itself by releasing some of the best underground classic heavy metal to see the light of day in 2008, and this leads the pack as their best release yet.
Led by the strong vocal delivery of guitarist Tann, Ironsword’s “Blood and Honor” has impressed this writer so much that it has become my official anthem for the fall and winter of 2008, and something that Kevin Stewart-Panko and I make sure to spin each week on our metal radio show. The album as a whole has been so inspiring that I had to drop a line to the band to find out just where the fuck they’ve been all my life! Part of that interview, answered by guitarist Tann, is reprinted below.
I want to congratulate you on the new album. It is one of my favourite records of the year. I know it is your third overall, but as I am sadly unfamiliar with the previous albums, I am curious on your feelings about it. Is the band happy with the final outcome? How was this album approached differently than previous recordings?
Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I can say that we’re extremely happy with the final result; it turned out exactly how I had in mind. The production is raw without being ragged, which I believe gives the music a barbaric edge I personally was looking for. Above all, it sounds totally ’80s! A clean, pretty, slick, and polished production does not fit in the spirit and concept of Ironsword.
My main goal for Overlords of Chaos was to create an album somehow more complex, heavier, and darker than all previous stuff—epic metal out of the norm, keeping our typical catchy sing-along choruses, et cetera.
It’s a better-balanced album between epic mid-tempo tracks and speedy thrashing rage. I believe it stands one level above in terms of songwriting compared to the previous works. Basically I wanted the whole atmosphere dark and obscure, so I guess it was a natural progression for the band.
The album is dedicated to the memory of writer Robert E. Howard, the troubled yet brilliant writer best known for Conan the Barbarian, Kull, and, of course, The Shadow Kingdom, which I am assuming is what your current record label is named for. What is it about his writing that is so special to your band that you have dedicated the album in his honour? How has his writing affected your music, thematically?
Our second album Return of the Warrior was also dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Howard. I’m sure most of our future works will continue focused on his writings. This gives you an idea of how diehard fan I am and how his work affects our music. I grew up reading the Savage Sword of Conan comics and in time I discovered and become more fascinated with the writings of Robert E. Howard. Not only is he my favourite writer of all times, but in my opinion the worthy father of the sword and sorcery genre. He somehow turned fantasy reachable and credible. Every character, every race and kingdom he created can be faced as a reflection of our daily reality. The decline of civilization and the quest for freedom and so on. Apart from being a brilliant storyteller, he defined heroism and adventure in its purest form into something greater than life itself. It’s difficult to express my views when you’re such a diehard fan…
As previously mentioned, this is my first introduction to the band, so I was wondering if you could give a brief history of the band. How did you come together, and what reasons caused you to form Ironsword? I know there is a connection to Moonspell in the band’s past. Who played in that band?
Actually, it was me who played guitar in Moonspell for almost two years. I recorded with them the mini-CD Under the Moonspell and the debut Wolfheart. Shortly after, I formed Ironsword in 1995 to be exact. In the beginning it started as a one-man-band simply because I couldn’t find talented and available musicians to join the band. Back then, everyone was into the death or black metal trend, so traditional heavy metal was considered dead, outdated, and sort of scorned. Besides, all of my friends were already playing in other bands and could not afford to compromise with another full-time band. I recorded two promos between 1995 and 1998. The first album was released in 2002, the second album Return of the Warrior in 2004, both by the (British) Miskatonic Foundation label. The first show ever in almost 10 years of existence happened in Germany at the Keep It True Festival, sharing the stage with bands like Manilla Road, Cloven Hoof, Attacker, Blitzkrieg, and others. There were some lineup changes in between as well. The third album Overlords of Chaos was released in 2008 by Shadow Kingdom Records. They have been very professional so far, supporting us more than 100 per cent! They were completely out of their minds when they decided to sign a band like Ironsword!
I decided to form Ironsword because it’s my passion to create and play, from the heart and soul, heavy metal music in a very honest and sincere way. Ironsword is my life and I simply cannot live without creating and playing music, I feel it’s a true calling and I will always do it until I die!
What bands influence your art? Which groups did you look to for inspiration when you formed Ironsword? Which current bands do you feel a kindred spirit towards?
Obviously, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have an important role. Have I mentioned Manilla Road already? There are lots of other bands like Omen, Tank, Brocas Helm, Cirith Ungol, Pagan Altar, and Black Death. Also, stuff like Hawkwind, Ted Nugent, Blackfoot, Buffalo, and Black Horse. Lots of NWOBHM and U.S. power metal… Well, the list is huge! I grew up in the ’80s listening to real heavy metal so it’s natural to me that our music is reminiscent of those times! Everything just comes out naturally; instead of aping our influences, we pay homage to them. The fusion of these bands mingled with our own personal ideas, forges a sound that is uniquely and unmistakably Ironsword. We always try to personalize our own sound each release. About current bands, I really like The Gates of Slumber, Portrait, Battleroar, Assedium, Battleram, Holy Martyr, and Wrathblade. These bands know the meaning of real heavy metal and make it sound fresh, interesting, and uncompromising.
Manilla Road is a band that seems to be close to your band’s heart. You even got MR vocalist Mark Shelton to perform backing vocals on three album tracks. How did this pairing happen? How hard was it to get him involved and what does it mean to the band that he agreed to do it?
Everyone who knows me personally can tell you about my fascination for Manilla Road. They are my fave band and I don’t deny the obvious influence and inspiration. I met Mark Shelton in Athens when they played there for the first time in 2002 and have been in contact with him regularly ever since. I asked Mark if he could do some backing vocals to our new album. I sent him a rough mix with the songs, and he recorded everything at his own studio, in Wichita, Kansas. He sent me the stuff a few weeks later and I was blown away. He was so kind for doing that, and for me personally, it was an old dream of mine come true. Sure it’s flattering when people say that we are the Portuguese Manilla Road, or that Ironsword is the only band that really sounds like Manilla Road 20 years ago. However it was never my intention to disrespect and rip off Manilla Road, because they are a unique band so they can hardly be copied. Everything I do in Ironsword is just
my humble honest homage to one of the greatest bands in heavy metal history. The involvement of Mark Shelton is definitely for me the highlight of Overlords of Chaos. You can forget the rest.
What are the immediate and long-term plans for the band now that the new record is out? Will you be doing any more touring, either in North America or over in Europe to support it?
We really hope so. There are plans for a European tour, although it’s too early to advance anything. Ironsword is an underground band, so things tend to work slower than normal. I’m sure all bands have the same speech. It may sound way too cliché, but I’m really looking forward to some live shows in North America. I know there are a lot of people interested in our music, so that would be awesome to do some dates there for the first time. Immediate plans… Shadow Kingdom Records will release the vinyl version of Overlords of Chaos early 2009 and hopefully a new album in late 2009. Long-term plans…still continue to create good quality old-school raw Epic metal music!