Paragon – Defenders for Controlled DemolitionThursday, 16th May 2019
We need musicians sometimes who stay on a tried and true course. People who understand the main principles of their craft, willing to embrace the tools of their trade but not lose sight of the sound and songwriting that will make themselves and their legion of followers happy, content, and satisfied. Such is the case for veteran power/speed metal act Paragon. They’ve been together since the early 1990’s and intertwine many influences from the 70’s/80’s in their sound – professing a love and respect for Judas Priest, Accept, Metal Church all the way through to Agent Steel, Saxon, and even early W.A.S.P to name a few. As a result, their albums contain enough punch and variety to keep heads banging and fist flying with devil’s horns to the sky.
Controlled Demolition is the newest record – tough as steel, occasionally reaching to the speediest/ thrashiest offerings to date, as well as putting in the expect mid-tempo stompers and mid-album epic track. It’s the type of record that will appease the faithful, the underground hordes begging for a dependable metal platter. We reached out to bassist Jan Bünning through Skype recently to catch up on the activities of the group. You’ll learn more about the band’s refinement from demos to rehearsals to recordings, their outlook on recording in the studio, thoughts on the metal scene, and a bit of talk on new music in the genre versus legacy bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Controlled Demolition is the latest Paragon album – the 12th studio record of the band’s lengthy career. What was the attitude and game plan going into this recording?
Jan Bünning: In a way we had a restart of the band with the Force of Destruction record in 2012. I was out of the band a few years, and we had to find a new lineup. When we started again, it was hard to get into the scene again. A lot of the things had changed, bigger companies weren’t doing as much booking. There are a lot of new bands, and some of them are cool, but others in my opinion are okay but not real metal you know. They have singers who wouldn’t hurt anybody, and in my opinion a singer should have that ability to hurt somebody, or at least be special. Most of these singers have been average or boring. Also bands we know personally, they got softer so we felt that we have to be more angry, meaner this time again.
We wrote songs this time, normally you have a plan but this time we just collected the songs and realized we had a lot of heavier stuff. We took the best stuff, put them together, made some arrangements. The attitude was the older, the meaner (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Which songs presented the biggest challenge for you?
Bünning: For me personally, “Deathlines” – and possibly for the other guys too. It’s a long song at over eight-minutes. There are a lot of parts in it, and there are some parts as a bassist that are not so easy for me to play. But nothing really complicated. I’m not the best bass player in the world – but the rest was easier for me. The drummer had to do more work on this album because there are a lot of faster tempos for “Reborn” and “… Of Blood and Gore” which are very fast, some of the fastest double bass we have done so far in the band. We are all satisfied with the drum recordings.
It was very easy to record the songs this time. The last album (Hell Beyond Hell), just before we wanted to go into the studio (guitarist) Wolfgang Tewes left the band – so we needed another guitar player to play some leads. We didn’t take every song that he made – we asked Martin Christian who had founded the band to take over at the last minute. We couldn’t rehearse the material as well as we wanted, so we had a tougher time in the studio. This time we finished in the middle of 2018, and we rehearsed the songs and did some last- minute corrections, different timing and stuff like that, some more melodies. All in all, we were only in the studio for 14 days to record the stuff. I took 1 ½ days for my parts, the guitar players took two days for their parts, our drummer was in there for three days, (our singer) Bushy needed half a day for each song which is normal because you cannot scream at this pace all the time. He wanted to give 100%. We recorded some lead guitars and backing vocals at our rehearsal space – but we finished very fast because we had rehearsed this material so well before we entered the studio. Piet didn’t have any complaints, a few riffs but not as many as usual.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe this puts you at an advantage with today’s recording technology, because you had worked in the early days in studios on the clock to get the material well-prepared and tight ahead of time?
Bünning: Of course it’s an advantage. In the past when we started to make a new album, we went to the rehearsal room and tried out everything there. We do this today as well, but before we do that we do some demos at home. In the rehearsal room everything is loud and aggressive, you think it’s the greatest riff- but when you listen to it at home, you realize it’s boring (laughs). Its good to have the recordings at home and work on them a little bit. Our guitar players come to my place, they record riffs and I arrange them with some programmed drums and then send stuff around to the other guys. Then we go into the room, everyone learns their parts, and we try it out live and Bushy sings the lyrics that he has written so far. When everything is okay, we may change things and re-record it again until we come to a finished song. We are better prepared, because when you record the stuff at home it’s almost like what happens when you record it in the studio. You have to be more precise, after all these years we are experienced players, it’s not a big problem anymore. You get more relaxed the more you do it. This time – except for one song I had the first take for my bass on each of these tracks. The other guys too – and only corrected minor parts when I wasn’t playing them so well. The album sounds more spontaneous and open because of the recordings.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences at this point in the band’s career between satisfying your own expectations as musicians and what the fans expect out of you? Do you think they are one and the same given the style of metal you play?
