Interview Interrogation: Alexander "Aor" Osipov and Jane "Corn" Odintsova from Imperial Age (Russia)
Russia, the largest country in the world has throughout the decades (and centuries) played hosted in delivering some stellar musicians in all walks of life. As for metal, first it was Arkona and now the call for Russian Metal has been heard once again, this time in the form of Symphonic Metal sextet Imperial Age of whom have developed and brandished their own unique sound.
Set to embark on their forthcoming UK tour, GMA spoke to Alexander "Aor" Osipov (tenor vocalist) and Jane "Corn" Odintsova (mezzo-soprano vocalist) about said tour, the Russian Metal scene, the relationship between classical and metal music, as well as the ongoing discusssion surrounding sexism in metal; whether Symphonic Metal or in an overall purview with bands featuring female musicians.
"With the phenomena of reincarnation... everything evolves... Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today"
For those who are not aware of Imperial Age, could you give us a brief history of the band?
"Officially the band formed in 2012, though Aor and I had spent about 2 years preparing everything for the start. We work hard and the band is getting bigger with every year - slowly but consistently."
"We have 2 albums and 1 EP to date and we are working on the third album. If you want something to start with, go and grab 7 free songs from our website. If you like those, buy 'The Legacy Of Atlantis' - our latest album. If you like it - buy all the rest :)"
Arguably Imperial Age and Arkona are the most internationally successful metal bands from Russia, yet the scene is mightily huge, from your own perspectives, what are the challenges Russian Metal bands face?
"It is true about Arkona and us, and we are honoured to be spoken of in such a way. It's a dream come true. The scene in Russia is actually small and is dwindling every year. We are not putting any effort into there. Instead, we focus on the entire world, especially the West, where everything happens. 90% of our fans are from the US, UK, Germany and France. We also have a strong fan club in Portugal and (surprise) a lot of fans in Poland. Because we love and respect our Polish brothers and sisters and we are not some political jerks. We would also love to play in Ukraine, but we are not sure its safe for us there because not everyone understands that we have nothing to do with our (or their) government - we play metal and metal knows no borders and bows to no politicians. We get a lot of interviews from Australia and we have a license deal in Japan. Our distributor is Swedish. I dont think it gets more international than that :)"
"The biggest problems bands face in any country is their own laziness :) they think that it’s enough to just write an album. Then a fat guy called the “producer” should appear and make them the new Metallica. Most people (not only in Russia) are not ready to work hard, to put tons of their own money, time and energy into the band for many years before the band starts earning any cash. They are not ready to sleep in the van or not to sleep at all on the tour. They have a lack of persistence. They have too romantic a view on all this music business, thinking that its only about having fun - sex, booze and shows... forgetting that shows are very hard work, that there are tonnes of non musical work that has to be done in order to maintain the band. They are not serious enough about their intentions which means they don’t really believe in their own success. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” (C) Darth Vader
Your tour in April will be the 5th time you've played in the UK, each time must have been more successful than the previous?
"Yes, this is our second headliner tour in the UK (previous times we played as support) and it has already sold twice more tickets than last year although last year it was 5 cities and this year its 4. It's going to be a fantastic tour and we will play songs from the upcoming album for the first time ever!"
With respect to your three vocalists in Alexander, Jane and Anna, did you have classical training in the past or did you master your vocal levels respectively?
"Jane & I have had no formal training but have been working a lot with vocal coaches over many years. Anna graduated from a classical music college. However, over time and while working with so many musicians, we have found that education is completely irrelevant and actually its not always good if you are in metal because more often than not it narrows people’s horizons and makes them think within set rules, while we need maximum creativity and artistic freedom.
Classical music was made 200-300 years ago, and everything has changed since that time. Unfortunately, many people just don’t want to acknowledge that. We are very lucky to have had a classical coach with a very broad and open mind who understands metal music, although she has never been a metal fan :)."
Would you agree that classical and metal music are very closely related?
"Despite what I wrote above, yes! But not all genres. For example Death, Thrash and Black Metal are built on harmonies which are prohibited in classical music. However, in Heavy, Power and of course Symphonic Metal, if you look at melody, harmony, rhythm – they are extremely closely related to classical music - especially the 19th century romantic period: Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky etc. There are also a lot of 17th - 18th century Baroque influences in metal as well, especially in progressive metal genres – just play Paganini or Vivaldi on an electric guitar and you will have your familiar Heavy Metal solos and shreds :)"
So much so would you say Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc were metalheads of their time?
"Outside music, we work a lot with the phenomena of reincarnation and I have a very strong suspicion that some great modern musicians are the reincarnations of classic composers. Time flies by, everything evolves, and so do the people. I’m not sure about Mozart, but Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today. Can you imagine those guys doing pop or trance? I can’t."
Symphonic Metal at times is at the receiving end of sexist remarks; especially when female musicians are involved, is this something you've endured in Russia?
"This is a very good question. And I have quite a few thoughts on it. Why is Symphonic Metal associated with female singers so much? There are some really good bands with male vocalists, for example all three Rhapsodies :)
When we are talking about sexism, why is it always about women? How are women different from men in Heavy Metal? Frankly, I have never seen or received any sexist remarks from anywhere, but there is this ‘objectification’, sexualisation and feminist thing going on, not only in music but in the film and modeling industries as well. And I dont understand it at all.
