After a four-year hiatus, Bulgaria's greatest progressive metal titans Pantommind have arrived with their monstrous sophomore release, Lunasense. Replete with blazing guitar work, phenomenal vocals, intricate arrangements, and remarkable songwriting traits, the new album even surpasses the amazing debut. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Murat Batmaz talked to Pantommind's drummer Drago about the new record, the reason for changing labels, the prog metal scene in the Balkans, the band's non-prog influences, and so much more.
Read on for the full interview.
SoT: Your debut album Shade of Fate came out in 2005 and we had to wait four years for Lunasense. Why did it take so long?
Drago: There were some internal and mostly external factors, which slowed down the whole process overall. Right after the release of Shade of Fate, Pantommind was completely ignored and scammed by the label Lucretia Records and its owner, Lorenzo Deho, a person who does not even deserve our contempt. All of our expectations and dreams were crushed, and with no one's help we were on the road to break apart and no longer function as a band. But time passed by and with help from real friends who really believed in us we were able to record and create our next album Lunasense. Four years of hard work step by step, hundreds of sleepless hours of rehearsals and recordings, we finally made it, and believe me it was worth it.
SoT: When you say, "scammed" by Lucretia Records, what exactly do you mean?
Drago: Initially, we did sign a contract solely with Lucretia Records for the release and worldwide distribution of Shade of Fate. After we gave him all the rights, the owner of Lucretia Records, Lorenzo Deho, did everything possible to keep us in total ignorance on the sales and promotion (which wasn't even done properly). Ultimately, he was not even pleased to send the band the royalties or anything he owed. Shortly after a few months after we tried to contact him with no result, the so-called "label" Lucretia announced bankruptcy and we never heard from its owner again.
SoT: You've released the new album independently. Why did you part ways with Sensory?
Drago: Right from the start I would like to make a correction the album Lunasense is released by the American label Spectastral Records and we cannot express our gratitude for the attention, honesty, all of the effort and the work they have put in process of releasing and distributing this album worldwide. About Sensory, we do not want to comment on this because we actually never had any relations in the past with this label (except US distribution of Shade of Fate) and as of now they are just a partner in the distribution of Lunasense.
SoT: I didn't know Sensory was just distributing your CDs. Weren't you actually discovered by Sensory?
Drago: This label just signed up a sub-licensing contract with Lucretia for the rights to distribute the debut album in North America with 2 exclusive bonus tracks included, but at the end, we never received a penny from anyone of either label. For five years Shade of Fate has been sold on many online and physical music stores and it was painful to see that we were not able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. To all bands out there, check out the labels before you give the rights of your work to them. Make sure they are honest and the contracts are legitimate.
SoT: To someone who's familiar with Shade of Fate but not your new disc, how would you describe it? How does it differ from the debut?
Drago: First I would like to point the fuller sound of the new album, compared to Shade of Fate. Then I think also it does have more dynamics; it is heavier and truly progressive. Overall, I believe Lunasense rates higher in every aspect compared tp our previous album and I think this should be a natural progression of any band with every one of their following works: showing more professionalism in composing, executing and bettering the production of future albums.
SoT: Tell us about the writing process of the new CD. How were the tunes put together?
Drago: Most compositions on Lunasense were written just after the release of Shade of Fate during 2005. For the first time we played four of the new songs in our concert with Helloween in 2006. Our main mastermind is the very talented guitarist, Pete Christ. About eighty percent of the album is his music and composure. The rest of the musicians in the band complete the adder twenty percent. When Pete comes to rehearsal he brings along the general ideas of the music for the new song, and we help put the pieces together with our best efforts by using all of our unique and creative talents
I don't know how it works exactly but this model is perfect for us and we have the results to prove it. Although sometimes we grab each other at the neck and argue over musical fragment, I would never say that Pete is a dictator and wants only his way to be "the way." But we all know as the saying goes that to be a genius is a great thing but also sometime a burden (laughs). Well we usually forgive him and so far we are together already fourteen years and going strong.
SoT: What are the album's strongest tunes in your opinion and why?
