A few days ago, I sat at home, listening to my computer churn out random tracks, my idle thoughts were shunted aside by the thunderous bass sound of Warlord UK’s ‘Change’, from their mid-nineties debut album 'Maximum Carnage'. After soaking up the sound, I quickly searched online to listen to ‘Strength Defeats Decay’, from this year's release, ‘We Die As One’, and was intrigued to hear that, aside from a crisper recording, Warlord’s sound was intact.
Taking this as a sign, from the Metal Gods, I contacted Mark White, bassist and vocal behemoth of Warlord UK, and asked him to tell me how recording in 1996 compared to 2013…
John A.: If you can cast your mind back to the mid-nineties, how did you go about putting together your first album, "Maximum Carnage"?
Warlord: At the time, Warlord was signed a ten year deal with Nuclear Blast Records in Germany. We were given the sum of £6000 to go and record the album, so off we went, with our strongest songs picked from our collection, to record what would become Maximum Carnage in a converted barn in Alcester in Warwickshire.
JA: And how did that go?
W: Well, we had chosen to work with Paul Johnson, who had worked with Cathedral, Saxon and most importantly for us, Benediction. I remember when we got to Paul's studio, we were already a day late from doing a photo session that never happened, and ended up being spent in the pub!!
JA: How did he take that?
W: As Paul opened the door, we said we are Warlord and he said you’re a day late!! I said I know but we are here now, and we shook hands. Paul asked how many songs we were going to record, and I replied ‘11’. ‘We only have 4 days!’ came the reply. I looked at Paul and said ‘How many times can one get a 3 minute song wrong?’ He smiled and said ‘I like your style’.
JA: So, you’ve arrived, you have 4 days to record your 11 track debut album; what happened?
W: Over the next four days we completed the album. The thing I remember most was when I my vocal, I said let it roll and banged out all the tracks one after the other, I walked back into the studio and Paul said that he had never seen anything like it, as he was amazed how I just belted them out. He informed me the vocalists that he had worked with would sing the first line, then the third and so on to get the power.
JA: That’s quite an impressive thing to produce the vocals all in one sitting.
W: It’s something that I still do today. I don't believe in cheating, and just go for it.
JA: What about recording the guitars and drums?
W: Warlord have always been proud of how tight we are when we play live, so this recording was easy to us. We did not need click tracks, as we all knew what we had to do, and I think listening to the album will tell you that.
JA: During the recording, were there any problems with the band or the producer?
W: No, there were no problems at all, it was a perfect recording; one of the smoothest in my time of being involved in music.
JA: Had you worked with a producer before? If so, how did Paul compare?
W: Yes, and they were awful! Paul, however, was a great producer. His work ethic was fantastic and he had time for you too. It was a great all round experience working with him, and I’m pleased with his work on Maximum Carnage.
JA: How did you feel once you had recorded the album?
W: After we finished Maximum Carnage, we were more than satisfied, but I think every band comes out the studio happy. That said, afterwards, you will always find things you wish you changed on your music. For instance, I listen to the album now and feel the vocals are too quiet and wish they was louder in the mix, though all things considered, it’s still a quality recording, one that I am really proud of.
JA: So, here you are in October 2013. How did recording [August 2013’s] ‘We Die As One’ differ?
W: Well, now the fun starts. First off, Warlord are now tuned down to D. No problems there, but in the past Cubase was used for recording and now Pro Tools is the new kid on the block.
We struggled with this because the engineer had us recording clean and then adding the sound of our guitars after. Now, this was something we did not enjoy and could not get to grips with it, as we could not feel the power when recording, especially when it come to my Bass sound.
JA: Why so?
W: I use an overdrive pedal and reverb and hate playing clean as a rule! My Bass has to sound like a chainsaw in Cheddar Caves, so after putting all the guitar tracks down over two weeks, it just didn’t work for us and we ended up scrapping the lot!
JA: That sounds a bit drastic.
W: Well, we just did not like it. We recorded the tracks again, but this time on Cubase, and set everything up so that we recorded our own Warlord sound, the way it should have been done and the way we had wanted.
JA: So this sounds like a completely different experience from Maximum Carnage.
W: Exactly. It seems that today’s engineers want to dictate what sound you should have and we were not having that at all; our sound is very important to us and I think that bands need to speak up and say ‘No; it’s like this!’
JA: Was that the only issue you had?
W: No. We tried a few producers but none seemed to get the Warlord brutality right. It was too clean, too manufactured; they made the double kicks on the drums and guitars too thin; was not our sound. We tried a couple of different producers, but they all used these click tracks over the top drum sound which is not Warlord at all. Each of the producers we tried, insisted on using them, but once the drums are down I had to tell them to turn them off.
JA: So how did you deal with that?
W: In the end, I took over the mixing and produced the album myself.
JA: At that point, had you produced and mixed before?
W: No, it was the first time I had done this.
JA: And how did you find it?
W: The most valuable lesson I learnt from this was not to listen to too many people, as I ended up doing loads of mixes which just didn’t feel right. In the end I stopped listening and trusted my own instinct. The result is what you hear on the album; only me and the band can know our own sound, and so ultimately, only a Warlord could do it.
JA: So, comparing the recording experience of Maximum Carnage versus We Die As One, how has time changed what you did in the nineties against what happened this year?
W: I feel back then, producers listened to the band more. Now they don't seem to listen. You tell them what you want, they say ‘yes’, then come out with something totally different. I’m not saying all producers are like that, but the ones we worked with seemed to do what they felt was right, ending up with a lot of tea cups up the wall!
JA: Can you put these disagreements down to anything in particular?
W: Personally, I think that the use of Pro Tools had a lot to do with it. Playing clean and then adding the raw sound afterwards just hasn’t felt right. We are passionate people in Warlord , and live off our passion and energy for the band. If it does not make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up when recording, then it’s not working for us. Warlord is our product, and we have to protect it, as every band should. We was faced with the attitude of ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that because the frequency of this’, blah blah blah, so we ended up saying ‘get out the chair and we’ll do it’.
At the end of the day, we like doing it without cheating, without layering some artificial sound. We want our recordings to sound like when we are playing live, and for the energy to jump out the CD and hit you between the eyes. That, is the Warlord way.
John A. was in conversation with Mark White of Warlord UK, October 2013
Warlord UK's third album, 'We Die As One', is available now on the band's website.