Kryptos – Danger on the Rampage

Tuesday, 2nd November 2021

Delivering a classic heavy metal style with vicious vocals, Kryptos help put India on the map with their strong discography over the years. Their previous album Afterburner from 2019 gained many accolades, allowing the band to conduct a headlining tour of Europe for the first time in their career. Force of Danger is the follow-up – a little more precise, focused, and gritty in terms of the final product, while still commanding your attention for headbanging riffs, solid tempos, engaging solos, and lyrical content that will make most bang their heads, scream and shout, and let any aggression, tension, or worries out in a healthy, safe manner.

We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Nolan Lewis on Skype and had a very enthusiastic conversation about the genre of metal that we know and love. We also talked about Kryptos, the scene in India, his appearance in Global Metal, what it was like meeting/hanging out with Iron Maiden, plus his time meeting cricket star Rahul Dravid, and future touring plans which include hitting many new territories.

Dead Rhetoric: Force of Danger is the sixth album for Kryptos. How would you assess the songwriting and performances for this record – do you feel like you know where you want to go in terms of style and substance at this point in the band’s lengthy career?

Nolan Lewis: Yes. Force of Danger feels like the proper successor to Afterburner. In this case, we wanted to make the sound a bit more streamlined, and the production is a bit more rough compared to Afterburner. It’s a bit harsher, we wanted to bring in some early 80’s tones, where the production wasn’t that good but it captured the spontaneity and the rough edges. It gave everything an edge, we thought that’s what these songs needed. Which is why we went with that production value.

It’s a continuation of Afterburner, but at the same time the songs are a lot more focused, direct, and to the point. These songs showcase our early 80’s influences, especially with Judas Priest and Accept. That is pretty much our sound at this point. The very British/German kind of riffs, a melding of those two styles with all the elaborate solos bands like Priest used to do.  And of course with my vocals, that gives things a twist as you don’t really find these kind of vocals with this music. This marriage of pure 80’s heavy metal with slightly extreme vocals, that’s our sound and what we are most comfortable with at this point.

Dead Rhetoric: I did notice the differences in production this time around. Is it a challenge with digital technology to get more of an organic, 80’s-oriented sound for the production?

Lewis: Yes. Analog is always better. We had to make do with what we have at the moment, digital is pretty much what we have. Our guitarist Rohit, he set up his own studio, and it’s a small studio but it saves us a lot of money and time because we don’t have to book another studio. It was done digitally for the most part, we try to get as organic a production as possible with the live drums, mic’ing of amps, at the end of the day there has to be some element of ourselves that has to be there to get the sound we want. We found the right balance between the two but going forward we may try to get a bit more organic, old-school sort of thing.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s obvious the band uses 80’s metal as a launching point for where you want to go for your style. Are you conscientious of creating riffs, hooks, melodies, and tempos that reference certain influences without necessarily ripping off these artists – as I’d imagine that becomes the challenge in creating material today considering what has already been released for decades previous?

Lewis: Yes, absolutely. We don’t want someone to think that we are some sort of cliched act. We are heavily influenced by the 80’s bands, but at the same time, we have our own sound. When you listen to us, you know it’s us – we have a pretty unique identity. We wear our influences on our sleeve, but we aren’t exactly riding the coattails of our influences. It’s an update of what they have done for 2021. We are newer compared to those bands, we try to make sure that what we write is as good as what they did, we hope it is as good. It may sound familiar, but you can tell it’s not.

We aren’t ashamed or hide the fact that these are our influences. Those bands made us who we are, and we are comfortable playing that style of music. It comes naturally to us. Listen to the riffs, solos, you know where our influences are and where we are coming from, but you can still tell it is us. I don’t think anyone sounds quite like us because of the combination of sounds that we have.

Dead Rhetoric: You shot three videos for the new album – tell us how these video shoots went, and what are your thoughts on the importance of videos in today’s social media/ internet climate, are they as important to getting the band’s vision and sound out as maybe the MTV/video channel heydays of the 80’s/90’s?

Lewis: It’s a funny story. The first video we shot for the title track, “Force of Danger”, we had time only to shoot it for a few hours over a single day. That was when the lockdowns for the second wave of COVID-19 came into effect. You don’t really get advanced warnings about these lockdowns in India. It’s spur of the moment, you may get an update on your phone that the government has announced these lockdowns. You have to follow them or get into trouble. We were a few hours away from completing the shoot, we got a message saying we needed to be inside in two hours. We had to get our asses out of there. I don’t know how we did it but we managed to complete the shoot. We released two other videos, “Raging Steel” was a lyric video, we got the guy who did work with Judas Priest on a “Painkiller” video, and he did a killer job for us. The third video was actually a combination of all sorts of European tour footage, we did that.

