New York-based quartet GOTHIC KNIGHTS released one of the best melodic power metal releases of 1996, as far as I’m concerned. That excellent debut was followed by the equally convincing Kingdom Of The Knights in 1999, once again on Sentinel Steel Records. The band is currently busy recording CD # 3, to be entitled Up From The Ashes, which they hope to release later on in the year. Guitarist & founding member John Tzantis updates us on what the GOTHIC KNIGHTS have been busy with lately.
John, please give us a brief history of the band?
GOTHIC KNIGHTS started back in 1990. The first line-up was me (guitar), Mario Cosentino (bass), George Tsalikis (vocals) and Johnny Marino (drums). For the first three years we wrote songs and played out a lot. Back then there was still a scene in America and we had the opportunity to play a great many venues that have now disappeared. In 1993 we had two line-up changes : Rick Sanchez (vocals) and Brian Dispost (drums) replaced George & Johnny. We ended up releasing our first official demo in 1994, which got us signed to Sentinel Steel Records. Our debut CD was released in 1996. It received excellent reviews in the heavy music press and established the band as a rising force in the metal scene. That year Rick Sanchez left the band due to personal reasons. It was a huge loss for the band, especially for the fact that larger labels were showing huge interest in the band, and now that we had our first CD out we had no singer to promote it with. Later that year, Bryan Avatar joined the band and took over the vocal duties. In 1997 tragedy hit GOTHIC KNIGHTS when drummer Brian Dispost was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was the most difficult time within the band, as we were clinging and hoping that he would get better and come back, but this type of disease only gets worse. In early 1998 Kevin Myers joined the band, as Brian was not able to continue. In 1999 we released our second CD Kingdom Of The Knights. That featured this line-up. Once again the CD received excellent reviews, as the new CD featured a more harder and epic style of metal. In the summer of 2000, Mario and I decided to part ways with Bryan Avatar & Kevin Myers due to musical and personal differences. Now, as the band searched for a new vocalist and drummer, we got in touch with our former vocalist and longtime friend Rick Sanchez, to see if he would be up for joining the band again. As we started to work together again, the magic was rekindled and soon Rick joined the band. In the fall of 2000 drummer Tony Cianciotto joined the group. Now, with a newly charged line-up, the band has been busy at work writing and rehearsing new material. The band has already performed live several times with this line-up.
How would you describe your style?
Dark melodic power metal with lyrics in the fantasy/horror vein.
What has the band been up to lately?
We are in the middle of recording our next CD, to be entitled Up From The Ashes. We hope to have it out by the summer of 2002. We have also been playing out live in the N.Y. Tri-State area.
Can you tell us more about the upcoming CD? Songtitles? Lyrical Content?
The next CD will include some of our heaviest, darkest and fastest music to date. Our drummer Tony has amazing chops when it comes to speed and power, and that will be quite evident on our next CD. Also, working with Rick again has brought back the excellent songwriting chemistry we had on the first CD, as he has written the majority of the lyrics for this album. A lot of the lyrics, once again, are based in the fantasy vein, but there are some very personal topics within the lyrics as well. The lyrics to The 13th Warrior and Sleepy Hollow are both based on the movies. The lyrics to Heaven’s Fire are a very personal statement on Rick’s part, and his view of the church. He used to be a Born Again Christian and has something to say about his experience regarding it. The Vampyre is based on the element of seduction of a woman through a vampyre’s eyes. Guardian Archangel … well, the title says it all, and it has a very fantasy oriented theme. The Power And The Glory has a political and patriotic statement, in regards to our views on the World Trade Center tragedy and the war on terrorism. Warrior Of Faith is a fantasy based theme of a warrior’s faith and honour, but can readily compare to a metal fan’s heart. Witching Hour is about the average fortune-teller and how they say that they can tell you about your future, but all they do in reality is just take your money. Up From The Ashes … well, it has a few meanings at different levels. Rick wrote the lyrics to this song, and in many ways it represents his return to this band and to the metal scene. From a band perspective it represents GOTHIC KNIGHTS’s resurgence and longevity. And for some of us, the song represents the overcoming of personal tragedies and obstacles as well. There are also a few more songs in the works that hopefully will end up on this CD as well.
Further on the subject of the CD title : exactly what do you want to bring across by it then?
Up From The Ashes. In many ways, this title says it all! From a fan’s point of view, it shows the resurgence of metal and GOTHIC KNIGHTS’s role in it. From a personal point of view, we have our reasons. The fact that Rick is back in the band and his desire and devotion to metal says a lot about him. Also, overcoming certain tragedies in the band, for instance the loss of our first drummer to multiple sclerosis, shows that this band will not give in and will continue. I also had a very serious back condition, which at times was extremely painful. After a few years of trying to live and cope with it, I ended up having major surgery done. The surgery was so successful that I literally feel like a new man!!!
What are the current standings as far as Brian is concerned?
Brian has a great heart and is a fighter himself. He is, and always will be, one of my best friends. Unfortunately, his disease progressed to the point where he is confined to a wheelchair. But when he is cured … and I say this because I expect this out of our medical society, we plan to go down to Mexico to party and get stupid drunk!!! And trust me, I never met anyone who partied harder than Brian.
What can we expect musically from Up From The Ashes? Any drastic changes?
