» John Kevill - Warbringer
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Interview conducted August 18 2018
Interview published October 11 2018

"We want every other band you've ever heard to sound soft."

American thrash metallers Warbringer stopped by Sabaton Open Air and Metal Covenant talked for a while with vocalist John Kevill.

"Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power."

Tobbe: You and I talked last spring when Woe To The Vanquished had just come out and what's happened in the Warbringer camp since then?

John: Well, we did a couple of more tours that year. We did the US, we did Europe, we did the US again, briefly in the West Coast. You know, I went to school for a time, we did some local shows, just weekend stuff. We've played Heavy Montréal recently and now we're back in Europe. We just released also a new single; we're not ready to release the new album yet, but a new single, Power Unsurpassed, which just came out on Napalm Records. It's out on Spotify and YouTube and there's a 7 inch and there's a live b-side, which is Descending Blade from Woe To The Vanquished.

Tobbe: Last time we met you talked a little bit about not liking bands who are living in the past, but what will Warbringer be like in 10 or 20 years?

John: A more vicious, refined and sharper version of what it is now. Or gone, if we can't achieve that. We're going to go until we can go no further with the sound and then that's it for us. However, I'm going to see how far we can push that and I feel like on the last record we still found a lot of new room to improve and it's almost like a second birth of the band. So, that's the new standard and we have to beat it now.

Tobbe: Kids today kind of listen to what they're fed, I think, on Spotify or in different channels, so do you think that real thrash metal, like Warbringer, can survive the test of time in the long-run?

John: I mean, we've been surviving on scraps for 10 years. That's a pretty long time, you know, so yes. Furthermore I think eventually, you know, the kind of leftover bands from the past will not be here forever, or maybe people will just realize that if you come and see a younger band like us you're gonna get a hell of a lot more energy on the stage, more headbanging, more speed, more fury and viciousness.

You know, the new single, the line that keeps repeating is "Second to none." and that's our goal. We're not trying to make a record that reminds you of the '80s or something; we're trying to make a record that blows the '80s into a million pieces, and every other decade and every other band. We want every other band you've ever heard to sound soft.

Tobbe: Slayer is throwing in the towel…

John: Yeah, yeah. See, we want Slayer to sound like cuddly teddy bears next to us, you know. [Laughs]

Tobbe: …and like you said, you have that energy on stage that some bands don't have anymore.

John: Yeah, and if they could, we would just work harder, you know. Warbringer is a band that has, like I said, survived on scraps and we've never been big really, so we've always been in the underground kind of. So we don't need a lot; we don't have high requirements, we can thrash our asses off with basically nothing and just do everything ourselves, if we need to. We're trying to build the band of course and we're having success with that.

I think the new record helped us a lot and helped raise the perception of the band in many fans' eyes. But at the end of the day I didn't do this to be a slave to what other people think; I'm doing this for myself, and the band is gonna play the hardest music you can hear in these years, because that's what it's gonna do and that's the end of the story there.

Tobbe: Like you mentioned, you put out a new single and what kind of side of Warbringer does that new single show?

John: Well, the new single is kind of in the vein of something like Living In A Whirlwind or Remain Violent. A mid-pace stomper of a song. The lyrics: I tried to do something kind of interesting; I tried to sort of split the difference between: it being about kind of these, like, megalomaniac leaders who would, you know, start a war to cause massive sorrow and destruction for their own power and their own ego in some cases. And I think there's a few of those running around in the world today. I shouldn't have to name any names.

So on one hand it's about that and how they're like "I will be second to none.". You know, that's what they would say. But at the same time it's kind of about us and how we're not trying to be, like, a tribute to Slayer or some other great band or something. We're trying to be the next stage of weaponry, you know.

Tobbe: Could Power Unsurpassed maybe just be a single, or must that song end up on the next album?

John: It's probably just a single. If it ends up on the next album that means either we really, really liked it and we wanted to get it out more, or that we didn't have enough time to write something else. So the plan is: No, we're not planning to put in on the next record. It's a possibility that we'll re-record it for it, but it's not something we're planning on, so just listen to it now and the next record will have something else on it instead.

Tobbe: So, is Warbringer going more towards releasing singles than releasing albums?

John: This is the first single we've ever done, so no. After Woe To The Vanquished and the touring on it we just needed more time to make the next record, so rather than disappearing from the map we thought we'd put out this single; one song. You know, maybe it could have been on the next record otherwise, but we'd rather put it out. Also, I took that "Fire and fury" line from the president of the United States, who's threatening nuclear annihilation of the world.

You know, like, I don't even have to change the quote for it to be scary in thrash metal, which should tell you something. If I'm getting good lyrics for, like, the most evil thrash metal I can write from world leaders, then you should be afraid, you know. [Laughs] So I had to get that out before someone else does.

