Warbringer – Vanquish Once AgainThursday, 23rd March 2017
To sustain anything over a decade in metal as far as a band deserves kudos – especially when playing more of an underground form of music that speaks to the people, void of any hope for major media push or exposure. Warbringer has been a viable thrash unit since 2004, and enjoyed a healthy run of albums and tours globally, hitting any stage small or large to spread their vicious, all-out assault songwriting and equally intoxicating live performances. All almost went for naught following the release of 2013’s IV: Empires Collapse, as only vocalist John Kevill remained standing until drummer Carlos Cruz came back to the fold in 2015 – and as you’ll discover through this interview with John, he went through many trials, tribulations, and personal struggles to get the current members in place.
Woe to the Vanquished as Warbringer’s fifth album is a re-birth of sorts – establishing a lot of the early qualities from the first two albums that catapulted them through the ranks, while also encouraging some of the progressive diversity and experimentation that made IV: Empires Collapse so special. It truly encapsulates all that we metal followers desire in a record – heaviness, hooks, anger, speed, killer musicianship and most of all distinctive songwriting cut to cut. As you will read from this interview with John, he’s not afraid to give strong opinions about the state of the scene and the fact that newer bands bring as much – if not more – to the table then the veterans today. You’ll learn more about the circumstances behind the last set of lineup changes – his love of history for which he’s pursuing a degree in – as well as some of the most underrated thrash albums others need to check out and why. In the midst of juggling calls and texts touring with Havok and Exmortus across North America and Europe… while excitement abounds about the recently announced three week late spring North American tour opening for Destruction, here is our quick hitting chat.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking back on the four years between albums and the numerous twists, turns, lineup shifts, and setbacks that took place, what significant events pulled Warbringer back into becoming a viable band – as you feared the end a few times, correct?
John Kevill: Oh yeah, yeah. Pretty much no significant events, just sheer tenacity. When Empires came out, we did two tours for that record, the second was with a complete filled-in lineup. Between Empires and the new record, here’s what happened. The Empires lineup decided that they were going to break up before even the record came out. So that record had absolutely no chance, Century Media knew we weren’t going to sign a new contract because there was no band to re-sign it, there was just me and Adam Carroll at that point, who had just come back right after the Empires record came out. Adam did the tours for that record, not Jeff Potts. We did the second one with a fill-in lineup and came home. I came home with no record deal, no future prospects of any shows, no job or career because I had literally spent all of my adult life on the road with Warbringer. Just nothing- and furthermore I had just broken up with a long relationship. I was so distraught by this that I drove out to Texas and worked construction with a stranger who offered me the work that I met at a show in San Antonio. So I did that for about a month to get my head back on straight- I was freaking out and deeply, deeply depressed. I had a complete loss of my own identity and who I really was. I had to go and do shitty, low paying work – I’m a smart fellow and I did work in a law office before we went on tour. It was a real bummer, everything went wrong all at once.
It was such a long road to get the band back on track. We had to rebuild the lineup with local musicians first- because no professionals worth their salt wanted to be in a band like where Warbringer was at the time, in the water with no good prospects at the time whatsoever. Then that lineup quit, with a couple months until the Enforcer tour that you saw us on. We had to rebuild the whole lineup in about a month and a half, which was only possible because Carlos Cruz then rejoined. Because we had a drummer that knew the songs, Adam who knew the songs on guitar, and myself who knew the songs on vocals- it was only a matter of training a bassist and another guitar player because we had the foundation. We pulled off the tour by the seat of our pants with Conan from Exmortus because Chase Becker didn’t join until after that tour. So it was pulled together out of crisis, but it’s been really stable since because we have a good group of professional musicians who love what they do, believe in what they are doing, and all of them have been playing metal for over a decade regardless of the costs to themselves. That’s the only way a band like Warbringer is going to succeed, keep moving forward no matter what. It was incredibly, personally difficult for me to do this, it took a great deal of self-sacrifice. Other than that, I had more fire to make this new record then I’ve ever had before. I’m more proud of this record than any of our previous albums.
Dead Rhetoric: We had a discussion at one of your headlining shows in Clifton Park, NY where you mentioned former guitarist John’s desire to continue with Warbringer actually waned far before the tours for IV: Empires Collapse. Do you wish in hindsight you had recruited the new guitarists even earlier – so as to not lose momentum in the long run, or did you have apprehensions because of John’s role for so long in the band?
Kevill: I had apprehensions because the thing is, I don’t play an instrument but I love to write songs. I need to write songs- and I don’t just have lyrical ideas, I have riff ideas, structural ideas. You’ll notice that Warbringer songs rarely follow conventional structures through the whole songs- you’ll find that we do a lot of different things and we even have our own little go to’s in terms of how we build a song. And I have a lot to do with that, because literally I am looking at how other bands structure songs and I am seeing how I can do that differently. It was only through John Laux and our partnership – which was the only person I knew how to write music with – and that’s why I was scared to lose that person. However, he stopped being that person, he didn’t have the enthusiasm, patience, and fire to work with me.
