Ancient Empire

In December, Ancient Empire released its third album, “The Tower” (under the reputable Stormspell Records), which alludes to a similar sci-fi narrative as its predecessors, 2014’s “When Empires Fall”, and last year’s “Other World”. With us today is the mastermind Joe Liszt, who, along with drummer Steve Pelletier & lyricist Rich Pelletier, spearheads this gratifying trad metal triptych as front man, guitarist and bassist.
Ancient Empire band pic

Hi guys, thank you for joining us and answering a few questions regarding AE’s development and ambitions. Ancient Empire is far from being your first rodeo, considering the plethora of bands you were or are still part of. How would you say this project came about?
J: I was really motivated by the Hellhound show at Keep It True in 2011. I honestly didn’t realize there was such a huge metal scene in Europe. After the lack of any type of scene in the US for decades, I had assumed it was like that everywhere. I was wrong and that experience got me inspired to do a “classic metal” band.
S: The answer to this is the same for all of the AE projects. Joe had some song ideas and asked if we were up for a project. After a quick listen, it was clear there was something there and the project was born. Each of these projects ended the same way, not knowing if there would be another. But then out of nowhere, Joe starts writing and we’re off and running again.
It’s no secret AE’s your brainchild, as you assume vocal, guitar and bass duties. It begs the question, have you considered playing live or hiring additional musicians towards such a highly anticipated venture?
J: I have asked Gary and Dan from Shadowkiller and Rob from Hellhound to play with Ancient Empire at Headbangers Open Air in Germany for 2018.
I know Steve’s brother Rich is the man behind the compelling narrative of “When Empires Fall” and “Other World”. Is this still the case with “The Tower”? As well, should AE evolve into a “live” band do you envisage taking him on board as bassist, considering he played such an integral role with Hellhound?
J: Rich is the main lyricist in the band. We have collaborated quite a bit historically but it’s 70-80% Rich.
R: I was behind the narrative for “Other World”, but “When Empires Fall” and “The Tower” are probably equal parts Joe and I. Our collaboration on “The Tower” reminded me a lot of how we worked on “When Empires Fall”.
Do you plan to stick with Stormspell Records or entertain the thought of signing with a larger label at some point?
S: StormSpell is the perfect answer for our projects. They focus on quality packaging and allow our music to reach those who want to listen. That’s all we really want.
The album’s track order and overall feel plays out like a concept album; much like “Other World”... what would you say the underlying theme is this time around?
R: I had originally intended a literal sequel to “Other World”, but as Joe and I got into the process it was pared down to only a few songs. I wouldn’t call “The Tower” a concept album, but there are definitely songs that play into the whole Ancient Empire idea (or at least to me). As for an underlying theme, I absolutely had things in mind when writing the lyrics, but it’s more fun sometimes for the listener to decide.
The production on “The Tower” is utterly fantastic. Where and by whom was it mixed and recorded?
J: It’s a collaboration, but I’ve done the mixing with a lot of input from Steve.
S: We’ve used the same approach for all of our projects. Once a song is completely written, I track and mix the drums at my studio. Joe then does the final mixing and mastering at his studio.
By the way, how many “man” hours would you say went into the production of “The Tower”? Are there any folks who helped with its production you’d like to extend a shout-out to?
J: Hundreds of man hours, and actually I would say it’s man months!
S: I have no idea how many hours I spend. Let’s just say I spend more time than I’m willing to admit. As for the production, that’s all Joe. He has a great ear for tones and stays clear of over-producing with tons of effects. We’ve talked about doing more of the mixing together, but frankly I’m worried we’d screw it up somehow.
R: Probably about 15 hours for my part.
Do you mind me asking what kind of gear (instruments, amps, pedals, etc) AE employs?
J: ESP Guitars, Legend amps pedals, Steven Slate Drums, Fender precision, toontrack easy mix, Steven slate mastering and Pro Tools.
R: I use a German-made dasKeyboard and Microsoft products exclusively, haha.
I particularly dig the midway track “The Battle of Stirling Bridge” for both the kick-ass instrumentation and gripping narrative theme... I’m assuming it is based on real life events? (The chorus makes one feel they’re gloriously riding into battle in order to protect their homeland!)
R: Funny story about that one: it was Joe’s idea, and I was never into that side of Metal imagery. I felt like I was phoning the lyrics in until I found an ancient (ha) epic poem online. It’s one of the earliest English language examples of writing. Lines like “courage strong” were influenced by it. I had a compass, so to speak, and now I think it’s one of the strongest tracks.
J: Freedom!!!! Scotland has a tourism industry now thanks to a little ol Mel movie! The lyrics are based on the real battle of the Scotts and English at Stirling Bridge. It is represented from the English point of view, which I thought was a great twist from Rich.
Which is your preferred track from “The Tower”, or the one you’re most fond of?
