Excalion – Bringing the Dream AliveTuesday, 22nd August 2017
Whatever happened to good, old fashioned power metal? The type of music where the guitars and keyboards convey melodies as easily as the commercial-oriented choruses – encouraging unison audience participation that activates euphoric energy transference between bands and their passionate fans. While Finland was a hotbed during the 1990’s and early 2000’s for the style thanks to the potent albums and live shows from Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica, shifting lineups and priorities caused both bands to stray or expand their horizons from the purity of the genre. For those seeking a group who remain steadfast in the melodic side of power metal, look no further than Excalion.
Active since 2000, they’ve release three previous albums to date, elevating from Sound Riot to Limb Music for record labels before things seemed to stall following the release of 2010’s High Time. Although succinct in explanation for the seven-year break to the latest studio record Dream Alive, the newest vocalist Marcus Lång believes that the wait will be well worth it to all Excalion fans old or new. Now signed to Scarlet Records, this effort glistens with catchiness, attain a level of memorable songwriting you don’t hear very often these days.
Coming back from a family vacation, we reached out to Marcus on Skype as he handled these questions regarding the lineup changes, how he juggles the many bands he currently fronts, the realistic outlook on performances while maintaining families and jobs, and a fair amount of discussion on the power metal scene within Finland itself.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had a seven-year recording gap between High Time and your latest album Dream Alive. Can you inform the readers of the many changes and events that took place during the delay?
Marcus Lång: The biggest changes are that I am the new vocalist after Jarmo Pääkkönen, and we also have a new bass player Onni Hirvonen and a new guitar player Aleksi Hirvonen. Those are the three most important things that have changed within Excalion. They are very important changes for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Why did Jarmo Pääkkönen leave and where do you see the major differences between the two singers? Did you consider how a new singer was going to handle the back catalog in addition to working on new material?
Lång: Jarmo left because he doesn’t want to sing anymore. He quit, and he wanted to build his own house and work his daily job. And I think my voice is a bit different than his voice. The other guys asked me to join the band because of my powerful voice. When I sang Queen “Who Wants to Live Forever” on a YouTube video, the guys enjoyed that video. They decided to call me to join the band because of that video actually. I discovered the band about 10 years ago. My friend played guitar in the band in 2003-05, I got to know the band from there. It wasn’t a surprise (to) me that they had a record label and so on. It was a surprise when they asked for me to join the band. I prefer Excalion to be better than Stratovarius, if I just had to hear the band’s music.
Dead Rhetoric: Dream Alive is a melodic power metal album that features an added emphasis on proper hooks and chorus elements, beyond the normal speed and syncopation shred interplay instrumentally. Can you give us some insight into the songwriting and recording process for the record, what surprises or challenges (if any) that came up and some of the highlights in your eyes?
Lång: A pretty tough question. Jarmo (Myllyvirta) the keyboard player, he has his own visions for every record. He’s developed as a songwriter, just as we all have developed as musicians. The melodies and the music have grown up as we have. We are not twenty-years old (anymore), we are (at least) 30 years old or more. We have families, and we have developed (our ability) to make music (with) catchy melodies, and the production. Jarmo has very good (ears) for making some catchy melodies. The choruses are always important in Excalion. We are pretty well known for our choruses- but I think this new album includes very good opening riffs. Jarmo has great talent to make the songs from the beginning to the end interesting. Excalion has a lot of great choruses that are pretty catchy, (the audience) can sing along. I am not sure what the biggest difference is in terms of this and the other albums before. The biggest difference is my vocals – my vocals are much different. I have a lot of Marco Hietala (Nightwish) style to my voice.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art from Piotr Szafraniec of Poland – it seems to revolve around specific songs on the record like “Portrait on the Wall” for instance as a picture within a picture concept? Was this a collaborative process between the artist and band, or at this point do you give artists free reign to come up with work on their own?
Lång: The cover art was based on a picture on a wall, from a bar in Finland where our guitarist Aleksi was spending his spare time. He took the picture with his phone and said that this could be the picture for the cover art. We first thought this was a joke, but then we thought that this is not a joke and could be a good thing. The album contains a theme about a centenarian, a guy who maybe could live for 100 years- live and think and feel the things of 100 years. He’s called the Centenarian. The album cover is pretty much about the “Portrait on the Wall” song, because a guy is on his way to be a sailor – and think about the meaning of his own life, the goals of his life. The sea is a big part of his thoughts. Piotr’s work is based on this guy, who is becoming a king but he doesn’t want to be a king- or doesn’t know if he really wants to be one. You find the story behind the portrait on the wall. The story and the song are based in his thoughts.
The picture is not his own- it’s our vision for the album. The album contains 11 songs, and this cover art is a part of this whole thing, a very big theme. Piotr makes the vision final- he’s a talented guy to make this kind of work. The original idea is from our band.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a Finnish power metal band, do you consider the legacy and discography of forefathers such as Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica as benchmarks for what you would like to see Excalion achieve? Have you established good relationships with other power metal bands from your home country and beyond?
Lång: Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius, both bands are my personal idols from my teenage years. There are also more influences than just these two bands, there is Tarot which contain the Hietala brothers Marco and Zachary- and there are also hints of Tobias Sammet with Avantasia, Dream Theater. It’s just a black and white solution to say that Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius are our sole influences, that is not true. Everybody thinks that Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica are Excalion’s influences. We love Masterplan, we love Tarot, many more bands I could say.
