Warning Sign – Redemption of the CrownWednesday, 3rd June 2020
Guitarist/vocalist Maxim Beaulieu of Canadian metal band Warning Sign opens our Skype chat with the following line: ‘You’re depriving me of my last hour of work’. Considering most of the world has had to take on their day jobs at home if possible (or be furloughed / unemployed if not) unless an essential worker during these COVID-19, he has a great sense of enjoying his time with family while riding this pandemic out. The new album Path to Destruction contains nine killer tracks of traditional, classic metal – elements of power and thrash abound, with comparisons to bands like Riot, Megadeth, Metal Church, and Annihilator made through the riffing, hooks, and impressive vocal melodies.
You’ll learn more about the long wait between studio records, thoughts on handling the band’s activities independently, memories surrounding Iron Maiden in the Blaze and Bruce years, as well as serious thoughts about critical thinking for humanity in this engaging talk.
Dead Rhetoric: Path to Destruction is the latest Warning Sign album – another fine power meets melodic thrash outing for the group. Ironically when we finished our last interview for the previous album Left to the Sharks from 2016, you hoped it wouldn’t take three years between records, but it took four. What circumstances or events took place for the lengthy wait, and are you satisfied with the final results?
Maxim Beaulieu: I was right! (laughs). The prediction happened. A lot of things happened, life happened. My girlfriend got pregnant with our second child, it put things on the backburner while we were smack in the middle of pre-production. We had written most of the songs together, and we had our baby, and there was a good while where not much happened because of that. Olivier (Perrier-Maurel) our guitar player took it upon himself to record the full pre-production himself at his home studio, all the guitar parts, he learned all the songs. All the songs he wrote, the ones Jerome (St-Charles) wrote, and he laid it out. Jerome did his bass parts, Jean-Mi Perrier did his drum parts, and then when I was a little bit free with the baby thing I got to record my solos and vocals. It was back in 2017 when we started writing, 2018 the baby arrived, so we could only finish the pre-production during late 2018, early 2019.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between your last album and this one? Do you feel more confident with the abilities of the members and what you want to accomplish as far as the songwriting, performances, and production?
Beaulieu: This is more of a band effort. It shows in how mature the songs sound, and the production as well. We really worked on this one together, everybody chipped in and did what they had to do to make this a full band effort. The songwriting was divided this time around, it wasn’t me and one odd song coming from someone else – we all contributed to the songwriting. We approached this one with the mindset of writing songs rather than trying to be a little too overcomplex with the song structures or outdo ourselves with different guitar parts or instrumental parts that would be too complicated. We wanted efficient songwriting, and I think that all of this ended up mixing together for a more mature record. It sounds more like a band effort in the end.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across with the lyrics on this record?
Beaulieu: I wanted to stray away a bit from the territory I explored before. Obviously social commentary, politics, war, and religion are some things we hear a lot about in metal and ends up being cliché sometimes, so I wanted to do some things based on personal experiences. Some songs are a bit left to be interpreted by the listeners – songs like “Path to Destruction” even though it delves into the territory of how humanity is handling itself on a global scale, it also can be boiled down to your own personal struggles. There’s a little something for everyone. A song like “Eye of the Storm” is about a relationship that goes wrong, or at least someone questioning himself about his love interest. Have I done something that made this go sour? It’s a mixed bag. I wanted to be more personal this time.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the guest appearance with Achraf Loudiy of Aeternam on the epic closer “Heavy Lies the Crown” – and how that song unfolded?
Beaulieu: That’s funny because I alluded to being less complex with songs, but on this one I really let myself loose on it and I’m very proud of it. It’s a matter of the song itself, the whole feel of that song feels Middle Eastern with the way that it was written. We used to joke that when we were in the studio that this was ‘the camel song’ (laughs). We were thinking about having a guest appearance – and if it was our camel song, it would be logical to have Achraf come over and do some vocal parts. A lot of people know Achraf for his growls, but he does some pretty cool clean singing on this one too – we alternate the verses, and he does an awesome job with the clean voice but I also needed a growl out of him. It was cool because they were right in the middle of recording their last album too, the whole process for Aeternam and us unfolded at the same time, it was only fitting that while in the studio for them he had time for us.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you find it a challenge to develop the epic songs in comparison to the shorter, four to five-minute songs for Warning Sign?
