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InterviewsA Fresh New Face on the Prog-Metal Scene: Hemina

Posted on Sunday, April 15 2012 @ 13:00:25 CDT by Pete Pardo
Progressive Metal

Australia isn't a country where you normally expect to hear anything relating to progressive metal, but from the 'land down under' comes this exciting band called Hemina, whose debut full-length CD Synthetic is one of the most exciting releases to come along in the genre in quite some time. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo recently caught up with vocalist/guitarist Doug Skene to talk about the band and their brand new opus, Synthetic.

SoT: Hemina is going to be a pretty new name to many progressive metal fans-can you give us a little history about the band, what you were all doing previously, and how you came together?

Doug: Well we're very much the new kid on the block with Synthetic being our first album but all of us have known each other in various senses for quite some time now. I originally came up with the idea of starting a Progressive Metal band whilst I was still playing in my other band Anubis at the time to get some of my extreme musical ideas out that don't really fit into what Anubis does. At this time it was a joint idea between a close friend of mine, Patrick Gardner and I to make some progressive music that wasn't the typical clones of Dream Theater and Symphony X that we were sick of hearing all the time (don't get me wrong here though, the band and I absolutely love those two bands). Unfortunately the music didn't quite end up being Pat's cup of tea at the beginning and I tried to find band members to fill the personnel. At the time, my long time mate Mitch Coull who I'd known to be an amazing guitarist and composer was not playing in a band at the time and I explained that I wanted to create a melodic metal band that was not simply playing what everyone else was doing at the time. I showed him some demos for 'Even in Heaven' that I'd been working on back in 2007 and he seemed keen on the style as it was something that he'd be able to contribute to. Mitch and I began working back and forth on ideas and that's essentially where our writing partnership began. A mate that I had made after attending gigs in the Australian scene was Andrew Craig, who I spoke to shortly after his band Nevetherym fell apart was looking to get involved in a Progressive Metal band. After sharing interests in bands such as Opeth, Pain of Salvation and Vanden Plas, I sent some demos to Andrew and heard back within a couple of weeks that he was keen to give Hemina a go. Finding a keyboardist was an extremely demanding job especially considering the scope of the music Hemina was creating and I remembered back to playing with Phill Eltakchi when I was in another Sydney based Progressive Metal band back in 2006-2007 called Avarin. I only got to see Phill play once but he was an instantly likeable character and a flawless player. I got in contact and he wasn't doing anything bandwise at the time and was keen to give the music a go also. Seeing as though Pat had left the band and we were looking for a bassist, Jessica Martin (my girlfriend and also originally my guitar teacher) seemed like the natural choice to fill Heminal low end. Unfortunately at the end of 2011, Andrew Craig left the band and was replaced with Mathew Irsak, who Mitch and I had known through a friend. Mat was eager to get his prog on and was the perfect replacement for Hemina's current direction.

SoT: What are some of the musical influences of the band members?

Doug: I'd like to think that we have quite an eclectic range of influences in the band with Mitch bringing some of his 80's hard rock chops and melodic sensibilities, Phill with his jazz and funk touch, Mat with his across the board abilities, Jess and I with our love of Progressive Metal and also my love for Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion.

Band wise, some of our influences are:
Dougie - Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Dream Theater, Anathema, Ayreon
Mitch - Evergrey, Symphony X, Dream Theater, Labyrinth, Dokken
Jess - Anathema, Pain of Salvation, Anubis, Voyager, Opeth
Phill - Symphony X, Kamelot, Planet X, Disturbed, Earth, Wind and Fire
Mat - Dream Theater, Led Zeppelin, Planet X, Liquid Tension Experiment, Porcupine Tree

SoT: You've released an EP previously, but Synthetic is your first full length album. Can you talk about the writing process in putting Synthetic together, and how you feel the band has grown both lyrically and musically since the EP?

Doug: One of things I think we do a lot is that to construct the basic skeletons of the songs, Mitch and I have always used guitar pro as a means of getting everything down. This has allowed us to compose on the computer and never forget any of the intricacies of our ideas (which happens from simply jamming ideas in a rehearsal room). Some of the skeletons of our songs date back as far as 2007. Over time we have added extra polish to these ideas and we slowly but surely built a whole album's worth of tracks. Our EP 'As We Know It' was an attempt for us to get some of our music out there for people to listened to whilst we planned (and saved) for our recording of 'Synthetic'. The songs naturally developed after hearing back the EP and noticing all things that we'd want to change in order to reach that higher level of professionalism. Lyrically, I feel as though I am always growing from experiencing more in life and listening to more and more music, however I am just compelled to write what I most naturally feel conjures up what my mind's eye is seeing. Musically, I think we are always getting more in touch with serving the song and not ourselves. This includes not going off on unnecessary tangents and playing to fit the mood of our music. I think most people will agree with specific reference to the EP that the songs we have re-recorded sound far better however I'm still happy with the EP for what it was, albeit it was a little "underdone". We've definitely matured a lot even since recording Synthetic especially when it comes to smarter layering and a "less is more" attitude without losing the sonic grandeur we've come to be known for.

SoT: Synthetic is a concept album-since most fans of the genre love concept albums, can you give us a little detail into the storyline for those who have yet to hear the CD?

Doug: In short the album is about an unnamed angel who is born into our modern world to a pious and religiously indoctrinated woman whose pregnancy was the product of rape. It takes the angel through life's challenges in an attempt to find belonging and meaning. It takes the angel through our world and the next illustrating the human struggles of a seemingly divine being. I guess it was my attempt at looking at destiny, self-determination, faith, love and existence among other things. I don't think specifically spelling out everything in the album is essential to the experience; fans will have to sit down with the lyrics and hear the album many times to digest it all.

