I guess that for the readers of Forgotten Scroll, ETERNAL CHAMPION from Austin, Texas, US, need no special introduction. Their “Armor of Ire” debut is already identified as a classic on the Epic Metal genre. They are about to march into battle again, releasing a second album called "Ravening Iron", so yes, this is a good chance for a discussion with the band's singer Jason Tarpey.
Four years is a long time between records, especially for an up-and-coming young band. Could you tell us, in a few words, what happened during that time?
Time flies! Well, for us 4 years is not too long, see I just turned 40 and I’ve been a touring musician since 1999, and all the other guys as well have toured in full time bands for many years. So, when we started EC it was a pure thing, something not to be tainted by the industry, no obligations, no release schedules, no label ownership, no full time touring, only our vision with no compromise. So during this time since “Armor..” was released we have travelled quite a bit playing shows all over, really enjoying ourselves doing it. But our daily lives are busy and hectic so the years flew by and now we are here.
So, the new record… What would you consider to be the main differences musically between this and the debut? The production is certainly more polished and the band sounds a lot more “confident” (for lack of a better word).
I think you picked out the main two differences, I agree with you about the production, this time it is even “punchier” than the last and it hits harder with the vocals cleaner, the guitars more layered and nuanced and the rhythm section on this album honestly sounds like thunder, Arthur really killed it. And yes, I agree when I listen it does sound a bit more confident, I certainly felt more confident when recording my vocals. Also on this album there are some parts that are more complex, maybe prog isn’t the right word but there are some moments heavily influenced by early Fate’s Warning, Morgana Lefay’s mid 90’s period and Memory Garden’s “Forever” EP.
Listening to the title track “Ravening Iron” there are both musical similarities and lyrical references to the “armor of ire” off the debut. Is this song, story-wise, a continuation of the title track from the debut?
Yes they both have that faster pace, the melancholic feeling and Arthur’s style of riffing for sure but no they tell separate tales. I could see why you guessed that though because the themes are similar. On the song “Ravening Iron” the lyrics are based on the end of my new book called The Godblade.
While we are on that subject, can you perhaps tell us what each song on the new album is about, lyrically.
I will try to be concise:
A Face in the Glare – A song focused on revenge, determination, the power of the will, and cosmic horror. The lyrics are based on my book The Godblade, specifically the chapter entitled “The Storm”.
Ravening Iron – This song explores the feelings one must have before and during battle. It also focuses on courage in the face of death, dark gods, and the uncanny. Again based on my book, in particular the final chapter.
Skullseeker – This song is about a fearless, armor-less, nameless warrior who goes by the word carved in his axe, SKULLSEEKER. This is a song about him before he joins the Shattered Shields (read more about them in my book). During battle he is killing with such prowess, such ferocity, that the female general on the opposing side who should be fighting him becomes attracted to him instead, and at the end of the song they have sex on a pile of dead bodies in the middle of battle. Wait for the painting!
War at the Edge of the End – One of the first EC songs and the lyrics are quite esoteric, even for me. They are based on the theology I had to create for the world-building of Arginor. It tells of the creation of the god Farick. If the song could have a longer title it would be “Becoming a God and the War at the Edge of the End”.
Coward’s Keep – a short tale about a warrior who allows himself to be captured in order to gain entrance to an enemy’s fortress. That enemy would not meet him in battle and the keep is shielded from attack by sheer mountains so our warrior devises this plan. It is a song about the power of the individual and the consequences of running from your fear.
Worms of the Earth – A song based on Robert E. Howard’s tale of the same name, based on his character Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts. I urge those who haven’t read it to seek it out. It blends historical fiction with horror and even his friend HP Lovecraft’s mythos. A tale of vengeance gone too far, and ending with pity and regret.Banners of Arhai – Another one from my book, this one is also about the final battle told from the perspective of Rænon, whereas “Ravening Iron” is about the same battle but told from a different perspective, that of Utrok the wild Lanakian King.
This time around, approximately half the tracks have this mid-tempo, stomping, “marching” riffing (albeit with quite a few twists) that was used only on “I am the Hammer” on the debut. Was this emphasis on the new tracks deliberate, seeing what a huge success that track had with the fans?
Yes we love that stomping, marching type of riff and drums, you nailed it. That’s just our thing, it’s in our DNA, we love shit that hits really hard. Some of us grew up listening to crossover and NYHC so bands like Cro Mags, The ICEMEN, Raw Deal are imprinted on us, and so we love heavy metal that stomps too, bands like Manowar, DoomSword, Candlemass (the doom stomp), Holy Martyr, and again Morgana Lefay.
Who is responsible musically for the material we hear on the new record? Was the majority of it written by one member or was it more of a group effort? Can you walk as through the creative process?
Arthur, John, and Brad wrote all the music with Arthur writing the bulk and John writing a considerable amount. They worked together on the songs for awhile before I even heard them, because they all live up in Philly and I’m down here in Texas. The songs which John and Arthur wrote together like “Worms of the Earth” and “Skullseeker” benefited from their collaboration and I’m excited to hear more songs from them written together. Arthur wrote other songs all by himself and then John added leads and other cool intros and outros as well as the synth track The Godblade. Brad recorded his bass lines that sound amazing on this album and then I went to work writing the lyrics, which didn’t take much time. I flew up to Philly to track vocals, we didn’t finish because we only had the weekend so Arthur came down later and we finished them here in Wimberley, Texas.
