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By: Perran Helyes
Battlecross‘ brand of “blue collar thrash”, driving the spirit of Slayer and Exodus through a post-metalcore distinctly 21st century silhouette, has seen them not lavished with extreme, swift critical acclaim but carve a steady place within the modern heavy metal landscape. Now their foot is firmly within the door and they don’t seem anxious to turn away from that any time soon. Off the back of new record Rise to Power, guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala spoke to Perran Helyes on the album’s creation, their shape as a live band, and which Slayer records don’t get their full dues.
(((o))): Rise to Power has been out for over a month now, has the response from critics and fans been what you’d hoped for?
Hiran: We’re thankful for the overall response from the reviewers and fans especially. It’s a good feeling to see people pick up on certain things that we personally feel about the album. I truly feel this is our strongest and most mature release to date and I think the fans have really grasped that about us and it’s humbling to see people who have followed us from the first album to truly understand what we’re trying to accomplish. We have seen mixed reviews which is likely to happen, but it doesn’t discourage us in anyway. As long as there are people enjoying what we truly love to do then that’s what matters most. Feeling proud and accomplished of an album and having people truly appreciate it is what makes it worth it.
(((o))): War of Will felt like a real step up from your previous material. Does Rise to Power feel like another step up of the same magnitude?
Hiran: I believe so. I feel like we evolved as musicians and song writers, which came from the experience of touring and our experience working in a studio environment with a producer. Each album is like a snapshot of our experience and emotion that we were going through. Rise To Power to me, was the most relaxed, organic and confident record we put together.
(((o))): Do Battlecross go into the studio with a specific goal or benchmark in mind when it comes to making each record, or do you just let it flow and see what the result is?
Hiran: Our mindset is always to be the best we can be at that moment. We’ve always approached our song writing as writing whatever feels good or comes natural. Rise to Power is a perfect example of letting the writing process flow naturally. The songs generally start with a “base” or “main” riff that gives the vibe of the song. Most of my process was sitting down and just playing guitar and writing riffs. If I find something that I like that I’m playing then I usually set a bpm on the metronome and start playing a specific riff to that and then try to develop other riffs while playing along to the bpm. It usually helps branch other riff ideas playing to a click because it helps keep the vibe or feeling on the song. After writing a few riffs that I like I’ll put together a demo recording with some programmed drum ideas and send it over to the rest of the guys to listen and give feedback. Usually the demo ideas go through a few revisions before sending over. After a demo is sent over we just throw back ideas back and forth and develop the song. That’s generally how we approach the songs, but we also didn’t much time to jam on the songs live because our drummer lives in California so we had to send him demos. That is the only thing I wish we were able to do was hash out the songs in a live setting however I think that our process works great and we definitely had time in the studio to go over and “trim the fat” on the songs.
(((o))): You worked with Mark Lewis and Jason Suecof again with the production of this record, what is it about those guys which makes you want to return to them?
Hiran: They’re professional, knowledgeable and great people to work with. Mark and Jason have a good vision about approaching a project and bringing the best out of the band. It’s not about using the studio to bring out the best in an album, but bringing the best out of the band and creating the band’s vision to make the record the greatest it can be. They created an awesome and relaxed working environment to help focus us but they also pushed us to bring out the best in our abilities. I think it’s really important to have an outside perspective on your material so having producers throw in their feedback especially with their amount of experience making great records, really helps the album come to life. We came in to the studio with demos that we liked but we knew could develop. We spent about a week going over the songs and coming up with various ideas and changes to make them better. Jason helped a lot with adding to the creativity of the songs whereas Mark helped get the sound from the instruments. The process was really all about team work and that’s what I love about working with those guys. It’s not about one persons vision, it’s about everyone working together to create an amazing album.
(((o))): Do you find that listening to new or older music inspires you in any way with new material, or do you try to isolate yourself and focus only on what you are doing?
Hiran: I usually find myself more inspired by older music, but there are some newer albums that can inspire me while writing. Generally I would say I’m more isolated and focusing on what I’m doing because I want to try and create something that has more of my style than someone else’s. Certain riffs can be inspired by something I was listening to before and create a vibe that I’m going for. Like the ending of ‘Shackles’ was influenced by stoner/doom metal so it has a Black Sabbath/Witchcraft feel to it. Sometimes my influences come out of nowhere with songs and as I said before we don’t ever try to specifically write a certain way it just comes natural.
