I know I keep repeating this, but I can't help it, The Crystal Eye, Sinister Realm's second album is one of my favorite albums of 2011. A classic Heavy Metal record, with 8 classic songs, each one of them being special and memorable in its own way. The Crystal Eye is an outstanding record produced by a pretty underground band and released on a specialized label (Shadow Kingdom Record), and it deserves all your attention. I recently conducted a short interview with band leader John Gaffney, a renown bassist and composer of the American Heavy Metal scene. These few words are about Music, Passion, Hard-Wrok and of course, HEAVY METAL. (You can read the french version of this interviwe on NOISEWEB)
John, my first question is about the band's lineup. 2 musicians have changed can you tell me more about the changes?
Our original drummer Darin McCloskey was with me from the beginning of the band but Darin landed up moving and it put him rather far away from where we practice and play most of our gigs, as the band got busier and busier it was more and more difficult for Darin to make rehearsals so he decided to leave and concentrate on his other band Pale Divine who are very successful and respected in their own right. Darin and I are still very close friends and I speak with him all the time. Our original guitar player was asked to leave because we were just unable to work together peacefully. Our new guitar player's name is John Risko who is well known in our area as one of the best guitar players, so as soon as we needed a new guitarist I thought of him first. Chris Metzger our drummer also has a reputation in our town as one of the best and he really brought his own unique style to the band and were very happy to have these guys on board.
The Crystal Eye is your second album and I found it much stronger than the first one. Were you guys conscious of that while you were composing and recording it?
Thanks, I don't think I really knew how good this album was until we started recording it, as the songs started to come together I began thinking "Wow..this is really good" and I felt pretty confident that it was a step forward from the first CD, which I was also very happy with. When we recorded the first CD we had never played those songs live but with the new album we had the chance to play all these songs out a bunch of times and that really helped the songs grow and become tighter, so all of us were feeling really good about these songs when we entered the studio, when we heard the final results we were very pleased.
How dis you guys compose? Together in a same room or do you exchange the ideas progressively?
I write all the music and lyrics for the band. What I do is I demo everything out on my computer with a drum machine and me laying down rough tracks for the other guys to hear and then we get together and bash it out in the practice room and that's where the other guys will put their stamp on the songs. Every guy in Sinister Realm has their own unique style and elements that they bring to the table that help to create our sound.
I also want to congratulate your singer, Alex. His performance is amazing! He seemed to have worked pretty hard...
Alex did an amazing job on this record. What a lot of people don't realize is that the first CD was written mostly with just me and our original drummer Darin with no proper vocalist, when we decided to get more serious about things and record a proper demo that’s when we got Alex into the band. For this album, the band had already been playing for a while so when I was writing the new songs I had Alex's style of singing in my mind, I knew his strengths and really wrote to them. I also think that Alex has become more comfortable interpreting my ideas and lyrics, he really knows what I'm after and does a brilliant job of brining the songs to life.
I also noticed that the record conceived like a “classic”: the length is ideal (45 mins). You have included fast songs, one very epic closer, an instrumental, a power-ballad, a slower song, a heavy one, the solos, the bass solos...It’s all on The Crystal Eye!
Thanks again… Well, that's how I like to put things together, I think of the "big picture" so to speak when I write an album, I'm very aware of trying to create a flow and feel to the record. It's very important to me to take the listener on a journey. I've always loved albums that you could put headphones on and listen to from beginning to end. I'm old fashioned and even think in vinyl record terms. I imagine what would be the first and last songs on each side of a record. For instance, the song "The Crystal Eye" would be the end of side one and "The Tower is Burning" is a perfect album closer.
What are your favorite classic records by the way?
British Steel-Judas Priest, Piece of Mind-Iron Maiden, Blizzard of Oz- Ozzy, Heaven and Hell- Black Sabbath, Holy Diver- Dio., Epicus Doomicus Metallicus-Candlemass. Those are what I consider to be some of the greatest metal albums ever and they were and still are very influential to me.
There is some sort of "heavy metal revival" thing going on. It started with specialized labels like Shadow Kingdom Records and some forums, and now some big labels are signing traditional heavy metal bands...You feel you belong to this scene?
Yeah, I think so. I consider us to be a traditional metal band and I am very proud of that, our influences are very much from the classic metal years from 1980 to about 1984. There are of course lots of other great years for metal but those years especially mean a lot to me and the guys in the band. We like to believe that we are defending the flag for classic metal here in the United States.
You personally have been doing this for years, (the Pale Divine period), how does it feel to see this little "hype" going on?
It feels good, very good, that's why we do what we do in the hopes that people will like it and say that our music means something to them, so when we get positive feedback from people, whether it's in a review, an email or on a forum we feel very proud. We really believe in what we do and work hard at it. Heavy Metal means a lot to Sinister Realm and we take it very seriously.
Do you think it's a good opportunity for Sinister Realm?
I think so, there is a lot going on for us right now and we are trying to make the best of every opportunity that comes our way. With the recent "Heavy metal revival" as you put it we feel we are in a position to really make a name for ourselves, we want to just keep working hard and putting out the best music we can and hopefully the rest will fall into place for us.
How far do you think you can take the band? I think you guys have a huge potential. You have the songs, people seem to be demanding that style of Metal, you have a fantastic reputation on stage.
I hope that the band can just keep growing and getting bigger and bigger, so we are ready to take it as far as we can. We want to keep moving up and hopefully we can land a recording contract with one of the big labels in the near future and we can get the opportunity to take our show to the big stages around the world.
What are your plans on the short and mid-term?
Playing more gigs, especially more gigs out of our town, maybe do some touring and especially try to get over to Europe. I've already started putting ideas together for our next record, which I want to be even more epic and another step forward in the songwriting department. Basically are plans are to just keep pushing forward and getting better and reaching more and more people.
Any chance to see you guys on stage in Europe?I hope so! That is one of our big goals to get over to Europe and play in front of as many metal heads as we can, right now we are just trying to find the right person who can make that happen for us, so any promoters out there reading this drop us a line please, we're ready to go!