On April 29th, Assassin’s Blade released Agents Of Mystification. DutchMetalManiac’s Manos Xanthakis listened to it and reviewed it (you can check his review here). Now he has interviewed Assassin’s Blade’s Jacques Bélanger and Peter Svensson. Read it below!
Hello, it’s an honor doing an interview with Assassin’s Blade, how are you?
Jacques: I am doing just fine and it is a pleasure doing an interview for DutchMetalManiac.
How did the name came up and how did you form the band?
Jacques: For a start, let us make it clear that Assassin’s Blade was founded by Peter Svensson (bass) and David Stranderud (guitar). Peter and Dave wrote all the music, and Peter wrote the lyrics. So when I joined the band, two and a half years ago, my new bandmates had already picked the name of the band as well as the album’s title and artwork. So I will let them answer this question.
Peter: The beginning of Assassin’s Blade goes back to David’s and my previous band/project Trap. David and I were the main songwriters for that band and we had a lot of material. When that band fell apart we felt that we wanted to do something with the material, just to have the songs recorded for ourselves basically. When writing the songs we always said like “how great it would be if Jacques Bélanger would sing this song, etc.” One evening after sitting at David’s house drinking whiskey we just said let’s try to contact Jacques and see what he says… So for us it was a dream come true to be able to work with one of our heroes! We enjoyed the first recording sessions with Jacques in Sweden so much that we asked him if he was interested in forming a real band together. The band name just fits well with the music and the visual image of the band. In a way, the “assassin’s blade” can be thought of as the tool to reach your objectives.
By doing a little background check I saw an older band called Trap, that David & Peter were members of, released a single in 2013 titled Assassinations. From what did I hear there are similarities in the style and music. Was this the prequel version for Assassin’s Blade and if yes why didn’t Trap moved forward?
Peter: Trap fell apart due to the fact that the people involved wanted different things for the band.
Jacques Belanger was the former singer for Exciter, an iconic band from the ‘80s. How did you get in contact with him and how was the collaboration between you?
Jacques: Peter, our bass player, was a metal fan who enjoyed Exciter music, enough to create a website for the band. That’s how I first met Peter. Over the years, we stayed in touch and met a few times when Exciter was playing Europe. In 2014, I remember that Peter had heard through the grapevines that I had done some recording (nothing important) with Manfred Leidecker, the studio engineer with whom Exciter had recorded quite a few records (Kill after Kill, Better Live than Dead, Dark Command, Blood of Tyrants, etc.). After recording the demo version of a number of new songs, David and Peter e-mailed me to ask if I were interested in recording vocals to those songs. They sent me the 8-song demo (all those songs are featured on our album Agents of Mystification). I liked the classic metal style of their material and I agreed to fly over to Sweden in order to record the vocals to six songs in Peter’s studio. I really enjoy working with smart and talented individuals, so the collaboration with Peter and David was obviously quite pleasant. After almost 10 years of inactivity, I had to get back in singing shape. When we recorded the first songs, my voice was not 100 %, but it was good enough to record some pretty good tracks. It is pretty much during those recording sessions, in the summer 2014, that Assassin’s Blade became a real band.
Afterward, Peter tried to shop this new material as an EP and got in touch with various European independent labels. Since most of them much preferred releasing a full album instead of an EP, we decided to record the vocal tracks to the remaining five songs here in Canada, at Manfred Leidecker’s studio. To be honest, I was a little skeptical about the feasibility of long distance collaboration, but Peter and Dave knew exactly what they were doing and managed to efficiently integrate the vocals tracks that Manfred and I would send them via an FTP site. At the end of the day, this collaboration was solid enough to lead to the completion of the album project.
Jacques has, in my opinion, a Rob Halford type of singing. Was this the style you were searching for? And how did you come in contact with him?
Jacques: If I am not mistaking, Peter and Dave were hoping that my vocal style would sound, somehow, like the high vocals that I had recorded with Exciter. But since Assassin’s Blade music was different than Exciter’s in a quite a few respects, I had to adapt my vocal style. The way I approached the recording was simple: I followed the vocal lines that Peter and Dave had planned and interpreted those lines with my natural style. I wanted the vocals to me somewhat “cleaner” than the ones I recorded with Exciter. I am quite pleased with the results.
Three out of four members live in Sweden while Jacques Belanger lives half a planet away in Canada. Does this affect the present plans of the band regarding gigs/tour or collaboration? Do you think it will be an obstacle in the future?
Jacques: Such a distance will certainly influence the collaboration. For now, the most difficult thing is to keep in mind that we have a band to work with. You see, the nature of the relationship that I have with Peter and Dave vaguely reminds me of the beginning of my relationship with my wife.
I met Sophie in Switzerland, during a business trip. We very much enjoyed each other’s company, to the point where we decided to stick together. For the first 18 months, we tried to see each other as often as possible, but essentially, we had ventured into a long-distance relationship. However, distance never deterred us from pursuing our relationship. We persevered because we believed in the authenticity of our mutual feelings, and we ended up getting married.
