Chicago-based hard rock act Romantic Rebel will release its new EP, 'Begin Again,' this summer. In anticipation, the band has teamed up with Revolver to premiere its new song and music video, "Too Far," which was recorded, produced and mixed by producer Johnny K (Disturbed, Megadeth, Machine Head).
There’s an unspoken edict handed down through the ages when it comes to rock bands: there are no rules.
Nobody picks up a guitar to be constricted or oppressed. It’s all about feeling free artistically. Now, The Sword—John Cronise [vocals, guitar], Kyle Shutt [guitar], Bryan Richie [bass], and Santiago Vela III [drums]—cutout boundaries since day one. Their style never stood predicated on a trend or a template. They always create what feels right and let the results speak for themselves.
When it came time to record the group’s fifth full-length album, High Country [Razor & Tie], Cronise landed at something of a spiritual crossroads. Following the final tour for their critically acclaimed Apocryphon, he holed up in his North Carolina home and eventually began writing new songs. The material began to veer into a different space that at the time Cronise felt was somewhat outside of The Sword’s sphere.
“I didn’t even intend for the demos to be Sword songs,” he explains. “But then I realized that I had taken on a sort of limiting view of what The Sword was, and that wasn’t actually what I wanted it to be. I think the new album is more reflective of the music I listen to and where our heads are at collectively. With each of our albums, it’s become less about fury and bombast and more about trying to write good songs. We realized that our music can go wherever we want it to go. There’s no pre-determined course here now, and there never was.”
High Country became new territory for The Sword, and they began doing things differently. That approach included more attention to backing vocals and harmonies, implementing more synthesizers and percussion elements, and tuning to E-flat instead of all the way down to C. As a result, the guitars stand out as more vital and vibrant than ever.
“I felt like the low tuning had become more of a crutch than a tool,” he says. “It was all a matter of trying to keep things fresh, and not fall prey to habits or expectations. We wanted to break out of any classifications and just putout a good rock record.
”Inspired, the boys headed to Church House Recording Studio in Austin, TX to cut High Country with Adrian Quesadaof Brownout and Grupo Fantasma producing, Stuart Sykes [The White Stripes] engineering, and J. Robbins mixing.Over the course of four weeks, they hammered out the album’s 15 tracks in the old converted church. Thematically though, Cronise’s head was still in North Carolina.
“There are a lot of lyrical themes that run throughout the album,” he explains. “I live out in the mountains, so nature really inspired the whole record. That’s a large part of the lyrics.
”The title track and first single “High Country” springs from a transfixing guitar melody into a sweeping refrain,illuminating the group’s inherent dynamics. Over those rolling riffs, the singer paints a thought-provoking topography.
“That was actually the first song I wrote that ended up going on the record,” he says. “The title can have quite a few meanings. Physically, it might mean mountains and literal high country, but it can also refer to a plane of being; a place of wisdom and enlightenment.”
“Empty Temples” opens with a psychedelic buzz that quickly ramps up into towering guitars and another robustvocal display evocative of rock’s golden age.
“It’s loose and swinging, but it has these epic moments,” says Cronise. “Lyrically, it’s about letting go of the past and moving on. You just have faith if you embrace change and be unafraid, and you’ll find where you need to go.
”The gathering storm of “Early Snow” eventually gives way to a rapturous horn section, another first for the band,while “Mist and Shadow” stirs up a haze of blues that’s instantly thunderous. “That song is based around riffswritten by Bryan, which is a new thing for us. He contributed quite a bit of music to this album, and in many ways it’s our most collaborative work to date.”
Both “The Dreamthieves” and “Tears Like Diamonds” have titles inspired by the work of science fiction author Michael Moorcock, though Cronise insists the lyrics have lives of their own. “I’d prefer to let people interpret the songs how they want,” he says, “which is one reason the lyrics aren’t printed in the album sleeve this time. I think they’re pretty intelligible and accessible, and I didn’t want them to distract from the music.
”The Sword’s impact continues to expand. 2012’s Apocryphon debuted at #17 on the Billboard Top 200, marking their highest entry on the chart. Since first emerging with 2006’s Age of Winters, the group has been extolled by everyone from Rolling Stone and The Washington Post to Revolver and Decibel. Metallica personally chose them as support for a global tour, and they’ve earned high-profile syncs in movies including Jennifer’s Body and Jonas Åkerlund’s Horsemen. However, High Country is the band’s biggest, boldest, and brightest frontier.
