Ordinance – Metal Fit for an Empire

Sunday, 13th March 2016

While Ordinance’s debut, Internal Monologues, may have been below the radar for many people, it was a piece of technical/progressive death metal that resonated with those who heard it. The members involved: Mike Semesky, Alex Rüdinger, Gunter Ostendorp, and Greg Macklin, all went on to bigger projects (a solid indicator of the talent involved), but never left Ordinance behind. Now, with the release of their second album, The Ides of March, they are getting a bit more deserved attention.

A conceptual album about the assassination of Julius Caesar, The Ides of March is a 60-minute plus journey full of memorable riffs and complex song structures, with Semesky’s vocals providing the needed intensity and grace. DR was able to chat for a bit with vocalist Mike Semesky and guitarist Gunter Ostendorp about the concepts and writing of The Ides of March, how the members have grown since Internal Monologues, and what they are currently up to outside of Ordinance.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the first Ordinance album lived a bit below the radar so to speak?

Mike Semesky: I would say so. This was before any of us individually had done any professional touring. I think that since then, we have all just become more seasoned musicians, in that we have grown as musicians personally and individually, but also professionally we have grown too. Back in 2011, this was just a thing we did for fun at Alex’s [Rüdinger] house. It was cool – we were all really excited about the reception that it got, but this one definitely reached more ears. A lot of it has to do with the fact that all of us has grown a lot more individually and professionally.

Gunter Ostendorp: I definitely agree. None of us had really established any sort of name for ourselves. I think the fact that Mike and Alex’s names are out there and being involved with a lot of projects and associated with a band named Ordinance has brought a lot of attention to the current album [The Ides of March] and we didn’t have that for the first album.

Semesky: It’s funny that you are saying that, because I just remembered that the band kind of started getting traction back then because of Alex’s drum videos. Just think about how much his YouTube channel has grown since then! There’s been dozens of videos since the original Ordinance drum videos. I think originally, there were a lot of drum nerds who were really into the band because of his drum videos, and eventually after the album was released and people had time to digest it, people sort of started discovering it on their own and appreciating it as an entire band – as a four-piece band and not just a freakishly good drummer [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: So has it been easier to promote The Ides of March now that everyone has seemed to gain some outside experiences?

Semesky: I was looking at the Metal Injection site and reading the Weekly Injection. They put all of the metal releases on a list for every week and they do little blurbs for ones they decide are noteworthy, and they referred to us as a supergroup! It’s so funny because I think supergroup and I think Velvet Revolver or Audioslave.

Dead Rhetoric: Well, everybody is a supergroup nowadays…

Semesky: That’s the thing…I think it’s cool that a “supergroup” can exist on various tiers of all these different genres out there. But yeah, I think it was a little easier to promote just because the band had organically had developed more fans and all of us individually had developed more of a following. I think that alone helped get the word out there on the album.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did the initial idea come from to base the album on Rome/Caesar?

Semesky: I don’t know if you knew this, but it was in Caesar’s will! He put this in his will – “someday a death metal band named Ordinance had better write a story about me”…I’m just kidding [laughter]. I guess the first thing that sparked a serious interest in Roman history for me was from the HBO series Rome. I had learned quite a bit about Roman history from grade school and thought it was a great story, and a very significant part of history. The assassination of Julius Caesar has been told in so many ways, from Shakespeare and so on…but the show Rome, because it painted that picture, and because there was an actual visual to it, and because it really just delved into the motives and lives of all of these people involved in this plot – it got me really thirsty to learn more about it. At that point, I was just doing my own personal research and educating myself out of sheer interest.

It wasn’t until after I had done some research on my own time that I decided it would be an amazing concept for this Ordinance material. Gunter and Greg [Macklin] had started writing material for what would be The Ides of March before Internal Monologues was even released! I remember introducing the idea about the concept for “album two” and everyone being really onboard, and because we planted the seed so early on in the process, it really helped that idea just bloom. Everyone has their own creative input and is going to perceive a Roman-themed album stylistically in a different way than the next guy, but because we planted the seed so early it grew into such a cool and solid package since everyone had it in mind.

Dead Rhetoric: As you were saying about how many ways that story has been told, was there much concern in making sure there was some level of historical accuracy?

Semesky: Absolutely. I took creative liberties here and there when I wanted to write things from a first person perspective. The song “Fear of Discovery,” for example, is written from Calpurnia’s [Caesar’s wife] perspective. Evidently she had a premonition about the assassination the night before, so I just dove into her dream world and painted a picture of what I thought that premonition may have looked like to her subconscious. So I did use a bit of fiction here and there, but in terms of what actually happened and who was involved, I think I stayed pretty true to the facts.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it hard to give rise to so many different characters in the album and make them feel different?

Semesky: Yes and no – I think that because I had these visuals in mind. Everyone who is mentioned in the lyrics is a significant player, whether it be someone who is involved in the conspiracy or it was one of the good guys. Whether it was Caesar himself, or Marc Antony, Calpurnia, or Octavian, who eventually became Caesar after the fact – they were all significant parties. Writing from their perspective, even though, for example, all of the Liberatores – they all had a similar goal to overthrow Caesar in mind, they all had different backgrounds and motives for why they were involved. So I never felt like I was repeating myself when I was writing.

Dead Rhetoric: Writing about the Roman Empire is starting to gain some traction, at least in some heavy metal circles. What is it about the Roman Empire that seems to inspire metal bands?

Semesky: I think that there is just something epic about an empire being overthrown.

Ostendorp: It’s just a rich part in time. There’s a lot of content to write about I think. The scale plays into it, as Mike said, and the fact that it pretty much ended with a guy getting stabbed to death – that’s pretty metal.

Semesky: Exactly – it wouldn’t make sense in a pop context. Although I wouldn’t mind hearing that.

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