ZT INTERROGATION: CAELESTIA PLUNGE DEEP INTO THE ABYSS
A new name, a new album, a new line-up and a whole new musical direction means that it’s a good time to catch up with Symphonic Greek metal outfit Caelestia. ZT’s Paul Castles caught up with them to find out about new release, Beneath Abyss, and how they plan to make their mark with metal audiences across Europe.
Zero Tolerance: I’ve been enjoying the new album Beneath Abyss, how pleased are you all with it?
First of all, we’d like to say that we’re very glad about this interview, Paul. This album Beneath Abyss is the outcome of a lot of hard work; we could easily describe it as a milestone for our band, since it represents a major change in our sound and musical direction as a whole. We really strived to forge a well-balanced combination of the styles, that each of the band members favors; thus melodic death metal, symphonic / gothic metal, visible elements of progressive metal, but also black metal passages, rather than sounding like an impression of other known bands, something which has become very difficult in the metal scene nowadays. Of course, the album is not perfect, even to our ears, you know..! Each time we listen to the album, each time we rehearse a song in the studio, we tend to make really fine, little adjustments to every song part, that can make it sound even better. We are all satisfied with the total outcome of course, and we’ll use it as a springboard to evolve our song-writing and reach new levels of originality in the future.
ZT: The band has now adopted more of a symphonic sound compared to your 2012 debut release, Last Wish?
Yes, we have and to a great extent. To be totally frank, we’d say that Last Wish is an album by a totally different band; the changes in Beneath Abyss are so radical, that someone could hardly find any similar elements between the two albums. The musical concept of Beneath Abyss is greatly based on diversity, complicated orchestral parts and passages (that play a crucial role in each song, a whole lot more than a mere “musical carpet”), large amounts of guitar riffing and phrasing (it is quite indicative that each of our songs contains at least 7-8 different guitar riffs), changing time signatures and varying tempos, that range from 130 to 210 bpm. We tried hard to break the so called conventional form of songwriting (intro / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / solo / chorus / outro etc), and introduce various and altering parts and bridges in our songs, so that the listener is constantly left curious of what’s going to come next. That is quite a big turn compared to “Last Wish”, which could easily be characterized as simply alternative / gothic metal, with more conventionally written songs, and not so many complicated passages, bridges and altering time signatures.
ZT: The band actually changed their name to Caelestia in 2013 – was that to signify a new start and change of direction?
Definitely. We changed our name to Caelestia in the summer of 2013. The decision to change the band name came naturally, after the musical direction and genre was changed to symphonic / progressive extreme metal (not to mention the fact that the new name was better sounding!). We consider the change of the name as a total rebirth of the band, not just a mere name change. All this was the result of multiple chain reactions that started to take place in the spring of 2013; Vassilis joined the band as a guitar player at that time, bringing his evident progressive / death metal influences and songwriting ideas with him. After that, Nick started writing songs and parts with more death / black / progressive elements in them, something which Nick himself had had in mind since the beginning of the band in 2012 (as “Me And Myself”), but couldn’t realize it, since the old band members preferred the “alternative / gothic metal” direction. After this radical change in the musical genre, the name also changed, in order for it to coincide with the new musical identity of the band.
ZT: The band has been together for almost four years but seem to have undergone quite a few line-up changes. Why do you think this is?
