Open The Gates for THE UNHOLY!

We're always searching for good traditional heavy metal bands. THE UNHOLY with front lady Sara Steel is such a band from Portugal, that fits this description perfectly well. After listening to their first EP, we knew that this band has true metal blood running through their veins. THE UNHOLY appeared at the well-known Keep It True festival in April, but we simply couldn’t wait for that. We mailed our questions to Sara and guitar player Nuno, long before they travelled to Lauda to play there. With their show in Germany in mind, we asked everything that we wanted to know about this blasphemous band from sunny Portugal. Readers of Metal Maidens raise your sword for these true metal warriors of THE UNHOLY. Get ready for the Portuguese inquisition. I bet, this will become a more spectacular thing than the Spanish inquisition ever was! And besides that, they also come, when you expected it the least!!

When did THE UNHOLY start out as a band and who were in this first line-up?
Sara Steel: “Hi Rita and Toine! First of all, let me start by thank you guys for the opportunity of doing this interview. Well, the band has its roots in late 2007, when Nuno and I decided to start jamming along with another friend. The guy was a very experienced and versatile musician, who could play different instruments. We started by doing cover songs of bands, such as QUEENSRYCHE, SAVATAGE, RIOT and JUDAS PRIEST, to name but a few, although we always had this intention of moving forward by writing our own music. That process took a stop in 2009, when Nuno started playing with MIDNIGHT PRIEST, though we got back on track by the middle of 2010. From there on a series of line-up changes occurred until 2013, when we were able to do our first show and release our demo.”

You had a lot of line-up changes in the first years of your career. What happened and why did the members leave so quickly sometimes?
“If I did know the answer maybe I would be able to find a solution… Honestly, the line-up changes have been the biggest problem since we first started the band. We certainly would be way ahead, if we had just found the right people to work with back then. I think, we already saw the acceptance of our musical ideas through all the good reviews overall and invitations to play abroad at the biggest festivals and we just need a stable line-up in order to make this work. I guess, people are not interested in playing music and putting the amount of work that it takes in order to reach greater stages. I can also say, that heavy metal is not that popular in Portugal (unlike Spain, Germany or Greece) and we don’t have that many available musicians (unlike Scandinavia)… We really have no other choice than to keep on fighting and I’m pretty certain that we will win in the end.”

How did you team up with the current band members and did they play in other bands, before THE UNHOLY?
“We already knew Joe Dalton from the times with MIDNIGHT PRIEST and after trying out a couple of bass players without much success, we decided to ask him if he was interested in helping us getting the band rolling and record the demo with us, so that we could have something to show in our search for a definitive solution for the bass. He enjoyed our first show so much, that he decided that he wanted to stay with us and the rest is history. Aside from MIDNIGHT PRIEST, he also played in ZUNDAPP SPEEDKINGS and in a few other punk bands. Nowadays his only active project besides THE UNHOLY and MIDNIGHT PRIEST is called CEMITERIA. As for Dave, once Alex decided to leave the band, we were faced with a very difficult situation. The demo songs were just about to be re-issued through Underground Power and we had already confirmed our presence at the Keep It True festival - though it was yet to be announced - so we didn’t have the chance to put the band on hold and look for someone. Since we didn’t know anyone who would be ideal at the time and considering we would have some time to work, we decided to take a huge gamble and ask Dave to join us, even though he only had drum lessons for a year and no experience in bands. We already knew him and we were certain, that he was a hard worker, so we felt confident that we would be able to pull-it off somehow. While the band had to take a few steps back - we’re still working to get ourselves at a position to record our first full-length - I do believe that we’re on the right track. Dave has been putting a lot of work into this and it has been encouraging to witness his growth as a drummer.”

Who is in THE UNHOLY in 2015? Please introduce the band members to us and the instruments that they play...
“Well, besides me on vocals, we have Mr. Joe Dalton on bass and beverages (whine, beer, whisky, etc. You name it, he can handle it!), Dangerous Dave lives behind the drums and on the lone guitar we have Nuno Nightmare. We hope, we can have this line-up to stand for many years to come!”

