Los Angeles based neo-classical shredders Exmortus, founded by guitarist and vocalist Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez, have racked up achievement after achievement. From appearing in a national TV commercial for Virgin Mobile to being played constantly on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal, from appearing on the first Ozzfest meets Knotfest in San Bernadino to touring with heroes Children of Bodom and Marty Friedman. However it’s probably the band’s 5th album, The Sound of Steel, that Conan will be most proud of. It’s his most personal album, an album forged together after a bit of a setback but also one that given his upbringing could never have not seen the light of day.
One can say the sound of steel injected Conan at an early age. Born into a family of musicians, he grew up listening to his grandparents sing and play guitar, while his father and uncle both were in rock and metal bands. At just 5 years old, his father took him to watch his uncle play in a death metal band at the Whisky. The experience left quite the lasting impression on him. He soaked in the vibe and the atmosphere and begged for a guitar of his own. He was gifted a beginner Crate guitar and combo amp and once his father saw him stick to practicing, purchased him a solid Gibson SG. It was just a few years later at the age of 12 that Conan formed Exmortus, which would not have lasted had it not been for his parents.
Conan reflects, “My family has been and continue to be very supportive of my endeavors with my music. I don't think Exmortus would exist if it weren't for my parents driving the band to our gigs. My dad also acted as our first manager and made sure we played on time and were taken care of at the gigs, since we were so young when we started performing.”
An LA fixture for well over a decade now, they released their first LP, 2008’s In Hatred’s Flame, when Conan was just 18 years old, but had already paid their dues through their shows and buzzed about demos. The mixture of thrash, death, black and especially neo-classical that made them stand out from the LA thrash revival in the '00s.
“Classical influence came from watching Fantasia and Looney Tunes a bunch as a kid," explains Conan. “Of course I got into Ozzy because of Randy Rhoads's neo-classical style and then into Yngwie during my high school years. Ever since I've delved deeper by studying counterpoint and harmony with old theory books that have all the classic examples.”
It’s the many influences that have made Conan a guitar hero to many. He’s constantly covering solos from a diverse group of players on the Exmortus TV Youtube channel. Everyone from Boston’s Tom Scholz, Brian May and Jason Becker to Bach and Tchaikovsky, though out of all the classical composers, Beethoven gets the most love from Conan. Exmortus have done interpretations of his music on their past three albums, with Tempest, being of Piano Sonata No. 17 on The Sound of Steel.
2014’s Slave to the Sword was the album that took all their influences and forged them together the strongest. Touring nonstop in support of that LP with the likes of Dark Tranquillity, Krisiun, Destruction, Arsis and many others prepped them for a more mature sound on 2016’s Ride Forth. Constant touring with Amon Amarth, the aforementioned Children of Bodom, Abbath and this year’s run with Kreator and Sabaton proved too much for some of the members, as founding member and drummer, Mario Mortus as well as long time guitarist, David Rivera, stepped down to pursue other interests. Conan had been used to line-up changes, starting a band with preteens can see many of the members change as they get older, but this one seemed especially tough since Mortus was not just a member, but family.
Family was what started him on this path, but it was ultimately his family that told him to keep going. Mortus urged him not to give up and while speaking with his parents and uncle, they all told him he had gone too far to quit now, so he hunkered down in his studio and crafted his finest songs to date, enlisting Chase Becker (guitar) and Carlos Cruz (drums) of Warbringer to help record the tracks. That line-up did a run with Darkest Hour and Warbringer prior to recording The Sound of Steel to see how they all gelled together and needless to say, they all got a long great.
With The Sound of Steel, Conan once again revisited the team that made Slave... and Ride Forth such successes, working with producer Zack Ohren (Machine Head, Fallujah, Suffocation) at Sharkbite Studio to sonically capture the tracks while artist, Philip Lawvere (Kreator, Celtic Frost, Helloween), created the cover art.
Immediately after finishing the album, the band headed to Europe for a month-long tour with FL death metal legends, Obituary. They’ll come home, start up the US promo cycle and expect to be back out on the road, where their steel shines the brightest, this summer and throughout the next year.