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!
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."
What many could argue as Russia's answer to Hollywood Undead and Disturbed, Slot (Слот) have been rampaging Moscow's streets for 15 years with the gritty style of Nu Metal / Rapcore. Having released their latest album last year (SEPTIMA), Slot are leading the new wave of Russian Metal with fellow compatriots Save and MagnetiC forming a new breed of metal band.
Arguably they're part of a wider 'Eastern European' Nu Metal movement with the likes of Jinjer and Infected Rain from Moldova being the latest to bring a new edge to the seemingly dead Nu Metal sound. Slot however were yet to break into the wider international metal arena... until now, as they sign a deal with Sliptrick Records to distribute their album outside of Russian territories; additionally they're releasing online a compilation of their best songs marking their 15th anniversary.
Vocalists Igor "Cache" Lobanov and Daria "Nookie" Stavrovich were more than happy to share an insight into Slot's world.