The story begins during what has become synonymous as the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ when John ‘Harv’ Harbinson and Davy ‘Basher’ Bates received the taste of the lifestyle that is associated with rock music. They both received their experience whilst performing in Sweet Savage, a well-respected NWOBHM band during that movement. Harbinson was the vocalist for a brief time with Bates holding down the drum stool for a longer duration. If the name of the band is a little familiar, it might be due to one of their songs called Killing Time being covered by the mighty Metallica around the time of their self-titled Bob Rock produced album. Sweet Savage was also known for being a band that Vivian Campbell left to join the ranks of Ronnie James Dio back in the day.
Pressing the fast forward button on this guide to the Northern Irish metal merchants, the year is 2007. The band have been together a couple of years and thanks to a record label associated with melodic rock and adult orientated rock and acts that are up and coming, Stormzone release their debut album Caught in the Act. It’s evident that this album is a studio-based project accommodating the presence of melody and keyboards. This provides a launching pad for touring with Cinderella, George Lynch, L.A. Guns and Y&T with prospects and expectation as prominent ingredients.
Stormzone went on to record and release two more albums in 2010 and 2011, titled Death Dealer and Zero to Rage respectively. No longer were keyboards and a sense of the lighter end of rock music the order of the day, but guitar-driven intent mixed with the spirit of traditional heavy metal. The band witnessed the reaction to this growth in their sound, and never looked back.
“You’ve got such a wide range of influences to draw from, you know there is going to be that little bit, I mean the way songs come together, they tend to come together quite quickly. Everybody brings their piece; everybody brings what they’ve got to the recording sessions.” An enthusiastic David Shields explains as he tries to articulate the sense of what Stormzone are about today.
The reason he is talking to Screamer Magazine is due to the recent release of their latest studio opus, Three Kings which is receiving air time on radio stations around the U.S. As soon as the opening track The Pain Inside unfolds and the song evolves from the urgency of the air raid sirens to a speech presented by Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill to the backdrop of military drums, you know this album means business. The sound of guitar followed by the vocal presence of Harbinson sounding initially like Paul Dianno from the early days of Iron Maiden, take over and The Pain Inside launches into the ears to announce Three Kings has arrived.
There are two guitarists in the band, one is Steve Moore and the other is Shields. He happily shares the tale of how he joined the band before the recording of Three Kings. “Had a few beers you know, yeah I accosted Harv later on after they were off stage, after a few beers. Y’know Harv, I should be in your band!” As he told the story based on his fond memory of that first encounter, there were chuckles throughout. The friendly banter between the two presented the stepping stone for Shields to prove his worth, and the rest as they say is history.
Being the latest addition to the line-up of Stormzone, Shields discusses his personal influences. “Hank Marvin I think is a great guitar player you know, I would listen to a lot of that kind of thing and say I like what he does without playing a million notes a minute there. But then, I like, Yngwie Malmsteen used to be a big influence on me in the mid-eighties when I was this sort of 12 year old kid trying to play faster than the next guy. Always a massive, massive fan of Jake E. Lee, Randy Rhoads you know. Alex Skolnick – Testament, another guy that kind of tried to be like Marty Friedman you know.”
Being the ‘new kid on the block’ within the ranks of Stormzone, the guitarist shares an observation about what it’s like being added to a juggernaut of this status. “The thing that I did find probably the steepest learning curve than anything else was that my voice when I’m doing backing vocal which I’d never done before, it was coming through a monitor on stage in front of me instead of it doesn’t come out of your own mouth really anymore.”
“The writing process had only just begun, so I was privileged to get to be able to be a part of that for the most part. There were some, very, very few of the songs were what you would call completed,” informs the guitarist when asked about his part in the recording of this latest album. “We’ve got some ideas here but we need to go and actually sit down and write them and that’s how that all comes together. We get together in a small recording studio here; it’s actually not that far away from where I live. Steve Moore owns it so it’s kind of handy that way, we’re self-sufficient that way.” The production values on Three Kings gives the impression that a lot of money was spent, but this revelation regarding the production and engineering of the album merely goes to showcase the talent of Moore as not only the band’s guitarist, but as something more important.
In order for some transparency on the song writing approach to this new album, Shields elaborates. “Harv is the lyrics guy, you know. Harv really is the lyrics guy. The way we write is again basically everybody in the room – what have you brought with you? We expect, although it doesn’t hundred percent of the time work like that, but we expect it within one session to have the bare bones of one song.”
Listening to Shields explain the process reveals how each member of Stormzone takes responsibility and reading between the lines, gives the impression of how much this band works together as a team. There never feels like one sole member is the focal point for the band, or steers the band in any direction. This is a band in the real sense of the term.
Shields explains that he felt that B.Y.H. (Bang Your Head) was one of the first songs from Three Kings to be completed, and one of the final songs from this session was Never Trust, although he does state that the demos were completed over a year ago and he might be slightly inaccurate. It’s at this point of the conversation that Shields mentions the newest song called Coming Home which didn’t make it on to the album. There’s a video for this track which can be viewed online. The song was recorded and released as a thank you to the radio stations that have supported the band during this recent promotional session for Three Kings.
Coming Home isn’t a major departure to the heavy metal style that is presented on this latest album, and incorporates a large chorus which sails effortlessly on a familiar melody whilst the instrumentation drives with caution behind it. Radio-friendly in nature and exhibiting fragility in places, Coming Home on its own merits acts as an ideal foil for what Stormzone are all about; melody and metal.
Stormzone have experienced line-up changes throughout the years, but with the current line-up which includes Graham McNulty on bass, there’s a sense that the band have settled on their sound and the dynamics within. “In the words of the other guys you know, it’s the best that they’ve done. They’re qualified to say that, I don’t feel that I am. They feel it’s the best that they’ve done, they want to take it out there; they want to try to make something of it.”
As the interview is winding up, Shields recalls some of his previous visits to the U.S. on previous vacations and touches on some of the locations he went to. One of which is an open air stadium in New Jersey and this brings about a moment of happy reminiscing. “Just this sea of people, must be unbelievable to play at a venue such as that, you know, just with that magnitude. It’s all open air thing you know, you’re not worried about it raining. Over here it’s kind of, Irish men are all waterproof.” The comparison made to a stadium in Northern Ireland to this impressive complex located in the U.S. brings about some laughter from Shields, as he realises that he’s provided the world with an insight in to the unique resistance to rain that his countrymen have become accustomed to.
Stormzone are a band for lovers of melodic heavy metal, who strive to put on a good show in the live arena and are building up a canon of work worthy of any head bangers time. Check out Three Kings if this style of rock music is your kind of thing and watch the rise in popularity of this humble and fun Northern Irish quintet.
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