‘We played Steel Assassins in Sydney before we started our own tour; it was so difficult to play to a sit-down audience!”
So says Temtris vocalist Genevieve Rodda as we sit down in the bijou band accommodation at Canberra’s Basement venue. The band then set out on their own Ritual Warfare tour in support of a new album of the same name, an album which spent four weeks at number two in Sentinel Daily’s Top Thirty album chart; Kicking off locally to the band in Dapto before hitting Adelaide and moving to the Nation’s Capital a week later. I asked Rodda about the logistics of touring in the age of COVID. “We were apprehensive because of the different regulations everywhere, but in the end I booked the dates because it was better to have them booked and then cancel them if we had to rather than the other way around”.
Have the audiences been as mad as you thought they’s be, after what has been such a long gig layoff for so many? “It’s been so nice to play to people who can’t wait to go nuts. They are hungry for this, and we are too”. Guitarist Anthony Fox remembers the Steel Assassins show as ‘being like a Caberet show. All our instruments are wireless, and we were roaming the audience going from table to table!”
Obviously a band at Temtris’ level needs shows to keep the kitty ticking over – how hard was it to lose a whole year of possible income last year due to the lockdowns? “We were on a good roll for a while, getting a lot of supports and those supports were helping us to get the money to do what we needed to do. And then that stopped. And so when the time came to do the new album, we didn’t have the funds behind us that we would normally have to go towards the costs of the album. We had to put our hands in our own pockets; you always have to do that a bit as a band, but we did notice it a bit more. So it definitely had a bit impact on us” says Rodda. Fox adds: “The timing overall for us wasn’t horrific, because we’d done that stack of shows and were due to start a writing cycle anyway. We looking at winding back a bit. We’d already started filming the Forever film clip, doing some singles to make sure we kept connected with the fans. All that sort of played well for us when the shit hit the fan. Then the record label offer came (from rising Italian metal label Wormholedeath) and the writing cycle really began! So at that point we probably wouldn’t have been doing gigs anyway as we needed to get locked into the studio. So it wasn’t the worst situation for us then – but now it is! We’ve come through the other side with what we think is a pretty solid album that’s been getting some good responses. We want to perform, and we should be taking it overseas… and you just can’t”.
It’s what hit this magazine hardest – last year, our readership rose by eighty five per cent because people were sitting at home with a lot of time to spare to read sites like ours, but because international touring stopped our ad income went down by about the same amount. It’s a big hit to take.
“Absolutely” agrees the guitarist, “and those tours are a key component of what we need to keep doing to at least stay at the level we’re at. We’re supposed to be putting out a limited edition version of the album for Japan and touring there to promote it. And we can’t”. “That’s probably the most heartbreaking thing” continues the vocalist, “to finally get a Japanese pressing from the record label – yay! let’s go and promote it. We can’t. Tough”.
Genevieve – How have you found working with Wormholedeath? “They’ve been fantastic. We originally had distribution through Battlegod Productions, who were fantastic. That really suited us at the time, but to have a record company step up and put some money on the table definitely helped us decide that the the time was right for us… we still have ownership of our music, but we’ve got a great deal. The Japanese pressing as I said, but also we get the promotion from the label overseas which has definitely helped us reach a new market”.
Okay, let’s focus in on the album properly now – it’s been out a while. Are you pleased with the general reaction from fans and critics? Both nod enthusiastically and answer yes! as one… “The review mostly have been pretty amazing” continues Rodda, “you always get one o r two where maybe the writer isn’t really into our style of music, but even they have been saying, ‘good music, good songs'”
“Even the tough reviews have been grudgingly respectful” adds Fox. “It’s a real tick in the box! Some of those guys aren’t scared of going in if they think they’ve got an angle, so even to get that grudging respect actually counts as a pretty good result”.
You’re pretty well established now, six albums into your career. How much do you as musicians feel the need to show some growth, or progression in your music, bearing in mind that a lot of die hard metal fans are quite conservative in their tastes – once they’ve latched on to you for having a certain sound that’s what they want to hear? They don’t necessarily want to hear you embarking on jazz odysseys… “I have a lot of trust” says Fox. “Gen and I have been writing together for a long time, and our style is quite locked in. We have a very recognisable style these days. Temtris is something that apparently can be picked out from the herd, and that’s because of the way we’ve been writing albums up until now. So there’s that in the background, that is a real sort of foundation. So we’re not going to sound greatly different from that, unless we deliberately try to. We have no reason to go there unless a song really requires it. Having said that, every time we’ve done an album, there’s always been that little listen-back period when you get back into the album, start playing the songs live, where you think… up until this album there are always points where you see things you could have fixed, or improved, where you knew you could do better. There’s always been a checklist of ‘we can fix that, that and that’, and then we achieve it but do it again. ‘We fix all those things but we could now fix this, this and this’. I certainly believe each of our albums have got stronger and stronger, and this one is no different. There were definitely things, particularly on the production side, where we said ‘we can do better here, here and here’. And that proved to be the case with this album. The product that came out at the other end was a stronger product, but still cohesive to our sound. It still sounds like Temtris I believe”.
