» John Kevill - Warbringer
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Interview conducted April 13 2017
Interview published May 32017

"I wish some of them could stop going through the motions and stop existing sooner. Let's be real here. If Warbringer had put out Hardwired as our fifth record everyone would shit on us. Everyone!"

American thrash metallers Warbringer recently made a stop in Stockholm on their Euro tour with fellow countrymen Havok and hence Metal Covenant clinched an interview with the very outspoken vocalist John Kevill to talk about the band's March 31st release Woe To The Vanquished. John took the conversation and the answers elsewhere from time to time and he really and truly doesn't have much to spare for bands and people living in a musical past.

"Someone needs to kick out these idiot journalists that are like 50 years old and writing for these magazines and just wanna support whatever they think is the hippest band and get people to actually like metal in there."

Band lineup:
John Kevill - Vocals
Adam Carroll - Guitar
Chase Becker - Guitar
Jessie Sanchez - Bass
Carlos Cruz - Drums

Tobbe: Woe To The Vanquished was out two weeks ago and in what way does that album follow the prescription of Warbringer?

John: I think it's kind of the ultimate form of Warbringer so far. It's been four years since our last record [IV: Empires Collapse] and the last one was a little controversial and experimental among the fanbase, so we really wanted to kind of zero in on the elements of that, that we thought worked best. You know, dark melodic and epic stuff, on songs like Hunter-Seeker and Towers Of The Serpent; those kind of tracks.

And also just sort of recapture some of the fury, the raw destruction of the first couple of records, but with more advanced performance and songwriting. And then we pretty much wanted, in short, to do everything the band's done before and just do it better, all turn to 11, and to make the most complete, best album that really solidifies what our sound is in a sense. Not someone else's sound, not the retro thrash sound or anything.

What Warbringer sounds like is different from any other band you can hear and that's already existed. That already has been a thing, but on this record we wanted to just do it to crystal perfection so that it's just undisputably that.

Tobbe: To what extent do you guys try to implement the original idea in the songs? Like, how much do you think about the original idea when you start to make a record?

John: This time we had some guidelines on what we wanted it to be. We wanted it to be really fast and heavy, but also compact. Not any fat, no filler. Really complete as a record. So you can pick any song out and it stands on its own, but also if you listen to it start to finish the whole thing is a journey and it all flows. We're just trying to make a damn great album, honestly. [Laughs] You know, everything we think that that entails.

Tobbe: Is it important to you that your fans can trust in your music and really know what they get when they buy a new Warbringer album?

John: Well, yes and no. You can count on a few things with us. It's not gonna have any, like "Woah, oh.". Not that stuff. We're not gonna suddenly stop being an aggressive metal band, is a better way to put it. It's going to be violent, it's gonna be vicious, it's going to be riff based, but at the same time we do like to throw some surprises in there and I think there's a bunch of 'em on the record. Even in the fast tracks with some death and black metal influence creeping in. As well as, like, the final track; it's a pretty big departure, but, I think, still fits very well with the identity of the band. And I think also on this record the lyrical content is a lot more grim and serious, you know.

Tobbe: So what topics do you deal with, lyrically?

John: You know, it's a lot of warfare, but people often mistakenly say that it's all we write about. If you look through our discography, maybe like 30 percent of our songs are about that subject. But I'm studying to be a professor, specifically interested in military history, so that's something I like to write about. This record has a bunch of different themes, but it overall is about the dark side of humanity and our dualistic nature and everything and that's what I'm trying to get at by writing about these historical subjects.

You know, Silhouettes, for instance, is about sort of the potential for us to just wipe ourselves out as a species, which is real; it's not a made-up scenario. Woe To The Vanquished is about pretty much the "Might makes right" nature of the human race and it's set in an Ancient Roman type setting. Remain Violent is about modern day police brutality. Shellfire and When The Guns Fell Silent are both from, like, Western front battles of the First World War.

One thing aside from just the sheer brutality and violence of that setting that I like is the real dualistic nature of it where you have these concepts of honor, glory, bravery and self-sacrifice, that the men of those times felt and that people still feel today, contrasted against just a totally futile, hopeless slaughter, which is a real thing. And also a lot of people don't really know or understand about it, because to do so it's a very long, grim and often depressingly repetitive story. So it's kind of tough to understand for that reason, but I think it's really powerful and When The Guns Fell Silent is really an attempt to capture that.

And then Divinity Of Flesh is about scientific, humanitarian philosophy and sort of our destiny as a species and how the power of our species, though our lives are short, our knowledge and our ideas can live beyond ourselves. And kind of a cool meta thing going on there is that as I'm writing and singing the lyrics in that song it's going to tape, which literally is gonna live on beyond me. So there is a cool extra dimension to that one.

