A few weeks back I dived head first into the world of Massachusetts power metallers Armory. It wasn't my first experience with the band, having been acquainted with Joe Kurland and his merry men back in 2007 at the time of their debut release 'The Dawn Of Enlightenment'. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but a six year absence has bought the band back into the spotlight with a quite magnificent second CD 'Empyrean Realms'. The Armory line-up is the same as it was back then, so no changes there. The same can't be said for the music, which is a huge shift upwards, with appeal across all the various heavy metal and hard rock sub-genres. For this extensive interview, we are joined by Joe Kurland, his brother Adam Kurland, and guitarist Chad Fisher.
Hi Joe, it's great to catch up with you again. The feedback for the new album has been excellent thus far? Good reviews, good ratings too? 'Hi George, thanks for having us. I've been contacting webzines, magazines, radio stations, distributors, promoters, etc as part of the overall worldwide release and promotion of our new album through my label Metavania Music. The reviews so far have been very good, averaging nearly a 9 out of 10 with a few perfect scores in there. The majority of reviewers have commented on our improvement since our debut album. Also, several people, stores, companies, and labels are interested in distributing, promoting, and licensing 'Empyrean Realms'. We put in years of hard work into the new album so it's rewarding for us to get this kind of positive feedback, as it lets us know it was all worth it!
That is indeed a fantastic response. A few 10's too wow! 2007 was quite some time ago. What has everyone been doing since the last CD. I guess everyone has day jobs too? 'Oh, we've been keeping busy, hehe' says Joe. 'Personally, I've been working pretty much full-time on 'Empyrean Realms', composing, recording, engineering, editing, mixing, and now promoting, managing our social media pages, and running our own website store. In 2011 I started Metavania Music to release Vomitron's album, 'No NES For The Wicked'. Vomitron is Armory's keyboardist Peter Rutcho's solo project and the album contained metalized versions of original Nintendo video game music (NES = Nintendo Entertainment Systems). I loved it so much I just had to be the one to release it! I use these same promotion and sales principles to release Armory's album also under Metavania Music. Musically, Chad and Prez (bassist Thomas Preziosi) are also in a melodic death metal band called Soul Remnants, recently releasing their second album, 'Black And Blood'. Pete is in Vomitron and several other bands and has his own recording studio. Outside of music, the rest of the guys all have full time or part time jobs. Also, Chad, Adam, and I each got our Masters' degrees recently.
Bloody hell, you've got time to study for a Masters degree as well? One wonders where you find the time! I'm guessing that's where the six years went! I'm also sensing some huge differences between 'Empyrean Realms' and 'The Dawn Of Enlightenment' during that time. What have been the major factors for this do you think? Guitarist Chad Fisher picks up the discussion for this one. 'Well first of all, thanks for noticing. A few people have said they sound very similar, which I completely disagree with. One reason for the differences between the albums is that we have all progressed as writers and musicians in general. It was a conscious decision to improve on everything from 'The Dawn of Enlightenment'. More thought was given to every song, including key changes, structure, and interplay between the different instruments. I think the other reason is that a few years passed between the writing of the two albums. The songs for 'The Dawn of Enlightenment' were written in the 2001-2004 timeframe. Since that time, we simply got into different bands, each of which had a subconscious influence in our own music. Bands like Angra, Pagan's Mind, and Symphony X probably contributed some extra proggy-type stuff to our music, as opposed to more straightforward power metal. We're such big fans of music ourselves and our musical tastes are always evolving, so it's no surprise that our own music evolved as well.'
I suggested to Joe that 'Empyrean Realms' seems to have been pitched at a few sub-genres of metal, and I asked him where he thinks Armory sits in the scheme of things? (trad metal, 80's, power etc). 'I think we fit most easily into the power metal genre but that is only because I believe it to be a fairly diverse genre. However, we also incorporate a fair amount of traditional heavy metal riffs, technical/progressive parts, and even old-school video-game inspired melodies. Our debut album had a lot of the typical power metal standard double bass drumming and simple guitar chords. For the new album we tried to minimize these as much as possible by adding more technical and interesting cymbal work and articulate guitar passages. We did not want the songs on 'Empyrean Realms' to sound generic. This time we added more influence from bands such as Lost Horizon and Heavenly as well as progpower bands such as Pagan's Mind and Angra. I think we have a good mix of various sub-genres and skillfully switch between them on a dime and at will. For instance, the chorus of 'Eternal Mind' is totally a power metal style, epic symphonic chorus in the vain of Rhapody but the very next part completely changes by dropping the keys and going into a pure head banging heavy metal riff. On paper this seems like it would be an awkward transition, however I believe we made it work quite well. These types of genre-switching transitions can be found throughout every song on 'Empyrean Realms'.'