He didn’t really want to do the same things that I wanted to do anymore- he wanted to go in more of a punk rock-ish direction which you can hear in a couple of songs on Empires. It’s just a weaker animal to me- I don’t like that style for us as much. So this record, I got to do things my way, visually, lyrically, and musically. This is the most meaty record- it’s a good thing that John Laux left because I got to do the record I always felt we had in us, and paradoxically the guy I thought I needed and depended on to make my voice be heard, actually needed to be gotten rid of, because he just didn’t have the passion for this anymore. I think I’ve learned a lot, becoming a way more confident musician. The time off- I studied vocals, I studied music theory, and I’ve studied history- and all three of those things were critical to the outcome of this album.
Dead Rhetoric: Woe to the Vanquished is the new album – what goals did you set in the development and songwriting for this record, and how do you feel about the overall outcome in comparison to the rest of the Warbringer discography?
Kevill: The goals were basically this: to do everything that we’ve done before. To expand on it and to do it better. Everything that Warbringer is, better than you’ve ever heard us do it before. That’s why people will say they hear some of the experimentation that we were doing on Empires, also we feel a connection to more of the first two records on this. We were literally trying to say we’ve done four albums, it’s been four years since the last album, and this is what Warbringer is now. It’s not something totally new and different, it’s a really strong refinement on what we’ve brought before and a crystallization of our original sound that we’ve been getting at. The aim of this record was to put out something with Warbringer that’s not good for modern thrash or new thrash, but is just one of the goddamn heaviest records you are going to hear. It’s a really lofty goal, and I feel we succeeded but truly it is the fans that get to judge.
Dead Rhetoric: Napalm Records is now home for Warbringer – is there a natural excitement to see what another label can do for the band, and how do you feel things are going so far? Are there many differences between the staff there and at Century Media?
Kevill: Yeah, I feel like the Napalm staff has a little more interest in our actual music. Century Media, when we originally signed with them, it seemed like they were interested in our first record due to the novelty of a bunch of young kids playing 80’s style thrash metal. When I think we started developing into our own band, and we got more professional and older, to the label our novelty was gone. But in fact, I think we became a far better band, I think. The label missed a chance to really push us, because everything we did from 2009-2013 we more or less did on our own. Century Media funded and put out the records, and that was about it. I noticed when we were on our third or fourth record, Butcher Babies was suddenly on the label and they were on Ozzfest, and Mayhem as their first tours. Nobody has ever given Warbringer those kind of chances- the reason is nobody has really invested in it. The way brand new bands get on those tours is… ‘yeah, we’ll pay ten grand for that’. They never did that for us, they never believed in us, they wanted to go more of a… literally this term makes me cringe, but they wanted us to go more of an Active Rock direction. Whatever the fuck that means? Those are words you can only say if you are a real suit in the industry. I don’t know any music fan that is like ‘yeah, I really love Active Rock’. They wanted to get more of a radio friendly direction, and a real extreme band like Warbringer, we figured it wasn’t the place for us anymore.
They never really believed in us or supported us on a universal level at the label. That held us back, where we had to be the hardest working band that we could think of. We are still relatively unknown in some cases, so it was rough. I really hope that can change. We hope we can make this record blow up- and Napalm is more in line with that, as they got in touch with us when Waking Into Nightmares came out. They loved that record, and they were interested in us, so when we talked to them a couple of years ago to get this new record deal, it was the same guy who wrote about us back then. That makes me very happy, they are a bit of a smaller label than Century Media, but if they actually support us as a priority which I think they are, it will help us a lot. This record is make or break for me, so far Napalm has been on board. We had a better budget than we’ve ever had for a Warbringer record, that explains in part the really good sound. They believe in us, and that’s all I need, we will go out there and support the record and do the work.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the video for “Remain Violent” – it seems very appropriate subject matter in today’s turbulent times? Was it difficult to pare down which significant violent/riot events to put in along with the performance footage?
Kevill: I didn’t make the video- but I had the concept for it though. I wanted it to seem like there was a riot going on so there’s a bunch of footage with the police. This stuff isn’t just an American issue- this is a world issue. I remember this ill-fated South American tour where a lineup quit. I remember being in Bogota, Columbia around 3 am and this round of police with guns and yellow vests came into the street, pushing everyone out of the way and telling us to go home. Damn, that’s a pretty aggressive way to treat people in a supposedly free society. What makes me upset is when I see the police in a lot of the modern European countries, and have had encounters with the police, they are friendly, and they’ll talk to you like a person. Even the reasonable, good police here in America don’t often do that. They address you as if you are a potential hostile in a war zone. I think that type of treatment as a citizen, particular if you are black, is really terrible. I wanted this song to hit this issue- to not really talk about specific riots or events, but more of an expression of how I feel about this. The first verse is like an officer arresting you, the context seems unjust, as if they are saying ‘You do what I say!’ The police have the power to do that, and I felt that this was a powerful way to start the song because anyone who has ever had a police officer be aggressive towards them, which is nearly everyone at least verbally, they can relate to that feeling of injustice. I’m just driving my car, why do you need to treat me like I am your prisoner?
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