By Carl Begai
I recently caught up with Crimson Glory guitarist Jon Drenning for BW&BK to discuss the band’s surprising decision to carry on with a new singer (click here). “Surprising” because original vocalist Midnight, who passed away in July 2009 due to liver and kidney failure, was a defining element of the Crimson Glory sound. As far as the metal universe was concerned it could never be duplicated faithfully, with Drenning and his bandmates at the top of that list. New voice Todd La Torre has proven everyone wrong, even though he had no designs on doing so when he was asked to step up.
“Matt Laporte from Jon Oliva’s Pain and I are friends, and he told me he was doing some rehearsing with them, but it really didn’t mean anything to me,” La Torre admits. “I’d heard the name Crimson Glory before but that was about all I knew about them. Matt told me that if the guys were to hear me sing they’d shit themselves, so that night I checked out some of their stuff on YouTube. The ‘Lonely’ video was the first thing to come and I thought it was cool that the guys had been on MTV before (laughs). When I heard the first verse I though the vocals were beautiful, and I loved it. It had everything I liked in a song.”
“Long story short; when I got to the rehearsal there was a part of me that was nervous. I’d done some research on them probably two days before the rehearsal, so I was able to pick out the guys in the band from the videos (laughs). It was cool but I wasn’t really starstruck or anything like that. Sadly, and blasphemy for the true Crimson fans, I didn’t know their stuff (laughs).”
That didn’t prevent La Torre from putting in a performance that gave Drenning and his bandmates pause. A monumental feat given they had worked with arguably one of the most unique singers in metal, one that had been dubbed legendary long before he passed away.
“I took one of my favourite Crimson Glory songs (‘In Dark Places’) and put my vocals over it, and when I gave it to Jon I knew in my heart that it was really good. I was really proud of myself for the first time. Jon was telling me, ‘Dude, I can’t believe this.’”
Additional recordings of La Torre singing some of the Crimson Glory’s classic songs were posted online by Drenning once the decision had been made to bring him on board as Midnight’s successor. Even the hardest-hearted fans were forced to admit La Torre honoured the band’s legacy in jaw-dropping fashion.
“I realize that I have very big shoes to fill,” La Torre says of stepping in. “I know the fans are expecting greatness, and because I was an undiscovered and unknown person, had we not included those tracks with the announcement that I was on board it would have lead to more and more skepticism. I’m always looking for ways to improve as a vocalist and as a person, and I’m going to give the best performance I possibly can.”
“At the tribute show in Atlanta (ProgPower X), I believe that was a true testament to just how great Midnight’s voice was because there were so many fantastic singers there,” he continues. “Mind you, each one of those songs featured two vocalists so I was only singing half the songs, but even that was hard. I’m not going to bullshit you and say that I’ve got it down pat. It’s very difficult, and because there were 17+ singers trying to sing Midnight’s stuff one can only imagine having to do an hour or a full set, and doing it even decent let alone good is hard. There was pressure, but that was a motivating factor for me, to not let anyone down. It’s nice to feel embraced by the fans and having them welcome me. It feels great.”
Work has since begun on a new Crimson Glory record. La Torre 100% invested in the project, determined to stay true to Midnight’s sound while injecting his own vocal style into the music. The recordings currently online are a solid example of what’s in store when the album is released next year; La Torre and Midnight are two of a kind.
“When I did the songs that are on YouTube, I did try to get as close as possible to Midnight’s voice,” he explains. “That was to show Crimson Glory fans that I wasn’t some guy that was coming in to butcher their sound. I don’t read too many of the comments coming in, but certainly some have been made saying that I’m a clone and so on. There are certain elements of Midnight’s singing that I did on purpose, like the little crying-type sounds Midnight did or the certain way he’d enter a phrase, but there are other elements that I had to begin with which made singing Midnight’s parts easier to do. It came naturally. There are tonal qualities of Midnight’s voice that I did have to work on because his voice had a higher pitch than mine and I wanted to capture the same feel. The new material, people will be a able to say ‘Okay, this is Todd’s sound…’ but you’re still going to hear many of those subtleties and qualities that were characteristic of Midnight’s voice that I have as well.”
Drenning has gone on record as saying the new album will be a tribute to Midnight, taking the listener on a journey through the fallen singer’s life. In spite of never having known the man except through his crash course in Crimson Glory’s music, La Torre says he’s up to the challenge of bringing the band’s original spirit back.
“Midnight was quoted in an interview as saying the Strange And Beautiful album was a great record, but it was a different kind of record and that, to a large degree, he felt Crimson Glory stopped at Transcendence. This new record is going to be the continuation of that, so if the fans liked Transcendence they’re really going to dig this. It’s going to be special and I’m honoured to be a part of it.”
“None of this was planned, it isn’t a smokescreen,” he adds. “This is all unfolding naturally. I think that when the new record is done people are going to feel something you don’t feel on a record every day.”
– following are some exclusive photos of La Torre provided by Jon Drenning for this story. All rights reserved.
As a purely personal and very un-journalistic aside, I can’t fucking believe what I’m hearing: