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17/11/2008 – Interview with SERENITY

Austrian Progressive Metallers SERENITY (official website) released their the follow-up of their debut, "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived", last August under the title "Fallen Sanctuary". This showed enormous improvement in compositions and ofcourse tempo. Not to mention the sound as well. You can read my findings on the album at this location.

I had an interview with keyboardist Mario last year regarding the debut album (and other things) and even fished for some information about the next one. This time I again had the chance to have Mario answer my long list of questions and he even remembered my fishing of last year, hahaha. Anyway, it's been a pleasure doing this interview. Enjoy.

Serenity logo

First of all, congratulations with "Fallen Sancutary". When listening and relistening to the material I have the impression it was more fun to create the new songs. I sense more joy, more freedom. True or is that just my interpretation?

Thank you! Well, producing an album is always fun to do but here I don't see a difference to the debut album. The process itself was very different as we had less time to write and arrange the songs and fixed the direction of the album as a whole before we started song writing. In some way we had more freedom because we knew people liked the first album and our label puts trust in us and would finance the complete recordings, so we could fully concentrate on working on the songs and try some new things. And that in fact was a real joy!

How new are the new songs? Did you write from scratch or did you use leftovers or leftover ideas from "WU&DU"?

No leftovers were used. "Rust Of Coming Ages" is the oldest song on "FS", it dates back to late 2006, we first performed it live when supporting EVERGREY in January 2007 but it sounded slightly different back then. "All Lights Reversed" and "Sheltered" were our next compositions, all three songs together were recorded as a demo for Napalm Records, they liked it and said "carry on this way"! Thomas (g) was working on material all the time and when we returned back home from the KAMELOT-tour we listened through his "song prototypes" and began to rearrange, add parts and work on vocal lines, keyboard tracks and lyrics.

Serenity bandLanvall once again helped you with the choir and vocal recordings and Oliver Phillips from EVERON helped with the symphonic arrangements, which sound much better than before. Were they now (more) involved in the writing/composing process? And is this a new direction you're taking, by making symphonic arrangements a vital element in the songs?

We'll keep the symphonics, that's for sure. But I think we'll use them in some other way on the next record, balance them differently to strengthen the effect they have on a song. Although Lanvall is partly responsible for how the album sounds now, he was not involved in writing the music. Most vocal lines were written by Georg, a few ones by Thomas and me and Jan Vacik did some little adjustments, Lanvall then "built" the massive choirs together with our lead singer - well done, mate! What concerns Oliver's work one can say he really did some writing because most of the orchestral parts and their melodies are his creations (to our basics), there were just three or four parts where we had ideas for him to develop. What can I say, he's a genius! I've been a fan of EVERON since 2000 so it was an honour to have him on our CD.

Once again there are a few guest appearances, like Sandra Schleret from ELIS and Maggo Wenzel (TRISTWOOD, INZEST). Did you ask them to do their parts after all was written and composed, or were they allowed to offer their view on the songs and ideas to maybe change this or that?

When we recorded guest vocals the songs were already completed so far. In Maggo's case we told him exactly what and where his parts would be, he presented us some suggestions (whether more growling or more grunting) and we kept the ones we liked best. Sandra contributed some own ideas which were recorded then. Working with both of them was totally uncomplicated and it was funny to have one of Austria's most brutal voices and one of the most beautiful ones meeting each other in Thomas' little home studio!

Having guest singers is a problem with live performances, as you can't always have them travel with you. How will you solve this "problem"?

The death vocals are no problem, that's my job on stage. When it comes to perform "Fairytales" the better solution is of course to have a female singer. Sandra did so once, but as you can imagine she isn't available at any time. Maybe we can find experienced local singers joining us on stage when we are touring - in case of "emergency" also Georg would not mind singing the whole song, even if it would seem a bit strange, almost schizophrenic. ;-)

There will always be similarities with other bands' songs, but particularly NIGHTWISH seemed to have been influential. "Rust Of Coming Ages" is one example (also hearing some FIREWIND and DREAM THEATER), but particularly the chorus of "Fairytales" sounds a lot like NIGHTWISH's "Bless The Child" and specifically the part "Think of me long enough to make a memory" of their song. Coincidence?

You're absolutely right mentioning NIGHTWISH, their last record had an enormous impact on the musical concept of "Fallen Sanctuary". Georg is a huge fan of them; as "Fairytales" was written all by him their music surely had some influence. I don't know "Bless The Child" good enough to see a similarity, I just can say I don't think his intention was to just copy something - think I've got to listen to that song to see what you mean.

The mixing and mastering was done by Jacob Hansen. Whose idea was this? And what's it like working with him?

This was the idea of Georg and our former manager. There was a plan to fly to Denmark and talk directly to him while he did the mixing. But as everything is also a question of money we (Thomas and Georg) did that via e-mail. It was a hard job and it took a certain amount of mails but in the end Jacob presented us a great sounding final mix!

Fallen Sanctuary coverThe cover art was done by the Brazilian Gustavo Sazes. How did he get involved and did he follow your guidelines or was he free to add his own interpretation?

Gus somehow discovered us on the internet and wrote us a mail in which he offered to work for us. We browsed through his portfolio, liked it very much and said "that's the guy for the next album's artwork". We explained our ideas to him and told him which elements the cover should contain, talked about the direction in general. Only a short time later he sent us some very promising sketches, some adjustments here and there and we would come to the point. Georg was always in contact with him until he presented us a picture that we accepted as the final cover. In the very end it was only a question of the right colour scheme, the blue/gold one just looked best!

