Interview By Kassu Kortelainen / May 2010
Italian metal machine Burning Black holds nothing back on their latest album ‘MechanicHell’ and shows they are more than capable of causing some worthy tremors in the heavy metal universe. Steel Mill caught up with vocalist Dan Ainlay, bassist AJ Simons and guitarist John Morris to chat about the latest Burning Black news, the MechanicHell album and Italy’s metal scene among other things.
Hi and welcome to the Steel Mill! Let’s start with a quick look at Burning’s Black history – how did the band come to exist?
Dan: Hi everybody, thank you for giving us the chance to be here with you guys! I formed the band with John in 2004, with the purpose of playing some passionate classical Heavy Metal, taking inspiration from (guess?…) Priest, Accept, and Primal Fear. The line-up changed many times in the following period, until AJ joined the band permanently in 2005, and that’s when we started being a “real” band.
The style of Burning Black draws a lot from classic heavy metal and is strong with american flavored power metal elements. Did it take long to put the musical style of the band together or were the common nominators easy to find?
Dan: In our sound you can recognize many different elements: speed metal, thrash, power and hard rock. Everybody in the band has different influences, and a different approach to composition and arranging. A journalist once wrote “Burning Metal”…we killed him.
John: Our sound always came out pretty naturally, because everybody always merged his own style in the band’s sound, giving his contribution without denaturalazing it.
Which bands have been the biggest influences for you? And if looking at the individual members – are there any specific musicians who have had the biggest influence on the Burning Black guys?
Dan: Besides Heavy Metal, I listen to a lot of AOR and 70s Rock.
John: I can name some bands that made me love this kind of music: Priest, Accept, AC/DC, and every guitar player that makes his instrument bleed!
AJ: I have a classical training background, so back in the days I listened to a lot of classical music. I picked up a bass after hearing some Maiden, and I listen to a lot of melodic metal, like Stratovarius, Rhapsody or Nightwish. 80’s hair metal is great too…
Your latest album ‘MechanicHell’ has been out for a while now. How has it been received thus far?
John: “MechanicHell” has been received enthusiastically by both press and fans. I really wasn’t expecting that, because the first one was direct and simpler, and I didn’t know if the changes we made with “MechanicHell” would have been appreciated.
Being your second album, recorded a couple of years after your debut release ‘Prisoners of Steel’, how would you compare ‘MechanicHell’ with it’s predecessor? Are there any specific aspects you feel have been especially strengthened or changed between the two albums?
Dan: “Prisoners Of Steel” is a fast & furious, in-your-face album, that represented very well the first years of our band (’05-’08). Working on “MechanicHell” has been completely different, and much more complicated – you can hear the difference. We can say it’s the first step of an evolution that will continue with our third album.
John: In “MechanicHell” we used brighter sounds, a lot more keybords, and a more balanced mix between uptempos, midtempos and ballads.
‘MechanicHell’ is a very fierce sounding slab where songs like ‘Our Sentence’ or ‘Messengers From Hell’ pound on like a ten-ton hammer, but there’s also a enchantingly melodic side to the album, apparent especially on cuts such as ‘Purgatory Child’ or my personal favourite ‘Dust And Rain’. A well-thought balance I suppose? Any plans on tweaking it to either direction in the future or do you plan on keeping the same elements in play on the upcoming releases as well?
Dan: Yes sir, there’s much more melody in “MechanicHell”. Both “Our Sentence” and “Purgatory Child”, even though they have a totally different composition approach, have nice catchy refreains. In my opinion, the main goal of a musician is to catch the attention of listeners, whatever kind of tune he writes, from the midtempo, to the 6800bpm massacre.
John: About the future, we have no real plans: but we will always look for melody and aggressiveness.
The playing on the new album sounds like everything’s in the right place; solid twin-guitar assault, powerful backdrop of bass and drums, impressive vocals… am I right to guess that the recording process of the album went quite smoothly?
Dan: The composition process lasted no more than 3 months, and the album was recorded in 20 days (if only we had one more week…). Many songs have been written and arranged during recordings: it has been challenging, but next time we will take some more time.
Heavy/power metal scene has more bands than one could even start to count and whereas many of them sound very generic and forgettable, ‘MechanicHell’ album shows that Burning Black has managed to create a sound and songs that stand out from the masses. What do you feel are the key elements in songwriting to come up with a set of such good songs that sound like Burning Black instead of recycling existing ideas?
Dan: I think you have to do the right things in the right time. There was a good alchemy, and that was enough: “Dust & Rain” has been written in 10 minutes, for example.
John: You just have to forget that there’s a 30 years background of great Heavy Metal bands…otherwise you won’t stand the pressure!
For the new album you have signed a deal with Limb Music, a suitably metal-oriented label. How do you see the collaboration with Limb has affected the band’s present and future?
AJ: Limb Music is one of the most important labels for melodic metal in Europe, having paved the way for success for bands such as Rhapsody and Angra. Their proposal for our album’s release was the best one we recieved, and they behaved in a very professional way. As for the future, we don’t know if they’ll be interested in another release…so, we’ll see.
The band hails from Italy, a country that hasn’t (yet!) produced too many internationally known heavy metal acts (aside from the likes of Rhapsody (of Fire), Lacuna Coil and a couple of others). How is the metal scene in Italy nowadays – both on the street and in the music business? Any other italian bands besides Burning Black that the metal fan should check out?
