Interview with guitarist Chuck Keller
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 6, 2019
Kansas City-based warmongers, Ares Kingdom, are often considered one of the truest underground metal acts, having never compromised their sound and just sticking to their guns since the band was first put together in 1996.
During the past 20+ years, these noble underground metal soldiers have released several recordings, including three full-length studio albums, The Unburiable Dead being their latest opus, released in 2015.
At the moment they are working on their fourth studio album, titled By the Light of Their Destruction, which they are hoping to release this spring on Nuclear War Now! Productions.
Without further ado, let's call in Chuck Keller to tell us more about the songwriting process for their new album and what other things they have in store in the coming months...
Luxi: So, Kansas City is completely frozen ... long live winter, eh?
Chuck: Missouri can't make up its meteorological mind. A few days at -17 then up to 15 (that's Celsius for Europeans that can't conceive "Murican Fahrenheit'" ha ha!)—and now we're buried in snow again. It should begin to break by March when we start watching for tornadoes...
BY THE LIGHT OF THEIR DESTRUCTION
Luxi: You told me earlier that Ares Kingdom have a new album in the works and musically, the songs will be rawer, darker and more primitive sounding, having almost like a Vulpecula twist. Could you tell us more about the songwriting process for this album?
Chuck: I'll go into more detail in a minute, but generally the composition process hasn't changed. It's still me conceiving and outlining the new album's direction, themes, working song titles and flow, and writing the songs. What did change since The Unburiable Dead is the subject matter and general theme.
Luxi: Would you say that this new Ares Kingdom album sounds a bit like where you left off on Vulpecula's In Dusk Apparition EP 13 years ago, but still having the recognizable Ares Kingdom sound?
Chuck: Even before The Unburiable Dead was released in 2015, I was already worrying about the direction for the next album. I felt like I had finally said all I had to say with our original approach which dated back to 1996—a full 19 years at the time! One day, as we were waiting for TUD to be released, I was going through my archive and found old Vulpecula notes from around the time the band ended in 1999 and realized I had unfinished work in that direction. Deciding to pursue that old vision which I mistakenly believed was concluded all those years ago was the most natural decision in the world. And while it wouldn't be the first time Ares Kingdom absorbed old Vulpecula ideas such as "Ashen Glory," whose embryonic version was what made us think Vulpecula had reached an end, there was enough there to inspire me to continue the Vulpeculean voyage.
It was a great moment. Instead of writing music and lyrics about whatever came to mind, I had definite direction again. And it was inspiring since it would be familiar ground—but still challenging because there was stuff left to do—not to mention subject matter to explore that had evolved since then.
Luxi: Can you tell us where all this darkness comes from, as far as the overall atmosphere of your songs is concerned? The older we get, the grimmer and darker we will all turn mentally?
Chuck: Seems like the typical path as people age is to become more confused and frightened by the world, take shots at the younger generations and rising technologies they don't understand, and generally think everything is getting worse as visions of their mortality envelope them. That's not who I am, however. The darkness simply comes from picking up Vulpecula's mantle of celebrating the night. Whatever that means to the individual is up to them.
Luxi: Were the songs for this album mostly composed by you, maybe due to the darker and more primitive approach that reflects the days of Vulpecula, in some peculiar way?
Chuck: By the Light ... employed the same compositional approach as always. I conceived the songs and lyrics, wrote the music on guitar and recorded demos. I then turned the recordings over to Mike and Alex. Mike and I talked about rhythm and pacing, and once I'd expressed my vision, I left it to him to come up with drum parts that both served the song and satisfied his personal ambition as a drummer. Same with Alex; we went over guitar parts, I told him where I thought certain things on bass would fit but left it to him to work up bass parts that served the song and was satisfying personally. As the songs are rehearsed, we all tend to gradually alter our parts to mesh better with one another. While the scope and structure of each song stays true to my original vision, it's all three of us bringing our unique influences together that make it sound like Ares Kingdom.
