Interview: Leeland Campana of Visigoth

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Toilet Ov Hell contributor Randall Thor recently had a chat with Visigoth’s guitarist Leeland Campana about the band’s new album, heavy metal, power metal, fantasy literature, joining Metal Blade Records, and, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. Check it out!

Greetings from the Toilet Ov Hell! Some of us are huge fans, but some of us may be new to your epic brand of true heavy metal. Could you summarize your sound in the form of a medieval weapon in the midst of battle?

Haha if the music Visigoth made was to be described as a medieval weapon, I would say that our sound is most like a good ol classic war hammer. Brutal and effective but also not too complicated in its use or design. Also, extremely formidable against heavily armored and non armored opponents on the battlefield. Indeed to continue the analogies the Visigoth war-hammer might also be considered the grilled cheese sandwich of medieval weaponry.

I was STOKED when you Metal Blade announced signing you. How has the label treated you, and do you think your signing has furthered the cause of traditional heavy metal and USPM in the last two years?

We were all in a good amount of shock when Metal Blade approached us with interest in signing Visigoth. In a lot of ways the feeling is still there and we feel incredibly fortunate that we have had the opportunity to have our music backed and promoted by such a recognizable label in heavy metal. For the most part we have had a good working relationship with metal blade. Sometimes our sense of direction for Visigoth i would say differs from most modern metal bands in both stylistic approach and production decisions. Visigoth is not necessarily a throwback band since our intention is not to completely mimic traditional styles of heavy metal exactly however, the less compressed sound and styles of older bands is one we all enjoy in our musical personal preferences and is definitely an influence in the production decisions we make. No auto tune on the vocals, no drum replacement or triggers and no slammed gain or scooped mids on the guitar tone are examples of our approach to recording.

As for Visigoth’s signing to Metal Blade having furthered the cause of traditional heavy metal and USPM, I think what it has done if anything is perhaps raise attention in general to the fact that there are newer bands like Visigoth that are passionate and love the older and more traditional styles of heavy metal music and are striving to reflect that and express our musical ideas in that way as best we can. The most that I can hope for is that any success that Visigoth achieves i hope will not only let us continue to make and perform music that we are passionate about, but also inspire other traditional metal style musicians and groups to work and excel and create with their own projects to the best of their ability. The end result being more great music being made in the Heavy Metal and USPM world in general, maybe this could be the cause that has been furthered.

There is a very clear influence from some of the old and new masters of epic heavy metal such as Manilla Road, Ironsword, and Atlantean Kodex in your writing. Is there a particular nation or style of heavy metal that has influenced your sound, and would you mind sharing so that fans can better understand where you are coming from with your music?

Certainly. It is not a hard sell to say that Visigoth is inspired quite heavily by European styles of metal maybe at times even a little more so than the United States bands, though as to the exact ratios that may be more in the hands of the listener. I will talk as best I can from the standpoint of having composed the guitar riffs, instrumentation and structure of most of our songs. First off Atlantean Kodex is absolutely a newer band that we look up to and are inspired by. Their guitar sound is mid paced ridiculously heavy and creates such an epic setting for the sweeping vocals of Markus Becker to thrive and take the listener on an epic journey. Also It should come as no surprise to anyone that Grand Magus was a huge influence and inspiration to the creation of Visigoth’s sound. Quite specifically the album Iron Will is one I would highlight for me personally, it had just the right amount of epic elements and catchy fist pumping riffs and chorus’s that just make you want to bang your head and sing along.

To be fair and completely honest I think that Visigoth draws its sound and inspiration from such a wide selection its hard to specify one thing over another without committing some injustice to an influence somewhere. From the USA huge influences i can immediately list for me are Manowar, Virgin Steele, Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Medieval Steel, Warlord, Omen, and Brocas Helm. From Germany and other countries bands like Gravedigger, Accept, Atlantean Kodex, Running Wild, Iron Savior, Dream Evil, Grand Magus, and Lost Horizon. Each of these bands at some point were a stepping stone along the path of influences that helped shape my perception of how to write traditional heavy metal/power metal. There have been and will continue to be many more influences than than I can list here but maybe this offers a glimpse into some of my inspirations.

It’s obvious that hard fantasy is a huge influence on your music. Your songs glorify worlds where might, steel, and ancient magic dominate against all foes. In a world where George R.R. Martin is currently the king of fantasy, do you wish people were more aware of authors like Robert Howard or David Gemmell that write in more traditional yet still cold and to the point style of fantasy? Are there any other stories or authors you wish people knew about that inspire you?

I would say The Malazan book of the Fallen series by Steven Erickson is definitely one that I think more people that are fans of sword and sorcery fiction should know about. Erickson is one of Jake’s absolute favorite fantasy authors and one of mine as well. Fair warning, many people don’t get past the first book since it is initially pretty confusing and not the most accessible. But, if you can stick it out to the end things fall into place and from the second book onward it is perhaps the most original and epic in sheer scope and conflict of any fantasy series I’ve ever read.

