"I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
It only takes one band or one musician to lay the very foundations for a metal scene to flourish, in some countries it's touch and go, but for others? The process is long and arduous. Take the African country of Malawi for example, here is a country bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania, the first three have one thing in common - they have metal scenes. Tanzania like Malawi has yet to produce one, however it's musicians like Blessings Chisama who are laying the foundations of change. Through teaching aspiring guitarists, he hopes that others may follow in his footsteps whilst hoping to change this negative perception of the metal genre, that is just a form of music and has no Satanic connotations at all. Perhaps may one one day in the future we will see the first Malawian Metal band... for now we have Moto Buu a rock band.
GMA spoke to Blessings about how he got into playing the guitar, the challenges musicians face in Malawi - mostly hardly a solid music industry and what plans he has for the future in music.
How did you first get into metal music? Who are your favourite bands? What do your parents think?
"I started my music journey in a rather not so conventional fashion for most metal guitarists. My uncles have a reggae band, and I used to be around them whenever they were playing their old box guitars at home whilst growing up at my granny’s house. However, as time went by I began to be exposed to rock through the music mix programme on Voice of America, which was aired here at midnight through Capital FM Malawi. At that time, my youngest uncle used to like leaving the radio on throughout the night in the bedroom. At some point they started recording using Fluteloops and Sonar and it was around that time that I also started learning how to record although I only used to play bass with few fingers.
Throughout this time I’ve listened to a lot right across the spectrum, from Christian metal bands (that uncle Evance had on his desktop) such as Seventh Day Slumber, Krystal Meyer, Jeremy Camp, etc. to ‘real stuff’ to get your head banging, bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Andy James, Dream Theatre, A Day To Remember, Animals As Leaders, Killswitch Engange, Stephen Taranto, The Helix Nebula, Periphery and lots more, with Andy James probably being one of my main influences on guitar because of his detailed instructional videos on guitar playing. In addition, anything shred, prog and djent has lately become my favourite!
I grew up mostly with my grandma which was the time when my uncles were all into music and when I moved to live with my mother; I had switched to hip-hop as it was easy to get tapes in my secondary school days. However, in 2008 I moved again to re-join one of my uncles (Peter Chisama) and that's where I started learning guitar. It was on the morning of 1st November 2008, two days after I moved to the house, when uncle Peter brought his Ibanez Guitar, a Roland amp and a photocopied book called “The Handbook for Guitar” by Ralph Denyer into my room when he was leaving for work.
He told me to start learning and ask him anything that am not understanding so the process was rather self learning. He also exposed me to the Famous Frank Gambale and gave me his pdf books and audio's which at that time I found very had to digest. As such I was left to explore without negative remarks and up until now I think it was the best thing to ever happen to me. However, I should say that mother doesn't really believe one can make a big fortune in the Malawian music scene and as such has been of the view that I should vigilantly pursue my education in something else other than music."
What is it like being a rock / metal musician in Malawi? What are the challenges you have to face?
"Rock music is not a popular genre to the masses and as such the fan base is extremely low. It's mostly comprised of the expatriate community and very few middle class Malawians who at some point had little exposure to pop rock music and video games, which is how I first heard the song “Hand Of Blood” by Bullet For My Valentine.
For me personally, it has been a journey I sometimes feel like giving up and thanks to the internet otherwise, I don't think Malawi is ready for it considering the religious stereotypes attached to it. I’ve however devised a different approach to buying in audience which at this level are fellow musicians within and I’ve incorporated element of music education and guitar learning in particular where I’m offering lessons and showing them that actually they can apply the same techniques into other styles of music. I'm a music major and that has been the path I’ve taken.
We don't have music stores that offer descent equipment so getting proper gear is problematic. Most so-called music shops are riddled with cheap and very poor quality instruments. I'm actually lucky that the equipment that I have been using was bought by my younger uncle from South Africa. I buy quality accessories like strings, music books, plectrums e.t.c. through the expat community based here for work coming in from their respective holidays.