Luxi: Is there a track off this new album that makes you more proud of it due to its musical or lyrical approach?
Chuck: I can't pick a "most special," but I'm certainly partial to "Dark Waters Eridanus", "The Bones of All Men," and "Iconologia."
Luxi: How much of a challenge was this new album, both as a song and a lyric writer? By now we know that it takes 4–5 years to come up with an album, but I was wondering whether you felt deep down in your creative soul that coming up with the songs for this album was somehow more exhausting, time-consuming and even challenging, at least on some level?
Chuck: While writing is always a challenge, writing this one was a fantastic experience and was the fastest I've ever written an album's worth of material and rehearsed it with the band. Sure, there were moments of frustration and wondering if I'd ever find the little detail a song needed—there always are—but it got there in the end. Like Vulpecula liberated me from the musical confines of OFC nearly 25 years ago, picking up where Vulpecula left off provided me the same psychological "reset," but this time no band change is required. Ares Kingdom is perfectly capable of taking the vision into the future.
ABOUT THE UNDERGROUND CULT STATUS
Luxi: Every Ares Kingdom album so far has been highly appreciated and loved by underground metal fans worldwide as you guys put so much sweat, blood, and tears into each one, metaphorically speaking. Do you believe that the band has achieved some sort of "cult status" among metalheads because you haven't made too much noise about yourselves, unlike some other "hyped" metal bands maybe?
Chuck: It's hard to say. Yeah, we've never been a flavor-of-the-month band or viewed as part of a momentarily popular trend but saying "cult" is probably going a little far. That said, we could probably triple the size of our fan base if we adopted mindless Satanic themes or did outrageous and controversial things for the hype, but that's just not who we are. We've been at this for a long time, since 1986 myself, and the quiet and genuine respect we receive from fans and peers is very satisfying.
Luxi: Can you remember the biggest compliment that you ever received from a fan and what it was?
Chuck: Yeah, that's easy. It's the day Quorthon told me he really liked Vulpecula and wore our shirt on one of his summer holiday Harley-riding trips.
Luxi: Did you use Very Metal Sound Studio to record this new album, just like you did with your previous album, The Unburiable Dead?
Chuck: Yeah, in fact, everything we've done except the first demo has been recorded at Very Metal Sound! There's no place like home.
Luxi: Does the album's title, By the Light of Their Destruction ... have a deeper meaning or is it just a cool album title for a metal album?
Chuck: The title is distilled from a line in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1898) from a scene when the heat-ray makes its debut on earth and decimates a large group of bystanders; "then by the light of their own destruction..."
Luxi: Could you open up about this album's lyrical approach a little bit? The lyrics of the band have always been written in a very intellectual way, thanks to your constant, sort of "inborn" willingness to create lyrical expressions that really make people think in a deeper way and from a different perspective compared to the (cheesy) lyrics of many other bands that are out there nowadays.
Chuck: I'm not too sure about my lyrics being all that intellectual, ha ha ha, but I do try to write in an original personal style. Long ago I began to apply the age-old advice that you should only write about what you know, and I think I've developed my own lyrical language through the years. I don't really know anything about Satan's demons raping Jesus and stringing infant guts from a line of headless corpses like holiday festoons in Hell. I have no interest in serial killers or horror/gore movies ("Dead Alive" excepted), so I'd be no good at writing about any of that, even though it certainly seems to sell! I'm left with writing about my own interests, ha!
And, like I've already said, with By the Light of Their Destruction, AK gets a fresh start by continuing the Vulpecula tradition of exploring science, history and mythology, perhaps a seemingly strange combination to our 21st-century sensibilities, but not as disconnected or mutually exclusive as some would assume.
STAYING TRUE TO THE WAYS OF OLDE
Luxi: How do you view the metal scene of 2019? Do you feel like every band tries to ape one another and most of them lack any type of originality or uniqueness these days? Are there some new metal bands out there that you can at least put some hope in what they are doing?
