Praying Mantis Guitarist Tino Troy Discusses New Album "Katharsis," Influences, Origins And The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal
As has been said so many times before, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal continues to be a great source of old school heavy metal music, which took the musicianship of their forebears and the attitude of punk and brought hard rock back to the streets. As one might expect, London was one of the key scenes in this nationwide movement and while one may immediately point to Iron Maiden as the capital's premier act, anyone in the know will immediately tell you of the quality of Praying Mantis.
Praying Mantis began life in the mid seventies but began to get noticed a few years later when the NWOBHM kicked into full gear. In 1981, the band unleashed their debut full lenghth, "Time Tells No Lies," which reached number sixteen in the British album charts. Unfortunately, the band broke up the next year but would reunite the next decade and release a string of albums before going their separate ways again. Not to be held down, Praying Mantis returned once more in 2008 and the next year released, "Sanctuary" through Frontiers Music, whom the band are still signed to today.
Fast forward to the present day and Praying Mantis has once again released a stunning collection of frenetic energy and lush melodies in the form of "Katharsis." To find out more about the record, we spoke with guitarist, founder and original vocalist Tino Troy, who shed light on everything regarding the album, as well as the origins and influences of the band, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and much more. You can watch the conversation in full below.
Diamond Oz: The new album, "Katharsis" is out now. It’s a really solid album and people are really picking up on Jaycee's vocals. This lineup has been together for a few years now, since "Legacy." Would you say that this is the strongest Praying Mantis lineup?
Tino Troy: Definitely, because we've been together for the last three albums and everything's just sort of gelled and you can see the transition between each album is just getting better and better, whereas normally it's hard to better your previous album. In the old days, bands had to work. They did an album and then went straight out on tour with it and wrote their albums on the road, which meant you’d get some sub-standard albums with only two or three good tracks. Whereas this way, we’ve actually been able to hone it and polish it. The reviews have been fantastic.
Oz: And rightly so. Obviously you’ve done the two music videos, but the one that stands out to me the most is "Cry For The Nations." That’s so energetic and powerful and it’s like the perfect song to show people who ask what Praying Mantis are like.
Tino: It's a bit of an all round song as well because you get sort of like, light and shade in the song, with the slow intro that sort of lulls you into a false sense of security and then we’re away! Funnily enough that song is like a modern day update of "Children Of The Earth," which is a track that stands out to a lot of fans, they always sing along to it at the gigs. "Children Of The Earth" was a song that was about all these ecological issues that were happening fifty years ago. Chris wrote that song in 1974 and it's taken us nigh on fifty years to start doing something about it and this sort of a modern version, "Let’s get our s.h.i.t. together and go for it!"
Oz: And of course the album is called, "Katharsis." It’s quite notable that you’ve used the original Greek spelling of the word.
Tino: It is. Well, funnily enough, we were searching for a title and I've got thousands of them, when I'm dead all these lists of song titles and lyrics and stuff like that will probably come out and it'll go for fortunes! But Rainer Kalwitz, the artist who did this, also did the "Sanctuary" album in a very similar fashion, that statue of liberty with the spikes coming out with the skull showing and this was a transition of that basically. So we asked, "What’s the name of this art?" and he replied, "Katharsis," so we all thought, "Oooh! We like that!" It went with all the one word titles of the albums we’ve had previously, since "Sanctuary" really.
So the title works really well and it actually means purgation of the soul through one’s emotions and that shows on this album, through the whole thing from Corona virus to the decimation of the planet and everything. So yeah, that stuck with us and we thought, "We'll keep it with a K as well," which is also the German spelling, so we kept it true to his artwork. It also makes for a nice question for an interview! We've had that about three times now!
Oz: At least I looked up the etymology instead of asking why you spelt it wrong! Well, like you said, you've been steadily releasing albums since "Sanctuary," all with one word titles, the last one being "Gravity," what’s changed between "Gravity" and "Katharsis"?
Tino: Not a lot really. Some of these songs are from "Gravity" actually. So it was just a question of being locked down throughout the whole Corona virus and working on it remotely and having the time to work on it as well, because we'd sort of get into Zoom meetings, talk about certain elements of the band and we all did it at home. Jean-Pierre Kerkhofs, who engineered and mixed the album, we did the mixes at his studio in Belgium last time, but this time we obviously couldn't go over there and oversee it.
Also last time we recorded the drums at his studio but this time we couldn’t move around so much, so Hans, who's got a great studio at home as well, had Jean-Pierre bring a few more mics over to his house and recorded his drums there and sent us the files, along with all the files that we’d sent him as well. John did his vocals at his girlfriend's father's place, where he’s got a little studio and we got the best out of him. We got him to do about six takes of each song with different inflections, so we chopped it up and chose the best bits. Some of them it was very much the second performance that we went for and then repaired it with the other takes, so we could just slice a few little other bits in here and there to polish it.
Oz: And have you recorded albums like this before where the musicians were all separate?
Tino: Not to such a great extent. Basically the pandemic threw us right into it. We were doing it before as a matter of fact because we’ve got two guys who live in the Netherlands and the rest of us are about twenty miles apart in the south of the UK, so we'd get together now and again but with the pandemic, we couldn't. Normally Andy would come round mine or I'd go round there and we’d work on guitar parts but this time we did them all at home and I re-amped some of the stuff here. We got some really good sounds going and we did all the backing vocals at home as well. I'd send my backing vocals over to Chris, then he'd layer his up, or vice versa, then Andy would do his and Jaycee did a few as well but we mostly kept the BVs to Chris, Andy and myself.