What equipment are you using right now? What guitar, effects box, etc?
"My uncle has been kind to buy me the Boss GT 100 and an Ibanez GiO. My first owned guitar is an Aria STG series which I was given by someone I used to teach guitar who is now in the U.K. I’ve lately got the Cort X6 which I bought from an expat. And in additional I am exploring and investing in a couple of computer amp sims and impulses."
What is the general perception of rock and metal in Malawi? Are you aware of any rock or metal musicians in Tanzania?
"Metal music in Malawi is mostly considered a demonic music culture for the average masses and something difficult to achieve among Malawian musicians since music education is limited for many of the instrument musicians around. Adding to the problem is the lack of proper gear in most studios around. As such it is often times misunderstood and the knowledge of creation is almost non-existent.
I’m aware of a very strong metal community in Botswana and South Africa but I'm yet to come across metal music from Tanzania."
Will you look to release your own material in due course? Maybe form the first Malawian Metal band?
"Yes! But as a solo artist through platforms like Bandcamp. I’m yet to meet the right people to work with in a band setup so my performances for now are mostly through backing tracks whether be it my own recorded material or covers. So basically my computer is my band at the moment. I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
For metalheads visiting Lilongwe, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"I’m Blantyre based since birth so I haven’t heard much of Lilongwe in action with metal music except for the Moto Buu which sometimes perform at 4 Seasons. There’s a pop rock / 80's – 90's cover band in Blantyre called Rusty Nails which perform mostly within Blantyre and happens to be a band I’ve worked with in the past."
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020 and leading into 2021?
"Well, I lost my main job due to COVID-19 and I’ve gone to guitar teaching as my last point of standing financially to survive, so I'm back to studying licks and technique to become better."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"Shout out to all the metalheads all over the world and to my uncles Evance and Benjamin Chisama for their support and inspiration. I'm also thankful for my late uncle Peter Chisama who gave me his guitar, amp and a book to learn from, he was a music genius that our family will leave to remember."
For a band whose lyrics revolve around topics involving fantasy and death, you would have thought that the single 'Stalingrad' would have been by a Black Metal band. Instead it's by Egyptian Progressive / Folk Metal entity Riverwood and as frontman Mahmoud went on to explain, the single is drawing a comparison to the second world war and the current war against COVID-19. During his interrogation he confessed as to how the band came about, why Egyptian Metal is embracing a revolution and what venues metalheads should go to in the city of Alexandria.
For those who have not heard of Riverwood, could you give us a brief history of the band?
"The band was formed only 2 years ago under the name of Riverwood. Our first album was released in the same year and its called "Fairytale". With 1 million streams online "Fairytale" has been chosen as one of the top 20 Folk metal albums in 2020."
You recently released your new single 'Stalingrad', what was the idea behind this - why a song about WW2?
"The song basically tells the story about a timeline that is almost the same as the current one, as the world is at war now with the COVID-19 virus. That's why we have decided to release it as a stand-alone single since it will not be a part of our second full album."
Your debut album "Fairytale" is out now, what was the reception like and have you had people outside of Egypt download it?; will it be on CD / vinyl?
"It has exceeded my expectations. I've never imagined it will be viral in the middle east that fast and also never imagined that it will reach one million streams online all over the world. The album is on CD as well and its sold outside of Egypt. We've sold CDs in Germany, France, Poland, Spain and many more international countries."
Do you feel that there is a rise in Middle Eastern / North African tinged metal? (Myrath, Riverwood, Blaakyum, Scarab, Orphaned Land, etc); how would you describe your sound?
"Unique. That's how I would describe the sound as all of the mentioned bands including Riverwood are injecting the Arabian sounds and Eastern cultures into their music and stories."
What is the current state of the Egyptian Metal scene? Is it going strong? When did metal music first arrive in Egypt?