First of all, all bands undergo line-up changes in their history until they find a steady pace, especially since a band is something like a living organism, which evolves and grows with time. In our case, we have a founding duo (Nick: vocals/bass & Dimitra: vocals) who started the band in April 2012. The first line-up was the one that recorded Last Wish, which was entirely composed by Nick, and all lyrics were written by Dimitra. In the spring of 2013, Vassilis came into the band as a lead/rhythm guitar player, and contributed all the elements we mentioned in your previous question. As a result of the name and genre change, a new session drummer was introduced. The four (full-time) members line-up (Nick: vocals/bass, Dimita: vocals, Vassilis: guitars & Panos: guitars) was the line- up that recorded Beneath Abyss. After the end of the recordings of “Beneath Abyss”, Panos left the band for personal reasons in November 2014, thus leaving 3 full time members back (Nick, Dimitra, Vassilis). At that point, we realized that –in order for the band to be able to progress- we had to settle down to a steady line-up, and find musicians that would be ample and ambitious enough to musically support the new direction of the band. Another factor was that Nick decided to leave the bass, and fully commit himself to composing and vocals, so we had to find a permanent bass player also. Beginning of 2015, we introduced three new members to the band; a guitar player (Vangelis), a bass player (Stelios) and a drummer (George). This meant that 50% of the band was totally new to the material of Beneath Abyss, and had to really work hard to catch up with the old triad. The first two new members (Vangelis & Stelios) blended in very successfully, whereas George couldn’t keep up with the very fast pace of the band, and had to call it quits in the summer of 2015. Thankfully, his replacement (Socrates) is one of the best students of Greek drum legend George Kollias (Nile), and has really proven to be a young prodigy of drums, who can face up any musical challenge in our very hard –to play- genre.
ZT: Are you all hopeful that the current line-up can stick together for a while to really establish Caelestia across Europe?
When you strive to establish yourself as a band that wants to make a difference in its genre and in the greater metal scene (Europe, internationally), you must be ready to make sacrifices and commit yourself to this cause. Especially, if you consider that we have already signed a professional record label contract containing certain legal obligations and clauses. We believe, that after all the line-up changes we have undergone so far, the current line-up is up to facing the challenge of establishing Caelestia in the European metal scene. This is no easy task; it means that each band member must contribute to the overall progress of the band; it means that each band member must invest in every aspect: musical equipment, musical training, band expenses, time to rehearse, study and write music, time to answer interviews, time to promote your music, time and expenses to tour and play live shows etc. and the list goes on and on. We think that nowadays it’s a lot harder than it was in the past; it’s not so easy to become a full-time professional musician. A lot of known musicians in the metal scene still have to keep their day-time jobs, and so do we. One cannot expect to make a full living so easily out of the metal scene; you have to have a means of financing your metal musical career nowadays. This is the awful truth, whether we like it or not.
ZT: What’s been the reaction to your work in Greece?
We begun receiving feedback by metal sites and printed magazines (Greece and internationally) as early as beginning of January 2015, which have reviewed our new album as a whole. Our album has been characterized as “haunting from start to finish”, or as “an inspiring effort that gets the balance just right between beauty and destruction”, whereas other reviews state that “the combination of metal styles into one package gives Caelestia a musical identity of their own”. Our grading in all reviews was in the region of 7.5 out of 10 or even higher. Apart from that, we’ve been featured in interviews by the most prominent metal sites and magazines in Greece (Metal Hammer GR, Rock Hard GR, Metal Invader etc), we appeared at a Greek metal television show (TV War), we got invited to play as guests at two anniversary live shows of other Greek metal bands, we struck important endorsement deals with Schecter Guitar Research, Orange Amplification, Roto Sound Strings via their representatives in Greece, we are scheduled to make a live appearance at a Greek TV show in January etc. So, to sum up, we’d say that we made quite a “loud” entrance in our local scene.
ZT: Aside from the line-up changes you have also worked with a few interesting artists on the new album – Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid from Soilwork and drummer Markus Freiwald from Sodom. How did that happen – had you known these guys for some time?
