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Warlord Biography

Last updated: 08/18/2010 12:00:00 PM

There have been many thousands of aspiring musical groups in the world, all of whom had a dream to achieve great fame and renown. From these groups, the story of Warlord is no different. It is a story of dreams, of sacrifice, of persistence, of some success, yet nevertheless in the end, it is a story that would appear to be ended by the monumental improbabilities of succeeding in the music industry. Yet appearances aren't always what they seem to be. For most musical groups, the story ends, their songs relegated to the shadows of the past; but for some groups, the story lives on in the light, their timeless music continuing to appeal to and influence the fans. The seed that was planted begins to grow, its branches eventually reaching out to music fans throughout the world. Such is the story of Warlord.

MMI The year is 2001, and William J Tsamis, Mark Zonder, and Joacim Cans are listening and discussing various details of the epic "Winds of Thor," which is to be released on a new metal classic by the legendary Warlord. Fan mail has been pouring in from Europe, North America, and South America. Fourteen year old metal fans to forty year old metal fans are jamming the mailboxes. And William is taken back twenty years to the time when "Winds of Thor" was written. It was at a bus-stop in Los Angeles where the lyrics and main riff were conceived in his head, and the rest of the music was worked out by William and Mark in a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood, a studio full of rats and cockroaches, and not a few illegal immigrants living downstairs. Although it was just the two, with a bass player here and there; and although they were just rehearsing a song that they believed to be an epic metal composition, little did they know that a ten year old boy in Sweden named Joacim Cans would one day bring that song to its epic fruition some twenty years later. Yes, the story of Warlord is fraught with such ironies.


Mark Zonder moved to Los Angeles from San Jose around 1980 or so, an accomplished drummer already, who had played in a hard rock band called "Russian Roulette." Through a girl named Rachel, Mark met William and eventually invited him to move to LA to start Warlord as a professional entity. In those days, it was fairly common knowledge that if you wanted to succeed in the music business, you had to go to LA and get a major record deal with the likes of Warner Bros., Epic, Capitol, and the like. William, a zealous fan of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal," and a reckless youth who had been writing European style heavy metal since he was fourteen, chose the name "Warlord" when it was suggested to him by his metal comrade, Alex Bargelt. Anyway, the time came when William went ahead and moved to LA to join up with Mark, the two now prepared to compete with the thousands of bands in the LA area.

These were the glam days of Hollywood, when bands like Motley Crue began their rise to fame, spawning hundreds of copycats which did nothing but the same -- the days of big hair, make-up, nail polish, and posing. Yet there were some serious metal bands in their embryonic stages, and one of these bands was Warlord.


Rehearsing tirelessly, from mini-storage facilities (and getting kicked out), to music rehearsal studios, to everywhere imaginable, Mark finally secured a loft in a commercial building where the bandmates could live and rehearse whenever they wanted to, not being restricted by the confines related to music rehearsal studios, where cost per hour and the movement of equipment was necessary. Instead, the band set up shop at the "Warlord Palace," as it came to be known, and started cranking out songs, one after the other, rehearsing day and night, together and individually, each member improving his own personal musical skills. As the script goes for any band, those were days of "starvation," eating at salad bars (the advantage being that you could keep coming back for more), or generic sandwiches, or, on a good day, a baked potato for dinner -- Mark always ordered his potato with grilled onions.

One condition of being a member of Warlord was that you had to give up your cherished name. You had to take on a mythological pseudonym like Destroyer, Thunder Child, Damien King, etc. It was a sort of ritual, where you had to deny all self-interest and name-egotism, and sacrifice yourself to the group. You were not just joining a band, you were joining "Warlord" -- a completely mythological entity which would adopt the medieval, mythological, and middle-earth motifs which later European metal bands would bring to perfection - one band in particular being HammerFall.


