» Rob/Jason - Skelator
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Interview conducted September 23 2012
Interview published October 05 2012

Those Seattle agents of power - Skelator - have released their sophomore outing for Metal On Metal Records and they are turning some heads as the sword ruler rhythms of the chain gang continually draw listeners into their circle of bloodshed, power and speed.

I spoke with guitarist Rob Steinway and vocalist Jason Conde-Houston about their new album, its conceptual nature, the girth of steel influence, and the origin of their Eternia appellative.

MettleAngel: Greetings and felicitations my Brothers In Metal, I trust that you had a chance to read my review of your new album 'Agents Of Power' at www.metalcdratings.com.

  • Rob: We did!

MettleAngel: What did you think about what I had to say, aside from my few faux paus - based on blind ignorance - and only hearing a digital promo for reviewing purposes?

  • Rob: We really liked the comparisons and appreciated the feedback regarding the album, plus it was nice to get a little "stateside" coverage as the majority of our reviews are from European sites, which is always great of course!

MettleAngel: I hear that! Just so you know, this interview will be posted at a site based in Sweden.

  • Rob: Having the opportunity to read a review without having to run it through some sort of translating website is nice. We will do a quick online search every once in a while to see if there are any new reviews of the album; scanning through the thoughts and comments on the album is always helpful.

MettleAngel: I guess I did not even think that most of your reviews would be international.

  • Rob: Overall, we are pleased with the response the album has received and glad that people accepted the themed portion of the album. Honestly, we had a feeling the conceptual aspects would turn a lot more people off, but I think the majority of our listeners "got" what we were trying to do and just embraced it.

MettleAngel: Followers of the band, and your past endeavours would promote your approach, I would think.

  • Rob: The first four tracks definitely have received the most attention overall, which is a little humorous considering the concept portion is longer, but pretty much from the tail end of the album writing process Jason predicted this would be the case.

MettleAngel: Oh really? I first discovered you when I saw you live at "Warriors Of Metal III". I was very impressed with your performance, and even though it was early afternoon, we chatted, and then you went to my friend's hotel to bathe and unwind, shortly thereafter. Following that experience, I instantly became a fan, and now I am finally getting to interview you.

  • Jason: We definitely needed to get cleaned up, that fest was a scorcher. We traveled many, many miles to get there from Seattle. We drove all the way to Detroit in 40 hours pretty much NON-STOP. Next day we went to the festival and played around 4:00 PM. By that point we were so ready to melt people faces off.

MettleAngel: I did not even know who you were then, and the name of the band made me a bit skeptical, until I caught your performance. I was unfamiliar with many of the early acts like yourself, Vanlade, Trazom, which I was told was Mozart spelt backwards.

  • Jason: I think I over did it honestly, because when we played Chicago a few days later my voice was completely gone, I could barely speak. I know that it was all worth it, the camaraderie and festive feel was just amazing. It felt like an official American True Metal Convention (if there were such a thing).

MettleAngel: I know that it was your piercing vocals that drew me to the stage in the first place.

  • Rob: That is awesome that you were there at the "WOM III" festival. Looking back at it we all agreed that making that initial lengthy haul from Washington to Detroit to play a gig with Vanlade was not the best choice. We should have had another show between Seattle and Detroit, but you live and learn, I guess.

MettleAngel: At least you gained some following on your way to the fest, right?

  • Rob: I suppose. When we arrived in Ohio we were definitely ready to rock. Other than all the amazing metal that we got to watch at the festival, one of the biggest highlights for me was just meeting and talking with all the people, like yourself there. We celebrated the friendly atmosphere, as it reminded me very much of the Wacken festival in Germany.

MettleAngel: I agree, and I wish I could have attended the last two, but being a parent has its priorities. Just out of curiosity, I was wondering where you came up with the name for Skelator. I know it sounds a bit cliché, but is it because you are all fans of the "Masters Of The Universe" series?

  • Jason: I would not call myself a FAN of the series itself. I have tried to watch it as an adult and it is just embarrassing.

MettleAngel: Maybe to a certain extent, but I watch "He-Man" and "She-Ra" with my son and wife and I like the feel of the nostalgia and the ever prevailing, still pertinent moral code.

  • Jason: I do feel that the characters look awesome, and in the motion picture version Dolph Lungren has some of the best lines ever.

