ONSLAUGHT (Band) INTERVIEW
I love album premieres! Not only do they give you the opportunity to listen to stuff much earlier than most people, it also enables you to meet the creators in person, express your opinion and get first-hand feedback from them. On the evening of the 6th of December, following the airplay of Onslaught’s forthcoming release “Sounds Of Violence”, I sat with guitarist Nige Rockett, vocalist Sy Keeler and drummer Steve Grice. In something more than twenty minutes I got as much information as I could concerning the band’s fifth full-length release, their plans for the immediate and distant future as well as the possibility of having a Thrash Metal band achieving a number one position if the Christmas singles charts.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Nige, I had the pleasure of talking to you a few months ago at that Dean Guitar festival in East London, during which time we talked about the band’s upcoming album. Back then, you were not quite ready to get into specifics but now that the release of “Sounds Of Violence” is just around the corner we can talk openly about it. I am quite impressed by what I heard tonight which, by the way, was exactly what I was hoping for: a fresh, modern but also classic sounding Thrash Metal release. All the other journalists seem to have been also quite pleased with the result, so you must have received quite a few compliments tonight!
Nige: I heard everything that I really hoped for. I really didn’t want to look at anybody while the album was played because I was slightly nervous about their reactions but the end result was quite rewarding!
• “Killing Peace”, the band’s previous studio album was quite impressive as a release so it must have really been quite difficult for you, when the time came to start working on “Sounds Of Violence”, to come up with the ideas that would bring things to the next level. Do you recall what your feelings were at the time?
Nige: I don’t want to sound blasé or arrogant…
• ..Please do!..
Nige (laughs)…but it was extremely easy! It was probably the easiest album that we have ever made! Because we were away for thirteen years when we wrote “Killing Peace”, this album turned out very ‘we’re back’ very ‘spirit of the moment’ kind of album…very spontaneous! With “Sounds Of Violence” we had a lot of time to think as it came out almost four years after “Killing Peace” and we had a lot of time to focus on how this album should sound. We took our time and crafted and constructed it exactly how we wanted it to be. We worked on our own studio and we demo-ed everything step by step, threw out the stuff that we didn’t like…we had a perfect vision of how we wanted this album to be. So, rather than going into the rehearsal room, create the songs and then get into the studio and change everything, we did all the pre-production in advance so we knew exactly how each song will completely work. We kind of gave ourselves the luxury of time. And we do have two new members here, Andy (Rosser-Davies/Guitars) and Jeff (Williams/bass), it was me and Andy who basically wrote all the music together, so I had some fresh input as well. “Killing Peace” was an album made by a newly reformed band, but this time round we had enough time to craft this album exactly how we wanted it to sound.
• Well, to me as a fan, Onslaught sounds more solid now than they did three years ago. You guys sound much more confident, in strict musical terms, and you also come across as far more adventurous than you did in “Killing Peace”. It feels like you exorcised your demons with the previous effort and now you are ready to move on with all the strength and confidence needed to achieve good things. I mean, I only heard the new album once and I am already excited about it!
Nige: So what was your initial thought when you listened to it? Be totally honest!
• I was hoping for an album that would combine classic with modern elements, because the last thing I would want from you guys would be to release another “The Force” – much as I love that album! This is 2010 by the end of the day and we need to move things forward, something, which, by the sounds of it, you have achieved! Songs like “Code Black” really blew me away, and the same applies to “Antitheist”! There are many catchy moments in these songs, but also so many other more complicated pieces that will force the listener to listen to them many times prior to them revealing their hidden ‘secrets’.
Nige: You got into my head!
Steve: So you actually prefer the slower songs, yeah?
• Strange as it may sound, even to me, the answer is yes & mind you – I grew up listening to what one would describe as classic-sounding up-tempo Thrash Metal! One would expect that it would be songs like “Born For War” to be my favourites.
Steve: So, from all the songs that you’ve heard tonight, you prefer the slower songs, yeah? Me as well!
Nige: Yiannis, I think that what you’ve said there is exactly what I had in my head when we wrote this album! We referenced “The Force” so many times as we are aware that it is our ‘flagship’ album, you know? We are aware that this album is the fans’ favourite, so we thought to ourselves ‘what do we do right there’? The answer was ‘we have to do a similar thing but in 2010’! It is exactly what you said that was how we wrote that album!
• I have only listened to the album once and now I am itching to listen to it again!
Nige: I would like to hear your thoughts after you hear it properly once the promo material has been provided to you.
• I believe that, as an album, it was also cleverly arranged in the sense that you created some songs that are quite dynamic and straight forward and you have positioned them in such a way that will invite people to this album, and then you arranged for the more complicated and demanding material to be introduced to them – quite clever indeed!
Nige: (laughs) it feels like you were sitting in the same room with me when I was preparing this stuff! Incredible – you know exactly what we aimed at and how we strived to achieve that!
