Entering the Underground #18: Wanton Attack’s Debut Evokes Vintage Insanity
As much as many musicians play relatively safe to the standards of their genre, either when playing in an established style or even when pushing boundaries, there have always been those that are not content to be anything less than properly mad. In the 1980s heavy metal scene, those musicians played in bands like Deep Switch, Lords of the Crimson Alliance, or Brocas Helm. Today, those musicians play in bands like Gentry Lord, Demon Bitch, Molten Chains… and Wanton Attack.
Hailing from Sweden, perhaps the most immediate comparison that Wanton Attack draws is to Mercyful Fate. Not only does vocalist/drummer Micael Zetterberg sometimes hit similar pitches to the mighty King when singing, but the music can be similarly unpredictable, often changing riffs not via lengthy, careful transitions but through jarring leaps; despite that, they stand alongside Mercyful Fate and their inheritors only at the surface, for Wanton Attack have crafted a sound that is all their own.
A tendency for jarring, jangly riffs battles evenly with one for gorgeous lead melody and though the band’s vocal parts are certainly catchy, the execution is not one of huge choruses but rather of constant vocal hooks. Layered composition and a track list that starts off at its most zany ascends towards a clear vision of nearly-epic metal, culminating with a powerful crescendo and a synth outro to ease the tension off. The surprisingly-short album's flow probably should not work, but somehow the insanity, melody, and catchiness align in a captivating, ear-catching way. Both members of the band have been playing music for a long time and that experience is obvious, as is a bent towards contrarianism; even the cover song included on the album is from an obscure demo from 1988 rather than taken from a better-known group.
Wanton Attack is a true delight to listen to, and was an easy inclusion in my top albums of the year from the first time I listened to it. Give it a spin and let the insanity wash over you.
Below, find an interview with Wanton Attack guitarist/bassist Niklas Holm.
Between the two members of the band, there’s some twenty years of black and death metal history, but as far as I can tell this is your first time playing heavy metal. What made now the right time to do it?
The easy answer is that Micael asked me to start this band with him because we both share a passion for heavy metal music. As much as we love death/black/doom metal, punk/hardcore and other styles of music, it all started with heavy metal for both of us when were little kids.
I’m not sure what made now the right time to do it. I'm 41 and Micael is 40, and I feel that this music is ingrained in our DNA pretty much. We do what comes natural for us. I couldn’t care less if we fit into the modern metal scene with its current trends or fashions, we do what we love to do, and hopefully our music speaks for itself.
Were those old, ingrained heavy metal influences ever a conscious part of your previous bands?
For sure, but I bet most people wouldn’t notice. The thing with different metal subgenres is that people are extremely quick to categorize the music. It’s understandable, and I operate the same way, but personally I have written parts for previous bands which were directly lifted from Mercyful Fate. Randy Uchida Group, probably more. It may not be as noticeable, but it’s there.
Are a variety of songwriting influences an essential aspect to quality composition?
It doesn’t guarantee any quality music making as far as I’m concerned, but perhaps it depends on what you want to do. I will say that Micael is probably more open minded than I am when it comes to music. For example, he’s into old folk/prog/religious music from different corners of the world, and I’m sure some of that stuff has influenced his songwriting. I think the most important thing is to do what you want to do, not what other people want to hear.
Wanton Attack's music is unhinged, rooted far less in the more "standard" side of the genre and more in delivering the insanity of Mercyful Fate or Lords of the Crimson Alliance. What drew you to these sounds instead of playing in more well-trodden ground?
First of all, I’m glad that you mentioned Lords of the Crimson Alliance. I absolutely love that album, and I can definitely hear similarities to our style, although we may not be influenced by that band in particular.
I think we are both into bands that create unique and original sounds. I love bands like G.I.S.M., Black Hole, Satan’s Host and Brocas Helm because they all have their own sound which is a bit "off," which combined with their musical skills makes the music incredible. We didn’t really have any specific bands in mind when we started Wanton Attack, but I believe this kind of mindset was instilled in us from the very beginning.
I can see why people would label us a so-called "traditional" heavy metal band, and they’re right to an extent, but we do have influences from punk, synthesizer music and traditional rock'n'roll. There are plenty of bands that take a more streamlined approach to making heavy metal, which is fine, but we’re not one of those bands. Personally, I think heavy metal music, and art in general, loses its appeal when commercial interests are paramount.
Do you think that there’s a point in making heavy metal all these years after the inception of the genre without that unique personal approach? Are less individualistic bands still desirable, even if it’s not for you?
I guess it's a matter of taste. There are many bands I like which aren't doing anything new musically. In fact, sometimes they may be downright copying other bands. As long as the music is good it really doesn’t matter that much, and to clarify, I'm not saying that Wanton Attack is super original by any means. We’re simply trying to do our own thing and find our own sound, and if we didn't feel that way we might as well start a cover band.
How did your alliance with Greek heavy metal stalwarts No Remorse Records come about?
We sent the album to a bunch of labels. No Remorse were the first to respond, and honestly I don't think we could have found a better home. It’s obvious that they love what they do, and they’re probably one of the few labels out there that understand what we’re all about. Also, they have released with some of our favorite heavy metal bands, both past and present, which helped too.
Did you expect to attract label interest when you were sending out those emails?
Good question. I guess if we really didn’t expect to attract any interest we wouldn’t have sent the albums to labels in the first place. Honestly, I think I expected some interest, like a small cassette release on an underground label or something like that. We would have been totally happy with that too, but luckily for us No Remorse picked us up early. I want to give a shout out to Emil Öhman from Black Writs Records (and also the FWOSHM Facebook page, and lots of other projects) who recently released our album on cassette. That guy showed interest in us right from the beginning, and it’s pretty evident that he loves cult heavy metal.
Why start with a full-length right off the bat without any prior releases?
We've released many demos in the past with different bands and projects. Some of those recordings were definitely meant strictly for the underground (raw black metal, lo-fi punk, etc). When we were finished with this recording we both felt that it sounded good enough to be released as an album. I suppose we could have waited and released a few demos first, but there's not much of a point in doing so when the recording met our expectations. For us, bands like Gotham City had perfect recordings, and I guess our sound isn’t too far off from those.
Are there any advantages to skipping that early demo phase?
Of course, I think most bands want to release an album on an established label as soon as possible. I think we will continue to work on demos with various projects in the future though, because it’s something we love to do.
Given that the band is a two-piece, is it going to be a studio-only project?
I can't speak for Micael, but in my mind Wanton Attack will continue to be just the two of us. As for playing live, we wouldn’t mind that at all, but honestly we haven't looked that much into it because of the Pandemic. Once the world is back to normal, we might play some shows, but as far as making music, it’s something that Micael and I will handle in the future as well.
Wanton Attack is out now on No Remorse Records.
Follow Wanton Attack on Bandcamp.