Heart of Steel: Interviews

DUNGEON

Photos and story by Brat

If you enjoy your metal blended with elements of power and traditionalism, spiced with guitar solos coming from a wide range of influence and strong vocals then DUNGEON’s recent release, A Rise to Power, may be the CD you’ve been waiting for to sate your listening appetite.

I’m not going to bore you with spinning facts from their biography–all that is available at length on their website, but I will tell you DUNGEON hail from Sydney and describe themselves as ‘Australian power metal’.

Building a strong and loyal following with constant touring and consistent performances over many years, DUNGEON created a demand for recorded music and released Resurrection in 1999. DUNGEON is only one of a handful of Australian metal acts that tour outside its home state regularly.

Stevo: Why limit the band to one city? The point of doing this is to become the best Australian band...not the best Sydney band. We can only play Sydney so often. We're lucky at the moment in that nobody is like Dungeon anywhere else in the country.

Lord Tim (LT): What a lot of people don't realise is how expensive it is to tour in Australia. This is a BIG country with a lot of miles between each place to play and then, since the metal market is so small in comparison to other musical genres, the turn-out at the gig may not cover your traveling expenses, let alone put money into your pockets. One of Dungeon's greatest strengths is its live shows–people know us for that more than anything else, I think.

Dakk: Because if we didn’t tour we’d receive death threats from our fans. No, if you don’t take your music to the audience in this country you will get nowhere.

Stu: Dungeon has a pretty strong work ethic, everything revolves around being in Dungeon–our private lives, work and such, so it’s important for us to take all areas seriously, to build a following here you have to tour, it's the only way.

 

 

I agree with Lord Tim. It’s their live reputation that has earned them support slots for so many overseas metal acts and not just power metal bands. Some of the bigger names include YNGWIE J MALMSTEEN, NEVERMORE, MAYHEM, EDGUY and DESTRUCTION.

Stu: We’re genuine fans of many different styles of metal and I think that crosses over live.

LT: We're entertainers on stage. Even if people don't necessarily like what we do musically, they enjoy the show because it's visual, it's fun, it's even tight and played well in some shows. We're not really a typical power metal band and that helps a lot, too. We have influences ranging from glam to power, to thrash, to death in what we do, so it makes it easy for us to tailor a set to suit everything.

 

Stevo: I think we all try to achieve a band we'd like to see.

Dakk: And, we feed off the crowd’s energy and they feed off ours.

 

 

Apart from the international supports, DUNGEON completed a national CD launch tour late 2002. I asked the members what they thought of the tours…

LT: Awesome! Our (CD launch) tour was great because we finally made it to Adelaide and Brisbane for the first time–that was something we'd been wanting to do for ages but just never had the money to do it. Destruction–well, what can you say about those guys? Great guys, awesome band, totally pro and a pleasure sharing a stage with them every night! Both of those tours will stay with me forever as highlights of my career.

Stevo: Absolutely fantastic. Like Edguy, they are the most down-to-earth blokes willing to laugh at themselves and learn from anyone. I haven't seen too many overseas acts mix with the audience they way they did after their performances. They were truly accessible to everyone and were proud patriots of their country as well as metal. We received a rare gift from them in the form of experience and attitude. We made some good friends on this tour.

Dakk: Unforgettable! On our CD launch tour we drove the whole way in a small, relatively uncomfortable bus. I think in total we traveled over 7000 km for 8 shows and drove back to Sydney from Adelaide in one go–that’s 17 or so hours straight.

The Destruction tour was great. We’ve played with some great bands over the last few years and these blokes became our friends along the way too. To play with such metal legends and to be treated with the respect that we were by them was inspiring. These guys are pros and I look forward to having several German beers with them again one day.

Stu: The Destruction guys were awesome both in person and on stage every night–it was a great experience to spend time with a band I have idolised from 1989.

 

 

…and if there were any memorable events they could tell us about.

Stevo: Memorable events can be good and bad. Touring can test the mettle of a band's spirit; i.e. travelling together constantly in a confined space (tour bus) and constantly being exposed to the same 3 people day-in/day-out. I believe we pulled through okay.

