Interview – Chris Thompson (Sovereign Council)

While “the moose” takes a summer vacation to tame Eastern Europe, have some excellent beer and, of course, praise Iron Maiden, please enjoy this very interesting interview with guitarist Chris Thompson, from Canadian Symphonic Metal band Sovereign Council, conducted by Brazilian journalist Renata Santos for the website Portal do Inferno. See you guys in July!

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Sovereign Council (photo by Vertigo Productions)

Portal do Inferno: Hello, Chris! Thank you very much for the interview. It is a pleasure having Sovereign Council at Portal do Inferno. First of all, how would you describe the band to the Brazilian audience that don’t know you yet? What are your main influences and in which way have those influences contributed with your songs?

Chris Thompson: Thanks for having us; we’re honoured to be here. That’s a tough question, and one that we get asked quite often. We often find people comparing us to bands like Lacuna Coil, Kamelot, Nightwish, Within Temptation, etc etc. I agree that we do share certain aspects of our sound with these bands, but we’re certainly very different at the same time. All of these bands have influenced us in some way, but we also draw influences from a lot of places people would not necessarily expect. I think our love of heavier music – Meshuggah, Lamb of God, In Flames, and Gojira, to name a few, – is what gives our music more edge in the guitar and drum lines compared to some of the more traditional symphonic metal bands.

That being said, we also draw a lot of our influences from hip-hop, rap, classical, and rock. A lot of our lyrical influence comes from philosophical texts as well as personal life experiences.

P.I.: Symphonic metal is a really well-developed style in Europe, with bands like Delain, Epica, Nightwish, among others, but we cannot find many representatives in North America. How is this style seen especially by the Canadian public?

Chris: I think there is a real niche for this sound here. We’ve noticed a trend with reviews from abroad; everyone in Europe, South America, and even the USA is shocked when they learn that we’re Canadian. Here in Canada it is a little bit difficult for us. We end up being the odd band out in a lot of the shows we play simply because there aren’t enough symphonic bands in the area. Most metal bands around here are hardcore, progressive, or thrash metal. Overall however, our music and our performances are always very well received.

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Chris Thompson (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: The band’s debut album, New Reign (2013), was released with no record label. Here in Brazil it is very difficult, expensive and demanding for a band to release their own material without the support of a record label. What about Canada? How is it to be an independent artist?

Chris: It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time I wouldn’t say that it was overly difficult – certainly not beyond the reach of any really committed artist anyway. In some ways, unless you get offered a really great deal, it’s actually beneficial to remain independent. I think that so long as you work hard you will have success as an independent artist in the Canadian scene. There are different levels of success. We are certainly seeking support from labels and management organizations, but we aren’t about to sell ourselves short either. When the right deal comes along we’ll definitely jump at the opportunity to further our career.

P.I.: Tell me a little bit about New Reign in regards to the composition and recording process. What inspired you to record this album from a lyrical and musical standpoint?

Chris: New Reign was a project in the making for quite a while. Each song began as one or two guitar lines and built up from there. Generally speaking, I come to Alex with a guitar line that I feel has potential and he takes it and adds bass, drums, string sections, etc. For the most part we let the music write itself, if that makes sense. Certain songs, New Reign for example, took several months before it was completed, but others such as Down The Rabbit Hole, were completely written in one sitting. We just make sure that we’re never forcing anything; the music needs to feel organic and flow naturally.

We almost always have the music written before the lyrics are even thought about. We really listen to what the music is conveying emotionally and then base our lyrics around that feeling and atmosphere.

Much of the album was inspired by our own life experiences, both musically and lyrically speaking. I think we’ve succeeded in telling a story with our music, and most people seem to really connect with the theatrical story-telling on an emotional level; that is to say that many people can relate to these common human experiences.

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Alexander MacWilliam (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: Listening to the tracks from New Reing, we can notice many melodic and vocal variations. The songs go from clean to guttural vocals and the beautiful and delicate vocals by Lisa Thompson, who makes great duets with vocalist Alexander MacWilliam. The comparison with bands that have female and male vocals is inevitable. Names such as Lacuna Coil, Kamelot, Nightwish, among many others end up being mentioned. Does that bother you? How do Sovereign Council differentiate yourselves from those bands in this aspect?

Chris: This is a great question. It certainly doesn’t bother us. It’s almost always a good thing to be likened to any of those bands; and I wouldn’t say that we actually try to separate from or associate with those bands. Our sound is very different and yet, in some aspects such as vocals, similar. One thing that does separate us is our theatrical storytelling and live performance. Moreover, Alex’s growls and screams also help to separate us even further. I do feel personally however, that our biggest difference lay in the guitar lines and drum lines. Our guitar lines are very complex in their composition; at times our guitars carry a melody and a counter melody together and leave the rhythm to the bass and keys.