(((o))): You definitely feel like a thrash band, but with an undoubtedly modern edge. What were the factors that drove you down that route instead of just going for a more retro traditional 80s thrash approach?
Hiran: I think it stems from our various influences that we all have. There isn’t one person that has control over the writing process so when we collaborate on songs it’s all of our influences coming together. We also trying to create something that is our own. So while we have old school thrash influences there are also the modern elements that come into play from growing up in the 90s. I was personally introduced to a lot of the older bands by listening to later records that came out when I was growing up. So my introduction to Slayer wasn’t Hell Awaits or Reign in Blood, but Diabolus in Musica and Divine Intervention, which to me are underrated albums. From discovering the newer albums of old bands I would seek out the older albums and discover the classics. I think that’s where a lot of the mixer of old and modern comes in because we were taking notes from the old and new bands we discovered.
(((o))): You’re known for being one of the prolific touring bands on the modern metal scene right now. How has life on the road affected the creation of this record?
Hiran: Life on the road has taught us a lot about the sacrifice and hard work that goes into being in a band. There are the highs and lows of touring but you grow from each experience. We’ve always had a “do whatever it takes” hard work ethic to what we do so whether we’re on the road or writing music, we don’t let distractions or bullshit get in the way. Touring builds character and experience and it definitely matures you as a musician mentally and physically. When writing this record we faced a few obstacles that may have thrown a wrench in the writing process, but instead of bitching or complaining about it we focused on how to get over the hurdles and get what we need done. That attitude has helped bring the confidence and drive we needed to write this record. There’s pressure from label and management to deliver on a record, but instead of crumbling under the pressure we were confident in our own abilities and used the time we had to focus and create what we did.
(((o))): Do you feel your recorded output matches up to your live shows?
Hiran: I feel like we haven’t been able to channel that perfectly on record and I’m not sure if we truly can. Playing a live show is so much different than being in the studio. I think that the recordings have captured the essence of the songs, but the live energy we give on stage I don’t think has been captured yet. As I said it’s a different mindset being on stage, your adrenaline is going and the energy of the crowd is different each time you play live. I do like that our live show is not the same as listening to the recording because I feel like that difference brings people out to a show for a special reason. With how the industry is, live music is where it’s at to get the true experience of an artist.
(((o))): Any particular songs off this new record you’re looking forward to playing live?
Hiran: All of them, haha! I’m really enjoying playing ‘Not Your Slave’ and ‘Absence’ and as our tours continue we’ll add more new songs in, but we also have to keep playing the old stuff so sometimes it’s a hard balance. I’m sure we’ll introduce ‘The Path’ and maybe ‘Bound By Fear’ and ‘Shackles’. I would personally love to play ‘Blood and Lies’, but honestly I think all of our material is fun to play live so I’m down for any of the songs.
(((o))): How do you choose a setlist for any given show?
Hiran: We try to keep the old ones that fans enjoy the most, but we also adjust the set list to a particular tour we’re on. If we’re touring with maybe more melodic bands then we’ll throw in more of the melodic songs versus playing with heavier bands we try to play more brutal or fast songs, but still keep a good mixture of brutal heavy and melodic heavy. We try to find a good flow from start to finish and we also have two different tunings, Drop D and Standard E, so some songs require a quick break for a guitar change so we usually pack certain songs that tune in D first, switch to E tuning and play two or three songs in E then switch back to drop D. We don’t like to have too many breaks between songs so we as I said we group tunings together so the flow is better.
(((o))): Any European or UK tour plans in the near future?
Hiran: Hopefully sometime in 2016, but we’re still waiting for our management and UK booking agent to work out something.
(((o))): The amount of touring Battlecross do must be intense. Could you see Battlecross going indefinitely or is there an end goal in sight?
Hiran: We’re definitely an active touring band and I always see us being out on the road as long as we need to be. I think eventually if we can slow down touring a bit just to give everyone some time to be at home with their families we’ll do that, but we’ll keep going as long as we’re able. No end in sight at the moment.