As grim as 2020 has been, one major bright spot has been the debut album from Baltimore Maryland USA’s Isenmor. “Shieldbrother” has swept in and become my debut of the year and with good reason…..the album is filled to the rim with epic folk metal with track after relentless track. We had a handful of the Isenbrood attack some questions we sent their way. Violinist Mark Williams, Bassist/Vocalist Mike Wilson, Guitarist/Vocalist Tim Regan, Violinist/Vocalist Nick Schneider and Guitarist Pete Lesko all contributed to questions regarding the album, the songwriting, the crowdfund campaign and a few other items of note… check it out…
Major congrats on your debut album “Shieldbrother”…..how has the feedback been so far regarding it?
Mark: The reception for Shieldbrother has been incredible! We’ve received some excellent reviews (yours included) and the response from our fans and Kickstarter backers has been phenomenal.
Let us go back to your epic EP “Land Of The Setting Sun” from 2015…..were tracks for “Shieldbrother” already in formation back then? Were there discussions about what the direction of a full-length album would be? How did the title “Shieldbrother” come about and the epic album cover?
Mike: “We actually had quite a bit of Shieldbrother material in flight when we released Land of the Setting Sun. A few songs took a lot longer to gel (Shieldbrother, Mount Badon, and Battle Scarred), but much of LotSS and Shieldbrother were written very close together.
We had some discussions about trying to go heavier in general, which is what created songs like Battle Scarred, Furor Teutonicus, and Shieldbrother. At the same time, the reception of our single, Saxon Shore, was pretty positive, so we tried to add in vocal harmonies akin to what we used in that song.”
Tim: “We felt that “Shieldbrother” summed up the sound of the band and our relationship with the fans. The bond we share keeps the band strong against whatever external forces might battle against us. The artwork went through a few iterations before we settled on the final version. The constant throughout was that we wanted the shieldbrothers to be the focus, but not to appear miniscule against the wider landscape.”
The style you cultivated on the initial EP compared to “Shieldbrother” shows ahuge leap forward in all aspects from songwriting to vocals and musicianship…..there was obviously tons of practice to get to this point but arethere other contributing factors? Is it something tangible?
Mike: “The learning process from the EP was a big part of it, but a lot of it was finding our style while also trying to be a bit more daring. The EP is something that we’re really proud of, but I think a lot of the musicianship on the album is pretty “safe.” We strived to go out of our comfort zone with this album. Additionally, we took a few risks with longer songs. I came up with the first minute of Sigurd’s Song and Tim basically dared me to make it massive, so I did. While it’s a little self indulgent (I think all 15+ minute songs are), we’re really proud of it.”
How did the songwriting work this time around? Riffs stockpiled to become tracks, or one idea worked on at a time? Did lyrics and music come together at the same time? Were there more tracks written then actually appear in the final product?
Mike: Most of the songwriting occurred with Nick and I at my house once a week. We’d kick around a few ideas and then push it out to the band, who would provide feedback and iterate on it. Tim had a young child when most of the writing was occurring, so he contributed a lot from his home on his down time. We would typically focus on one song at a time, but would generally circle around a few ideas if we hit a wall on any of them. Interestingly most of the writing wasn’t particularly riff centric. I really enjoy Devin Townsend, and one of the things I like about him is that his approach to music seems to be focused on the whole picture, and often when we write we go for a similar approach. While obviously the violins are the central element here, we’re really focused on making sure the entire arrangement works together.
There are 3 more noteworthy tracks that were written for this album. Two of them are included as a bonus for Kickstarter backers: Dægrima, which is a song I imagined as a “set intro” of sorts, Gjallarhorn, which is a song that Tim wrote that we’ve already used as a set intro, and “Mead of Poetry,” which is a song we just couldn’t quite get together. There are also bits and pieces of other songs that are written that will likely find their way onto later albums
Tim: “After songs had been started by any one of us, Mike & Nick would develop. I had the benefit of a relatively outside perspective since I was not able to be there when details were being sorted out. Not being as close to the process this time, it was relatively easy to hear what worked and what didn’t. “Battle Scarred” in particular I feel benefitted from this setup.”
How do you balance having 7 musicians in the band now? Are there decisions made during the writing process to make sure everyone has ample representation in the tracks?
Mike: “Seven musicians are definitely a bit hard to wrangle. For the most part, the main songwriters for LotSS and Shieldbrother were myself, Nick, and Tim, which kept things fairly simple. We had a bit of member churn during the recording, but we have a larger core more interested in songwriting now, so we’ll have to see how writing with more than 3 works out!”
Were there albums or bands that were used as inspirations for “Shieldbrother”either directly or indirectly?
Mike: “For me, this is hard to say. While I was very involved with the writing process, I don’t actually listen to a lot of modern folk metal! I can’t speak for the others, but for me, it was probably my prog influences leaking in while trying to emulate Ensiferum.
Tim: Týr, Svartsot, Metsatöll, and Falkenbach come to mind, as well as a plethora of power and black metal bands, but their influence on the sound may not be too obvious.”
Dual Violin Attack
The dual violin attack is a super unique aspect to your sound…….does this allow for riffing from other instruments to become “easier” or “less technical”? Is there always a tendency to push the violin to the forefront of the tracks more than say other instrumentation?
Mike: “Are you insinuating that the violinists are better at their instruments than I am?! In seriousness, the other non-violin instruments definitely have an easier time due to the violin focus. There’s a few reasons for this.
• I tend to like thinking big picture when it comes to songwriting, and as a result I frequently write dense but fairly easy to play things. Usually other members of the band come and make things that I write more interesting technically, or come up with ideas that are more complex on a per-instrument basis than I usually do. I think when I contribute to other people’s ideas I end up dragging things back towards simple but upping the track count!
