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Blacksword's Ivan Viking: "I left behind the youthful maximalism, who told me that the more notes per second, the better"

Interview with Ivan Viking from Blacksword
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 14 August 2021, 9:25 PM

It has always been fascinating of how musicians, and artists, that were in a substantially long hiatus, return to action, at times as if just yesterday they made the decision to rest up. Nonetheless, the energy to perform, to create to be there back in the fold, that sensation deep inside is no doubt amazing. The Russian Blacksword started out nearly two decades ago, released a debut and off they went into thin air. Two years ago, Ivan Viking, the band's founder made the first move to return, gathered up the troops, signed up with an amazing vocalist and "Alive Again" was born. Steinmetal talked with Ivan about signing with a new label, having a Greek starlet vocalist, to create and record again and more…

Hello Ivan, it is quite a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hi, Lior! And I am pleased to give you an interview and tell you about our new album, I'm great, thank you!

I have to tell you that when I saw that you guys are about to return with a sophomore album, my eyes lit. Your debut album, “The Sword Accurst”, was one of my first year’s reviews for Metal Temple, back when I started with the mag in 2010. And now the circle is complete. Quite a long journey since the debut, yet the band went underground. What exactly happened after the debut's release?

You know, I am always very pleased that people remember us, despite such a long silence! Much has changed since the time of the first album, especially the line-up of the band, there were many problems with the musicians, the material for recording was ready for a long time. And finally, in 2018 we are making a powerful leap forward, putting the band together almost anew, and finally starting to prepare and record the material!

From what I saw, you had the new album’s opener, “Iron Will”, released as a single in 2018, probably slowly preparing your return. However, I guess that the current pandemic had quite an impact on the reason why things became slower up until recently right?

Yes, we did test recordings with the new line-up and released it as a single. But, I would not say that the pandemic is to blame, rather the work went very slowly with that vocalist, as you can hear, another singer sang there, which is why it was decided to look for a legionnaire from Europe :-)

I have to ask you, how is it to return back to action after all this time? What motivated you to insert the key into the ignition of Blacksword and decided that it was time to come back into the fold of Metal music?

In fact, I never stopped making music, all this time writing material and songs, this is a very long process for me, because I am very attentive to details, I can remake one song dozens of times until it seems perfect to me: -D All this time we tried to play with different lineups, until finally the metal gods blessed this lineup for recording the album: -D

A series of new beginnings crossed paths with Blacksword with its return to the scene, whether lineup driven, new album and new album. Starting with the new record deal, after being part of a really small label earlier on, being signed now to the old school Greek machine, No Remorse Records, changed things a bit. How do you feel about the signing? What are the key objectives that you guys and the label marked that are the next stage for Blacksword?

This is an interesting story, everything turned out by itself almost. The label was found when the album was completely ready, and then I was just thinking about sending promos to different labels, and our vocalist, Mike from Greece, offered to show a couple of songs to his familiar person, Chris, the label director. As far as I remember, he showed the song "Long Lost Days", after which Chris, apparently, got interested and asked to listen to the entire album. After that, a couple of weeks passed, and Chris offered to sign a contract for the release of 2 albums, so guys, good news, the 3rd album will not have to wait 11 years, like this one: -D

I believe that the chosen title for the sophomore album, “Alive Again”, fits quite well to the band’s situation and of course, its return. Would you say that philosophically the record is as positive as the title that it bears?

Yes, when we thought about what to name the album, there were several options, including "Iron Will". But then I thought that "Alive Again" would be a good name in two ways, firstly, it is the most powerful and epic song on the album, and secondly, it reflects our return to the world of music. It's actually cool, after so many years of lull, to get feedback on our music and give interviews again :-)

Earlier on, talking about the debut album, “The Sword Accurst”, you took inspiration from some great novelists, would you say that the same happened when it comes to the narrative of the songs on “Alive Again”?

Previously, Alex Avdeev, a former guitarist, was engaged in writing lyrics, he is a fan of complex lyrics based on books, the lyrics of the song Alive Again were written by them, book-based "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith, by the way, because this song was written a long time ago in 2010, when he was still playing with us, in the form of a demo it can be found in open spaces the Internet! After our parting with him, the burden of writing the lyrics passed to me and our former vocalist, Sergei, we were based more on some ideas from the head, on what arises in the mind when listening to this particular song. There are, of course, exceptions, the Barbarian Born song are based on the story of Conan the Barbarian.

Mentioning the terrible pandemic going on, is there a shred of relation between the turmoil that has been making the world crazy, and the symbolism going on within the veils of “Alive Again”?

No, it has nothing to do with it. We are trying to write about the eternal, and the pandemic will end soon, I hope. All the songs were written before the pandemic

Taking the deadly blending of Heavy and Power Metal, channelling the spirits of both the US and Europe Metal directives, Blacksword from my end made quite a step in its music and songwriting measures. How would you describe the musical development of the band ever since the debut and up until “Alive Again”?

I think we have taken a big step forward, the songs are still complex, but listened to much easily, there is much less pointless jumble of notes, and there are more "hooks" in the songs! This is the merit of the whole band, at rehearsals we worked a lot on the material, and we often reworked it, some songs in their original form you would not even recognize if you heard, for example, The Last Viking and Immortal Hero.

I presume that experience says everything, and I bet that you guys had quite a lot of time to practice and to garner additional skills. Nonetheless, every album has its share and impact on its creators. How would you say that “Alive Again” challenged you both in the songwriting process and in the studio recording?

Yes, this decade has been full of challenges, including how not to give up the whole fucking thing. In fact, in the process of working on this album, we have grown a lot, not only as performers, but also as arrangers, that's right, and I don't know how to write something better yet, I put my whole soul into it, and all my best developments! But time does not stand still, I have something else to work on!

