This next interview is with another one of my all-time favourite bands, Crimson Shadows. I have been a longtime fan of the band after discovering them 6 years ago, and it's been great to see their rise to fame. With the upcoming release of their new album, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a retrospective interview covering the band's entire career. This interview is with lead vocalist Jimi Maltais! Big thanks to him as he did a great job answering all these questions. Enjoy!
Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Hi guys! Congratulations on the upcoming release of your fantastic new record on Napalm Records. Before we get to that album, I want to start way back at the beginning. Crimson Shadows formed seemingly out of the ashes of two bands, Swords of Scorn and Intensify. Can you talk a little bit about how Cory, Ryan, and Greg met up with Jimi and original bassist Sean McCaw?
Jimi Maltais: Thank you so much for the compliments and for taking the time to interview us.
I could be mistaken but I think that we were originally introduced to each other through the guitar player of Intensify, Tommy Patey. He was dating Greg's older sister and it was that connection that brought us together. Ryan and Cory would have campfire parties at their parents place and invite all their friends down as well as being pretty lenient with their friends bringing friends as well. I was brought to one of their parties by Tommy and we slowly but surely forged our friendship from then on.
When Ryan, Cory, Greg and I started working on Crimson Shadows material, we originally sent out ads looking for bass players in the area that could keep up with the other guys. I ended up asking Sean (after talking about it with the Crimson guys earlier) if he was interested in playing bass for us and that's how the first lineup got together.
SFM: By 2007, you had already put out your first EP. I’d always thought the best description of this EP was “Dragonforce with extreme metal vocals”. Do you think this is accurate? What were you hoping to achieve with the EP?
Jimi: At the time, it was about as accurate as you could get. We hadn't found our "sound" yet but we had a really good idea of what we wanted to do. Say what you will about Dragonforce, but we did (and still do) take it as a compliment when people compare us to them. The main goal was to always just create music that we weren't hearing in our scene. We are all big fans of the music coming out of Europe and there wasn't any bands in the Toronto scene that were taking an influence from that.
With the release of that first EP, all we wanted to do was get our name out there and have something at our table for people to remember us by. It was never officially pressed anywhere. We made all the CD's at Cory and Ryan's parents place by buying all the materials from a local Staples store. We didn't want to be one of those bands that plays shows, and has nothing at their merch table. We made those CD's before we had our first shirt printed.
SFM: Originally I was under the impression that the EP contained only four tracks, but I was later informed that you guys included a version of “Kingdom of Ale” as well as a cover of “Valhalla” on the EP. How many pressings of the EP were? Were both of these tracks included on every pressing after the initial one? I picked up my copy at the Edguy show in late 2008, and that is the version with just 4 tracks.
Jimi: I honestly don't think any of us know how many of those "bonus" CD's we made, but if i was going to have to take a guess, I'd say that we only made about a hundred of them. We had a period of five years between those EP's and Glory on the Battlefield so we wanted to have something to give to our fans that was a little more and show them that we were planning to record the new songs that we had been playing at shows around that time. Both of those songs were included in every subsequent pressing of the album once they were recorded.
That's amazing that you were at that show. That was the first big show that we ever played. When we first started out as a band, our goal was to open for a huge band that we loved at one of the bigger local venues. I'm pretty sure there is a video of "Kingdom of Ale" still on YouTube from that show. My stage presence back then is pretty cringe worthy but everyone has got to start somewhere. You should probably check it out and have a good laugh.
SFM: Throughout 2008 and 2009, I noticed you guys formed a close connection with local power metal band Borealis. In those two years alone, I saw both bands at the same show 3 times, and Jimi went on to do guest vocals on the first track of Borealis’ second album. Tell us a little bit about how you hooked up with those guys? Is there any chance of a Crimson Shadows/Borealis show in the future? It’s been a few years since we’ve seen one of those.
Jimi: We first hooked up with them back in 2007 and it was by pure fluke. We were both playing one of those "pay to play" shows where the promoter gets you to sell twenty tickets at $15 a pop and you're not allowed to play until you give him the money. Even if you don't sell all the tickets you're still on the hook. We were a young band and didn't know any better so we did what we did to get our name out there.
When we originally saw them, they only had Matt on guitar and had a female singer. If people would say "Crimson Shadows is like Dragonforce" then it wouldn't be a hard stretch to say "Borealis is like Nightwish". I remember Cory, Ryan and I were watching their singer and said to each other that "they need to lose the girl on vocals, and get another guitar player. That guitar player has the voice of an angel, so he should just take over doing vocals." Lo and behold, that's what they did. We still have a little inside joke that we should have charged them for the advice.
