2020 was a challenging year for everybody and it was music, that saved the day more than once. Also Iron Savior had to face challenges and managed the end the year in a good way. Pandemic and illness of bassist Jan were two main things the band had to face. Still Iron Savior kept the positivism. Things slowly became better and it’s the new album that shows the spirit of ‘never let it get you down’. All good reasons to reach out to Iron Savior mainman Piet Sielck for some first-hand information.
Markus’ Heavy Music Blog: Piet, let’s start with the unpleasant topic, COVID. Now we’ve all been caught up in this pandemic for months and I think many people are already sick of even hearing the word. Nevertheless, this extraordinary situation has serious implications for the entire entertainment and music industry. How did your life change since March this year?
Piet Sielck: Fortunately, with Iron Savior we have been more into ‘album production’ this year and not so much into touring. That means COVID doesn’t hit us as hard as maybe others. I’m thinking for example of our friends from Destruction who really tour a lot more than we do and for whom the loss of income is of course quite dramatic. Fortunately the situation doesn’t really impact us that much and we all have other income too. The hardest hit so far has been for Piesel, who also tours a lot as a technician, in addition to Iron Savior. And all of that has fallen apart. So it has hit him the hardest of all of us, but otherwise I’d say, so far so good.
MHMB: You mention that cancelled live shows also mean a lack of income. How do you keep yourselves up and running and to what extent do you receive financial support from the government?
Piet Sielck: In general we are getting by quite well, except for Piesel and yes, it was quite ‘extreme’ what governmental support was coming in, because it was actually nothing. I had the luck here in Hamburg to get at least 2,500 EUR as being solo self-employed. That was not granted to Piesel in Schleswig-Holstein. There was simply nothing and the recommendation was to go to the social welfare office and apply for Hartz 4. That is the reality. Now, politics has apparently ’discovered’ the artists. In the meantime a few funds have arrived and Piesel has also received a bit of money. Of course, this is not even close to what he would have earned otherwise but well, it helps. He has now taken a second 450 € -based job because one also simply did not want put one’s cards on the table at the social security office. That is the reality of musicians and technicians in Germany right now and I think it’s not just Piesel facing this.
MHMB: You were for two shows in Russia in February this year. What are now, in hindsight, your memories of these two concerts, the last ones for a longer time?
Piet Sielck: The two shows were very successful and above all we spent a lot of time with the fans after the shows. In Moscow we had I think almost 400 visitors. We stood there with the fans for almost 2 hours after the show and signed autographs, took photos, drank beer or just shook hands.That we got out of it unharmed and that none of us got the virus, that it is still remarkable.
MHMB: Besides the pandemic, there was also the serious illness of Jan, your bass player, which was another challenge for the band. How is Jan doing today?
Piet Sielck: January and February were terrible months, following the devastating diagnosis of Jan. None of us had expected this and Jan probably the least of all. Then with COVID 19, the situation did not get any better. In the first three months of 2020 we could not even think about production and working here in the studio. It turned out that Jan’s cancer was a well treatable form of cancer and that his chances of full recovery were very good. This has of course helped a lot and lifted the mood significantly, so that I could work in the studio again. When he was released in May, after a very strenuous and exhausting chemotherapy, as completely cured, one hundred percent cured, the delight was of course even greater. That has also given the album and the production a proper boost. Jan is doing quite well today, considering the circumstances. He is really well again, although the chemo and the whole situation have left a few marks that he still has to deal with. But it goes forward in the right direction, better and faster.
MHMB: With all this adversity, didn’t you sometimes have thoughts of just giving it all up?
Piet Sielck: I have already experienced so many difficulties in life that if I had would have given up every time, I wouldn’t have done anything at all in my life. No, in fact none of us thought of that – quite the opposite. It was more of a ‘now more than ever’-feeling for me and that’s also the reason why ‘Skycrest’ and ‘Kill or Get Killed’ are so close when it coms to timing. One could have waited a little longer with the release of ‘Skycrest’, but it was very important to me and the rest of the band, to release this album in the same year that Jan’s diagnosis was made. Furthermore, we thought that with all this Corona shit, it might be nice to have a little ray of hope at the end of the year.
MHMB: Now, fortunately, you have kept your positive spirit alive and have been working on a new album. Was ‘Skycrest’ always planned for 2020 or did you bring it forward?
Piet Sielck: As I said, it was actually planned for 2020 because I came surprisingly far with the songwriting in 2019. I suggested to AFM that we can release the album in 2020. I always find it stupid when an album is finished and then it sits in the drawer. I think that when an album has been made and is finished, then it must also be released in the near future. That was the case with ‘Skycrest’. Well, the situation with Jan and Corona was not predictable. On the other hand, since the tide has turned again, there was this new energy during the production and I think, that ‘Skycrest’ has become a really special album that way. This is also reflected in the emotional depth. I think if you listen to the album a few times, you’ll realize that there is not only a good mood and fun but that there’s also a lot of emotions involved which makes ’Skycrest’ a very special album for me. I’m very happy that we released 2020.
