Christoph “Chris” Bennett of Widow
by Justin Gaines
Well before it became a trend, Raleigh, NC-based Widow has been flying the flag for traditional heavy metal. They’ve set the underground metal world “On Fire” (to borrow one of their album titles) for more than a decade, and with a new album on the way, an upcoming US tour and a headlining spot at the Warriors of Metal IV Open Air Festival, Widow is poised to reach the audience their high-energy brand of heavy metal deserves.
We caught up with Widow guitarist Christoph “Chris” Bennett and asked him about Widow’s past, present and future.
Hardrock Haven: Let’s start with Widow 101. How did you guys meet and what made you decide to start a band together?
Chris Bennett: Johnny (Wooten, guitarist and vocalist) and I knew each other from the metal scene in Raleigh, NC in the early ‘90s. A few years later we got together and played together in a melodic death metal band called Sorrow Bequest. Since we were very young we loved traditional metal. We just really wanted to play that style. I love thrash, death and black metal, but traditional was what I wanted to play. Mix that will lots of beers and BOOM, Widow was born!
HRH: When Widow started out, traditional metal was about as far away from trendy as you could get. What was it about the traditional heavy metal sound that appealed to you? Are there particular bands that have influenced you more than others?
CB: Man, I’ve never paid attention to what was trendy. I thought the metal scene was awesome in the ‘90s, when some folks claimed it was dead. Some of my favorite bands like At the Gates and Dissection were happening then. I think our biggest influences for Widow are definitely Crimson Glory, King Diamond, Ozzy, Yngwie, Maiden, Priest and Metallica. I love catchy songs with great melodies! But so much stuff influences my writing that we don’t really sound like. Bands like Van Halen, Slayer, Skynyrd, the Ramones, the Misfits, Black Flag – those are some of my favorite bands!
HRH: How would you describe the Widow sound?
CB: Melodic hard rocking metal! Some people call us power metal, or traditional metal. Over the last few years some magazines have called us New Wave of Traditional Metal. Other people have called us stupid! I say call us what you want to, we’re gonna keep rocking no matter what!
HRH: Let’s talk about the first album. As much as I enjoy the others, Midnight Strikes is the one I keep coming back to, especially now that it has been reissued. Did the band have a specific goal in mind – sound-wise – going into that album, or was it all about capturing Widow’s live energy in the studio?
CB: Well, I guess the goal was to create a horror vibe to the songs. We love old horror movies, and wanted that feeling on the album. I think we definitely got it! I love that one too, and it’s usually the one people want the most songs from live. I’m really happy with everything we’ve done, but I understand people digging the debut. I’m that way myself with lots of bands I love! Take the Ramones for instance. I love everything they did, but NOTHING can touch the first album!
HRH: Midnight Strikes was recently reissued. What’s the story behind Midnight Strikes…Twice?
CB: Man, believe it or not it was reissued due to demand! That makes me very happy! We really weren’t expecting our type of music to make such a resurgence with kids today, but I’m so happy that it has! Some people say, “oh, you weren’t there during the 80′s, you aren’t true!” but I WAS around rocking then (when I was a young little fella) and it makes me happy that kids are getting into melodic metal just like i did at a very young age! That rules! This type of music is timeless; I truly feel it will last forever! Matt (Rudzinski) from Divebomb got Midnight Strikes back into print with some extras, and we are very pleased! So if you missed it the first time around, check it out because I’m not sure Midnight will strike three times!!!
HRH: Widow’s sound changed a bit between Midnight Strikes and On Fire. What made you decide to enlist a second vocalist (a young woman known only as “Lili”), and did it change the way the songs were written or the band’s overall sound?
CB: Yeah, we changed a bit with On Fire. We really just wanted to tell our stories with a female perspective, since Midnight Strikes told a horror story totally from the male side. I thought it would be cool to see it both ways. Women are a big part of the films, and we really thought that would be a cool idea! It worked out great for that album. We have changed on all of our albums, but never so far that if you dug what we did that you wouldn’t still on the next one. We never played the tuba or anything!
