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WARBRINGER - Interview with John Kevill
By Wojtek Gabriel,
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US thrash metal band Warbringer
Having kicked off their career some 15 years ago, the Californians from Warbringer were initially accused of just copying the old school thrash masters, but they quickly managed to develop their own unique sound, and became one of the leaders of the young thrash metal scene. With their 2017 album "Woe to the Vanquished" being an unquestionable highlight of their short career, it seemed they would run into serious difficulties trying to top such a strong release, but if you've already heard "Weapons of Tomorrow" you know they did it! I discussed the new album with the band's leader John Kevill.
When you began to work on "Weapons of Tomorrow", did you think over how to approach the song-writing and production to try and top the previous, highly-rated record?
Of course, it was necessary for us to do so, I think. We have a continuous thread and goal throughout our career of trying always to top ourselves. For me, if I'm not trying to do this, why make another album? So the "how" to accomplish this over the previous record I think was to expand on both the dark/melodic musical elements and the "narrative" element to the lyrics and vocal delivery, since both those things had strongly emerged in the sound of "Woe to the Vanquished" and we felt set us apart from other bands. Basically we tried to zero in on the really cool and unique elements from that record and take them further.
You've been gradually adding more and more extreme metal ingredients to your music and again, on the new release we can hear a lot of black metal and death metal elements. Where does this stuff come from?
Well, it's honestly largely the same music we've been interested in since the band's founding, (old-styled metal, including classic black and death) and we have just gotten more proficient at incorporating it seamlessly. You'll note that we've had these influences since the first album, and I think each album we get a little further at crafting our own brand of "extreme thrash".
Some of your new lyrics are based on well-known novels, I'm talking about "Heart of Darkness" and "Notre Dame", obviously. Why did those particular books inspire you?
In the case of "Heart of Darkness," I read this while studying colonialism in university. It has an "evil from its own perspective" thing going on that I find very compelling, and that the song touches on. In the case of "Notre Dame", the instrumental demo for that song was written by Adam and Carlos the day the Cathedral was set fire. This led to the song being thematically tied to the cathedral, so the Victor Hugo novel and the figure of Quasimodo seemed to be a sensible direction to go in. In either case, the ideas of the classic novels are used to dig into some other theme in the songs. To me, that is the point of using this type of subject material.
You've said in some interviews that in the new lyrics you're also expressing your fear of the future. What is it that you actually fear of?
I think there is no shortage of things to fear moving forward. One reason I am interested in a lot of the history I am interested in is because it shows how changing technology created all these insane circumstances, and in many cases, absolute horror. The rate of change certainly hasn't slowed, rather the opposite. So there's this entirely logical fear that some aspect of the continuing development of modernity could in fact turn very dark. Consider that some of this may have happened already. What's your opinion on the mass surveillance used in both your country and mine? Let alone the type deployed currently in China. Use of facial recognition going forward. To me, these are obvious entry points for some kind of Orwellian nightmare, and much of it already exists. I sometimes think of how some sinister past organization such as the NKVD or the Stasi or the Gestapo would just love to have the kind of information gathering tools that exist now.
You chose "The Black Hand Reaches Out" to shoot a video-clip for. Why this particular tune?
This one is a mid-tempo banger, and we felt it was one of the most straightforward and catchy tunes. The video and single is supposed to serve as the figurative "hook" to grab listeners to get them to listen to the rest of the music, and we thought this song would serve well for that on this record.
You don't have a song called "Weapons of Tomorrow" on the album. So, what's the meaning of the title?
We don't. However, the first song, "Firepower Kills" features the phrase "We'll build a brighter future with the weapons of tomorrow" repeated prominently at the end of the song, so one can basically consider this the title track. This song is about the evolution of weaponry, going from an old machine gun in the first verse (now well over a century old), to missiles and guided drones of the present, and kind of posing the question in the most sinister way possible: "What comes next?".
You got the legendary Andreas Marschall to paint the cover art for you again. Was the concept your idea or did he have a free hand?