So, in a similar way, Peter, Dave and I – and eventually Marcus (on drums) – believed in the relevance and the importance of this project. Distance makes quite a few things more difficult, but each band member’s dedication had been such, that we have managed to make our first album happen and we are now working on the music for a second album.
Agents of Mystification is a solid album speaking to the hearts of any true metalhead. But it’s also an album that takes a step away from modern albums. What do you think about modern productions and current digital recording?
Jacques: All the recordings I did with Exciter were analogue. Believe it or not, it was on 16-track tapes. And for diversity of reasons, the sound quality of those albums was OK. Obviously, the 16 tracks were not sufficient, so we did a lot of bouncing. As a result, we ended up with situations where we had guitar as well as lead and backup vocals on a same track, for example, which turned mixing into a pretty intricate puzzle. At times, there would be two or three of us pushing the faders during mixing because only two hands were not enough to do the job. Had we had access to digital recording at the time, I am quite sure that the recording and mixing processes would have been much easier, and I am certain that at the end, the albums would have sounded better.
Without digital recording, I imagine that Agents of Mystification may have never been released. On the other hand, technology is not everything. So we had to work smartly with limited means. In my opinion, the limited means we had probably are the main reason why Agents of Mystification sounds so “organic”. We used modern technology without the sophistication of certain types of production. So, the production was simple, and the songs were classic metal, which paved the way to a more traditional-sounding album. Besides, this album was sort of an experiment. We had never played/recorded/worked together, we did not know where this project would lead us, but we never let the unknown factors stop us, because we strongly believed in the essential: our material.
In the end, I think that modern productions are cool. When it is well mastered, technology can be a huge asset and still sound pretty freaking good. I do not think that there is any need for a band to go back to traditional recording techniques, unless it wants to feel what it used to be like a few decades ago.
What was your approach in the recording and mixing/mastering of the album?
Jacques: All the music and half the vocals were recorded at Peter’s studio, in Sweden. The rest of the vocals were recorded at Manfred Leidecker’s studio, in Ottawa, Canada. Mixing and mastering was done in Germany, at QuSoundStudio. Ironically, mixing may have been the most difficult part of the whole process. It is very difficult to present complex ideas from a distance, while everyone has to formulate his thoughts in a second language. Peter and Dave are Swedish, I am French, Michael Kusch (the mixing engineer) is German, and we all had to present some pretty intricate ideas and nuances in English, via e-mail, in a very limited time. There has been some friction at times, but in the end, everybody ended up pulling in the same direction, and we ended up with fairly good results.
How do you feel about loudness wars and the influence of computers in the way music is being created today?
Jacques: Loudness wars are useless and end up being a poor excuse for lack of talent or inspiration. Do not get me wrong, metal is an intense music that has to be played at a certain volume to deliver all its potential power. But in my view, nothing will ever replace a strong riff/melody or meaningful lyrics. As for computers, they are perfectly cool if they are used to expand quality and creativity. On the other hand, technology sucks when it only serves to conceal any form of incompetence.
Agents of.. came out a couple of months ago, is there already any new music in the works?
Jacques: Peter, Dave and Marcus started working on new material and have sent me new tracks for the next album. So pre-production is under way. Around March or April, we should have a good idea of when the second Assassin’s Blade album will come out.
How did you start making music?
Jacques: As a kid, I liked showbusiness and especially music. I never played any instrument, but at 17, I started getting involved in music to get people’s attention. Then, as I improved as a vocalist, I became really interested in vocal work and decided to concentrate on that aspect exclusively.
What music do you see as your influences?
Jacques: For me, musically and vocally, the immediate influences are Priest/Halford and Maiden/Dickinson. But among the more indirect and subtle influence, I should mention, Ronnie James Dio, Tony Martin and King Diamond.
What were the albums that made you become a musician?
Jacques: I was literally floored when I first heard Unleashed in the East, Priest’s first live album. Back then, I never saw myself singing to that level, but I was fascinated enough to give vocal work a try.
Any future plans about touring?
Jacques: Touring is definitely an objective. In fact, it should be fairly easy to organize some cool shows in Europe. Some offers have been presented to us, but we would rather release a new album first. Agents of Mystification was our introduction piece and has allowed us to make a first statement. Now, we want to perfect our level of collaboration, capitalize on our first experience and come up with an even stronger album, after which, we will have a lot of live material to offer, including some material taken from Exciter’s Dark Command and Blood of Tyrants.
Would you like to send a message to DutchMetalManiac`s readers?
Jacques: The team at DutchMetalManiac is doing a tremendous job and is part of a network that is vital to the promotion of metal bands, established and new alike. So read their material, follow them and be loyal to them: you will not regret it!