THE DEMO CORNER
Steel Tormentor is one of the bands that you just admire for a myriad of reasons, but chief among them is the honesty and depth to the music; these guys are in it for the love of the game, not the fame and fortune. While it certainly would be nice for them, they are laboring out of love for the spirit of our music. I talked with guitarist/vocalist James Kelly, who is a very good personal friend, and he was gracious enough to share some insight into the machine that is Irelandís flag-waving metal men!
Chris: Hey James! First, thanks for talking to us at Metal Psalter, man. Congratulations on the Return of a King album; itís truly a credit to the traditional metal sound, past and present. Can I ask you what bands influence your sound and maybe some (or a lot of) background of Steel Tormentor?
James: Cheers ChrisÖST started way back in 1996 at the time it was just a three-piece pub band doing Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and other well-known covers. A few demos later and after quite a few lineup changes we ended up with the first album Unleashed.
I had just bought a new Roland 16 track recorder & wanted to try it out on a 4 track demo. But we had so much fun recording we ended up doing an album. Iím still proud of Unleashed; it was recorded in that old school spirit and I think we captured it well.
As far as influences go itís mainly NWOBHM, Maiden, Priest, Helloween, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, etc.
Chris: Being an Irish band, what is the scene like over in the green fields part of the world? I know Primordial is one of the heavyweights there, but is the metal scene burgeoning there?
James: The scene is healthy with some good bands doing the rounds like Darkest Era who recently released their debut album on Metal Blade. Old Season would be another band; why they havenít been picked up by a big label is a mystery!
Overall itís more extreme/doom metal than traditional or power metal which isnít great for a band like ST. At the moment I think itís true when I say ST is the only band in Ireland playing the type of metal we play. Maybe thatís a good thing and it has helped us stand out, I donít know.
Chris: I know youíve done some shows for Return of a King, and I know weíve had some personal talks about the scene being so difficult these days with labels, digital files, etc. As I know youíre old school like I am, what is your take on the current state of the industry for metal in particular? Do you see these little files forcing the hands of bands to forgo vinyl and CD releases in the future?
James: Well at this moment in time I can tell you Unleashed & ROAK have had well over 100,000 downloads from various torrent sites. Itís something Iíve been keeping a close eye on for the past few months. I can honestly say the free downloads havenít helped us in any way with CD or merch sales. People should support the bands they like. I donít see why you need to download an album for free when most bands stream their music on myspace/reverbnation, etc. If it keeps going the way it is bands will have to ditch the big studio production & go back to the low quality basement recordings. Then youíll get people bitching and moaning about poor audio quality, so what are you supposed to do?
If only a small percentage of those downloads were sales we might actually be able to afford to get out and tour. So in the long run itís the real fan thatís missing out because theyíll never see the band live.
Chris: What inspires you to write a complex and fascinating track like the title track? Are you calling on some historical visages or just creating the 13-minute epic from complete fantasy? Itís really a strong track and never gets boring, man.
James: As I said in other interviews living in Ireland you are surrounded by history in old castle /abbey ruins, hill forts, etc. The stories that go with them, itís always in the back of your mind.
ROAK was an old track I had on the back burner for some time; it was originally 20-minutes long. I just jammed along with a drum machine, tried a few different tempo changes and ended up with a 20+ minute demo recording which I chopped down to 13-minutes. I tend not to rush a song and like to come back to old demos Iíve recorded and just rewrite parts add bits, etc.
Chris: The transition from your first album Unleashed to Return of a King is really a nice leap forward. The early NWOBHM sound was all over Unleashed, but I hear more of a speedy, polished Viking feel on Return. I know you said youíre working on a third album, so can we expect a fusing of the two styles or something even more advanced?
James: Album three is ready to go, but thereís just no money to record it right now. I could produce the album myself on my own recording set up, but that would be a step back and people want to see the band progress. Production-wise it will be a cross between ROAK and Unleashed. The songs definitely feel more like something from the Unleashed days. Lasse Lammert will be taking care of the recording process and we agreed we are going to keep it as raw and live as possible. Thatís the ST way; it didnít quite work so well on ROAK for various reasons, but we learned a lot from those recording sessions.
