An Interview With A Stoic

Mike Stark of StormBurner

By Tim Duran

For over five years I have been in long distance contact with Mike Stark. He is Sweden’s screamer; I am Nevada’s nomad; although miles between us, we found ourselves confiding in one another, growing in friendship and kinship.  With that being said, it’s a joy that he kept me up to date in his musical ventures. Once he was frontman for Starblind, now he heads up the new heavy hitters of heavy metal, StormBurner.

He gives Horror Metal Sounds an inside look into the making of their first release, “Shadow Rising”; a dark spark of Viking heritage, epic battle songs, and Norse pride. Although I am Native American, I felt like a Viking when I heard the record. So the album pulls you in and places you within the storyline.

It’s been a long road for Mike and the journey is only begun.

HMS: It has been a few years in the making of StormBurner. Can you give us an idea of what you had in mind for the sound and direction you wanted to pursue with this new band?
Mike Stark: -Hi Tim, first I would like to thank you and HMS for taking the time to have a chat about Stormburner, it is very much appreciated by us. The sound and direction was basically set by myself and Tommi even before we formed the band with the permanent members. We had a very similar idea on what we wanted to sound like and what we wanted to achieve with this band. We never hesitated; we just agreed on what to do and did it.

HMS:  Did you already have in mind who you wanted on the instruments or was it a journey to find the right bunch of guys?
Mike: -Well, it was somewhat a journey in contrary to what we first believed, and we had a really hard time to get musicians wanting to audition after we posted a few ads. In this struggle, I got to think of Stefan Essmyren who I knew since many years and I checked with him and he was the perfect fit.  At this time we were missing the bass and the lead guitar player and we started to write songs together as a trio. After a month or so Tommy Jee joined, he is an old bandmate and friend of Stefan and we just hit it off straight away and everything felt really good. Now we were just missing the lead guitars but we were in no hurry has we had a stable foundation and we could write songs this way as Tommi is the main song writer. We tried to convince Mats Hedström to show up for a jam for maybe 3-4 months but he was already in a band and kind of reluctant. When he finally showed, heard the songs and jammed with us he committed straight away, now his only band is Stormburner and he has also contributed greatly to the making of insane riffs.

HMS: The last couple of years, you have kept me updated on most things concerning StormBurner. Let the readers in on the process of my favorite song, “Men At Arms”. Start to finish, this song is heavy and relentless in its delivery and arrangement.
Mike: -This was one of the very first songs that we wrote, Tommi had the melody for the chorus and I started to sing it, he then added a harmony to as he is a skilled singer himself and it just sounded great. Chorus was done and the other riffs came fast after this.

HMS: I’ve read a few reviews on the record “Shadow Rising”. Some say it has a big Manowar feel to it. To me, it has a more classic metal feel with hints of thrash. I know you’re a big Manowar guy, but who else influenced the music for this record?
Mike: -Yes, this is very different from review to review. Some say it is a lot of Judas Priest and DIO in the music whilst others hear a lot of Manowar. I don’t listen to our songs this way. I basically focus on the melodies and the riffs and sure, I have listened to Judas Priest, Manowar, Saxon, KISS, since I was kid and from my teens also on a lot of bands like Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, Rhapsody, Primal Fear and more recently bands like Sabaton have inspired me a lot personally. The others also share some of these influences but Tommi and I both have a special place for Manowar as the greatest band that has ever walked the earth, period.

HMS: There seems to be an underlying theme to the record. Songs like “Ragnarok” go hand-in-hand with “Demon Fire”, “Rune Of The Dead”, and “Ode To War”, along with a couple of others. It brings the Norse ways and beliefs to another light.
Mike : -Well, these songs were not really written with the intention of being  “a concept”; however, they were all written in “chapter two” of the bands history and as we all share the love of our Viking heritage and that we based most songs on this theme, we just kept going. The songs you mention were basically written within a short time span of one another so this is probably why they have the conceptual feel. I agree with you on this. I was unsure if Into the Storm was good enough to be on the album but it ended up being at least my personal favourite.

HMS: Tell us about the artwork on the album. Who came up with the concept, and for those who don’t know, tell us how you got such an amazing artist to make it all happen?
Mike: -The concept was discussed within the band and all had their say, I think everyone contributed to the idea of the cover. After we did this we started to discuss who could help us create this. We made a wish list and Ken Kelly was of course at the top being the foremost Heacy Metal Cover Art artist of all time. I then decided to contact him and we ended up having a long chat over the phone and he got to listen to the “Men at Arms” song which he really enjoyed so we agreed to do this.

