Assassin's Blade - Marcus, Jacques, Peter

Assassin's Blade - Marcus, Jacques, Peter

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Even if it wasn't what everyone was talking about before, Jacques Bélanger's return to the Heavy Metal scene was a very welcomed one, considering that “The Dark Command” and “Blood Of Tyrants” have reached (if not as high as the first three EXCITER albums), a massive almost cult status over the years. ASSASSIN'S BLADE's debut “Agents Of Mystification” shows that Jacques still has his voice intact and is now in a band that delivers Heavy / Speed Metal with a special touch. It is a unique mix of very catchy and smart songs mixed up with some odd twists and turns. After the recent ASSASSIN'S BLADE onstage debut at Denmark’s ‘Metal Magic Festival’, METAL KAOZ took the opportunity to check in and see how the response has been so far, with the record and the gig, and also to see what lies ahead for the band.

Assassin's Blade - Marcus Marcus Rosenkvist, Jacques Bélanger, Peter Svensson

Hello ASSASSIN’S BLADE and welcome to METAL KAOZ! First of all, how was the experience of having the band performing live for the first time at ‘Metal Magic Festival’?
Marcus: I had a blast! I love to play live and to bring the energy of ASSASSIN'S BLADE to a live audience was almost a dream come true.
Jacques: This situation was a first for me. I had worked with Dave and Peter for a week, three years ago, but the rest of our collaboration was done remotely. Only after a while did Marcus joined the band, and then, only a few months before the show, Bruno joined us. We had worked on recording only at that point. Luckily, the band members live quite close to each other, so they have been able to rehearse together. They also sent me the recording of one of the rehearsals, which I used to rehearse on my end. Before the show, we practiced a couple of times before, but a live situation is something one can never fully prepare. Nonetheless, I knew that we individually had enough experience and musicianship to pull a very good performance... and we did. It also made me regret, a little, not living in Sweden. The ASSASSIN'S BLADE fellows are not only solid musicians; they are also fantastically smart, witty and funny people. So the experience was quite a positive discovery for me.
Peter: It was a great and very cool experience! There was a lot of planning and rehearsing to get everything going, but I am very happy that all of us put in the extra effort to make it happen! And, for me as an EXCITER fan it was great to stand next to Jacques playing “Aggressor” live.

How was the band received by the festival audience?
Marcus: I think very well for being a band doing their first stage appearance.
Jacques: The audience seemed a little puzzled, at first, not really knowing who we were and what to expect from us. But they reacted really well to ASSASSIN'S BLADE material and to the few EXCITER songs we included into our set.
Peter: Really well, from what I heard afterwards I think we converted a couple of metalheads to ASSASSIN'S BLADE.

Did you get the time to watch other bands on the billing? If so, which were the best performances you had the chance to watch?
Marcus: Not just because I´m from Sweden, but NIFELHEIM and TRIBULATION delivered some fine metal tunes that evening. Especially TRIBULATION blew my mind with their very expressive and almost spiritual performance.
Peter: There were many cool bands, unfortunately we couldn’t see all of them, but for me the standout performances were QUARTZ, DIAMOND HEAD, PAGAN RITES, TURBOCHARGED, ARTILLERY and WASTED!

Did you feel stressed at all before getting onstage, even though everyone in this band is a seasoned musician?
Marcus: Stressed and nervous is just signs of taking it serious. I was ready to show Denmark the power of Metal and of course I got a bit stressed. But that´s just good, like a spark ready to make the bomb blow.
Jacques: It had been 11 years since my last gig with EXCITER. I had not been on any stage since 2006, at the ‘Keep It True’ in Germany. Of course I was nervous, but I was also confident we would have a great show. Our material is strong and the talent in this band is undeniable. We just let the energy flow from the moment we hit the stage.
Peter: For me, the nervousness of this gig was not so much connected with the performance itself but with everything around it. It was our first gig together and a lot of pieces needed to fall into place. However, the few rehearsals we had as a full band felt great and I felt pretty confident walking out on stage!

