Hi Marco and welcome to Grande Rock webzine. Congrats on your new album “The Wonders Still Awaiting”. It’s really amazing. It’s has been added to Grande Rock’s “Gems” category already!
M: Thank you so much! This is a big honour; we are very happy about this overwhelming feedback that we get! It’s truly wonderful…
What has happened these 6 years between your previous album and the new one?
M: First the band took a break for some time, which was very good to sort out thoughts and feelings about everything. And also, to break free from the business side of it for a while, which had started to go in wrong ways. I needed to take a distance from it to figure how I’ll be able to pursue my musical vision in the future in a way I can do it free from negative influences. In the end, I decided I need a complete fresh start for that. And at that time, I also started to write new music.
Hence, how do you feel that the new album “The Wonders Still Awaiting” is finally out? Was it worth the wait?
M: There was no “wait” really, as a lot of things needed to happen before this new album could be made. The changes that needed to be made in the environment of Xandria for that just took that much of a time.
Xandria has a completely new line-up. So, tell us how easy or not was to find the new members and to work with them for the first time?
M: It was a bit of a mission of course, but in the end, I had these great musicians together, who are also really great people. We enjoy time together a lot and we are always looking forward to the next thing we do together.
Finding a talented singer like Ambre is not that easy these days. Do you believe Ambre can assist Xandria in moving forward and reaching new heights?
M: Ambre has a very beautiful voice, and not just with a lot of emotional expression and character, but also this amazing diversity. She can even growl and in addition to her normal style also produce that “operatic” sound when needed, so for me as a songwriter this is just wonderful.
How did you approach songwriting for the new album this time?
M: I was just letting the ideas flow and go wherever they needed to. I did not want to limit myself by having some picture in mind of how it has to sound in the end. This way the new album became very diverse, and very natural. There are a lot of my musical influences in there, it is a true work of pure passion for music. I put everything in it that I love and that felt right, even when it wasn’t something that first comes to mind as “typical” for us. But Xandria is my playground for all the things I like in music, so it’s not my goal to stick to being “typical” anyway. And I think it made this album very special.
Who had the bright idea to include Greek lyrics on the song “Astèria”. Did Ambre write lyrics for some songs as well?
M: Ambre is half Greek, so she came up with that and she was also writing the lyrics for this song and about half of the other songs. We were talking about our lyrics a lot and we had a very good understanding of what we wanted to express.
You also decided to use a real choir this time; the 40-piece Bulgarian National Radio Children’s Choir. How’s that? It did make the overall sound more grandiose.
M: The choir with the 40 singers’ size was the classical choir we recorded, with adult singers. The children choir was a different choir and a different recording session. We had a choir already on the last two albums, but it was only half as big, so the choir sounds much more “huge” and bombastic on our new album than before. I always wanted it to be big like that, because this way you get this grand vibe like in the movie scores, just like you say. And then, additionally, we also had a children’s choir recorded. This also brought a very beautiful colour to our album. You hear them right in the beginning of the album already and it gives some fascinating atmosphere right from the start.
Tell us a few things about the guest appearances from Ally Storch (Subway To Sally) on violin & Cello, Johannes Schiefner on Uillean pipes, McAlbi on Low whistle and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) on vocals?
M: Ally played violin and cello on a number of the songs, which gives them some great additions and vibe. The Pipes and whistles are only in the song “Your Stories I’ll Remember”, because it has this Celtic folk basis and they did a wonderful job as always. I always love to have these Celtic folk influences in our music, I feel a strong connection to it. We asked Ralf for “You Will Never Be Our God”, because this song has a strong classical 80s Metal vibe and we just wanted a voice like this on it. And he is perfect, because he is one of the best in his genre.
Have you had to make any adjustments to your recording or writing process due to the pandemic?
M: Actually, not really, as I write on my own, in my home, anyway. And I also did a major part of the recordings at my place.
Can you tell us about any challenges you faced while recording this album? Did you try any new techniques or approaches?
M: I was challenging myself a lot as I wanted to go further and explore new grounds. I learned more about orchestral arrangements, and I also played a seven-string guitar for the first time. I went also much deeper into the whole recording and production process, trying to improve my techniques and knowledge. It was quite a journey and it feels like I am knowing a lot more than before, which helps me in the realization of what initially is only in my mind.
How did you choose the title “The Wonders Still Awaiting” for the album? Is there any relation with the cover artwork?
M: It looks almost like a reference to the “Neverworld’s End” cover, which I realized only later. Back then it was about how the magic of the imaginary world is taken away from you at some point in life, but the new album could be saying, there can be still some magic to find.
This is how you could look at it at least, and it would make sense. But originally the title of the album is meant in a more “real world” way. It’s about the wonders that might still wait for us as mankind, if we don’t screw up… watch the video we were making for “You Will Never Be Our God”, then you know what we mean by that.
Please give us a hint about each track…
M: “Two Worlds”: Epic opener, like a big movie score. Which world do we want to live in? Utopia or Dystopia? We might still have a choice.
“Reborn”: Pretty “classic” Xandria, but with some fresh power and complexity. The lyrics, of course, are about the rebirth of Xandria.
“You Will Never Be Our God”: A fiery duel of metal voices and elements. Lyrics are from the perspective of a woman in a religious fundamentalist society, which oppresses the basic human rights of the people, especially women.