HRH: Nightlife struck me as a return to the Midnight Strikes sound. Was this a deliberate effort?
CB: Nightlife was closer to Midnight Strikes, but I still feel it has its own identity. It has more straight to the point song structure, and I really like how it came out. We have been very fortunate because we have been out touring on that album for years now. It has lasted the longest of any album we’ve had; we have toured the US, Canada, and played in Germany all since Nightlife. We are so grateful for the support we’ve had from our fans! I’m such a metal fan myself; playing live has been so great to me. I love hanging out with people and also traveling around collecting CDs, vinyl and t-shirts!
HRH: What made you choose to add a pair of cover songs (Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and Kiss’s “I Stole Your Love”) to the album?
CB: We covered Kiss and Van Halen because I’ve loved those bands since I was very young. We wanted to do our version of those songs, and I think they ended up sounding like us! It was very cool to do!
HRH: Widow is a band that has paid its dues at a time when this kind of music was not popular. How do you square that with the apparent overnight success of newer bands like White Wizzard, Cauldron and Enforcer?
CB: I can tell you this: I’ve been great friends with Jason and Cauldron since the Goat Horn days, and we’ve played together many times, and they are the real deal! They’ve been at it for years just like us. As for the other bands, you know, when people in this style of music do well it’s great for all of us. When metal is your life like it is for me, you love a lot of different bands. I love Slough Feg, Twisted Tower Dire, Icarus Witch, Cauldron, Cage, Wolf and so many more! I am so thrilled that people appreciate this music again. We are honored that magazines and fans have mentioned Widow as being a part of traditional metal today. We are certainly not a trend band; we’ll keep going no matter what! This type of music breeds lifelong fans, so I think everything is great! We’ve worked so hard for so many years, it means so much to me, as a die-hard metalhead, that people appreciate and dig what Widow does. I thank you all!
HRH: Widow is part of a very vital metal scene in Raleigh, NC. What’s it like being part of what seems like the best-kept secret in American metal?
CB: Raleigh has been great to us. Believe me, it’s not so much of a secret anymore. The Twisted Tower Dire guys liked it so much they moved to NC! I don’t blame ‘em, because there are many, many true metal fans in the area. I have truly enjoyed every gig we’ve ever played anywhere in the world, but I definitely love North Carolina and being from here. It’s great and I love it!
HRH: What does the immediate future hold for Widow? Is a new album in the works? What about some touring?
CB: We have a new album called Life’s Blood that will be out in the fall of this year. We are very proud of it; I think it’s our best work! We’re also doing a tour in August called Uniting the Powers of Metal 2011 with Artizan, Seven Kingdoms and Creation’s End. I’m looking forward to that for sure! It will be an East Coast run to start with, but we’ve had such a great response there could be more dates! We’re also confirming some more US dates on the West Coast, so we’ll be out there in September! I can’t wait to get back out on the road – it’s a blast! We treat every show the same so I can guarantee you you’ll get your moneys worth with Widow!
HRH: What can the fans at the Warriors of Metal Open Air Festival expect from a Widow headlining set?
CB: Oh man, we had such a blast at the Warriors of Metal fest last year, we can’t wait to do it again! We were out there rocking with our friends from Aska, Dantesco and Cage, and it ruled! Aska and Dantesco will be back, and I’m also looking forward to seeing Vindicator, Benedictum, Split Heaven, really everybody! That’s how cool the lineup is! We’ll be playing some Life’s Blood songs, so you can’t miss that! You can expect Widow to go hot rocking! We will party like it’s 1999!
HRH: Finally, Widow has a well-deserved reputation as a sober and serious-minded group of upstanding citizens. Do you think this will be the year when you guys finally drink some beer and have some fun?
CB: Ha-ha, well maybe you can buy us a beer Justin. I want to break out of my shell and loosen up a bit!
You can catch Widow on the road this summer and of course at the Warriors of Metal Festival. Keep an eye out for Life’s Blood this fall. You can bet we will!