- answered Frank and Omar.
Ave BEHEADED! I am currently listening your new album “Beast Incarnate” and I can´t help but think that this is the kind of music which will be played during the end of the world. I think it is a great masterpiece. How do you feel about your new album? Have you received any feedbacks? From fans for example? Have you played new songs live already? Do they work?
FRANK - Hey Jakub. Thanks for having us for this interview. I am glad to hear that you have been enjoying “Beast Incarnate”. The idea of the album playing in the background (as a soundtrack) when the end of the world happens is a fitting premise with the subject of the album. It touches a topic of presence of evil vs good in the world which is after all what (according to religious scriptures) goes down in the apocalypse.
The album has been received very well, by far and large the feedback has been positive and what pleases us the most is that both reviewers and fans seem to have understood what we are trying to do with our music in 2017 (26 years into the band's career). On the surface, one might look at “Beast Incarnate” as a change in direction but truly it is another step into BEHEADED finding and defining our own sound/interpretation of death metal.
We have played a few of the tracks live before the album was released. If nothing, at least we tested the waters and also in a live setting the reactions have been positive.
How do BEHEADED compose? Are you a traditional band who go to the rehearsal room and compose or you prefer going online and send your ideas via email? I am really interested in your composing process.
FRANK - We used to be until “Never to dawn”. But with this album we had to make a drastic change in the way we were writing, composing and operating. It was because the inclusion of Davide Billia on drums and SImone Brigo on guitars. At that point BEHEADED was not based in one country anymore. Furthermore, I moved to the UK about 2 years ago so now we are based in 3 different countries.
With “Beast Incarnate” most of the writing took place in my house when I lived in Malta. Omar used to come over and we recorded riffs making them into song structures. We pretty much wrote the album this way finishing off lyrics, vocals etc. From there we went back and forth flying to Italy to rehearse, jam, discuss ideas and finally lay out drums, bass, solos. As for the process for an upcoming album I would think that having a 'working structure' set in place we will operate in a similar way but more efficiently.
Lyrics are a separated topic of BEHEADED. Who is the author of your lyrics? And what are your lyrics about? Where do you find inspiration for your songs? The lyrics on “Beast Incarnate” just fit so perfectly to the music. What was first – music or lyrics?
FRANK - I've handled lyrics since I joined BEHEADED both on “Never To Dawn” and “Beast Incarnate”. Whenever I write songs, which are going to be on an album, I always make sure there is an overall concept which connects them.
From a writing perspective, it serves as guidance in giving the song writing a certain direction, ultimately gluing the songs together better with more consistency. Coming off “Ominous Bloodline” and going into the writing of “Never To Dawn”, my intention was to use the post-apocalyptic theme and use it as a segway into keeping that basic concept. But also touching on some religious themes. Being from the tiny island of Malta surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, which is home to such rich history the use of the idea of water felt very natural and something that hit close to home.
And what comes first? Lyrics or music? I cannot give you an exact answer as I feel they grow and evolve together.
Transitioning from “Never to Dawn” onto “Beast Incarnate” my idea was to do the same thing and using the ‘water’ element as vessel. So the songs Cursed Mediterranean and The Black Death speak about the plague which travelled into Europe and almost wiped out its entire population through the sea.
Yes that is very accurate and props to you for noticing that because it is a subtlety that one can probably figure out, only if they dig deep into both “Never to Dawn” and “Beast Incarnate”. Truly that is what those 2 songs are. They serve the purpose of the water theme used in “Never to Dawn” to segway into the more religious heavy themed “Beast Incarnate” which if looking at the history of the Mediterranean Sea and Malta the country has played a pivotal role in the history of both Christian and Muslim religions, because of the geographical location. The sampled intro on The Black Death followed by Cursed Mediterranean serve quite literally as a 'vessel'.
Having said that, “Beast Incarnate” is thematically based on the concept of incarnation of evil in our world predominantly as interpreted the Trinity of Evil in religious scriptures as The Dragon, The Serpent and The Beast as opposes to the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is the basic concept that ties down all the songs in which there are also strong reference to how evil is interpreted on earth and in the afterlife from the perspective of different religions. The song ‘Crossing the house of knives’ for instance is inspired by the Mayans interpretation of afterlife while ‘Punishment of the grave’ touches on some reference from the Koran.
Also your cover is amazing and it fits with the music! I am frightened with the cover. How and why did you choose Gabriel Aůegri Sabogal? Did you hear any of your songs to create the cover?
