By Justin Smulison
In April, German power metallers Paragon released Controlled Demolition on Massacre Records, the band’s 12th full-length studio album since 1995. Though Paragon’s output may have slowed down in the past decade, the music itself incorporates more speed and thrash elements into the group’s classic heavy metal sound without sacrificing melody.
Over 11 tracks, Paragon delivers 50 minutes of intense, dark and sometimes fun metal that explores dystopian themes like the wish for eternal (digital) life in “Timeless Souls”; the Earth’s impending doom during “Blackbell”; and a shout-out to a famous Marvel Comics assassin through “Black Widow.”
An Interview With Paragon’s Jan Bünning
Longtime bassist and backing vocalist Jan Bünning discusses how the approach to Controlled Demolition was born out of frustration within power metal’s various subgenres and an attempt to honor the sound established by legends like Saxon, Iron Maiden, Helloween and Overkill. Bunning also provides insight into how Paragon has persevered despite multiple lineup and life changes and why some metal bands can still thrive in an era of streaming music and being ignored by mainstream platforms.
How does Controlled Demolition stand out in Paragon’s discography?
Jan Bünning: There are several things that make this record different from our other releases. It’s for sure one of the heaviest and fastest albums we ever made. With our drummer Sören Teckenburg [who joined Paragon in 2014], there are not too many boundaries when it comes to speeding up the songs.
When we started Paragon, power metal was characterized by bands like Overkill and Metal Church, a crossover between classic heavy metal and thrash/speed metal. These days, power metal is this keyboard-infested melodic shit that often sounds more like pop or folk with some lame distorted guitars. We wanted to diversify from that, so we increased speed and heaviness and also cut down overdubs and backing vocals. Furthermore, we rehearsed a lot before entering the studio so we could capture some of the live power on hard disc and we succeeded with it. We never had such a heavy, direct, organic but simultaneously clear sound.
What is Paragon’s recipe or equation for a memorable and challenging metal song?
Sometimes we have guidelines for what kind of songs we want to record. This time our guitar players just wrote riffs which came into their minds and I started to arrange them in my little home studio. On the previous album, Hell Beyond Hell, we had very long songs and I realized that it could be the same this time. So I started to throw out every unnecessary repetition, riff and part to strip down the songs and make them more accessible. At the same time, we took care that every song had some bridge and lead part to make it special.
With so many albums under your belt and so many personalities to consider, with what lessons learned do you enter the studio when writing and recording?
When we started recording with producer Piet Sielck years ago, he still had to do a lot of copy and paste because we were not the good players we are now. We prepare much better for the studio and rehearse all songs a lot before entering. Rehearsals were so good this time that we only needed about 14 days to record most of the album. We recorded all lead guitars and backing vocals at our home studios, but I don’t remember ever finishing the recordings so fast.
At 8-1/2 minutes, “Deathlines,” the album’s longest song, while not the fastest track, the cut never feels slow and is always captivating. What can you tell us about the track’s songwriting and recording processes?
Our background songwriter Martin Christian played the guitar riff one time in our rehearsal room and I liked it from the beginning. We always have doom songs on our albums, so when we recorded demos I asked Martin if he remembered the riff. And he did. Even more, he already had some bridge and chorus, but I wanted the song to differ from our other slow songs, so we added a calm middle part, lots of lead guitars and additional vocal parts. I guess it’s one of our best doom songs and heavy as hell.
How prevalent is vocal melody when constructing power metal music?
The answer is, very important. We like to be heavy and aggressive, but a good catchy melody is always a must. We like the combination of aggressive riffs with singalong choruses. People need something which stays in their head after they listen to a song.
Speaking of vocal melodies, how has Andreas Babuschkin’s voice changed over the years and how has it influenced the musical direction of the band?
At first Martin just wrote songs without considering what kind of songs are fitting to Buschi´s voice. A voice is a voice. Of course you can train it, but in some ways it always stays the same. These days we try to write stuff fitting to his singing style and voice and sometimes try out something different like deep growls or such things. He can´t hit all high notes anymore, but all in all, he is in good shape and more controlled than in the past. As we also got heavier over the years, his vocals also became more aggressive. So, in the end, we didn’t change so much for Buschi on Controlled Demolition, but our music and his vocals have both evolved over time.
Your output is impressive and it seems very few years go by without a new studio album. Do you feel compelled to release new music or is there a steady creative flow?
These days we don’t put out as many albums as in the past. When we started, we sometimes put out one album each year. Now it’s more like one album in two or three years.
Music is only a [professional] hobby to us, so we are not forced to put out albums to live from the sales. And it´s of course also not possible because most of us have kids, family and also work. We try to be as professional as possible, so songwriting with all the other duties takes more time today than in the past.
And one more important point is money. For studio recordings, artwork, photos, layout, etc. we need about 7,000-8,000€ for each record. With our shows, we make this money and as we don´t tour, sometimes it takes time to collect money for the studio recording. On the other hand, the people might forget you, with all these bands out there. So I guess putting out an album each second or third year is a must.
Having withstood many rock and metal trends, would you say that the present is an optimal time to be an active metal band?
We’re not a full-time band, so we never cared about trends. We write albums we want to hear and do this as professionally as possible. But of course, in times of decreasing record sales it’s good to be a metal band because metal fans still buy physical albums which make much more money than streaming. As long as we like to play our stuff and make enough money to record albums, we will carry on.
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