• Man, I have been listening to this kind of music long enough to understand a few things! Again, the last thing I would want from you guys would be a mere copy of “The Force”.
Nige: Of course, yes! We do like to keep the interest of our old fans going, of course, but there is a whole new generation of kids to whom we want to play music for.
Steve: One thing tonight which meant a lot to me is that I invited my friend, the guy who signed us into Music For Nations back in 1987. When we finished playing the album, he turned to me and said “the label I work for is now working with Lamb Of God, with Slayer, but we do not have Onslaught”! He said that! He listened to our album and he fu*king loved it! He said “I loved your previous album but this was not what I expected from you guys – you blew me away”…he’s my mate!
• I believe that, much as I wish this not to be the case, there are going to be people who like straight-forward, easily-digestible music who may react to what you are offering in “Sounds Of Violence”. This is an album that you really must put effort into when listening to it and some people are not willing to do that!
Nige: Well, as you said, we will lure people in with the tracks ‘in the front’ and hope for the best.
Steve: It also pretty much depends on how you promote your work! You could have the best product in the world, but getting it into the people’s ears is something that is quite difficult to do. Regardless to which approach you follow, the modern or the classic, what is important is to get the stuff into their ears!
Nige: You can release the best record ever made, if you don’t promote it properly then you have gained nothing!
• The way the album operates kind of reminded me of the approach that Testament followed in “The Gathering”, which was again a mixture of all the different musical avenues that they had followed in their past releases. What you also have in common is a pretty powerful production! The speakers we have here tonight are not the best you can hope for, still the quality of the production was clearly audible! What made you decide to give up on Andy Sneap and work with Jacob Hansen instead?
Nige: We didn’t give up on Andy! The thing was that Andy’s schedule was hectic and he couldn’t really fit us in! All this was before we signed to AFM Records anyway. We have got a new management company and then, when we finally signed to AFM Records, they had worked with Jacob before with bands like Destruction. Our management company is located in Denmark as well, so they were very aware of him so they said “let’s visit this guy and see what he does”. We listened to the mix that he did for the Destruction Live album (“The Curse Of the Antichrist – Live In Agony”) and also his work on the last Warhorse album. His sound was really lively. I mean, I am not a fan of Warhorse’s music but he managed to make this album sound massive. We wanted him to capture Onslaught’s live sound on this record and this is exactly what he’s done! His work was incredible on the mix – he brought it to life! We compare it to that of “Killing Peace” the other day, back to back, and we realised that “Killing Peace” sounds a little bit tame in comparison.
• So, how was it working with Jacob in the studio? Did you find that you had to adjust to a way that was different from the one that you were used to in the past?
Nige: Yeah, extremely – yeah! We worked this whole album totally different to any of the other albums that we’ve done in the past! As I said before, we wrote all the songs in our own studio, demo-ed everything with programme jams and we actually did the entire pre-production step by step. We had every song completely finished before we went with Jacob. Instead of doing the standard rough guitars and drums to go with it, we gave a finished guitar work for Steve to play his drums to, which in a way worked great because he’s got absolutely perfect aggressive guitars – not just rough sloppy guitar throwing down at it. We recorded the guitars in England, Steve went to Denmark with Sy (Keeler/vocals) and did the drums and vocals over there and we mixed the album in Denmark as well! The weird thing was that Jacob liked to work from nine till five. Kind of strange, working office hours, as musicians normally don’t work like that, but Jacob’s got a family and he likes to stick to his hours, so…
• One thing I really appreciated about “Sounds Of Violence” with regards the guitars is that you did not overdo things. I mean, you are quite a skilled guitar player, still you ensured that your solos were neither too long nor too short and they seemed to me to be always to the point!
Nige: You are so observant, man (laughs). Are you sure you were not sitting in the studio when we were doing this album? Your knowledge of what we’ve done is absolutely fantastic – I’ve got to say! There’s nothing worse than a long solo, there’s nothing worse than a short solo (laughs). Even on the solos we’ve spent time – we’ve worked on the rhythms that went behind the solos, we made sure that they were different from other parts…the hours we spent on such things you would not believe! It is an integral part; every solo has to be a song within a song as far as I am concerned – not just a technical exercise! They have a huge complementary purpose; they need to be aggressive and also to be tuneful!
• The release date of the album is on the 31st of January 2011. Have you already made all necessary decisions with regards promoting the album, following today’s presentation to the UK press?
Nige: It is a little bit strange at the moment. There is a lot of planning going on behind the scenes. We have just signed a publishing deal with Enorm Music, which is part of ICS – the Wacken corporation! They also run an agency and we are kind of under their guidance if you like! The bizarre thing with the “Bomber” single that we have recently released is that we don’t really know what is going on with regards its sales, but at the moment it is number one on the pre-order download charts! We really don’t know what is going to happen – could we have a Christmas number one? We really don’t know (laughs). The sales, at the moment, are fluctuating between positions three and four in the past week! We are above Kylie Minogue! We have a team that are working hard to make us reach number one in time for Christmas, but we don’t know what’s going to happen – it’s kind of scary!
