“If we want to survive and thrive, it’s more than just having a kick ass record or a thrilling live show. It needs to be perceived as a valuable, worthwhile thing because metal’s real battle is against society and the fact that they have never looked as this music as a real art form.”
Stereotypical misconceptions have accompanied heavy metal nearly since its inception. We are the scapegoats of moral society. Following the underground, our existence is judged by superficial idiots who let appearance determine stature. What can we do to dispel the myths?
Warbringer is a thrash metal act from Ventura, California. Active since 2004, the group has weathered the storms and lived to tell the tales. John Kevill is the mastermind behind this moniker. A student of musical craft and academic history, there’s more to John than meets the eye. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Warbringer vocalist. Please enjoy some excerpts of our 9/20/17 interview were we discuss the Woe to the Vanquished release, Great War Poets and Decapitated…
David Halbe: The Woe to the Vanquished title translates to Latin (Vae Vivtis) What’s the background of the album’s theme?
John Kevill: It’s actually kind of about people who have been conquered or are doomed. The title comes from ancient Rome but the theme of the record incorporates a lot from the First World War but let’s just say it’s about all time.
Dave: Ok. What’s the history of statue on the inner sleeve of the album?
John: The statue is actually from the First World War, it was from New York City. If you open up the album and take the CD out you’ll see it. It’s a statue made up of German spiked helmets. I think its twelve thousand to be exact.
Dave: Holy shit!
John: Yea, so it may as well be a mountain of human skulls. I find it ironic that it’s actually from the USA.
Dave: And you say this is located in New York someplace?
John: It was in New York but it doesn’t exist anymore. It was in New York at the time it was made but I found it powerful knowing that it actually existed in the United States. Everybody who looks at the picture immediately thinks Nazi Germany or something like that.
Dave: That’s what I thought.
John: But I like to think of it as a reminder that evil can really take root anywhere. That sculpture was basically a celebration of mass death.
Dave: I agree. My favorite track on the new album is “When the Guns Fell Silent” which you open with a poetry reading by Siegfried Sasson, how big of an influence has he been to you? How is this type of realism poetry a lot like Warbringer’s lyrical philosophy?
John: Siegfried Sasson and Wilfred Owen, just that whole era of Great War Poets and actually there’s another part to the song that’s from a poem. It’s paraphrased from Gilbert Frankau’s Voice of the Guns, it’s an epic poem where the artillery is raining down on humanity.
John: The whole machinery of war is taking over as the rulers of the planet. I like that era a lot in literature because even though we are still talking about Romantic Era writers, with a few exceptions. Normal Romantic Era writers held very high ideals.
John: So there’s a lot of gallantry and whatnot but The Great Wars are where those ideals come face to face with the realities of war so what you get is a lot of themes of total disillusionment and it’s really, really grim but it’s written in the beautiful flowery romantic language. I love that aspect about it.
Dave: It has a disarming quality about it.
John: I love how these average soldiers, in many cases, became brilliant poets and as a modern person I can’t help but compare that to people today who can’t send a text message that’s spelled properly.
Dave: That’s the irony of nature, the written word is something I had to lose.
John: I want to evolve my lyrics, I want them to give you themes maybe you haven’t heard from another metal band. We’ve had plenty of thrash metal bands who have tackled war. It’s a natural correlation due to the machine gun sound of the genre. But I actually study this stuff, I intend to make another career out of history, not strictly military history but with a definite emphasis on it.
Dave: Sure, we’ve discussed those aspirations before.
John: So I really want to have some of the more philosophical elements in my lyrics and what better place to go than reading the thoughts and reflections of the people who were actually there. The people who wrote about it and wrote about it well. It has been a great influence on me as a lyricist because rather than tell you the day or year a particular battle happened, this approach communicates how that battle may have felt. It’s something that you don’t need to know the first thing about it to feel it.
Dave: I agree. Warbringer’s true to life lyrics give the music another level of intensity no other thrash band has. The more you listen, the deeper the intensity goes.
John: Personally I agree, I think solid lyrics are really important. If you’re going to have this furious aggressive music, it should be for an actual reason.
John: In the real world, why do you want to listen to furious and aggressive music? Because the real world makes you angry and in many cases the metalheads I know are fundamentally good people that are angry because the world has many great injustices in it and they have to live it.
John: And that’s why I think a lot of people see this music as a healthy alternative or release because working a job and trying to pay rent in the world today, you get shit on from all sides if you are just a regular person.
John: So to communicate that anger with the music, atmosphere and lyrics makes it art and more importantly that art becomes the escape people need.
John: I believe heavy metal has a much artistic relevancy as any other form or style of music and more than a lot today.
Dave: I agree.
John: But we all have to push ourselves towards that as artists. You can’t just slap a fucking pentagram on your record and expect it to sell.
Dave: That’s a great point.
John: Maybe it mattered in the ‘80s when Evangelical Societies were against it and maybe it will matter again but as of right now that’s more of a trying to look cool thing so I try to steer clear of that and try to write stuff I think people can relate to. I always say write what you know, I read a lot of this kind of stuff so really it just comes natural to me.
