Throne of Iron Deals Fatal Damage on “The Fourth Battle of the Ash Plains”
Whether or not you've held a 20-sided die in your hand recently, you're likely familiar with the classic tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, which has struck deep into our popular culture. Apart from references in movies and literature, many digital role-playing games (Neverwinter Nights is probably my favorite) can cite some influence from the venerable franchise to use as a selling point. In music, however, it's more of an unspoken inspiration, presumably responsible for some, if not all, of the dungeons and dragons that feature prominently in traditional and power metal. But not every band is willing to conceal their allegiance to character sheets and armor classes: Indiana's Throne of Iron has seized the opportunity to attack with their upcoming album Adventure One. The die has been cast and it looks like a hit -- hear "The Fourth Battle of the Ash Plains" from the album below:
In the vein of bands like Manilla Road and Riot, the Indiana group plays traditional heavy metal with a fervent lethality, but also incorporates nods toward role-playing's past. For out-of-practice players like myself, it's tough to hear Adventure One and not entertain a few thoughts of filling out a character sheet, but even the unacquainted have plenty to gain from this encounter. The band has spun fantastical tales that don't focus on dice rolls or skill checks -- and anyway, their burly riffs need no explanation.
I'm pumped we got to premiere this track because it's an all-in-one encapsulation of what Throne of Iron does best: a dash of tongue-in-cheek humor tossed in with heart-pumping riffs, gritty production, and the stirring authenticity of a band not afraid to put their own stories into song. "The Fourth Battle of the Ash Plains" packs a host of galloping riffs that ride as fast and as hard as the plains-striding warriors that the song immortalizes. Listen hard enough, and you can imagine the dust rising to choke their lungs and blacken their banners; yet, they charge on, musically bolstered by a tasty, rattling bass tone and volleys of double bass. It's one of the faster tracks on the record overall, but varied enough to give an idea of the wide-ranging influences that feed into Throne of Iron's sound.
A two-year existence has been enough to catapult Throne of Iron from being a quick demo recorded in a Midwestern living room to a full-bore, album-producing band that's making an appearance overseas later this year at Up the Hammers Festival's warm-up show in Greece. Good progress, and well-deserved: they're a hardworking group with no shortage of ideas or passion, willing to take their success into their own hands.
Practicing the DIY approach to recording allows the band to achieve two of their main goals: 1) releasing singles, splits, and covers at a relentless pace and 2), sounding like they were recorded in a basement in the 1980s. The former has let them build a steady following and stay top of mind, while the latter wraps their sound in an ear-catching, beer-speckled shroud of nostalgia.
I had a chance to speak to Tucker Thomasson, the guitarist/vocalist who started the band, and get his thoughts on the upcoming album as well as Throne of Iron's sound and story -- check out the interview below.
The track we're premiering, "The Fourth Battle of the Ash Plains," contains some obvious references to Dungeons & Dragons, and of course so does the theme of the album overall -- what led to D&D being one of the biggest influences on Throne of Iron?
In my metal infancy, if you will, when I was maybe 12 or 13, it was around the same time that I also discovered a big stack of first edition D&D manuals that an older cousin of mine left at his mom's house, and he was in the air force -- so I was left to inherit those and I was immediately just entranced with the amateur-ish quality of the artwork and the aesthetic and the feel of these things. But I was getting into that at the same time that I was also getting into heavy metal, watching the metal block that VH1 Classic would be running at the time that was all like, Accept videos.
Have your previous bands focused on that, too? I don't know a lot about Thorr-Axe, I'm just generally familiar.
Thorr-Axe was fantasy themed as well, but it wasn't as overtly in that same realm. I started Thorr-Axe when I was 17, so I was still in high school for that. I think, looking back on it now, I wanted to play what Throne of Iron is doing now, in the beginning of Thorr-Axe at least, but I'm actually what I'm doing what I really wanted to be doing now. Around that time was when that first surge of stoner doom was starting to get a little bit popular again, in the late 2000s, so everything was kind of getting filtered through that lens. My introduction to what people were calling "retro metal" back in like 2006 was through The Sword, so everything was gonna end up sounding like that regardless.
So, Thorr-Axe was fantasy-themed, but it was more alike to almost a Norse mythology kind of leaning, rather than anything TSR or otherwise [laughs].
Your band has differentiated itself by having a sense of humor in your online presence and even a bit in your material, something traditional metal can sometimes lack. How do you find a balance between the light-hearted and the epic?
The epic stuff, I think, just comes with proper execution of the lyrical material. You have reverence for the lyrical material, but with us, it's always a matter of knowing that this is from a game series, and at the end of the day the whole reason that I play music is to have fun, and ideally, that's the reason that people listen to it and also the reason that people play table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. It's all about having fun, and if you're not going to have fun with it -- just go home [laughs].
Are your songs based on role-playing campaigns you've played, or original stories you've written?
Some of them are based on campaigns that we've run, others are based off of ones that I intend to run. A lot of the time, I'll end up using story ideas that I have for a song and then turn it around and kind of flex my DM muscles a little bit and see if I can turn this into an actual campaign. We put out a split with Hillsfar, a dungeon synth outfit, a while back called the Crypt of Blades -- I came up with the idea for the storyline there just based off of the title of it, because I had the title first. Then I wrote what I guess would be a campaign around it and adapted lyrics from that idea.
For the Crypt of Blades, if that's a campaign, the thief is a huge dick.
Oh yeah, he's a huge fucker. Vidarr from Legendry, in Pittsburgh, painted that album cover because he's a high school art teacher. He also paints all Legendry's album covers. He read my whole lyrical synopsis and he came up with the image of the thief for the album cover. It's like, "Yeah, I wanna punch that guy. Good job."
