Voyage of Slave's John Fronza Thrashes Victorious!

Death, black, and thrashers Voyage of Slaves was formed by guitarist/vocalist Dean Dokken, bassist John Fronza, guitarist Johnathan Hernandez and drummer Rob Waller in Paducah, Kentucky in 2008. The four piece invaded the local scene for the following year and released their first self titled demo in 2009. Shortly after, Voyage of Slaves went through a number of member changes and Rob and Johnathan dropped. This caused the band to go into hiatus until December of 2010 when drummer Jon Grace and guitarist/vocalist Dave Palenske joined. For the rest of 2011 the band began writing an extensive catalog of new material and played across the east coast of the US opening for heavy-weights such as Obituary, Deicide, Revocation, Nasty Savage, and Beast in the Field. Fast forward to 2012 the band is fresh off of their first EP, "Victorious" and ready to put out their sophomore release entitled "Forged Beneath The Frost". Bassist John Fronza discuss this EP and more!

1. Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Voyage of Slaves, and how long the band has been together.

John: I'm John Fronza, and I'm the bass player of Voyage of Slaves. We have been together since the Summer of 2008.

2. Where is the band based out of and what is your music scene like there?Are there any local bands you could recommend?

John: We are based out of Murray/Paducah, Kentucky.  We're from the far western region of the Mighty Bluegrass state.  Sadly, we don't have a lot of metal bands in this area.  The city of Louisville has a lot of good metal bands, and heavy bands, in general.  That's probably why we play there more than we do in our own towns.  Some bands from there that I would highly recommend are Bearhammer, Neighbor, The Revenants, All Dead, Anagnorisis, Hookers...  I'm sure I'm forgetting someone, so I apologize in advance.  The heavy music scene in Louisville is pretty rich, and that's why we like playing there.  They've welcomed us there with open arms, and it has kind of become our adopted little home for heavy music.  When we play in our actual home towns (Murray and Paducah), we typically do mash-up shows, and they're a blast.  We have more of a harcore/punk kind of heavy scene here.  Bands like Hi-Fi Ninja, The Savage, and Teenage Rehab are a few of the killer bands that we play with occasionally.  And they're family to us.  We always have a good time when we do shows together.

3. Tell me about the song writing process, do you have one, do you write your own songs, and what are your songs about, what themes do they cover?

John: Our songwriting process is probably very similar to a lot of bands.  We come up with a lot of our riffs at home, and at rehearsal.  They typically pop up when we're goofing off between songs, or just goofing off, in general.  Over time, those riffs find their way into a song. It's a fairly collective experience, though. Dave Palenske (guitar/vocals) and Dean Dokken (guitar/vocals) do a lot of writing together since they live close to one another.  I typically write complete songs, and then introduce them.  It will then get added to, or changed by whatever they would like to put into it.  It just depends.  The three of us all have very different writing styles, but it always seems to come together sounding pretty cohesive.  What I like about it most is that between the three of us, our tastes in music are all over the place, so it can get pretty interesting.  I'm a huge fan of the N.W.O.B.H.M. era.

Especially Iron Maiden and Motorhead, so I tend to try and keep it simple, yet refined.  Dave and Dean are both into a lot of technical stuff, so they bring that component into the fold.  The themes of our songs vary, too.  We're all into movies.  Especially the Sci-Fi, Horror and Medieval, and mythological stuff.  I read a lot of non-fiction, historical, art related material, especially about the Renaiassance, and obviously, it lends itself quite nicely to this kind of music.  We stay away from the overtly religious, politically charged stuff that a lot of bands get into, which is totally cool, but it's just not what this band is about.  From a lyrical standpoint, we're not trying to make some kind of grand statement, as much as we are attempting to create a sort of visceral, fantasy component with the lyrical content.  And by that, we want the listener to feel what a song may, or may not be about, more so than making them contemplate their status, or place in the universe by getting all esoteric on them. Our songs are more like little stories.  I guess that would be the easiest way to put it.

