Iron Mask – The Masters ReturnThursday, 14th January 2021
Guitarist Dushan Petrossi adheres to a strong creative attitude and subsequent consistent release schedule for two acts. Distributing his love for melodic, power, speed, and neoclassical metal, both Magic Kingdom and Iron Mask discographies have been steadily gaining fervent support not only in his mainland European stomping grounds, but also expanding globally to allow him to tour within South America as of late. His seventh record for Iron Mask Master of Masters could very well be his strongest yet – containing a mix of anthems, speedier double kick monsters, and the occasional left field folk-ish or ballad/epic effort that prove the band’s strong musical capabilities in a catchy, entertaining song to song format.
We reached out to Dushan via Skype to provide details on the newest singer Mike Slembrouck, his thoughts on Master of Masters, thoughts on the band’s expanding following, plus special plans for his love of superheroes and what he will be working on for the next couple of years for Magic Kingdom and Iron Mask.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about discovering Belgian singer Mike Slembrouck – a huge fan of Iron Mask from a long time as I understand? Does it feel great to have someone in your home country now, and what do you think of his range, tone and delivery?
Dushan Petrossi: Yeah, I’ve known him for many years. I was touring after the Diabolic album and I met him at one of our gigs backstage and we became friends. We kept in contact and I thought when I needed a guy, he was always asking me if he needed me either for Magic Kingdom or Iron Mask, let me do an audition. I gave him a try, and we changed singers so I talked to Ramy and Vassili the drummer and bass player to have the audition, and he sounded great. He sounded cool and was very involved. He’s a great singer with a lot of technique and also a lot of melodies, you can hear him straight. He has a special tone to sing the right melodies.
Dead Rhetoric: The new album is Master of Masters – another great selection of material that encompasses all facets, tempos and diverse songwriting within the Iron Mask style. How do you view the songwriting and development of these songs – as you seemed very inspired and energetic throughout these twelve tracks – in comparison to the previous records?
Petrossi: I have to be honest, I just take out my guitar and my keyboards and a drum beat can inspire me. I even record some vocal melodies on my phone, and that’s how I decide when it’s time to make an album and make things concrete. I decided to organize all these files and take the best of (the ideas), and choose the best to make a good album. I don’t really analyze what I am doing, it’s just my music and I go in the way I like to hear. I always make sure there are melodies in there, it’s what comes out of me. Very strong hooks, lots of melodies, all the writing is based on the vocal lines. I write the vocals first and then the music – that may be different than other people. Some of the songs are more speed metal, some less, it all depends on the types of choruses I have.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it become easier to write the speedier material versus other songs – or more of a challenge to write the epic and ballad material?
Petrossi: It’s not more difficult. I don’t like albums where it’s only double kick drumming and speed metal. I like a lot of different things on my albums. I like slow songs, heavy tunes – a lot of different things. That’s how a good album should sound in my opinion.
Dead Rhetoric: The first visual clip from the album is for the song “Tree of the World”. Can you tell us about the video shoot and the makeup and special symbolism within the video?
Petrossi: I think we talked about what would be the best single, the first single from the album and we decided that song had great hooks and a great chorus. We wanted the make up because we are called Iron Mask, obviously – and I wanted something that we do like with the gigs where we put on masks and some makeup. That particular song is more about the Paganists from the Eastern Slavic countries. There are Pagans that are known for Northern Europe, but eastern countries like Poland, Russia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria – there were Pagans before Christianity came and they didn’t believe in Gods. This song is about the tree of the world, a part of the mythology of the Slavic countries. With the Fire of the Gods that carries everything, the tree carries Hell, Heaven, and the Earth. The symbol is very powerful, everybody is writing about Odin and Vikings, and for once we decided to go the other way and let’s look at another culture and imagine Paganism and mythology.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you get ex-At Vance/ current Avantasia member Oliver Hartmann to sing on “Revolution Rise” – as it’s great to hear him soaring again on this fine track?
Petrossi: I’ve known him for many years. He sang for me 15-16 years ago on the Magic Kingdom albums, guest tracks and he also did the choirs. He was also on the second Iron Mask album Hordes of the Brave and he did a few lead vocals. He never wanted to be the lead singer as he always wanted to focus on his own career now – and I agreed on that. I asked him to do some lead vocals to remember the vibe that we had 15 years ago. It was time to get this vibe, the old days vibe, and it was cool to get him back again.
Dead Rhetoric: Beyond the writing you’ve handled the production duties as well – do you find it challenging to separate yourself from the musical side into the overseer aspects to get the best performances and overall audio components that reach the final outcome to your satisfaction?
Petrossi: Yeah, it’s two different worlds. Writing is one world, but recording and getting the best tones and the best out of the musicians – we recorded the bass and the vocals in my home studio – each guy has a different approach. You have to trust them, make them feel good and right. Take the best of the best parts, with good precision and timing. I love it, twenty years ago I didn’t have a studio and we were spending money like crazy in any expensive studio. Now you can record anything if you have a good computer and an audio card. I have a good studio in my new house, we can even record drums. It’s a freedom that’s great for a musician, with the internet now there’s less and less money to invest in an album. It’s hard to produce and record without these tools. The album already leaked last week with over 5,000 illegal downloads just on one torrent site. It’s nice to have a studio at home that we can do more than we were able to do fifteen or twenty years ago.
It’s a challenge all the time, but I think we succeed. The more that you do, the more you record, the better you are. It’s like everything in life.
