Lords of Black – Icons for TodayMonday, 4th June 2018
There’s no doubt, upon first listen to Spain’s Lords of Black, that they are a band that wants to carry the torch from the classic heavy metal acts before them. But instead of digging through the retro waves, they’ve modernized and made their sound a more unique one. They merge the charismatic sense of traditional metal warriors before them, but keep up with a modern production and heavy approach that is in line with the times.
The band’s third album, Icons of the New Days, has an immediate grit and catchiness to it. Ronnie Romero’s vocals are an enthusiastic standout, as are the guitar heroics of Tony Hernando, who together form a fantastic match. We caught up with Hernando on the album’s release day, to talk about his role in the band as well as producer, touring experiences, and how guitar playing in the scene has changed over the years.
Dead Rhetoric: Congrats on Icons of the New Days, which came out today. What can you say about the new album?
Tony Hernando: With Lords of Black and the kind of albums we put out, we are pretty much an old school kind of band that you really need to hear a couple of times. There’s a lot of stuff going on – we are not a progressive band, but I feel that we have more layers to the music, like bands I used to know back in the day like Queensrÿche or Savatage – I loved that they put out stuff that was not like the average rock or metal album. It feels great having a new album out worldwide, it’s a great feeling to release something after so long working on it…almost 3 years. There was a lot of time, passion, and effort – sometimes making an album can be a risk, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, and this one has been really difficult to finish. It’s a very complex, long album with a lot of details. We were also in the middle of touring and promoting our previous album [II], especially for me, being the producer.
Dead Rhetoric: Going into that producer role, do you think it makes things easier because you know what you are looking for, or at the same time, does it build up more pressure since you are responsible for a larger portion?
Hernando: Definitely there is a lot of pressure on me, but at least I know what I am looking for. I really have the whole picture long before. Sometimes I know I drive my bandmates crazy sometimes, but it’s because I can see that final picture. It can be very particular, which can make myself and everyone around me crazy, but I am relentless when it comes to working until I get what I am looking for. Ronnie [Romero] is pretty much the same type of personality – he’s very driven. That makes things easier for sure. We are musicians that are very ‘selfish’ – we want to please ourselves with our performances and our writing. We are not going to be putting out something that we are not really sure of and proud of.
Dead Rhetoric: With a few albums out now, what do you feel you have established as the core of Lords of Black’s sound?
Hernando: Lords of Black is a very old school kind of band. I can’t even remember the last time I have seen a new band formed around those old school ingredients. For me, those are having a great singer and a great guitar player – that classic tandem. A vocalist and a guitar hero, and a great band around them. A good name and concept for the band, interesting music and good songwriting, thoughtful and meaningful lyrics. Nowadays there are hundreds of thousands of bands that are faceless – there’s no charismatic singer or guitarist – there’s not really a lot of melody. I’m tired of vocalists screaming – Ronnie is one of those incredible vocalists that you only get from time to time. He’s one of the best right now – he’s one of a kind in this generation. Lords of Black is a very special band.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking to Ronnie’s vocals, I do think it can give a band a certain amount of charisma with vocals. Do you think that his association with Rainbow has also raised Lords of Black’s profile by association?
Hernando: Definitely. The whole Rainbow thing brought a lot of attention to him, and to us. He’s been great, because it’s a completely different thing. Rainbow is a legendary band, with music that we all love. We missed Ritchie Blackmore doing this thing for many years. It’s very cool that he reformed with a new version of Rainbow. It was very much in the style of Ritchie Blackmore to put a new singer and a fresh talent. He’s been very pivotal in finding great musicians and singers that have a great career even after that. He has been so cool, and a gentleman – he’s very supportive of Ronnie and ourselves. There is no schedule or interest conflicts, so it’s been great.
Dead Rhetoric: You were mentioning that there’s a lot of cookie-cutter bands now. What do you think is necessary to make it with a more melodic metal sound nowadays?
Hernando: Musicianship and songwriting. With musicianship, it doesn’t have to be necessary, but they need to be proficient at their instrument. There are some incredible, technical players now, even more than back in the day, but they are doing something that has already been done, and something that has been done better before. For me, there is no point in going on YouTube and playing a cover of Yngwie Malmsteen faster and better than the guy himself. There’s no point in that if you can’t make your make your own original music. The technology and the way we are recording nowadays makes the new guys very conformist. We all know that we can fix a lot of mistakes on the vocal or drumming department with techniques nowadays. That is making musicians worse than the years before. Those old classic bands were really good musicians, very well-rehearsed. It’s completely different now. I really miss that.
