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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 '00?

  • 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 onstage.

  • 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 number.

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.

Lord 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.

Lord 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 my tracks.

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 multi-faceted album?

  • Michael: Both actually. Dan and I are the songwriters. We also don't have to follow the rule that says just because we are a four piece means we have to write like one. We write for the album because that is what stays forever. A show is fleeting. We love layers. It allows one to peel away and discover something new.

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.

Lord Randall: What is the struggle of the protagonist, and what role does Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton play in the story? A mere reference, or...more?

  • 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 to completion.

  • 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 touring fronts?

  • Michael: [We're] workin' on it. We want to go back to Europe next year, and we are negotiating with some possibilities. It's not easy getting over there. It's very expensive and risky. I'm sure we will do some fun shows here as well too but it is still too early in the game to report anything yet.

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!

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