Dave: There you go! Will there ever be a Warbringer live album?
John: Maybe. Right now, we’re just really focused on the studio but I’d like to do it eventually. I think we are a really strong live band. I like the level of ferocity and sheer technicality.
Dave: Chase Becker (Guitars) right there!
John: Carlos Cruise (Drums), Adam Carrol (Guitars), Jessie Sanchez (Bass) they’ve all got it.
Dave: I agree.
John: Just the overall musicianship we are bringing right now is just sickening.
Dave: Honestly, it stomps most of the ‘80s thrash bands out there.
John: Thank you.
Dave: Your music is just tight as hell and so much harder to play.
John: I agree. We may not have the budget for some of the other things the bigger bands have but we constantly play and enjoy just really pushing ourselves as musicians. We always try to be humble, fearsome and fucking hungry!
Dave: Hell yea! I see there’s a West Coast trek coming up with Darkest Hour and Exmortus – has anything else been planned?
John: Basically, those shows will be the end of this year. We’re doing two dates at Knotfest (November 4th & 5th) and that will pretty much wrap up this year. I think we’re going to come out and tour more on Woe to the Vanquished next year but as far as the end of this year goes I’m going to continue my studies for most of next year, minus the summer, which is a great time to start writing lyrics for the next record which I already have some lyrics for.
Dave: Kick ass!
John: So we already have a possible direction and name that I’m already plotting, I’d like to do a little more touring on Vanquished because I just think it’s a great record.
Dave: It is.
John: Thank you. I think it deserves as much as we can push it and then I want to work on the follow-up to it to put out the year after.
Dave: Sounds like a solid plan. I’m sure you’ve heard about what happened on the recent US Decapitated tour. What’s proper etiquette for Warbringer and female fans in regards to the tour bus?
John: It’s pretty simple with us. Anyone who comes on (the tour bus) we’re kind to them. I wasn’t there on that bus but if the accusations are true, you wouldn’t need a rule like, you can’t have anyone on the tour bus or no women on the tour bus to solve the problem. It’s really like, don’t fucking rape anyone! That’s a good rule. On the flip side of that, if you do find yourself invited on a tour bus with a bunch of dudes…
Dave: There’s more than one side to any story and nobody has been convicted of anything yet.
John: Correct and I did say, if the accusations are true.
Dave: Yes you did and if I was in that situation I guess I’d want to be aware of my surroundings.
John: More like be aware of what’s the likely motive for the invitation? Obviously it’s not rape but most likely the intent is based on some physical attraction.
Dave: I can agree with that.
John: I’m not saying you are asking for it if you accept the offer but perhaps vocalizing your expectations prior to going on the bus would make things more clear.
Dave: For sure.
John: I think it makes perfect sense if you are going on a tour bus with a group of guys that you’ve never met before. If you did, it’s probably because of… you know? Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
John: If that’s not what you want to be doing or maybe you’re not into that, then go. Leave the moment you feel uncomfortable.
John: And if you’re the band and you don’t like that person’s response you can just kick them off your tour bus but don’t rape them. Let’s just leave it at that, this would all be much easier if nobody was accused of rape.
Dave: I agree with that 100%.
John: I don’t like the story because it gives metal a bad name, that’s the shitty thing about the coverage for this.
Dave: Do you think metal stereotypes have played a role in this?
John: In coverage absolutely, the mainstream outfits that have covered this event have been egregiously biased.
Dave: I agree. Decapitated is a death metal band with a scary name!
John: Exactly, but we are somehow ok when football players are accused of things even more reprehensible than this.
John: And nobody ever says, football is responsible but they won’t hesitate to blame metal.
Dave: That’s a great point!
John: It just seems like society is always looking for a way to blame metal and that’s been happening since it’s existed.
Dave: For sure.
John: However, if you are a metal musician you should know this and take great care to keep your nose clean. Play and present your music with real integrity. Highlight the artistic values.
Dave: Fuck yea!
John: It just sucks when something happens that taints it. That’s why whenever I go out and I’m wearing a shirt with a fucking skull on it or something and I run into an old woman or a conservative couple and they happen to look at me funny. I will go out of my way to do shit like, open the door for them and smile. You guys have a nice afternoon! I do it just to put that thought in their head, maybe those misconceptions are wrong.
Dave: I do that kind of shit too sometimes. People are very superficial.
John: If we want to survive and thrive, it’s more than just having a kick ass record or a thrilling live show. It needs to be perceived as a valuable, worthwhile thing because metal’s real battle is against society and the fact that they have never looked as this music as a real art form. Even though the musicianship of metal artists blows away most mainstream music.
Dave: I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your time today John!
John: No problem. Thank you Dave, hope to see you again soon.
- Carlos Cruz – Drums
- Adam Carroll – Guitars
- John Kevill – Vocals
- Jessie Sanchez – Bass
- Chase Becker – Guitars