Visigoth – Timeless ConquerorsMonday, 15th January 2018
Purveyors of classic heavy metal well rooted in NWOBHM and USPM platforms, Visigoth seemingly burst on the scene from their Salt Lake City, Utah base thanks to signing with Metal Blade Records, who released their debut album The Revenant King in 2015. Immediately gaining favorable response from critics globally, it wasn’t that surprising that they’ve gained a faithful following through subsequent festival appearances and touring opportunities across North America and Europe. As we all know in the pantheon of the genre, the true test of a band’s legacy lies in if they can sustain that impact through their follow up discography. Fortunately for Visigoth, they’ve created another staple of addictive, twin harmonizing, larger than life epic metal in Conqueror’s Oath.
Combining material that has been with the band for years like “Salt City” to even last-minute developments like “Outlive Them All”, the quintet knows where their strengths lie and execute to the highest degree. Delivering molten steel anthems that cause hordes to rise, crowds to cheer, and make you feel as one with the fantasy, mythology, swords and sorcery/battle-oriented stories vocalist Jake Rogers portrays through his multi-octave melodies and range, we have a US band in the modern scene that isn’t ashamed of their love for classic metal, while aiming to add their own stamp on those influences.
Calling guitarist Jamison Palmer during one late evening, you can feel through the phone lines his excitement over where the band is developing and growing. We talk about everything from Keep It True memories to the pressures of following up a successful debut, and also get into a bit of road life lessons, special cover songs, and the importance of merchandising to a band’s longevity.
Dead Rhetoric: They say you have forever to work out and write/develop material for your debut album, but then the pressure is on to be up to the task for the follow up. In the case of Conqueror’s Oath, did the members of Visigoth feel any internal pressure to exceed expectations – or did this material come easily to you?
Jamison Palmer: I would say it was a mixture of both. The writing there wasn’t as much pressure, the recording very much was high pressure. We were on a very tight recording deadline, and we were not expecting our debut album to be as well-received as it was. It put out a certain amount of pressure for us to write better songs. I think we achieved the goals that we set out to achieve. It didn’t feel like a ton of pressure, it’s just the recording process this time around was very intense.
Dead Rhetoric: What was different about the recording process this time in comparison to your debut?
Palmer: Our debut album took quite a while to record because our vocalist was dealing with some health issues at the time, and that delayed vocal tracking quite a bit. It took six more months to finish as we didn’t know what was going on and preventing him from doing this. We did this all this time in one shot, it took a solid month of recording in a very high-pressure time, and we all had to work our day jobs still while doing this, so the schedule can be crazy when you have to work for 10-12 hour days and then go right into the studio until late in the night, and do it all over again the next day.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the songwriting process work within the band? Are you the type of band who work on material separately and bring it to the table or do you enjoy hashing things out together in rehearsal situations?
Palmer: We do a mixture of both. This one just because of time constraints, there were songs written exclusively more by Jake and Leeland. We do kind of do some editing process in the rehearsal room- but this album had a lot more material that was written separately and then presented to the band.
Dead Rhetoric: I feel a special affinity for the Iron Maiden-like twin guitar with bass charge for “Outlive Them All” and the “Detroit Rock City”/Kiss feel to parts of “Salt City”– what can you tell us in terms of the musical development of these songs, is it fun to work out the harmony possibilities with guitarist Leeland Campana and bassist Matt Brotherton?
Palmer: “Salt City” we’ve been playing live for about four years now. We had plenty of time to road test that one. I think that was written almost entirely by Lee, with just a couple of edits here and there by the band. “Outlive Them All”, Jake actually played the bass and some of the guitar because it was written so close to the time of recording the album that we didn’t have time to learn the song in the band. So that was entirely his brainchild- obviously we’ll be playing that live as a whole band, but in the studio he laid down almost everything except the drums and the lead guitars. Jake is a multi-instrumentalist, and Lee is quite experienced in the realm of guitar harmonization- and we present things as is.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you decide who handles what type of lead breaks in the band?
Palmer: We do have different styles, so we kind of trade off when we can. For some sections, we know what is going to be a Lee section versus something I would handle. My style lead-wise can be decided by feel.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you find fantasy, mythology, and battle topics perfect for the type of heavy/power/epic-oriented metal the band develops? Have you personally been a fan of these topics in literature and films – and do you have discussions with Jake regarding his lyrical concepts/outlook?