Dead Rhetoric: You toured for a couple of years in support of Diabolica – including a headlining run of Argentina in 2018. How do you believe the shows/tours went, and what do you enjoy most about travelling to other parts of the world and taking in the reaction of the audiences to your music?
Petrossi: It’s great, you never expect that you will have so many fans on the other side of the planet. Now with Spotify we can check everything, there are more countries than I ever imagined that listen to Iron Mask. We are the biggest metal band in Belgium in terms of the listeners, so I think it’s great to see that. It’s our seventh album, we receive emails from everywhere in the world. We knew we had fans, the people knew all the songs, it was crazy and really nice. We are more famous in the United States and South America than in Belgium, it’s crazy really.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering all the years you’ve been developing songs in Iron Mask as well as Magic Kingdom, do you ever worry that you’ll become uninspired or disillusioned with the energy it takes to write, record, and refine material? Or do you believe you’ll be involved in guitar playing, songwriting, and heavy metal until the day that you leave this Earth?
Petrossi: That’s a good question. You never know what’s going to happen, that’s the problem. You have to focus a lot and believe in yourself. These are two bands where I write everything, from the drums and bass to the lyrics, guitars, symphonic arrangements, everything. The samples, the orchestral samples, the real sound of the violin and French horn. It’s a lot of things. When you start to play, it’s inspiring. Sometimes I won’t play the guitar for two or three weeks, just to be fresh when I play the guitar. Then I warm my fingers up and new ideas develop. If I’m happy, I’m still inspired enough to write material for Magic Kingdom and Iron Mask. The more you write songs, you notice the more you’ve already done and you consistently need to do something new or different. You want to be original, but not too original or the fans will not like it if it’s completely different than what you’ve already established. That’s the problem when you have fans that really like this music. You stay along the same road, but you can’t go too much on another road. There’s not a million ways to write a song – and things can come for inspiration in your sleep. You have to check and see if you’ve already done things to make things sound fresh and sound new. That’s the challenge.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been on AFM Records with Iron Mask and Magic Kingdom now for quite a few years. What do you enjoy most about their staff, their approach, and their knowledge relating to the power, melodic, and neo-classical metal realms that you are a part of?
Petrossi: I must say, in the beginning I was on Lion Music and they were specializing in all this neoclassic music. I never thought I was going to sign to a bigger label for that kind of music, ten years ago I signed to AFM. We were blessed, they love the music and believe in our approach and our vision of neoclassical and symphonic, melodic metal. This is one of the best labels for me for this kind of music. They believe in Iron Mask for so many years. They could have signed many other bands, but they picked us.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received regarding your career? And do people ever come up to you seeking advice either on the musical or personal / business levels – and if so, what do you talk to them about and have them think about/ consider?
Petrossi: I get a lot of emails from fans and bands, questions about guitar playing, how to record, how to make sounds good. There are a lot of young guys. I always let them know they have to stick to what they believe in. If anyone says to you, do this or do that – don’t do it. Stick to what you trust, it’s going to be hard. There’s nothing easy in this life. If you are really meant to get this in life, being on the path of music and being a professional musician, then you will be. No question about it.
Dead Rhetoric: How have you handled your downtime in 2020 with this pandemic/coronavirus? Are you hopeful that the metal scene and live touring/festival industry will be able to pull through to a regular level of normalcy in 2021?
Petrossi: I hope. We have seen a lot of waves coming, this is the second wave in Belgium. In 2021, I hope things won’t be cancelled as everything from 2020 was postponed to that year. Let’s see with the vaccine if things are going to change. If people can keep their distance for a little while longer, maybe things will be positive. I wonder how long the virus can stay in a body. It came in March, and now it’s December. Nine months, can it survive that long in people? I hope this vaccine helps. For musicians, this has not been great. You can stream, video clips, lyric videos – but people are losing income from live shows, we need to play live as soon as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: Last time we talked, you mentioned your love for Spiderman, Marvel comics, and the Iron Man series. If you had the chance to create your own superhero, what would be some of your traits or abilities you would want?
Petrossi: Well, actually I’m doing that right now. I’m talking with some guys in the states, hired a lawyer to help me to search for the right people to start the process. My book is almost finished, we decided to write a graphic novel about superheroes. I can’t tell you right now, it’s new and I can’t tell you the title but it’s going to be released. The goal is to make this a movie, cartoons, comic books. But first the graphic novel, with a designer in California. We will hope it will be ready within the next ten months, and let’s hope for the best. It’s great characters, it’s not like Marvel but it’s in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you follow any specific football (soccer) teams or leagues, especially considering your strong interest in the sport when you were younger?
Petrossi: When I was playing as a teenager, I followed all the teams. When music became more important, I stopped. I follow the World Cup, and I like the Belgian team a lot. Last Monday, Croatia against Belgium was a great match. Sometimes I watch the German games also, but I love watching the European Cup and the World Cup to support the Belgian team, because they are great.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Dushan Petrossi related to Iron Mask, Magic Kingdom, or any other musical activities for the next year or two?
Petrossi: We just signed to Massacre Records so we are on a new label for Magic Kingdom. Expect a new album for 2021, and it will be chapter three of this Metallic Tragedy series. The last album I had too many songs, so this will be one album of opera, divided in eight or nine parts. We may re-release the older albums too, a special vinyl version with the three Metallic Tragedy parts all together. I hope to finish this in 2021. I will work on that graphic novel, and then start writing the new Iron Mask album. We are a real team and a real family, and we hope to have another album out at some point in 2022. As soon as possible.