Interview with Jonathan “Sealey” Seale and Steve Wilson of Wakefield, UK doom band Iron Void.
In all my years of writing about heavy metal, one of the finest bands I have had the privilege to work with is England’s Iron Void, fellows who are very true individuals indeed!
Iron Void have continued to make great music and play great shows, and with their most recent album Excalibur, on Shadow Kingdom Records, they have produced a masterpiece.
I spoke to Iron Void’s bassist/vocalist Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale and guitarist/vocalist Steve Wilson…
‘Excalibur’ is a truly superb album. What inspired you to write it, and what has the reaction been like thus far?
SEALEY: “Thanks very much, Steve, glad you like it! It’s inspired by the Arthurian legends, specifically the film of the same name directed by John Boorman (1981) and the book the film was based on ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ by Sir Thomas Malory. The reaction so far has been fantastic. I’m really pleased with the response to the album from fans and critics alike, couldn’t be happier really.”
Great to hear! Can you talk about the significance of the superb cover artwork?
SEALEY: “I originally did a sketch of the album artwork and presented this to Roland Sciver of Familiar Ink (www.familiarink.com), who also happens to be the guitarist in Serpent Venom, a band we’ve been big fans of since they started. Roland took my idea and created his own vision of the artwork which I’m over the moon about, it’s amazing! He also painted the back-cover image of the mortally wounded Arthur and did the lyric sheet (vinyl version), booklets (CD and Cassette), tray and CD design too. He did a fantastic job and we’re very happy with the final result, it looks great. The cover represents the link between Arthur, the Sword, and the Land. The King and the Land are one and the Sword is a supernatural force, hence the reason it floats in the foreground reflecting rays of golden sunshine. We wanted to incorporate the Iron Void logo into the leaves and branches of the trees too and I think we really achieved a strong visually stunning identity for the album artwork. The misty hill in the background is actually Glastonbury Tor, which is suggested by many sources as the mystical Avalon, the final resting place of King Arthur.”
What are your future touring plans for Excalibur?
SEALEY: “We’ve been confirmed for Riddle of Steel III in Marburg, Germany on Saturday 7th December. There will be other festivals and shows announced throughout the year.”
I feel the New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences are very strong on ‘Excalibur’, would you agree?
SEALEY: “Yes, I totally agree with you! We’ve always combined Doom Metal with NWOBHM, that’s what we set out to do initially as a band. On this record I would say there is a very strong Pagan Altar influence on songs such as ‘Dragon’s Breath’ as well as ‘80s Sabbath (Dio and Martin eras) and I can hear Quartz in the mid-section of ‘Enemy Within’ too. This is probably our most traditional Heavy Metal sounding record so far but it suited the subject matter so we thought why the Hell not? We’re very much influenced by these bands so it’s no surprise their influence shines through in our own song-writing.”
STEVE: “I would add Iron Maiden and Wishbone Ash as influences too, particularly on guitar and how we used harmonies on both guitar and vocals. We were all on the same page musically, with the mix of doom, classic rock, and heavy metal. I think the more tradition metal influenced passages have really complemented the sludgy doom riffs really well. We just went with out influences and didn’t worry about trying to fit in with what was going on around us and it came out great.”
Maybe it was not intentional but perhaps due to the conceptual nature of the album, I feel that in the ‘70s it might have been categorised as progressive rock to some degree.
SEALEY: “It definitely wasn’t intentional but that’s pretty cool to hear, I’ve not thought about it that way at all. I quite enjoy a lot of 70s prog but I never considered Iron Void to be proggy, we’re much more straightforward in out approach in my opinion but I understand the comparisons as Excalibur is a concept record.”
STEVE: “I can see the prog comparison. The intro melody for ‘Death of Arthur’ and also ‘Avalon’ are a bit more in that direction. Metal grew out of the prog and hard rock of the ‘70s anyway, particularly Maiden, who have always been an influence on my playing and writing. We knew we were going to make a concept album, but it was always going to be done our way with doom metal as the main influence.”
I myself love the NWOBHM, it seems it was a magical time of real bands and real fans. What are your thoughts on the NWOBHM, could we ever see the like of it again?
