Dragonlord – Extending the DominionSunday, 16th September 2018
Those ‘in the know’ will certainly recall Testament guitarist Eric Peterson’s side project Dragonlord. Upon the turn of the century, the first effort, Rapture, was released to some fanfare and praise for the way Peterson jumped into the symphonic black metal fray. It was followed up by 2005’s Black Wings of Destiny. Then the band all but disappeared a few years later. Blame it on Testament’s ever-busy schedule perhaps, but many had assumed that this project was more or less finished.
But, Peterson has been working for a number of years on the follow-up. Bringing things back to a smaller count of musicians and a greater creative control, Dragonlord’s Dominion puts the band back firmly on the map. Cinematic, driving, and still rather brutal in tone, it’s a good representation of where the genre is at in 2018. We were able to chat with Peterson from the road on the Slayer farewell tour to get his thoughts on the album and possibilities for Dragonlord in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been over 10 years. What made you decide to bring Dragonlord back to the forefront?
Eric Peterson: It’s been a long time, for sure. I think it kind of picks up where it should be for a third record. Everything was recorded at a certain time. Things that were already written were recorded later. If anything, it gave me better sounds and better ideas for the lyrics by waiting. [Laughs] It’s been a while for sure, but I’m happy with the way that it turned out. I think the record hits the way that I wanted it to. Also by waiting, the mix came out a lot better. I was able to go in and fine tune things that maybe I wouldn’t have heard if I had put it out sooner. Juan [Urteaga] and I have never mixed a record like that by ourselves. With 50 tracks at once, in one part, in my head I could hear everything but trying to explain it to someone behind the desk is a little bit different.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you put the band to bed, or was it just a matter of finding the time to do it?
Peterson: Probably both. At one point, after the last Japanese show we did…about three years after that I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was kind of turned off by everything [then]. I wanted it to be a fun project and some people in the band were making me think about the band as something of a more serious [thing]. It was a weird trip, so I thought about not doing it anymore. But after some time passed, and the last people standing were Lyle [Livingston] and myself, who started it, we got together and came up with some really cool stuff.
We kind of got the fever for it again, and we got a deal to make it happen. There were some hiccups along the way, but we got it done and found some new people to work with, which was pretty awesome. Getting Alex Bent involved, who is now in Trivium, and Leah, who is a celtic singer from Vancouver – she is rising up with her own stuff. So between Lyle, myself, Alex, and Leah, we were the musicians on the record.
Dead Rhetoric: Did bringing in some fresh faces and having more control over it bring that enthusiasm and passion right back in?
Peterson: Oh, for sure. Just having time to sit back and giving it the time – allowing more books to come in my life and get influenced by stuff was cool. But yeah, there were no compromises by anybody, and it kind of goes back to the vibe of the first record. It was fun and interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your guitar playing, how do you ensure that Dragonlord has a different feel to it than Testament, other than it being a different genre?
Peterson: I think writing music with grand pianos, orchestras, strings, and French horns…it’s a different vibe than jamming with another guitar player. I love that the tempos are faster, and the blastbeats, which I’ve incorporated into Testament’s newer stuff, but the more epic, fantasy ideas going into it makes it different. On this record in particular, I used different guitars – more passive guitars. It still sounds crunchy, but I wasn’t trying to get a modern crunchy tone – more of a hard rock tone I guess.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Dragonlord allow you to express yourself differently than when you are in Testament?
Peterson: It’s more fantasy-based, especially with the sounds of the keyboards. There’s more of an enchantment, mythical [sound], it’s hard for me to find the right words for it. Maybe it’s a little bit darker, but Testament is definitely more aggressive and brutal, where Dragonlord is more like a controlled storm. There’s a bit more romance with it, but dark still. There’s a cool, poetic, evil-ness to it [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at the “Northlanders” video, what can you say about it?
Peterson: When I filmed it, it was initially in color, but then it started looking really campy. We went with more of a monochrome. For me, I remember when I turned in the storyboard it was like Game of Thrones or something, and they were like, “I don’t know how we are going to do all that!” So I had some artists draw up some stuff. We did what we could with the budget. My hands were tied, but overall, it’s a video and hopefully we can do another one.
I learned a lot too, because I did it with some friends rather than going to a big video company, which I didn’t have the budget to do. I think I achieved the vibe I was looking for. Is it a breakthrough video? No, but it’s got a vibe to it. It’s keeping it real. If I had $100,000 and it looked like that, I’d be like, “Well, I fucked up I guess” [laughs]. You work with what you have and try to make the best of it. You tweak stuff here and there, and I think overall, I have seen it so many times I had to send it to a few people. What do you think?
Dead Rhetoric: I think it’s a cool video with good concept. I get sick of seeing the same old clichéd videos each time, so whenever there is something different, no matter how it looks, I think it’s pretty awesome.
