2008 saw the release of Equilibrio, an adventurous symphonic metal concept album/prog-metal rock opera from Dutch band Xystus. Available on Sensory Records, Equilibrio is a sweeping blend of progressive metal, symphonic rock, prog, and classical music, that features some special guest stars like Simone Simons of Epica, George Osthoek of Delain, Dutch theater veterans Michelle Splietelhof and John Vooijs, a 30 member choir, and the 60 piece Utrechtsch Studenten Concert Orchestra. Xystus drummer Ivo van Dijk spoke to Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo about the massive project that became Equilibrio!
SoT: Equilibrio is a pretty grandiose affair-can you talk about the idea behind the project, how it all came to life, and how much time the writing and recording process took?
Ivo: Equilibrio began as an idea in a rehearsal room.. Well, not the Xystus rehearsal room to be exact but that of another band I played in for a while. One of the cello players
was head of the board of the orchestra at that time, and they were looking for a project
to celebrate their 185 years in existence (which was in 2008). We talked about it and got
the idea to do something together. At first we had in mind to play some Xystus songs
from our previous album "Surreal", but after talking it through with the band, we decided
to make it into a concept. This whole idea grew from than on, and everybody just blurted
out every wild idea they could think of, ending up with a full blown musical, in costume,
with dancers and so on....
The writing process took a little less than a year. We had al sorts of idea when it came
to musical themes, and decided to make a theme for each character. The recording process was a totally different story. We recorded all vocals and band parts in my and Joris' (synth player) studio, and did the orchestra in one of the most well know recording halls in Holland, the MCO studio's in Hilversum. This took about 4 days to do so. It was
a hell of a job but fortunately we had a good engineer. Furthermore, we also mixed the
album ourselves, and that also took up a lot of time. We recorded every instrument
separately, so we had to manage over 200 tracks to mix, which was a big challenge for us I can say!
SoT: Much like the Ayreon releases, Equilibrio brings to the fold a host of singers, the Utrechtsch Studenten Concert Orchestra, and the musicians of Xystus. Is it difficult bringing together such a star studded group, and did everything work to the utmost of your expectations?
Ivo: At first it felt impossible, and we had many different lengthy talks with all different
parties involved. It wasn't until the first complete rehearsal that everyone (besides the
band itself off course) actually understood what was going on both music and story-telling wise. We also hadn't see all the dancers and choirs in action at that moment, and that was alsoa big surprise for us.
We were very pleased with the way things went, and we think that from an artistic point of view, things couldn't have really been done better!
SoT: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band, and your musical influences?
Ivo: Bas (vocals and guitars) and I have known each other since we were 12 or so. We both got interested in music when we were 16 and had our first instrument when we were 17. Since 2000 we actually started playing with a band a bit more serious (a school friend and my brother joined at that time), and in 2003 we started recording our first album: Receiving Tomorrow, which was released in 2004. Right before the release Bob Wijtsma (guitars joined) and the other 2 members left somewhere in the end of 2006, so we ended up with Joris on synths and Mark Brekelmans on bass guitar. We are very confident with this line-up and are happy we shared the Equilibrio experience together.
SoT: How has the reaction been so far from fans and critics, both from the metal and progressive rock ends of the spectrum?
Ivo: Most reactions have been really positive, and of course a lot of people are surprised
we managed to get this project of the ground without the help of a label, since it was
an expensive happening as you might imagine.
I've read some reviews that stated that the album isn't metal enough, and I agree!
It's not a metal album, and if you look at it like that, you are missing the big picture here.
But that's fine with me, I understand not everyone reads up on the albums they review.
SoT: Are there any plans to do any live work in support of the CD?
Ivo: Of course, we did the big live shows in July of 2008 which has also been released on DVD recently. We are hoping to do more Equilibrio shows in the future and are always working on getting more shows and going abroad. Unfortunately this is our first album which was released outside of the Netherlands, otherwise it would probably have been easier to get more shows, but we are working on it!
SoT: How did you hook up with Ken Golden and Sensory/Lasers Edge?
Ivo: Ken carried our previous 2 albums "Receiving Tomorrow" and 2007's "Surreal".
He contacted our ex-label to see whether he could get some copies of "Equilibrio".
They forwarded the mail to us, and we actually made a deal within a week or so. We did some phone-calls and mailed each other a lot, and it seemed to click, so the deal was made!
SoT: Something as conceptual and bombastic as Equilibrio will certainly be a hard act to follow-have you begun to think about the follow up to this majestic album?
Ivo: Yes and this will most definitely be a band-only album. It is great to work which such a big group, have so many people playing your music. But it took up so much time and energy, before we could something like that again, we need to recharge the battery and just be the five of us first... We do tend to expand our musical border yet again and have a lot of great ideas for future project the likes of Equilibrio, but first a "normal" band album.
SoT: Are there any current bands/acts that you follow and admire?
Ivo: Yep, I love Kamelot, Symphony X and Nightwish. All of them (read: Thomas, Michael and Tuomas) are great songwriters. And the albums usually have great productions and lastibility. They have been great sources of inspiration for me in the past and will
probably be one in the future. Of course I also follow the Dutch bands like
Epica, After Forever (too bad they broke up ), Delain etc.
SoT: Though Equilibrio is best taken as a whole, are there any tracks that you are especially pleased with that stand out for you?
Ivo: I am proud of the song "The traveller" since it was the first song I wrote and which had set the course for the total sound of the album. Besides that there is a non-album track (which can be found on the DVD) called "The balance crumbles", which has a great drive in it which tends to get the listener headbanging.
SoT: How would you describe the music of Xystus for someone who has never heard the band before?
Ivo: That's a tough one, because the sound on Equilibrio wouldn't be the Xystus sound per se. Xystus is a combination of progressive, melodic and symphonic metal, within the 3 minute solo or 12 minute epic songs. I tend to stick to a more simple songwriting scheme.Best comparison would be Kamelot, but some disagree with me on that. I don't really like describing my own music. I'd rather have people listen to it and let them
decide what they wish to call it! As long as they don't call it gangsta rap... that would just be.. you know... "wrong" !
(Click here to read our review of Equilibrio)