"It was pretty much dead since 2010, but since 2018 it's being brought back to life with a lot of shows and releases."
For metalheads visiting Alexandria, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Sawy Cultural Wheel, Jesuit Center... these are the top notch venues for metal heads."
What plans does Riverwood have for late 2020 / early 2021?
"Currently we are working on our second full length album. Just like "Fairytale", the album will be telling a story that will be visualized in a book. The album also will be featuring more than one artist, of which 2 of them are big names in the metal music industry."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans etc?
"As we rarely use the word fans, I would like to thank our family and warriors for all their support through out the "Fairytale" journey, it never could have been done without you and until we see you again on stage please stay safe. Wash your hands! Much love!"
"[Melbourne is] definitely the best metal scene in Australia... lots of bands from Brisbane, Adelaide and other cities go to great pains to get to Melbourne to do shows"
They may have only been going a couple of years, but arguably Australia's Ironstone have so far had a really good run - supporting Rhapsody at a small festival, lining up their debut EP at the end of May, gathering fans from Europe, joining up with arguably Australia's finest PR in Black Roos and all at the average age of 20; Dan being the oldest at 22... they are destined to go far with their work ethic and attitude. Watch this space. To fill in the details, lead vocalist Dan Charlton and lead guitarist / vocalist Edward Warren spoke with GMA about said achievements, the Melbourne Metal scene, how they got their unique name and how Lewis Capaldi has had an impact on Dan Charlton.
Don't worry we know this is an interrogation, we didn't spit roast them on a BBQ on the beach... instead we inoculated them with Fosters... good call!
Hi guys could you tell us how Ironstone came about and what the band name means?
"It started quite a long time ago. It was initially a cover band with a couple of mates and I. We were just young kids. We played gigs in pubs; played AC/DC and all the classics and it developed over time until we started writing original music and creating our own sound. It came to a point where we wanted to take it more seriously and really define ourselves as original artists and not just be a cover band.
The singer at the time lived on ‘Ironstone Road’. We just liked the sound of that. We discussed the name and thought we’d leave out the ‘road’ part because it sounded a bit ‘country’. But we really liked ‘Ironstone’ because it's nice and ambiguous. It can mean anything in terms of genre and creative freedom and it sounds pretty cool too, so we just went with that."
Nowadays it's even harder coming up with band names due to names already in use or having to be changed due to legal reasons.
"Yeah one of the criteria of the name was that we could get the web address and social media handles, because some bands pick a really cool name then because a lot of people already have it they have to put 'official' or something after it, blurring the lines between who is actually this band or that band. So we were really fortunate with our name."
Now you've got your EP 'Prophecy' coming out on 29th May, are you doing at-home promotion for it? Would you release it on vinyl and CD?
"Yeah we're just plugging away with our social media, trying to keep as active as we can, which is important because of self-isolation. We're doing everything we can... including PR to help with international coverage which obviously leads to interviews and reviews. We think this is a weird time to be releasing, but might be slightly advantageous because more people are on the internet and the industry is pretty quiet at the moment.
Oh yes we want to release it on vinyl so badly. I love vinyl. If I had a CD right now and you said I'll give you $100 to play it, I would be pressed to find something to play it on.”
"The good thing about vinyl is that it's really coming back, CD's are not going out but a lot of the new cars don't have CD players any more. Everything is online now with Spotify where you can instantly play music, but I guess people some people still want to go analogue, old-school."
With the EP, have you got a favourite track that stands out for you?
"Well the thing is that we generally love all the songs so much. 2 weeks before the EP we will be dropping our new single and music video 'Downpour'. The video was shot just before all of the closures and was edited during lockdown. It's very thematic and has this kind of Middle Eastern, South-East Asian sort of flavour, it's really very exotic and spicy."
How long did it take you to write, record and finalise the EP?
