AXENSTAR – Dreams Are Not Forgotten
- by Matt Coe
- Posted on 01-01-2015
Melodic power metal has been an institution since the Helloween heydays of the 1980’s. There’s something about those searing chord progressions and uplifting choruses that tickles the ear drums in the right way. Sweden’s Axenstar has been one of the consistent purveyors of this style since their formation in 2001, releasing six albums through the years and handling a lot of the trials and tribulations of lineup changes, label shake ups, and general human experience that bands go through, especially ones that make it past 10 years.
Vocalist/bassist Magnus Winterwild remains the lone original member since the band’s early years, so I felt it was as good as time as any to catch up on their thoughts behind their new album "Where Dreams Are Forgotten" and how they’ve been able to weather the natural ups and downs of the music business. His measured thoughts showcase his determination to keep Axenstar on track, and hopefully continue to appease their long standing following.
What were your earliest music memories growing up? At what point in life did you get turned onto hard rock/ heavy metal and make the move from being purely a fan to picking up an instrument and forming a band?
"I think started listening to some pop music. I do know that my first metal experience was the Accept album "Metal Heart", I heard from my cousin actually. He introduced me to metal music. When I was 14 I started playing the guitar, we started a band with my classmates at the time when we were in 7th grade. We started practicing and rehearsing, and I don’t think it sounded that good actually in the beginning. That is how my music career started."
Powerage would be the pre-cursor to Axenstar -was this your first original act, and can you tell us about the early formative years? Why did you end up changing the name to Axenstar in 2001?
"As I said, when I was 14 we started a band that didn’t last for long. I started playing in another band with my younger brother Thomas, a thrash band. We called ourselves Abigail in the beginning. Then I was asked to try out for Powerage, as a singer and guitarist actually. It felt okay, and I asked the other guys if my brother could join Powerage as a guitarist, since he was much better than me at that instrument. So he joined and we started writing our own music. When we were ready to record our second demo I think we needed to change the band name because it had been used a lot, we would see that name on the internet by bands from every country. We thought we would need an original name, so we came with ideas and wrote them now. We had a band meeting and decided on a band name by putting the two words together – it doesn’t mean anything in particular."
Your first three albums "Perpetual Twilight", "Far from Heaven", and "The Inquisition" came out on Spain’s Arise Records. I’m curious to know your thoughts on each album: specific memories to the good, what you would change (if anything), and favorite songs/ aspects about each record?
"Well, the first album we were really excited just to be able to record an album. The one thing I would change about that album would be the mastering, because the album sounded really good when we had mixed it and then we sent it to Finnvox Studios in Finland and wrote a letter to them saying we wanted a really heavy sound. That destroyed the sound – that was a very mid-range frequency after the mastering, a lot of bass and the vocals are drowned in the music. That’s my only negative thing, there are really good songs on there that didn’t get the attention it deserved because of the sound on the album. "Far from Heaven", to date I think this is our most successful album because we had the "Blind Leading the Blind" song that appeared on a lot of compilation albums, it was released in a time where that kind of power metal was huge in Europe. That album sounds really good after mastering. "The Inquisition", it’s a bit darker than the previous albums, but still very good. My brother Thomas wrote 99% of the music and lyrics on the first two albums, but on "The Inquisition" I wrote some songs and lyrics too, and that was fun for me to do. His commitment and inspiration was starting to fade, he was thinking of leaving the band around that time. Then Arise Records went bankrupt so we couldn’t stay with them."
Did you mind the comparisons to Sonata Arctica during those years- as I know that your voice has a similar quality to Tony Kakko and musically you guys would put in a lot of those high energy guitar/keyboard runs that are similar to that classic Finnish band?
"Yes. They were a huge inspiration for us, of course. I think you can hear it in our music also, some of the riffs and songs are very similar to the first Sonata Arctica album "Ecliptica". We were kind of considered a little brother to Sonata Arctica, it’s flattering but some of the critics thought we were too close to them and just copying them. We had a lot of benefit from it, more benefit than negative."