We would love to do some shows with them again and we consider them close and amazing friends to have. If I'm not mistaken, I'm pretty sure they're currently in the process of writing their third full length album. I'd love to throw down some vocals for that if there's room for me on the album.
SFM: Also in those years, you guys had a variety of great opening spots for huge power metal bands that came through Toronto. It seems like the show that really brought you guys a lot of attention was the Dragonforce show in October 2011. Tell us a bit about the fan reaction during and after that show?
Jimi: That show is really the springboard to what we are now. We practiced four times a week and two sets per practice leading up to that show. At the time, that show was everything to us. When we got on stage, we had some fans in the audience but I think it would be a fair estimation that that maybe only 10% of the audience knew who we were.
When we were done with our set, that place exploded. It was the first time I ever had people coming up to me asking for autographs and to take pictures with them. Looking back on it, the experience was pretty surreal.
SFM: Did you guys get to meet Dragonforce? Did they have any feedback for you about your performance and sound, since there are some strong similarities between the two bands?
Jimi: Funny thing, but Ryan, Cory and I had partied with Dragonforce in the winter of 2006 in Quebec City after a power metal festival that they played with Kamelot. I commemorated the event by getting "717" tattooed on my leg which was the hotel room that we partied in. It was the first time I had the opportunity to hang out with musicians that I looked up to. When we were doing our load-in to the venue, Sam recognized me and gave me a huge hug.
After the set, when we were all having a smoke outside Sam said to us "You can definitely hear that we influenced you but you guys didn't rip us off. You took what we did and you made it your own." It was the compliment that I had been waiting years to hear.
SFM: Around this time, you released your first full-length album, “Glory On The Battlefield”. I’m wondering if you can clear up the release date. Although I had a ticket to the Dragonforce show, I was unable to attend, but I heard there were copies available for sale at that show. Is this true? I bought mine from your manager in November 2011, but I know the CD release show was in February 2012, and that is generally considered the “official” release date for the album. When was the album first available for sale/“released”?
Jimi: It was available for sale for that one show and that was it until it's official release in February of 2012. We had been doing some promotion at the time, and some flyering, letting people know that the new album was coming out. We had a feeling that the fans of Dragonforce would love us, so we just released the album for that one show and it ended up bring pretty profitable for us. We used that money to rent out the Hard Luck bar for our CD release show and ended up selling out the venue which was a first for us as a headlining act in Toronto.
SFM: At the album release show, you filmed a music video for “Beyond The Mountain Wasteland”. What was the reaction to this music video? I also have noticed over the years that you tend to close a lot of shows with that song. Is that the biggest fan favourite (at least until the new album comes out)?
Jimi: We actually filmed that music video at a show that was a few months after the CD release, as part of a promotion with AX Media. They helped us film the official video for "Lost in a Dark Forest" as well as the play-through videos for "For the Glory of the Throne" and "Beyond the Mountain Wasteland".
The reaction was out of control. We had made it public a couple weeks before that we were going to film a live video there so people really brought out all their energy. The response online was also really good. It gives people an idea of what to expect when they come to a Crimson Shadows show.
It is definitely up there with "Lost in a Dark Forest" as a fan favourite. When people look us up online, they will often go to YouTube and see the official videos that we have released. With the release of the new lyric video for "Rise to Power", people are really starting to get into that one as well, which is amazing. We really hope everyone likes the new songs.
SFM: Your first album featured a lot more vocals from Greg than the first EP did, but he’s always been singing as “Kingdom of Ale” has been around for a long time. When did you guys decide you wanted to incorporate more clean vocals?
Jimi: I don't think it was ever a conscious effort to include more screaming or singing in anything that we did. It always falls back to what is best for the song. Greg has an amazing singing voice so it would be negligent of us if we didn't incorporate that into our songs. We are always concerned about the best final product that we can make.
As Greg got better and better at both playing guitar and singing simultaneously, we started using it more. It also really helps us stay with our power metal roots to have a good clean singer, and now with the addition of Morgan on bass, the chorus sections sound even more full and complete.
SFM: Around this time, bassist Morgan Rider joined the band. He came from Vesperia where Cory was also doing drums. How did the two bands get hooked up together?
Jimi: We originally hooked up with them because just like Borealis, we were billed together. Before Vesperia was a thing, they used to be called Bolero and they played a lot of shows with Crimson Shadows. They had a very viking/pagan/folk sound to them so our styles meshed perfectly as support for larger acts that would roll through Toronto. Morgan also filled in for us as a temporary bass player while we were searching for a replacement for Sean after he left the band.
SFM: You guys have had a few bassists over the years, and while all of them have been incredibly talented, it seems like a bit of a position of instability for the band. In fact, I even saw one Crimson Shadows show without a bassist (April 2011 opening for Cauldron/Holy Grail). What does Morgan bring to the band?
