Apart from Orphaned Land, Israel is not a very known country when it comes to progressive metal. Amaseffer is arguably the first big act to emerge from Israel and to sign for Inside Out. With an ambitious conceptual theme, the amazing Mats Leven on lead vocals, and varied instrumentation, they are bound to leave their mark in the genre. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz talked to all three Amaseffer members, guitarists Yuval Kramer and Hanan Avramovich as well as drummer Erez Yohanan, about the band, their debut album, and plans for the future.
Read on for the full interview.
Sea of Tranquility: Could you please talk a little about the history of band? When were you formed? Did any of the members partake in any other bands or projects prior to Amaseffer?
YUVAL KRAMER (YK): Erez thought of the concept many years ago, in a turning point in his life he decided to make the vision come to life. Erez contacted me in June 2004 and together we have started working on the concept, writing songs and spending a lot of time in the rehearsal room. A year later it was decided that another guitar player and a musician is needed so Hanan joined and formed the final line up for Amaseffer.
We all played in a few bands before Amaseffer.
Sea of Tranquility: How old are the band members? Are you guys musically schooled or self taught?
EREZ YOHANAN (EY): I'm 36 and I am the founder of the band. I am totally self-taught. Hanan Avramovich, my guitarist, is 25 and studies music in Israel's leading music school and has studied music for many years before that. And Yuval Kramer, the other guitarist, is 24 years old. He has been studying music with some of Israel's top classical and jazz musicians.
Sea of Tranquility: How have the reactions to your album been so far?
EY: The reactions to Amaseffer's music so far were amazing! We didn't expect this kind of responses and feed-back from so many different people, from young "metal-heads" to 60+ classical music lovers, from very conservative to non-religious, from music-industry-veterans to mainstream music listeners... we were amazed by this and we are proud to be a part of that.
Sea of Tranquility: Most fans first heard of Amaseffer in late 2006 when it was announced that Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz was going to sing on it. Could you give us a rundown as to why Kuntz couldn't do the album?
YK: After we got the very first two songs Erez contacted Andy and offered him the lead singer part, Andy loved the concept and the music so he wanted to take part in this trilogy. We all got together in Germany in the end of 2006 to set the dates for the writing and recording sessions. After we got back to Israel, Andy's projects (Vanden Plas, Abydos and the his theater work) started taking a lot of his time and we sadly understood that Andy wouldn't be able to record his parts without exceeding Amaseffer's tight schedule. Andy is a wonderful person and we love him with all our hearts, but we all needed to see the big picture. Andy is in our hearts and souls and we know that someday we will work with him again.
Sea of Tranquility: So you hired Mats Leven. How did you find him? And will he be singing on the next two albums as well or will you use a different singer for each record?
Hanan Avramovich (HA): When the lead singer role was open, we immediately started looking for a replacement. We decided to record the album in the meantime to try to keep up with the schedule so that after the vocals would be done and we'd just have to mix everything together. We contacted a few vocalists and some have contacted us, the ones we thought suitable got the audition package (part from the song "Slaves for Life" and the lyrics to it to record their musical ideas on it) via mail. Erez contacted Mats through his website and we've sent him the files. We went to Germany to record the guitars, drums and mix the album. When we got back, we've listened to the parts and Mats was the one. It was a great experience working with Mats, a true professional. We think that each album deserves the best we can give it; we believe that Mats will sing on the entire trilogy and we know that this is what he wants to do also, but you can never know.
Sea of Tranquility: Mats Leven being involved in many projects, will his schedule allow him to tour with the band?
EY: Amaseffer won't tour any time soon so this is currently irrelevant. We have a very clear vision of what kind of a show Amaseffer will play, but it can't happen soon. One thing we can tell you is, when it will happen, it will big and unique. The main thing is to keep the original lineup as it is portrayed in the albums.
Sea of Tranquility: Slaves for Life is a concept album. What is the story about?
HA: "Slaves for Life" is the first part of a musical trilogy that tells the story of the biblical Exodus, from the beginning of the book "Exodus" till Moses' death on mount Nebo. "Slaves for Life" starts with the current situation in Egypt, times of suffering and slavery and ends with the broken Egyptian empire after the great plague.
Chapter two will start in the day of the Exodus from Egypt and finish right before Moses goes up on mount Siny to accept the Ten Commandments. The third and final part of the trilogy will start in the Ten Commandments and will end with the death of Moses and the Hebrews entering the Promised Land.
Sea of Tranquility: Are you worried that the religious overtones of the concept may turn fans off?
EY: This is not a religious album and certainly not preaching to a religious way of life. We tell a story, a marvelous story, some can find it religious, some can find it just a story. The concept is not about living a religious way of life, it's about learning what you can from these amazing stories, see what you can learn and figure out of these tales. One can learn that no matter what happens to you, God will come for you; other can learn that no matter how hopeless the situation seems, in times of misery the human spirit can do the most amazing things and so on. Therefore, we hope people will look at our music and concept in the right perspective.
Sea of Tranquility: What was the creative process of Slaves for Life like? Were all the songs ready by the time you entered the studio? Is there a main songwriter and how do you go about putting the compositions together?
