It looks like the 13th of November was a really exciting day, not only for me, but also for all the members of the Italian Progressive/Power Metal outfit Labyrinth. I was happy to be given the opportunity to "interrogate" Andrea Cantarelli (Guitars), Cristiano Bertocci (bass) and the band's recent member Pier Gonella (guitars) about their impressive latest effort "Labyrinth", and they were happy to be doing their first ever gig in the United Kingdom.
Even though Dream Evil managed to make my life really difficult with their loud soundcheck, I managed to get as much information as possible from the three friendly and quite down to earth musicians.
Well guys, let me welcome you to the United Kingdom. I have not been living here long to know whether you have visited this island before. Is today's gig part of the same tour that started right after the release of the "Labyrinth" album - one and a half years ago?
Andrea: We decided not to make a really big tour this time, reason being that we have a new guitarist in the band, and also the fact that we had quite a few changes in general. We decided to focus more on quality rather that quantity, that's why we didn't do many gigs really. We also played for the very first time in places like Japan and China and that was good because playing in new and let's say "different" audiences, helped us evolve as a band. We decided to make this gig tonight for the exact same reason. We have toured all over the world promoting our previous three albums and during all that time we have been opening gigs for other bands, being the support act. I have to admit that we are a little bit bored of that situation - we have been playing music since 1993, you know...it's really difficult for me to explain that! I prefer to know that I will play just one gig, but under the best possible circumstances like the one tonight, rather than making fifty gigs around Europe for no actual reason.
I have listened to your latest effort quire recently, and I sincerely believe that it is a very good album. Looking at what's happening in the Metal scene today, I really cannot see a reason why a progressive/power Metal fan would not choose to invest in the band.
Christiano: I believe that the main reason why we are not having the same response as we did before is because we have been absent for the last three years and believe me, people forget you. We did quite a lot of touring with bands like Hammerfall before that three year gap, but that gap has proven to be quite a big one. In a way, we had to start form the very beginning and the "Labyrinth" album is our very first step towards that direction. We can now present people to our music, which is Metal of course, but with a lot of progressive influences. What is really important for us is to present our new material in the best way possible.
Andrea: That's another good reason why we wanted to play one more time in Europe, but as headliners. A thirty minute set is not enough to show people what Labyrinth are all about. We are not like most of the Metal bands that are popular today. As Christian says, our music consists of many different styles like power, progressive and classic Metal and it normally takes a while for people to get into our music. That's why I like playing in places like UK and Japan, where I will have one, one and a half hour on stage.
I really believe that the best word to describe your latest effort is "change". You are now with a new record label, you follow a slightly different musical direction, even a different kind of cover for the album...this promo that I received was "screaming" the word change all over the place! How has the album been treated since its release in June 2003?
Christiano: The sales were not so bad, but on the other hand not so good either. The reaction of the press was positive, but we managed to come back to the music world quite "slowly". The reaction was quite good in Italy too, but we always need to remember that the whole situation with Metal music is different now. Every band is facing the exact same problem with their CD sales, and that of course includes high prices and many other things. I believe that Heavy Metal music is not doing as well as it did ten years ago. Back then, you had many bands playing, too many tours to be mentioned - now things are not that easy.
Allow me to say though that here in the United Kingdom, things are much better now than what they used to be four or five years ago. Coming here to do the interview, I saw young people standing in the cold, waiting to see a band like Labyrinth, and that for me is quite a positive sign.
Christiano: I understand what you're saying and I agree with you, but what I'm trying to say is that things are not always the same when it comes to music. Sometimes Metal music is more popular and some others, like now, it is not. I am really happy to see that young people are interested in finding out what Metal music is all about. They can now go to the music shops, buy the new Labyrinth CD and find out what this band is all about. Maybe after listening to this "new" album, they will also choose to listen to some of our previous albums like "Return to Heaven Denied" or "Sons of Thunder". I know that, because I experienced it first hand when we went on tour in Japan. I met many fans, the youngest of which was fourteen and the oldest thirty years old.
Pier: I also believe that making an album like "Labyrinth", which is so totally different than the band's previous recordings, will also help bring new fans in the band.
Ok guys, I really don't see a point to referring to the band's history, and since we are treating Labyrinth as a "new" band, let's focus on both the present and the future. How did you manage to come up with a totally different result this time, and what inspired you in order to achieve that exact result?