The most difficult thing was to record the drums, because they had to be written practically in 1-2 takes, because they cannot be glued together like guitars and bass. But we are lucky to have a great drummer, Stas Volkov, and he succeeded!

As the band’s chief songwriter, similar to the debut, “Alive Again” was yet another source for learning and to continue developing your style of writing songs. What can you say that you gained, in terms of being a better songwriter, from the new record?

In the songwriting, I left behind the youthful maximalism, who told me that the more notes per second, the better. This can be heard on the album, most of the songs are mid-tempo, and sound more clear and concise. Well, the youngest musician of our collective, Denis Grebenkin, added more modern sound to parts!

One of the top aspects of the album that brought a major change to both the album and the band, is the recruiting of the phenomenal vocalist, Mike Livas. I had a massive pleasure listening to him with Silent Winter, and he killed it. How did this fine relationship begin? Is he now a permanent member of the band?

I agree, this is a very important find for us! If not for Mike, the album would not have sounded as firm and Western as it does now. The difficulty is that we live in different countries very far from each other, and all recording and work on the material takes place remotely, praise the Internet for this opportunity! But we will continue our cooperation, both on the next album and in case of performances in Europe!

I found Mike through YouTube, after an unsuccessful rehearsal with the last vocalist, I got the idea to look for a vocalist remotely, because in our city, and in the country, there probably are no such vocalists. I remember, after watching his covers, I thought, "Damn, I wish we had such a dude singing," and, without thinking twice, offered him cooperation, showing a couple of songs, to which Mike, also without thinking twice, agreed, to which I was very happy.

Did Mr. Livas take part in the songwriting sessions of the record? How did you manage working with him while all the lockdowns were in effect, especially in Greece? Can remote recording be trusted in terms of channelling your wish of how a song should sound vocally?

We had the following scheme: I sent Mike a recorded backing track, lyrics, and a recorded file showing where and what to sing about. Then Mike learned the song and recorded the first take, and sent it to me, I made adjustments, and so on several times. I remember we had a lot of disputes about the performance of certain parts, it almost came to a fight. However, the truth was born in the dispute, and on the album we hear the result, of course, Mike made a good contribution to the variety of vocal lines!

Other than the addition of Mr. Livas, there is the album’s sound. The raw nature of the debut album was evaporated on “Alive Again”, displaying the band’s new wall of sound, modern based, sharing the music’s heaviness and emphasizing its melodic nature. Who produced and engineered the record? How do you find Blacksword’s new sound?

Yes, this is the first thing that catches your ears. The sound is quite powerful and modern compared to the debut. Well, it's easier to say that it hasn't changed since the first album.

The new, and more, professional musicians, drummer Stas Volkov, guitarists Artem Omelenchuk and Denis Grebenkin. The new studio, the best in our region, I think. A new method of recording guitars and bass, and serious production. The recording budget was increased 5-6 times compared to the debut. And, the cherry on top, was the sound engineer Arkady Navaho from Moscow, who mixed all the tracks, with whom we also worked remotely, but everything turned out as well as possible, I am very pleased with the result!

Heading down to the tracklist, when it comes to an impressive melodic spirit, with a slightly darkened nature, there is “Darkest Heart”, proving that the fine line between old school and modern can be a work of art. How do you find this song?

Oh, this is a song with a rich history! So many times it has been altered, I don’t even remember how many. Once upon a time we had a guitarist Alex Avdeev, and he had a "Knight of the Dark" song, which we began to play. It became the progenitor of "Darkest Heart". But you will not recognize it if you hear it in that version. The fact is that it was too confusing, and in the process of working on it, I changed half of the song, so we played it further. Then it was time to part with Alex, and he did not allow us to play further, to which I simply cut out the remaining parts of the song, composed by him, and inserted my own. Which version of the song is better, you can decide for yourself, having rummaged on the Internet. There is also a demo of this song from 2013, with a different chorus and some changes. But the version on the album seems to me more concise and pleasant to listen to!

The album’s opener, and probably one of the album’s oldest tracks, being written three years ago, “Iron Will”, demonstrates the US Power Metal’s heaviness, yet generates a power moment within the course that elevates the drama levels into peak. What can you tell in regards to how this track made an impact on the album’s overall atmosphere?

In fact, the song is one of the newest haha. Most of the material for the album was ready a long time ago, but the songs themselves were mercilessly reworked and changed. Iron Will from the very first notes gives you a war horse and an axe to gallop across the battlefield and crush your enemies! It is simple, and sets the mood for the album, I like it when melody, heroism, and aggression are intertwined in metal, to a reasonable extent! The very main riff of the verse sounds like you are riding a horse to attack!

I have no idea what is going on in Russia due to the pandemic, yet I guess that the cultural life over there isn't that lively at the moment. Do you see yourself performing this year or simply looking forward to 2022?

Yes, life is not as active as it used to be, although we don't have many limitations. We talked to Chris about album sales and performances, in 2022 we are planning to perform at European festivals in support of the album! The most difficult thing is to gather a band in one place, because we live in different places, I left my native Siberia not so long ago, and I live in Kaliningrad, near Europe.

Ivan, simply amazing it was to have you for this conversation, I was glad to have the opportunity to talk to you in light of the new record. Please keep up making amazing music. Cheers.

It is very pleasant for me to answer your questions, Lior, and it is nice that people remember us, even after so many years! I hope you enjoyed reading my answers and hope you enjoy our new album as much as we do! You can listen or support us on -  Keep supporting Metal, thanks!



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