Tobbe: Do you think people, like in general, pay attention to the lyrics, really, or is the lyrics just one small part of the whole record?

John: Well, lyrics can't stand on their own, I think. I think I want it to be towards the right lyric with the right music and generally we're writing this very angry, aggressive music so I want the lyrics to matter, yeah. A lot of people in metal say "Oh, I don't care about lyrics.", but the truth is people only say that 'cause some of the bands that write music don't care about lyrics. They don't even care about having decipherable vocals, which isn't more brutal; it's less actually.

You know, there's certainly great examples of just indecipherable noise being awesome in metal vocal; Obituary is a great example, but the way in which it's done now the vocals are so homogeneous and samey that I really wanna break out of that by: you can hear every goddamn word I say on that record, no matter how hard I'm screaming. I want to say, with this record, you know, metal can be brutal and vicious and violent, but also you can hear every word and it contains real ideas and if you're one of those people who says "Oh, I don't care about lyrics." that's a stupid mentality to me, because it's there, so you should care about it. Just like it would be really dumb if you said "I don't care what notes the guitar player plays.". That's fucking stupid!

You know, music is composed of rhythm and melody and if you have an aggressive, harsh vocal you're skipping melody altogether, so therefore all you've got left is rhythm, and tone and sound, I guess. So just skipping over the words like they don't matter is… You're cheating yourself of your potential as a singer because you won't ever make it to a 10 out of 10 performance, I think, as a vocalist and as a singer, if you just completely skip the evocative power of language. And also it's having hooks that can make the song more memorable and you can make the song more powerful.

I think a song that's musically very brutal like Shellfire is much more brutal when you hear what the words are, 'cause it gives you the sense of a soul-crushing horror and the words tie in with the music and they synergize and they go together and if you're gonna make a 10 out of 10 record, which, as any band, that should be your aim, you need to explore these things and you can't just write whatever bullshit. And even people who think lyrics don't matter… You know, take your favorite death metal song and replace the words with, like, lyrics about baking cookies and it's not fucking brutal anymore; it's stupid.

Tobbe: So in what frame of mind do you personally believe that you write your best lyrics in?

John: Oh, I don't know about that. But it's sort of a thing that comes to me and I get a line and sometimes I'm just "Oh, I gotta go with that line." and then the rest sort of builds itself around. Divinity Of Flesh was Adam Carroll's riffs and I didn't have a lyric for it and he kind of gave me an idea and I worked off of that. So basically anywhere I hear or think of a good lyric idea I'll go with it. Yeah, you know, I think anyone must just be open to any facet of the world for inspiration.

Tobbe: If it is, then what specifically makes your new album better than your competitors' efforts?

John: Well, first off I think we're straight up harder. If you put us up against any of Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Overkill, there's like none of those guys are playing anything half as extreme; even Slayer today. We're trying to actually pretty much make the most vicious and extreme thrash you can possibly hear. And that involves also that it's really fast and some of it is really hard to play, especially on a drum standpoint; tracks like 2 and 4 [Woe To The Vanquished and Shellfire]. Pretty fucking gnarly stuff. And I think just playing to that extreme standard requires a level of effort that many of the "legends" of the genre, today, are unwilling or unable to put in.

Furthermore, I think just we've put more fire and energy into this thing and every single bit is really thought-out. There's no doing this as a day job, like a lot of the older people are doing [Laughs] and there's no going through the motions and I think I'm at my absolute peak so far as a vocalist and lyricist. I think we have the best and musically tightest lineup we've ever had, as well as the most focused record, 'cause everything here is very thematic with itself, both visually and musically. We're trying to not ignore any of the aspects that are so often just kind of thrown in haphazardly or as a second afterthought. There's none of that on this.

And it was very stressful to make this record 'cause we held ourselves to a ridiculously high standard and it was kind of an ordeal because of that, but we're willing to do that and that's why I think this record comes off, in my opinion, and I wouldn't have a right to be here if I couldn't say this: I think we made the strongest thrash release I've heard of the last year, because, goddamn it, I made sure that this was my favorite one, otherwise I have no right to call myself an artist or a musician.

Tobbe: Most bands try to find an identity, but is it impossible to come out with completely new stuff nowadays?

John: It depends what your goal is and consider that completely new doesn't always mean completely good and also consider we have a rapidly expanding population with music becoming more an more accessible to make. Also, when we are talking about heavy metal, it's a 50 year old genre, so most of the bands that are called innovators in metal today are kind of leaving the metal genre saying they don't listen to metal or don't like metal.

And I mean, good for you and everything, but I wanna hear some fucking heavy metal and I wanna hear it done with the level of intensity, fire and passion that it deserves. You know, I feel like there's nobody else out there that sounds like I do as a vocalist. All the musicians in our band have their own styles and when it comes together: yes, this is thrash metal, but it's also other things and it's also just a different form than has existed before.

