Chrome Division have put a brand new engine in their infernal rock

The upheaval in Chrome Division’s line-up these past few years was bound to impact the band’s future productions in some way – but how much exactly? Frontman Shady Blue, who stepped into Eddie Guz’s shoes at the time of 3rd Round Knockout, told us in the following interview that the inclusions of Damage Karlsen on guitar and Ogee on bass have considerably bettered the band’s music. For the vocalist, those two are undeniably talented – that’s particularly the case for Karlsen, who replaces Ricky Black, who left the band of his own volition two years ago.

This brand new Chrome Division is intensely creative and now boasts a pair of guitarists (Shagrath and Karlsen) who don’t dawdle when it comes to composing – to the point that Infernal Rock Eternal, the band’s latest album, was composed exclusively by them. The singer, for his part, took care on his own of the record’s vocal parts. The cogs might be new, but the machine is already running smoothly.

Strong alchemy now reigns in Chrome Division, and despite everybody’s various side-projects, the band focuses heavily on their music. Shady Blue told us all about it with passion and honesty. He even talked about the Ricky Black affair and his departure, as well as the story surrounding Karlsen’s audition and his own projects, Susperia and Borknagar.

About Ricky Black: « We gave him chance after chance, but suddenly he just stopped showing up. So we were forced to just let him go. We had no choice. »

Radio Metal: Two years ago, it was announced that Bjorn Luna and Ricky Black were not in the band anymore. We know that Luna left because of his parental duties, but what happened with Ricky?

Shady Blue (vocals): Yeah, that’s a good question… [Laughs] To this day, I’m not quite sure. Problems started already during the recording of 3rd Round Knockout. He was always coming to the studio sessions late and there was a lot of stupid excuses and stuff… It was really a kind of frustrating period but anyway, we got the album done and it was all good, but in the time that followed he did the same thing, he started not showing up for rehearsals with all these kinds of excuses… We had these problems for almost 6 months, and we were telling him again and again: “You have to be there, you have to step up, you have to commit yourself to the band…” We gave him chance after chance, but suddenly he just stopped showing up. So we were forced to just let him go. We had no choice. We had to move on. That’s a sad story but that’s the way it is, that’s the way it happened, really.

OK, are you still in touch with him?

Not on a daily basis. We don’t talk so much on the phone like we did before. I bump into him every now and then in town, we’re still friends and we can talk to each other. He’s always asking how we’re doing and what’s going on with the band. He’s very sad that the things happened the way they did but… Come on man, it’s your own fault! He sort of agrees with that fact. It’s all good, you know, but yeah… It’s sad it happened like it did, but that’s how things go sometimes…

It was said that Luna would work with you from behind the curtains of doom and contribute on the lyrical side. So what was his implication on the lyrics?

I have to admit that I was maybe a bit egotistical on this album [laughs], because he actually sent me 3 or 4 lyrics that were quite OK, but I did not used them for the album, I have to admit… Nothing wrong with the lyrics, but I had such strong visions for the songs on this album I really wanted to write my own lyrics and have my own personal influence on each and every one of them. But yeah, I have kept these lyrics so you never know, maybe we’ll use them next time!

Isn’t Luna frustrated not to be able to go on stage with you guys?

No, actually not because his exit from the band was really nice and quiet, with no stress or troubles. He announced the 3rd Round album would be his last effort with the band, and then he would pull back. He had already turned 40 years old and had his first child, so he said he would commit his time and dedication to his family and his newborn child. He didn’t want to stand in the way of the band: he was not ready to do more touring and more traveling, so instead of holding the band back, he just pulled out and wished us all the best of luck. He’s not so interested in playing shows and traveling around the world anymore, he has other priorities now.

« We had imagined a really long time of auditions […] but actually the first guy we invited to the auditions was Damage [Karlsen], and it took him like 3 minutes to convince us! »

Apparently Damage Karlsen’s audition was incredible, can you tell us more about it?

Yeah, that was a funny story because one of the reasons we gave Ricky Black chance after chance was because he has an enormous talent. He’s an extremely good lead guitar player, so we were really stressed out when he started to disappear from the band. “What the hell are we going to do now? He’s so good, he’s unreplacable!”, we thought. But actually the studio engineer on the 3rd round album told us about this guy called Damage Karlsen. I knew his name and I’d seen him once or twice before, but I never knew him. But anyway, he was the number one choice for us to try out. We had imagined a really long time of auditions and a lot of people in and out, but actually the first guy we invited to the auditions was Damage, and it took him like 3 minutes to convince us! We started the first song – he had 3 songs he had rehearsed – and once the solo came up, me and Shagrath just looked at each other and fucking just laughed… He was so fucking good! There was no question. One song, and we just shook his hand like: “OK man, you get the job!” [laughs] That was just incredible. Damage’s maybe even a bigger talent than Ricky was. He comes from a metal background but so do we, I mean Dimmu Borgir, Susperia, we’re all metalheads… That’s not an obstacle really, but we were thinking: “How will this guy do the blues and rock’n’roll solos?” and actually, that was no problem at all. He’s got such a fantastic range of guitar playing, whatever you ask him to do, he can do it! It’s just amazing.

