Decoding Threat Signal

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Canadian modern metal act Threat Signal are no strangers to the rough and merciless tides of the music industry. Having only been around for a mere 7 years, the band is already the billionth victim of the MLC (Multiple Line-up Changes) Syndrome, and is precariously close to losing its roots entirely with only singer Jon Howard left from the original roster. With that said however, the band as an entity itself has evolved a lot since its early days. For a recording project that was initially accomplished entirely on Jon’s home computer, it sure has paid off well by getting Jon on-board the world-renowned Nuclear Blast roster; a dream that motivates countless metal bands worldwide to pursue their chosen path diligently, but which is often dashed with the cruel flick/click of an uninterested finger. Teeth of the Divine speaks with Jon to discover what plagued the stability of Threat Signal’s line-up over the years, find out what the new record is all about, discuss what the big guy Zeuss brings to the production table, and how Threat Signal was probably “djent” before “djent” even got coined.

Hello Jon! Seeing as how Threat Signal has a pretty unstable line-up so far, and that the third (and latest) record is self-titled, can it be said that the new album’s name symbolizes the “birth” of a new incarnation of Threat Signal? 

 I really hope it symbolizes a new stability in the band when it comes to member changes! We do seem stronger than ever and the future seems very bright for us, so I’m not too worried at the moment. The past member changes have been due to financial struggles within the band and personally as well. It’s very hard to earn a living playing music, and members were forced to leave unwillingly due to struggles with finances. I’ve been able to hold on myself because I have other means to make money; I do not rely on Threat Signal to pay me anything at all… Fortunately, with the new record things will change and we’ll be able to focus more on just making music together rather than working day jobs. That’s the dream isn’t it?!

You played a very big role in the writing and production of the previous album, Vigilance. Is the new self-titled record still done mostly by you, or do the new members of the band contribute significantly as well? 

I took a step back this time around and basically watched my band create the music for this record. I wrote and sang all of the vocals obviously; however the only other contribution to the music I made was song arrangement and keyboards. I really feel that the members of this band have something major to offer musically. They are just such amazing players, I honestly didn’t feel the need to step in and write anything, but just oversee the writing process and offer arrangement ideas.  I’m VERY happy with the way the writing turned out this time round. 

What subject matter does the lyrical themes of Under Reprisal and Vigilance deal with? Does the lyrical theme of Threat Signal continue a “story” of some sort from the earlier two albums, or is it just a standalone by itself? 

Our first two records jumped around a lot lyrically, I would write about anything I was thinking or feeling. It could have been personal, political or just the way I see life in general; the subject matter varied a fair bit while writing lyrics for those records. With the new album, I was more focused when writing the subject matter. Basically I’m concerned for the world and where we are headed [for]. There is a lot of greed, corruption, lies, war, famine, disease, murder, rape, suicide, homeless, etc… and it really makes me sick.  I think people need to wake up, look in the mirror, and realize what they are doing to themselves and the world around them. I want people to question life and ask questions about what’s going on in the world, and not just jump onto the band wagon because they are told to. A lot of us are getting tricked into thinking or believing certain things; wake up people. Don’t walk around occupying cities with a sign around your neck whining about how broke you are and how unfair everyone in the wealthy 1% of the world is, that’s really not the solution. Look at how we got there and blame the people who are really at fault. Dig deeper, get educated, and think more before spreading propaganda. This applies to many, many other situations as well! 

You managed to work with the almighty producer, Zeuss, on the new self-titled record! How did it feel to be in the presence of such an experienced and talented guy? Do you think Zeuss’s production and mixing lends a heavier touch to this new record (due to his largely metalcore and hardcore background) as compared to Christian Olde Wolbers’s (of ex-Fear Factory) work on Under Reprisal? 

Zeuss did an amazing job as a producer, engineer as well as mixing and mastering, this dude is not a one trick pony!  We learned a lot from him while tracking this record, and yes he was responsible for making this album sound as powerful as it does. We love working with different people and gaining different knowledge, creating different albums and different sounds. We really want each album to have its own vibe and sound, so we seek out different producers each time. Christian did a great job on our first record and I have no regrets!! However, this record needed a different flavour. 

Did the experimentation with 7-string guitars on the self-titled record give it a more technical and murky sound than the previous two albums?

Dropping the tuning down to A# and playing with 7’s changed our tone a lot. It seemed to give us a much darker vibe and made the music sound even heavier than ever before. The first two records were tracked with 6 strings in drop C tuning, so we decided our third record needed to be different. Changing the tuning really set this album apart from the others. It also pushed my vocals into a different range and made them sound a lot more aggressive. 

Around two years back, you mentioned that “… On Under Reprisal I was really pushing and forcing my voice trying to find myself. I’ve found my voice and range with this album [Vigilance] and I feel very comfortable”. No offense meant, but I honestly didn’t seem to hear the difference… Do you think you can describe this improvement in vocal quality in technical terms?