They speak of equality, but for some reason it is ok for a man to use his sex appeal on stage and to promote the band and attract new fans through his looks, but if a woman starts doing it, it is called objectification and reducing her value to just her body. Why isnt anyone saying that Ville Valo was being reduced and oversexualized? His fans are mostly girls (myself included). Why is it ok for men to pump up their muscles and show off their bodies (Manowar, Rammstein, Misfits etc), and not ok for a beautiful woman to show off hers? For example I really respect Alissa White-Gluz for how she uses her appearance to promote Arch Enemy and herself, but some people critisize her for that. Why don’t they critisize her boyfriend Doyle, who plays half-naked and is a body builder? Alissa actually has much more clothes on!
I am not only a producer of art but also a consumer and I find it much more pleasant to watch shows or music videos which have attractive people in them, as opposed to unattractive... of course it's about the music, but if you are adding a visual part - and shows / videos are precisely that - then make it look good! It's like wearing clothes or wrapping up your product. Of course the inside is what its all about but if you are wrapping it, do it beautifully so that the outside reflects the inside! Otherwise just listen to the CD or Spotify. When I watch movies, I prefer those with handsome male actors. Is that sexism and reduction too?? Should I force myself to enjoy less attractive guys instead just so they dont get pissed off?
Most feminists whom I have seen are unattractive and unsuccesful in their love lives. I think that all this social activity, for example the ‘body positivity’ movement, is just an excuse for not starting to eat properly and start going to the gym. It's much easier to say “accept me the way I am” than it is to raise your ass and go pumping it in the gym. There are two types of people - those who blame others and those who blame themselves.
Why do they put warning pictures on tobacco but not on burgers? Obesity is much more dangerous than smoking - 60% of deaths in developed countries are from heart-related problems. Trust me I have a degree in medicine and worked 2 years at the hospital as a doctor. What is the point in promoting ‘plus size’ while banning the promotion of drugs, tobacco and alcohol? Its just as unhealthy.
Dont get me wrong - there is nothing wrong in being unhealthy. Actually there is nothing wrong with anything as long as its your conscious choice, you are ok with it and accept the consequences. Personal freedom is everything. But if you aren’t ok with what you have, don’t complain - go and change it! Make yourself what you want yourself to be! Become your better self! Thats what all our music is about. If you are doing something anyway why not try to do something great?
Yes, some people are luckier than others and have a better body or other talents such as a good voice presented to them on a silver platter. But it is also well known that talent is overrated (there is a book with the same name) and attributes to just 10% of success - the rest is hard work, blood and sweat. There are tons of people who look better than Bella Hadid and play guitar better than Paul McCartney, but we have never heard of them and never will. Why? Because talent alone is never enough and hard work always beats lazy talent.
For example - I'm too short to be a podium model. They only accept from 170cm and I'm 160cm. But I dont go around trying to change the modeling rules - because they are there for a reason! I'm also not trying to stretch my height. I'm cool where I am and with what I'm blessed to have and all I try to do is make the most out of it. I'm quite happy being a singer in my own metal band and occasionally a photo model (and I didnt get all of this from birth, I had to work my ass off for a decade and to limit myself in everything to get there, and this work will never stop), to tour the world and be able to answer this interview :)
And whats even more important, it's not enough to just be born lucky, it also takes a huge effort to maintain what you have. There are multiple examples of really talented people who didnt look after themselves and lost those talents, people with great gifts who have never developed them and have never benefited the world with them just because they didnt put in the required effort.
Also, if you have an asset, its stupid not to use it. If you have something to show - show it. Make people’s lives better.
So, in short, I don’t see any sexism. I see men liking beautiful women - and it has always been like that, and always will. There is nothing wrong with that, I also like handsome and clever men."
Would you ever be tempted to try and represent Russia at any Eurovision Song Contest?
"Imperial Age does not participate in any contests, just out of principle - we shall not bend to any rules and we shall not be judged, because who the hell are the judges to judge us? Only our fans are allowed to judge us. Thats their sole privilege and everyone else is welcome to f**k off. We are an acquired taste, not a $100 banknote to be fancied by everyone. The only ones who benefit from rules are the ones who make them. The house always wins. Rock is all about rebellion and we shall not comply. It is all totally rigged in this country and the state only supports the local pop culture which has zero chances to break internationally. TaTu were close to it but that was looong ago…"
Jane: "I’ve never been interested in any type of contests."
What are your thoughts on the ESC?
"Honestly, I have never watched it :) But I was happy when Lordi won it. That’s probably my only touch with this contest."
Jane: "No thoughts."
Should more metal bands apply for it?
"I think every band should maximize its chances for exposure, so yes, if they get this opportunity, why not? But be careful not to lose yourself. Metal is all about authenticity while the pop culture is refined and artificial."
For the year ahead, what plans aside from the UK tour does Imperial Age have in store?
"We have enormous plans, which we can’t reveal right now because we need contracts to be signed and confirmations to be made, but watch us closely – its coming soon! However, we can say that we will tour more than ever before and the new album will come out before the year is out!
Whenever you think of Canada, the usual stereotypes come into being. Maple syrup, South Park (Blame Canada), the vast forests and of course ice hockey. But among all of that is a metal scene that has been chugging along nicely, just like their railways, their metal scene is vast, widespread and as solid as the rails their trains travel on. One band who over the years has grown and improved themselves to become one of Canada's most exciting exports in the past decade is Unleash The Archers. This Heavy Power / Melodic Death Metal leviathan is roaring and ready to unleash their latest EP 'Explorers'. Vocalist Brittney Slayes filled in the details of the new EP, their journey to where the band is now, their home city of Vancouver and what films she would have loved to written metal soundtracks for.
"Don’t you feel like in these new [Star Wars] films there should have been heavier riffs? Imagine if Kylo’s theme had been metal!"
Ten years have passed since your first album 'Behold The Devastation' saw daylight, the band has come a long way since then, what is it would you say has driven the band to where they are now?
"To be honest, there was never some grand scheme for greatness, never a plan or even a purposeful direction, we just keep writing new music and getting out on the road to tour it. We have always taken it day by day, album by album, just seizing the opportunities when they come and working as hard as we can to create something new and exciting each time we hit the studio. Music is our passion, we will continue to play as long as we can and if a little success comes along with it then that’s great, but it’s not why we do it. We just want to play our songs live in front of an audience that enjoys them as much as we do."
Canada seems to keep producing exciting and fresh bands, is it safe to assume the Canadian Metal scene is buzzing right now?
"Absolutely! The advent of digital music has allowed a lot more bands to get their music out there in front of a lot more people, whereas in the past it would have been up to the labels to pick and choose which bands get recognition and which don’t. I think Canada has always been full of killer musicians, it’s just hard to be noticed when you have huge markets like the USA and Europe constantly getting all the attention. You do have to go the extra mile in order to get your name out there, you have to tour those major markets as much as you can and look for coverage wherever you can get it, and I think a lot more bands are doing that nowadays. You have to be willing to put the time and energy in, no one is going to do it for you, and there are a lot of young bands up here that are finally understanding that."
If you had the choice of writing metal soundtracks for 5 films, what 5 films would you choose?
"When I was watching 'Aquaman' I felt like the soundtrack was so wrong, it should have been way heavier, it should have been metal, so I suppose that would be my first choice. I think Annihilation and the new Predator movie should have had metal soundtracks too. Of course, Star Wars has some of the best song writing of all time, but don’t you feel like in these new films there should have been heavier riffs? Imagine if Kylo’s theme had been metal! So perfect. Lastly, I would love to do the soundtrack for the Alien franchise, I think the last two films were so fantastically dark and would pair well with some progressive or even djent-y riffage. Could you imagine that in theatres? Just awesome."
What have you done differently for 'Explorers' in comparison with 'Apex'?
"The biggest difference is that ‘Explorers’ is just a two-song covers EP, not a full length, so we didn’t do any original writing, just some rearranging. ‘Apex’ is full of imagination, but ‘Explorers’ is full of heart. We are heading into the studio pretty soon here to do another full length, a sequel to ‘Apex’, so we will be returning to the same writing and recording style for that one. This EP was just a little something to keep the fans engaged while we write the next album."
You've covered Stan Rogers's 'Northwest Passage' for the EP and said it (quote) 'brings us right back home', do you feel it's important for bands to turn to musicians who epitomize a cultural identity in context with Stan travelling nationwide through the Rockies, forests, etc?
"We are all really big fans of Stan, and not just because he toured the same highways that we do, but because he has such a strong sense of Canadian identity inherently surrounding him. All of his songs invoke a reverence for our Canadian heritage that make you almost want to explode with pride for the beauty of it. He reminds you of where you’ve come from, and inspires you to use that as fuel for the fire. We knew that there were going to be tons of people that had never heard of Stan before, but we didn’t care, we wanted the metal community to hear the song and love it just as much as we do, all the naysayers be damned ;)"
Speaking of which, for metalheads visiting the city of Vancouver, what sights / attractions could you recommend? Any festivals, bars, also?
"Number one on the list should definitely be to stroll the seawall through Stanley Park, from Coal Harbour all the way to English Bay and beyond if you can make it, maybe rent a bike because it pretty much surrounds the whole of down-town Vancouver and keeps on going! Granville Island is cool too, but save that for a weekday because weekends it’s PACKED. The Vancouver Art Gallery is worth it if there is an interesting exhibit going on, and there is tons of shopping around there as well so it’s easy to make a day of it. The Musuem of Anthroplogy out at UBC is worth checking out, as is the grounds of the university in general. Oh and you definitely want to check out the Capilano Suspension bridge! Super rad, unless you’re afraid of heights and a wobbly bridge packed with people ;).
As for festivals, we have Hyperspace each spring which is all power and melodic bands, and then we have the Modified Ghost festival in the summer that is all super heavy death and technical bands. As for bars, you definitely want to hit up the Moose! Cheap, tasty food and heavy metal music all day long!"
Aside from the EP, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
"We have begun the writing process for the next album and will be hitting the studio at the end of the year. We are hoping for a late spring 2020 release, and after that it will be tour, tour, tour! Plus, as many festivals as we can get our hands on."
Do you have any greetings, thank you's, etc you wish to send out?
"Just wanted to say thanks to our fans for their amazing response to the ‘Explorers’ EP so far! We can’t wait to share the second track with everyone on October 11th! Keep an eye on YouTube ‘cause we’ll be releasing another cool video for that track as well J If you haven’t checked it out yet, the video for ‘Northwest Passage’ is up on YouTube right now, and make sure to bring your thinking cap because it’s a wild ride ;)
Thanks for your time everyone!"
