For the last decade or so, heavy metal has had a new rising star with the prolific Brendan Radigan. He’s probably the best known in our community for singing in Magic Circle and, more recently, as Pagan Altar’s live vocalist. His singing and songwriting on the Stone Dagger demo is the talk of the underground, as is constant speculation about when there’ll be more- but none of this prowess came from nothingness, as Brendan had been a known member of Boston’s hardcore scene for years before his first foray into heavy metal.
With the release of Magic Circle’s third album and a successful tour with Pagan Altar, it seemed a good time to ask Brendan some questions about his past, what he’s been up to in recent days, and what’s coming up next.
Did you ever imagine fifteen years ago as an aggressive punk vocalist that you’d end up as one of the most prominent melodic singers in heavy metal?
Oh, I never have much of an idea where anything will go, including my vocal stylings – which has certainly made things interesting over the years. What a long strange trip indeed! Gotta do something to kill the time…I can tell you I wish I knew how to sing from very early age! But alas, there was no teachers who offered instruction and I had no virtuosity to speak of. It was all learning at the school of hard knocks for me. I still greatly appreciate fronting the punk bands. There were some very amusing times here and there. Also, it taught me a great deal about finding that middle ground between not caring at all and being very present.
Any stories you’d like to share from those days?
Ah man…there’s a lot of stories. Some good. Some bad. Probably mostly bad, to be honest. And it’s less to do with anything musically, more just like looking back at one’s earlier years regarding human development and thinking…fuck. But hey, show me someone who doesn’t think that. I wouldn’t want to meet them if they exist.
Do you ever worry about protecting your voice, or the potential damage of doing harsher vocals outside of your best-known bands?
Well the great thing about the bands which are harsher vocally is this – I RARELY EVER PRACTICE WITH THEM! Whether it be before a show or before a recording – I just go in with zero practice, kamikaze style! A big old one-and-done and I never have to worry about singing brutally again for a long while! Which is great because take Battle Ruins, for instance. It’s a very gruff and glottis-shredding style of singing in that band. One gig will usually wipe me out for some days afterwards. Also, the after parties don’t help things…
How does that work with writing the vocal lines in the first place? Do you just sing them in a safer way writing and then go balls to the wall recording and performing, or something else?
It’s all in my head and just singing them softly on my way to work or whatever, getting lyrics down, like when you see a rap dude just going for it with their shit walking down the street. I must seem pretty fucking cool like them. Then when recording/live it’s as you say, the balls hit the wall.
When did you start playing instruments? Was it before or after you started singing?
After. I started “singing”, or rather, making a noise out of my throat into a microphone, at like 13 or 14 I think. Learning guitar or keeping a beat on a drum kit was like 18/19 I believe…
Was writing your own music entirely a strange experience, or was it a natural extension of writing vocal lines?
No. It’s way stranger making music with other people. Because essentially, you’re all in each other’s heads. That can be both wonderful and profoundly disturbing. Also, making music in a band is a relationship. And what’s a big key to a healthy relationship? Compromise. Making my own music is utterly bereft of compromise. It’s completely for my own will. Therefore, it is the least strange thing in the world. I can tell you it can be an utterly herculean effort for me all the same because it’s only me doing all the shit…sometimes more of an effort than the actual bands I do with people.
Could you sing melodically at all back in the Soul Swallower or XFilesX days, or did that come later?
I suppose I could sort of sing melodically back then or perhaps I was learning to. I was in a sort of street-rock/punk type band back then along with all that other stuff. It was a very beneficial project for learning to sing. It started me off thinking about the bare mechanics of singing melodically, but with balls. All of my early melodic singing was essentially a mix of Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo and Colin McFaull of Cock Sparrer. I still love them both.
When did your interest in heavy metal start to develop, and what triggered it? What about punk?