The Pagan's Mind comparison is an unusual one to make, but many have picked up on it. Is Adam the main catalyst for bringing their influence to the band? 'I think I may have been the first in the band to get into Pagan's Mind' admits Chad. 'Most of the band was very much into them. Their album 'Celestial Entrance' is simply a masterpiece (was my no 1 album of the decade.. Ed). I was so into that album when it came out that I'd be surprised if it didn't show in my own writing of the music. And of course, there is the relation you could make with the cosmic/celestial themed lyrics and artwork that are present in both bands. We've always been into topics like astronomy and philosophy so that's what drew me to them initially. I think I bought the album just by liking the CD artwork in the store.'
At this point, Adam Kurland gives us his overview on the Pagan's Mind reference. 'Musically their influence is clear with the atmospheric, progressive vibe on 'Empyrean Realms'. As far as lyrics are concerned, I would say we share the most in common with Pagan's Mind as well as Lost Horizon. The former with their celestially epic questions and the latter with their power of human will.'
I also asked Adam about the differences between the American power metal scene and what is happening over in Europe. 'I do believe the two styles are fairly distinct. European power metal is grounded in the vocal melodies forming the base of the songwriting while American power metal tends to be more guitar-driven with stronger heavy metal influences. European power metal also tends to incorporate more keyboards, orchestration, and choirs into their sound. Armory is influenced by both camps, although when we are talking about the genre of power metal amongst ourselves we are almost exclusively referring to the European style.'
Being on an independent label, do you feel that you have to compete harder against established labels and their marketing power? Say Nuclear Blast, AFM, SPV etc. 'I don't feel as though it's really 'competing' or even that we need to compete' says Chad. 'I mean, there are advantages you would get with a large label like that, probably the most important of which is their marketing power and distribution channels. But we kind of do things our own way. We don't want to sign a deal where we have to complete X number of albums in Y years and have the music suffer as a result because of being under a deadline. It's quality over quantity. And, because it's Joe's label, we have complete control over every aspect and enough time to make sure it's done right, keeping in mind we all have day jobs.'
Left to Right: Peter Rutcho, Tom Viera, Joe Kurland, Chad Fisher, Adam Kurland, Thomas Preziosi
Joe adds more to this question as well.. 'Our albums get reviewed by the same webzines and magazines that review any major label release and get sold by the same stores and distros too'. However, I have to personally research, contact, and manage the webzines, magazines, radio stations, and promoting and advertising opportunities. We also sell our music and related merch directly through our own official website store, which we personally designed, built, and run. Through this store we are able to sell our music to anyone anywhere in the world (who has a computer). We have relationships with distributors and stores worldwide who buy wholesale from us to sell in their own stores. As you can imagine, all this is a lot of work and there's no army of people working for us. It's just me. So in that respect I guess I work independently as hard as an entire record label with all their departments combined. One thing is for sure; it is much harder to get the opportunity to play quality metal festivals without the connections a major label can provide.'
I'm guessing the power of the Internet works well for you guys? 'It really is quite amazing that the Internet allows for any band to reach potential fans worldwide' says Joe in agreement. 'Without a record deal and without touring, a band like ours would never have been heard of outside of their local area if it was not for the Internet. Armory is a proto-type example of a completely independent, almost entirely virtual existing band. So far we've only played a handful of shows and all in our local area. However, distros from Japan are buying our albums wholesale directly through our own website store to sell in their country! This is only possible with the Internet. We are thankful for the opportunity the Internet provides us and have tried to use it effectively in promoting the band through social media sites, emails, webzines, our own website and store, etc. However, the Internet can also have negative consequences. I understand that in this day and age we are accustomed to getting information and entertainment for free. Just google 'Empyrean Realms' and you'll see our album is available for illegal download on many dozens of websites. We are not against downloading music illegally to test out an album but if someone really likes it then why not actually buy the album, as it would support the band that made it and brought them enjoyment? We redesigned our official website store to make it visually appealing and convenient for anyone in the world with the Internet to buy our album or merch directly from us. And there is no middle man and no giant evil company involved, hehe. At least you can't download a tee-shirt yet. Anyways, yeah the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to the Internet and our music.'