One could argue that the Japanese Metal scene has only really broken into the Western hemisphere and began to establish a respectable presence here. Sure it's true that if you look at the history of the Japanese Metal scene, you would notice that it's origins are firmly placed in the 1970's, echoing a similar backstory to the British Metal scene. It has to be said though that the Visual Kei movement certainly spurred the overall Japanese Metal scene on and pushed it outside the country with bands like X Japan gaining overseas attention. Fast forward to the turn of the century and bands like Crossfaith, Babymetal and now Lovebites are riding the tides of the New Wave of Japanese Metal.
Lovebites are definitely pretty, but don't let the looks fool you as this all-female Heavy / Power ensemble have enough brutality, grit and power to leave you in awe, given Lovebites have only been going 3 years. In these 3 years they have played at Wacken and Bloodstock Open Air and have signed two record deals, subsequently releasing 2 albums and 2 EP's.
Drummer Haruna spoke to GMA about the girls backstory, rise to global success and the debate of whether to call their music Heavy / Power Metal or Kawaii Metal.
"Maybe people say we are Kawaii Metal because of our looks... listen to our music... we are a Heavy / Power Metal band!"
Festival appearances, a headline tour, two EP's and now two albums across two years since the band's inception, that must be a dream start right?
"I have never thought I could experience this much in such a short time. However, I was sure that this band was going to be a good band because of these great members. I am very pleased to get good reviews for all of our songs. Playing overseas was great too. I have never experienced these kind of things so I just really hope the band will be grow up bigger by footing these chances."
When you were informed you were to perform on the main stage at Bloodstock (instead of Sophie stage), what were emotions like in the band?
I was very surprised. The happiness was bigger than the nervousness. I felt like the luck was on our side. I could do my best and did the best performance, I wanted to make good use of this opportunity. It felt so good to play Bloodstock Open Air, it was the first outdoor festival to play as Lovebites. It was raining that day, but when we played the sky became clearer and many people came out to see us."
You all seem to have different tastes in music: Asami listens to Alicia Keys and Aretha Franklin, Miyako learned to play a classical piano; do you use these as influences in Lovebites' music?
"Halloween triggered me to get into metal music. The first album I listened to was “Master Of The Rings” and I was inspired by Ulrich Kusch’s drumming style. His style became my basic drumming style.
Do you feel that the Japanese Metal scene has gained more attention from Europe over the last decade or so? It seems Japanese Metal is on the rise?
"I believe it’s getting bigger. Loudness and Babymetal are playing often overseas. I hope Lovebites to get in to the boom."
In your own words could you tell us the difference between Visual Kei and Japanese Metal? Is the Visual Kei scene still active?
"I think it’s just the look. Visual Kei bands are mainly guys dressed up, their music styles vary, sometime metal and sometimes not. Somehow people mix up Visual Kei with Metal and think it’s the same thing in Japan. Visual Kei is still highly popular though.
With your new album "Clockwork Immortality", what did you do differently that wasn't present on "Awakening From Abyss"?
"Regarding drumming, I wanted songs to stand out. So sometimes I play aggressive, sometimes I go for something simple to let the vocals and guitars sound stand out. Through the entire album, we wanted and tried to make stronger heavy metal."
Some say your music is Heavy / Power Metal, some say it's Kawaii Metal, how would you describe your music?
"Maybe people say we are Kawaii Metal because of our looks. Just listen to our music or come see us play live, you’ll know we are a Heavy / Power Metal band!
With 2019 in full swing, what have you been up to and what plans have you got for the year ahead?
"We played a Japanese tour in January. I hope to play a lot inside and outside Japan in 2019."
Do you have any greetings, thank you's etc you wish to send out?
"The new album “Clockwork Immortality” shares strong points from “Awakening From Abyss” and “Battle Against Damnation”. Plus it became more powerful with greater melodies, I hope you’ll notice the evolution of Lovebites. You will see us before long. See you there!"
Emphasis are not holding back nor are they slowing down, the Estonian Progressive / Symphonic Power Metallers have signed a deal with Japanese label Red Rivet Records. Thus giving the band the momentum to reach deep into the Asian market and help expose not only their music, but the rich vibrant sounds the Estonian Metal scene has to offer. It has been two years since the sextet dropped their debut album "Revival" and now they're revelling in their latest offering "Soul Transfer", deviating away from the structural guidelines laid before them in search of a truly inspirational sound for the album as the band go on to explain... it did not happen by sheer accident.
How does it feel to release your second album 'Soul Transfer'; especially on Japanese label Red Rivet Records? Where does this place itself in terms of the band's history and the wider Estonian Metal scene?
"Estonia is a small country and our metal scene is very small as well. Actually, there's only one metal label – Nailboard Records. Many years ago they signed bands, but now they work more as a distribution company. So it means that we have no choice and it's pretty common that Estonian artists sign deals with foreign labels. So, as you know, our previous album was released on the Italian label "Underground Symphony". This time we sent our record to a list of labels over the world and we were happy to get positive feedback from Japan. Red Rivet Records offered us reasonable conditions and we're still happy about our co-operation. And yes, for us every action and step forward is kind of achievement."
