ShadowStrike – Valour and Honor UniteThursday, 22nd August 2019
Power metal has been a popular offshoot since the days of Rainbow in the 70’s – but Helloween certainly gave the idea of twin guitar harmonies in a speed context even more musical might during the 1980’s. Ever since, we’ve had an influx of bands who incorporate classical elements into intricate harmonies and stunning melodies for the style – hooking the listener with stories of fantasy and magical mysteries to transport them to another universe. New York’s ShadowStrike are a younger band looking to put their stamp on the power/progressive/symphonic metal scene through their love of speed, bombast, melody, harmony, and even soundtracks/Disney Music beyond a love of classical music.
Their latest album Legends of the Human Spirit may seem more European in sound and influences than American – but it strides with professionalism and sophistication, plus the passion necessary to put power metal back on the map, especially if you miss the early years of Sonata Arctica, the Episode to Destiny era of Stratovarius – and a little helping of Dragonforce and Dream Theater to boot. Certainly a highlight to this scribe’s playlist for the year, we felt the need to learn more about this band through the eyes of guitarist/vocalist Matt Krais. Prepare to learn more about the band’s development during high school, their early growing pains with recordings and subsequent learning curves, their outlook on live shows locally, and even how Matt’s dad made a guest saxophone appearance on the record.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me regarding your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – and how you made the move to metal and eventually picking up an instrument to start playing in bands?
Matt Krais: Oh wow (laughs). This is going to be a long journey throughout my life here. Music- I’ve always had music in my life. Both my parents and John, the bass player who is my little brother, both our parents are music teachers. Our mother did general music education and choral music education and our father does band directing and conducting – he puts on ensemble concert bands and stuff like that. Growing up I’ve always had music in my life. When I was little, I would listen to a lot of orchestra music, a lot of theater music, jazz, classical, and Disney music from the late 80’s and early 90’s. My favorite band when I was a kid was the rock band Chicago, I listened to a lot of their 70’s stuff when Terry Kath was alive, when he passed all the 80’s stuff came out and I was captivated by the melodies, and the way the songs were written.
It wasn’t until I was in high school in the mid-2000’s that I got really into metal. This is really what I wanted to do- and there were a couple of bands that did for me. For most people in power metal, around our age group it was Dragonforce that got them into power metal. They were a big one for me – Galneryus from Japan was a big one, Elvenking, and a band from Brazil that no one really knows about, they have only two albums out called Aquaria. They took that Disney sound with all the orchestrations with their first album, it blew me away. This is what I wanted to do- and I took all the music I’ve listened to and tried to combine everything to make it into the context of power metal.
When I was a kid, I played violin, I played piano – I started at five or six. Violin since seven – and then guitar I picked up in high school when I wanted to start playing power metal. Then I started singing, now we are here! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: ShadowStrike began in 2010 – describe the early years of the band, how the lineup came to be, and did you know straight away the style of power/progressive metal you wanted to develop, or was there a bit of a feeling out process?
Krais: A little bit before that, when I was in fourth grade that’s when I met my friend Sean (Walls) who plays guitar as well. We decided we wanted to be in a band – since then we’ve always wanted to be playing together. In junior high to high school, freshman year we had a rock band that didn’t really do anything. I wanted to start a metal band, and he was in it along with my brother – we did System of a Down covers and this is in 2005-06. The end of 2006-07, I was a junior or senior in high school, and that’s when we wanted to do power metal. This is the early years of what I would consider ShadowStrike. So, in 2010 was when we had the lineup that made our demo in 2012 – the people came about for that then, but really the start of ShadowStrike was a little bit earlier. The songs on our demo album were from when I was still in high school, I wrote those songs then – and Sean also wrote a song in high school.
When we started it musically, if you listen to the demo, songs like “The Fiery Seas and Icy Winds” were very Dragonforce driven, very Power Quest driven. Not so much with the symphonics and orchestra stuff, because we didn’t have the technology or the money to get the songs where we wanted them, and the knowledge too. When our EP came out in 2014, that’s when we really wanted to do symphonics – and now with the album we worked hard, saved up money and got everything we needed and we are able to do it. It started out more Dragonforce-like but now we are in the symphonic realm, still speedy power metal and the melody/structures with artists like Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius in it. It has evolved I’d say.
Dead Rhetoric: You recorded the Push Start demo in 2012 and an EP Infinite Power that was released in 2014. How do you feel about these two efforts now in retrospect – what were some of the good things regarding these recordings, or maybe lessons that you learned that have made the band stronger?
