WARLORD: The legend of William J Tsamis lives – Interview and album advance review

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To tell you the truth I was a little bit skeptical when I first learned about the Warlord tribute project set by drummer and founding member Mark Zonder and singer Giles Lavery to honor the music and memory of founder guitarist William J Tsamis who unfortunately passed away back in 2021. I was looking at the facts very closely, reading announcements about forthcoming live shows, new line up and a new album. The response from the fans was massive including both positive and negative (or very negative) comments about the above facts. "How can Warlord exist without Bill Tsamis?", they were asking. One afternoon I got a call from Giles Lavery himself asking me if I wanted to do an advance review of the forthcoming Warlord album. I replied positively still being in this skeptical mood. It all went away after the first listen... William J Tsamis was there. His music, his legend, his compositions, evolved into complete songs. In total excitement I texted Giles a single message "Bill is alive". The very next evening found Mark, Giles and I talking about the album, about Bill, about the music and the legacy. It was late at night when we ended the call. I asked them if I can publish our conversation and they got no problem. So here it is again: Me talking with Warlord. The usual stuff I am doing the last 25 years for various reasons. But this time I would not call this conversation an interview. To my eyes this is a big ethical, artistic and soulful statement, by some people who want to keep the Dream, alive.

“The Hunt for Damien” was released back in 2015 presenting Warlord as an active band, re-recording some of their classics. Bill sadly passed away in 2021. Mark can you summarize what the band’s status was within those six years?

Mark Zonder: During that period we were trying to restart the band. But because of Bill’s failing health we were not able to. It was very difficult for Bill to participate and things just did not happen. We were trying record new material in the DU style, but Bill was unable to really push forward.

Giles Lavery: I stayed close to Bill, often visiting him in Florida, we worked on the reissues of the entire Warlord, Lordian Guard and Sea Of Tranquilly catalogs. He was writing music but his health presented ongoing issues in it’s completion.

Bill’s sudden death was a deep stab straight in the center of everyone’s heart. Mark how did you went through all this?

Mark: Truthfully with his failing health I knew this was a probability. It was very sad and I could feel it slipping away a month at a time. I am sure many people have experienced a loved one in similar situations and can relate to this.

So Giles. I want to know how your first met Bill Tsamis and came in touch with the band? Under what circumstances did you take the front man’s slot on the first 10s reunion tour?

Giles: Bill heard my voice, via my band Dragonsclaw and reached out to me on facebook, our contact started with facebook messages and emails, then long phone calls. When it came time for the 2013 tour Bill and Mark were working with a vocalist for the live dates that for one reason or another they didn’t feel confident was going to be the right guy. I was asked and was more than happy to step in.

I guess that all this co operation within Warlord, developed a creative professional relationship between Mark Zonder and Giles Lavery. I have noticed that you guys are running other projects together in the terms of management and music business for example Mark’s latest band A-Z. So Mark, is Giles better on booking shows and doing promo campaigns or hitting those high notes? If you have to choose, what would you pick up, manager or singer?

Mark: He is equally talented at both. Both activities are always done on the highest level of professionalism, communication and a proper idea of what his role is. All of these qualities are very difficult to find these days or actually any days in the music business. Very much appreciate both sides of this coin. Giles is very easy to work with.

The 2016-2017 Warlord reissues eventually brought to daylight many rare and unreleased material that Bill initially wanted to remain in the vaults. From that time point there was a continuous flow of Warlord back catalog represses – especially of the above mentioned reissues – that goes on until today. There is nothing in common with the 80s or 90s era when someone had to pay a fortune for a used copy of “Deliver Us” Mini LP. Warlord’s music available everywhere and for everyone. Any comments on this?

Giles: This is an important point — between the years of 2014 and 2020 (before the Covid pandemic) I was a regular visitor at Bill’s home in Florida, we discussed in great detail ways the music and specifically the band could continue to have a presence in the heavy metal genre in spite of Bill’s poor health.

What was very important to Bill was that his music would be in the right hands as far as a label who could invest in such a mammoth project and also continually available to anyone who wanted it, as well as introducing new fans.