MettleAngel: The movie is so cult with Courtney Cox and Billy Barty. I think they are planning another revamp with modern effects.

  • Jason: The point that I want to make is that Max Perry and I started this band because we wanted to write our own wannabe Slayer meets Metallica songs.

MettleAngel: I am sorry to interrupt, but I thought you said Matt Perry, and I instantly thought of the television show "Friends". Matt Rachel Perry was your original guitarist back in '98 who played on the 'Taste My Demon Seed' Demo. The artwork actually depicts She-Ra on the cover. How did you get permission for that?

  • Jason: Originally, I wanted the band to be called Red Omen but Max did not think it was catchy enough. So we sat down for a few hours with a pencil and a piece of paper. We had some stupid names on there like Armada of Fear (inspired by Romulan War Birds from "Star Trek"). Then finally Max said out loud, "Who was the bad guy in He-Man?" And that was it, all was set in stone.

MettleAngel: And yet you seem more fascinated by She-Ra, but Skelator is such a bad ass, and a love it when" Robot Chicken" spoofs him.

  • Jason: Fortunately I spelt it "Skelator" when it is actually "Skeletor". This is both good and bad for us. It is good because it would be hard for the toy company Mattel to come after us, and bad because I am sure a thousand people have looked us up on the Internet as Skeletor and then become disappointed when all they find is that stupid CKY music video.

MettleAngel: I have not even seen the CKY video. It does seem that you have rather tongue-in-cheek approach about She-Ra. Have you ever planned to write an anthem about He-Mans' foe, or even Hordak himself? Are you fans of the works of "Filmation"? Which do you prefer, "He-Man" or "She-Ra"?

  • Jason: As a kid I really liked the "He-Man / She-Ra" cross over movie.

MettleAngel: Was not that the holiday Christmas special from the '80s?

  • Jason: I think so, but if I had to choose between the two heroes I would go for She-Ra, because at least she is a bombshell: whereas, He-Man just looks fucking stupid.

MettleAngel: ...and his alter-ego Prince Adam seemed a bit epicene.

  • Jason: As a kid I was more into the bad guys. I think we were a little too young to have watched a lot of He-Man first-run, so we went for "Ninja Turtles". Shredder was my favorite villain.

MettleAngel: They are making another live action Turtles movie too, but the original ones were so awesome! The new toys are killer, but I still have my originals still sealed!

  • Jason: As for writing a song about Skelator? We already did that on our first album: 'Give Me Metal...' As far as other characters from the "Masters Of The Universe" series, we might do a song about Evil-Lyn, but that is up in the air. All the other characters are pretty fucking lame.

MettleAngel: I had an original Evil-Lyn doll and she was yellow. It looked like she had jaundice. C'mon, the others lame, I do not think so, as Ram Man was the true headbanger, and skull crusher! Anyway, I know that you are also big advocates of Fantasy-based literature, as you have already written songs based on Tolkien's works. What inspired you to pursue the Elric series?

  • Jason: What inspired me the most to write Elric? Well, the books, of course.

MettleAngel: Which band before you do you think best covered Moorcock? Would it be Dark Moor, Domine, BOC, other? As for me I think Domine nailed it!

  • Jason: Originally, I did not even know that other bands had done it. I just thought I could do what Iron Maiden does with their favorite books. However, soon after writing the lyrics (the first time in 2000) I found out about Blind Guardian, Domine and Hawkind. I think Domine obviously mastered the "Eternal Champion" saga with such albums as 'Stormbringer Ruler' and 'Emperor Of The Black Runes'.

MettleAngel: I agree, I love Domine, when will they release a new album, it has already been five years!

  • Jason: After hearing them, I knew I could write a song like that. So I penned "The Coming of Chaos" based on the Corum Saga. One thing I always noticed about the Elric songs by various bands is they never touched my favorite part of the Elric Saga... the fall of Melnibone in Book III where Elric must face his cousin, kill his lover, commit genocide against his own and then kill all his allies to escape. Now that shit is fucked up! (Rob): Yeah, I freely admit it; I am a huge book nerd with an emphasis on fantasy. It does a great job of providing an escape from all of the terrible things happening in the world. Domine takes the cake for me regarding Elric based material.