HMS: When performing live, do you plan on revisiting tunes from Starblind? I would personally like to hear what you guys can do with “Sacrifice” and “Seven Rivers”? I guess I ask because those two songs in particular, I cannot hear any other voice (As they are still my faves from Dying Son).
Mike:  -I can promise you this Time; Stormburner will never perform a cover on any band in a live performance. We focus on our own band and on our own songs. I had a great time in Starblind and I do love the guys but these songs are for them to perform.

HMS: For the video, “Demon Fire”, who came up with the concept, and did it get a little too close for comfort during the fight scene inside with the fire and everything?
Mike: -The concept was originally the idea of Tommi if I recall correctly and it was first intended to be for the song “Metal in the Night”, however this was changed at the last minute, probably because of me, hahaha.

HMS: “Eye Of The Storm” is musically and vocally intense. The bridge breakdown before the solo is insane. The machinegun rhythms that match the vocals is outrageous! For that part alone( at minute 2:10 through 2:30) who was the mastermind behind that bridge section? (In this song, this bridge stands out for me above some of the others. It’s like what Rob Halford does.)
Mike:  -Thank you for those words Tim, much appreciated to hear this from you. I believe this bridge was created by Tommi and Mats, I am of course the guy behind adding the crazy vocals, hahaha.

HMS: As far as the recording, was it layered, or was it recorded live in the studio? As for the amazing vocal tracks, how long did it take to get all the harmony parts down?
Mike: -The recordings were layered and we recorded one instrument at a time, the same with the vocals. It wasn’t very time consuming in the studio. I did 3-4 hour sessions and in this time I would basically complete a song, this was basically the same for all songs. We finished one song at a time adding all the harmonies and choirs before moving on to the next. It might be worth mentioning that there are no guest vocals at all on this album so all choirs and harmonies are done by myself and this is what took a lot of time adding overdub after overdub on some parts where there is big choirs or big gang vocals and also the different harmonies on these.

HMS: When I first heard the finished take on “Men At Arms”, I knew the record was going to be brutal. Upon hearing the finished project, I was blown away about everything this record offers. Does the next StormBurner record promise to be just as brutal, or will there be a little show tune action?
Mike: -I surely hope so, I felt very confident having these great musicians and song writers in the band. Tommi is the best song writer I have ever worked with in my entire life. He has this thing for catchy melodies. Then we have Mats on lead guitars who is a riff master writing these brutal riffs, solos, melodies etc. The next album will make ears bleed and electronic equipment to melt, I am sure of it!

HMS: For years I have admired your voice. On this record, it’s more powerful and passionate. How did you prepare, both mentally and physically, as you rehearsed to lay down these tracks? There are so many voices on each song, all very different from one another, and all very unique in their own way.
Mike:  -Thank you Tim, I started singing at the age of 35 in 2014 with Starblind, We recorded the first album when I had been singing for 6 months so there was a lot of will and passion but it was also greatly lacking of technique and vocal ability. After this first Starblind album I started to practice a lot, this basically made it worse as even though I improved in a lot of ways, I tried to do things I was not really capable of so the 2nd Starblind album ended up as it did. I am not able to listen to any of these records today: it makes my ears bleed as I cannot stand my vocals. The songs and the music are great but I truly despise my vocals on these albums.

So what happened after this is that I basically decided to stop doing vocal practice, to stop doing warm-ups and just try to sing in the most relaxed way possible to try to find my true inner voice. This resulted in myself improving greatly as a singer by not doing any vocal practice except singing to songs at rehearsals. At this time I really evolved in my ability to just hit the right notes and also make up and do vocal harmonies with ease and not thinking too much. When we recorded this album I didn’t prepare the vocal arrangements at all before hitting the studio. I just went there and did it; sure Ronny Hemlin who produced the album also came up with a lot of good ideas on the vocal parts but we were very relaxed in this. There was no tension or stress at all.

HMS: Another favorite of mine is the title track, “Shadow Rising”.  What made this song the title track for this album?
Mike: -Mainly because of the song title which we all liked very much. Not so much for the song itself but we wanted the right song title on the cover to be honest. However it turned out great as we all like this song very much. It is not so heavy as a lot of the other songs but the message and the emotion of the song is great.

HMS: Just one last question that has been on my mind for years, but too afraid to ask you… The American television program, The Muppet Show had a character named The Swedish Chef. Did that character ever rub you the wrong way? Or do your chefs really throw things and cook unconventionally?
Mike: -That is not true at all, that sounds more like British Chefs. (just a little dig at Gordon Ramsy)

HMS: I would also like to say, that it’s always an honor to keep in contact with you. You have always shown the utmost of kindness to the HMS crew. I wish you and the StormBurner family, Godspeed.