Jimi: It's funny that you mention that show. That was the first show we played live to a click track and we just plugged in an IPod with the bass tracks and plugged that into a bass amp with a picture of our old bass player on top of it. We still joke and laugh about that night. We also took that show on four days notice, but it's awesome to hear that you were there and saw that.
Morgan is the bass player that we've been waiting to have since we started the band. He is an incredibly talented musician, writer, and singer and he has the right attitude that someone needs to be a touring musician. He is in it for the long haul, like we all are, and it's great to be part of a team where everyone is on the same page with their goals.
SFM: In 2012, you guys played the Spread The Metal Festival in Halifax, which featured bands like Morbid Angel and Cryptopsy. This seems like another moment where you guys gained a lot of momentum. Tell us about this show and how it impacted your popularity.
Jimi: That was an incredibly billed festival that ended up affording us the opportunity to hang out and meet some amazing bands that we wouldn't have had otherwise. Our van engine had exploded the previous day so we rented a Uhaul cargo van, crammed everyone and everything into the back, and made our way to Halifax. That show/tour leading up to it is the main reason we have fans on the East coast of Canada.
SFM: The following year, you released the “Sails of Destiny” EP. Other than “Moonlit Skies and Bloody Tides”, it seems like this marked a move towards shorter, more concise songs. Was this a conscious decision, or something that just happened naturally in the songwriting process?
Jimi: It was a conscious decision that we made. We will always have long and epic songs but it's pretty hard to film a music video for a nine minute song when you're on a budget. We also found that we lost the energy of the crowd when we played too many long songs back to back. Our first EP in 2007 was only four songs and I believe the length of the album was 28 minutes. Our new album has 10 songs and it's about 52 minutes. It should be noted that just because a song is shorter, doesn't mean that we compromise the quality of the song. If a song doesn't meet our standards then it simply doesn't make it to an album.
SFM: Also that year came the moment that really catapulted you guys to the top: the Wacken Metal Battle. In the finals, both Crimson Shadows, and Vesperia were involved. How did you approach this situation, knowing that potentially one band could go and the other couldn’t?
Jimi: It was definitely a nail biter for sure. The guys and I had gone to the Vesperia battles for the first two rounds and we were happy for them because we weren't competing against them at that time. When Vesperia was tearing it up on stage in the finals there was a moment that Ryan and I looked to each other and said "Well it looks like Morgan and Cory are going to Wacken. I guess it's just a question of who is going to go with them". In the end, we are all brothers and we support each other in what we do and we were lucky enough to come out on top.
SFM: Once in Wacken, you guys won the whole competition. Did you guys think after your set that you had won? Who did you think was the best competition?
Jimi: There was not a moment where we ever thought that we would have taken the championship. We were just enjoying every moment we could spend at that amazing festival. We had a conversation as our intro music was playing and we said "no matter what happens after this, we're here and nobody can take this away from us. We make the best that we can after this and after we're going to drink and eat as much as humanly possible".
The band after us was an incredible technical death metal band from Iceland, and I was convinced that they were going to win. I stood next to their drummer for their entire set and my jaw was on the ground watching him. I'm pretty sure they were called Obsidian I.
SFM: I went to Wacken in 2012 and it was truly an unbelievable experience. How did you guys enjoy the festival aside from your set? There are obviously some metal festivals in North America, but nothing of that grandeur. Do you think something like that could happen in North America?
Jimi: Being at Wacken was quite simply (and cliché) one of the best times of my life. Metal in Europe is a religion. Straight up. The food, the music, and the overall atmosphere was something that is so hard to describe, other than it being as close to perfection as one could get.
I do think it's possible to perhaps build something up to that level in North America, but I genuinely don't know how it could be done. Europe has such a huge population and so many countries close together that it makes it a lot easier for people to travel to festivals. If you live in Europe, you can drive 15 hours and drive through four or five countries. If you do the same thing in Ontario, you'd be lucky to make it past two provinces.
SFM: Despite winning, you guys chose not to sign with Nuclear Blast. I have heard this has been the case with other Metal Battle winners in the past, likely because they do not offer a particularly great deal. You obviously secured a deal with another great label, Napalm Records, but how much interest did you have from labels after you returned to Canada?
Jimi: Winning the Wacken International Metal Battle puts your band on the radar of every major label in the metal industry. We received a few offers from other labels but in the end, Napalm Records offered us the best deal for a new artist and we went for it. The people at that label are dedicated at taking us to the next level and we couldn't be happier with everything that they have done for us. I really hope we can keep this relationship for years to come.
SFM: Your new album, “Kings Among Men”, is set to be released in North America on September 9. What can you tell fans about the upcoming album?
