Interview with Visigoth

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Visigoth are without doubt, (in my humble opinion at least), one of the best of the current crop of traditional heavy metal bands. They have all of the requisite aspects and elements that make a great heavy metal band, and all of this has been realised in the band’s latest album Conqueror’s Oath. If you haven’t yet checked it out then do so immediately!

I had the great pleasure to ask the band’s guitarist Leeland Campana a few questions, so let’s get to know Visigoth and their latest album a bit more…

Introduce us to Visigoth, what are your influences?

Visigoth is a Salt Lake City based epic traditional heavy metal band. We draw our main influences from classic metal like Heaven and Hell era Black Sabbath and Defenders of the Faith by Judas Priest, but also are hugely influenced by epic USPM bands such as Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Manowar and Riot. The third pool of influences that we draw from are of course epic and traditional metal from Europe, for me some very important bands for our sound are Grave Digger, Atlantean Kodex, Grand Magus, Candlemass, Accept, and Running Wild.

Name five things that you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend?

5 things I’ve been listening to lately that I would absolutely recommend to others would be

Hallas: Excerpts From Future Past
Scorcerer: Crowning of the Fire King
Sons of Crom: The Black Tower
Solstice: To Sol a Thane
Twisted Tower Dire: Crest of the Martyrs

What drives Visigoth?

Visigoth is entirely driven by all the band members’ passion and love for great heavy metal music as we are all huge heavy metal nerds and fans first and heavy metal musicians second I would say haha. Of course each of us were drawn to becoming musicians from different backgrounds and experiences and over the years we have worked as hard as possible to hone our craft as songwriters and live performers to the best of our abilities. What really drives us to continue to make music in Visigoth is the desire to bring forth musical ideas and songs that we would want to hear as fans of heavy metal. The process for doing this of course relies fundamentally on standing on the shoulders of musical giants that have come before us so to speak, but we work hard and take a great amount of pride in attempting to continually improve as songwriters and make the best music we are capable of that we are excited about hearing.

What makes heavy metal so timeless and compelling?

I’ve always found this to be a really interesting question every time it is asked because I feel I have a somewhat different answer each time. I think what makes Heavy Metal so timeless and endearing to fans over multiple generations now since its very earliest beginnings, is the genre has always called forth a primal response that every metal fan feels when listening to their favourite bands. The most basic fundamental sounds that Heavy Metal universally across all genres expresses is more powerful and driving that other styles of music and quite often invokes a sense of being called to something greater and more powerful than everyday existence especially in the genres of epic styles of heavy metal but is certainly not limited to any specific one in reality. In addition to this I think what makes the music so timeless especially in the case of what we now refer to as “traditional heavy metal” or “classic metal” is that the songs we hold dear as metal fans have stood the test of time because fundamentally the songs are really really incredibly good as songs. Haha maybe that sounds a bit like a circular argument but “Hallowed be Thy Name” or “Battle Hymns” or “The Sentinel” and countless other celebrated timeless metal songs would still be compelling and good even if they were played in different styles of music or with non traditional rock instruments. I think that culturally as fans of metal we are drawn to anthemic bands and songwriting that have a unifying “call to arms or adventure or good times” type feel that resonate universally and when we are at a great metal show the live experience becomes shared between the audience and the band playing in a way that I think is uniquely powerful in the style of Heavy Metal and rock music than any other style.

Visigoth Band

Tell us a but of background to Conqueror’s Oath and what it means to you

Conqueror’s Oath not only is Visigoth’s sophomore effort but in comparison to our debut with The Revenant King what I think it means the most to me is the coming into our own as songwriters and a solidification of the sound that I feel Visigoth has been trying to achieve throughout the years. To clarify, for Conqueror’s Oath one of our main goals was to make a concerted effort to tighten up our songwriting as much as possible and to be more concise in getting across our musical ideas and epic themes in just as powerful a way as The Revenant King, while making the song lengths and album length shorter and more focused. The Revenant King was our first full length album as a band but the songs we recorded were drawn from new to some of the very first songs we ever wrote and in comparison to Conqueror’s Oath I feel didn’t have as cohesive a sound. I’m certainly not saying there isn’t room for improvement because we are always trying to get better as a band but I also feel like Conqueror’s Oath represents the most solid work we have done as a band and as songwriters.

