The rise of Battlecross

Thrash outfit is a testament to the power of positive thinking
By Peter Lindblad

Battlecross is Don Slater, Tony Asta,
Alex Bent, Kyle Gunther and
Hiran Deraniyagala
Rugged thrash-metal crusaders Battlecross hail from Canton, Mich., located just a few miles west of Detroit.

Emblematic of the tough, blue-collar environment that birthed them, the indomitable quintet of guitarists Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala, bassist Don Slater, drummer Alex Bent and vocalist Kyle Gunther has just released its third album, Rise To Power.

Out via Metal Blade Records, the punishing effort – the follow-up to 2013's War of Will – is a roiling cross-pollination of intense, blistering thrash and bone-crushing death-metal, as Battlecross hums along as a well-oiled machine that runs hot on scorching riffs, heavy grooves, powerhouse vocals and searing guitar harmonies that fly as close to the sun as possible.

Spouting a never-say-die philosophy that refuses to wallow in defeatism or self-pity, Battlecross chooses to concentrate on touting life-affirming values and living in the moment. And Rise To Power is their most aggressive stance yet, a battle cry that's uplifting, while acknowledging what difficult obstacles pain and frustration are to overcome.

Gathering momentum, after playing Metallica's Orion Fest and going out on the Mayhem Festival with the likes of Mastodon, Amon Amarth and Rob Zombie, Battlecross is on the verge of big things. Asta recently took time out to talk to All Access about the making of the band's new album and its attitude toward life in general.

Battle Cross - Rise to Power 2015
While touring in support of War of Will, you guys played Metallica's Orion Fest, the Mayhem Festival and the Download Festival. What lessons did you take away from those experiences and did they, in any way, influence the making of Rise To Power?
Tony Asta: The summer of 2013 was insane. Right of the bat… meeting James Hetfield, a personal idol of mine, was definitely a high point in my life. We shook hands and talked before we hit the stage and then he and Robert introduced us. It was unbelievable. The roar of the crowd and the intensity in the air was electric. That was the beginning of a long, hot, sweaty summer full of big crowds and insane mosh pits. The following summer we jumped the pond to Europe for the first time in our lives and experienced the old world, rich with history. We had the honor of touring with some phenomenal bands and every experience proves always to be learning experience. Soaking in the sights and sounds on the road can do a lot to someone, but overall, it has helped season us beyond our green days of the past. Rise To Power takes on new life with a rejuvenated confidence pulsing through every note. We’ve really done A LOT the past five years, and I am so proud of my bros and so thankful for our fans.

Describe what was happening during the writing sessions for Rise To Power. Why do you think they produced music that was even aggressive than previous efforts?
TA: Looking back, the writing process was much more fluid this time around. I approached writing with a relaxed but confident state of mind, which allowed the creativity to flow a little easier. I’m usually stressed out over everything band related, but something happened over time that really changed my perspective on things. It helps me rest easier to not take things too seriously or govern the day to day too militantly. I vividly remember the times we felt we’ve hit rock bottom – stranded, screwed over or broke, or whatever the situation may have been. It reminds me it could always be worse and to never sweat the small stuff. I’m then immediately so thankful for how far we’ve come. I think this attitude shines on this record. It’s that confidence and focus you have to possess to execute what we do. It may come off as more aggressive, but that’s up to the listener to decide. There are only two rules when it comes to what we write: No. 1 it has to kick you in the ass and No. 2 we won’t write the same album twice.

Do you think this album turned out heavier? If so, when did you realize that was the direction the record was heading in?
TA: What’s heavy to me may not be heavy to someone else, and vice versa, but I can say there are definitely some crushing tunes on this album. However, I can’t say if or when I realized the direction of the album because I didn’t really look at it that way. We approach each song as its own individual piece and deciding how each song fits with the other is sort of “after the fact." The only direction I can say it had to go was UP!

