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Satan's Russ Tippins: "…we’ve never been the type of band to layer the guitars sixteen times then drown them in a sea of fake orchestra strings"

Interview with Russ Tippins from Satan
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 24 April 2022, 10:16 PM

To have so much time to work an album, it is not something that you hear every day, in particular in such a demanding market, where an artist needs to be constantly updated with something new to offer. It was proven by many that not giving in to the pressure, make use of the time, and certainly with the pandemic there was enough, and the end result could be more dreamy than dreary. The legendary NWOBHM band, Satan, released their latest album, "Earth Infernal", proving that their magic is still there, and quite relevant even for the modern Metalhead. Steinmetal had a good talk with guitarist Russ Tippins about the album, its musical nature and lyrical flavors.

Hello Russ, it is an honor to have you once again for an interview with Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing kind sir?

Hey Lior! Great to be back. It’s been an interesting couple of years for sure, but I am fit and well & excited about the new record!

Our last chat, which I believe was nearly three years ago, was due to the debut album of Tanith, where we mentioned Satan briefly. This time around we are all about Satan. The band reunited back in 2011, yet in your view did its integrity face such a phenomenon as the pandemic?

In late 2020, and it continued in 2021, the pandemic strongly hit, with a total shutdown of culture. Furthermore, a lot of people were damaged mentally due to the feeling of being locked.

How did the course of this pandemic affect your motivation to even work on new music? Did you have to push yourselves in order to get things going?

Personally, it never affected me other than a loss of income. A lot of people weren’t so lucky. I feel bad for saying this, but I really thrived during that time in lockdown. I’ve never been super dependent on other people and actually was able to do what I love most - play guitar and compose music. And as soon as the airlines re-opened in July, Cindy flew over to stay with me -though the US still wasn’t admitting foreigners.

As to Satan, we managed to use the situation to our advantage. Our compositional work benefitted greatly from the extra time - uninterrupted time of the kind we haven’t known since 1982. With most bands, there’s a reason why their debut LP is often their finest work. Namely that the songs have had a number of years to gestate, develop, undergo the scrutiny of reflection and (if necessary) get rearranged or even side-lined as more new ideas are hatched. Once a band is signed that gestation period between releases is halved due to marketing strategies and agendas set by their label. I remember going to bed at sunrise and not waking up until it was dark again. 2020 was very much like that for us as we pooled our ideas for the next Satan record.

We actually started the process in late 2018 but life kept getting in the way, that is until the shutdown. So, after three years of honing the raw material into 10 fighting fit songs, the actual recording process was brutally quick, and I wouldn’t change that

Gladly, you championed the obstacles and were able to work, and complete, your new album, “Earth Infernal”. The album itself was recently released, continuing your work relations under Metal Blade Records. How has it been received up until now?

The reaction has been off the chart! We’ve really been taken aback by the impact Earth Infernal seems to have made. I’m very happy to tell you we just got news that it’s entered Germany’s national album chart at #12. That’s higher than Ed Sheeran, Bryan Adams and ABBA. While this is very gratifying it isn’t only because of the music but also the excellent organisation of Metal Blade and their marketing knowledge. There are times when all those thousands of man hours seem to be worth it, and this is one such time.

As it seems, you are sharing your fear of what would become of our planet if we continue to ignore it, let the environment suffer, as slowly, into the future, we will be burning like torches due to extensive heat. In your view, are we that blind of what is going on around us?

Not so much blind as blinkered. For two years we’ve all been distracted by a virus and the rise of the right in global politics. Those two issues have monopolized news reporting worldwide. The clamour has been deafening while our biggest problem has been quietly festering in a dark corner and is worse than ever. Our aim with the title and cover art is to try to direct a little light into that corner.

Since the environmental aspect isn’t getting enough attention, as there are countless arguments trying to stretch to both directions or whether we will or not be destroyed eventually by nature, what does “Earth Infernal” share as a suggestion for those who listen to it? Is there a way out from all this?

Of course, we don’t have the answers, but maybe we should put our trust in science and let those professionals guide us. In our whole back catalogue, we never voiced a position on the subject and the only reason we are raising a hand now is to get it back onto the table as a talking point. No more about the pandemic please, enough of politics, even the war in Eastern Europe. They are all transient events compared to the long-term ecology of the planet.