FRANK - The artwork was done by Jose Gabriel Alegria Sabogal and this if the first time we have worked with him. For Beast Incarnate we wanted an artwork which was hand painted as we felt this would fit better with the overall concept and theme of the album. When we came across some of Jose’s works we instantly agreed that his style was exactly what we were looking for. Jose is a very talented artist and great to work with. We sent him lyrics from the songs and gave him a basic description of what we had in mind. I believe this is the crucial point for the creation of a good album art. How the artist comes back with his interpretation of what the final artwork would look like based on the materials you give him. The artwork of “Beast Incarnate” is Jose’s interpretation of the lyrics of the title track and ultimately of the album which fits perfectly with what we had in mind.
The sound of the album is great. It is dark, cold and sharp at the same time. Which studio did you chose for recording? Did you have any opinions about the final sound and mastering, were you able to change anything?
OMAR – We recorded the album at our drummer’s (Davide Billia) studio in Italy. It is called Mk II Recording Studio. The vocals were recorded by Frank himself in his home in Leeds UK, Simone took care of his solos in his home in Italy and I recorded all my lead parts at a small studio here locally. Then we mixed and mastered it at Enhanced Audio Productions in Sweden through hands of Ronnie Björnström. We knew the sounds that Ronnie can produce and generally like his benchmark sound. He tried a number of different solutions for guitars and went to and fro with a number of ideas to give these songs the best sound that fits them best. He’s a great guy to work with and ultimately we were very happy with the way the album turned out and in our opinion the sound is doing justice to the songs.
The new album was published by American Unique Leader Records. Why this label? Were you satisfied with their work?
OMAR – Yes you are right, “Beast Incarnate” is the third album we released on Unique Leader records. They have built a reputation for releasing quality death metal and they have helped spread the name of the band as well. We have been working with them since Ominous Bloodline released in 2004/5. “Beast Incarnate” is the last album we owe them and now we have a fresh road in front of us. Unique Leader has learned to update itself and make music available on all the means possible, be it digital, physical, putting its bands on the road etc. I am thankful to them for the work we did together.
I have seen you play in Prague over the past few years and I have to say that it was great – every time – just a certain Hell! How do you feel about live performances? There is not a lot of people on death metal concerts. Do you prefer small clubs or big festivals?
FRANK - Recording and releasing an album is truly a great experience but to me nothing compares to performing live. It is truly 'a moment in time' kind of thing that takes place. You experience it at that very moment but you cannot capture it, change it, alter it or repeat it precisely in every single motion and moment. It is when music comes to live in a connection between performer and audience.
I cannot say I have a preference between small clubs or big festivals and I believe the rest of the band thinks very much the same. Festivals usually mean bigger stages, bigger audiences and sharing the stage with many other great bands and big names. But quantity doesn't necessarily equate to quality likewise doing things on a bigger scale doesn't necessarily mean they are better. On many occasions I felt that an intimate gig in a small venue can be a greater experience than a big festival. But every show is a different story, a different chapter and we do our best to deliver the goods in every setting.
You have been playing since 1991. How was the beginning of your band? How did you create the band and what was the first impulse to build something death metal? Did you have any idols? How was it to play death metal in Malta in 90s?
OMAR – BEHEADED came about in 1991. I joined them in 1995, so I was not part of the original line up. Nevertheless, I used to follow the band and go see them play when they had some gig back then. When Death Metal came about in the late 80’s, early 90’s it was the extreme end of the music scale. So as teenagers who were already into other sorts of metal, it felt natural to look for and discover this extreme form of art. The growling voice, the heaviness of the music, intense drumming were something totally unheard back then and of course this sparked a lot of interest. One also has to say that a lot of quality albums were released in the early 90’s which set the bar really, really high. This was another aspect that drew a lot of listeners to Death Metal. Playing Death Metal in the 90’s here, a country which back then was very close minded and catholic, we were seen as some kind of monster. I will just mention this example to give you an idea of the environment we had to confront ourselves with. When we released our debut album “Perpetual Mockery” and we got our first copies, myself and David Bugeja (founding guitar player) had to go to a censorship board, made up of a priest and several Old Catholic people. Basically they were describing the album content as grossly atheistic etc. and basically passing the message that the music did not blend with the Maltese catholic culture. In the end we were allowed to take our CDs, but that episode basically sums up what being an active death metal band was like in the 90s here.