There have been some changes in regards to our sound. Stylistically we still have the same vision : true metal!!! But naturally the songwriting has matured. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by our new CD. We have tuned down a half step on this album, which has made the music a little heavier and darker. Our fastest material ever written to date will be on this CD as well. There will be more background keyboards on this album, to give some of the songs a more haunting atmosphere or anthemic feel. Sometimes when people hear the word keyboard, they cringe, because they feel it can take away a certain heaviness, or make things sound a little unnatural. The keys on this CD are masterfully done to take the music to the next level, without compromising the overall heaviness and sound of the band.
Are all songs on the upcoming CD newly written tunes or will there be another couple of revamped oldies too?
This CD will feature all new material. As far as old material being re-recorded, we have some very interesting ideas on how we will approach that for future releases. I am hoping that we have the opportunity of re-mixing the first CD, and finishing recording the guitars and vocals for the 9th song that was never released. We also plan on putting our first demo on it as bonus tracks. Songs off of Kingdom Of The Knights may be re-recorded and feature Rick on vocals. It is possible that we may keep the entire original recording and just have Rick re-do all the vocals. Right now our focus is to finish the next CD.
Will there be a cover tune included this time as well?
No covers! Mario and I are in an IRON MAIDEN/JUDAS PRIEST tribute band, called IRON PRIEST, and get our fill there! The GOTHIC KNIGHTS have been thinking of learning some covers after we finish recording the album, just for fun. Will one ever show up on a future album? You never know ...
Where have you been recording Up From The Ashes?
Top secret. Shhhh!!!
And who’s producing & engineering this time around?
I don’t want to say too much now, as far as who is the engineer or what studio we are recording at. What I can say is that I have been very involved in producing this CD, especially when it comes to detail. The band in general is working together on this, but naturally a lot of this work falls on me. Not that I am complaining; I love the work and the challenge. But I also understand that this is a huge responsibility.
And what about the cover artwork? Will it once again be courtesy of Ken Kelly? What kind of idea do you have in mind?
The band has been throwing ideas around for a cover. We always liked the sword and shield concept, as it is one of our original logos. We may bring back a newly revamped look to it, with a lot of detail. We also have the option of using a painting from a few very well renowned artists; Ken Kelly is one of them, for instance.
What do you think about the idea behind the Classic Metal Festival, which is to be an old school, true metal festival, staying away from ridiculous black or rap metal trends?
I think it is an amazing idea! I am a huge supporter of true metal and am not particularly fond of much of what is going on in the music scene today, especially here in America. It is an absolute shame that metal has become so underground again here in America. Festivals like this help create the scene, as it brings in bands from around the country. Metal fans, young and old, find an incentive to go to these festivals, because they get to see bands that you would never really see. For many it is worth the travel. And of course crowds attract attention and the press.
Do you think this festival helps keep the 1980’s underground alive?
I think it does, but I do not consider what we do 1980’s underground. To me, metal has no boundaries in regards to time or decades and such. If the music is good, it doesn’t matter to me if it came out in 1982, 1992 or 2002. This festival helps keep HEAVY METAL alive!!!
What do you expect from (your performance at) the Classic Metal Festival?
I expect us to go out there and have fun! The timing is also good for us to promote our CD and network with some of the labels and music press. The great thing is that we expect to have our final mix done by then, and will have advance promos to hand out.
What will your setlist be like for the CMF?
I have no clue! (laughs) Well, I figure one or two songs from each of the past CD’s and the rest all new stuff!
What are the band’s plans for the rest of 2002?
Our main focus is to get our CD finished and consider all our label options. We have worked with Sentinel Steel for the past several years, and have gained very strong support in the metal community. There are several labels that have shown strong interest in the band. Now that we are working on our next CD we are also being patient as far as who we will sign with. The band’s ultimate goal is to get tour support.
Can you tell us more about those labels that have shown interest in the band? I presume most of them are European?
Most of the labels that have shown interest are from Europe, but some of the American labels have shown some serious interest as well. Getting signed is not the hard part. Finding a label that has excellent distribution and tour support is! This band has shown real patience in regards to signing with a label. We do not want to take the first deal that comes along. We plan on shopping all our material effectively, and hopefully we will have a few to choose from.
And on which market is GOTHIC KNIGHTS primarily focusing, Europe or the U.S.A.? Why?
Naturally the European market is probably where we will break first, and have most of our success. But I am a fighter and love challenges, and will do my very best to create a scene here in America for us. The one thing that I am happy about is that I already see signs of the metal scene resurging here in the States. Bands from overseas are finally coming over here and taking chances at doing some small tours. Classic metal bands like IRON MAIDEN and KISS reunited and made a strong impression in the music scene. I also think that the youth of today is getting a little sick of MTV music. Hey, people do smarten up, eventually.
Any plans as far as touring is concerned?
We plan on performing at as many metal festivals as we can this year. We also try to book with as many national acts as possible in our area. Over the past year, a group of bands here in N.Y. & N.J. have also joined forces and have done some shows together.
Please list available merchandise?
Kingdom Of The Knights CD is $12, GOTHIC KNIGHTS t-shirt is $12.
And how can people get in touch with GOTHIC KNIGHTS? Contact address, email, website, etc.?
John Tzantis / 1844 Haring Street / Brooklyn / N.Y. 11229 / U.S.A. firstname.lastname@example.org www.gothicknights.com
Any final comments?