Other than the environmental issues, which are highly important, what other narratives does “Earth Infernal” carry along with it? Did the pandemic also play a part in the lyrical sense of some of the songs?

No, we consciously avoided the pandemic as a topic, knowing that everyone else would have more than enough to say about it. So, only two of the song lyrics (‘Twelve Infernal Lords’ & ‘Earth We Bequeath’) are to do with climate change. We also talk about Astrology, Machiavellianism, historic battles, mental illness and life affirmation.

 As a matter of your personal beliefs, how were those beliefs, and opinions, came to light on “Earth Infernal”? Is this a direct channel of your fears, or also a display of a positive note?

The thing I believe in most is science but over the last two years we’ve seen a growing trend among certain circles to proclaim that they don’t trust science anymore - presumably because to do so would require them to make changes in their lifestyles that they just don’t fancy.

Yet when it conveniences them they’ll trust science enough to step onto an aeroplane or undergo lifesaving heart surgery. Or when science enables them to log on to the internet and spread the word that science is fake. In the song lyric of ‘From Second Sight’ we’ve tried to put ourselves into their mindset and write a kind of manifesto of exactly what they would do when they are kings of the world.

I agree that “Earth Infernal” shows a few examples of a will to expand your musical experience, and other than playing NWOBHM, as you have been accustomed to, there is evidence of a few changes here and there. I have to ask, what makes “Earth Infernal” different from its previous?

So, since reuniting we have tried to make each release a companion piece to the others while being distinct in some small way. With this one, I really feel the raw essence of the band has been captured in a way that was only hinted at on the previous albums. I mean, we’ve never been the type of band to layer the guitars sixteen times then drown them in a sea of fake orchestra strings. For Earth Infernal we were particularly keen to get our music across with as few instruments as possible, so that our five individual performances are laid bare for the listener. Despite that, I’d venture to say there is more melodic information than ever within those basic tracks. That was only made possible because of the plentiful time and space we were given to create them.

Generally, even for a band of veterans such as yourselves, how do you find the musical progress of the band over the course of making “Earth Infernal”?

As I said we try always to introduce progression but in a measured way so that it doesn’t distract from the core sound of the band. For example, I listen to a wide range of music from every sphere, and no matter how much I enjoy the experience I have no intention trying to replicate it professionally - my chief attraction to it is precisely that I don’t understand it. However, it can be interesting to take a small pinch of dissonance and use it as a kind of seasoning to the main body of a Satan piece.

Let’s sink in a bit to the songwriting process, in particular the arrangement of the tracks. With a minimal number of hooks, as I see it, “Earth Infernal” includes interesting song structures, alongside the existence of melodic features, and great guitar work by yourself and Mr. Ramsey. What can you tell about the mentioned process? Did it feel any different this time around?

It feels different every time. We have no interest in sticking within our comfort zones. Take the synchronised guitar solo Steve and I play in the middle section of ‘Burning Portrait’. That is based around a scale that Stravinski used on his ‘Firebird’ suite in 1919. If it sounds unusual in the framework of metal song, then that is my intention. It’s a transient moment that catches the ear for a minute before resolving back to the main riff. As I said, a pinch of exotic spice doesn’t spoil the main dish but it’s important to us to set challenges that aren’t necessarily easy.

We talked about the songwriting, yet I would like to address the general feeling of the connection between the lyrics and music. Since the album isn’t really displaying anything that resembles light, how does the melodic driven music portray the lyrical end?

Okay there are actually two pieces on the album with a positive narrative - the first song on Side A (Ascendancy) and the first song on side B (Luciferic). The word ‘Lucifer’ actually translates from Latin as ‘bringer of light’. And the music of that piece is probably the most melodic on the entire record wouldn’t you agree?

Ascendancy is describing the feeling that one has on certain days when everything seems to click into place. You feel good about yourself in the moment which also carries over into your expectation of the future. It feels like nothing can touch you and life is ‘there for the taking’. How great would it be if we could tap into that attitude at any point in our lives, no matter how hopeless things seem.

One of the main factors of Satan is Brian Ross’s everlasting voice, and vocal performance. In a way, as I see it, as if the years haven’t touched his vocal cords, he sounds literally amazing. How do you find his performance on the record? Would you say that “Earth Infernal” is a case of pushing to the limit on his part?

