Last month I discovered a fantastic heavy metal band out of the US with strong influences from the bands of the late 1970s (and a strong helping of Manilla Road too!). With the release of their new record, “Dungeon Crawler“, I had a chance to talk to Legendry’s frontman Vidarr, who had plenty of interesting insights about the band! While you’re reading, head over to their Bandcamp page to start jamming the new record!
Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Congratulations on the release of your great new record, “Dungeon Crawler”! The album immediately caught my eye as I’ve recently played games like Skyrim and Dark Souls and the cover art appeared to invoke similar imagery. What inspired these themes in your music and artwork?
Vidarr: Thanks! The inspiration for the album and imagery goes much further back than games like Skyrim and Dark Souls (which, admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to play). I have always been interested in dark ages history and fantasy works inspired by it. Everything from older dungeon crawler style video games to 80s barbarian films, weird fiction literature, and of course the wealth of medieval themed epic/power metal from the 70s till now have inspired us.
In heavy metal music, I have always sought depictions of medieval fantasy since I began truly exploring the genre as a young person. There is something simultaneously low brow and high concept about heavy metal that focuses on fantasy as a subject matter. It embraces the clichés, yet denies knowledge of their existence, presenting, in the best examples, an honest, and gloriously naïve work of art. This can be seen as a parallel to Robert E. Howard’s fictional barbaric characters and literature, which while cliché and formulaic (maybe they are the origin of these clichés), offer unique philosophical standpoints. It is escapism, to be sure, but, in some ways, it can help to charge one’s psychic batteries before returning to the “civilized” world.
I paint the cover art work for the Legendry albums, and as a visual artist, I am heavily inspired by painters like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Frazetta, to conjure up some very different styles and time periods. The source paintings for Legendry’s album art are oil on canvas, and their dimensions are 48”x24”, to accommodate gatefold style album sleeves.
With the Dungeon Crawler album cover, I wanted to create a scene which the listener can dive into and explore: there are a lot of small details and narrative elements to what is going on, especially the creature at the end of the hallway, for those who have not noticed it yet! A painting like this has its challenges, but heavy doses of early Manilla Road and dungeon synth help quite a bit in the inspiration department. The view down the hallway can also be seen as a callback to old RPG video games for the NES like Wizardry. We only use Photoshop for typesetting and logo placement, everything else is very traditional. I wanted it to feel like it would fit in among period album covers of the 70s and 80s, while not being a “throwback”.
SFM: Relative to similar bands that are restoring heavy metal/US power metal, Legendry has a more pronounced hard rock influence. What appeals to you about the bands from the 1970s like Riot, Rainbow, and others?
Vidarr: I am fascinated by the borderline between rock and roll and heavy metal, in a timeline sense more so than as a stylistic choice, but really, there’s a lot to love about 70s heavy metal and rock n’ roll. One of the big things that stands out for me is the drum sound, which, as a sound engineer, I have yet to really capture (there’s always the next album!). I am a firm believer that sound recording and production was perfected in the 1970s, and that information was lost in the digital dark ages of the 1980s. Only now can we see a resurgence of analog and organic sound qualities, now that the loudness wars are essentially over (yet their influence remains). Now, of course a lot of great album productions have come after the 70s, but anything close to mainstream often suffers from the technical tendencies of the day.
SFM: I was very surprised to hear an organ, or at the very least, Deep Purple-inspired keyboards appear on the record. How did the idea to use this sound come together?
Vidarr: My wife, Drea, is an accomplished musician, and piano is one of her more refined instruments. On the Mists of Time album, she played the doumbek (middle-eastern hand drum) solo on the song “Attack of the Necromancer” against Kicker’s conga beat, and the keyboards on “Phoenix on the Blade”, so naturally, I really wanted to have her play on this album as well. She plays the harp melody at the beginning of “Dungeon Crawler”, the rock organ throughout “The Edge of Time”, and a short solo in the breakdown of “The Conjurer”.
I think rock organ is really missing from a lot of music these days. We can likely blame the synthesizers of the 80s for killing off all the cool organic Hammond sounds, but it’s something that has really appealed to me about bands like Uriah Heep and Deep Purple.
One thing to note is that all the keyboards are live playing, no midi correction or programming or anything like that.
SFM: A lot of metal fans seem to be more focused on the extreme side of the genre these days (death and black metal in particular). Legendry obviously takes a very different approach. What is your take on the popularity of more extreme metal, and do you feel this impacts Legendry at all?
Vidarr: I spent many years diving into obscure black metal and more “abrasive” extreme styles of metal, and have spent a lot of time on my solo project Defeat in the past, which was a Viking black metal project similar to Bathory. When Legendry was formed, I wanted to start a stripped down, first wave black metal band (“Ancestors’ Wrath” has hints of this), but a different style presented itself when we picked up our instruments.
I think when it comes down to it; so many bands focus on negative emotions and subject matter that I think there’s nothing more I can add to that in a reasonably creative way. In Legendry songs, the hero triumphs against evil. There are introspective moments in Dungeon Crawler, but they eventually lead to a self-empowering outcome.
Part of this choice is that evil has been done to death in metal, and I think it’s a challenge to work around this to make interesting songs in which the good guy wins and saves the day.
SFM: The album opens with the lengthy title track. What made you feel that this song would be the best opener over a shorter, more “single-oriented” track like “Quest for Glory”?