The reissues were a 2 year long project, we partnered with High Roller Records, and Bill and I agreed that these editions needed to rival “KISS – ALIVE II” as far as presentation.

Bill didn’t just “open the vaults” …he gave me the vault! Every tape, Cdr and 8 track recording was carefully transferred, and a lot of unheard music was unearthed.

He knew he didn’t have many years left and wanted this done right.
I have worked on numerous re-issue projects for other labels and artists, but this time it was Warlord, so I took the responsibility extremely seriously, with a heightened awareness of the bands legacy, the fans and Bill’s “think big” vision.

Mark: Let it be known that Giles was basically solely responsible for all of the work with the reissues. He worked extremely hard and was dedicated to these releases. So the fans have Giles to thank for this.

After Bill’s death everyone was at least in the mood that such kind of reissues would keep the band’s legacy and fame alive. There was even a tribute album to him. But as it seems, this was not the end. So what was the specific fact or incident that generated the decision to awake Warlord from the deadly sleep after their composer’s death? Who decided it?

Giles: There wasn’t really a sudden moment of decision, But for a number of years before his death, myself and Bill would talk about how the music could live on, one being the re-issues, and other being the music in a live setting.

After a festival in Crete (Greece), I think around 2017 Bill told me at the hotel that night that he was “done” performing live mainly due to the travel and the toll it was taking on his health.

He was conflicted, he loved the idea of seeing Warlord on the billing of festivals and shows, he loved the fans and seeing them respond to the music live, but he made it very clear “I can record, but i won’t play live”… He told me several times “the songs are there, you don’t need me to be able to go and perform them”, he would reference that he always had bigger plans for his music than simply him standing there performing it.

He told me how in 1985 he envisioned an orchestra performing his Lordian Winds material, he told me how music in the classical realm was kept alive by musicians performing it hundreds of years after the composers deaths.

To him writing music was his strongest desire.

He was quite insistent, far more so than Mark or I or anyone else was at the time, saying to us “you don’t need me in order to play Warlord music”

Mark: As most people know that after a death of a loved one you need time and space for recovery. When it first happens is not the time to make decisions. I just needed time to pass and think about what the future would hold. It was very obvious in Bill’s emails that he wanted the band to move forward. So we did. Just honoring the wishes or our dear friend and bandmate. Nothing more, nothing less.

So how this Warlord resurrection project started to work out? What is the main goal and how it would be achieved?

Giles: We always wanted to do some kind of tribute to Bill, like all ideas it started to form more definitively about a year after Bill’s death. In the weeks after Bill’s death many people asked about such an event, but it was too soon.

Mark: Like I said, I needed time. Then I realized, after reading Bill’s emails about continuing, both playing live and putting out his music, I had all the players I needed. There is only one person that I would respect enough to go by what they wanted and that was Bill. Why should anyone else tell me that I can’t go out and play these glorious songs?

Two swords under a common W shield. 1. Live shows and 2. New studio album. What was first decided? The live shows or the comeback album?

Giles: Probably the live shows, there was music unfinished by Bill, there is also fully finished compositions such as the Lordian Guard material that was just waiting to be Warlord-ized as it had been on The “Rising Out Of The Ashes” and “Holy Empire” albums — some of which was actually demoed as Warlord before being recorded as Lordian Guard. I have an email from Bill in which he questions his likelihood of finishing the music, and that he hopes he will. We finished this music in honor to him.

Under what criteria have you selected Eric Juris (guitar) to be part of the project? have you auditioned other guitarists as well?

Giles: Eric understood very early the modes and themes that were commonplace in Bill’s music, he was able to explain it in detail.
He sent us some recordings and i was stunned how exact he had the parts. I think Mark felt the same way. We couldn’t just have anyone come in and “interpret” this music, it had to be right.

Eric Juris – Photo by Sergio Diaz

Mark: Believe me this was taken very very seriously. Needless to say we had many many inquiries about the guitar position and did not rush to make the decision as it was very very important. We needed someone who could play as well as understood the Warlord philosophy.

Apart from Mark, Giles and Eric can I have some info about the rest of the line up please? Is the recording and touring line up the same?

