Lords of Black – Let’s Be Heroes Again

Sunday, 24th March 2024

When it comes to a versatile band willing to put out a mix of traditional, power, and progressive metal material, lately you would be hard pressed to not be smiling when taking in the discography of Lords of Black. Since starting in 2014, they’ve now released their sixth studio record with Mechanics of Predacity – encompassing ten tracks and close to an hour of new music that takes command, never letting go until the final note is played. Some songs make you think of classic Dio or Accept – other songs traversing Fates Warning to Dream Theater territory, all with exemplary class, attitude and sincerity pouring through.

We reached out to guitarist Tony Hernando who was happy to fill us in on the background behind the new record, the philosophical / historical lyrical content related to humanity, how being a producer can often create conflict in his fellow bandmates, thoughts on favorite performances, worries over all the current crises infiltrating the world, plus what’s in store for the band, his solo work, and other projects in the coming year or two.

Dead Rhetoric: Mechanics of Predacity is the sixth studio album for Lords of Black. How did the songwriting and recording process go for this set of material – did you know straight away this was going to be a different outing coming off the two-part Alchemy of Souls records?

Tony Hernando: Well, when you start writing, you never know what is going to happen. The songs really made themselves and they all evolved in different directions so it’s a very exciting process. We like to maintain that very improvised process, not thinking too much or wanting to do this or that. For sure, we always try to have a well-balanced number of songs. Two or three full on metal songs like the opening track, but I always like to have some proggy stuff, some long songs, big epic songs, building up an album that is to be enjoyed as a whole. An old school way of listening to albums like when I was a kid, I would go and get my new Iron Maiden record or a new Fates Warning record, and I knew I was going to listen to the album from the beginning to the end. Lords of Black in that sense is a very old school kind of band, we make albums in a traditional way. We are definitely not a playlist kind of band for streaming these songs. The experience for a Lords of Black fan is getting the value of the whole album, almost like it was a conceptual album.

This time it’s not a conceptual album, but the title is very powerful and very strong. A topic that you can find in some of the songs about the human nature of predacity, and the way we are through history. It’s a never-ending conflict with classes.

Dead Rhetoric: The record tackles lyrical themes of humanity’s need to devour or despoil through aspects of greed, power, and malevolence. Can you discuss a little more how you wanted to talk about this through this record, and how modern society or experiences also influence your outlook on this?

Hernando: I have been thinking about this topic for a long time. Moreso when I was writing the Alchemy of Souls records, because that period coincided with the pandemic. Many people have turned more philosophical, all of us want answers, we want answers to these difficult and current times. We are confused, you can see these wars, these pandemics, the politics and all this madness in the government. I always have been interested in this because I love philosophy and I love history, and how everything is related. And everything ends up going to the same point, the pure nature of people’s humanity. We can be monsters, but we can also be kind and good, caring and loving people as well. It’s something that excites me a lot to think about and write about, this love/hate kind of thing that we are as individuals and also as civilizations. It’s a never-ending conflict.

Dead Rhetoric: As you said before, you are more of an album-oriented band. Does this make things more difficult to figure out which singles to release in previewing the record? Do you consult with your record label and management to discuss what needs to be released first?

Hernando: That can be difficult. The album is a whole and as a unit, and it’s difficult to portray an album with just one single. At least nowadays every band makes at least three or four videos – they may be low-cost or low budget, or lyric videos. Back in the day in the 80s, you may have had a budget to only do one great video. You tried to portray a whole album with just one video. In this case we have released two videos – the opening track “For What Is Owed To Us”, and a second single “I Want the Darkness To Stop” – very different songs. The third and four videos will also be very different. Obviously, I would like to make a video for “A World That’s Departed”, but it’s a longer than eleven-minute song, so that’s not going to happen. With this many songs, you can at least give an essence to the people of how the album will be.

This album has something for everyone. The typical Lords of Black fan will love this album, as with the previous albums. Our standard is really high, and we always want to beat the previous album. I can’t imagine myself settling down for just anything, not in a normal way. I’m going to try to beat my current level with the best possible effort every single time, it’s the way I am built and designed.

Dead Rhetoric: You produced the record while handing off the mixing/mastering to Masterplan guitarist Roland Grapow. How do you shift between the roles of musician, songwriter, and then make executive decisions as far as the sound and tones within the record – is it difficult to wear multiple hats so to speak and achieve the desired final results?

Hernando: Yeah, it’s always difficult but it’s also exciting. You don’t know how it’s going to end with the final result. When it comes to the sonic input, I give Roland many more decisions, he’s so good at that and I grew up being influenced very much by him. Not only his songwriting with Helloween, but also as a producer and a mixer. Roland has been a fifth member as a co-producer, he’s someone I really trust, and we get along really well.

The most difficult thing for me being the producer sometimes you have problems with your bandmates. They look at you and are used to you in the rehearsal space and the live stage as Tony, my bandmate, the guitar player. We are equal – but when I am in the studio with them as a producer, I’m the boss. It’s difficult, I don’t want to be too bossy. You have something in your mind, you want to make your bassist, drummer, or vocalist try to do something that you know is difficult, pushing someone to deliver something that they don’t know they have (within themselves). They look at you as being too bossy, and it’s not my intention at all. But someone has to do that.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences in developing an epic track like “A World That’s Departed” compared to some of the shorter, more focused songs such as “Let It Burn” or “For What Is Owed To Us”?

