It is unlikely that Heavy Metal fans living in London haven’t at least heard of Blood Island Raiders. With an impressive list of live gigs under their belt, supporting such bands as Cathedral, Electric Wizard and Mastodon most of the London crowd will have seen them play their energetic live set. BIR are all about the metal, and I caught up with the surprisingly modest (considering his achievements to date!) Reverend Al (guitarist) to find out what exactly is going on in Raiderland. It turns out that they are recording an album as we speak to follow up on their previous work, with the possibility of a tour in the offing for you lucky, lucky people!
Firstly, and most importantly, what brand of shampoo do you use?
Al: Herbal Essences. It may not be 'metal' but it would appear to be a hit with the ladies.
Why the name Blood Island Raiders?
Al: Cos it's metal! It came from a song by an old English thrash band Decimator. Seamus (O'Hooligan -bass) added the word Raiders and we thought 'no one else is gonna have a name like that'. We won't need any BIR(UK) type things and no-one's going to mistake us for nu-metal.
How did the band form?
Al: I literally tripped over Seamus on Charing Cross Road. He was a little worse for wear after an Overkill gig and he knew Alan, the drummer in the band I was in at the time - Mourn. Seamus would help out at gigs and hang out so when I 'left' the band we decided to get a band going. The last one we had was called Evil Knievel which was doing pretty well until the usual thing happened and it fell apart. We tried another singer but he wasn't up to the job. Luckily he found Paul (Sutherland - drums) for us. Warren (Britz - Vocals) and I were introduced by the Guy who runs the Crowbar. Warren offered to audition but we thought we'd found someone so said no. Oops. Though things worked out in the end.
Are there any plans for an album imminent?
Al: We are just about to start recording now though we're not sure when it'll be finished; possibly out in September. Before that will be a re-release of the Blessed are the Dead 12". It'll be on CD with live tracks if all goes to plan.
Any upcoming gigs or tours?
Al: Not too much planned at the moment as we need to finish the album first and then plan, though we are doing 4 dates with Scissorfight in May. There is talk of a small tour with Gonga as we'll be labelmates. And we did talk to Firebird about a few shows with them again too which would be cool as not only are they a killer band but Bill is one of the coolest people we know.
What got you into metal in the first place and what inspired you to first pick up a guitar?
Al: Tiswas!!!!! When Iron Maiden released Run To The Hills they appeared on Tiswas and that was it. I was immediately a Heavy Metal fan. That said, I remember loving the Slade song “We'll Bring The House Down” from the year before.
Has your opinion of metal changed at all since you first started to play? Is it still fun?
Al: I still totally love the bands I started listening too in the early 80s; Maiden, Saxon, Gillan, Motorhead, Hawkwind, MSG (and UFO of course but I heard MSG first) and the like. Later on I got into WASP and Manowar, then onto Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost and Kreator. Through that I got into all kinds of underground extreme bands and then onto Doom. I still enjoy old bands but I find very few big or popular bands still provoke a comparable feeling. I still hear Black metal, H/C and Doom bands that are exciting; whether it's Hate Forest or Tragedy, Satanic Warmaster or Witchcraft. The mainstream bands are less likely to get my attention as I tend not to enjoy their styles of music. I've no objection to bands being big but for the most part they have nothing for me.
Who writes the lyrics and what is their inspiration?
Al: Warren writes them himself. For some reason he doesn't trust me. He used to write more personal type lyrics but as the music has become more metal so have the lyrics. I really get annoyed at people slagging of the metal fantasy lyrics and saying that they want to hear real lyrics. Most of the 'real' lyrics are a load of contrived nonsense; people pretending they've had a hard life or that they're oh so angry. Songs about dragons ring truer than most of these doofuses' angst-ridden dirges.
How do you write your music? Do you have an idea before you start playing or do you just get together with the other guys and jam?
Al: I'll come up with riffs at home, and sometimes even structure ideas, and then we jam them as a band. We then think of titles we like and then Warren comes up with lyrics. Though sometimes, just sometimes, the title may have something to do with the lyrics.
What would be your ultimate goal as a musician? Any ambitions to play at Emissions or Doom Shall Rise – or Wacken?
Al: I'd love to play all of them. I want to record good albums and play to lots of people who actually are interested in hearing it. I'm not too fussed about being a famous person or big star but I'd like to play to people and be proud of the music I make. I'd love to play at Donnington just so I could say 'Scream for me, Donnington!'
