Kansas-based death metal band Ares Kingdom recently released their second album, Incendiary, to great acclaim. Guitarist and cult legend Chuck Keller, formerly of Order From Chaos, kindly answered some questions about his latest band and gave us his thoughts on the new album.
Hey! Congratulations on Incendiary, its one of the best death / thrash albums I've heard in a long time! How long did it take to write and record? Was it ever a struggle?
Thanks very much; we're rather proud of the beast. Sure, there were times during the writing process that drove me crazy and during the rehearsal phase where I drove the other lads crazy, but its always worth it in the end.
Is it better recording at your own studio or do you sometimes miss the third party input that another producer or engineer would give you?
We think its better being in control and completely responsible for our output. I haven't been inside another studio since around 1996, and even then it was to master a Vulpecula recording... so even that was just an evening's work. I'd probably be rather hostile toward a producer or engineer, essentially anyone outside the band that wanted to tell me how the songs should be. That said, I could probably work with a Tom Allom or Chris Tsangarides...
The cover art by Joseph Pennell is a really striking image which is very reminiscent of 9/11 with New York burning. What made you choose this historical artwork rather than a piece produced specifically for the album?
With history providing the majority of our concepts and lyrics, it's fitting for us to use historical artwork for the cover rather than contemporary pieces. That said, we did commission the eagle / star / flags artwork found in the lyric booklets of both the CD and LPs from the American artist Seth Bennett. In terms of the Pennell piece, the visual and philosophical links to 9/11 are unmistakable, and since this reflects the subject matter of the title track, it was perfect.
Lyrically, you seem to deal with concepts and ideas that are more intellectual and thought provoking than the majority of metal bands. Obviously the music can be enjoyed without paying much attention to the lyrics but do you think that they add an extra dimension to Ares Kingdom which elevates you above the 'blood and guts' themes of other bands? Is it your intention to make the listener think and question the world?
I write about what I know, and I'm much better versed in history, science and philosophy than in blood, guts, Satan and zombies. I enjoy bands that write about those things, obviously, and like you say, can ignore the lyrics, but when it comes to my own work, standards are very different. Certainly the idea is to challenge people to think critically about the world around them, but not to dismiss it and live in some fairyland of their own making. To be sceptical, but not a mindless naysayer. Of course this is supposed to be entertainment and not necessarily life instruction, so if you just want to listen to Ares Kingdom for a thorough headbanging experience, we're certainly ready for ye!
You have put a lot of effort into the vinyl release of Incendiary, especially the 'Die Hard' version. If I was a collector I'd definitely have Do you prefer vinyl to CD? Will you ever do limited edition versions of your albums on CD? Additionally, any chance of a regular Ares Kingdom patch?
Its not a question of preference, really, its just that that's where we come from. You should design your releases as LPs and use that giant canvas to the best of your abilities. Like with lyrics, I used to study every square inch of my favorite releases, and the more there was to study, the happier I was. The release of new albums by our favorite bands were events we anticipated for months, and when they finally arrived, we wouldn't just listen to them, we'd absorb them. So now that we're releasing albums, we try to give our fans releases with a scope and approach we'd most like to see. After you design the LP, you can shrink it down to CD format, or whatever formats the future has in store...
Your biography mentions that Kansas City is very intolerant towards extreme metal with 2 out of 3 clubs banning you after a single show. In your opinion, why is this the case? Is there much of a metal scene in Kansas at all?
I suppose its much like anywhere else. Loads of bands doing what's popular on a national or international level, more or less. Its bigger now than it was ten or twenty years ago, for whatever that's worth. There is one promoter here that knows what he's doing, and we work with him almost exclusively whenever we want to play for the home team. Otherwise our friends can always come over and watch us rehearse at Very Metal Sound.
With the success of the NWN! Festival in Germany can we expect a return of Ares Kingdom to European shores? Maybe more dates?
Yes, we'll be back for NWN Fest II in November 2010, but no other dates are currently planned.
Which is the best show you have played so far. Also, if you could choose any band, past or present, to play a show with, which would it be?
Either Noctis III in Calgary or the NWN Fest in Berlin last year; hard to choose since they both had unique strengths. We'd still love to play with Destructor.
Both Order From Chaos and Vulpecula have been extremely well respected bands in the extreme metal scene and Ares Kingdom seems to be garnering the same reaction but which of these three projects is dearest to you and why?
Ares Kingdom. This is the band I've always wanted to be in. OFC has its place in our lives, obviously, and I dearly love what Vulpecula did - and we'll cover a song or two in the future, but that was more of a project than a band.
Which bands are your biggest influences? Do you listen to many modern bands or do you tend to stick to older releases? What was the last album you bought?
Biggest influences. As a songwriter, and I'll make it easy to grasp by citing bands rather than individuals; Voivod, Metallica, Slaughter Lord, Mefisto, Bathory, Venom, Marillion, Kate Bush, plus I draw inspiration from classical composers such as Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc. As for individual guitarists, Malmsteen, Piggy, Tipton / Downing, Gorham / Sykes, Warren DiMartini, Quorthon, Mantas, Vivian Campbell, Murray / Smith / Gers, George Lynch, Jake E. Lee, Steve Rothery, Ross Robinson, Omar Ahmet, Hansen / Weikath / Richter / Grapow, Sherman / Denner, Hammet / Hetfield, ie the guys that really knew what they were doing. In terms of contemporary bands, there are many I like, most provide some form of inspiration – but few are anything like an influence. Last album I bought was Gamma Ray's To The Metal. Best thing they've done since Powerplant.
I get the impression from your website that the next release is already being planned. Is there anything new you'd like to try on it? A new concept or additional instruments, for example?
The third full length is going to have to be even more carefully planned than Incendiary, and I started on it even as we were finishing mastering Incendiary last fall. Progress will be slow, I'm sure...we have a lot to live up to, and topping Incendiary will be no small feat. Conceptually I'm going to focus on certain historical and philosophical elements of our material. Musically we'll continue to do what we do; push boundaries in our own way. In the meantime, the plan is to record a mini album of covers, and perhaps an original piece as well.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you the best of luck with everything and look forward to the next Ares Kingdom offering! Anything else you'd like to add?
Keep an eye on our website www.areskingdom.com and www.myspace.com/areskingdom for the latest news on upcoming shows and releases, and of course, our merch list. Thanks for the questions! DIE HARD!