One set of books I would highly recommend for any fan of heavy metal and classic sword and scorcery fiction are the “Swords of Steel” volumes 1-3 by DMR books. They are collections of classic sword and sorcery fantasy short stories all written by actual heavy metal musicians! Some of the author’s include Jason Tarpey of Eternal Champion, Jeff Black of Gatekeeper, and James Ashbey of Solstice…all of whom happen to also have written some of my favorite short stories out of the first volume. If you are someone that might turn their nose up at these books because they are known as credible musicians first rather than published author’s you would be making a grave mistake. The stories are actually very well written and all the more interesting because it gives some insight and juxtaposition into the multifaceted tapestry between fantasy literature and epic heavy metal/USPM styles.

My last recommendation for fellow fantasy literature fans out there would be The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. This series is particularly good in how the story is very character driven and so so well written in general. I would even argue that The First Law series is a much better example of a “gritty violent/realistic” type epic fantasy than even Game of Thrones. To quote your question, “cold and to the point” is exactly how these books are and a real treat for any well versed reader of fantasy in how they breathe some fresh air and remarkable dynamic characters into the genre.

Traditional heavy and power metal are making a comeback like never before in recent years. Which bands, both classic and modern, would you say you borrow or even steal ideas from?

Gravedigger, Judas Priest, Manowar, Grand Magus, Twisted Tower Dire, Pokolgep, Aria, Manilla Road, Candlemass, Atlantean Kodex, Iron Maiden, Dio and Dio era Black Sabbath, Medieval Steel, Slough Feg, Solstice….the list may go on for quite awhile haha. In fact the first 20 bands that show up on Metal-Archives “similar artists” tab for Visigoth is undeniably accurate in this regard. It is true that this genre of metal is at an all time high in popularity. 12 years or so ago this would seem completely unprecedented. Some might argue that this is a bad thing and while there are some downsides to metal’s rise in popularity in some regards, it ultimately means that more great metal bands are being listened to, revived, and created in new projects.

Bands like Stormwarrior, Iron Savior, Rocka Rollas, Crypt Sermon, and plenty of others have blatantly mimicked their inspirations in sound, vocal style, riff style, etc. Would you argue that the act of mimicking classics is helpful, or counter intuitive to the progression of traditional heavy and power metal in the 21st century?

I have really thought about this and similar concepts a lot in recent years. It is an interesting analysis of the why and what about bands in metal drawing from old styles are coming back so much more prominently. I think the most accurate answer to your question is that it is helpful and slightly counter intuitive at the same time. This one question could be an entire interview in and of itself and that is because there are so many subjective elements in the creation of throwback heavy metal music. For example there is a YouTube channel called “new wave of traditional heavy metal” which i think sort of encapsulates the ingrained conflict of there being a “new wave” of “traditional” heavy metal. How can you call something traditional unless it has been around for a long time? It is true that no matter what kind of music a band plays their sound and style will still built upon the foundation of something that came before and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, its the way that its supposed to be. I think that where mimicking classic bands and influences is good for the progression of this genre into the future, is that in a way it is like remembering and honoring the history of heavy metal by retelling the same epic “stories” i.e song structures/vocal lines/riffs/tones so they are not forgotten. It elevates what has come before to an almost mythical like status and I think that process is very satisfying, natural, and important to keep the flame alive in a sense. Where it becomes a detriment I think is when there are far too many bands simultaneously that are all trying to make the exact same stylistic statement. Maybe it could be argued that is happening now to an extent but I don’t think so. Its much too easy to paint with a broad brush and I think that bands can be analyzed on a case by case basis. One is the band executing their music in a way that is satisfying to listen to and is good? Does it seem like they are paying respectful homage to their influences while offering a unique take of their own into the mix? If so I think they could be rated helpful, but two if a band seems to be strictly staying within the bounds of what has been laid down before and goes out of their own way to stay unoriginal, it seems to feel like stagnancy can be the only result. A final word on this, I think that fans of heavy metal and fellow musicians are actually pretty good at picking up on if a band feels authentic or not. A recording lacking in quality may have a strong heart and feeling while sometimes the more polished produced bands seem a little watered down. I would say the best thing to look for is signs that the band has a real love for the genre they are playing either in hints with their song writing or otherwise, and also to be aware of anything contrived and lazy that might say the opposite.

Continuing on the theme of the previous question, which bands are doing things in trad/power metal that you currently admire?

Probably my number one band in the niche of traditional heavy metal and power metal is Eternal Champion and their album “The Armor of Ire” hands down in my opinion the best trad/epic/power metal album of 2016. Sellsword’s album  “Echoes of battle” is loads of fun and has some unique Messiah-esk vocals on it. Continuing on with the more power metal style another band that I was surprised by recently was Dream Troll with the album “Knight of Rebellion” certainly not traditional metal but it features some really top notch guitar playing that isn’t heard often with new projects. Also the new Air Raid album “Across the line is incredible and has been one thats caught my attention. Lastly, Sons of Crom’s new album “The Black Tower” really impressed me and while kind of going more towards the epic heavy metal/black metal genre instead, it is one i would definitely recommend anyone to check out! As I mentioned in the previous question I listen to the “NWOTHM” (New Wave of Traditional Metal) youtube channel regularly and am always checking in on what new bands are coming out in the trad/power genre.

