Interview conducted July 01 2009
Interview published July 21 2009
Beyond The Stars
California's Crescent Shield has
got to be one of the most overlooked melodic power metal bands to make
the scene of late. Situated in the (for the most part) true metal wastelands
of the United States and on a worthy independent Italian imprint Cruz
Del Sur, their status in the world metal community is small wonder. It's
unjust though, and with 2 fantastic albums under their belt vocalist Michael
Grant shows Lord Randall a band primed and ready
to take their place among their European peers.
Lord Randall: Having been a fan of Onward
from way back in the Sentinel Steel days, and on through Evermoving on
Century Media, I was really glad to hear you were back on the scene with
Crescent Shield. Though it probably flew under too many people's radar,
I was anticipating what a collaborative effort from you and Dan DeLucie
(Destiny's End) could bring. How did you guys come into contact back in
Michael: I have known Dan ever since I moved
here to LA from the east coast in '94. We have always been in touch,
but just happened to be in other bands. We played briefly in New Eden
and clicked instantly. He even helped me demo the Onward material.
We have been doing CS for a long time, it's just when Onward and Destiny's
End folded that we decided to make CS a living breathing band.
Lord Randall: Between '02 and your debut full-length The Last Of
My Kind, there were 2 demos recorded, the first of which by you, Dan,
and a drum machine. How long after that did you come into contact with
Melanie [Sisneros]. Had you known her from her work with New Eden?
Michael: Before that actually. I met her at
one of the Destiny's End shows here in LA in '98. She kept showing
up at the same shows as me, so we became fast friends with a lot in
common. I have seen her numerous times playing in various bands like
New Eden, The Iron Maidens, Raven Man and so forth, and she had great
stage presence. She was my first pick, and she jumped right on board.
Lord Randall: The last piece of the puzzle
was Craig Anderson. How lengthy was your search for a drummer, or did
you already have Craig in the back of your mind?
Michael: I met Craig at one of our Onward shows,
around '03 I think. He'd known about CS for a while, and he told me
that he would love to be the drummer. I thought, That's easy! Done!
He blew us all away at the first rehearsal.
Lord Randall: Italian label Cruz Del Sur
entered the picture, releasing TLOMK in late '06. By then you'd been playing
as a full band for nearly 2 years, and included 2 new songs, ('Unfinished
Ashes', 'North For The Winter') which I believe showed the direction Crescent
Shield was headed. You'd been playing most of the songs on the album for
years by that time.
Michael: [Laughter] Yeah, to people staring
at us 'cause they never heard the songs before! We really wanted to
get the songs properly recorded and get away from the drum machine-riddled
demo. So we did it on our own dime and shopped it around to no avail.
Then one day Cruz Del Sur came knocking at our door and really wanted
us to sign, so we did. We had nothing to lose at the time, and we
wanted to bring this music to the world.
Lord Randall: I actually saw you guys at
Alehorn Of Power in Chicago during June of '07, and remember bro-ing down
with Gregg Anderson from Bible Of The Devil during 'Await The Champion'.
Due to the amount of Goose Island Draft consumed that evening, all I have
to say is thank God for the L Train. You know, here in the Midwestern
US, we really don't get a lot of chances to see power metal done right
Michael: [Laughter] Yeah, that was one drunken
scene at around 2:30am! Still we had a great time. Wish there were
a few more people, but it was a very organized show and we hung with
tons of cool people. The States really lack the enthusiasm that Europe
has for this kind of metal. I mean the fans exist, but on such a small
Lord Randall: What do you feel is the state
of true metal in the US right now, and what part would you like to see
Crescent Shield play in it?
Michael: It's alive, but it really has no backing
the way it does in Europe. It's so night and day. There are lots of
bands, but so few get signed or have any kind of support. The competition
from over there is brutal. It's a whole 'nother world. We are a lonely
bunch here, to tell you the truth. As for playing here, I would love
to get back to the east. Either ProgPower in Atlanta, The BW&BK
fest , or even a show in Boston or New York.
Randall: Having toured both Europe and the US, compare and contrast
the audiences. I've always found the European crowds seem more "hungry"
for US bands, because the only time they normally see them is during the
huge summer festivals. Conversely, quite a lot of the more power-oriented
US metal bands have much more success and name recognition in Europe than
in America. Maybe it's a case of, to paraphrase the Bible, "a prophet
hath no honour in his own country"?
Michael: Well in America, you play a show to
about 40 or 50 people on a decent night, and you have maybe 10 of
them who are really into you. In Europe, you are rock stars! I mean
everybody is interested. Again, Europe is where this kind of metal
is taken very seriously. There is no money to be made here, so I guess
many have given up. In Europe it is a thriving industry. That's why
every band tours there. Look at Manowar. They practically live there!
Still, the 10 people who love us at the US gigs will get a good show
from us. They deserve it!
Lord Randall: Moving on to the new album,
where TLOMK was more straightforward melodic power metal, The Stars Of
Never Seen has a hugely progressive element. I'm not speaking of "progressive"
in the typically-used "I'm really talking about Dream Theater"
sense, more in that Crescent Shield itself has noticeably moved forward
in both lyrical and musical content. Intentional or not, this is clearly
the most cohesive release from the band.
Michael: Thank you! Yes, we intended to expand
our sound and songwriting. The album is darker, complex but still
very Shield. We wanted to grow musically without losing a sense of
who we are. We challenged ourselves. The sound is better too, thanks
from help from Bill Metoyer. We just took it to the next level. We
want this record to be a "grower", meaning if it takes a
few spins to get into it, then we did our job. We never want to make
a record that just gets boring and dated over time, but rather blossoms
and become classic. I hope I'm not asking too much!
