Interview by BeanDog
We recently spoke to London-based traditional heavy metal band Amulet about their new album, their future plans and what makes them tick. You can read what they had to say here…
Hello! Thanks for taking some time to chat with us. It seems like an exciting time to be catching up with all things Amulet. Your new album, ‘The Inevitable War’, was released in May this year. I was also lucky enough to catch you live in Hackney (London) not too long ago, supporting Visigoth. Judging by your energetic performance, I’d say the band are firing on all cylinders at the moment.
Marek (HEATHEN) Steven: Cheers for taking the time to interview us, pleased you enjoyed the show!
For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with Amulet, please state your name and position in the band:
MACE: Federico “Mace” Mazza, vocals.
SAM: Samuel Mackertich, bass & keyboards.
HEATHEN: Marek “Heathen” Steven, guitar.
Thank you! Let’s kick it off… Summer is well and truly upon us. How would you summarise 2019 at this mid-way point in the year, what’s your take on it so far?
MACE: This year has been fairly intense. It started with a series of typical processes like the album recordings, promo shots, music videos, decisions about the title and the artwork… but the endorphins started to flow.
The album seems to be receiving positive reviews all over the world and we supported it with exciting gigs and festivals in London, Germany and France and many more, so it’s been fun!
For the uninitiated, can you give us a bit of a potted history of the band? How did you guys come together? What has the journey of the band been like?
HEATHEN: I was in another band called Invasion in 2009/10 but wanted to have a go at a more traditional sounding band. Inspired somewhat by all the (for me) unlistenable metalcore type stuff that dominated back then at Download Festival here and, to a lesser extent, Hellfest.
Amulet came together quickly with all of us being friends already and we bashed out the ‘Cut the Crap’ EP and some videos which were well received. We signed to Century Media and put out an LP, ‘The First’, in 2014. Over a period of three years we had our bassist, drummer then singer leave to get on with their lives. Nippy (“Nip” Blackford – Guitars) and I, the remaining guitarists, held the torch and found some killer replacements and we continued with our second full length, now on Dissonance Productions, and the same fun live show and riff-heavy, song-focused sound that was always the plan for Amulet.
We’re enjoying it I think!
And, this far down the line, are you still inspired by the same things / the same motivation?
HEATHEN: Yeah, 100%. The band was always supposed to be honest, no-bullshit, British Heavy Metal with good songs and riffs. And occult leaning themes but anything goes.
The live show should be raucous and fun and we are very DIY too, doing all own artwork and videos etc. We’re all passionate HM fans but we love all genres so there is no specific influence – we absorb it all and just try and be as heavy as possible!
You’ve mentioned the occult themes running through your music. Can you tell us how that got started and the meaning behind it? Are there any specific influences you like to use in your music?
HEATHEN: I’m personally interested in the occult area and the search for knowledge generally. Always have been, even studying ancient worship at University. It’s a fascinating area and we’ve always had an underlying “crush the cross” type approach on our records.
I respect the knowledge and history the Church has retained etc but not much else about it. ALSO, the occult is a highly suitable topic for heavy music. Iron Maiden – ‘The Number of the Beast’ was the first metal album I was totally obsessed with and the title track is one of the most perfect and atmospheric songs of all time. What’s better?
Sam came up with the topics for The Satanist and Gateway to Hell, which are both inspired by books from British author Dennis Wheatley.
The new album is out – ‘The Inevitable War’. Are you pleased with how it’s been received? Are there any comments that have stuck out as significant or meaningful for you?
HEATHEN: Yeah, I think we’re all really happy with the reviews. Especially the major metal magazines, which have all been 8 or 8.5 out of 10 or so. Even the handful of lower scored reviews seemed to read well to us. It’s really interesting, people’s responses to the record. We read them all with relish. Some of them really seem to nail what we were going for, it’s quite impressive. None have offended us or really stood out either. Getting 8/10 from Metal Hammer UK was gratifying though! And the fan response has been great, which is the main thing!
MACE: Personally, I’ve really appreciated reading those reviewers’ considerations about my vocal techniques; especially from those that had followed my previous band, Asgard, from Italy, and are aware of my musical journey. I have changed my style quite notably from the past and I honestly welcome any sort of constructive criticism that can lead me to further improve.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of making an album? How do you write and record? Is it a quick cycle or do you develop things over a longer timeframe?
SAM: This was not a quick turnaround. I joined Amulet in 2015 and some of the material already existed. I’ve contributed material since then, so when we found Mace there was almost a complete album ready to go. Working the songs to completion with a new vocalist breathed new life into the material.
HEATHEN: Having three members leave definitely slowed us down but it allowed us more time to make sure we were really happy with the songwriting – which I appreciated as I love that part of the process. We decided to use Nippy’s brother Tom Blackford to produce as he has a great ear and technical skills but would also give us the opportunity to spread out the recording and mixing over several months to make sure we were really happy with it. It worked I think!
Is Tom’s involvement indicative of a generally new approach? What makes this album stand out from your previous releases?
