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SEVEN KINGDOM's Camren Cruz: "SEVEN KINGDOMS started as a project and it was half power metal and half death metal. I wanted to combine the two, but then as we added Sabrina in the band, we just went more power metal.”

Interview with Camren Cruz from Seven Kingdoms
by Kevin Lewis at 16 September 2021, 3:14 PM

SEVEN KINGDOMS is a Florida based power metal quartet. They’ve shifted from an early death metal sound to embracing power metal fully. Their sound has shifted, their songwriting has improved, and their stage presence is amazing. They’ve used the pandemic to write more music and have already begun the process of creating their next opus. They are currently on tour with UNLEASH THE ARCHERS and AETHER REALM, tearing up stage throughout North America. Metal Temple writer Kevin Lewis recently caught up with the band for an interview, and recommends you check out one of their barnstormers, “Stargazer”:

I think we (Metal Temple) have reviewed a couple of your albums before. I know I found one from about 2012, I think

Camren Cruz – Yeah, that was the orange one, self-titled…No wait, 2012, that is The Fire Is Mine.

So, I am here with Camren Cruz. You are the guitarist and primary writer?

CC – No. I’m just the guitar player, we collectively write everything.

Oh, okay, so this is a collective band. Impressive, I like that.

CC – Yeah, Sabrina (Valentine) and I are married and Keith and Kevin (Byrd) are brothers. So, we’re just kind of a union.

The nepotism runs deep here.

CC – (Laughs) Yeah.

That’s perfectly fine. Matter of fact, the merch woman…

CC – Brittney is Keith’s fiancee.

Exactly, Neat young lady. I was talking to her earlier, she, loves the band. She was out jamming to the soundcheck earlier.

CC – Yeah, she’s our rock.

And every band needs that.

CC – Yeah.

So, your first album was closer to death metal.

CC – Yeah, I was just getting out of high school. I was in a Christian metalcore band called THE SOLEMN VOW, and I had just discovered power metal, and I thought that was so cool. SEVEN KINGDOMS started as a project and it was half power metal and half death metal. I wanted to combine the two, but then as we added Sabrina in the band, we just went more power metal.

Who are some of your biggest power metal influences?

CC – STRATOVARIUS, BLIND GUARDIAN, HELLOWEEN, HAMMERFALL… all if the major ones.

So, have you heard HELLOWEEN’s latest album?

CC – I haven’t listened to it too much, just because I haven’t had the time to digest it. Keith has, he’s our HELLOWEEN guy. If you listen, he’s really into their drums.

Good lord, he might as well be. He could sub in for them, he’s that good.

CC – (Laughs) Yeah, he really likes, not the current drummer. He loves them all, but he…

Ingo Schwichtenberg

CC – I think so.

He was the original drummer.

CC – Yeah, yeah.

Dani Loble is the current drummer. I actually got to write the review on that and it is really good.

CC – Oh, that’s cool.

The three singers together, they’re fantastic.

CC – I’d love to see that Pumpkins United thing.

So, what that leads me to is that I noticed you have three different voices in your band as well. You’ve got Sabrina, you’ve got clean male vocals, and you have growled male vocals.
CC – We have backing vocals that are like choirs, more so than just a straight male. So, you’ll hear the dude voices in the background. Sabrina is the main singer. We dabble with a little harsh vocals here and there. I don’t like them, but we do it for the sake of the song.

I heard them earlier, but they seem to have tapered out as you’ve gone on.

CC – Oh, on the records definitely. I mean the next record is probably not going to have a lick of screaming on it.

I must admit, I don’t have a great timeline on your band. I’ve been listening on Spotify, so the songs jump back and forth in time. I’ve been doing this for three weeks. I drive 36 miles to and from work, so, 45 minutes each way, and I’ve just streamed y’all for three weeks straight. It jumped around a whole lot. So, I don’t have great timing to know what came when, other than to know that the lyrics and melodies have matured over time.

CC – Yeah, definitely.

And listening to that soundcheck, there have got to be some NWOBHM influences in there.

CC – (Laughs) Maybe. I guess we would call that “true metal.” For our side, it’s that kind of MANOWAR, HAMMERFALL, ACCEPT-ness. I mean we get that a bunch, but we don’t really listen to a ton of it.

IRON MAIDEN is notorious for trading off solos like you just did in the soundcheck, so I guess that’s where I hear and see that.

CC – Oh, I see that!
IRON MAIDEN is one of my big bands. I’m 51 years old,

CC – It’s funny, because we don’t listen to a ton of IRON MAIDEN at all. So, we just got the dual lead thing just because, Kevin and I… actually, it was more of a METALLICA thing. For us, I think the first harmonized guitars we heard are METALLICA.