MettleAngel: I know you are also big fans of Manowar, and your cover of "Dark Avenger" is quite excellent. What do you think of their new album 'The Lord Of Steel'? I do not know one single Manowar fan who is impressed. Other than the final track "Hail, Kill And Die" this is just an utter embarrassment.

  • Jason: I was very disappointed with the new Manowar mainly because I really liked the four good songs on the 'Thunder in the Sky' EP. I figured it would be mediocre but, I did not think the bass would sound so fucking weak.

MettleAngel: I dug the EP as well. I have heard that Joey plans to remix it and re-release it again this fall.

  • Jason: The vocals are lackluster, the drums are fake as fuck and miraculously Karl Logan sounds better than everyone else (that is a first). The song "Manowarriors" is fucking hilarious, it is only my fave just because it is so incredibly dumb.

MettleAngel: When bands like Majesty have reformed and Messenger are flying the flag, it is difficult to take Manowar seriously anymore.

  • Jason: Our ex- bassist Zach Palmer feels that Manowar has officially stopped writing new lyrics. The sad truth is that "El Gringo" might be the best written song on the album.

MettleAngel: Did not the once revered Mel Gibson just do a movie called "Kill The Gringo"?

  • Jason: Fuck Mel Gibson, fuck everything about him!

MettleAngel: You say that with such passion! Christ, I loved his '80s movies, and also "BraveHeart" and "The Patriot".

  • Rob: I think that the title track could be a great one, but I find myself wanting to hear a less fuzzed out bass tone and Chris Boltendahl laying down some vocals. I would rather listen to any other release by them.

MettleAngel: Chris from Grave Digger? Their new album is damn good, but the (EP) is even better! Alright, back to the band at hand, Jason, when I saw you perform at "WOM III", you reminded me of a very young Eric A.K. Knutson from the early days of Flotsam & Jetsam. Do you feel that he is an influence on your vocal performance; especially, when you consider those first three unprecedented albums?

  • Jason: I would not say inspiration, but I did listen to 'Doomsday For The Deceiver' a few hundred times. That singer was fucking insane. I always wanted to compare how many screams were on 'Doomsday' vs. 'Fistful Of Metal' by Anthrax.

MettleAngel: Now that you mention it, I do detect a bit of Neil Turbin in your pitch, as well. Have you seen the vintage footage of Eric from F&J with the sword on stage? What other bands influenced your singing and stage theatrics?

  • Jason: Both those albums are just laden with ridiculous over the top falsetto screams just because they could. I used to try to do that back in the 'Give Me Metal' days, but now I realize that it will just kill my voice and that it is better to save a scream for the right part in a song, it's just more magical that way.

MettleAngel: That sounds like something Sean Peck or Rob Lowe would say....

  • Jason: Just look at Halford, all those 70's albums were just covered in falsettos and then on 'British Steel' he realized he did not even need to do them AT ALL. There is not one single falsetto note on the entire album, and it is one of their biggest hits.

MettleAngel: 'Rocka Rolla' did not have too many highs, and it was more moody, and atmospheric, but with 'Sad Wings' and 'Sin After Sin', yes he shattered glass!

  • Jason: Obviously he realized he just cannot hold back completely so the next albums stepped it up a level over and over until you get to 'Painkiller' which is honestly overkill.

MettleAngel: I think he found his balance on the maligned 'Turbo', and under-appreciated 'Ram It Down'.

  • Jason: Rob understands that you cannot do that shit live without sacrificing stamina or without using tons of effects. Obviously, Halford is my biggest influence. I used to work in a smoke shop and get baked and sing along to Priest eight hours a day.

MettleAngel: I just played a ton of Priest lately having picked up the 30th Anniversary edition of 'Screaming For Vengeance'.

  • Jason: I downloaded every bootleg I could so I could hear his tricks live. When you sing like this you need to have skills to help you get through the night, everyone has them. My first inspiration was Robert Plant when I was really young. I would crank my mother's records and sing along to them over and over. My other big influences are Dio, Eric Adams, Ralph Scheepers and Morby from Domine.

MettleAngel: What about James Rivera! Did you ever hear Labyrinth's cover of Sanctuary's "Die For My Sins" with Morby on vocals? I have noticed that there are two Robs in the band.

  • Rob: Yes this is true, and we both play guitar.