Between 2005 and 2006 there were major lineup changes – what exactly was going on within the band, as you remained the only consistent member between the early days and current lineup?
"After "The Inquisition" album my brother didn’t find it fun anymore to write songs and play the guitar anymore. I don’t know why because he’s a very talented guitarist and songwriter. That was his decision and I knew he felt that way during the recordings, it was sad to not to have him in the band anymore. Peter our other guitarist decided during that time that he needed to concentrate more on his family and his work, so we were left with a drummer, bassist, and a singer, so I decided to pick up the guitar and we asked Joakim (Jonsson) to join on lead guitar since he had filled in as a bass player on our European tour with Falconer earlier. We recorded "The Final Requiem" album with that setting, and after that Pontus our drummer and Magnus our bass player decided to leave because of a lack time. We had reached a time in life where people were having families and you need to work because you have to pay the rent. They chose to leave the band. And then we had other drummers and bassists for a year or two, we found this lineup we have today in 2009 and it’s worked out fine since then."
Would you say "The Final Requiem" was a transition Axenstar record because of these lineup changes?
"Yes, we recorded that with the original drummer and bassist, that was their last album. It was kind of a transition album, as well as "Aftermath" where Joakim played drums and most of the guitar parts while I played the bass, keyboards, and sang. That may be more of a transition album than "The Final Requiem" I would say."
There would be a 5 year lapse between "The Final Requiem" and "Aftermath". Did doubt creep in at that point if Axenstar would ever release another album? How did you handle those quieter years?
"Of course I was thinking of how it would turn out. We were in a down period, and I really wanted to continue with the band and I knew that Joakim was committed also. "Aftermath" was recorded in 2008 and then we started searching for labels that wanted to release it. Since we didn’t have a full lineup, the labels weren’t that interested. So I had some doubts about the future, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet."
The new album is "Where Dreams Are Forgotten" – and in my opinion one of the strongest Axenstar records to date. It incorporates a lot of the classic power elements you’ve been known for through the years, yet has an aggression and heaviness that keeps things fresh. What would you like to tell us about the recording and songwriting sessions for this?
"All the band really contributed to the songwriting and arranging of the songs on this record. That felt very good because we have a lot of different input and opinions. We have gotten the best out of the songs, they feel very fresh. We knew that we needed to hold on to the old Axenstar sound that most of our fans really love. When you meet a fan, they usually say our first two albums are their favorite albums from our catalog. We had that in mind while writing the new songs, we knew that we had to make some of the songs sound like the early days. When we finally reached the recording studio it went pretty well, you always have a vision of how the songs will turn out, but in the end it never turns out exactly as you want it to. The sound is really heavy and clean, I’m really happy with how the album turned out. I had a cold before recording the vocals, it’s a mental issue I think. I bought some medicine and we had to delay the vocal recordings for half a week, but it was really good for preparation. I managed to do my best anyway."
Inner Wound is your new record label – and they seem to be building an impressive roster of upstarts as well as veterans in the melodic/power/progressive metal field. What are your thoughts at this point on their efforts- especially in comparison to previous work with Arise, Massacre, and Rock It Up?
"I think Emil and Inner Wound Recordings has done a really good job with the release. I am happy to have a Swedish label for the first time- it’s easy to communicate with them. So far we are very happy with them and their job. Apart from Arise, they did a lot of promotion also for us. Inner Wound is the best label we’ve been signed to so far, and I hope we can continue our work with them for several albums."