P.I.: In the beginning of May you had the opportunity to be one of the opening acts for German Heavy Metal band Primal Fear in Toronto. How was that experience for the band? The music by Sovereign Council is very different from what Primal Fear do, so how did the audience react to your performance?

Chris: The show with Primal Fear was an amazing experience. Primal Fear is an extremely talented band and it was an honour to open for them and to meet them. The audience reaction was not too unlike our usual experience with new crowds. A lot of people look very confused through the first half of the first song, but it doesn’t take too long for us to win a crowd over. The uniqueness of our sound always throws new listeners for a bit of a loop, but it almost always wins them over quite quickly. By the start of our second song in the set we had won the crowd over, especially once Lisa began to sing. We like to think of her as our ‘secret weapon’ – in our standard set she isn’t in the first song so when she appears in Sweet Poison she really blows people away.

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Lisa Thompson (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: In 2013, you played several concerts in Canada with Brazilian band Santuarium, from Rio de Janeiro. How did you get to know each other and how did that opportunity to tour together come up?

Chris: We actually met them by chance. Their manager at the time was looking for supporting acts for their Canadian tour. She found us on Facebook and asked us if we wanted to join the tour. After meeting with her on Skype and listening to Santuarium’s music we decided that we would love to work with them. So from there, her and I worked together to set up several shows with our two bands. We got the opportunity to play some football with them in Toronto before a show, which of course was a lot of fun! We played a friendly match of Sovereign Council vs. Santuarium; which effectively worked out to Canada vs. Brazil. Needless to say, Brazil won the match, but it was a close game! Later on, in November, we hooked up with Santuarium for two more shows, which was great.

P.I.: What do you know about the Brazilian Heavy Metal scene and what’s your opinion about the musicality of our bands?

Chris: I actually know very little about the Brazilian scene and the only Brazilian band I’ve had the opportunity to work with is Santuarium. That being said they are incredibly professional and talented.

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Sovereign Council (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: Can we expect a switch in the future, this time with Sovereign Council touring Brazil together with Santuarium?

Chris: We have actually discussed this, and it very well could happen. There are no solid plans in place just yet. I am traveling to Rio de Janeiro to meet with some of the members of Santuarium in July this year so who knows what plans will develop for the future.

P.I.: What are the plans for the future of Sovereign Council? Are you already working on any new material?

Chris: Our future is a very bright one in my opinion. We’re a young, hard-working, talented, and focused band. We’re constantly working hard to improve as individual musicians and as a group and our live shows keep getting better and better as a result. We are starting to reach out to various groups for assistance and we’re hoping to begin touring outside of Canada in the near future.

As for new material, I can’t give away too much information, but our second full-length album is well underway. It’s definitely got a heavier feel, but it stays true to the Sovereign Council sound that has been so well received on New Reign.

P.I.: Thanks again for the interview, we appreciate that. Feel free to send a message to all the readers from Portal do Inferno.

Chris: Obrigado Renata! Esperamos ver você e seus leitores quando fizermos uma turnê no Brasil!

Check out the original interview at Portal do Inferno in Brazilian Portuguese and English by clicking HERE.

Concert Review – Primal Fear (Virgin Mobile Mod Club,Toronto, ON, 05/03/2014)

Teutonic Power Metal icons take over Toronto to “deliver the black” in the city.

OPENING ACTS: Sovereign Council and Answer With Metal

primal fear_toronto_2014Just two days after the amazing Paganfest America Part V at The Opera House, it was already time for more PURE FUCKIN’ METAL at the small but cozy Virgin Mobile Mod Club, located in the Torontonian neighborhood known as Little Italy. This time, instead of Vikings and warriors, Toronto had the great pleasure to witness a lesson in POWER METAL by German Heavy Metal masters PRIMAL FEAR.

Before savoring the cream of heavy music by the Teutonic metalheads, the fans were surprised by two excellent opening acts “made in Canada”. The first band to hit the Virgin Mobile Mod Club stage was Kingston-based Symphonic Metal band SOVEREIGN COUNCIL, who presented an interesting and very professional mix of Symphonic and Alternative Metal which reminded me of bands such as Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation and Epica. All band members were noticeably excited with the opportunity of opening for Primal Fear and were all smiles during their whole concert, with highlights to lead singer Alexander MacWilliam and female singer Lisa Thompson, who did an amazing job “telling a story” together in each song of their setlist. Of course I have no idea of the names of their songs, but I remember enjoying a really nice one called Bring It Down, and the only issue in my opinion was that their music would be more suited if they were the opening act for a Symphonic Metal band, as some people present at the venue didn’t quite understand their message. Maybe if they are called to open for Within Tempation or Delain, who will be in Toronto soon, their music will be a lot more appreciated.