YK: After we had all the material ready for the trilogy, we took the parts that could go in to the first album. Then we started the pre-production, we all entered the studio together and for 6 months we worked on the album to the point where all the orchestral parts, Arabic ensembles, oriental vocals, acted scenes, backing vocals, percussions and flutes were recorded and mixed. The three of us have the exact same part; make Amaseffer the best it can be. We're all writing music, and doing everything we can. When we have a song written by one of us, we all work on it together. Some songs were written by the three of us together, some by just two of us, and some were written by one of us.There is no ego-self-thinking in Amaseffer, the only thing that matters is the music.
Sea of Tranquility: Did you sign with Inside Out before or after recording the CD? You are their first Israeli band. How did you seal the deal with them?
EY: The album was recorded and mastered before we even started sending demos and mails to record labels. We wanted to have total creative freedom which is sometimes not possible when you are signed. We sent them the full and finished album including the artwork. It took a couple of weeks and InsideOut head of A&R, Oliver Mensing, sent us an offer. We went through it and when we got both sides' consent, we signed the contract. We are just thankful to our label, we could not think of any other company that shared the same vision as we do.
Sea of Tranquility: One other band from Israel that most metal fans know is Orphaned Land. Kobi Farhi from this group is featured on your CD. How did you hook up?
HA: In Israel, everyone knows everyone. Erez and Kobi met while we were at the beginning of the pre-production. The bond with him goes deeper then just business, he is a true friend. We wanted his voice on our album and he wanted to take part, so the connection was very natural. The recording session with him was pure joy and we cannot wait for the next sessions with him.
Sea of Tranquility: Musically speaking, your CD shares some common characteristics with Orphaned Land's Mabool. Were you influenced by them while conceiving your songs?
YK: It's hard for us to see these similarities; even the biblical approach is very different. We all love Orphaned Land's music; we all appreciate them very much. I guess that when you grow up in similar places you can sometimes find some resemblance in the music you create. It is very flattering that our music reminds you of the wonderful music of Mabool.
Sea of Tranquility: You have also asked Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow to do some of her trademark growls on one of the tunes. What prompted you to ask her to guest on your CD?
HA: Amaseffer has a total no-boundaries approach. We'll do anything for our music. In that specific part we wanted to emphasize the contrast between Mats' vocals and the possessed slave master he fights. And who on this earth can represent the Devil possessed person better then Angela Gossow? In fact, for that part, we also took Israel's most aggressive vocalist, Yotam Avni, and on the album you can hear both of them together.
Sea of Tranquility: Are the lyrics delivered by the female vocalist on the album Hebrew or some other language?
HA: Maya Avraham, a very successful Israeli vocalist, sings an ancient love song in the old Aramaic language, it is Biblical. The song is a duet between Moses and Zipporah; in order to capture the authenticity of the story we wanted her to sing in Aramaic and we think that this one came out special.
Sea of Tranquility: Will she be doing any more work with you on the upcoming releases?
HA: Absolutely! She is such an amazing vocalist. It was very hard to work on her files; because when we recorded her vocals she did 4 takes for the entire song and after she was done we needed to pick out the best one or at least the best parts. All four of them were different but yet so perfect. It was so hard leaving three of her takes out of the album but at the end of the day, we wanted only the best on our album and we are very happy with our choice.
Sea of Tranquility: You recorded the CD with Markus Teske. Did your label finance the recording or was is it your decision?
YK: We financed everything. As mentioned earlier, the album was ready before we've got in touch with InsideOut. Andy Kuntz brought us to Markus, and when we first got to Bazement Studios we knew that this is where we would record the album, some special vibe and atmosphere was in the air. Markus turned out to be one of the most professional men we have ever met. He was able to see our strong vision and to help us get it. It's not easy having three very eager musicians talking, asking, suggesting all kind of things all the time, but he was able to get the job done like no other.
Sea of Tranquility: The production is amazing. What were you aiming for and have you achieved your goals sonically?
YK: Thank you! If our goal was not achieved the album wouldn't have came out. We won't compromise on anything. We have our recording studio in Israel, so we were able to specify exactly what we were looking for. Everything but the drums, guitars and lead vocals was recorded by us at our own studio, so we were able to get it right where we wanted it. We wanted to send out one clear sonic vision, you cannot have soft violins play while your bass drum is black-metal sharp and you cannot have a deep warm snare and guitars all trebly and high pitched. All the ingredients have to sit together in a very specific way, it was a very hard job but with the help of Markus Teske we got an amazing product which we love with all our hearts. We would not change a single note on the album and we could not ask for a better result than the one we got.
Sea of Tranquility: What are some of the prog releases of 2008 you have enjoyed so far? And what are some of the band's favorite groups in general?
YK: To tell the truth, we listen more to classical music, ethnic music and film soundtracks. In the prog department we listen to Rush, Queensryche ,Opeth, Marillion, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis etc. also a lot of Jazz. We really try to be open minded regarding the music we have listening too and I think that our music is the main beneficiary.
Sea of Tranquility: Will you be touring for your album and when can we expect the sequel?
YK: As we said before Amaseffer will not tour any time soon. The second part of the trilogy will be out when it's ready, it is hard to tell a date from now but you can expect it in a year-year and a half. By the end of this year, we will start the pre-production for the next album and we expect to release it not long after. Since we have the drafts for chapter two and three ready it will not be long for the whole trilogy to come out.
Sea of Tranquility: Anything else you would like to add?
We simply want to release the best music we can. If we can touch one soul we'll know that our mission is successful, If we'll help one person think about how can he be a better man - our job is done.