I asked Joe about how the drum roles for both him and Tom Viera work. They are both credited for drums. Both of you can handle the parts identically? 'In short: I am Armory's drummer' he says, 'as I co-write the drums with Chad and always perform them in the studio for our albums, while Tom is Armory's live drummer as he drums at shows while I play guitar at shows. In long: Chad and I write all the music for Armory songs. This includes all the drums. When composing songs we program the drums to get them in a tangible form. We will generally start with relatively simple beats to identify where the snares will be, what the feel is, etc. Then, as the rest of the instruments get more detailed out we also come up with all the intricacies of the drums. Not sure if any other bands do this but we have always composed every single drum and cymbal hit, including all fills, and programmed them into the computer during the composing stage. Effectively, all drums are composed from our heads while sitting at a computer with an understanding obviously of how to actually play those drums. Only after all drum parts are finalized will I actually learn the entire song hit for hit on a real drum set to be able to record it. This is how we did our debut album drums too. Then after the albums are recorded, Tom learns the drum parts to be able to play them for us live. At shows the drums are played almost exactly like on the albums but with a few small changes to account for Tom's own style and ideas. We have Tom play drums live for us so that I can play guitar live alongside Chad. Our music is meant to be played with at least two guitars live in order to account for all the layers and to get a full sound.'
All of the songs have huge appeal, even for a crusty melodic rocker like myself. What happens during the Armory songwriting process? How are your songs built? Chad jumps in first for this one. 'Well, to your first point, I think the songs probably appeal to you because of the wide variety of influences that go into them. It increases the chances that someone will find something they latch onto, something that stands out to them. This 'melting pot' of influences pulls in fans from different genres, from melodic rockers such as yourself to other genres like power/prog/thrash/traditional heavy metal.'
Joe provides us an in-depth overview. 'Armory's song writing (or I like to call it composing) process in general is fairly similar for each song. The composing for both Armory albums was done by Chad and myself, and we each tend to excel at certain aspects of it. Chad tends to work best writing riffs and building the foundation for most of the songs, while I tend to work best layering and arranging most of the songs and constructing the vocal melodies. So basically Chad would often be the one to get a song started from scratch by spending a few hours or days building the foundation and then programming these ideas into a music program to get it in tangible form. Chad would then show me the song and we would bounce ideas off of each other, tweaking things here, adding things there, expanding and layering things, etc. I would continue to develop the song on my own and eventually compose the vocals melodies over sections where they seemed to fit.'
'Every instrument (that means every drum hit, bass line, and keyboard part) was composed and programmed or played by Chad and me before going into the studio to have everyone else in the band learn their part and record for real. Only the keyboard solos were later composed and played by Pete. Every song was worked on simultaneously, that is every song was already started before any single song was finished. We would often work on one song one day and a different song another day, going from song to song hundreds of times over the course of several years before we finally considered the songs to be finalized.'
'Personally, I am a perfectionist, especially when it comes to making my own music. I leave no stone unturned and only consider songs to be finalized when every note of every instrument is exactly where I believe it should be. As far as what specifically we compose, Chad and I try to draw from a variety of influences. We try to make each song display a style and sound that is uniquely its own, yet integrates seamlessly within the larger context of the album. We try to fill out the album with a variety of tempos, keys, genres, styles, feels, etc. We try to have hooks and catchy melodies and repeating themes. We aim to have every song be simultaneously epic yet in your face, interesting yet memorable, and energetic yet melodic. Technically, we do not attempt to boast our skills with meaningless noodling. Instead we prefer to perform with emotional dexterity while serving the mission of each song.'
'Compared to 'The Dawn of Enlightenment', 'Empyrean Realms' is more dynamic with more colourful melodies, articulate guitar work, flavorful key changes, technical drumming, and progressive elements. Many songs on 'The Dawn of Enlightenment' stayed entirely in one key like 'Heart of Dreams', which is in E Minor the whole way through. For 'Empyrean Realms' we made sure that each song contained several major and minor parts and a variety of keys. The lyrics for 'Empyrean Realms' were written only after the vocal melodies had been constructed over the music. So we already had the amount of notes needed for lyric syllables to fit into as well as the pitch and length of each note before the lyrics were written. We write very melodically and make sure that every vocal note and line makes a melody and chord that sounds good when all music parts are transposed and played on the piano. Adam wrote most of the lyrics while I wrote some and our older brother Jason, (though not in the band) contributed some lyrics as well. This is essentially how most of our songs are built.'
