Axenstar – Honor Thy TimeTuesday, 21st May 2019
Arriving in the early 2000’s, Swedish power metal band Axenstar have been a solid mainstay in the scene. Their discography contains a mixture of European and American influences, running the spectrum of speedy power anthems to the occasional more melodic, commercial affairs as well as some thrash nuances to the mix. Their seventh album End of All Hope encapsulates all facets of the band’s style – reaching back at times to their early Perpetual Twilight debut while also injecting some double kick/ blasting measures in the drum department when called for.
Setting up a Skype interview with vocalist/bassist Magnus Winterwild one evening, we felt the need to catch up on the five-year break between studio albums, their signing to Ram It Down Records, memories surrounding a tenth anniversary show celebrating the band’s debut album, and the man’s new found confidence in his singing.
Dead Rhetoric: End of All Hope is the seventh Axenstar album – and first in five years for the band. What circumstances took place for the longer gap between records?
Magnus Winterwild: Well… a lot of things, I guess. One of them being our former drummer Adam (Lindberg) went to the states actually to study the drums outside Los Angeles, near Pasadena. He left Sweden in 2016, and he had been talking about it a lot from the release of our last album Where Dreams Are Forgotten up until he finally went. We didn’t want to start any recording process with him, because of him leaving. That was one reason, and the other was since we didn’t have a deadline for the new album to be finished, we were a bit lazy I guess. Those were the main reasons for the long gap.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s obvious in this set of songs that the band took some risks in terms of expanding your style beyond normal power metal parameters, incorporating more melody and harmony aspects as well as thrash and blast beat elements. Did you feel like the time is right to expand on the classic aspects that have established Axenstar and take things to another level at this point in the band’s career?
Winterwild: I think we have tried to experiment on every release we have done. We often get the response that we haven’t really experimented enough. We still continue in the same frame that we always have been. Since we recorded most parts of the songs- the only thing we didn’t record ourselves were the drums, we went to the studio for that. Otherwise we recorded everything by ourselves in our rehearsal room, so we had a lot of time to try things out, and really – experiment on different approaches to the songs.
On the one hand, I have tried to write songs that go back to the start of Axenstar, looking back on the first release and try to get the feel of that. At least I think “King of Fools”, “Honor and Victory”, and “My Kingdom Come”- I have tried to write them in the vein of older Axenstar, and the other songs (guitarist) Jens Klovegård mostly wrote the music to them, he comes from a different school and playing death metal and thrash metal a lot. In the end, with my vocals and my vocal lines, we still feel like this is a solid Axenstar album, with the keyboards and everything. We wrote songs that we really believe in, and we are really happy about this release.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the creation and lyrical content of songs like “King of Fools” and “A Moment in Time” – two specific standouts that showcase diverse sides of the record?
Winterwild: “King of Fools” is like your standard power metal (song) I guess. (laughs) It’s like a fantasy theme about a king and a queen in fantasy-land. “A Moment in Time” is more personal I guess, more like relationship problem kind of lyrics. That’s more from the heart, and more from my experience in life.
Dead Rhetoric: Was “A Moment in Time” a special song to create, it showcases a different side to your vocals – especially during the verses?
Winterwild: Yes- it was kind of hard. Jens came up with the music and the riffs- he had this cool clean guitar part and we really wanted that on the album. I struggled a lot with both the lyrics and the melody of the vocals. I really had a hard time – I tried a lot of different approaches. It was not an easy song to write actually.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any songs that took on a bigger transformation from the demo stages to the final product?
Winterwild: Most of them I guess. Since we had a lot of time recording the songs, we had a lot of time to try different approaches. Maybe the song that had the most changes in the end was “Of Pain and Misery”, the last song on the album. We had a whole instrumental part in the middle of the song that we took out in the mixing. Pelle the engineer at Studio Underground where we have recorded all of our albums, he knows us pretty well. He thought it was a cool riff, but he told us it doesn’t really add anything to the song. He thought that people would lose interest during that part of the song.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the newest drummer Hampus Fasth bring to the table in comparison to long-standing drummer Adam Lindberg?
Winterwild: Actually on the album, Joakim Jonsson (guitarist) recorded all the drums. And then Hampus, he came in six months ago. He’s really a cool guy – he’s a genuine drummer. He likes to play all the different fills. He loves the double bass, and he’s a really stable drummer. You never have to worry about him. We’ve done one live show with him, it turned out great. At least I couldn’t be happier with the new drummer, he’s a great guy.
Dead Rhetoric: You are one of the first bands on the Ram It Down Records roster – how do you feel about the level of commitment and support you have from this upstart, especially considering the experience the founder has also working for AFM Records for so many years?
Winterwild: It feels really good. I have had some contact with Timo in the past, trying to get a deal with AFM and so on. I know he really loves the band – we had this new album, and we wanted to get a label for it I contacted him of course. He really loved the songs, but AFM wasn’t able to offer a deal at the moment. If we want, he is starting up a new label on the side, and he would be happy to release the new Axenstar album. It felt really good – it doesn’t matter if it’s a big label or a small label, as long as the label really believes in you and likes your music. That’s the best support you can get. It’s been fantastic so far, he’s really listening to us and we have no problem with communication from him and getting answers from him. Although he has his job at AFM where he works 100%, he is a great guy as well.
