SPARTA (Eng.)

– Hello and first of all, thanks for taking the time. How is everything going right now with SPARTA? What are you currently up to?

We are playing gigs locally and around England. We are playing the Rock Den in May in England and we have been writing new tracks. And very soon we start to record another album on High Roller Records for release in early 2016. Next year we are playing Power and Glory at Hatfield and Garage Dayz revisited in London.

– You were formed back in the late 70’s, but is now when you are releasing your debut full-length album so, for all those younger readers, could you share some history of the band since you got together under the name of XEROX?

Xerox was formed from a punk metal band called Test Tube Babies. The band lasted under 2 years and you can see original photos of Xerox on Facebook at Sparta uk. We played half original music and half covers such as “Highway to Hell “( AC/DC ) and “ Breadfan” by Budgie and “ Stick By You Woman “ and “ Try Tonight “ by Xerox. There was never anything recorded which is why when I formed Sparta I was determined to make sure we left a legacy with some lasting recordings. Looking back I guess we succeeded with Sparta.

The band was formed in late 1979 by Tony Foster on lead guitar. The line-up was completed by Tony Warren on bass guitar, Karl Reders on vocals, Steve ‘Snake’ Reders on guitar and Paul ‘Radge’ Reders on drums.

In 1980, Nottinghamshire-based label Suspect Records put out Sparta’s debut single pairing “Fast Lane” with “Fighting To Be Free”. In 1981, the band unleashed their second 7″ single »Angel Of Death« (with “Tonight” on the flipside), once again on Suspect Records. The same year their label published a compilation of local bands under the name of »Scene Of The Crime« (the original vinyl sells for anything up to 200 English Pounds nowadays).Sparta ‘s contribution was “ Lords of Time” Sparta quickly gained a healthy local following by gigging with Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Lionheart and Ken Hensley Band and Budgie.

 

– Even though you you’ve been disbanded for over two decades, I’ve read all of you have been involved with the music scene throughout all these years so, what projects have you had throughout these two last decades?

We all continued to play in various bands. I played in a group called Sound Company for 10 years. And we released 1 CD. The rest of guys all played in other bands but the style of the bands was not New Wave of British Heavy Metal.We reformed for a couple of gigs 8 years ago so we have always kept in touch.We finally reformed 3 years ago.

 

– And even though you’ve been doing different things and SPARTA was born over 3 decades ago, you are back on track with the band again, so I guess it may be an important part of your life. What does SPARTA represent to you?

In 2011, »Use Your Weapons Well«, the ultimate Sparta compilation featuring 25 songs and spanning the band’s whole career from 1979 up until 1990, was issued on vinyl and CD via High Roller Records. The record was very well received and the profile of the band got bigger than it ever was. This led to the classic Sparta line-up recording their first-ever studio album entitled »Welcome To Hell« (after 35 long years!). Guitarist Tony Foster explains: “After the success of »Use Your Weapons Well« and contact from people all over the world, we thought that a new Sparta album could be successful. We started to write and record new material. I think when we looked back at the considerable material that had survived we wanted to continue to make music. The Use Your Weapons album was the catalyst. We were surprised how many people remembered the original group and had got some of the original music. NWOBHM is very popular in parts of Europe still so there is still a fan base there for our songs.

 

– This first album is entitled «Welcome to Hell», a really long awaited one so, what are your expectations on it? And how is its feedback being thus far, both from the fand and press?

I contacted Thorsten at High Roller and send him a track I had written called ‘Welcome To Hell’. High Roller liked the song and eventually Patrick Engel at the Temple of Disharmony mixed the recording and I we were all happy with the result. This was the first new Sparta track since 1985, so I was happy to use it as the title track for a new album. The concept of the album was a Hell in three dimensions: Hell in the sky as in ‘Kingdom Of The Sky’, Hell on earth as in the hell of battle i.e. ‘Welcome To Hell’ and the traditional Hell On Earth such as in ‘Dreaming Of Evil’. We are very happy with the end result which contains some killer songs and riffs. We decided to record ‘Angel Of Death’ (2013) as a link between previous Sparta material and the new stuff.”

