AIR RAID – Traditional Impact
Denim and leather brought the heavy metal scene together back in the 1980’s – and there are a new generation of bands from all across the globe who hoist the flag high for the traditional stance. Subscribing to high powered vocals, galloping guitars, stunning visual presentations, and thunderous tempos, it’s what helped take acts like Dio, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest to arena heights.
Sweden’s Air Raid would be one of those bands climbing the ranks from their 2009 inception on through to their second and latest studio album "Point of Impact". Wanting to learn about the quintet, I would gain an opportunity for a three way Skype chat with guitarist Andreas Johansson and bassist Robin Utbult, and here is what transpired through trans-Atlantic internet connection lines.
Tell us about your musical memories growing up – what early metal bands and albums influenced you on the path of picking up an instrument and the desire to form a band?
Andreas: "I would say the first sort of harder style of music was Rainbow that was my first favorite band. And then I developed into discovering Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force, and also Judas Priest. That made me pick up the guitar and that made me practice it a lot after this. I always wanted to form a band, but I wanted to be prepared and skilled before I started this. So I started my first band when I was 25."
Robin: "I guess for me it was The Scorpions, I came over to Accept, Megadeth and Judas Priest. I picked up the bass pretty late- I started playing the guitar first back in 2007. Then I picked up the bass when I joined Air Raid."
Air Raid started in 2009 through guitarists Andreas Johansson and Johan Karlsson – was it easy to find like-minded musicians in the early days on a traditional metal quest considering the number of artists that perform in a melodic death or extreme manner out of Gothenburg?
Andreas: "When Johan and I decided to start the band no one talked about being in a traditional metal band- we only knew of RAM who was in our hometown of Gothenburg. We decided early that we would play in the classic 80’s traditional way, and we struggled a lot. For 1 ½ years we went through a lot of members, eventually we found like-minded people, but it was really difficult in the beginning."
And Robin, at what point did you discover Air Raid, as you came into the band a year after they started?
Robin: "Yes, I heard of the band. I had grown sick of the band (that I was in) at that present time, and I always wanted to play in a traditional heavy metal band. That’s what I grew up on, but there were no bands to find in Gothenburg at the time. So I saw this ad on the internet- ‘classic metal band searching for a bass player’- and I thought well, I think I can play the bass too (laughs). So I applied for the job."
Your first 2 song demo in 2011 gained the attention of StormSpell Records, who would subsequently release your "Danger Ahead" EP and debut album "Night of the Axe". Were you surprised at the quick attention you received, and how do you feel about your previous releases when looking back at them (as far as things you are happy with, and/or things you felt needed improvement)?
Andreas: "First off we were extremely surprised to get attention off of this demo so early from StormSpell. I think we can all agree that the sound on this demo is totally terrible (laughs). In the songs I can hear that it was early in our career and we have developed so much after this. As you said, StormSpell got interested so it served its purpose. With "Danger Ahead" which was recorded really fast after our demo, only a couple of months after- it was immediately better, it got attention from the Keep It True festival in Germany so we got a slot on the 2013 edition from that. About "Night of the Axe", what can I say? It was an even bigger step forward in terms of our songwriting, and this was with our old singer. I’m not too happy about the sound of the album – it’s quite cold and unnatural, but it had some good songs, absolutely."
In 2013 you had a vocalist change with Arthur Andersson replacing Michael Rinakakis. Any particular reasons behind the change, and were you worried about how the fans would accept this lineup shift?
Robin: "With Michael we had a lot of small fights all the time, like 95% off stage and 5 % good times on stage. The travels and rehearsals were where we had small fights all the time. I see it as we had no choice to part ways with him, as it was either him or the band would cease to exist. I feel we totally did the right thing."
Andreas: "With the songwriting for this new album, we knew that we had developed our sound and there will always be someone who liked Michael better than Arthur, but I think we gained new ground with the new album as well. Arthur has more of an 80’s sound, an accessible voice and more of a high-pitched vocal range."
The new album "Point of Impact" came out in November 2014 on High Roller Records, and it’s quite a potent record that reminded me of classic 80’s Maiden, Priest, as well as a bit of American acts like Omen and Queensrÿche when it comes to the power, the riffing, the melodies and the harmonies. What were the songwriting sessions like and how do you feel about the overall product in comparison to the debut album?
Andreas: "About the songwriting, Robin and I wrote everything – I wrote most of the music, with some contributions from Johan and Rob. The lyrics were done by Rob and myself together. "Point Of Impact" – it is warmer sounding and more natural. The drums are much better in my opinion- we are very satisfied with it."
How important is it to keep your recordings an organic and analog-sounding as possible in this digital age of recording studios?
Andreas: "We are always trying to have the old school style of doing this. We are always mic’ing up our amplifiers and we want a big drum sound like it was done back in the days. The sound was much better in our opinion. We are not looking much into modern techniques for recording. We are nerds of the 80’s metal, so we want to get as close as possible to that."
