It's a definite fact that Birmingham, or indeed the West Midlands have become a hotbed for emerging metal bands over the decades with of course Black Sabbath setting the trend and metal music scene(s) in motion. Forwarding on to 2013 and a new eight-legged outfit has emerged with sincere intent, the intent to crush sexist and racial discrimination in metal music, but also naturally to pummel out some fine songs that'll give them the platform to slay the masses with... that band is Aramantus.
Aramantus might have got their name from the 'Aramanth' plant... but we won't indulge in that, instead we let the quartet do the unveiling of the facts surrounding them...
How did you guys form, was there any challenges in the beginning?
"Over the years, Aramantus have seen a few member changes, however this current line up was formed in late 2015. With Elijah (Guitar), Cici (Bass) and Alice (Drums) already in the band, a need for a new vocalist arose; a role which Nyah filled in perfectly. In mid 2016 we decided to continue as a four piece after losing a guitarist. At first, we were worried our sound would be affected too much to continue without a second guitarist, however after adapting our originals to fit our new live sound, we found that we work much better as a four piece!"
Do you feel that females still receive stigma for playing metal music? What advice could you give aspiring female musicians?
"This is such a controversial subject still to this day. Of course, we ourselves have had occasions where we have been judged or not taken seriously due to, not only our age, but the fact that three out of the four of us are female. Quite possibly, there are still some people not keen on the idea of women having part in the 'man's world' of metal, however we have found that most people are now very welcoming of female musicians.
With female-fronted / female musician nights being held regurlarly around the UK, it's not hard to find places where you'll be welcomed and not judged. It's only more regurlarly we have found that people are beginning to make less comments on the fact we're "Good for a girl" and more comments based on our playing ability instead. If you are an aspiring female musician, then our advice is just to go out there and do your thing! Play well, rock hard and not care if one person in about a hundred doesn't like you for being female. At the end of the day, you're a musician just like any man, gender shouldn't matter!"
Do you feel that the UK metal scene isn't as strong as once was? Or do you feel it comes in leaps and bounds?
"The metal scene in Birmingham at least, certainly is still going strong. There isn't one weekend where there will be no gigs to go to. With amazing rock bars and music venues, there are always gigs and events happening throughout the UK. The only problem with this, is that with so much going on at one time, gigs can feel emptier with a smaller crowd. But most of the time this isn't because the scene is 'dying' it's simply because people have so much choice that it's sometimes hard to pull an audience. We know for a fact that some of our closest friends and fans, will travel the UK to see unsigned bands through a pure love of music. If the scene wasn't as strong, people wouldn't still be so committed to travelling to see their favourite bands."
Have you had any fans emerge from unsuspecting places? For 2017 are you looking for shows abroad as well as the UK?
"We have met most of our fans at our gigs really. We have had people from other countries contact us online and we always find that really cool! It's crazy to think that people overseas are beginning to hear about us. We are definitely interested in going abroad for some gigs next year, as we feel it would be such an amazing experience to explore the metal community across the world. Possibly Europe for 2017? We'll have to see what comes our way..."
People say local scenes are 'dying', what are your thoughts on this? Who are to blame for the supposed decline?
"We already have touched on this sort of thing, as it's very similar to question three. However, if you were to ask who is to blame for this decline then it is extremely hard to say really. If a gig is empty, then supposedly it could be due to the scene dying. More often than not though, it's due to bands not promoting a gig enough (Admittedly there are times when you can promote and promote and still no one turns up). Sometimes there are just too many gigs happening on one night, and that will have an effect on each gig and the amount of people there. It really is hard to pinpoint the blame of the scene dying on anyone really!"
With Brexit on the cards, are you worried that this will dent UK band's chances of touring abroad? Or are you not phased by it?
"Without looking too deeply into the situation with Brexit at the moment, it could possibly become at least a little more tricky to get abroad. Especially to Europe, for example. If bands all need individual Visa's to travel to Germany, Holland, Finland etc, then it is certainly going to be more of a pain to arrange a tour over there. As we haven't actively sought to book a gig abroad yet, we haven't researched the situation too much yet. However, it definitely would be something to look into for bands and artists wishing to go abroad in the future."
