This last lesson isn’t a lesson in the obvious way. I won’t be talkin’ at ya like normal. This time I will be letting us all learn from the experience (and choices) of others.
We are going to have a discussion with Iron Will a Metal band out of Boston U.S.A. who have very recently let their first record “Life Is Your Labyrinth” escape. Iron Will are a sideline project of a former Metal Blade act Ravage of whom I think most Metal fans would have at least seen the covers around.
I found this album whilst surfing around YouTube and particularly new Metal albums – those things with endless variations on Goblin On Horse With Chainsaw artwork :-D. Most get moved along after a few mins as while everything sounds very Metally, there is no real passion in the work. The records sound like formula. This one didn’t. Straight away I could hear that Iron Will was coming from somewhere more/better.
Tony “The Metal Duke”: Vocals
Al Ravage: Drums
Rich “Berte of Prey”: Bass
IRON WILL is a traditional heavy metal act from Everett MA USA featuring members of RAVAGE backing Tony ‘The Metal Duke’ Canillas
Commonly in musician interviews, the interviewer asks flattering questions and the musician gives self-mythologizing answers – like in the movie Rock Star when Izzy is asked about how he got his great voice and Kirk steps in with a quip about Izzy getting his voice from eating __! I am asking the Iron Willed guys to be really open with us with these probing questions as we are fellow musicians and would like to share in their real trials & successes.
B: Hi Guys. Thanks for joining us. First thing I noticed about your new record was that it doesn’t sound like the typical Modern Metal thing with heavily quantized Double-Kick Drum Blast Beats. This is almost more Punk. Was this deliberate and why did you make that decision to step outside the expected cliches?
Al: There were a number of reasons. I think we went for a very ‘real’, or ‘live’ sort of sound because that is what we like to hear on albums and that is what suits this band best. We are kind of misfits or even ‘The Misfits’ of power metal. The songs are all pretty simple and pretty straight-forward and so the presentation begs for simplicity and an ‘in your face’ approach, so that is what we gave it. There are little mistakes here and there, we didn’t use any million dollar microphones… the stuff was recorded mostly in basements and rehearsal studios with well-worn equipment and we used a lot of first takes and we just went with what felt right during the recording process. We just tried to get the most lively and “live” sounding versions of the songs and let the band’s sound speak for itself.
B: It really works and I wish more acts would do that. Raw passion trumps perfection every time in my book. The next thing I noticed was that you have gone out with a singer who isn’t exactly Halford or Dio. That seems either a silly move or a wise one. Can you explain to us how this decision was made?
Al: Tony has been the singer since the band formed and really, the point of this band was to form a band to help Tony out because he always wanted to sing on a metal album and no one else really gave him a chance. He was a good friend of ours and he was always falling in with the wrong crowd and getting distracted from music or meeting up with musicians who weren’t committed or didn’t believe in him. So we didn’t really care what anyone thought of Tony’s voice or lyrics or the concept of the thing. We wrote the songs and recorded and put it out for ourselves and we always felt that if anyone was interested in it – well, that was just a bonus.
B: I actually rather like that your singer sounds really raw. It definitely matches the drums and delivers a sort of f#@k you sound you hear in Motorhead or Venom. To me, it adds to the rawness & intimacy of the story of the record. I like that you didn’t really hide it. These drew me in for longer on first listen and now I own the record. Tony, does it bother you when you see/hear negative comments about your singing?
Tony: No it doesn’t bother me. Some people are too limited. They either don’t have knowledge about music or they just don’t understand.
B: Good to hear. Al, you are actually the singer in Ravage and do a pretty darned good job there. How did you feel about not singing here when in theory you should be up front?
Al: I think Tony is the only singer for Iron Will. I’m just happy they let me play the drums because it’s fun for me to sit back and just slam at the drums and not have to worry about anything except knocking over my beer or the drums falling apart. Playing drums for me is just a lot of fun.
B: Also, how did you feel about being on drums as it would seem that isn’t your strongest skill?
Al: I’m not the best drummer in the world, no. I think of myself more as someone who just tries to compliment the music as best I can with some percussion and I think that has become part of the band’s sound. I’m a very basic, punk, sort of drummer. I grew up playing along to Iron Maiden and Metallica and I never progressed to anything more complicated. I played with a single bass drum and pedal for so long that I was too lazy to relearn double bass, so at this point, I’m more of a drum imitator.
B: I actually really like the drumming as it feels related to the music (not purely technical) so you did well. You guys have been in existence for about 18 years. Why wait till now for the album?
Al: We’ve tried to record single songs or EP’s before but we never really had the money or the time to record the full concept album in its entirety so we’d always go back to just rehearsing or playing shows. We’ve broken up a few times over the years and gotten side-tracked with other projects – and the mixing of this album literally took years… We re-recorded the rhythm guitar tracks probably three or four times because Eli didn’t like the sound he was getting when he started mixing… So there have been lots of delays down the line.
B: With Ravage unsigned, does that hurt and how did you get back on your feet after being knocked down?
Al: In 2010 when we were dropped from our second record label we were in such a bad fiscal & emotional state that it didn’t really ‘hurt’ because I think we were pretty numb to everything at that point. We had attempted a pretty disastrous U.S. Tour at the end of 2009 and when we got back we had no jobs, no cars (because I traded my car for a van), no van (because it broke down on the tour and was buried in Idaho) and were in a bunch of debt so we were financially toast. Our drummer and bass player proceeded to quit, so we then didn’t have a rhythm section…again. We’ve always had a problem keeping a stable line-up. So when, after all of that, the label emails you and says they’re not picking up your option for another record it was just sort of like “OK”, because I definitely saw that coming. When your album doesn’t sell, and the record industry itself is in freefall sales-wise, I don’t think you’d expect a label to offer any further support. So we knew we’d have to pick up the pieces ourselves. We could either have quit at that point or we could continue to play music for fun, and eschew the business end of it (because that had never really gone anywhere for us) so we chose the later. I can tell you since I gave up any hope of the band being any kind of money-making enterprise or ever getting ‘big’ and just concentrated on having fun I’ve had a much happier band experience. We put things back together, got some great players in the band that are just good friends and we continued on… We continue to make the music we want to make… promoters are nice enough to let us on their shows and festivals…. we release our own albums when & how we want and everything is good. I have no complaints about any of it, really. I was happy to experience the old music industry label way of doing things and now I’m happy to experience the independent way of doing things.
