Interview with Guitarist Josh Schwartz on the band's new 'It Was Metal' graphic novel!
By: Frank Hill | Published: Sunday, May 20, 2018
A Sound of Thunder, l-r: Jesse Keen (bass), Nina Osegueda (vocals), Josh Schwartz (guitars), Chris Haren (drums). Copyright ASOT. Photo by Dewey Tron.
Formed in 2008, A Sound of Thunder have been pulverizing the DC area/East Coast of the USA with their blend of classic heavy metal, progressive, and rock music. At an unrelenting pace, the Northern Virginia natives have been releasing high-quality heavy metal almost every year by utilizing self-funding and successful Kickstarter campaigns. They are also highly engaged with social sites and fond of nerd media like comics, books, and movies. Maximum Metal's Frank Hill talked with guitarist Josh Schwartz about the band's latest project, the graphic novel tie-in for their soon-to-be released 'It Was Metal' album.
Comics and hard rock have had the occasional meeting of the media over the years; an intersection of in-your-face entertainment. Rock merchandise legends KISS appeared in Marvel Comics' Howard the Duck #12 way back in 1977. In the late 80s and early 90s, "Rock 'N' Roll Comics" was a series published by Revolutionary Comics with bio-features on bands like Guns 'N Roses, Metallica, Bon Jovi, and Led Zeppelin. Alice Cooper's 20th studio album 'The Last Temptation' was accompanied by a 3-part comic by writer extraordinaire Neil Gaiman. Megadeth had their "Cryptic Writings" under Chaos Comics. Cannibal Corpse had a comic. Thrash monsters Slayer recently put out the comic 'Repentless' to go along with their album of the same name. Iron Maiden's famous mascot, Eddie, has his own title on the racks.
"The scope of the project definitely increased over time.Originally we were shooting for a 48 page comic, but we ended up with 80!" --Josh Schwartz
All of those bands, though, had the bankroll of a large company behind them. In an age when record labels are hard-pressed to support any band that isn't already selling out arenas, how would an unsigned band be able to create media content beyond their music product?
Northern Virginia, USA-based band A Sound of Thunder does it their way--by utilizing self-funding and successful Kickstarter campaigns that allow them to provide professional quality content and collectable products to supportive fans, known as the "Legion of Thunder".
"We have a pretty healthy interest in all things geeky and pop-culture. Nina [Osegueda/Vocals] and I in particular are big comic book fans and collectors," explained guitarist Josh Schwartz.
Marrying together their passions, ASOT's fifth full-length studio album, 2015's 'Tales from the Deadside', had music based on the 'Shadowman' comic from major publisher Valiant Entertainment. As Josh explained, "One of my favorite comics when I was growing up was Valiant’s original Shadowman series. The dark and creepy atmosphere of the book really captured my imagination. Shadowman's alter ego, Jack Boniface, was a jazz musician by trade. I think that actually helped kindle my interest in becoming a musician eventually!"
Josh continues: "When Valiant rebooted Shadowman (and the rest of their characters) in 2012, I was on board from the beginning, collecting all their titles. Shortly after the relaunch, Nina and I approached the Valiant booth at Baltimore Comic-Con, introduced ourselves, handed them some of our CDs, and told them we were interested in doing some music based on their characters. They actually surprised us by being open to the idea." A Kickstarter campaign for the album earned over $30,000 and the album landed at #16 on the Billboard Hard Rock Albums Chart.
Now, for their latest venture titled, 'It Was Metal', the band has decided to release a full-length album and a companion graphic novel anthology that includes a short story based on each song. The book features artwork and stories by well-known, professional artists and writers from the industry's biggest names--Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Valiant Entertainment. The 'It Was Metal' Kickstarter campaign is going on right now with book, original artwork, and artist proofs available as pledge rewards.
Says Josh, "Our first experiment with an expanded album booklet was on our album 'The Lesser Key of Solomon', where we commissioned original paintings for every song and printed a deluxe hardcover book. It was popular with our fans but very expensive to produce, and the paintings alone, while beautiful, weren't really enough to bring in new fans. The graphic novel was originally conceived as a way to improve and fine-tune that idea. The softcover books are more affordable to print, and the comic stories are substantial enough to stand on their own, so hopefully will draw in more new fans. And for existing fans, the stories which expand on the concepts in the song will hopefully create a deeper connection to the songs and album, and just flat out provide more entertainment!"
Because there are 10 stories within a 60 page run, all the stories are made to be artistically taut and concise in dialog. Panels are given motion for expression and exposition is kept to a minimum. Stories range from sci-fi to fantasy to horror and more. Note, there are scenes of gore and dismemberment, so this is not a book for younger kids.
It Was Metal wrap-around cover by Dusan Markovic.
In Phantom Flight, old technology and the ultimate sacrifice saves the human race from an alien invasion. Look for Mark Tornillo, vocalist of Accept, as a main character.
At a short four pages, Lifebringer's palette of amber and brown shades switch from parched desert thirst to green hues of Nature's growth in this fantasy grail quest for a sacred sword. The watercolor-based art really stands out from the other styles.
The first of the historic tales, Atlacatl, portrays the legend of the indigenous ruler who chose between enslavement and dying free when faced with the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica in the early-1500s. Gorgeous coloring highlights the myth.
The album track It Was Metal is a straight-forward, chestbeater about the glory of heavy metal. But within the sci-fi story, which is one my favorites from the book, metal becomes the ultimate weapon in a war between two races. It's a wonderful representation of the love we have for our music of power.
