Iron Savior – Energy OverhangSunday, 20th December 2020
When it comes to steady German power metal with equal aspects of speed and traditional nuances, it’s hard not to place Iron Savior as one of the premiere groups. Immediately impressive out of the gate through their self-titled debut album in 1997, they are now up to their eleventh studio album for Skycrest. Combining a love of sci-fi themes and natural ‘metal’ topics with a sound that galvanized those of us who love everything from Judas Priest to old Helloween and Blind Guardian, not even the real life challenges of cancer for bassist Jan-Soren Eckert or the devastating coronavirus epidemic could stop this quartet from delivering more of their steady anthems and uplifting hooks/melodies to their faithful followers.
We reached out to guitarist/vocalist Piet Sielck again on a busy day of Skype interviews, and he was happy to give us an update on Jan’s cancer and recovery, the infusion of new ideas for Skycrest, thoughts on favorite recordings for the band, as well as a little political talk and future expectations to come down the pike.
Dead Rhetoric: Earlier this year, bassist Jan-Soren Eckert was diagnosed with cancer and has fully recovered. Can you discuss how things transpired and your concern for his healthy return to the band?
Piet Sielck: Well, as you can imagine it was a huge shock for all of us. He didn’t feel well for a few weeks ahead. In December 2019 we had a couple of days in Spain where he was doing okay but he appeared a little weird to me already. He was very hungry and stuff like that. In January we played a show here in Hamburg and after the show he thought he had to go to the emergency room. He was so physically drained by the show, I’d never seen him like this. A couple of days later he went to the hospital and he was diagnosed with cancer. In the beginning there was stuff going in his kidney area but nobody knew what was going on there, and those were bad weeks because the diagnosis wasn’t clear and it could have been anything.
In the end it turned out to be a lymphoma which is treatable. He started his chemotherapy in March I believe for three or four months. He’s considered to be cured, 100% and has beaten the cancer. Of course he’s dealing with all the problems from the chemotherapy, he’s been through a major rehabilitation program. He still has some issues he has to cope with but all in all, we are all super happy that he’s still there and we will have many, many years playing music together ahead of us.
Dead Rhetoric: Skycrest is the latest Iron Savior studio album – another positive and uplifting record. How did you work through the process of creatively pushing yourselves given the obvious world-events like the pandemic that could easily make you withdraw and feel less than inspired?
Sielck: Since the last album Kill or Get Killed had an energy overhang for me, I got back to songwriting pretty much right after I finished Kill or Get Killed. I already started songwriting last year during the summer and I came up with three or four songs. Wrote another song later in the summer and early autumn, and in the winter I had ideas for two or three more songs. I wanted to get heavily into the songwriting in early January, and then Jan’s issues happened which turned out okay. And then came coronavirus, and that wasn’t very uplifting to me so I didn’t do very much, even though I had more time. I decided not to be in the studio, because I didn’t want my songs to become depressive or negative in any way. I started to get back into the studio once Jan was getting back on his feet, I started coming up with more uplifting music. I finished up the songwriting pretty fast, and I wanted this album to be released in the same year that we had this diagnosis of Jan. This was an emotional thing for me.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you fill us in on the cover art piece from Felipe Machado Franco, who has been an integral part of Iron Savior artwork since 2011’s The Landing? What do you enjoy most about his creativity and abilities?
Sielck: Well, working with Felipe is always uplifting for me because we are really from the same planet so to speak. I don’t explain the stuff too much to him, I can drop him my ideas and he knows pretty much how they should be visualized. That of course makes things pretty easy. This time we had some problems to create the artwork. That was more because my concept was too complicated. The original idea was to base the cover art on the song “Hellbreaker”, I wanted to have a warrior kind of guy in the foreground fighting in a strange world scenario. That turned out to be too complicated. And when I decided for “Hellbreaker”, “Skycrest” wasn’t recorded at that point and I didn’t know how great the song would turn out. Once I had “Skycrest” recorded, I wasn’t happy with the artwork approach. Let’s say around five minutes to midnight I decided we were going to do the “Skycrest” thing, and for my taste it turned out to be a real winner. What I like about it is it’s a different thing – that he can also do other stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: When it came to the ballad “Ease Your Pain” was it intentional all along to have Jan take on the lead vocals for this song?
Sielck: Yes, because it was his song. He wrote the song and I knew from the beginning that it would be about his personal situation. Therefore for me it was very clear that he would sing it, and I wanted him to sing it also. We had no discussion about it, he was determined to sing it by himself. But even if he wouldn’t want to, I would have talked him into it. He performed awesome on this one. I knew that he was a very good singer, but even I was surprised how good he actually is. The ballad shows this in a very impressive way. If you are into ballads, I’m quite sure you are going to love it.
Dead Rhetoric: After writing so many albums with Iron Savior, how do you maintain the balance between the trademarks that make for a great song and not overstepping or repeating yourselves too much within your style?
Sielck: The only tool I have is that I’m super, super critical with myself. If something makes it on an Iron Savior album, it has to pass a lot of critical tests. That’s basically what I do. I question myself as much and as hard as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: I love the black and white performance video you shot for “Soul Eater” – what can you tell us about the video shoot, as you try your best to deliver through the camera shots what people can expect when Iron Savior hits the stage live?