Andrea: Well, even though we first started as a band in 1994, we are still young and believe me, the main thing that we're trying to achieve with this whole thing is to have fun! After the release of "Returned to Heaven Denied" (1998), the band became professionally involved with the music industry, and I begin to think that we were not really prepared for this. We were definitely not ready to deal with labels, money and all that stuff. Especially during the recordings of "Sons of Thunder" (2000), we were more concerned about the financial success of the album, rather than focusing our efforts on having fun with our music. Now, for the first time ever, we are a band of six people and we have changed quite a lot. I am really happy to play the guitar in the band, because the relationship between us is great - we are all friends on top of anything else.
Let's talk about the way the "Labyrinth" album was recorded. What is it that you did differently this time that helped your new album become so unique? Would you say that the music of Labyrinth nowadays is more of a collective effort, rather than the result of one person's job?
Christiano: It is quite easy to understand all those differences, if you have listen to any of our previous albums. We have decided to do things differently this time, but we are still a Metal band. The only thing that we care about is to be able to freely express ourselves. Olaf (band's previous guitarist and founding member - now in Vision Divine) was in a way a little bit different than the rest of us. He, for a start, has a different way of composing music. The way Labyrinth works nowadays is as follows: one comes with a riff, or a melodic theme, and everyone starts building their own ideas based on that riff or theme. Olaf, on the other hand, preferred to be the one that would write the music and the lyrics for every song - something like Chuck Schuldiner I guess (laughs).
You see, I did manage to understand this difference in the band's attitude, just by listening to this album, and I'm pretty sure that many more people came to the conclusion that things are totally different nowadays in the Labyrinth camp. I would like to ask you Pier, about the guitar work in this new album. If I'm not mistaken, you have helped the members of this band in their live performances before joining in.
Pier: Well, I actually became a member of the band before the recordings of the "Labyrinth" album - the only difference is that I didn't have enough time to participate in the creative process of any of the songs of this album. When I entered Labyrinth, I became a member of a family. We're really good friends, and we respect each other not only in a musical but also on a personal level. Every member of this band is free to express themselves, and that's why the music sounds fresher than before. You will also get this feeling when we're on stage, of course. The stage is really the place that we belong.
What about the recording process then? How much did you manage to contribute there?
Pier: My contribution in the recording process of the album was the same as was the rest of the members of the band. Being a member of a sextet, I manage to contribute my fair share of music. We were all in the same creative state, and that's why there is such a variety in this album.
Christiano: Let me just say a few things about the situation with Olaf, in order to set things straight. We have no problems what so ever with him. When we realised that our ideas of how the band must sound were different than those that Olaf had, we had to make a decision. His song-writing is more classical, and totally different than our own, and we felt like we had to try something different.
I really don't see why there should be a problem anyway. Both Labyrinth and Vision Divine are really good bands, and even though they are similar, they are at the same time quite different. Me, as a fan, I prefer to have two good bands rather than just one!
Andrea: I can explain the main reason why we decided to split up with Olaf, by giving you a very simple example. When we wrote the song "Slave to the Night", everyone was really satisfied with the result, but Olaf said "sorry guys, I don't like this at all - this is not my taste of music". Then we said "ok, what is it that we can do in order to change the song and make it sound more of your liking?". His response was "I don't know - this is not the kind of music that I want to play". A band cannot really work under those circumstances. During the recording sessions of the album, he came and said "ok, I have a good idea", so we decided to try that out. It didn't work out though, because by that stage we were already used to composing the songs all together, and recording a song that was created by just one person was simply not an option. I guess that now that we have two different bands things are not just good for Labyrinth, but also for Olaf. People can listen to both bands and either follow both, or choose which one is more suitable for them.
The new album consists of ten different songs. I would like you to name some of the musicians or bands that have influenced you the most during the recordings of this album. I, for one, traced in a couple of songs, the influence from bands like Pain of Salvation, but I would like to hear your opinion about it.
Christiano: Pain of Salvation...maybe (hehehe). Yes, but the main difference in our case is that the rhythm section in our band consists not only by the bass and drums, but also of the guitars. I like Speed and Power Metal music, but I believe that we needed to become also a bit more progressive so as to avoid becoming boring and sound cliché. That's why you will find both speed and mid-tempo songs in our new album - mix those two together, add some melody and this is our music.