4. Who did the cover art for Forged Beneath The Frost and how much input did you have on it?

John: The person who did our cover art lives in Indonesia.  He flies under the moniker of "Five Milligrams."  So far, he's done several of our merch designs: "Tarantula Planet," "Blizzard of Bears," and the "Forged Beneath the Frost" designs.  He's a very talented artist who somehow manages to get what we're going for.  Every single design he's done for us, he hits it out of the park.  Since our songs all carry a specific theme to them, he just does his thing, and has not let us down, once.  Our "mascot," if you will, is this sort of Viking zombie who has an army of Viking zombies backing him up.  This specific character has evolved over time, and Five Milligrams has been a part of that evolution.  We're kind of taking a page out of the Iron Maiden playbook, but I think it's going to be a long time before we get him into the same club as Sir Eddie.  I think we finally got around to naming him, and he'll be going by "Ólöf."

5. Is there any story or concept behind the Forged Beneath The Frost title?

John: The theme of "Forged Beneath the Frost" is best described by the track titled "Tyranny of Trolls."  It is a sordid, mythological tale that has an army of zombie Vikings, led by Ólöf, who are saddled with the task of vanquishing these giant trolls who are wreaking havoc in their barren, and frozen lands. I know, pretty deep stuff, right?  And just to avoid any confusion, we're NOT a "Viking Metal" band.  Those dudes over in Norway, and Sweden take their heritage very seriously.  The last thing we want to do is get our skulls split by Amon Amarth by disrespecting that. We just like to incorporate some of that imagery, and mythology into our own material.  It's very rich, bloody, brutal stuff, and we dig it.  There are even tinges of the Black Metal style incorporated into our music,but we are by no means a "Black Metal" band, but those chorded structures they developed many years ago are just so beautiful, thick, melodic, and dark.

6. Who produced Forged Beneath The Frost and what was it like working with them?

John: Forged Beneath the Frost was produced by us, and a young man by the name of Kevin Gong.  He's a friend of ours who happens to own a very nice, affordable little studio called the Ruckus Room.  It's a tiny little place, but for the money, it's a fantastic resource to have in this part of our state.  He did our first demo, "Sea of Ugly," back in 2009, also. We're very comfortable with Kevin working on our music with us.  He knows us all well enough to not really be scared, or intimidated to make suggestions about how something can be improved, or how a part may, or may not really be working.  Our 2009 demo captured us when we were basically in our infancy, as a band, and we, as well as Kevin, have come along quite a bit since then.  The production quality on this EP is superior to what we did back then.  Not to mention the fact that we, as players, have come a long way. Kevin is a good dude, and we'll definitely be using him in the capacity of doing more EP, demo stuff.

7. Did the band have any definitive goals they were shooting for before the recording process began for this EP?

John: Well, in 2012, we went down to Nashville to record the "Victorious" EP, and we're certainly pleased with it, being what it is: basically a demo.  We had some really pro folks working on it.  Malcolm Pugh, of Inferi, A Loathing Requiem, and several other projects, helped extensively with the production on that. He's a beast. And with that EP/demo, we just wanted to get something out as quickly, and affordable as possible because it had been three years since our first demo, we had just gone through a serious lineup change, and it was really about getting a nice, well produced little batch of music out there that showcased our new members,and also to  have something to offer at our shows via merch.  Our fans REALLY wanted some new material.

With the Forged Beneath the Frost EP, we had four songs that we consider to be strong, and diverse, but still a cohesive body of material.  But most importantly, we wanted to keep things rolling, and maintain a level of freshness, if you will. Especially since we have been returning to some of the towns that we've been playing with increased frequency.  You don't want to keep showing up with the same stuff. You have to keep it exciting, and interesting if you want to make enough gas money to get to the next town.  And our fans deserve it.  We have built some really nice, loyal pockets of fan bases in the region, and they deserve it. If you don't keep it interesting, you'll definitely see some drop off, and that is just unacceptable. We love our people.

