BURNING SHADOWS – Veteran Mid-Atlantic Power
- by Matt Coe
- Posted on 04-09-2014
I’ve been fortunate through the years to watch the progression of many metal bands from the demo stage to releasing full length albums. Rarely do you find an act like Maryland’s Burning Shadows that have been active for over 14 years and still finance and record their product without the benefit of any label behind them. Their sound is power metal – taking an equal influence in terms of harmonies and melodies from the historical US and European lineage, while having a little bit of that aggression and attack that bands such as Nevermore and Iced Earth have employed through the years.
Gaining the opportunity to witness the band live a while back at a local Metal Thursday at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester, MA, I took the chance to interview four-fifths of the band: vocalist Tom Davy, drummer David Spencer, and guitarists Tim Regan and Greg Jones. They are currently working on their third full-length album, and based on the fervor they’ve created through the years, I expect another stellar effort on their part.
Can you tell us about your personal journey into metal and what influenced you into picking an instrument to play?
Tim: "I started to play metal because my brother forced me to buy "And Justice For All" by Metallica in 1993 after seeing the video for "One" on Beavis and Butthead. So it just kind of snowballed from there- Metallica turned into local shows, which turned into Iced Earth, and it just kind of went from there."
Greg: "We were both still in high school when we started playing together, Metallica was both our kind of rite of passage. For me personally, I got myself into it because the black album at the time got me into metal, then that morphed into Megadeth, Slayer, and eventually reading a lot of guitar magazines. Learning more about the metal bands, it didn’t take me long before I realized this is what I really want to do and I guess it stuck."
Burning Shadows itself started in 2002?
Tim: The band started in 2000, we released our first EP in 2002. Most of the stuff we wrote in 2000-2001 didn’t really make it, "Force of Fire" is the only song that made it to "The Darkest Winter" EP of 2002.
Greg: Most of the material we play now doesn’t go back that far obviously.
Can you tell us about the lineup changes that have happened through the years- you had a bass player that was the vocalist at one time, and also Greg you sang on the first album "Into The Primordial"?
Greg: Our original lineup is with the two EP’s that came out "The Darkest Winter" in 2002 and "Amongst the Dying Waves" in 2005, it was a solid lineup for 3-4 years, but one of the guys didn’t want to play metal anymore.
Tim: The drummer we had didn’t want to put in the work. He was like ‘why are we selling tickets for the show?’ Because we are nobody!
Greg: We had a few other members that didn’t make it onto any official recordings. There were creative differences and minor personal differences, work obligations. It’s been the last 5 or 6 years we’ve been working with the same group of guys. Everyone is in this for the long run with music. Everyone is settled in and reliable people.
How do you view the recordings you’ve done to this point- the good as well as the bad?
Tim: It’s always the vocals, and I mean that as nicely as possible. We put out the first album and the reviews were all the vocals aren’t very good. We’ve put out the second album with Tom, and the reviews have said… not all of them, but some of the reviews said the vocals just aren’t very good. We can’t seem to win!
Greg: In this type of music the vocals are kind of the hard sell unlike death metal where it is one sound everyone goes for. As big as King Diamond gets there are always going to be people who detract from him. A lot of it is just definitely about the recording quality and most things people would have issue with. You need to repeat things until you get material locked in air tight.
Tim: "Into the Primordial" when we were recording it, we were just guessing. That was completely done in house, and probably the main reason why it took two years to do.
Greg: We were relying on people to help us out also that might not have really… for one thing they didn’t really have a good idea of what we were trying to go for but more importantly we always didn’t have the best idea. We now have that under better control and we definitely have a better idea of how to get it.
Tim: That is why "Gather…Darkness" came out the way it did- we knew what we were doing, and on top of that we brought Kyle Paradis in to mix it and he absolutely knows what we are doing. For the next album, we know even better what he wants us to do and what we want to do, so we can get to another level with the production. People say production isn’t important…but we think it is.
Greg: It depends on the type of music, people say it’s 50/50.