Palmer: I do think the themes fit perfectly for heavy metal. Even in the proto-metal songs, you’ll hear about Lord of the Rings and Viking-stuff- so it fits great for us. Jake does all the lyrics pretty much by himself- we let him go nuts. He studied English in college for five years, so he is the main guy for the job. He has an insane vocabulary. Typically, there is not a ton of discussion because we can kind of expect what the songs are going to be about. Jake will come in with the concept and fill us in on it, and we’ll lay it out and go with whatever he comes up with. Usually it’s awesome, so we don’t have to do too much else with it.
Myself personally, I’m more of a sci-fi kid, although I do like fantasy literature too. I read The Hobbit as a kid – “Outlive Them All” for instance is about Highlander, and we all love that series. The first movie is wonderful, Jake and I have some movie nights where we take in Conan and Robert E. Howard material.
Dead Rhetoric: This time around, you were conscious of keeping the album length around 42 minutes versus your debut which clocks in at a little over an hour. Why do you think an ideal metal album sits in that 35 to 45-minute sweet spot?
Palmer: There’s something about it, right? Some of it has to do simply with the medium limitations of vinyl- we feel the primary and the best way to listen to our records is on vinyl, they sound the best. They have a different mastering level on vinyl that I believe sounds great. There is something about the attention span where most albums I find are too long if they go over 45 minutes- it has to be really, really good for me to go to a full hour. We didn’t realize what we were doing on that first album, before we went into the studio we realized that it was an hour long. It seemed to work out okay, but after touring on it and trying to fit all these long songs into a setlist, which is typically only 30-45 minutes if you are on a support slot, we realized that we needed to write some shorter songs. It gives us the opportunity to trim some parts, you don’t repeat yourselves as much, and hopefully makes it so that every part in the song is something memorable.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like having Jarvis Leatherby from Night Demon as a manager – do you believe his commitment to the cause because of his knowledge of the business and genre helps the band move up the ranks domestically and internationally?
Palmer: Absolutely. That guy is a machine, and it’s been absolutely wonderful working with him. We first met up when we opened up for Raven and Night Demon on that tour back in 2014. We got along great, we became friends- and then he started branching out into management when he started making the rounds to get Cirith Ungol back together. With everything he had already achieved with Night Demon, we thought it was a no brainer to work with him. So far, it’s been amazing, he makes things happen, that’s all I can say.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel regarding the tightness and friendships within the band now that you’ve had the opportunity to tour a little bit beyond your Salt Lake City stomping grounds? What takeaways and lessons have you learned from other bands or audience reaction that you apply to make Visigoth that much stronger?
Palmer: I’ve seen some other bands implode from personal drama over the years. You get an inside look when you start playing with a lot of bands and talking to the musicians- you find out how their bands work and watch them flying apart is never really good. The personality conflicts can cause that to happen though. I’ve been friends with Jake for over 10 years now, I’ve known Leeland since I was 14, so those friendships go a long way back. We’ve had a solid lineup since getting Mikey T. on drums and Matt in the band. Everyone is very mellow and easy to get along with. If there are conflicts that come up, the resolutions usually happen very quick and (the fights) don’t last long. We don’t let grudges fester- I consider the guys to be good friends.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like for the band to play overseas for the first time at the Keep It True Festival? Is it truly a mind-blowing experience?
Palmer: Yes. We never even anticipated playing this festival when we started this band. It almost seemed like we had achieved sort of a long-held dream. It was great, I loved touring Europe and I am very excited to be going back.
Dead Rhetoric: Since you are a younger act playing a style of heavy metal that’s more associated with the previous generation, how do you view the differences in terms of attitude, image, and output? How do you handle any criticism – constructive or otherwise- that may be thrown out there?