I was learning a lot while recording Under Reprisal and I felt very strained, and kind of lost trying to feel comfortable with my screaming and singing. I really couldn’t even sing the music correctly live until about a year after tracking that record. On Vigilance, I felt much more relaxed and confident with my voice. If you noticed, I scream and sing in a much higher range on the album Vigilance; that was the range I felt comfortable with at the time. I didn’t feel like I had to force myself to scream lower just because it’s metal music. Over the years of singing on stage my voice has grown and developed, I find singing much easier and natural now. On the new record, I focused on bringing back the lower screaming from Under Reprisal which I had neglected on Vigilance. At this time in my career I feel I can sing comfortably in any range, so heading back to the original vocal range with a lot more confidence was totally the answer this time round. 

So do you think there has been any further improvement in your vocal delivery on the new self-titled record? 

Yes, for sure. I’m always learning new things and gaining more confidence as a vocalist. I believe each record sounds a little different vocally as I am growing and changing. My range has expanded over the years and I don’t really feel the need to prove that anymore.  I tried to showcase more of my higher singing range on Vigilance while screaming in a normal comfortable range. With the new record, I basically wanted to sound as angry as possible… I really focused on screaming low and making my singing raspier and pissed off. Basically the heavy music told me to write heavy vocals. I find myself writing what the music tells me to write these days. 

Which hard rock and metal vocalists have been your main sources of influence and inspiration?

Phil Anselmo really influenced me to scream, highs and lows. He showed me that screaming could sound heavy and insane while keep melody at the same time. A lot of screamers lose that and begin to sound monotone. James Hetfield was another one who did that. Layne Staley influences me to sing catchy melodies and still have balls. He really pushed his vocals, they were very believable.

Threat Signal’s sound seems to constantly shift between melodic metalcore and melodic death metal (or at least, the international metal press thinks so). How would you describe the band’s sound?

It’s Threat Signal man… It’s metal. I never understood where this death reference came from, and I hate the term “core”. Just so many sub-genres attempt to define a metal band these days. Might as well call us “djent”!  We were playin’ that shit before they made a name for it. If I had to define it, I could see something like “melodic metal” or something along those lines. It’s tough to say because our style varies so much.

Let’s go back in time a little. Canada is not a country renowned for housing many metal acts, so when Threat Signal was signed onto a world-renowned extreme metal label like Nuclear Blast back in 2005, you must have been elated! Did it feel unreal back then? Looking back now, can you tell us about the joys and sorrows you experienced as a band signed onto a major metal label?

It was honestly insane for us!!! To get a deal from a record label we looked up to so highly, that was just the best thing that could have happened at the time! Everything felt so rushed to us though… It was I and my two guitarists who started the band. We would just get together after school and record songs on the computer. Since we didn’t have a drummer or bass player we just programmed those instruments. I ended up putting a demo song on the Internet called “Rational Eyes” under the name Threat Signal. We had not decided that would be our name yet or that we would put the song up… But me being myself, I had to throw it up as soon as possible to hear what people thought. The whole idea behind creating Threat Signal was to make music we liked to listen to, because a lot of the metal music that was coming out basically sucked. So getting the positive feedback we did was just amazing to me, the fact that we could create music people enjoyed so much just fueled my fire to write even more. We threw up a couple more songs online then Blast shot us a message; they pretty much offered us a deal right off the bat from hearing a handful of demos. Before I knew it we were off to LA to track a record and I was dropping out of school! I guess the joys would be having this amazing experience and living my dream, but the sorrows wound up to be my best friends leaving the band right after we tracked the record… The industry is a crazy place, and some people just can’t handle it, especially when things get so crazy so fast.

The other notable founding member of Threat Signal apart from you is your cousin, Rich Howard. I understand that he had left early in the band’s career to pursue other dreams, but he did help out with guitar duties on tour dates in 2007. Will he ever revisit the possibility of contributing to future Threat Signal releases?

I really hope we can come together again one day and record something. Maybe the original 3 members who started this band could come together and track an EP or something, that will be really fun.  But as of now, nothing is in the works… I do have that idea floating around in my head though!

Thank you for your time, Jon. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers and your fans out there?

Just a huge THANK YOU for the interview and spreading the word about Threat Signal. Also, many big thanks to all the fans who stuck by us over the years and to the new ones as well.  Spread the word about us, because we hope to continue doing this as long as we can! We’ll see you very soon.



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  1. Commented by: Plasmaterial

    I still love Under Reprisal. It was a monstrous, fresh sounding modern metal album. Maybe they do their best work when “rushed” because Vigilance and their self-titled album just don’t stack up compared to the debut.

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