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Interview

Elixir Guitarist Phil Denton Discusses Latest Album "Voyage Of The Eagle" And New Wave Of British Heavy Metal

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal might not be so new anymore, but for those who love classic metal, especially younger listeners, there'll always be new discoveries when digging deep into the movement. While the likes of Iron Maiden and Saxon will always grab the headlines, bands like Raven, Praying Mantis and Witchfinder General will always be regarded as excellent bands that deserve more recognition. Another band which falls into this category would be Elixir, from the English capital city, London.

After releasing a truly stellar debut, "The Son Of Odin" in 1986, it would be another four years until their sophomore "Lethal Potion" would hit the shelves. While the band hasn't always been as active as some of their contemporaries, Elixir has always done their best to give fans slice after slice of high quality heavy metal. In March of this year, the group released, "Voyage Of The Eagle," their seventh full length album and undoubtedly one of the best in their long, storied career.

To find out more about the album, as well as the side project Midnight Messiah, sharing their singer with Desolation Angels, thoughts on the New Wave Of British Metal and much more, I spoke with guitarist and co-founder Phil Denton.

Diamond Oz: Congratulations on the release of your latest album, "Voyage Of The Eagle." Could you tell us what the meaning of the title is?

Phil Denton: Thank you! The title refers to the name of the ship in our adventure, ‘The Eagle’. The album tells the story of how some sea-fairing folk overheard a tale of a dead man’s buried treasure from some drunken seamen in a tavern. From there, they press gang a crew, set sail, try to avoid the temptations of The Siren, survive storms, mutiny, and blood-thirsty crew-mates, to get to the treasure. I won’t tell you how the story ends, but the album documents the adventure, hence the title.

Oz: This is your first album for ten years. Obviously in that time you've changed some band members, but what would you say sets it apart from the previous album, "All Hallows Eve"?

Phil: We have changed one band member. Original bass player and co-founder, Kevin Dobbs, decided that he didn’t want to continue with Elixir in 2012. As we are a tight-knit group who had been together since 1984, we didn’t even contemplate replacing him with someone else, we just thought that it was the end of Elixir. Paul and I formed a spin-off band, Midnight Messiah, to carry on Elixir’s legacy.

When I started recording ideas for a new album, I felt that, as the lyrical ideas were based on a track called ‘Dead Man’s Gold’ from Elixir’s debut album, ‘The Son Of Odin’, that the new material should be recorded by Elixir. I contacted the guys and asked whether they would be interested in making a new album. They were all keen to do it, except for Kev, who still didn’t want to continue. He felt that we had ended on a great album, ‘All Hallows Eve’, and wanted to leave things there. However, he could see that we were all keen to do it, and so he gave us his blessing to get another bass player to continue. That was important to us, because, as I mentioned, we grew up together and are like brothers, so we didn’t want to replace Kev if there was any chance that he may want to continue.

We found a young and talented bass player called Luke Fabian to record the album. He did a great job on the recording, but when rehearsing for live shows it became apparent that Luke wasn’t quite right for us as a permanent replacement for Kev. He is quite younger than us and from a different musical background.

Just before the pandemic and lockdown happened, we had a great rehearsal session with another bass player, who I don’t want to name yet. We are intending to get a band line-up photo done and then announce him in September. We like him a lot, not just for his playing, but as a person we could relate to both musically and personally. When you spend hours together travelling in a van or stuck at an airport, you need to get on well with your band mates. He has been learning the live set and material from the new album, and after the rehearsal studios re-opened following lockdown, we have had a few more rehearsals with him. He is coming along a lot better than I had dared to hope, and is a pleasure to play with. We are sounding like a tight band again. He has stayed respectful to Kev’s legacy, maintaining Kev’s sound and replicating Kev’s bass runs where required, but also has been adding his own touches too. I feel that we have found the perfect replacement for Kev, and cannot wait to get out and start playing live shows again.

Musically, I don’t think there is a lot of difference between ‘All Hallows Eve’ and ‘Voyage Of The
Eagle’, they are both traditional classic heavy rock albums in our usual style. Four out of five band
members are the same, and our fans are telling us that the new album is what they had hoped for and expected from Elixir in 2020.

The main difference musically is whilst ‘All Hallows Eve’ is themed around the old Pagan and Celtic ritual of Samhain carried out traditionally on 31 st October, and has the 14 minute ‘epic’ song ‘Samhain’, the new album actually tells a continuous story, like a concept album, and doesn’t have any songs of such length.

Oz: How difficult has it been to promote the album given the current pandemic?

