Aug 18, 2012

Interview with Alex Blume (Ares Kingdom)



RESTORATION OF THE UNDYING METAL FIRE


In the following interview Alex Blume, vocalist/bassist for the amazing Ares Kingdom, truly embodies the strong spirit of this unique band.Read on and enjoy!


Interview by Vladimir Petrov


Dead Void Dreams: Hello Alex, how's it going in these much dreaded Summer days? Isn't Kansas City, Missouri, a hellish oven at this time of the year? What's your favourite beverage to keep you sane, beer? What's your fave brands, both locally and nationally? Any comments on European vs. US beer, do you prefer one over the other or you can't be arsed save it's properly cooled and in large quantities?

Alex Blume: Kansas City definitely has pretty extreme summers and winters. It doesn’t matter much, since I mostly hide indoors all the time anyways. Heh. I’m definitely a beer drinker & hell raiser, but try to avoid hard liquor as it tends to get one in too much trouble, especially whiskey or as I like to call it ‘devil piss’! Favorite brands: Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat (Wisconsin), Blue Moon (Colorado), & Shiner Boch (Texas.) Europe definitely has the superior beers, every time we’re in Germany, the cheapest beers rival the fancy stuff from over here. My favorite beer on earth so far is Zywiec from Poland, which we can’t get here in KC so I have to smuggle cases back from Chicago!

Alex Blume (Photo by Carmelo Espanola)



Dead Void Dreams: How did you first become interested in metal music, which were the first bands and albums you've heard and owned? At what age you've first discovered this music and what was you area like in terms of fellow metalheads? How did you start playing in bands, were there any before Nepenthe? What are your memories playing with said band? How did you pick the bass guitar - out of your own will or by necessity? Or was it pure laziness 'Sure, it has only four strings', ha-ha?

Alex Blume: I inherited my mom’s old Black Sabbath vinyl when I was 13 and everything pretty much went from there. When high school began some buddies and I began tracking down all the thrash stuff like Metallica, Testament, etc, but once I started getting into more extreme (at the time anyways, heh) stuff like Slayer & Celtic Frost and such they weren’t having it and I had to leave them behind, musically. Another metal head named Kevin and I proceeded further on our own looking for more and more extreme stuff. Everything changed radically once we started hanging out with the Order From Chaos guys, as I’ll get into later.

Nepenthe was my first band, and it was formed from Order From Chaos fans entirely, and we had a lot of great times, but didn’t really produce a whole lot. (Living under the long shadow of Order From Chaos really stinted our output when we got more serious and were trying to stack up to their greatness.) I was always attracted to bass guitar, not sure why, bought one when I was 16 and started messing with it. I also currently play in Blasphemic Cruelty with Gene from Angelcorpse, we put out our debut ‘Devil’s Mayhem’ a couple years back on Osmose, and just played our first live show in Tampa, Florida a couple weeks back!



Dead Void Dreams: Were you part of the tape trading scene back in the day? Wasn't that an amazing time for the underground scene or are we, the aging bastards, simply looking back to our former days through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia?

Alex Blume: Yeah, I remember the tape trading days, waiting 4-6 weeks for packages to arrive, writing letters to bands and trading 90 min tapes, and so forth. The stuff you heard back then was treasured and played over and over and studied at length. It’s great nowadays to be able to instantly hear anything you want, but I feel that nothing is really studied like it was before. We’re in a culture of disposable entertainment even in the metal world, which has leaked into even most band’s thinking. Now the norm is thousands of forgettable shallow albums each year are cranked out, fans rave about some of them for a month or so, and then are never spoken of again. The really dense, amazing albums (Negative Plane’s ‘Stained Glass Revelations’ being the latest big example) are passed over by most - they just require too much attention to really get into. [If that's not true, nothing is! - ED]

Ares Kingdom : Too loud for the crowd!

Dead Void Dreams: Order From Chaos...the CULT! At which point you became friends with them and how inspirational they've been to you, both musically and personally? What are your memories hanging around with the band at various parties, venues and gigs? From what they've stated in interviews it's clear that Kansas City wasn't exactly a hotbed for the heavier type of music back then, what did the locals thought about you, the metal guys and your camaraderie? Did you guys gave a fuck or were there some violent stories involved?