What can we expect from Aramantus in the next few months? Will you consider entering Metal 2 The Masses?
"It's a surprise! We can't reveal too much yet but we can promise a new release of some form in the very near future! It's going to be a taste of our new sound as a four piece, and the start of our journey to our first album, after having released our debut EP in May 2015 with our old line up, we feel it's the right time to show off the new us. We are going to focus on writing and venturing out further in the UK in 2017 and so, unfortunately, we aren't going to be able to compete in Metal to The Masses this year. However we do wish all the bands the best of luck! We thoroughly enjoyed last years competition, and playing the final was incredible."
Finally have you got any hello's, thank yous you wish to send out?
"We would just like to thank everyone that has helped, supported and been with us throughout our journey so far. Everyone that's came to our gigs, helped us with recording, videos, promotion and so much more; well we can't thank them enough. We'd be no where without them! We also would like to thank the people that have been with us from the start, our biggest help over the years, and that's our parents. They've been our guides, and helped us with getting to and from gigs. We feel very privileged to have them put up with our rubbish!"
There are very few Dutch 'Symphonic' Metal bands that have made a name for themselves or indeed established themselves as truly unique in various ways. Delain is one of them, well, one of the big four Dutch Symphonic Metal bands of whom stand alongside Within Temptation, Streams of Passion and Epica in this almost-exclusive group. Having released their latest music video 'Suckerpunch' back in February this year, their new EP 'Lunar Prelude' and album 'Moonbathers' in February and August respectively, the sextet from Zwolle are poised to celebrate the anniversary of their debut album release 'Lucidity', which dropped 10 years ago.
Martijn Westerholt, Delain co-founder (along with Charlotte Wessels) and subsequent keyboardist / lyricist, was more than happy to spend time with GMA and to talk about the current state of the Dutch Metal scene, Brexit, their forthcoming anniversary show, tours and much, MUCH more.
What is the current status of the Dutch Metal scene, is it still as strong as years past?
"Well, there is always a good basis for metal.. a scene for it, but I think that support from radio stations is really, really poor and that they totally forgot about what kind of events they have. For the scene itself it's really good and also the venues, there are a lot of really good venues - that regarded it's really, really good".
Regarding the whole Symphonic Metal movement in The Netherlands, aside from Delain, WT and Epica, is there a bright future for it?
"Well there's also a new band, End Of The Dream (www.facebook.com/endofthedreammusic/) which is upcoming and there will always be some bands, but in general it's those three bands indeed. Of course there's also Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering, The Gentle Storm) who is doing a lot and is also involved with Ayreon; I'd call them progressive 'sci-fi' metal, but those I think are the main active bands in the genre and certainly regarding the future because the musicians in those bands are not very old, so I would say yes (laughs)".
Regarding Delain, upon releasing the 'Suckerpunch' single (Lunar Prelude EP) and 'Moonbathers' album, what has the reception been like? Was the production plain-sailing?
"Fantastic, absolutely fantastic, firstly with 'Suckerpunch' which we released in February just before we went on tour in the USA with Nightwish, that was really good as people asked for new material and this is why we released this prior to the record... and then of course the record itself in August which I think has been received well too; accompanied with really good ticket sales for our European tour (a good sign of favourable response).
Every album recording I love album productions because you learn every single time that there's new stuff. This time we really learned that to not record everything in one big chunk and not mix everything in one big chunk, but split it up into pieces because it makes you far more flexible, you have tours in between it doesn't matter you can go on tour and on top of that, which is more important you are flexible because if you write a song, record it and then immediately mix it, then you can take a step back and later on look at it again and say 'oh I love this, this is a really good thing' which we should do more.
Or I don't like what came out, you have to go back to the drawing board and so it makes you very flexible and there's not a lot of pressure like we have to record now because THIS IS IT and there's no second chance, so it will also reduce a lot of pressure and it's also a more modern way of writing intense music. People write a song, they immediately record it and master it themselves even and put it out. I wouldn't go that far to master it myself, but I would like to do it song by song and that's a very new thing I discovered which works really, really well for us.
