A DIFFERENT BREED OF ANGELS
With such a saturated market, it’s hard for a Power Metal band to stand out these days. Despite that, there’s one band from South Yorkshire, in England, that’s recently been attracting an unusual amount of attention. Their music possesses that je ne sais quoi that gives them a distinctive personality while the band members seem armed to the teeth with determination and talent. Shall they be the next big Metal phenomenon or shall they vanish as fast as they’ve come?
The band’s name is Damnation Angels and, in the interview that follows, they describe the scenery from the crossroads that they’re at. Representing the band are the 2 founding members: drummer John Graney and a guitarist who goes by the name of Maestro. Sure enough, it’s Maestro himself who attempts a concise description of his band’s music…..
Maestro: It’s basically Symphonic Metal with an emphasis on the ‘Metal’. If you think of Kamelot or Nightwish you can start getting a basic idea of our music.
Chris: Did you play with other bands prior to Damnation Angels?
M: I’ve played with a few small bands before but nothing that anyone would really know of. Damnation Angels is my first real band.
C: Bands usually start experimenting with their sound which over time they fine-tune and polish. With “Shadow Symphony”, however, Damnation Angels already seem to have found the right formula and sound.
How do you feel about this?
M: Well, we had spent quite a while working on the songs, playing them live and developing them. It took us around 2 years to come up with the songs as they appear on “Shadow Symphony”.
C: “Shadow Symphony” was your first release, I believe. Could you please describe the experience of recording it?
M: It was hard. The hardest thing we have ever done. Scott Atkins [Sylosis, Gama Bomb, Cradle Of Filth…..] was the producer – a really good producer - and he had made us work incredibly hard in every sense. It was nothing like we had previously experienced and took a lot longer than we had expected. Scott pushed us all to our limits and got the best out of us and that’s what makes “Shadow Symphony” such a good CD. We worked 9 to 8 every day for 3 whole weeks but in the end it was worth it because we got what we wanted, which a CD that stood out from all the other CDs. We didn’t want some crappy ‘demo’ sound. We wanted it to stand out in the market amongst professional releases.
C: Who did the artwork?
M: For the artwork we got a guy called Jan Yrlund [Korpiklaani, Sirenia, Turisas, Imperia.….]. We wanted to find someone who could complement the music and also be at the same level as the music and the production. We thought there’s no point having a great CD, spending so much time and money on it and then having a crappy artwork. So we found the best after looking online and checking out the artworks of our favourite bands. Jan took a while to do it but we though that he definitely came up with an artwork of the same level as the music. He’s also responsible for the artwork found in our Myspace page.
C: Maestro, I believe at one point it was you who was singing with the band…..
M: Up to around 2 years ago we had a different singer. Prior to that, yes, I did sing but the music was slightly different then. About a year ago we had brought in Lewis Starfire…
C: I reckon Lewis’ voice is a crucial element to the band’s sound. How had you found him?
M: After we got rid of our last singer it only took 2 days of searching online until I managed to find him. He was singing with a smaller band then and I found out through his brother that he wasn’t really happy with the music he was doing then, which was some kind of Glam Rock. He wasn’t really happy because he prefers Symphonic Metal and Power Metal. So I sent him an e-mail and straight away he wanted to join. Since then we’ve never looked back. Lewis one-in-a-million really and in my opinion he’s the best Power Metal singer in the UK.
C: Yeah, I think he does have a very good voice. I also understand that Lewis and keyboardist Dawn were recruited at more or less the same time. Was it hard for two band members to fit in with the band?
John: Not really. It’s always been me and Maestro for a long time – since we started playing Metallica covers in a garage. You kind of have to spend a lot of time with the new members, make them feel comfortable so that they can show their true personality instead of a bogus personality. About a month ago we also lost our original bassist but we’ve already recruited a new bassist. To be honest everybody’s gelled pretty well – it feels like everybody’s known each other for a long time.
Sometimes in a band you have members who are just friends. They’re not musicians who are in for the ride. You’ve got to get rid of these members and find people who really want to do it. Sometimes it takes time to find them but I think that right now we’re the strongest we’ve ever been. With this line-up we all want to do everything we can, tour everywhere.
C: Why had the band decided to employ a full-time keyboardist?
M: Well, we didn’t want all our orchestral sounds to be PA-based. We wanted to put a lot of it on keyboards and synth. We also think its better playing live with a keyboardist instead of having the audience guessing from where the orchestral sounds are coming from.
C: Would you be prepared to take it one step further in future and employ a proper orchestra?
J: [laughs] That would be a dream come true. We have a lot of dreams and using a full orchestra is one of them. You know, we want to tour the world. We want to do everything we can. We want to make this [band] as big as we possibly can because we know it can be big. Playing with a full orchestra would be a step in that direction.
C: You’ve referred to your new bass player. How have the first gigs with him gone?
M: His name is Rick Corbett and it’s been going quite well with him actually. It didn’t take Rick long to gel with the band. He’s a naturally great performer on stage - with previous members we’ve had to work on their stage performance. With him he’s played on stage as if he’s been doing it for 20 years…and he’s only 21. So yeah, he’s a natural performer and a great bassist as well. He only had a few weeks to learn the material but he’s jumped in straight away.
C: Earlier on you referred to the ambition of taking the shows of Damnation Angels beyond the UK. Are there any specific plans on this in the pipeline?
M: Well we’re hoping to get signed this year with a decent label which can make us as big as we deserve. We want to perform in Europe, support a decent band, tour the world with a decent band. We don’t want to disappear, we want to be known. We want a good distribution, exposure in magazines. We want it all.
So yes, this year we hope to get signed with a label who shares our same vision and hopefully tour.