It certainly does. Let’s go through the album in a bit more detail now – Tell me a bit about the opening track Race To The End.
GR: “I remember writing it, writing about how busy our life is. Because everything in COVD stopped, but we were trying to keep working. Trying to write songs, do band stuff, we’ve got kids… it”s just about being busy and always looking at the clock. We rarely sit still!”
AF: “The writing process for that song was very much ’round and round’ – it chased it’s tail for a while. For instance we had some chords, but then the lyrics changed and so the chords changed, which meant the song structure changed. It was a race to the end to get it done!”
GR: “People also laugh that Race To The End is the first track!”
Track two is One For All.
AF: “One For All was Hoff (former guitarist Anthony Hoffman)’s last contribution. He and I worked on that one together. When we started on it it was going to be the follow-up single to Forever. Obviously then things changed. Perhaps the funniest thing about that song is that in the current climate people have been saying ‘you have to be very careful about writing songs with that sort of lyrical content!’ And we were like what? The timing of the release led to people asking whether it was about the storming of the Capitol in Washington but it was written long before that. It was actually about the Hong Kong riots. But it’s funny how history repeats in different parts of the world and so I guess this song will keep popping up… time and time again as long as people keep storming Capitols and protesting about stuff (laughs)”.
Seven Sins of Man is next.
AF: “That one was a bit out of left field, and what you might consider a bit off the wall or experimental”. It’s your jazz odyssey! “Basically, yes! It’s where we stepped a little bit left and messed with the formula. It’s not the standard formatted song; it doesn’t have the standard checks and balances, doesn’t have any guitar solos… but that’s all deliberately done. Quite often with Temtris we write to musical ideas and themes and we try to match the music as strongly as we can to what Genevieve is doing with the lyrics and telling the story. So with Seven Sins… the intention was, hopefully, to get the music to match with the lyrical content; it was definitely a fun one to record because the song has a lot of different bits and pieces to it, a lot of different sounds… This one is a really impressive marker in my mind in terms of Genevieve and I working together in a writing sense. It was one of those moments where I produced the music, handed it over to Genevieve and said what do you think this will sound like… and what she gave back to me was what ended up on the album”.
GR: “It’s become a lot of people’s favourite track”.
AF: “Even with the weird acoustic middle section! I really like those point of difference tracks on albums that give a different emotional response. They’re never the single but they are often the reason you go back to an album again and again”.
Yes. If you listen to the classic Iron Maiden albums, you’re probably not listening to Flight of Icarus as much as you’re going back for another shot of Revelations. But the singles serve a different purpose, don’t they? They are all about snaring new listeners.
AF: Which brings us to Forever! Great segue! (laughs).
GR: “I wrote that, just before we were going into COVID and I knew we needed something to keep us going. We needed a song to keep some momentum, so we needed to release a single. A lot of the time I will be given the basic musical idea first, but here I had an idea where I had a refrain that I wanted to sing to the audience, so I took what I had to the boys and they all made suggestions, and we mucked around with it in rehearsals”.
AF: “A lyrically-led song, which is not our usual way of doing things”.
GR: “And it’s already become a big favourite. A lot of people love that track. I wrote it about Temtris playing metal forever. That’s what it’s about! We keep getting smacked down and we keep getting back up, and we’ll keep going because we love doing it. That’s where the idea came from”.
AF: “We had the Skull with the Egyptian scarab, and we were looking at the ways we going to be looking at the themes of the next run of songs; That idea tied in with the Mayan skull”.
GR: “The Scarab Beetle was put in people’s tombs, which gives the idea of ‘forever'”.
AF: “That also led to the Crusader Skull which has other religious connotations of ritual warfare”.
So there’s quite a bit of thought going into the background of all this! “We have reasons!” agrees Fox, with Rodda agreeing: “We don’t just record stuff! It’s actually a whole story”.
“We’re often asked to unpack these things a lot more” continues the guitarist, warming to his theme, “which is why it’s great to have the opportunity to talk to people. There is a lot of depth going on behind what we write, and people recognise that. It’s deliberate and we do have a lot of different angles and elements to enhance the basic story of the songs and the album in general”.