Hernando: It’s always a big challenge, but it’s also really exciting when you start to notice that you have something very special in your hands. You don’t have maybe half of the song done, but my mind is going full speed anticipating where the song is going to go. With “A World That’s Departed”, I had that special feeling from the beginning. I had the main riffs and main parts, but not together. Everything came together by itself; I think it’s a very special song. The chorus is very different, it’s not in a musical mode that is quite usual for our music – it makes it very uplifting, and also the lyrics I am talking about everything being weird and strange, you don’t belong. The world is crazy, I don’t know if I want to catch this specific train, so leave me here. You feel really detached from many things, but the positive message is don’t worry, you are not alone, it’s cool that you feel lost because you are not alone.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the players within Lords of Black – as you definitely have a talented group of musicians that are also well-respected in many different genres through their seasoning? Are the friendships and relationships important outside of the band to maintain that cohesive chemistry to move forward?

Hernando: Yes. I grew up that way, and I always have felt that a band is like my brotherhood. That’s more personal, music is everything to me. In my family, it was very difficult my intentions to become a professional musician – I can’t help it. I want my bandmates as friends. Everything is a little more complicated in a professional band like this – not only egos, but schedules, especially with Ronnie, management, and a record label, things can be a little difficult. Even a strong friendship can show signs of being worn out. I founded the band with Ronnie, it’s been difficult from the minute that he got famous with the Rainbow gig, that obviously helped him get offers from everywhere. As a friend, I would never stop him for doing this, he’s great. In the end it makes him even better because he experiences much more and this record for example may be his best album as he’s much more experienced. I love that, but also, it’s a double-edge sword because of schedules, priorities, finances as well because Lords of Black is a new band with lower budgets compared to those bigger names that can hire Ronnie.

In a perfect world, I would love to be playing with not only great musicians, but if possible better than me. Because being surrounded with better musicians, it benefits me because I learn much more and it’s exciting for me. I want to grow and be the best musician I can be, and it’s only possible when you are surrounded with the best of the best.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the special highlights of the band at this point in your career? Specific albums, tours, shows, festival appearances where you knew you were making more of an impact with your music?

Hernando: I really would like to say that this album may be our best to date – and even Roland Grapow agrees with that. I think this album is very strong, I can’t wait for the reaction from the fans for this album. Our albums have always been embraced well, especially our first two albums because we were new. We won’t have any weak album in our discography, that’s for sure. Live performances I remember, our performance at ProgPower in Atlanta, GA in 2017. Our first performances in Japan were also great. We’ve played Wacken in Germany, which was very cool – the same day, the same stage we played on with Fates Warning. Ray Alder is a good friend of mine, he lives right here in Madrid, Spain – he’s one of my best friends.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your abilities and technique as a guitarist from when you first started to how you express yourself with the instrument today? Who would you consider some of your mentors or influencers when it comes to the guitar – in metal or otherwise?

Hernando: Even before Lords of Black, I was in different bands, and I also had a solo career as a solo artist doing other stuff. I had not found any singer as good as Ronnie to start something more focused on a singer versus the guitar. My initial influences were Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Zakk Wylde, all the Ozzy Osbourne guitarists. Eddie Van Halen and Gary Moore as well. I was a huge Vivian Campbell fan on the first Dio albums – he was probably my first guitar hero. And then I was really deep into shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, all those Shrapnel masters. When I was 13-14, every week one incredible guitarist appeared overnight. It was the best of times for that. Joe Satriani, Steve Vai were also huge influences. Later on, I was into Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, John Petrucci, progressive bands.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions or mistakes that younger musicians make – either on the music or business side – that you wish they would avoid or learn from?

Hernando: A tough one. No matter how much you think you know it all right now, because of experience we all commit mistakes. The best way to learn is actually committing those mistakes, instead of having someone talking to you about that. If you try to give any advice, it’s tough because the music business has changed so much. You can’t really be up on anything; you do what you do best and wish for the best. It’s very difficult, nowadays especially in rock the budgets are so low you don’t have good management or agents or people like back in the day that can really help you to build a career. It’s very common that we all make mistakes or get lost in the shuffle of this whole thing. We are not business guys, we are not managers, in the end all those mistakes go into the band and make things very difficult.

Dead Rhetoric: What worries or concerns do you have about the world that we live in today? Where do you think the average person needs to focus more time, energy, or resources on to make society better for the greater good of all?

Hernando: The world has changed in the last twenty years so much, I can’t even recognize the world that I grew up in during the late 70s and 80s. Especially in the last four or five years, all these events with the pandemic, with these wars, money crisis, food, water, climate crisis. It’s getting surreal, it’s getting like the novel 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, it’s really terrifying. I don’t know where we are going. I have an uneasy feeling that this is not the right path. I find many people that say they are awake and know what is going on. We are not doing anything for our greater good. Social media was supposed to bring us closer and keep us more in touch, and it’s doing the opposite. We are more alone than ever. It’s horrible, I don’t know. Elite people are taking over, we are experiencing less and less liberty and freedom than we used to have.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for Lords of Black or your other work over the next year or so?

Hernando: We will see if this time we can make a proper tour supporting this album. That is the thing we haven’t done in quite a while – first because of the pandemic, and then because of logistics, schedules, Ronnie being extremely busy with other artists. My goal is to put the band on a live situation and do a proper tour because the fans are asking for that, they are hungry to connect with Lords of Black. Nowadays, I will release one single every month with the solo stuff. I don’t think an album as a whole will be noticed, but I think this kind of music is not like it used to be in the 80s and 90s. It’s more appropriate if I go single by single, in completely the opposite way as I do with Lords of Black.

I participated in the first two Ray Alder solo records, and I need to talk to Ray and have an update for him. I listened to his new album with Jim Matheos, it’s great. Jim is one of the best guitarists and composers, Ray is a great singer and an awesome lyricist. He’s a cool guy. He writes incredible stuff, so hopefully I will get the chance to work with him again.

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