Human Fortress was on a roll as they unleashed a sequence of three studio albums from 2001 to 2008. After their third and more experimental album Eternal Empire, they stalled and eventually the momentum was lost. The German heavy metal band could have called it quits as the line-up went through some changes, and general feelings towards their third album weren’t so positive from within the ranks. With the new line-up in place and feeling good, the band welcomed in to their fold on keyboards, Dirk Liehm and new bassist Andre Hort. These two members were not the only ones to join Human Fortress and breathe new life in to what is their new album Raided Land.
Picking up their story now around five years later, Human Fortress has a new lead vocalist as well, in the shape of Brazilian guitarist and producer Gus Monsanto. “It’s funny, but I never wanted to be a singer. I was a guitar player at first, I started playing the guitar back when I was 10 years old and what happened was I started writing my songs around the age of 15 or 16, and I was playing the guitar for like hours every day. Writing songs and stuff and wanted to be the next Steve Vai or Yngwie or whatever, but I was writing the songs and could never find anyone to sing those songs you know, I could never find the voice I had in my mind. ”
Speaking with a South American lilt to his accent, Monsanto even today finds this twist of fate amusing and intriguing. When listening to Raided Land, his vocals fall somewhere between Ronnie James Dio at times and Claus Lessmann from Bonfire. “So I had to create the voice I had in my mind, I started singing; I really didn’t like singing at all in the beginning you know, I was singing because I really had to. After a while I started getting better at it. It’s funny, because nowadays I mostly play the guitar in order to write songs. I hardly ever play the guitar on stage now.”
“In the early 80s Kiss was like, really down and out, people didn’t give them too much credit, so I know in the early 80s they really exploded in Australia and then they exploded in Brazil. They had this song called I Love It Loud from Creatures of the Night. I love that album! This album for me is maybe, maybe, it’s my favorite Kiss record. And the funny thing is that because it was released in a time when Kiss wasn’t that popular, people didn’t pay too much attention to it. But in Brazil that album was huge, huge. So when I saw those guys playing, Eric Carr actually played the drums on top of a war tank with war paint on his face! I’m like, dude that’s what I want!” Monstano lets out a hearty chuckle at this point before continuing. “So, if you had asked me when I was 8 years old or 9 years old, what do you want to do with your life? I was gonna say I wanna play the drums in war paint on top of a war tank, that’s all I wanna do!”
When asked how a guy from Brazil heard about a vacancy for a lead vocalist for a German-based heavy metal band, Monsanto responds. “They were already a metal band in Germany which had three albums out before I joined them, they were looking for a singer and this guy called Andrew McNiece from MelodicRock.com hooked me up with them.” As an example of the world we know getting smaller, McNiece who is the brain and driving force behind the successful MelodicRock.com website promoting and bringing together musicians and fans of melodic-based rock music, lives in Australia. He then presents an opportunity to an individual who lives in Brazil, South America to join a band in Germany, Europe!
“I knew a couple of songs but I didn’t really know the band very much. It’s funny because I’ve done a lot of different projects, lots of different bands and I always try to make different… I really like stretching myself as a singer.” Monsanto responds to the question whether he was familiar with Human Fortress before joining their ranks. “I always try finding really different ways to express myself and Human Fortress is like this epic power metal thing, really German, and actually I’ve never done any music like that so for me that was the number one thing that made me want to do it.”
For the recording process, Monsanto explains. “Normally what people do, most people, most projects you do them where you live and you send the files and stuff, but not in this case. One of the best things in this situation was that I went to Germany, and I spent half a month there, doing the record and shooting the video for Wasted Years. It was really cool; the guys in Human Fortress are really cool people, really cool people.” He expands on this line of enquiry. “One of the best parts of the experience was actually working with Michael Bormann. Who was the singer with Jaded Heart, he sang with Bonfire and he’s now the singer in Silent Force. So Michael Bormann he is on top of being an excellent singer, he’s a producer and he’s a great one at that. So for me it was cool because, I’m producing bands myself in Brazil so I had the chance to work with a guy like that who’s like really full of ideas, we were bouncing ideas back and forth. It was a great experience working with that guy.”
Observing the track-list on Raided Land, the band had decided to record a track they called Gladiator of Rome (Part II). “It’s funny because, it seems to be a very catchy song; it’s not one of my favorite songs on the record. At the same time I think it’s really representative of the Human Fortress sound of old. I don’t know, it’s not that it’s a bad song; it’s just that there are some songs on this record like, I think my absolute favorite song there is Dark Knight which is like really anthemic, well it’s a great heavy metal song. But Gladiator… is a sequel; I don’t have much to say about it. It just totally fits the imagery of Human Fortress.”
Monsanto being a fairly new recruit to this heavy metal band may not have had much input within the creative process? “These guys were doing pre-production for a long, long time, so they’d been working on these songs for over two years if I’m not mistaken. There’s only one song which is Restless Souls which I really got involved about with the writing of it. All the other songs I was always suggesting some stuff here and there, in terms of lyrics, mostly stuff that would make my life easier you know, make it easier for me to sing those songs.”
“It’s funny because when you sing those songs, a lot of people are very worried about technique, about range, about oh, can you sing a high C and all that?; but for me as a singer what makes me very concerned nowadays of course technique’s there because I’ve done all these really insane records like Adagio, Lord of Mushrooms which is a really crazy great progressive band which was out on Lion Music; but you really have to bring the theatrics out, you really have to be in the character of each song so it makes it sound convincing. When you’re singing all this stuff for Human Fortress you have to be on warrior mode otherwise you’re not gonna sell those songs. If you don’t believe the songs, if you don’t live the songs, then it’s not gonna happen.”
There you have it, Monsanto providing an interesting insight in to the mind of a passionate and versatile Brazilian vocalist who shares his experience and attitude towards his craft. When you listen to the new album Raided Land by Human Fortress, remember his words regarding the mind-set that he’s in. Be prepared for his inner warrior mode as he belts out the words with conviction, and inevitably rocks your world! “I think that my biggest contribution was actually making the songs credible, even the ones I didn’t write.”
Lessons learned from assembling this article include aspects like the world continues to get smaller as individuals collaborate from all corners of the globe, plus what it takes to be a convincing lead vocalist. Versatility in the music business is becoming a regular angle as an artist in this day and age tackles not one project or band, but handles their responsibilities in various musical outlets. Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Glenn Hughes, Corey Taylor and Joey Jordison are just some names that spring to mind as proof of such multi-tasking. But right now, it’s time to reach in and take hold of your warrior mode and salute the result that is Raided Land.