John: The metal scene in Italy has a huge problem: people prefer to criticize our bands rather than support them. Even very successful bands like the ones you mentioned have to bear this. There are many good underground bands here, but they behave just like the audience: too much competition, too little mutual support.
I noticed over the internet that many people are wondering about your choice to adapt english stage names for yourselves in Burning Black. Grantedly an often used trick in music history, but it would be interesting to hear the story behind this decision?
AJ: Our label suggested it. At first we were a bit surprised, but after all they weren’t wrong. For the reasons John explained, the Italian metal scene is poorly considered abroad, and we deserve this, because we are the ones who started tossing dirt on ourselves. We are not ashamed of our nationality, but our scene will have to mature a lot before we can afford to use Italian names and be respected.
I already mentioned the impressive vocal delivery on the album, an element that adds the final frosting on the cake. Dan Ainlay sounds like a vicious metal demon screeching out his hell-siren vocals throughout the album – there’s a hint of Halford/Scheepers style of screaming but additionally a personal sound like his lungs are on fire! Gotta ask – how the hell did he learn to sing like that? And how does he keep a voice as such in shape?
Dan: Hey, are you comparing me to those Metal Gods? It’s an honor. Actually, I’m not fully satisfied with my singing, because it sounds more like a live album…many songs have been sung just once, first take (Dust & Rain, Our Sentence and MechanicHell for example). It would have been better to have more time, and 12 hours to record all the lead vocals are really too few. Better next time. As for my vocal approach, I feel lucky because it flows natural and spontaneous: I take the best care of my voice, I exercise a lot and I try to get a bit better every day.
For a relatively new band, Burning Black has a quite impressive list of touring companions under their belt. Supporting household metal acts such as U.D.O., Primal Fear, Rage etc. must’ve been a rewarding experience for the band?
John: Playing with monster bands like the ones you mentioned was no less than a dream coming true. We learned to be much more professional (and many new tricks too!), and sharing the backstage with them has been a fantastic experience. Same goes for the tour with Circle II Circle, that really gave us the strength to go on through the following steps.
Aside from domestic dates, you have toured mostly mid- and eastern european venues. How have the gigs been like? Has the band been well received at the concerts?
John: Even if sometimes our band name was wrong or missing, or advertising was pretty poor (thank you, promoters!), we always received great feedback from both the audience and Circle II Circle guys, who really adopted us as younger brothers. It was great fun, and we have to thank again Zak (Stevens) & co. For every evening we spent together.
What about the future touring? Any plans on spreading the power of Burning Black to more countries in the upcoming summer?
Dan: It’s painfully hard. We are an upcoming band with two good albums and great live shows, but promoters still show little or no interest. From our side, we work hard every day to make this happen.
AJ: We’ll be back in Slovakia and Hungary in May, then a couple of summer festivals, I hope. And we’ll probably do some more in October. Still no sign of a full tour, though.
How about the more long-term plans of the band, where do you see yourselves in, let’s say, five years from now?
John: Nice one! Let’s see…I see myself with a couple more albums done and still learning to play guitar, our drummer’s english still awful and driving us crazy during soundchecks, Dan complaining he has only seven months to record the vocals and AJ endorsing green phosphorescent leggings.
In the true Steel Mill fashion I’ll ask you about your relationship to the music of Judas Priest – obviously one of the influences for the band. Any specific Priest-related memories amongst the bandmembers?
Dan: I grew up with Judas Priest. Anything else to say?
John: Judas Priest are -the- band you have to relate to if you want to play this kind of music. Rob’s stage presence is something incomparable…no one can move the masses with a sign of the hand like he does: if he wasn’t a singer, he could have been a dictator! When I think to the Priest, the first thing that comes into my mind is Rob making his way to the stage during “Out in the cold” back in ’86…amazing. Dammit, I cannot say “I was there” – I was only 5 years old!
To end this interview with a twist, I’d ask you to complete the following sentences:
– People showing up at Burning Black gig can’t avoid…
Dan: …irony and Rock ‘n Roll!
John: …Dan talking bullshit between songs.
AJ: …me dressing up like an idiot.
– The number one secret behind a succesful heavy metal band is…
Dan: …Write good music.
John: …Have a common goal.
AJ: …Make every show memorable.
– If somebody meets a member of Burning Black on the street he/she should…
Dan: …ask “Excuse me, what’s the time?” or “Do you know how I get to this place?…”
John: …mistake me for Rob (have a look at my pics and you’ll understand…), ask for an autograph, and find out I wrote “John” and not “Rob”.
– The most anticipated metal moment of 2010 is…
AJ: …not in Italy, that’s for sure.
– For K.K. Downing and the Steel Mill readers Burning Black would like to say:
Dan: Please K.K., bring us with you on tour! We are nice, we are hard working roadies and I am a great cook too!
John: To the Steel Mill readers, have a listen to our album… it’s already in every file sharing software for free, haha! But if you like it, consider buying it… having the booklet with our beautiful pics and our insane lyrics is priceless!
AJ: If you want to get in touch with us, I personally manage our official website (www.burningblack.com) and our myspace page (www.myspace.com/burningblackband). You can find us on FaceBook, too. Thank you people, see you on the road!
That should do it! Thanks a lot and all the best in the future!