INTERVIEW: ZANE KNIGHT (GATES OF PARADOX, ACRYLAZEA, ETERNAL CRYPT, KNIGHT IN A HIGH TOWER STUDIOS)

*featured image by Noise Dosage Media

Zane is a hell of a guitarist, composer, and sound engineer. He’s been churning out incredible power metal, and folk metal songs for years with his various projects, and most recently, he’s been hard at work in the studio on GATES OF PARADOX’s sophomore album, as well as running his own recording studio to service the metal bands of Rochester, New York called, KNIGHT IN A HIGH TOWER STUDIOS. I wanted to pick his brain about all of the above, so let’s get into it!

1. Is Zane Knight your REAL name?!

It is! A lot of people say, “your parents must be super cool if they named you that!” but not so much, they’re your typical suburban parents.

2. When did you officially open up your recording studio to the “public” and how are things going so far?

Officially, I announced it during the Summer of 2021. It took me a little while after I finished college to sort out some chaos in my personal life, but after that I started to stand on my feet and was ready to announce that I’d open publically for projects that are not just my own personal ones. I filed a DBA so I could legally operate under the name “Knight in a High Tower Studios,” and soon after made an announcement on social media! Things are going well so far, I’m currently working on the Dyspläcer debut album and the second Gates record, so I’ll have my hands full into the summertime.

3. What does the future hold for Eternal Crypt?

We have an official live lineup now, three of us from Gates of Paradox, Matt Berry on bass, and now James Hallenbeck on keys. We will definitely be playing more shows than we have in the past. Before this lineup, we only played 2 shows in 3 years, so making this band an active working force again was a goal of mine. We have another album that we’re looking to record soon, but the only promise I can make with that is hopefully we’ll start recording later this year. It’ll be a busy year with all the other projects I’m working on, but I’m stoked to start recording a second Crypt album! I’ve been sitting on the material for quite a few years, but after various lineup changes and other difficulties, it unfortunately got put on the back burner. With the steady lineup that we have now, we’re taking this project from the elusive dormant studio project it was, and turning that around!

4. How is tracking for the new Gates of Paradox album going, and what are your thoughts on the direction the band is taking?

So far we’ve tracked drums, and next up is rhythm guitars, after I polish up the drum tracks. I don’t want to speak too soon, but things are going much smoother this time around, compared to the recording sessions of the debut album! As far as the direction we took on this album, we basically took the melodic sensibilities of our first album, and further focused our ideas so that we could go above and beyond in outdoing ourselves this time around. On this album there will be more catchy choruses, more solos, more pummeling fast songs, more slow somber moments, longer tracks than before, shorter tracks than before, more layering, more orchestrations, basically more in every department haha. We also made this album a concept record that tells a story through a space theme, which partially was an accident, though it became the thematic monster it is naturally. Composition wise, there are a lot of things I did on this record which were bucket list items I’ve always wanted to do in the years I’ve been writing songs. For example, we have a song on this album that clocks in over 13 minutes and ends with a big multi-choral arrangement, and that tickles the Avantasia fan in me which satisfies my appetite unlike any other project I’ve worked on thus far. All around, I’m very much satisfied and had a ton of fun writing these songs. I can’t wait to continue recording so that everyone else can share the fun and enjoy the music with us!

5. In what ways have you pushed yourself as a guitarist lately?

I’ve been playing guitar for over a decade now, but something I’ve neglected in all of that time was to properly learn the 7 modes of the major/minor scale. As someone who plays a lot of lead guitar, it’s almost embarrassing that I’ve been avoiding this concept for so long. Over the last year, I’ve been naming the shapes and running them in every key and fretboard location, and though that process has been difficult, it’s been incredibly rewarding. Sometimes when you’ve been playing guitar for so long, it’s easy to get in a rut and get comfortable. If you want to grow however, there are times that you need to humble yourself, and go back to learning a rudimentary skill as a beginner. There is no such thing as “mastery,” we are all students, and as soon as we think “I’m confident with where I am,” we’ve only stunted our growth. Learning the modes to the point where you can run through them on command is a scary idea, but with a little dedication and regular practice, even just 5-10 minutes a day, you will learn far more than you imagined!

6. In what ways have you pushed yourself as a sound engineer lately?

Every time I work on a new project, I push myself further by creating the best work I’ve done at that point in time. I’ve only just started to feel like I have a grasp on mixing, and I’m sure in a year from now, I’ll probably be saying the same thing haha. I’m always on a quest for improvement, and with every album I produce, there is a significant mistake that teaches me a valuable lesson. That lesson will take me to the next project where I wont make that mistake, but I’ll find a new one which teaches me a valuable lesson for the next project, and so on and so forth. As far as a measurable improvement goes, I’ve gotten a lot faster with editing these days, now that a lot of that has gotten into my muscle memory. I remember it took a couple months to edit the drums on the first Gates record, but when I recently edited drums on the Dyspläcer album, I got around the same amount of editing done in one week. Hard work does pay off over time! Like most things in life, you have to put in thousands of hours of hard work before you start to grow and see results, but the payoff is immeasurably rewarding!

7. Since plenty of audio nerds read this (surprisingly), I’d love your insight on certain brands, makes, and/or models you swear by. This can relate to guitar equipment, recording equipment, etc. Talk about some gear that has really been impressing you lately.

It may come to a surprise to some, but I am very much not a gear head. When it comes to guitars, amps, and recording gear, I’m of the mindset that the final product doesn’t come from the gear, but from the person operating it. Look at Andy Sneap for example, if you listen to his productions from two decades ago, you can still 100% tell it was him who mixed it. It’s not his gear that makes his records good, it’s his incredible ear and production experience that gets him where he wants to go. I know a lot of guitar players and audio engineers who will brouse equipment online for hours and drool over the next big thing, but that’s not me. If I’ve got something that gets the job done in an efficient manner with good quality, I have little to no desire to see what’s new or trending. As far as studio gear goes though, I’ve really been into waves plugins lately, particularly the virtual mix rack. I use that plugin on every session these days, as it offers digital processing that emulates analogue outboard gear. As a metal producer, I also often use Slate Trigger 2 as well, which makes augmenting drum sounds with samples a piece of cake. When I use Trigger 2 though, I never use the sample library that came with the plugin, because that would make it too easy! I also can’t morally justify using someone else’s drum sounds and call them my own. When I record a drum session, I’ll take samples of the complete kit, and then I’ll add the snare and kick samples to my personal Trigger library. This way, even if I am sample-replacing a kick for fast double bass runs, it’ll be the sound of that very drummer on that very kit in that very room, so it’s a unique sound that nobody else has. As far as a guitar amp that’s been impressing me lately, I picked up an Engl head last year that’s an absolute monster and will end up being used on at least 3 albums this year. It has an excellent punch, yet the distortion is so clear that you can hear every note picked. Instead of falling apart, the notes are smooth while still retaining a dirty slap. Some other gear worth note as of late are Lewitt mics. I picked up a stereo pair of Lewitt condensers, and the built in EQ settings make post EQ almost non necessary under the right circumstances!

8. I’m not saying you SHOULD, but any plans to cut your hair? Many folks identifying as women in our circle have expressed jealousy over your hair, and I’d love your thoughts on the future of your lion’s mane.

Absolutely not! Well, not for now that is. There are a lot of bald men in my family, so my genetics are not in my favor in this department. My hair might end up being like a flower in spring, pretty for a time, but gone in the fall. Until then, I will enjoy this mop to the fullest extent until I start to look like Devin Townsend, then it’s all coming off (laughs).

9. You’re one of the few people I can talk power metal and progressive metal with, so I’m curious about any newer power metal and prog metal bands (within the last couple years) who might be on your radar right now.

Power/Prog is my heart and soul! Funny enough, there are not a ton of new bands that I follow. This isn’t something that’s just with music though, I take this mindset with all media, movies, video games, and whatnot. With the vast amount of information out there, there’s so much to delve into. I’d much rather spend time checking out something from an artist’s past in the endless abyss of information, than get bored trying to keep up with what’s new and current. That being said, I will highlight a couple bands I’m excited to hear more from who I think are in their prime.

Unleash the Archers, though not the newest band, has in my opinion released their strongest albums with the last 2 releases. A lot of power metal that comes out nowadays is just a parody of what the bands of the late 90s/early 2000s were doing *cough cough* Glory Hammer *cough cough* but UTA has seemed to do something unique that separates themselves amongst the oversaturated market of imitators.

Another semi new band that I’m eagerly waiting for new material from is Theocracy. It’s easy to write them off for their religious lyrics, but I think that if an artist is passionate about whatever they’re singing about, I don’t care what it is, the raw human emotion is enough to pull me in and relate. Theocracy does these incredible layered vocal parts much like Tobias Samett would do in Edguy and Avantasia, in a way nobody else can. There are a lot of power metal bands who have tried to do that, but nobody does it as well as Sammett does, and Matt Smith from Theocracy is the only person I’ve heard who can strike those same feel-good moments when the multipart harmonies come in, it really is spectacular! Theocracy also dips into prog moments as well, they have an epic 20+ minute song titled “Mirror of Souls” that’s absolutely gorgeous, and worth every second of its power/prog journey of goodness.

Though they don’t seem to be as active as they once were, Holy Grail are one of my favorite modern bands for sure. They combine the heaviness of Lamb of God style riffing with some intense Marty Friedman level shredding and a traditional metal spirit, all topped with a killer power singer who could sing alongside any classic metal vocalist and hold his ground. Their debut album “Crisis in Utopia” is still a regular spin of mine, and they were an excellent live band as well. It’s a shame they’ve become nearly dormant after their 2016 album.

For modern prog bands, there’s not a whole lot I listen to, as most of the bands I’ve been digging into are bands that have been around for a couple decades already. I do have to give a shoutout to Haken however, who are a band that a few members of Acrylazea have gotten me into. I haven’t listened to a ton of their material, but I do have to acknowledge them for making prog progressive by actually bringing some new ideas for the genre, unlike most bands that call themselves progressive but are only riding the coattails of a style of music that’s been around for half a century. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love a lot of those bands too, but calling it progressive is almost an oxymoron.

10. Plug any upcoming shows you have with any of your products, as well as your online presence.

If you’d like to check out my music, check out Gates of Paradox, Eternal Crypt, and Acrylazea on Spotify, Bandcamp, or wherever you listen to music! You can find my studio page on Facebook and Instagram under “Knight in a Hightower Studios,” so feel free to message the page or my personal account!

*Taken from our May 2022 issue: “One Cold Spring in Buffalo”

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