Dead Rhetoric: He seems to be focusing on the quality of the roster rather than necessarily the quantity of bands you often see new label going for…
Winterwild: Absolutely. He told us he didn’t want to have twenty bands right away. He only wanted to release the bands that he likes and he believes in, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Then you know as a band you will be the focus for him, and not just another band on the roster.
Dead Rhetoric: You changed the title of the record at the last minute even as the cover concept was based on the original title The Dark Age. Why is this a better title for this record – and did you worry about the fan acceptance for the darker cover art design that isn’t typical of the power metal genre?
Winterwild: We came up with the title for the album first, and then we wrote the song that later turned out to be called “The Dark Age”. I don’t really like to have a song also be the title of the album- because it puts a lot of pressure on the song. I didn’t necessarily believe that that was the strongest song on the album, I feel like if you have a song that’s also the name of the album you really need to play that song live. It’s better to have a neutral album title – and then we started with Felipe who started doing the cover artwork. We gave him some ideas, I came up with End of All Hope – it suited the album cover, and of course Timo said, ‘aren’t you worried that people will think you just took the idea from Nightwish?’. I think it doesn’t matter – I think the fans will like the cover artwork even though it’s not typical power metal. Nowadays I don’t know if swords and dragons would be so popular either.
Dead Rhetoric: Has your outlook changed on Axenstar from its beginnings in the early 2000’s to now? Do you think you are more critical and careful regarding every step that the band takes to move forward?
Winterwild: Well, I think in the beginning we were all young and enthusiastic. We really wanted to get our music out no matter what. Nowadays we’ve reached a certain age, at least myself, that I have come to realize that I won’t become that big rock star that I dreamt of as a child. I’m happy to put out records and play live as much as possible. Maybe more critical, but we’ve learned a lot all these years. It’s easier for us to make the right choices.
Dead Rhetoric: You performed an anniversary show a few years back, performing the first album and bringing some of the older members up on stage. Can you tell us how that was?
Winterwild: It was great, it was one of the best shows I think we’ve done. I came up with the idea in 2011, the next year was going to be the tenth anniversary of that first album and I wanted to do something special with the old members of Axenstar. They were really excited about it, and it was a lot of work to get rehearsals done and all the guys together. I think it turned out great, and they enjoyed it a lot as well – to be able to come up and play the old songs. Maybe we can do another one in three years, I don’t know, or something like that. I really regret that we didn’t film it on video, it would have been great to watch.
Dead Rhetoric: Now having seven albums to choose from, does it make a setlist for Axenstar even more difficult when playing live?
Winterwild: Yes, it is. We will mostly play the new songs, and then of course the ‘hits’. “Blind Leading the Blind”, and so on. On the other hand, we don’t know all the songs actually. Since I’m the only member left from the beginning, if we were to play any of the older songs, the other guys have to learn them first. That makes it a bit easier I guess. Hampus only knows the songs that we choose to play live.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve discussed in the past a love for Lost Horizon, witnessing the band live back before they disbanded. What was it like hearing the studio material in a live setting with one of the most pure, powerful singers in the world in Daniel Heiman – and do you ever hope for a third studio record someday?
Winterwild: (laughs). I would hope they do a third studio record. When I saw them live, it’s incredible how his voice was almost even better live. He’s really like someone that I look up to and wish I could sing like. It was a great experience. I would hope they would do a third album, but I don’t think it’s going to be possible.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the chance to really dig deep and change certain aspects of the music industry (especially heavy metal), what would you like to change and why for the benefit of this entertainment sector?
Winterwild: A hard question. To have more live stages and places for bands to play at. Every band should get paid for performing. Nowadays, when you try to book a show – the venues are picky about who they choose. It feels like they always choose the cheapest band. Smaller bands are always willing to play for free, so it’s hard for us to make it. We would like to get paid, and the bars and venues say they have this other band that will play for free.
Dead Rhetoric: How have you changed as a person as you get older and wiser?
Winterwild: As I said, maybe my goals regarding the music have been lowered a bit. I’m really happy, I feel like not everyone gets to release seven albums so I’m lucky I’ve managed to do that. I’m looking forward to releasing more albums on this level. I’ve found my voice a bit later in life- I feel much more confident singing than I did five or six years ago. Because I realized my range and keep within that – I can perform much better now that I did in the past. It comes with age.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you believe you worked on to perfect your range?
Winterwild: I’ve taken vocal lessons in the past, that was many years ago. I have no idea actually. Maybe one thing is that we worked hard with the songs, I went down to the rehearsal space night after night and stood there singing, and maybe that’s where I found the right technique and tension in the voice so it’s much easier now. I feel like I’m more confident and how to reach certain notes.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Axenstar over the next twelve months to support this record? And what’s left to accomplish off that bucket list of goals for the band – any specific places you’d like to go, things to see and do?
Winterwild: Try to get as many live gigs as possible. Playing some bigger festivals would be great. It’s also hard to get those slots because we don’t have a booking company right now. I feel like once you get inside the festival circuit, if you look on the European metal festivals, it’s almost the same bands at all the festivals. It’s not always the best bands, but they get these big shows. It feels like it’s safe for the festivals to book, so it would be great to get into that circle. We’ll probably start writing new songs in a couple of months or so.