Not many debut EP's really make a big impact on the metal scene. However with Fragments, Shattered Destiny have created an eclectic, ambitious, conceptual piece, that throughout its four tracks consistently changes attack - challenging you to keep up. If you can last the pace the rewards begin to reveal themselves in many different ways - some of which are refreshingly interesting takes on long established genres. Add to that the collected talents of Mark Zonder, Martin Brandstrom, Joacim Cans, Pontus Norgren, and Jens Bogren, who all contribute to Fragments in one form or another and you really do have an EP that deserves to be taken seriously. With a full length release also in the offing, Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid managed to pin down Shattered Destiny vocalist and mainman JJ long enough to find out more…
Hi JJ, thanks for taking the time to talk to Sea of Tranquilityyou formed Shattered Destiny at the start of 2011, can you tell me a bit about how you hooked up with the other guys in the band?
Up until 2011 the project had only existed as a one man band. After discussing things with some friends I really wanted to make it a full-fledged band - Shattered Destiny. I had been searching for the right guitarist for some time when a friend recommended Roman [Guryev]. I already knew Roman and just had not thought to see if he was interested. After we met and realized we had the same goals for the band, I knew he was a perfect fit. We then filled out rest of the band with mutual friends of mine and Roman's. Our originally drummer was American guy, but he was let go shortly before the recording of our debut EP Fragments.
So, how does a new band like yourselves manage to convince a respected drummer like Mark Zonder of Fates Warning and Warlord to play on your debut release?
Since we were without a drummer so close to the recording sessions I knew I had to get a world class talent in order to complete the recordings in so little time. I had a couple people in mind but Mark was top of the list so I gave him a call. After listening to the demos he agreed that he could get the EP done in the timeframe we needed and that he would be interested in being part of the recording!
JJ, you're based in the US, but the band all come from Europe. Did that cause any problems when it came to putting the songs together, or demoing tracks, before you went in to record them?
No, not at all. I travel to Europe frequently and during the in between times we all communicate over the internet. The band practices together in Europe when I am not there and all together when I am. Since I write everything, I send a demo version of the songs over to Roman, who then works on the solos and provides feedback. The rest of the band has input as well but it is primarily myself and Roman. We all talk on a daily basis so it's no different than being in the same city really.
So did you all get together to record Fragments, or was it done via file sharing over the net?
The recording of the drums was done by file sharing since Mark recorded them in his own studio. The raw guitar tracks were recorded in Moscow while I was there and everything else was recorded in Gothenberg, Sweden. Before the recording sessions all the demos were sent via the internet and ideas went back and forth and we had many discussions by Skype, but we all felt it was best to be together for the actual recording sessions.
It's good to hear of a release still being recorded the "old fashioned way"! Mark isn't the only high profile name connected with the band though, with the EP being produced by Martin Brandstrom (Dark Tranquillity) and Joacim Cans (Hammerfall), mixed by one of the best in the business - Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall) and mastered by Jens Bogren (Amon Amarath/Opeth). Had you worked with any of these guys before?
Jens I had not worked with before at all, but I respect his work and felt he would be an excellent fit for the album. The other guys are personal friends and the band came to fruition due to Joacim and Martin's encouragement. In addition to the fact that I greatly respect their professional abilities, that was the reason I asked them to be part of the project.
Was it a little daunting to be working alongside guys who are amongst the best in the business at what they do?
Extremely daunting! It was surprisingly nerve wrecking and this was made even more stressful because of our personal relationship. It was a great experience still and for the full length we will be more prepared. I am extremely grateful for their patience and expertise.
Now I believe that the initial ideas for your songs and lyrics came from some music that you were working on for a movie idea, or a soundtrack. How did this evolve into what we hear on Fragments?
That's true, I was working on music for a screenplay and one of the pieces developed into more of a straight forward song. I let some friends hear this demo and they encouraged me to take it into a full band. I then took the screenplay and adapted it into song lyrics that made up the entire story. There are another seven songs which are completed and of course the four we selected for the EP. Welcome is the first song of the story and Epilogue is the last. The other two tracks on Fragments occur during the middle of the story.
"Welcome" is the introduction to the story. The main character is being admitted into a prison hospital. He is remembering horrific events and does not know if these are acts he did or witnessed. On the other side, the song is about life and that point in life when you realize you are not protected anymore. When we realize we are no longer invincible and that there are many obstacles to overcome. Time becomes meaningless amidst the struggle of daily life and no one really ever prepares you for this. I think it is something everyone experiences at some point in life.