»Welcome To Hell« does feature superb cover artwork. Tony Foster: “The artwork created by Alexander von Wielding was based upon the three hell concept and was inspired by the lyrics of ‘Welcome To Hell’, ‘Kingdom Of The Sky’ and ‘Angel Of Death’. The first mention of the ‘Kingdom Of The Sky’ was in the original lyrics to ‘Angel Of Death’. You can see the image of the ‘Kingdom Of The Sky’ on the left of the album. On the ground the King Spartan is engaged in the heat of battle. And you can see all around that Spartan Warriors are being resurrected from Hell to rejoin the battle.”

The reaction has been very good and I have saved numerous reviews and done many interviews such as this.. Both albums sold very well and Welcome to Hell continues to sell 12 months after it was released. It has also featured in many top 20 albums of 2014.

 

– How has changed or evolved the band and its members since you got together?

I would say we are exactly the same but a bit older and wiser . We have not really changed at all. I still play the same Gibson SG I used on the original recordings in 1980 and 1981 and have used it ever since. We like 80’s rock and are proud to be able to record songs in the same style .

 

– The album sounds like it has been released in the 80’s, both the playing style, spirit and specially the great, organic sound. If you had released this in any other decade, would it have sounded similar?

The record “Use Your Weapons Well “sold very well and increased the profile of the original band. There seemed to be an interest in the band and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal especially in Europe. We were receiving interest from all over the world and I was amazed how many people had got the original records or bootlegs and unofficial releases. I thought it might be time to get together again and try to record something. We reformed with exactly the original line up and I wrote a song called “Welcome to Hell”. I sent the demo to High Roller Records in Germany and they liked it. They said it sounded just like the original Sparta which was exactly what we wanted. We recorded the song in a local studio and were determined to keep faith with the original Sparta sound of rock from NWOBHM in the 80’s. They remixed the song with Thomas Engel from the Temple of Disharmony Studios in Germany and we all liked the end result. They said they would like us to do an album as long as it stayed true to the original sound and we agreed. I think the decade is irrelevant since this was released over 30 years from the original recordings but we managed to keep the sound and spirit of NWOBHM.

The album consists of all new recordings but according to Tony Foster some of the ideas for the songs go back a long time: “’Arrow’ for example was an original Sparta song from the 1980s that had never been recorded. It was brought up to date and considered to be a suitable track for the new album. ‘Soldier Of Fortune’ is based on an original song I wrote in 1984 but you would be hard pressed to tell the similarities. It was never recorded in its original form. Every other track is brand new but at the outset we agreed with High Roller Records that if we were going to record a new album, it must be in the original Sparta sound. This was not a problem since all the original members were involved in the recording and I think you will agree that the record does sound like the original band but with much better production and recording facilities.”

 

– I suppose your musical inspirations may be the same as back in the day, but since the 90’s have came out some other really good bands so, have you also broaden your influences? What newer (90’s on) have had some effect on you?

We are very much a band of the late 1970’s and early eighties. We were influenced by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Motorhead and also AC/DC a little bit. We listen but don’t have much interest in the newer styles of metal. There doesn’t seem to be any new stuff around that sounds quite like the original NWOBHM other than the other NWOBHM bands in England.

 

– Lyric-wise, what does SPARTA sing about in 2015? What have inspired the lyrics on this album? Is there any general theme?

We sing about Heaven and Hell, Myths , Mysteries and out and out heavy rock and metal. I have always been influences by Sword and Sorcery type stuff and continue to be so.

The artwork perfectly captures the 3 parts of Hell which is a part concept of the new album. There is the picture of the “Kingdom of the Sky” based upon the track on the album which depicts “ Hell in the Sky “, there is the Hell of Battle as captured by the title track “ Welcome to Hell “ and then there is the pictures of resurrected warriors appearing directly from “ Hell “ beneath the earth. Also the remix was excellent and captured the original Sparta sound. I had endless discussions with Thomas Engel about the remix of each track and although we didn’t always agree we came up with exactly what we were trying to achieve.