Do you have any other gigs booked or plans for a tour?
Marcus: Not for now what I know. If the phone rings I think we´re all ready though. We had a good time together “on the road”, so if we can share a stage and some laughs together again that would be nice.
Peter: Nothing is finalized as we speak, but we are on the lookout for gigs so serious promoters should get in touch!

The promo sheet that came with “Agents Of Mystification” describes ASSASSIN’S BLADE as a project; so can we consider ASSASSIN’S BLADE as a project or as a full-time band?
Marcus: I think that the geographical difficulties of the band makes it hard to see it as a normal band. But there is a lot of bands out there with long distanced between the members, and they make it work. So can we! But we all have our families and other projects, so finding the time isn't always the easiest.
Jacques: Every band is a project. Now if we want to refer to the band’s status, well, we just have to wait for the Heavy Metal market’s response. If people enough people / promoters want to see ASSASSIN'S BLADE live, they will. But let’s be realistic: because I live in Canada, our “overhead” is a little higher than any other European band’s when it comes to gigs. Beside, we all have personal responsibilities, and music has never paid our bills. Even when I was with EXCITER, the band never made enough money to allow us to quit our jobs. Even now, with the original line-up, the band may cover its expenses and make some money, but the business will never give them enough to make a living.
Peter: I do not consider ASSASSIN'S BLADE to be a project, despite the fact that we can’t rehearse together every week I still feel more unity with Jacques than other guys I have played with in “bands” in the past.

How did Jacques get in ASSASSIN'S BLADE?
Peter: I have been the webmaster of EXCITER’s homepage since 2001. When Jacques was in EXCITER we met a few times and stayed in touch through e-mail. When David and I were working on the songs we always imagined to a vocalist like Jacques to sing them. To be honest we didn’t seriously consider it until one day when I just said to David, “why not ask him then?” So I sent an e-mail to Jacques and miraculously it coincided with that Jacques just a few months earlier had started to sing again after a couple of years’ hiatus. We sent the tracks with guide vocals provided by CULT OF THE FOX vocalist Magnus Hultman and Jacques liked what he heard. A few months later Jacques flew to Sweden for our initial session together and that is when the three of us decided to form ASSASSIN'S BLADE.

Jacques, you have been away from the scene for some years, how did you decide to do the ASSASSIN'S BLADE record?
Jacques: After 2006, I really thought I would never be in a metal band again. I had already concentrated on other pursuits, for example, I did another university degree and started a new career as a translator. I also taught translation and French language in university and community colleges. I started doing literary translation and published a couple of things. But then came Peter and Dave’s offer to work on their material. Originally, it was the songs’ potential that made me want to join the venture. Then, working with Peter and Dave, even remotely, was quite pleasant. We communicated efficiently and we were pretty much on the same wavelength, so we completed each other quite well. The addition of new members, namely Marcus on drums and Bruno on guitar made the project even more fun, so here we are, preparing the next album.

Since Jacques lives in Canada and the rest in Sweden, how do you manage to keep the band together?
Marcus: The internet is a nice invention making it possible to make the world feel smaller. The distance from Sweden to Canada is huge, but an email takes just a second to send. You can do allot online but of course meeting in person is a little bit harder.
Peter: We stay in touch through e-mail and Skype. When Jacques came over this summer, to rehearse for 'Metal Magic Festival', we also had a couple of sessions where we went through the material for the next album. Doing it in person is so much easier and better than writing e-mails, so I hope we can do that more often in the future.

Drummer Marcus is not in the band picture on “Agents Of Mystification”, so how was Marcus involved and when did he enter the band?
Marcus: I would really like to be in that picture but I wasn't a member of the band at the time of the picture being taken. Peter asked me one day if I wanted to play drums on a new Metal project and I was curious and accepted. Peter and I had played together for some time in VOID MOON and to get to play fast metal drums for a change was a challenge I had to accept. Peter sent the songs over and like the next day we recorded the “Agents Of Mystification”-album. I didn't really had the time to properly learn the songs before going to the studio, but sure it was fun! Play drums and be happy, as the old saying goes.

Recently guitarist Bruno Buneck was added to the lineup. What was the reason to pick him and why did you decide to have a second guitarist?
Peter: The songs were written with two guitars in mind; David always adds a lot melodies and stuff to the songs, so we would need to re-arrange them pretty much to make them work live with only one guitar. Since we didn’t have any gigs planned before 'Metal Magic Festival' we didn’t feel the need to get a second guitarist right away.

