California thrashers Warbringer have made a name for themselves throughout their career as a band that challenges thrash metal to expand and move forward. Despite major lineup changes, Warbringer inked a deal with Napalm Records to record fifth album Woe to the Vanquished.
Decibel caught up with vocalist John Kevill to discuss signing to Napalm Records and what it was like to make Woe to the Vanquished.
Woe to the Vanquished is your first album with Napalm. What’s it been like working with them?
We had a four album deal with Century Media and we put out our fourth album and the band just exploded, almost Spinal Tap-style. It was very disheartening for me, very very bad because I’ve been working my entire adult life on this and then suddenly I don’t have a band.
Eventually I decided, “OK, I’m gonna soldier on. I got these songs in my head, some of which are now on the record. I gotta make them, this is what I like doing.” There were two whole drafts of the band to get to where we are now and it was a great labor. It was pretty shitty, honestly. And now that we have things stable, we were able to put things together and Napalm was really supportive and pretty much helped drag us out of the abyss in a sense by putting some faith in us and giving us the materials we needed to do this record.
When you set out to record and write Woe to the Vanquished, did you have an idea of what you wanted to create in your head?
Yeah, for the first time ever, actually. I knew what I wanted the cover to be, the title and when we started writing the songs, we even had the track order months before we went to do the record. All of these details have always been figured out during and after the recording. This time because there was a three year gap, I had time to sort so much stuff in my head.
Some of the song ideas were in my head right after Empires [Collapse], like “Silhouettes” was my first one actually. Some of them were written around the lyrics, even, because I would write full lyrics and would be around one riff that existed, so I’d be like “OK, we need a riff like this here with this kind of beat. So I’d dictate structure, but not necessarily all the music for a lot of the songs. And the other songs would be written by, like, Carlos or Adam comes in with a full set of riffs, like “Shellfire” or “Divinity of Flesh,” and then I gotta figure out a concept and lyrics for that. Approaching different songs from different methods based on who’s coming up with the original ideas is a good way to spark different creative parts of the brain and made it all come together very swiftly and nicely.
The loss of previous band members, specifically John Laux, who was the one I was afraid of losing, turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was able to ditch some of the influences of the last record, some of the more upbeat punk rock stuff that was mostly the mark of John Laux.
If you had to show someone one song on the record that really summed up what Warbringer is about, is there a song that does that for you?
For what Warbringer is about, I’d say “Silhouettes” is a good choice. That was the first one that was in my head and drove the record and I’d say stylistically that song is thrash but it’s not like you’ve heard before. It’s extreme and it’s got a complicated kind of winding structure and it’s instrumentally choppy. You’ve got a lot of unique little things about it and that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to make thrash metal, trying to make extreme, aggressive, riff-based music but we’re trying to do it with originality, meticulous craftsmanship and energy and passion that it deserves and I think hasn’t been heard in the genre as much as it needs to for a long time.
Warbringer has been viewed as one of the bands at the front of the thrash revival. Is there an added pressure when writing because you’re seen at the top of this revival?
There is a pressure from that but I feel a far greater pressure from my own inner desire to do my best work. I feel a sense of personal honor that won’t allow me to put out something that I don’t feel I did a very good job on. Not to say that there’s nothing I’ve ever done that I didn’t think was perfect, but everything we’ve ever recorded I feel like I’ve put my best forward and really made a supreme effort on my part — you know, Warbringer is my first band and I have no musical experience before it so you can literally hear me learning how to do this throughout our records. To me, that’s the greatest pressure, just the pressure to live up to my own goals and I feel that much more strongly the pressure from other people.
At the same time, it’s an honor to be seen as someone who gets to make an impact on this style of music that’s very near and dear to me. I do feel, for the same exact reasons, a duty to put out the best stuff we can because I think this music and the fans of the music deserve really good records and I want to try to make some of those.
Woe to the Vanquished is out on March 31 through Napalm Records. You can preorder it here.