There’s definitely some thrash influence in your music.

CC – Definitely thrash for sure.

Mostly power, but with some thrash, and a bit of progressive sprinkled in here and there.

CC – Maybe.

 Some of your tempo changes lean into the prog, which to me is a fantastic combination. I think power and prog work spectacularly together. So, your lyrical content, I haven’t noticed any massive themes. Like one record being tied all together.

CC – You mean like a concept record?

Exactly.

CC – Actually, Brothers Of The Night, which the lyrics were written by our old vocalist Bryan (Edwards), I think that was considered a concept record, because it was kind of like a Game Of Thrones story. When we moved on, actually, AETHER REALM (another band on this tour) calls them an album of non-like bangers. So every song has a completely different story. We like that, but the new record in the spring, has a couple of songs loosely connected that’s our own little sci-fi/fantasy thing.

I notice you have some fantasy and some sci-fi, but you also have some that are more deeply personal. “Rats In The Wall” almost feels like…

CC – Kevin did the lyrics for that. It’s an H. P. Lovecraft inspired story.

It seemed a lot more horror based and like dealing with your own personal demons.

CC – Yeah, kind of. The older we get, the more personal life stuff comes into the music. We try to keep that kind of power metal tendency. I hate to say it like that, but sometimes you just have to sprinkle in the fantasy words, not to sell records, but to keep it cool for the listeners. We try to still put that fantasy vibe on the songs, but at the same time, the older we get, we’re doing more of like a personal experience kind of story. Like “Neverending” or “Fragile Minds Collapse.”

I’m a huge fan of a braod range of music, and power is one of my favorites, but I’m also into some old school nu-metal bands, like SEVENDUST, and over time, their lyrics have become increasingly personal. Those songs draw you in on a totally different level than a fantasy song.

CC –  Oh yeah, the personal experience allows you to connect with someone who’s gone through the same thing, and that’s going to connect you with them, not like a fantasy song. So, we definitely tried to do that and branch off into that kind of thing. We get messages all the time, even on songs where we didn’t mean it to come across that way, but it still comes across like that.

Everyone interprets the lyrics with their own mind, with their own feelings.

CC – Yeah, yeah.

So, moving on to the next phase of this. You mentioned some of the writing is done on the next record. Is there a projected timeline that you want to finish writing and start recording?

CC – We already recorded the drums for it, so that’s done.

Nice!

CC – We recorded the drums and Sabrina did some of the scratch vocals. So, as soon as we get home, we have to do the guitars and bass and synth stuff, then Sabrina actually goes to track the final vocals in the middle of November. Then we go to mix and master the album right after she gets done with that. I’ll have the record at the end of November-ish. Then we’re going to sit on it to do the videos and the Kickstarter process. We’re going to drop it in the spring.

Nice! Well, if it ends up on Metal Temple, I will be requesting to write the review of it.

CC – Just get it from John.

I’m just a staff writer, so I don’t control any of that. Lior Stein is the brains of this, but he is really good at letting us request the music we want to write on. The good news is, there is new music coming.

CC – Yes!

So, COVID was at times productive, obviously.

CC – Yeah, we did “The Great Goat Rodeo” (single released in 2020) while we had a break during COVID. That was a fun kind of little project. We also got “The Boys Of Summer” done as well, and got some vinyl copies of records.

You kind of got thrown for a loop on the first few dates of this tour.

CC – Yes. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS did not come in when originally planned. It’s a long story, too much to get into here.

To help out with that turmoil, you got to do a virtual show. Did that help?

CC – We made like $3000 on that. We also got a ton of donations. We did a little over $6000 and split it evenly with AETHER REALM. We just split everything. That one stream got us back to what we lost on the shows we missed.

Awesome!

CC – That was our lowest projection on what we would have made from merch and all that. Still, that was my bottom line that we needed to do to break even on the tour. So, going from zero to that was awesome.

The metal community loves metal…

CC – And they are starved for it right now.

And they will do as much as they can to support that. I’m so glad you managed to at least break even.

CC – I have to thank Ty and LORDS OF THE TRIDENT for that. That was really a spectacular thing they let us do. It really helped us and I just appreciate it so much.

I know you are busy. You’re the guitarist, the tour manager, and I get it, so I’ll wrap this up pretty quick.

CC – If you want to chat more, we’re sharing equipment with AETHER REALM, so we don’t have to do a major shift after our set. Maybe we talk more then.

I noticed the drummer was on your kit.

CC – Yeah, sometimes the support acts share stuff. We set up a show in front of their stuff to save time and space. It really helps make the night better. I have to unplug four things and we’re done.
You don’t have to unmike and remike the drums.

CC – Cool, we can talk more later, but I can also bring in another SEVEN KINGDOMS member right now.

