Utah’s Visigoth blazed a trail across Europe this summer – less than a year after they’d first crossed the Atlantic to conquer the continent’s shores. Demand for the ‘roots’ heavy metal champions is rising, the momentum behind 2018’s Conqueror’s Oath carrying them further than they’d ever envisaged. Rich Holmes caught up with frontman Jake Rogers on the band’s recent UK tour – and heard how the band is grabbing this chance with both gauntlets…
When Visigoth’s Conqueror’s Oath figured heavily across 2018’s album of the year lists, it was a sign not only of the astonishing power of that record, but also of the rise of traditional heavy metal’s popularity among a new generation. This is a movement inspired by NWOBHM and US power metal, but championed by musicians who weren’t even a twinkle in their dads’ eyes when Brian Tatler was first wielding his flying-V.
Spearheaded stateside by bands like California’s Night Demon, this return to metal’s roots has thrown up some extraordinary new acts.
And Salt Lake City’s Visigoth are at the vanguard of the resurgence.
Their 2015 debut, The Revenant King, lit the touch paper. Conqueror’s Oath doused it in jet fuel, propelling the band to sold out shows far from their Utah home.
It’s not surprising, then, to see Visigoth building on this success. Spring saw the release of The Bells of Awakening, a two-track 7 inch of glorious, triumphant metal, and they subsequently took to the highways of Europe, hitting bigger venues than they’d graced less than 12 months earlier. Last month’s Rock Hard festival in Gelsenkirchen was the largest such event they’ve played so far.
The word is getting around.
“Conqueror’s Oath has taken this band to places that none of us were prepared for or expecting really,” confirms singer Jake Rogers. “It has launched us on to a new strata of visibility. We weren’t expecting any of this – we feared we were going to be a local diehard bard forever!”
Rogers admits that with more eyes on the band – and more ears tuning into supercharged songs like Traitor’s Gate – there’s increased pressure on guitarists Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana, bassist Matt Brotherton, drummer Mikey T… and himself.
“We have to work harder to improve because there are a lot of fans investing their time and money in helping us develop,” says Rogers. “We are all metal fans too and we know what we love from the bands that we feel that way about, and we need to give that back to these crowds.”
The frontman knows that this also means keeping his titanic vocal cords in working order. Belting out bombastic songs like Steel and Silver every night will undoubtedly take its toll…
“This kind of singing is physically demanding,” he says. “I try to get as much sleep as possible. I don’t tend to party hard when I am on the road. I have been experimenting with how to conserve my voice during each set. I have to strategically pick when I am going to really belt lines and be a bit more conserved and let the amplification system do its job
“I have had to learn that along the way, lots of trial and error. I haven’t had formal training, I can’t afford it.”
He is also conscious of looking after his own wellbeing. Rogers’ own chronic health problems mean a strict dietary regime is in place for the singer. A commitment to keeping healthy while out on the road. There might be a couple of beers after a show, but he’s not chopping breakfast on a mirror.
Yet despite the undoubted strain of touring, Visigoth’s increased success has helped the frontman in more ways than one…
He explains: “I am really thankful that this band has become what it has become, because I think that was the thing that really inspired me to start taking care of myself. That was a really positive development in my life, because of Visigoth’s trajectory.”
So what’s next for a band who’ve had the wind in their sales since Conqueror’s Oath was unleashed?
“Writing, writing, writing,” Rogers replies. “We have talked a bit about directions we would like to take the next album. Things that we would like to be different on the next record, sound-wise. I think we already have a song or two in our back pockets!”
While The Revenant King leaned towards the epic and grandiose, Conqueror’s Oath saw Visigoth sharpen their blades and write more focused, shorter songs such as Warrior Queen. That approach, Rogers reveals, was born from a desire to mould an album around the 12 inch LP format – de rigueur when all of Visigoth’s favourite bands (such as Iron Maiden, Quartz, Saxon and Cloven Hoof) were starting out.
“It was nice because you have a single LP which brings the cost down for the fans rather than a giant double LP which adds ten dollars to the price,” says Rogers. “And it was fun to have this rule that we had to abide by. When you impose rules on the writing it forces you to be creative in ways that you wouldn’t be otherwise.”
Will they be sticking to the same boundaries on album number three?
“That is a matter of hot debate!” Rogers replies with a grin. “It’s funny because some people said that the more concise songs on Conqueror’s Oath made that album more enjoyable to listen to, because they felt that some of our longer songs are overlong and meandering. And I totally agree that some of them are.
“Some of the songs benefited (from being longer) – like The Revenant King. That song is a fan favourite, a classic, a staple song in our setlist and I think it benefits from that feeling of adventure and scope.
“Other people think that the concise songwriting approach is us trying to be more mainstream and poppy or something!
“As far as the next album goes we may not be as concerned about song lengths but we will set other rules for ourselves, other goals.”
What those goals are, the singer isn’t about to divulge. Rogers, however, knows that Visigoth are expected to deliver. To keep on that upward curve. To slake their loyal fans’ thirst for heroic, chorus-laden heavy metal.
But witness the band scorch another UK venue, see them blow away yet another sweaty, headbanging horde – and you wouldn’t bet against them raising the bar even higher.
Rogers signs off: “We owe it to people to put out the highest quality songs we can… and put on the best performances we can.”