Twilight Force – Instill the AdventureTuesday, 24th January 2023
Taking listeners on a fantasy journey with an epic style of power metal, Twilight Force have quickly become a fan favorite globally in a relatively short amount of time. Up to album four with At the Heart of Wintervale, the band feel content to evoke emotions that uplift people in a happy context – striding valiantly against any beasts, dragons, or battles that lay before them. We spoke with keyboardist, violin, and Harpsichord master Blackwald from his studio about the three-year development behind the new record, how the process works to develop these cinematic, theatrical arrangements, the obvious over the top nature to their sound and if there are ever any limits to it, great touring/fan interaction memories, plus the state of power metal overall and future plans.
Dead Rhetoric: At the Heart of Wintervale is the fourth studio album for Twilight Force. What did you want to achieve with the record in terms of performances and songwriting that expands or differs from the already established discography for the group?
Blackwald: I would say that it was a natural progression from the previous albums we’ve made. Sort of focused on the experience of being older, and therefore wiser. We brought together all the previous experiences we’ve had in terms of both songwriting and production, arranging, performances to squeeze the ball of snow harder. To find a good balance between older previous styles and what we have done on Dawn of the Dragonstar. I would say the best of both worlds, or all worlds, from the previous albums. I don’t know if the album differs much from the previous albums – I know sound-wise it does a little bit. That’s just what happens. But songwriting and arrangement-wise, we’ve stuck to our swords. Kept doing what we love doing, being as bombastic with a lot of orchestrations. I feel this time around the songs this time around are a little bit more of a roller coaster in terms of the different sounds. You have a couple of heavy hitters like normal power metal songs with obviously the Twilight Force sparkle, and you have a few songs that are more cinematic and orchestral in nature, almost borderline musical theater at some points.
That part was a little bit of a new thing. We’ve done more storytelling; we emphasized the storytelling aspect a little more to connect more to the high fantasy world where our album is taking place. Maybe a little more of a concrete story, they are much easier to follow and they connect more to the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there also a different comfort level now that your vocalist and drummer have been with the group for their second albums?
Blackwald: Yes, indeed. Dawn of the Dragonstar – there were no issues but when you working with new people you just have to figure out what are the opportunities and possibilities, how do you work together and finding the stable social ground. If nothing else. For example we know that Allyon wants pineapple juice in the studio when he records, stuff like that. The day to day made things way easier, we enjoy each other’s company. It has an impact on the process. In that respect, it was easier I would say. Not that it’s ever hard, but it wasn’t an extra thing that was in the back of my mind, extra added stress. It was an easy-going situation.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the songwriting process work within the band? And how do you know with all the different layers and elements at play when a song is truly finished – do you have certain filters or aspects that come to mind so you don’t over analyze or agonize to the final line?
Blackwald: I always overanalyze and over agonize over every final detail (laughs). That is my blessing and my curse. There is a saying, the difficult part is not knowing when a song is good, it’s knowing when it’s done. It’s always a challenge. The songwriting process, most of the time we start out with a piano sound, we put out the fundamentals and structure of the song. Some of the songs on this album, for example “The Last Crystal Bearer” was written basically straight to orchestra. That was one way of writing, and then you have a song like “Twilight Force” – that is a straight power metal song, so that was written with a completely different sound in mind, guitar-oriented with actually riffs so that becomes a different way of writing. It’s a little of this, a little of that. It all depends on what you set out to make. Sometimes you find sounds and melodies, or themes and you just build off of that, but sometimes Lynd and I who write all the music, we have a very clear goal. Let’s write this type of song – “Twilight Force” had a deliberate call back to our first album. Obviously with more modern touches. Other times you just have happy accidents. If you bring up any specific instrument, like a Hammond organ sound, you will write a certain type of sound or fit in that genre. Same thing with orchestral music. If you have happy flute sounds, it turns into something else.
It all depends on the mood you are in. Maybe today I want to go on an adventure in the mountains and write a song like that. There are ups and downs that take place throughout the album. For “The Last Crystal Bearer” that ends the album, it’s one of the more gloomy songs we’ve ever written. We usually like to write happy songs that make you want to go on an adventure, slay the mighty beasts. We wanted to end on the darker side without being boring, we tried our best to make an interesting soundscape.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see your major role as keyboardist and orchestrator within the Twilight Force framework? Has it been even more of a challenge album to album to get all the elements you want within the songs without overwhelming the sonic landscape or the listener?