Tim: But if you have bad production, no one is going to listen to the CD so we are aiming for good production.
Greg: Several black metal bands may disagree with that. For what we are going for it does take a little bit of work and not trying to have a shot in the dark. The music is a bit on the technical side at times, and we want to bring our music out in a crystal clear format. There’s not a template to work off completely.
Tim: When we got the "Gather…Darkness" master, Bill Wolf the guy who mastered it asked how we wanted it to sound, and I jokingly said ‘as loud as possible’. And he goes, ‘ok’. People go in and ask that all the time.
Greg: People talk about loudness wars, and they aren’t kidding when they say that. I am at least hoping that people hear a sense of dynamics with our music. As you talk to more people and hear more music you get to tweak different things that you never would have thought of 10 years ago.
Now with the new album "Gather…Darkness", Greg you came up with the concept of basing the story line off a novel from Fritz Leiber. How did you come to this decision and was it a challenge to be able to match up the music to the storyline?
Greg: It was and it wasn’t. I had not attempted to tackle a project like this before. At the same time the way it materialized, regardless of how the final product came out good or bad… the creative process of how it came to be was almost perfect in some sense. I thought about it in very broad strokes for a very long time and once the whole thing was materialized the fine-tuned details came. A lot of people think the best art comes together that way.
Tim: I think when you started writing it, it wasn’t (planned) to be album length. Greg comes in one day and says the first song is 13 minutes, and then he comes in and says the second song is 16 minutes (laughs).
Greg: I was reading the story and I asked myself if I could make a soundtrack to this. The first few months or so as I absorbed the story I hummed ideas in my head, and most of those ideas got committed to the recording. It took a little while to get the lyrics finalized. It’s not a literal translation of the story itself, it tries to follow the mood of the story.
Tim: If you actually read the book it gets kind of a bit strange at the end.
Greg: Well that’s good because the album can be a bit strange in parts.
Another thing that seems strange about the album is you didn’t really leave a lot of space in between tracks, it almost blends together seamlessly…
Tim: The album is really 3 songs and an overture, we recorded it and mastered it that way, and we went to put it on Itunes and an album goes for $9. But if you put it up as 4 tracks it would mean the album would be $4. The section subtitles…
Greg: So if you listen to it on Itunes shuffle you are going to be pissed.
Tim: The three songs were always separate, "A Thousand Lies" ends on the same note that "To Ruin & Divide" starts on. So when we had it mastered we had it blended it together. It’s really 11 tracks.
David: One thing I would like to mention if it hasn’t been brought up already is the connection between heavy metal and the classical tradition of the late 19th century. Without getting too academic on this, there are musical leaves that weave their way through the whole album. It flows well in the 45 minutes like a classical piece. As such it feels so much more satisfying than if you played it track by track individually.
Do you guys see a major difference between what is going on in the US power metal scene versus Europe and other parts of the world?
Greg: It seems to be bigger over there, especially after attending Warriors Of Metal here…
Tim: Correct me if I’m wrong, but when American bands sing about wizards and so forth they do it as a joke for ironic reasons. Except for Manowar, because no one can tell if they are serious or not! Then Rhapsody can sing about a sword for an album.
David: Stylistically there are fewer and fewer differences as the years’ progress. Back in the mid 90’s there was a marked difference with symphonic metal bands and the more thrash influenced bands here like Iced Earth or Jag Panzer. The kids who are coming up now are influenced by the same bands that started to get popular 15 years ago in Germany.
Greg: Usually when I think the more popular bands that are labeled power metal, they come from Western Europe- Helloween, Blind Guardian, or any number of Scandinavian bands. When you think of heavy metal, power metal- US is a little heavier, the more established names are Manilla Road, Jag Panzer, they are a little bit grittier, Omen as well. Those bands seem to be bigger in Europe. Twisted Tower Dire is another example, they can tour Europe but struggle here to gain popularity. Metal is so much bigger in Europe- I did a tour with another band about 10 years ago, it was with a grind band Rotten Sound. They were driving in a 15 passenger van, and that was humbling.