As for idols I have never had any particular ones. I just like people who are motivated and driven to reach their goals, not necessarily bound to the music scene either.
Your band is a great example of how people can develop. You can tell that you are getting better and better with each new album. Do you have any target which you want to hit? Someone wants a famous label, the other one might want to play with SLAYER.
OMAR – We don’t really have one specific target in mind. We just want to write music the best way we can. Music is a reflection of what we would be like at a particular point in time. It has always been in the band’s mentality to give our very best during the writing process and try not to settle with the first ideas that come to us. Along the years I sort developed a sense of what should make it on the record and what shouldn’t. As long as we’re still enjoying the music and we’re getting satisfaction from it we’ll keep on going. It is only natural to look for new challenges and new ventures to keep ourselves motivated. It has been a great journey so far and it’s far from over.
Frank, unlikely from the other death metal singers I can actually understand what you are singing. Singing death metal music must be very difficult for your vocal folds. Do you take a special care for your vocal folds? Like prepare singing before a concert?
FRANK – Personally, I always considered paramount the importance of vocals being intelligible (at least to some degree) even in extreme genres like death metal. I do not agree with the line of thinking that if it the vocals can be understood they are less extreme. I feel that it is a misconception that stems from the fact that keeping a high level of intensity when doing extreme vocals and properly phrasing out the words is actually not an easy thing to do. So I feel that many vocalists take the 'easy way out' of focusing on the intensity and giving less importance to the intelligibility of phrasing. I focus on feel and emotion when singing, and if as a singer you truly believe and are passionate about what the lyrics you write I believe you would want people to understand what you're screaming your heart out about.
I have developed some basic routine exercises which I use to warm up my vocal chords and practice when I'm alone. However, for me personally singing is a very intense and strong experience every time. Aside from the biophysical aspect it is more about locking my emotions into the right mind-set, I feel like I'm going for war and take on the world...BEHEADED´s music is very intense and to keep on top of it as a singer I have to be on top of my game.
When someone says – brutal death metal from Malta, you are the only band which comes to my mind. Do you have any other bands? Maybe not only death metal, but also trash or black bands.
OMAR - The doom metal scene is quite healthy here. Our veteran brothers FORSAKEN have been forging out quality doom metal for decades. VICTIMS OF CREATION is another awesome band who play a soulful blend of doom death done right – WEEPING SILENCE is another band which works hard and gigs very regularly on European soil. Other death metal bands are REPUGNANCE, newcomers BOUND TO PREVAIL. On the black metal spectrum I have to mention MARTYRIUM and THY LEGION.
How is it to play death metal in Malta? Do you have a lot of fans on concerts? Do fans support bands? Do they buy CDs, merchandise, etc.? When you organize an event how many people will come?
OMAR – Ever since the band has been spread on three different countries (Malta, Italy and the UK) we have played less on local soil. Everyone in the band has his own work, academic commitments, family life etc. This means that we have to prioritize with our work vacation days and so we opt to tour on mainland Europe, or elsewhere and hit festival stages that make sense for the band to spread the name out there. It helps the band grow on the artistic side as well. Hard to put figures on audience attending a gig, but usually people who come to watch us play would know our music already and they support us by buying merch as well – to whom we are very thankful.
Do you have any albums which have caught your attention recently?
FRANK - I love the latest Warfather album featuring Steve Tucker which bodes well with me being excited for the new Morbid Angel including sharing the stage with them at some festivals in July.
OMAR – I liked the last MGLA, ‘exercises in futility’ quite a lot I must say.
Do you know and listen any Czech bands?
OMAR – We have been friends with bands over there for a number of years; FLESHLESS is one of them – our friendship with Vladimir goes a long way back. GODLESS Truth is another band we have known for a long time.
What are BEHEADED´s plans for the next few months?
FRANK - We will be preparing for a 3 week tour in July which will include a number of great festivals In Flammen, Circo Colony Fest, Gothoom Open Air, Stonehenge and more which we have already announced so that is what we will be mainly focused on in the coming months
Thank you so much for the interview and I wish BEHEADED a lot of sold CDs and only sold out halls. Be happy in your personal life. I am looking forward for your next death metal apocalypse!
Thank you so much for your time and support Jakub it is always great to see people like yourself dedicated and putting their time, support and work in the extreme music scene. We will see you soon again in CZ!