Blackwald: That’s a very good question. I feel like this time around it was easier than ever. The prior experiences, you have a backpack of things you have tried. You know what works, you know what doesn’t work. You always think I should have done this or that differently. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed or not happy with the stuff we’ve created in the past, it’s just that you learn new things and try to find the golden path to make the work smooth and easy. I feel like this time it was less stressful than it has been in the past. We knew we reached a point where intuition tells you it’s not worth trying because we know it’s not going to work. Whereas if you go back to 2015 when we put out Heroes of Mighty Magic, it was a lot of trial and error. Even though we had a very clear goal of how we wanted the album to sound, it was still how do we reach that point? You go back to the drawing board and start over on certain things.
That way was way easier this time. We have ten years of experience, or even more. We have many years of trial and error. That made us be able to plan the work a little better. We’ve been working on this album for over three years, ever since Dawn of the Dragonstar came out. It’s been on and off for three years, and in the past year we’ve been doing the crunching, working hard on it. It’s a lot of work, but I feel we had a better plan this time around. Especially since Allyon also being comfortable with us and vice versa.
Dead Rhetoric: What excites you the most when it comes to the lyrical themes and musical content for the ‘adventure’ power metal style you present? Is there anything that truly is too over the top or off limits for the band?
Blackwald: You know that Yngwie Malmsteen said, ‘more is more’, right? (laughs). We try to not limit ourselves, there is nothing that can really be too over the top. As long as it evokes emotion, instills a sense of adventure. If I feel something when I write it, that’s good. Whatever that may be – happiness or even terror, that’s fine. I want to feel things when I write music. Most of the times, its happiness – we smile, and a happy go lucky feeling. There’s nothing really off the table, except maybe for blues guitar solos (laughs). We haven’t had any growls yet, I don’t think we are planning that yet, but I won’t say never say never. Considering on this album we managed to pull off blast beats in a whole song. That was one of those happy accidents, we had the song and the arrangement, we tried all the drums possible and De’Azsh just for fun decided to try some blast beats. Once that cat was out of the bag, there was no putting that back in. It was perfect and exactly what the song needed at the time. And it worked.
In that way, we haven’t put that many restrictions on how we write. Whatever it takes, so to speak.
Dead Rhetoric: You also worked with Kerem Beyit again for the cover art – what do you feel about the relationship you’ve established with this artist, and the work he’s done for Twilight Force?
Blackwald: I was so happy when we found him once upon a time, back in 2015 or whenever it was. Because I remember we were prowling cyberspace – there are so many talented, fantasy artists out there. We had a very particular idea in mind and a style, and he just ticked all the boxes we were looking for. Luckily he was available for commissions at the time, and he did quite a lot of artwork for Heroes of Mighty Magic – both the cover art, the character art, he refined our logo. That laid the foundation for a good, long-lasting collaboration. He’s very easy to work with – we trust him. We have clear ideas that we will send, and we’ll send him some reference images. Obviously, it becomes something different, but he has an idea of what we have in mind. We were blown away by this one, I think he outdid himself. And this is the first album in Twilight Force history where the cover art is actually depicting the story of the title of the album and the title track. There is a connection there, so I am happy about that.
We’ve never met – he’s in Turkey. Very easy to communicate with, and communication is key.
Dead Rhetoric: You have an upcoming headlining European tour with Silver Bullet and Seven Spires as openers. What are your expectations for these shows, do you believe the fans are very excited about taking in these shows given the long break due the pandemic for regular touring activities?
Blackwald: I hope so. We are very excited; it’s been a long time coming. Three years of catching up to do. Dawn of the Dragonstar came out, and we couldn’t tour on it the way we wanted to. The pandemic hit, and we just sat home, and that was as so many bands who did the same thing. The timing of the release made it such that we couldn’t go on any tours to support the album. Now, we have to catch up. I feel like it’s a great package of bands – we have Seven Spires, their first European tour. Great people, I met them at ProgPower in Atlanta. Super nice, and that’s a good blend of power, symphonic, and a little dose of black metal. I don’t know what comes first? Their latest album is really great. We will all travel in the same bus, just hanging out with people. These past years have made me feel like a secluded weirdo in the studio (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite fan interaction stories either on tour or at festival situations relating to Twilight Force?
Blackwald: Oh wow. I have not thought of this. There are some moments that stick out. If you start chronologically, the first show we ever officially did which was Sabaton Open Air, right after the release of our album. We went out on stage, and all these people were there listening to us. We haven’t done anything, it was a ton of people singing along, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I will always remember that moment. And then also playing Wacken was one of those bucket list moments. It’s a little bit surreal because when you play big festival stages the fan interaction can be distant, but seeing that sea of people singing along, constant goosebumps.
