Lycanthro – Fighting the Good FightTuesday, 22nd June 2021
Ottawa, Canada may not be as well-revered as a metal hotspot compared to Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, but its home to upstart act Lycanthro. The quartet have carved out a power metal style that dips into multiple eras and aspects of the genre – attaining solid footing for its versatility and steady improvement release to release. Their latest full-length Mark of the Wolf is a mix of older material revisited along with new songs – featuring some of their best performances and production work to date. We spoke to vocalist/guitarist James Delbridge about the band, signing with Alone Records, membership changes, and a host of thoughts on the Ottawa scene, the metal landscape in general, plus a love of Triumph amidst this conversation.
Dead Rhetoric: Mark of the Wolf is the newest Lycanthro album. Where do you see the major differences in terms of the songwriting and approach to this record compared to 2018’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? And how did the idea come about to combine older demo material revisited with the newer tracks?
James Delbridge: The main difference I find is in the production actually as opposed to the songwriting. That’s always one of the (criticisms) we used to get, these songs are good but the production is kind of meh, so we decided that is something that we wanted to make a point to focus more on when we did this album. I think the production value is leaps and bounds over what we had in the past. In terms of the songwriting, it’s really different, because it’s more diverse than our previous stuff. It’s one of the things we always try to go for is being diverse.
For example, one of my favorite bands of all time is Queen. I try to follow the same rule as them – they never wrote the same song twice, yet they still sounded like Queen. And it’s what I wanted to try and go for with us. Not just on this album, but in general. No two songs of ours sound alike, but it’s still power metal.
As you mentioned about the re-recording of the demo material. It’s because three of the four demo songs are on here, and we figured they warrant the better production that we gave them on this album.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the lineup changes that occurred in between the releases – and how the age range you believe can be an asset and benefit to the approach Lycanthro has to your brand of power metal?
Delbridge: Okay. The lineup changes happened pretty much at the beginning of the pandemic. We were supposed to go on our very first tour in April of last year, and obviously when COVID-19 hit, that didn’t happen. There were already some issues in the band at the time, mainly creative ones. It might sound cliché, but musical differences. Our longtime guitar player David Shute left, and our bass player at the time we had to let go. It sucked for a while, because it takes time in a city like Ottawa where the scene is very tightknit to find new guys. For six months it was just myself and our drummer Panos (Andrikopoulos), looking for a new bass player and lead guitar player.
We found our new guitar player Forrest Dussault, on a Kijiji ad. We didn’t even mention our name, we just put power metal band looking for a lead guitarist. And he responded, he plays… he’s probably the best pure player in the band. When I sent him our material, and we were still in lockdown where we couldn’t jam and meet face to face at that point, we asked him to learn it and send us a video. I asked him to write his own solo, and when he sent us the videos back I was mind blown. He was playing material in the style of Luca Turilli or Michael Romeo, and it’s better than all three of us in the band’s playing combined. We had to have him. Our new bass player Stew (Everett), he works at a bar that a lot of the metalheads frequent around here called The Coven. I met him because he was there one day, walking into his shift with a Blind Guardian t-shirt on. We started chatting, I asked if he played anything and he said he plays lots of different instruments. I asked if he could play bass and he said yes. That’s how that happened.
In terms of what you asked about the age range. Some people might find it weird as I’m the youngest at 22 but Panos is the oldest at 47. The age range is honestly a good thing. This isn’t the case with every band but I find that in the past when we had people closer in the same age there was always a problem of ego, clashing personalities involved. And that’s not really good for being productive. People with different ages bring different experiences and skill levels into the mix, it works to our benefit rather than to our detriment.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve made steady strides improving your vocal range from release to release – would you say guitar playing comes easier than your vocals, and what changes/improvements have you made as Mark of the Wolf definitely represents your best work to date – especially evident on some of the higher notes/screams throughout the record?
Delbridge: First of all, thank you very much Matt, I really appreciate it! The thing is, guitar playing for me personally does come easier for me because that was the first instrument I picked up when I was seven years old. I can play some really tough stuff but I’m not one of these guys who can do really 160 bpm arpeggiated sweeps or anything like that. In terms of the playing and writing the guitar does come a lot easier for me. Vocals I’ve only been really doing for six or seven years, maybe.