Palmer: It depends on who it’s coming from. Everybody has an opinion, and some people take theirs more seriously than others. Especially when everybody can express their opinion(s) and have it spread further and wider than ever before. Really, there’s not that much of a difference- I find that we get along great with the older musicians and have a ton of respect for a band like Ashbury who have been hacking away forever and they are nice guys, wonderful musicians. It seems like heavy metal is a timeless thing- the attitudes really don’t change that much.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been known to add special covers by Demon, Manilla Road, and Omen into setlists and recordings. Have you heard any feedback from those artists with your interpretations – and do you believe this causes new people to seek out those back catalogs and become more well versed in the history of metal?
Palmer: I do think so. Quite a few people have told me they check out Manilla Road because of our cover of “Necropolis”- which is pretty cool. Manilla Road is definitely on a tear right now, they are making stuff happen which is great to see. We cover the songs because we love them, and not necessarily do it for exposure. We love them, and we want to play them. If they fit well in the set, it works out very well.
Dead Rhetoric: What are the most common misconceptions or mistakes that people make as musicians in the metal scene – and how do you survive the pitfalls or curveballs that can come at you?
Palmer: The music business can be crazy – probably the hardest part and most common pitfall is not making it a priority. The most sure-fire way to (have a problem) is if you don’t plan for things to happen, or think it can’t happen, or you think you are going to get a job interview and become a metal musician, that’s not how it works. It’s still DIY or die, still. You take or make the opportunities. And curveballs do happen. You can’t get too hung up in your own ego. Music isn’t awesome just because you are playing it- you need that external validation. I’ve seen a lot of bands that think what they do is awesome- and then they clear a room out. It helps to keep a perspective and think about how other people are receiving your music. Are you putting out an act that’s worth sticking around and watching the whole night through?
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art for Conqueror’s Oath?
Palmer: We went with Kris (Verwimp) again, and he surprised us. We thought that originally we were going to be getting a single panel cover- and a day before he surprised us with a double cover that extends into a full 24 inches. It’s really great, he outdid himself. It’s very much eye candy. Jake especially is the driving force in selecting Kris, he’s worked with Absu and Moonsorrow. There is a reason why people in metal check out albums based on artwork- I’ve checked out some albums that are crappy with artwork that I still love. It grabs your eye in the store. We want to make it so that if you are still buying the record, you are still getting something cool to look at. The same feeling that I got when I was looking at the Somewhere in Time album cover by Derek Riggs – you would pour yourself into this.
Dead Rhetoric: As a result, do you find that you spend as much time deciding what to deliver for merchandise?
Palmer: Merchandise is the engine that feeds the band. It’s probably more than 50% of our revenue, and the main reason why we can afford to do anything. It’s important to make sure that you have merchandise that looks cool- and it sells itself. We are all t-shirt collectors too, so we try to make the kind of stuff that we would want to buy.
Dead Rhetoric: Who would you say are the top three bands that you respect the most for their career arc and professionalism – past or present? And what are some of your favorite concert memories purely from a fan/audience member perspective?
Palmer: Top three… kind of a cliché one. Iron Maiden, for their sheer business sense and amazing commitment, great songwriting and amazing musicianship. Judas Priest- a long career, similar qualities on the business and musicianship side. Not too many missteps there- which is amazing over their almost 50-year career. And then Saxon, just due to their sheer will and stick to it philosophy. Those guys survived and made some great music.
I’ve seen a lot of great shows over the years. The second time I saw Iron Maiden when they almost played Seventh Son in its entirety – that was a great experience. I saw John Carpenter in Los Angeles, playing all of his film scores and that was mindblowingly good. Even being in the audience for Keep It True this year was amazing- there was magical energy going on. Manilla Road, that was the best set I’ve seen – although Frost and Fire this year outdid that. Ashbury puts on amazing set – Omen was awesome too. Fifth Angel and Q5 were also great.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ll embark on a short European tour run in February and March – what type of touring plans will you have following this venture? And what can the fans expect this go around for a live show from Visigoth?
Palmer: Hopefully we are going to be able to up our game even further. We want to be highly rehearsed and ready to kill. We have some interesting stuff in the pipeline- we can’t say too much for sure- but there are some really good tour packages happening in the United States this summer.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Visigoth for 2018? Any plans for music videos, special limited releases (singles, EP’s, etc.), or surprises to look forward to?
Palmer: We are working on a music video- we have one in the pipeline and hopefully we will be able to make more than one video for this album. That’s probably about it for 2018, but we will see what 2019 brings.