MHMB: Can you give some insight into the songwriting? I think I’ve read that over the last two years song ideas have been created, but then put aside again to go to work later with renewed energy.
Piet Sielck: That’s not quite right seeing it as “put aside”. After having released ’Kill or Get Killed’, I had somehow still such an energy boost that I had new ideas for new songs almost immediately after the delivery of the album. That is rather unusual because usually at least half a year passes until I begin to write new songs. This resulted in the fact that I had by the end of 2019 already half of the album, at least in its basic form, at hand. I had ideas for six songs, which were not yet one 100% fully fledged, but I was convinced that they were really good. The plan was to add songs in January/February. That has not worked out as planned. However, these ideas were not lost. They were there. They were on my hard drive and I just picked them up again in April, after more than half a year not having listened to them. Half a year though is not ten years. That’s still okay when you’re in the songwriting phase, which can usually extend over a year or even a year and a half. With Jan’s positive healing progress I had the appropriate muse, in the truest meaning of the word, to engage myself again with the songs and to complete them. Or to create what was still missing by then.
MHMB: The title track is a strong opener. I felt a little bit reminded of Blind Guardian from time to time, because especially the chorus is powerful and bombastic as well. How do you position the song?
Piet Sielck: If you refer to the choirs as being Blind Guardian-like then that’s right. It is certainly because I co-founded the way of creating such choirs together with Blind Guardian, partly sang them myself and so on. So yes, I know how to record Blind Guardian-like choirs and I’ve always done it that way with Iron Savior too. The rest of the song, however, is not so Blind Guardian-like because there’s far ’too little happening’. There are not ’20 million guitar melodies’ and over long stretches it is also just a single layer of lead vocals. I also would like to point out that with Iron Savior, we really found our own style and our own sound in 25 years. Therefore comparisons like ”sounds like this and that” are not really applicable anymore. I think that Iron Savior has a really individual character and independent sound. I would say, ‘Skycrest’ sounds actually like Iron Savior.
MHMB: With ‘Souleater’ you have released a real heavy pounding metal hymn as a single. Why did you choose this song and what is it about?
Piet Sielck: For a video, of course, it is useful that you do not take the most complicated song that is available on the album, but rather something more easily digestible. That’s why ‘Souleater’ was the perfect candidate for it. The song is pounding, has wonderful energy and despite its certain simplicity and plainness, it is a very characteristic and very meaningful song for Iron Savior. It was a really good choice and we are 100% satisfied with the result. This time, we are also very happy with the video itself. I think it represents us well, the way we are and the way we appear. What it’s about? Everyone probably knows the situation that you cannot sleep well at night because one thing is going through your mind. Of course, this can haunt you for a longer period of time and at some point it just gets to your soul. That’s why you have to free yourself from such ”souleaters”, as I call them in this song, by not denying or hiding your problems. You have to face it. You have to solve them and then also turn them off.
MHMB: Listening to the 12 songs, one has the feeling that you have written the songs also to channel frustration. Am I right?
Piet Sielck: You’re not so right when saying that we got frustrations out of our minds while working on the album. That has not really been my intention when writing lyrics. It has been the case with ‘Souleater’ which we have just spoken about. It has also been the case with ‘Welcome to the New World’, where I talk about ”Mr. Trump”, but otherwise my lyrics are less about frustration and more about positive energy. I’m also a generally positive thinking person. It’s not that I want to express frustration. It’s much more important for me to create something positive. I do that egoistically for myself when writing lyrics. For me, somehow the lyrics always have to have a positive twist or a positive underlying message because I’m just like that all the time. I don’t like lyrics that are negative and depressive. That’s not me. Frustration is not really present on this album and has never been a driving force, rather the opposite. When I felt frustration, namely in the first weeks of Corona, I deliberately stopped working on the album so that no negative energy would find its way onto it. Basically I agree with you that people listen to metal and write metal to deal with their own problems, but frustration is very rare on Iron Savior albums. I want to be perceived positively with my music, also sound positive and also achieve some positive things. I want someone who listens to Iron Savior to have a big smile on his face and not to look at the grey sky with a petrified face and in a bad mood. That’s not my idea of Iron Savior.
MHMB: Personally I think that ‘Skycrest’ is one of your best and most mature records so far. What is the significance of ‘Skycrest’ for you?