MettleAngel: I am reminded of the early days of Overkill. If you listen to those first two OK albums there is a solid blend of Thrash and Epic Metal present.

  • Rob: Overkill are definitely an overlooked band, in my opinion. I never heard of anyone comparing us to them, but I never really understood why, especially considering that they still are delivering the goods live.

MettleAngel: Their last two studio albums are stellar!

  • Rob: I think you are the first person that at least I can recall mentioning any similarity to Overkill, but I hear snippets here and there, when I think about it.

MettleAngel: What is with the titles that you employ like Robbie Houston - "Guitar Of Power" or Rob Steinway - "Guitar Of Glory"?

  • Rob: Our titles are simply that, titles. Luckily, there is not too much confusion between the two of us, name wise.

MettleAngel: So you actually address one other by these OTT stage names?

  • Rob: It helps because our drummer Patrick Sieck sometimes refers to each of us as "Bob", and it can get confusing.

MettleAngel: Hence my reference to Overkill...which is why Bobby uses the name "Blitz". Do those stage names add a bit of kitsch to the whole Skelator vibe, and if so, should we really take the band all that seriously? After all you have penned some really amazing songs.

  • Rob: We do take the band and our music very seriously, Skelator is definitely not a joke band, we all put a lot of energy and ourselves in the music. That being said, we are not all business, I mean, listen to songs like "She-Ra" & "Heavy Metal Sacrifice" and you will definitely pick up on some of the humor or light-heartedness of the band.

MettleAngel: When I first heard "Circle Of Bloodshed", I was blown away, and turned many "Old School" fans on to your band, instantly. On the new album, the title track and "Rhythm Of The Chain" were quite awesome, but many of my fans did not like the bombastic, OTT approach of the "Elric" theme divided into 12 parts. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Rob: When we were putting together 'Agents Of Power' there was always that faint concern in the back of our minds --- "Is the latter half of the album too much?" "Will the concept portion of the album bore people?" --- I think people that do not really care for the conceptual part or just want to hear "Metal" songs can skip over the story telling portions of the album and opt for the more rocking parts.

MettleAngel: I agree, and having both classic songs and conceptually based anthems allows for the band to create a wider appeal.

  • Rob: We needed to put this together and really just see where we could go with a full-on concept. Putting together 16 songs and then recording 17 different songs for an album was a massive undertaking and took a ton of time and effort. We have no intentions of making our next release a concept piece in the style of the "Elric" idea.

MettleAngel: Cool, you have been there, done that! If you were to classify Skelator, what genre would you feel is most appropriate? I tend to describe you as being Power Thrash.

  • Jason: In the end we are just Heavy Metal. In the beginning we were straight up Thrash, then we started adding more and more Power and Traditional elements. The Internet describes us as being Epic/Heavy/Speed Metal... I guess that is accurate? I do not really care, honestly. (Rob): Skelator is constantly evolving; when you hear a new album from us, you will not only hear epic songs or all thrash songs. We try to keep it balanced out, some songs are epic, some will be straight up Heavy Metal anthems, others will pull in a lot of the classic Thrash influences, etc.

MettleAngel: Ahhh variety...the spice girls of life...

  • Rob: When you have all five members of the band contributing to the writing process, you are going to have a fair amount of variety. Genre wise, I gave up on trying to assign specific labels to bands a while ago, it is just too hard to do.

MettleAngel: Who writes most of the music, you claim that it is collaborative effort.

  • Jason: Classically I was the main driving force in terms of song ideas, lyrics, album concepts, track order, album cover, etc., but now that we have awesome members in the band that have invested years into this, we are writing our songs as a team and it is not just one person spouting off ideas to the rest of the guys.

MettleAngel: A song like "Dream Dictator" sounds like it might me a group effort.

  • Jason: "Dream Dictator" was the first song we wrote without any prior ideas floating around, whereas the Elric saga was us trying to write 40 minutes of music based on lyrics and musical ideas that I had been brewing (with help from Robbie and Jesse) for over a decade. (Rob): There is definitely a collaborative effort! Our song writing process usually starts with one idea, typically a guitar riff (and that riff can come from anyone in the band --- Jason and Pat have both sung riffs to us all at practice), we play it out and develop a backing for that idea and then things take off from there.

MettleAngel: I did not know that Pat was so active in the song writing process...