Lord Randall: The quartet sounds honestly
energized, more anxious to deliver than on your previous album, much as
it did deliver. Would you attribute this to the excitement of working
on brand new material as a band for the first time?
Michael: Well, we really know each other quite
well now as musicians. We have played live together, and are now at
the point where we are a true unit instead of four people playing
in the same band. These songs are exciting to us, and everyone gave
it their touch. We might have been a little green the first time through,
but we are all fired up about these songs, and I think it shows.
Lord Randall: How would you say the band
has improved since the debut, and yourself as a lyricist?
Michael: As for my lyrics, I never think to
myself, "Boy, I've got to make sure that these lyrics are better
than last time." I just want to say what's on my mind at the
time, and what the song does to me. I try not to repeat myself but
well, you know
I always want to make sure the words I say are
the true words for the song and, not just writing stuff people are
"supposed" to hear. Plus, I'm always looking for new topics
and ideas. I love to expand my lyrical universe.
Randall: Who were your vocal and lyrical influences growing up?
Michael: Dio, Dickenson, Tate, Alder and Dane.
Speaking of Warrell, I want to make clear that even though many people
compare me to him, I really do not try to copy or sound like him.
It's just that we do have very similar voices, speaking and singing.
We are two rare baritones in this racket. I love listening to him
today as well as when I was growing up. I really connected to him
in voice and prose, and he really is a talent. However if you listen
carefully, our tones are different. He is more rough and raw with
grit and shriek, while I try to be more to be refined and balanced,
I guess. I like it when Dan finds new voices in me when he is producing
Lord Randall: You used Gerry Alanguilan
for the artwork again. How did you come into contact with him? How did
the process work? Did you come to him with general ideas, or pretty much
give him free reign?
Michael: Don hooked up that one. He is big
into comic books, and we wanted that feel for our covers. Not just
another standard oil painting with horses, wizards and whatnot. We
were very specific with him. We told him what we wanted and he delivered.
We are so happy with both of the covers. It's fun to have a cover
that reflects the lyrics, something that is made for us and is our
own. [It's] not just some random semi-cool picture you grab off the
internet and slap on to your CD jacket!
Lord Randall: The songs are much more layered
on TSONS than on the debut. Was this a natural outgrowth of gelling as
a band over the past few years, or a concerted effort to produce a more
Lord Randall: As much as I hate to ask this
question, how lyrically conceptualized is the album? Try as I might, I
can't seem to make out what (if any) book the story's based on, but there's
a definite tale being told here. As far as the lyrics, I'm reminded of
books by Moorcock, Le Guin, and to a lesser extent, the short stories
of Bradbury. Not to say that you're biting their style, more that it's
reminiscent without being a loosely-veiled rewrite.
Michael: This is not a concept album. Each
song stands alone but they are connected by a greater theme. Discovery,
travel (both space and time) and journeys (both real and fictional)
are the themes that dominate. I'm not really crazy about concept records.
They are more work than they are worth, and can sometimes "trap"
the listener. I like to keep things open. I'm also very glad I remind
you of those authors.
Randall: What is the struggle of the protagonist, and what role
does Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton play in the story? A mere reference,
Michael: Shakleton plays a big part of the
record in terms of influence. The Endurance is the longest, most epic
song we have done, and it has great emotional impact. It's based on
Ernest Shackleton's failed Antarctic expedition in 1914. He and his
crew had to survive on the frozen continent for over a year after
their ship was crushed and swallowed by the ice. Dan has a great interest
in survival stories. He wrote the music little by little as he was
reading the book, which is also called The Endurance. He wanted to
write and arrange the song so it told the story through music. When
it was complete, he gave the book to me and told me to read it because
he wanted "this song to be based on this book". I came up
with the lyrics but what was really amazing was that the events depicted
in the lyrics naturally matched up with what Dan envisioned each section
of music to be about. So we were perfectly in synch. I feel like I
must have done something right when I wrote the lyrics if Dan was
feeling it the same way I was.
Lord Randall: There are elements of Nevermore
and (especially Savatage) through the album, most noticeably in the song
"The Bellman". If you could, discuss that song from germination
Michael: You know, you're the first to compare
"The Bellman" to Savatage. I thought we were going to be
blanketed with that, but it was not our intention to do a 'Tage sounding
song. Dan wrote the music long ago during the TLOMK days, but he never
really cared for it. I loved it and wanted to make it a full song,
so I got creative with it. I played around with the fable format,
as well as presented the song as a play. The music was so dramatic
that I just ran with it. It was so fun to write and come up with this
creepy ghost story. It's a bit of a risk song but we love it!
Lord Randall: What can we expect on the
Crescent Shield touring front over 2009, on both European and American
Lord Randall: Lastly, when we spoke after
your Alehorn set, you mentioned being glad that you'd be in town long
enough to catch the Cubs game the next day. Being from Detroit, I'm as
shocked as anyone at the season the Tigers have been having so far. How
do you think we should watch this year as a player, and do you have your
World Series picks?
Michael: No picks yet. It's still too early.
Watch for James Loney of the Dodgers to become a surprise All Star.
But the Mets, Dodgers and Kansas City (go figure) are all doing well.
That Cubs game was so fun. I am a Mets fan but I wanted to see the
history and allure of Wrigley field. I am very sentimental and just
love the game of baseball. It would be cool if your Tigers made some
noise. Your Red Wings can go to hell though [Laughter]! Thank you
so much and I hope to have a beer with you and another chance to play
metal in your neck of the woods again!