Regarding the 'Soul Transfer' track-list, could you explain the meaning behind the percentages?; Assuming it ties in with the album title?
"Soul Transfer is a concept album, an entire complete original story where the order of the compositions are arranged in a certain meaningful sequence. All the tracks are combined through smooth transitions or short instrumental sketches, which underlines and complements the full picture of the idea. In order to understand what we wanted to convey to the listener, you need to listen to the disc from start to finish in one session: from zero to one hundred percent with a total duration of 73 minutes. So, in the album, three main lines are closely intertwined: the inner world of feelings and memories of the character, the world of virtual reality created by a super computer, and the real material non-industrial world and its society, manipulated by gadgets and social media.
Using non-tradtional metal instruments can sometimes be considered unorthodox (in this case a saxophone and trumpet). What gave you the inspiration to include said instruments? How was it working with Raul Sööt and Allan Järve? Can we call the album 'Avant-Garde' or 'Progressive Jazz Metal'?
"I expected such a question... creating music for "Soul Transfer", initially I did not think about jazz instruments, as well as about violins. The album was at the stage of mixing... there were a lot of instrumental parties and it did not sound boring. But one evening, when the light at the end of the tunnel was already close, I went to the shower. Standing under the hot water, I thought: damn! I want to add something else, why not the jazz sounds? After two beers I opened my computer, sketched out my ideas, and messaged one saxophonist. In the morning I got a negative answer from him. I was quite mad and decided to make a last effort. I wrote a message to one of the best musicians in Estonia - my former harmony teacher and tenor saxophonist Raul Sööt. Next morning he answered me that it will be interesting for him to take a part in this project.
After that I was thinking about trumpet. Then I messaged to Allan Järve, who was my friend at the Viljandi Academy of Culture. He quickly came to my studio and we recorded a trumpet for two tracks in an hour. Raul Sööt took the task very responsibly. He recorded his parts at the studio with Cristo Cotkas, there were several sessions. When I mixed the album, including their parts, I realized that this is exactly what I would like to hear in the end. The other members of the Emphasis were shocked. They listened to the songs several times and said that it sounds cool, albeit unusual. Avant-garde it or not – let the reviewers to decide :) But for me this record is exactly what I always wanted to record, even at those times, when in our group were only three members - me, Katya and Vsevolod. Ten years passed and we did it! I want to say a big thank you to all the musicians who shared this work with us - Raul Sööt, Allan Jarve, my friend from Moscow - Oleg Lutskevich, and also my colleague Julia Mets and my student Alexander Smirnov."
Assuming there will be a tour to support the new album, are there any countries you would want to target? Will there be a music video released in support?
"Currently, we don't plan any tour activities. Our album release party took place in Rockstar's club in Tallinn on April 14. The most of the songs we played for the really first time in our lives and we really enjoyed that! The crowd was amazing. We decided to focus on promotional stuff. Yes, we have some great plans about music video .. but let's see! :)"
For metal fans travelling to Tallinn and wider Estonia, what sights / attractions could you recommend seeing?
"Rockstar's club – the oldest rock club in town, actually! Hard Rock Laager Open Air, of course. If you want to discover more, I totally recommend you to visit Narva, home town of three of our musicians, and got Art Club "Ro-Ro“. Believe me, there's really special atmosphere :)"
What plans does the band have for the rest of the year that have not already been indicated earlier?
"We are planning to open our online-shop, finally! There you can find our musical stuff and some really cool merchandise. As Anna said, we also have some plans about music video, but.... now we're not ready to discuss it. However, GMA will be the first source who'll get a link ;)"
Anna (vocals): "In autumn, we plan to play more shows. This spring was really hard for us!"
Max (guitars): "And we also plan to continue with the new material."
Pavel (guitars): "... 3,5 of the songs done :D"
Are there any greetings you wish to send out to fans, friends, family, etc?
All: "We wish you to visit more live shows and support local underground scene!"
Croatia has had it's fair share of rich metal music history, however it has only recently spawned it's first ever Pirate Metal band; the genre itself popularized by Scotland's Alestorm in 2004 although it's antecedents originates back with Germany's Running Wild releasing the album 'Under Jolly Roger' in 1987. GMA caught up with Marko Vučković (drummer and band manager) otherwise known as The Admiral and looked into what makes these scallywags tick, Croatia's pirate history and what the Croatian Metal scene is like.
"We grew out of the cliche that everyone thinks they [Alestorm] are the only pirate metal band that exists"
Could you give us a brief history of Rum Smugglers, how you started out, etc.
"We started as a duo back in 2011, playing a variety of blackened thrash with pirate themed lyrics. We soon recruited the bassist and the rhythm guitarist, to further explain; we regularly switched those band members due to differences in styles and then not being able to comply to the regime of the band. In 2015 we released our demo, 'Hemp Rope Justice', and later on found the new addition to the band, our keyboardist, thus switching to a more folk / power metal method in our songs. He left in the Autumn of 2017, being with us only for a short time, around 9 months. We re-recorded our single during the time he spent with us, and after his departure we are currently trying to employ two violinists. Hopefully they will prove to be better band members then most of the aforementioned."
Presuming one of your influences is Alestorm, what are you aiming to bring to the Pirate Metal movement?