Tim: Let’s put it this way. We found out yesterday we are opening for Finntroll in Maryland, and the stage we are playing on will be a foot off the ground.
David: Whereas the first time we saw Finntroll, it was with 60,000 other people at Wacken Open Air in Germany.
Tim: A lot of the times, that explains the difference.
How is Burning Shadows accepted in Maryland, considering what is going on in the scene with a lot of technical, death metal acts getting bigger?
Tim: If a death metal band is coming through, they will get death metal openers. We are apparently the go-to bands for Pagan metal, Viking metal, and doom metal. And when the power metal bands come through, apparently they don’t want any local openers.
David: We have no counterparts for our style in Maryland. There was a band called Eternal Winter. There is a now defunct band called Engage, very traditional styled German power metal, but it’s hard to find another band that sounds like us in our area.
Are you surprised that you are still independent after being at this for 13 plus years?
Tim: We probably could get on a record label pretty easily, we just haven’t yet.
David: The question is, why? We have our own recording studio, we have digital distribution, we work on our own pace. The only thing a label is potentially going to do is give us distribution and physical sales. They are unlikely to put us on the road.
Greg: The way the industry has changed, especially within the course of us being a band, when we started it was more like it was in the 1990’s where you would see a band on a certain label and it would be a green light that the band was good. With the internet the middle man is being put more and more on the backburner. It’s a little bit harder for me to answer the question if we are signed, what can they do for us that can make (things better) for us… certain contacts probably to get us in certain markets.
Do you mind the comparisons that people have made so far for Burning Shadows musically to acts like Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, and Jag Panzer?
Tim: Not at all, that’s completely accurate. I actually hear Slough Feg a lot, which I don’t get but people have said that.
Greg: That’s not a name I drop out when I mention about what we are like. People are going to say what they say.
Tim: Which makes it impossible to describe what we are like. Let’s put it this way- I’ve never been insulted by a comparison.
How do you balance the technicality and intricacy of some of your music writing because there are times people can get bogged down in it without writing a song?
Greg: That goes back to how "Gather…Darkness" was written. I brainstormed and I can’t brainstorm 30 second arpeggio runs and bank it for later use. I can bank something that I can hum in my head periodically. You have to make sure it sticks, it can be technical while keeping things intact. We aren’t a death metal band that’s trying to do riff salad, we like to carry a tune.
Tim: We have different writing styles. Greg knows how it should sound and tries to figure it out. I do the opposite, I sit down and see where it takes me.
David: Greg is more thematic oriented and Tim is more riff oriented. I have a new song on the new album we are working, I write more like the way Greg does.
Greg: Tim is very good at writing a riff that will get stuck in your head like those classic heavy metal bands whereas I’m looking at things from a top down perspective. When the two of us write together hopefully something of substance comes up.
Tim: Tom worked out a lot of the vocal harmonies, and he worked out how we could do the harmonies.
Tom: Greg will go over those parts hundreds of times in practice, it’s a band effort on that part.
Where do you view the metal scene currently? Obviously things have changed with digital downloads, how do you handle consumers who think music should be free for everybody?
Tim: Unfortunately, music is not free to make.
David: Talk to those people, ask them what they do and what they are good at, and see if they would do it for free.
Tim: Hypothetically, if someone were to discover Burning Shadows from a torrent site, I was flattered.
David: That’s marketing that other people are doing for us. Eventually those people will tell their friends and somebody who otherwise wouldn’t hear us will buy our material.
Greg: Even the bands in the 1990’s that were making money from touring and merchandising, not necessarily the sales of their records. One thing I have heard about a difference in Europe and South America compared to America, people are more likely to attend the show in different genres- that doesn’t happen much over here.
Tom: Let’s just put it out there, there is not as much as there used to be, kids are listening to techno and electronic music. I think that will fade eventually. The guys that do this, in our area, they come to technical death, melodic death, which is good, there are a lot of talented bands. I don’t see a Savatage out there today, an Iced Earth, or even the next Iron Maiden- from any of the bands that are doing this style today. Ideally we hope to carry that torch. It would be really inspiring to see a traditional power metal band come out of nowhere and come into prominence.