SAM: It’s different in a few ways, the most obvious being the personnel changes on and off the pitch. Tom producing the album meant he brought with him lots of ideas, he really encouraged the synthesisers and multi-tracked vocals. There’s also a wider variety of subject matter within the songs: the last album was mainly fantasy and occult themes, here we’ve branched out and including war, history and even 90s wrestling.
I really enjoyed the addition of keyboards. Particularly on Burning Hammer. It reminded me of the lesser-visited Turbo album by Judas Priest. Elsewhere, the album reminded me of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate… What are your key influences? And/or do you admire any musicians that might surprise people?
SAM: There’s a nod to the great forefathers of heavy metal all over the record. Some riffs and lyrics are meant to trigger that knowing response. Burning Hammer evokes Judas Priest in several ways, the bass makes you think Turbo, everyone says it, but for myself, the song is more like a track off Point Of Entry. The rest of the record is quite diverse, I think we’ve managed to control our Iron Maiden and Judas Priest worship quite well.
I like a vast array of synthesiser-based music, I’m personally a huge fan of Joseph Zawinul and Weather Report but also stuff like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk.
MACE: Several reviewers have highlighted similarities in my singing style with Bruce Dickinson, which I can’t deny, he is one of my biggest influences ever! But this was not done on purpose, as this came out naturally when I adjusted my style to the Amulet songs. If you listen to my pre-Amulet material you can notice the difference quite clearly.
What song are you most proud of and why? Do you have a favourite album to date?
MACE: Roundhead and the Satanist are my favourite tunes. Regarding the album, well, the choice is easy: I love the Inevitable War, but the next one is going to be my favourite and the best album of the last 30-40 years!
HEATHEN: I’m proud of The Satanist too, partly as I wrote most of it and sat on it for 5 years plus, slowly writing it with Nippy’s help. I think it’s a fun listen and I like the theme too. Roundhead is the best song on the album, Nippy really smashed it writing that one.
I agree with Fed this is my fave album so far but the next one will be BIGGER and BETTER I am sure of that. We’re starting to write it now, so watch out 2021!
Next year will be your ten year anniversary! Do you have any plans to mark the occasion and celebrate?
HEATHEN: No! Good point we should. It would be really cool to go back over to the States, so maybe we’ll mark it by doing some more shows in North America and Canada if we can. Or Japan would be good!
I imagine we’ll have a party here in London too. You’re invited!
I look forward to it! When you think about the last decade, what would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a band? Is there anything you would’ve changed?
HEATHEN: Playing enough gigs has been the biggest challenge. It’s hard to get on the bigger tours and it’s hard to balance work and the band for ALL members. We turned down some big tours due to work in 2014/15 and that was probably a mistake. We should have made it work even if we had to get temporary live musicians in. You gotta play!
Getting on the bigger festivals is very hard as well. It’s a shame cos I think we’d go down well but you gotta earn your stripes first, and maybe have a big agent too, haha!
What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
HEATHEN: Probably just keeping the band going for this long when it’s hard to just break even; especially in the UK where there is little appetite for traditional sounding heavy metal. You want to be playing doom, 70s stuff or extreme metal here really.
It’s always hard keeping bands together and I’m proud we’re still around with a new album we’re chuffed with and people seem to be enjoying. It’s nice to add even a small part to the overall heavy metal pantheon too. Perhaps some people have been influenced by us!
What do you enjoy the most about playing live? How would you describe the Amulet live show to someone who has never seen you?
SAM: It’s great fun making lots of noise and getting spontaneous reactions. Seeing people’s faces when we do the good bits. People head-banging in time. The show is pretty high energy, but it’s not a mosh pit show, although now, with Mace at our helm we’re more powerful than ever!
And, being a London based band; what are your thoughts on the capital’s heavy metal music scene these days? How would you describe it to someone who is visiting from abroad? Are there any London bands you think people should check out, or favourite venues? What would you say are the best and worst things about playing in London?
SAM: My advice to any tourist visiting London is to avoid all the tourist attractions they are all shit! And avoid using the tube in rush hour!
London is great, there is sorts going on, we can play iconic venues like The Underworld, or tiny bars like Helgi’s and have a blast. The worst thing is ticket prices, people think they can charge whatever they want here for the big shows, but there ARE plenty of free underground gigs too.
What do you like to do outside of music? Do you have any other hobbies?
SAM: Loads, we’ve all got our passions. Nip is a walking encyclopaedia of cult film and horror. Marek is a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast and DJ. Fed works in the ecology area. I’m a big fan of professional cycling and an angry opinionated wrestling fan. Neil actually lives in a room full of snakes and reptiles. His flat is Indiana Jones’ worst nightmare!
Haha! What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any unfulfilled ambitions you would like to see come to pass?
SAM: Rocking the continent! Various appearances are already booked in for August and October, so expect to see them added to. My personal ambition is to rock Japan, yeah! But I doubt we can pull it off this year…
Sounds positive! Thanks for talking to us. Is there anything you’d like to add or say to our readers?
SAM: Thanks for reading this far. Thanks for supporting Amulet in any way. Like, comment, share, subscribe, Roundhead!