SEALEY: “As you’re probably well aware, we are massive NWOBHM fans. The bands I personally enjoy the most as Quartz, venom, early Maiden, Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General, Angel Witch, Trespass, Vardis, Demon, Cloven Hoof, Desolation Angels, Fist, etc. I keep discovering NWOBHM bands all the time via YouTube. It’s hard to believe really that there were so many bands, some only did a single and split, never even made it to recording a full-length album. It was a more innocent time and I don’t think a movement like that will ever happen again, it was unique and very honest and I think that is its enduring appeal.”
STEVE: “This style of music is being recognised again and that can only be a good thing. We gig with much heavier bans from black metal to sludge (especially at all-dayers and festivals). Some will be less keen on it but we always fit in and have a great crowd response. I wasn’t quite sure who out audience was in the early days because we mix a little bit of all our influences together. It’s given us a more varied sound and the being accepted and liked for adding the NWOBHM influence is great. Things could change again but I’d like to think we won’t go through another dark age with metal like it was in the 1990s.”
Amen to that, Brother, it was indeed a dark time for the music we love. Iron Void works well as a power trio, but could you ever see your musical line-up expanding?
SEALEY: “We’ve tried second guitarists in the past and while the harmonies were great, it never worked out. I prefer the power trio format, it’s heavier in my opinion and it’s also easier to write this way. I can’t see this changing anytime soon.”
STEVE: “Harmonies and extra rhythm guitar are the two main things for me, too. It has always been difficult finding the right guitarist and having them double up my rhythms isn’t really necessary anyway, so it only leaves the harmonies really. With one guitar, it’s just me and Sealey writing and we can jam straight away with the drums and start arranging songs as a band.”
We are losing, or have lost, a lot of the great old heavy metal bands, Dio, Sabbath, etc. Do you see any bands filling the void they leave or do we face a future with a plethora of Facebook bands and a ludicrous amount of subgenres of metal?
SEALEY: “We were actually talking about this in rehearsal the other week. Who is going to replace greats like Dio, Sabbath, Motorhead, Maiden and Priest when they are gone? It’s hard to say. There are bands like us carrying the torch but we aren’t getting anywhere near the same amount of attention these bands did originally. But if you’re looking for newer bands with a new sound as vital as what those bands had you aren’t going to find it. We feel metal may become more of a cult form of music similar to what Rockabilly is now in years to come. I don’t think it will ever be forgotten but the way it’s presented as an art form will change in years to come I believe.”
STEVE: “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Will young bands try to get more exposure on YouTube, rather than playing as many gigs? Probably, but I think the web will keep this music alive as it’s a lot easier to discover it now than it was. There’s more chance of fans seeing videos now, too, with YouTube. But, I agree, they can’t keep putting Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on as festival headliners for many more years, and the alternatives aren’t as good right now.”
If you could do a covers album, what songs would Iron Void cover?
SEALEY: “We’ve discussed this idea many times! Steve and I did have an idea to do a covers album paying tribute to deceased rockers such as Lemmy and Mark ‘The Shark’ Shelton and many others. We were going to call it ‘Rest In Power’. Our label weren’t too keen on the idea. So we kind of shelved it for now anyway.”
Too good an idea to waste… you have to do it!
SEALEY: “If we did do this we’d cover Motorhead-‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catch’, Manilla Road-‘The Veils of Negative Existence’, Iron Maiden-‘Wrathchild’, Metallica-‘Escape’ and Pagan Altar-‘Highway Cavalier’, amongst others which I can’t think of right now. I’d also like to cover Free-‘Moonshine’. I love that song and the lyrics are so doomy! In the past, live, we have covered St. Vitus (‘Born Too Late’, ‘Living Backwards’), Black Sabbath (‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Electric Funeral’, ‘Wicked World’) and Pentagram (‘Forever My Queen’).
STEVE: ‘We haven’t ruled out doing this at some point, possibly by ourselves. We’d have to add an Iron Man song on there now, too, sadly.”
Indeed! What are your feelings on illegal downloading?
SEALEY: “If people are doing it cos they’re skint and they really love a certain band and genuinely want to hear the music then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it but that’s probably not the case is it? People will always do things that are illegal for whatever reason suits them. It’s hard to police it, I guess. Fortunately, our fans do tend to buy our physical product which means we can continue to record and produce new merch.”