Tim: There are a couple of bands leaning that way, like Orden Ogan, and Solar Fragment.
Tom: The title track on the latest Solar Fragment album, they got the chance to work with Kai Hansen from Gamma Ray, so there’s that tie in. It’s too few and far between.
Greg: When we bring modern elements into our music, it’s not the same ones as other bands. We try to do new things within traditional power metal. Those old Iron Maiden albums, the one from the 80’s- I don’t hear the urgency in some of these new bands.
What would be three albums or bands that everyone in the band could agree upon enjoying or thinking of as classic metal albums?
Tom: I don’t know if you’ve heard this new band called Burning Shadows, but they have this new album… (everyone laughs).
Greg: We would have to narrow it down to the bands first. Blind Guardian, Iced Earth.
Tim: We will never agree on a definitive Blind Guardian album though.
David: I heard the magic words… "Nightfall in Middle Earth" is the right one to pick.
Tom: They are a very unique band, they have changed so much through the years.
Tim: I would have to throw down Iced Earth. "Night of the Stormrider" if I had to pick.
David: We could all agree on "Imaginations from the Other Side".
Greg: I can’t. (laughs)
Tom: Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, and I’m going to say Iron Maiden.
Tim: I will disagree with Maiden… clearly the answer is Demons and Wizards! (laughs)
Greg: Gamma Ray would also be included. These insults coming out from the guy who sings "Somewhere Out in Space".
Describe the songwriting and recording sessions for your upcoming album? Is it another concept record or did you decide to go with individual themes for this? What types of changes are you making in terms of tones or production outlook that you think will improve the final outcome in comparison to "Gather, Darkness!"?
Tim: Some of the songs for the upcoming (third) album actually predate Gather, Darkness! – particularly a track called "Deathstone Rider" which I wrote before we were done recording our debut album Into the Primordial. By the time we decided to record the second album, we had about two-thirds of two different albums written, one concept album and one with individual themes. We decided to focus on completing Gather, Darkness! and releasing it as the second album. So a lot of the writing for the third album actually occurred concurrently with Gather, Darkness! We finished up writing for the third album last year.
There were a couple things we changed for recording the third album. For Gather, Darkness!, all of the guitars were recorded with the same amp (Greg’s Peavey 6505+) with different setups. This time around, my guitars were recorded with an ENGL and Greg used the 6505. Plus we changed the microphone setup to include an SM57 and an e609, so we have much more control of the guitar tone. This time around the guitars sound much thicker. For Gather, Darkness! the drums were recorded using 8 channels. Dave’s kit is gigantic. It doesn’t really fit into 8 channels. It does, however, fit into 16 channels. So we have more control over a lot more of the drum kit. The bass was tracked both direct and through a SansAmp, as well. Finally, much to Tom’s delight, we are doing what seems like a million vocal layers. So in short, the next album will melt about 90% more faces than the last album!
What have been some of the latest releases that have impressed you half way through 2014 so far? They can be in the heavy metal genre or otherwise?
Tim: In no particular order, I’m really into Vintersorg’s Naturbål, Primal Fear’s Delivering the Black, Insomnium’s Shadows of the Dying Sun (which was a huge leap in the right direction compared to the last couple), Agalloch’s The Serpent and the Sphere, Anathema’s Distant Satellites (which is good, but not as good as the last one), Falconer’s Black Moon Rising, Elvenking’s Pagan Manifesto (another band that stopped being disappointing), and to the surprise of absolutely, my favorite album of 2014 would have to be Iced Earth’s Plagues of Babylon.
Final thoughts for the Eternal Terror readers?
Tim: Aside from the usual shameless plugs (burningshadows.com, facebook.com/bsmetal, twitter.com/bsmetal), keep it metal, keep it true, and keep it loud!