Swords, ruined castles, funny coloured sunsets, escapist 70s hard / heavy rock music with long instrumental passages and flanging effects ….are you in? We grab a chat with VIDARR of epic heavy metal act LEDENDRY on creating his naive heavy metal folk art, publishing fantasy story-tales, old school recording techniques, vinyl re-releasing their 2016 debut, and how accidental electrical forces can sometimes become the ghostly third member of your band. Grimslath finds out more….
INTERVIEW BY GRIMSLATH
How have things been in the Legendry camp through the pandemic?
Just as the pandemic began, we found ourselves in the midst of a lineup change as Evil St. Clair left the band. Kicker and I had begun work on what would become the Heavy Metal Adventure EP as a kind of in-between release before the band’s next full-length album. We had just finished the drum tracks as our area of the country went on lockdown, so in some ways it worked out well for me, as I had something creative to do to maintain a bit of sanity. We now have a new bassist (whose mysterious identity will be revealed in the coming months), and have been writing for the next album. Maintaining momentum through this downtime has been a bit of a challenge, but I think that we will come out of the silence with some very cool music to show for it.
So Mists of Time is about to be released on vinyl and I’m really excited to get hold of a copy. How does it feel for you to finally have your debut on vinyl? Any interesting stories from when you recorded it?
It’s definitely great to finally see it on vinyl. When Kicker and I put the album together, I never expected, but always hoped for a vinyl release. In terms of the cover art, it was always meant for a gate-fold style layout, with the second half of the painting wrapping around the back. It was always a challenging thing to do the album as a vinyl release, as the 55 minute run-time is beyond what can reasonably be cut on a single 12” record. High Roller, in this case, was the perfect label to finally make that happen.
The recording process of the album was very much an experimental thing. Nothing about the album is done in a “correct” way, which is why it sounds the way it does. The only thing we considered the album to be was as a “cult” release, with no intentions of reaching anyone but a handful of people. My loftiest goal at the time was to have enough of a following to justify making a t-shirt with the band logo on it! We recorded the rhythm guitars and drums at the same time, live in a room in the house I was living in at the time. No click tracks we used at all and all the mics for the drums and guitar were summed to a stereo track, leaving no room for “mixing” after the fact. The bass guitar I was using (which is actually a really cool late 70s Fender Tele bass) needed a new input jack, so I had to prop it up on my leg in an awkward fashion to get it to not crackle, hah! I think the most bizarre and potentially disastrous event occurred when kicker was recording the conga drum into to “Attack of the Necromancer”. The house we recorded in was quite old, and the electrical system had some grounding issues. When I moved the overhead mic, it made contact with the chain pull of the room’s ceiling fan, which completed some kind of circuit and zapped the microphone. The chain briefly caught on fire and the electricity burned the imprint of the chain into the microphone’s metal housing. When we listened back to the takes, we heard an odd kind of chanting slightly behind the beat which we couldn’t explain, and kept it on the album.
The remaster by Arthur Rizk really takes an already spectacular album to a new level but why did you feel that the album needed a remaster? Does it sound now like you wanted it to when it was first released?
The main reason for considering a re-master was for the vinyl medium, which the audio was never prepared for, and honestly, it was only loosely to be considered “mastered” at the time of original release. With the fact of this technical necessity in mind, I, of course, wanted to take the opportunity to present a cleaner version of the album too, by remixing everything from the ground up. I spent a good deal of time on polishing the original album, while the shortcomings of the original recording are still present. It took a lot of self-control to not rerecord parts of the album – I never like when bands rerecord old material, but I can totally understand the temptation now to do so. I think the album sounds closer to my original vision, but the idealized form will only ever exist as a figment of my imagination. It exists for what it is: an honest recording made by the sheer will of forcing it into reality. Nothing about the sound is made to be “rough” by intention.
Cassettes and vinyl have really seen a resurgence, especially over the last few years. What do you think of this phenomenon? What are the crown jewels of your music collection?
I think it’s very cool. When I was a kid, cassettes were still sold in most stores, and the first albums I bought were all on cassette. So far, we have released the Initiation Rituals demo, Dungeon Crawler, and Heavy Metal Adventure on cassette, with hopes of issuing the other albums in that format as well eventually. The nostalgia, and collectability factors are certainly a draw for me, and also the customizable factors like the case and cassette shell colors are very cool details to design. I do all the layout work, in addition to the cover art, and have spent a lot of time researching the exact fonts used on the “classic” cassette layouts: carefully guarded secrets! These explorations have revealed to me just how good classic graphic design is, or at least revealed to me just how much I enjoy the simplistic utilitarian design.
As far as my collection goes, I have just recently acquired a nearly complete Blue Oyster Cult catalogue on cassette – only a couple more to go. Otherwise, I’d say my Black Sabbath – Headless Cross (I love the Tony Martin era albums!) and Eternal Champion – Parallel of Death, and some weird bootleg Voivod and Slayer demo tapes are some of the crowning pieces in the collection. Really though, in a lot of cases, I consider it just another medium to listen to.
Your cover art is amongst my favourite of all the music in my collection. How long have you been painting? What are some of your favourite album covers?