C: Once you’re mentioning touring, if you were offered to tour with 3 bands of your choice, which would these bands be?
M: I’d tour with Metallica any time. Or Iron Maiden. Realistically, though, I’d say Kamelot, Nightwish, Sabaton…any European Power Metal band, any Symphonic Power Metal band that would attract our same kind of audience. To be honest its pretty dire in the UK but it’s also hard finding someone who’s prepared to take us on in mainland Europe especially as we’ve no help from any management or label.
J: …and EdGuy…
C: Yeah EdGuy would complement your style of music well. And possibly Stratovarius.
M: Yeah, and Gamma Ray, Halloween…we could go on all day [mentioning them].
C: Do you see Damnation Angels as appealing to a particular niche of Metal or do you think the band’s music could be embraced by anyone?
M: I think it doesn’t just appeal to Symphonic Metal fans. What our music is is Heavy Metal…true Metal…with an orchestra and not a lot of Symphonic Metal bands do that. But we’ve also got a lot of influences from Power Metal, from Metallica…you know, there’s something in there for everyone and it should appeal to a lot more people than the Symphonic Metal audience.
C: What about the lyrics of Damnation Angels – do you tend to focus on any particular theme?
M: I myself write all the lyrics and often they’re inspired from either a film I would have seen or simple things that would have sparked off my imagination. There isn’t any particular theme but often they are dark themes, you know. I don’t tend to write happy songs with Damnation Angels. I would say we do ‘happy’ music but the themes are all dark.
C: I guess this bipolar aspect of darkness and happiness is reflected in the band moniker…
J: Yeah, however we never set ourselves any restrictions when writing songs. Usually we start off with a string pattern and take it from there but the point is that I don’t think Maestro starts out saying: “Right, I want to write lyrics about this or that theme.”
M: Often the songs are already completed when I start writing the lyrics and think of the vocal melodies. For example James Hetfield, of Metallica, actually writes a lot of the patterns of the songs and then puts the lyrics in with notes. And that’s exactly the way I do it because it’s hard to actually write the lyrics and then fit them into the song.
C: Very often, Metal bands are put in context of their country of origin, the NWOBHM being one obvious example. Does it make sense in our globalised economy to speak of ‘band nationality’?
M: Not as much any more. Today you get every kind of Metal from every country you can think of. Very few bands who aren’t in the mainstream stick to their music of origin.
The British charts are dominated by Indie bands and Pop music and you don’t have too many Metal bands in the charts here. You just have that Emo-y kind of rubbish. You also get a lot of Death Metal or some Metalcore kind of crap but there’s not really an audience for Symphonic Metal. It’s disappointing because the genre in England doesn’t seem to have taken off. In [mainland] Europe, our kind of music is huge. You get Manowar and Edguy at no. 1 in the charts…..
M: Yeah. The thing is a lot of great bands came from the UK – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest…..things have changed though.
C: What about the varying success of British bands such as PowerQuest, Dragonforce and Threshold?
M: There are a few of them, yes, with Dragonforce probably being one of the best. To be honest, personally I don’t think PowerQuest are going to succeed. They’ve been doing it for a long long time in the UK but it doesn’t seem to work and there are a lot of bands like them. Power Metal is just not big in the UK and if you want to do well you’ve really got to somehow go over to [mainland] Europe. It’s hard but I think we can achieve it. Hopefully we can the next Power Metal band from England that makes it big in Europe.
C: A straightforward question…Maestro and John, which guitarists and drummers respectively do you most admire?
J: The main one would be Lars Ulrich [Metallica] – without Lars, I’d never have started drumming. Then, from Lars it expanded into others such as Casey Grillo [Kamelot], Mike Terrana [Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Axel Rudi Pell, Rage…], Aquiles Priester [Angra], Nick Barker [Dimmu Borgir, Cradle Of Filth, Lock Up] – who is a major British drummer, Mike Mangini [Extreme, Annihilator, James LaBrie, Steve Vai, Steve Perry, …], Randy Black [Primal Fear, Annihilator]…..I could go on for ever about drummers but I’ll leave it at that.
M: If we’re talking about influential guitarists, I’m more influenced by older guitarists. I’m not a big fan on the super-speed kind of thing. I like Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield [Metallica] – that’s where I started. In fact that’s where all our band started. Then I moved on to Malmsteen – an amazing guitarist. Marty Freidman, of Megadeth, is probably one of my favourites. There are so many that I like…..even Richie Sambora [Bon Jovi]. I prefer the conventional guitar solo that sounds good as opposed to the guitarist who sounds like he’s playing as fast as he possibly can.
C: You seem to be particularly influenced by the Classical genre of Rock/Metal guitar playing…..
M: Yes, I do like a lot of Classical Metal guitarists.
C: Has Damnation Angels written any new songs?
M: We haven’t scheduled any time to actually record a new CD since we want to spend a year or 2 spreading “Shadow Symphony”. However we’ve already started writing for the next CD - one of our new songs, for example, is an epic one being 10 minutes long. The thing is we’ve got to be ready to record a new album in case we get snapped up by a label.
C: Those were the questions I had prepared for you, guys. Thanks for your time in doing the interview.
M: Thanks for the interview and thanks also to the fans for their support…
J: …And to all those who’ve been coming to our gigs, checking out our CD and taking the time to send us all those nice comments and messages online: thanks. Hopefully we’ll see you all again very soon.
© Chris Galea
Lewis Starfire – vocals
Maestro – guitars
Rick Corbett - bass
John Graney – drums
Dawn Trigg – keyboards
“Shadow Symphony” [EP, 2009] (self-release)