Apparently, Damage Karlsen and Ogee have contributed a lot to the writing of the album. Can you tell us more about this, about the new influences they brought to the music?

First of all, I would like to mention the whole chemistry of the band now… It feels we have just the right team now, it’s a real driving force, all of us, all the 5 people in the band… Things have never felt so good in the band as they do now. Instead of sitting at home like many people do these days, in their own studio, jamming for themselves, we meet up at least once a week, often two times a week at the rehearsal place, and we jam. Sometimes we don’t make shit and just go home [laughs], other times we can actually make a full song or even two. The last two years with the new line-up was a real team effort. Minimum once a week we meet up and we jam; we have created the last album in this way. We have just created the album together in the rehearsal space, time after time, doing it over and over again… It has taken two years, yes, but it’s been worth it, because we had worked so hard on these songs, polished them to perfection before we even thought about going to the studio to record them. We hope this hard work is going to pay off because it’s been two years of writing songs, but I really feel it’s been worth it. Luna was a bass player doing it just for fun, but comparing him to Ogee… Ogee is a real rhythm and bass kind of guy, he has a real passion for the bass, so the groove he creates is something completely different. Also the songwriting of Damage combined to the one of Shagrath… It’s something totally new and really inspiring that we have gone through the last two years.

This album is the most varied Chrome Division record. “Lady Of Perpetual Sorrow” reminds us of the ballads of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Not Bet For Free” reminds us of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”. Was it a conscious effort to make this album as diverse as possible?

We didn’t have a plan, actually. It all boils down to the fact that Shagrath has his way of writing songs, as I told you Damage has a completely different way of writing songs, but the two of them kind of complete each other. They fulfill each other in the way they are writing. Shagrath can write half a song and then Damage come and complete it and vice-versa; they have two different styles but they work really well together. And since they have written 50% of the album each, of course it’s gonna be a lot of varied songs, but that’s interesting, I think it’s a really good thing. About “The Lady Of Perpetual Sorrow”, we didn’t plan to make a ballad, no, not at all, I think we were just having a couple of beers at Shagrath’s house one time, he pulled out the acoustic guitar and started jamming, and he came up with this main riff that’s in the song and immediately, I was like: “Man! This is gonna be on the album! This is fucking good stuff, man!” We just took this riff and worked on it, and it turned out being a very melancholic, depressive song with a slow tempo. But we never thought about making a ballad, you know, like the power ballad from the 80s’, that wasn’t our plan at all. The song just came alive, and then it was really something special, like a real non-typical Chrome Division song. It had something special to it, so we really had to complete it to see how it would turn out. When I hear how it turned out on the album, I was like: “Wow!”… It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. We actually made a music video for it last week. It’s gonna premiere very soon now.

« It feels we have just the right team now, it’s a real driving force, all of us, all the 5 people in the band… »

Do you think this diversity comes from the new chemistry with the new band members?

Yeah, maybe so… I mean, speaking objectively? Because I wasn’t part of the two first albums, Doomsday Rock ‘n’ Roll and Booze, Broads & Beelzebub. I feel that these two albums were more in the same vein, more classic, dirty rock’n’roll, Doomsday stuff from Chrome Division, but when I came in on the 3rd album, there was a slight change in the songwriting because I have a different range than Eddie Guz had, so we could make more different songs. For instance, we had a blues song, “The Magic Man”, on the 3rd album… There was some varied songs in the 3rd album as well, I think the change maybe started on the previous album. I paid some respect to the old stuff, sounding like Eddie Guz, but also bringing my own personality into the band. It was like a mixed thing, but this time on the 4th album it’s all me: I wrote all the lyrics myself, and all the arrangement on the vocals were done from scratch by me. Of course, when you change the vocalist in a band you’re bound to have some changes anyway, but when you change the lead guitar player and the bassist, more changes will come to the band. I feel that we still have Chrome Division’s essence, but with more interesting songwriters in the band than before, if you know what I mean.

Apparently, you’ve been working on this album for more than two years. Was it only because of the line-up change or was there another reason?

Well, there’s always the fact that Shagrath has Dimmu Borgir, fuckin’ world’s biggest black metal band, a band takes a lot of his time, and I have done some stuff with Susperia, and lately I’ve been a session member for Borknagar as well, I did some shows with them… I mean, we have a lot of other stuff to do, but that doesn’t mean that Chrome Division is not a priority for us. In the beginning 10 years ago, Chrome Division was a project, but today it is a real band, so we take it just as seriously as anything else we do. But it’s hard sometimes to give 100% focus to one thing when you have so much to do. I don’t know why it took so long. We felt like this time, we wanted to be 100% done with all the material before we went into the studio. On 3rd Round Knockout, not everything was prepared and it was a bit stressful in the studio, making-up as we went along. Some songs didn’t turned out the way we hoped, so we decided whatever if it takes us 2 years or 5 years, we will do this 100% before we go into the studio.