For the vocals, that’s an interesting story you bring up. I have always tried to improve the vocals on every release. One thing I started doing prior to Mark of the Wolf is I took proper vocal training again. I did it a little bit in the past. I started using teachers that were more suited to metal. That’s where their area of expertise was. The reason I started doing that was around summer 2019 we played this gig in Toronto and I threw out my voice. The PA was absolute garbage, and I couldn’t sing for six months. I didn’t know what happened at the time. I lost all my high range and my throat felt terrible for the longest time. Once it started to get better, I decided I needed to learn properly so this doesn’t happen again. I went to Mary Z from Helion Prime, she’s a fantastic vocal coach and she told me that she thought I had vocal edema. What that is it’s a thing that happens to your vocal cords where it’s not serious enough to go to a doctor, but it’s like when you get a bruise on your arm, but it happens on your vocal cords, and it takes a long time to heal – at least six months.
She taught me a lot of techniques that are very therapeutic. How to do what I want to do properly in the power metal style, gruffer vocals, the Blind Guardian/Persuader type of stuff. Now I am working with a guy David Akesson from the band Qantice, he’s been teaching me how to sing with no tension and proper breathing. I’ve been trying to improve my vocals as much as I could. I think it’s shown through on this new album for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you fill us in on the special guests for “Fallen Angels Prayer” between the Ottawa Capital Chamber Choir, plus piano, flute, and violin support?
Delbridge: Yeah. I remember, “Fallen Angels Prayer” is based off of The Hunchback of Norte Dame. That’s one of my favorite stories, and partially based off the Disney film, I am a Disney fan. One of the main reasons is the soundtrack, it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard in a film. My favorite part of it was the big haunting gothic choir they had, I thought I wanted to have something like that in one of our songs. There is a girl who is in the metal scene here that comes to all the shows, and the musical endeavor she does is running the Ottawa Capital Chamber Choir. I remember hitting her up and asking her if the choir would like to be on a metal album. She didn’t know if she could get the whole choir there, but two minutes later she messaged me back to get 25-30 people. We went into the studio, it wasn’t rehearsed a lot but I explained what we were going to do and the line I fed them ‘sanctuary’ and the melody and they pulled it off very well.
In terms of the people we got for that song – all the guest people are on that one particular song, outside of one. In terms of the violin and the flute, the flute was a friend of ours Holly Dueck and I remember her mentioning that she played in an amateur orchestra, so we had her come in and do that. The violin was done by Justin Dickie, and he is from a friend of ours band called Obsidian Will, an experimental band. They always come to my work, as I work in a rehearsal studio, and I saw he played violin. The piano on “Fallen Angels Prayer” and “Evangelion” was done by our friend James Cabral – he’s from a band The Aphelion, a fantastic prog band, I like to call them the Ottawa Opeth. He is very talented, whenever we have piano or keyboard parts that we want we always go to him.
Dead Rhetoric: Since you mentioned the Ottawa scene, how do you think Lycanthro stands within your scene for a following? Is there a diverse collection of venues, bands, styles, and followers?
Delbridge: The local scene here is very tight knit. In terms of diversity of genres, there isn’t really as much as I would like personally. It’s very much a death metal and core city. A lot of the bands are deathcore, metalcore, or death metal/extreme metal. There aren’t a lot of melodic metal bands here – I can probably name you all of them on one hand. Us, and a couple of others. Over here, genre doesn’t really matter in terms of the community because we are all good friends, support each other’s music. One of the things I do like about being one of the only power metal bands in the city, when we get a big band coming through like Hammerfall or Unleash the Archers, Battle Beast or Diamond Head, we always get to open for them because we are one of the only (bands) that fits. Those shows always draw lots of people – it’s nice to play with bands that are legendary like that.