What has the reaction to it been like so far

We have been blown away and are so humbled and grateful by how positive and supportive the reaction has been for the second album. To be honest we all felt a fair amount of anxiety about the release since we had no way of knowing how the album would be weighed against the first. Even though I am sure there are fans that prefer our first album to Conqueror’s Oath as is to be expected, the reaction to our second album has been such that I feel for the most part it was what our fans were hoping for in a second release and the support and positivity we have received has been overwhelming and encouraging.

How were the songs written for Conqueror’s oath

All of the songs for Conqueror’s Oath were written within the three or so year period after the recording of The Revenant King more or less making all of them completely new songs from the band’s perspective. Our writing process takes on a couple different forms, but one that is very common is that I will sit down at my home computer and record ideas I have for new Visigoth songs and make a demo that at the very least is an outline or even a fully composed song. I will take those demos and then show them to Jake to see if they inspire any vocal lines or lyrical ideas and if it seems to work we will then learn the song at band practice and make any necessary tweaks from there. It is interesting sometimes how the best songs sometimes fall effortlessly out of jamming a riff together at practice or when Jake and I sit down together to bounce ideas off of each other a concept for a song is formed then the process of fleshing out all of the instrumentation is similar to connecting the dots to make the larger picture come into view. Certainly however songwriting is not always easy and quite often many hours of pounding one’s head against a wall is required to figure out how to bring a song together the way we want it to be. Over the years though we have found certain themes and elements that work well for our sound and as we’ve developed as musicians and a band the direction for our music has become clearer in style of songwriting that we want to make.

What’s you favourite track on the album and why?

If I had to choose a favourite track from Conqueror’s Oath mine would have to be Traitor’s Gate. To me this song ended up being quite different from others on the album composition wise, it is unique from any other Visigoth song we have done up to this point. For example Traitor’s Gate is the first time we have utilised the harmonic minor scale in certain riffs during the bridge and then also my guitar solo on the song is the first time I’ve dabbled with those kinds of melodies in a Visigoth lead. Also the clean intro into the distorted guitar verse is one of my favourite moments when we are playing live, the dynamic boost in energy from the tension building intro is always so satisfying. Finally, the song overall has kind of a more aggressive and serious feel compared to our other songs on the record and if I was to choose another one of our songs most similar in dynamics and style, I would say Traitor’s Gate follows a similar path to Blood Sacrifice on the first album.

Visigoth

Tell us about the album’s artwork

The cover art for Conqueror’s Oath was painted by the amazing and talented Kris Verwimp who was also the same artist that did The Revenant King. I can’t imagine working with a different artist for cover art for Visigoth in the future. Kris is so good at capturing the classic epic and dark fantasy look and feel that we as a band feel fits our music and also is similar to the kind of imagery that inspires us to make the style of heavy metal music we compose. For many years prior to even the first album, Jake and I had talked about wanting to depict a powerful warrior woman of some type for Visigoth artwork. Initially the idea was to have her wielding a lance but she would always be donned in full battle appropriate armour minus a helmet. When it came time to contact Kris for the album art idea we had already written the song Warrior Queen for the album and we knew that we wanted to have that idea we had made for the cover art. The final result was even better than we could have imagined. The visual tie-in of the undead king from the first album was actually added in by Kris himself and I think it was a great subtle way to reference the first album moving onto the second.

Thinking back to our early work how would you compare your latest material to releases like Vengeance and Final Spell, (which were quite different from each other)?

When it comes to Visigoth’s early work the way that I compare it to our music now is that Vengeance and Final Spell was Visigoth taking its first steps and trying to find our sound. When you go back and listen to those you can hear how initially we were almost half classic sounding traditional heavy metal and half somewhat epic tinged heavy metal. We were definitely still experimenting with what kind of styles seemed to work best for our sound. I think now after the release of Conqueror’s Oath we have a much clearer idea of what our strengths are as a band and what seems to become the favourite songs of our fans both on the recordings and at our live shows. One thing that is fundamentally the same since the our very earliest efforts as a band has been our focus on always making sure to have a memorable chorus that is catchy and powerful. For me this is what great heavy metal is all about, when every part of the song sets up the arrival of the chorus and it acts as the most powerful part of the song that is what everyone remembers and can sing along to. In my opinion, when in the audience to turn people beside you that you may or may not know and scream along with a song you both know by heart and love are the best moments in being a fan of heavy metal.

What’s the Visigoth live experience like?

