Now You Know: Barbarian

Saturday, 25th June 2016

Formation: 2009
Location: Florence, Tuscany
Style: No-frills vintage metal
Personnel: Borys Crossburn (vocals, guitars); D.D. Prowler (bass), Lore (drums)
Latest release: Cult of the Empty Grave (Hell’s Headbangers)

“I will say something obvious, but I can’t avoid it: there are good bands and bad bands,” begins Barbarian vocalist/guitarist Borys Crossburn. “Yes, so many bands are focused on the past; it’s obvious as well, if the classics are such there must be some reason, it’s about roots. There are bands with personality, able to give their personal take on retro-metal, and bands that are just bad imitations of the old masters. I think that Barbarian have a personal sound, proof is that in the many reviews that I have read about us we are associated to almost every kind of metal sub-niche, from old school death metal to melodic power/speed in the vein of Helloween, from thrash metal to epic metal.”

Someone get this man a job reviewing bands! In all frankness, Mr. Crossburn’s above quote is a regular topic of discussion on these pages and everywhere else. How can the metal scene properly balance its tremendous heritage versus bands who are unabashedly retro? It’s a debate that may never properly be resolved, but credit Barbarian with this: they’re one of the few throwback bands who have a real chip on their shoulder, as evidenced by their new effort, Cult of the Empty Grave. A chest-beating, bravado-loving stroll through the glorious halls of mid-’80s metal, the album is stocked with near-anthems and odes to metal glory’s days, something the band highlights in “Absolute Metal.”

“It’s the follow up to ‘Total Metal,’ which was featured on our previous album Faith Extinguisher,” says Crossburn. “It’s the only frivolous song on the album lyric-wise. Each sentence quotes a metal record from 1984. Some are easy to spot and some way less; it’s a fun-game for the die-hard metal fans.”

Speaking of diehard, Barbarian are also devotees of early Running Wild. Before they became metal’s first “pirate metal” band, Rolf Kasparek and company were a denim-and-leather loving outfit whose sound owed plenty to Judas Priest and Venom. Therefore, it’s easy to see why that particular era of Running Wild connects so well with Barbarian. “The first two albums plus Victims of State Power EP are just amazing,” he says. “Some people have spotted traces of their pirate period in our songs, it can be, but their ‘evil’ period is one step above. The riffs are catchy, the solos simple and effective, vocals are rough but you can sing along; their take on heavy metal is unique. Gates to Purgatory and Branded and Exiled always return on my turntable.”

Much like early Running Wild were masters of basic, but jarring numbers, so is Barbarian. The art is simplicity is often an overlooked one, but for a power trio like Barbarian, the idea not to overthink their songs is a strong, if not essential element. “The songs must not be boring to be played and to be listened to,” says Crossburn. “It’s about the riffs and the architecture of the whole song, plus, I’m a fanatic of metrics in singing, if the metrics are not taken care of the song simply doesn’t flow. We don’t rely on technique or innovation, our musicianship is rough, metal it’s the only kind of music we are able to play, our aim is plain, when we enjoy ourselves there are big chances that the listener will enjoy himself as well.”

The remainder of 2016 will find Barbarian playing live shows in support of Cult of the Empty Grave, not to mention keeping their goals as simple as seeing their records spread across the world.

“We don’t need anything else, we don’t aim at ‘success,’ we just want to play metal ‘till we have the strength to do it. Seriously, as long as we enjoy what we do, it’s like being on the edge of the world.”

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