Giles: We plan it to be this way, of course anything can happen. Eric is in, Jimmy Waldo whom I work closely with in Alcatrazz was a huge part of the record, he really gave 100% in getting the Warlord keyboard sound exact, going back to the Mini-Mogg sounds of the early 1980s and really analyzing the sounds Bill used. Philip Bynoe on bass: We all know as him a member of Warlord since 2013.

Finally, Diego Pires on guitar joined the band last week. Diego and Eric live 20 minutes close to each other. Making this the perfect situation for them both to work together closely on getting the guitar parts locked in and perfect. Eric recommended Diego and knows him well. We now have two red hot lead players to make sure all the harmony parts are tight, the solos are shredding and we have a KICK ARSE band top to bottom. As KISS said, these will be Crazy Nights! These guys look good, play good and are ready for battle!

Wouldn’t be a good idea for the members of the past Warlord line ups to participate into all this, I mean to the album or to the live shows, even as guests?

Giles: One point people often miss, and this is something I know Bill and Mark tried to point out to fans: Jack Rucker and Rick Cunningham, probably the two ex-members that most fans are the most curious about, haven’t been seen or heard from in 40 plus years, and they have done nothing at all to continue the legacy… I reached out to Rick C. to even see if he wanted to be part of something several years back and he was pretty non committal (he offered to do a voice over intro for a live show).

Mark will tell the story better than me as I wasn’t there in 1983, but these guys were not committed to the band the way Mark and Bill were, they were guys looking for a gig, and Warlord was that thing for a moment, until the next thing came along.

Mark: This might seem harsh, but Warlord was Bill and I from a creative point of view. I remember spending years of just the two of us jamming on songs like “Battle of the Living Dead”, “Winds of Thor” etc…. Just the two of us. Bill always looked at the vocals as just another instrument and did not want any other input into the songs. I used to joke with Bill and say “if one of us could sing, we would not need anyone else”. Giles pretty much sums it up in his response.

William J Tsamis, Giles Lavery, Philip Bynoe, on stage.

How many shows have you booked so far? And what are the future plans as fas as Warlord’s live activity?

Giles: We are talking to quite a number of festivals currently, 2 have been announced and many more are being negotiated as we speak, in fact i just received a contract for one more today.

Which country’s fan base is expressing the most demand to see the reactivated Warlord live?

Giles: The expressions of interest have come in from all over the world, it is nice to see many from the USA too.

Mark: Great response from all over. Very impressed.

Diego Pires

So lets go on the album. First of all I want a comment about the title please.

Giles: Three demos Bill sent to Mark and myself were titled “Free Spirit Soar”, 3 separate pieces of music, so we felt pretty good about that being the title of the album.

I am noticing that pretty much all of the album’s music is composed by Bill himself. We can divide the album in three main parts: 1. We got Lordian Guard classics that are re recorded. 2. We got demo compositions that have been evolved into complete songs. 3. And we finally got new songs that generated through Bill’s various themes…

Giles: Right. All music is Bill’s.

Mark: Basically we did what the Beatles just did, but we did it months ago.

Giles you are singing on the album. What about the vocal melodies and the lyrics? Have they been composed and written by you?

Giles: All of them are mine apart from the two Lordian Guard songs and “The Watchman” in which the lyrics were written by my friend Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe, and the song “The Bell Tolls” I co-wrote the lyrics with a writer named Jon Wilde. The vocal melodies are mine apart from the two Lordian Guard songs.

Why “The Rainbow” -the best Warlord song ever written, included on demo 1981 but not on any album- is not included in the album?

Giles: “The Rainbow” exists in a very high quality version as a bonus track on the Deliver Us EP — the sound quality of this demo is nearly as good as the ‘Deliver Us’ songs. Thus, as far as we are concerned it is already there in it’s definitive version, performed by the original band.

Mark: Some songs you just don’t redo.

Mark Zonder

Mark how was the experience to work on an album without Bill on your side?