8. Are you using any new instrumentation you've never used in the recording process before?

John: As of right now, we're just two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals.  What makes us somewhat unique in what we're doing is that both Dave, and Dean, take on the task of vocal duties.  I know we're certainly not the only band doing that, but I think that it's part of our draw, for sure.  And on this EP, more so than on the Victorious EP, it has really evolved into an important element of what we do.  We have half-assed talked about incorporating some keys into our material  but it hasn't gone beyond that.  We feel that anything you do in the studio has to be replicated in the live setting, and I don't know if we're really ready to make that commitment, just yet.  We definitely don't want to have to do it using a canned track that runs through the p.a. system.  That's just kinda screams cheese, if you ask me.

9. When did you start writing for this EP? How was the songwriting process different/similar to previous Voyage of Slaves releases?

John: The age of this material varies in age. The oldest tune probably being around a little under two years old, the youngest, just being a few months old. We have a lot of material in the bank, there's definitely no shortage happening on that end of things.  It's waaaaaay different than when we started out.  Even in just the roughly 4 years since we did our first demo.  We have been together long enough, and we pretty much know what to expect from one another.  Dave, Dean, and myself are always creating riffs.  I'm lucky, in that I work for myself, and I have an acoustic guitar out in my shop. So, if I have something just pop up in my head, I'll sit down, get my phone out and record it immediately.  SoundCloud is an awesome tool for that.  And then, I'll go down into my basement and re-record it with some crunchy stuff.  We have a song that I wrote named "Arc of the Coveted" that was written entirely by using that process.  It's sort of how many, many musicians are writing, these days.  And the beauty of it is that you can just send it to your bandmates, immediately. I love it.  I love the creative process. Totally making something that hadn't been there before.    

10. Did you feel any pressure to do this release and follow-up to your previous ones?

John: Nope.  Not really.  People are still digging on the Victorious ep, and we did kinda have the pressure on that.  But with Forged, it was more about just getting into the studio, having some fun, and kind of blindsiding our fans with a new, somewhat unexpected release.  And it will probably happen again in the next six to nine months.  It not only benefits your fans to keep fresh music out there.  It benefits you as a musician to continue to write new material, and log some studio hours. It's good to get in there, have your weaknesses exposed, and improve on them.  That's what the studio does.  In the live situation, you can get away with a little flub here and there. In the studio, it doesn't work that way.  You have to be prepared.

11. Select two songs from Forged Beneath The Frost and what inspired the lyrics.

John: Hmmmm...  The track, "Tyrael's Blade" was inspired by the Diablo series of video games. The track titled "Perseus" was obviously inspired bye the ancient Greek myth of the demigod who had the pleasure of beheading Medusa.

12. How was the vibe in the studio?

John: It was very laid back.  We drank a lot of water, the occasional carbonated drink, and busted each others stones.

13. When can we expect the new EP to be released?

John: Forged Beneath the Frost will be released on April 20th for download on our bandcamp site. In the coming weeks, it will be available in vinyl, cassette, then in a month or two, it will be available on compact disk.

14. What can the fans expect to see from you in the future?

John: We have a lot of shows lined up for the Summer.  We're playing the Akron Deathfest, on April 27th.  Stoked about that.  We're also going to be going up into the  northeast for some dates.  We were touring the northeast when Hurricane Sandy landed, and it absolutely destroyed us.  It was so disheartening to not be able to do  the shows that we were supposed to do because that tour had a lot of hype behind it.  So, we're going to make it up to the bands that we were supposed to play with, and most importantly, the fans who were excited about getting to see us.  In a few months, we'll most certainly be going back into the studio to do some more recording, and we'll just keep plugging away, doing what we do, and having a damn fine time doing it.

15. Is that your final answer?

John: Dead men tell no tales.

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