Chuck Keller talks to us about the new Ares Kingdom album By the Light of Destruction and all things AK, past, present and future.
BM: 2019 sees Ares Kingdom return with a full length “By the Light of Destruction”. Can you tell us about the new album and how does it compare to 2015’s “The Unburiable Dead”?
Chuck K: ’By the Light of Destruction’ is a significant departure from ‘The Unburiable Dead’ in terms of the new one being far more primitive in composition and production. I don’t like saying crap like ‘we’ve gone back to our roots’ because I wouldn’t know how to do that. I had mapped out and started writing material for BtLoD even before TUD was released.
BM: Through some research I was made aware Vulpecula another band that you led (which ended in 1999) was conceptually influential to “By the Light of Destruction” Tell us bit about Vupelcula and how did it influence the new album that surfaced 10 years later?
Chuck K: So, 20 years ago, I was balancing Vulpecula and Ares Kingdom. Chris Overton (drums and keyboards in Vulpecula) and I thought it would be cool if we had Mike join Vulpecula and let Chris concentrate on keyboards. But at the same time, Chris and I were aware that new Vulpecula material had evolved past where we thought the band should go, so before we even got to rehearse with Mike, we decided to end the band. This left me to carry on with Mike in Ares Kingdom and let Vulpecula rest. I wish we could have pulled Chris into AK with keyboards, but his life was going in another direction at the time, so it was best to let things go as they did.
BM: So we touched on Vulpecula, how about Order from Chaos.. how has Order from Chaos influenced Ares Kingdom in any way?…. I witness a reunion from Order from Chaos many years back here in Los Angeles, a devastating show also played by Ares Kingdom… Any mentions of a possible return of OFC?
Chuck K: Not influenced us beyond the inescapable fact AK is 2/3 of Order From Chaos. We’ve never approached AK material with the attitude ‘what would OFC do in this song?’ We don’t see the point or necessity of a return to OFC now. The 2010 reunion shows were enough.
BM: Before the actual recording of “By the Light of Destruction” the band joined Destroyer 666 and Watain on tour. Tell us about the tour and how touring with such a great package came to be…. One more thing concerning the tour, by the time the tour made it to the West Coast Ares Kingdom was no longer on the bill, a bit of a disappointment to me personally as it had been a while since I witness Ares Kingdom live… why?
Chuck K: Years ago, Erik D. emailed me about where we got some of our merch done as he wanted to get some Watain stuff done similarly. Turns out he’s an old Vulpecula and OFC fanatic, so we formed a fast friendship. Fast forward some years and he was pulling together the Watain/D6 US tour and approached us about opening as many shows on the tour as we could. Of course AK has close ties to D666 as well, so it was a no-brainer for us. The tour was utterly fantastic, of course.
BM: I find Ares Kingdom’s music very old school cryptic thrash but it’s also akinned to crust/punk with some grind core break downs. How far off am I with that description?
Chuck K: That’s pretty accurate. I don’t hear grind in what we do, but everything else you mention is absolutely correct.
BM: I judge albums by how many songs I skip when playing it, I skip too many and it’s probably not gonna get another play for a while. I didn’t skip any when listening to “By the Light of Destruction”. The production isn’t polished, I find it rightfully fitting the music. What was the thinking behind this?
Chuck K: Our albums are always self-produced, so you know you’re always going to get a unique sounding album as opposed to what it would sound like if we went to a big studio and had some producer or engineer make us sound the way they think we should. As I mentioned earlier, as a band, AK is moving in a more primitive and darker direction. Maybe it’s partly due to us getting old, I dunno, but it’s a direction we’re all very satisfied with and will continue to explore.
BM: It’s been a few months since the album has come out, how has the response been?
Chuck K: Reactions have been more positive than ever. Fans and critics seem to love our rebellion against the direction most other bands take as they age – that being the fact a band usually gets more refined and tasteful.
BM: You and Mike Miller started Ares Kingdom back in 1996, later joined Alex Blume in the year 2000. Now in 2019, what would you say is the secret to a bands longevity and is being a three piece an advantage as in less people less headaches. Has there been other members that came and went in Ares Kingdom?