J: Hard to pick one but… “Stirling Bridge”.
S: For me it’s “Darker Side of Midnight”, that’s the song I find stuck in my head.
R: “View From Up Here” and “Darker Side of Midnight”, for me. Joe took my ideas and really brought them to life musically. All the elements mesh perfectly.
Do you plan to create/release an “official lyric video” for any one particular track in the near future?
R: There’s one in production, but these things take time. I can’t give you a title, but will say it’s really hard to get permits to shoot in space.
Obviously, it’s a bit early to ask, but forgive me as I can’t help myself! Is there any possibility of a fourth AE release sometime down the road?
R: It’s a military secret.
Who designed the cool cover art? It’s certainly visually pleasing...
J: Iordan from Stormspell and I discussed the concept. The artist brought it to life.
Steve’s drumming is fantastically wound up and relentless! I’m curious to glean some of his input as well considering his invaluable contribution. Also, you and the Pelletier brothers go way back; how long have you guys been playing music together?
J: These songs would not be the same without Steve. Since Hellhound in 2011.
S: Thanks for the kind words. For me, it’s about making sure the drums match the direction Joe has already taken. The ideas are usually clear from the start. But then I try other things to make sure I don’t overlook something that might make the song better. Funny thing is, I always end up back with my first idea. As for how long we’ve been working together, Rich and I go back to our beginnings. We started Hellhound together in 1981 and have done many things since. Joe entered the picture in 2010. Hellhound had reformed and I decided to sit this one out as a drummer, but try instead to produce their EP. At some point during tracking, the band decided things weren’t working out with the singer and Joe came in to finish the vocals. We’ve been working together ever since.
I also can’t help but wonder (and hope!); does your auxiliary project, Shadowkiller, plan on pursuing a third release? I notice the quartet is still listed as “active” at the Metal-Archives...
J: A 3rd release is in the works!
Time to move on to our “weird” questions!!! How did you come up with the name Ancient Empire initially?
R: Joe is old. So is Steve. I’m older.
J: We are a small Empire of Ancients…
What’s the very first heavy metal show/concert you attended?
J: Black Sabbath – “Born Again” in 1982.
S: For me it was either Saxon/Accept or Metallica. Both were in 83, can’t remember which came first.
R: I saw so many bands starting in the early 80’s it’s hard to say! Most likely Judas Priest in ‘81 on their Point of Entry tour.
If you could jam with any guitarist (or musician), living or dead, who would it be?
J: Steve Harris, Jon Oliva, Michael Schenker, John Bonham…
S: I’d say Randy Rhodes. We lost him way too soon and there’s no doubt he had a lifetime of music left to come. I watch old interviews with him and he seemed so energized, nothing fake about him. And of course he was crazy creative. I’d be happy being a fly on the wall while he was writing.
R: Michael Schenker, but I’m not worthy.
Which band(s) constitute(s) your major influences/inspirations?
J: Maiden, Priest, Savatage, Dio, Riot, Anthrax…
S: Maiden and Priest for sure, but I’d add the Dio fronted bands and Helloween as well.
R: Haha. Think of all the bands people say we are influenced by, and then subtract them. No one has got it right yet, except for Iron Maiden.
Name three essential, must-have “desert island/stranded on Mars” heavy metal albums.
J: Anthrax – “Among the Living”, Iron Maiden – “Killers”, and Savatage – “Hall of the Mountain King”.
S: Can’t do three. I’ve always thought that if I had to explain what heavy metal was to someone, I’d give them “Mob Rules”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Priest in the East”, “Number of the Beast” and “Operation Mindcrime”.
R: “Number of the Beast”, “Mob Rules”, “Priest in the East”.
Which is your ideal make/type of electric guitar?
J: Strat/Charvel with EMG 81/85.
Do you have a favourite cartoon? (I’m not just talking about the whimsical, Saturday morning kind either!)
J: Family Guy.
R: Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime).
Is there a particular author or book you can’t recommend enough?
J: Dean Koontz.
R: Anything by H.P. Lovecraft.
This might seem like a redundant question (with perhaps an obvious answer), but do you believe in extra-terrestrial, “other worldly” intelligences/races elsewhere in this mind-bogging-ly vast Universe?
J: If humans are the only race, then none of this makes sense!
R: Definitely maybe.
What’s your take on all these nefarious “aliens are among us” conspiracies circulating the Web?
R: I think we’re the aliens.
J: Rich definitely is!
If there was a time-machine and you were offered a “free spin” (with a return trip hopefully!) “when” in time would you go (we’ll assume it can be either anytime in the past or future...)?
R: 1985. The music was better then.
Awesome! Again, thank you guys so much for your time and patience with some of the more “orotund” queries! I wish you all the best in all your future endeavours!
J: No problem, thanks!