Pagan Metal Roundup: Swashbuckle

When the popular Paganfest II tour rolled through New York last spring, featuring Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Blackguard, Swashbuckle and more, we caught up with New Jersey pirate metal clan Swashbuckle.

In the following Q&A, Swashbuckle guitarist Commodore RedRum explains why his crew is not pagan metal, and how the hell a thrash band of pirates joined Paganfest II.

Main photos (and following gallery) by Sarah Sturges.

This tour is called “Paganfest”. What exactly is pagan metal?
There are definitely varying opinions on the matter, but I believe pagan metal to be metal music that somehow intertwines, either melodically or lyrically, themes of ancient cultures or traditions of historical significance. It’s kind of a broad subgenre at this point, if you even consider it to be one. People seem to swap the terms “folk metal” and “pagan metal” often on a whim and a lot of bands are being lumped into these categories where it might not necessarily be warranted.

A friend of notable black/folk metal fame once told me that if there’s anything to this whole “pagan metal” thing, it’s about honoring your ancestors. So I suppose that’s a good way of defining it. However, it is interesting, as Swashbuckle is neither a pagan metal band nor a folk metal band. We’re a thrash band, plain and simple.

How did pagan metal come about? Who were the bands that started it?
REDRUM This is a deep question, which would probably be better answered by a real pagan metal musician or online metal nerd historian. I’m sure it came about by simply fusing historical lyrical concepts with metal music. It’s a good match. But then again, you can mix metal with just about anything and it will sound awesome. As far as bands go, I am told Bathory and Skyclad are among some of the earliest folk/pagan bands. Also, our friends in Moonsorrow have been at the pagan/folk game for a many a moon. My knowledge goes about as far as this. Aye, I should really brush up on my pagan metal histARRy. Psych.

What does a band need in order to be part of the pagan metal scene?
REDRUM Apparently, some kickass pirate regalia and brutal thrash tunes. Who’da thought?

Do pagans and pirates have similar musical aesthetics? What makes Swashbuckle part of the pagan metal scene?
REDRUM Yes and no. I dig a lot more of the folkier metal music than the rest of the scallywags in the band. I try to throw in as much melody as I can into our music, but thrash leaves so few opportunities that I have to take what I can get. I suppose it’s our adherence to historical themes (in our case, pirates) that lets us on the Paganfest tour. We thought it was pretty retarded ourselves. Musically, we were far and the most “different” band on the package, but that’s a good thing. People notice the odd band out on a tour. It is well to remember though, that we do not consider ourselves part of the “pagan metal scene." This is actually the case for a lot of the bands on the Paganfest tour, past and present. A lot of our ilk believe it’s merely a false moniker to get people out to shows. And it’s totally working. Our albums have a bunch of fun sea shanty tunes scattered about the thrash tracks. These are about as close to folk metal as we get. This is a side of Swashbuckle concertgoers don’t get a chance to experience. However, we love cranking those piratey acoustic tracks out. It’s a welcomed break from the malicious moshing madness that we scum dogs normally exhibit.

What made you first pick up the guitar?
REDRUM Aye, ‘twas destined from birth. Nothing more, nothing less.

What metal guitarist and, if applicable, what non-metal guitarist or band most influenced your style?
REDRUM I take cues from a bunch of different musicians: older thrash stuff, Gary Holt, Dave Mustaine, Alex Skolnick. Also, a lot of the Gothenburg greats: Jesper and Bjorn of In Flames, the guys in Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork. Of course, tight, percussive picking, a la Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. I’d say my biggest influences though are Andre and Marcus from Blind Guardian. I fucking love that band. As far as non-metal guitarists go, I’m into a lot of random Spanish/flamenco/acoustic shit. Luis Villegas, Paco Pena, and Andy McKee to name a few.

New Jersey is the last place where anyone would expect Pirates. How’s the Pirate culture there?
REDRUM Aye, actually quite strong. The Jersey shore is littered with little stores selling piratical goods and wears. Nautical baubles, pirate flags, old rustic ship trinkets, etc. Any area with a coast I think embraces some sort of pirate culture, even if it’s simply for the novelty of it.

As a player, what technical requirements are needed to make this music?
REDRUM Huge balls and fast hands. Sorry ladies, I’m taken. Seriously though, good down-picking and alternate-picking techniques are a must. I do a bit of sweep picking here and there, but by no means rely on it. I don’t do many solos, but when I do, they are usually just classy pentatonic things, nothing too intricate. We have a lot of guest solos on our forthcoming album Back to the Noose [Nuclear Blast] this summer. We had our friend Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal from Guns N' Roses lay some stuff down. He carved a bit of time out of his (not so) hectic GN'R schedule to craft a couple killer solos for us. We also had the legendary Diamond Dave Davidson, guitarist of the Boston Tech/Death group Revocation, lay one down for us and it totally kills. Everyone should check them out. Word on the street is they recently inked an accord with Relapse Records.

What guitar technique/approach makes you stand out from the pack?
REDRUM The fact that I kick ass. Har har. Just joshin’ ya. Pirates love tomfoolery.

Please explain your axe of choice. Why is it right for your sound?
REDRUM I’m usually seen splashin’-n-thrashin’ on Les Paul or Les Paul–type guitars. I own a couple Gibsons, though lately I’ve been playing an ESP Eclipse II custom. The Les Paul body type just feels the most comfortable to me and they have a real beefy tone to them, which is great for all the heavy riffing involved in most ‘Buckle tunes. Fast, heavy and crushing is the name of the game, ‘tis true.

What piece of gear is vital to your sound?
REDRUM I’m partial to my old Ampeg VH-140C amp heads. These things are from the late Eighties and have the smoothest, most brutal tone I’ve ever heard from any amp head, let alone a solid state. I think Ampeg should bring them back to the market. They rule. I’d buy loot all of them.

What was the strangest fan interaction you have received?
REDRUM Oddly enough, our biggest fans are our brothers in piratical metal, Alestorm. We signed the bassist’s arse at a signing session in Austria once. We all drew wieners on him. Good times.

How much of the pirate life goes in your own daily life?
All of it. Live and die by the code. I’m mostly in it for the buxom wenches and pints of ale though… If you think about it, there are many appealing parallels that can be drawn between the lives of touring musicians like us, and the lives of our pirate forefathers. Our band of miscreants descends upon an unsuspecting town, raids the bar, thrashes peoples’ faces off, raids the bar again, makes away with the plunder and booty, boards the vessel, raids the bar on the vessel and sails away toward the next unwary port only to repeat the process. It’s a thing of beauty.

The pagan metal movement has been getting widespread attention as of late. Where do you see it heading from here?
REDRUM Ahh, people love that sort of entertainment. Swords, drinking horns, battle paint, furry leather armor. It’s all a means of escapism from boring reality, much akin to video games. If it gets people off their World of Warcraft and out to metal shows, I’m all for it. Swashbuckle is all about having fun times with good people, landlubbers, dirt merchants and rapscallions alike. Throw in some good ale, grog, beer, and other assorted piratical beverages and you have one big mess of nautical nonsense.

Who would win in a fight: Davy Jones or Odin?
REDRUM Arrg, a silly question. Those people aren’t real! That’s like asking who would win in a fight: Marty McFly or Jesus? Truthfully, I think Marty McFly is Jesus. He could time travel, fly and play guitar! Maybe Davy Jones is Odin? I just mind-fucked the crap out of you! I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway, because we’re all winners, except for Alestorm who are, in fact, losers. I mean c’mon, a pirate metal band? Really guys?

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Brad Angle

Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.