Beaulieu: It is a challenge, obviously. There are tempo changes, key changes, a whole bunch of things that you need to take into account. It’s no wonder that we have not really played those songs live. “Mark of the Beast” off the Wake the Dead EP, “Shifting Sands” off our last album Left to the Sharks, or this one – I hope we are able to play this one live as it’s a damn good song, and Jerome likes it too. In order to make sure your live set is as compact as possible and packs as much punch as you want it to, you have to leave the long songs out. One- they are a challenge to play and two, sometimes people that don’t know these songs, given that the structure is a bit all over the place they may not appreciate it. They may not find their footing in it, or relate to the song and where it’s going.
Dead Rhetoric: At this point do you put more emphasis and work on your voice versus your guitar skills – and do you enjoy the comparisons you’ve received to singers like Joey Belladonna, Mark Osegueda, and Mike Howe?
Beaulieu: Yeah, I’ll have to admit my guitar playing has taken a bit of a step back to vocals, for a variety of reasons. I now sing in two bands, and that will make me sing a lot more. I still practice the guitar quite a lot, but I sing a whole lot more than I ever have in the last three or four years. I think it shows. On the last record, it shows.
I get compared to a whole bunch of people, and I think that’s a good thing. I bring a whole bunch of different elements to my singing. Belladonna has been one of the mainstays in the different comparisons. I’m flattered by it, I’ve always looked up to Joey and I’m a big Anthrax fan. Same from the Metal Church comparisons, some people compare me to Mike Howe who I admire a lot. It’s always flattering for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: When Warning Sign does play out live on a local Quebec basis, what types of reactions do you get from other bands as well as the audiences – as you talked about before the fact that the band is one of the only groups doing this type of melodic power/semi-thrash sound in the area?
Beaulieu: We get a lot of positive reactions from people that say exactly what you just said – that we are the only ones that do this, and a lot of old school metal fans say we need more bands like us. I think we need more bands, but there’s less competition for us. People are amazed by what we do, and we always enjoy gathering new fans when we play out. The bands that we’ve opened for have been pretty positive with us – I keep up a good relationship with through the internet with people, Chris Appleton from Blaze Bayley’s band is one guy I’ve kept in pretty good contact with. Also Joacim from Hammerfall – he thought that we were really cool, he even said it on stage that Quebec should be proud to have bands like us on the local scene, so that was something that really touched us.
The reaction is positive, and not just live but to the last record too. On the local scene, we’ve gathered a whole bunch of new fans with that record, so we can’t wait for the virus to be done with so we can bring the music to the people once again.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of heavy metal today – and how have you handled the changes where there seem to be so many different sub-genres of metal, do you think it can be harder and more confusing for followers to grasp and process all that is taking place in the genre?
Beaulieu: A little bit. I think the genre is in a pretty good place right now. There’s a plethora of metal acts out there, a bunch of styles and the metal scene has never been a part of the mainstream. We have to be content being our own little cocoon and dealing with one another within that little shell. I think it’s in a cool place. As you said, I don’t really like labels for a number of reasons, as it can alienate your audience as to what you are doing. If you say that Warning Sign is a power/thrash band, some people will go ‘ah I hate power metal’. At the end of the day, we all play heavy metal and I think we can all find something that we like and don’t like in about everything. With all the sub-categories and labeling of the genres, I think it makes things more confusing than anything else. Some people need that, good for them.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have the support from your friends and family when it comes to your music endeavors – and how do you balance out the workload between family, a day job, and the band?