STEVE: “I’m more concerned with streaming in terms of how little it pays. It won’t provide enough to support bands if and when physical sales drop. The positive side is reaching thousands of potential new fans. Fan uploads on YouTube have reached a lot of people who would otherwise not have heard of us, too. In one sense, the music business is crashing, but the other side of the coin is, the diehards are still buying physical copies. We still do really well with CDs. We wouldn’t have noticed that format was dying just based on our own sales. I have a friend from a band who can’t sell any physical copies at all, and they just upload their stuff to stream and use YouTube. The old school doom and metal fans have yet to reach this point, though, I’m pleased to say.”
Ironically, there is a strong resurgence in the physical format of music. Local indie record shops in Limerick such as Steamboat Music are shifting loads of vinyl and CDs, and for instance, the recent reissue of Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ included the cassette format, and at gigs I see more and more cassettes for sale.
SEALEY: “I think its great! Sure, cassette tapes aren’t the best format for music compared to CD and vinyl in terms of sound quality but personally I never stopped listening to cassettes! I still have a tape player in my car and I have a big box full of tapes! Steve took the mick a few years ago for me still using tapes but he’s been buying tapes recently and even released a few tapes himself too. I was chuffed Excalibur was released on tape by Shadow Kingdom Records, that was really cool and a first for us.”
STEVE: “I got back into tapes a couple of years ago when I got a new hi-fi. I was surprised how good they sound through good equipment, and that lead to a bit of a resurgence if interest. It’s hard to keep a cassette deck running though, as they are all getting to the age where belts need replacing. I’ve got one that needs that right now and I’m going to have to attempt it soon. Tapes make a good collectible, but too many people don’t have anything to play them on, or they are in the same situation as me- their deck keeps braking down!”
What are Iron Void’s future plans?
SEALEY: “We’ve just announced Scott Naylor as our new drummer following Richard Maw’s departure from the band. We’re looking forward to jamming with Scott and working with him on the next item which will be called ‘IV’. We’re not going to rush the next record but we do have a lot of ideas and riffs already so we’re looking forward to that. We’re also currently filming and producing our first ever music video for the song ‘Lancelot of the Lake’ taken from the ‘Excalibur’ album. We plan on playing as many shows as possible and venture to some new places we haven’t played before.”
Steve: “The next big thing will be the video. I’m really looking forward to assign a little to that and then seeing the finished product and getting it online. We’ll spend some time practicing and rehearsing with Scott and then we will start to work on new ideas and start putting together songs. We have both being writing for a while now. I have a lot of riffs and some part-finished songs so far.”
I know, like myself, you are both big fans of what we call proper horror films, Hammer, A.I.P, Amicus and so forth. Would you like to talk about these great films, and also, could you see Iron Void do an album inspired by such films?
SEALEY: “Steve and I are big fans of Hammer horror and cult science-fiction films in general. We’ve based three of our previous songs on Hammer Horror films: ‘Necropolis (C.O.T.D) from the ‘Iron Void’ album is based on ‘The Plague of the Zombies’, ‘The Mad Monk’ also from the same album is based on ‘Rasputin The Mad Monk’ and ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ from the ‘Doomsday’ album is based on ‘Countess Dracula’. Obviously we couldn’t include a Hammer Horror influenced song on the ‘Excalibur’ album but I’d like to do another song on the new album based on a Hammer film. I guess we were influenced by Cathedral to write songs based on cult horror film, they were the first. I always like the fact that we are a British band, writing songs that are based on British horror films, and hopefully we can generate some fresh interest in those great films. I doubt we’d do a full concept album based on Hammer Horror but that is a cool idea.”
STEVE: “‘Proper horror films’ is exactly right! Old films with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt are our favourites. I would say Cathedral’s ‘Hopkins-The Witchfinder General’ was the song that gave us the idea too!”
What up-and-coming bands should we look out for?
SEALEY: “I highly recommend Famyne, they’re fantastic and a decent set of blokes. Purification, Strange Horizon, The Spirit Cabinet and Dautha are all great too!”
Could you tell the readers a little about your experience with your label, Shadow Kingdom Records?
SEALEY: “Shadow Kingdom is an American-based record label. We’re very honoured to be signed to the label as we’ve been fans of a lot of their releases over the years, most notably Hour of 13, Revelation, Lost Breed, Iron Man, Pale Divine, Dawn of Winter, Haunt, Cardinals Folly and Manilla Road. They understand where we’re coming from as a band, it’s a perfect match in my opinion and I look forward to working with them again on the next album.”
Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?
SEALEY: “Many thanks for the interview and your support. Thanks to everyone who’s purchased a copy of Excalibur and attended a show. We love you all!”