Shadowkeep – In the BloodThursday, 26th April 2018
Back in the late 1990’s when the internet began infiltrating the world at a middle-class level, people took solace in discovering new methods of music thanks to the MP3- a digital music file that would change the landscape very quickly for music consumption. The UK power/progressive metal band Shadowkeep would end up developing a healthy buzz thanks to that technology, leading to a record deal with Limb Music and early albums such as Corruption Within and A Chaos Theory that took listeners back to the days of Crimson Glory, Queensrÿche, and classic Fates Warning. The last ten years though, the band has been relatively quiet – finally unleashing their self-titled fourth album and armed with the premiere powerhouse vocalist James Rivera of Helstar in the group.
The new album tackles much of the Greek Gods and legends of their mythology that seem perfect for the group’s advanced riffing, melodies, and blazing lead work. Reaching out via Skype to the guitar duo who have been a part of the band since the beginning, guitarists Nicky Robson and Chris Allen let the readers know the reasons behind the decade long recording absence, how it is to work with a legend in the metal business like James Rivera, plus loads of discussion regarding favorite albums and concerts through the 80’s, 90’s, and beyond.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been ten years since your last studio album The Hourglass Effect in 2008 – what happened in the interim, and did you almost feel like giving up and packing it in at any point, or did you feel at least obligated to get a fourth studio album of material out after the years of work put into it?
Nicky Robson: Where do we begin? In the beginning, lineup changes and things like that. But what also happened with myself and Chris, the first few albums we spent a lot of money on and that put us in debt as well – so that was a reason. And during that time, myself and Chris had within a two to three year-period lost three grandparents and we had that grief to go through, and personally I suffered a personal loss. It was difficult really, and time just moves on as you know. One year goes into three years- but we never wanted to give up, as we’ve always really believed in the band. It was different situations that came up and back.
Chris Allen: You covered almost all of it.
Robson: We always wanted to keep the band going, but finding the right musicians in the UK has always been difficult as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it frustrating to have former vocalist Rogue M come back in the band, only to leave again?
Robson: It was. It was the 10-year anniversary when he came back, so we thought at the time it was a really good idea. Things happen in bands, people leave- we always got on. He had a real personal loss in his life as well, his dad died, and it was difficult. It wasn’t working so we had to decide if we were going to stay as we are and linger on forever, or what do we do? And that’s when we got James (Rivera) in. We wrote all the music for this album and were in recording it at Thin Ice Studios in 2015. It was frustrating, for a year and a half I looked for a singer in this country. We did audition some.
Dead Rhetoric: James Rivera is the vocalist on Shadowkeep – whom you met during the Helstar tour they did in support of Vampiro. What qualities do you believe he brings to this self-titled album that differ from Rogue M and Richie Wicks? Had you been a fan of his work through the history of Helstar, Destiny’s End, etc.?
Allen: Yes, we’ve been fans of Helstar since the late 80’s. We’ve known him for over thirty years.
Robson: We met James when we played the Brave Words festival in 2005, was it? We’ve been huge Helstar fans and we’ve literally kept in contact since then. Chris and I would go on crazy road trips across to Europe to see Helstar. Just kept in touch through the internet.
Allen: We also have a bass player from Texas, James is in Houston and Stony (Grantham) lives in Austin- it’s a three-hour drive apart. James knew Stony, they met at a tribute show one of them was doing and Stony just threw the question out there.
Robson: Hey- there’s no harm in ever asking anyone! (laughs)
Allen: He said he would definitely be interested.
Robson: He knew us and knew our music, and knew we were huge Helstar fans. And we got Larry (Barragan) to record the vocals with James, so we asked Larry if he wanted to do a solo on the record? Brilliant.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you give James free reign to work on the melodies and the lyrics for this new record?
Allen: Most of the lyrics were split up between Stony and James- and “Never Forgotten” was Nicky and James.
Robson: We knew what we wanted the subject matter to be about, we wanted it to be about Greek mythology, because Chris and myself like the history of it. We had some characters to do the content on that. We all had some input on the songs, James and Stony did the lyrics – and when it came to “Never Forgotten” James was just finishing up the Vampiro tour and he recorded that one track here in the UK in February of 2017. That was really cool
Allen: All the vocal melodies are James.
