Italian power/folk metallers Elvenking are back with their eighth full-length record and a veritable band manifesto in what they’ve dubbed, The Pagan Manifesto. I spoke with Ayden (Guitars) about the band’s beginnings, the recording process and their thoughts on real Paganism and how it contrasts from Satanism. He also mentioned an awesome tour that they just had over in Europe with Gamma Ray and Rhapsody Of Fire that they would really like to bring over here to the US! Stay tuned…
Tell me a little bit about your troupe of traveling minstrels. From what I can tell, it’s been quite a journey to get from your debut Heathenreel to this point. How did you all meet up and what made you decide to start playing heavy folk metal?
Aydan: For that, we’ll need to go back in time. We were just a bunch of kids with a little dream. At the time, especially hailing from Italy, I was not sure that there would ever been a possibility of doing something in a much more serious way than just playing some songs in a garage. But we always had a very clear vision of what we needed to do, so we locked ourselves in our stinky rehearsal room for more than a year (three-to-four times a week) to write the best songs that we were able to do. We focused ourselves by saving money every day to collect the amount necessary to record a small demo. We sent it to the record labels around the world with no expectations and three days later we were about to sign our first record contract. Heathenreel came and the rest is known.
Paganism is obviously a very large part of your music, as the new record; The Pagan Manifesto enforces. But what exactly is The Pagan Manifesto and what does it mean to be a Pagan in this technological age? Are the old ways all but lost?
A: This album is indeed what we can call our own manifesto because it’s the ultimate sum of the strongest aspects of both our music and lyrics. Our personal way to be considered Pagans nowadays is made up of an approach to life and a philosophy to face everyday existence with a strong awareness of what we can do to represent this planet. The old ways are lost but human consciousness can still be wide enough to choose a different path.
Let’s talk about the new album, The Pagan Manifesto. What was the writing process like and what was your goal for the album? Do you think you’ve achieved it?
A: Our goal was basically to find ourselves again and especially the fire that was burning inside when we were writing songs for our first demo or album. During the years we’ve experimented a lot with our sound, proving ourselves to be able to manage different ways of songwriting. We felt that it was now time to go back to where the band started, reuniting with our original sounds and concept. We wanted to recreate those feelings and the idea of some of the great albums of the nineties that we loved so much.
Tell me about the recording sessions for The Pagan Manifesto. What was it like in the studio and are you pleased with the final product?
A: Absolutely. We had a clear vision about the production and how the album should sound in our mind. Together with Simone Mularoni of Domination studio we worked hard on getting the feeling of some of the best nineties records that I loved so much, in order to have a more natural sound. We wanted the listener to be able to hear every single instrument playing and not have everything pushed to the limit, with the use of triggered drums, ultra-distorted guitars and other nuances. I really cannot stand that kind of production. We were searching for a more dynamic and real sound, of which I am a hundred percent satisfied with the final result.
What was it like working with Amanda Somerville (Avantasia) as a guest vocalist on the album’s epic opener “King Of The Elves?”
A:With Amanda we share the same booking agency so it was a pretty natural choice when we felt the need to have a female voice singing that specific part. And her voice fits perfectly with the magical atmosphere.
Tell me a little bit about the lyrics on the album. You mention things that myself as an avid studier of Paganism (and at one time a practitioner) know a bit about, like “The Druid Ritual Of Oak” for example, yet there are also several fantasy related pieces. Pagans do believe in the existence of elves, fairies and other mystical creatures; but would you consider this material more of a fantasy related nature or do you also hold this belief?
A: Nope, we believe in dreams. And we believe that fantasy is a strong weapon in human hands, but nowadays it is often lost, buried by everyday weight. We believe that dreaming and fantasizing can also be used to face the bitterness of Life.
You have a song on the record called “Black Roses For The Wicked One” which makes me think it could relate to a sort of Luciferian deity. Pagans always get stamped by those who aren’t aware of their faith as “devil worshippers” so what about Paganism would you say is much different from Satanism? How would you defend your beliefs against someone who considers them evil, for example?