Drago: My favorite song is "Sandglass." It has a comprehensive style, which exhausts the concept of "progressive metal" in a clean form, without the unnecessary, fake and artificially glued elements and endless changes in the rhythm. The chorus is the most memorable and the lyrics further more contribute to the shaping of the entire composition. My desire is to infuse the creation of more songs of this type in our future work. The other piece I always liked is "To the Days of Old" - perhaps because of the brilliant duet performance of Colleen Gray and Tony Ivan and the beautiful keyboard refrain. My dark side has a third favorite - "Wolf": a song taken from the darkest debris; suitable for a soundtrack to a vampire movie.
SoT: On Lunasense the level of guitar playing seems to have increased greatly. There is also more guitar work in the arrangements. Was that a deliberate decision?
Drago: Not really, it is just in the process of creating these album things slowly unveil heavier sounds and we really liked that and therefore it was better presented with more of guitars work and not so much keyboards.
SoT: Sunny X's symphonic keyboards are subordinated to guitars on most of the songs except for "To the Days of Old." How did this song come about?
Drago: We work as follows - when the song requires more keyboards, we add more. If a guitar is good and we feel everything is in place then we live it as it is. It is not good to overload just because it must have keyboards. To get back with "To the Days of Old," without keyboard parts the song sounds dry and shrunken ... that is why we decided to add more of. Therefore in "Blank" keys are only used at the chorus so the song sounds strong and solid.
SoT: The most progressive tune on the CD is arguably "Sandglass," which recalls a more progged-out Black Sabbath right down to the vocals. Are you guys influenced by non-prog bands as well?
Drago: Everything starts and ends with Black Sabbath.... the Alpha and Omega in metal music! This group has become an institution and they influence us all in great extent. It is sad that recently the media chooses to target these artists and only displays the quarrel and strife for the rights, titles and money ... but avoiding the positive. Maybe those are the rules of the business, when fame and money becomes more important than the music and perhaps people begin to show their greed, malice and jealousy ... There are many examples, but I think I strayed from the question dammit
SoT: What is your take on the reformed Heaven & Hell? Have you heard their album?
Drago: Yes I have, but actually I don't really like Sabbath with Dio. However, the album is good.
SoT: Which era of Black Sabbath do you like best?
Drago: The Tony Martin era of course. He brings his performances in such passion and fervor that I continue to bristle every time I hear "When Death Calls" or "Kill in the Spirit World"!
SoT: What are your favorite Sabbath albums?
Drago: Headless Cross, Tyr, and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Another great band that affected us immensely is Savatage, and especially Jon Oliva. I could also add Tangerine Dream, Dio, King Diamond, Memento Mori, Vangelis - names without which Pantommind never would have sounded like this.
SoT: Savatage is perhaps my all-time favorite band as well. Do you have any favorites?
Drago: My favourites keep changing between Savatage and Psychotic Waltz, but as you said ... probably Savatage it is.
SoT: Are you also a fan of Jon Oliva's Pain?
Drago: Absolutely yes! In general, wherever present Mr.Oliva's band brings a unique character to a great extent and due to his personality, I believe.
SoT: Back to your new record. Are you pleased with the production on Lunasense?
Drago: See, you can always wish for more, and I think that there are no bands to tell if they are 100% satisfied with the most of outcome. There is always something that could be done better. Despite everything, I can say that I am much more satisfied with the production of Lunasense, rather than that of Shade Of Fate. I think also that we did have much more time to elaborate on the details and "fine tune" of this new album and that shows at the firs time you listen it. As far as the artwork, things are also much better, hoping the trend would be maintained in the future.
SoT: Colleen Gray guests on the album. How did you hook up? Will you be working with her again in the future or any other guests?