Can you discuss the trials, tribulations, and frustrations of attempting to get into North America properly for an Axenstar tour? I’m sure the average person would love to understand all the hoops, paperwork, and proof that has to be provided to grant a proper work visa…
"(laughs) Yes, we have tried to come over a couple of times and been stalled by the authorities. The paperwork hasn’t been within the time limits. I don’t know why, you need to prove why you don’t intend to stay in the USA, I don’t get why they are so hesitant to get rock bands over there. It’s really hard, you have to pay a lot of money to send in the paperwork and for the authorities to handle them then in the end we haven’t been able to go. I really hope we do get the chance to come over someday, we need a big company behind us to help pay for all these fees."
Which do you get more satisfaction out of these days: the art of creating and recording an original song or the energy from performing your songs in front of a live club/festival audience?
"I don’t know, it’s hard to choose because all parts have their sides so to speak. I love writing and recording because when you have an idea that turns into a song that you get on an album, this is something that will be there forever. The satisfaction of standing on stage and getting the immediate attention of the crowd is a great feeling, you get the adrenaline going. It’s good in different ways, I’m happy to have the chance to release 6 albums, that’s a big thing for me because not everyone gets that chance."
What would you consider 3 of the most important bands that shaped your metal tastes, and could you name your top 5 albums of all time (be it metal or otherwise)?
"3 favorite bands, I would say Iron Maiden for one. At least for their live shows and performances, they are unbeatable in my opinion. When I started listening to metal it was the German band Accept that hooked me for life. Sonata Arctica for one, and then Iron Maiden, perhaps Lost Horizon from Sweden. Daniel is an extremely talented vocalist. Top 5 albums- Accept- Metal Heart, Iron Maiden- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Lost Horizon- Awakening the World, Sonata Arctica- Ecliptica would be up there."
How do you view the world these days – if you were in charge, where do you think you would focus your attention on?
"Stop all the wars, of course. When you look at television, you see starvation, wars, and murders all over the world- I find it hard to believe it has to be like that. There is so much money and many people consume all the crap things, if we took care of each other there wouldn’t have to be any misery in the world. I don’t know, in the Middle East they have been fighting forever and I don’t think they will ever stop fighting because of religious reasons. We are in 2014 and people are still fighting over things that happened 2000 plus years ago. I don’t know if we can ever change that."
What types of goals and aspirations do you set for Axenstar? Do you try to look at things in the short term and hopefully build things up to apply into a long term career?
"I don’t know about the future. For myself, I hope it would be great to release a new album in 2016 and we are trying to get out on the road to play as many shows as possible. You never know how the other band members will handle that, it’s up to time and effort. We haven’t been planning that much for the future. We have day jobs because we can’t make that much money from the band."
How do you vide the scene for metal in your part of Sweden- is it a good market with a lot of live shows and bands?
"I would say it’s a little bit of a struggle. We have a lot of bands in Sweden- metal and otherwise, and there aren’t a lot of clubs here that want to have live music. And if they do want to have live music, they don’t want to pay for it. Since there are a lot of bands, there is always one band who will play for free and get the gig. If you start playing for free, when will you get paid? The next time the band will try to play for a gig, the promoter will remember they didn’t pay last time, so they won’t get any money the next time either. It’s a struggle, and we try to get gigs but it’s hard."
I’m curious to know your favorite Axenstar concert memories through the years- and what was the best concert you ever attended purely as a fan, plus what made that show special in your eyes?
"The biggest show we’ve done is the Sweden Rock festival, and that was back in 2003. We have played some pretty cool places during the Falconer tour, but I would rate that festival as my number one memory. The stage was huge, we weren’t really prepared for that, so we looked a little bit lost. I would love to play on a big stage like that again. My favorite show was seeing Lost Horizon at a town nearby where I live in Sweden. It was a small venue and I got to see Daniel Heiman doing his thing on stage and really hitting the high notes, it was a great experience."
What are the plans for 2015 for Axenstar?
"I am very hopeful that we can do a European tour in support of this record- either in the spring or fall. I would encourage everyone that wants to see Axenstar live, get ahold of your local promoter and tell them to get in touch with the band. That way there will be a better chance of us coming to their town and playing for them."