Michael Popke discusses, phorcefulAhead, one of the most surprising metal releases of the year so far, with Symphorce founder Andy B. Franck.
What a refreshing change to hear quality power metal without the stereotypical power-metal lyrics about dragons and battles. phorcefulAhead, the third album from Germany's Symphorce and the band's first on Metal Blade Records, draws heavily from the Queensr˙che book of songwriting, addressing introspective topics without sacrificing muscle, integrity or melody. A stellar example is "Your Blood, My Soul" — I know, it's a typical power-metal title, but bear with me — which is propelled by tight riffs, a fast but not galloping rhythm section, a huge and memorable chorus, and intelligent lyrics ("In the dust of past mistakes/Of tears and cold heartaches/Cold skin clings to my face/Spend my days without a trace").
And so it goes on much of phorcefulAhead. Singer Andy B. Franck (who used to front the now-defunct progressive-metal outfit Ivanhoe and now divides his time between Symphorce and the more fantasy-fueled Brainstorm) and guitarist Cedric "Cede" Dupont (also with Freedom Call) ditch the influences of their other bands and forge a distinct Symphorce sound, which began taking shape on 1999's Truth to Promises and was furthered on 2000's Sinctuary.
Michael Popke caught up with a downright giddy and confident Franck to find out just how the hell Symphorce managed to land a spot on the first draft of the writer's best-of-2003 list.
Sea of Tranquility: Is this the first official U.S. release for the band?
Andy B. Franck: Yes – sad but true. Our old record label [Noise] never did anything for us, so it was sad that after fantastic reviews worldwide for Truth to Promises and Sinctuary they never released the albums over there. But what can I do or say? We're proud that the new stuff is now available in the States.
SoT: How did the deal with Metal Blade come about, and for how many albums is the deal?
Franck: We never had real support from Noise. They always wanted us to sound more like Stratovarius. But hey, we're Symphorce – nothing else! Accept our music and learn to deal with it. I was really pissed off after I found out that our last album came into the stores five weeks after its release. The fans must have the chance to buy every album. I signed a four-album deal with Metal Blade, so there are more CDs to come. And, hey, we're happy so far.
SoT: Did you approach phorcefulAhead differently than previous albums by Symphorce, Ivanhoe, Freedom Call or Brainstorm?
Franck: Oh, yes! Symphorce is much more open-minded than Freedom Call or Brainstorm. Ivanhoe was something completely different, but with Symphorce, our fans are really open-minded. That allows us to experiment, to use modern keyboard sounds and loops. It is and always will be metal, but it's metal for 2003. We love it. But I also love being a part of Brainstorm.
SoT: I think it's refreshing to hear a progressive and symphonic power-metal band that doesn't load its albums with references to battles and dragons and mythology. Was that intentional, especially considering the lyrical themes of Brainstorm and Freedom Call?
Franck: The difference between Brainstorm and Symphorce is just that Symphorce's lyrics are much more psychological and also have many religious themes. In Brainstorm, I mostly try to write about things that have happened in life and historical things. To be honest, I've never been a real big fan of dragons or any kind of mythology. If anything, I'm more into science fiction. But that's not something I want to write about, either. I always try to make my music and lyrics sound different from other bands.
SoT: How does the band balance having two guys in other bands – you in Brainstorm and "Cede" in Freedom Call?
Franck: It's no big deal. For example, now I'm totally focused on the new Symphorce stuff. After writing songs, recording and producing the new material and then doing the promotion, we'll hopefully go on tour soon. [Symphorce have a series of gigs slated for spring and summer in Europe, but nothing in North America as of this writing.] After that, I'll start practicing for the next Brainstorm album, which will be released in June. Having both bands on the same label is really cool. We can always take care of the schedule so everyone knows what band is doing what and when. There's always enough time to give 100 percent to either band. That's really important, otherwise I would be lying to the fans, and I'll never do that. Metal is about honesty, it's real.
SoT: I think the three bonus demo tracks on phorcefulAhead ("Where Night Returns," "Force Fed" and "In Times of Grief") are as strong as the 10 other songs on the disc. Why didn't you guys just finish those up and include them as official tracks?
Franck: (Laughing) This is so strange – everyone asks that. But hey, those are just the demo versions of three songs that are already included on the album. They just have different arrangements and different vocal lines and lyrics. That's all. But it's so bizarre. Fans always want us to play the demos songs live, so we might play three songs twice an evening – just in different versions. This just shows that our songs are not just good when they're well-produced. Our songs are heavy and catchy enough to sound good in their demo versions.
SoT: Symphorce's lineup had some changes early on. Are you satisfied with the current lineup? Is this first time the current lineup has recorded together?
Franck: Yes! And I can tell you, it's really fantastic working with these guys. Granted, it's my band, but what can I do without the others? It looks strange that we had some lineup changes, but writing songs is still up to [longtime bassist] Dennis Wohlbold,
Cedric and me. With guitarist Markus Pohl and drummer Sascha Sauer, I really think we have the best lineup ever, and we all can't wait to go on tour. Everyone in the band wants the same thing – to play as many shows as possible and to record the best metal possible. We love our music, and I'm really proud to say that everyone in the band rips off his ass for the band! It's fantastic to have those guys in the band, and believe me, you will see what I'm talking about when we play live.
SoT: What's next? Tours? Outside projects? Solo album? An Ivanhoe reunion?
Franck: Oh no, Symphorce is my band, so there's no need to record a solo
album. Ivanhoe? No. We didn't split as friends. I also think all the other members of Ivanhoe have stopped making music. But if not, for me there's still no reason to think
about a reunion. I love Symphorce and Brainstorm.