Progressive metal unit Halcyon Way are charging toward the release of fourth full-length Bloody but Unbowed, today releasing new song “Slaves to Silicon.” The track highlights Halcyon Way’s ability to write big, rock-style choruses that wouldn’t be out of place in an arena.
Bloody but Unbowed comes out on August 3 via Agonia. In addition to the exclusive stream of “Slaves to Silicon” below, Decibel spoke with guitarist Jon Bodan and vocalist Steve Braun about the new album, touring and more.
Since your last album, Conquer, came out in 2014, Halcyon Way has toured with Queensryche, Fozzy, Sabaton, Saxon, Skid Row and more. Did all that touring affect the direction of Bloody but Unbowed?
JB: I do think it has influenced how we approached the writing to some degree. One thing that’s great about getting out on the road and watching these legendary bands perform every night is that you can see what they do that connects with the audience the best. We try to have the attitude of “what are these guys doing better than us, and what can we learn from them.”
You’re able to soak up ideas that they incorporate that make their show more memorable, whether it be little choreography moves or grooves that get the crowd jumping up and down, or whatever. And the more you see what works and what they’re doing, the more it seeps into the way you write and perform. So that definitely helps. But other things impacted the writing as well – we kind of broke as a “progressive metal” band and to this day we still get pigeonholed as that. But in our minds we’re just a modern metal band. We have influences all over the map and just want to write good songs.
We’ve seen some reviews of our last couple of albums come out and they’re like “well, this isn’t proggy enough hurr durr so what do they think they’re doing?” And all we can say to that is “we’re not a prog band so quit trying to act like we should sound like Kamelot or something.”
Just about everyone in our band is more influenced by thrash metal, death metal, hard rock, and that sort of thing far more than the 90s prog metal that died a decade ago. There’s only so many times you can copy “Images And Words” and doing that is not progressive at all….it’s stale. The difference is that we have a hard rock singer and not a growler so that’s where we get lumped in.
So we try to kinda take the road less traveled so to speak – there’s nothing that says you can’t be heavy as hell while having a melodic singer. And we’ve been going down that road since 2010 when “Building The Towers” came out; that was the first time the death vocals were really prevalent.
SB: I really think that this was just the next natural progression for us. When I came into the band they were already tracking Building the Towers, so the direction was pretty set it stone. On Conquer…Jon and I (only members left after Building the Towers with drummer Ernie Topran) really worked hard at a grittier hard rock approach (with the vocals). We wanted that 80’s style hook while staying true to who we are musically. Since Jon and I do a lot of the writing (as far as lyrics and melodies) we made a conscience effort to move away from the prog band stigma that we’ve been pigeon-holed in, which a lot of people have loved but the prog crowd hated. On Bloody we started demoing songs and added new members to the group that have a wide range of influences so I believe that has help solidify the direction we’ve been headed in since 2014.
The song we’re premiering today is called “Slaves to Silicon.” Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing the song?
JB: Pretty much what I was trying to convey when I came up with the idea for the song was that we are all slaves to our phones, tablets, electronic devices in general. You see it all the time – texting out on a date at a restaurant, checking social media in the middle of a concert, watching a video while driving a car, etc. And really what it comes down to is that we can’t be in the moment any longer; we’ve trained our brains to not do that.
But on the other hand, we have also surrendered our privacy, our data, our inner thoughts to these tech companies and in a lot of ways they tell us what to think, what to believe, how to act, and so on. Which is a terribly frightening, 1984-style nightmare. We’ve basically surrendered to a subtle form of thought control. Remember that if the service is free, you’re the product, so serve your master well, you know?
So really what I wanted to do with that track was talk about that subject, but also give it a bit of an industrial or electronic streak musically to help tell the story.
SB: When Jon came to me with this idea, I was super intrigued by it. I find myself sometimes glued to my phone whether it’s answering band emails, Instagram or mindlessly on Facebook instead of being in the moment. I asked my buddy Chris Dunnett, a Nashville songwriter, to give me a hand painting a picture of how we are truly “Slaves” to our phones. This is the first time we got a person outside the band to help with writing but I think he helped me think a little outside the box, possibly more than I would have.
Halcyon Way are definitely road warriors, as we talked about above. Have you been playing a lot of songs from the new album live? What have the fan reactions been?