We also had Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz guest on 'Hands Of Gold', she was really easy to work with and was so wonderful. We of course meet each other when on the road now and then, when we're touring, she is also present when we played with Nightwish and Sonata Arctica in Montreal (Canada) where she's from.
In this song we really wanted a really heavy growl, a really heavy grunt in there and so it was very easy for us to ask Alissa for that because we know her and she was very open to do that, we sent her stuff and she recorded and sent it back and I tweaked around with it, and it worked fantastic - it's very nice that she will be at our Amsterdam show in December as a guest for our 10th anniversary, and so she can do the song live; concert is sold out and will also feature Liv Kristine, Burton C. Bell, George Oosthoek (Delain session member) as guests, as well as 'potentially' more guests, however Marco Hietala (Nightwish) and Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) won't be present.
Marco has shows already confirmed in Finland, a Christmas tour with another artist and Sharon has privately a lot of stuff on her plate, so she's not available either otherwise I'm sure she would be very open to guesting".
Over the years many people have labelled you as a Symphonic Gothic Metal band, would you agree with that genre-tagging?
"Well this is where you will get the cliche type of answer for this kind of question, I don't really care that much about the genre-labels, I never understood the term 'Gothic' and I also don't like the term 'female-fronted' because what does it actually apply? That there is a female fronting a band? Well there are a lot of females fronting a band and there are a lot of males fronting a band, why don't you say 'male-fronted band'?
So I never understood this terminology in general anyway, I do understand the 'Symphonic' part because this is really applying to the music itself, there are a lot of 'Symphonic' elements and melodies in the music and of course also 'metal'; although some people would not agree to that because they are into 'true metal' - they would say "this is not really metal, this is just pop", but if you look at the kind of guitars used and that we make riffs based on rhythm, that's definitely metal.
So I think Symphonic Metal is a very accurate term, the only thing with Symphonic Metal is that it doesn't cover other sounds in the music, for example there are a lot of electronic elements in the music and this doesn't cover that. We also have got a lot of pop influences in the music, in the themes, in the structures of the songs; how they are built, so I do think 'Symphonic Metal' is a better term to use but it doesn't cover everything".
Do you agree the term 'female-fronted' could be considered sexist?
"I think Charlotte would say yes. I don't really care about that, I'm so feminist that I would say that for me it's given that both sexes are equal, I just don't understand the whole terminology of 'female-fronted' because why say 'female-fronted'? It doesn't even say what kind of music it is, you can even say that Janis Joplin was an artist of a 'female-fronted' band, it doesn't say anything and I do have some people who want to say "we mean a metal band with a female singer", but still that doesn't mean anything... I think it's a stupid term and on top it's not all about the singer, it's about the music and personally I don't really care if a male or female does it, just as long as it is done well and I like the voice, that's of course that's a matter of taste.
Take Nightwish for example, what makes Nightwish 'Nightwish' for me is the guy writing the music, of course you need a good singer and I think Floor [Jansen] is a really good singer, I think Tarja (Turunen) was a really good singer, but to me that doesn't make the charm for it, to me the music makes the charm".
With that crossover of electronic and pop elements with metal, do you feel metal needs to tap into other music genres in order to constantly evolve?
"Well it needs to do nothing, I think people should make what they want to make and if they like to make music that has been there a long time, then that's fine, there will always be people liking that. If you want to have something brand new then yeah you have to think of crossover combinations and this is still done today with really modern approaches, you see bands tapping into that and with that way it does evolve. I don't have a judgement about either way, but if you want it to develop into new things you have not heard before, then of course it's really good to use new elements."
On the new album 'Moonbathers', Delain did a cover of Queen's song 'Scandal', are you personally a Queen fan? How did this come about?
"Absolutely yeah I love Queen, Queen has been a childhood thing of mine; discovering Queen end of the 80's when I was like 8-9 years old, the song 'Scandal' I noted that in the early 90's so far after the release of 'The Miracle' and that song really appealed to me. It wasn't a well-known song - not a lot of people know this song from Queen and then I lost track of it, but then later on I rediscovered it again and I thought it has a really good Delain vibe, but I actually don't like touching Queen songs because I think it's musical suicide by doing that, and if you take Freddie Mercury's voice it's one-of-a-kind. Don't try to get to that level, his voice is not of this world (and he is not any more of this world either man, of course).