We had always thought of having some renowned metal musicians contribute to our album; it renders an additional artistic aspect to the songs, and it enriches the whole outcome. Having assigned the mastering of our album to a Swedish studio, we always wanted to have a metal musician from Sweden to participate in one of our songs. After making a few contacts (through the guys in the studio), Bjorn “Speed” Strid showed his interest, and agreed to sing “Blessing Of Tragedy”, which suited him best in his vocal abilities and style. We sent him the track by mail, and he immediately started working on the vocals, and the outcome is the amazing singing that you hear in the album. Regarding Markus Freiwald’s contribution, we sent him the track “Secret Rite”, which we had already recorded with a session drummer, and he agreed to re-record the drums, rendering his unique teutonic thrash drumming style to the song. When Sodom came to Athens for a live show in May 2014, Markus heard the re-recorded song, and was truly thrilled. We had known that Markus Freiwald had worked with another Greek band in the past, and so we managed to make the contact and get him to agree to record the drums.
ZT: With your female symphonic presentation are Nightwish comparisons inevitable – are they major influences?
One could say that Nightwish are an influence indeed, but we also have other significant influences, especially in our presentation. Far from being a strictly female fronted band, we try to combine both male (brutal) and female (soft & operatic) vocals at the same level, something which one can find more evidently in bands like Draconian, Epica, Dimmu Borgir, Moonspell, Arch Enemy etc. rather than Nightwish. Our band’s sound contains influences by many styles of metal, such as death, progressive, black, symphonic, gothic and even thrash. One can easily distinguish such passages in our album’s songs, and this is something we cherish a lot, not to mention that it gives us a unique sound. There are many bands that we can name as influences apart from the aforementioned such as Death, Behemoth, Katatonia, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Hypocrisy, Cradle Of Filth, Septic Flesh, Rotting Christ, Morbid Angel; needless to say that each contributing band member has his/her own influences.
ZT: Can Dimitra Vintsou tell us a little about her background. Have you had any classical training?
Well, I began having an exposure to classical music lessons since my early childhood, mainly the piano and the violin. This constituted an important musical introduction for me, and got me very much into searching and listening to a whole lot of music (different genres). Growing up, I saw that my voice had started to show some certain qualities, and I decided to train it, little by little. However, I did not take any classical vocal training at the time. At first, a friend showed me how to sing correctly, and in the past few years I attend regular voice training lessons (mainly in the contemporary way of singing) by known Greek vocal coach George Prokopiou (Poem, Mother Of Millions etc), something which has helped me very much to control and expand my vocal capabilities and cultivate my talent.
ZT: You recently supported another band with a male / female vocal split in Arch Enemy in Athens – how did the show go?
It was one of the most powerful live experiences we’ve ever had as a band since our beginning. We have also played significant support live shows in the past, such as for Katatonia (February 2013) and for The Vision Bleak (February 2014), but the show with Arch Enemy on November 14, was far more intense, in every aspect. First of all, we were the sole support act, something that put a lot more weight on our shoulders, since we had the difficult task of warming up the crowd really, really well, before Arch Enemy hit the stage in a sold out club packed with more than 1,500 people..! Greek metal fans are very hard judges, you know; one mistake and they’ll start criticizing quite harshly…! The running order of the show was pretty tight too, and we had to co-ordinate a whole army of people, in order to set up a second stage from –literally- thin air. If one takes into account that we also wanted to have our part of the show caught on video, one can understand the amount of pressure we went through. Luckily, everything came out extremely well, even surpassing our own wildest expectations; our performance came out as very powerful and aggressive, the crowd was very warm and responsive to our set and last but not least, we had a terrific time as a band…What more could we ask for..?
ZT: What plans are there to tour the new album, any plans to visit the UK?
We recently engaged in cooperation with world renowned promoting agency “Clawhammer PR”, who launched a second round of global promotion for Beneath Abyss (we got big expectations on that one!). There are two more Athens shows and a mini-Greek tour coming up in the beginning of 2016, whereas we are scheduling appearances at various European festivals in 2016. A UK tour is of very high priority to us, because a very significant percentage of our album sales and music response is in the UK market (along with the Scandinavian countries). We are currently talking with some booking agents, trying to find dates and tour slots for the UK, along with some European festivals for the summer of 2016. We hope that we’ll succeed and get the chance to play live in the UK some time soon.