"Half of the songs were written 12 or more months ago, the other half in the last six months since Dan joined the band and started writing with us. The drums, guitars and bass were tracked very quickly…in less than a week. Jack our drummer then sorted the stems out and got everything organised. Start to finish it was no more than a month I think. The whole process gave us confidence and experience that enabled us to push forward.”
"Vocals took the longest, vocals took about 3 weeks or so and then once we had it done we sent it through and had it mixed and mastered by Chris Themelco at Monolith Studios; absolute legend, who managed to do it so quickly. The first revision was almost perfect, apart from tiny nit-picky stuff. It was good as well because Chris really liked the songs and is a big fan of ours. We were rapt about that because we have so much respect for the guy. He is very highly respected here."
Would you therefore say that's the direction metal is heading, by tapping into other flavours to expand?
"I think it's heading in that direction, there will always be old-school, kind of more pure traditional metal, but I think for bands who are trying to be more progressive and cover ground in thinking, it's going to become more prevalent in exploring different cultural influences, scales, etc., I know there's a lot of Japanese scales, Middle Eastern scales that have already been explored. You could get into Bulgarian scales, Slavic scales, there is so much you can do musically because every single culture has a different slant on the scale of music.
It's inevitable that the progression will lead to change, making it something different."
"I think it's also the younger generation. Old-school metal in the 70's and 80's is a lot different to the metal in the 90's and early 2000's. Metal has has changed over the years in the same way other genres like pop have changed."
Outside of metal music, do you take influences from elsewhere?
"Oh for me even though I listen to metal, I'll also be listening to pop music - a lot of the chart stuff, I'm a massive fan of Lewis Capaldi's voice, specifically the tone of his voice which has brought a lot of inspiration to my vocal technique.
Our sound is like what Eddie says. You can show it to your friends who are really into technical metal and they get into the riffs, but then you can also show it to your parents and they'll be like 'Oh that's a nice song, I like that, that's catchy'. That's definitely not something to be afraid of, being commercial. I think it's a great thing; not aiming for super-duper niche, I just want people to listen and enjoy the music."
"You've got the case where a lot of Progressive Metal bands have really clean beautiful male vocals and then really brutal screams. Dan’s vocal style is kind of like a rock 'n' roll, grungy, really emotional voice over Prog which is something that gives us a particular sound that's really unique and kind of hard to place.
I do love movie soundtracks and stuff like that, people like Hans Zimmer for example, orchestral music, ambient stuff... I really get chills when I listen to stuff from soundtracks and video games; such as Battlefield.
Our drummer Jack used to make trap music, he used to make a lot of dubstep and stuff like that so that's crept its way into the band. I definitely appreciate dubstep for build up and suspense. I guess Prog Metal is kind of dubstep played with guitars, you kind of build it up percussively.
I think our music has a particular musicality and palatability at the same time. I love screams and complicated, percussive feels and breakdowns... whereas Dan's got a real mind for pop and structured melodies. When you combine the two, you get this sort of strange blend. You potentially get people who are normally into Meshuggah and Periphery style of music clashing against pop-influence metal."
Is learning music and music instruments encouraged by schools / colleges in Australia?
"I'd say so as much as anywhere else really, there's always school bands, school programs. There's always this constant reminder that it's an option or a path for you to go down, which I think is a really good thing."
Before now have you had any fans contact you from outside of Australia?
"Yeah we get messages on Instagram all the time. Since we started promoting the release internationally we’re suddenly getting fans from places like Latvia, Romania, you know all these places that we haven't considered as potential fan bases. It just makes us realise how big the world is.“
"Yeah we've got quite a few messages either personally or through the band page just saying that they found us over Instagram or YouTube, saying that they really like us and they want want to support us in any way in they can."
What is the Melbourne Metal scene like in general?
"Generally it's really good, it's definitely the best metal scene in Australia and there are a lot of bands from Brisbane, Adelaide and the other cities who go to great pains to get to Melbourne to do shows and gigs. We've been fortunate enough to play some really fantastic shows in Melbourne, so I'd say the scene is great. Unfortunately with the coronavirus everything has shut down, but I'm sure it will all wake up once this is over.