The only thing I wanted to do was to take this song; I actually asked Brian May for permission and we got it, that was fantastic and was such an honour and we just tried to give it the Delain 'sauce' without trying to 'cover' a Queen song by respecting all the elements in there, that's what we did.
The contact was from the manager and he didn't know the band (Delain), he checked us out and said it's really good, I'll give you permission up-front. Normally a label or publisher will say 'well let us first listen to the song', because if they don't like it then you've spent all that time, money and energy in doing a cover for nothing and Brian May said he liked the band (Delain) so much that he you already get permission up-front and the only thing the publisher can do is follow. I recently sent the result to him, but I don't have a response yet so I'm very curious... but he will get it still (laughs)".
As 'Brexit' is such a hot topic at present, as a band are you worried about possible issues arising when coming to the UK to tour?
"Nah not at all, I'm very interested in politics and look for example Norway, Norway is not in the European Union but there a lot of treaties that we don't even notice when crossing the border and I think it will go the same way with the UK.
I do wonder if there is going to be a separation between Scotland and the UK, if that's that the case then of course Scotland would enter the European Union again I think, but I do think that this is not a very likely scenario and that it will stay more or less the same in terms of immigration, visas and stuff, i don't see that happening because of treaties that I think will be the same or similar to those in Norway".
Surely with that in mind, countries would keep borders open for musicians because of the revenue that they generate?
"Yeah that too, although I wonder if this is even on the agenda of politics, probably not I don't think so... this is peanuts in comparison to other industries but ah it will be OK, we even toured the US and the US has a very elaborate Visa application system and with the UK I don't see that sort of thing happening anytime soon".
With 2016 coming to a close and 2017 beckoning, what plans does Delain have for the rest of the year and beyond?
"Well this year was the most crazy hectic year ever for Delain, we did so much - toured the US, Europe, released an EP and album, a headline tour across October and November. What we have left is an anniversary show in December at the Paradiso (The Police and Nirvana played here) in Amsterdam. This show is going to be recorded both in audio and video formats and is going to be released on DVD next year so we will be preparing for that, it's kind of a birthday party as it's the 10-year anniversary since our first release, so I'm really looking forward to that.
We deliberately haven't booked any support because we need all the day, the time to prepare for the show as we have a lot of guests and effects in the show, so we didn't want any distractions with support bands.
2017 will be festivals and tours, we will be doing a couple of Dutch shows in the Spring I think six. We are going to tour Russia, Greece and Italy will follow and then indeed it's the Summer season and so we are going to do festivals, so we're busy with that right now. The past festival season was fantastic, best festival season we've ever had with Download, Hellfest, Graspop, a couple of big ones in Germany, we went to Finland, Spain, so yeah next year I expect a festival season with big festivals, really looking forward to that".
Obviously touring is strenuous and a tiring lifestyle, so how does Delain chill out and keep calm when on the road? Any advice for smaller bands?
"That's a very good question, last tour for example I think was the most heaviest one I ever did and I've done a lot of tours; think about over 20 tours in my career. It was really heavy because it was long, it was a headline tour, it was a very successful one but often was very demanding, a lot of production things had to happen that had to be decided every day and so the 'off-days' were really needed, and on those days for example I take a hotel room and be asleep in the room all-day, watching a film or playing a game and for the rest absolutely nothing (laughs) and that really works, but sometimes an off-day we use as a travel day in the tour bus so it's sleeping time.
Very boring actually but it's nice, sometimes when you're in a nice city for example I can remember being in Madrid and we went to a restaurant, eating tapas in these classical Spanish dishes which was really nice. However, whilst touring you don't really get to see much because what you see is another venue every single day, when you wake up you're at a new venue and you don't have time to see the city, you only have time for that on off-days. To give you an idea on this tour we had 9 off-days, of which at least half were travel days and so that means in 5 weeks you have about 5 days to see cities and that's not that much, also most of the time those are cities you've already been to on previous tours.