Krais: Definitely the way we’ve recorded in the past, I would say that the demo album that we did, everything was done in a home studio. An actual legitimate home studio, where they have a sound room and all the gear. We went there, we had all the songs rehearsed, and we recorded everything. We mixed it, and it came out. With the Infinite Power EP, the original plan was to have that be a full-length album. We wanted to re-record all the songs from the demo and combine them with the five songs on the EP, so it would be a ten-track album and one intro orchestra track. At the time, we didn’t have the money to do the album the way we wanted it to be done with all the symphonics and bombast, so we decided to make it an EP.
The way we recorded that, it was very makeshift. We recorded that in five different households, on our friend’s laptop with LogicPro. We used a bass amp as a speaker to listen to things, it was a DIY process. We were figuring out the songs as we were going along recording them. From those two experiences, when we recorded the album we need to take our time with this, make sure it’s done correctly. We liked the combination of both the ways that we did it- we liked having somebody there for the demo that mixed it and we liked having the flexibility of taking our time with the EP. Let’s just get all the recording equipment on our own, we’ll write the album, and record it on our own but send it out to get mixed. That’s where Fascination Street Studios came in and we got in touch with Linus Corneliusson and Jens Bogren to send to them- they are the best of the best. That’s how things came to be with the album.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest album is Legends of the Human Spirit. It’s been five years since your last release – what exactly took so long for this effort to finally be released, and how do you feel the songwriting/recording sessions went? Were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges that took place?
Krais: Yes (laughs). Not so much with the music aspect of it, but health-wise I had a thing in 2015 come up, in the middle of writing and coming up with demos. We did release a couple of demos, “A Dream of Stars” we put out in 2016 on Soundcloud – and we were writing and recording and I had a health thing that stopped the process a little bit. We were all in school, some of us were finishing our Master’s Degrees, some of us were finishing up our Bachelor’s Degrees. It took a while to get all the different pieces put together so we all had the time to do it. Our lives outside of music were taking ahold.
And the other thing that stalled things is we got all the orchestra software that we wanted to write all the orchestra parts – and that was a whole learning curve in how to use it. John the bassist he had all the recording equipment where he was living where we recorded everything, he had to learn how to use all the equipment, all the software, he really took the time to do all that. It just took a while to learn that aspect of it – a mix of things that delayed it.
We are all extremely happy with how (the album) came out. We were humbled by the response from the people that have been listening to it, this is amazing. We’ve been hearing these songs for a while now because it’s taken a while to record it, and finally to release it and watch everyone get a smile on their face when they are listening to these songs, it’s great. We are happy with the way it came out – I don’t regret anything regarding how we did the process. I may do a couple of things differently the next time, but that just comes with experience.
Dead Rhetoric: The songwriting and performances on this record contain serious chops and harmonies/melodies abound of the speedy variety – what intrigues you most about this style of metal, and do you ever worry about going too over the top or bombastic at times?
Krais: (laughs). What intrigues me about it is… there is really no one thing that specifically intrigues me. It’s a sound that I like, I always like the virtuoso nature of classical musicians, the Baroque musicians, I love a lot of Mozart pieces and he’s probably my favorite composer in the classic era. A lot of the fast runs and the musicianship. Paganini’s violin pieces are ridiculous, if you ever listen to them. It’s a sound that intrigues me- coupled with the orchestra doing harmonies with the guitar work, really is something that it has a certain quality to it. A lot of fans that love the genre of music and are really into that European style of power metal, the Japanese style, it makes you feel good. I don’t know why, it just sounds good- and that’s why we like it.
As far as getting too bombastic and too ridiculous- no. If we want to up the ante on the second album, then we’ll go even more bombastic. We want to make sure it sounds good, we aren’t going to do it just for the sake of the hell of it. We want to make sure it sounds good – it has to make melodic sense, it has to be tasteful to us and we hope that people can enjoy it as much as we are writing and performing it.
Dead Rhetoric: And as far as the lyrical content, has a lot of the stories of fantasies, heroes, and yesteryear always been a fascination since childhood?
Krais: Definitely. With the Disney movies, it was all fantasy based. The first book series I remember reading when I was younger was Lord of the Rings, I was hooked on it. A lot of the lyrical content, one of the reasons why I love power metal so much is the lyrics take you out of your current situation. A lot of bands write about politics, history, a breakup, relationship, depression. Those serve their purpose and I appreciate those songs, and every once in a while you need to hear those songs. But every once in a while, it’s great to imagine a different world and take you out of your real life, pick you up and lift you out of where you are for a little bit. That’s why I love power metal so much – Lord of The Rings, a Disney movie, anime- whatever it is in music form. You can sing about anything in power metal – there’s really nothing ridiculous at all singing about that stuff, it’s done in an epic, fantastic way.
With us, the first album and the EP and demo, it was a lot of battles, epic adventures and stuff like that. It doesn’t mean in the future we are not going to write about stuff that hits home more realistic. We want to make sure it’s done in an epic way – because we aren’t going to create emo music.
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