Who can we see as the biggest influence(s) for the sound of THE UNHOLY and maybe you can tell us a bit more about the influences of each band member individually here as well? [Note: I read somewhere, that Ronnie James Dio helped you to find a purpose]
“If I could reference something of what we do to Ronnie James Dio, it would be the way I approach the lyrics. We choose to write about ourselves and the band through metaphors, just like Dio did since his time with RAINBOW. For instance, “Open the Gates” is about the start of the show and it speaks of how we unleash hell on stage during our shows… That’s also why it’s the opening track with a very catchy riff to boot. As far as other influences, we draw a lot of inspiration from North American power metal bands from the 80s. Not only in terms of writing, but also in terms of sounding – since the riffs are basically standard metal, which have been around since BLACK SABBATH. I never got into the bare bones approach from the European bands of the same era. I like the heavier and more vicious delivery by the US metal bands, such as METAL CHURCH, SAVATAGE, QUEENSRYCHE, LEATRHERWOLF, SHOK PARIS, RUFFIANS, HELSTAR, etc…”

Why did you name your band THE UNHOLY? And do you have anything at all with religion in your normal life?
“My religion is heavy metal, so yeah to me it’s all over the place. As for the name of the band, we wanted something that could reference ourselves as “the” something. We didn’t want to put two words together like some kind of brand or anything like that. We don’t view the band’s success by commercial means. So THE UNHOLY basically designates a group of heavy metal warriors – ourselves - who are set to conquer the world through their music, all the lyrical content revolves around that same theme.”

In 2014, you released your demo songs plus two bonus tracks on a 12” vinyl record (limited edition of 300 copies only) by Underground Power Records. What’s the response been like so far and what does this release mean to you?
“The response seems to be pretty good so far, though honestly I haven’t been paying much attention. With all the turmoil that happened last year with Alex’s departure we’ve been much more focused on having Dave ready to perform at the level we need him to for the upcoming record. The demos were ok, but they are not where we want to be when we release our debut album. We will need to deliver a better performance overall and review a few details within the writing of the songs. That’s why they are demos after all and not fully finished songs.”

Who writes the lyrics for THE UNHOLY and what are they about?
“I write the lyrics, though Nuno supports me when I need some guidance with the melody or some wordings to fit the rhythm, since he’s the one who writes the music. As I’ve told you the songs talk about our existence as a band and all the little things that are involved with it, like taking the stage, our artistic personalities within the band, our fans, the night, etc…”

Pedro Rebelo provided the artwork for the record. Who is he and did he design artwork for more bands?
“Pedro is not a professional artist. He does it like a hobby, though he’s a brilliant guy! He did our cover very quickly. We gave him a two week deadline and you can see all the details he put in it. It’s great how he captured the chaos of THE UNHOLY! He also did work for RAVENSIRE, including their split with TERMINUS and I believe he also did some covers for ATLANTEAN KODEX, IRON KOBRA and WITCHCURSE, if I’m not mistaken.”

What’s your favorite THE UNHOLY song and why?
“All of them. When we write for THE UNHOLY, we have this principle that no song should be rushed just for the sake of being released. They should all have its uniqueness and appeal. You can hear that in the demo by how they are particularly different from one another. Some are darker and heavier, others are more catchy and melodic, while others are more complex. Every song is viewed as an individual process and we will never compromise its quality. At least when it comes to the recording.”

Let’s take a look at your live shows here, if we may. What can people expect, when they come to see a show of THE UNHOLY?
“Right now, people can expect a band that will give everything that it has on stage. I recognize, that we are still trying to regain the momentum we had, when the demo got released. Obviously, when you change members it takes time to get back up, unless you’re talking about professional bands. I can say, that we are getting closer by each day, since we’re putting so much work. I hope, people can see that and appreciate our devotion to the cause. For now that’s what we’re looking for the most and the reviews have been much positive. I think, we’re on the right track!”

With which bands did you share the stages already?