Sielck: Pretty much like this. The basic idea was… if you look at the history of the videos that we have, they are either funny or supposed to be funny. We’ve never had a really straightforward, performance video. That was the general idea for “Soul Eater” – to have a simple performance video where the band looks pretty cool in a nice, fitting setting. The song itself fits perfectly the idea of this performance video, it’s a cool blend of the song and the pictures. This is a little bit of how we look live- of course if we are performing live, you can expect a little more grinning and smiling, we don’t look so intense and grim like in the video.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve never been shy on your social media Facebook page to discuss your thoughts of the recent US presidential campaign. How do you view things long-term as a German with what is going on with the strife and discord that this election has brought about?
Sielck: As you know, there’s never a simple right and wrong. For me, the biggest problem in the states is that you only have this two-party system that makes things very complicated. It is in a way a choice between pestilence and coronavirus. If you don’t like the Republicans, it doesn’t mean that the Democrats are angels. And vice versa. That is one of the main problems you have in general.
What I didn’t like about the Trump administration on purpose pushed this rift that was there long before Trump. What Trump did is push this rift through society for his own benefits. That is what I really dislike the most about him. I am relieved that we can now come back to a more normal situation in the states and all over the world, and also in relationship with Germany.
Dead Rhetoric: What are the pinnacle moments you believe you had as an engineer and producer with what you’ve done with Iron Savior? Specific records that you knew something special and magical was taking place so to speak?
Sielck: Well, the key moments. I had several key moments when I listened to a mix I did on The Landing for example. The first time I listened to “Hall of the Heroes” on my headphones, it blew me away. I felt like I was doing something right here with this album. And another key moment was when I finished the first mix of the debut album. It was an important thing for me. I had the same kind of feeling when I finished up Skycrest, that was a key moment for me as well. I think this album is really good, better, and maybe the best I’ve ever done. Finishing Skycrest was another key moment for me.
Dead Rhetoric: Has it been a challenge keeping up with the current production technology when it comes to producing and engineering?
Sielck: Not so much. I keep updating myself, and when you do that… whether it’s ProTools or digital audio recordings, it’s all pretty much the same. They add some new features here and there and the workflow might get better, but how to record and dialing in a good sound is the same whether I do it on analog gear or on a plug in. I’m quite confident with this and have no problems evolving myself with the different systems.
Dead Rhetoric: When we are able to get back to regular live concerts and festivals across the globe, do you believe the fans will treasure that experience more than ever – as metal is a special genre of music where that energy and connection takes shape differently in a live setting versus what you hear and experience on record?
Sielck: Yes, I’m quite sure that the fans will be super happy when it’s possible to return to the stage. With the vaccine that we will hopefully have, it will come in December in Germany. We are all in good hopes that the situation will clear up by spring next year to be possible to be back on those stages. We really miss the fans, and having parties and seeing all these happy faces. For the fans, the festival visitors, it’s a whole year without going out, going to festivals, meeting up with friends.
I’m sure there will be a high demand to see all these events, but for example you can’t hold Wacken two times in a year. There will be one Wacken, and it will be in the same area with the same amount of tickets that can be sold. There are normal boundaries that you have to deal with. Another big metal festival just two weeks later will not emerge. We will see a little rise in touring activities, on the other hand you have to think that it’s still the same amount of fans that are out there, and limited money out there. They can’t buy two or three times as much concert tickets.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing your interest in science fiction work of the visual and audio/reading persuasion, what have been some of the works over the past year or two that captivated your attention that you believe others may need to look into?
Sielck: I really love seeing the new Star Trek: Discovery series on Netflix, I love them. They are really awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? And why?
Sielck: (laughs). I change my mind quite a bit. Every once in a while… I can’t answer this question too much. I can’t really think of a total twist. I am in discussion with people, I listen to their thoughts, and exchange arguments. It’s hard to convince me otherwise, so usually I stick with my own ideas.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Iron Savior or other production/recording duties going into 2021? Do you ever envision a time when you will retire and walk away from the music scene – or it will always be a part of you until you leave this Earth?
Sielck: Music is such a big part of my life, I cannot imagine. Maybe when I’m really old and lifting up a guitar is giving me physical pain, that may be a point where I may stop doing music. I hope I’m quite far away from this point at the moment. In general, I still enjoy making music very much, I don’t see any reason to stop soon.
As we talked about The Landing during this interview a couple of times, in 2021 will be the 10th anniversary of that album. We will do something about this, it’s a special album for all of us. I worked on it at a difficult time when I had this Dockyard 1 record label, which went bankrupt. It’s a very personal and important album for Iron Savior, because after the Megatropolis album the band was off the radar, and The Landing was a comeback album. Because of that, we will do something about its anniversary. What this will be I cannot tell (yet), so stay tuned for that. And another thing since Reforged – Riding on Fire was quite successful, I really like the old songs being available again like this, so we are going to continue on doing Reforged- Volume Two will be in the pipeline for 2022. We are in the process of picking out twenty songs from the Noise catalog to be reworked on volume two.