Chuck K: The key to our longevity is that we’ve all been friends for decades. I’ve known Mike since 1973 – no kidding, and we started playing together in school bands in 1977. We were in a cover band together in 1986, and of course when OFC started in 1987, he was the only drummer Pete and I called upon. We’ve known Alex since around 1990, when he survived and thrived during years of attending OFC rehearsals at our Road House rehearsal spot. We just knew he belonged in AK when he became available to join in 2000. The only other person in AK through the years is Doug Overbay, another old friend from 1986 or so. He also joined in 2000 but stepped aside in 2015. He still comes around fairly often to hang out during rehearsals and sometimes on short road trips, although he doesn’t play.
BM: So the “underground” has become very saturated, bands come out of the wood work and put out albums left and right. How hard would you say it is now a days to stick out, get coverage and actually make an impact musically? Is wide spread coverage even the goal for Ares Kingdom?. Would you say the fan base for Ares Kingdom has grown? Is that important? or is keeping the existing fan base the goal for a band?
Chuck K: It’s really difficult to get noticed these days. There are so many hipsters everywhere, waiting to jump on the next cool new thing – not that those people didn’t exist in the ’80s (they certainly did!). Our fanbase grows every year, that’s for sure, even though AK will never be a cool trendy darling or ‘band du jour,’ just as OFC never was, but over time our prestige has built itself up to decent proportions, yet our fans know we will forever be ‘theirs’ and never have to share us with ordinary hipsters or posers!
BM: Ares Kingdom works with Nuclear War Now Records to release the band’s albums. How is it working with the label.
Chuck K: We signed with NWN in 2004 and are still perfectly satisfied with the label to this day. Sure, there are other labels about as big as NWN that might have more influence in the metal media, but with NWN we have a unique creative space that we wouldn’t get with other labels of similar size to NWN – let alone with bigger labels. Music is no way to make a living; we do it for the art, and for that reason, NWN makes the most sense.
BM: Though the last two albums were four years apart Ares Kingdom wasn’t with out releasing music through out that time in between. Tell us about the ep’s that made their rounds around the world and via what imprints/labels was this music released.
Chuck K: Those were assembled starting spring 2018, with the releases starting in fall 2018. They’re out there to provide a quick AK history lesson for new or uninitiated fans. You might view them as a ‘best of’ sort of thing. They are only available through our Bandcamp page as online only releases. We’re not thinking of any physical releases of them since the original albums are generally widely available still.
BM: I’ve asked bands/people what their opinions are on labels these days. With the advent of the all these music platform sites,(social media, easy and affordable access to PR, easy merch printing and what not) what their thoughts are on having to be on a label. Most have said the need is not as crucial any more.. I believe that is true but I still see the need for bands on labels as not all bands are very hands on past the actually music making process… What are your thoughts?
Chuck K: Yeah, it’s true labels are less necessary today than in years past. If a band is able and willing to dedicate themselves to every aspect of the music business, it is possible to go places without dedicated label support.
BM: As part of putting out an album comes the duties to back that album up live. What are the plans for touring and one off appearances in support of “By the Light of Destruction”. Has it been begun and are there plans abroad?
Chuck K: We just played Metal Threat II fest in Chicago last July, and we’ve got a couple of regional shows coming early in the fall. After that, we’re looking to 2020 to get the shows and tour schedule going. Europe in November 2020 is being worked on even now. There are a couple of possible US tours next year as well, although I don’t really have anything concrete to report at the moment.
BM: “By The Light of their Destruction” is out and pummeling ears as we speak. What’s next musically for the band. When does the writing process for the next album begin, has it begun?
Chuck K: Oh yeah, it began even as we were finishing the production of BtLoTD back in Feb/March 2019! I already have the next album mapped out and two songs written. We’ll start rehearsing them this fall, plus whatever else is finished in the meantime!
BM: Thanks for your time Chuck. Any words for the Bulldozer Mag maniacs?
Chuck K: Thanks for the killer support! If you’re into stuff like old Bathory, Sodom, Voivod, Sacrilege, Destroyer 666, check us out…I think you’ll dig us! Also check out our webpage www.areskingdom.com for news and an automated merch page. Hope to see you on the road in the next few years! DIE HARD!!!
Interview by JS