Do you use any show elements (pyro, smoke bombs, etc.) during your shows or what?
“I like it a lot, when we have access to smoke machines. It gives a whole different feel to the performance. At least from the audience standpoint. Though being a new coming band, we still didn’t get to a point, where we can define our stage show that much. I hope, we can continue to grow and being able to have bigger stage productions as we go along, thought first and foremost our concern is with the songs and their execution. You can have all the bells and whistles, but if the music/performance is crap, then you’re definitely doing it wrong.”

I guess, that you’ve already experienced some very funny moments, while being on the road with THE UNHOLY. Maybe you can share one or two crazy moments with our readers here?
“The best moments we have are usually promoted by our bass player Joe Dalton. It’s always an adventure to be around him! This one time, when we played at the Pax Julia Metalfest in Beja, we had a hotel room booked for the first time. Joe Dalton was pretty wasted and fell asleep backstage, but the best part came after. I drove everyone to the hotel and a friend of ours came along... They decided to leave the hotel and go party to a disco somewhere. Of course they didn't know the city or even where the hotel was and at some point he was alone and couldn't find his way back. Next morning, when I woke up and our friend, who went out with him, told us he couldn't find him. I saw he tried to call me many times during the night. We found him near a castle, all wet and cold, turns out he slept in an abandoned house! This is one of many funny stories we had during the band's lifetime!”

What’s the biggest show, that you’ve played so far? Or is this yet to come?
“Well, we can definitely say, that the Keep It True show was the biggest one yet in terms of attendance and exposure and it sure will be hard to beat. We already played in Madrid also, so we’ve been able to put some interesting shows already for such a young band with only a demo out. Hopefully, we can keep improving and conquer more and more European ground and who knows… some other continents! I’m sure, that the full-length release will help to achieve that.”

Are there any shows on the agenda for THE UNHOLY at the moment? Any plans to go to Germany, Holland or Belgium in the near future?
“Right now, we don’t have any shows confirmed as our main focus shall be to record our first full-length. That’s what we would’ve done after the line-up change, if we hadn’t been invited to play Keep It True. We’re looking forward to properly prepare the recordings in order to come back stronger and definitely in full force. Then we hope to do some special dates for sure, mainly abroad.”

I think, that you want to talk about your upcoming appearance at the 18th edition of the Keep It True festival, which will take place in a few weeks from now. What does it mean to you to play at one of the coolest heavy metal festivals worldwide? Are you nervous at all and what’s your most favorite band, beside THE UNHOLY of course, on the bill this year? Have you ever visited the festival yourself?
“I’ve been there as a spectator in 2011 also and it was great. This year I was not nervous, though I can say that last year when we agreed to do the show, I wasn’t expecting us to be in this situation after another line-up change. The idea was to work on the record and to have it released prior to the festival. Unfortunately, that’s not how it went and now we had to be prepared to give the best of ourselves. It went ok, though we know that we’re able to be much better… Maybe someday we’ll be able to come back – not as a newcomer anymore – and give a really kick ass show like the ones you expect from more seasoned bands. As far as the favorite band playing with us, while I enjoy some of the older bands, I can say that I was really looking forward to the SACRAL RAGE show. Unfortunately, they played right before us and I was only able to check them out from the side of the stage, while warming up.”

Which band would you like to go on tour, if you could pick any band of your choice? Let the sky be the limit.
“I’d like to go on tour with… THE UNHOLY (lol). Now that we’re focused on doing the record, there’s not much time to think about it, though we really want to put ourselves in a position to be able to tour first and foremost.”

What’s the metal scene like in Coimbra, Portugal? Are there any clubs, where you can play live or what?
“The metal scene in Coimbra is more oriented to extreme metal. When MIDNIGHT PRIEST was around, it was a bit better but still pretty small. There would be a few shows a year at the student’s republics (typical student houses). There are a few clubs there also and there are a few management companies started by students, who organize shows, but it’s not very regular for us to play in our city unfortunately. We’ve played more in Lisbon and Porto.”

