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An Interview With Poland’s Death Metal Dreadnought

Many bands last year released quality albums that flew under the radar for many, and among them, was the quality debut by Poland’s Dreadnought. Dreadnought released The Light Shalt Be Ungiven, an ambitious and majestic death metal opus.  The band have described this album as a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, or as a death metal opera, due to the wielding of atmosphere throughout, and because of the narrative that takes place over their album’s concept. I interviewed one of their guitarists, Łukasz Zapała, to get a sense of the history behind the band, the creation of their album, and what it’s like being a death metal band in Poland.  I received a wealth of answers as I came to realize that Dreadnought, much like Bolt Thrower, were another band inspired by Games Workshop’s Warhammer miniature universe. And, I also learned of the frustrations that Dreadnought face in a local scene that they perceive as being controlled by corporate entities and black metal elitists. It was clear to me that Dreadnought is very important to the members of the band, as Łukasz told me about how crucial the group is to his own spirituality, and that passion is evident through the success of their debut.  Without further ado, here is my complete interview with Łukasz of Dreadnought:

Indy Metal Vault: The band began in 2013. How did Dreadnought form?  Did you guys come from other bands?

Łukasz Zapała: It was just a random collective. I was never meant to be in the original roster. Things changed when I accidentally met Oskar (Vocals, Bass), and we ended up drinking several beers while exchanging ideas and philosophies about life. This was how it began, and things continue that way today.  I can’t recall much, but there wasn’t anything that unusual about our forming.  With that in mind, we worked hard to polish our skills and learn how to operate as a band. To quote Oskar during the release party of our debut LP, “Today is the debut of Dreadnought,” and I felt the exact same way since our previous time in the band was basically just us warming up.

IMV: You’ve had some lineup changes since your demo and EP.  What happened?  How did Maciej Lenartowicz and Michał Bławat join the band?

Łukasz: Well, it was quite a complicated period. We had a hard time getting along with each other, and so we decided to split ways (with previous drummer Piotrek and former guitarist Marcin). We didn’t like each other’s approach, had issues with technical parts, and so on. It was exposed mainly during the recording process of the EP. We were never proud or satisfied with how the demo and EP came out. We take full responsibility for issuing things that were not even close to what we would currently call acceptable. I believe these releases came out as a result of our lack of experience. After our lineup changes and shortly after the EP was recorded, we were having a great time playing with two youngsters from the local scene. But, as soon as we received an offer from an Italian label and things were going as smooth as ever, the drummer decided to leave – leaving us screwed. We couldn’t find any substitution during that time, and next, our second guitarist left, which left me as the sole guitar player, fully screwing the dream of being noticed after recordings in Italy could take place.

Later on, we were lucky enough to greatly improve the quality of our lineup through the joining of drummer Michał Bławat, who was and is well-known by his previous band’s endeavors – Repulsor. His blasting literally set a fire in the hearts of Oskar and me. While we were struggling with the notion that our band appeared to be “split-up,” we then knew that we could finally issue something good, so we invited Michał to join the band, and he accepted the offer. He joined despite no longer wanting to be involved with any bands anymore. We were grateful that we could finally continue our work with the band and with a drummer who was fully competent. The extent of our gratitude couldn’t have been quantified.

Dreadnought is Maciej, Łukasz, Michał, and Oskar

Maciej Lenartowicz (the second guitarist that joined for Dreadnought’s debut LP) was a friend of mine since primary school. We have loved each other’s company ever since then. We used to play with Pokémon tazos (tazos are circular discs not dissimilar from pogs, that were played in a game much like pogs) on the bench during PE classes whenever we didn’t have a suit or had a medical reason not to participate. I never would have thought that he would be a fellow musician that I would share blood, sweat, and the live stage with years later. We had three attempts (as far as I remember, I might be wrong), where we tried to recruit him for the band. Due to his medical issues, he refused the offer twice, and after several rehearsals, he stated that he did not want to be a burden or to hold us back, but he caved in and joined when we asked him a third time.