I agree Lior, his performance really is amazing throughout the album and most particularly on ‘Earth We Bequeath’. Yes, he does push himself to the limit (we make him go there with our composition) but not beyond it. Over singing is just as bad as ‘cruising’. A great vocal performance should be passionate and on point. Brian delivers on both scores. We don’t even think about his age anymore because if anything, he’s only getting better at his craft.

In terms of sound, I enjoy the fact that you maintained the sound pattern of the early 80s, as if listening to a higher quality production of “Court In Act”. Is this a digital recording or did you take on the analog in order to reach the past sound? In overall, how do you appreciate the engineering work done for the record?

As with the previous three studio albums we recorded Earth Infernal at First Avenue (Newcastle). Their system is Pro Tools/Macintosh. Dave Curle is an old-school engineer who only wants to make a band sound like a band. I hear so many new releases where every second is micro-produced and its common practice now to copy & paste whole sections to get the ‘perfect’ version of a song. Worst of all they compress the master mix to a flat line so they can get it louder in the speakers - it’s not a good listening experience at all and makes me nauseous. It's wonderful to find an engineer like Dave who strives to keep things real.

I mentioned the fact that you guys are veterans, and highly respected, but I would like to know about the experience of “Earth Infernal” also as a learning curve. I believe that no matter if a musician saw and did everything, there is always something new to learn. Knowledge is power. In your opinion, what did “Earth Infernal” teach you guys about chemistry as a band and your individual abilities?

You’re absolutely right. Music like any artform can never be tamed, or put in a box labelled ‘complete’. Even as a professional musician of 38 years I will never know everything there is to know - even just in the field I’m working in. And I hope I never will, because what a depressing feeling that would be. My greatest joy in life is hearing music I don’t understand and trying to make sense of it. It’s exciting to imagine all the unheard possibilities that must be out there.

“For the Second Sight” triggered nostalgia quite amazingly, as if it was taken from an 80s album. No doubt it is one of the album’s hooking tracks, and shares melodic qualities. What is your take on this song in particular?

It came about when I was bingeing on early Van Halen just after Eddie passed away. I’ve always loved how he would play continuous evolving lines all on the same track - including the main riffs and the lead solo too. Even during the verses behind the vocal he would never play the same pattern each time, there would always be something interesting going on. I find that so exciting as a listener and so I set about trying to create something in a similar spirit. I had no preconception of how I might use the piece, it wasn’t like “okay this is going to be a new Satan song”. At the time it was nothing more than my private little tribute to EVH. I compose and record a lot of music that never gets made public. However, the guys in the band were really into this piece and we somehow turned it into a Satan song!

Going a level up in diversity, there is the following tune, “Poison Elegy”, certainly one of the album's most interesting songs, if not the most. What can you tell about its creative process? It appears that there are elements that might indulge the late 70s.

With ‘..Elegy’ the lyrics came first, and because it reads almost like the script of a play, we had to find a way to make the music every bit as dramatic as the narrative. That’s why you hear such sweeping tempo changes and dynamic movements throughout the piece. The lyric itself is told from the point of view of a Prince, who murders the King (his own brother) so that he may take the throne himself. He is at the funeral reading aloud the eulogy as if in mourning himself, but certain lines are spoken as an aside (to the theatre audience only) and it becomes clear he is gloating on the inside. It can be hugely engaging to be given such a dialog and be told “now create a score from nothing”. I’m so glad it resonates with you.

Now with the ability to schedule tours once again, what does Satan’s calendar look like for the support of the album?

Sure, this year is looking good. First up is No Playback festival in Germany this month. Then in June Satan has two shows on the Full Metal Cruise right before we cross the Irish Sea for Frost & Fire(land). In August we play Mangualde fest in Portugal and Alcatraz festival in Belgium. We begin October with Keep It True followed by a full European tour. Finally we’ll end the year playing dates in South America mid-November. Early 2023 will bring a tour of North America, Canada and the United States - where Earth Infernal has just entered the Billboard Hard Rock charts at #15.

Russ, it was a true pleasure kind sir, thank you for your time for this interview, also thank you for such a great album, it maintains your legacy with pride. All the best, cheers

Thank you Lior! The pleasure was all mine sir. Best wishes for the magazine and the future. Hope to see you somewhere on the road this year, cheers! Russ


 



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