Isn’t the fact that you have all of these sides projects so you can’t really focus on Chrome Division frustrating, or do you enjoy having all those different projects?

Yeah of course, it’s good to have different elements in your life, you don’t have to be stuck in one thing. For me personally, I like to mix it up and have different stuff to do. To be in a black or heavy metal band is a totally different world from being in a rock band. You really have to set your mind on what you’re doing, and it’s hard to turn things around. You’ve been doing one thing for a while, and then you’re trying to do another thing, you have to shift your whole attention; it’s a real transition of the mind. But anyway, I like the variation in my life and the different challenges. I love metal music, I love rock music, and I love to do both! I would be tired of doing just one thing, you know. I’ve been doing Susperia for like 15 years now and it’s not that I’m tired of the band, but it’s healthy for the mind and for the soul to be doing something else, to have different influences and different challenges. One thing inspires the other.

« It’s healthy for the mind and for the soul to be doing something else, to have different influences and different challenges. One thing inspires the other. »

Back on the album: the drum beat at the beginning of “Mistress In Madness” really reminds us of Motörhead’s “Overkill”. Was it intended?

Actually not, that was nothing that was planned from our side. We recorded the song just normally and that was actually the engineer, the producer who came up with the idea of turning off all the microphones and just having the overhead microphones which captures only the cymbals. He presented the idea to us and we were like: “Yeah, that was cool”, it sounded really dirty, like a rehearsal tape, and then suddenly when the whole band comes in it’s like full volume. We didn’t think it was like anything like Motörhead. I know what you mean when you say it now, but I didn’t think of it like that, no [laughs].

About the title of the album: actually, “infernal rock” could be a cool definition of your music, do you agree with that? Do you think Chrome Division is playing infernal rock?

Yeah of course! Our personal genre, if you will, is doomsday rock’n’roll. That’s what the first album is called, that’s how people have since then called our style of music: “Yeah, Chrome Division? They play doomsday rock’n’roll.” You can’t use the word “doomsday” on every album though, so this time we thought: “What the hell we’ll call this album? ‘Infernal Rock Eternal’, yeah, that pretty much describes the state of the band now”. We wanna make infernal rock that blasts forever, hopefully. That was the idea behind the title.

Yeah, actually when I listen to Chrome Division I think of these gigantic parties that are going on in Hell!

[Laughs] Yeah, that pretty much sums it up! That could be a correct description, yeah!

Where does your nickname come from?

Uh… [laughs] Well, when I was invited into the band, when Eddie was gone, during one of the first rehearsals, I came in like: “Hey guys, what’s the deal with Tony White and Ricky Black, what are all these colors about?” And they didn’t actually answer me, they just told me: “Then you should be Shady Blue!” [laughs] I don’t know where all this is coming from, Tony White and Ricky Black and Shady Blue. It was meant to be a joke, but then suddenly it just stuck with me and I ended up having this name. It’s just an alias. In Susperia I’m Athera, when I step in the Chrome Division persona I’m suddenly Shady Blue. It’s like totally different world, so one name for each thing [laughs]!

Does this mean you still don’t know why they call themselves Black, White etc.?

I don’t know why! I guess every name just came from a joke, and then: “Let’s just go for it!” [laughs]

Since you’re a very busy man with all these projects, can you tell us what you will be doing in the coming months?

I personally will have a quite busy year because we’re doing the release concert for Chrome Division actually this Saturday, and Chrome is also going to play at the Summer Breeze festival in Germany, which is like the second biggest open-air festival in Europe. I’ve also been asked to do some session vocal concerts for Borknagar, I’m going in a two-weeks tour with Borknagar in March, and there’s gonna be some Susperia shows in Russia and in Ukraine. This year is going to be very busy.

What is your status in Borknagar: are you just a session musician or do you think you will be contributing on an album with them?

No, I don’t think I will be involved in the albums because the problem that Borknagar has is that Andreas – Vintersorg, the vocalist – has a lot of issues that prevents him for going on the road and playing concerts. That’s why Borknagar has played like 5 shows in the last 10 years. I was asked if I was willing to go on the road with them and be a live session vocalist so they could do some shows. But it’s already decided that on the next album Vintersorg will of course do the vocals. What the future brings I don’t know, but for this year, they wanted to do a tour and some festivals, so they hired me to do the Vintersorg parts. I will sing along with [ICS] Vortex so we will have a dual vocal thing going for the concerts. I’m just a live session vocalist, actually.

Interview conducted by phone on January, 15th 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription: Chloé
Introduction: Alastor.

Chrome Division official website: www.chromedivision.com

Album Infernal Rock Eternal, out since January, 17th 2014 via Nuclear Blast.

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