Mark: He was by my side, just not physically. I had several moments while recording that I would stop as some memory was going through my head and would have a chuckle. Stuff like Bill and I jamming in a very cold warehouse in San Jose where Bill had on the Kiss boots. Or the first time we did a proper demo and came home and listened to it 100 times, each time putting our head closer to the speaker as it made it sound better. Yes, a touch of Vodka was involved. A million memories always come back when I hear his guitar playing.

The Warlord aesthetic is the main feature that triumphs within the album. Here we are not dealing with an overproduced modern sounding result of some old songs. Here we got a result of pure Warlord aesthetic. From the keyboard’s melodies and sound, to the physical drums and the warm, organic production. For me this is called total respect.

Giles: We were pretty obsessive about keeping true to the Warlord style, to honor Bill and to honor Warlord’s legacy.

Mark: Actually we did not really need to think about it much as it was kind of automatic. Just like the live shows will be played note for note with no improvisation to guarantee and pay tribute, so did the recording. This was about keeping true to the music.

However there are some people that keeps on criticizing the band for the reactivation, connecting how disrespectful is all this for Bill’s name and fame. Any comment?

Giles: I have seen some of the comments, I know for an absolute fact that Bill would be disgusted at some of what is being written by this loud minority… especially some of these fans who we treated like family, a lesson perhaps that letting people too close can be a mistake. What we are doing is we are carrying out Bill’s specific wishes. This is however a byproduct of this “social media world”.

Mark: Please read Bill’s wishes in his emails as if anyone does, there will be absolutely no discussion. And knowing how people are, if people saw his wishes and we did not continue I am sure people would need to voice their opinions on that as well. We are doing what we think is right and that is all that matters.

Even the skeptic ones are divided. For example there are some of them that do not mind seeing some live tribute shows to Bill, but they do not want a new album…. Do you think that they would change their mind noticing that the record consists of good old Destroyer music?

Giles: They are free to choose if they support some, none or all of what we are doing. But they do not direct the narrative, which is the single minded focus to keep the music alive. Worth noting however that the response globally has been mostly positive.

Mark: Read the emails.

Tsamis was always worried and even complaining about his very sensitive health, everyone around him was aware of this situation. Has he ever expressed his worrying about the band’s future?

Giles: Yes, as I have mentioned he didn’t want his music to die with him. He said to us “Keep my music alive, for it is all I am”.

Mark: Again read his emails. Almost like a last will and testament.

So what will be the future for Warlord now?

Giles: There is a new record in May, and the shows next year and beyond into 2025.

In a few words how do you describe the status of Warlord nowadays? A tribute band? A new band? A sort live project, or what?

Giles: A respectful tribute to William J Tsamis, by his close friends and bandmates, along with several musicians that understand this concept fully.

There are people who say that you are doing all this for the money. Any comments?

Giles: These people are clearly unaware of how expensive touring and performing is for a cult level band such as Warlord with 6 members. I’d actually be surprised if this doesn’t cost us money. The payment for us of course is getting to perform this music, which will far more enrich my life than $200 in my pocket at the end of a night.

Mark: Giles is being polite. But, PLEASE JUST STOP.

When will the album will be released and which label is doing it?

Giles: May 2024 on High Roller Records

And I want a small comment about this mystical front cover. Is it a sequel to “Deliver Us”?

Giles: It is symbolic of the history and origins of Warlord and the spirit of Bill.

Mark and Giles: What was your best moment with William?

Giles: Just hanging out with him in those later years, watching MacGyver or Bonanza with him, we also enjoyed watching the ‘Tremors’ movies together. Bill had a great sense of humor too, very Spinal Tap.

Mark: Those early days of just Bill and I jamming for hours and hours.

Close the interview with a message for everyone reading. Thanks a lot Gentlemen.

Giles: If an artist’s music is unavailable and not performed it won’t find new generations of fans… it will disappear.

Mark: Can’t wait to see the looks on peoples faces when we are able to play this glorious music again in a live setting.


WARLORD – Free Spirit Soar (High Roller Records)
Advance review

Intro

What we got here is the result of the hard and careful in very detail work of Mark Zonder -founding member-, Giles Lavery and the rest of the current Warlord line up. A full length album that highlights the music of the band’s main composer William J Tsamis, who unfortunately passed away in May, 13th 2021. The album includes completed versions of Tsamis unfinished songs, themes and ideas, two re-recorded Lordian Guard classics plus reworked versions of selected songs from the band’s early era, that are now presented in full versions.