Tobbe: But have you ever considered writing more lighter stuff, instead of writing about war, political situations and stuff like that?

John: There is a lot of themes if you listen to the last record. Spectral Asylum is a kind of dark fantasy and then for example Divinity Of Flesh is about actually kind of positive scientific humanitarian philosophy; kind of like Carl Sagan or something. [Laughs] So, Warbringer lyrics: I'm trying to put a lot of depth in them, but in general it's all going to be very evil and vicious. There's, like, a few moments where it's something else, but I think evil and viciousness in one form or another is core to the band. And are we gonna go soft? No. We're gonna make everyone else look soft.

Tobbe: That next record, when will that one see the light of day?

John: The plan is to record in January or February and put it out late spring. That's the plan right now; we'll see if we can pull that off. [Laughs]

Tobbe: When you spoke about Woe To The Vanquished with me, it was like that record was all you've ever dreamed of, so could a new Warbringer record even be greater than that one?

John: It'll have to be. Won't it? That's our attitude. We don't wanna write something that's almost as good; we don't want to be a pretty good band. The only legitimate way, I think, to be an artist is to try to be the best. You know, it's not for me to say; it's for the fans and others. I'm proud of what we do and I'm always striving to do better.

Tobbe: And you opened up today's show with 4 songs from it and when you make another record you will maybe have to play other songs and will that be hard to you?

John: No. We're already at the point where we can't play all the really good stuff we have, like this show, we just barely got one song from each album in, you know. We're going to have 6 albums soon; that's a lot. So there's gonna be a lot of material to choose from. I think we're really gonna keep a lot of the Woe To The Vanquished material in the set. Last year we did the whole record live, including the 11-minute song, and then this year we're just playing the side A.

So if you take the record, tracks 1 through 4, side A, uninterrupted, in the same order they are on the record. And honestly, a lot of bands have problems playing all new songs; for us, it didn't bother anyone at all; nobody cared. Everyone was all for it and if it was up to me I'd play that whole record every night, but that would be a disservice to the rest of our material. We have a lot of live staples we've been doing for forever: Living Weapon, Combat Shock, stuff like that.

Tobbe: Is it important for Warbringer to evolve musically or will you rather stay safe with what you do, if you know what I mean?

John: Well, between those two things there is a tightrope and we try to walk on it. That's my answer. We like to keep the speed, the aggression, the viciousness, the thrash, but we don't want to give you the same viciousness, speed and thrash, and we want the songs to be individually memorable, to have new riffs, to have new ideas, new lyrics. I think there's a lot more depth in the lyrics on Woe To The Vanquished.

I'm trying to write a little smarter and a little more meaningful than either, you know, Satan, the devil, or beer and parties, or whatever else. Just like war for war's sake; I'm trying to get into some of the psychology behind it. I'm studying military history as my second profession. So I'm trying to bring some of that depth into the lyrics, to try to make more powerful art that means more and where the anger doesn't just come from nowhere, but it's anger at the real evil that exists in the world.

Tobbe: From where did you, in the beginning, get your interest in history and stuff like that?

John: Well, from living on the world and not being completely self-centered. In my opinion, if you have those two things you should be interested in some aspect of history. I find that people who have no interest in anything that came before them often are very short-sighted and live with blinders on. You know, people say "Live in the moment."; I would disagree. I think you should plan and I think you should work with goals and I think you should look at what came before and learn what's a good idea and what's not.

And I think also the stories of human kind tell you a lot about what you yourself, as an individual, are, 'cause you can see the errors, you can see the failings and the triumphs of people in all these different stories. All these different times and places and all these different people too. Not just one people, not just your country, your people; learn about others, you know. You can only be wiser from it. Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power. And then the other aspect I guess is: when I was a kid I just thought, like, World War II tanks and planes were cool, you know.

So I wanted to see, like, what was the difference between a Me 109 and a Spitfire, or a Tiger tank and a Sherman and a T-34, or whatever, you know. And I had the little models and stuff and then it went from there, like "They actually used these things? How did they work? What did they do? How did they use them?". It's an endless rabbit hole, like Alice falling down after the White Rabbit. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Your first record War Without End was out 10 years ago. Have you done anything to celebrate that record?

John: Yeah, actually Century Media re-issued it this year with all the bonus tracks from, like, Warbringer demo days and we had a side band that contained half of Warbringer that existed probably for 5 minutes called Zombie, where we recorded a couple of Zombie tunes, 'cause Adam Carroll, our guitarist, wrote them. So the Warbringer lineup on the first record was kind of a fusion of these two demo bands, and I sang for both of them. [Laughs] It's kind of a real peek into sort of garage days Warbringer, because when I started the band I had no musical background whatsoever. Had never sang, had never picked up an instrument; I just knew I had to play metal.

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