Sure you could compare us to Slayer, but Slayer doesn't have blast beats, Slayer doesn't have death metal riffs, black metal riffs, Slayer doesn't have an 11 minute song with poetry in it. They don't do any of these things and you know what sucks is throughout our whole career almost no matter what music we actually record people will compare us to whatever band they feel like whether it's valid or not.

So I think a lot of this idea that there's nothing new under the sun is people like to pretend it's that way, but it's not actually true. Metal actually is evolving. When we're talking about the bands that don't wanna be metal bands anymore, within bands that actually do want to play heavy metal, it's still evolving and I think we're a part of that and I don't think we're the only ones either.

Tobbe: Think about it. A lot of those classic band won't exist in, like, 10 or 20 years. There's gotta be new bands coming.

John: I wish some of them could stop going through the motions and stop existing sooner. Let's be real here. If Warbringer had put out Hardwired […To Self-Destruct by Metallica] as our fifth record everyone would shit on us. Everyone! We couldn't put out a record of that quality or we would get crucified. For us to even be taken seriously as a band we have to put out music that is better than anything the old guard is putting out currently. As good or better and we have to do it on less than half the budget too.

So that's the way it is and we know that that's the game we're in. We didn't choose it, but we're gonna try to prove that we have what it takes to do it and that metal is not this thing of the past. It's not this "Remember when?" bullshit. It's current, it's valid and as the world gets scarier and there's more stuff relevant to be angry about, truly, this music is essential, to express a real human thing that no other style can.

Tobbe: Even if he was not gone for long, but in what way has Adam's return to the band affected the result as a whole?

John: Well, it's essential. We couldn't have done this record without the return of Adam. He actually toured on the last album, so Adam was out of the band for a rather short time. Me, Adam and Carlos were the writing core of this band and Jessie and Chase really added a lot to the record with just killer instrumental lines all over the place and that was a new kind of spice, I guess, that we haven't had, as these two players.

But we really wanted it to be definitively a Warbringer record and even more so than any of our other ones. When you hear it you're like "This is what this band is about!". So without Adam and Carlos returning to the band it would have simply been impossible because I don't think there are other musicians who can do the Warbringer sound that way 'cause no one else is enough experienced with the band and no one else is the right musician.

And I'm really glad that through all the trials and tribulations to make this record, which was 4 years of bullshit, very personally difficult for me as well, it turned out in a form that I can be proud of and in the end this record makes that last four years of just nonsense and of kind of questioning whether I should even go on with this, all worth it.

Tobbe: You've had quite a few member changes, but how do you find a way out on the other side all the time?

John: Well, truth is, I mean, hopefully, we have to make more money. [Laughs] 'Cause otherwise you can't just tour for nine months out of the year and come back with nothing over and over and over again. People will resent it, people will quit. Let me give you some numbers here: Warbringer played about 260-270 shows our first year, 2008. 300-310 shows 2009. About another 250 in 2010 and maybe 200 every year after that until we broke up. So working that hard for as little as we got…

And then, of course, on top of, you know, insult to injury, to have it be so as we write records like Waking Into Nightmares [2009], Worlds Torn Asunder [2011] and Empires Collapse [2013], which leave the traditional thrash genre each in their own separate ways and are not comparable to anything any of the old bands have ever released in their career, past or present, and still to be called a retro band and still to be called "Well, you're just stealing riffs." when in fact, in my opinion, the real retro bands today are the old bands who are trying to remember what the fuck it's like to actually thrash.

Perhaps I'm at that point in my career where I have that big of a chip on my shoulder and also I think I have the record to back it now, where I'm just gonna "Fuck these! Fuck that!". This attitude is bullshit and if we continue that attitude as a scene: Well, enjoy your dead genre. You know, you can't have this idea that everything was better "Back when…" and the 80's are, like, holy and sacred, but there were shitty bands in the 80's that had shitty shows and not all the bands on the dude's jacket, on the hardcore old-school thrash guy's patch jacket, are equally good in quality. Some of them are pretty C- and D-list, even if they have a cool logo, you know. And even if they are true 80's thrash. There's true 80's thrash that sucks, you know. And also, I'll say this: Thrash metal is a much wider genre than people say.

I've seen so many reviewers saying like "Well, they stay within the tight confines of thrash metal.". A: No, we don't! And B: The confines aren't tight. You may have noticed that Reign In Blood [by Slayer, 1986], Punishment For Decadence [by Coroner, 1988] and Rust In Peace [by Megadeth, 1990] are all in the same subgenre. Those three records; do they sound anything like each other? Nothing! And there's more, you know. Fuck! Kill 'Em All and …And Justice For All are in the same genre, but they don't sound anything alike.

