Iron Fire celebrated twenty years as a band last year. And despite numerous lineup changes, the band is still going strong. Now they are soon to release their ninth studio album. PowerMetal.no had a talk with the main man, Martin Steene.
Before we talk about the upcoming album Beyond The Void, I would like to talk some about the recent twentieth anniversary. First of all: congratulations with that!
Martin: Thanks! It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years already since we made our first demo tape.
Iron Fire released its first demo back in 1998, and since then the band has released eight studio albums. What did you think about the future of Iron Fire back in 1998; did you ever think that you would still be releasing albums under the Iron Fire flag twenty years later?
Martin: I don’t think any of us thought that far back then, it’s always been one step at the time and trying to do the best possible every time. But hey, I’m proud we have made it this far, it’s not been without problems but we still here and that’s what counts.
How has the journey been? Can you mention some of the best memories from the last two decades; what are you most proud of?
Martin: It’s been up and down like everything else that runs over 20 years. Well, getting signed to Noise Records back in 1999 and releasing a pretty successful debut album was a big deal for us. That album is still our best-selling to date. Our first real Euro tour back in 2007 with U.D.O and Primal Fear was really cool. Later on, coming back from another line-up break and releasing Among The Dead album as a tree-piece band with me taking over the bass while singing. It was the first Iron Fire release on my own label and for the first time being able to call all the shots ourselves and not having some label A&R clown to interrupt.
And what has been the hardest challenges during the years?
Martin: Keeping high level musicians within the line-up of band and dream while the money aspect is non- existing. And a constant decline of the music business resulting in smaller budgets to make albums that are expected to be better than the last one every time.
How has the band changed and evolved musically? And why has it changed?
Martin: Oh, sure it has changed a bit over the years. I think it would be very boring if the music did not evolve over 20 years. On our first 3-4 albums we were more traditional European Power Metal, but around 10 years ago we started to tune down guitars and go into a more heavy/thrash direction. We also experimented with more symphonic and prog influences now and then. Lyrics also changed from fantasy based to more life related topics and even horror stuff at times.
Talking about the upcoming album Beyond The Void; how would you compare that album to the rest – and is that even possible?
Martin: Well, it’s a natural evolvement from the last album I think. A bit more on the melodic side in some of the tracks this time around. But, it’s still some of the heaviest Power Metal on the market. We kind of found our own sound over the years and are proud not to sound like all the other power metal bands out there. So, if you want the good melodies of Helloween and the heaviness of Testament at the same time, Beyond The Void is a good place to start!
Iron Fire has had quite a number of lineup changes during the years. How has that affected the musical development? And what is the status now; is the lineup complete?
Martin: Most bands that have a lifetime of 20 years or more have line-up changes and we sure are no different. You got to remember, Iron Fire has never been our full-time job even though we have been fighting very hard to make it our job over the years but never succeeded. So, running a band at this level takes most of your time when you’re not doing your regular job, and that is a high price to pay if you also want a family life or just see friends outside the music business on a regular basis. So, in short, this is not for everybody. Sure, we make records and get to play our music in front of great crowds but it all comes with a price.
After the last line-up split we got Gunnar Olsen [drums] who played on our first album back in the band, and I took over the bass duties and we just continued as a trio. I got to say, it has never worked better than it does right now. When you are only 3 people in the band, everybody got to bring their game all the time, and not only in live performances but in every aspect of running a band. I hope we can continue with this line-up for many years to come.
The press release describe the album as quite diverse and a “melting pot of heavy metal (…) that melts traditional melodic heavy metal with hard hitting power trash”. Is this an accurate description and could you elaborate a bit what kind of album you had in mind when you started the songwriting?
Martin: Yeah, it’s pretty correct I think, all within the sound that people know from our later albums. It’s not like a big shocker if you have been following what we have put out the last 10 years.
There was no blueprint on how this album should sound before I started to write and demo the songs. I only knew that I did want to make a themed concept album lyric wise, like we did with the zombies on the last album [Among The Dead, 2016]. So, pretty simple I just wrote the best possible 11 tracks during the writing sessions and that’s what we put down on the record. Sometimes it’s cool to plan out big concepts stories and get inspired to write the music from that point of view, and other times pure songwriting from the heart is what works. I went for the heart this time around.
What can you tell me about the lyrics on this album; despite not being a concept album is there an overall topic anyway?
Martin: The lyrics on this album is the most personal I have ever written for Iron Fire. I did not want any theme or concept this time around. Felt it was time to do a straight up honest no bullshit records. So, there is a little bit of everything on this one lyric wise. It’s pretty much just me pouring out thoughts I had just before I decided to change my life and move back to my native country. You know for some of us crazy music fanatics and songwriters making a new album can be almost like medicine for the soul and a good way to get all the bullshit off your chest.
Iron Fire’s last studio album was released in 2016. For how long have you been working on the upcoming album, and, I know you mentioned it earlier, but how has the songwriting process been like?
Martin: I wrote most of the new songs while still living in Norway a couple of years back, right after we did Among The Dead. I was moving from a house to an apartment and I was not sure where to do future demo recording, so I had to hurry up and get most of it done pretty fast. I ended up moving back to Denmark instead, so that solved the problem. I added a few more songs later on when I got settled in Denmark.
We wanted to put this album out sooner but then came the hole 20 years anniversary album we had to deal with and everything got a bit delayed. So, it’s mainly my songwriting as it always been, but sometimes Kirk [Backarach, guitar] do a track or two if we need more songs for an upcoming album. Gunnar is also a pretty good at doing lyrics, so if I’m stuck or burned out on that front I can always get help from him. The process of my songwriting is I do demos with programmed drums, guitar, bass and vox, and then I’ll send it to Kirk and Gunnar, and then we meet in the rehearsal room and incorporate their way of interpreting the playing for a fuller band feeling of the songs.
What are the plans after the album is released? I know there is a release party planned on 8th of March in Copenhagen; what can you tell me about that?
Martin: As always, we do a release party/concert in Copenhagen, where we play some of the new tracks and of course the «greatest hits». Then we got a few other shows confirmed right now, all in Denmark I’m afraid, but we hope to get out around in Europe a little more if we get an opening.
Nowadays getting on tour is about paying the headliner some insane amount of money to play 25 min shows with bad sound and 2 spotlights. Sure, if your 25 years old, naive and gunning for the rock-star dream, its cool. But for us right now, paying all those money to get on a Euro tour, is not so attractive. Well see what’s going to happen when the new album hit the streets – oh sorry, I meant YouTube…
No matter what, we are going to work for more live activity in the future and take a little longer between albums since the shit aren’t selling like it used to!
What are your thoughts about the future? Will you still be focusing on Iron Fire, or do you have other projects that you want to start up?
Martin: Both Kirk and I are involved with other bands, so stay tuned on social media on that matter. I got so many ideas for fun projects I want to do, and a lot of songs demoed on my hard drive from Prog Metal, Death Metal to Country Rock, but at the moment I have Iron Fire as my first priority and the promotion of our new album Beyond The Void.
First single from the upcoming album, Beyond The Void, is out. The album will be released March 8th on Crime Records.