Alex Blume: Back in 1989 when I was 16, I got Order From Chaos'Crushed Infamy' demo and recently after that I ran across a guy in a record store with Order From Chaos stuff on his leather jacket, so I asked him about the band. Turned out it was Pete Helmkamp and he invited me over to their Friday night open practices at the infamous ‘road house.’

Kevin and I went over to witness the insanity that was Order From Chaos live in their basement and the drunken mayhem that ensued after that. We left and the Order From Chaos guys and their pals thought they had run us off and would never see us again, like 99.9% of the people who wandered by to check them out. They were dead wrong, and I spent nearly every weekend over there for the next 6 years until the dissolution of Order From Chaos and became a core member of the group.

Order From Chaos

My education in underground metal began in a huge way then. The Order From Chaos guys were actively writing to bands all over the underground in Europe - Bathory, Beherit, Blasphemy, Impaled Nazarene, Samael, Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia, the list goes on and on. I hadn’t even heard yet any of the Earache stuff that was exploding in 1989 and had a lot of catching up to do! Heh.

The Kansas City metal scene was and still is a desolate wasteland, but we didn’t give a fuck and just hung out by ourselves and did our own thing. Much hell was raised, but mostly good natured amongst our group. A million beers drank, furniture destroyed, windows broken, other local bands terrified, bones accidentally broken, girls hit on & horrified, etc, etc...

Musically, Order From Chaos can be considered almost the ultimate cult band. They did what they did for purely personal reasons and with an exact idea of what they wanted to accomplish, and in a total vacuum, hanging it up after 3 albums as had been the plan from the start. ‘An Ending In Fire’ is one of the best albums of all time to me, and "Plateau of Invincibility" is probably the heaviest metal song ever written. [You know you're right, Mr. Blume! - ED]

Order From Chaos 2010 reunion show (Photo by Carmelo Espanola)


Chuck Keller & Mike Miller are the best guitarist & drummer I’d ever seen live as well, and the fucked thing is to this day, that is still true, so obviously I’m lucky as hell to be playing with them all these years in Ares Kingdom! (Might sound like I’m kissing ass, but honestly, tell me who else out there stacks up to them???)



Dead Void Dreams: What were the reasons for the split up of Nepenthe? What did you do after that prior to joining Ares Kingdom? Work? Study? Were you and Doug Overbay approached by Chuck and Mike to the band, were there other people they may have considered to complete the line up besides you two? Whose was the idea of you being a vocalist next to playing the bass guitar? Were you nervous at first, having in mind it was none else than Pete Helmkamp who was in charge of both in Order From Chaos? Yeah, it's different bands, agreed, but for people of certain age and metal upbringing there's always gonna be a connection and comparison between Ares Kingdom and Order From Chaos...

Alex Blume: The break up of Order From Chaos was hard on everyone involved, and basically led to our entire group of friends splitting up. I was shortly kicked out of Nepenthe, and within six months they had disbanded, after (badly) recording 2 of our strongest songs as the band Ligeia. (Luckily one of those songs called "Oblivion" has now been recorded as it should have been on Ares Kingdom’s ‘Veneration’ release!) Soon after Gene Palubicki moved down to Kansas City to work with Pete and Angelcorpse formed at the same road house, I moved in for a couple years and hung out with the Angelcorpse guys and kind of lost contact with Chuck & Mike. After that I left the road house and concentrated on my career, but still kept up with metal stuff & traveled to Chicago many times a year for shows. Many years later I met back up with Chuck & Mike. Doug was already playing bass for them in Ares Kingdom, and after hanging out a couple times they asked me out of the blue to join as the singer. Years later after our first album, ‘Return To Dust’, Doug switched to rhythm guitar and I picked up the bass duties as well. Since I played bass and sang in Nepenthe it was an easy switch.

Doug Overbay (Photo by Carmelo Espanola)


We consider Ares Kingdom basically a continuation of Order From Chaos in spirit, except without some of the closed constraints that Order From Chaos lived under in its vision. Basically Ares Kingdom gives us room to breathe and produce more emotional & pure metal, instead of being solely focused on power & heaviness. I would never claim to be as good of a bass player as Helmkamp (with all his Martin Ain-like stylings), but I’m a capable bass player, and I feel my vocals fit Ares Kingdom much better than Pete ever would or could, due to my focus on emotion & fury, vs. his intense control & static delivery.