B: I understand that Tony wrote the songs for Labyrinth. Was that lyrics only or words and music? If not the Music who wrote that (melodies etc)?
Al: The way the songwriting went was… Tony hand-wrote a full binder of lyrics which he would bring to practice and he’d tell Eli “this should be a fast song…this should be a slow song etc…” and Eli would just kind of come up with riffs on the spot and we’d start jamming and over the course of practice the songs would magically come together. They would develop over years and years of playing them but the bulk of the songs were written that way around the year 2000. We played a small festival in 2001 and we had probably 8-9 of the songs that ended up on the complete record in 2018. So we’ve been playing most of these songs for a LONG time haha. After one of the times we broke up in the mid-2000’s Eli and bassist Rich Berte wrote the music for what became the song “Nightmares”. “Rising” and “The Shadow Lurks” were also newer songs that they came up with, but the vast majority of the concept album was jammed out at practices pre-2001. “The Iron Will” is the newest song. We started working on that just before we started the recording in 2012, I think.
B: Can you give is a quick precis of the story that the songs tell as it seems to me it is very personal?
Tony: Originally it tells the story of two people who are entering “the labyrinth of life”. One person is the main character, the other is sort of a guide or guardian. The Guardian tries to help the character through the dangerous maze. The maze symbolizes life and the war that it can sometimes be. Each turn in the maze has a consequence – it can be good or bad.
B: To the listener, the key to the story seems to be in Tk #10 “The Dream” which is quite out of character in a typical Metal record and I have seen a negative comment on this. Does that upset you guys? Does it seem like it was a bad decision to have put that track on the record?
Tony: I’m a big Manowar fan… and Virgin Steele fan. They utilize a lot of classical music, and that’s been a big influence on me, so I understand the use of classical pieces on a Metal record. Some people don’t, and that’s OK. I’d say overall “The Dream” has gotten about a 50/50 response from fans. But I’m not discouraged by that.
B: Personally I really like “The Dream” as it is so revealing and cements the story. Tony, how did it feel having band members fiddle around in your very personal story?
Tony: It didn’t bother me too much because everyone in the band is very close.
B: It seems that despite the possible “negatives” around the album, you guys seem to be getting traction with interviews in Metal shows etc. Can you say why you are getting this acceptance and how does it feel?
Al: I think the timing has been surprisingly important. I don’t know that anyone would have paid any attention to this album if we had put it out in 2009. But there is a small community online that is growing in appreciation of traditional heavy metal and checking out new bands of that ilk, and they have given us a great response.
B: Mr. Eliminator your guitar work is rather tasty, and not because of showing off, you have a more flowing, melodic style. Why did you choose this over the more brutal & choppy thing that is so popular these days?
Eliminator: Iron Will has never been about following trends or trying to appeal to a mass audience. We’ve been around for almost two decades and seen many trends come and go and were never interested in changing or “updating” our style to suit what’s currently happening in the scene. We play only what we like and hope that others will appreciate it. I don’t have much interest in anything too technical, so it will probably never show up in my playing.
B: Are you guys full-time Metallers or do you have to hold down day jobs? If so who does what? (I sell fruit in the family business)
Tony “The Metal Duke”: Vocals – works in retail
Al Ravage: Drums – works in sales
Eliminator: Guitar – works for a company that refurbishes and sells electronics
Rich “Berte of Prey”: Bass – moved to Florida to because his wife is pursuing a Ph.D. in music. I think he is in the insurance field. Nick, our new bassist is a retail store manager.
Sorry Rich, you didn’t get a mention in here. Sucks being the Bassman. But please be assured that you did a good job as we didn’t single you out for any complaint. Job well done 🙂
B: Thanks guys for your time and openness. Any parting comments you would like to give to people who have followed this Artist Development course to the end and hope not only to make better music but to get it heard (and paid for)?
Al: I would encourage anyone who is making any kind of art or music to just forge ahead with the best product they can come up with. Stay true to yourself and if what you are offering is something appealing to you, then it will eventually appeal to others. You just have to stick with what you are doing, believe in yourself and block out any doubters or outside noise. Finding a source of feedback and encouragement is always helpful. As Tony says “An Iron Will is the will to succeed!”
Homework: seems a bit rough to get homework on graduation day eh. Yup. Life ain’t fair but remember that you didn’t sign up for this to get any kind of degree, you signed up to improve yourself as an artist so now you have to deliver. If you feel the desire to re-read any or all of the articles, don’t stop yourself. It isn’t about my page reads but that sometimes our noggins need the repetition to get a new idea.
Action: finish your album and post a link to it here. Now before you go thinking this is a great place to ego-spam, I will know if you haven’t done any of the homework exercises and I have the power to delete. I would love to see your story of how this course helped you so rather than making the post about your new record, make it about the story of how you grew 🙂
No matter when you meet this course, please feel free to participate actively in the Homework & Action sections at the bottom of each page. Even if this article is old, I am still listening.
Tony: Never give up! An Iron Will is the WILL to succeed! Hooh!