“War at the edge of the End” is a really old song off your first demo. Why did you decide to record it properly now and not for your first album? In any case, it has changed quite a bit, musically, especially during the non-vocal parts.
Yes we felt that it needed a more powerful recording. The demo recording has some charm to it but it just doesn’t get the entire feeling across, so we beefed it up and recorded it like you said, properly.
Can any of the other material on this record be considered “older”, or is it all “new” stuff?
Some of the riffs we’ve had since right after we did “Armor” but only riffs here and there, no whole songs. We didn’t start putting whole songs together until 2018.
In the press release info, you are credited with “Hammer & Anvil”. How difficult was it to master such an instrument?
Oh that’s just a joke it’s not a real instrument it’s just referring to my day job as a blacksmith. We needed some hammer and anvil sounds for the album and I called Arthur and said “hey I’m making a sword right now do you want me to just record myself forging this steel?” He said yes, duh, and so I did it and that what you hear on the album. I was making a replica of the Beastmaster sword when I recorded it.
The cover art on this new record is amazing! How did the collaboration with Ken Kelly come along? Did he nail what you had in mind from the start? Is the idea based on the lyrics of a particular song perhaps?
Thank you! Yes he is my favorite painter and it is a dream come true to have him paint something from my brain. The painting is also based off a scene in my book, the woman on the throne is named Narila and Ken absolutely nailed the scene and captured everything about it perfectly. His trademark columns, the skulls, the way he paints women, perfecto.
In the liner notes of “Armor of Ire” you mention a forthcoming novelette that ties in with the lyrics of some of the tracks. How is that coming along? Can you perhaps give us the “basics” of the world that these stories are based on?
Well by now you know from my previous answers, yes the book is done and it is released. You can order it from DMR BOOKS or AMAZON and it’s called The Godblade.
It is obvious that ,like most of us, you are a huge Sword and Sorcery and Mythos fan. Is there any new stuff out there that you may have read and want to recommend to our readers?
The only new stuff I’ve read is from guys like Sky Hernstrom, Howie Bentley, and D.M. Ritzlin, they’re all great current Sword & Sorcery writers. But mainly I’m still collecting all the stories by Karl Edward Wagner, Clark Ashton Smith, REH, Thomas Ligotti and others.
You did quite a lot of touring these past years. Any story or odd thing that you want to share?
Well we were lucky enough to travel a lot but didn’t have to slug it out for weeks or months at a time. Here’s one that sticks out: After we played Keep it True we had a few days off before we flew back home. Well our friend Koen helped organize this last minute gig for us in Belgium at another friend Laurent’s house. He said we could play in the barn in his backyard, so he made a flyer the day before the gig and over 100 people showed up, way more people than could fit in the small barn, so everybody that came helped clear out the bigger barn behind it to hold the amount of people that came. Maniacs came from France and Holland and Germany. People were carrying out farm equipment, rolling out tractors and shit in order to make room. Then, when we played it was one of the wildest shows we’ve ever done. Everyone knew all the lyrics, people were hanging from the rafters and singing along, no stage no barrier, it was great.
There is a whole brand new generation of bands in the Epic Metal universe, mentioning Eternal Champion as a main influence or even the main reason for their creation. How does this situation make you feel after all? Is this perhaps a strange kind of responsibility?
No not too strange, we don’t really spend any time thinking about it we just keep to ourselves and consider it a compliment if we inspire anyone to create their own music.
Sword Worship is your own label. Can you share some info about the label’s creation? Will it release only EC stuff or other bands or projects as well? Sword Worship will release the new album’s vinyl edition on the US. Why this move? Why just the vinyl? And finally do you think that label stuff would better handled by labels -that are specialized in the subject- and artists would better focus on their art?
Sword Worship was an idea we had several years ago, after “Armor….” came out No Remorse was selling a lot of albums in Europe and we were selling out of the copies they gave us immediately so we thought next time we will press it ourselves in the USA and keep it available on our own merch webstore for the locals. And we can also send copies to record stores and distros over here. Its working out very well so far because No Remorse sold a ton of copies on pre-order and we sold out. Most of our orders were from Americans so it seems our plan worked, repress coming soon.
Some people claim that this recent revival featuring new Epic and Traditional Heavy Metal bands is simply an over hyped trend that will eventually fade as did others before it. Any comments on this?
Maybe it is. Most things come in waves. To us it doesn’t matter because the music is all the matters, not the community. When we started there were almost no epic bands over here so if it becomes like that again oh well.
Well, that’s it for now. Thank you for your time! We thank you for the music, we raise our sword to the glory of Eternal Champion! If there is anything else that you wanted to say, now is the time! Cheers!
Thank you for the time, been reading Forgotten Scroll for years and always enjoyed the fanzine, we can’t wait to get back to Greece, eternal hails!
Interview questions by: Chris Papadakis Giannis Aktypis
“Ravening Iron” will be released on No Remorse Records, November 20th. You can read our review, here.