What were the requirements for getting a guitarist and how long did the process of finding one take?
Marcus: Well, we were looking for a long haired hardcore looking guy, but they were nowhere to be found so we had to take Bruno instead. But I'm glad we did. He's an amazing guitar player with fast fingers and a good musical ear. He looks kind of angry and dangerous, but he's a really nice guy.
Peter: Once we landed the gig at 'Metal Magic Festival' we got serious about finding a second guitarist. Eventually, David remembered Bruno with whom he played in DEVIL LEE ROT 10 years ago, Bruno was up for it and here we are!

“Agents Of Mystification” was released little over a year ago and since a few months back it is also available on vinyl. The record has received a lot of good response I've seen. Are you happy with the record?
Marcus: The drumming could be better. But considering the time I had to prepare it was a wonder it was made at all. But the songs are really strong and Jacques’s vocals are amazing.
Jacques: We are happy with the material, but the production leaves quite a bit to be desired. But let’s put things in context. When we started working together, three years ago, there was not yet any intention to form a band nor to release an album.  Some record companies were interested in releasing our material, but only as a full album. At the time, I was already back in Canada and we had recorded the vocals to only six songs. Since Peter and Dave had more songs in store, I contacted Manfred Leidecker, with whom I had recorded the three EXCITER albums featuring my vocal work, and we recorded the vocals to five more songs, all of which also made it on “Agents Of Mystification”. Obviously, there was quite a bit of improvisation in this release and in the end, the product’s overall sound suffered. For the coming album, despite our busy respective schedules, we have taken the time to do a pre-production, which is almost finished. We have started recording the final product, which should be released in 2018. We have a strong unit now, the material is really strong, and we make sure we are not repeating the same mistakes.
Peter: The fact that this record even happened is quite amazing, when you consider all the details and stuff we went through on the way. However, looking back we could have taken a bit more time choosing a proper studio for mixing and not just accepting the first thing the label offered us. But the music and the performance on the record is very strong. It has a very organic feel to it, which I like very much.

Why was the vinyl released so long after the CD? How important is the vinyl-version for the release?
Peter: For ourselves, as music fans and record collectors, a vinyl edition is a must! :) Unfortunately, the label only made 125 LPs, which means that we couldn’t get as many as we needed and it is already sold out. I have no idea why the label didn’t release the LP at same time as the CD but they have their business reasons, I guess.
Marcus: Vinyl is the new black. You have to have a vinyl version. The cover, inserts and stuff looks so much better.

What was the target for the sound of ASSASSIN'S BLADE?
Marcus: Raw and true.
Peter: Classic Metal, I guess. Not too processed and computerized but rather organic and similar to a live performance.

What's your favorite song from the album and why?
Marcus: I love to play fast, but “Dreadnought” is a heavy piece of thunder that truly shakes the earth. At the 'Metal Magic Festival', it was so heavy, it almost crushed me. I really look forward to play that one live again. “Transgression” and “The Demented Force” are killers as well though.
Jacques: I really like most of the songs. It’s funny. I never used to actually listen to any album I released in the past, but it is quite different for “Agents Of Mystification”. After all the times I listened carefully to the album, it is hard to pick one, so I will pick two: “Herostratos” and “League Of The Divine Wind”. “Herostratos” is a great combination of great lyrics and cool classic metal riffs. And the chorus completely takes you by surprise with a simple, efficient and melodic vocal line. For similar reasons, I really like “League”. A chapter of a fantastic saga is told through many different parts that feel like a rollercoaster. The lyrics, the song structure and the riffs/melodies are such that they make you feel like you are watching a movie without the images.  In fact, it suffices to listen with your eyes closed to be able to mentally see the images; that’s how powerful that song is.
Peter: Different songs for different reasons. But on a whole I would say “League Of The Divine Wind”. It has so many different elements and it is really powerful. And the lyrics are based on a story by one of my favorite authors, Yokio Mishima. Another standout song for me is “Agents Of Mystification”, it wasn’t the first song David and I wrote together but it was the song that took us in the direction of what ended up being ASSASSIN'S BLADE, so for me it’s sort of the embryo of the band. And then “Dreadnought” which we didn’t think much of when it was written but ended up being one of the best songs on the album and one of my favorites to play.