"One of our influences was Alestorm in the beginning but, we grew out of the cliche that everyone thinks they are the only pirate metal band that exists. We also take influences from Skyclad, Running Wild and Swashbuckle, we are trying to freshen up the scene with our more 'thrashy powery' approach on the subject at hand."
What is the Croatian Metal scene like? Tell us about the festivals, media, venues, bands, etc
"It's a bit poor at the moment, there are some great bands here, but everyone's focus is mainly on tribute bands and on some weird avant-garde and experimental type of music, thus disregarding the metal scene as it was a few years back. There are some great venues like OKC Palach in Rijeka, and Insomnia in Slavonski Brod, Epic club in Osijek and Kset and Močvara in Zagreb. The Croatian metal scene is still strong though, pushing out bands like Flesh, Frozen Forest, SpeedClaw, Uma Thurman, Decomposing Entity and many others. Just type in Croatia on the Encyclopaedia Metallum website and hope for the best, and check out YouTube links with the same search.-"
You say you combine gypsy melodies, where do you get your influences from?
"Yea, gypsy melodies, well we are on the crossroads between the Mediterranean and the eastern front, so we get our influences from both sides of folk melodies and folk culture."
Are there any Croatian pirate stories you could tell us?
"Of course there are! Mainly representing bandits in the Adriatic sea but there are also many more, check this link and try to translate it to English :) https://hr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusari"
What plans do you have for 2018?
"We are currently practising new songs and making new material with our new violinists. So you can expect a new album with fresh and not so fresh tunes to hit the internet soon."
Do you have any greetings you wish to send out?
"Do what you want, cause a pirate is free!"
Perhaps they might be from the bygone cosmonaut era, or they could be the humanoid form of the daleks, whatever you make of Russia's (or in their case an extra-terrestrial planet) Sunwalter one thing is for certain... they're clearly onto something. Mixing together the elegant beauty of Symphonic Power Metal with the feel for alien and space topics... you read that right... let's call it 'Xenology metal' for the hell of it.
Having released their latest cosmic opus 'Alien Hazard' it was only fitting to go completely 'Men In Black' on them and torture them with klingon... beam me up Scotty
"I like sci-fi stories, films, books and computer games. Songs about Satan and demons are typical of the black metal genre"
Hi guys, firstly can you tell us about the band's history and who came up with the name Sunwalter, what does it mean?
"Hi, Earthman. The history of our band started in 2008, but it was the old period, when we played Melodic Black Metal. The most significant changes happened in summer of 2016, when our crew was abducted by the grey alien race for three days. After the event we got our own spaceship and were assigned as intergalactic mediums between the extraterrestrial intelligence and the human race. This role is very important for our team. Through our songs we deliver information from the deep space to Earthmen, revealing to them new knowledge, concealed by the governments of the Earth states. All our messages are encrypted with alien codes which are impossible to be broken by earth technologies. The name "Sunwalter" consists of two words in two languages: Sun from English and Walterfrom Deutsch. That refers to an extraterrestrial over mind. Some Earthmen directly contact him in their dreams."
You've just released your second album 'Alien Hazard' (via Sliptrick), what has the response been like?
"This album shows really WOW effect. A few people typically say: “It’s a good album”, but much more people define it like a perfect conceptual release of the year. Especially if we speak about something unusual, like our genre, for example, 'Sci-Fi metal'. First, try to show us a band who play 100% space music and dedicate all songs to the universe. Then try to find musicians, who follow this ideology in their image, arts, outfits and in technical equipment during live shows. Surely, after this you'll get the best response from the audience. This is because we offer original content. And it’s only a part of our truth, another side is classified as top secret."
As you're from Russia, what can you tell us about the metal scene? I bet it's hard touring Russia given there's only really 2 major cities - Moscow and St. Petersburg?
"That's false. You described a typical stereotype, applied when somebody doesn’t want to work hard. We have enough cities for touring. In fact, many Russians don’t feel like creating something new and original, and even more of them are not ready for big tours. For this, they need to check a lot of info, work on the organization itself, spend money, etc. Many young musicians think, that after their first album some rich producer will find them and they will become rock stars, like in Hollywood films. And after the moment their dreams are broken, they find a million reasons to avoid working hard and keeping on improving their bands, creating lots of gossip, that Russia is not a rock ’n’ roll country."
Touring Europe I assume you have to apply for visas? With Brexit are you as a band concerned about touring the UK?
"We don’t need visas! Our spaceship just lands in a secret prepared place near the venue, then we play live and go back again to the orbit of the Earth, where we spend a lot of time.
Miran: By the way, it will be really great to tour in the UK as well as in many other countries because we know that there are lots of abductees and people who share our interest in cosmic themes. We’d like to spread the word of alien races all over the world."
What does the authorities / government think of metal music, has there been any problems? Have your parents mentioned about rock / metal existing in the days of the USSR? What (if anything) can you tell us about said music in the USSR? (perhaps a question for Myutel?)
Myutel: "Is it about the Universal Space Systems Reunion (USSR)? Well, that's the union of planetary mining systems, isn't it? They united after the defeat in the civil war, that had broken out after the workers demanded an improvement of their life comfort and additional compensation for hard labour conditions. There was that, what's-his-name… Ah! I remember! Zchee GeVarro!