Piet Sielck: Thanks a lot for saying that, because I actually see it the same way. I went out on a limb and said beforehand that ‘Skycrest’ is actually the best Iron Savior album we’ve recorded so far and I still see it that way. I also deliberately include those milestones like the debut album, ‘Unification’, ‘Condition Red’ and even ‘The Landing’. These are all really great and super cool albums but I think ‘Skycrest’ is just ahead in this ranking. I don’t know if I’ll still look at it in the same way in 10 years from now but at the moment I think that’s the way it is. I also realize that one is always keen to say that the current album is the best. Of course you feel that way because you’re extremely close to the songs when you’ve been working on it for so long. With ‘Skycrest’ it’s on another level for me to say that. It’s really my belief that in 10-20 years, or even in 30 years from now, I’ll still consider this album as one of the best I’ve recorded.
MHMB: With ‘Ease Your Pain’ you have a ballad on the album, sung by Jan. Even though it’s a ballad, I think the song is one of the most intense on the record. How was the song created? Did you guys process Jan’s medical history with ‘Ease Your Pain’?
Piet Sielck: Yes, that’s right. ‘Ease Your Pain’ is based on Jan’s experience with his illness. The song was also written and sung by him, which I think he did very well. The song is about how his illness has affected or influenced his relationship and that it was actually worse for him to see the suffering of his partner. It was worse for him than his own despair about the illness. I think it is very brave of him to go public with this and yes, I think it has become a very strong ballad. If you like ballads then I would say this one is really one of the best we have done so far. If you’re not into ballads, then I think with this background in mind, you can still listen to the song, ’understand’ it and maybe even find it okay.
MHMB: You end the album with ‘Ode to the Brave’, a song that has a positive vibe. Who are the ‘brave’ of this time for you?
Piet Sielck: ‘Ode to the Brave’ is actually a song that was created at the very end, a moment where I must admit that I lyrically ran out of steam when it comes to content. I said to myself “Oh come on Piet, you can allow yourself a text in which only really cool sounding words are somehow combined together, resulting in a fairly understandable and quite OK-like text. This is ‘Ode to the Brave’. However, I must say that I actually managed to do that very well because I love ‘Ode to the Brave’. And all these clichés that I’ve used there somehow fit together very well. It’s not really noticeable that I’ve approached this with such a mindset. I think it is quite special that you now asking “Who are the brave of this world” because I did not have that thought. ‘The brave of the world’, it’s quite simple. In life you must not let yourself get down. You have to stand up for your ideas and you must also simply show a certain moral courage and set standards. That’s important to me, and if you go for it, then you’re certainly one of the ‘brave’ ones. I must add that by ‘brave’ I don’t mean ‘Querdenker’ who walk through Berlin without wearing a face-mask and without any social distancing. I would like to give the Querdenkern to take along that one cannot agree with things. That is also the privilege of everyone. It is also completely OK to protest against things. I had just mentioned that one must stand up for his ideas and conviction but that cannot at some else expense. The Querdenker briefly countered, imagine you protest with 25,000 people, all wearing a face-mask and keeping the rules of distancing. No one is rioting. What do you think that would make an impression on Mrs. Merkel and Co. . But so, if you go there as a rowdy bunch, without wearing masks, without keeping distance regulation and provoke the police, then you must not be surprised if things are not taken seriously. This has nothing to do with ’brave’.
MHMB: Normally I would ask whether there would be a tour, but live appearances seem to be far away still, which certainly makes the promotion of the new album more difficult. Do you have anything special planned anyway?
Piet Sielck: Well, at some point Corona will be over, or rather under control, so that live performances can take place again. I assume that the situation will have normalized in the second half of 2021, so that we can play concerts again under fairly usual circumstances. We are confident that we will be able to play the shows we have planned now under reasonably conditions. By the way, we are in the process of booking dates for probably the third and fourth quarter of 2021 and even for early 2022, because we want to play safe. We would like to play ‘Skycrest’ on stages all over the world in a near future, but that is not possible. For us it’s not so impactful, because we are not known as the ’super tour band’ anyway. However, there are already a lot of dates available and they can be found on our new homepage www.iron-savior.com at any time. I maintain the homepage myself now and I hereby solemnly promise to update it at fairly regular times. It should also be briefly mentioned that 2021 is the year of ‘The Landing’ its tenth anniversary and we will do something with it but I can’t reveal more than that yet. Furthermore, the ‘Reforged – Riding on Fire’ album was quite successful as well. So we decided to do it a second time. We are currently in the process of selecting the next 20 songs from the latest period for ‘Reforged Vol. 2’ and I have already recorded ‘Protect the Law’. Last but not least I would like to say something to the fans: thank you so much for your incredible support especially during Jan’s illness, just to mention all the Facebook recovery wishes. This may seem trivial but it has helped tremendously and has really given us a lot of energy, especially Jan. I would like to thank you very much and deeply for this and I hope to see you soon on one stage or another.
MHMB: Piet, thank you very much for spending some time with us. I wish you and the band a lot of success with the new album and above all, stay healthy.
Photo credits: Thomas Sprenger