Visigoth are one of 2018’s hottest properties, a band who wholeheartedly embrace classic heavy metal and are striding out from Salt Lake City to take on the world. HRH Mag’s Rich Holmes met frontman Jake Rogers to talk NWOTHM, NWOBHM and the importance of Carlisle in the band’s journey…
‘The New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal’. Visigoth’s Jake Rogers is no fan of that moniker. But there’s no doubt that his Utah-based band are helping to spearhead a revival in classic heavy metal, along with the likes of Night Demon and Portrait. NWOBHM and power metal-driven music, played in many cases by artists too young to have experienced those styles first time out, is rampaging across the globe. And with albums as strong as Visigoth’s Conqueror’s Oath in its armoury, ‘roots metal’ (Rogers’ own name for the ‘genre’) is appearing on more and more record of the year lists, where once metalcore reigned supreme.
Rogers, speaking to HRH Mag on the Salt Lake City act’s recent UK tour, admits he could write an academic thesis on why young fans (and musicians) are turning to metal’s foundations, its godfathers and progenitors, for sonic sustenance. The upsurge in popularity of classic heavy metal clearly fascinates him.
“There are a lot of factors, sociological ones, anthropological ones, musicological ones, technology-driven reasons,” said the frontman, who launched Visigoth with his bandmates back in 2010. “Mainly the reason it resonates is because it is the core of heavy metal music. I don’t care if you are into death metal or black metal. All of these bands grew up listening to Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Sabbath… that is where it all comes from, it is a timeless sound and it never really went away.
“One of my least favourite things that has come out of this renaissance is the term New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal, I really hate that term. I have always been against using that phrase because I don’t feel that it is a new movement, it is just re-sparked interest in a style of music that already existed. Yes, there is a spike in popularity and a burgeoning number of bands playing it now and new bands starting to play, but it was never dead. Even in the 90s when black and death metal were reigning supreme you still had bands holding the flag high, like Agent Steel and Skullview.”
As a youth in Salt Lake City, Rogers, along with Visigoth guitarist Jamison Palmer, bonded over an original pressing of Edge Of The World, a ‘lost classic’ of NWOBHM recorded in 1984 by Carlisle’s Wolf. They “voraciously consumed” as much NWOBHM as they could get their hands on, with the likes of Quartz, Cloven Hoof and Iron Maiden getting them through High School.
Perhaps it seems strange that a bunch of teenagers would embrace such a sound, when many of their more rock-minded contemporaries were filling their iPods with metalcore or screamo.
Scratch beneath the surface though and it all makes perfect sense.
Rogers explained: “The reason (classic heavy metal) is experiencing a resurgence now is that people in our age group, 20 somethings, grew up with a lot of nu metal, rap metal, metalcore, screamo, all these really hyper modern takes on heavy music with very slick production. This was what our generation was really exposed to during our upbringing.
“I think that discovering organically recorded, classic roots heavy metal was a very refreshing experience for a lot us. That was the inspiring factor for people to start a lot of these bands. That is what inspired me to start collecting vinyl, for example. There are some really underground albums that I can only get on vinyl they never came out on CD! Listening to those records and reconnecting… call it nostalgia for a time we weren’t there for, but there is something really appealing about it. Something visceral and direct. There is something really special about an organic drum kit with directly microphoned amps.”
Visigoth’s musical education has certainly paid dividends, as anyone who has heard fist pumping anthems like Traitor’s Gate and Steel And Silver would attest to.
And while the band’s 2015 debut, The Revenant King, made the metal world sit up and take notice of the quintet, Conqueror’s Oath saw them truly arrive. Visigoth – who also include guitarist Leeland Campana, bassist Matt Brotherton and drummer Mikey T in their ranks – sharpened their hooks and streamlined their songwriting. And Rogers stepped up top deliver a vocal performance that has surely catapulted him into metal’s Premier League.
“It was important to me to get better at what I am doing because I am surrounded by these Grade A musicians – Lee and Jamison as a guitar duo especially,” the singer revealed. “I am fortunate to be in a band with these guys. It was important to me to step up to the quality level that my band mates are on, because I have never felt very comfortable as a singer. I am not a trained singer in any way, I have no business singing in a band.
“This is not a craft I have been honing since I was 12 years old like some of these guys have. Properly singing is only something I have been doing since the inception of this band. The biggest change for me was learning a lot about how my voice works and what it does best and what it is terrible at!”
He continued: “Going into recording this album I knew that the vocal arrangements would service my voice nicely. And I enjoyed recording this album a lot more – I think that shows. I had so many health problems when we were recorded the first album, I was sick the whole fucking time and it sucked. I recorded my vocals over two or three weeks. When we recorded Conqueror’s Oath my health was great, we knocked out all the vocal sessions in three days and it felt way better.”
Rogers believes that the quality of The Revenant King – which had a more ‘epic’ feel than Conqueror’s Oath – was ‘up and down’, as it was composed of material which in some cases, dated back to the band’s first forays into songwriting. He describes some of the songs as ‘bloated’ – boring even.
Visigoth took a very different approach when crafting their latest effort.
“It was really important this time to exercise our ability to write with brevity and as a result the listening experience on Conqueror’s Oath is a little more immediate and direct,” Rogers explained. “We wanted to force ourselves to learn how to write tighter compositions. We focused on that with this album and I think that served us well.
“We were more prepared and they were fresh songs. There were definitely moments during recording when we would finish recording a riff or vocal arrangement and hear it come back at us for the first time and say, ‘hey we’re doing a good job this time’. I think we felt the whole time more confident about this record than the first one.”
Confidence oozes from the band on stage too… and it helps that Visigoth have so many anthems ready to burst out of the setlist and into a sea of pumping fists and swirling hair. To Rogers, the ability to write thrilling, heroic songs is an essential ingredient for Visigoth – part of the group’s DNA.
“For heavy metal fans, there is a reason why we are all attracted to that type of feeling, those anthemic, singalong songs,” he said. “With black metal and death metal you are going to get a different type of atmosphere. For heavy metal, I want this music to make me feel like I can conquer anything in my path… when I am there with my friends and we are singing along there is a connection with this type of music.
“That is the reason why Conqueror’s Oath, the lyrics, the themes and even the title, are what they are, because it’s my exploration of that theme that this type of music helps you to conquer any obstacles.”
Spend some time in the singer’s presence and see him belt out Hammerforged to an ecstatic throng, and you’ll soon believe that Visigoth can overcome anything that’s thrown at them. Yet far from being egotistical upstarts, the five-piece seem grounded – and pretty humble too. They’re enjoying the moment, making the most of their opportunities and grateful to be able to take their music across the mountains of Utah to the bars and clubs of Europe.
“I think we achieved our ambition, which was playing in Europe at some point,” Rogers admitted. “When we started the band that wasn’t even on the map – it wasn’t something we considered would happen. And then it started becoming, ‘there is enough interest in this band that maybe we could’. And then we did it. And I think the ambition now is to keep doing it until no one cares anymore!”
At this point, that moment seems a very long way off.
Conqueror’s Oath is out now on Metal Blade Records.