Thank you! I’ve been drawing all my life really, but I’ve been painting more or less as a focal area for around 15 years. With Legendry, I finally found a kind of subject area that interests me enough to develop a body of work around a theme. The paintings are meant to be somewhat naïve, and overly sentimental in appearance. I don’t use photographic references for them, other than some anatomical drawings and photos, which is a real challenge as a primarily realistic painter otherwise. I think for favorite album covers, the Roger Dean covers for Yes come to mind right away, and also the first three King Crimson album covers – of course In the Court of the Crimson King, but also the archetypes on the In the Wake of Poseidon and the illuminated manuscript style on Lizard. For heavy metal covers, I really enjoy the naïve bizarre barbarian stuff, like Omen’s Battle Cry or Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic, Manowar’s Hail to England, and also things like Metal Church – The Dark and the Helloween Keeper covers. Really, like many, the album covers in heavy metal were one of the main draws for me as a kid first discovering these things. I bought a lot of albums based on the cover and logos along for sure. Many times, I made the right choices!
Are you currently writing any more fiction? I really enjoyed the short story that inspired The Wizard and the Tower Keep album.
Glad you enjoyed it! The second story, “Beyond the Mirrors of Faellnoch” was published in the Swords of Steel: Omnibus Edition just over a year ago, actually. That story will be the conceptual basis for the album we are currently working on. It’s a continuation of “The Wizard and the Tower Keep”, and picks up directly as that story ends. I haven’t written any prose works since then, but I have ideas for where the story will go next. My intention is to write a third part, and combine each of the stories into a stand-alone novella. The writing of these stories has really been a way for me to fully visualize the world we are creating with the music, and a way for me to have a stronger foundation for writing lyrics. Our first songs were nearly always based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, so creating my own stories to write from was my solution to branching off into originality.
Tell us a little bit about your Metal Warrior figure. Where did the inspiration come from? Did he first appear in fiction, in a painting or in your music?
The whole concept formed in a very organic way. When it came time to think about the cover art and title for the first album, Mists of Time was the only track that really sounded like it could be an album title. The song dealt with an original concept wherein a warrior is tasked to venture to an ancient tomb to battle a demon. The cover depicts the warrior at dawn approaching the tomb – in the far right of the canvas, if you look closely; there is a door on the solid stone building with mist billowing out. Beyond this original instance, the concept grew from a conversation between kicker and I, wondering what it would be like to be trapped in a dungeon crawler type world, where you have no choice but to battle through subterranean realms in exchange for loot and gold to sustain your existence. This became the conceptual half of the Dungeon Crawler album (the other half revolving around Robert E. Howard Conan stories). When we started considering the third album, I was inspired by the writings of Neil Peart that would accompany Rush lyrics in his notes one evening. I sat down at my computer with Caress of Steel on headphones, and wrote until well into the morning, resulting in a large chunk of what became “The Wizard and the Tower Keep”.
How did you come to work with Phil Ross of Manilla Road on Heavy Metal Adventure? Must have been awesome to work with a musician who had been a part of one of your biggest influences!
We first met Phil when Legendry played a show with Manilla Road in our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, but we didn’t really get into conversations until quite some time later. I think that we got to talking regarding screen printing, as Phil has a company called Straight Printing, and offered up his services to the band. At the time when we were in search of a new bassist, just before tracking Heavy Metal Adventure, we had reached out to Phil to see if he had anyone in mind. Of course, Wichita, Kansas is quite a distance from Pittsburgh, so logistically it would have been a nightmare for him to join the band. We like to work on songs in a “jamming” sort of way, so a long-distance member would not really suit that form. In any case, I offered up a session role on the EP, and he accepted, sending his tracks remotely, which I added to our mixes. It was definitely amazing to work with him on it, and to have the most informed take on how to play the Manilla Road track on the album, having learned it from the Man himself! We’ve since continued to collaborate with him on our screen printed merch, and have some other things planned for the future – of course, to remain mysterious for now! What’s more, having Neudi release the EP on his Golden Core Records division of ZYX was also amazing – Neudi is a very cool guy, and totally “gets” the oldschool vibe we were going for. We were really cracking up about the vintage style “advertisement” we put on the back of the lyrics sheet for the vinyl edition, and even resurrected the old ZYX Metal logo from the 80s.
Do you have any post-pandemic plans? Any shows planned or new music in the works?
There are always plans, but many of them are secret/mysterious at the moment! As I mentioned, we are working on the next album right now, and I would say it is finally at a point where the material is starting to feel like a cohesive body of work. We are continuing in the direction taken on The Wizard and the Tower Keep, and moving onward from there. I think that’s all I can really say about it right now, without giving too much away or building it up one way or another. As far as live shows, no, nothing is planned at all right now. We are going to wait things out until the time is right – hopefully sooner than later, but we don’t want to rush back into things.
What is the best gig you’ve played so far and is there any festival you’re looking forward to playing in the future? Will we be lucky enough to see Legendry in Europe soon?
My favorite gig would probably be the one we played with Eternal Champion and Sumerlands some years back in Philadelphia, PA. It was a sold out show at a place called Johnny Brenda’s, which was a very interesting older theater-style venue, but with no seating. It had a big balcony above the stage with intricate antique wood carvings on it. That was one of the first shows we played, but it was amazing seeing people in the audience jamming to the music. It was also when I met Arthur Rizk and started discussions about mastering Dungeon Crawler for vinyl, so it was the start of some great collaboration with him.
As far as playing in Europe, we’re really hoping that we can make it there soon. Before our lineup complications and the pandemic we had some things in the works to play a festival there, but those plans obviously never came to fruition.
Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions, Vidarr! The last words are yours.
Thanks for reaching out to me, and for your interest in what we’re doing. It still amazes me that people are digging what we do, and it has been quite inspiring creating music that I know will reach an audience. All the best to you, your readers, and our fans – hope to see you all jamming to heavy metal in person sooner than later!