Warbringer’s John Kevill: Metal Doesn’t Need to be ‘Beavis and Butthead’ Kind of Genre [Interview]
Warbringer vocalist John Kevill was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The two discussed the thrash revivalist's latest album, Woe to the Vanquished, which many are heralding as possibly the band's finest moment to date. Kevill also spoke about his interest in history and tying these themes into heavy metal, touching on his pursuit of professorship as well. Check out the chat below.
The new album from Warbringer is called Woe to the Vanquished. John, three years ago there was a very real possibility that Warbringer would no longer exist. How did nearly breaking up ultimately make the band stronger?
Well it did indeed; you're right to say that. I think it was really tough for me because I was kind of the one left holding everything and I had to reconstruct the band twice in that time period to get it to where it is now. It was just myself and Adam Carroll.
I think it kind of refocused me though because I had to say to myself, "Well do I want to do this?" And the answer is ultimately yes. It's not even a want really — I have to. So I think I got more serious than I'd ever been as well as just the whole attitude of the band got that way. We really saw this record as make or break and that we have to do our best record today or else, you know? [laughs] And I think we pulled it off and we have kind of more of a sense of purpose and resolution than we did before and the standard of playing, performance, writing everything we've — I think we've managed to bring it to a level we haven't had it that before.
The new album is deliberately heavier than the last one. In what ways is that meant to be a renewed statement of what Warbringer are all about?
Well I think the last record in some ways was catering to some of the tastes of like John Laux who left, basically, and that's where you get some of the more like upbeat like punk rock flavored tunes on that record. Honestly I prefer the the more strictly metallic, darker, more aggressive extreme sound. And I think honestly that's what Warbringer does best and we want to pretty much bring thrash with a level of intensity that you don't hear from anyone anymore or, hell, even in the past.
We're trying to pretty much just make a record that will blow your head clean off but that still retains elements of progressive music and musicality / melody, but to keep intensity ratcheted to 11 and then crank it to 12 if we can. [laughs] So that’s more or less the goal we want to be the most intense band on the planet.
Let's talk about the song "When the Guns Fell Silent." It's over 11 minutes long. It's also ambitious lyrically. Why is that song so important both in terms of its message and also your capabilities as a songwriter?
I've always wanted to do a long and epic song. We typically write rather short numbers and I just wanted to — it's very metal to do the big monolithic pieces. So I wanted to do one of those and I've been studying to be a history professor the past few years in the down time with the band which give me a lot of renewed inspiration for the music. This song is about the end of the first World War which is a really little understood event in America. That's like foundational for kind of everything horrible that came after in the 20th century — the second world war, the Holocaust and the Cold War so on and so forth. All of this starts there and people don't even know about it.
And there's a sort of tragedy in that just in how little people know about how they get to where they are and thus the things they'll say that are completely off base because they don't have the facts. There's a sadness and anger I feel about all this and I tried to channel it in the song and I'm really pleased with how it came out. It's my personal favorite song we've ever done.
"Remain Violent" is a commentary on current civil unrest. When does it become imperative that an artist's work needs to include social responsibility?
I don't think every artist needs to include social responsibility, but I simply look at it like this: if heavy metal is going to be angry — you know I'm screaming throughout the record; it’s vicious, aggressive music — there needs to be a cause for it. It can't just be stupid or at least I don't think heavy metal needs to be that stupid Beavis and Butthead kind of genre. I think it can be incredibly intellectual and can talk about stuff that other music can't. So I think some of the anger I feel just living in the world and wanting it to be better, but it's not, goes into the music this way and it's just I just see it as logical and very fitting subject for the sound of our music.
Today the the police forces in America don't seem to be protecting the people as their number one priority. And the fact that you know you can have officers shooting people on video and they're not convicted, this is terrible stuff and it makes me as a citizen, even someone who hasn't experienced this stuff knowing that it goes on makes me furious as it should with anyone who is a decent person I think.
John, you're a history student working toward professorship. Why has history always lent itself so well to being subject matter for metal bands and metal fans?
I think just saying metal can express some bigger ideas more than just like, "Oh I met a girl and a boy and now I'm happy or sad." It's just been a subject of a lot of music and metal can be like, you know, Iron Maiden. This song is about the Battle of Britain and it sounds like you're flying and you could not only have the lyrics about something historical but it can put you there sonically.
The combination of the two together really helps for delivering a message because there's no point in studying history just for sake of fact — it's to learn something about people and about our fundamental nature and truths about ourselves. That's how I always have seen it anyway. I'm able to channel some of this into the music and I just want to progress myself as a writer and write more serious artistically valuable work. So this is this is my way of doing it.
Thanks to John Kevill for the interview. Grab your copy of Warbringer's 'Woe to the Vanquished' at Amazon or iTunes and follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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