SACRED OATH – The Judgement Day
“Return Of The Dragon” was released in April 2021 and it is the last work of the American metallers Sacred Oath. After reviewing this (great!) work, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Rob, Damiano and Kenny.
RIG: Hi guys, thank you for finding time for this interview. First of all, I hope is all on the other side of the pound. As you read in my review, I was pretty excited about your new album. I really loved it! It comes after a really kick-ass live album and this is the first with 3 guitars. This brings some alteration of the recording process you were used to?
Rob: Thanks so much man! Yeah, I changed up a few things when we approached recording “Return Of The Dragon.” First, Kenny and I demoed every song on the record so that we had a very clear idea of structure. During that process we fell in love with certain sounds and recording techniques that we preserved in the final recording and mix sessions, and so you definitely hear the most modern-sounding Sacred Oath album. Also, we made the album during the pandemic lockdown, so I had each guy coming in individually to track parts. Luckily for us, we were already well-rehearsed and we were able to complete the drums before things got bad here in New York. But as far as three guitars, there is nothing about that requiring a change in the recording process. Of course, it impacted the sound of the album because of Damiano’s musical presence and musicianship.
Damiano: The difference for me coming into writing this record was having all my solos pre-written before coming into the studio. I actually enjoyed the process because it gave me a challenge that no one has ever given me before, and I got to put my own creative spin, style and flare on things. It was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again in the future with the band.
RIG: I noticed that in this album the vocal parts have been more refined, am I wrong? I heard a more mature voice.
Rob: I don’t know that the vocals on this album are any more “refined” than you’d find on ‘Ravensong’ or ‘Twelve Bells,’ but I do agree that they have more of an impact. There was nothing different in my approach to recording them, other than me waiting until the last minute to finish my lyrics and vocal melodies. I don’t usually hold off on that and typically I have a clear idea before recording begins. This time around I was still revising lyrics and melodies long after the rhythm tracks were captured. I was giving myself more freedom on this album to find the melodies that best suited the songs and my voice together, rather than forcing things. Having said that, I think of our second album ‘Darkness Visible’ and my feeling is that those vocals are probably my most “refined” as you say, though perhaps not more mature. I do try to approach each album differently. And as producer I always try to capture the band “where it’s at” rather than stick to an outdated or outgrown formula. I mean, what’s the point of that? Once we’ve done an album we’ve done it, and then we move on.
RIG: Could you tell us how you got the inspirations for the lyrics? Which one is your favourite and why?
Rob: I’m not a teenager anymore, and neither are most of our fans. I’m always looking to connect my life experience with Oathbangers, and so I always write from the heart and whatever has preoccupied my mind at the time. And of course I hope that I have found some wisdom along my journey. All of the lyrics for “Return Of The Dragon” were written during the pandemic. It was a time when I was questioning everything. What does it mean to be human? What does the future hold, for me and my children? Who are we as a people? What is true, and what is truth? These are questions that I find interesting and I believe many of us were asking them in 2020. At the time I was reading a couple of books by Yuval Noah Harari that really resonated with me on these topics and I was very inspired. At my age (52) I’m also less afraid to take certain risks, and so I wrote “Empires Fall” knowing that it would make some people angry, but I didn’t care. It needed to be said. “At the Gates” is another important one. In a way, that song is very much about Kenny and I and this 35-year struggle we’ve been in with Sacred Oath. I can’t pick one favorite. But those two are up there for sure.
RIG: As I said I really loved the album, in particular besides the super-catchy Cthulhu Wakes, I was very impressed by Hammer of an Angry God with his heavy-rock sound and the funk-metal influences of The Next Pharaoh. Do you want to talk about these 3 pieces?
Rob: “Cthulhu Wakes” is fun, isn’t it? So much metal happening in that one. Thrashy riffs, evil chants, and glorious harmonized guitar sections … what’s not to love? Plus it is catchy, yes. We all felt it was a perfect opener for the album. As I was working in the studio with it, the music always gave me visions of a robotic octopus, so I adapted Lovecraft’s Cthulhu character and had her wake from hibernation as an AI-driven monster.
“Hammer of an Angry God” is another catchy, high-energy song that gets right to business. I like that about it. It’s generally a simple and traditional metal song, but it’s got that bridge in the middle that brings the emotional aspect of it to a bursting point. And then BAM! Anger and shredding follow. So much fun to play. The guitar solo section in the middle is a real highlight of the three-guitar arrangement we’re in right now. I think that turned out cool.
“The Next Pharaoh” was a risk for me. As much as I love writing funky riffs like that, we’ve never used one quite that funky in Sacred Oath. That’s when I rely on Kenny, and his opinion. He loved that song right away. In fact, during the demo process prior to recording, it was his favorite. That gave me the confidence I needed to produce it for the album. It turned out good, and I’m surprised at how many Oathbangers have told me it’s their favorite song. In general, I must say that I am surprised at all the wonderful reactions I’ve received from fans on this album. We took many risks, and were rewarded with Oathbanger letters from all over the world telling us how much they love the album and how important the lyrics are to them and how much they love the band. It’s so rewarding. It’s a great feeling. There’s no price you can put on it.
