Mar 17

John Kevill of Warbringer discussed Woe to the Vanquished and the metal scene.


This is Morgan with The Age of Metal and today I got the chance to talk to John Kevill, vocalist of Warbringer. They’re five albums in, with their most recent release being “Woe to the Vanquished” which comes out March 31st, 2017. They’ve put out a few previews, studio footage, and they just announced a US tour with Destruction and Jungle Rot. The North American Under Attack tour starts in Oakland CA on May 22nd and hits 19 other cities. 

They just started a tour, but that didn’t stop them from accounting this one at the same time. Today Kevill discussed some topics such as the new record, their current lineup, the state of the current thrash metal scene, and more. He’s got some pretty strong viewpoints and wise words coming your way, so read on.

Morgan: So as far as being in the studio for “Woe to the Vanquished” things went smoothly because it was all pretty much set in place beforehand right?
John Kevill: Well it went that way for a lot of reasons. We did most of the prep work ourselves, we did rehearsals to make sure the musicians are all on point, and I went and got a personal trainer for a couple of months. I even did circuit training till I puked so I could sing better on the record. We went all out because the fundamental goal of this is to be better than we’ve ever been before. Coming from a different attitude that I feel a lot of bands have that come in today. A lot of musicians have this idea like they’re the shit and it’s going to rule. We have this attitude more like it’s a humble service for the cause of metal. We’re just trying to give and give as much of ourselves as we can to be the absolute best. Because we think this music deserves it and we don’t think enough of that’s happening. That’s kind of our whole philosophy on that so if you want to ask what the changes on Woe to the Vanquished are it’s that we’re trying to do everything we do, but better.
M: I really like the different atmosphere to it and the addition of a lot more of those melodic riffs. Especially towards the end like on Divinity of Flesh and When the Guns Fell Silent. Do you think you guys are going to expand on that more in future releases?
J: This was us expanding on those kinds of ideas from the previous record actually. What we wanted to do was to keep some of that epic melodic stuff. You can find it at the end of something like Towers of the Serpent for instance on the last record. Parts of Hunter-Seeker have the black thrash style going on too. We got a bit melodic on the last record but we had a bunch of different experimentations. So on this record, we were like, we want to keep those elements but maybe ditch some of the punk rock influence we showed on the last record and just make it more focused. Our last record was an attempt to say, “Hey, if you just say we’re exactly like Slayer or whatever then you’re an idiot at this point.” Obviously, that’s not what we’re doing, you can’t even say that anymore. We were getting kind of sick of that shit.
 M: Yeah I can see that getting aggravating.
J: Dude I still hear it. I’m 11 years and five albums into my career. The thing is I know this music. I could academically eviscerate these arguments if someone would actually bring them before me and you know, try to preach that to me. It’d be pretty hard because I could tell them exactly why our music isn’t the same in detail song by song.
M: Yeah it must suck to not get credit for things you’ve created.
J: I feel like it’s starting to change finally but I felt like we were the Rodney Dangerfield of metal for a while. “I don’t get no respect.” Like for example, Warbringer would tour three hundred days a year. In 2009 over three hundred days actually. We were playing more shows than damn near any “true metal” band combined. Yet still, people are like “Yeah these guys are just poser rip offs” Like god dammit. If you want metal to die man, sure feel that way. I feel like new bands are held to such a different standard. Like if Metallica puts out a new record and it doesn’t totally suck people rejoice. But then Warbringer or Havok puts out a record with like 50 killer riffs on it with speed and adrenaline and playing as fast as they’re capable of as musicians and people are like “Yeah whatever I’ve heard it before”. It’s a weird thing with thrash metal in particular and it’s all due to perception, not even due to fact.
M: Yeah you’re honestly hitting the nail on the head, very true.
J: I’ve been in this for a while and I’m really going to try on this record to preach that. At this point the whole retro-thrash thing, which actually, we shouldn’t even use that term anyways. Like if I compose you a piece on a piano you don’t call it retro classical do you? That would be fucking dumb. There’s a name for this kind of music and its thrash metal. I’ll point this out, if you play riffs that are inspired by bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Kreator or whatever then you’re a retro band but if you play riffs that are inspired by Black Sabbath and you have a sleeve tattoo, a beard, a deer with antlers that looks like a tattoo for your cover art then you’re new and original. You’re an immediate darling. I think the standard is wack. People should give more God damn credit when it’s due, not just to ourselves either but to the whole new wave of thrash. All the leading bands have developed their own identity and are now instantly recognizable. I mean God damn that’s an achievement. If we supported it as a metal scene maybe the metal scene would actually produce metal. In my mind a lot of the stuff that’s been mainstream and popular from the metal scene, like Mastodon and Ghost are probably the best two examples of new age bands that have broken big, both of those bands sort of halfway or 3/4 leave the metal genre. It’s great and all but I don’t think metal needs to stop being metal to move forward.