Band members
Alexander MacWilliam – vocals
Lisa Thompson – female vocals
Chris Thompson – guitars
Patrick Buczynski – guitars
Shaun Vanhoose – bass guitar
Jessica Marsden – keyboards
Brandon Schneider – drums

If someone asks you what you love the most in life, you simply ANSWER WITH METAL! This Stouffville-based Power Metal band delivered a very competent concert, with lots of shredding, guitar solos, fast drumming and everything else that makes traditional Heavy Metal so addictive. Straight-forward songs like Gates Of Hell and Two Wrongs (Don’t Make A Right), with their very traditional approach, were excellent for some headbanging while enjoying a beer, which is probably what the band actually aims with their music, right? Lead singer Dan Nielsen, who by the way is the owner of an amazing voice, seemed so happy for opening to Primal Fear that he “forgot” to look to the crowd in the eye during the concert. Well, we cannot blame him for that, as we can imagine how important yesterday night was for him and the rest of his band. What really matters is that they kicked ass, and just like Sovereign Council they’re a very welcome fresh new addition to the Canadian heavy music scene. Moreover, if they keep being so hard-working and honest in what they do, we can rest assured they will go places with their music.

Band members
Dan Nielsen – vocals
Andrew Jarvis – lead guitar
Matt Hadaway – rhythm guitar
Jon Stallan – bass guitar
Alejandro Gonzalez – drums

PRIMAL FEAR

pf2014_primal fear02Finally, when the clock precisely struck 11pm, Ralf, Mat & Co. hit Toronto again after a long wait of over 4 years, delivering the most powerful and awesome Heavy Metal one can imagine. After playing two intros in a row (Countdown To Insanity and Jaws Of Death), the Heavy Metal extravaganza began with the classic tune Final Embrace, from their second album, the perfect Jaws Of Death (1999). Although the gig wasn’t sold out, the good crowd went crazy with the band from the very first second, with lots of headbanging and fists and horns in the air. And that was only the beginning!

How can Primal Fear be so fuckin’ awesome? First of all, if there’s one thing that I love in Primal Fear is their undeniable ability to ALWAYS release excellent albums, no matter what happens to the band, which was the case again this year with Delivering The Black. It was clear last night the fans love their new material, as songs such as Alive & On Fire, Delivering The Black, One Night In December and When Death Comes Knocking were sung at full force by all fans at the Mod Club.

pf2014_ralf02Secondly, all of their ballads are truly beautiful, and more important than that, a million light-years away from being cheesy. Last night the band perfectly played two of their best ones, the thrilling Seven Seals and the epic Fighting The Darkness, “spreading the love” among the couples who attended the concert. I wish they had played another one such as “Diabolus” or “Under your Spell”, but I was more than happy with last night’s setlist anyway.

However, it’s when the band plays that raw, fast and heavy Power Metal that things get even better, and the reaction of the fans to that type of music is priceless. Nuclear Fire, Chainbreaker, and especially Angel In Black (my favorite of the night), Bad Guys Wear Black and the Heavy Metal anthem Metal Is Forever were responsible for so much headbanging yesterday I’m pretty sure the Rub A-535 sales will go up today. That was an easy task for Primal Fear: they sent us a simple message (“Bang your head / And never turn it down / Bang your head / Bad guys wear black”), we promptly responded without any mercy to our necks and bodies.

It was already past midnight and the concert was almost over, but there was still time for two more strong songs, the electrifying Unbreakable (Part 2) and the superb Running In The Dust, showcasing one more time how great all band members are. The instrumental played by Mat, Alex, Tom and Randy, all really happy and excited for playing in Toronto after so many years, was totally flawless, and during pretty much the entire setlist I thought I was listening to the studio albums or even to an improved version of that. The guitar solos were impressive, the rumbling sound of Mat’s bass was reaching the hearts of the fans, and Edmontonian “stone crusher” Randy Black gave hope to all Canadian metalheads at the venue that have to suffer everyday with nasty things such as Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne.  However, it was the unique voice by Mr. Ralf Scheepers what really captivated the attention of everyone at the concert. Ralf is like a good wine: the older he gets, the more awesome his voice gets. His performance in all songs was stellar, with no exception, and lest we forget he has to perform at that level almost every single day, which makes things even more amazing.

pf2014_primal fear04To sum up, a memorable night for fans of traditional Heavy Metal, and once again Primal Fear made our lives a lot more enjoyable with their mighty metal music. Because although they came to Toronto just to “deliver the black”, they ended up delivering the awesome, and now let’s just hope the Metal Commando does not take so long to come back to the city for another round of impeccable Heavy Metal.

Band members
Ralf Scheepers – lead vocals
Mat Sinner – bass guitar, vocals
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Tom Naumann – guitars*
Randy Black – drums

* Replacing guitarist Magnus Karlsson on this tour.

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