Ares' for the Taking
CoC chats with Chuck Keller of Ares Kingdom
by: T. DePalma
There are roughly five dozen metal bands known to have formed in the state of Missouri, and only a fraction of them ever released something that lasts beyond the era and scene it was born into. Chuck Keller has been in three of those bands. A founding member of the legendary Order From Chaos as well as the short lived Vulpecula, Keller is currently preparing the debut album for Ares Kingdom, which features himself alongside Order From Chaos' Mike Miller, bassist Doug Overbay and ex-Nepenthe / Ligeia growler, Alex Blume. Mr. Keller kindly granted us a few moments of back and forth on the eve of this release, due out on Nuclear War Now records.

CoC: Greetings Chuck, could you give of a brief history of the band up until now?

Chuck Keller: Mike and I came together as Ares Kingdom in late 1996. We recorded a demo (to be featured as a 7" EP in the limited edition "Die Hard" vinyl version of our LP _Return to Dust_), and rehearsed material until 2001 when we recruited Alex Blume on vocals and Doug Overbay on bass. We recorded a live-in-the studio 7" EP in 2003 called _Chaosmongers Alive_, and set to work recording our new album in late August 2004. We released the _Firestorm Redemption_ teaser 12" single in January 2006 and will release the full length _Return to Dust_ in late April.

CoC: Both the single and upcoming disc were recorded between summer 2004 and winter 2005. Why has it taken so long to finally put together a full-length album?

CK: We have regular jobs and families, so spending eight to twelve hours in the studio every day (like we used to) simply was not possible. Sixteen months is a long time, but we made good use of it. An advantage to doing it over such a span was that it forced us to record the album in small steps, and this allowed more circumspection along the way. We have enough experience to know when we're overdoing something and keep ourselves from reading too much into a particular element, aspect or mix. I have no idea just how many hours we spent, but it was hundreds, easily.

CoC: Where did you record?

CK: We built our own studio, Very Metal Sound, in order to do it our way with no outside influences or distractions.

CoC: Alex Blume's vocals are completely different from what you were doing on the first demo. How much has this affected your song writing?

CK: None at all. The biggest difference between our styles in the beginning was that I tended to enunciate the lyrics a bit more clearly. Studio work demands greater precision than live situations, so it was a matter of refining his presentation to the meter and emotion of the music. Considering the time we took recording, Alex fine-tuned his presentation to something understandable, yet utterly otherworldly.

CoC: Your lyrics seem to deal mostly with concepts of war and purification through strife -- spiritual warfare; a way of thinking that's seldom followed-through in modernity.

CK: That's a pretty fair assessment. There is a lot of inertia in humanity to overcome, but necessity is the mother of invention. We can call it strife, conflict, disease or what-have-you, but without these motivators we might -- unless we were very careful -- devolve into something not unlike H.G. Wells' vacant and pathetic Eloi, ripe for enslavement... or extinction. I'm no philosopher, but there are ideas I present for our audience to consider. What's right for me may not be right for them, but I leave it up to the individual to choose. If they find something useful, I'm glad. But of course not everything I write is so preachy. Lyrics on the album run the gamut from serious and thoughtful tracks like "Firestorm Redemption", "Fear Itself" and "Ironclad", to the historical horrors of the First World War ("Lamentations"), nuclear war ("Failsafe"), and a fantasia about a final war ("A Dream of Armageddon").

CoC: Knowledge of history is actually an integral part of your career outside of being a musician. What are some interesting items you've encountered as an appraiser?

CK: I've authenticated lots of interesting artifacts through the years: from ancient Egyptian ushabtis, to medieval armour, to Hitler's frock coat and top hat, to Saddam Hussein's daily dress uniform. I think one of my favorite items ever was Imperial German Field Marshal August von Mackensen's Hussar Attila and top coat, complete with parade dress medal bar... but there was lots of stuff almost that cool.

CoC: The lyrics for the new single sound like a challenge to the current generation of metal.

CK: Without trying to sound overly dramatic, they're more of a challenge to everyone. I don't think in terms of individual groups; I write for everyone... whether they'll listen or not.

CoC: What do you think of some of the older groups that still haven't packed it away yet: Venom, Sodom, Destruction?

CK: Sometimes it works well, sometimes not. I think Sodom is better than 99% of all other bands out there today. Destruction's new albums have been pretty good -- though I still usually listen to the old platters. I loved Venom's _Cast in Stone_ but I didn't like _Resurrection_ much and haven't heard _Metal Black_.

CoC: Do you view metal as its own philosophy?

CK: No, even in terms of the rebellion it represents. Philosophies tend to diagnose challenges and problems and then propose possible solutions. Metal's rebellion is only one side of this equation. Of course there have been bands that have offered something valuable here and there, but it seems rare -- and often accidental. Sometimes what's offered is negative and destructive, and that's no help at all. Without a constructive counterpoint I don't see how metal (in general) could be regarded as any sort of proper philosophy.

CoC: Could you talk a little bit about putting together the Order From Chaos _Imperium_ set?

CK: It came about after realizing it would be a good idea to put out a proper version of some of the more popular "extra" OFC recordings that are floating around before a bootlegger did an inferior version.

CoC: The relationship between the rest of the band and Pete Helmkamp was reportedly very tense and unamiable for years after the breakup. Has any of this changed since putting out the compilation? Have either you or Mike Miller had contact with him recently?

CK: Things are better between Pete and I now.

CoC: Are you aware that Order From Chaos is listed on the Anti-Defamation League's list of "White Power" and "National Socialist" metal bands?

CK: I had no idea. Evidently they never bothered to read our lyrics -- which are the antithesis of those moronic and hateful ideologies. Clearly the OFC entry was not well researched.

CoC: Do you have an idea when volume two will be released and what we can expect on that?

CK: It's in the works, but I can't even begin to guess a release date. You can expect obvious things, B-sides of singles, Demo I, plus more rare live / rehearsal stuff.

CoC: You're usually pretty busy outside of Ares Kingdom. Have you made any guest appearances lately?

CK: The last thing I recorded was a lead for Barbatos' cover of Vulpecula's "First Point of Aries" last fall. I don't know when or where it will be released, though. All the same, I'm done with guest appearances for now. Ares Kingdom is my focus.

CoC: As a writer and friend of the man himself, you've also contributed to the upcoming Bathory box-set on Black Mark Records...

CK: Boss contacted me last November to see if I'd be interested in writing a tribute to Q for the box set. I had no idea he knew who I was beyond just another of Q's pals, but apparently Q had talked about me and my family often enough that he recognized me from the card I sent on the first anniversary of Q's passing. When the time came he got in touch. Of course I accepted and even ended up editing text Q had written that was chosen for the box set. Release is set for June 3rd, exactly two years after his passing.

CoC: What has it been like trying to book live dates?

CK: With our local scene being so pathetic, it isn't worth bothering. Anyway, we're busy rehearsing Ares Kingdom mark III with Alex taking up bass (in addition to vocals) and Doug moving over to rhythm guitars. It would be cool to play more shows than we do, but with our families and busy personal lives, playing out isn't a top priority. We do what we love, regardless.

CoC: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. The final word is all yours.

CK: Thanks for the interview. Everyone keep an eye on our website for the latest on Ares Kingdom and the Bathory box set! We have posted new MP3s and are selling our releases, the OFC anthology (CDs and LPs) and Barbatos CDs in our webstore.

(article submitted 18/4/2006)

7/28/2006 T DePalma 8 Ares Kingdom - Return to Dust
4/18/2006 T DePalma Ares Kingdom - Firestorm Redemption
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