Stories, stories, stories . . . the best of all being when Yngwie Malmsteen made a visit to the "Warlord Palace" and jumped up on Mark's double-bass kit and started hammering out a solid drum rhythm. Or when Robin Crosby from RATT suffered the collapse of a bookshelf on his head while the metal mythologians were cranking out "Lucifer's Hammer" during a rehearsal. Yes, things were very loud in those days. Very, very loud. Or, when William decided one day to go out for breakfast, only to find a television scene being set up in the alley behind the "Warlord Palace." Mark was thundering away on his drums, and the director of the television show asked William if he could persuade Mark to stop playing so they could film the scene. Stories, stories, stories . . . every band has stories.

Anyway, one day, Mark and William noticed an advertisement from one Brian Slagel who was looking for metal bands to record for his Metal Massacre compilation album. The two went to Slagel's record store (Oz Records) and asked him to play some songs off their recent demo. Slagel took the tape and put it into his system, and heard the song "Winds of Thor." It must have been only seconds when Slagel asked the two if Warlord would record a song for his compilation album. The two accepted, and "Lucifer's Hammer" was released on the now classic "Metal Massacre II." Unsurprised by the critical praise, William, Mark, and company were on the march. It was Jack Rucker who layed down the vocal tracks, and Diane Arens (Sahara) who played the keyboards, while William played the guitars and bass, and Mark thundered on the drums. This was the very early '80s, during the Cold War -- thus, the song "Lucifer's Hammer" was a song about a nuclear missle that would destroy the world. As the chorus rang, "Save us from ourselves." Indeed, many of the songs of Warlord were about mankind's wretched plight - quite nihilistic, melancholy, and sad.

Shortly thereafter, the group gathered some $500-800, the figure is still disputed by metal historians, and they proceeded to record their first album "Deliver Us." For a young Euro-metal band, surrounded by a glam infested pop scene, the album was a success (see the REVIEWS page), hitting radio stations and drawing rave reviews from the highly critical British music press. Fan mail started to pour in from everywhere, there was great excitement. However, Warlord still didn't have a bass player, and Jack Rucker just didn't seem to have his heart in it. Jack was playing with Warlord, but exploring some "pop" options at the same time, while Mark and William were looking for a front man with a "metal heart," and someone who was wholly dedicated to the effort. So, they decided to turn elsewhere, auditioning countless vocalists, and eventually deciding to go with Rick Cunningham from Texas. By this time, Dave Watry, a student at the "Bass Institute of Technology" who was very loyal to the Euro-metal style, had proven himself worthy of playing with Warlord -- indeed, Dave was the perfect player, the perfect "Archangel." Thus, the rehearsals of Warlord were something phenomenal.


The press was getting the hint, comparing Warlord to early Queensryche and other American Euro-metal bands. Behind the bar, and in the bathrooms, of the famous Troubadour in LA, Warlord decals adorned the walls.. The radio was powering out "Child of the Damned" and "Winter Tears." Warlord albums were stacked to the ceiling at Tower Records in San Jose and other cities. Mark and William were doing interviews and thirty second radio spots for major radio stations. Warlord was definitely on the rise.

With the writing of "Aliens" and "Lost and Lonely Days," Warlord was compelled to go into the studio and record a 12" single which managed to hit #6 in the famous Japanese "Burn Magazine." And Warlord signed a deal with Watanabe Music of Japan (who also managed the works of the Scorpions, Accept, and Dio). The single was a success.

It was about this time that Warlord decided to go forward with the Video Soundrack. Contrary to other bands who were video-taping individual songs, hoping to get on MTV, Warlord was prepared to give their fans all over the world a live video and a soundtrack. It was another chance to re-record the "less-than-par" production of some of the songs from the "Deliver Us" LP, and it was a good idea for the fans to see Warlord in a live context. It was an interesting night, no doubt. The boys from Slayer offerred their fog machine which, funnily, ran out of fog after the second song. One of the cameras wasn't working properly. And there were many technical problems - but after it was completed, it was a proud event for the Warlord troupe. (Little did the gang know that one day, the "Warlord Video" would become a classic collector's item.) Anyway, it was at that point that serious live rehearsals began for a possible tour.