Robson: James fits our style because he knows what music we like and the bands that we like. It had to be someone that not only could sing but has such character and feeling in his voice. I think he can do everything that we love in a singer, we are so glad he is a part of this. At first it felt really weird, like ‘oh my God- James Rivera is in Shadowkeep’. It was a bit strange at first, especially the first time he came to stay at my house- I thought ‘the metal God has arrived!’ (laughs). He is so brilliant, such an easy guy to work with, it’s been a lot of fun and the tour that we just did recently was a lot of fun. It went down well considering the album had not been out yet, and the fans went mad for it.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you work out the rhythm and lead work between yourself and Chris Allen? I’m curious for instance with the intricate harmonies for “Flight Across the Sand” and all of the maneuvers in the epic closer “Minotaur” – do these songs come easy to you or is it an ever-evolving process from start to finish?
Robson: First of all, Chris throws out these hard riffs, and then I have to figure out a way to learn them.
Allen: It varies. Sometimes I’ll have a riff that will be floating around, unattached to anything for a very long time. It could be a couple of years to find an idea to go with it. Then there are times where I have a riff, and then another part to go right with it- and build quite quickly. Sometimes it takes a while to put together. The next song Nicky will come up with, she is sort of like a riff machine (laughs). Lots of them will be really good or really great riffs, but they don’t necessarily go with the same thinking or feeling in my head. She can get quite frustrated with me – they are often really good, we do record those ideas so we don’t lose them. Eventually we’ll find something that fits with it, tempo-wise, melody-wise, lyric-wise- we build it up like that.
Robson: We both have different styles- Chris loves the scales and shredding, and I step up with some of the solos as well. We like the same styles of music, but I tend to like a lot of the more thrash-oriented, heavy riffs. Joining the two together, it seems to work really well. Even if I am a girl! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences in the discography of Shadowkeep album to album? And do you believe this self-titled album encapsulate all facets of your power/progressive metal style?
Allen: I think it really does. I think it’s got more of all the aspects, really. We always liked all the tempo changes and lots of riffs within the songs, lots of ideas, acoustic parts. From that point of view, we haven’t departed very far from what we started out doing- but it is a bit more heavier, more aggressive style.
Robson: I think that’s what we wanted though, as well. When we were trying to think of a really good album title, we had loads of ideas and I just thought why not just Shadowkeep – we weren’t sure, but it is a new beginning. We’ve been gone for ten years, and I hope that fans appreciate what we still do. There are the elements of what we’ve always done, but we also have to progress. I have never regretted anything that we’ve done – I’m proud of it.
Allen: One of the main differences with this album is, I don’t think there are any keyboards. We’ve never had a keyboard player, but with the previous three albums we’ve had some keyboard backing with Karl and Richard West did some parts as well. We didn’t think that we needed that this time, we didn’t feel it was necessary to have it, and we wanted it to be a bit more of a guitar-oriented album, and a little bit more harder hitting. Going back to more of the 80’s so to speak, the heavier power metal stuff, but also listening to more contemporary stuff like Parkway Drive, where it is so riff dominant.
Robson: I went back to listening to bands like Flotsam & Jetsam, Testament, Death Angel, Annihilator, Sanctuary – all the bands that I already love. I wanted to get more of a heavier feel to this, but still keep the progressiveness because I still like Fates Warning, Crimson Glory. We still love all those bands and always will. I think with James it’s given us a whole new way.
Dead Rhetoric: Who designed the cover art and how do you feel about the importance of cover art in heavy metal?
Allen: I think it’s really important.
Robson: To get it right. Most metal albums these days it’s traditional art with swords, skulls, this, that, and the other- not having anything against that because I love the medieval theme- but we wanted something a bit different to what we had before.
Allen: The trouble with this is I think we’ve always been a band that wanted to do more of this sort of thing- but the lyricist we had, and no disrespect to them, they wrote great lyrics – but they were always about subject matters that were well away from this sort of thing. I don’t regret any of the previous albums we’ve done, I would have been preferred if the lyrics were a bit more metal fare if you like. Rouge was more progressive-oriented.