Phil: We could have been out playing live shows, probably with Luke. However, taking the positives from the situation, the enforced lay-off gave us the opportunity to try out our new bass player, who has worked out fantastic! So, when venues can open again, we will be back stronger than ever.

We had to cancel an appearance at Germany’s Keep It True Festival in April, with 2 Belgian club gigs either side of that. As Keep It True is more of an old-school festival, they wanted us to play our 80’s songs anyway, so we wouldn’t have been performing tracks from the new album there. We would have put some new songs in the set for the Belgian gigs though.

We have re-scheduled those dates for next April, so our next live show is now on December 11 th in Athens. However, it could only take a second wave of the pandemic over here in the UK, and then possibly the Greeks wouldn’t allow us into their country. So, we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be allowed to play. We are also lined up to play Bro Fest in the UK next February, virus permitting! These are uncertain times at the moment.

Oz: "Voyage Of The Eagle" boasts some amazing artwork from Duncan Storr, who's worked with some other legendary bands before. How did the working relationship come about and how well do you feel the art represents the music?

Phil: Duncan had done the artwork for our previous album, ‘All Hallows Eve’ and we were very pleased with that, so we contacted Duncan again for this album.

In both cases he had asked for some demos of the music first, and played them through to get some inspiration, before agreeing to do the artwork. Luckily, Duncan likes our music and gets inspired to come up with something great. He told me that the ‘All Hallows Eve’ cover came to him in a dream after listening to ‘Samhain’.

This time around, he was inspired by ‘The Siren’s Song’ from ‘Voyage Of The Eagle’, but it came with a twist. In the song, The Eagle gets away, but in Duncan’s artwork the ship is shown sunk and lying on the seabed. The Siren is at the bottom of the sea, calling the dead crew’s souls to her, while the lifeless bodies of the seamen float away to the surface. When Duncan submitted his idea, we all loved it, and were writing the lyrics to the final song on the album at the time. We therefore wrote the lyrics around Duncan’s artwork, and as such, the cover represents the ending of the album very well. When Duncan heard the song, ‘Evermore’, he loved it and said that we make a great team! Duncan also made individual illustrations for each song in the 24 page CD booklet, which really is a nice touch and makes the CD release a very nice package.

We have never met Duncan in person, but he told me that he intends to come along to see our set when we play at Bro Fest, so hopefully we will meet him then.

Oz: This album was released through Dissonance Productions, who have also handled other bands from the NWOBHM field. How has the relationship with the label been so far?

Phil: It's been fantastic so far. I feel that we have made the right decision to sign with Dissonance.

We were generally releasing our albums on our own label, preferring to keep tight control on how the albums were presented and released. Then we would sometimes license our releases to other labels in other territories, particularly for vinyl releases. Paul was familiar with Dissonance through the Desolation Angels album that was released through the label, and he suggested them.

Steve Beatty, the label owner, is a rock fan first and foremost, which helps a lot. He told me that he used to rehearse with his band at the same rehearsal rooms as Elixir (and Desolation Angels) in Leyton, East London back in the early 1980s. So, when I approached Steve to ask if he would be interested in releasing our new album, he was very aware of who we were and not only wanted to release our new album, but also our back catalogue too. They have Plastic Head Distribution behind them, and can get the albums out to many more places than we could on our own small label.

I was very pleased with the way that they presented the CD version of the new album, with the
24-page illustrated booklet, and also the vinyl release, with gatefold sleeve, on a beautiful blue vinyl.

I have been checking over the artwork for the vinyl back catalogue releases this week and have been really pleased with how they are looking too. I am particularly pleased with the ‘Sovereign Remedy’ re-release.

People who know our history will know that a year after I recorded our second album, ‘Sovereign
Remedy’, I left the band. My wife and I were expecting our first son, and with no deal to release the second album, I felt there was nowhere left for the band to go. However, a year later, the album was picked up by a label called Sonic, who re-mixed it and left a lot of the instrumentation and vocal tracks out of the mix. Songs were omitted to make the running time fit to a single record, and they re-named the album ‘Lethal Potion’. I hated it for the way it sounded, and the running order of the songs made no sense. That put me off record labels, and made me feel that we should keep control over our music and release our material on our own label.

Dissonance have put things right, and are releasing the album as it should have been in the first
place. It is in a stunning gatefold sleeve, with it’s proper title and track running order as a double
album. I have spent 30 years despising that album, and now, thanks to Dissonance, I can feel proud of it. This was the one album where we had a line-up change, and Clive Burr, after leaving Iron Maiden, played drums on it. So, I am also grateful to Dissonance for putting the album right for the sake of Clive’s memory.

Oz: One of the most notable things about the current lineup is vocalist Paul Taylor, who's not only been a long time member of Elixir but is also in Desolation Angels. How is it sharing your singer with another band?

