Entering the Underground #9: Blazon Rite Forges Brazen Heavy Metal
Not all paths lead to the same destination. Despite a gamut of bands and a relatively limited span of years as the primary influence for an entire genre, heavy metal has managed to cover an amazing amount of sonic ground, and even albums that on paper tick a lot of the same boxes as less-talented peers can stand out stylistically. Blazon Rite are really proof of this, and manage in a crowded scene to do their own thing without really diverging at all from a core sound rooted in powerful, energetic epic heavy metal.
Everything about Blazon Rite feels like a clever misdirect. Riffs don’t go where they feel like they should. The vocals are lower than most in the genre, and travel down melodic pathways that feel like they shouldn’t work (though they always do). Some riffs repeat longer than I would have put them, or synths come in unexpectedly, and song structures are twisty enough that it’s easy to forget which song is playing until a chorus or riff from earlier in the track comes back. Endless Halls of Golden Totem isn’t good for an idle listen because it’s not written to be casually absorbed; it’s the little details that make it, and it demands attention because the compositions were approached with attention in spades.
It’s easy to get lost in the mire of the strange aspects resplendent on Endless Halls of Golden Totem but at the end of the day, it all works really well, and it’s clear why veteran heavy metal maniacs Gates of Hell Records decided to champion Blazon Rite. Blazon Rite speaks clearly to the strong vision of main songwriter James Kirn—read below for an interview with him.
Hi James, thanks for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges! To get started, tell me more about the album title—is that just a one-off thing? Is Endless Halls of Golden Totem conceptual? What’s going on here?
No problem! Thanks for reaching out! I would say it's a one off thing. Each song on this album has its own story, theme and concept, with its own adventure and characters. Every song is its own thing, but I felt that Endless Halls of Golden Totem was the most striking and interesting song title I had written so I ran with it as the title track for the album. Once I started going with the lyrics, the title came to mind and then the idea for the album artwork popped in my head and so it all just fell in place. Lyrically, Endless Halls of Golden Totem could be taken many ways. I wanted it to sound epic and super dramatic and really capture ears with the different descriptions and imagery, but ultimately there is a hidden message within. Metaphors for real life stuff like getting trapped in echo chambers, social bubbles, getting bogged down by obsessions. Really, anything that can capture and blind people from the outside world and different ideas. Stuff I think we all can fall into and have experienced personally or seen first hand. I just masked these concepts with fantasy and stuff that sounds cool and over the top. I hope it worked [Laughs]
Were the lyrics all full of metaphor and hidden meaning?
I would say for the most part they are not really full of metaphor and hidden meaning. On this album, all the songs except for "Endless Halls of Golden Totem" are straightforward fantasy story-telling with not much subtext. The songs focus on places like a mystical forest hidden in a portal, a watch tower that is the last line of defense for a kingdom with monsters and evil in the woods that border it. I think people will really enjoy reading the lyrics and getting into the mood that I think I've set with these. I also have interesting character studies such as a soldier's last night with his companion before they go off to war and a sort of biography of brutish, disfigured man doing the bidding of an evil alchemist based on the book "Perfume" [Laughs]
Is anything too off-topic to write about when you’re putting together the stories for the album’s lyrics?
Yeah, I won't write anything that involves what's going on in the real world as far as politics or events. I will, at most, veil some real stuff or philosophies I wanna talk about within the fantasy world such as in "Endless Halls of Golden Totem" . I tried and will try to mainly do fantasy or stuff that has a medieval vibe or atmosphere without getting too explicit or unnecessarily gruesome or cruel.
There’s a good mix of faster songs and more traditional mid-paced epic ones. Was it tough to find a balance between the two?
When I wrote the initial EP, I didn't think much about the length or speed of songs, I just wrote it and ran with it. On this album I definitely consciously wanted to give some variety. I wanted to have the more involved songs that have layers and depth with more going on, as well as riffs and songs that were possibly a bit catchier, shorter in length and easier to digest on first listen. On "Night Watchman of Starfall Tower" I wanted to give that Priest-vibe and slow it down, make it nasty, gritty and fun. On songs like "Executioners Woe" or "Put Down Your Steel (Only for the Night)", I was hoping to make the songs punchier, shorter and a little more playful to counter the length of "Into Shores of Blood" or the title track. I wouldn't say it was hard to find a balance, just a different approach of songwriting and having a plan of attack.
Did you find it difficult at all to make the more mid-paced stuff work, given the difficulty of executing songs that toe the line a bit more between slow and fast?
I don't think so. I think it's all about how you connect riffs and working on your transitions. I think sometimes bands play faster then they should and some stuff gets a bit lost and possibly not fully realized. Sometimes mid-pace gives the song a chance to breathe, get full listen of the lyrics and set into the vibe. I think there's a lot of mid-pace on this album but I also think we have enough speed and slow when it's called for and refreshing.