For example, Budapest I've already been there about four or five times, so if you really want to see something for example we did Dublin for the first time, so I saw Dublin for the first time it was really, really nice and so next time I will have to hire a rent car and drive through the countryside and there you really see something, but the thing is you need those days to rest so much for the time you take in the hotel and do absolutely nothing, and again you don't see much then (laughs)....".
I love my job, I think it's the best job in the world for me at least, it's fantastic I really really enjoy it very much, I appreciate it very much and feel spoiled and privileged. But it's very, very hard work and people only see the glamour part of it, they don't see the problems they don't see the building up part and so if you have ambition to tour, yes go for it it's fantastic it enhances your experience in life, meeting people from different cultures, etc, but you have to really work hard for it and it's not a given that you can earn money from it, it's a very crazy job and so don't expect to drive a Porsche with it, anyway expect to have a huge debt and if you're lucky your band will do well and then you can earn a little bit of money with it.
But that's the thing, you're not a musician for the money (at least some aren't), you're a musician for the kind of job you want to do and if you achieve that then really appreciate it, because you're there because of the fans, they pay your sandwich, your meal let's say, treasure them because without them you can't do what you do".
Regarding culture, Delain's fanbase in particular, are there any countries you were surprised at for having a huge support for Delain?
"Well the UK for a start, I remember when we were at Roadrunner they didn't want to release our first or second album and they said 'you're also not playing here', but when I said I wanted to play there, they said 'but you don't have a release, it doesn't make any sense' so it was kind of the chicken and the egg story and at a certain point we thought 'you know what, screw it, we're going to play there (UK) and I don't care if we have a release or not' and so we played there and were received so warmly... leading onto Roadrunner releasing our debut album. So in the UK it really took off really fast and I love to tour the UK, so that's an example of a country where we're special and has a huge support... I also experienced this in the US; they're very enthusiastic there as well...
Most of the the time the venues are of poor quality and there is not a money supporting system like there is in The Netherlands for example where the venues are really new and really luxurious, so that's another cultural aspect difference, but it doesn't really matter in the end because it's about the fans and if they support you then you can come there and play there.
We did a support tour for Nightwish last year in South America and we were received really warmly there as well which was fantastic, so you are surprised that how truly widespread the support is and how far people travel to see you. It's absolutely astonishing, we had people from Korea coming over to Europe to see us, and Japan, Chile etc., so yeah it's fantastic.
It shows that metal music has a very loyal fan-base too, there are not a lot of other styles of music that you can say something like that to so we should really cherish that".
What hobbies do you and the other members of Delain have outside of the music world?
"I love to watch documentaries about history, I'm a big history addict. I love to play games, especially strategy games like Total War which is a big favourite of mine. I also love to ski, I'm into winter sports - I remember last year we toured the USA and I managed to ski in the Rockies which was fantastic and near Calgary in Canada. Oh by the the way I'm also a Trekkie, I love Star Trek and Star Wars as well, so I'm a sci-fi geek.
I know that Timo & Ruben (respective guitarist and drummer) are very much into gaming, Ruben is also a big food fan, he loves to eat and Charlotte loves to read... that's it really.
Speaking of Star Wars actually I thought that 'Star Wars - The Force Awakens' was fantastic, it has a little bit of the vibe of the first three films (Ep 4-6), I personally don't despise the films that came out in the last decade (Ep. 1-3) I like them too, but I do understand why some fans really like this one (Force Awakens), it has captured part of the vibe which was missing in the first three of the trilogy (Ep.4-6)... which is of course the last three actually (laughs).
Moreover Kylo Ren struck a chord in my heart because I'm curious to see how the character will develop. Maybe you could write a song about him on the next Delain album? (laughs) well yeah of course because what inspires you, you start making music about so perhaps I should!"
Martijn wishes to express his gratitude to thank readers and fans for taking the time in following and giving support and interest to Delain. Without them Delain cannot do what they do so you might actually call our fans our 'boss' when it comes to our job so they are very important to us.