Phil: It hasn’t been a problem so far, but it did seem a bit weird when I heard their album with Paul singing on it! I was used to hearing them with former singer Dave Wall, and to me, and many others I am sure, Paul is “the voice of Elixir”.

We have known Desolation Angels since 1983, when we used to rehearse next door to them in
Leyton. In fact, Kev played his first ever gig with them when their bass player, Joe, disappeared and they borrowed Kev. We used to go to watch them at The Ruskin Arms before we had played a gig or made a record ourselves, and looked up to them. I bought their 7” single ‘Valhalla’ and used to play it all the time. They had a cool tour bus, and we used to quiz them about their European tours.

I hadn’t seen them for years until Midnight Messiah played a gig with them. At the soundcheck, Paul blew their singer away with his power, and they noticed that. It was just before Midnight Messiah wound up, and Desolation Angels parted with their singer. They asked Paul to join them, and as we weren’t doing anything at the time, Paul accepted.

As both bands go for quality gigs over quantity these days, I am sure that we can co-exist. It might be a bit weird if we end up playing on the same bill though.

Oz: You and Paul are also members of Midnight Messiah. What's the current status of MM and what does it offer creatively that Elixir doesn't?

Phil: Midnight Messiah is finished.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul and I had formed the band to continue Elixir’s legacy. We had written
what we thought was going to be the next Elixir album when Kev quit, so Paul and I looked to form a band with a similar style to record the album and play Elixir’s back catalogue live.
We found a brilliant guitar player, Dave Strange, and a great, solid drummer, Darren Lee. After
recording the first album with bassist Dusty Miller, we brought in a new bass player Alex Machell.

The guys were great musicians, and it was a joy to play with them on stage. However, they played with so many other bands, and involved in so many other projects, that it was more like being with session guys than band mates, and I missed the camaraderie and bond that we have with the Elixir guys. Dave was also playing guitar with NWOBHM band Tytan, among others, and Darren was also playing with NWOBHM band Weapon UK, and was touring with Bay City Rollers playing big arenas such as Wembley and Manchester recently. Alex does a lot of gigs both as a bass player and acoustic guitarist, and now wants to play his own music. I wish them all well, and hope they will have fulfilling musical careers. I bumped into Dave briefly when Tytan were on the bill with Elixir at Burr Fest last March. It was good to see him and briefly catch up.

Oz: Looking back on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, what would you say made it so special?

Phil: Looking back now, I think it was the fact that we had a vibrant scene, with lots of great live music venues, and lots of bands willing to put out their own releases. In the early 70s there were the few “elite” bands who had record deals who could put out their music. After the do-it-yourself attitude of the Punk and New Wave bands, the heavy rockers realised that they too could put out a single or an album on their own label. Suddenly, lots of bands were not waiting around for a record deal and just got on with it and did it themselves. We did the same thing, first releasing our ‘Treachery’ single in 1985 on our own label, followed by our first album, ‘The Son Of Odin’ in 1986.

What also strikes me is the wide range of styles of music performed by bands under the NWOBHM banner. We have recently had songs featured on two NWOBHM triple CD box sets. There are around 50 bands on each of the box sets, and the variation in musical styles is both surprising and impressive.

Oz: You made a pretty big contribution to the NWOBHM yourselves with the classic, "The "Son Of Odin." How do you feel the album has held up over time?

Phil: It’s fantastic that the album has had the recognition that it has. It started out getting great reviews in Kerrang! Magazine and Metal Forces Magazine upon it’s release, and has since been “Classic Album Of The Month” in Sweden Rock Magazine, one of the “Top 20 Power Metal Albums Of All Time” in Terrorizer Magazine, and was last year named as one of the “25 Greatest Power Metal Albums” by Metal Hammer, alongside such bands as Queensryche, Cloven Hoof and Helloween.

As we speak, we are finalising the artwork for a new vinyl re-release of ‘The Son Of Odin’ through Dissonance’s Back On Black label, and just two days ago we were approached by a Brazilian label who wish to license another CD re-release of the album.

It still sells well today, and we feature five songs from the album in our current live set. Those songs always go down a storm live, and the audience reaction, coupled with the sales and acclaim that the album has received, tells me that the album still holds up very well today.

Oz: Thank you very much for your time and I wish you only the best in the future

Phil: You are very welcome! Thank you for talking to me. As you can see, the future is looking very bright for Elixir, and we are desperately keen to get out and start playing live again! We hope to be able to play to your readers some of our new songs, along with the old favourites, very soon.

"Voyage Of The Eagle" is available to buy now at this location

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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