Civil War – March Across Hell

Monday, 11th May 2015

Outsiders would think leaving a veteran power metal outfit at their breakthrough in terms of large theater headlining or main slots on festival bills is insane. To the ex-members of Sabaton though, they needed refuge from the incessant album/tour/album/tour machine that can grind you up and spit you out, without friends, without family, and without a break. Out of the ashes of the major lineup shift, Sabaton is doing just fine, thank you (playing to half a million plus at Poland’s Woodstock Festival, selling out their own cruise, plumb North American tour opportunities with Iced Earth, Amon Amarth, and Nightwish in the past 12 months), while we also gain a new power metal act in Civil War.

Astral Doors vocalist Patrick Johansson joined keyboardist Daniel Mÿhr, guitarist Rikard Sundén, and drummer Daniel Mullback right from the start. Their first album The Killer Angels hit the streets in 2013, but didn’t make a huge roar outside of their native Swedish lands. Following a couple of lineup changes, the band would gain a new label deal more favorable for worldwide impact – and as a result we have Gods and Generals. Imagine more of a classic metal template filtered through power metal intensity – and history/ military themes in the word department. The hope is… you don’t think of Civil War as Sabaton Mk. II, as they are establishing their own style, especially through Patrick’s Dio-esque range and versatility.

Another Skype chat is in order, so let’s hear what Patrick has to say in regards to the new album, meeting a lot of his heavy metal heroes, and NHL Stanley Cup predictions amongst the conventional power metal topics.

Dead Rhetoric: Civil War began in 2012 when 4 members of Sabaton left the group due to the incessant touring schedule and the desire to go into your own creative path. Are there any regrets, considering the achievements of Sabaton on a worldwide headlining basis?

Patrick Johansson: I think that they had had enough. I don’t think…they didn’t want to tour so much and now we can take and pick out the great shows and good festivals that we want to play. We do things in our own way, take it easy, and it’s much more relaxed. I don’t think they regret anything.

Dead Rhetoric: Your first album The Killer Angels came out on Swedish label Despotz Records, so how did you gain the attention for Napalm Records and are you happy so far with the bump up in terms of attention/promotion (as I understand you were very unhappy with the lack of support outside of Sweden for that record)?

Johansson: Yes. Despotz, they were really good in Sweden, we had a big success here. They tried as well as they could in other parts of the world as well, but we felt that we could have gotten much, much more attention than we actually had with our first album. Actually, Napalm contacted us and asked us if we had a deal for our second release. We had no deal with Despotz, so it was them as well as several other companies contacting us but we thought that Napalm was a great, big, and up and coming label so they were our first choice.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the member changes in between albums – as you’ve lost bassist Stefan (aka Pizza) and guitarist Oskar Montelius, and gained guitarist Petrus Granar? Will you be looking to add a new bassist or just use a stand in for live dates?

Johansson: First of all, Oskar was pretty much burned out since the Sabaton years. It was no big surprise when he said ‘hey guys, I cannot do this anymore’. We felt that from the day he started with us in Civil War that he didn’t really have his heart in it. He really tried. We wish him all the luck, and if he wants to come back to the band he is more than welcome. And Pizza… sometimes it’s like a relationship, sometimes it doesn’t work. He had to go. We will not take a replacement for him, during this festival season we will have the bass on tape. That gives us more space on stage as well, I think it’s no big deal because many bands on stage these days have backing vocals on backing tracks, keyboards, or additional guitars – so why can’t we have the bass on backing tapes? As far as Petrus, actually he has been around the band almost since we started as a stage guitar technician. He and I wrote some songs for the first album, he’s been in the picture – so when we started writing material for Gods and Generals, Petrus was involved again and we thought it was fair and square to give him a chance to be a real member of the band.

Dead Rhetoric: Gods and Generals is the new album from Civil War – how did the songwriting and recording sessions go for the record, any particular struggles or setbacks that had to be worked through and how would you compare things to your debut album?

Johansson: Of course it’s a march across hell to write an album. I think it worked (out) pretty good, we worked in like two teams. Daniel Mÿhr has his own material, and I come up with the vocal melodies and lyrics to be arranged around that- and then I also write with Petrus, and I write some songs from scratch as well. It’s no secret, we all have our own home studios and then we send files through the internet between us to exchange ideas. The first record was great, many good songs. Since we’ve started we have always strived to write the music we would want to listen to ourselves. I think the first album is fantastic and I knew we had the pressure on us to come up with something better on the second album. The second album is always the toughest for the band. The fact that we have worked a lot more on the musical arrangements and the details it’s more of a variation than the first one. We brought a lot of new elements on this one- we even have some thrash elements. No one can get bored when they listen to this album – this is the album I would like to listen to myself.

Dead Rhetoric: “Braveheart” and “Schindler’s Ark” are two standouts to me on the new record, especially in terms of the large choir oriented choruses and particular musical hooks. What can you tell me about the development of these two cuts?

Johansson: Thank you. “Schindler’s Ark”, the drummer Daniel said to me ‘we should write a song about Schindler…I don’t think anyone has ever written about him.’ So I said let’s do it. I was actually out for a walk when I came up with the song in my head. I went home to my studio and recorded a demo of it, and sent it to Mÿhr and asked him if he could do something with this. Then we had a song, the big chorus in the background, the lead vocals are singing over the big choirs- I had that in my head right from the start, that it should be very powerful. “Braveheart” – how did that happen? The verse is almost a little bit like Queen, you know? I wanted to have like a chorus like a fist in your fist. I came up with that one on acoustic guitar, and Mÿhr helped me to arrange that one.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it a tough balancing act for you between your work in Astral Doors and Civil War?

Johansson: No, Civil War has taken over more and more. At least now, we came up with a new Astral Doors album in September or October of last year, and after that I had all the time in the world with Civil War. 80% of my time goes to Civil War.

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