"Deceitful Heart" find's the main character remembering the tragic event that led him to be in the prison. I don't want to give away too much of the story since it is much better experienced in its entirety, as it will be on the album. The other focus of this song is guilt, especially guilt over death or loss of some kind. We tend to blame ourselves for the death of loved ones - the overwhelming sense that something we could have done would have prevented this from happening. This sense of guilt can consume every thought and drive people into a horrible state. Also it points out that we often believe what we want to believe, especially where love is involved. The main character is struggling with these emotions and seeking an answer to the guilt that is destroying him inside.
"Oblivion" is the trial of the main character. By this point he has realized that he is assumed to be guilty even though he keeps providing evidence to the contrary. He is calling the mass media and his peers, fools who walk into oblivion simply because they want to seem like everyone else. On the outside it's a song about conformity and not thinking for yourself. There are large groups of people who are so desperate to be part of something bigger they are literally "searching for something to believe in". It is not meant to attack any specific group of people but to question why we do what we do. Are our actions being done because we truly desire them or are they forced by society?
"Epilogue" – This song is a tribute to one of my favorite song writers. The lyrics should give this away so I won't say who. This is the conclusion of the story. The protagonist and antagonist meet, both knowing the truth and seek resolution. A decision needs to be made and the gunshot concludes the story. This song came from frustration about people who refuse to commit to anything. If you believe in something, whatever it is you should pursue it with all of your passion and heart. "Drowning in the Rubicon" refers directly to what happens if you don't commit to your actions. It also points out that there are always consequences to those actions and we must live with them forever.
The cover art also seems to be linked to the story concept. Who was it who designed and created the cover for the EP?
I designed the basic concept and created a pencil sketch. Niklas Sundin, being the genius that he is, took that and created the final piece of beauty you see on the cover.
Now, as we've mentioned there are only four songs on Fragments, but I can't begin to tell to explain how many styles, or genres have been covered in those four tracks! There's everything from thrash and speed metal to prog and extreme metal, with some more traditional and power metal flavours thrown in for good measure. How would you describe the Shattered Destiny sound?
The remaining songs are also quite diverse. I like to call Shattered Destiny progressive power thrash. I did not want to be locked into a genre, especially because Shattered Destiny will always create concept pieces. I feel the music needs to be able to change in order to direct the emotion and feeling of the story along with the lyrics. I listen to many styles of music and I wanted to just write without boundaries. I think that because I write the music to tell the emotion of the story, this results in the variation on styles.
The musical approach is certainly ever-changing and pleasingly different. However, I hope you don't mind me saying, your vocal approach on the album is very unique. The vocal melodies and even some of the keys you've chosen to sing in, aren't always exactly what you'd expect. What was the motivation behind approaching the vocals in such an unusual manner?
I do tend to write in strange keys - Roman constantly bugs me about this. Some of this came from writing the vocal lines on keyboards. The recording of Fragments taught me so much about how vocals work that some of these things will change for the full-length release. The vocals were recorded in a tight time frame as well, but the goal of the delivery method was to be more reminiscent of a musical. The raw emotion of the lyrics was important and I wanted to make sure the voice matched the feeling. I feel that both those who like the vocals and those who are on the fence will be more than pleased with the results we will achieve on the full-length.
Once I had lived with Fragments for a while, I actually found the vocals to work remarkably well with the music. However I do wonder if your more "off the wall" style will possibly, initially, put-off potential fans of the band?
Sure it will. But also anything different or new has that risk. I also think that because of who was involved many people forget that this is our first recording. As I said some things could have been done better, but overall we are happy with what came out and we aim to perfect what we started with the album.
So how has the fan and critic reaction been to Fragments so far?
We have gathered over 3000 fans on facebook so far, which is good considering we haven't done live shows yet. Critical reaction has been very good; especially considering it is only an EP. I think many people are just not sure what to make of it because we combine so many styles. Overall, we are very happy with the critic and fan response.
I detect an aspect of Helloween in your music, but I even hear bands as diverse as The Cardiacs in the vocals. With so many styles and approaches on this EP, I have to ask if you could share your musical influences with us please?
Helloween was the first metal band I heard and liked and it goes without saying we have influences from Dark Tranquillity and Hammerfall. I would say that the other bands that have a strong influence on my writing are Rage, Kreator, Dream Theater, Goblin, Gamma Ray and Death.
So the band haven't played any live shows yet, do you have any lined?
We have had some offers for one off shows but I think we are going to wait for the release of the full-length and then get on a tour as an opener. Since travel is required, a string of dates supporting a full-length release just makes the most sense although we have practiced a full set together several times now and are prepared for shows. We also want to get across the story as much as possible in the live setting.
Is there anything else you can tell us about the full length release that's in the pipeline?
The full length has eleven tracks plus a cover song. This will tell the entire story and of course is musically diverse just as the EP is. We are currently working with labels to find the best home for Shattered Destiny and our full-length release. We hope to release it in Early 2013 and start touring right after.
(Click here to read our review of Fragments)