Sound and production

You may find references about the overall sound and production in the very end of similar reviews, but I would like to start my reference on the album, pointing this very specific feature which I consist as one of the strongest ones for this release: “Free Spirit Soar” is an excellent produced album. It highlights a warm, organic sound that would make the listener to parallelize the overall sound result with the sound of big Heavy Metal classics and specifically with the sound of the classic “Deliver Us” Mini LP. I would like to refer to the warm sounding guitars -faithful to Tsamis sound-, the shining drums that sound loud, heavy and clear without the usage of any triggers and the bass that is high in the mix straightly reflecting to the classic Lordian Guard approaching as per this specific instrument.

A triumph of the W aesthetic

A careful listener would take the album’s production and sound as a gate opener to realize that “Free Spirit Soar” is something much more than a tribute album. It is a deep study to the Warlord aesthetic. There are various elements that would make a trained Warlord listener smile with happiness, discovering them in each and every song. But which are those main features? Well lets take a look:

The keyboards: I was quite surprised to discover that the classic keyboard sound of the “Deliver Us” debut is back again on the Warlord frame. The very same Mini Moog Synth sound that has been used on the classic debut, returns on this newest release! The keyboard arrangements is something that make me really excited about the overall aesthetic result. Well it is not just the Mini Moog sound. It is the fact that the keyboard arrangements have been generated under a perfect harmony balance, highlighting the melodies and on the very same time creating those mystical soundscapes of ambiance that became a trademark especially in the first Warlord era. On the overall result someone can even hear this very carefully pomp rock touch which reflects straightly to Tsamis approaching as per the keyboards instrument. Those David Arkenstone & Mark Free demo recordings back from 1983 -Tsamis favorites and quite a big influence for the “Deliver Us” keyboard sound- came into my mind many times as I was listening to the fabulous keyboards on the new Warlord masterpiece, oh and the Alkana album as well. At the end of the day something have been done very correctly in here. Jimmy Waldo has done an excellent job in here.

The vocals: Giles Lavery have composed the most of the vocal melodies and wrote a big part of the lyrics on the album. However in the case of this particular material, the well developed vocal melodies and the great lyrics may not be enough. Each and every vocal approaching on those songs has to be combined in total harmony with the overall aesthetic result. And Lavery knows it very well. On the only studio recorded Warlord song that we had the chance to listen him -“Killzone” from the “Holy Empire” album (guest vocals)-, his high range was on the first spot. Well this is not the case on those newly recorded masterpieces, as Lavery chooses a way of singing that muches perfectly to the overall “Free Spirit Soar” sound portrait: He brings to front his mid range vocal abilities, choosing an expressive way of singing that brings to my mind mainly the Damien King III -Rick Anderson- and his overall vocal work on the “Holy Empire” album. I can also hear some Rick Cunningham -Damien King II- mysticism on his overall vocal approaching. As I was listening Lavery singing I caught myself reflecting to those emotional moments of Jack Rucker -Damien King I- that were mainly highlighted on the demo 1981 recordings -on the 1981 Soliloquy version for example-.

Drumming: There is not much that has not already been written about Mark Zonder’s magical playing. But in here he is entering on transcendence. The drumming in here is a key feature. I would consider this particular recording as one of the best that Zonder ever offered. His overall performance really makes the stuff of this album to shine -as I am typing the word “stuff” I am bringing Bill into my mind, correcting me for the 1000th time: “Chris do not use the word “stuff”, use the word “material” instead”-. Oh well, some memories have became part of a lifetime. I wonder how some people are even able to stand against Warlord nowadays.

Song by song

Behold a Pale Horse: The classic Lordian Guard song that was released as picture 12″ vinyl back in 1996, is presented here on an excellent version. The bass lines on this one sound amazing. In general Philip Bynoe’s performance is one of the record’s highlights.

The Rider: A classic mid tempo Warlord anthem. Amazing development of the lead guitar melodies. The keyboards are adding this mystical pomp touch carrying the song’s trademark melody. The song is based on one of the very last Tsamis captured riffs and it is magnificent.