Bünning: As we are still fans, we write music and play music that we like. When we put a song on an album, I want it to be a song on an album that I would personally buy, and we think about this too. We are fans of our own music, and we don’t have to live from the music. We don’t have to sell a lot of records, we sell enough that the record company is satisfied with it and that we can go to the studio and have money for the studio. It’s different you know, when we were younger, we wanted to become rock stars – now it’s a professional hobby. We just want to have fun, with age came a calmness. We don’t have arguments about things, it’s much more relaxed than in the past. The band chemistry is very good, most of the people in the band I’ve known for almost 30 years. It’s like an old family, or a marriage. It feels good, we still have fun to play live. Because we are so experienced, we can write better songs and better riffs. We don’t have to struggle much with an inability to play something.
Dead Rhetoric: You returned to artist Aldo Requena for the cover to this new album – who had previously done the cover for 2005’s Revenge. Can you discuss the process behind the concept and its completion – is it a collaborative effort for the band and artist to get the right visual content just right?
Bünning: The first time that we worked with Aldo, it was very cool. We normally have Dirk Illing do the artwork, but he died a few years ago, and he was also a friend of mine. Otherwise he would have done our artwork again, he died after the Force of Destruction album had been out, just before we started to work on Hell Beyond Hell he died. When I was thinking about doing a new cover, between the two albums Aldo had done some t-shirt artwork for us. We were blown away by it, so I thought we needed him for this new album. Controlled Demolition was the album title – it’s a good title, but what would the album cover look like? We had some ideas like a Paragon spaceship destroying the Earth, or a building here in Germany, with the Paragon logo destroying something, maybe a paragon solider – I have all these sketches. Maybe the Paragon saw destroying something. And we came up with the artwork that we have now- it doesn’t look too much different from the old artwork. It’s like Maiden and Eddie, we keep the star and I like the art, we can put it on our merchandise and it looks cool.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s fine to build a brand through specific art trademarks, as you said like Eddie and Iron Maiden.
Bünning: I think that helped Iron Maiden in some of their success- they always had great artwork. Some kind of cover identity.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had to put two or three specific Paragon albums in a time capsule to be unearthed one hundred years later, what would your choices be – and do you think your bandmates would agree, or do they have their own specific favorites?
Bünning: I think most fans, the older fans love Law of the Blade. For me, it’s one of the three for sure. With that album we established some kind of the Paragon sound and style. We always have different kinds of songs on the albums, not only the fast songs, we try to keep a variety on there like a doom song, a ballad, stuff like that. On Law of the Blade we have all of this, we were very young and wild in a way. We thought we would still become rock stars, which didn’t happen of course! (laughs). Second would be Force of Destruction – it’s like Law of the Blade in terms of varied songs. It’s like a blueprint of a Paragon album, and it has very good sound. The third would be the new one. It has the best sound of a Paragon album. It’s good to read the reviews of the album, because every writer so far seems to have different favorite songs. It shows how strong this album is, there aren’t any weak songs on it. It was hard for us to make the order of the songs because of this. We had more choices to do this. We played a show a few days ago, and played five or six songs off the new album and they went over really well.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of the new album, the intro – is that something you guys end up doing live because of the real instruments that appear on it?
Bünning: Martin came up with a riff for a song we wanted to develop, some kind of epic and it didn’t work out. We threw that song away, but we needed an intro for the album to play live. We used that riff from that song – and then we had some dystopia lyrics on the record- so maybe we need some science-fiction parts on the intro as well. I told Piet and he made this synthesizer intro. I sent him some John Carpenter stuff, as I’m a big fan of his films and the music. He sent it to us, and we use that as the intro for the show and the heavy parts we play for ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: Being an avid metal follower, what are your feelings regarding the renewed interest in legacy bands who reform decades after their initial demise to put out a new studio record or perform live gigs at festivals, even if it’s not necessarily most of the original members left in a specific band?
Bünning: Uh, good question. In Paragon we have had so many lineup changes, but in the end we have always been around. It wasn’t like we split up, got together again, split up, got back together again. These days, there’s some reunions I really like which are cool, but then there are other reunions I say, what’s this? There was a certain band from Germany who would make a backing band for Savage Grace, Griffin, and even in the beginning for Manilla Road. That’s not a band- that’s a cover band with the original singer, you know? For some bands, it’s cool. When there are some original members, or at least one original member, they really rehearse and aren’t doing it just for cash and for one show, that might be okay. It depends, you can’t say they all suck or they are all great. The truth is in the middle in a way.
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