– Hello, thanks for taking your time. You released your newest album, ‘The Blood of Creation’, last November. What’s keeping you busy after the release?
Leighton Holmes: We released the album late last year so we only had the release show on the books and nothing else coming until around the spring. It gave us the chance to take some time to dive into writing the next album and take a new look at some of the songs that didn’t make the cut for ‘The Blood of Creation.’ Writing is really fun with this lineup so we were all looking forward to being able to do some more. We’ll be changing gears at some point to prepare for a couple tours and shows we have coming up this year but we are still going to keep writing when we can. Being in a band is like being in a marriage, you gotta keep it fun in the bedroom- er, jamspace!
-Tell us a little bit about the meaning behind the album’s title. Does it have anything to do with the Enuma Elish?
LH: You nailed it! The title track of the album was based entirely on the Enuma Elish because let’s face it, it is one of the coolest creation myths of all time! You have jealous and fickle gods, armies of demons and a massive dragon! Plus, to top it all off the dragon gets ripped apart and turned into the heavens and the Earth and the blood of the demon lord is used to create humanity! One thing I love about this creation myth is it addresses humankind’s penchant for evil right off the bat and doesn’t have some sort of fall from grace motif in it. Humanity has the seed of evil because of the progeny of demons, no need to over complicate things. Perfection!
-Anyway in your lyrics there has always been some mythology, and legends, and history. What are some of the specific events or ideas that you touch on the lyrics for your latest album?
LH: I come from a family of English teachers and history buffs so I was practically raised on mythology, folklore and historical stories and this kind of subject matter drew me to metal in the first place. Anytime I get a new record one of the first things I do is read the lyrics and try to figure out what the songs are about so I’ve always been aware that there are people like me out there and I want to pay it forward that way. For this album I think it’s only Blood of Creation and Hunter and Prey that touch on something historical/ mythological. BoC obviously being based on the Enuma Elish like we discussed. Hunter and Prey is about the Winter War, when Russia invaded Finland in late 1939. More specifically the song is about Simo Häyhä, one of the most prolific and successful snipers of all time. In the 100 days the invasion lasted Simo racked up 505 kills and was such a big pain for the Russians that they nicknamed him White Death and sent kill squads after him. I’ve wanted to write a song about him for years so when Megan walked into jam one night with a sick power metal riff I saw my opportunity!
-Some of them have this fantasy story kind of vibe. What do you read?
LH: I’m huge into fantasy and love writing lyrics about fantastical topics! I started out young with the works of Tolkien and then discovered the works of Weis and Hickman, both their DnD and their co-authored solo stuff as well as a bunch of other DnD books. Reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series kick started my love of huge, sprawling, and epic stories with absolutely massive page counts. Wheel of Time was a favourite for me and I wanted to give a nod to what I think is the coolest moment in the entire series and is one of the most badass moments in fantasy in general with Sheathe the Sword. I finished the series as it was coming out and there was one moment near the end that really stuck with me but I had the challenge of writing the lyrics without spoiling anything as Chris and Max are still currently reading WoT. I think I accomplished my mission but I guess I’ll find out when Chris finishes the books! More recently I’ve read a lot of what Brandon Sanderson has put out across the whole Cosmere thing he’s writing and I have a list of books to read about a mile long but mostly I’m in a never-ending cycle of rereading the Malazan books by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esselmont. I have become a massive Malazan nerd!
-You wrote this album during the pandemic. While you’re working on it are you actually aware of how a dystopian situation is it? Has this record become some sort of haven for you? A means of escapism?
LH: I feel like we’ve been lurching towards this dystopian hellscape for a long while now, the pandemic just made it more obvious. The pandemic was definitely a lot easier to get through because we never stopped jamming. We saw an opportunity to take more time writing and recording a record than we ever have before and personally I feel like it paid off. There was a sense of normalcy throughout the process because we were still jamming and hanging out, and, without the distraction of having to prepare for shows we were able to focus entirely on putting together the best record we could.