Also, the album has a definite sci-fi angle as well. Is that an easier process to write within that framework, perhaps similar to what Arjen Lucassen does with Areyon? 'Lyrically the album takes up the concepts of cosmology and metaphysics' says Adam, 'with the power of human will, fantasy, and mythology bringing up the rear in the last few tracks. The album cover we chose depicts more of the cosmological theme and thus it is understandable that people may assume the album has a general sci-fi angle. However, 'Empyrean Realms' is not a full-out concept album and almost all of the music for the album was written before we came up with the lyrical direction for the songs. So I don't feel it is the same as say an Areyon or Avantasia album where Arjen and Tobias already know they are making a concept album and have the time to carefully match the music with the lyrics of that common theme.'
And what about that quite gorgeous album cover. My favourite of the year! What can you tell us about that? 'Thanks!' says Joe. 'The 'Empyrean Realms' album artwork was done by Gary Tonge from England. We have a solid understanding of the importance of album covers. Like it or not, albums are often judged based off of their artwork alone. It either piques your interest and makes you want to give it a chance or it can dissuade people from even giving it that chance. While recording 'Empyrean Realms' I searched around the internet for an existing painting that we could use for the album cover. After a while of looking I came across this really cool painting with spaceships and worlds set in a colourful celestial backdrop. The painting fit with our cosmic and philosophical lyrical themes and really enhanced the scope of the album. In addition, the colour scheme being purples, blues, and greens was the complete opposite from the reds, oranges, and yellows of our debut album and a surefire way of distinguishing the two albums. I knew this was the painting I wanted so I researched the artist and emailed him asking for the rights to do this. After some negotiations, we obtained those rights and the rest is history. We really lucked out as this was the very first painting I really wanted and the very first artist I contacted. The paining is so diverse and vast that we were able to take many different scaled portions of it to make up the entire album booklet and to adorn our official website, posters, stickers, business cards, etc. Luckily, we obtained the album artwork for our debut album in the exact same way: I found the existing painting online and emailed the artist for the rights to use it as our album cover and in both cases we landed the deal on the very first attempt!'
I made the suggestion that Europe seems tailor made for Armory's style of metal. I asked Adam whether they would think about taking the band over there at some point, knowing that it's an expensive exercise, but certainly worth putting into the bucket list. 'I agree that Armory's style seems more suited for European metal fans' says Adam. 'We would love to eventually go over there to play some shows and perhaps festivals. Alas, as you said, it would be no small financial undertaking. Without the support of a reputable label, this aspiration seems a bit far off at the moment. But it is definitely towards the top of Armory's to-do wish list.'
I asked Joe about the Metavania label, and whether he would be dealing with other artists outside of Armory and Vomitron. 'Well, the short answer is probably not' he says. 'I created Metavania Music as a way to legitimize all the work I already did promoting and selling Armory's debut album, 'The Dawn of Enlightenment'. I pretty much only intended to release Armory albums and any video-game related albums made by Vomitron. I guess it's a time thing, a money thing, and an interest thing. Releasing an album is no picnic, especially if you are trying to get it out to as many potential fans as possible and doing it in a professional way, not to mention doing it by yourself. It is very time consuming and for all the work done it is not the most financially sound way to be spending your time. That being said, I am only willing to spend all this time and effort releasing albums which have personal significant meaning to me, namely my own band Armory and my lifelong dream of combining old-school video game music with metal, which Vomitron satisfies. Who knows, maybe I could at least sell all my contact information to upcoming bands for a reasonable fee.'
And lastly, hopefully all the Armory fans won't have to wait 6 years for the next album to appear.. 'Hahaha.. why don't we all just enjoy 'Empyrean Realms' for now, huh?' says Joe.
Thanks for your time and words Joe, Adam, Chad. The album is definitely a highlight for me within the metal genre for 2013. Cheers! 'Thanks to you George and thanks to GloryDaze Music for allowing us to share our thoughts with the metal community. We are humbled you speak so highly of our album! Thanks also to our fans worldwide. Visit the official Armory website for more info about the band and 'Empyrean Realms' and to buy the album directly from us at http://www.armorymetal.com. Cheers.' - Joe. Related Articles Armory - 2007 The Dawn Of Enlightenment Armory - 2013 Empyrean Realms Armory - 2013 2013 Interview
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