In terms of the fans here, they are very loyal. Whenever you go to the shows you’ll see a lot of the same people there. You’ll always see people support all the local bands. I think over here even though our scene isn’t as big as some of the other cities in Canada, it’s a very stronger community than I’ve seen in some of the other bigger cities like Toronto and Montreal. Even though they are bigger and more diverse, we have a small but dedicated scene that come out to all the shows. Because of that we are able to get some bigger bands to come here and draw some decent crowds. You’ll have Hammerfall do a headlining show here in a club that maybe holds 350-400 people, but they’ll sell it out.
Dead Rhetoric: You are very active on social media not only with the promotional activities of your band, but also promoting other artists through your video blogs/chats on Instagram. Where have you seen the biggest benefits from this consistent activity – as I’d imagine you’ve seen growth in your own brand/band, the sales, as well as networking with other artists across the globe?
Delbridge: Yeah, it’s true. The reason why I started doing that is I was trying to find ways for diverse content. A friend of mine, her name is Gaia Guarda, is from a metal band in Montreal called Uriel, she had me on a live stream chat show. I thought it was fun, so I asked her if I could steal her idea. Our genres are very different so I figured we would get different guests anyways. The biggest benefit I find is killing two birds with one stone. It’s a great way to gain more followers because essentially you are introducing each other to the other person’s fanbase. Being able to use it to network, talk to people that I admire and probably wouldn’t be able to meet otherwise because of how far away they are. They may be from a band that doesn’t come to Canada very often. Some of the people I have talked to are Adrienne Cowan from Seven Spires, who I knew before, Leather Leone from Chastain, people like that I’ve wanted to pick their brains on vocals and music. Alex from Witherfall, Dan from Striker, all people I admire very much. They are people who I want to get to know, people who I would be friends with outside of music. This is my logical first step to get to know them, and maybe collaborate with in some shape or form down the line. It’s been a very fulfilling experience for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How are things working out with Alone Records? And what was the thought process behind signing a deal versus continuing Lycanthro on a self-released, DIY track?
Delbridge: Alone Records, we started working with them right after Four Horsemen came out. We were actually getting ready to shop it to labels. We didn’t have to do that, we got a message one day from this guy from Greece. He liked the EP, he told us about Alone Records doing power metal and old school records. At first I thought it was a scam, you never hear much label people contacting you through Facebook DM, you know? I looked into them, let’s see a contract. He sent us one, and I had a friend at the time that worked for a bigger label, and his mom was a legal person for a corporation. Not only after looking at it did she say it was real, this is a really good deal for us. He treated us well. The main benefit for him is it’s a financial benefit. There is no money exchanged, he will produce x amount of CD’s for this release, we get x amount for us to sell ourselves. He is giving us these CD’s, and in turn he makes money off the ones he keeps. In terms of the rights, he gets distribution rights for the album for two years. Only on CD, so we can go for another label for cassette or vinyl. It was a fair deal.
It’s been a really good working relationship, for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges for Lycanthro in terms of establishing yourselves beyond Canada into the international landscape?
Delbridge: Biggest challenges. The first one I’ll say, just because I’ve been experiencing this during the pandemic, is as active as we are on social media, it’s difficult. Especially with stuff like Facebook, it’s the reach. When we were playing shows before COVID-19, we had a lot of reach on our Facebook page. Now for most creatives, that reach has gone down because the social media platforms and the algorithms, favor political posts, pandemic posts, over the promotion and creative, unless you are doing paid ads. And the paid ads sometimes don’t get the reach you expect. Other than that, that’s the main issue. We are trying to find ways to put our music out to the widest audience possible. That is the main challenge, ways to get different people from all walks of the metal life to hear us. Through Spotify playlists, general networking and word of mouth.
Dead Rhetoric: I understand that you have a lifelong appreciation for Triumph. What do you enjoy most about their body of work, and what are some of your favorite songs/albums in their career?
Delbridge: Triumph is my favorite band of all time. The reason being, most people will tell you they love a certain band because they helped them out during a difficult time in their life. That’s the same for me. I discovered them in middle school, their songs are always optimistic and very motivational. They helped me out through a lot of crappy times when I was younger. I related to it very much. A lot of their music translate to the philosophies I promote within my own music – never surrender, fight the good fight. I argue that Triumph is proto-power metal. They have the same traits most power metal bands have, just arena rock. The high soaring vocals, the odd song that was really fast like “Rock & Roll Machine”, all their songs were catchy and memorable, virtuoso musicianship.