“I want to make positive, uplifting music,” Cronise leaves off. “High Country has moments of darkness and thoughtfulness, as anything I write probably will. But at the end of the day I want to put smiles on people’s faces.”
KOBRA AND THE LOTUS - PREVAIL
Launched in 2009, Kobra And The Lotus is the lifeblood and passion of Canadian vocalist Kobra Paige. Eight years into their journey, the band has gone through significant changes in sound and personnel to the point that they were able evolve and create what is easily the strongest album in the Kobra And The Lotus catalogue. In fact, the aptly titled Prevail is such a show of strength that Kobra and her bandmates chose to make a double album to be released in two parts over the next year; a venture very few artists have the backbone to attempt.
Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Kobra And The Lotus garnered immediate attention in Canada and the US with their debut album, Out Of The Pit, in 2010. The release of their self-titled second album in 2012 and High Priestess in 2014 enabled the band to tour worldwide both as a headliner and support act, which included a North American tour with KISS and Def Leppard. Sadly, Kobra was forced to take an eight month break from music due to a battle with Lyme disease, but Kobra And The Lotus regained much needed momentum with their Words Of The Prophets covers EP in 2015. In fact, the EP played was an integral part in the birth of Prevail in that it cemented the working relationship between Kobra and guitarist Jasio Kulakowski, who joined the band in 2012.
The idea of making a double album was introduced by Kobra's father, who suggested they do it because the vast majority of younger generation metal artists don't have the drive. Kobra admits she thought he was insane and that it was a surefire way to commit career suicide.
"A week later, I couldn't get the idea out of my head because I didn't see any reason why we couldn't push ourselves to do it," says Kobra. "We could at least try, and in that way make a bold statement that Kobra And The Lotus is still hanging in there."
When the band signed with Napalm Records, who were 100% supportive of the double album concept, the label opted to split Prevail into two parts because they felt it was too much material all at once that would go over people's heads. Twenty-one songs in all (including a cover), Prevail I and II share outstanding and diverse material due to the fact the songs were all written at the same time. Not only that, they wrote and recorded together in the studio with producer Jacob Hansen. According to Kobra, the band went to Denmark almost completely empty-handed and had very little material prepared. She calls it an "amazing experience" in that all the writing happened in one place, where the band members could bounce ideas off each other and encourage one other. They also benefitted from Hansen's considerable knowledge and experience.
"I'd say about 85% of Prevail happened in the studio on the spot," says Kobra. "Once we saw how much more colour was added to the songs by working that way we started to feel comfortable with the process. There were some unique things that happened because we were all there together. There was a whole new, whole different vision for this album. I didn't know how this was going to turn out; a lot of it came from my intuition. Jasio is my writing partner and he's a creative force. We lock in with one another when we write, it's amazing. I'm really proud and overjoyed with how the album turned out."
Prevail marks Kobra And The Lotus' debut as members of the Napalm Records roster, but for Kobra the collaboration is a first on many levels for the band.
"It's one of those amazing things that happens and I feel so blessed that Napalm were still interested in us. Every time we were getting ready to release something they were always there looking at us. We always went somewhere else and it was never a good choice (laughs). Okay, it was a good choice in how we needed to grow, but Napalm is the best label we could have hoped for because they're dedicated and they work really hard. There's a lot of young energy at the label and that's a blessing compared to other deals we've had. I don't think we ever knew what it meant to be supported by a label until we signed with Napalm."
In the months prior to the release of Prevail, fans were treated to three singles: "Trigger Pulse", "Gotham" and "You Don't Know". It comes as no surprise they are reminiscent of some of the material on High Priestess thanks to Kobra and Jasio's partnership, but they also attest to Kobra And The Lotus' massive growth as songwriters and musicians since the last record. On paper it sounds like lip service to say the band has become heavier, more dynamic and adventurous, but your ears don't lie.
Bottom line... Kobra And The Lotus are fearless as they move forward with Prevail, and with good reason.
Kobra Paige - vocals
Jasio Kulakowski - guitars
Brad Kennedy - bass
Marcus Lee - drums