Beaulieu: We do have support, obviously from everyone. Parents, wives, girlfriends and everything. It’s a challenge to balance everything- we work a regular schedule, we need to rehearse and hit the studio. I won’t hide from you that most of the studio time for the last record was during a time where I was supposed to be on vacation. It’s hard to find time to rest sometimes. It also can put some strains in our relationship, when you are supposed to be on vacation and you are not at home with your family, it’ll kind of suck the air out of your relationship so to speak. Who am I to complain though, we don’t have any world tours booked, if it happens we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now it’s easily balanced because we can do our little thing here in our corner of the planet and not have to worry about doing it for the long haul – three to five weeks at a time. But I think we can find a way to manage that if it happens.
Dead Rhetoric: Now you’ve released all your material to date independently. Would you ever consider signing to a record label, and if so what would it take to sign on the dotted line?
Beaulieu: That’s a good question. We are pretty happy we are at where we are now, which relates to the previous question. We have work, we have families, we have responsibilities outside of this so it’s a cool hobby to be able to put out records and have them released internationally through stuff like CD Baby, Bandcamp, and have other outlets like yourself take an interest in what we do. It is a pretty cool spot to be in. Having all the machine behind a label, all the marketing power behind that would help us out a lot, but it probably would require us to be available for touring a lot. Which intertwines with the challenges talked about previously, so we would have to consider that. We’ve talked a lot about finding management to help ease some of the responsibilities individually in the correct fashion. We may end up doing that instead of finding a label at some point. We aren’t quite there yet.
Dead Rhetoric: You were able to see Iron Maiden first in the 1990’s with Blaze Bayley on vocals. What was that live outing like in comparison to witnessing the band once Bruce was back in the fold – did you have a new-found respect for the band that grew over the years?
Beaulieu: Oh man. That was my first Maiden concert back in 1995, I was too much of an emotional Maiden fanatic at the time. I was 15, I just couldn’t believe I was seeing Steve Harris in person. It’s weird to delve back and think to how I felt. A few years later I saw the Ed Hunter tour, when Bruce was back. Seeing them with Blaze was one thing, but you can feel how much Maiden is Bruce’s band when we saw him after that. It was amazing seeing them perform.
I do have new-found respect for what Blaze Bayley was trying to accomplish. It was a humungous challenge for him to fill these shoes, and he did the best that he could. I think some of the songs he performed admirably well, one thing I will never understand though is why didn’t they go back a little bit further into the Di’Anno catalog. It would have fit his voice perfectly.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the world that we live in today? What do you think the average person in the world needs to think about more and work hard on to keep society moving in a better, more positive direction?
Beaulieu: It’s all a matter of critical thinking. We all need a great dose of critical thinking. We all need to question what we read and get presented as news, as statistics, as facts. Sources of everything and make sure we can validate the information that we receive as real, because that’s the real threat in our day and age. I’m reading on that at the moment, I am reading a really cool book that’s called Weaponized Lies by Daniel Levitin, which is on the matter of critical thinking as a whole. It’s crazy how we get presented a whole bunch of different information during one day, a week or a month, and it’s interesting how this message gets twisted to push a certain agenda. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that there is an agenda behind everything – certain sources are biased and certain sources are not. The real challenge in the information age is to validate the information you receive and validate the sources where the data comes from. A lot of people don’t do that.
A lot of times when people are reading the news, they’ll just read the title, and will judge the article based on the title, which is stupid- because the title often doesn’t reflect what it actually in the text. There are a lot of conflicts in this world that are all based on big misunderstandings or big judgement calls that we make on certain other groups that we don’t really know, and that we would probably gain a lot more if we were able to get to know them better.
Dead Rhetoric: How are you handling the lack of sports as a boxing and hockey fan during this pandemic? Have you thrown yourself more into your gaming, and do you think people will change their behavior a bit when we come out of this quarantine, social distancing mandates?
Beaulieu: I handle it badly! (laughs). We would be smack in the middle of the NHL playoffs right now, and it’s a hard time to talk about the sports that I follow. I am gaming a bit more, and I try to play the guitar as much as possible. This gives me more time to spend with the family. The good timing is there’s the Final Fantasy 7 remake that came out on the PS4, so I’ll sink my teeth into that and my guitar playing. What can you do?