It's going to be a big deal as there's a lot of bands, not just in Australia but all over the world withholding releases and so when this is all over it's going to be insane."
Dan: "It's gonna be huge when it bounces back."
For metalheads visiting Melbourne, bars / venues and festivals could you recommend?
"That's kind of tricky because we actually live in Bendigo which is a 2 hour drive away from Melbourne, so we don't actually live in Melbourne.
Dan knows more about the venues than me. I've only just turned 18 and so I haven’t attended many things as a punter. Dan is 21 so he’s been to a lot of festivals and gigs."
"Venue wise there’s Festival Hall which has had a lot of really big acts play there. That’s personally one of my biggest goals… to play there, it's so iconic.
Another place I do like is Max Watts, it's like this kind of underground metal heaven really... it's just crazy and amazing, playing there was one of the best things ever. We supported Rhapsody there at the Southern Gathering festival which was awesome.
Aside from Download, there's a new festival that's just come out called 'Good Things' which is more towards Punk music, but over the past couple of years it's gotten heavier and had Parkway Drive headline last year; I went to that and it was absolutely phenomenal; there are some really good musicians.
[Edward chips in with Unified] Ahh! Unified is an awesome metal festival, alongside Download and Good Things, they are probably the 3 biggest metal festivals."
What are some of the everyday challenges that metal bands in Australia have to face?
"Certainly the biggest challenge musically would be trying to become well known, it's quite hard with music let alone being an Australian metal band."
"The thing is also we've got a country that's very large, something like 13 times the size of Germany and has a very sparse population. So if 1% of the population likes the music then out of the world's population that's like 709 million people, but with only 24 million in Australia it's considerably less with people being spread out. Plus it's hot so no one wants to do anything. It's just difficult trying to get that foothold and finding good bands to do shows with, finding a band that's within the niche Prog Metal / Djent, that sort of genre which is what we're going for.
The financial aspect also is there, if you're in Europe you'd play a gig and then could just pop through France. But we have to drive 10 hours and we've nearly reached Sydney! The distances here are vast. But we're really lucky, we live not far from Melbourne and it takes about 2 hours to get there for a gig"
What plans do you have for the back end of 2020 and going into 2021? Were any postponed?
"I think the ultimate goal from whatever means necessary is to do a UK / Europe tour (and to get our music out there). We just want this lockdown to end and for this thing to be over... we just want to do gigs."
"Yeah just play as much as possible in Melbourne, might travel up to Sydney and maybe Adelaide, but for now just want to focus on Melbourne and build on our following."
Have you got any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to fans, friends and family?
"Thanks to all our fans for sticking by us at the start, and to all of the new fans that come after 29th May, and to the stadium full of people (laughs)."
"Thank you to the families for supporting us, the band members for always being consistent. We've got a unique case where all of the band members (except Dan) go to school together so we're already absolutely best friends. Then we've got Dan who may as well be my older brother; comes to my house all the time, stuff like that. Great people we work with like Chris Themelco and Michael Lueders from Black Roos Entertainment who make our life just so much easier. Thanks to everyone who helps us out and supports us."
"Prophecy" is out 29th May via an Independent Release
"isolation isn’t that bad when you’re a nerd and play video games a lot (you’re already kind of used to that lifestyle anyway)."
It's never easy standing out from the crowd when you play a genre that's arguably oversaturated, but there is always a way to make your music slightly more noticeable than others. Just ask Spanish Progressive Metalcore horde Flat Earth Society who seem to have found their rhythm and beat in 'la vida loca' that is the music industry. Having unleashed their debut album "Friends Are Temporary, Ego Is Forever" via Art Gates Records, it comes as no surprise that the quartet are licking their lips at what late 2020 and early 2021 could be winging their way. Given this achivement it was only fair for GMA to interrogatel the Madrileños and find out how they formed as a band, what metalheads can do in Madrid, what makes up their sound and what emotions were like signing to legendary Spanish label Art Gates Records.
