Aussie guitarist Stu Marshall is in good form when I ring him up to chat about his band’s new album; the band in question, of course, is Death Dealer, and the album, the band’s third, is the soon-to-be-released Conquered Lands. Several years in the making, it sees Marshall (last seen around these parts with his band Night Legion) joining forces once more with former Manowar/Dictators guitarist Ross The Boss and Cage/Three Tremors vocalist Sean Peck.
You must be excited to have a new album almost ready to go with these guys again? “Yes, this album is quite a few years in the making! The first two Death Dealer albums (2013’s War Master and Hallowed Ground from 2015) came together quickly, off the back of some pretty heavy overseas touring. This one has taken three and a half years to build; Ross and Sean have both been very busy with their other projects, but I’m very happy with the result. People seem to like it!”
Three albums in there’s quite definably now a Death Dealer ‘sound’. How hard is it to write to those specifications? Do you discard a lot of material that doesn’t live up to the DD criteria? “That’s a great question. For us, the discarding is done more over quality than sound. We do write a lot of material but it has to meet a certain quality to make the album. For Conquered Lands I think we had around twenty two songs which we then culled down to eleven, and that was really based on our critique – we’re all pretty hard on each other. Ross will hear the material independently, Sean will hear it independently, and they might come back and say ‘you know what – I don’t think this song is strong enough for this album’. So that’s where it’s at; As far as the actual sound goes, it’s a very honest process. We have a great creative relationship; I bring my thing, my background with thrash and power metal with Dungeon. Obviously everyone knows who Ross The Boss is! And Sean is a very prolific writer too, so we combine our efforts to really bring that honesty through in the songs”.
Obviously you guys have got the art of writing ‘together’ remotely down to a fine art now with you being in Australia and the other guys being based in the US; The world is just starting to find out how tricky that can be and is going to be playing catch up with you for the next little while it would seem… with that in mind, how hard has it been to integrate a new member into the band with Mike LePond (Symphony X) now taking over bass duties? “Well, I was a little bit ahead of that curve! Back in 2010 I started a solo project, Empires of Eden, where I hired eleven singers for the first album, working remotely. Ultimately I released four EoE albums with, I think, about fifty two different singers! (laughs). So I had a comfort with the process; when we started Death Dealer, for me as a producer who has produced a lot of our stuff, it was kind of in my wheelhouse. It wasn’t a problem. But integrating with people like Mike LePond? well, the first thing is you’re working with an incredible bass player. And fortunately for us he’s been in the Ross The Boss band for a number of years, as has our drummer Steve Bolognese. So there was already a synergy betwen those three guys, a cross pollination that really works. We previously had Mike Davis (Halford, Lizzy Borden) playing bass, another fantastic player but we bade farewell to him and welcomed Mike LePond in. I’ve spoken with him on Skype on a regular basis and we’ve been able to connect on a human level and an artistic level; he sends me his stuff completely unproduced and it’s mind-blowing. When people hear the bass playing on the album it’s quite a feature. But overall I’d have to say the whole process has been a pleasure – quite boringly fun! (laughs). There have been no major challenges in the writing of this album”.
Let’s talk about it a bit more then. I’d like to go track by track through Conquered Lands and find out a little more about how the songs came together. “Sure!”
The album opens with Sorcerer Supreme. “Yes, the opening song on the album. If you want to talk about debates between the band then song order is very important to us. There’s a lot of time and effort put in to that. Sorcerer Supreme is about Doctor Strange. Sean is a huge Marvel fan. Musically it’s one of my compositions. A powerful song. I do all of the soloing on that song which is quite unusual. Normally Ross and I have a pretty even share of solos, but I handled all of the lead work on this one. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album”.
So are you saying that this was written to be Side One, Track One as we used to say in the old days? “It wasn’t written that way, no. It evolved into that position. So from writing the original twenty two albums, then recording eleven… only at the end of that process did we start to think about what it was we wanted to say with the opening track”.
Track two is Every Nation. “It’s throwback to classic eighties metal. We firmly believe that the metal community is one of the most inclusive communities on the planet. It doesn’t matter what or who you are, if you wear an Iron Maiden shirt and walk into a Maiden gig, you’re one of us! So every nation is about that. It’s a call to arms. There’s no cheese in that song, it’s meant! We do have some funny moments on the album, but this one is about standing shoulder to shoulder, and loving the life of heavy metal”.
That sentiment is more important now than ever I think. That sense of community, even as people continue to be prevented from coming together physically. It’s important to have something to belong to. “Yes, and we’re hoping that people believe it. As a singer, it’s important for me that Sean believes what he sings. I drive him to mean what he sings, and this is an important message for us. I remember metal touching my life many, many years ago and it’s as important to me today as it was then”.
Too true! Track three – Beauty and the Blood. “One of those immortal tales of forbidden love. With the occult thrown in here and there! It’s a well constructed track. We put a lot of time into the storytelling of this one”.
I’ve listened to the whole album four or five times from front-to-back, and one of the things that strikes me most is just how much you manage to pack in to each song. Looking at the tracklist, there’s nothing that’s five minutes long; it’s actually pretty hard to construct any sort of narrative in that time once you’ve fitted the solos in within the normal verse-chorus structure of a song. “You make a good point. I’d never actually thought of the length of the songs on this album but I’m looking at them now and they are quite short. That wasn’t our intention but I guess maybe we’re getting better at telling the story in a concise amount of time!”