How would you describe Air Raid when it comes to performing live – and do you have a preference between club/theatre shows versus the festival stages?
Robin: "I would say that every show is different and we always take our good time to warm up. Even if it’s a small club or a large festival stage, we always perform at 110%. We have high energy on stage, good fun when we play and no matter the stage we give full throttle. Pedal to the metal!"
What are 5 albums that everyone can agree on as far as mandatory metal records that every band member feels need to be in record collections worldwide?
Andreas: "I would say for sure – "Painkiller" by Judas Priest is one of them."
Robin: "Blackout- The Scorpions would be another one. A must have."
Andreas: "Of course, "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden."
Robin: "We have "Balls to the Wall" by Accept, and "Metal Heart" also."
Andreas: "Do we have 5? Oh you gave them two Accept albums? What the fuck?"
I’ll give Andy another album since he doesn’t want two Accept albums in this list…
Andreas: "Ok then I will say "Marching Out" by Yngwie Malmsteen. I am sure you can hear from my technique in Air Raid a few of his influences in there. He turned the world upside down when he came on the scene in 1980’s."
It seems like to outsiders that Sweden has more musicians per capita than other countries – do you have a friendly relationship with other acts such as RAM, Enforcer, and Steelwing, and do you think as such this builds up the scene in general because of these different bands performing in a traditional, power/ speed laden metal style?
Andreas: "You actually mentioned the three bands that we have the most contact with- RAM, Steelwing, and Enforcer, absolutely. I think it’s important to be friends with the bands, I’ve heard from other countries that it’s more like a rivalry where you talk shit about the other bands- I don’t think we have that in Sweden. We get more inspiration and we trigger each other to make better and better songs."
Another benefit in Sweden growing up is the ability to pick up an instrument and play because the government sponsors rehearsal spots…
Andreas: "That’s correct. From the early school days you are always encouraged to play an instrument. When you form a band, if you want to find a rehearsal room, you will find it and it won’t be too expensive. It’s really accessible."
One of the other things I’ve heard from other Swedish bands is the problem is the club scene is a little strange in terms of fans supporting Swedish bands, is this true?
Robin: "Yes, if you compare a Swedish gig to a German gig, there is a big difference. In Sweden we are kind of shy and we don’t want to express what we think about music often. People can stand in the back with their arms crossed and think that’s it is good, but there is no energy in the shows. The classic metal scene isn’t that hot in Sweden."
Andreas: "It is a little weird, maybe we have the most bands in the world in comparison to the population, but it’s the reason why not a lot of traditional metal bands from Sweden play here. It’s basically near the hometown you will get a lot of people, but that’s why we play Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain- those other places, it’s much more appreciated."
What types of goals do you set for Air Raid in the short term as well as the long term? If money were no object, what types of avenues would you like to use further the Air Raid cause as far as touring, promotion, etc.?
Andreas: "The short term goals are to record a proper music video for the new album, within the next month. The long term is to do a proper, big European tour. If we had unlimited amount of money, we would jump on every opening slot we can. It’s expensive to go on tour as an opener. We want to tour more- we haven’t been away for much longer than 5 weeks."
Where do you see the state of the heavy metal scene in your own country as well as other parts of Europe? What improvements would you like to see for the benefit of all involved?
Andreas: "Hmm.. it’s so big the differences across Europe. Our style is very big in Germany, it’s much more appreciated. In Sweden I would like people to look a little bit more at what we actually have in your own country. I think all countries should do this, it’s as much about the foreign bands, maybe more so now."
Robin: "You can’t tell people what to listen to, you can support the live scene more. Go to concerts, there’s a lot of radio listening in Sweden so I think people could go to concerts a little more."
Andreas: "And also, I have to say about Sweden Rock Festival, the biggest festival in Sweden, they don’t support the traditional metal bands. We don’t get a chance to play there. It’s something in Sweden… when you get a review in the Sweden Rock magazine, the critics will say ‘we have heard this before’ – 5 out of 10 points. It’s weird. It’s a lot harder I can tell you."
Do you have any special hobbies that you like to take part in away from music?
Andreas: "I love football. I play as much as I can… the European football, not American. For me it’s basically soccer."
Robin: "One of my big time hobbies is graphic design and drawing. This may sound weird, but I like fishing. Go to a lake, shut down my phone for a few hours."
When it comes to meeting Air Raid fans, how do you feel about the support and passion they have?
Andreas: "The biggest highlight in our career is easily the gig in Tokyo, Japan in late 2013. It was just crazy to see how the people were at the venue, we signed records for hours."
Any final thoughts?
Andreas: "We want to say thanks a lot for the support, rock on."
Robin: "Keep supporting the underground scene!"