In terms of their body of work. I have every one of their albums, but a favorite is Allied Forces. My favorite album of all time. One of the few albums I can say that is all killer and no filler. Every song is great and memorable. These guys mean so much to me.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the metal landscape currently? What excites you about the movement, and what changes (if any) would you like to see happen if possible?
Delbridge: One thing I will say that I like about the metal landscape nowadays is the fact there is so much experimentation around. You hear a lot of the older metalheads saying everything has been done. While there is some truth to that, but bands nowadays that are gaining clout through experimentation. Why don’t we just start combining stuff. My favorite band that does that is Seven Spires. How many genres can you fit into one song and still make it sound your own? They will have one song that mixes power metal, black metal, and swing music. I really like how a lot of the newer bands are trying to do that, and we are trying to do that as well on our future material. How creative can people get with a song and still sound like them? It’s the same philosophy I brought about being diverse.
Trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. In terms of stuff I’d like to see change. Bands break out of their proverbial shell. I go on a bit of a rant with the misuse of the word consistency. Because I’ll see some reviewers talk about an album, they will say the album is really consistent. I’ll go and listen to the album, and every song sounds exactly the same. To me, they just mean being repetitive. I want to see bands try something new, be it thrash metal or death metal, see more bands try stuff that’s new and more experimental that their fans won’t expect. Especially the bands that come out now that are successful, the fans are very appreciative of that.
Dead Rhetoric: What common mistakes or errors do you see metal musicians making based on your views and experience that you wish they would think harder about or maybe avoid to sustain themselves better in terms of a career?
Delbridge: Oh boy! I have a lot to say on that. I don’t see enough bands using social media a lot. Social media is one of those things is as much as you don’t like it, I don’t think everyone really likes it, but it’s what you are supposed to do to promote yourself now. They will post once every few months and wonder why no one listens to their music. They won’t do their homework, do your research to get noticed. Also, I’ve talked about this on my show a few times. There are some bands that still have the rock star mentality. What I mean by that is a lot of people nowadays have a romanticized view of what being in a band is like. They’ll put out an album and thousands of people will listen to it, a record label executive will notice us. They will look at the greats and how they got discovered. That’s not the way things are anymore. It’s mainly to their detriment, the old bands were a one in a million case. Record executives these days don’t go out to shows anymore, they look for stuff online. That’s why you see bands spending a lot of money on a record, put it out, no one will hear it, and then they’ll break up and be bitter about it. More bands need to be smart about things. Go with the times and be relevant.
One thing that is adding on to it. A lot of artists these days have a false sense of pride. I’m not putting my music on Spotify, live streams – oh that’s stupid. Well you are shooting yourself in the foot, that’s what people like now. That’s what the mass music appreciating audience wants now. They like to get to know the artist on an intimate level, and see what we are like outside of music. Most people listen to Spotify. You need to swallow your pride, learn to adapt and learn to promote yourself in the way everyone does now.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two shaping up for Lycanthro in terms of promotion, recording, live shows, etc.? Has work already begun behind the scenes on the next effort, and if so how do you see this set of material developing compared to your previous output?
Delbridge: Yes. One thing I will say, we wrote a new EP during quarantine. We hope to go to the studio to record it around the fall. There will be five songs, four new songs and a cover. It is a way to debut the new lineup, because on Mark of the Wolf it’s still our old lineup. Aside from our new guitar player who did a couple of solos on it. We have a new EP that’s fully written, we are demoing at the moment. We want to put that out in early 2022. They are very different than the songs on the last album, we are very excited to hear people’s thoughts on it. We are constantly writing, we have a second full-length half written, five songs ready out of planned ten to twelve. We will do the Instagram live streams, they are something our fans like and enjoy watching. We will go back on the road, we have shows confirmed for next year. We are playing the Hyperspace Metal Festival in Vancouver, B.C. Bands like Helion Prime, Gatekeeper, a lot of those kinds of bands. We hope to do a small tour out there. We are just trying to do shows. Just build more connections and friendships with people.