I caught up with Warbringer’s singer John Kevill, at The Underworld in Camden town. He seemed very eager and ready to talk about anything and everything. We sat in their tour bus, he even offered me a can of coke. I began by congratulating him on the new Warbringer album Woe to the Vanquished. “Thank you I appreciate it”, John grinned.
I moved on to ask what his influences were for the new album. “Well, mostly for the specific fans, at this point the refinement of Warbringer. So in a sense, what we were trying to do was to distil everything we’ve done into its best possible form. And that continues with like the influences the band has always had. And then a lot of just outside of metal music in general, things like Carlos might get a fill from something like an instrumental Jazz record or whatever, and it has nothing to do with heavy metal whatsoever. That’s because a rhythm’s a rhythm, y’know and stuff like that. And I feel that, the real focus here was trying to get Warbringer, to really nail down what that is, why it’s different from other thrash bands and to really be our own identity. As we’ve been doing but stronger in every way, just turn every part of the band there already was, up to eleven, all at once. I think we have been developing a distinctive sound and now we’re as far along as we have been, we can really just lay it down”.
I moved on to ask what his favourite track from the new album was. “I really like Silhouettes a lot”. I agreed and said the new album was amazing. He replied with “Wonderful, I’m really glad. I think it’s out strongest work to date. I like Silhouettes a lot because of the weird structure and the tempo changes into a really heavy metal break and I like the lyric thing a lot. And my other favourite one is the last track When the Guns fell Silent, which might be my favourite song we’ve ever written. It has great instrumental section incorporating some more epic influences from like Bathory and Iron Maiden and some other stuff I really love. There are traces of them in our previous work, but here we’re really able to bring that to the fore[front] and we’re not trying to limit ourselves to thrash metal because the original thrash bands didn’t even do that. Heavy metal, extreme metal… we take a lot from various forms of extreme metal that didn’t exist in the eighties so therefore weren’t in the eighties thrash music. As well as simultaneously some previous heavy metal stuff from before and going in that direction with some of the melodies. In that way; we’re trying to do something new with the same heavy metal we love - what we think is actually metal.
Not this post metal type of thing where it’s trying to move outside of the genre but trying to evolve by being purely metal. You get so many metal musicians talking down on the genre they play, then why play it? It’s meant to be a thing that makes heavy metal, cranking the energy and passion up to eleven and if you don’t even wanna be there and you’d rather be playing prog rock then sure do it! But if you wanna call yourself a metal band then you should probably go on stage and be a deafening explosion from the start and be a lightning bolt of energy. Whether its heavy, thrash, death, black metal. That sense of just unleashed power is the unifying factor that makes metal… metal. And I’m sick of seeing bands that call themselves metal and yet I feel no lightning when they play”.
I went on to mention about bands I’d seen previously and he responded by saying, “Not all music has to be serious, but I will say this. Funny music usually, if you’re going to give it the old one to ten on the scale of quality, funny music tops out on like an 8 or 8.5. Serious music can be 10. So therefore I’m ideally trying to make 10 records. The aim has got to be serious. Not in the serious where I HAVE NO FUN! That’s just a dumb gimmick. So let’s put a goat pentagram on everything, can’t smile, no fun. There’s a whole style that goes with it and a whole sector of the metal scene and some people are really, really into that, but I will never for the life of me get into that”.
I jumped in by saying how I love thrash metal because it’s fun. “Yes, you can have totally serious content but still make fun music. For instance, if you’re wearing a Destruction shirt they’re not making jokes, but fun because of the way the riffs roll in their songs. But they’re a different kind of fun compared to Anthrax because their more deliberately fun. But even then they’re not all jokey, the riffs are serious. For music in general, you’ll see on this album, I like it when it’s some like heart breaking, soul crushing sense to it. Yet with this record, what I really like is it has a bunch of that but also adrenaline cranked to eleven so it’s an intense experience all around. I think that kind of thing can be really cathartic and can make you feel better in life because you can get out all this negativity in an energetic and fun way because it has riffs and bitching guitar solos and screaming at the top of your lungs and stuff. But why is this music so angry, because of real problems”.