We paid for all of the original recording of “Welcome to Hell” just like we did in the 1980’s. We mixed every track in a local small town recording studio which is what we did with the original recordings. The digital recording is great since you can do so many things that you could not do in the 1980’s. mistake does not mean you have to record the whole track again like it used to be. The album was remixed in Germany but we would have put it out as it was if we didn’t have a record deal. The difference is that we have a record label prepared to spend some money on the album. In particular the artwork was also done in Germany and was paid for by High Roller Records.

 

– Musically you mix fast and aggressive songs, still with interesting melodies, with more epic tunes, creating a really enjoyable final outcome. How important is for you as composers and musicians to keep things interesting and enjoyable?

It is all in the style of the original band’s work. We like to have Heavy Songs but with some melodic parts to them and twin guitar harmonies. Wild Night and Rock and Roll Rebel are written as commercial cathcy sing along tunes. In the old days these type of tracks might have been called anthems. This was the style of the original Sparta.

 

– And due to this diversity I would like to know which is your favourite song on the album and why.

My Favourite song is the title track Welcome to Hell because it is so aggressive but at the same time has a commerical feel to it. I think the introduction of the song with quote from 300 is a killer.

 

– You still manage to sound fres still keeping that old school vibe British bands from the 80’s had. Was this how you envisioned the album or is this just who you are?

I honestly think that this is just who we are as a band. We do not want to be a modern rock band and prefer the style of the original NWOBM which was fresh , honest at at times niave.

 

– All this about «Welcome to Hell» being said; how could you describe it in just 3 words?

A great album

 

– You are an act that has experienced the Internet (and such) evolution. Now getting promotion is easier and way faster, but back in the day the fact things weren’t this easy also had its charm and it was some kind of way of testing who was really passionate about the music. What do you personally prefer?

Facebook is the single greatest invention for getting like-minded people together and I would not have had contact with you and many others without it. We contact people all over the world with each posting we make. Youtube is also the same. In the early 1980’s you relied upon being picked up by someone and sending your records to everyone in the hope of them playing your songs. It was hard in the old days but it was enjoyable I sent our singles all over the world by hand and it is good to know that many of them survived. Sparta were never motivated by money just the love of the music. We never made any money in the 1980’s and have made more recently than we ever made. But the Sparta philosophy is such that every penny we make will be put back into the band.

 

– We have interviewed several Heavy Metal bands from England from the 80’s, and when talking about the NWOBHM some say it was just a music style coming from a certain country during a certain era, others say it was a movement, and others consider it as a music style. What’s your opinion on the NWOBHM?

We were exactly the same as all the other bands at that time but we didn’t get the lucky break. It was at a time when unknown bands could make their own records just the same as we did. We were not living in the same cities such as London, Birmingham and Newcastle where the major labels were and so we had to do our own thing. It was essentially a movement.. This is why we decided to release our own records on our own label, Suspect Records. We tried and came close to getting deals but never quite made it. Some of the guys in the band were active until 1990 but never managed to get a deal. It is quite ironic that many of the reviews for “Welcome to Hell “play on the fact that this was our debut album after 35 years. This was indeed our debut album but many reviewers said that if this album had been released in 1980 it would have been a classic. Who knows?

 

– And are you aware on what’s going on lately into Metal in your country? Are there any newer bands you could suggest?

Heavy metal in the UK has stood still for many years. There are very few new British Metal Bands. I think this is why Grunge was so popular in the UK since it filled an empty void. There was nothing else to listen to other than the usual groups such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead etc. It would have been better if

more NWOBHM bands were popular since this would have widened the audience to something like it was in the 1970’s with bands such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin etc. Unfortunately only a handful of the bands such as Def Leppard made it. And you would not say that they carried on the tradition of NWOBHM.

 

– And finally, what are your near-future plans?

Continuing in the same way as before and recording and releasing the new album. We hope to play some festivals in Europe where a lot of our fans are from.We have agreed a deal with High Roller records to release a new album next year . We have already written most of the tracks.

 

– That’s all, thank you once more for answering our questions. If you want to add some final words; feel free to do it.

You can find lots of interesting material , vidoes reviews and the latest news for Sparta on the Sparta uk facebook page. Thank you for your interest in Sparta.

 

Sergio Fernández

sergio@queensofsteel.com

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