Metal was technically first. I had the whole American 1990s pre-teen starter pack. Megadeth, Pantera, Metallica, Slayer tapes. Naughty band tee shirts down past my ass that got me in big trouble at school. I thought punk sucked at first because I had no friends at the time who were into it and my only exposure was pop punk on MTV occasionally – which I never cared for. Then once I got very involved in skateboarding my group of friends grew to include people who were heavily into punk – actual hardcore/punk and various spin offs, and I became extremely involved in that. But never did the love for metal fade or anything like that. Far from it. The very first riffs I learned on guitar were that of extreme metal. It was more a matter of “active bands” I suppose. My first ones were of extreme metal which I started at around 21 years old.
Which bands did you start learning on, and which were those first extreme metal bands? Do you ever look back and miss playing much more aggressive stuff like that?
It was the extreme metal stuff first before I did more traditional heavy metal. One of my most profound and enduring connections I felt in music, on all levels, was to black metal. Thinking back, I suppose I was drawn to what I felt was its deeply anti-social nature, which the music indeed reflected. Some of it struck me as music that was solely for the solitary individual and an utter rejection of the communal. Those are elements I still greatly appreciate. I became very affected by the music of the 2nd wave Scandinavian stuff, as well as a lot of 90s stuff from Germany, Russia, and the USA. I suppose I attempted to channel some of that in my own way…I never miss playing the stuff because I always play it and always will!
You keep really busy between all of your bands- how do you balance the time commitment?
Eh man, sometimes I just don’t. And I try not to care. It’s all like a maddening balancing act. Give a bit to one thing, another thing sags. And vice versa. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s how myself and my bandmates have always done things. And it’s probably helped us play music as long as we have – being that our attitudes can still be quite dour and we can get sick of things mighty easily. Having a bunch of stuff going on keeps it all chaotic and interesting.
While there’s a fair amount of crossover (no pun intended) between the two fanbases, are there any punk albums that come to mind as ones metalheads who haven’t dove into the genre would particularly enjoy? And vice-versa for metal albums punks who haven’t dove in would enjoy?
Well…you know, music is evolutionary after all. And both punk and metal are evolutions under the same umbrella of Rock and Roll (as Lemmy was oft to remind us). My tastes have always been very eclectic and go far outside of both of these genres, various subgenres and crossovers. I feel it will make for very boring reading to digress into some ill-conceived music history lesson…so for the sake of simplicity, let’s not think too much and just crap some basics out!
Punk recommendations for metalheads:
- POISON IDEA – Feel the Darkness / Blank Blackout Vacant
- INEPSY – City Weapons / No Speed Limit for Destruction
- AMEBIX – Monolith
- SHEER TERROR – Just Can’t Hate Enough
- DISCHARGE – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
- CRO-MAGS – Age of Quarrel
- BLACK FLAG – My War
- MISFITS – Earth A.D. / Wolfs Blood
- BATTLE RUINS – ALL
- ANNIHILATION TIME – II
Metal recommendations for the Punx:
- HELLHAMMER – all
- CELTIC FROST – Morbid Tales
- TANK – Filth Hounds of Hades
- MOTÖRHEAD – self titled
- EYEHATEGOD – Dopesick
- SACRILEGE – Beyond the Realms of Madness
- CARNIVORE – Retaliation
- IRON MAIDEN – The Soundhouse Tapes
- MIDNIGHT – White Hot Fire EP
- NUCLEAR ASSAULT – Game Over
And one is free to waste as much or as little time as they want re-classifying any of the aforementioned.
How much songwriting do you do in bands where you’re singing versus ones where you play some or all of the instruments? I noticed some songwriting credits in Magic Circle, where (as far as I know) you’ve never picked up an axe or sat in a throne.
I write ZERO music for any of the bands that play live, aside from the Stone Dagger demo where I played everything except drums. However, Stone Dagger version 2.0 I’ve barely written for. I’m pretty much entirely vocals for the heavy metal bands and Battle Ruins.
Is that a hint at more Stone Dagger coming up?
BIG TIME. LP coming out sometime between now and Ragnarök.
What’s in the future for Battering Ram?
No clue but I would do more. That’s my brother Evan who writes all the tunes/records all the music. I just sing as per usual.