I’m not so sure if videos in this day and age are as important as it was back in the MTV days. It’s still a cool thing, people always want to see something that goes along with the music. It adds something more to the music, especially if you have a concept. “Raging Steel”, the way he made the video with all these metal people coming in decimating the earth, it’s awesome. We will go down that route in the future – not spend so much time and money actually shooting a video but rather trying out different lyric videos, animated videos. You get the same amount of mileage out of that. We get the same amount of attraction. It works out better for us, we can put down what we have in our heads into the visuals.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your development as a singer and guitarist within Kryptos over the discography of the band? What do you consider your strengths at each, and where do you seek to improve upon in each area?

Lewis: I’m still getting there. I’m still not really where I want to be. I’m still learning along the way as far as singing. I’ve developed a style of my own – I don’t want to sound like anyone else, although some people say I have similarities with Ron Royce of Coroner, maybe a bit of Mille from Kreator. But I still don’t sound exactly like them. I’ve been careful to be uniquely me. As a guitarist, I think I’m getting worse! (laughs). As far as guitar playing goes, I am more interested in the arranging of songs as our lead guitarist Rohit does most of the writing of riffs, so I like structuring the songs and putting the pieces all together. I need to practice a lot more, I’m still okay.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel like Afterburner was a vaulting point in the band’s discography, as far as what you wanted to do with recording and the fan reception?

Lewis: I think Afterburner broke new ground for us, in terms of sales, satisfaction, and how the songs went down on tour. It seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people, especially because of the artwork. That was really interesting, because it isn’t normal heavy metal artwork. There were a lot of purples, yellows, neon stuff. This looks interesting, let’s check it out. It stood out in the record stores against all the reds and blacks. The songs went down live, in 2019 when we went out to support the album, the songs were a blast to play. It was easy to remember the melodies, a lot of singalongs, they get stuck in your head. A lot of people came out to watch us for the very first time, the catchiness got to them immediately. If the pandemic never happened, we had another tour scheduled for 2020 and that got postponed. We lost a lot of momentum that we were building with Afterburner. Especially playing live, the press. It is important to get Force of Danger out, as we didn’t want to be left behind. It’s already two years since we toured last.

Dead Rhetoric: After that very colorful cover, you went for more of a black and white/ sci-fi contrast on the new record. How do you feel about this cover?

Lewis: I love it. We consciously wanted to go really old-school, you know? During the pandemic we had nothing to do, we were watching all the old sci-fi, action movies. Escape from LA, Escape from New York, Terminator, Robocop. All that stuff, Mad Max. We wanted an album cover that melded all of that with our music. A friend of ours, he came up with the initial design, the figure on the cover. Initially the design looked like we thought the Terminator was going for a picnic in the park. We worked with another artist from Columbia for the inlay, so we asked her to change the background.  She got this retro game-ish, background that fits the vibe of the figure. It looked like these really old Atari video games, the graininess. It looks retro but also futuristic. We love it.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to work your way up the ranks touring not only within India but playing major festivals in Europe as well as go on a headlining tour – how does it feel to make an impact not only on record but playing live, and what have been some of the best moments that stand out in this journey?

Lewis: Playing live is our bread and butter. Especially for us, being a band from India, to even go and play abroad especially in Europe it’s a big deal for us. It’s hard work, we have to plan six to eight months in advance just to get over there for a few weeks. We enjoy every minute of it, we are extremely grateful to be in a position to even do this. There are a lot of musicians over here, it’s important to do this. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point. We want to tour abroad as much as possible, hopefully next year we can do it twice.

Playing live, getting our music out there, you get to play to people who actually appreciate our music, they understand what we are doing. They have the same mindset, they listen to the same music. It’s so cool to hear when people have travelled from other countries to come and watch us. There were a bunch of people last time out that travelled from Norway to Germany, which is amazing. It’s a humbling experience. Especially when you play some of the bigger festivals, we don’t get crowds like that in India. Even though we have a few festivals – when we played at Wacken, there must have been like 70,000 people watching us. Those are the best moments, playing in front of those huge crowds. People may have never seen an Indian metal band before, so we feel like we are breaking new ground.

That’s a big thrill of playing abroad. We get to show people that four guys from India can actually kick ass on stage.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your appearance on the Global Metal documentary from Sam Dunn helped propel awareness for Kryptos and the developing metal scene in India – and how would you say things are looking in your country for metal support in the years since that documentary was released?