Conquerors: One of the album’s most epic moments. The title may be familiar to some of you as it exists on a demo version in the latest reissue of the “Haunt for Damien” album on High Roller Records. Here the song is presented in its completed version. Fast tempos, pounding guitar themes and blazing vocal melodies. “Father” and “Kingdom” key references to the lyrics written by Lavery, are reflecting the ultimate Warlord Spirit. A Tsamis classic without a doubt.

“Worms of the Earth”: One of the oldest Warlord songs. An early instrumental version of it exists on the rehearsal 1981 recordings. Now we can enjoy it on its complete version. Lavery has done a fabulous job as per the vocal melodies development in this one. His lyrics referring to the world’s corruption are a key feature on the song as well.

“The Watchman”: A Xian Metal opus. Based on keyboard ideas of William. However the song’s straight development reminded me pretty much of the demo 1985 material as per the vibe. Yeah, the keyboard lead part sounds fantastic and the chorus is so catchy memorable that I want to listen it again and again. Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe wrote the lyrics and vocal melodies for this composition. Warlord and Lillian Axe? Well yes, it can happen!

“Free Spirit Soar”: There are three different themes that William composed having used this particular title, that eventually became the album’s title. The final result can only described as pure Warlord excellence. The song straightly reflect the “Holy Empire” vibe thanks to its main lead parts and to Zonder’s out of this world drumming. A careful listening may reveal other important references like the ala “Battle of the Living Dead” melody at the end of the main guitar solo part. This is a Warlord classic, a trademark song and I have to say that some of its best parts are based on the keyboard material that Bill have originally composed in the vein of Sea of Tranquility.

“The Bell Tolls”: Another one from the ancient Warlord age. It was captured on the rehearsal 1981 tape, under the “For Whom the Bell Tolls” title and now it is presented on its completed version. As the song was instrumental on its original version -Warlord were working on their material without a singer back on those early days, it was just Bill and Mark doing their thing-, the key feature on this completed version are the excellent vocal melodies. I also enjoyed very much the lead and solo guitar parts in this one. Yes the title was changed a little for the obvious reasons. The lyrics on this one are co written by Giles Lavery and Jon Wilde.

“Alarm”: A composition full of agony totally reflecting the “Holy Empire” vibe. It is actually the “Killzone” sequel song. The strongest feature of this song is actually its structure, wisely combined themes that are generating a “harmonic antithesis” between the epic / pounding and the melodic moments. Oh how I love the keyboards for one more time. Just like “Conquerors”, “Alarm: was featured on an untitled instrumental version on the “Haunt for Damien” compilation 2023 repressing on High Roller Records.

“Twins”: This song was based on a very rough keyboard demo of Bill that Giles located. This song is pure Tsamis gold. Bill was extremely talented on composing melancholic mid tempo anthems, and this song is one of them. The amazing guitar solo is rounded upon an ala “Winds of Thor” theme. The keyboard theme that drives the composition on its final lead part, is actually one of the best parts that someone can hear on the entire album. This is the ultimate Warlord perfection, end of story.

Revelation XIX: Well I have to repeat myself in here. Another Lordian Guard classic, presented here on a greater than great version. I am speechless.

Conclusion

The album is a masterpiece. Some of Tsamis best compositions are respectfully highlighted through the “Free Spirit Soar” release. This is the ultimate tribute to his music, his legacy, his legend by his band mates.

Musically it includes stuff from all the Warlord periods a feature that would help the album to stand the test of time. For me it already stands next to the classics.

William J Tsamis will remain immortal as long as his music lives on. This mission is accomplished through this album.

Hail to the one!

 

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I breathe for music. And I am more than sure that my mission in this universe is to make everybody agree that "Awaken The Guardian" by FATES WARNING is the best album ever released, yes in all musical genres. My next mission is to feed homeless cats and when I am not busy with all this stuff I listen to US Prog / Power and Epic Doom Metal. And I cast spells in rituals in order to awake the old ones. After my subscription to the "Happy Otters" team on Facebook.