The next track is Running With The Wolves. “This is the first interview in which I’ve been able to say this but this is going to be the second single to be taken off the album. Whereas Every Nation was serious this has a bit of a joke to it… Some of Sean’s funniest lyrics are in this. Musically it’s just the sort of head-down, four on the floor heavy metal that we love to play. I really believe that when we play live Death Dealer is like a pack. We hit hard! One of my favourite lyrics on this is don’t bring your girlfriend or you’ll leave here alone”…
It’s Manowaresque, isn’t it? “As soon as I heard it from Sean I just laughed and laughed… So there are some funny lyrics, but you know what – I’m in a band with Ross The Boss so I can get away with it!”
The Heretic Has Returned is next. “We had a song on our debut album called Curse of the Heretic, which people loved when we played it live. This is the sequel to the Heretic… story. Witches, evil, Satan – it’s all in there!”
Next up is Conquered Lands, the title track of the album. “Conquered Lands is a sort of song that we’ve never really done before. I’m a hardcore Black Sabbath fan – all of the eras – and this riff came out one day and I just knew I had to do something with it. So the song has some Sabbath vibes, and some of Sean’s greatest screaming is done on this. I think his vocals on the song are top shelf”.
Hail To The King. “This is really one that Sean constructed with me. Sean’s in a band called Cage, and they are another band that I think has a really well-defined sound. He had this riff ; I can’t be sure but I think it was something that Cage didn’t want to do, and he sang the riff to me. So out of that we built this Spartacus, blood-and-bone sort of old school heavy metal song. It’s got a big chant in it”.
Next track is Slay or be Slain. “The cool thing about Slay or be Slain, especially for your Australian readers, is that for our album release I arranged a special Australia-only T-shirt of Slay or be Slain… If you buy the album direct from Utopia Records in Sydney, the first thirty packs feature the exclusive Australia-only Slay or be Slain T-shirt. It’s double sided and it looks sick. On the back it has some more of my favourite lyrics from Sean, I hold his severed head, to show the world he’s dead – which I thought was bloody poetry… I can’t wait to play this song live”.
We will touch on live shows presently. Slay or be Slain is followed by Faith Under Fire. “Sean has some Christian background. I think we were watching Saving Private Ryan and one of the commanders says ‘make sure you have faith under fire’, which I thought was a great thing. The faith to win, the faith to kill… It’s a heads-down thrasher”.
The penultimate track on the album is 22 Gone. “Definitely one of the most special tracks on the album. Sean told me that twenty two ex-servicemen a day commit suicide in America; I’m a fairly patriotic person and that information moved me a great deal. Sean and I worked to create this pretty epic story. It’s definitely one that your readers should check out. We dug very deep on this one, and Sean did some incredible vocals on it”.
It’s my favourite track on the album. “That’s nice, man… It’s not the heaviest track on the album but as I said, we just dug deep”.
It shows a slightly different side to the band. You can’t be heads down all the time. Well, you can… “You can but we really felt that we needed to do something that was a statement. It’s the classic third album syndrome; you don’t want to repeat where you’ve already been, but like you said at the start we’ve developed a signature sound and hopefully this album cements that”.
The last track on Conquered Lands is Born To Bear The Crown. “Again, Kings, Queens, medieval knights is the vibe… a very straightforward heavy metal song with a great chorus… it’s a lot of fun”.
Thanks for that insight into the record before it comes out. You mentioned playing the new songs live. What’s your take on when Death Dealer will be able to get back into live action? “It’s a moving feast, mate. We had a festival appearance booked for the Hard Rock Hell festival in April next year but I’d say that won’t happen. Just getting off the phone with Ross the other day, some promoters were saying they won’t be doing anything until 2022 now”.
Would you be open to the livestream sort of events or the zoom gigs that we’re starting to see a lot of at the moment? “Without being too negative (laughs)… I absolutely hate them! So the answer is no. I understand the need for some bands to want to do that, but no. Death Dealer needs to be experienced live and in the flesh. I guess we’ll just wait”.
That’s me done. Have you got anything else you’d like our readers to know about the world of Death Dealer? “I can give you some future news on the band – we’ve used the COVID break for our benefit. Death Dealer four is in the can, finished, mixed and mastered and Death Dealer five is eighty per cent complete. So one thing we can guarantee is that there will definitely be an album next year and the year following. Every band says it, but we’re buzzing about the fourth album. We talk to one another about it on Skype everyday. That’s the future news, but for this release, the album is out on November 13th; in Australia it will be exclusively available through Utopia Records, the home of heavy metal. They have an incredible double gatefold with splatter vinyl, a digipac with six panels and a fully illustrated sixteen page booklet, hand-signed promo cards, a Conquered Lands t-shirt (and those special thirty Slay or Be Slain shirts on a first-come-first-served basis). There’s a special Lenticular cover pack… Sean says we’re the kings of physical media! We want people to go ‘oh my God’ when they open these packs and work really hard to make sure that people get value”.