How did you get invited to sing for Pagan Altar following Terry Jones’ passing? How does being a part of such a legendary band feel?
It’s all due to the Queen of North American heavy metal, none other than Annick Giroux. Terry had passed away after tracking vocals for what would become their latest Room of Shadows LP. It was released posthumously, regarding Terry, on Annick’s label “Temple of Mystery” in 2017. Because Annick had such a close relationship with the Jones family, her and Alan discussed the possibility of playing the last Wings of Metal festival in Montreal that same year, as both a tribute to Terry’s passing/Pagan Altar as well as a hurrah for the new record. One big issue…who would sing? Alan had let Annick decide on who would be an appropriate singer. I won’t speak for her as to why she thought of me…but perhaps the fact that Magic Circle started mainly because all we wanted to do was rip off Pagan Altar had something to do with it HAHA! Long story short, we did the gig together and had a lot of fun. So much fun in fact we didn’t stop doing it! There you have it. As far as being part of a “legendary band”…at first I was quite nervous because I know that older fellas from renowned bands can go one way or the other, personality/ego-wise. However, after an hour hanging out I knew they were the most down to earth classy British chaps I would have the pleasure of knowing. Smooth sailing. And so far no one in the crowd has thrown tomatoes at me while singing so that’s good.
When did you first get into Pagan Altar, and what have they meant to you in the past?
So Pagan Altar would have been like within those groups of bands for me that was like “Like cult English stuff? Listen to this!” along with like Witchfinder General, Witchfynde, etc. Not necessarily NWOBHM orthodoxy, but with a big nod to the occult. And what can I say, musically they were the band that inspired us to start our very first efforts with heavy metal/heavy rock music.
Have you ever been nervous or intimidated by your role in Pagan Altar’s live shows?
I was nervous at the first show in at Wings of Metal in Montreal, not so much because of how it would come off – as most of the crowd knew who I was and knew the arrangement, and are honestly some of the most heart-of-gold heavy metal fans around, but because I DIDN’T WANT TO FUCK UP. Man…I was going over lyrics like studying for an exam lemme tell ya…Then, I was nervous at our second show together, which was Hammer of Doom in Germany. And this time, I wasn’t nervous about fucking up, I was nervous about how it would come off! Haha the tables had turned! And its because those Euros, and ESPECIALLY the Germans, will let you know EXACTLY how they feel about what’s going on – good or bad. And Europe was and is, of course, Pagan Altar’s stomping ground. But, yet again, the gods (and hopefully Terry) were smiling and it went off very well. Now the only thing I’m nervous about with those guys is missing my flights!
Magic Circle is three albums and eight years in and still going strong. Have your goals with the band changed at all since it started? Did any of you foresee the success that the band has had?
Magic Circle has no goals. That was always our main goal. We don’t tour longer than a “long weekend”. We don’t push or promote ourselves in any extensive way. We make albums we like and float out on the ether, with of course tremendous gratitude to Dave 20 buck spin, show bookers, etc. But they know our deal well enough. If you happen across it and you like it, come hang out. If you don’t, best of luck to ya. The past is the past and whatever the future holds for it, I’m ready. And the world will keep on spinning.
Have you ever considered doing a mini-festival of sorts with all of the bands that your musical circle is part of, or a V/A comp?
Eh ya know, we’ve done stuff like that with the punk bands because the music is…how should I say…more “flexible” in terms of quality control. But I personally wouldn’t be into something like that with anything under the umbrella of heavy metal. I’ve got both precious little brain cells to work with as well as a finite amount of patience and endurance. Therefore, I’d rather play a fest or a show with one really good performance than a bunch of mediocre ones. The most I would even consider – and this would have to be a great opportunity – is 2 sets at a single event. Likewise, I think a comp or something would come off as a silly novelty. I think to myself – Brendan, would you want to see/listen to yourself that much as a fan? The answer – hell no.
Do you have anything else that you want to talk about or promote?
I feel like I’ve promoted plenty haha and I’ll stop punishing your readers. Thanks very much to you, sir, for a good interview. ROCK ON!