Vidarr: Well, beginning with the longest song on an album is definitely the opposite of what many bands would do, and I considered moving the track to the end of the album, but eventually settled on keeping it at the front. The songs present juxtaposition, yet are sequential in the “dungeon crawler” concept. With “Quest for Glory”, we wanted to have a kind of “mood breaker” track, which forgoes the epic implications of a song like “Dungeon Crawler” in favor of a more rockin’ feel. The lyrics reference Manilla Road’s “Street Jammer”, especially the part of the song where Mark the Shark interjects with “Rock and Roll! Heavy Metal!” before the chorus comes in.
In the song “Dungeon Crawler”, a warrior protagonist is sent through a dimensional doorway into a barbaric world, where he sustains his existence by raiding dungeons for gold and plunder. This is both a nod to the old school video games I played as a kid, but also the Robert E. Howard novel, Almuric (which deals with a very similar subject matter, and I highly recommend!). Throughout the lyrics of “Dungeon Crawler”, our hero considers whether or not he would return to his own dimension if he could, yet eventually gives up on this hope, knowing there is really no possibility of return. In the following song, “Quest for Glory” this protagonist revels in his violent and rich lifestyle, and references heavy metal; leading us to believe he is from Earth in the current age.
Following these songs, the story is continued in “The Conjurer”, which deals with the primary antagonist: an unsuccessful wizard, who loses control of his conjurations. “The Edge of Time” completes the story on this album, where the warrior eventually accepts his new life, and this new dimension as home. I am planning to continue in this concept, and have some specific ideas for the next album.
SFM: Covering Lords of the Crimson Alliance is a choice that is sure to turn some heads in the underground metal community. Are there any similarly obscure bands and songs that Legendry may cover in the future?
I always loved that early Judas Priest albums had cover songs on them which fit in really well with their albums. Discovering Lords of the Crimson Alliance was one of my favorite finds in obscure metal in recent years. Everything about the band is so bizarre and mysterious, in just about every way. Our cover of “Swords of Zeus” is a tribute to their obscurity, plus I think that it fits in well with the other songs on the album. I had to listen to the song countless times to transcribe the lyrics, and I even had to write in some of my own to fill the gaps. Out of respect, I printed no lyrics in the CD booklet, so that no one would be able to put them up on the internet.
In the future, we will definitely throw some weird covers into our live set, but I don’t know whether we’ll put a cover song on the new album or not. For now, we are considering a cover of Gotham City’s “Monsters of Rock” (another of my all-time favorite obscure bands).
SFM: Legendry also released an album in 2016: “Mists of Time”. With a second experience under your belt from recording “Dungeon Crawler”, is there anything you would go back and do differently for your debut?
Vidarr: Of course! There are even quite a few things I would do differently on Dungeon Crawler. But to talk about Mists of Time First:
Mists of Time was actually the third full length album I’ve recorded (I recorded two full length Defeat albums prior to this). It must be stated that none of the albums I’ve recorded were done in a professional studio, they were all done with my portable home studio which I have named Landvidi (after the forest where the deity from Norse Mythology, Vidarr dwells). This presents a unique set of problems and strict limitations. For all of the limitations in room sound and equipment, it allows us to take our time to record, and allows me a lot of room for experimentation in mixing the material and adding details. For example, the sword sound effects on “Dungeon Crawler” and “Swords of Zeus” I recorded using some historical swords from my collections, so when I am credited as playing “swords”, it is no exaggeration!
With Mists of Time, I was trying a lot of weird techniques. The drums and rhythm guitars were recorded live at the same time, and then an additional rhythm guitar track was added, along with solos on top of that. I also played the bass guitars on the album. Another unusual thing I tried was to record vocals by singing through a Roland Cube keyboard amp in order to utilize the analog spring reverb it had. I recorded a direct out into my mixer (which is only a small 10 channel Peavey), while plugging a “dead” cord into the headphone jack to bypass the speaker.
Looking back on Mists of Time, I would have dialed back the reverb overall, and brought the drums and vocals up in the mix. I will have a chance to do these things in the near future, as we are planning an LP release of the album in the next year (remixed and remastered!).
SFM: How have you seen the band’s popularity change between the two albums?
Vidarr: When we released Mists of Time, it was basically out of nowhere. We had secured a deal with Non Nobis, and the plan was simply to put out a CD and see what happened. Our drummer, Kicker, and I had recorded the album as a duo, as our original bassist, Choo, had left the band during that recording period, so live performances were not possible. It wasn’t until Evil St. Clair joined us on bass that we were able to play live. We eventually picked up some publicity with the handful of live performances we did over the last year, but things really started picking up with the release of the new album. We had some great coverage on Bandcamp’s Best of Metal lists, being included both on the November and year-end “best of” lists, so that has helped get the word out a great deal. We have gotten a lot of positive reviews so far as well, which is very encouraging.
SFM: Both albums were released on Non Nobis Productions. How did you get in contact with this label and what was your experience like working with them?
Vidarr: When Kicker and I finished recording Mists of Time, I had a huge list of record labels I pitched the release to, Non Nobis Productions responded with a favorable deal. The label is based in Portugal, and run by the bassist of metal band Leather Synn, Carlos. He has been very supportive of our work, and very accommodating as far as what we want out of the releases, so it has been very positive working with the label. Dungeon Crawler was co-released by both Non Nobis and Underground Power Records from Germany, as they decided to team up in releasing the CD and LP.
SFM: Any last words for the fans out there?
Vidarr: We are very grateful for the positive response to our creative efforts. It means a a lot to us to see that people are really digging the album, understanding the meanings of the lyrics, and picking out our influences. The fact that the unspoken ideas behind our music are communicated to others is very rewarding.
SFM: Be sure to check out and like Legendry on Facebook!