Dead Void Dreams: Would you like to comment on the friendship between the members of Ares Kingdom, you and Doug have been friends with Chuck and Mike since your teens, over 20 years ago, not to mention both of them being friends from the age of 5 or so... I'd assume this makes you more of an unit, a close circle of people sharing the same vision, thus helping you running the band more smooth and stress-free, right? Also, I've seen some quite amusing pictures of you partying together with your families...the bond seems to extends beyond the borders of metal, how important is that for you?

Alex Blume: Yeah, I’ve known all these guys for 23 years now, longer than some of fans who come to see us have been alive. We’re definitely a very close unit and have the same vision for what Ares Kingdom is and should be. (Hell, when promoters book us multiple rooms we tell them we only need one double cause we hang out and party the whole time together anyways! Heh.)

Chuck Keller
My band mates and all of our families essentially ARE my only family, and it’s been this way for many years now. We still get sick of each other’s shit occasionally but that happens with any old friends. Playing in one band for so long also is great, because you can almost ‘feel’ transitions by just gut instinct. There’s no pressure/stress of ‘Are we gonna play good at this show?!?’ There’s no question of that!



Dead Void Dreams: As far as I know all Ares Kingdom songs have been written by Chuck Keller and there's no denying he's amazing at that but I'd like to know how much free reign is given to you to work on the bass lines and the singing? As any band worth its salt there should be an endless stream of rehearsals to fine tune the songs, at what point the band would decide there's no need for future alterations to the given track? How's it working with Mike Miller getting the drums/bass patterns done, is there something extraordinary in his playing style that especially stands out for you? Do you guys share the same ground of fave drummers/bass players and which are some of those?

Alex Blume: Yeah, Chuck writes all the music & lyrics. But I’m pretty much free for the most part to arrange the vocals and bass where and how I want in the songs. I’m not really a stellar type bass player like the master Geezer Butler who can fill an entire song with counter melodies so I just follow the guitar core notes for the most part.

Chuck gives Mike tapes of the guitar stuff and he stews on them for a couple of weeks to work on drum arrangements in his head and Doug and I go hang out at Chuck’s separately for ‘riff school’ before we all get together and start working on a new song together.

Mike Miller (Photo by Carmelo Espanola)

Mike Miller never gets enough praise for his drumming I don’t feel. He hits hard as fucking hammer, and plays really interesting patterns that really strengthen our songs. Nothing fruity or too technical or wanky, just pure power, but really adds an extra dimension to the music. ["Pure power" sums it perfectly, cheers Mike! - ED]

My favorite bass players would have to be Geezer & Cronos. (PS to bass players: ONLY FOUR STRINGS ARE REAL!!! All the bass gods played on four strings, are you telling me you’re so fucking good that you need five!!?!??) [Well done,ha-ha - ED]



Dead Void Dreams: I'm yet to read a single review or a comment stating the band sucks, yet your popularity is mostly limited to the underground fans - what the hell is wrong with metalheads nowadays? Does that bothers you at all and how 'big' you'd like to see the band becoming? Metal culture nowadays seems to be radically different than what it used to be and there's an overload of bands, could that be the biggest problem, or is there something else? From what you've seen on your gigs and speaking to fans, is there a healthy support to the band from the younger type of people, those who have been wee kids or hardly born to have any upbringing in the 80s/early 90s metal? How that compares to those who have been 'lifers' and know the development/mutation of the scene first hand?

Alex Blume: Ares Kingdom are strongly rooted in the old school metal sound & spirit, and we let our music stand for us. We feel like we deliver a pretty intense live show as well, but it’s been termed ‘meat & potatoes’ and I agree with that. We’ve been themed ‘metal for adults’ before, and definitely feel like we appeal more to older metalheads who like the ‘core’ metal stuff (Priest/Maiden/Sabbath/Fate etc) and get more what we’re trying to do.

But nowadays in the underground a band’s popularity is rarely based on their music first. Shit, it seems like the music is dead last. It’s more based on gimmickry (Are you satanic? How’s your stage show? Blood, fire? Do you sound exactly like a greater older band? Do you wear costumes? Do you have a chick in the band? Super limited releases? Mysterious stage names?) than musical quality, and being somewhat original even hurts you in today’s scene.