How do you feel about the different formats available today? Do you think iPods will be the death of the CD? How do you feel about vinyl?
Al: People said CD would kill vinyl but the hardcore still buys vinyl in preference. The thing with iPods and MP3s is that the quality nowhere near as good but then a lot of people don't really care about that. It is having an effect on sales, and I suspect that people look at say an artist like Metallica or Madonna are reckon that as they've sold 100 million it's not really stealing if you download. Maybe it won't affect them, but it sure will have an effect on the underground were bands are selling 1-2,000 CDs. I think non-musicians often forget how much it costs to be in a band; it ain't cheap to buy amps and guitars.
Do you feel that being English is an important part of your identity as a band?
Al: Yeah, but don't tell Seamus! Warren has just got his British citizenship. We are sort of international - English, Irish and South African - but the band is very much a British /metal band. Our roots are very much in Sabbath, Maiden, Uriah Heap, Purple, Zeppelin, UFO and the like. We don't in any way think there's anything wrong with other countries, it's just this is where we are and we don't want to pretend to be something we aren't. No point singing about Ford Mustangs and shopping at K-mart if you use London Underground and shop in Tesco.
You play a lot of gigs in London. How do you feel about the London scene in general?
Al: For a start I think we're probably totally overexposed in London and people must be sick of us. We'll be playing a lot less in London. There are loads of good bands and we've got a lot of good friends here. Too many to name without forgetting half of them. I worry that there are too many gigs and so people get lazy and miss good shows. Gates of Slumber played to about 35 people for what was one of the best gigs of last year.
Your first gig was in 2002. How long have you been playing the guitar? Do you think you’ll ever get bored of playing? Do you think you’ll “grow out of” liking metal or are you a dyed-in-the-wool rivethead like Lemmy?
Al: I started playing pretty late really - When I was 15. As a 10 year old I'd fancied myself as a budding Bruce Dickinson but a complete inability to sing put paid to that. I remember at school people would say "oh you'll grow out of that music, I did". No, you were never into it, you bought a Megadeth shirt to impress a girl. (Someone actually did that!) I hear all the time people saying there tastes have matured and now they listen to Coldplay. That's not maturing like good cheese or a bottle of single malt whiskey; it's like bread going stale and then mouldy.
Would you say that your music is a specific genre or is it more dynamic due to the different influences of the band members? How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?
Al: Heavy Metal. Pure and simple. More and more people seem to divide and sub-divide genres; and to then reassign genres to old bands "They're not Death Metal; they're more Melodo-Viking death thrash" or "They're not Doom, they're stoner-funeral-fuzz..." We play heavy metal, influenced by all kinds of stuff from the 70s forefathers through to totally lo-fi black metal. along with punk/hc crust stuff and the Beatles.
Do you ever tailor your live set to suit your mood or a particular gig’s other bands?
Al: Yeah, sometimes we'll do mostly fast songs, other times we'll do a doom set with Warren playing some guitar. We've even done 3 guitars when we do Night Of The Frost live. It's weird though that we'll do songs that are pretty much thrash songs and then someone will review it and say how slow we are???
You’ve played with a lot of bands in your time. Which are your best and worst memories?
Al: Our first gig was with Cathedral and Electric Wizard so that was cool. We've played with too many great bands to single out any one. High On Fire, Gwar, Mastodon, Scissorfight, Grand Magus, Witchcraft, 5 Horse Johnson. It's a great life. And in previous bands I've played with At The Gates and Emperor so I can't complain. The worst gigs were at the end of Evil Knievel when we had a singer who didn't quite match. I'm not going into details but it wasn't good.
Which is the best gig you ever went to see?
Al: Iron Maiden in 86 will always be pretty special for me. Trouble and Candlemass in Stockholm in 03 was just mind-blowing; and I really need to get the DVDs of those shows soon. 16 Horsepower have always been amazing. And I have to say that the Scorpions set supporting Priest was killer.
Do you ever think you were Born Too Late or do you like where you’re at right now?
Al: I'd love to have seen Sabbath in their prime. And Grand Funk, oh and of course Maiden in 80. Metallica with Cliff. You could go on, but then there are also bands around today that are still amazing - Tragedy spring to mind!
Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
Al: Fans?? plural? crikey! Never settle for less than metal.
Interview © 2006