So this idea that it's a close-minded narrow genre is something journalists have just repeated so fucking much that people think it's true. Someone needs to kick out these idiot journalists that are like 50 years old and writing for these magazines and just wanna support whatever they think is the hippest band and get people to actually like metal in there.

Tobbe: A lot has happened since Warbringer started out and do you even dare to look at the future in a longer perspective?

John: I don't know. We really ought to make something happen on this record. So far the support has been great and we're going all out to bring this band to the next level because it's a matter of survival for us. We've always been kind of stuck, banging our head against this glass ceiling where, like, the best we can hope for is to open for, you know, an old band pretty much. We get to set up in front of them and their giant banner and, you know, be 10 decibels quieter and look like chumps by comparison.

We have this weird conundrum and every new band has this, where you don't have the size of the fanbase yet, but how do you get that? "Oh well, you have to tour with bands who already have the fanbase.", but what happens when you do that? Oh, they're gonna rip you off completely. You don't get to put on your full show because you're not the headliner and you have to do it on an extremely small slice of the pie. Sometimes criminally small. And that's just the way of the industry and it's set up in such a way so as essentially they'll kill the genre and so as to stifle new bands coming out.

And the only new bands, since we started, that have really achieved any, like, sudden breakthrough success are, like, Mastodon and Ghost. Neither of whom I really consider to be a full-blown metal band. They kind of have one toe in the pool. Or they started with one foot in the pool and then they tried to, like, just disconnect from it as fast as they can. Sure, that's great, but why would we praise that as innovation in heavy metal when that's literally leaving heavy metal, you know? And just trying to keep some element of it, so you can keep that fanbase. I want actual metal. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Ghost is probably nearing the pop elements more and more for every record and now it's, like you said, not even metal anymore.

John: Well, you know, they still say Satan and so you get to have the metal press. And also, that's stupid. You know, shitty fucking lyrics, honestly. The devil isn't real. There's messages in the entire metal scene. The devil's not fucking real. It's cool on old Venom, Bathory and Slayer records and the reason it actually is cool on those records is because it's a form of legitimate social commentary.

You have Satan on 80's metal lyrics and that is being part of a counterculture, because we had, in the entire Western world, a very evangelical close-minded Christian dominated society. We don't anymore. Mission accomplished! Stop pretending this cartoon character is real. It's a fucking cartoon character. Really! I'm an atheist. You know, God's not real and Satan sure as hell isn't. And while we're at it, the people who try to be serious satanist, "That's the most bullshit religious philosophy I've ever heard.".

And I'll state the counter argument here: [With a deep voice] "Oh, well, see, you know, satanism isn't really about Satan. It's about worshipping the self and individuality.". Well shit, so it's atheism with a fancy name and goat heads and pentagrams. So it's pretty much atheism, but you like to pretend you're cooler. Good job, shitheads! You know, have legitimate views and philosophies; you can't just say anything 'cause some things are fucking stupid and in the world of "Don't wanna hurt anyone's feelings" we sometimes forget that some things are just dumb and some things are just wrong.

Even if God does exist, then you'd still have a real head-scratcher to see why Satan exists. You have an all-powerful for a god, why would there be a less than all-powerful, but like an evil with limited powers? It's what the devil is in the Bible. You know, he will contempt Jesus on the mountain and he can fuck with Job and everything, but only when God lets him. What the hell! That doesn't make any sense. You know, as we enter further and further into the age of reason, we should actually have reasons for what we think.

Tobbe: This question isn't supposed to discredit the new guys or anything, but out of the guys who quit the band, who do you miss the most, for his actual playing?

John: None of them. I thought it was gonna be John Laux [guitar], but the truth is it's a weird blessing in disguise. Particularly John Laux was a key member. Carlos Cruz is the best drummer we've ever had hands down, Adam Carroll is an essential part of the band and Jessie and Chase I think are also the best in their respective roles that we've had.

John Laux is the guy who I learned to write songs with though and that's the part I was worried about. When he quit, after Empires, that's what lead to the whole band quitting, 'cause we didn't think we could do it without him. But as it turns out we can do it better without him, because he didn't have anymore the level of passion and fire for this music that I did.

And furthermore, he wanted to go this different direction where he's getting more into punk rock and stuff and wanted me to write about stuff other than macrocosmic views on human kind and military history and all the stuff I like and pretty much wanted me to not play to my strengths.

With him out of the picture and with me, you know, being the guy, left in a very commanding position in the band, it allowed me to go and make a record that's more unified and better. So it's actually a blessing in disguise that everyone left, because now we're an even stronger band.

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