British rock band SARACEN are now in their 25th year as a recording act!!! Their debut started out way back in 1981 with "Heroes, Saints & Fools", and heavy Symphonic rock music is still their game. The brand new 2006 CD "Vox In Excelso" is a f-i-n-e concept album based on the mysterious and controversial history of the Knights Templar. Very much in the vein of The Da Vinci code and all its ehem, mumbo-jumbo. Original guitarist/songwriter ROB BENDELOW, spoke about the new CD and the real meaning with a concept album.

Urban- I must say that "Vox In Excelso" is my favorite Saracen album. How about the response from media and fans so far? Are you pleased with how things are going?

Rob Bendelow- Big time! Reviews have been terrific so far, probably 80% have been truly supportive, referring to it as an 'opus' or 'a piece of timeless music'. Very rewarding, particularly considering that we been working on it for 5 years! And to my surprise, the media have accepted it being a 'concept album', as opposed to a 'straight' collection of tracks. Phew.

U- Do you take all criticism personally?

Rob- No...except when it's positive! We all like different stuff don't we. As long as we get a 'fair crack of the whip', that's all we can ask.

U- Did you write "Vox In Excelso" as a whole-piece or was it more like putting all the best bits together? (Lego or jigsaw puzzle)

Rob- It was written as a whole piece, from start to finish. My mate Mick had the idea for the album, whilst we were holidaying in southern France, in 2000, deep in Templar country. We are both fascinated by the story. So.I researched the topic, decided on the time-line, planned the album, and then set about composing the tracks, utterly inspired by the subject. We were able to adapt 'Meet Me At Midnight' from it's previous form, and slot that in too. It was truly enjoyable to work on.

U- So what's the real meaning with a concept album anyhow? The easiest way to gain respect from fellow symphonic and prog musicians? ;-)

Rob- I don't really know any other symphonic or prog musicians. We don't move in those circles. I would love to think that Tony Iommi (my favorite guitarist) or Dave Gilmour had heard it and enjoyed the music. Or the Uriah Heep members, or Pendragon, or Rick Wakeman, Ronnie James Dio, etc etc, but of course they won't hear it - so we'll never know. It's simply about being inspired to try and write an album that deals with one central theme throughout. It's very much a 70's thing!

U- How come you decide to work with Martin Kronlund as the producer? Not the obvious choice I'd say... or?

Rob- Based on results, he was the perfect choice. I can't praise his contribution enough. He was suggested by Khalil Turk from Escape Music. With hindsight, an inspired suggestion.

U- What were you trying to achieve and create soundwise with "Vox In Excelso".

Rob- A great rock sound, true to Saracen, maybe with a slightly more modern edge to it at the same time? We knew we could get the 'English' parts sounding great - the challenge was the drums AND production. And that's where Martin scored top marks. As did our special guest drummer Mark Cross -magnificent. Any real budget to talk about? Don't think so?

U- Some would probably accuse you of simply cashing-in on the Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code hype. It's like, you've read the book, seen the (crappy) movie, now listen to the music?

Rob- I can fully understand that conclusion, except I started writing it in 2000 - Dan Brown's book emerged in 2003 I believe. I've been into this controversial piece of history for twenty years, since reading The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail. Furthermore, I thought the film was excellent - it just needed some of our music in the soundtrack!

U- Indeed... are you into religion, religious, or merely into the whole history of things?

Rob- The history only. We are not a 'religious' band, and are not attempting to preach here. Anyone with half a brain knows that the modern religions are all nonsense, built on lies and fiction. Yet incredibly successful. The Catholics have been conning people across the globe for 1,700 years. An unrivalled marketing campaign, and it's still running! Beat that Microsoft.

U- You were born and raised in and around Newcastle?

Rob- Wrong! we hail from Matlock, in Derbyshire. The beautiful centre of England.

U- But I remember watching an old VHS tape (Metal City), about Neat records, Newcastle (which included Saracen) and acts such as Venom, Warfare, Avenger, etc. Well, you didn't really belong to the same category of music, huh?

Rob- Correct. We are often referred to as one of the NWoBHM bands, but I don't really know why that is, or was? Back then, in the early 80's, I don't recall it feeling like we were part of some kind of movement - we were just us, Saracen, trying to do our thing.

U- So what or who inspired you to pick up the guitar/singing in the first place?

Rob- In my formative years it was the guitar-oriented pop bands - The Beatles, Kinks, Yardbirds, Who, Rolling Stones and the like. Then Cream and Jimi Hendrix exploded onto the scene and wondrous things started to happen. Then, most importantly, the true rock bands of the early 70's arrived - Black Sabbath (my favorite band of all time), Purple, Heep, Zep, Floyd, Priest. These were the bands (and associated guitarists) that inspired me to want to play and write And they still do!

U- Do tell us a little bit about your days as a struggling musician in the late 70's. How many different bands and styles did you go through, before you could settle down with Saracen.

Rob- We started out in 1977 as 'Lammergier'. We were more progressive then - with odd time signatures and like, as well some straight rock in there. And covers - from Sabs, Heep, Priest.even David Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream' and King Crimson's 'Twenty-first Century Schizoid Man'. We changed name to 'Saracen' during 1980, but music largely remained the same. The more progressive elements disappeared, together with the covers. Everything really took off in 1981, with the release of 'Heroes,Saints & Fools'.

U- Did you manage to make any money out of the first Saracen album or did it all end up in the hands of the record company?

Rob- Many record companies are 'sharks' as I'm sure you're aware, but not Polygram. They were very straight and business-like with us. We received our 'corn'!

U- Many or most writers do enjoy simplifying things by saying your music is quite similar to the likes of Magnum, Styx, Kansas. Would you say that they've influenced you in the past?

Rob - Well. I've only ever heard a handful of Magnum tracks, and not sufficiently well to have been influenced by them. Bob Catley used to come and see us when we played in Birmingham, to see what all the comparisons were about. Personally, I can't understand the comparison, but maybe I'm too close? I've never heard any Kansas music, clearly I should. What album would you recommend I get? Styx, on the other hand, is a band I really like, and maybe have been influenced by? 'Pieces of Eight' is a favorite album of mine. I can see the comparison with their heavier work. When we emerged in 2003 with 'Red Sky', one website referred to us as 'Sabbath-meets-Styx'. I can certainly take comments like that!

U- Thanks for everything, if there's anything you'd like say, add, or promote, please do:

Rob- Well, thanks to you 'Urban' for your very positive review of 'Vox In Excelso', and the opportunity of this interview. Much appreciated. But our thanks must also go the those fans that are still out there. We never fail to be surprised at the interest in Saracen's music - guess we'll never really understand it, as we never reached the dizzy heights of some of our contemporaries. When someone e-mails to genuinely thank us for the music, it's a great feeling every single time. Keep on truckin'!
Rob Bendelow (on behalf of Saracen)

Interview by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
Images borrowed from the official Saracen site: (c)2006