Direct fan interactions, we’ve had so many all over the world. When you get out to talk to people and they tell you the stuff you make has meaning, it becomes so much more tangible than an online presence, you know? When you actually meet people, it’s fantastic. One of those things I remember in Japan, going there was a great experience. Super enthusiastic and passionate about Twilight Force, to see how they are burning with how into this they are. I guess also being in Japan for the first time is an amazing experience. If time allows and the venue allows, we try to get out and talk to people after the shows, it’s an extra added sense of doing something that’s important to people.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the importance of assembling the right management, booking agency, record label, and outside supporters in developing the career of Twilight Force? Are there certain aspects you feel more comfortable taking care of within the membership of the band?
Blackwald: I’m sort of… the whole management and that whole part is very important to make things like a ticking clock, making things work. Communication is so important for the best work at all. Maybe I’ve taken on the big part of that communication outwards thing. It’s how I’ve positioned myself. It’s easier to talk about how things came to be, I’m the one who writes all the lore and the stories, I have a closer relationship and connection to it. On the administrative side of things, it’s easier for me to handle the day to day things. We realized it’s hard when you have a band in a rehearsal room where you have five or six people wanting to do this and that. It’s hard to have everyone agree – it’s better to have one or two people say, we are going to do this. You may have disagreements, and everyone voices their opinions, it’s easier to keep things where someone takes the lead.
Sometimes I wish I could delegate some things to a little hobbit, a house elf who could help out. It’s fun, and it’s why we started doing this. The challenges are just also rewarding. You learn new things, you become wiser.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal on a global scale? And what do you see as some of the biggest challenges in keeping the scene healthy and strong over the next three to five years?
Blackwald: I see a lot of good things. The scene is growing. We’ve had the European wave of power metal. I’ve also seen a lot of Japanese power metal bands, and they are tricky to find if you are in a Western country because it’s all in Japanese. I can’t Google to find out things. Once they pop up, it’s like wow. They do a lot of tributes to Yngwie Malmsteen, early Helloween, stuff like that, neoclassical style power metal. It’s refreshing and I like seeing that. The US is coming along, finally. Power metal has been sort of a European thing for a long time. And metal in general. One of my favorite bands at the moment is Wilderun. Absolutely fantastic and phenomenal music. I feel like it’s thriving, it’s not stagnant. A bunch of new fresh ideas coming about. Wilderun for example – take the best parts of Opeth and adding orchestrations, basically is how I would describe it. Really brilliant songwriting and arranging. It’s really funny that they use Swedish mixers like Jens Bogren and Dan Swanö, across the pond collaborations to bring out the best of both worlds.
I am optimistic. I don’t know if it’s getting bigger or what the numbers are looking like in terms of shows, sales, and streams. I feel like there are a lot of bands popping up, and a lot of younger bands. There needs to be an influx of younger people to keep something alive – otherwise you will end up with a Kiss genre of bands who are pushing their mid-70’s. It’s good, and people are branching out. You have the Battle Beast type sound with a lot of the 80’s influences, and then you have Twilight Force bringing the more cinematic and orchestral experience.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you think back to a point in your musical career that was very pivotal to where you are now as a musician and the development of your craft?
Blackwald: Good question. If you want to really go far back it was the first time I picked up a violin at four years old (laughs). But I don’t remember much of it. I remember getting the violin for Christmas. That doesn’t really count. In recent memory, one of the musically pivotal moments in my experience, must have been when I heard Symphony of Enchanted Lands, the second Rhapsody album for the first time. I went at the time to the record store, you put on headphones, and I asked to sample the album. For me, that was an explosion of sensations. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at the time, I was sixteen years old. I grew up listening to classical music, that was my childhood and my background. Playing classical music in orchestras as well throughout the years. I really loved power metal at the time, and black metal.
To combine those two elements, the orchestral/classical music with fast-paced epic power metal, that was mind-blowing to me. My legs were shaking. That was a turning point for me. It took many years for me to start making that kind of music myself, but it was always in the back of my head. That had a big impact on me, I would say – so thank you Luca Turilli.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or so shaping up for Twilight Force to support this record? What are some of the goals that you would like to achieve over the coming years?
Blackwald: We have to survive the tour, first and foremost. We will go back to Japan, and then we have a bunch of summer festivals. There will be more coming, I don’t know which ones are formally announced. One of my side quests for this year, I want to expand on the twilight kingdoms and the fantasy universe. Do more in depth world building, to connect the dots. We have the albums that deal with all these themes, places, and people – this world. It’s a lot of metaphors thrown around, vague aspects of the world building, I want to make things more coherent, tangible, and put it on timelines. That’s one of the things to do in the free time. There will be cool things in the works for how we are going to figure that out, that I am looking forward to. It will take a lot of time, just to make things to connect more to the music. The soundtrack to your Middle Earth, sort of.