Next up is the title track.
AF: “Ritual Warfare. The last song to be written. It actually began it’s journey as part of Race To The End! I’d written it as an alternative middle section, and then had played it through. W e listened to it and decided it was a bit too strong just to be a bridge, and I had some other musical ideas that I’d been working on seperately, so I pulled them all together. I had already written the lyrics I wanted to use; people will take it as a drive against religion, and a commentary on religion, but actually it isn’t. It’s a comment on humanity’s manipulation of religion. It’s really more reflective of humanity rather than reliogion per se, although religion does get a good kick around. The other fun thing about that one was that when we’d done the album and Wormholedeath came to us saying they wanted to do a lyric video, we thought that this track was probably the next most appealing after Forever. But it’s seven minutes long. So we said that to they label and they replied ‘we don’t care!’. So our lyric video became the single, but they left all the elements in. We asked if they wanted it edited down, turn it into a ‘single-sized’ version, but they loved it and said they wouldn’t change anything in it. Again that’s reflective of how good it is to work with Wormholedeath”.
Next up is Tempus Aeternum.
AF: “If our drummer Nicholas (Bolin) was here he could tell us about it! That was his title; We’d been throwing a lot of ideas around about time, it was going to be one of the themes of the album, and Nick said ‘how about this for a title?’. So of course it’s Latin, which is very cool… time eternal… Nick is a classically trained violinist, and he brought a sort of chord shape and melody shape, which he hummed to me, telling me where each piece should go, and I replicated it on guitar for him. And then I manipulated it. I temtrissised it! (laughs). Again it’s a little bit different. It has a slower, more traditional vibe to it”.
GR: “It’s our Dio song. That’s what everyone says, although we call it our driving song. It’s one of those tracks that you want to cruise around in your car to”.
AF: “The drive of that song obviously is targeting time, so we wanted to try and give that feel that time is passing…”
The penultimate track is Erased.
GR: “I put some people that I’ve erased into this song (laughs). We have one song, a thrash song, on every album. We’re not a thrash band, but Aussies love thrash, and we love doing it. So we always write one, for a bit of fun, as a pit song. There’s always that one person in your life where you think ‘I don’t want to remember who you are’, so I had some fun! It’s just a basic ‘I’m going to scratch you out of my memory’ thing. A fun song to let your emotions out in the pit. Horns up, headbanging!”
AF: “That was another vocally-led song as far as the writing was concerned. A deliberate writing attempt to put thrash elements musically against what Genevieve had already delivered vocally. So she belted out those vocal lines first, rhythmically (punches fist to emphasise), and we put the punch and the grind in behind it. Then we put it into the studio and she nearly killed me!”
GR: “He kept saying go harder! go harder! I was pretty pissed off by the end as I had no vocal chords left.”
AF: “The air was turning blue in the vocal booth! The end result was a very aggressive song performed by a very aggressive singer who was not kidding!”
The last track is Always United.
GR: “Nadi (Naroozian, guitars) can tell you about this”.
NN: “I’m coming up with riffs every now and then, but the main riff to this came to me while I was driving my car. So I recorded it into my phone, then went home to grow it a bit. And that became Always United”.
GR: “We needed a track; Nadi had just joined the band and we said ‘why don’t you put a track on the album?’ He sent me this riff and I thought ‘I’ve got an idea for that’… it felt like a closing song to me. I get a vibe or emotion off of the music and I write to that emotion. So I had the verse and called Nadi and asked him to come up with a chorus. We were having a bit of trouble with what to call it; It’s metal, it’s cheesy, but I wrote the song about COVID and not being able to play. It’s like a message to our brothers and sisters overseas: We will be back! We didn’t know when we were going to be playing again, so we wrote it to close the show, to close the album, and we wrote it for the metal family. It’s a little bit cheesy but we don’t care because it’s nice some times just to get up onstage and play for the fun of it, not to overthink everything”.
And that’s the album covered. Any other messages for our readers? Genevieve? “We hope to see you all at some point – Come up and say hello, we’re not hiding in the shadows after shows. We’re all about keeping the metal going. And if you want to find out more about where you can get the album, shoot us a message”.
Anthony? “It’s not even go to our shows – it’s go to any show! Get out and help the heavy metal industry and the bands grow. Because the alternative… well, none of us like the alternative, but unless people are out… heavy metal is one of the last bastions of live performance, as opposed to ‘press play on the computer and karaoke it’, and to maintain that people need to still go out and interact and enjoy the performing arts. We would really encourage people to take the time to do this. There are so many different types of heavy metal; I guarantee you’ll find something you like”.