Peterson: Yeah – we stayed on the boat for a while, and there was no movement. I felt we had to cut it up to the beat or something. I feel the black and white was a good move at the end, when we made it monochrome I thought it looked cool. The song is like 6 and a half minutes too. There weren’t really many shorter songs besides “Lamia.” I don’t know why we switched it up at the last minute? I think we thought that “Northlanders” would be better.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you like to apply the overall concept further, to design an animated movie or series?
Peterson: I don’t know if you know but I have a comic book out, abstractly based around it. It starts with “Northlanders,” with a character called The Burner. He’s actually in there. He’s the first and last person that you see in the video. That’s the cover of the comic. There’s definitely something there. If you’ve read the comic you can see where I’m going with the storyboard. It involved time-travelling – it sounds silly but it’s a black metal superhero that travels through time.
He has different things that he does and influences, like going back and fighting with the Pagans against Christianity to now and going to me writing a song about it, but it’s his experience and he’s like, “What’s going on?” So it keeps going back and forth – I have this connection with him but I don’t know I have a connection. But he knows because he’s getting drawn to me through this wormhole. “Who is this person? How does he know what I’m thinking?” Then when he finds me, I’m just writing music and I’m thinking I have thought of it. It’s kind of cool.
In an animation format, it could be really cool. In a movie, I would need to hire Spielberg or something to make it the way I’m seeing it. But with animation, there’s more of a reality to make it happen. But still, the animation that I would pick would probably be out there, like Berserk or the Castlevania 4-part series [Netflix]. Berserk just blows me away with their newer stuff. I don’t know how they did it. It’s not like Beowulf, but it has a depth to it. I think I have a pretty good storyboard for it, it could be pretty cool, and a different platform for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think it allows you to express a different creativity than you get through music?
Peterson: For sure. It’s all visual, and I think this record sounds very cinematic to begin with. When you listen to it with a set of headphones, you can almost see things. You start seeing visuals other than a pit. You see colors and actual movement, and maybe different timeframes of things actually happening. That’s what I see when I hear it. When I say cinematic, it has a lot to do with the nuances of the French horns, flutes, and violas creeping in. The guitars, drums, and the bass, which are more brutal, help to paint that picture a little bit [together].
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve only listened to it a few times so far, but I would say, in just listening to it and looking at the cover, it starts to provide some sort of backdrop.
Peterson: Definitely. The first think you hear is the gate opening, and the winds howling. Then the backwards riff comes in, there’s the water…there’s the serpent-type things coming out of the water and the dragon comet, which is coming into the atmosphere and awakening. You start thinking and wonder if it’s going into the water. Even I look at it and I change my story. I go, “Wait – it’s a planet, no it’s a comet. It’s a comet, and it’s coming from The Burners and Planet X, which is the Red Dragon planet, that they spotted around our Milky Way and it’s throwing these comets and dragons are coming down. Yeah, that’s it!” But yeah, there’s a lot of possibilities for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: What drives you to expand outside of the metal boundaries into things like graphic novels and I know there’s the cryptocurrency as well?
Peterson: That [cryptocurrency] is a whole different thing. But regarding the comics and different things from Dragonlord, a lot of it just comes from the music. The cinematic aspect and being a fan of the newer anime stuff. Just seeing it come to life. The cryptocurrency thing, we teamed up with PRiVCY as a contest. We are doing a special show and we are playing The Gathering and The New Order in their entirety. That’s going to be pretty sick. I can picture a lot of people coming from all over. Especially for The Gathering. We’ve done The New Order before, which is a classic record but The Gathering was a big comeback for us in the millennium. Doing that record in its entirety is going to be pretty awesome.
Getting this whole contest with PRiVCY behind it – two plane flights from wherever you are at, having dinner with Chuck and myself, and hanging out with the band. Second prize, I believe, is the formation backdrop that we have, and the third prize is all of our music and videos, at least the newer stuff. We are just trying to get people to check out this cryptocurrency. The whole Bitcoin thing, a lot of people are like, “What is it?” I remember people telling me about it 10 years ago, and now it’s worth something. So this is a new currency we are introducing, and people can invest in it or use it and it will grow. You can use it for online sales or whatever. The bottom line is that it’s something cool and new, and why not invest if you are thinking of something, you can invest for like 6 or 7 cents a share. Who know where it could go? Any kind of involvement in trade is a risk, and there’s the whole catch with the contest. You don’t have to do it, but we are throwing it out there as something else to trip on, and making it easier to understand.
Dead Rhetoric: Has it been inspiring to be on tour with fellow veteran acts like Slayer and Anthrax?
Peterson: It’s definitely a metal history night every night. I think for people, to see these bands like Slayer and Anthrax, with some of the newer stuff. It’s cool to see the fan reactions every night.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans for the rest of 2018 with either Dragonlord or Testament?
Peterson: We will stop touring soon with Testament, and we are going to start working on new material and hopefully record by the end of the year or beginning of next year. For Dragonlord, the album is coming out in September. We will have to see how everything goes and maybe put together some shows. Again, it’s more of a project, so it’s trying to find different platforms like the comic book and things like that. I would love to do some special shows though.