• 7 instruments makes for a very dense metal band, so we have to be sort of constrained and intentional when it comes to which instruments we decide to give focus to — we can’t have the guitars and violins both going nuts or it’d sound overwhelming, so we generally have to do one or the other. The violins are definitely our biggest strength, but one strategy I’ve personally been toying with lately (which you can hear on Sigurd’s Song) is to give different instruments time to breathe.”
No More Vikings
Lyrically, Anglo-Saxon and Germanic themes are explored…… do you think thatViking metal has been oversaturated to an extent and this is a yet to be tapped vein of inspiration?
Nick: “Yes, I feel like the viking theme has become a bit overplayed, not just in metal but in society in general. There’s always been lots of interest in Vikings, and more so since the tv show became popular, but the vikings were just one group within a larger historical culture that spanned for several centuries and ranged over much of Europe. Coming at the tail end of this tradition, and with the benefit of a lot of written works being preserved in Iceland, there is definitely a lot more visibility to the Vikings versions, but there are hundreds of years of history and versions of these stories from outside of Scandinavia that are just as fascinating. Our interest in covering more than just Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons in particular, goes back to the beginning of the band when we picked a name from Old English, but during the writing for Shieldbrother, we did make a conscious decision to start focusing more on the non-scandinavian sources in our lyrics.”
“Sigurd’s Song” is about as epic as you can get in terms of songs….how did you go about creating such a musical saga? Was it pre-planned to have a track that pushed the boundaries of length compared to your other tracks?
Mike: “I wrote the first minute of Sigurd’s Song and showed it off to the band. Tim suggested it could be our “epic,” so I tried to basically blow it up as much as possible. I like really long songs, so I just tried to run with it. It definitely wasn’t the plan! I wrote most of the song with Tim filling in the outro. Nick handled all the lyrics.
There were a lot of iterations on Sigurd’s Song where I would write a section, ask the band about it, scrap/change it, etc. Finally it emerged sounding like it was today, which is amazing and relieving, hah!”
Vocals are another standout….is everyone contributing to aspects like backing vocals? How are the parts decided whether clean, black or choral?
Tim: “Sometimes, the vocal decisions are made pragmatically. Most part default to Nick. However, Nick avoids playing violin while singing, so if there are two violin parts, generally Mike or I are covering vocals in those parts. If it’s a part that is intended to be screamed or gruff, I cover it. If it is a more melodic part, Mike sings it. There are certainly counterexamples of this arrangement, but as a first pass, this is often how we cover our bases.”
Contributions Towards Seccess
You started an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign to properly finish the album with tons of killer perks for contributors…..could you tell us about your experience with this? Do you think that you really have to offer enough “goodies” to encourage people donating?
Mark: “This is our first time doing any crowdfunding and it worked out better than we ever hoped! The campaign let us build funding for the album and promote it at the same time, both of which helped contribute towards success. There is a fine line to walk between having reasonable reward tier prices and not spending all the Kickstarter earnings on the rewards themselves, which is why some of the tiers had limited quantities. The goodies may not be necessary, but it was an opportunity to provide cool merchandise that otherwise wouldn’t be cost-effective to keep in stock. We’ve had lots of people say we should have Isenmor drinking horns at shows, so it’s awesome to see some out there in real life now!”
Tim: “I did not expect us to meet our funding goal after only 13 hours. I’m certain some of that success was related to having some higher-level contribution levels, but even without those tiers we would have met the goal very quickly. The album wouldn’t exist without the Kickstarter supporters, and it is very humbling that we were able to gather so much support so quickly.”
You are still an independent act while some other US folk metal-based acts (Windfaerer, Amiensus, Æther Realm and Wilderun to name a few) have all recently signed deals with labels…. is that something you are interested in? Would there be too many obligations and that you would prefer to remain an indie?
Mark: “We’re having fun making music and we’d love to get more people listening! I’m sure there’s labels out there that could help us do that, on the right terms.
Mike: I’d certainly love to get signed, but this is just pure fun either way.”
With COVID 19 being a major factor worldwide, how has this directly impactedIsenmor whether practicing, playing live or on any level? Have plans been put on hold until it subsides like touring etc? Are there talks about touring when everything settles down?
Mark: “We’re obviously not playing shows right now, but we wish we could! We haven’t physically been getting together for practices, though we did have some small responsibly masked get-togethers on Tim’s back porch to help pack and ship the Kickstarter rewards and Bandcamp pre-orders. The last time the whole band was together was actually when we took our promo pictures in January, right before the pandemic hit! At least we got those done in time. We’re itchin’ to get back out there and play Shieldbrother!”
Any favorite music from this year?
Mark: “Black Crown Initiate Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, Spectrum of Delusion Neoconception, Cloudkicker Solitude, Blodiga Skald The Undrunken Curse, and Vacant Eyes A Somber Preclusion of Being are some of my standouts I’ve been jamming this year. And of course Finntroll Vredesvävd.”
Mike: “I’ve been enjoying Green Carnation “Leaves of Yesteryear,” Pain of Salvation “Panther,” Aryeon “Transitus,” and Hail Spirit Noir “Eden in Reverse”.”
Tim: “Demons & Wizards III, Falconer From a Dying Ember, Green Carnation Leaves of Yesteryear, and Vacant Eyes A Somber Preclusion of Being.”
Pete: “I’ll second the new Pain of Salvation, and add Napalm Death’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, and Haken’s Virus”
Mike: “Thanks so much for your kind words and support over the years, we’ve really appreciated it! Glad we could finally get Shieldbrother out there!”
Tim: “We are overwhelmed by the support we have received and I personally am thankful for all the effort my bandmates put into this album and its release. And rest assured we are working on the next one already!”