Could you give us a brief history of Flat Earth Society, who came up with the band name and were you in bands previously?
"We came together from different bands actually. Alex and Carlos were part of a band that was kind of dying and we already had some decent songs built up back then (which are part of the album) and we wanted to see them fruition.
Drummers in Madrid (or in general) are very lackluster, so Alex receives lots of offers (besides him being really good at the instrument). He eventually auditioned for A Blackened Sight, which Jesús and Daniel were part of. After signing in with them, he noticed Daniel’s vocal prowess and told him about our idea. Daniel liked the project and joined in. Jesús eventually teamed up as well with us, playing bass instead of guitar (his regular instrument). Later on we found Guillem and he proved to be the perfect fifth for our band and signed him up right away.
The name came quite randomly. We were brainstorming ideas and the situation degenerated quickly, proposing dumber names each time. We chose the name Flat Earth Society because we thought it would be funny to parody that way of thinking while our lyrics treat scientific topics (Disarray, The Gravity Paradox, The Cataract). Later on we decided to just write whatever lyrics we wanted (Danko, Daniel’s dog, Ligma, a meme disease from Twitch etc…)."
You recorded your debut album 'Friends Are Temporary, Ego Is Forever' last year, talk us through the creation process and the album title meaning?
"Usually each one of us writes music on its own and then we put it in common. Then we decide which ideas we like and learn them to rehearse them. Then we start playing them over and over while introducing arrangements along the way until we like the final result. Then we took what we had to studio with Alex Cappa and Pablo Rousselon.
We originally wanted to release a 5-song EP after recording these tracks, but after signing in with Art Gates Records we decided to take their advice and put out a full LP, so we went back to studio and recorded Legfist, CC Chain and Tortuga. We feel the meaning of the title speaks for itself, although there are open interpretations about it. We’d rather people try to figure it out on their own."
How would you describe your sound without the use of genres? What / who are your influences in and outside metal?
"Our sound is pretty experimental, we think that in a way some of our instrumentals are pretty ambiental, most of our songs are harmonious and pretty melody based, the rough part comes mostly with the vocals and the drums in certain parts. we classify our music as emotionally aggressive.
The most notorious influences reflected in this album may come from August Burns Red, Erra, Veil of Maya, Born of Osiris, Tesseract and maybe Periphery and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Outside Metal we have various influences, such as Salsa music, Flamenco, mostly hispanic music."
What was it like for you signing with such a prestigious label in Art Gates Records? Who initiated the contact first?
"We already had contact with them due to a friend who collaborated in the past with Noctem and AGR, so he recommended us. We showed them part of our music and the general idea around the project and the album. They liked it and we moved forward with it. Everything was going smooth until the recent crisis. Working with them has been an enormous learning experience regarding how things are done the right way for a band who wants to reach far away places. Now we have to wait until things get better and see how we can resume our course."
As Spain is amidst a lock down due to COVID-19, what have you been doing at home; both in and outside of music?
"We’re doing relatively fine considering the lockdown we’re suffering in Spain right now. However isolation isn’t that bad when you’re a nerd and play video games a lot (you’re already kind of used to that lifestyle anyway). Stay home folks, don’t risk your health or other people’s"
For metalheads visiting your home town / city (where?) what sights / attractions could you recommend (under normal circumstances)?
"You gotta check Madrid’s down-town, lot of museums, lot of great architecture and if you are a fan, you gotta check Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid’s stadiums. If you ever come here under normal circumstances, be sure to also check the local food."
What plans do you have for the foreseeable future (COVID-19) depending and what has already been cancelled?
"Most of what we had already talked through has been cancelled as for anyone else in the industry. We will try to take the album to the stages in and out of Spain as soon as it is logistically possible."