And answering the second part of the question (about our previous bands we were in) – only Michał had a rewarding experience with a past band. I have played as a vocalist/guitarist in a crossover thrash band previously, but nothing much came of it. Same thing goes for Maciej. Oskar had numerous projects. He once played with his black metal band at a Dreadnought show; however the (black metal) band got disbanded afterward.

IMV: Can you explain your band name, Dreadnought, and how it was chosen?

Death metal musicians are nerds. Myself included.

Łukasz: I was not present during the time when the name was chosen, but Oskar was. The name was somehow a tribute to the Warhammer 40k universe. You know, the big machines that were called dreadnoughts, which ripped through bodies with a chainsaw attached to one arm. Also, there was a second inspiration for the name, which was a type of battleship. One of the most known was called the “Bismarck.”

So with us being Bolt Thrower maniacs, the name suits us quite well! What’s a funny thing, is that each of us in the current roster is strictly connected with the aforementioned concept.

IMV: Your lyrics dive into history.  Your debut album is described as a concept album in the form of a ‘tragedy/death metal opera.’  Can you explain what you mean by this?  What is the concept of the album?

Łukasz: I love that you referred to it as a “concept.” We have encountered many purists that were like, “Hell no, it is ‘conceptual,’ not ‘concept’!” Damned nitpickers, ha! It is way easier to be understood while holding the booklet (which comes with physical pressings of the album). The album tracks are not just a bunch of randomly slapped together songs. It has a narrative, with a beginning and an end. The album tells a story, with the lyrics of each piece consisting of a poem, and when the songs are taken altogether, it makes the album feel much like a novel. The lyrics and music are intensely intertwined. We wanted to tell this story, and the words and (musical) notes are our means of sharing this story. The first thing to note is the intro, which serves to basically establish the atmosphere for the listener. For many albums, the intro is basically just a cool addition that has nothing to do with the rest of the album. But, here it’s a different story, as the intro establishes the atmosphere that weaves continually through each track.  It serves as an important component for framing a story full of decadence, nihilism, and fatalism. We refer to the album as a death metal opera because the lyrics tell a story of tragedy, and the music in the background provides an opera-like feel. Ghoul did it with the Splatterthrash, although in a more comedic way – but we wanted to create a more serious endeavor.

IMV: The album features three instrumental tracks (one of which is an intro).  What led to this decision?  What role do these instrumental tracks play in the context of the album’s concept/story?

Łukasz: Starting with the intro, there is an obvious point to teach track. I made it at work on my employer’s Macbook, using free software that was available to me. What I wanted to do was to paint a work of art by using various sounds in place of brush strokes. We already had an album cover, so what I had to do was to “name it,” so-to-speak. For example, if you listen to “Sketches of Spain” by Buckethead, you could get a feeling of Spain itself. It was exactly the same story.

Eos, the second instrumental track, was an introduction for Maciej. He only previously had experience with hard rock. (To illustrate the popularity of rock here) If you ever see the place where we were born and raised, you would call it a Polish Texas. At first, I did not give him any direction on what to do (with the track). I took it as my responsibility to welcome him to the band and provide a backing track to which he could jam around. It is a sad piece which brings the emotions of the main character to life after he had unleashed a mortal blow to the chest of his apprentice in the “Guardian of the Ancient Ice.” Also, this song came out of my own feelings as it was done shortly after one of my close relatives was diagnosed with cancer.

Epitaph of Evil, the 3rd instrumental track, is a summation of the whole album. After getting into the story full of nakedness, anger, guilt, and formulas about possession, belongings, and deeds, you can see how it all ended up changing completely nothing. The whole quest resulted in nothing but emptiness. There were conditions that had to be met according to the laws of the Universe; however it was nothing close to breaking the cycle for the protagonist. At first, the track sounded completely different. We did our Agalloch-like approach, but during the recording process, my Jackson’s guitar from ‘87 did not want to cooperate with the sound engineer we had. It sounded fully dull, so I  improvised the lead part, which wasn’t originally intended to be there.

IMV: Dreadnought is a band that is musically diverse, as shown by your brilliant debut.  How does Dreadnought write songs?  Is it a collective effort, or is someone the main songwriter?

Łukasz: Brilliant, you say? Thank you very much for the kind words! Whenever it comes to writing songs, unlike other bands, we do not bring ready-to-go material; we jam around. Jamming is our routine. We play through various styles as we are friends from different musical backgrounds, but we connect through mutual feelings about our music. If we jam something that can be connected to Dreadnought, we do not hesitate and start work on developing it. So, for example, if we get a riff, we jam around it; we spend 20-30 minutes to take different approaches to develop it further and TA DA! We have a starting point. When we systematize the pattern, we start an ongoing process from that milestone. Whether a track is made entirely during just one rehearsal or if it ends up being polished for six months, if we cannot find any way to bring it to its full greatness, we still might continue to add additional melodies after it was already recorded. That is the main bait by which I want you to attend to our shows, to see the final form that each song takes, haha!

IMV: Which are your favorite tracks on ‘The Shall Be Ungiven’ and why?

Łukasz: I would say the duo of Necromanticas and Devourer of Evil has everything needed to drill through a listener’s skull on the first listen.

IMV: How have Dreadnought been received when you play live in Poland?  Are there hopes/plans to play outside of Poland in the future?

Łukasz: Thus far, Dreadnought has always been well-received. Whenever people were unfamiliar with us or looked at us with condescension, we did everything we could to carve our name in their minds – and we were successful. It feels like many people try to keep their distance from us, as there are rough rumors that circulate about us. We are well-known for being quite uncompromising, which has earned us the nickname “TriCity Blasphemy,” but it’s not a thing people should be worried about or shocked with. If someone is scum, who thinks he can spit on your face without any consequences, then the brutal truth (that many people love the band) comes into action. There is no allowance for being weak in a metal society (I.e., only the strong survive). Times are different than the 80s or 90s, but it’s not a thing we want to make a big deal about. Creating a vulgar display of violence stems from intense emotions. It’s not about encouraging anyone to be violent, but dude – it’s a Goddamn metal, get you ballsack thick!

I hate when bands brag about how violent they are and talk shit, yet when it comes to actual actions, they just wipe their own asses with an aloe balm. Once we had a show in a Polish city called Łódź. The venue was situated in the most unwelcoming part of the city. We were playing with other bands that were and are well-known in the Polish underground. In front of the venue, on the other side of the street, a car had stopped. Six typical Slavs in sportswear came out to start a fight with the guys who were treating themselves with alcohol right before our show. All of the cocky musicians went inside the venue, with pants full of shit – quite an inception, shit shitting themselves. I went on the street, stopped the cars and shouted out loud, “Yo sluts – bring it on!”. Oskar, whom I call my brother, stood by my side instantly, and guess what? They packed their hopeless asses back in their car and drove away. It’s disgusting; the subculture was always supposed to be about helping your metal brethren. It ended up being a fashion, but there are still people that are true with their feelings and need help and acceptance.

We had few plans regarding playing outside of Poland, we had some loose ideas about gigs in Germany, and we were thinking about some Baltic State countries, yet it is still not to the point where we can start making that happen. It would be way easier if we could play via invitation, since finding other bands on our own, managing our gear, and looking for venues doesn’t work according to the same rules.

IMV: The artwork for the demo, the EP, and the LP are all stylistically very different.  Can you describe how the album cover for ‘The Light Shall Be Ungiven’ came to be?  What does it depict?

Łukasz: The story is quite simple! We had no idea how to do this before, so we had shit covers until now, ha! We had received an offer in our mailbox, which was a message from Vojtech Doubek from the Czech Republic. The artist is known by the name he uses for his artistic purposes – Moonrot Art. We have liked the style he was using, oil on canvas – Bellissima. We really wanted our album to be a piece of art, so when we saw the method he was using, we were like, “Holy fuck, it will bring us closer to the point we want to be at!”. The cooperation was great! We have tried to order a new logo by his hand; however, after numerous attempts he was not responding. I guess he got quite angry with us, as we had a delay of 2-3 weeks with the second part of his payment, for which we are truly sorry. If anyone would want a professional cover, with a personalized touch, I would always bring  Moonroot art in on the action!

What it depicts? The point of view is from the position of the main character of the tragedy. He stands on the rock shelf, watching the Ice Palace where the action takes place at.