When Visigoth plays live we try to bring as much energy to the stage and to our songs as we possibly can. I’ve been told often by many people at our shows that they at first liked our albums OK, but the live show was what ended up winning them over. Playing live and putting on a show vs producing recorded albums can be a difficult balance to find for any band, but in my opinion it’s ideal to bring something to the live show the recordings can’t capture instead of bringing something to the recording that falls flat live. One of the main focuses for when we play live is to try and get a powerful sense of shared connection with the audience in singing along to the choruses especially and the push and pull of the riffs in a way that pulls people in to participate in the show that is not forced. I don’t mean to be vague, but there is a difference between forced crowd participation and a controlled stage presence and togetherness as a live band that can flip a switch in an audience from being passive to being enthusiastic at a show. I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of this but I and the rest of us as a band have learned there are some things that always need to happen to make a great live show. For example staying in tune and playing tightly and together are huge, and not always as simple as they seem. In addition to this finding the balance between not standing in one spot all show and moving around way too much, choreographed stage moves to draw attention, but not too many that it gets boring. Most importantly in my opinion reading the audience as you play and building a positive energy exchange back and forth to the end of the show that also isn’t forced. Visigoth live is meant to be very high energy, easy to sing along to and be immersed by. We have been playing as a live band for many more years than we have been a recording band, and at every show we always try to bring our full experience and intuition to bear in order to make the live experience as enjoyable and satisfying as possible.

If you could choose anywhere in the world what would make the perfect environment for the ultimate Visigoth live show?

This surprisingly is a very difficult question to answer haha. Initially my first instinct would be to say a huge open air festival with tens of thousands of screaming people, overwhelming amounts of stage pyrotechnics, a mechanical fire breathing dragon and castle backdrop with an added 100 piece choir and 100 piece orchestra all clamouring together for every song, and of course all of our musical heroes joining us onstage for songs. But, I have to say many times the most fun shows we’ve ever played often are in incredibly cramped small clubs and bars where the audience is right directly in front of us. To be perfectly honest any show can become the perfect environment for the ultimate Visigoth show, if the crowd and the band raise the energy up in the room to the point where everyone is on the same level of excitement and enthusiasm. One of the best shows on our whole European tour was our last show at Hell over Hammaburg where we ended up playing the small bar stage instead of the massive main stage. Although many people thought it would have been better and certainly more comfortable had we played the main stage, having 300 or so amped up excited metal fans jammed into a overheated 100 person capacity room going wild and screaming our songs back at us onstage for an hour was such a transcendent amazing experience I will never forget it. What always makes the best shows isn’t anything else but the shared excitement and joy between the audience and the band playing, I may be running the risk of sounding like some kind of metal hippy but its absolutely true.

Whats it like working with Metal Blade?

Working with Metal Blade thus far has been an incredibly helpful and eye opening experience as a band. We are still technically very much music babies as we have never been signed to a different label before, and we have never really experienced touring and playing in Europe before until recently. I feel that Visigoth is well taken care of and certainly not oppressed in any way by Metal Blade, and we have everything to thank them for in helping us create The Revenant King and Conqueror’s Oath and distributing it out to the world. Its our relationship with them and these first two records that has opened up these opportunities we now have. Many people and other friends of ours have asked us how has everything must have gotten easier since we have been signed and its ironically not the case at all. The reality is nothing about making music is any easier and actually being signed is more of a invitation/demand to work even harder than ever before. However before we were signed we did not nearly have anywhere the power or resources to put an album out into the world on the scale that Metal Blade is able to do for us. The band writes and produces everything in regards to our own music and visual style so we have no struggle or loss of vision there and in that as well as Metal Blade’s understanding about the direction and point of Visigoth as a band I feel we are very lucky to be working with them. Also I like that while Metal Blade is certainly not a small label, they are also not a gigantic faceless corporate mass, and that makes it possible to build good relationships with everyone at the offices.

Any shows that are up and coming that you are excited for?

We have been confirmed and asked to play at Bang Your Head festival this July in Germany which we are all certainly very excited for. There may be a short tour around those dates in which we will be playing in countries and cities we didn’t get to this last tour and all I can say at this point is to stay tuned and hopefully we will be coming somewhere near you!

Any final words?

As always I want to make it clear how grateful and humbled and overwhelmed the support has been for Visigoth from our fans in Europe and all over the world that may be reading this. A band gets only so far on its own and it takes the level of positivity and support from fans, venues, labels, managers to bring us to this point and we are truly lucky to be able to bring our music to you in the way that we have been able to. Here’s to many more good years and we hope to always keep the fire burning. Thank you so much!

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