"Fallen Sanctuary"... I thought it had something to do with Atlantis or some other lost civilization, also judging by the cover. But it seems it's metaphorical. What are the songs about?

Sorry, no Atlantis, although I'm very interested in all this lost civilization-stuff! And you're right if you think of a metaphorical meaning, because the album title fits to six of the lyrics, more or less as a metaphor. One can see the degenerated and oppressing catholic church of the 32nd century in the novel "Endymion" by Dan Simmons - on which bases the song "All Lights Reversed" - as a sanctuary fallen down and the main protagonists fighting it. Another "fallen sanctuary" is the way the beautiful but cruel giant princess Frau Hitt acts in "To Stone She Turned" (according to Tyrolean lore) because she despises the poor, plays jokes on them and forces her servants to abuse bread as cleaning rags. Suicide terrorists and others who believe in an insane "holy war" kill innocents in the name of a religion and thus are causing another "fallen sanctuary" - so far a short explanation of the lyrics to "Oceans Of Ruby"; ruby stands for blood here, of course. Man, I could go on this way but I don't want to overdo this interview! We also have songs on the album that have nothing to do with its title, but be sure that not one can be called "happy metal". ;-)

"Tirol Heute" recently made a report of Georg's excavations and SERENITY. I guess you were very proud when they contacted you for this, right? Or did they only pay attention to the band and the album because Georg happens to be in a Metal band? I mean, as an extra to the report?

I guess at least half of the 700 000 inhabitants of our province watch this news show regularly. Nice to reach so many people, but most of them surely had no idea what Georg was talking about because they're more interested in drinking beer than in archaeology and know nothing else than Austrian folk music! =)) Nevertheless it was a cool thing, I think Georg's university professor got in contact with the TV guys and they thought it would be a nice combination and worth a short report.

A video was shot for "Velatum". What was it like and did you have anything to say in the how, what, when, where of it all?

Driving home from one of these excavations, our lead singer and his professor talked about writing a lyric about the discovered, engraved stone plate, the mystery surrounding it and the place where it was found, a mountain lake in East Tyrol. "Velatum" (Latin for "under a veil") is one of the engraved words. They did some "brain storming" and on this basis I wrote the final lyrics. When the mayor of Ainet, the village to where the lake belongs, heard that we wrote this song, he said he would organize enough money to shoot a video. Due to some problems concerning locations and technical equipment it all ended up differently but we could finish the video and are very satisfied with the result. Working on the film set was a hard job, but also much fun. We did that in July, outside there were 30 degrees but inside the caves under the castle only twelve and it was moist and uncomfortable. Luckily we had enough blankets for the girls to survive the breaks! Shooting the outdoor scenes was great, funny how the people walking by always asked the same questions: "Is there also some movie star coming?", "When will we see this on TV?", "Is this equipment expensive?", "Do you need me as another actor?".

Mario, last time you told me you were writing the fastest and slowest songs to date. Which ones are those, since there are several to choose from?

I remember that, back then I was talking about the basic tracks of "To Stone She Turned" (fastest, I guess 192 bpm) and "Coldness Kills" (88 bpm). Let's see if we have new extremes on the follow-up - SERENITY goes blastbeat and Funeral Doom, haha that would be funny!!

SerenityAlbum sales are what they are and Metal fans usually are very loyal, but is there a significant difference between what you earn on CD sales and what you earn with merchandise?

Yes, there is! In our status selling merchandise at a gig is the only possibility to really make a little profit. I'm honest when I say that the band is a hobby that holds much heart blood and needs a lot of time but doesn't make us earn money. Thousands of bands will know what I'm talking about. No question we do all that because we love it and everything that goes along with it, but some financial reward would also be nice...

Sharing the stage with THRESHOLD, COMMUNIC, MACHINE MEN, KAMELOT, ADAGIO, EVERGREY, MORGANA LEFAY, and more. How was it and what kind of response did you get from those bands? Plus, what did you learn from them regarding live performances or other matters?

Every tour was a special, great experience on its own and all the bands treated us like colleagues, not like bloody newbies! In fact they were surprised how professional we were behaving, which was again a surprise to us because we did nothing else than we ever did... being happy to play shows and care for a good performance on stage. Of course we always had some beers after the shows together with other bands, but we never did carry that too far! So what have we learned from them? Play at 120 percent even when there are only 37 people in the audience; play at 100 percent even after a crucial ligament rupture; cursing and drinking Finnish style; dirty talking in German with a Swedish accent; surviving the horrible chili diet... and a lot of other useful things! But we are still learning. ;-)

Who would you like to tour or share the stage with next?

We're already looking forward to our tour in Spring 2009, once again supporting KAMELOT! It starts on March 20th in Tilburg (NL) and I'm sure we'll have a hell of a lot of fun with the American/Norwegian/German guys! If you ask me personally with which band I'd like to share the stage - oh god, there are a lot. But reducing them to the ones which we would fit to in terms of sound I'd name PAGAN'S MIND, CIRCUS MAXIMUS and EVERGREY.

I'll stop now, else we might end up with a list as long as last year, hahaha. Many thanks for your time and good luck with not only "Fallen Sanctuary", but also the gigs. Let's hope you get to do some gigs on Belgian soil and that I can make it to one of them. If there's anything you'd like to add, fire away.

Thanks for your wishes, I'm sure we'll be playing once again in Belgium one day! In the meantime: cheers and thank you to all fans out there and those soon-to-be (try and give "Fallen Sanctuary" a listen)! Stay metal and true to yourself and you'll be well prepared for all the weirdness in the world!

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