LANCER – Battle Ostrich Back For The Attack, A Second Storm
March 23, 2015, 5 years ago
Upon hearing their self titled debut, immediately had to get in touch with the young Swedes. Thanks to the internet, that's now an easy task. Back in the day, when discovering a new band, on a local (or self-financed) label, it was virtually impossible to find out any information, until someone at one of the big mags deemed that band worthy of column space. Now, in some small way, I have that responsibility and thus, via cyber-space, have periodically been in contact with singer Isak Stenvall, anxiously awaiting the follow-up. Witness Second Storm, now on Despotz Records, assuring wider availability. The nine tracks pick up where the last one left off, showcasing an affinity for the greats of Teutonic power metal, imbuing the upbeat tunes with a fun-loving nature and yet, some serious, if not atypical, lyrics.
The singer begins our conversation by explaining how Despotz came out on top in the Lancer sweepstakes. “We wanted to have the album finished before we started looking for a new label. It has been ready since last fall, and after that we started look for a partner. We were in contact with the largest labels there are out there, and they really liked what they heard. A great manager helped us read through the contracts and guide us through this jungle of paragraphs and numbers. Despotz Records where one of our favorites, a Swedish company that really puts the effort in and believes in new, upcoming bands. It’s great that their office is in Stockholm as well. They’re not purely a metal label. As a smaller label they can work harder for each artist. If we had chosen a bigger label, as a new and upcoming band, we certainly would have been last in the line of priorities. With Despotz, we have daily contact and everything works really smooth so far. Exciting times for sure!”
The excitement is a double-edged sword, thrilled by the newness of gearing up the Second Storm publicity cycle, but also having to endure the first line-up change in five years. Enter guitarist Per-Owe Solvelius. “He’s a good friend of ours,” says Stenvall, “a great musician and he loves this music as much as we do. I’ve worked with him in other projects and he also did a stand-in festival gig with us when (second guitarist) Fredrik (Kelemen) was away last summer. Now that I think about it, I remember he visited us in the studio during the Purple Sky EP recordings and wrote a guitar melody to the song 'Dreamchasers'. A great guy, perfect for this band.”
As mentioned, there's still a Germanic sound to the band. Perhaps it's just the intonations of a Swede singing in English, but now there seems to be more Joacim Cans (Hammer Fall) in your voice, which wasn't as noticeable on the debut. It might that be down to the production side, or did you change something in your delivery? He laughs, before answering, “I’ve done some interviews this week, and I always get questions about me sounding like Joacim Cans, you're not the first. My voice is often compared with Joacim’s, and that’s not that strange after all. I think that you got a point. that the Swedish language plays a part in how I sing the phrases and pronounce the words. Another reason why my voice sounds like Joacim’s is because I’ve listened to HammerFall a lot, and beside Bruce Dickinson, Joey Tempest and Michael Kiske, he is one of my biggest influences. On this record most of the vocal melodies are in the upper register, a register that I didn't use that much on the first album. In this high register there are a lot of similarities in our voices, which is good, because I really like the way that he sounds on the high notes, kind of relaxed and effortless. I get the same feeling when I listening to the early Queensryche, Crimson Glory, Angra, TNT and Steelheart records to. For all these singers it sounds really easy to hit all these high notes, and that is really cool. Another fun fact is that I did a guest appearance on Veonity’s debut album, which was released a month ago. Later on I read a review that (mistakenly) said Joacim Cans sings fantastic on track number four, "Let me Die". Well, he’s a great singer so I guess that I take that as a compliment!”
Some of the influences Stenvall suggests are readily apparent on Second Storm, which he characterized as follows: “I guess that the songs are a little bit heavier, but that also has to do with the production. The music is still the same, there are some songs that are really heavy, such as 'Behind the Walls', that almost have an American power/thrash sound. Beside that track the sound is a combination of Edguy, Helloween, Gamma Ray and Iron Maiden. That’s the music that we love and the type of songs we want to create. We’re also better musicians and songwriters this time. Our most important goal is to be better, without losing the hunger and passion for this music.”
Amiable goals and one that will surely become all the more likely with increased live shows. To date, Lancer has been pretty invisible outside their homeland, a situation they hope to change. “Yes, we've been active mostly here in Sweden. We want to wait until the record is out, see the response and the reviews. Then we will pick the (booking) agency that is best for us. Until then we got some gigs planned this spring and summer, only in Sweden though. I’ve never been to the States. That’s still on my 'to do list'. Maybe I will travel from coast to coast on a tour bus in the future. That would be awesome.”
Until then Europe will undoubtedly become intimately familiar with Lancer, while this side of the Atlantic must be content to enjoy Second Storm, a record that offers songs about the Egyptian Sun god Aton, iconic World War II battle of Iwo Jima and other atypical (some might say non-metal) topics. The singer agrees, “It is not a concept album. We wanted to write a 10 minute epic song on this album, and what is more epic than an Egyptian god? 'Aton' is a really powerful name, it sounds heavy and majestic. There is so much magic and secrecy hidden in these old stories, so I guess that’s why pretty much every storytelling heavy metal band has some connection to the ancient gods. The Bible is also a book full of crazy stories, 'Behind The Walls; is about God’s wrath over Sodom and Gomorrah. Another typical heavy metal theme is war, we wanted to do a song about the island of Iwo Jima. Since (countrymen) Sabaton haven’t picked that battle yet, we had to go for it. It’s not glorifying at all, it’s a sad hymn for all the fallen soldiers who died on that godforsaken place.”
However, "Masters & Crowns" was picked as the lead single. “The label chose it. I guess it’s because it’s the most catchy song on the album. It’s a pretty simple song, and the chorus is quite memorable. They also chose 'Behind The Walls' and 'Iwo Jima' for singles. I'wo Jima' will be released within a week or so, the digital album cover for that song is so amazing. I guess that they picked these songs because they liked them the most, and they’re the ones that make the listeners want hear more.”
Speaking of war, Stenvall jumps to the concluding “Fools Marches On”, adding, “The theme of the song is mankind's never-ending warfare. Why we chose to do the title grammatically wrong is to portrait how the world looks when the Fools are in control. Every time I put on the news, there is cruelty and violence everywhere. In every corner of the world, there is fear, hate and terror. New armies are always on the march. All of these idiots and all of this hate will always be a part of this planet, and that fact really makes me angry and sad. This is 2015, and sometimes it feels that we haven’t learned anything from history. I wrote the lyrics to remind me that it’s never too late, we must continue to speak up for human rights and continue to spread a positive message to bring justice to the world. Because this place is really fucked up, but somehow, I still believe in a brighter future.”
He means the human race, but Lancer also have a positive upside, aided as always by their companion/mascot, the Battle Ostrich, which has taken on a cyborg quality on the album artwork. There's more to it than just an image. “The album cover combines a lot of stories from the songs: the sun explosion in the background is the blast of 'Aton', the robots on the ground have been slayed by a 'Steelbreaker'. The building to the left is a fortress from I'wo Jima' and the walls of Gomorrah is to the right, to name a few. The whole idea is of course a tribute to Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time. I really love the artwork, Dimitar Nikolov who painted it truly nailed it, the Ostrich really looks dreadful and terrifying. In the song 'Steelbreaker', I’m singing about a wicked creature, a metal monstrosity, so we pictured a robotic cyber ostrich in our heads. What Dimitar created was beyond our wildest imaginations.”
In many ways, the music of Lancer satisfies a similar itch for metalheads around the globe: painting an aural canvas filled with the best parts of what's come before and in the process, creating a new masterpiece.