  • Rob: Usually we will add an idea or two per writing session, keep playing and arranging the parts and just keep building and building. Songs can change pretty much up until the point we have recorded them. "Dream Dictator" and "Agents Of Power" were constantly tweaked up until recording process started.

MettleAngel: Jason, are you the main lyricist?

  • Rob: When it comes to the lyrics, Jason writes the majority of them with input and suggestions from other members of the band, but ultimately, he has to sing it and he has to be comfortable with what he is singing. 'Death To All Nations' had one song lyrically penned by Robbie, and 'Agents Of Power' had one or two songs penned by Pat.

MettleAngel: I have to ask, who does those voice-overs on the Metal On Metal Records promo versions? I will never forget that shrill whisper in my ear when I downloaded a promo of 'Death To All Nations' from the site, "You are listening to Skelator..." spoken with such an eerie and haunting drawl. I am so grateful to actually have physical CD copies now with lyrics, photos, and no more brooding voice-overs! I think the production is better on the CD, as well.

  • Rob: Jason does all the voice-overs! Pretty over the top, eh??

MettleAngel: To say the least! Speaking of your label, tell me about the limited edition to 66 hand-numbered copies of the cassette reissue of 'Give Me Metal Or Give Me Death' on pro-tape format. Are those already sold out? I understand it also includes your 2000 demo 'Taste My Demon Seed' and has a three panel insert. What is the retro "new" fascination with cassettes? I love them, and still own thousands, which play perfectly.

  • Jason: I do not really understand the trend in terms of the consumer, but it is a quite cheap way to release something officially, so I see the appeal towards underground bands and labels.

MettleAngel: My buddies at Infernö Records are also releasing a lot of limited titles on this vintage format. Do fans go crazy for them? I actually assumed the cost would be more for a near obsolete format.

  • Jason: Personally, I do have a soft spot for cassettes, especially if it is an album I have never heard before. As for "Give Me Metal...", I do not think it is sold out yet, but it will soon. We have one copy left in our merch box but I imagine the label might have at least ten remaining. Pick them up now because we do not plan on releasing that on CD anytime soon.

MettleAngel: Well, that sucks! What are your plans for touring? Are you playing any major festivals? I would love to get a chance to see you guys live once again. Let me know if you are coming back to Ohio.

  • Jason: We are currently planning a West Coast tour in October. (Rob): The West Coast tour in October will be from Seattle to San Diego and back -- we all are really, really looking forward to it and hope that some Skelator fans will make it out. We will be playing in Los Angeles, San Francisco (with Slough Feg and Midnight Chaser), San Diego, Portland, and a few other select dates along the way, come check it out and we will do our best to deliver the rock bombs. (Jason): Next year we are flying to Germany to play the third "Metal Assault Festival" with Attacker!!!!

MettleAngel: Are Attacker active again! I love their 'Second Coming' album. I heard rumours that Bobby "Leather Lungs" Lucas had joined as their new vocalist.

  • Jason: Attacker have reformed.

MettleAngel: Bob Mitchell left the band in 2008, right. Your label head Jowita Kaminska painted the cover art for the 'Standing The Test Of Time' Compilation by Attacker.

  • Jason: As far as other touring plans we want to cover the globe someday. It is just so damn hard to pull off when you are as poor as we are.

MettleAngel: You are yet another fledgling young act with such promise and no budget. I am amazed that all these crap acts get signed by bigger Independents, while the really quality bands are often overlooked. I heard this is what is happening with Zetro Sousa's new killer thrash act Hatriot.

  • Rob: Always remember to check out our "ReverbNation" page for updates on the tour. We would love to return to Ohio or even travel over to the East Coast, but we do not currently have anything in the works.

MettleAngel: Well, if Accept & Kreator or Doro & Sister Sin can come to Columbus, then surely Skelator can attach themselves to a gig and head back my way.

Rob: We will have to see, as we are always so busy with our daily lives. Thank you Michael for taking the time to do this interview with us. Now for some shameless plugs: Check out www.reverbnation.com/trueskelator for show/tour information and to download a bunch of songs from all of our releases. Check out www.facebook.com/trueskelator for our social networking stuff. Check out www.youtube.com/user/skelatorswrath/videos for some classic Skelator live videos. Check out www.metal-on-metal.com for information about Metal On Metal Records.

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