This time, Andreas really created this cover. I gave him the idea of "the weapons of the future coming forward out of a background representing the weapons of the World Wars-era past." I also sent, among other photos, the "Brooding Soldier" (a Canadian WW1 monument at Langemarck) which is in the centre background. That is basically the entire direction I gave, and Andreas did the rest. The faceless figure with the outstretched hand is his doing, like some cold mechanical evil saying "Join us in our glorious future."
Thinking of classic thrash bands, their 6th albums weren't necessary their best ones, if you look at "Load", "Youthanasia", "Divine Intervention" or "Sound of White Noise". You've been sticking to your guns so far, but do you think something like that may happen to Warbringer in the future?
Hell no! We know the failings of our heroes, because we are genuine fans and we are honest with ourselves. We want to mirror the strengths of what made this style of music great to begin with (riffs, adrenaline, attitude, and fury) and avoid the latter-day pitfalls. One difference is that at this stage of our career, we are still a rather hungry, scrappy outfit. I think that fact keeps us imbued with the right "chewing on nails" kind of spirit to keep putting out serious fucking thrash that really doesn't ever pull any punches.
As a touring band you're in a tough position, because you can't support the new album on the road these days. Did you consider pushing the release date back?
Yes, but then other problems emerge. For how long would we just sit on a completed record while we wait out this crisis of indefinite length? So, basically, the pandemic sucks any way you slice it, and we should just bite the bullet and put the record out. Reaction has been great, so I can't wait until we finally can tour it.
Last question about the new album. You've only had one line-up change since the previous release was out. Do you think it helped to achieve the goals you set out to achieve this time? I mean, was it easier to work on the album with the band members knowing each other a bit better?
Certainly. The one change, on bass with the arrival of Chase Bryant, is a decision made by the band as we try to create a really high standard for our own playing and performance. The core song-writing partnership of myself/Cruz/Carroll is a long-time one, so that wasn't ever an issue, once we stabilized that line-up post-"Empires Collapse."
This may be a stupid question, with you coming from California, but when you were starting the band, what scene did you find more inspirational, the Bay Area one or the German one?
Honestly, probably the German. I certainly vocally owe more to that side of the pond (as well as extreme North American bands like Demolition Hammer, Morbid Saint, Sacrifice, Razor), and I think our debut basically starts out as a hybrid of American and German thrash, and we go from there. We enjoy stuff from across the genre and well beyond, so we still draw on these core influences of our band.
I remember that many of the young thrash bands that were popping up around the same time as you did, were being called copycats and accused of playing the same music that had been around for 30 years. Do you still hear stupid comments like that these days?
I think that it was a great disservice to the metal scene how a lot of the 21st century thrash acts were treated. On our first album (including some of the very first songs I wrote in my life, right out of high school), did we somehow reinvent the genre? Of course not. I think it is a pretty unreasonable expectation that a group like us should be able to somehow challenge the towering legacy of some of metal's most classic works at that stage in our development. Our first record shows where are hearts are, and then the listener can see continuous and constant progression through our now six records. We try to always move forward and develop our own identity further while retaining that original spirit we started the band with. I think our work speaks for itself, and no, we very rarely hear those kind of comments anymore because they would be wildly out of sync with what we've actually put to record.
You've joined the bill of the upcoming Destruction tour just recently. Are you looking forward to sharing stages with these guys?
Of course, would be the third time we've done so, in fact. I do hope it proceeds as planned. It is out in November, it is currently July. I would welcome a chance to be on basically any stage right now!
OK, let's wrap up. Many bands have been more productive recently, due to the lockdown situation and they've been promising new albums quicker than usual. What about Warbringer? Do you have any new stuff ready?
I myself have new lyrics and song ideas, but we do think that "Weapons of Tomorrow" is a very significant record in our career and plan to support it fully, whatever timetable that may require. We do plan to try to support it during the lockdown by any means possible. We've already done a full-length documentary about the making and writing of the record ("The Science of Thrash" on YouTube), and we are likely planning to do a livestream concert of mostly new record material as well.
Interview by Wojtek Gabriel
Photo by Alex Solca

Official Warbringer website: www.warbringermusic.com
Warbringer on facebook: facebook.com/Warbringermusic
Tags: Warbringer, thrash metal, John Kevill, Weapons of Tomorrow
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© 1997-2020 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations
or corporations without the prior written permission.