For Detroit, For Valor
The strong-willed warriors of Battlecross bring their passion and dedication to the Orion stage.
Published: June 5, 2013
Orion Music + More, a festival organized by Metallica — arguably the biggest heavy metal band in the world — is coming to Detroit this weekend; however, it’s not only a metal-fest. In addition to bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deftones, Infectious Grooves and, of course, the headliners, the bill also features the likes of alt-faves Foals, Silversun Pickups and the Dirtyphonics, plus punks like Flag (members of Black Flag) and our own Death and the Dirtbombs — and many more.
However, the fact that Metallica is responsible for this most awesome of events means that many people will associate it with metal, and that’s great because metal music is fucking sweet. Just ask Battlecross.
This Detroit power metal five-piece, consisting of guitarists Hiran Deraniyagala and Tony Asta, vocalist Kyle Gunther, bassist Don Slater and drummer Michael Kreger, formed in 2004 — though they didn’t really start finding their metal feet until 2007.
“We’ve been growing since 2004, but 2007 is when it took its sound, took its form, of what we’re doing now,” says Deraniyagala. “2004 is when we started playing shows as Battlecross, but we sounded different. We were only a four-piece then. 2007 is when we lifted off and have the kind of sound that we have now, which evolved from all the lineup changes, the new bass player in 2008 and the new singer in 2010.”
Deraniyagala says the band started out with a raw, early-Metallica sound but evolved as they became better musicians. “We’ve always had the trash sound,” he says. “Back in 2004, we were really young and I think we sounded like old Metallica; we didn’t have harsh vocals, the guitars weren’t as technical. We were trying to find our sound and trying to find the right people. There were years when we didn’t have a drummer — it was just Tony and I, and a bass player practicing in a basement every Saturday working on songs. We finally got a drummer, kept playing shows and developed our sound, and weeded out the musicians that didn’t grow with us. We kept growing and growing, and pushing ourselves as musicians. We wanted to combine the different elements of metal while still keeping a classic metal sound.”
Battlecross hasn’t had it easy. Metal music isn’t exactly Detroit’s premier export (with a few notable exceptions) and so execs rarely look for it here. Bands of the same genre based in L.A., San Francisco or New York certainly have an advantage. So how do you get noticed?
“I think there’s so much talent here, I really do, not just in metal,” says Deraniyagala. “The hardest thing in this area is that we don’t have a lot of offices for labels and things like that like L.A., or places like that where you have access to get exposure to those labels. We don’t really have anything like that around here, so we’ve got to fight to push for that exposure and that attention. I think that’s where the sound of Detroit metal, Michigan metal, comes from — that angst.”
Maybe it does pay off in the sound. As John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) said, “anger is an energy.” That said, it must get tiring opening up for countless hair metal bands at venues like the Ritz and Harpos, and paying for the pleasure. “You work a lot of those pay-to-play kind of things,” says Deraniyagala. “Sometimes you have to play the game, but the best thing to do is be smart about it. You’ve got to pick the right shows that fit your band. You can’t just open for every headline band that comes through. You’ve got to find the right bands, pick the right shows, promote those, and also keep playing local shows. Branch out to local areas and show-trade with other bands if you can, bands that are in other areas of Michigan; build the scene here, build that support.
“That way, it builds exposure, it builds your fan base, and then you can pick the right bands to open for. That’s what we did. Not just playing the shows, but also supporting the scene. That’s what Battlecross has done forever. Going out to local shows, making [us] well known to those bands and the people who go to those shows. Those people will see you and remember you. You build a reputation as someone who will support what other bands do. It creates a mutual thing, a brotherhood of support. I think that’s helped a lot, how much love and support we’ve gotten from here, because we haven’t been that band that acts like we’re better than anyone else. Even with the press that we’ve been getting, I still go to local shows, I still watch local bands and show my support for that, because I really do love the music.”
Deraniyagala says that there are actually a lot of great metal bands in the Detroit area — you just have to look for them. “I love Wulfhook, who sound like Dio and Cowboys From Hell-era Pantera,” he says. “Writhing is another great band. Hellmouth is a great band too, and Beast in the Field is a favorite of mine. Black Dahlia Murder are doing well for themselves too. So you know there’s talent here, great bands that come from here. It’s just about building and hopefully bringing more attention to our scene.”
One of the great things that separates Battlecross from the bands mentioned above is its comfort with the traditional image of heavy metal: the eagles, swords, Vikings, power and glory. Some might see the Saxon/Manowar approach as cheesy, but what the fuck do they know. It is, quite frankly, superb. It’s machismo unleashed, loincloths and all. These guys are warriors.
“I think it just fits with what we do,” says Deraniyagala. “We do take what we do seriously, but we are very humorous and laid-back guys too. It’s not like we’re presenting an image of being serious. I think what Battlecross and our music represents is very similar to that imagery. It fits. Battlecross sounds epic and warrior-like. When you think of a warrior, you think of honorable and strong-willed.”
STRONG-WILLED THEY ARE. After recording the debut album, Pursuit of Honor in 2009, Battlecross promptly lost its singer, and brought Gunther in as a replacement. It turned out to be a blessing, the band getting signed by world-renowned label Metal Blade Records soon afterward.
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