Robson: It was Andreas from Pure Steel who started talking to us about artwork, and we had a few people interested. He said he knew a guy that does a lot of covers for Pure Steel, and why don’t you give him a try. Timo Wuerz is his name, and they have the cover that we have now.
Allen: We gave him some suggestions to work with for the Greek mythology theme and the subject matter of the songs and he came up with some rough sketches. We picked some ideas we liked from what he’d done, and we were very pleased with the cover- it’s the best one that we think we’ve had. If we could have written the lyrics ourselves in the past, it would have been more along these lines.
Dead Rhetoric: You were signed to Limb Music Products as a result of your online exposure through MP3.com at a time when the internet was evolving into a global entity. What are your thoughts on where social media and technology have taken music these days in comparison to that late 90’s/early 2000’s era?
Allen: I think in those days, looking back at it, it seems like a fairly innocent, kind of naïve thing. A useful tool, all full of promise that it was only going to do good for bands.
Robson: Nowadays, as soon as you put your album out, someone has gone and put it on YouTube, or a torrent, and I say, ‘hang on a minute’. Everyone has got it now for free.
Allen: For whatever good the internet can do you, because you can reach millions of people potentially, it can also do a lot of harm- and actually do more harm than good. It’s open to so much abuse, sadly – and it really is a case of it giveth and it taketh away. Yes, social media and the internet is great for advertising and promoting your band. It also comes with the risks that people are just going to download the music for free, stream it for free, just not buy the CD. No one will never really know how much that is going on- or how many sales you might have had were it not for the potential of theft. It’s not necessarily anything new- we knew that people were doing home taping back in the 1980’s. It all went on, but this is a whole new level or disrespect for music.
Dead Rhetoric: I wholeheartedly agree. I was a part of that tape trading scene back in those days- but I would usually go out and buy the original, physical product because I was getting this music from multiple generations and the quality may not be the same…
Allen: This is the thing- people don’t realize that what they are listening to on YouTube isn’t the same- and it isn’t the same quality as what you would be getting from a CD or vinyl. You do not get that quality – so you aren’t getting the full benefit of the music, simple as that. We stream stuff ourselves – but they are albums that we’ve got. The albums I stream on YouTube are the albums that I can’t buy on CD – Solitude Aeturnus’ first album, I’ve got the second album on vinyl. There are a lot of people though that choose to stream material online and they haven’t bought the albums. They haven’t bought the vinyl, and they have no intention of every buying it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe it’s hard to gain appeal to a younger audience that believes streaming is the best way to consume music?
Robson: I think so- even my colleagues at work, you would be surprised how many people just don’t really buy stuff anymore. I don’t think they are really thinking about the musicians. That’s the thing – they just look at it as, it’s free- it’s fine.
Allen: It’s also if they don’t know you, you are over there, we are over there – if it’s someone on a different continent, it could be anywhere, Australia – well I don’t know the band, why don’t I steal it? That’s the kind of attitude really, well everyone else is doing it, so why don’t I do it? People should be a bit more firm about it – it’s fine to listen to things, but if you like it, buy it. Don’t listen to it if you don’t like it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe you’ve gained more acceptance in your home country due to your longevity, or is it still a case where other territories favor your power/progressive metal style?
Allen: It’s definitely a case of other territories prefer our style. It’s almost a dead loss here- we do have a few fans here, and no disrespect to the ones we do have- but they are fairly wide spread and thin on the ground.
Robson: Most bands think there is a good scene because of Dragonforce, Power Quest have a reasonable following- but most people around here like the growl-y vocals.
Allen: It will be more the metalcore and hardcore type of bands that do well around here. We’ve got festivals like Download and Bloodstock- those are very good.
Robson: We went to see Testament and Annihilator the other day, and we talked to people at the bar- told them we were in a band. They asked us who we were- we asked if they knew of a band called Helstar, and they didn’t know, never heard of them.
Allen: It’s the same story always. Over the years I’ve spoken to people in my age group that were listening to heavy metal back in the day, and you speak to them about bands like Helstar, Vicious Rumors, Fates Warning- most of them have never heard of them. But they were around in the day when these bands were getting reviews and releasing albums, and it’s a shame as they missed out.
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