Were there any production decisions or changes in approach to songwriting that you took when writing material for the full-length?
The only real difference between writing for the demo and writing for the full-length was that there were other people included in it. I think it was the day after we got signed to No Remorse, I went over to Corwin's, our other guitar player, house, when he was still living in the same town as the rest of us -- he lives in Chicago now -- and while we're at his place, we wrote three songs that ended up on the full-length, just like the next day. He and I both write really, really quickly, which is pretty similar to how I write when I'm by myself. The only real difference creatively, like I said, is just the inclusion of additional people who were writing their own parts or contributing to the music as a whole.
For production, in terms of engineering, I knew what I wanted this to sound like: like it was recorded in 1983 or 1984, so I kind of made a bunch of decisions when we were recording it to push for that goal. We actually just recorded it at our drummer's house.
Three of the songs on Adventure One are re-workings of your original demo's tracks. What was behind the decision to bring them forward to the full-length, and what did you tweak as you re-recorded them?
The decision to bring those three songs in was because they were already kind of established as fan favorites, and I wanted to breath that new life into them of having a real drummer and a bass player that plays with their fingers on it, as well as the better production on the full length that we had going compared to the demo. I recorded the demo myself just in my living room, so I wanted to bring those songs back and do justice to them by giving them a proper release on the full-length, as opposed to just being on the somewhat obscure demo.
As far as things that changed on them: Jacob, our drummer, is a pretty creative percussionist. He and I were both in Thorr-Axe together, and we've both been in a few different bands just in between point A and point B. He comes from a more extreme metal background, so he has different ideas on how to keep things spicy and and keep things a little more interesting than they would be if we were just copying 80's bands overtly. Which we are, to an extent, admittedly, but yeah.
Your vocals on the demo almost had a kind of Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi sound to them. Did you decide to update your vocal approach or was there just a change as you got better, practiced more?
The thing with the vocal style on the demo was, if you go to our metal archives page, it does mention I started doing this thing because of Mark Shelton's passing, pretty shortly beforehand, so obviously I'd been listening to a lot of Manilla Road, specifically the album Crystal Logic. So the way that I explained it to other people is that on the demo, I was kind of playing a character when I was singing, because that's not my actual singing voice. My actual singing voice is still not quite what's on Adventure One -- even on the album, I'm in a mindset of, this band is supposed to be almost a character in itself, so I don't really use my actual singing voice. But it was way, way more over the top on the demos than it was on the full-length.
You're headed overseas to Up The Hammers Fest in a few months to play alongside... pretty much everybody in traditional metal. What was it like getting invited to play the fest, and what have your preparations been like?
Getting invited for it was just surreal, especially because at the time we got the invite we didn't have a release date for the album, anything like that -- it was just a bunch of relations that have kind of come to fruition, and when the hype train got rolling with the demo and then the split, it helped a ton.
For preparations for over there, a lot of it's honestly just been financial because two of us work very non-traditional salaried jobs and the other two of us are just kind of like freelancers, so it's been the band itself kind of fundraising to get over there. We finally, I think, just hit our goal to be able to all buy our plane tickets to get over there.
I'm assuming this is the first time any of you guys have been overseas for a show? What's the farthest you've toured so far?
I think the only person in our band who's ever left the country is Evan, our bass player, but none of us have ever played a show outside the country before.
Over the last year and a half you put out a bunch of singles and a split after your initial demo. Now that your first full-length Adventure One is almost out, are you planning to continue to release singles and smaller releases at the same pace as before?
Oh, yeah. The singles are probably not gonna stop anytime soon, just because I try to play Roll for Metal every other week over on our Patreon page. It's fun -- a nice little time killer. We're trying to get some other bands involved to see if they wanna contribute bits and pieces here and just have fun with it.
As for other releases that aren't the singles, we write and record almost constantly just because we all have the means to record our own parts, and we take full advantage of that. We're looking to do at least one split -- not sure with who -- this coming year as well as the full-length and the Roll for Metal singles.
For the Roll for Metal songs, who came up with that idea?
That was a combination of Corwin, our other guitar player and I. I kind of had this idea of using dice rolls in some capacity just to obviously go with the theme, and we have a pretty good relationship with a company based out of Canada and Finland called Ugritone, and they make drag-and-drop MIDI drum packs because they make a very good drum plugin that Corwin and I both use.
One day he was down visiting from Chicago, and I decided that I was just gonna arbitrarily assign dice roll values to certain beats and grooves and stuff, and from there I ran one and he ran one and those were the first two Roll for Metal singles that got uploaded.
At the beginning, you said you got introduced to D&D through First Edition. Is that your favorite edition, or do you like any of the later ones?
I've actually never played First Edition - the earliest one that I've ever played was 3.5. My wife and I started running a 3.5 campaign about half a year ago, but we just converted over to Fifth Edition. In addition to that, my bandmates and I have been playing Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games, which is kind of a hard-mode version of 3.5, but with some more 1970s style rules from First Edition.
Any other games you're into right now, physical or digital?
My mom, at a yard sale, found a really obscure rare Milton Bradley game, called Dark Tower. They only made it for one year because they got a cease-and-desist and the whole point of it is that it has a big tower in the center of it with a bunch of electronics in it. We found that, but we have to get an app to do the control panel thing because the tower's dead. So we're gonna do some playthroughs of that here soon.
For other tabletop and board games, my wife and I play Exploding Kittens a bunch, which is pretty hilarious. For video games, I mostly just play the Dark Souls series, honestly.
Adventure One releases February 21st via No Remorse Records.
Bonus: Check out these pictures from the band's set last Saturday at Cafe Mustache in Chicago.