Belonging to the same generation as Ambush, Screamer, Enforcer and Robert Pehrsson’s Humbucker, Air Raid are currently hailed as one of the most accomplished protagonists of the new wave of traditional Swedish heavy metal.
The band was formed by guitarist Andreas Johansson in Gothenburg in 2009. After a two-track demo in 2011 and a CD EP called »Danger Ahead«, the band’s debut album »Night Of The Axe« saw the light of day in 2012, followed by two more full-length records for the High Roller label: »Point Of Impact« (2014) and the critically acclaimed »Across The Line« (2017).
“»Across The Line« was very well received world wide, and the following tour was also successful,” is how Johansson describes the reactions to the third Air Raid album, which was in 2019 followed by an exclusive 7” single called »Demon's Eye« including two brand new tracks. “The 7” format is not so common anymore, right?,” adds vocalist Fredrik Werner. “I love going to record stores and finding these old singles that often have B-sides that never made the albums. They are more of a rare collectible in that sense. Speaking of »Demon's Eye«, I’d say it was the perfect bridge between »Across The Line« and »Fatal Encounter«. I remember we had much fun recording it.”
As just mentioned, »Fatal Encounter« is the name of Air Raid’s brand new studio album. Since the 7” single »Demon's Eye«, the band changed their drummer and bass player. As a result, »Fatal Encounter« was recorded by Andy Johansson (guitars), Magnus Mild (guitars), Fredrik Werner (vocals), Jan Ekberg (bass) and William Seidl (drums).
“We worked in a couple of different studios in Gothenburg when tracking this album,” explains guitarist Andy Johansson how the band approached recording »Fatal Encounter«. “This was partially due to Covid but also because we wanted to try out new things. The drums were recorded in Grand Recording Studios. Guitars and bass were tracked in our home studios, and the vocals were engineered by me and Fredrik in the rehearsal room. We are all interested in recording techniques, so we did a lot on our own! The writing process went very smoothly as Fredrik and I collaborated on most of the songs, and with Magnus on two of them.” “We never had any special sound in mind,” continues Andy, “but more a constant flow of ideas that came together nicely. I prefer to let all songs live their own life and not thinking ‘it has to sound like this or that’. I think this mindset makes our music quite unique among other heavy metal bands.”
This is totally true, and it’s also one reason why Air Raid has progressed and gotten bigger with each album they released, with »Fatal Encounter« marking the peak of their development. “I also feel that the band has gotten more and more recognition,” agrees Andy Johansson. “However, the time investment can be a problem of course. I have other solo projects going on at the same time, but every now and then I record stuff that goes into the Air Raid folder. My love for music is simply too big to be limited to one genre. With this said, Air Raid will always be active and new albums will definitely come!”
The vinyl edition of »Fatal Encounter« will be pressed with an initial quantity of 1,200 copies, that’s not too bad at all for a relatively new band in a shrinking market... “We are lucky to be part of a music scene that still goes that extra mile to buy physical copies,” is how vocalist Fredrik Werner explains this phenomenon. “When we are out touring, vinyl is usually the first to go. But yeah, we are really happy that there is such an interest in what we are doing. I think one important reason is that we stick to what we believe in and try to do our own thing, you know.”
Apart from the excellent musical content, »Fatal Encounter« also has a striking cover. Andy reveals the story behind it: “It was done by Jarred Hageman. He’s a very talented American guy with a big love for airbrush art. I contacted him and he got very interested in the project. Together, we developed this idea of a crazy flying Air Raid guitar with canons. For me, the scene is about the clash of mind and heart.”
The first number on »Fatal Encounter, “Thunderblood”, is a really catchy number, a perfect opener for the album. The song title bears a slight similarity to Saxon’s mighty “Thunderbolt”. Are Air Raid big fans of Biff and the boys?
“I just recently went to see Saxon a couple of weeks ago in our hometown,” comments Fredrik. “They always put on a good show and never disappoint. It was kind of a no brainer for us to put this song to the beginning to kick things off. However, ‘Thunderblood’ is definitely its own thing. We had the chorus down before we got the title and it’s kind of a made up word to describe having that driving spirit.”
Musically, »Fatal Encounter« also shows some shades of (later) Riot, vocally and guitar wise. From day one Riot have really been much underrated, haven't they? “It’s always interesting to see what people hear in our music,” laughs guitarist Andy. “It’s often bands I never thought of, or even know, ha, ha. But it’s nice you mention Riot. When I was younger, I listened to them a lot, maybe it shines through in the guitars. I think the old Riot was a fantastic band and should have gotten more recognition for sure!”
“Lionheart” is another very strong number on the new record. It's epic up-tempo hard rock/heavy metal of the Rainbow school with lots of neo-classical guitar-licks in the middle part, absolutely captivating. “I was mind blown when I first heard the solos on this one,” confirms singer Air Raid singer Fredrik. “Andy and Magnus took this one to the next level. Actually, the whole record is filled with dazzling guitar work! I’m glad you like this one, it is also one of my favourites. It’s fast paced and hard rocking but still with a melody that sticks. Lyrically, ‘Lionheart’ takes place in the mind of a warrior, finding courage and inner strength on his way to the final battle. I’d say its your perfect song to fire up your spirits when facing any given obstacle!”
“Sinfonia”, as the title suggests, is a quasi-classical guitar piece, which is once again very well played. Any influences for that? Blackmore? “This is an interesting one,” remarks guitarist Andy. “I’m a big lover of Baroque music, so it’s actually my interpretation of a piece by Swedish composer Johann Helmich Roman. He is often called the ‘father of Swedish music’. It has some really complex harmonies, so me and Jan (bass) were partially studying his original handwritten notes from the 1700s (laughs). It was quite a challenge to arrange but came out really cool!”
“Edge Of A Dream” is another guitar show piece for Andy Johansson who proves his versatility by applying the tapping technique. “Yes it’s tapping,” he nods. “It just happened by chance when I was messin’ around one day. It had a pretty unique sound to it, so I wanted to make something of it! I don’t use tapping very much, but sometimes it has a nice place for sure! Of course I was blown away the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen’s tapping in ‘Eruption’, same story for all guitarists I think ha, ha.”
“I’m sure this will be a big surprise for people!,” is how Andy describes the choice to cover “Pegasus Fantasy”. It’s not a Loudness number but the theme song of a 1986 animated film from the land of the rising sun. “It’s the main theme for a Japanese anime series called ‘Saint Seiya’,” explains the guitarist in more detail. “I’m not a anime fan but I loved the song from the first moment I heard it. I also have a big interest in Japan in general: the culture, history, language, Zen Buddhism etc. We have played there two times and it was a great experience, people there really appreciate our music! I presented the crazy idea to Fredrik to sing in Japanese. Do I have to mention that he was surprised (laughs)? But we decided to do it, and I think it came out great!”
With the release of »Fatal Encounter« Air Raid have surpassed a lot of their Swedish contemporaries (no names mentioned!), it’s a very strong and classy record. So where is the limit for the band’s development? “Those are very encouraging words, thank you!,” beams Fredrik closing off our conversation. “We’ve put down a great deal of effort into »Fatal Encounter« and I have good faith in that it will take us were we need to go. Now we’ll let the music do the talking and we’ll see what the future brings. Nothing is impossible!”