Drago: Colleen Gray is a great performer, songwriter and lyricist and I am very happy that we were able to work with her on this project. One day surfing the Internet I accidentally found her site, where I heard some great music and songs written and performed by her. I immediately sent her an e-mail, by asking whether she would wants to record backup vocals on one of our songs. Colleen called us the next day and told us that it will be a pleasure to work with us and so
there it was "To the Days of Old. " We sent her the raw material with the original idea that she would perform only a few phrases and backup vocals, but after several weeks she returned a brand new song, completely with her vocals.... We were amazed by the outcome and left the song with her main vocal. Therefore our vocalist Tony sang one part and a few backup vocals (laughs), so things got quite different, but I think a great way! We will certainly work with her again.
SoT: Are there any plans to guest other singers on future albums?
Drago: Yes, it would be interesting ... as long as they do not ask for a lot of money (laughs).
SoT: Who would you like to sing on a Pantommind disc the most?
Drago: Jon Oliva, Devon Graves, and Ray Alder.
SoT: Let's talk a bit about the progressive music scene in Bulgaria. The only other band I know of is Mystica. Are you familiar with them?
Drago: Yes, we know each other and we even have the intention to do a joint concert at some point. I do correspond with their drummer Antonio who is also friend of mine. In addition to that, there are two or three bands we know that are trying to create some progressive sounds, but it would be far fetched to say that there is a big "progressive-stage" in Bulgaria. Most of the bands here prefer other fields of expression - hardcore, heavy metal, alternative ... There are a lot of bands that play very extreme metal, but I personally am not familiar with this style and I cannot comment.
SoT: Are you going to tour on Lunasense at all?
Drago: Honestly we would love to do that, but at this point it is better to wait for the right time with the right people on the right place especially with the crisis and everything that is going on in the world which ultimately affect us too. Not so soon, but yes we are going to do this and it will be announced when the time comes.
SoT: Have you started gathering ideas for a third disc yet? If so, I hope it won't take another four years for it go get released.
Drago: This time things are moving much faster and we will begin recordings for the new album end of this summer or early autumn.
SoT: What direction will you guys be pursuing on it musically?
Drago: I am convinced that the new materials will be heavier and more melodic, but also it will keep its unique composition and Pantommind sound, so it will always sound like Pantommind!
SoT: What are some of your favourite prog releases of the last couple of years?
Drago: This year, the very nice surprise for me was the new Riverside - In my opinion this is the most hard and progressive album of this polish band. Seventh Wonder and Hourglass also made good albums too. To admit honestly, lately I do not really listen to a lot of progressive ... Somehow this style become totally exhausted in a very short period of time and most bands began to sound with out any uniqueness. Personally in my opinion the first pure progressive-metal album remains Rage for Order of Queensryche, and lastly Dream Theater's Awake. Within the period of those eight years the most incredible albums of this genre were produced, which to this day they remain as "books" for young groups.
SoT: Tell us what you think about the following bands.
--Tool Experimental and Brilliant
--Opeth - Distinctive
--Mastodon Quirkiness Rule!
--Fates Warning Intelligent Elegance
--Psychotic Waltz Strange Minded Society
--Pain of Salvation - Eccentricity
--Vanden Plas Painstaking and Complex
--Dream Theater - Put everything from above together and you have a little bit of Dream Theater. These guys are not from this world.
SoT: What three prog bands would Pantommind fans dig most in your opinion?
Drago: Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, and Psychotic Waltz.
SoT: What are your plans for the immediate future?
Drago: Well for this question I will have to give out a little secret. We are already gathering in the studio and we've begun the recording of several acoustic versions of our most creative songs from our past albums. It will certainly be surprise for all of our fans and especially for a much wider group of listeners this time. You will be amazed by the outcome. These unplugged versions will be issued separately as a bonus disc, but that will be decided and announced later.
The material for the next album is already half way written, and by the end of the year 2009 we will begin the recordings for our next project. Now since the band have the full support from our label and I think this time our fans wound have to wait so long. Keep checking the news on our web site we update regularly.
SoT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Drago: We want to thank to all of our fans and people who had support us by buying our albums instead of downloading the torrent files. This is the biggest help that we need in order to continue to produce more music and be able to perform live.
Thank you for this interview and for the enormous support over the years.
(Click here to read our reviews of Lunasense)