Excalion has many more melodies and much more of our own musical style. It’s a waste of time to compare Excalion to Stratovarius, it happens too often that we are compared to each other. We have our own style, still. We all know Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica, that is not the issue. We have our own music to make our own melodies, lyrics, and so on.
Dead Rhetoric: You are now a part of the Scarlet Records roster. Is it still important to have proper representation on record labels given the great equalizer of social media and the internet to push and promote your products?
Lång: I do not know if it is or it isn’t. It’s a nice way to catch lots of people in a short time. I’ve also noticed that when we check in for a two-week or three-week period, the likes on Facebook we have 200-500 more people that like our pages. On that point, I don’t know if it’s important. The social media when it comes to Instagram and Facebook, the magazines and papers are dying slowly but surely. It’s a hard question to guess how important labels are next to social media.
It’s a 50/50 situation if I answer this seriously. If the band is very active and they want to make access to the public, social media is a fast way to do this. If the record label wants to make it big and public, they can be fast and do this as well. I personally don’t have the opinion of which I prefer. Both have their own good sides, but I can’t answer this totally for you. It’s a very hard question.
Dead Rhetoric: Have the goals and visions for Excalion changed from the start of the band’s career to now? Are you realistic about how far you can take the band given the balance necessary between music and making a living with proper pay to live successfully?
Lång: We have a possibility to go anywhere- the sky is the limit. But we all do have our own jobs and vacations in Finland, plus families, kids, wives, and so on. I am not sure what the future is for Excalion, but everything is open. We do want to get some gigs around the world, around Finland and Europe- but it’s always a pretty hard thing because of the money. Everything is so expensive these days- the European tour can be about 50,000 Euros, so it’s not that easy to do as a first option of the band. But I think we have a very good band musically these days. We are stronger than ever, we have very talented skills, (the) musicians in the band and my personal vocals are of high skills. It’s hard to say what is the future of our band concerning gigs and so on. We definitely want to do another album, and a third album, with this Excalion Mark II if you know what I mean.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that shaped your views of heavy metal as it is known today – and who would you consider the biggest influences or inspirations as a singer?
Lång: My personal? I think Judas Priest- Painkiller is one. Tarot- Suffer Our Pleasures. The third one must be Rainbow- Long Live Rock and Roll. I think these are three very original heavy metal records that I consider to be my inspiration. It’s a pretty hard question because the world is full of music. Those three records immediately come to mind. As far as singers, I have three big influences. Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, and Marco Hietala. They are totally the three biggest influences in my life- and they still do matter to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of power metal today? Do you believe there’s a good mix of veteran acts and young talent offering enough quality products for the fans to consume and treasure?
Lång: I am not sure- sometimes I have thought that there is too much music in the world. I personally don’t want to listen to more than a few bands sometimes. If you listen to many bands, you have no energy to find out their skills and their abilities. It gets (on) your nerves, and you don’t have the patience to listen to every demo, every EP, every CD. I think we have made one of the greatest albums in years when it comes to power metal, if people want to call it power metal. I think there has been a huge lack of great power metal albums within Finland over the last 5 to 10 years. We try to keep up the hope for power metal, and the skill to make these kinds of albums in Finland. We only have a few bands anymore who will make these albums (now): they are Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Thunderstone, Dreamtale, and Excalion.
Dead Rhetoric: You also have a new Force Majeure album, The Rise of Starlit Fire, coming out soon. How are you handling the differences between the two bands – and do you maintain regular contact so that conflicts do not occur as far as recording/show schedules?
Lång: The schedules haven’t been as hard as I first would have thought. It hasn’t been a problem to handle both bands. I live in the center of Finland, and I have a 3-hour drive to Helsinki for Force Majeure – and I have a 1 ½ hour drive to Excalion rehearsals. It hasn’t been a big problem- Force Majeure doesn’t have keyboards, so their style is more about the two-guitar, heavy metal lineup. It’s more like Judas Priest, traditional metal. Excalion is one guitar and keyboards, two different styles for bands and they make totally different kinds of music. I think both bands are totally kick ass- and both have their many good things in their music. I wouldn’t have joined these two bands if I wasn’t interested. Excalion can get more feelings in a song, be dramatic and beautiful- the keyboards give more atmosphere into the songs. Both main songwriters really like my voice – so it was easy for me to say yes rather than say no. In the beginning, I had no bands in Finland- now I have three or four bands, because everyone seems to love my voice.
I (also) do a Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest cover band called Metal Meltdown. We get gigs in pubs and clubs around Finland- doing the old 70’s and 80’s covers. I love that – it’s the best music for my health.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your favorite concert memory attending purely as a fan?
Lång: I have two concert memories. In 2007, Dio in Finland and Judas Priest in 2014 in Finland. They are both pretty things in my life. Ronnie James Dio died as you know in 2010, and I saw Dio only once live. This is my only concert with him, and maybe this is the most important concert if I have to decide. Even in his older years, the guy was over 60 years old and he sang so deeply and with so much soul. “Children of the Sea” is one of the greatest songs, it’s a very beautiful song to sing.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Excalion for the rest of the year? Has work begun on the follow up outing, and if so what sort of direction are the latest batch of songs taking?
Lång: Jarmo has done a few new songs already, and I’m not sure how far he is going along in the songwriting. We have about 10-15 songs in the beginning stages, and we hope to get more going in 2018. We will do a few gigs in Finland, and hopefully in Northern European countries. Everything is unknown, we haven’t decided anything yet. We just wait for the calls and the e-mails, what will be happening. We surely want to play gigs, we want to play these great songs live (for) the people.