Raise Your Magick Steel: Visigoth Return With The Revenant King
Enough words have been written in unexpected praise of Visigoth, a band who, to many people outside of Utah, is a musical anomaly in an otherwise unremarkable state. After signing to Metal Blade, however, the band is now receiving an impressive amount of national attention, but virtually everyone is saying the same thing: “Who would have thought that there is true metal in Utah?”
The fact is, Visigoth descend from a rich legacy of incredible heavy metal music in Utah, a long history of innovation and tradition woven together into a diverse tapestry of sound. “[Utah’s] had killer stuff that was just not on the radar level of Metal Blade,” says vocalist Jake Rogers, “but that doesn’t make us the best or the first—it just makes us the most visible.”
Citing bands like Ibex Throne (one of the first black metal bands to form in America) and Katagory V (who participated in the Prog Power USA festival in ’03), the band knows its roots well and honors its local forebears with hard-hitting, traditional heavy metal. Even now, SLC’s diverse array of thrashers, hessians, death metal devotees and black metal blasphemers are a well-kept secret from the rest of the world, but those who worship the riff in darkened mead halls and dingy garages across the city are well aware of the talent that graces our fair city. “It’s a small scene, but it’s high-quality small,” says Rogers. “If there’s a set with all local bands, it’s all bands that are definitely worth watching a full set for.”
Yet, even among the exceptional acts throughout the Beehive State, Visigoth have distinguished themselves as a household name among Utah’s heavy metal faithful. Even Jarvis Leatherby of Night Demon referred to them as “[SLC’s] hometown metal band.” With the Jan. 27 release of their debut full-length album, The Revenant King, they stand to gain some much-deserved exposure to an international audience and do so with a collection of songs honed and tempered on SLC stages.
The album itself is pure, unadulterated heavy metal—the kind of music that takes as much inspiration from Painkiller-era Judas Priest as it does from Twisted Tower Dire. Guitarists Lee Campana and Jamison Palmer flex their mighty metal thews on this record, every riff given thunderous puissance by Matt Brotherton’s bass.
Mikey T’s intricate drums bolster the ground-shaking concussions of “Mammoth Rider” while Rogers’ final chorus on “From The Arcane Mists Of Prophecy” brings an epic climax to The Revenant King. While it’s clear in retrospect that Metal Blade would have an interest in supporting such a laudable local band, the tale of Visigoth’s signing is a legend unto itself.
It all started with the release of their Final Spell EP. Mike Mendyk, owner of a small tape label called Swords & Chains, was impressed by their work. “He contacted us and said, ‘I’d love to release your music on tape,’” says Rogers.
“Bear in mind, we didn’t send this to anybody. We just put it online—we did nothing.” The band agreed, and Visigoth became the first band to go to print on Swords & Chains. “Of course, the Internet—being the giant cesspool of negativity that it is—was telling Mike that he’d never sell cassette tapes. They were saying, ‘Only hipsters buy cassette tapes!’” says Rogers, with a hint of irony in his voice. “They sold out fast. The first show that we had the tapes at, they were gone.”
One copy found itself in the hands of Máirtín Mac Cormaic, owner of the Irish label Sarlacc Productions. He teamed up with the legendary Italian label Cruz Del Sur to release the Final Spell EP on vinyl, bringing it to a much wider audience. “Máirtín happened to be friends with Alan Averill, who is the lead singer of the Irish metal titans Primordial,” says Rogers.
“Máirtín forwarded the music to Alan, who is an old school heavy metal diehard. He took a listen to it and felt like we had potential.” After finding a video of the band playing at Mojo’s in Ogden, Averill passed Visigoth’s EP along to Metal Blade, who decided to offer them a chance to sign with their legendary label.
Needless to say, the band was ecstatic. However, they knew that signing to a major label wasn’t some final spell to bring them instant fame. “What it means for us is that we have to work harder than ever,” says Campana. They signed on with Metal Blade, knowing that doing so would put a great deal of responsibility onto their shoulders, but it would also give them a chance to reach out to a much wider audience and spread their music throughout the world.