As for the music… The government pays too little attention to it. On the contrary, metal and other resources are top priority for them, that's the case. We try to get ourselves out as far as we can. But we feel equal to it!"
One question for Sol (Olga Salikhova), do you feel females are becoming more accepted in metal music? Do you receive any discrimination for being a female metal musician?
Olga Sol: "On my planet Sedna, other rules apply. There are males and females, but there is no discussion about equality and, definitely, about discrimination. Just everyone mind their own business. For you, Earthmen, it can look like Utopia, but for us it’s normal and remains so for ages. So, I don’t see here any problems in working with boys. They are cute!"
So guys, what made you decide to sing about aliens and space, assuming some of you are avid astronomers?
Alexio: "First, it was just an interesting topic. Because I like sci-fi stories, films, books and computer games. Songs about Satan and demons are typical of black metal genre, elves and dwarfs are hymned by power metal guys, and the history of the Earth itself changes every year… But space with its enigmas is quite original. And for me it’s a great honour to dedicate songs to the Universe."
What plans have you got for the year ahead and into 2018?
"We can't tell exactly, because our Grey alien friends arrange all our creative plans. But according to some information, we will engage some additional earthmen for our next saga.
Miran: I have already received a lot of encrypted information from outer space and every day I translate it into musical form. So we have some new material to share with Eafthmen and even now we can say that it’s very extraterrestrial and metal."
Finally do you have any greetings, thank you's you wish to send out?
"Thank you for the interest in space and our music. We hope we could find a place for landing somewhere near UK soon, so be prepared for alienization! May the universe be with you."
Hailing from the arctic nation of the north, Finland, Amberian Dawn have been wandering the icy landscape for the past decade and despite having parted ways with numerous musicians along the way including vocalist Heidi Parviainen (who now fronts Dark Sarah), guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen and sadly the late Tommi Kuri, Amberian Dawn are leading the Finnish Metal front-line with newfound renaissance and oomph in their stride.
Celebrating their landmark achievement, the Neo-Classical Power Metal outfit fronted by Capri (Päivi Virkkunen) since 2012 have shown no signs of stopping and as they have recently completed their first ever headline tour, it was only right for them to be grilled by means of our interview interrogation. Tuomas Seppälä stood up to the task of giving the accounts of Amberian Dawn's past, present and future....
Hi guys, firstly how was your UK / EU tour? What were the highlights?
"The tour was amazing. It was our first European tour as headliners and there was a lot of new things for all of us. It’s different to arrange your own headliner tour, than take part in some other tour as a supporting band. We all had a great time. There was a lot of highlights, the London show was one of those I think. We had a nice amount of gig-goers everywhere and that encourages us to continue touring."
You've released 7 albums in 11 years, which is your favourite out of the lot? Do you keep in touch with Heidi? Are you aware of her new band Dark Sarah?
"My favourite ones are probably all the latest albums on which Capri is on vocals. That’s because at the moment I feel that I’ve found my true way of composing music with her as vocalist. About Heidi, I haven’t really been in contact with her and I haven’t checked out her musical projects. It’s nothing personal, I’m just not interested in that kind of music."
Would you say your sound has changed a lot over the last decade? Or would you say it's still considered 'Neo-Classical / Power Metal'? What is Neo-Classical?
"The sound & feel has changed a lot over the years. My way of composing music varies a lot in time and I’m always trying to find some new angle with each and every new studio album. I don’t want to do the same kind of music over and over again. It’s obvious that Neo-Classical & Power Metal elements haven’t been in front lately, but I think that some of those elements are coming back on our next studio album. Neo-Classical as a term (as far as I know) means having elements of classical music mixed in your own music. "
With Eurovision coming, as a band would you ever put yourself forward to represent Finland?
"I would do it if the circumstances would be just right. It’s also about timing, about my other projects, schedules etc. Someday I just might go and apply for that contest but I still don’t know if that is what I would like to do it with Amberian Dawn, or by myself as solo artist. Let’s see what’s going to happen in the future. I’m always open for different and new things (new things for me at least)."
What in your opinion makes metal music popular in Finland? Is it still as popular as say a decade ago?
"Rock & metal music in general has always been popular here in Finland but it’s starting to change here. Finland is following the trends set by the rest of the world so metal music is losing it’s fan base (not so popular among younger generations) here and many heavy metal enthusiasts are really worried about that.
What does Amberian Dawn mean?
"The name of the band is just something we came up whilst doing a lot of brainstorming and discussing. It’s always hard to come up with a new band name. So many good names are already taken. Gee, I would love to have “Rammstein” for example as a band name, if it would be unused as a band name. It would be awesome to have a cool name like that for our own band"
With Brexit impending, as a band are you concerned about touring the UK or fairly calm about it?
"Yes I’m worried about it a little bit but I don’t really know that I should be worried about it or not… but it’s going to be a real shame if we’re not able to do shows in the UK any more due to some political things."
Finally what are your plans for the year ahead? Any greetings, thank you's that you wish to send out?
"Well, right now we’ve just started recording a new studio album and that’s how the next few months are going to be spent. The album is coming out later via Napalm Records, the exact release date isn’t decided yet though. After the release there’s probably going to be some touring in Europe at least. I wish that all of our UK fans would have a chance to see us live. With our previous tour we were only able to do just one show in the UK (in London). I hope that with our next tour we’re able to do more shows in UK."
