Sometimes having your head cleaved in twain is just what the doctor ordered. Besides the fact that it’s hot as Hell out and the breeze might feel good, getting your noggin split open let’s you get out all that extra junk you’ve been carrying around up there to make room for the good stuff. It’s also nice to just not think for a bit and, with your brains slipping out onto the floor, that won’t be a problem. Ok, so it might not be the most usual way to relax but when Barbarian is doing the cleaving, you can bet the end result will be worth it.
Since forming in 2009, Barbarian has been playing their own brand of heavy metal and gathering a horde of loyal followers. Throw on any record by the group and you’ll be pretty quickly gripped by some of the purest heavy metal out there. Fresh off their 2022 LP Viperface, Barbarian has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. I recently caught up with vocalist/guitarist Borys Crossburn to chat about all things Barbarian.
First off, how did Barbarian get started? What made you want to start this kind of band?
Borys Crossburn: Hi! Nothing really fancy or epic: it was 2009, I just wanted to play old school metal, the one I’ve grown up with, with Hellhammer/early Celtic Frost particularly on my mind. It was just a matter of finding a couple of like minded people to share the project with. Once that was accomplished, Barbarian started its evolution.
How did you get into metal in the first place and who are some of the bigger influences within the genre on the band?
Borys: I got introduced in 1989 by some friends of mine in Poland (I’m half Polish), my first approaches were made of Metallica, Kreator, Sodom, Bulldozer (yeah, an Italian band I got to know in Poland), Bathory… it clicked immediately. I’ve been listening to metal for the last 34 years, I own thousands of records, so it’s like a magma out of which influences pour out spontaneously in numbers. Namedropping would be boring, everybody knows the classics and ALL of them have been an influence in a way, everything is squeezed into our own personal style and approach. I always point out the fun in reading reviews, because in describing our music so many different bands get mentioned, from Death to Helloween, and all that stands in between. Does it make any sense? No, because we are very distant from both Death and Helloween. Yes, because it’s all stuff we love, and some of that leaks in. But I’ll never stress enough that our sound is personal, no band sounds like us, at least if enough attention and time is given to listening, I’m sick of judgements based on a couple of half-listened songs from Youtube while having breakfast.
What’s your process like for writing the music side of things?
Borys: I bring in riffs and ideas in the practice room and we start working on them collectively. The ol’ good practice room we visit regularly every Monday evening, no Guitar Pro involved whatsoever…
How do you write the lyrics for the band? What do you turn to for inspiration for the songs?
Borys: There’s an anti-religious “fil rouge” throughout all our albums, a “no gods no masters” attitude that, for the latest Viperface album, took the shape of a concept album based on the Chants of Maldoror. A lot of care is put in the content but also in the form, I’m a metric fanatic.
How did getting to record that killer debut come about? What was the recording process like and what did you learn that you have taken to future recordings? Looking back, is there anything you’d change about that record?
Borys: We were actually all already experienced from previous bands, so we just did our thing in the studio. We recorded in our town, Firenze, but then mixed and mastered in another studio in another city. The result was cool, but I think I prefer having the recording and mixing made by the same person, it’s easier to get to the final point.
The newest record, Viperface, is probably my favorite thing you guys have done so far. What was the writing/recording process like for this record? Did you want to continue what you’ve been doing on previous records or add anything new to the mix? How happy were you when you heard the final mix?
Borys: It was all practice room work. Once we had the seven songs ready we kept on rehearsing them to arrange all the details. When it was all satisfactory we started the recording process, which happened again in our practice room, that’s a very cool thing to do to keep the sound under control. Our sound guy was already used to us, since he worked on both our 2017 U.S. tour-EP and To No God Shall I Kneel album. So it was kinda quick to get to the final mix. The songs are musically linked to our previous album, but at the same time there’s even more into them, lots of nuances that require attention, as I said before superficial listening, the plague of today’s internet-era, doesn’t work with Barbarian, our true fans are no modern ADHD kinda people. In a review someone wrote that nothing happens throughout the songs, all is flat. Well, try to count out how many riffs and tempo-changes Viperface contains and you’ll have a surprise.
I wanted to ask about a few songs on the record specifically to get the story behind the musical/lyrical inspiration for them. What’s the origin of the title track?
Borys: That’s based on a specific chapter of the Chants of Maldoror. Musically, [it] is the most speed metal song of the bunch, but the break in the middle is totally no speed metal, our bass player used to call it the Amebix moment. I didn’t have Amebix in mind when I brought in that riff, but I guess the remark makes sense.
What about the origin of “Charity Defiler?”
Borys: That’s the “commercial” song, it quickly gets to the point, the vocal metrics are hammering, it works miracles when played live. At the same time the mid part is a nice break that takes momentarily a different direction.
How about the story behind “A Feast For the Beast?”
Borys: The pounding song, no solos, it’s superheavy. There’s a “Crowleyan” connection to a song off our previous album, “The Beast is Unleashed.”
“Regressive Metal” was another favorite of mine. How did that one come about?
Borys: The “Chants” have six chapters, so six songs. The seventh is the bonus chapter in the series marked by “The hammer and the anvil,” “Total metal,” “Absolute metal,” and “Obtuse metal.” Let’s call them manifesto-songs, homages to the music we like and to our approach to metal.
You guys always have really killer covers that fit the albums really well. Who did the one for Viperface and how much direction did you give them? How stoked were you when you saw the final cover?
Borys: It’s an amazing job by the Italian artist Velio Josto. His skills are over the top. We gave him the idea, and then let him work. It’s cool when cover artworks spill out from an interaction between band and artist. Our previous three covers were works of Shagrat from Acid Witch. The first album featured a painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski, our personal H.R. Giger, to keep the comparison with Celtic Frost alive.
Being that this was your fifth record, how do you feel the band has grown and evolved over the years? To what do you attribute that growth?
Borys: We grew a lot, our early songs were more simple, they were a starting point from that Hellhammer/Celtic Frost love that prompted that band at the beginning. The more you play the more you focus on what you think is worth. And since we practice a lot it worked very well. Our music has become more and more personal over the years, that’s the accomplishment we are more proud of.
What’s your local scene like where you are in Italy? Is there one to be active in and what kind of effect has it had on you all as musicians?
Borys: Right now there are only a couple of venues in Firenze, but they don’t do concerts regularly. There are good bands like Sickening, Necromorbid, Kinetik, and Noia, also veterans like Sabotage and Death SS. Nothing like the Spanish Metal Clubs or the Kolbotn scene, but we all respect each other nonetheless and no bands sound alike.
Lastly, what’s next for Barbarian? What are your goals for the future of the band and plans for the rest of 2023?
Borys: We have a Mexican tour happening in August and several shows planned in Italy. Before the end of the year a live LP is supposed to be released, and a 7” EP will be out early 2024. Always busy, METAL is not for the lazy.
Thanks a lot for the interview, keep the flame burning, HEAVY METAL IS EVIL, HEAVY METAL IS UGLY, HEAVY METAL IS THREATENING.
Photo at top: Viperface album cover.