SILVER TALON – Casting A New Spell
June 1, 2021, 3 weeks ago
Formed from the ashes of Spellcaster, Portland’s Silver Talon are swerving from the traditional metal craze and ironing out a hammering U.S. power metal, or as they call it, “dark power metal”. After an agonizing delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the full-length debut, Decadence And Decay is out now via M-Theory Audio. Guitarist and mainman Bryce Vanhoosen and second guitarist Sebastian Silva are relieved and happy to unleash their product to the metal masses.
Vanhoosen was building up Spellcaster, who had released three albums before calling it quits in 2017. The blonde-haired guitarist attributes the breakup to a “clash of egos”, especially with singer Tyler Loney. Due to increasing tensions within the band, Loney would end up leaving Spellcaster, putting the band in a tough position.
The guitarist summarizes the situation, "So Gabe Franco [Spellcaster bassist] was like, ‘Well, this would technically be our third singer in four albums.’ So not going to go for that. So let’s just dissolve it and find a new singer and we’ll start a new band and that’s what happened.”
Thus Spellcaster basically split into two new groups, Silver Talon and Idle Hands (now known as Unto Others). The latter sits in Gothic metal territory while Silver Talon waves the flag of USPM in that Nevermore, early Queensrÿche realm. After releasing an impressive EP with Becoming The Demon in 2018, a third guitarist was added to the ranks in Devon Miller. It was not something Silver Talon set out to do, but a number of factors, most notably guitarist Sebastian Silva’s touring schedule with Unto Others and visa issues he was struggling with.
Vanhoosen further explains, “At that point we enlisted Devon Miller, who is in another local band here in Portland and has been a good friend for a while. He was going to fill in for a little while, but we really jelled spectacularly. He’s also a really great singer as well. He proved himself valuable in sort of being able to play guitar and provide backup vocals live. We essentially decided once Sebastian had actually been able to make it back to the country, we said, ‘Hey, you know, it feels wrong to kick Devon to the curb here. So why don’t we try to do like a three guitar thing? There’s a lot of triple harmonies on the tracks and things like that.’ It made sense to give it a shot and we did.”
How do you divvy up the solos with three guitar players?
“Jeez, that’s a good question!” answers Vanhoosen. “I’ll write the tracks and then I’ll kind of go through and I’ll say, ‘Well, I want to solo over this part or I have this lead here. Sebastian and Devon, do you guys want to take this section, throw this lead down?’ Or I’ll just be like, ‘Hey, here’s my part, you want to figure out what to do for the rest of it?’ (laughs). It’s worked out pretty well. It’s a pretty democratic process. I think everybody sort of gets to solo about and equal number of times.”
Silva elaborates on the three guitar tandem, “Not only that, but it’s cool to hear everybody’s different styles. So it’s like when you hear the songs and its entirety, you can tell exactly who’s who, which solo is who. It showcases not only our original styles and soloing, but it’s cool to hear the changing parts during the songs.”
The recording schedule was thrown for a loop when COVID-19 hit, Decadence And Decay was originally slated for release in fall 2020. The Portlanders were about halfway done when all the restrictions started.
The lockdown was hard to work through and Vanhoosen plainly states, “It was kind of fucked up if I’m being completely honest.” He describes the recording process, “Basically the way we sort of been doing stuff is we will go down to Oakland and we’ll do drums with Zach Ohren at SharkBite Studios. He did the Becoming A Demon EP and also did the Spellcaster Night Hides The World album. So in December 2019, we went down there and recorded drums and not long after that got a rough mix sent to me once back home in Portland and then started working on guitars shortly after. I want to say like a year ago, like around Valentine’s Day just recording guitars pre-pandemic. I remember Sebastian coming over and we were recording guitars.
“We’re like ‘man, we’re going to get this done. It’s going to be out by the end of the year, this is going to be awesome.’ I think early March we were doing vocals in Portland at Falcon Studios with Gabe Johnston, the dude who did the vocals on Becoming A Demon. He produces the vocals and he also did the first Spellcaster album as well. It was really weird because I remember I think like the second day or something that we were in the studio laying down some tracks and vocals and [United States President Donald] Trump gives that press conference that just sends everything into pandemonium.”
Silver Talon persevered and eventually finished up the recordings and the extra time allowed for tinkering with the songs and fine tune them.
As Vanhoosen points out though, “I will say that we did get like almost too much time to spend with it because at the very end, it sort of started to become a little like Chinese Democracy where it’s like you keep on working on it. It’s like, sending files to Zach in Oakland like, ‘Hey, can you switch out this solo?’ Or ‘Hey, can you switch out this vocal part?’ It’s just this kind of stuff like a cherry on top, but would it have made a difference if it was the other way?”
King Diamond axman Andy LaRocque is featured on “Resistance 2029”. The collaboration was made possible when Silva’s other band, Unto Others, opened for King Diamond on their 2019 U.S. tour. Upon meeting him at the Portland stop of the tour, all it took was simple email from Vanhoosen to LaRocque and he agreed to guest on the record.
Both Vanhoosen and Silva both had fanboy moments meeting LaRocque on the tour and Silva shares a story relaying LaRocque’s professionalism and courtesy. “It was kind of scary opening up for King Diamond, but it was cool getting to meet Andy. I met him the second show in Atlanta. I was watching him at soundcheck. I then like checked my phone for a quick second and then Andy was gone. I was like, ‘Where the hell did he go?’ And then he like turned to my shoulder! He’s like, ‘Oh hey, I’m Andy, just wanted to introduce myself.’ I was like ‘Whoa!’ And he’s like ‘Sorry, we’re running late for the soundcheck.’ I was like ‘Dude, take all the time you need, you guys are the headlining band. We’re just the openers, it doesn’t matter.’ It was super cool for him to even introduce himself.”