Lewis: It could be construed that way, but actually when Sam Dunn did that documentary, we as a band were in a state of flux. We had just changed band members, it was around the time we were writing our second album, it was still some ways from being released. I wouldn’t say it gave us that much attention in a way, we hadn’t really done much at that time. Of course people recognized me from the documentary, it wasn’t a very flattering interview. They didn’t really know I played with Kryptos, they knew me more as the guy with the big teeth (laughs). Back then, metal was in a state of flux. Many of the musicians were very young, and in that scene it was in limbo. When Iron Maiden came to India, Sam Dunn was working on their documentary, he showcased the bands and musicians from India, it put us in a spotlight.

Since then, Indian metal has improved by leaps and bounds. There wasn’t a single Indian band touring abroad. Right now I can think of seven or eight Indian metal bands that are actively touring abroad – going to Europe, Japan, other parts of Asia. In the last ten years, things have definitely improved. Bands are sticking together a lot more, the right balance between Indian life and music life. They make it work. You can do all your other stuff and play your music. There are a few good bands, Against Evil who are from the neighboring city, they’ve toured Europe and Japan. I hope more bands stick together. A lot of them start out, and then life happens, and things get hard, and people break up after three or four years. I hope the way things are going, more bands can stick around for a longer time and get out there to make a mark on the world. There are few venues to play gigs at regularly in India, they are few and far between. We don’t have a touring circuit like in the United States or Europe.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the younger musicians in India look up to you and Kryptos for what you have been able to accomplish in your careers, especially playing abroad?

Lewis: Yes, kind of. They look at us as the grand daddies of the scene. A lot of the people into metal in India are very young, in their early to mid-20’s or so. At the same time, we are the kind of band that not a lot of people listen to over here. We have a following, but most of the metalheads in India listen to extreme metal or the more modern forms of metal. The stuff we do, it’s almost dinosaur-like. But there is a healthy amount of respect for us because we’ve been around for so long. Some bands, they do see that we are trying to make the best of it. We don’t just have to follow the Indian way of life: you work, you get married, you have kids, and then you die. You can do something else as well. In that sense I guess people are getting more inspired to make their own music, put bands together because of us. I hope we can influence a lot more people going forward.

Dead Rhetoric: You have a strong interest in football (soccer) and recently had the chance to meet up and chat with international cricket champion Rahul Dravid recently. Tell me how this meeting occurred, what were you able to talk about and do you see the parallels at times with sports and heavy metal as far as community, energy, and professionalism?

Lewis: That was a chance meeting. A friend of mine, I’m not really that much of a cricket buff but Rahul Dravid is an extremely respected man in cricket. He is an international legend. Whatever little cricket I know and watch is because of Rahul Dravid. He comes from our city and went to same university as me. We followed his career throughout his entire life. A friend of mine, he is on the under 20 cricket team for our city and state, and Rahul is the coach of that team. He asked me if I wanted to come along and meet him, I said of course. It was cool, he was very polite, down to earth guy. That is why he is known to put the gentlemen in the gentlemen’s game. So they say. He is one of the good guys. It’s interesting, he’s not really into heavy metal, but he’s into Bob Dylan, Dire Straits. He asked me if I was a musician, my background, and he was intrigued to hear about a heavy metal band from his city that he didn’t know about. I showed him some of my videos, he thought it was cool, and he said he was going to come to a future gig.

You could draw parallels with the way sports is and the way music is. At the end of the day, it’s all about dedication. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You have to be so into it, especially when I chatted with him about his career, you can hear the dedication to the sport in his voice, the way he talks about it. There is so much passion in the way he talks about cricket, it’s the same passion we have about metal music, 80’s metal. That is what drives us forward. The day we lose that passion is the day that we call it quits. As long as we still have that fire still burning inside, we will play.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you assess the worldwide metal movement in 2021? What things excite you, and what area(s) (if any) do you think need to be modified, changed, or improved upon for the better of all parties as a whole?

Lewis: I’m not really sure about what can be changed to make it better for everyone. Of course, the pandemic going away would be a start. It will be great if a lot more tours, festivals, etc. took more of a chance on bands from Asia. A lot of these bands might surprise a lot of people. A lot of these great bands have gone virtually unseen by the majority of the world. They can’t break through to the other side. That would be great. It would be great if somehow the price of flight tickets would suddenly drop. That would be awesome for us.