Jimi: In my opinion, this is the definitive Crimson Shadows album. We have found our sound and we have found what works for us. Although you can still hear our influences, I don't know if it's fair to say now that we are "Dragonforce with extreme vocals", rather than just saying that we are an extreme metal band with power metal and melodic death metal influences. We rerecorded the tracks off of the "Sails of Destiny" EP but rearranged them as well. We've got five brand new tracks that really serve as a good indication of the direction that we're moving in.
SFM: One question I have to ask (as I bring this up probably too often) is about the song “Ruler of Mankind”. I recall Cory saying there was some sort of recording issue during “Glory to the Battlefield”, which is why it’s not on that album. Did it not make the cut for “Kings Among Men”? Will we see that song in the future?
Jimi: Yeah, we had some technical difficulties with that song even though it was recorded and completed in the studio. When we got the tracks they were corrupted and the studio had deleted all the master tracks. We would simply have to rerecord everything and that was not an option with all the time constraints and everything else we had going on at that time.
When we were recording "Kings Among Men", it did come up in conversation whether or not to include this on the new album but with already having 52 minutes of material we made the decision to put it on the back burner for a little more and showcase all the new material.
We wrote "Ruler of Mankind" back in 2009 and it still holds up today so never count it out that it won't be on a future release. Maybe we'll keep it the way it is, or we will adjust it like we did with the old "Sails of Destiny" tunes.
SFM: At your most recent Toronto show with Nekrogoblikon, Jimi mentioned that this show was probably the last time we’d hear “Beyond The Mountain Wasteland” for a while. Are the “Glory To The Battlefield” songs being retired?
Jimi: For now they are. This is our first major release and people are going to be expecting to hear songs off of the album that they know which will be "Kings Among Men".
When we get a little bigger and are able to do some headlining sets, we will definitely bring out some of the older songs for fans, like yourself, who know them. For a while, we're only going to have a half hour set so we need to keep it to the new tunes so we can push this new album.
SFM: You have an album release/Europe fundraiser show on September 6th at the Hard Luck Bar. What can you tell fans about this show? At your last album release show for the first album, you busted out a rare tune (“Death, Power, Glory”). Will you be doing something similar for this show?
Jimi: For our CD release show this time around, we are going to be playing all of the new songs off of the new album which includes a couple songs that we have never played live before. It'll be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to tunes that they've never heard. We are also going to be playing a couple songs off of "Glory on the Battlefield" and then those songs will be retired for an indefinite amount of time. We will also be offering people the opportunity to buy our CDs and vinyl records three days before the album is officially released online. People will also be able to pick up their Indiegogo perks from us at the merch table.
SFM: You’re currently raising money through an Indiegogo campaign to help get the band to Europe to join Alestorm on tour. What I love about how you guys have done it is that you’ve been extremely specific about the expenses you will incur to make this tour happen, as well as the other money you have coming in. Do you think this helps you raise money? How has the campaign been going so far?
Jimi: I think it helps us become more relatable. Most of the time, people think that when you're in an band that it's all groupies and getting wasted every night and that's simply not the case. This band is our business and we are the owners of it. We want to be completely honest with our fans on our intentions. We're not looking for a hand out. We are offering some very special incentives, experiences, and merchandise in exchange for money. There is no part where we are just asking for money and not giving something back in return. I really feel that as the future of the music industry is decided, this will definitely start to become a norm and as a fan, you know exactly where your money is going and what it is being used for.
The campaign is going splendidly but we still need your help so make sure you go tohttps://www.indiegogo.com/projects/crimson-shadows-fall-european-tour-with-alestorm and check out all the awesome things we have to offer.
SFM: What is next for Crimson Shadows after the European tour?
Jimi: Tour, tour and more touring. We have to get our name out there, and the best way to do that is playing in the towns of new fans while riding on the coattails of bands that they already enjoy. Hopefully Europe will put us on the map, and after that we will get some offers for some more tours supporting some big name bands. We want to do this for the rest of our lives, and although we have been a band for eight years, we are only just starting our conquest on the global stage.
SFM: Is there anything we haven’t covered in this interview you want to bring up? Any last words for the fans?
Jimi: This is honestly one of the best interviews that I have done in a long time and you've pretty much covered all the bases, so thank you so much for being an amazing interviewer and doing your research on the band. It really makes for a great interview when we don't have to drone on about the same things that people ask us over and over again.
For the fans, thank you so much for everything you have done to help us live out our dreams of playing music for a living. Since we were kids air guitaring and drumming on our beds, being in a band is all that we ever wanted to do and now we are lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to take this band to the next level. We have you all to thank for it.
If you ever see us somewhere, don't hesitate to come up and say hello. We love meeting you all and we always have time to stop and chat because without you, we would be nothing.