"Bring it on, motherfuckers..." I hear myself whispering that line under my breath and in that moment I've truly lost grip on reality. I'm standing in the middle of a dusty horse arena on a sweltering afternoon with black war paint melting down my face. I'm wearing a cape, gripping an axe with white knuckle intensity, grimacing as I prepare to lunge forward into battle. Yep, that's right, I said battle. I'm not really sure when I fully decided to buy in to the Medieval feud that's brought me to a face-off with the heavy metal warriors of Songhammer. The pair of screaming maniacs decked out in super hero armor are staring back at me, growling and swinging their custom made mallets of death in my direction. They've just slain half a dozen of my fellow evil henchmen and now they look fucking pissed.
The face paint starts to run into my eyes as I charge toward ShredHammer, the taller, balder half of the duo. I swing hard at him and miss. Shred recoils with his weapon and swings it toward my face. Through blurry vision I see the hit coming in slow motion. I feel my feet leave the ground before launching back and landing face first in the dirt. For a split second the world goes dark. This is not the way I expected to spend my weekend.
"And cut!" the associate director yells. "Ok guys, great job. A few more and I think we got it."
The opportunity to fight and die in an epic battle scene doesn't just come along everyday. But there was another reason why the prospect of being hit in the face and falling on my ass countless times compelled me to join the cast and crew of Songhammer's new video, "Death is On the Way." To put it simply--everyone else around me was doing it. Recently, the band that made a huge splash at last year's BlizzCon convention for their song "We Are the Horde," are back. This time they're making an entire music video inspired by iconic game franchise "World of Warcraft." They've put the project together by the skin of their teeth and with a little bit of help from their friends.
What started as a grain of an idea funded solely through donations from a Kickstarter campaign last year has turned out to be was a massive, two-day production with 100 cast and crew members on a sprawling horse ranch in Redlands. When I stopped in to check on the project on the second day of filming, members Ben Stewart and Dustin Miller couldn't believe what they'd created with a little bit of fanboy imagination, plenty of sweat and the sheer amount of volunteers offering support, services and battle skills to make it happen.
"We've both been in bands, recorded albums and shot videos but this is beyond epic, even for your average big rock video," Stewart says. About an hour before he is scheduled to smash me in the face with his Doomhammer, the Riverside band's lead guitarist is sitting very civilized at the craft services table with Dustin, casually brushing aside one of the two stringy tendrils of hair on his otherwise bald head. "There's no way we could've afforded all this, horses, trained riders, if people hadn't stepped in and believed in this just as much as us."
Initially formed between Stewart and Miller as a way to win the BlizzCon songwriting contest (which they did), the duo's popularity has only grown in the past year. Part of it is due to the strength of the songs and the band's overall sense of authenticity when it comes to conveying the WOW (World of Warcraft) universe in song. Miller confesses to playing the game about four hours a day. Even the band's name is taken from the 600-member guild of online players in the US.
"WOW is in the very fiber of our thinking on an almost cellular level," Miller says.
The charismatic lead singer, rocking a thick pair of mutton Wolverine chops, explains how he and Stewart have dedicated every ounce of their lives to getting this video off the ground. "When we got to this point, we'd pretty much cast everyone but the last two weeks has been psychotic," he says. "Like 17 hour days up until 3 a.m. and then up at 8 a.m. answering emails, getting on the phone."
Over course of 50 days since last September, the band managed to crowdsource over $5,000 to film their project. The video is set to premiere in late June.They plan to enter it for consideration at BlizzCon's original movie contest for a variety of award categories including awards for Best Costume, Best Song and even Best Dance Routine. That's right, in addition to all the killing, carnage and heroic action, the group even found a way to fit a choreographed dance number in there.
Next: More photos and stories from the set below
The plot, in brief, revolves around Songhammer's quest to avenge the slaughter of innocent pilgrims at the hands of an evil army spearheaded by Death--the lead villain. What ensues is mostly what you'd expect: Sword fighting, horse chases, blood-splattered battle scenes and sorcery. It's an ideal fit for the song--a mixture of galloping power metal, Medieval lore and Gregorian chants.
"When we first wrote the song and thought of a concept since it's all Warcraft gaming or PC gaming oriented, anything we write about is about a battle or a journey," Stewart says. "So all of those things just lend itself to a story."
Their story was enough to inspire the participation of Michele Boyd, a well-known actress in the sci-fi/gaming world for her work on hit animated web series "The Guild" and the Stage 5 TV web show "Game Changers" on You Tube. When she signed on to play the role of the Madge--the woman who resurrects Songhammer after Death kills them in a battle--the prospect of being a sorceress who shoots lightning out of her hands was too good to pass up.