I moved on to ask why he waited so long to release the new album. “Because it took forever to make. Basically, not everyone seems to know but everyone in the band besides me and Adam Carroll quit before that last record came out. They did one tour with us in the US, the line-up that actually recorded Empires Collapse, it was known before we started the tour that there would be no more Warbringer. So it was miserable and it sucked and we did our last European tour with a fill in line-up, which included Blake Anderson formerly of Vektor who became a great friend. Basically he played drums for Warbringer on a European tour we did once. We ended that tour heavily and dead. Everything was bad and we didn’t renew our record deal either. So we ended that tour, in that band, no record deal, nothing. Just me on my ass. I was horribly depressed about this, and it took me a long time, I had to rebuild the band not once but twice.
Fortunately, Napalm Records stepped in and offered us a deal, it was the same guy Sabastian, who had contacted us in 2009 and said ‘hey we think you’re good, we’ll keep in touch’. It felt really good because I thought we’re done for, but then we have a record deal that our manager says we could get this record deal going. So I went and rebuilt the band because there’s something there. I just knew this time, we have to do everything right. I’ve been granted this extra chance to do this, so I have to be better than I ever was before. I put a lot of thought into that. It was rough times before this record, we’re still in recovery as we’re releasing this album. The support has been so immense and I think we can do it. The response at every show’s been killer, people love the record and I just hope if you’re reading this, spread the word of real fucking metal. I know for a fact we’re doing this the way it was supposed to be done, from the heart with power, intensity and pure devastation”.
I continued to ask what his plans were for the rest of 2017. “Basically to tour this new record, as much of the world as we can hit. I can’t memorise all of the dates, but I know there’s still about twenty six European shows left. Today is day four. The last European show is April 30th, and it’s been great so far and I look forward to the rest of it”.
I went on to ask what his favourite album was that he had created, even though he had already answered he said “Woe to the Vanquished by a mile, it’s the most me. The strange thing was I couldn’t have made this record, even with the line-up we had before. It was actually all the instability that lead us to where we are now, was a strange blessing in disguise which I couldn’t have seen at that time, but I think we have the best players and the best group of guys we’ve ever had too. Myself, Carlos and Adam are the three that did all the writing on the album and I think we got a purer version of Warbringer than we had on previous records. I think we’ve made a more focused and complete record than we were able to do before. The first five or so tracks from the new record and meant to be the most vicious thrash you could possibly hear today.
Tonight we’re playing the whole of side A. We’re playing one through four on there, we haven’t really worked in the side B yet, because they’re all new and some of those we have to do some things to pull those songs off live. I wanna do that a lot because the idea is it’s meant to utterly wreck you until you’re wrecked and then settle in to this spiritual desolation that follows, thus to be a journey of an album. And to also show this isn’t just some mindless eighties thrash worship crap, we’re really writing albums and there’s no album in eighties thrash that sound like this one. We’re not bringing thrash back, we’re bringing it forward with a very different approach, we’re not here as a tribute band. This is something in our whole career, this perception we’ve really struggled against so pretty much every interview I’m making a point of saying; that that is nonsense, it has been nonsense for a very long time. Since our first album I think we’ve been trying already to do this and I think we’ve reached a point where we can say we are entirely our own beast and deserve to be seen on our own merits and there is nothing from the eighties that sounds like us. Or today, I think we have a unique identity and I think I have a distinctive voice and I think the band has a distinctive writing style”.
I went on to ask who his influences, inside and outside of metal, was. “For Warbringer, I end up answering this question the same, as I have many things I enjoy in music, for Warbringer specifically it’s usually stuff from the heavier side of thrash metal. The earlier phases of black and death metal, with some heavy metal influence as well. So of course all the classic stuff like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath, all stuff like that from the heavy metal end. I’m big on the NWOBHM and I like to have that bit of rock and roll flare sometimes. For thrash it’s the most vicious of the vicious stuff; like Kreator albums, one through five, Demolition Hammer’s Epidemic of Violence, Sepultura on Schizophrenia through to Beneath the Remains, just all the really heavy progressive brutal thrash. Exodus on their riffiest album. And then into death metal… some of the early Swedish stuff like Entombed, Dismembered, Grave etc. Some American stuff like early Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation, Obituary stuff like that. Death, the band of course, in short just all the best shit in metal.
Also, noticeably you’ll hear it on the last record, Bathory. There’s a bit too where we went too old Bathory mode in a solo section on a track from Worlds Torn a Sunder, Echo’s from the Void but no one noticed. That’s just one of my favourite bands, and it has an epic and mystical feel to it and the six eight shuffle was really good. It’s also the Slayer Postmortem beat. It’s just all over black metal. The atmosphere is grim and foggy and it’s great to add that to a thrash record because it’s not considered that much of an atmospheric genre. We wanted some of that big epic feeling throughout the record and I think when you take the record in as a whole it really comes out.
A weird fact, we noticed that all of our records come in between thirty-nine or forty-one minutes. We think that forty minutes is about the right time for a thrash record, well it must be because it’s not really on purpose. Ever since the get go, we always had this philosophy that this intense music is exhausting to listen to, it kicks your ass if it’s down well. That’s why Raining Blood is such a short record because it doesn’t do anything but kick the shit out of you. We’re not quite that single minded, sometimes pretty close we gotta make it also compact. Otherwise it won’t be the most enjoyable version of the listening experience. It’s our philosophy”.
We moved the conversation on how the tour has been so far for him. “The tour has been excellent we are four shows in, all the bands are great. Exmortus are neo-classical barbarians pretty much, that’s the best way to describe it. Gorod play a cool strain of tech death with oddly grooving, jamming riffs, that I often don’t hear from that genre. Havok’s just a great band, they have a really sharp and percussive style, and they’re really good at writing catchy riffs and songs. I see them also too in mind set as a pretty similar band to us. They’re serious about what they’re doing and want to push thrash metal forward, and I think we have a set of more extreme metal influences, and that’s wonderful. There are many different approaches to pushing this forward in different ways, they add a different bass stuff, it’s very typical thrash stuff on their new record - that I liked a lot. I couldn’t be happier to be on this tour because I think it’s exactly the right place because all these bands that are doing something unique in metal, with full passion and energy. No one’s phoning it in up there which is exactly the kind of tour I want to be on. I’ll be honest, I think a lot of people on stage do phone it in and it does piss me off a lot, especially some of the biggest bands”.
I went on to ask: what are you listening to right now and what current bands do you love? “Actually some of my favourite ones are on this tour to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been listening to a tonne of metal recently because I’ve been so involved with our record. Rehearsing and practising it and I’ve been trying to bring the best out of myself. I’m a really strange and active listener of music, I don’t really put on music in the background. Typically, if I want to remember anything I have to get in the zone of listening. I have to study it or it’ll go in one ear and out the other. I don’t listen to a lot of background music independently; I pretty much listen to whatever other people put on unless I’m driving alone. In that case I listen to whatever I’m researching at the time which is recently the wave of new metal. There are a lot of bands in the field I’m interested in and I have a different opinion about each one - which I won’t go into here. I can definitely say that the new Power Trip record is very good for just like chugging, heavy riffs. They have the perfect guitar tone for that, nailed it on that aspect and it’s great”.
My final question was: do you like performing in the UK? “I like performing anywhere as long as the crowds are good and they’ve been good so: yes. I like traveling, so I like to see the UK, I like to see places and talk to people”. I mentioned how I was from Wales and we discussed the language and the culture. He then told me how he was studying to become a History professor. “You’ll see those themes a lot throughout our work, particularly on the new record. There are two songs on there that are about themes from the First World War, less so specific events but themes and feelings. I’m not ever going to name a year because the way in which music is good, is by capturing these stories and by capturing the essence and emotion of it, because that’s where the sound comes in and everything. It’s not supposed to be a lesson, it’s meant to draw from this theme and hit from that, a universal human theme that you don’t need to know about. I don’t want it to be like you need to know about this event, to relate to this music. I want it to be: oh my god this is sad and soul crushing. The references are there if you want them”.
We ended the interview there and it was an absolute pleasure to meet and talk with John Kevill. Listen to Woe to the Vanquished, out now! See our review here.