JB: On the run we just finished with Angra and Operation: Mindcrime, we decided to test out a few of the new tracks. We ended up playing 3-4 each night, and they really went over well. We were very excited about that. As an artist, you always hope that your best work is ahead of you – that no matter how good song X is, you can one-up yourself. So this was a good way to test it out, and we feel like the fan response was really strong across the board on the new material. It’s got a lot of bounce and hook to it and we wrote it with the live show in mind.
SB: As Jon said we played a few songs each night and the response was awesome. There is nothing better in the world then going out and playing a song that people have never heard before (most haven’t even heard of us) and by the second chorus they are singing along. That’s when you know you are doing something right!
The new album is titled Bloody but Unbowed. Is that a reference to the fact that throughout your career, you’ve always been proud of having blue-collar roots and work ethic?
JB: I think so, definitely. We pride ourselves on having a 1978 punk rock DIY work ethic. But one thing we also try to do is layer meaning in things – whether it be lyrics, or the album art, or anything like that. And we’ve definitely been through a lot of trials & tribulations as a band – member changes over the years, my bout with cancer back in 2010/2011, management changes, and so on. We’re still here. And the title track was definitely in keeping with that. But I also did another interview and was asked about the cover art, and it got me thinking about another layer of meaning that didn’t really occur to me until after it was done. “Conquer” was written while I was going through my illness and recovering from it, and the art basically depicted our Nailhead mascot facing a long journey through a ruined cityscape, which is what I felt when that whole thing started. “Bloody But Unbowed” can be looked at as the Nailhead coming through the other side of that journey, burning everything behind it, wounded but surviving, but protecting that flower…which could really represent any meaning you wanted to assign to it.
SB: Definitely…we’ve faced quite a few ups and downs as a band but with every valley we head into we bond together a come out on the other side stronger than ever.
Most of Bloody falls in the realm of prog, power metal or hard rock, but there are some extreme metal flourishes as well. What do you consider to be your influences when writing?
JB: for me, personally, I came up on late 80s/early ’90s thrash metal. Testament, Exodus, Metallica, Megadeth, Cyclone Temple, Death Angel, all that stuff. I also was into the early ’90s Tampa death metal. But I always loved bands like Queensryche and Skid Row and other hair metal, but mainly my guitar influences were the heavier bands. I didn’t get into much prog metal until later on – probably the late 90s or so. For a time I really dug into that kind of thing, and you see those influences in particular on our earlier material. But I got back into my heavier roots after that – this time with bands like In Flames, Soilwork, At The Gates, Chimaira, Nevermore, etc. But I also love industrial and electronic music, and I have an entire industrial album in the can ready to release when I can get around to it.
So as a player and a writer, I’ve always had a lot of different influences, and I haven’t been afraid to draw from all these genres as a writer – as long as the song is strong and flows well, it could be really any kind of riff or vocal or part. There’s no rules to it, and more than anything that is what I think defines “progressive” – not some shitty synth pad over a syncopated open-E chug and a puffy pirate shirt. I mean, if you’re gonna be progressive, the idea is to push some boundaries, right?
SB: I really don’t think we are prog or power metal anymore…though Bloody but Unbowed does have a very power metal style course. I am a 80’s hard rock singer, that’s where I feel most comfortable (not that you couldn’t tell from all my stacked vocal harmonies, lol). To this day I’m a huge Tony Harnell (TNT) and Michael Sweet (Stryper) fan but I also love Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage) and Phil Labonte (All That Remains). I love the versatility in each of their voices and I hope that they’re influences shine through my melody writing while staying true to myself.
Bloody but Unbowed is your first effort on a label that isn’t coming out through Nightmare Records, a label you’d been with since 2008. How have things gone with new label Agonia?
JB: Phenomenal. The guys over there are so hyped about the new album and believe in us so much that I literally can’t seem to keep up with all the emails on the promo plans and so forth. These guys are hungry and serious, and so are we, so it’s a great match. And we have never had that as a band – we handled our own PR and marketing the last 3 releases as a band – the label was really just there to put it out for distribution. And all along we really wanted to have someone come into the picture as a label and really get behind what we were doing, and sort of respect all the hard work and elbow grease we’ve been putting into this, and help us get to the next level. So we’re very grateful to them and to our team at Artery Foundation for coming up alongside us and helping push the boulder up the hill.
SB: I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome its been already and the album hasn’t even dropped yet. For the first time we finally have a complete team behind us, that believes in us and our vision. As Jon said we’ve always done it all ourselves so it’s refreshing to know that everything isn’t entirely on our shoulders.