-How does an exceptional situation like this affect what you’re writing? I guess even if unconsciously, it’s always there. In general, it feels like a darker album, lyric-wise too.
LH: I’ve heard a couple people say the lyrics are darker on this one and I’m not sure I totally agree. I think our lyrics have always been pretty dark, it’s the backdrop that has gotten darker which makes the whole thing feel darker. Chris and I have joked for years that I write about death and he makes it sound happier with guitar riffs but now with Megan writing darker sounding riffs the feeling is different.
-So you started writing this album a few years ago. Have the songs been through many different shapes and forms until they found their final embodiment?
LH: Oh yeah! Usually when we are writing a song we start with a couple pieces and begin building something we can jam as a band and then we’ll make a phone recording and take it home and listen to it and see if there’s any points that feel funny. Maybe this certain transition doesn’t work or the feeling changes unexpectedly and we need to adjust it. Hunter and Prey was one that had to be built and then rebuilt and then massaged into being. Riffs get added and then moved and then deleted and sometimes turned into different songs. There have been a number of songs where the riff started out as an idea for one song and then when we listened to it, it didn’t quite feel right so we just took it and jammed another idea out of it! One of the great things about BoC is that we had the time to really make sure we were happy with the songs. We could take the time to live with them, whereas previous records were written often in a short window and then rehearsed a bit before jumping into recording. Some songs on previous records were even finished in the studio!
-Musically you’re mixing Prog, Hard Rock, Power Metal, Heavy Metal, Epic Metal…. ‘The Blood of Creation” is varied yet traditional. How easy is to take something classic and give it a twist to make it sound personal without straying from the path?
LH: We’ve always set out to make music that we like by mixing all kinds of different flavours but at the end of the day we are a trad band at heart so our music ends up sounding traditional. We always want to keep pushing ourselves musically but at the end of the day we have to stay true to ourselves and the band.
-Once more you have self-released this album. Not being signed is a choice or the only option?
LH: We’ve been offered a number of deals in the past and we’ve yet to see something that works for us so we’ve turned them all down. We aren’t opposed to signing if the right deal comes along but it hasn’t come yet.
-Nowadays there are a lot of bands providing a traditional sound in different subgenres but what would you say makes IRON KINGDOM stand on their own?
LH: We have been around for over a decade so we are pretty confident on who we are as a band. We know what’s important to us and what we have to offer. We always put out the best possible product we can but I feel like where we really shine is in our live show. The performance of our music has always been something we have put a lot of emphasis on. At home here in North America it’s a little easier to put on big shows with the wall of Marshalls and lots of lights and smoke, but no matter where you see us you will see lots of energy and movement. We are by no means a band that stands in one spot and tries to play everything perfectly. We are always running around and waving our guitars in the air and interacting with the crowd.
-Lyrics cover very usual themes on traditional Hard/Heavy. Do you think sticking to certain stereotypes is almost necessary to build this kind of 80’s aesthetic and to provide something entertaining?
LH: I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to stick to those themes to be 80’s and entertaining but I do love writing to those themes. I see it a little like one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of things, it works and its fun and people enjoy it so while we will push where we can we aren’t really trying to reinvent the wheel.
-You stick in any possible way, from the cover artwork to the sound and themes to a very 80’s style. What’s to you the most important thing in an album of the style? The overall feeling and attitude? The sound? The topics?
LH: The feeling 100%. You can nail every aspect of an album but if the feeling isn’t there it’s going to fall a bit flat. It’s got to have the feel and the attitude or it’s just fluff. There are all kinds of ‘mistakes’ that you can make in the production of a record as long as it has the right feeling and attitude they are forgivable.
-And finally what does the future have in store for IRON KINGDOM?
LH: The future is bright for IRON KINGDOM! We are currently nailing down the tours for 2023 and writing release number 6. We’ll keep touring everywhere we can in the world and keep on writing. All four of us love what we are doing and will keep doing it for a long time.
– That’s all from our side, thanks again for your time. If you’d like to add some final words, feel free to do it.
LH: Thank you so much for taking the time! Check us out at www.iron-kingdom.com!