A: It really depends on what we are talking about. Especially when we use the word “Satanism”. A lot of people use it without exactly knowing what they are talking about. The “Chruch of Satan” itself split in two different factions, one of them guided by LaVey, and the other (the “Temple of Set”) by Aquino. While the latter worships Satan as a real entity, the Chruch of Satan instead do not believe in the existence of Gods or supernatural forces. It is merely a philosophy of life, as expressed in the famous “Do what thou wilt” quote. Our ides of Paganism, which can be considered as a modern and personal idea of the ancient philosophy, can be seen asomewhere in the middle of all this. For sure we are not talking about “religion” in any kind of way.
Let’s talk about influences. I actually get a little Blind Guardian and Skyclad feel to your music in some areas, but I am sure there are more. What do you think are some of the best records that you’ve ever heard, especially in the folk metal genre?
A: You are perfectly right in naming those bands. For sure Skyclad have always been one of our principal references, besides being one of the most underrated bands of the nineties.Blind Guardian is another one of the bands that for sure needs to be listed in our influences. When we started the band by the way I would say that these two bands were the one and only with strong folk flavors inside their music and back in ninety-seven when we started the band, the so-called “folk-scene” did not even exist at all. If I need to list you some of my personal favorite records I would say:
Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II
Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol
Dark Tranquillity – The Gallery
Cradle Of Filth – Midian
Annihilator – Set The World On Fire
Mercyful Fate – In The Shadows
…and tons of others. Not really folkish as you can see.
Tell me a little bit about the album’s two bonus tracks, “Amethyst” and “Cyfarwydd” which are only available on the digipack. What can we expect from those and why the decision to make them special tracks?
A: They are two instrumental bonus tracks. One is done only with violins but a lot of overlapped tracks. The other is a Celtic acoustic lullaby. This time we did not have leftovers or songs that we did not want to place on the regular album because all was composed thinking The Pagan Manifesto as a sort of musical concept that worked as a whole, so we explicitly asked to not delete songs from the tracklist. When it was time to record bonus tracks we worked on some real folk tunes without distortions and drums, but pure feeling and magic.
What do you do when you’re not playing music? By the lyrics, I would consider you to be quite a fan of fantasy in general. What are some book series, films or games in the fantasy genre that may have inspired you? I know that Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian was heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and Stephen King; for example.
A: We are inspired by a huge numbers of movies, books, paintings, poetry and other visual/conceptual works and art in general… and often not in the fantasy side. We put emotions, feelings and visual ideas into our music, but more often sensations. I would say that modern TV series are the most inspiring communication means. Most of them are often better than movies and they are able to go deeply into character introspection. To name a few, we like True Detective, Lost, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story as well as several others which we find deeply inspiring.
Your new album and the new Gamma Ray record have both been remarkable, so I’m sure the recent tour has been wonderful for each. Will American Pagans be seeing you on our soil someday?
A: Yes the new Gamma Ray album is the best album in the last few years for the band in my opinion. For me, as a hardcore fan of Helloween and Gamma Ray and having Kai Hansen as personal idol since I was a kid, touring with Gamma Ray is a real dream come true. The whole tour was great and we had a wonderful time with the guys and Rhapsody of Fire. It would be amazing to bring a similar package to the US as well.
Out of all the tours you’ve done, what are some of the most incredible experiences that you’ve had while on tour? What about fan experiences? What do you do for fun while on the road?
A: We have a lot of fine memories on the road. Unfortunately, most of the real funny ones cannot be described here. (Laughs)
What are some experiences that you’ve had in your life that would prove the existence of the old gods, or of any ancient and mystical beings beyond what modern man can describe? Have you performed and magick rituals and have perhaps witnessed something that you cannot describe?
A: I did. But I prefer not to describe this here, not to be misunderstood.
What do you think will happen to our world in the next few years? I almost think of The Pagan Manifesto as sort of a rally cry to the planet as well, I’m not sure that we’ll be alive much longer to enjoy it with all the horrible things we’re doing.
A: Yes, I often think about the fact that we will not be alive long enough to witness what mankind is doing to Mother Earth and what will be the aftermath of all our acting. So should we care less or not at all? It is a good question.
Thanks for a wonderfully memorable folk metal release and I wish you the best of luck spreading the old ways through the most magickal form of heavy metal there is! – Eric
A: Thanks to you for the nice interview!