As well as it will be hard for crowds to go out to concerts, it’ll be equally as hard if not more to go back to sports. You can’t just distance yourself from someone who is sitting next to you. I don’t know how they will handle it, if they will only sell half the available tickets to the venues, rearrange the seating so that people from the same group are together but as far away as possible as the local health authorities mandate. It’ll be weird when it reopens. I know that some sports leagues are trying to look into playing in front of empty arenas. I follow professional wrestling a bit – I have seen AEW and WWE do this with their weekly shows in front of nobody. I enjoy the AEW with the heels on one side, and the faces on the other – and they would both heckle each other. I thought that was quite funny.
Even with us as performers, with all these security measures – I don’t even know how this is going to turn out. I’m eager to see it, but I dread it at the same time.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the highlights for Warning Sign career-wise? And where would you like to take the band over the next say three to five years in terms of development?
Beaulieu: I’d say we are constantly living through different career highlights. As a small band from a small market, having a chance to play with bands that we look up to like Primal Fear, Rhapsody, Hammerfall, Blaze Bayley, Havok – we’ve played with a whole bunch of bands we look up to. Those are highlights every single time. The fact that both of our albums have received very, very positive reviews – for small acts to be compared to bigger acts who have a much bigger budget, to be given grades on our records. Not that I don’t like you giving us 9.5 out of 10, but I’m not a big fan of putting on numbers to illustrate how a record is good or not. It’s so subjective at the end of the day. At least it gives you an idea of how much the listener liked it. No review told us our record was shit (laughs). They weren’t dismissed as run of the mill, and that’s a highlight in and of itself. We put out quality music that the people enjoy, and I hope we can continue to do that for the years to come.
We want to keep on doing this because we love it. Where we want to go will depend on where people will want to accept us. We will try to thread a tour in our neighboring provinces, and maybe go on the East Coast of the United States if we can. We want to market ourselves more out there to sell a few more records and a few more t-shirts along the way. If the right offer is there and we can take it, we will that’s for certain.
Dead Rhetoric: What does success mean to you personally – and when you look at success within the metal scene, what people or bands come to mind the most?
Beaulieu: Wow- success to me. Being successful, it’s an abstract concept. For some people, being successful would be making money, or selling records, or having chicks. Being successful for me is being able to do and like what you do, and appreciate it for what it is. In that sense we are successful, because we are doing what we love, and continue to do it, and people buy what we do. It’s no secret to anyone that I am a big Iron Maiden fan. To me they are the embodiment of success in heavy metal, in the sense that whatever they do, it always works. They were able to market themselves as a brand, as well as market themselves as a band. It’s funny, it never feels like Maiden does something… you know how when Kiss does something and people say, ‘ah- they just want to make money’? And whenever Maiden releases something, whatever that is, people will just run to get it. Because it’s them. Whether it’s a figure, a pair of briefs, the alcohol.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Warning Sign as a band or personally with the other members for activities over the next twelve months or so?
Beaulieu: The agenda got a bit derailed with the coronavirus. We were looking to send our press kits to all the festivals in the area. That’s on the ice, and I can just start writing songs again – which I’ve already accumulated things here and there. Maybe the next record will not take four years to come out. It might take five or six this time! (laughs) There are no other kids on the way, so we should be good. We have recorded more material than we released with our new album. You can probably expect something else from us in the coming months. We had too many songs for the album for just one record, and we didn’t want to make it a double album. It would have been pretentious, we are not a big act. Metallica and Maiden can do that.
We arranged the songs in a way that felt good and flowed well. And whatever songs were left out, we are going to release them as a separate thing, so that’s what’s going to end up happening. They are a continuity of the new album. Once we can resume playing shows, we want to do that – we want to play live for the public. With Tol, we were in the middle of pre-producing our next album. We would be recording at this time, but this is all pushed back. We want to be in the studio by the end of the year, and release a new album for the public for this one too. We can’t commit to a solid road map due to the virus.