Where did the extra synths on the album come from? Were they songs written with them in mind, or were they added afterwards?
Pierson Roe, our lead guitar player and bass player on this album, has been dabbling with synths for awhile and has a knack for writing some nice accompaniments for things. So when I was writing the album, I definitely had some ideas for what parts would work well with synths. I knew I wanted to sprinkle them in certain parts for dramatic effect so I guess you could say it happened organically and simultaneously during the writing process. It just adds a certain flair and people seemed to enjoy the synth parts on our EP, so we ran with it. I wanted to be careful to only use it enough to not over do it and make it a pleasant surprise. To me there is always a fine line when it comes to keys in metal. I didn't wanna do another long synth intro cause I feel like that can get over done and obvious. I love the way they came out and they for sure boost the album's epic vibes and give it a little touch of weirdness and eccentricity.
Are you the sole songwriter for the band? How do the songs come together?
I wrote 95% of the riffs and structures on this album. Pierson contributed a riff or two and created the leads and solo's on the album. I essentially sit down and start playing the guitar haha. Sometimes I have an idea of the style of riff I want to base the writing strategy on, but songs tend to snowball and I get different structure ideas as the riffs come. I usually just go where the mood of the initial riff takes me and I build from there. Looking back on the writing of this album it's actually hard to think of where some of these riffs came from. It's weird and kind of hard to remember. I do alot of riff recording. I write something cool, record it onto my phone or computer and come back a day or two later and just add to it. I don't try and force the next riff unless it comes naturally in the moment. The best part of working with Pierson is that when I give him a song he tends to know just what each part needs. He'll take the completed songs, go home and come back with great accompaniments and solo's for the riffs.
Does hitting people in unexpected ways matter a lot to you?
Yeah! For sure! I have read reviews where our riffs catch people off guard and it'll be sort of random but mesh very well with the song.I always want to be able to hit the listener with many parts and changes to keep it interesting. Synth adds that, acoustic parts add that. Sometimes I'll throw a different genre style riff into a song to keep it fresh. I want to offer the listener more than verse chorus solo repeat. Bridge parts are very important to me, oftentimes bridges make the song when I'm listening to music so it's super important. I like taking songs to another riff further than expected. Can never have enough riffs!
Do you reach into any unusual influences to make those weirder ideas work?
There's definitely a fine line when it comes to doing weird stuff. I always want to connect what I compose back to something in metal or hard rock roots, so I try not to get that far out of the realm. Maybe I should have done some more weirder stuff on this album even haha But I want it to stay listenable to a casual listener. I put some more proggy Rush riffs in some songs and then throw in a classic doom riff or a more Venom style type riff in one song. I definitely like to throw in different styles while keeping it true to the Blazon Rite sound. Gotta keep people on their toes.
Johnny's singing is a bit lower and more dramatic than most singers in the genre, particularly other recent contemporaries. Was his approach something you wrote for and worked on together?
Johnny has come a long way since his performance on our EP. I think he has gotten much better as a singer. I wrote all the lyrics and I tend to have a very specific idea of how they are to be sung and Johnny is very open and patient with dealing with my direction haha. We sit down and go over all the lyrics and patterns until he's comfortable with them. When I write a song I write it with the ideal patterns and singing style in mind, not really thinking of whether he can pull them off or not and he seems to be able to pull them out no matter how over the top. It's really awesome. I'm stoked to have found a guy who's willing to do the wild stuff in my head. I see him only getting better as a singer. I think his style is unique because he makes stuff interesting in other ways where he may lack in range or high pitch prowess.
Do you also write the drums for the band?
Generally I have a beat or pattern in my head but Ryan Haley, the Blazon Rite drummer, has great instincts. When I play a riff he usually just goes into something that sounds great and he tweaks it and thinks of improvements and additions on his own. He always takes the classy and fitting approach and we collaborate very well. He's open to my suggestions and also skilled enough to take stuff to another level on his own. His rolls are awesome and he does some sneaky challenging stuff.
What’s next for Blazon Rite?
Well, we're continuing to write new material and work on our next release. Whether it will be another E.P. or full-length, we're not sure but I think it's important to always be writing and creating new stuff. We intend to play shows and hopefully get to play in Europe when we can. We're hopeful that will happen one day.
Do you have anything else to talk about or promote?
We just want to encourage everyone to check out our new full-length album Endless Halls of Golden Totem via Gates of Hell Records when it comes out on June 18th. We hope people enjoy it and can't wait to hear what people have to say! Thanks a lot for the interview!