Brief pause while he gets Kevin, the second guitarist… man this guy is busy. He’s even the tour photographer for some of the crowd shots. Much respect to him and how hard he works to make this a reality.

I was speaking to your brother earlier, just shooting the breeze. It’s easy to remember your names because I’m a Kevin and one of my brother’s friends growing up was a Keith. Man, he is incredibly busy. Thanks for talking the time to meet with me.

Kevin Byrd – Yeah, no problem.

I just watched your soundcheck, and saw the two of you just ripping back and forth. It was funny talking to Camren, because he said it was more of a METALLICA influence, but I heard IRON MAIDEN. So, I’m 51, and my first exposure to twin guitar leads was JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, SAXON, more the NWOBHM. So, I heard you trading off, then coming together and harmonizing. That is straight power metal Heaven.

KB – Yeah, that’s what we got for.

I’m an old school power metal guy. I love HELLOWEEN

KB – Oh yeah, that’s my brothers favorite band.

I heard that earlier. I got a chance to interview Markus Grosskopf not too long ago. I got to write the review for their new record, which is so cool because they’ve got three vocalists and three guitarists. I also got to see the Pumpkins United tour. Man, three hours of HELLOWEEN live is such an experience.

KB – I haven’t gotten to experience that yet. I’m dying to, though. Especially now, with that lineup.

It is truly phenomenal.

KB – They’re just doing everything at this point.

They love concept albums, and you haven’t really gotten into that.

KB – No, we haven’t really. We might eventually touch on something like that. For the most part, we do individual stories or experiences. That’s just personal, for us.

We were discussing “Rats In The Wall” and how that feels more like dealing with an inner demon than a sci-fi song. It felt more personal.

KB – I actually wrote that. It is based off an H. P. Lovecraft story called Rats In The Walls. It’s a really awesome short story and I highly recommend it. There’s just something about that inner turmoil, on the brink of insanity that fascinates me. You know, the human mind.

And it can be deeply personal and related to something. It’s an incredible song. I’m a fan of Lovecraft and (Edgar Allen) Poe and all those writers.

KB – Me, too! I love poetry and classic literature.

IRON MAIDEN, when the did a 14-minute song based on a 120+ stanza poem was awesome. Poetry and classical music ties in so well to heavy metal. So, who are some of your biggest personal influences for guitar work and writing?

KB – For guitar, honestly, I love Paul Gilbert. He’s one of my favorite guitarists. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him.

He’s kind of old school.

KB – He is old school. I love his feel though. I love shredding, but I also love a big vibrato and big bends. Harmonies and melodies, you know. I love Paul Gilbert. The guitarists in HELLOWEEN were a big influence for me. André Olbrich from BLIND GUARDIAN, I love his creative vibe and how he layers in so many different guitars and harmonies. I love those big, bombastic sounding melodies.

You occasionally have a shift in a song that will have an almost progressive feel to it.

KB – Yeah, I think we touch on that from time to time.

For me, I think power and prog go great together. Especially if you go halfway between HELLOWEEN and DREAM THEATER and get that epic 13-minute song that just chases itself. I noticed you haven’t gone that long yet, but you love to hit in the 5-7 minute range.

KB – 5-7 minutes is our sticking point, but I am totally for doing a big, epic song one of these days. I love that stuff, too. You know, like BLIND GUARDIANAnd Then There Was Silence,” a 14-minute song that’s huge and constantly taking you through different ranges of emotion. I love that type of stuff, and one day I hope we will get to that.

One of the things you do well is that a song has a feel, and the lyrics support that. So, how does songwriting work for you? Do you have a song and fit the lyrics into it, or do you write the song based on the feel of the lyrics? Which comes first?

KB – We usually have the music first, the basic structure of a song or a riff or something. We’ll write it individually or come together as a group and collaborate. Usually, it starts with the music. If I’m writing something in particular, I’ll have an idea of what I want to do lyrically. I try to think of the chords for personal experience songs. What will tug on the heartstrings. Which chord progression will give you goosebumps. The music often comes first, but we know what the song is going to feel like emotionally.

A lot of times, it’s the tuning that will influence if it’s a darker song or not, whether the song is more mental anguish or if it’s higher and lighter and goes more to the sci-fi side of things. It sounds like most of your fantasy and sci-fi tend to be in higher tunings. And actually, I don’t know if it’s a different tuning or just a different chord structure to get the darker feel.

KB – We don’t really use different tuning; we tend to just use darker chords. Some of the darker, more emotional stuff just go to darker, lower chords. We actually stay in the same tuning; we just use creative ways to make it sound different from song to song. We just play in a lower key or something.