Though I gotta say, there’s a million fucking bands cranking out stuff nowadays, and still we’ve gotten more recognition and are getting to do a lot more than many underground bands out there, so I can’t complain too much! Heh. This thing has gotten bigger than I thought it ever would, even at our limited ‘fame’. Our intentions are pure though, just like Order From Chaos’ were, and if we never get to play alive again and just toil in our basement and put out new albums, I’m fine with that too.



Dead Void Dreams: How important is for the band to keep up the spirit and template of the glorious old metal alive, while at the same time keeping things fresh and interesting for the listener? In my opinion that's one of the main aspects in your music that keeps me in awe, especially considering how rarely this is done by other bands...and never nearly to the extend and class Ares Kingdom do it. Don't you think that this is also a 'curse' for you, I mean no one can pin down your style, besides the broad 'thrash/death' tag?

Alex Blume: Thanks for the compliment. Our goal is musical immortality, to release albums that we feel can be added to an elitist metal bastard’s collection such as ourselves alongside the greats of old, that honestly stacks up with them. We feel we’ve done that twice now [That's right! - ED], with ‘Return to Dust’ & ‘Incendiary’, two albums that have pure metal hearts but aren’t just rehashes and bring something new to the table. After each album, this will only get harder and harder, so expect us only to take longer and longer with future stuff. Heh.

But yeah, you’re definitely right about the curse thing. We can’t really be categorized easily, which makes it easier for us to get lost in the shuffle. Hell, sometimes I worry my death metal style vocals are holding us back from being exposed to the straight heavy or power metal folks who might otherwise really like our stuff!


Dead Void Dreams: How would you compare the style of the songs featured on your 'Return To Dust' and 'Incendiary' albums? Do you prefer one album over the other or that's an impossible task and thus a dumb question,ha-ha? The band seems to follow a certain path in its progression, what were the differences when rehearsing and recording those albums? There's a 4 year gap between the two releases, did you feel the band has matured during this time and broaden its vision as to what you've been intending 'Incendiary' to be? How hard it's been to achieve that task?
 
Alex Blume: ‘Incendiary’ is really considered by us to be ‘Return to Dust’ on steroids, the vision of the first album redone to a larger degree and with our Ares Kingdom style fully developed. That makes our third album that much of a bigger task, because we KNOW we’ve perfected that template and HAVE to do something pretty different.

In retrospect, ‘Incendiary’ was maybe too polished sound-wise, but I don’t regret that too much since it suits the more complicated/epic stuff on that album better. But don’t worry, we’re not getting ‘even more polished’ for ‘Veneration’! It’s a fucking ripper!!!

The greatest strength of Ares Kingdom vs. Order From Chaos is that there are no limits to our vision. We’re gonna do whatever the fuck we want. We’re not narrowing down to perfection like Order From Chaos was and ending up at a dead end of ‘Where the fuck do you go from ‘An Ending In Fire’?!?”. We’re expanding from where we’ve already been!



Dead Void Dreams: Tell me more about the recording process, you're doing it all by yourselves, right? What kind of equipment do you use, what are the biggest obstacles you're facing while engineering, recording and mixing? All this should be helluva demanding work but evidently one that's paying off, since the production really suits the band, it has an warm 'old school' sounding to it...

Alex Blume: Thanks! We’re always pretty happy with our results and having complete control of our sound and no schedules or deadlines to have to meet. (Although that results in us taking fucking forever to get shit recorded. Heh.)

Order From Chaos, Ares Kingdom and Nepenthe have been doing home recording for 20 years now, and the recording gear has greatly improved since then. Ending Order From Chaos stuff was recorded on an 8 track cassette and old mixing bus and with generic mics, whereas Ares Kingdom stuff is recorded on a 16 track Digital Audio Workstation with real effects & mastering gear, and using real (cheap, but real) drum mics. We try to harness the advantages of more modern gear, without embracing all the horrible crutches & bad habits that drain the life out of stuff, i.e. drum triggers, click tracks, etc. We’ve also learned a lot over the years, learned to try to capture exactly what we sound like live, and to not fuck with things too much. Oh, and that only pure Marshall distortion is real!

Another thing that few know, but amazes them when they hear it, is that Mike records the drums in single takes! On every Ares Kingdom song you hear, that’s Mike playing the whole song once. No drum correction bullshit involved. (Good enough for Venom and bands of old, good enough for us!)