The video for “As The World Burns” shows images from the events of 2020 and lyrically is misanthropic and nihilistic. As Vanhoosen explains, the lyrics were borne from a conversation with singer Wyatt Howell about the Megadeth classic, “Peace Sells”.
“Like I remember talking to him one day and I was like, ‘it’s a weird kind of song. Like I don’t understand why. It just seems very on the nose,’” says Vanhoosen. “So he gave me his rundown where I was like well, I feel it’s kind of the opposite of what he’s saying. You know, everybody has these ideas about people who like metal being these losers. It’s a bit tongue in cheek like that. I think ‘As The World Burns’ is our tongue in cheek version of not necessarily meaning exactly what it says on the surface. You know what I mean? So I like that a little bit.”
About the video itself, he divulges, “We actually wrote the song lyrics and filmed the video in 2019 before any of this stuff happened. Here’s a somewhat, sort of tongue in cheek sort of nihilistic view of the world and then 2020 happens and we’re just like, ‘oh, ok.’ I was honestly worried a little if people take this sort of as the literal meaning, but the images that director Brock Russell was able to provide; I think really painted that picture of ‘Hey, the world is going to shit, but I got my Pepsi in hand and I’ve been taking antidepressants and whatever, so it’s fine!’ It’s like the meme of the dog who’s in the burning house. ‘Everything’s fine. This is fine.’ (laughs).”
The story of the cover art is an interesting one as Vanhoosen’s idea was to find the cover art and then write songs around the image, rather than the other way around. The cover image of the witch holding a demon’s head resembles a tarot card and was done by fantasy illustrator Gerald Brom. Brom is one of Vanhoosen’s favorite artists and the piece was found through a simple Google search. Completed in 2012, Vanhoosen thought the title Kill All Kings fit the artwork, but much to his dismay, another band had used the title on an album.
“So we had to switch and my wife came up the title,” he states. “Sort of funny conversation that we had one day. Thinking about the songs and the way the whole album is structured and if we’re thinking vinyl, like four songs per side, it’s like the first couple of tracks are the Decadence part where they’re just kind of fast, over-the-top, and then you have the slower ones, which is a little bit more like the Decay side of things.”
As Decadence And Decay is structured, the first half is this robust US power metal while the second half portrays neoclassical influences.
“Yeah, that was totally intentional,” answers Vanhoosen. “We wanted to keep things interesting not only for ourselves, but for the listener as well. And some of that neoclassical stuff was on Becoming A Demon and maybe a little bit more that it is on Decadence And Decay. Rather than switch things up and make things completely different from the EP to the album, we sprinkled a bit of that in there.”
Then “What Will Be” hits and feels like a power ballad. Singer Wyatt Howell mid-range vocals sound eerily similar to Alice In Chains legend Layne Staley.
Vanhoosen confides, “I would say it’s a power ballad. Wyatt really wanted to do a power ballad. I felt like we had enough ripping songs on the album that we could do a power ballad even though ‘As The World Burns’ is a little bit ballady, ‘Next To The Sun’ gets a little bit ballady too. That one we just leaned into full on trying to an Alice In Chains kind of power ballad, like ‘Nutshell’, I think what the song is called, the fully acoustic one, something like that.”
“Next To The Sun” deserves spotlight for its peaceful opening and which flourishes to a bombastic avalanche of electric guitars. It features another impressive vocal performance from Howell as well.
The track is Silva’s favorite and says, “Yeah, that’s definitely my favorite vocal performance of his. I like the overall feel of the song, it’s like serene at the beginning and then it goes heavy, that’s my favorite one on the album. It’s just firing off on all cylinders in all directions.”
With the whole traditional metal resurgence in the past decade with bands sprouting from all over the globe, does the guy think it’s hard to remain unique in this style of music?
Vanhoosen answers, “I don’t think it’s hard to be super unique in traditional metal kind of sphere. I sort of feel like a lot of bands that are into that are kind of doing a lot of the same sort of thing. There are a few that push the boundaries and do stuff differently, but I guess my only complaints with the whole trad metal resurgence thing would be that in some ways it’s a bit too conservative music wise, where people are just trying so hard to make an album that could have sounded like it was released in the ‘80s even to the point where it gets down to the recording and stuff like that. Like trying to make everything sound analog without actually doing analog.
“For us growing out of that with Spellcaster, it’s sort of easier. I think it’s a blessing and a curse because we can throw in all these kinds of different influences to sort of set ourselves apart and it does set ourselves apart. Some people don’t really like that necessarily because it doesn’t maybe sound like an album from the ‘80s.”
Silva continues, “It also kind of hard when a lot of bands are doing the same thing and within the local scene, it’s sort seen as a safe spot to be like, ‘okay, let’s make an album that sounds like Black Sabbath or let’s make an album that sounds like Iron Maiden.’ It’s like they’re afraid to almost give it a chance just because it’s not within their usual realm. I think once you get past the whole ‘being in the same genre’, if your start diving into other aspects of music, like with Silver Talon bringing the progressive, the power metal elements, once you start hearing the song and it stops, and it’s like ‘oh, this could be an Iron Maiden song.’ That’s where a song should kind of do a sharp turn and totally throw you into a different direction and be like, ‘oh, now it sounds like Dream Theater.’ It’s just having you constantly guess of what’s coming next. That’s what cool about Bryce’s songs. It’ll sound like one part for a second and then it goes into a completely different direction. It’s cool because it keeps you on your toes and it’s fun to play live.”
That’s the most important part of Decadence & Decay – it’s fun to listen to and Vanhoosen sums it up to the fans, “We hope you guys enjoy the music as much as we enjoyed making it.”
Order Decadence & Decay on Bandcamp.
(Photos - Peter Beste)