Which other (metal) band(s) do we have to look out for from your area? Do you know of any more female fronted metal bands like yourself maybe?
“I don’t know other heavy metal bands with female singers in Portugal. There are some, but it’s more extreme metal and I know nothing about that really! As for Portuguese bands, I can suggest… look out for DAWNRIDER, MIDNIGHT PRIEST, RAVENSIRE, WANDERER, INQUISITOR and DEADFORCE. Those are some really nice bands right there!”

Sara, you are the (only) female member in the band. Do you have to prove yourself twice as much, while being a female musician in a male dominated metal scene or is this not an issue at all?
“Many people asked me that already, but I really don’t care. I don’t feel there’s any difference, because I guess a singer is just a singer, male or female, both can sound good and it doesn’t matter the musical approach. I just know more man that like heavy metal than girls, but that’s a question of taste. I don’t think it’s a sexist thing at all. I just don’t feel it’s right for bands to have female singers, just because they want to draw attention… I absolutely hate that stuff, but if they want to do it, so be my guest. It’s their problem, not mine! People should be in it, because they love it, not because it looks good or it’s nice.”

We are a Dutch on-line ‘zine, focused on the female musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal scene. Do you think that female musicians still need the special attention and recognition that they earn so much?
“I think, my answer is coming from the previous statement: I don’t think female musicians should need a special attention, because they’re females, but because they’re good musicians and people should pay attention to their work. And I totally applaud and support your effort in promoting it. I think, that’s very important. All people, that put out great music should earn all the attention in the world being male or female.”

We are based in The Netherlands, well-known for its colorful tulips and beautiful windmills. What comes to your mind, when you think of Holland or The Netherlands?
“The Netherlands are beautiful. When I think about your country, there are a few things that come to my mind. First a concert hall, called 013 in Tilburg, where I went to see JON OLIVA’S PAIN live. Then I think about Amsterdam and its parks and canals… and the “poezenboot” (for the ones, who don’t know, it’s “The Cat Boat” – an animal sanctuary that literally floats. It’s a refuge for stray and abandoned cats on a houseboat in Amsterdam’s picturesque canal belt). I love cats, so I couldn’t resist that!”

Take a look into your crystal ball and tell us what the future has in mind for THE UNHOLY?
“After playing Keep It True, we want to get focused on recording the album, so it’s our next step. We’d like to take one step at a time and let’s see what the future brings! I hope, it’s filled with glittering steel and special shows pretty much around everywhere!”

How will the new material of THE UNHOLY sound and when can we expect a new album of the band.
“Hopefully we can record the album this year and we’ll be ready to take the stages again in 2016! About the sound… You just have to wait and listen! If you’re curious, we’re already playing some new songs live, so you can go to one of our shows and make your own conclusions.”

Do you have any hobbies or interests, besides playing in a heavy metal band?
“I own and manage a tourism company in Portugal, called GO! Leisure & Heritage… It’s what usually takes me more time from everything else in my life. I do many things like being an expert heritage guide in thematic walking tours and managing a welcome center in my city located in a Medieval House, that I’m now helping to restore. I’m always running around and it’s very stressful sometimes, because of all the scenery that the Portuguese Government makes us go through…but I absolutely love my work. Whenever I can, I also like to travel a lot everywhere in the world and get to know new places and cultures. I usually do it, whenever I go to a festival or a concert abroad!”

Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
“Yeah, I do! Follow our news through our facebook page: Make sure you keep supporting our cause and we hope to see you headbanging at the front row soon!”

Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview? Maybe there is something we forgot to mention here, that is essential for the story of THE UNHOLY?
“Not much really, it’s been a pretty extensive interview!”

The well-known final words in this interview are for Sara Steel and THE UNHOLY....
“Thanks for your support! Make sure, that you keep following the band and give us your honest feedback, so that we can think of ways to improve. See you guys on the road! Cheers!!!”

copyright: METAL MAIDENS
interview by: Toine & Rita van Poorten, Metal Maidens 'zine / May 2015.

Check out the full demo by THE UNHOLY on You Tube:

"The Unholy (full demo)"

Check out a short teaser of THE UNHOLY @ Keep It True 18 on April 24th in Germany on You Tube:
"Tonight You Sleep In Hell"

Visit the Facebook page of THE UNHOLY at: