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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: Defensive compromises by Frak Gaisobalcos Beaudet

By Sébastien Tardif

This brings up a fourth principle related to the third: protective gear always is a compromise between protection and mobility. One could indeed be completely covered in metal but wouldn’t be able to move.

 

Thus, we have the openings in the armpit, the groin, the knees and the neck, simply because these places need to move to let the wearer move and fight. The only way to protect these areas is with flexible material such as mail.

 

Therefore, knights would take their swords with two hands and drive them forcibly in these places. It was no easy task and fights could last several minutes. A good way to take down an opponent would be to wrestle them to the ground and open the visor to stab them in the face.

 

Gruesome, but isn’t it better than dying because you didn’t raise your shield at the right moment, and got your sword arm cut off? The chances of survival are still way higher with full plate armor. Then why didn’t most foot soldiers in the Middle Ages wear plate armour then?

 

Full plate armor limits vision, hearing and proper breathing. Most soldiers who wore full plate armor thus were soldiers on horse back, and only lowered their visors before going into a charge. Common foot soldiers preferred flexible and simple armor like brigandines, which are flexible plates riveted together inside cloth. Helmets like the kettle helm, visorless bascinets and sallets were also popular because breathing and vision weren’t impaired.

 

Yes, you risked getting an arrow in the face, but at least you were able to see what was going on and stay in your formation.

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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: Types of defensive measures

By Sébastien Tardif

The most basic of armor is thick clothing, which is useful against slashing weapons like sabers and swords, but is vulnerable to anything else. Then, the next step in armor is mail, which is tautologically called “chainmail” by many various sources (chain and mail mean the same thing, but “chain” armor isn’t a term).

 

Mail is interlocked rings of metal, riveted (not simply closed) together and is effective against slashes and one-handed stabs. Somebody wearing mail is, 90% of the time, impervious to these attacks in the areas covered by the armor. Blunt weapons and couched lances can pierce mail though, and therefore we see the evolution of plate armor in the Middle Ages.

 


Plate armour represents the last and final step in Pre-Gunpowder protective gear. Plate armor is impervious to any weapon before guns. The only way to harm somebody wearing plate armor is to go around it, stab the wearer in the gaps of the armor, such as the armpits, the groin, the eyes, the back of the knees and the neck. I can’t stress how important it is though to realize that plate armour cannot be destroyed, punched or slashed through by any weapon soldiers had before the Gunpowder Age.

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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: Defensive measures

By Sébastien Tardif

The third principle is less related to the first two, and is more about the evolution of defensive measures. Even if sticking close to fellow soldiers in a formation really helps in surviving, by being protected by the shield of others or simply by having an incentive NOT to rout, it is not enough to maximize your chances of survival on a battlefield.

 

The very first protective measure a soldier needs to take is to protect the head. Archaeological evidence from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages shows that the head was the target of choice in war and that it would kill much more quickly than any other wound, other than a stab to the heart.  It is safe to assume that any soldier would make sure that they have a proper helmet. T

 

he shield is the next defensive measure in necessity, but one thing can make shields useless and that is armor. We indeed see that with the development of full plate armor in the late Middle Ages, that shields progressively disappeared on the battlefield, making way to the widespread use of two handed weapons such as halberds, pollaxes and greatswords. The change from using big shields like the Romans to using no shields at all combined with full plate armor is a long story spanning over 1000 years of technological progress.

 

One thing is for sure, armor is not like in movies where weapons just pierce them, or like in games where it simply adds more “HP” to the wearer. Armor works, armor deflects harm.

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We saw, We came and We conquered

By Sébastien Tardif

We saw, We came and We conquered
About the show in Montreal, QC on March 30th. Let's start off by saying that this was our first metal show in over a year. Not that we wasted our time before; actually by working on new songs and pre-production we were able to play not one but two new pieces at this gig!
We were tremendously hyped to do so! These songs went better than we expected and got a really warm welcome. Just know that there's more like this coming soon! We're pretty glad that Evenko and Greenland Prods, the same team that booked us with Alestorm and Aether Realm, invited us again for a great night, this time with talented local acts Ex Deo and Valfreya. Valfreya has been our most often paired with band in Montreal since Distoriam exists but it was our first time with Ex Deo, jovis cauda junonis cunnique!
We'd like to not only give sincere thanks to these bands and the production team, but also thanks, hugs and kisses to our best fans who attended and had the patience to listen to the wrost music that is ours.

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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: Routing and Looting

By Sébastien Tardif

Even if the principle of foot soldiers staying close to each other in an organized formation is probably the most basic of all war principles, soldiers still fell to fear and routed, turning their back to meet deadly ends.

 

This is the second principle of ancient warfare, and is a logical conclusion to the first one. It is much more energy efficient to try and break an enemy formation, making them rout, than fight them until they are all dead. Thus, you always need to make way for the enemy to flee, so you can pursuit them and hit them when they are most vulnerable.

 

Cornering any animal will make them want to fight back for their lives. The only exception to this principle is the battle of Cannae, where the Carthaginians were able to encircle the Romans and slaughter them all, even though the Romans had nowhere to flee and probably fought all to their last breath. Routing was then the reality of war, and it was when the most horrific things happened, because the victorious party could do whatever they desired. 

 

The battle and fighting in formation was the best chance the defensive side could have to protect their lands from looting. Looting is a reality of war and not just unique to Vikings and pirates. Everyone from Romans to Vikings to French noblemen looted when the defending party routed.

 

The spoils of war were a way to pack back the costs of war. It is also hard to conceive the horrific things people can do when given absolute power over defenseless beings.

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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: The Stirrup

By Sébastien Tardif

We aren’t sure where the stirrup came from. Like many things and peoples during the Migration Era and the Fall of the Roman Empire, it probably came from the East. It might have had Central Asia for origin, since that is where the invention of cavalry originates.

 

We know that, using stirrups, knights were able to sit firmly on their horses, couching their lance under their armpit and deliver devastating power which could pierce mail armour and break shield formations. This made cavalrymen even more valuable, and brought the title of knight to honored glory.

 


Medieval infantry was always vulnerable to the knightly charge, until of course the advent of gunpowder. However, foot soldiers still fought in cohesive formations, and maybe more so than ever, since you wouldn’t want to turn your back to charging knights with couched lances.
Routing would certainly mean your end. 

 

In response to this, small groups of mounted knights would charge at the enemy in surprise hit and run attacks, hopefully inflicting a high rate of casualties on the disorganized men.

 


Knights weren’t invincible though, and the horses either. The horses were in fact a prime target because a dismounted knight, especially a prone knight, is more vulnerable. Even then, we don’t see horse armor being developed as quickly as human armor. There’s always the problem of weight and mobility. As horses wore heavier armour, they grew bigger and stronger, and thus the cavalry charge became more dangerous as more weight and power was behind it.

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Principles of Warfare Before the Gunpowder Age: Cavalry Matters

By Sébastien Tardif

Until the Middle Ages, cavalrymen sat on top of horses without any stirrups to hold them firmly on their mounts. Making a full speed charge very likely to tip them off. Only a handful of different cavalrymen were able to come close to the development of the medieval knight: Gaulish cavalrymen and Cataphracts.

 


While the Greeks, Romans and other Mediterranean cultures used furs and other simple coverings as saddles for their cavalry, the Gauls, or Continental Celts, invented a saddle with four elevated corners. These corners made the rider much more stable on the horse. It is however curious, that, while writers like Julius Caesar mention numbers that hint towards cavalry being more popular to Gauls than to the Romans, even using Celtic auxiliaries for their cavalry, these writers don’t mention anything that hints towards more aggressive cavalry tactics because of the different saddle.

 

However, we know that Julius Caesar in his Bellum Gallici, usually skipped the information about where the Gauls defeated them, and thus we might not know about all the successful cavalry charges that they led.

 


We do however know about the success of the Cataphracts, for the Romans themselves starting using similar horsemen. Cataphracts were heavily armoured horsemen and horses who would use a two-handed spear and charge directly at other cavalrymen or infantrymen.

 

They basically had full plate armor as for coverage, but the actual plates were more numerous in the fashion of the Roman lorica segmentata or lamellar armour. The other main difference than these cavalrymen had with the medieval knights is the absence of stirrup and the couched lance tactic.

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Chapter II: Musical changes

By Sébastien Tardif

Musically, I chose to drop the use of the accordion. Flutes and dulcimers will be used instead. This will give the album an overall very different vibe, and we won’t be misunderstood as Pirate metal anymore. The Dorian mode will also be used much more, for it has a specific medieval feel to it, and was indeed used back then in the most famous of songs, such as “Douce Dame Jolie” by Guillaume de Machaut.


There will still be Irish bouzouki, for citterns similar to that instrument were used back then also. The open tuning in fifths is one of the oldest tunings used for lute-like instruments, and I therefore chose to change the tuning of my bouzouki to GDAD, using DAD for open melodies and the G string when I’m doing chords.

 

This is a completely new style of play for Distoriam that I have been using since around 2016 and I believe it will be refreshing to hear on the second album. The new melodies were written with me playing them on my bouzouki with this new tuning, adding the root strings when necessary, and is overall easier on my hands for playing live.

 

The biggest change though would my relatively recent interest found in “djent” and progressive metal acts like Meshuggah. I am not claiming that we will be the djent of folk metal, but I wrote some guitar parts and breaks that sound nothing like what was on the first album, and were influenced by mainly Meshuggah and other bands who like to chug single strings. The biggest addition to this new guitar playing is François “Volcanthor” Bertrand, who is a serious and severe djent musician with his djent project Endvade.

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