More of a plot summary can be found at our website: I'd be more than happy to talk with fans about any questions regarding the concept so just post on our Facebook page or contact us through the website!

SoT: Australia isn't really an area of the world where we see new metal or prog acts coming from. What's the scene currently looking like over there?

Doug: The Australian music scene is a mixed one. I think most people would know us for acts such as AC/DC, Airbourne, Wolfmother and Jet, or within Progressive circles for our Heavy Prog scene like Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Cog, The Butterfly Effect. These bands are doing something quite unique compared to the rest of the world and of a very high caliber, however there aren't a whole lot of Progressive or Melodic metal acts. In terms of sheer metal, we have some very world renowned bands such as Mortal Sin, The Amenta, The Berzerker, and there is definitely a thriving extreme metal scene here with bands reaching varying levels of international exposure. In terms of melodic bands, there are bands like Voyager, Caligula's Horse, Arcane and Vanishing Point who are doing some amazing things with critical acclaim abound. Our prog rock scene isn't thriving in a traditional sense with majority of the scene being post-rock/indie type bands however some readers out there may have heard of my other band Anubis or perhaps the biggest "true prog" exports Unitopia on InsideOut. The scene doesn't feel like a strong place despite the musical strength of some of the front runners in the genre. I think our music would see much greater appreciation in anywhere but Australia to be honest; especially in Europe.

SoT: Synthetic contains plenty of epic moments, and a few of the songs are quite lengthy. How easy,or hard, is it to put together an extended length piece that holds the attention of the listener but still contains the musical explorations that genre fans crave?

Doug: Due to the conceptual based nature of the work, which is pretty much how I approach all music, I find that I look at all composing like that of setting the various scenes of a movie. I find that short songs naturally are that way because of the way they fit the mood, and similarly long songs are that way because of the way they serve the mood. I think the ability for a listener to keep attention comes back to the quality of the music and the context of hearing a particular song with reference to an album as a whole. It all comes back to where songs are ordered and having a general respect for dynamics. I think a lot of the epic moments come back to our approach to harmony or the chords within music and having a focus on evoking emotion. I don't see it as being easy or hard, it's just how we go about it. Having pretense or premeditation to make songs long or short kills the genuity and honesty of the music.

SoT: There are some extreme styled vocals on the album, which in spots complement the melodic vocals quite nicely. Can you talk about the decision to use harsh vocals in spots on what is otherwise a melodic & symphonic progressive metal album?

Doug: One of the things I love about Metal and specifically Progressive Metal is the infinite range of choices one can make from the lightest of whisper of a violin to the most menacing of bile- churning growls. I see the growls as an extension of the dynamics and emotion of our music to the most primal level. As with anything, an effect is best felt when used in moderation to contrast to the normal or expected. Extreme-styled vocals will only ever be used in moderation when we feel that the music needs to be taken over that line of dynamics. At the core of all music to me is melody and I would never use these vocal techniques where it compromised the melodic nature of our music. Too often, I am frustrated when bands overuse growls for the sake of it. When growls are used tastefully (I think Devin Townsend is the best executor of this), I think it bring music to level of a quality that is simply pure emotion. I hope that fans of progressive rock and other music genres can appreciate the sparing use of these extreme styled vocals on 'Synthetic' and hear their purpose.

SoT: Does the band have any touring plans to support Synthetic?

Doug: 'Synthetic' actually had a much earlier release in Australia (October 2011) and we have already toured most of the capital cities of Australia in support of Synthetic. We got to play with Arcane, Voyager and Caligula's Horse, which was a great experience. We are currently rehearsing with our new drummer Mat to bring our stage show to a new level and we're definitely open to any local and international touring in the future depending on the opportunities that arise.

SoT: What are some current bands on the scene that you all admire and follow?

Doug: Well as I mentioned there are some wonderful melodic bands that play in Australia at the moment. I think I could unanimously say that we are all pretty crazy about our fellow Aussies Voyager and their spectacular music and stage show. Their album 'The Meaning of I' was an absolute beast and we're surely very proud to be from the same country as this great band.

Definitely keep an eye out on Arcane, Anubis and Caligula's Horse too. We've also taken a big liking to the groove based of 'Djent' bands that are playing nowadays like Tesseract, Meshuggah and Periphery - What a sound! Groundbreaking bands like Leprous and Haken are also taking my fancy!

SoT: If you could go out on a 'triple threat' tour with 2 other bands, old or new, active or retired, who would they be and why?

Doug: I think Pain of Salvation and Voyager would be the ultimate tour to go out on. Pain of Salvation just for their pure musical brilliance and all out emotional outpour and Voyager because they are probably the best live band I have ever seen. Both bands would keep us on our toes to play a great show too! I couldn't think of a better feeling than to play with my musical heroes and also with such great friends all over the world. That would be simply unbelievable!

SoT: Now that Synthetic is out, how happy are you with the release, and what does the next, say 2 years look like for the band?

Doug: We're all extremely pleased with the positive press we have received for the album (especially from your site!) and it's great to get a pat on the back for all the hard work that was put into this album since its genesis. There are things album the album that we'd like to be different but I think that every artist would be the same with that. I think personally that the album is a great time capsule for what Hemina was in 2011. In the next 2 years we will have our follow up to 'Synthetic' called 'Venus' out and we're looking at getting Jens Bogren to do the mix and master so expect a huge sounding release. I think people can look forward to the sound of 'Synthetic' with bigger riffs and more powerful and prominent bass and drums. We're also hoping that we may get a chance to leave our shores to share our music in this time. Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview.

Pete Pardo

(Click here to read our review of Synthetic)

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