American power metallers Twisted Tower Dire are an unsung gem. Formed in Virginia in 1996, the brave outfit set course on a genre that had all but caved. Nevertheless, Twisted Tower Dire persevered through low and high times (they played Wacked in 2003), and are continuing strong–despite the uptick in power/heavy-informed metal–without following the guidelines of what’s trending or why. To wit, the group’s Wars in the Unknown (2019) effort was ultra-strong, a testament to the band’s DIY ethos and continually-maturing songwriting prowess.
Now, Twisted Tower Dire are digging into the vaults. A foray into the demos of the Crest of the Martyrs sessions, releasing them in conjunction with Nameless Grave Records. Called Crest of the Martyrs Demos, the versions on display vary and differ from the well-known fan favorites like “At Night,” “To Be A Champion,” etc. These are live and raw, the way heavy metal was meant to be.
Twisted Tower Dire’s David Boyd and Decibel roundtabled together on the eve of Crest of the Martyrs Demos to chew over the release and why it makes sense now, nearly 20 years later. Oh, and check out the Saxon and Uriah Heep-inspired tuneage on the premiere (or re-premiere) of the demo version on “The Reflecting Pool.”
Fans have had Crest of the Martyrs for almost two decades. Why release Crest of the Martyrs Demos now?
David Boyd: Nameless Grave Records approached us a while ago about releasing the ’90s Twisted Tower Dire (TTD) demos on vinyl. At that time, those demos were about to be used on a different release, so we started talking about the Crest demos. I shared the tracks with them and they showed some interest, so things starting moving forward from there. Those tracks were only recorded for us to use in pre-production and share with Remedy Records so they could hear the new songs. They were quick and dirty recordings, but we were very well-rehearsed at that point, so they turned out pretty killer! Matt Crooks did a great job tracking and mixing everything too.
Why release them now? Most importantly it provides a stripped down rendition of the songs before they were tweaked during the official recording. Some people like Crest as-is and might not care about that, but there are a lot of TTD fans that like the earlier material and are interested in hearing those songs without any bells and whistles. We have absolutely no bad feelings about the official release, but changes were made and some were pretty significant. I liken it to seeing animation used in pre-production, or quick demos used to get funding for animated releases. Seeing the simple line work without backgrounds and color gives you a different perspective… it’s raw and stripped down. It’s cool to see the original core idea, totally unfiltered so you can feel the intent and energy behind it. The majority of these tracks (excluding the bonus tracks) were also recorded live, so the timing isn’t “snapped to a grid,” no metronomes used, no backing vocals, all of the guitar leads were recorded live on the same track–just like in the practice room. Press record, four count and go!
What do you hear in the demos that you didn’t hear in the original 2003 release?
David Boyd: I hear a lot of my mistakes on guitar! [Laughs] I usually write out my guitar leads pretty meticulously, but I didn’t have them all ready by the time of this recording. Laziness or waiting for the right creative juices, who knows? But there are definitely mistakes and some weirdness on my part. I wouldn’t strip it all down, but for a few leads I meandered around a few ideas until they ran out and I went straight into “slayer mayhem” zone. At the time, I felt like it was silly and unprofessional, but now I’m just happy I improvised something that kind of worked. It fits the mood and timing of the recording too.
I also hear Tony’s voice in its prime and that brings forth a lot of smiles and tears. It’s been really emotional listening to these demos. Cheers and METAL TT! A lot of time has passed and so much in our lives is different now. I also hear a band that’s about to travel to Germany to record an album and they have no idea what’s in store for them! The recording sessions were not all bad, but I don’t think we really knew what to expect. Some of us weren’t ready; mainly myself. Lastly, I hear a practice room performance of a band that’s just laying down the best music they were capable of writing and playing. Oh yeah, it’s pretty tight too!
Tell us about the bonus tracks on Crest of the Martyrs Demos.
David Boyd: We did one live session where we recorded the majority of the tracks from Crest. This release includes all of those tracks, but we also recorded a shorter demo earlier that we shopped around to labels. It was more of a controlled recording: guitar overdubs, several sessions, etc. That produced the versions of “Axes and Honor,” “Reflecting Pool,” and “False Orion” that appear as bonus tracks. “False Orion” is a track that we left off of the original release, but it’s a pretty cool song! The whole song is catchy and I can’t remember our reason for leaving it off the album. The third bonus track is a live recording of “Axes and Honor” from Wacken 2003. That was an incredible festival to attend and play and one we will never forget!
Twisted Tower Dire celebrate 27 years this year. As a veteran act, what knowledge would you like to impart on budding heavy metallers?
David Boyd: I guess I’d encourage bands to follow their own path. I know that sounds cliché, but I think the traditional metal scene is starting to get fairly saturated with bands that all have a similar sound or approach. Maybe I feel that way because when we started out there were almost no active traditional metal bands? We were pretty lonely! [Laughs] I guess my point is that TTD has always embraced our influences in traditional metal, but also thrash metal, punk, prog rock–basically any heavy, interesting genre that existed before the late ’90s. Don’t be afraid to listen outside the box. No one needs another Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Simply absorb the stuff you like, write the best songs you can and don’t worry about who will accept it or where it fits in. None of the bands we admire took the easy road and played what most people wanted to hear, or what was popular. They all had the courage to forge their own paths and it changed our lives. You can do the same!
With the wise words of the venerable Mr. Boyd, it’s time to jam some vintage Twisted Tower Dire.
** Twisted Tower Dire’s new album, Crest of the Martyrs Demos, is out March 4th, 2022 on Nameless Grave. No-frilly shirts power metal enthusiasts can pre-order LP (HERE) and CD (HERE). No fake denim and leather here.