Stevo’s not talking about the tour buses people in the US and Europe are probably imagining, he’s talking about a van that holds a maximum of 12 people filled with band, gear and beer pulling a trailer with even more gear (and beer?).

LT: Besides the gigs in the places we'd never played before, just the shows themselves really. Dungeon fans are some of the most loyal and intense fans in the world, I think, and seeing a hall full of them going nuts is awe-inspiring. The chants, the sing-alongs, the stage-diving... All fantastic!

Dakk: …from crazy fans hurting themselves in the pit and getting up to do it again, to the unbelievable generosity of the people who help us out along the way. On the Destruction tour, Stu and I went through a few hours of tattooing on the day of the biggest gig in Melbourne, only arriving backstage 10 minutes before we had to load onto stage for our set.

Stu: The final night of the Destruction tour in Melbourne we all hung out at a pizza place and the guys in Destruction mentioned how much they dug our stuff, we all got smashed and vowed to meet again at Wacken for a proper drinking session.

 

 

Now that you have a better insight into the band that is DUNGEON, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

While A Rise to Power shows more maturity in writing and playing to Resurrection, being exposed to the surge in popularity of European metal has also made it’s mark on this new CD.

As fans of so many types of metal, I asked if anyone influenced A Rise to Power.

LT: I think you can't not be influenced by anything in the current market when you record something you would like to be successful.

We needed to make an album that would stand up against anything that was selling well across the globe so we used those popular bands (of our style) as benchmarks. That's not to say we were copying what they did, just in terms of the size of the production, harmonies, solos, etc.

Music wise, most of the influences I had in writing came from bands from 15 years ago and the current melodic death metal thing caught my ear and probably had a part.

Dakk: Recording-wise we tried to get the ‘big production’ which is what’s necessary to compete with international bands, especially European ones.

Stevo: We're all influenced by our own styles of metal. When that's brought to the table and conglomerated, the result is usually far from any current style. While, overly, the songs may encompass speed power metal, I believe the delivery of the material is what makes Dungeon a little different from the current market. The world has too many power metal bands... why not be one that's a little different?

Stu: We did use reference CDs to gauge whether the sound we were going for was going to hold up with the other bands out there. I can only comment on the recording process, but we were playing a lot of metal like Gamma Ray, Edguy and Swedish death bands in between breaks.

 

 

Now, down to the tunes on A Rise to Power (Australian release)…

Stevo: For me there's two (favourites). Other than Insanity's Fall, Netherlife, Lost in the Light and Traumatised, it would have to be Where Madness Hides because the drumming is a little different than in other Dungeon songs and I enjoy the diverse playing. The other is Life is Black. I gave Tim the chord progression and told him to come up with the most heart-bleeding lead melody he could think of. What he came up with totally surpassed my expectations.

I count five songs. Is anyone else worried that Stevo is DUNGEON’S drummer?

1.      Intro
If you’re not into symphonic style intros, skip this song otherwise you’ll stop playing the CD straight away.

2.      A Rise to Power
Simple yet a strong melody laced with intricate guitar playing starts the CD holding back no energy.

3.      Netherlife (Black Rose Die)
This track’s darker than a lot of the CD with a hint of Priest-style rhythm guitar in the mix.


4.      Insanity’s Fall
The wait for this song to be added to the live set was definitely worth it. It’s strong, melodic, has an even mix of instruments with a catchy melody.


Stu:
Insanity's Fall (is my favourite). The chorus gets me every time.

5.      The Other Side
A slightly mellower (if that’s the right word) track on the CD.

6.      Stormchaser
This track starts with a solo.

7.      Where Madness Hides
Probably appealing to my nuttier side, Where Madness Hides gains more of my attention with the style changes in the singing adding some interesting elements into the mix.

8.      Lost in the Light
What an epic. So much diversity in this song without sounding like a lot of tiny songs stuck together as many other epics do. A nice addition is a bass solo–something bands seem to be doing more these days in recognition of the bass stepping out of it’s rhythm section shadow.