Spain has a very vibrant metal scene that sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to what bands emerge from the sun-soaked nation, so when the Symphonic Metal 'forajido' group Diabulus In Musica joined up with Finnish Neo-Classical Metal exports Amberian Dawn, it was only right for GMA to grill this five-piece ensemble and interrogate them as if they were our amigos (of course they are!).
Having been around for a decade and only two founding members remaining in keyboardist / growler Gorka Elso and vocalist Zuberoa Aznárez, it was the latter who stepped up to the plate to share their thoughts on their tour, the critique of their latest album "Dirge For The Archons", music, politics and the much 'beloved' Eurovision...
Hi guys, firstly how was your UK / EU tour? What were the highlights?
"We had a blast! We really enjoyed every show, but we keep special memories of London, Pratteln and Haarlem. In general they were very enthusiastic about us playing there. We had lots of fun with our label mates Amberian Dawn and our great crew."
You released your latest album 'Dirge for the Archons' last year, what was the reaction like?
"The reviews were really great! And the fans wrote us several messages telling us 'DFTA' is their favourite album so far. We are also very happy with it. We also have had the chance to play some of the new songs live and the reactions of the audience have also been great."
How did you gain inspiration for your band name Diabulus In Musica? Who came up with it?
"I founded the band and chose the name. “Diabulus (or Diabolus) In Musica” is a Latin medieval word which means ‘The Devil In Music’. It was like that as they called the triton or the interval of the augmented fourth. The medieval ear was used to hearing perfect fourths and perfect fifths, (early music instruments are tuned different, in mean-tone tuning). The augmented fourth, being half-way between these two most common intervals, was about the worst discord imaginable. That’s why they thought that the devil was inside the triton.
The reason I chose this name was because of my music studies and my passion for early music. I studied classical singing but I’ve been above all focused in historical singing. The name was perfect for us not only because of the meaning it has to me, but also because it sounds a bit dark, as our music sometimes. We like this ‘dark romantic aesthetic’ as well as early music (actually we have included these elements in our music more than once), so we thought Diabulus In Musica was the name that fit us the best."
With Eurovision coming, as a band would you ever put yourself forward to represent Spain?
"I don’t think any of us would dream about going to Eurovision, but if we were proposed to go we would probably accept because it is a good way of promoting ourselves. However we all know Spain always ends up in the low-scoring positions hahah so it probably would not be a good idea. We all know all the results are manipulated, so it’s not a very “fair” contest. Anyway, I admit I usually see it, it’s a good moment to gather for a dinner with friends and have a good time and some laughs."
With Brexit impending, as a band are you concerned about touring the UK or fairly calm about it?
"For the moment we are calm and we hope it will not be a problem in the future because the UK is one of our favourite places to tour. We have only played twice, but the reactions have always been so great. The best part of our European tour last year was the one in the UK. It was a pity that last year our guitar player couldn’t come because he is from Russia and he couldn’t get his visa to enter UK.
This year he finally got a visa and could come with us. It’s weird and a backwardness that nowadays it is still so important to get papers and papers, bureaucracy is really annoying, above all when you go just to play a couple of shows. I’m not going to give any opinions about politics, but I only hope things are easier and faster in the future."
What is the Spanish Metal scene like right now? Any bands you would suggest to your fans to check out?
"Well, I honestly don’t follow the Spanish scene, so I don’t really know very much about it. What I can say is that the metal scene like in every country is a small one and here, people prefers to listen to the typical “Spanish Metal”, which is generally heavy music from the 80’s sung in Spanish. That’s what you get in every metal festival in Spain. There is also a new scene, but it is not supported enough to grow, at least for the moment."
You hail from Pamplona, home of the famous 'running of the bulls', what are your thoughts on the tradition? Have you ever participated?
"No and I will never do so. I’m personally totally against the bullfights and I hope they are forbidden one day. I simply cannot understand that any human being can call that tremendous brutality “culture”. Regarding the running of the bulls, well, that’s different because bulls and people are on the same conditions and bulls don’t get harmed. It’s a very settled tradition in our city and in that case the bull doesn’t suffer, so I don’t have problems with that, but of course I have strong feelings against bullfights."
Finally what are your plans for the year ahead? Any greetings, thank you's that you wish to send out?
"We are headlining three festivals here in Spain in spring and we hope to play more until the end of the year. We will also start writing new material. Thanks a lot for the interest and your questions and thanks to the readers also for taking the time to read. We hope to meet you all on the road!"
It's not uncommon for a metal band to fall into a sub-genre that is totally unique, not only in terms of lyrical content or sound, but by the sub-genre name itself. So when Finland's Whispered announced details for their forthcoming album "Metsutan - Songs Of The Void", the slight-head turn became imminent after the first word. Why is a Finnish Metal band using a Japanese word in their album title? Turns out they're a 'Samurai Metal' band, well musically they're Melodic Death / Power Metal tinged with Eastern 'Oriental' Folk music influences, but we prefer the new genre tag as a way to describe them.
They might be fashioning blades, experts at martial arts, or masters at kanji calligraphy, but they're not resistant to our interrogation methods. Sadly no sake came between us or the band....
Vocalist / guitarist Jouni Valjakka and guitarist Mikko Mattila entered the interrogation chamber.