Talk about the differences between you and fellow guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala. You seem to have differing styles. How does that help shape the sound of Battlecross in general and this record in particular?
TA: I myself and Hiran have different styles, but I think we complement each other in a creative way. Hiran is a very aggressive player and his riff writing is somewhat linear in a traditional thrash metal or Slayer-esque style. He also brings a more brutal/extreme influence to the songwriting, and his down-picking is unmatched. On the other hand I dabble with syncopated rhythms, melodies/harmonies, and compositions. I like to think I have an ear for what sounds good, and I do a lot of the arranging. Don (Slater) also writes for the band. He brings a middle ground that really fills in the gaps with a lot of majestic ideas and riff writing. The combination we have helps create the sound we have. To our fans we’re holding down the foundation of what makes metal, metal, and to our critics maybe we’re too generic. But that’s fine because we’re doing what we love.

Alex Bent appeared on record for the first time with Battlecross on drums. How did his playing affect how Rise To Power turned out?
TA: Alex brought the glue and established a great flow for each song. He is a very talented and diverse drummer, and together we were able to do things this time around that broadened our horizons. We prefer not to be boxed in as just a “thrash metal” band because we really aren’t one. There is a lot to offer on this album, and Alex helped bring it to life.

Talk about working with producer Jason Suecof. What made him the right choice to produce this record?
TA: Jason has an amazing mind and a great ear. He’s unlike anyone we’ve worked with before. Jason is also a super shredder on guitar and had a lot of great ideas. I admit he’s a little unorthodox compared to prior experiences, but I absolutely love the guy. From the beginning we knew we wanted to return to Audiohammer studios and work with Mark Lewis. Mark mixed and mastered Rise To Power and between the two of them the production is far beyond our expectations. It’s absolutely crushing.

In what way does Rise to Power differ for you from War to Will? Does it seem more focused and tighter to you?
TA: Rise To Power is more focused than our previous albums. It isn’t any less aggressive or brutal, but it is more mature and less juvenile. What I mean by that is it’s not all over the place. You can really dig in and jam to it. It is tighter as well. The recording is captured at the best we can be, which is great for us because it absolutely helps set the bar for us as musicians. We have to play tight live, it pushes us to perform at our best.

Battlecross has a simple
message: live life while alive
What messages did you want to get across to listeners with this record?
TA: Our message is simple: live life while alive, and don’t let anyone hold you down. Crush those who oppose and rise above to conquer the ultimate goal. Life’s too short, take chances, trust in yourself … that type of positive mentality.

Talk about some of the individual songs on this record and your impressions of them, starting with "Blood & Lies" …

TA: I really prefer the listener to have their own interpretation of our material. I’ll have some fun with it though. Although each song was influenced by different specific things, "Blood & Lies," "Not Your Slave" and "Bound By Fear" have a similar root meaning. These songs touch on the “culture of fear,” and the notion that we are all slaves to something. It almost like Kyle is reiterating “F&% the Man!” but in a poetic way, haha. I think the important message to get from these songs is whatever the listener takes from them. It may mean something different to me than it does to someone else.

"The Path" …
TA: "The Path" is definitely a flagship song for us because it carries that strong message of perseverance no matter how long or hard the obstacles may be. This is one of my favorites.

"Absence” ...
TA: Kyle wrote this song about being on the road away from his son and absent from his life in a way. The important message is Kyle is leading by example and reaching for his dreams. Kids learn from that; they may not do as you say, but they will certainly do as you do. Absence touches on the rough times of being away from home while on the road, but the payoff of being on stage and reaching that high will keep him coming back for more. We do what we love because we love what we do.

You guys really carry the flag for thrash, and many have talked about how Battlecross is bringing a new energy to the genre. In what ways do you think you've helped to rejuvenate thrash? And what are your hopes for the genre as a whole going forward?
TA: Thanks for saying so. We really hope to leave a long lasting impression as we are here to stay. I can’t say if or how we’ve rejuvenated thrash, but I think having something more to offer keeps us out of that "box" and helps us cross over into other sub-genres of metal. I consider Battlecross to be a metal band first and foremost, but people can call us whatever they want. Metal continues to be alive and well because metal fans are the most loyal fans on the planet. I can’t see that ever changing so the future is always bright.

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