LT:
I think my favourite would be Lost in the Light because it's just so over the top in so many ways. But Traumatised, Insanity's Fall, Netherlife, Life is Black and The Other Side are also big faves of mine.

9.      Life is Black
Instrumental and ‘token ballad’ of the CD.


Dakk:
This will sound funny, but my wife and I were married to Life is Black. Every time I hear the song and that solo the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I have visions of everyone in the room bursting into tears from the emotion of seeing Jenny, so beautiful, at the bottom of the stairs just as the first note of the main solo hits…I guess you had to be there. Live is another story though.

10. Traumatised
Be prepared to be surprised with this track. Forget everything you’ve heard from DUNGEON and even then, you’ll be lucky if you can even imagine the sounds coming out of this song. I remember the first time I heard this track during the ‘listening party’. I sat motionless. My mouth dropped looking from member to member wondering who? what? when? where? why? This song made such an impression on me I walked around for weeks after humming the chorus, hungry to hear it again.

Stevo: This was a song I'd originally wrote for Addictive... the band I was in before Dungeon. The song got as far as the notepad before their inevitable demise. During the A Rise to Power writing stage, I played it to Tim and his eyes lit up like saucers: "Fuck yeah... we gotta do this". With a bit of tweaking and the addition of a couple of melodic elements, the music was spawned. The lyrics are loosely based on a part of a sci-fi story I'm writing (yes, there's an entire background story to the subject of this song), so with a bunch verse tweaks by Tim the lyrics were also born.

LT: This song has polarised a lot of people who have heard it–they either love it or hate it with a passion. The solo is one of my faves on the album, too. There's this one harmonic I do on the guitar just before the harmony guitar part that sounds like you're getting your stomach ripped out! We don't want to feel limited just by the bounds of what people perceive a power metal band should be.

 

 

What were your worst and best experiences when recording ARTP?

Dakk: Best: Finishing bass lines, which I’d been stressing about and then hearing the end result after it was mastered by Steve Smart.

Worst: The day I turned up to do my bass lines, fired up (see ‘stressing’), only to have a goddamn power blackout for 6 hours and not being able to do them.

LT: Best: There's magic in them there recordings, pure and simple. Some of the stuff captured exactly the vibe we wanted or the performance we tried to achieve. My highlights were the silly high vocal stuff in Lost in the Light, my solo in Life is Black, how well the vocal harmonies came together, the blast beat and sweep-picking fest in the middle of Lost in the Light and the vocals of Traumatised. I'm so proud of all of that stuff and it all still brings a smile to my face now when I listen to it.

Worst: Just the intense pressure to get it all right, really. I wouldn't wish that kind of pressure on anyone.

Stu: Best: I had just joined Dungeon, so I was looking forward to getting into it. It was great to work with the guys and discover how professional the recording process was.

Worst: To be honest, none really. A lot of the hours and editing was completed by LT and Stevo in the studio, so it was pretty cruisey for me, hahaha.

Stevo: Best: The last hit in the last song on the last day, hahaha. Also, hearing all the songs finally come together, in particular Life is Black and Traumatised.

Worst: Errors.

 

 

Did the end product meet your expectations/visions?

LT: More or less, yes. As soon as we finished, I picked about 20 things just off the top of my head that I wanted to change and that was just me. But every recording you make is a learning experience and if we went back in with the same budget as we had for A Rise to Power for the next album, it would come sound even better. The bottom line is, we're all damn proud of this album! It's not perfect but it's pretty damn good for how we did it.

Dakk: We’ve done pretty well. With the things we learnt recording A Rise to Power the next album will be even better.

Stu: I am really happy with the CD overall. When you play in a band you tend to record various things and in the end have to make excuses about the quality or sound, but not on this one.

Stevo: It exceeds them. Obviously, there are little things that could have been done differently, but overall, I'm happy with it.

 

 

With 12 original tracks on the CD, what made you decide do add some covers? Why those particular songs?