Chris: I hope itís not too personal, my friend, but I know in recent weeks youíve been disillusioned a bit with whatís been happening and you said Steel Tormentor was close to calling it a day. Thankfully it seems to have changed your mind a bit, so would you care to talk a bit about some of whatís been going on in the ST camp of late? My memory for an old guy is pretty solid, and you said something about a possible world exclusive?
James: Well I can say this album three looks like it will be the last full ST album. After that I donít know; it depends on what the reaction to the album is like. The reaction to ROAK was positive so Iíd like to build on that see what happens. Right now funding a 4th 5th or 6th album is out of the question. Maybe the odd EP or single down the road is the most likely thing to happen.
As for the world exclusive I may have an ace up my sleeve for you, Iíll keep you posted.
Chris: ďEvil ComingĒ has Angel Witch written all over it, James. With the recent rash of bands paying serious homage to the NWOBHM sound, do you think itís a positive that weíre seeing more bands offering up this sound some 30-years after the fact? You know they say everything old is new again, but I just donít want to see those zebra striped pants or wavy perm Ďdos ever again!
James: Well, ST has been doing this since 1996 so you canít say weíve jumped on the retro band wagon. We have shared the stage with a few of these bands and I donít see the fuss to be honest. I donít even listen to these bands. Itís a bit like the thrash revival thingÖbut if it gets a younger generation into metal it canít be all bad.
I definitely donít want ST associated with the retro spandex-wearing trouser bands, so we shy away from all that nonsense and just do our own thing.
Chris: For this album you were able to release it on a limited edition vinyl, CD and digitally. For the next record would you be able or willing to try for all three formats again? I know finances must be a huge factor in that decision.
James: The next album will probably be download only, but if the interest is there we may do a limited CD run. The last vinyl was a one-off after a six year wait so it was nice to be able to give those longtime fans something they had asked for.
Chris: I know we talked about some tour possibilities in the U.S., but is Steel Tormentor going to be a strictly-local band from here out, or would you guys be willing to jump on an overseas jaunt for the next record? I know well itís the dream to get out and play the material to a live audience, so hopefully you wonít confine yourselves to strictly studio work. I know itís frustrating at times to not have it all go perfectly, but I certainly believe your music is strong enough to be accepted once heard by the masses.
James: Itís not from the lack of trying ChrisÖ.I have contacted promoters /agents worldwide, but thereís no interest. We donít have the backing of a label and no one it seems wants to take a chance on us. We canít afford to go it alone and fund tours ourselves. We tried a UK tour some years back and it was a disaster; we lost a lot of money on it.
I think weíll stay a local band, maybe record the odd gig and upload the vids to YouTube, etc, and show the world what theyíre missing [laughs]. Maybe do a few live stream gigs, have a bit of fun with that.
Chris: James, the floor is yours, so end this however you like, my friend. Thanks for your time and keep the Steel Tormentor machine going, man!
James: I just want to thank everyone who has shown their support for the band down through the past few years. I just wish we could have gotten out on the road and given you all some great live shows.
Hopefully you will all check out the new album when itís ready and enjoy it. Until then keep it metal and support the underground.
Steel Tormentor's James Kelly
May 25, 2011
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Knockmore, Co. Mayo, IRELAND
Label: Nephin Records
Genre: Trad. Heavy Metal
James Kelly: Vocals, Guitars &
Patrick Fitzgerald: Guitars
Paul Donnellan: Drums
Demo 1 (1998)
Demo 2 (2000)
Demo 3 (2001)
Demo 4 - Wings of an Eagle (2002)
Demo 5 - Part I (2003)
Demo 6 - Unleashed Live (2004)
Demo 7 - Live (2006)
Return of a King (2011)