M: Yeah that’s an interesting thought. Or like the whole post-metal thing going on.
J: Yeah so many of the journalist guys are only into that stuff. It’s like noise but then you write a song with riffs, a hook, and a chorus and shit then you’re retro but dude I call that songwriting. A lot of these post-metal bands are making an atmosphere piece and that’s fundamentally different from what metal is doing. Yeah, it’s got a few metal influences but it doesn’t scratch the same itch. I can’t turn on one of those records and be like “Fuck yeah!” it just doesn’t give me that adrenaline rush, and I want that from metal.
M: On that note, you guys always have an amazing stage presence, how do you feel about the idea that certain veteran bands don’t need to give 100% on stage because they’ve already built up such a reputation?
J: I think it’s dumb. Look, I know for a fact that the biggest metal icon that people act like is the pope or something has probably at one point in their life, no matter how many records they’ve sold and arenas they’ve played, there’s been a time where they’ve been shitting and puking simultaneously. They’re people. People aren’t that sacred. What’s sacred is music and songs. If you’re no longer putting out music of that quality then you don’t deserve your current reputation today, I think. I think the idea of the Gods is stupid. The idea that we have to worship these people as if there will never be anything that good again? Why don’t we just shoot our own genre. Now I believe metal should keep an eye to tradition because I think there are so many great records from that time period both famous and not that really inspire me personally. But I’m into the records, I don’t give a shit about the name or the brand. I care about if these musicians are writing great songs with fire, energy, and passion. Let’s be real a lot of these bands who are getting paid way more than Warbringer don’t sweat half as hard during their performance and I’m calling them out on it. That’s not what metal is. It’s not about coasting on reputation, it’s about taking on the world with sheer ferocity and firepower.
You can’t fake it. That’s what’s so great about this genre. Honestly, some of these guys are up there doing in my opinion, the most half-assed versions of songs that I love and it pisses me off man. It sucks to see other musicians in our generation try five times as hard. Let’s be real there’s some musicians in the new wave of thrash that are currently better musicians than some of “The Gods” even though “The Gods” have a zillion times the budget we do which yeah, is helpful. It’s helpful having the best sound system and sound guy in the world, that’s gonna make you sound better. It’s also an advantage if you’re standing on an arena stage instead of a shitty bar but it doesn’t make you a better musician. I think perception really is dumb.
M: Do you think the current Warbringer lineup is here to stay?
J: Yeah I think so, we got a damn good record and we’re not gonna play 300 shows this year. I hope we’ll be successful on a level we haven’t been before. Warbringer has always been just right below where it needs to in order to really work as a means of business to where we can take something home from it and not have to get off a tour with nothing. We always can pay the very high cost of touring. We don’t lose money on tour. However, if we can get to where like we have a hundred more people per show, it’ll be a massive difference for us. I felt there’s been a real glass ceiling for us where we’re always ramming our heads against it trying to get to that next level. I think what we need for that to happen is we need to get a really big tour from one of these established bands, and that hasn’t happened for us yet. Like Havok got two tours with Megadeth or something and suddenly we used to be about even but now their social media numbers pull twice as much. They’re a great band they absolutely deserve their success though. I think they’re the most like-minded band to us today. I’m really happy to tour with them. But yeah you can’t get that kind of exposure just playing small clubs, there aren’t enough people there to create that impact. Like how Lamb of God took Power Trip out and suddenly their new record is doing great. It’s a great record they freaking deserve it, but it shows you the power that kind of thing holds. I’m just crossing my fingers that someone upstairs notices the new Warbringer is good and wants to take us out. Give us a chance to actually shine. Because if we get that, we will.
M: Yeah, sucks it has to be that way though.
J: Yeah it’s funny. Like, look at these guys who have $10,000 to attend parties in the backyards of their mansions, sorry dude they’re just not in touch with the spirit of thrash metal anymore. Even if they invented the damn thing. You gotta be hungry, you gotta be lean, you gotta be tough and fucking mean you know? You can’t be complaining because you didn’t get your RV here backstage you gotta be willing to crash on a floor and wake up and just thrash till you’re bleeding the next day. That’s what this is about.
M: Good point.
J: You won’t have that hyena fucking savagery in your voice if you don’t feel that in your soul. You just won’t.
M: Well that just about marks our time, do you have any last words?
J: Check out the new record Woe to the Vanquished and play it really deafening loud because it’s definitely better that way. Keep it metal, stay true to the music that rules, and make sure to value strength and honor over this weird cultural self-worshipping circle jerk bullshit that we find ourselves in today. Metal’s more essential than ever to stand for things that actually matter and that are actually true.
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