Oz: Like you said, you were shown the artwork initially, but was there a feeling that it reflected the songs well or was it more a case of, "We’ve worked with him. We like him. We’ll have him."?
Tino: A bit of both really. Rodney Matthews who did the "Time Tells No Lies" album as well as "Legacy," "Gravity" and "Predator In Disguise" albums, was very busy. He was working on another project which had got really big sales and so he sort of put his hands together and said, "Thank you. I’m so busy right now, so please don’t feel aggrieved that you’ve used someone else’s art for the album," which was after we mentioned that we were thinking about using Rainer and asked if he had any qualms about it. So yeah, we saw his artwork, which Andy picked out and it's got those five little figures at the bottom that look like they're burning and we thought, "That’s us! That’s the band!" We all like that "Sanctuary" album cover and so we thought this would lend itself to a nice cover and work on a t-shirt and everything. We also asked our record company Frontiers if they could do a picture disc for the vinyl release because the whole picture would look fantastic but they didn't go for that one.
Oz: I quite like that it’s so reminiscent of "Sanctuary" because that was your first album through Frontiers…
Tino: They did release other albums but it was our first proper album through Frontiers, as you say. They licensed the other stuff from Japan, so our transition to Frontiers was like, we came out of the Japanese deal with Pony Canyon and transitioned into Frontiers so we didn’t have to search for a record deal anywhere. It was automatically there.
Oz: I think it's cool though because it’s like a nice callback to the start of this era of the band. It's almost like a little Easter egg for fans too.
Tino: It's great and we’re working a lot more now, doing more shows, though obviously not throughout the Coronavirus period but we’ve had a few shows and a lot of them actually have been bumped to this year from the previous two years. We just can’t wait to play live again, properly.
Oz: Obviously, for a lot of people, especially younger people, when they find Praying Mantis, they come to you through the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, even though Praying Mantis was around before that.
Tino: Yeah, well I formed the band back in 1973 at college. I was at the London College of Furniture studying furniture design but unbeknownst to me and my other mate who I formed the band with, Pete Moore, he was a guitarist as well, on the third floor of the college they had a musical instrument department and we’d go down there with all these guys who were building guitars, fixing amplifiers and stuff like that and had I known about that, I would have studied for that course! My careers advisor suggested that I go to that college because I was always really good with my hands and that and it was great, we formed the band there and got everything together.
Chris came in in late 1973 or early 74 and at the time he was playing classical guitar and the family would gather around at Christmas and Easter and Mum would get him to do a little concerto and I got well bloody jealous! So I ended up building my own guitar at school and locked myself away in my bedroom for hours on end until my fingers bled learning all this stuff until I became really accomplished. Within three years of playing guitar, people thought I'd been playing for fifteen years. I was very disciplined and then came booze and women and it all went out the window!
So I said to Chris, "Do you fancy playing bass in the band?" because we didn’t have a bass player at the college and he said, "What’s bass?" One of the first songs I showed him was "Caroline" by Status Quo and of course he picked it up really quickly since he could play guitar anyway and then he came up with this riff which he played on the Spanish guitar at first and that became our very first song, "Night Child." It’s never seen the light of day actually, maybe we should do that!
Oz: Yeah, maybe as a bonus track or something! But like I said, Praying Mantis pre-dates the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and you always sort of stood out from those other bands anyway, though obviously you had gigs with the likes of Iron Maiden, but Praying Mantis has always been a bit more melodic.
Tino: Yeah. One of the biggest influences for the band in those days was Wishbone Ash who had all the twin guitar stuff, plus all the vocal harmonies so they were always at the forefront of our influences. (Thin) Lizzy too of course with their twin guitar approach. I think because Chris and myself come from a Mediterranean background, our dad being Greek and our mum being Spanish, we learned those melodies when we were growing up from all those records that they were playing, it sort of gave it a different flavour, a bit more of a melodic approach.
Oz: Absolutely and I think you can tell when a band draws from outside influences, especially in rock and metal. It's quite a fortunate genre in a way, that it can do so much with so many other different styles of music. But my main question here is how did it feel to be kind of lumped in with this movement when you were always quite different from other bands?
Tino: It was great. It was the vehicle that launched the band really because when we were just doing our own thing, it wasn't going anywhere but we happened to record these three songs on a demo down in south east London. At the time, when the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal started materialising, there was a magazine called Sounds and they had all these heavy metal charts from all over the country and the London based one was only a few stops away on the Underground so we used to go up there.
I took the tape one day he played it and he had all these tapes given to him by all these New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands, like Iron Maiden and Samson for instance, and he'd play the tracks to the audience and want them to do the old gladiator thing; thumbs up or thumbs down! All three tracks got the thumbs up and before we knew it, all these tracks were in this Sounds heavy metal chart and at one point they were all in the same chart with "Captured City" at number one.
Oz: Well, just to wrap things up, like you said, you’ve got gigs lined up now that were previously postponed from last year and the year before as well, where are these gigs taking you? Are they mostly in the UK or are you going to be playing in Europe and Japan?
Tino: We’re trying to get back to Japan but they’re still going through hard times with the Coronavirus but Sweden Rock we’re doing, as well as Bang Your Head festival and a festival in the Czech Republic. We’ve got some German dates, the Blast From The Past festival and then we’ve got an Iberian tour in Spain and Portugal in May and then some more German dates and hopefully a mini tour of the UK.
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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