The band’s first challenge came in 2014, when they first started laying down tracks for The Revenant King. “On the Final Spell EP, it was pretty much exclusively me and Jake doing the songwriting,” says Campana. “Jamison helped us write some of the riffs, like on ‘Creature of Desire’ and a couple of things here and there. On the album, it’s been more like a whole band.” Visigoth had already begun working new material into their live sets, and they saw the album as an opportunity to hone their songwriting skills and allow each member of the band to contribute to the process. Songs like “Blood Sacrifice,” “Mammoth Rider” and “The Revenant King” each started to solidify as collaborative efforts, and with the recording of the album, they became much tighter and more thematically consistent.
The band continued recording in Andy Patterson’s “Boar’s Nest” studio, hammering out the best of their material into an album to be proud of. Including new recordings of songs from their demo and EP such as “Vengeance” and “Creature of Desire” allowed the band to show just how far they’ve come since the early days. “We finally have a good recording of ‘Iron Brotherhood,’” says Palmer, noting that, while it is one of their most popular songs, it was nice to be able to move on from their older material and start focusing on new music.
A second challenge came in the form of recording the band’s first music video. When the band decided to make the music video for “The Revenant King,” the reps at Metal Blade resisted at first. Palmer says, “It’s hard to keep someone’s attention for [eight minutes]—especially on YouTube.” When you shoot an eight-minute music video, some poor bastard has to edit the thing too. Since you also have to pay that guy, the band ended up with zero budget for their shoot.
Luckily, they had some great help behind the camera. “The [people] who came out and shot it—David Brodsky and Allison Woest, known as MyGoodEye Productions—were awesome!” says Rogers. “I don’t think any of us could imagine having done that music video without those two working on it.”
They also banded together with supportive friends—both local and from out of state. “We had enough friends who had medieval weapons, armor and costumes that, while we rented a few pieces, most of it was contributed by people we knew,” says Rogers. “Jason Tarpey from the band Eternal Champion—which is one of our favorite underground American heavy metal bands that’s doing their thing right now—flew out to be in the video because we’re buds.” Jason Stock, creator of Squatter’s Hop Rising beer, also lent his mighty beard to the shoot, followed by Paul Black of Turned to Stone, who reportedly showed up on set dressed to the nines in full medieval costume.
The fantasy theme of the music video may be low-budget and campy, but it’s a genuine expression of love for the genre. “The first book I even cognizantly remember reading cover to cover as a child was The Hobbit,” says Rogers. “[I read it] so many times that, on my first copy of it, both covers were gone and half the pages fell out of it. My parents had to buy me, like, three copies of that book through my childhood.” In fact, one of the early attractions to heavy metal for the group was its strong ties to fantasy and sci-fi stories and art. Campana says, “I feel like, to enjoy fantasy, you have to be able to have the ability to immerse yours
elf in a different world. The reason fantasy and metal go together so often is because, whatever discipline it is, it does require a certain level of immersion to fully enjoy it.”
Now, even in the wake of the album’s release, Visigoth are immersing themselves in writing some new material. “We do this thing where we plan out, now, what we want a song to sound and feel like before we even start writing riffs for it,” says Rogers.
“We’ve written at least half of our next album.” While that does give fans something to look forward to, there’s still plenty of work to be done before a second full-length release is ready. However, Visigoth have begun working these new songs into their live set, giving local fans a taste of what is yet to come.
As for live shows, the band is gearing up to get on the road for a longer tour. This April, the band plans to tour the West Coast, starting in San Diego and working their way up to Seattle before heading home. “We’re also talking about Europe this summer,” says Mikey.
Details still need to be worked out on both tours, but their guiding principle is to avoid burning themselves out on their first major road trip. “The trick is doing it as smart as possible,” says Campana. Even as a signed band on Metal Blade, each member has a day job that pays the bills, and they’ve had to pass up some great shows to avoid losing their jobs in the pursuit of their dreams.
For Visigoth, all the effort and lucky breaks they’ve had come from one major source of strength. “We couldn’t have achieved any of this without the support of our awesome local scene,” says Rogers. Even though the machinations of labels and signings has largely gone on outside of Utah’s borders, the band all agrees that the local scene is what makes it possible to be in a band and enjoy making music with one’s friends.
“I think a lot of young bands might have the idea that, if you get signed to a label that’s as big as Metal Blade, you’ve made it,” says Rogers. “No. You have now been given the chance to try and make it.”
Check out Visigoth’s debut album, The Revenant King, on Metal Blade records, or check out their single, “Dungeon Master,” on Bandcamp at visigoth.bandcamp.com.
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