The charisma and the personality – if you compare a guitar hero from the 1970s and 1980s, like Ritchie Blackmore himself, or Yngwie Malmsteen…you only need a picture or video to see what I am talking about with a guitar god or a guitar hero. Now you can see a guy through a webcam in his living room with a guitar and a desk/computer. The guitar hero of our days? Fuck, that’s horrible. That poor guy, even playing amazingly, isn’t even playing on a stage with a band. Some of those kids are only playing for themselves in a little room, with backing tracks and a computer. That’s not music for me. That’s not rock & roll.
Dead Rhetoric: Switching gears, how did you go about choosing the cover tracks that would be on the bonus cd? I know some of them have been released before.
Hernando: We had a couple of covers that were left over from the previous recording session. We did a brand new recording for “Edge of the Blade” by Journey. As you may notice, we are very particular in choosing the covers we do. We love all those bands and we have very wide, different tastes in music. For example, our drummer Andy [Cobos] may be into more thrash metal – he’s a fan of Metallica and Anthrax. Ronnie and I, we are fans of Journey, Queen, Deep Purple – it’s an interesting mix of musical tastes and influences. We always love to make Queen, Dio, and Rainbow covers because they are favorites for all of us.
We go for the most obscure songs – we avoid the most obvious ones. We all love the Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll album by Rainbow and we even play “Kill the King” or “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” live but we decided to go for “Lady of the Lake” which we felt was the hidden gem of the album. “Edge of the Blade” by Journey is also one of those incredible, obscure songs…instead of going for “Separate Ways” or “Don’t Stop Believing,” which are well covered. With Anthrax, we did “Only.” We love them as well – they are a kickass band, they are still incredible live even today.
Dead Rhetoric: You also plays some covers live – what do you enjoy about tossing in a few covers with your material?
Hernando: With the live shows, we try to do covers during the encore, maybe one cover or a maximum of two. We normally go for a Ronnie James Dio cover, either a Rainbow song or a solo song, or something from Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell. The reason is because we have the Dio connection with Ronnie Romero, as it has been discussed many times that he has a very similar timbre to his voice. I think we couldn’t do that if Ronnie James Dio if he was still alive. Unfortunately, he passed away and this is our way to keep the flame alive and remember him. He was one of the truly greatest, and everyone misses him still to this day. To feel the presence of the guy is still in us. I miss him every day. He was one of my favorite singers of all time, and one of my main influences, and that’s how it is for Ronnie Romero. We do it with all of our love and respect.
Dead Rhetoric: As someone who has done both solo and band material, what do you think are most different about the approach to writing for them?
Hernando: In Lords of Black, everything I do and write is oriented to Ronnie’s voice and personality. I literally am writing for him. I’m trying to come up with the best riffs, structures, and lyrics for him to shine. Nothing is more meaningful and fun for me than having him enjoy anything I present, and making it himself. It’s difficult for me to explain, because I feel like my music is complete when Ronnie is singing. When I do the instrumental stuff, it’s fine – I love it and I’m a fan of the music in general. I’m used to instrumental music, and I love the feeling of it. But with Lords of Black, it feels complete. Ronnie makes it possible.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you haven’t done much in the US, but you did play ProgPower last year. What were your thoughts from that experience?
Hernando: ProgPower Atlanta was one of the best experiences we have ever had. It was one of the highlights of last year. We didn’t know what to expect – we didn’t expect much because we thought it was going to be another festival like many others we had done. We played Wacken, which is one, if not the largest in the world. We also played at Loud Park in Japan, and places like that. We landed in Atlanta and the vibe was phenomenal from the start, with the organization, the crew, the rest of the bands…it was like family. It was a great experience. We did the regular show the first day, and I think it was a complete success.
The day after, we did a VIP special show for badge-holders and we took that opportunity to show how grateful we were with the whole organization of ProgPower and fans by playing a one-time only live show where we played only covers. The people went crazy when we played stuff, not only stuff from Dio and Deep Purple, but some Queensrÿche and Ark. People just went nuts. I will never forget that first US live show, and I’m looking forward to hopefully playing on a larger scale and arrange a proper tour – even stepping in a support slot for a bigger tour.
Dead Rhetoric: That almost seems like the best option, with the US being so tough to break in for bands.
Hernando: It’s a big country. You can only make it two ways – touring coast to coast in every shithole for every two years, or maybe try to get a good slot supporting someone and trying to get as many fans as you can in those dates.
Dead Rhetoric: To wrap up, what’s coming down the line for Lords of Black?
Hernando: We will be playing some summer festivals. We also opening some shows for Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest. Given only 45-50 minutes of show, we will only be doing “Icons of the New Days” and “World Gone Mad” – the two singles/videos. The rest of the set will be songs from Lords of Black I and II. Hopefully I will be able to announce some tour dates for the fall, and hopefully we will be doing a proper show with full production and playing for over 2 hours. Then we can play six or seven songs from the new album. Even songs that are very long, like “All I Have Left,” which is the song that closes ths album and is over 11-minutes long, I would love to play live.