"I've been a part of the gaming world for so long now and I love the support and I love how tight knit everyone is. They wanna see you create stuff. So if I can't do that with acting, I love doing it with people like this and I love people who go out and just make their own stuff."
At the helm of the production is director John Leonetti. At first glance--judging by his brown fedora and flowing, white collared shirt--he could've easily passed for an Indiana Jones stunt double. It figures, considering he started out as the whip trainer for the production (yes there are whips used in the video too!). But when some unforeseen circumstances befell the production, he made the swift graduation to director of the entire video.
"We had a situation where the producer who was involved in the video left and then [John] stepped in and said 'hey I'd like to direct. I think I have a vision,'" Stewart says. "So we started moving forward with that vision, he re-wrote the script, helped us put a story line to it, really."
Next: A stunt rider gets tossed from her horse!
By late afternoon, Leonetti and his associate director Joe Bohn are wrangling a group of about a dozen professional horse riders for a galloping chase scene. The group is made entirely of volunteers, workers from Jeffries Heartland Stables, the ranch where the production is filming. When the band first asked to secure the stables, the owners even threw in some extra bodies to serve as actors. And what better candidates for free labor during a horse chase scene than a bunch real life cowboys and cowgirls?
As they trot their horses up a grassy hill to the meeting spot where the scene starts, Miller is hanging back to get some medical attention for a cut on his left index finger he sustained during one of the earlier battle scenes. He's pouring superglue on the gash to stop the bleeding. "Sometimes heroes bleed," the singer says. "No epic journey comes without bumps and bruises." Miller lets the on-set EMT pour the glue on top of the bloody cut and allows it to dry in the hot, mid-day sun. At this point in the day, I assume he's either really getting into roll or going completely insane.
The scene Songhammer are filming requires the horses to reach a full gallop down a steep hill and somehow manage to stop in small area just behind the camera, which has quite a few ditches and potholes. Though the scene is nailed after a few takes, the cast suffers a major loss when Bonnie, one of the stunt riders, got thrown from her horse when she couldn't find proper room to stop.
Luckily, the fall only causes minor injuries and paramedics assured everyone she's fine but she just needed to go to the hospital to get checked out. In fact, the most painful thing about the fall, one of the cowboys says, is the Chocolate Cake Rule. According to cowboy law, if you fall off your horse you have to bake a chocolate cake for the rest of the staff at the stables. It's a harsh (but delicious) punishment .
Naturally, Bonnie's mishap left one spot to be filled in the final battle scene for the day at the horse arena, the big showdown with the minions of Death. Minutes before they called me over to offer me the role, I'd been talking with Death (aka battle choreographer and Songhammer backing band rhythm guitarist Devanand Bassanoo) about how he'd put the scene together.
"The first time I mapped it out, Death--my character--killed them too quickly," he says. "So they said It's not epic enough we've gotta throw some more kicks and punches in there. So we did a lot more give and take throughout the fight. But working with these guys is always fun, that's why I'm here."
Next: What did the rest of the bad guys look like?
After a day of listening to stories of all the people who somehow stumbled their way into the making of this video, it was hard not to sort of feel like one of the Songhammer tribe. So when they asked for an extra body, I figured I might as well initiate myself and join in the fun. Of course first they had to get the costume on me which I'll admit, was a bit snug. "Don't feel bad," one of the production managers said, "this was actually designed to fit a 14 year-old girl." Right, now I definitely don't feel bad about myself! Eventually, we beat the black costume into submission and the costume people manage to slide it on me. They hand me my weapon and all of the sudden, I'm one of nine bad guys lining up to learn battle choreography for the last big fight with Songhammer.
As we all wait in line for our turn to run out to the slaughter, I get sandwiched between two longtime friends of the band--Michael Slusser and Aaron Rogers. Slusser, a bearded, middle-aged college English professor by day, is dressed head to toe in black, sweating, sneering and carrying an axe. Ahead of me is Rogers, the big boss of the villains--standing like a 6'3 bear with two giant swords strapped to his back. Picture the perfect mixture of Conan and John Goodman. In real life, Rogers is a technology professor a part time actor who says he's been a thespian since he was 8 years-old. The video was a perfect opportunity to support his friends and dust off his acting chops.
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Though the whole video is centered on Songhammer's heroic journey that will hopefully create more buzz for them at BlizzCon this year, the process of being involved in such a crazy music video has been an epic journey in and of itself. And right now, Slusser and Rogers are more than willing to die for the cause.
"So many people we willing to just step in and help out like, 'What do you need?' Rogers says with sweat and eye makeup rolling down the sides of his face. "That kind of project is really special when people just hear what they're doing and are like 'hell yes I'm in!'
Stay tuned to Heard Mentality for the video, which comes out next month!