• So is “Bomber” going to be a download-only track?
Nige: Yes, it’s only going to be available as a download track! All the crap stuff like the X Factor are going to be released on hard copy of course so that is where we are going to fall short in the end, but…it’s encouraging!
• It’s almost ironic! After all the struggle and time apart as a band, now you are candidates for a number one Christmas single?
Nige: I know! It’s still there today and the radio campaign only kicks in from tomorrow, so we’ve got radio, we’ve got a lot more promo to come with a small video that we’ve done with a low budget – just a thing to help promote the single! So, you never know (laughs).
• Now that he’s here with us I have to say it: you have pushed this poor man’s voice to the absolute limits with “Sounds Of Violence”. Sy, this is one of the most demanding vocals performances that you have made thus far in your career. Right?
Nige: Well, when the songs were delivered and the music was delivered, he had no fu*king choice (laughs)! We all raised our game and he raised his game more than anybody else!
Sy: Yes, but it still comes quite natural to me – I did not have to force anything as I like to do a natural delivery.
• I was putting down notes while each song was performed and the one comment which I seem to have repeated throughout was ‘vocals complementary to music’. That’s what I admire about this new album – everything is so well calculated! I don’t believe that there are many Thrash Metal albums that are written in such a way nowadays.
Sy: Definitely not!
• Sy, I assume that you will need to have your own personal physician when you will start touring for this album, right? Something tells me that you are going to need all the help that you can get!
Sy: (laughs) I am quite comfortable performing this material live.
• I actually saw your performance at the Damnation Festival back in 2008, one that was plagued by a really bad sound, but also one that showcased your abilities.
Steve: Oh, that performance! The sound was not very good, right?
• No, and I was getting increasingly frustrated as I had never seen you live before while I was still living in Greece, so that was one gig I was really looking forward to!
Nige: Well, it was one whole side of the PA that went down, that was the reason why. We were only playing through the left side, all the amps blew, so what they did was they switched the right side to mono and that’s why the sound was so sh*t that day!
• I actually also remember you guys been quite frustrated also!
Nige: But the thing was that when Sy went to record his vocals, they were already there three or four days before me. I walked in and they just put on what he had recorded and I was like “fu*king hell – where did this come from”? It was such a…he always sang quite loud, but to actually deliver these performances on the songs that we had prepared…he never provided such deliveries before!
Sy: When we were on the planning stage and we got together, I was given the lyrics and was told “this is what we want you to work towards” so I said “fine” and started working. It was not delivered in the same manner as expected, but I began working on ideas and melodies and eventually we came up with this album. It even surprises me sometimes (laughs).
• The good thing about releasing an album early in the year is that a) you are given enough time in order to promote it and b) you have more chances of booking a slot in one of the many summer festivals in Germany and other parts of the world. Do you have any such offers at this moment in time?
Sy: You are one of the lucky few who got to listen to the album for the very first time in its entirety, so I guess that in the next couple of weeks all the big promoters will do also, especially now that we have ICS by our side. They will certainly help us with regards the bigger festivals.
Nige: There will be a special show in the summer, a very special one!
• And once again, you cannot say much, right?
Nige: Not yet – not at this point!
• Oh, for the love of God, Nige – I cannot be interviewing you every three months mate!! You cannot keep on doing this to me, man!
Nige: (laughs) There will be a special show in the summer – the biggest special show in the summer! With regards more info, I can only imagine that they are waiting until just around the time of the album release, you know? Just to maximize the effect!
• Well, that’s not too bad as we are only one month away!
Nige: Not too bad indeed (laughs).
Sy: I cannot wait for the album to come out either! Hopefully by tomorrow we will have a copy available!
Nige: It will be nice to hear your thoughts once you hear it in a more relaxed environment!
• I am one of those people who tend to listen to albums quite a few times prior to expressing an opinion! It’s not due to laziness – more a form of respect towards these people who put their hearts into creating their music, you know what I mean?
Nige: There is some immediacy there, but there’s also…
Sy: Stuff that you need to listen to quite a few times also! They need time to settle down in your brain! I mean, this music system here was in no way ideal for what we have prepared. I was constantly moving around to see whether there was an ideal place to sit in order to listen to everything clearly and I couldn’t find one!
Nige: It was Ok. To me, what it reminded me of was going to see us play live – it kind of had a live sound to it which is not necessarily a bad thing.
• The bass guitar was not very prominent and for me this instrument is integral.
Nige: This is not the right time to take everything in. Believe me, you will soon find what you’re looking for.
• Gents, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you tonight!
Thank you for making this evening such an enjoyable experience, good luck with “Sounds Of Violence” and hope to speak with you again soon!
Nige: Thank you, Yiannis. If there is anything more that you need to ask, give me a call!
Sy: Thanks, Yiannis.
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