As a whole it’s really cool that a lot of bands are still playing the metal of the old days. We can always find some really cool bands every year that are putting out great albums. Recently with Eternal Champion, and Riot City. There are so many newer bands coming out that bring the emotion and all the magic from the 70’s and 80’s to a new audience, a new breed of metalheads. Some of whom never experienced what it was like back in the day, they may find the old sound a bit too old but the new bands with updated production, art, and attitude will carry the magic of the old days. That’s really cool, and I hope that continues for a long time.

Dead Rhetoric: What are three albums within your collection that you could never live without, and what’s the strongest concert memory you have personally as a fan in the audience – and what made that stand out so much to you?

Lewis: Wow, that’s a tough question. At the top of the list has to be Defenders of the Faith by Judas Priest. That is one of the first heavy metal albums I listened to, and probably my all-time favorite heavy metal album. It defines what heavy metal is: riffs, solos, vocals. It’s got everything. Ten out of ten. And that’s one of the albums that influenced me a lot, start a band and become a musician. When I play it today, I still get goosebumps. I would pick Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden. A friend of mine introduced me to that. Before that I was listening to Michael Jackson and church music. When the drum intro for “Where Eagles Dare” kicked in, I was blown away. That is on my list. Number three I would go for maybe Def Leppard – High and Dry. I love the sound on that album, the production. There is something very innocent about that album. It’s a band on its way to becoming superstars. They were in a place of being uncertain of who they were, but super excited to be on that journey. It reminds me of the feeling that we get when we release an album and go on tour.

Of course my favorite concert memory is when we opened for Iron Maiden in 2009 in India. As a fan and as a musician, playing to such a huge crowd in our home city for our heroes. Then watching the gig, watching them was amazing. And then hanging out backstage, everyone wanted to meet them. We didn’t know how to make it possible. Rod Smallwood was hanging out backstage, we were talking to him – and he asked if we were one of the support bands. We said yes, cracked a few jokes, he laughed a lot, so he asked us to come to the hotel and hang out with the band. Are you serious? We jumped in the van, and we travelled with the convoy of Iron Maiden to the hotel. They were super nice. We took photos, drank beer, such nice people. Dave Murray is hugging me? Is this for real? Bruce Dickinson was standing alone, drinking a beer, so I went and spoke to him. He was very nice.

Dead Rhetoric: How much has heavy metal meant to you personally – and how do you balance out the activities with the band with your day jobs and family/social responsibilities?

Lewis: Heavy metal is everything to me. This music, I don’t know what I would be without this music. It’s in my blood, I listen to it every day. I think about certain life experiences in the songs, lyrics come to my head. Everything I do is related to heavy metal music in some form or other. What I really like about heavy metal, it’s opened my mind to so many different things. So many different ways of thoughts, perspectives, reading the lyrics and thinking about the songs, album artwork, the way bands perform on stage. How vast this music is, it mimics life as well. Heavy metal is sort of like the concept of freedom – be who you want to be, don’t be afraid to take risks, you don’t have to follow the crowd. You can be your own person, and that resonates with me. Growing up in India, you are expected to follow a certain way of life, a certain pattern and routine to do things. I never liked that, I wanted to do my own thing.

At the same time, of course I have responsibilities, family, work. I make it work because I need to do this as well. Metal is a part of my life. You find a way to make both things work because metal keeps my mind free. If your mind is free, you can pretty much do anything else. If the mind is burdened, then you are in trouble. Heavy metal has made me embrace a lot of different sides to life, help me deal with different sides. The music can always lift you up, it can be a best friend. The music is always there to keep you going. It’s only getting stronger with every passing day. I didn’t think I would be into this music so much twenty years ago, but I literally can’t go a day without listening to it.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Kryptos over the next year to support the record? Have you been able to get some legwork in behind the scenes for the songwriting of the next record during this downtime because of the pandemic?

Lewis: We haven’t actually thought of writing a new record. We just got our tour dates sorted for next year, to make up for the backlog we missed in 2020 and 2021. Next year we are hoping to enter Europe a couple of times, we will have our first show in Russia next July, and we have a small tour in August scheduled for the first time where we will hit countries for the first time like Poland, Czech Republic, etc. In November we will have a full-scale European tour, Germany, Scandinavian countries. We are working on a small UK tour, and we want to do a South American tour for 2023. No band from India has ever gone there. We have a lot of gigs to play. Maybe a new record around the middle of 2023 or so. We would love to come to the USA, but it’s really difficult to get there with the expenses and logistics. Apart from the UK, that’s where heavy metal started.

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