However, there was a problem. After a number of rehearsals, it became evident that Damien King II (Rick Cunningham) was not singing perfectly on key. Since the music of Warlord is so melodic, any dissonance in the vocals caused a disconnection between the music (which was perfect) and the vocals. It becamse evident that Rick had to go, and the hunt for a new singer became the hunt for the impossible. William remembers, "Calling Geoff Tate, or even going to the house of Ronnie James Dio to drop off an album, hoping against all hope that we would, once and for all, find the right singer." It was the missing piece of the puzzle. And after numerous and numerous auditions, the gang settled for an excellent studio singer named Rick Anderson (who would be Damien King III).


In the interim, frustration began to set in, which led to tension and the tension grew. Impatience, anxiety, hope, and disappointment all contributed to a state of confusion. And there were many other issues as well. William's father had just died suddenly of a heart failure (William was 24), and although it didn't seem very critical in Bill's life at the time, there was a subconscious conflict that began to separate him from the band a bit. It was a difficult time, and Warlord was now going on five years together as a band. The metal scene was dying, and the big record labels were simply not interested in Euro-metal. The big "dream" didn't seem possible anymore. Metal Blade was still too small, and who would anticipate that Metal Blade would become a dominant player. The gang was getting limited help from European sources as well, and the Japanese were doing nothing. Rap music begain to take over the airwaves, and at the time, as William recalls, "I really began to think that art had crumbled into dust, and there was no room for artistic expression anymore." Thus, discouragement and disillusion began to set in. Nevertheless, the group pressed on,recording "Father" and the song "Thy Kingdom Come." Shortly thereafter, the band had a meeting with Michael Browning (the manager of AC/DC, an Aussie, and someone who had expressed great interest in Warlord in the past). Unfortunately, the positive meeting simply wasn't positive enough, and Warlord, again, was left to it's own devices. At that time, the members of Warlord discussed two options: The first option was to go out and play live, and the second option was to stay focused on getting a major record deal. In those days, a major record deal seemed to be a prerequisite for success in the industry. So, the group agreed to the latter, and in hindsight, that was probably the most fateful of decisions -- and soon the demise of Warlord would occur, and each member would go his own way.

Yet although the story seemed to be over for Warlord, in actuality it was just beginning. Mark had earned his place with the highly respected Fates Warning, while William quit the scene entirely, pursuing deep musical interests in Baroque, Renaissance, and Byzantine music, as well as learning piano, and even going off to university to study philosophy and religion. Meanwhile, a metal explosion began to take place in Europe, and while Fates Warning became one of the most renowned progressive metal bands of the era, the invisible Warlord didn't go unnoticed, beginning to catch the ears of power metal fans all over the world. William remembers being immersed in the works of Soren Kierkegaard and writing Kitaro-like New Age compositions when fan mail and phone calls from European fans began to pour in, all praising the work of Warlord. Mark was busy touring the world with Fates Warning, and although the two had briefly discussed a possible reunion project at one time, the idea somehow fizzled out and Warlord continued to be an invisible entity, growing in fame and achieving an almost cult-like status.


MMI And here we are in the year 2001 . . . Who would have ever thought that such a reunion was possible? For Mark and William, this time, the key question was, "Who would be the ideal vocalist for Warlord?" And the answer was simple. The supremely talented Swede, Joacim Cans from Goteborg - yes, the very singer of the "Templars of Steel" -- the highly acclaimed HammerFall. A rising star from a most excellent power metal group, Joacim was enthusiastic about doing something with William and Mark, and the three began rehearsing for a demo which would contain the original Warlord songs, "War in Heaven," "Winds of Thor," and "Sons of a Dream." The magic was there. It was as if Mark and William were transported back to the old days in the wharehouse. And the dream of having the ideal metal vocalist adorn the Warlord songs with powerful minor melodies and harmonies had come true. The new Warlord demo, with it's big production, is a smash - dark, epic, power metal at its finest. Truly, the new music of Warlord embraces the Warlord tradition in a unique way. Without departing from the dark magical style of the past, it nevertheless pushes forward and lifts Warlord into an "ideal realm" -- to a place where every Warlord fan had hoped that Warlord would one day go. Truly, the new Warlord is an apparation from the past, and the manifestation of a kingdom which has finally come.