Throughout the history of traditional heavy and power metal bands, many people have worn their influences very obviously on their sleeves. Some bands, like Blind Guardian, have made a consistent theme of certain fantasy universes, such as Stephen King and Tolkien. Are there any particular fantasy universes that guide Visigoth?: 

I would say that there are not any limited number of fantasy universes in particular that guide Visigoth’s music per say. I think that what happens is that there are many different epic fantasy narratives like Malazan Book of The Fallen, Tolkien or The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss that have profoundly influenced and inspired us personally and stay present somewhere within our psyche. What Visigoth songs are guided by specifically when I sit down to start writing; are all of the impressions and mental visualizations of epic fantasy elements such as settings, themes, struggles of those stories and what translation of that into a musical medium would sound like. I try to get a sense for what visuals start to come to mind when composing and tailor the music that I am writing to be somewhat like the possible soundtrack of an epic story. For example on the new album Conquerer’s Oath we have 2 songs loosely based on 2 different fantasy universes. Hammerforged pulls from themes and story elements from The Malazan Series and the song Outlive them all is our song dedicated to the movie Highlander.

Dungeon Master is a very apparent reference to Dungeons and Dragons. Have any particular storylines from D&D seeped into your lyrics? 

Dungeon Master is without a doubt a direct homage to our love of playing table top style roleplaying games haha. When we’ve played those kinds of games in the past we would always be creating an original story to each adventure that would be run. The song itself however doesn’t necessarily follow the story of a character or storyline from a campaign that we’ve played. The song is framing just the process and joy of playing D&D with friends around the table and the enjoyment of that rather than a specific DnD story. In regards to the lyrics though we are somewhat talking about a specific person, our friend Henry is an exceptional dungeon master and I like to think at least he is the dungeon master being referred to since he was the main creative force behind so many great campaigns haha.

You’ve said previously that you have no desire to branch out from fantasy and epic story telling with your lyrics. Beyond the fact that fantasy, heavy metal, and historical themes are wonderful forms of escapism, are there any particular reasons that keep you from writing more personal metaphors into your music, even in a fantasy setting?

I think that personal metaphors can be found in fantasy settings all the time. It really just depends on how you define what that means. I think that lyrics that are somewhat vague and symbolic/archetypal allow more flexibility for the listener to find their own meaning. There is really not a conscious reason we stay away from a certain topic or lyrical style. In this regard we usually choose to start creating around what we feel like the song is calling for. Quite often the heroes journey seems to be one reflected in the narrative of many of our songs. The Revenant King or Warrior Queen might be seen as characters in our songs that follow that progression. On the other side of the same coin so to speak the lyrics to other songs like Iron Brotherhood and the upcoming song Hammerforged put the listener/audience in the role of the “Heroes Story.” Sort of calling them to participate in the experience of the song or the live show. (Sidebar) I think many of us enjoy epic/power/trad metal for this very reason, a great metal song almost being like the call to adventure and leaving the mundane behind. Maybe I’m reading to much into it but I think theres a strong anecdotal argument for that link between heavy metal, fantasy literature, and the feeling of escape to high adventure as things that go hand in hand.

You are about to embark on a month-long tour of Europe. What aspects change when touring Europe versus the US that are particularly exciting for the band?

The treatment of bands by the venues and audiences is quite different. In Europe the venues usually find a place for bands to stay the night if they are a touring band. Also it is very customary for venues and promoters to prepare a full dinner for the bands and provide drinks. Most venues in the US usually hand out some drink tickets and maybe a meal ticket if you are lucky. The audience’s expectations for live bands in European countries is generally higher especially for bands from the United States. I think this is because countries like Germany or Sweden for example not only have an incredible love of heavy metal but generate some of the best bands in the entire world. This means fans are used to regularly seeing lots of the best heavy metal has to offer, we enjoy the challenge of stepping up our performance as much as possible, although its about as far away from the comfort of a hometown gig as it can get haha. One of my favorite differences between a europe tour vs the U.S. actually is that the drives between shows is much shorter that here in the states. A 10 hr drive in europe could take you through 3 separate countries where as here that may only be within a few states. The only thing that is disappointing personally is that we do not get to stay in an area for more than a couple days, its amazing how much history there is in that part of the world and I wish we could explore more in the beautiful cities and countrysides we get to travel through there. That being said the opportunity to play in Europe is one we are endlessly grateful for and will never take a moment for granted.

Anything else we should know before we finish up?

Once we are back from this tour and recuperated, Visigoth will definitely be putting plans in motion to go on the road in the states and we can’t wait! This record is one that we are all very proud of and we hope to keep writing and performing as best we can into the future. I would like fans that may be reading this interview to know that any value they have given to Visigoth whether it be by supporting us by ordering a shirt or patch, telling their friends about us, coming to shows, sending us messages on our Facebook; they are the ones that have raised this band up to be what it is today, and we can never be appreciative enough to you and that fact. So wherever you may be from please come say hi if you come to see us in the future, and or we hope to play near you soon!

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