Dakk: Those covers are pretty much there as bonus tracks for the Australian release only just to give the Aussie fans something extra.

LT: We had a promo CDR out sometime in 2002 which had test recordings we did when we were auditioning studios to record A Rise to Power. There were 6 songs, all covers. This CDR made its way to local radio stations and 'zines and became quite a sought after item, it seems.

Wasted Years is a pretty special song to me, we played it at a benefit concert in Melbourne where all of the singers from every band that performed that night came back on stage with us and sung a line, then joined in together for a huge chorus. The vibe that day was just so amazing, the song always brings back great memories of that show.

Queen of the Reich is something I'd wanted to sing for a long time since I'm such a huge Geoff Tate fan. Being able to do that and have it included on the album is pretty cool to me.

 

I guess my one gripe with the CD is, although the guitar solos are excellent, there are a lot of them, but with two excellent guitarists I don’t think if would have been possible to do it any other way and still maintain the essence that is DUNGEON. It gives listeners an accurate description of how they sound live.

Another CD, Rising Power–Commemorative Japanese Tour CD, containing 5 originals (some remixed or re-recorded) new covers and bonus video material, was released to coincide with DUNGEON’S Japanese tour as part of Melodic Metal Festival, Tokyo, in May. The tour was a huge success and managed to capture video footage to be used in a later release.

DUNGEON made many new friends (fans and other festival bands) and their forum was flooded with new members as the word spread through the country while DUNGEON played their own headliner show in Osaka.

 
Japan pics kindly provided by Dungeon.

 

 

What's the most satisfying thing about being a member of Dungeon?

Dakk: Having loyal, crazy fans who enjoy watching us four fools enjoy ourselves in front of them and seeing them enjoying us live.

Stu: To be playing with a unit that’s tight and knows what it wants. I think the hard thing sometimes in bands is that members have different priorities that make it hard to achieve what you are going for, not the case here.

Stevo: Overall, for me, it's playing live to an appreciative audience, but also being able to play and tour with such high-standard bands.

LT: Being acknowledged for what you've done, whether it be in a review, by someone who's heard the album and said "Wow, I love it!" or by a venue full of people who are totally enjoying what you do–that's the biggest thing. Also, being able to express yourself artistically in the way that we do on the album is pretty cool.

 

 

Which band, current or defunct, would you love DUNGEON to tour with?

Dakk: Definitely Iron Maiden. There are so many great bands out there, though. Take us to Europe and I’ll tour with just about anyone. If Edguy or Destruction asked us to tour with them again I’d do that any day.

Stu: No doubt Judas Priest. Also Maiden, In Flames, Gamma Ray (I would love to meet Kai Hansen–the godfather of power metal).

Stevo: Soilwork (we'd get stuff chucked at us, though). Nah, just about any classic metal band. The highlight for me would be to support the bands that influenced me to take up metal.

LT: Priest or Maiden would be the top of my lists, I think, but any larger band would be cool. I'd go back out on the road with Edguy or Destruction in a second if they asked.

 

Where would DUNGEON like to be in a year?

LT: On a world tour with IRON MAIDEN as our support. OK, that ain't gonna happen but that's what I'd like to see! Realistically, I'd like to see us continuing on from where we are now and taking Dungeon and Aussie metal to the rest of the world.

Stevo: We hope to tour (Europe) and represent not only ourselves, but Australian metal as a whole.

Dakk: Backstage at W.O.A after playing an hour set with a “Dungeon” chant coming from the crowd…. That would be nice! And of course drinking European beer in Europe.

Stu: Living in Europe, working hard touring and pushing the new CD. And we hope to see everyone there with us.

 

 

As you can read the band members are genuine people as well as accomplished musicians giving credit and never forgetting the non-metal aspects of their lives which prove to only make them better people. Well (the rest of the world) it’s only a matter of time before you, too, will be exposed to the people who are DUNGEON and will come realise this.

As of June 30, A Rise to Power is available world-wide through LMP.


L-R: Stu, Dakk, Stevo, LT

 

Website: www.dungeon.cd