Fair enough, but what if you had to choose one song from the whole album for the purpose of either making a video or releasing a single? In that case, which would be the winning song?
Andrea: It's really not so easy, because as you correctly said before, we combine many different styles of music in this album. What I can say to you is that one of my favourite songs of Labyrinth is "The Night of Dreams", but you cannot say that by listening to that song you have an idea of what this band is all about. It's really not that easy...one song...
It was also very difficult for me to choose one, to be entirely honest, but let's say that your label asks you to choose one song for a video - you really have to make a choice like it or not.
Andrea: Then, I think that I would choose the first song of the new album. It is weird that I have to make a choice, because for the very first time we managed to write songs instead of pieces of music. It's really not so easy to explain, but I will try. In the past we had to write a song based on a guitar riff, a melody, or even a double bass drum solo. Then we used to say "ok, so we want to write a fast song that people would like to hear, or a more mid-tempo composition"? Now things are much different. It is no longer important whether a song should be fast, melodic or complicated - what we concentrate on is to write a good song. It could easily be the case of me grabbing my acoustic guitar and Rob doing some vocals on the top of what I would play, now if that sounded good, we would make a song out of it. We are not trying to follow a certain formula when we're composing new songs - what we do is to follow our instinct and allow our inspiration to reveal new ways of expression.
Do you have any new material ready for the next studio album, and if yes, how far are you in the composing process?
Andrea: Yes, we do. We made the mastering on the 3rd of this month, so we are ready to release it.
What's your first impression of it? How different is it from the "Labyrinth" album? Have you chosen a name for it?
Pier: You could say that the new album is like the continuation of our previous release. I believe that we have already established our own style, by simply allowing ourselves to be free while composing material. As a consequence, the result will always carry our mark, even if we sound totally different in each album.
Are you guys going to play any of the new songs today for us?
Christiano: On no, not yet. I am really sorry for that, but we would like to prepare something better before we play any of these songs live.
Is tonight's gig going to be based on the "Labyrinth" album? Are you also going to play any old songs for your fans?
Christiano: It is true that the show will be mostly based on the "Labyrinth" album, but we will also play some of the songs from "Return to Heaven Denied" and also from "Sons of Thunder" for our fans and the people that are going to watch us perform.
(Note: at this moment in time the band's very friendly tour manager informed us that the members of the band should prepare for their soundcheck)
How easy is it for you guys to perform your music live?
Andrea: This band is meant to play live. We made our first ever gig back in 1992, so that means that we have the experience that we need in order to feel comfortable while we're on stage. You will only manage to witness the real dimension of the band when we perform live. We want to have fun with our music, and we are trying to achieve the exact same thing while we're on stage. It is not always that easy, since you many times have to face technical problems, but this is my personal goal. It really isn't that important whether I play in front of 1000 or ten thousand people - the goal is always the same.
Since this is your first ever appearance in the UK, I feel the need to warn you that the English crowd is normally not as enthusiastic as the ones from Southern Europe. There is a big possibility to face a not so "expressive" crowd when you go on stage.
Christiano: It's ok - I think that this is quite normal. First they will have to see us, and then they can decide whether they want to buy our album or not. We will first have to prove ourselves to them, you know? I am really not at all worried about that.
The gig starts, and the first notes of the song have just been performed. You hold your guitar, and when you look at the crowd you see people who act like they couldn't be bothered. What are you going to do in order to raise their interest and make them become more involved in the concert?
Pier: It is not so much what I have to do, as to what the whole band should do. We normally find it very easy to motivate our crowd. We write our music bearing in mind that we will one day have these songs will be performed in front of an audience. Many bands record their songs with the help of computers - we, on the other hand, form our ideas while playing live and then we transfer the whole thing on stage.
Ok guys, you will have to make your soundcheck any time now, so allow me to thank you for making this interview. I wish you all the best for your new album and every success in your career.
Andrea: Let me say once again that we are very happy to be playing tonight for the very first time in the United Kingdom - the land where bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden came from. For me it's like a dream come true.
Christiano: We want to play more times here in England. This is a very important country for us. Playing in this country for the first time is like a new mission for us - a territory that we have to conquer.
Interview © 2004