If you want to make some sense of Obsidian & Gold (Desdinova Returns), you may want to research the more obscure 'Imaginos' title from Blue Öyster Cult's discography and the lyrics of Sandy Pearlman. The song "Astronomy" would be a start, but expect as many more questions than answers as you go along. Fans of BÖC should enjoy the Easter eggs sprinkled in the images and words. It's dark visuals and esoteric theme reminds me of the early DC comics line of Vertigo titles like Hellblazer.
Second Lives is pure horror in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. A grieving woman sets out on a murderous path for endless love. It's sketch and ink style recalls the well-known, 30-year old comic The Crow from James O'Barr. It would certainly drip gore were it not for its stark black and white design.
Last year, A Sound of Thunder released the single "Els Segadors (The Reapers)". The metallized epic, based on The National Anthem of Catalonia, took on extra life during the region's current move for independence from Spain. The story, however, imagines an early moment in the Catalan Revolt (1640–52) that led to the death of Spanish viceroy Dalmau de Queralt. If you want blood, you got it. This one delivers with lots of red and bold colors; its ending a gruesome take on Eugène Delacroix' famous painting "Liberty Leading the People" where instead of a flag, a much bloodier object is held high.
Continuing the heavy metal history lesson is the story of Tomyris a female leader of Central Asia who, by some accounts, led her armies and defeated Cyrus the Great around 530 B.C. Her image has been painted and her deeds mentioned numerous times in art and literature, but not so much in the current Western tradition of study. Here, her tale of defiance and survival is brought to life again by ASOT. The artwork is done in a sketch style with parchment coloring that suggests woodcuts from past ages.
Charles II, illustrates what could have been a graverobber's work song or maybe even a drunken sport chant into a dark comedy that would fit right in a classic EC Comics horror book. It's heavy inking and blue and yellowish monochrome colors really differ among all the stories. What would the "Merry Monarch" have thought of his own story-quest for longer life? He probably would've chuckled his arse off like I did.
The last of the stories, Fortress of the Future Race, is also the most artistically modern. Returning to a sci-fi theme, an inventor's lapse in judgement leaves a time travelling device in the hands of evil. But there is a team ready to win victory for humanity. Of all the stories, this one could best lend itself to a full, series treatment.
In addition to ten short stories, the book also features complete album lyrics, additional pin-ups, photos, and more. Of particular note, it's really cool to see certain Kickstarter backers drawn into the comic as characters. In the spirit of full disclosure, I received a review copy of the It Was Metal graphic novel, but I also bought two copies--one for myself and one to give to a fellow metal/comic nerd.
Comic books and metal are in their own worlds, but sometimes those worlds are pulled together by similar gravities of interest. ASOT is a hard-working, talented group that acknowledges and rewards their fans. Rumor has it that KISS added some of their own blood to one of their early comics; probably a finger prick's worth. A Sound of Thunder may have upped them with the sweat and toil and money and stress involved in their new music/book combo. This book is half the crowning achievement of 'It Was Metal' along with the music release. They are twin pieces that deserve to be seen and heard together; the soundtrack for one and the visuals for the other enhancing each. Overall, 'It Was Metal' is an amazing achievement for the band.
"Originally we thought it would be a saddle-stitched comic, more like a single monthly issue of a regular comic series. The scope of the project definitely increased over time. Originally we were shooting for a 48 page comic, but we ended up with 80!"
"We're all extremely proud to have produced this graphic novel. At this point we know we can make a good album, but this was our first foray into comics, and we weren't sure what the end result would be. I can honestly say the final product looks killer, and the level of quality and professionalism can stand up to any major publisher's books. So, I guess we're a metal band and a comics publisher now!" exclaims Josh.
A Sound of Thunder's eagerly awaited new studio album and companion graphic novel 'It Was Metal' will be released globally on June 15th through Mad Neptune Records. Recorded at Assembly Line Studios with longstanding producer Kevin '131' Gutierrez (Shinedown, Believer, Raven), the album features eleven new songs and features guest appearances by Mark Tornillo (Accept) and Tony Carey (Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Planet P Project).
The book is 80 pages with square binding, super-matte cover with spot UV, and 80 lb. super-matte interior pages for a deluxe presentation.
The print run for the first edition of the comic is 1500 copies. 1200 copies will feature the main cover by Dusan Markovic. We have also ordered 300 limited blank sketch variants. These are available either blank or personalized with a sketch.
The comic features the following creators: . BARRY KITSON (Amazing Spider-Man, Adventures of Superman) . BEN TEMPLESMITH (Fell, 30 Days of Night) . BOB HALL (Shadowman, West Coast Avengers) . ROBERTO DE LA TORRE (Shadowman, Daredevil) . RAFER ROBERTS (Plastic Farm, A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong) . BRIAN REBER (X-Men: Legacy, X-O Manowar) . LOVERN KINDZIERSKI (Hellblazer, Green Arrow) . MIKE RATERA (Conan the Conqueror, Heavy Metal) . KENDALL GOODE (WWE Comics, The Doorman) . MOSTAFA MOUSSA (Godzilla: Rulers of Earth) . BRITTANY PEZZILLO (Bettie Page, Green Hornet) . MARC GRAS COTS (Sgt. Kabukiman: NYPD) . RACHEL PERCIPHONE (Cosmic Love: A Tribute to Florence + the Machine) . TRAV HART (The Corpsewalker) . JOSEPH SCHMALKE (The Infernal Pact, Whore of Babylon) . DIEGO L. PARADA (Impresor) . T.E. DICKASON (The Illusion Queen) . ROBERT DANIEL RYAN . NINA OSEGUEDA (A Sound of Thunder) . JOSH SCHWARTZ (A Sound of Thunder)