IMV: The album cover reminds of Dan Seagrave’s work, but it looks a little different.  Who was the artist?  How did you get involved with them?

Łukasz: Dan Seagrave is an iconic person whenever it comes to the death metal realm. We have always dreamed of a piece made by his hand. We are not yet ready for such a master to grace us with his work. As in the previous question, I already answered the rest!

IMV: The Light Shalt Be Ungiven was self-released.  Is Dreadnought looking for a label, or was it an intentional decision to self-release the album?  If it is intentional, why was this decision made?

Łukasz: The current situation looks like that, I will simplify it: the trend in Poland is set on black metal only. Mostly, this does not have anything to do with the 1st or 2nd wave. I would say that if some people were still alive, they would rip the spines from some people’s corpses for the heresy they make and sell. Most of the labels here are interested in their own friends, creating a fake market, monopolizing the shit. I’m not mad, everyone wants to be a businessman, but this genre is being fucked enough that it deserves something more than a few bald guys with an erection dilemma, wanking to their own projects.

We have sent the album to the main labels in Poland and some from abroad – but we ended up with similar responses, “We are fully booked for this year.” Yet they issued some punk-black shit, that even a dull fuck couldn’t listen to. If that’s so, then let’s be it – independence rushes through our veins.

IMV: What does the band mean to you?  Are there any spiritual aspects to playing in Dreadnought?

Łukasz: To me, it means everything. It started with a dream; now I have a dream, I touch the dream, I hold the dream. When I am put in situations where I have to decide between the band and something else, I always choose the band. Sharing blood, sweat, and passion for this music is a most intimate thing to me,  and it brings me relief. Even though I lost everything I had, after I overdosed, and struggled with my own psyche, the place where our practices took place was my sanctum where I could feel the full value that I possess.

Spiritual aspects are a part of and a fact in this band. We are strictly connected to our beliefs, we share a similar point of view, and some of us feel a burden, as it is our souls’ mission that is fulfilled through this band.

IMV: What does 2020 hold in store for Dreadnought?

We are currently working on new material for our second LP. Usually, when we’re writing, the first song is the simplest, but compared to our debut album, the first song is already far more technically advanced. I guess it will be another milestone, and the progress will be clearly visible. The second album also will be a conceptual one. We have started some projects to create new merchandise, but what we focus on the most is the music itself. I cannot tell if the full second LP will be ready this year, because recordings and manufacturing the physical copies can take up to 2 months and so on. We also do not want to be in a hurry, as our past has taught us, so we’ll take our time to create something that we’re satisfied with. I also just recalled that a few of the tracks from our debut now have additional parts that we play live that are not on the album versions.

IMV: I was fortunate enough to have visited Gdańsk last summer, and while I was there, I saw Polish legends Trauma.  Trauma are a band that isn’t well known outside of Poland, unlike say, Vader.  What are some other bands from Poland that more people should know about?

Łukasz: Definitely, there are bands that go unnoticed by a wider audience, and if that was only determined by the music and not marketing actions – then there are tons of bands that would reach broader audiences. Betrayer is one of these bands. We were lucky enough to share the stage with this legend, and the time spent backstage with them was rewarding. When it comes to a less extreme approach – Krzak, they are masters of the blues,  and the instrumental track called “Tajemniczy świat Mariana” is clearly a masterpiece. There were also many more great bands; however, they all have the same, mutual thing – (they) disbanded after a great debut. I truly believe that it was due to the fact that chasing the dream in Poland (of being a successful metal band) was less optimistic than in countries in western Europe, so musicians were dropping their (musical) careers to pay for their living expenses. Luckily, even though the best times for monetizing extreme music have passed away, we have no problems with getting paid at a regular job and using our free time to do what we love.

IMV: Thank you so much for your time and for answering these interview questions.  Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Łukasz: Chase what you love. Defeat and feelings of loss will always be a part of the rocky road. It does not matter whether it is about dreams, relations, or any extra addition you want as a part of your life. Trying is essential to making a change, and I want you to be there, to witness the change we are and will be making. Thank you!

You can check out Dreadnought’s debut album, The Light Shalt Be Ungiven below:
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