By Sarah Kitteringham
None But the Brave (Shadow Kingdom Records)
BeatRoute is proud to exclusively premiere the eighth track from Portuguese traditional metal titans Ironsword. “Army of Darkness” is a driving monolith of a song in the Conan universe of Robert E. Howard, which “tells about a King that through sorcery spawns forth from hell the army of darkness.” Stream the track and read our interview with band creator and anchor “Tamm” João Fonseca below.
CALGARY — Ironsword is the musical equivalent of riding into battle with a giant sword in hand. It’s driving, galloping epic heavy metal with an injection of doom, and since the band’s inception in 1995 in Lisbon, Portugal, they’ve been getting progressively catchier. Although they’ve been fairly consistently unleashing new material, it’s been seven years since their previous release, the powerful Overlords of Chaos. Both band member changes and illness was to blame, but no matter: on their fourth full-length, the upcoming Shadow Kingdom Records release None But the Brave; they’ve furthered the ironclad cause. To learn more about their best album yet, we chatted with bandleader “Tamm” João Fonseca via email.
BeatRoute: Hello Tamm. I’m sorry we couldn’t chat on the phone! How are you doing today?
Tamm: I’m doing great, Sarah. Thanks for asking. I was just listening to Judas Priest Sin After Sin (1977) before our chat…
BR: You’ve anchored Ironsword throughout its tenure, from 1995 till now. That’s 20 years, including doing all of the instrumentation on yours demos from 1995 and 1998. Although you’ve had many lineup changes, your sound has remained quite consistent. In that sense, it seems you are the band anchor and its mastermind. Do you remain that person 20 years later? In that vein, what is your musical mission statement? Do the other members contribute to writing, or is that primarily your job?
T: Well, since the beginning that my main goal was and will always be to create quality Epic Heavy Metal music from the heart and soul, and to reinvent ourselves at each release. That typical raw Ironsword pounding Metal style is kind of our brand. So, in that matter nothing has really changed in 20 years. I am still faithful to my way of life. It may sound cliché, but that’s really it!
Regardless of the people that are playing or have played in the band, I am responsible for all song writing. Some might suggest ideas, but it all comes down to me in the song writing process. I always want to have it my way. There is no dictatorship of any kind but I must be in control of everything if you know what I mean. To sum up, I guess you can say that I’m the boss…
BR: It’s been seven years since Overlords of Chaos. That’s a lengthy gap for Ironsword. What took so long to regroup and get this album released?
T: Yes, you’re right. To tell you the truth it took longer than I expected. I began writing the new album back in 2008 but unfortunately, due to health problems I had to hold back for quite a while. Then finding new members, rehearsing the new songs, trying to book the studio, getting the right budget, working on the artwork etc., took its time. Anyway, I am extremely pleased about how the new album None But the Brave turned out. I believe that for everyone the wait is worth it! Our fans also had a very important role. They kept our music alive and unforgotten. Without them we are nothing.
BR: You’ve got two brand new members. Where did they come from and what did they do for None But the Brave?
T: Yes, the new members are João Monteiro on drums and Jorge Martins on bass, although Jorge joined the band right after the recordings of None But the Brave. João Monteiro was actually the first drummer to tell me, “No, I can’t play that.” He’s a drum teacher at the music school of the national conservatory in Lisbon, plays percussion at several orchestras so he was for me the right choice to fill the job behind the drum kit. It’s always funny to see him write the drum parts in the musical staff. Jorge Martins comes from a very popular Portuguese Thrash Metal band from the ‘80s called Merciless Death. Both are very talented.
BR: None But the Brave definitely sonically follows the path forged by Overlords of Chaos. Ironsword hasn’t changed hugely throughout your time together, but with Overlords… and now None But the Brave you just sound tighter and groovier. In terms of a musical ethos, I see you as fist pumping heavy metal. It’s classic. That said, in terms of your discography, where do you see None But the Brave? Do you think it differs from your discography, and if so, how?
T: Every album has a different approach. It’s the same style but always done out of the norm. It keeps things interesting and exciting thus our fans point out different IRONSWORD albums as their favourite. I like to think that None But the Brave is the missing link between our [self-titled 2002] debut and Return of the Warrior (2004). Although you can say that None But the Brave follows the same pace as its predecessors, I would never repeat the same album. Overlords of Chaos was a very challenging album to create, so having that in mind I wanted to write new material less complex and more uniform, more direct. Maybe that’s what differs a bit from the rest of our discography, because it does sound tighter, groovier and heavier.
BR: The Robert E. Howard worship is strong with Ironsword. I grew up with a father who absolutely worshipped Conan, and have read many of the stories that Howard wrote. In that sense, can you tell me about how Robert E. Howard and Conan coincide with Ironsword?
T: Yes, it is a strong influence and major inspiration. It all began with The Savage Sword of Conan comics then the real Robert E. Howard stories and I immediately became fascinated. So, it was obvious that when I formed Ironsword, instead of singing about fairies, goblins, dragons, trolls, dwarfs, holy knights etc. I would sing about the writings of Robert E. Howard.
BR: The title track “None But the Brave” seems to have a line from Omen’s “Battle Cry” track. “The Smell of Death, lingers in the air…” Was that homage to Omen, or am I mishearing things? If it is homage, please tell me about how that band influenced you, because I LOVE OMEN!
T: Honestly, I was running out of ideas when writing the lyrics for that song, so I more or less ripped off that line from Omen. It’s not an intentional tribute, but Omen is one of my fave bands. People always tell me that Ironsword sounds like a perfect mixture between Manilla Road and Omen, with Lemmy like vocals, so…
BR: We have premiered the track “Army of Darkness.” You sing about a serpent in the beginning of the track…. Is this song about the Conan “Temple of the Serpent” story?
T: None But the Brave can be viewed as a concept album. I just picked up several King Kull, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn and Conan stories from Robert E. Howard and make it look like a big Conan novel. So, that song tells about a King that through sorcery spawns forth from hell the army of darkness. I apologise but I cannot advance too much, I cannot spoil the surprise. You must read the whole thing to understand.
BR: Thanks for chatting with me Tamm! Anything you’d like to add?
T: Thank you very much Sarah for the cool interview. It was an honour for me. Thank you to all our fans for the support that has been given us throughout all these years. Hope to see you all on the road and hope you will enjoy the new album None But the Brave. Long live underground Heavy Metal!AB, Alberta, Army of Darkness, Ironsword, None But the Brave, Tamm, Tamm João Fonseca