Who wrote the lyrics? What are they about?
Peter: I wrote the lyrics to all songs on “Agents Of Mystification”, Jacques made a couple of modifications and changed a word here and there. There a many different themes / stories going on. A couple of the lyrics are based on books I’ve read, the title track is taken from a passage in “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller” by Italo Calvino, “Herostratos” is based on Jean-Paul Sartre's short story “Erstratos” and “League Of The Divine Wind” is based on a section in Yukio Mishima's “Runaway Horses”.
All three of these songs have very interesting and contemporary themes. “Agents of Mystification” tells the story of an underground society working to hide the truth from mankind. They do this by deliberately altering texts and information through translations and re-writes. The concept raises the question of how much we can trust the information that is available to us.
“Herostratos” (of course named after the ancient Greek) is about a man who is willingly to anything for fame and plots to kill several persons to become famous. It is a timeless theme but it seems more relevant than ever in modern society.
“League…” describes a Samurai uprising in Japan in 1876 as portrayed in a fictional book within the book “Runaway Horses”. The book reflects on the impressionable and naïve minds and energy of youth. The need to belong and to have something to fight for. I think this is a theme going on in all parts of the world.
“Dreadnought” is a homage to the old warship, a fitting lyric to a heavy song I think.
“Prophet's Urn” tells the story of a prophet who foresees the end of the world and decides to take his own life before it happens.
“Frosthammer” is a fantasy inspired story of the battle between the heavens and the earth. The celestial realm is represented by Frosthammer who brings snow and ice to the world and his opponent, the Earth, bringing fire from the underground. It can also be interpreted as a battle of ancient nature worship against “newer” religions worshipping celestial beings.

What's your favorite lyrics and why?
Jacques: Same two songs. Smart evocative lyrics that suit metal music perfectly.
Marcus: Who cares about lyrics when the thundering drums are roaring?
Peter: “League…”, I am quite pleased with how it turned out and it tells an epic story. I also like “Transgression” because it is related to a turbulent time in the beginning of, or prior to, ASSASSIN'S BLADE.

Is it important for you (and/or Jacques) to keep the EXCITER legacy?
Marcus: I think it´s just fair to keep the EXCITER legacy alive in live situations with a few covers now and then. EXCITER songs are fun to play and who doesn't like EXCITER? But it´s important to show that ASSASSIN'S BLADE isn't a tribute band. We have our own feet to stand on with good songs.
Jacques: To me, the material I worked on with EXCITER is a thing from the past. I loved the time I spent with the band, I really enjoyed working on the material we released, and I had a lot fun even though the 1990’ and the early 2000’ were quite difficult for metal in general and obviously for EXCITER. As much as I do not want to dwell on the past, I still think that ASSASSIN'S BLADE is logically the only band that can/will play any songs from “Dark Command” or from “Blood Of Tyrants”.  So we figured that it would make sense to play some of those songs live. But that’s all. I am what I am. I will not intently introduce any hint of EXCITER in ASSASSIN'S BLADE’s material. In a certain way, EXCITER shaped me as a vocalist and as a person, but  I know that ASSASSIN'S BLADE material is strong enough on its own, and that satisfies me entirely.
Peter: I don’t feel the pressure that we need to keep the EXCITER legacy, for me it’s cool to be able to play these great songs with the guy who sang them in the first place. I know other vocalists who have tried singing these songs but no one comes close to Jacques, so I feel very fortunate to have him in the band. Anybody who has listened to ASSASSIN'S BLADE knows that we are not an EXCITER tribute band, but on the other hand a lot of people are checking us out due to the fact that Jacques used to front EXCITER… anyway, we all enjoy playing the songs and in the end the main thing live is the concert experience.

