MIND OVER MATTER – In the first instalment of a two-part feature MindWars’ Mike Alford tells the story behind the band’s new album, ‘The Fourth Turning’

MIND OVER MATTER – In the first instalment of a two-part feature MindWars’ Mike Alford tells the story behind the band’s new album, ‘The Fourth Turning’
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The first thing that crops up in conversation is that the MindWars line-up has had not so much a change, as a bit of a tweak. “If you remember,” says Mike, “when MindWars formed, Roby [Vitari] was in Italy with me in Los Angeles. Out of necessity and to keep the rhythm section together, Roby mentioned his friend Danny [Pizzi, aka ‘Z’] to join us on bass. Danny’s main instrument is guitar, but he fit in nicely on bass with our situation. Having the rhythm section in the same location also helped too, so very soon we became a family of three, albeit in two different countries.

“In January 2019, we were asked to play the Schecter Guitar NAMM After-Party. With Roby now living in Southern California – he relocated and applied for citizenship in 2017 – two-thirds of the band were within shouting, and more importantly, rehearsing distance. So when we were asked to play the Schecter show, we either had to decline, with Danny still in Italy, or find a substitute bass player. In stepped Rick Zaccaro – yes, another Italian! But US-born and an LA native like me. We chatted with Danny about the idea and he was cool with it and Rick, while not being a big thrash/speed metal fan, thought it would be a fun opportunity. I’d met Rick through a mutual friend several years ago and we share a lot of the same classic metal tastes (you know, Sabbath, Priest, and Maiden). I played him some of our songs and he dug it. Believe it or not, we rehearsed together only twice, but the show was a success. Since it went so well, we all discussed the idea of having Danny join me on guitar and asking Rick to become our bass player. While we have yet to play as a four-piece, I think this is a much more cohesive unit, and it’ll also help me live since I’m trying to hold down the rhythm and lead guitar, plus vocals as well. It also allows us to play more shows. If we get some more shows in the US we can play as a three-piece with Rick and, likewise, if we get some more shows in Europe, we can always continue as a three-piece with Danny. However, our goal is to get on some festival shows or a tour with a solid headliner to really unleash the power of the band as a four-piece.”

‘The Fourth Turning’ is one hell of an album, with ten new hard ‘n’ heavy work-outs with a Slayer cover rounding things off, and it comes as no surprise that the MindWars guys are more than happy with the finished result. “Thank you so much for the kind words. Yes, we are really pleased with the entire album. We took a different approach with the writing, recording, and mixing this time around. Roby has always considered our first three albums as kind of ‘demos’. ‘The Enemy Within’ was definitely in that category: much of the material I had written in 1988/1989 when Holy Terror was still a band. I had old cassette tapes and rediscovered the material around 2005-2010. Fresh off ‘The Enemy Within’, I cranked out the songs for ‘Sworn To Secrecy’. We commissioned Bill Metoyer to mix and master and were very happy with the album, but there are clearly several filler songs. We were becoming a band but hadn’t hit our stride at this point. When we did ‘Do Unto Others’, we kind of kept with the same process and theme with the cover as the first two releases. We also hired an old friend of mine to mix. He did a great job, but he wanted the old-style analogue sound and we lost some of the aggression. So when we decided to do a fourth album, we really discussed the process from start to finish before we began.”

‘The Fourth Turning’ does seem to be a logical progression for the band, and seems quite a leap from its predecessors. “That was definitely the game plan,” Mike confirms, “and we’re hoping this album takes us to the next level. I really liked ‘Do Unto Others’ but Roby wasn’t crazy about it. Not to say there are not some bright spots, there clearly are. Songs like ‘Blacklisted’ and ‘Conspiracy’ are some of our strongest songs and will definitely stay in our live setlist. But it’s more of a continuation than the ‘leap’ you are referring to. ‘The Fourth Turning’ is a huge improvement from our first three albums. I was also going through some personal things and contemplated scrapping the whole band and moving onto something different entirely at one stage. So when we decided to do the fourth album around May 2019, as I said, we discussed what we wanted it to sound like. We were very deliberate with this release. We spent time listening to a lot of different music from the latest releases by Testament, Exodus, and Priest to a variety of other music like Lamb of God and Motörhead. I also took a different look at how to phrase my vocal patterns. One of the biggest critiques of our albums are my vocals. I am by no means a trained singer and much of my vocal melodies were very simple and repetitive. So, I spoke with quite a few different people, seeking input. I tried to think more like a singer and less like a guitarist. I’m still not there and will be taking some formal training to continue to grow as a singer. So we really treated this release differently than the first three.”