(PS to drummers: TRIGGERS ARE THE DEVIL!!! Why the fuck would you want to drain all the dynamics out of your instrument!?!?!? Cause you can’t record the song without studio corrections? Cause you’re playing too fast to be heard without them? Blast beats are 25 years old, no one's impressed anymore. Heh.) [I REALLY like your answers, Alex, ha-ha! - ED]


Dead Void Dreams: You're in the finishing stages of the mixing for the 'Veneration' mini album - can you give me as much info on that project as possible? How did you come with the idea of recording an album of cover songs, was it hard to choose the tracks for this? What's the final list of songs that will be featured? How hard was for the band to play/record songs written by other people? How close have you kept to the original sources? Any tentative release date for 'Veneration'?

Alex Blume: When we started recording ‘Incendiary’, we knew Chuck was gonna need a long time to write everything for our third album. We had already recorded some covers on our singles around ‘Return to Dust’ so we came up with the idea of learning and recording a whole covers album, to give Chuck breathing room to write and give Ares Kingdom something to release in between the 2nd & 3rd albums to keep us busy as a group. (Oh, plus we thought it’d be badass like old Metallica, hee, hee.) For me personally, I’ve wanted to cover "Die By Power" since the Nepenthe days, and thought it’d be the ultimate cover song to do, plus I’m very happy that "Oblivion" can finally come out properly.

We made huge efforts to make sure each song had Ares Kingdom’s signature stamped on it, but to maintain the original spirit of each song. (We’ve spent more time & effort on this than most bands spend on their albums, which is awesome, sad & pathetic, or just fucking nuts, depending on how you look at it. Heh.)


We chose songs that we feel are super obscure but also from bands we feel are amazing and vastly underrated, such as:

"Die by Power" (Slaughter Lord)
"The Captive" (Sacrilege)
"When Your Heart Turns Black" (R.U. Dead?)
"Act Dead" (Mefisto)

And decided to dig up songs from our previous bands, such as:
"Celestial" (Vulpecula)
"Oblivion" (Nepenthe)

We’re in final mixing/artwork stages now and hope to have ‘Veneration’ released before the NWN! 3 fest in November 2012.



Dead Void Dreams: 'Veneration' is gonna be released by Nuclear War Now! - they seem to be the perfect label for the band, do you agree? What makes them special..apart from releasing high quality products and those 'collectors porn' vinyl ones? :-)


Alex Blume: Yosuke from NWN! Productions has been a huge supporter and strong believer in the vision of Ares Kingdom all along from the beginning, regardless of our popularity and selling power or lack of. And he gives us the freedom to make sure our releases look EXACTLY how we want them to, with glorious vinyl editions also! We sometimes feel that we have not a lot in common with most of the other NWN! bands, but are perfectly home there nevertheless!



Dead Void Dreams: Speaking of NWN! you're once again playing their fest in Berlin this November. What are your memories from your previous visits, any particular highlights? Do you think there's a chance of Ares Kingdom properly touring Europe ? Say yes,yes,yes..ha-ha.

Alex Blume: My most fond memory is when Ares Kingdom played the first NWN! fest, the crowd was singing one of our songs louder than I was. Once I heard that I got choked up and stopped singing for a second even! That was just unbelievable to us!

This is the third NWN! fest and our third appearance there. We pride ourselves on the fact that our first two appearances had hardly any similar songs in our sets, and our third appearance will be no different! This time will be even more special, and live up to the spirit of ‘Veneration’ because for the last quarter of our set we’ll welcome Chuck’s old friend Stefan from Varathron up on stage and Ares Kingdom will back him playing a couple Varathron songs! This will occur right before Rotting Christ take the stage and play only their most ancient material. Since we were old pen-pals to all these guys back in the late 80s, this will be very special for us.

We’d be glad to do a proper tour of Europe someday, if we can just find a promoter who’s interested! [Fingers fuckin crossed for this!!! - ED]

Chuck & Stefan (Varathron)


Dead Void Dreams: Time to wrap up, Alex. I hope you've enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Thanks for your time and the excellent answers, cheers! Shout out loud, will you?

Alex Blume: CAN YOU FEEL THE POWER!?!?

DIE HARD!!!

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