I believe you are already working on the second LP, so in what stage are you? How many songs are you working on? How many songs do you plan to include on the new record?
Marcus: It feels really nice to be involved in the process from the beginning. Now we as a band can exchange ideas and thoughts even though it´s Peter and David who writes the structure. I´m in the process of recording the drums, having the privilege of taking a bit more time to record them this time.
Peter: At the moment we are in the middle of recording the instrumentation and working on the pre-production of the vocals. We are working on 11 songs but we haven’t decided if all of them should go on the album. We want to keep the album short and efficient!

What differences can we expect on this album when compared to “Agents Of Mystification”?
Marcus: Faster, harder, stronger.
Jacques: Our collaboration has matured and now includes the participation of new members. This new dynamic will lead to a more powerful, more dynamic and faster release. The lyrics and the guitar work will show the same qualities as on the first one, but the work will be more polished and better produced. Competition is fierce, and we need to take that factor under consideration when we release our next opus.
Peter: We gained a lot of experience working on “Agents Of Mystification”. We try to use that experience in our advantage now and improve our sound and hopefully avoid a couple of pitfalls. Where “Agents…” was more a collection of songs we want to make the new one more of a unit; a strong and solid Metal album.

Do you have any material from the “Agents Of Mystification” sessions that you’re planning to include on the new LP?
Jacques: Everything we recorded together (11 songs) appeared on “Agents Of Mystification”. So to my knowledge, no old material will appear on the new album.
Peter: Everything we recorded for “Agents…” was used there. We have a couple of song ideas that we didn’t record back then and we revisited those when we started preparing new stuff but nothing, apart from one single riff,  will be included on the new album. We still have a lot of ideas for new material so I guess those old ideas won’t see the light of day any time soon...

Do you have in mind when will the album be ready to be released? Do you think that setting a hard deadline will help to complete the LP right on time? I mean, it is easily to get carried away and end up using more time than you would, if you had a specific date in mind.
Marcus: I´m working as fast as I can with the drumming, but it´s not always easy to find time with two children and a wife to take care of as well. When I find the time I know I have to make the most of it.
Jacques: As I was mentioning earlier, we do not have the luxury to spend countless hours on writing/producing the material for an album. The World will not stop turning if the new ASSASSIN'S BLADE album does not come out before the end of the year. This time, we want to take the time to release a kick ass album, and we will take the time it takes.
Peter: We haven’t set a fixed deadline but we are continuously working on the album when time allows. I have no need to rush this recording, I want to make it the best album we can create together.  Setting deadlines might have an album out sooner but it won't be as good as it could have been.

Do you have a working title for the album? Will there be a concept or a main theme in the lyrics?
Peter: We have a couple of ideas but nothing has been decided yet. There won’t be any obvious lyric theme going through the album but some of songs share a common feel which will hopefully give the album a sense of unity.

Is there any chance to see ASSASSIN’S BLADE here in the US? Although, things have become really difficult for Metal bands crossing the big pond…
Jacques: Difficult to cross? Are you kidding? In this band, we are all such good citizens that we are allowed to travel to any country we want. But on a more serious note, everything comes down to financials. The day a promoter will offer us enough to fly the band over to the US, we will be there, I can guarantee it.
Marcus: I think we would really consider it if a good offer was on the table. It's a long flight but we would surely discuss it if the phone rang. The question is if the US is ready for the rawness of ASSASSIN’S BLADE though.

If it was up to you, what would be the ultimate touring package to tour the US?
Jacques: There are so many bands I would love to tour with. But realistically, I would love to tour with  ATTACKER, POWER THEORY, CLOVEN HOOF, MORGANA LEFAY and MANILLA ROAD just to name a few.
Peter: Too many to mention, but among others I would love to play with VIRGIN STEELE, JAG PANZER, MANILLA ROAD and CRIMSON GLORY.
Marcus: Opening for Alice Cooper would be nice...

Thank you guys or taking the time to answer to METAL KAOZ questions! Feel free to end this virtual chat with anything I forgot to ask.
Jacques: Thanks to you, Dimitris. Your work is important to the Metal community, and we truly appreciate your tremendous efforts. Cheers, man!
Peter: Thanks for a great and well-researched interview! Hope to see you at an ASSASSIN'S BLADE show in the US (or Europe) in a not too distant future! Cheers, Dimitris!