I don’t remember which song it was, because I’ve been listening to you for about three weeks on random, repeat through Spotify. One song you had was almost sludgy. It was slower and darker, I meant to commit it to memory, but it’s slipping my mind.

KB – Was it the whole song or just a certain part?

I think it was just a certain part.

KB – Some of our newer stuff, we’ve kind of dipped into that territory for like a bridge or something. We used like a half-time, kind of slower, heavier riff.

Yeah, the drums really slowed down and the riff went from lightning fast, which you are so good at, back to an almost slow, chugging rhythm. It dropped down into a lower range and it slowed down the tempo. You’ve got a lot of range with where you go with your song s and where you vary to make them feel differently.

KB – I personally like that. I kind of like a song to take me different places, especially at the midway point. You have a song that’s really upbeat, and maybe halfway through we’ll change it. We’ll go a little harder, a little heavier. When I’m writing a song, I try to write for myself and what I like. I’m sure some other people like it as well, but I like a song that is going to kind of bring me up, then bring me down. I like to feel the whole spectrum of music as far as emotions and all that. So, that is definitely a conscious effort. We try to take songs all over the place. It’s fun for us.

It takes talent to write like that and you guys do that, have that talent. So, congratulations and kudos on doing a great job.

Here, we take a break to let them play their show, then check in with them afterwards.

First off, that was awesome! That crowd, I don’t know how many of them knew you before this, but they were into it! Front to back. I know you couldn’t see it.

Sabrina Valentine – (Laughs)

CC – It was hard to see because there were no backlights.

Gotta check one thing… apparently it’s because you (Sabrina) weren’t wearing the hamburger slippers.

SV – They made me shorter, so I figured I’d wear a slight bit of heel for tonight, but all I could see is the top of someone’s head.

That was a great set. Earlier, I mentioned that you were going a bit less with the growls. Is that because you (Sabrina) are getting better at distortion?

SV – Well, thank you for noticing that! Originally, we had a lot of growls with Bryan, the original singer, but when Camren asked me to be the lead, I told him, “you realize I’m not going to do that, right?’ I really appreciate everybody who can so that, but if I can just add a little bit of grit throughout, on my own, that’s cool. We’re down to four people now, and no one really knows how to do that.
CC – Nor do we really care.

Understood, but I did notice you threw a lot of distortion in tonight. First off, your vocals sounded great. You harmonize with the guitars really well. Do you all plan that? Is it something you aim for?

CC – Of course it’s something we aim for (everyone laughs).

SV – I’ve been learning to do harmonies since I was three years old, so it’s just something that I naturally do. As soon as they start playing something, I automatically go for the harmonies. We like to incorporate those.

So. It’s not just a Bob Ross thing, “just a happy little accident.”

SV – well, in the studio it was a happy little accident. Now I just do it because that’s the way it was recorded.

I was talking a little earlier with Kevin. One of the things we talked about, and it kind of clicked in my head, your fifth song, the feeling, slower and heavier, darker and deeper. It’s impressive that you are using the same tunings, you just shift down a few chords and create an entirely different vibe.

CC – With “Valonqar,” the slow one?

Yes, that one.

CC – There’s nothing different with that. Actually, it’s the same key as the chorus for “Rats In The Wall.,” but the way it’s played is very doomy.

Sludgy is the term I was thinking of earlier. I had forgotten the name earlier, but when I heard it, all I could think is, “that’s it!”

SV – Yeah, “Valonqar.”

The way you can absolutely reshape the emotion of a song, just by shifting down and slowing it down, using a different vocal, going deeper into your range, it’s really impressive. I have to say, you definitely created a fan for life tonight.

SV – Wow! Thank you.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. It was a great show and I wish you well for the remainder of the tour!

CC – Thank you!

So, how was their set?

SEVEN KINGDOMS is a band you want on your tour. They have a very high energy show and give 100% from the first note to the final bow. They know how to amp a crowd up and get them involved. Vocalist Sabrina hangs out near the merch booth, greeting new and old fans alike, taking selfies and being a cool person. Camren acts as ambassador, photographer, manager, PR and lots more. The Byrd Brothers do the rest. But when on stage, their focus is right where you want it. The guitarists sing along, getting the crowd hyped when the singer isn’t throwing her fist up and encouraging a sing along. The drummer lays down a killer beat. The guitars weave and bob and chase each other around the stage physically and musically. They work in tandem to build a platform that supports the vocals. Sabrina adds more grit live than on the record, giving the songs even more depth and emotion. My highlights? “Stargazer,” “Valonqar” and “In The Walls.” Those two songs give you a great feel for who this band is and what they are capable of doing. The songs sound good on the record, and on the stage. If they are coming to a club near you, GO SEE THEM! You won’t regret it.



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