As for the title, eagle-eyed fans will know that ‘The Fourth Turning’ was the opening cut on ‘Do Unto Others’… “Yeah, believe it or not, the album title wasn’t selected until a few months ago,” Mike cuts in. “We were riding with the working title ‘Blood Red’ for over a year. We were never thrilled with this title and we must have tossed around several dozen different ideas. I always wanted to call it ‘The Awakening’, but Sacred Reich beat us to the punch on this one. I think it was Roby who actually threw out the idea of ‘The Fourth Turning’. This title actually makes perfect sense. I first learned of the concept and theories of generations and the four turnings from an interview I read with Steve Bannon. While my lyrics can be considered political in nature, I try to interweave mystery and mythology in them. Bannon was an advisor to Donald Trump and is obsessed with the theory of the four turnings, and I read some of the book titled ‘The Fourth Turning’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe and was fascinated by their ideas. After delving into this topic, I wrote the lyrics to the song ‘The Fourth Turning’ on ‘Do Unto Others’. Once I started writing ideas for song titles and lyrics for what became this new album I found myself hitting on topics related to what is going on in our world and they fit into the concept of The Fourth Turning. So when the suggestion was made to title this album, it fit perfectly with the concept of many of the songs and the chaos that has hit the world. ‘The Fourth Turning’ is one of my favorite songs from ‘Do Unto Others’ and this helps keep it alive.”

As you might expect, ‘The Fourth Turning’ boasts some really powerful songs – ‘Black Death’, opener ‘The Awakening’, and ‘The System’ to highlight just a handful – and has a real TKO sound. “One of the things Roby kept bringing up over and over is the idea of heavy mid-tempo songs in addition to our faster songs. With the exception of a few mid-tempo songs on the first three albums, they were quite a bit different than our thrash/speed roots. So I put quite a bit of thought into songs like ‘Black Death’ and ‘The System’. While these songs and a few others are variances from our thrash/speed style, they maintain that TKO (as you put it) power and sound. The writing started as it usually does, with me recording riff after riff after riff. I seem to hit times where riffs just flow out of me. By no means are they all good, but there are definitely a few gems. I would send these riffs to Roby and he would give me the thumbs up or down sign. After we had several dozen riffs, we started to put them together to develop songs. Where things changed a bit this time around was in the arrangement and song structure phase of the writing. With Roby living in SoCal [Southern California to geographically-challenged Brits!], we spent several weeks together going through the riffs and arranging the songs. There was more of a collaborative effort this time around. We would pick and choose which riffs worked well together and, for the gaps, I would just play things on the fly and we would know when we hit on something solid.

“When it came to recording,” he continues, “we finished the drums by the end of September of 2019. I also was in the studio with Roby during much of the recording of the drums to offer comments and suggestions. This was also something we never had the opportunity to do since all the drums for the first three albums were recorded in Italy while I was in LA. It’s amazing the little details you hear when there are several ears in the room. After the drums were finished, I had several months to work on the various guitar parts before actually laying down the tracks. Roby would push me to create various harmonies and riffs on top of the songs and we would get together to bounce different ideas off each other. I spent much of February and March really focusing on all the guitar parts. Some of the harmonies came quickly while others I had to redo a few times. By the time the COVID lockdown hit, we had the drums and bass recorded and I had the vast majority of all the guitar parts written. The bass recording was also different than the previous albums. Not only were we working with a new bassist, but Rick and I worked together during the recording sessions. While technology allowed us to record three albums in two different countries, the lack of cohesion does show. I wouldn’t go as far as Roby to call them all demos, but there is definitely something lacking and I think it is the sense of a band. This album –as I said before – was much more a collaboration. I just hope we get the exposure needed to let this thing fly.”

‘The Fourth Turning’ comes with some pretty stunning cover art, too. “Ah, we found Caio Caldes (CadiesArt) on social media. We loved one of his pieces and thought about using it for our cover. It was amazing, but to me it didn’t fit with my thoughts on a concept and it also didn’t fit with the style of MindWars. If you look at the first three albums, they all revolve around a character we refer to as Wally, named after Colonel Walter Kurtz from my favourite film ‘Apocalypse Now’. The first two albums showed the mental struggles of Wally and the third album ‘Do Unto Others’ capped a finale of sorts with the struggle between good and evil, but with good ultimately prevailing. With our fourth, we wanted to go in a completely different direction. We retired Wally and focused on a completely different style and concept. I wrote down a few ideas and thoughts and sent them to Caio and he provided a rough sketch. His initial sketch was close, and after a few adjustments we had a cover. We also have a few versions floating around on someone’s computer with the title ‘Blood Red’. Caio is an amazing artist and the detail of the cover is brilliant. The concept of the album shows the decay of industrial society and fits nicely with the title.

“And, by the way,” he adds, “there is something on the cover that’s hidden. It’s two words. That’s all I’ll give you…”

Next time: Mike talks about Slayer cover versions, hope, and Pat Benatar tribute bands…

‘The Fourth Turning’ is out now, to order it, or to buy or stream ‘Do Unto Others’ click the links below