Damiano: Cthulhu has always been a favorite of mine, to me it’s the most melodic of the three so it always caught my ear the most. Especially with the chorus, it’s so catchy and sounds like something you’d hear on the radio whether it’s commercial or not. Hammer of an Angry God is an exhilarating, down and dirty, in your face heavy metal tune. I love the aggression that comes with this song especially when we play it in rehearsals as a band. The Next Pharaoh is a fun one because I love to let loose and strum in a more funky style with my picking hand but it’s also still very technical with the parts and keeps you on your toes while performing. Lots of intricate single note passages going on through the song that almost come across as being jazz-fusion but with a heavy metal overtone to it.
RIG: Rob, you have clearly Italian origins: how is your relationship with Italy? Do you still have any relatives here, and if yes, where? Did you have any memories connected with our country? I remember we met back in 2007 in Zurich (Swiss) but have you ever had the chance to play here?
Rob: My relationship with Italy is small and I need it to get bigger and better! (laughs). Yes, I do have many relatives there in Torino, Naples, and also down in Calabria. My great uncle Egisto Tango was a conductor in Naples and premiered major works for Bela Bartok. I like to think I received some musicianship from him. I visited years ago and spent most of my time in Vernazza with a friend, but have never played there. I know that we have fans in Italy and we want very badly to perform there!
RIG: Kenny, I really loved the artwork: could you tell us more about it?
Kenny: When it came time to do a piece, I would go through Rob’s lyrics and hone in on a phrase or a delivered word that hit me the most, and I would try and represent that visually as much as I could. Or sometimes I would just try and represent the feeling and sound (color) of the song. This worked out really good on certain songs: for example, the title track piece with the burning man on the dragon’s face is a reference to when Rob sings ‘souls will burn’ in the chorus. The piece for “Into the Drink” is also one of my favorites. I wanted to represent the World War II battle in the Pacific with the fighter plane crashing towards the water, but when I first began I wanted to make sure not to get too close to Derek Rigg’s ‘Aces High’ cover art. “The Next Pharoah” is also a piece loaded with maybe (not so) hidden references. The White House in disrepair with bars in the windows and a bank vault lock that has replaced the front door flanked by statues of the guardians of Anubis I suppose could be a bit of a statement! Even the front cover … we wanted it to be iconic. And the dragon has been a reoccurring theme in our artwork pretty much since the beginning. I wanted it to be bold and I also wanted to include a reference to our roots, which is why the colors are similar to Defenders of the Faith. For all these pieces I used wax pencils. Most of my life I’ve been an avid comic book collector, and most of my illustrative artwork is derived greatly from that influence.
RIG: If on one side you always have been independent, having your own label, on the other side, with 5 singles/lyrics video (“Return Of The Dragon”, “Hammer of an Angry God”,”Empires Fall”, “Cthulhu Wakes” e “Root Of All Evil”) you are clearly into the new rules of the music business. How the music business itself changed since the 1987?
Rob: Technology has made it possible for a small band like us to promote our music with a wide reach in a professional way and with very little financial backing. Of course, this still means work, and now we are working harder than ever to remain visible in a world with so many great bands competing for attention. But it remains a tremendous struggle for us. We have reached a point now where we need outside help to keep it all growing and moving forward. I spend a good part of my week standing in line at the post office shipping CDs and LPs to fans. Who will handle all of that when we’re on tour? It’s getting crazy. You ask how it has changed, but for me nothing fundamental has changed. I’m still doing everything, as I always have been. In the old days I was dubbing cassettes in my bedroom and assembling demos to ship out. We were running newsletters for fans on the printing press (The Invocation) and mailing them all over the world. Now it’s all digital, but still I wear a lot of hats, and sometimes it becomes overwhelming. At least today there are more record labels interested in licensing deals than there were in 1987 and we are able to retain ownership of our masters.
Kenny: We have started rehearsals, as we would like to bring a new and exciting show to the road, and we are currently booking shows in the US for the fall.. As for Europe, we would love to get over there again! We were there a few years back, playing places like Belgium, Zürich, we did the KIT festival in Germany… It was a great experience and we would love to do that again! Fingers crossed!
RIG: Thank you so much for your availability. I really hope to have a chance to meet you again in the near future to have some beers. Before closing this interview, do you have some last words for the readers of Heavy Metal Webzine?
Rob: We just signed a licensing deal with Worm Hold Death Records in Firenze, Italy. This should make our records more available there, and throughout Europe, and we are hopeful that will help us get back over “the pond” for some shows to support “Return Of The Dragon.” Hope to see the Italian Oathbangers soon!