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: www.hemina.com.au
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
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
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.
(Click here to read our review of Synthetic)