It’s been four years since Stalker ’s first demo release ‘Satanic Panic’ and three years since their 2017 debut album ‘Shadow of the Sword’ was released through Austrian record label Napalm Records. Covid-19 didn’t prevent them from managing an appearance in Osaka for Japan’s True Thrash Festival in February, or from releasing their sophomore album ‘Black Majik Terror’ in October 2020, also out via Napalm. They’ve had rave reviews from the likes of Rockpit.net and elsewhere. “…a track that immediately calls to mind epic anthems of tried and true heavy metal like Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’” – Bravewords.com said about Of Steel And Fire. So how did this Wellington speed metal band get off to such a flying start? Frank Eggleton tracked down Stalker’s guitarist Chris Calavrias to find out.
Chris Calavrias’ first serious band Razorwyre, came to an end in 2014 – not long after their debut album release ‘Another Dimension’, when vocalist Zane Chylde moved to the United States. In 2015 Chris was looking for his next project and hanging out at the Sky Ranch, with the likes of Luke Rowell (Disasteradio, Eyeliner) and video director Simon Ward. Enter Daif King (of Golden Axe) who, while interested in all types of music, at that time was really into metal and gave Chris some riffs he’d recorded.
“I was blown away… I know people say that, but this was the first time in my life I was blown away!”
The heavy metal riffs were, as he puts it, right up his alley, so the two worked on the arrangements of King’s demos, Chris added some more riffs. They now had some songs but realised they needed a singer. Rather than look further King put down some vocals and volunteered to learn how to play bass. With Nick Oakes (ex-Razorwyre) on drums, they became a three-piece called Stalker.
Noting that within metal there are a lot of different genres, Chris says Stalker consider themselves more speed metal, with a little thrash, which are older styles, less technical and more stripped back variants of metal.
In 2016, they released a short run of 100 three-track demo tapes called ‘Satanic Panic’ – selling out in 24 hours. They released another 250, which also sold out. Through Underground Power, a label Chris had worked with already with Razorwyre, they released the demos on vinyl, in the form of two colour 7-inch records.
The trio hadn’t thought far beyond that modest success until they received a message from a guy from Napalm Records, the independent Austrian label (with offices in Germany and US), and a mind-blowing roster of heavy metal and hard rock acts.
“When Daif told me there was a message for us from Napalm Records I thought it was a joke. What international record label would want to have a chat with us after just a three-song demo out? But the A&R man said he loved what we were doing, loved the demo. ‘Let’s have a chat,’ so we did.”
Indeed they signed a deal with one of the biggest metal labels around, who gave them a deadline for their debut album. Napalm told Stalker to do what they wanted, record with who they wanted, whatever. Now and then they had to deliver a rough mix. The only firm request from the label was to have tracks from the demo on the album.
Drums were recorded by Vanya Vitali at Scumbag College Studios in Wellington. They then recorded the vocals, guitars and bass themselves before sending the tracks up to Cam Sinclair in Auckland for mixing. Luke Rowell mastered the album.
‘Shadow of the Sword’ was released in November 2017, and after playing some shows around NZ the band headed off to Europe mid-2018 where they toured Germany and the Czech Republic, including the Keep It True Festival – a big event for metal purists.
In 2019, they followed up with another northern summer trip to Europe, centering that tour around a coveted space at Bavaria’s Stormcrusher Festival – this time taking in four countries by adding Austria and Spain to their previous stomping grounds of the Czech Republic and Germany. Chris says they felt less pressure than the year before as more people had heard of them and had listened to their album.
‘Black Majik Terror’ was recorded pretty much the same way as their first, the only major difference being the Covid-19 pandemic, but Chris reckons that helped in a way, giving them more time to work.
“After Covid finished, we flew up to Auckland and sat in with Cam Sinclair as he mixed the record. He’d worked on the first album and so he knew what we’re up to, so the second time was a lot easier. Luke Rowell mastered it in Hong Kong, where he lives now, the only difference this time was the artwork, which was done by American artist Bob Eggleton.”