Chuck: Most bands have been aping older ones since the '80s, so there's nothing new or particularly disturbing in that for me. In fact, my favorite stuff these days is proudly derivative of crusty bands like Sacrilege and Bolt Thrower. There are lots of d-beat and crust bands around, but I'm more of a fan of those that slow down with lurching, sludgy riffs to complement their speed attack. Femacoffin, Lifeless Dark, and a more straightforward death metal band called Impure are my recent favorites.
All the same, there are bands like Necros Christos, Negative Plane, and Chapel of Disease that put out quality stuff, as well as older bands like Deströyer 666, Watain and Pentacle that stay true to the ways of olde. We play with lots of other quality bands, so I know there's good stuff out there still!
Luxi: Nuclear War Now! Productions should put out this new Ares Kingdom album either in March or April this year. Do you also have some plans to make a promotional video (or even two) prior to the album's official release, to get the album promoted a little bit more in advance?
Chuck: Yeah, we're hoping at least the CDs and digital releases can be out that soon. The layouts are finished and confirmed, so there will be no waiting for those. In terms of a promo video or two, it's definitely going to happen like it did for The Unburiable Dead. We have limited technological ability in that department, but we'll make something happen, and NWN! will do a press onslaught along with us.
SHOWS COMING UP
Luxi: What about touring plans? Have you already made plans as to when Ares Kingdom might hit the road again?
Chuck: The first gig of the By the Light of Their Destruction tour cycle will be at the second Metal Threat Festival in Chicago on July 7th. We're also slated for the Mass Destruction Festival in Atlanta this November and are working on a few more dates in the late summer—as of this interview (February 2019). We'll keep going until it's time to record the next record!
Luxi: It's quite unbelievable that it's been 23 years since Ares Kingdom was put together. I assume it's been quite a tough journey at times but still a very rewarding journey nonetheless...
Chuck: Like with any other band, there have been ups and downs—but mostly ups! I'm not sure what the percentage is of bands that makes it 20 uninterrupted years—stressing the word uninterrupted, by the way—but we do feel fortunate. A lot of our formula for success comes from having known one another for so long—between 30 and 46 years—that we're as much an extended family as we are simply friends and bandmates. We've been around one another for so long that most of our formative experiences as musicians have been taken together, and that counts for a lot.
Luxi: After this fourth studio album is out, should we prepare ourselves for waiting for the fifth album to be released sometime around 2023-24?
Chuck: Seems like a good guess. I have the next album mapped out already and am ready to dive into the composition part as soon as we put By the Light of Their Destruction on a master disc!
Luxi: Have you ever thought of going back to Vulpecula and doing new music with it when Ares Kingdom is no more?
Chuck: I'm pretty sure Ares Kingdom is my final band. It's a band with a broad enough scope and individual capabilities to explore whatever topics are chosen. The fact is that Vulpecula was the unique product of a moment in time that cannot be duplicated. Fortunately, Ares Kingdom was there to absorb some Vulpecula elements when it ended, and now has fully picked up where V left off, and we're heading to new stellar fields guided by that old spirit...
Luxi: I guess that's all I had in mind for this interview. Much thanks for your time, Chuck, and keep up the great work with Ares Kingdom as you always do, brother! If you have anything to add, then, by all means, be my guest ... ;o)
Chuck: As of the interview date, February 2019, we've released three online-only retrospective EPs through our Bandcamp page— areskingdom.bandcamp.com. We started last October with The Dust of Ages, then Red in Claw in December, and Instruments of War in February, each containing a mix of tracks from our back catalog of albums, singles and EPs, plus previously unreleased live songs from our performance at the 2016 Metal Threat Festival. They're available for download and free streaming. The final installment, Harbinger IV, will be released April 1st and be followed by By the Light of Their Destruction as soon as possible. Keep up with us through our website www.areskingdom.com and on Facebook.
Thanks for the great questions—as usual! Glad to catch up with you! DIE HARD!
|Other information about Ares Kingdom on this site|
|Review: Return to Dust|
|Interview with guitarist Chuck Keller on September 30, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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