“The Wonders Still Awaiting”: This one felt very magic for us, like from another world. We expressed this in the video clip, and we hope that people can feel that, too.
“Ghosts”: Based on an “At The Gates” tribute riff, but got very bombastic in the end.
“Your Stories I’ll Remember”: The loss of a person that was important and how that person can live on as long as we remember his or her stories.
“My Curse is My Redemption”: That song has some strong 80s vibe somehow. Lyrics are about how when feeling isolated and outcast you can find salvation in your imagination and bring this salvation back to other people, in the form of music for example.
“Illusion is Their Name”: Very heavy song, power metal and some Dimmu Borgir middle part, lyrics are about how religious fundamentalism and political right wing cultism are a danger to our civilization by taking away the basis for it, an understanding of the world based on facts and truth.
“Paradise”: This musically is an ode to one of my favorite bands, Paradise Lost. It has the typical guitars and this melancholic “gothic metal” atmosphere.
“Mirror of Time”: Partly influenced by another favorite band, Amorphis, this has quite some progy and seventies influences. Especially the long Pink Floyd style ending.
“Scars”: Kind of our version of a James Bond title song. Yes, it’s a lot about film score influences, and this is one of them…
“The Maiden and the Child”: Lyrics are inspired by the series “The Handmaid’s Tale”, written from the perspective of the main character and a plea for humanism, secularism, pluralism and democracy.
“Astèria”: Very film score oriented, has some strong oriental vibes and is like a whole journey. The lyrics are about the feelings of war refugees, especially from the middle east, like Syria. That’s why it has the musical elements in it. And the Greek text parts symbolize a bridge between the eastern and western culture, because Greek culture is like a bridge between the two, historically.
How was the cooperation with the famed musician & producer Lukas Knoebl (Illuminata) renowned producer Jacob Hansen (Avantasia, Arch Enemy, Delain, Dynazty, Evergrey etc.)? Are you completely satisfied with the final result?
M: I think it’s the best sounding Xandria album so far, and this is a lot the result of the work of these two amazing people. Lukas is working on big Hollywood movie scores, and he definitely brought that atmosphere into our songs. It’s so wonderful what he did, that we decided to release his work as an extra “orchestral” album, which is included in our media book version of the album. It’s really worth it! And Jacob Hansen of course let it all sound powerful and epic with his mixing magic.
Do you think “The Wonders Still Awaiting” will bring the band any new fans? Is this the album that will push you to the next level?
M: For us it feels very special, it feels like it is really another level that our music has reached. So, if people will have the same feeling about it, we will be very happy. I think even people who didn’t listen to our music so far could like it now, as it’s somehow “wider” and more universally speaking to you, I think.
What are your expectations from the new album and what do you wish to achieve with the “new” Xandria over the next years?
M: My expectations for the album are already fulfilled by knowing it has become like it had been in my mind when creating it. Everything that happens from now on is not in our hands. But to see how well the album is received and to get all this amazing feedback is just wonderful of course! We hear a lot from people that this is the best album Xandria ever made, that is a big compliment of course, especially for a band that is around for quite a while already. And for the future, we will see. Now, it’s first about touring and then writing new music, which I am already having ideas for.
You are getting ready to go on tour along with your label mates Delain. What can fans expect from your live shows in support of this new album?
M: We will play quite a few songs from the new album of course, as we are excited to celebrate our new music with the people. We are very much looking forward to this tour, as Delain is an amazing band, and we think it will be a great package for all the fans!
It’s time for our “Strange Questions”!!! How did you come up with the name Xandria initially?
M: This is not a strange question at all, but one that I have been asked a lot of times since the first album came out. No big story though. This word was just in my head one time, and I liked the enigmatic sound of it. It was nicely fitting the idea I had in mind for the music I wanted to create – same mysterious and enigmatic, as the sound of this word. I remember I derived it from the ancient city called “Alexandria”, which was named after Alexander the Great, so it has Greek origin even, same as our new singer (and our new drummer by the way). Sounds like a circle is closing here, maybe it’s a good sign (haha)!
How have you been coping with the challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic?
M: As Xandria was not active as a band and I was writing music on my own during that time, for us as a band it didn’t have a big effect. But of course, for the personal lives of us all individually, it was the same challenge as for everyone out there.
Are “social media” a “compulsory part” of music biz these days or bands, artists & labels can do without them as well?
M: In nowadays’ record label contracts bands are often even obliged to have all the social media presences. For the record labels it is one of the most important tools of their marketing. However, as Xandria is about the music and not about marketing, I sometimes wish back the years of the nineties, in which musicians just had to be musicians. But it is a nice way to keep the fans updated and also to share some things with them.
It’s just important to be careful about future developments. We must never forget that social media is a business for their companies. They collect information about people to be able to influence them, for advertisement and marketing. And it’s not only that this is a danger on its own, as it can be abused politically, for example, but it also has a heavy influence on how people are manipulated in what they have to look for and their habits. The system of the social media platform rewards content that speaks to the instincts they deem appropriate as tools for manipulation. Pictures with sexualized content, for example, receive a far bigger spreading among the users by the system than a post about how a band recorded the guitars and what they want to express with their lyrics etc. – it forces bands to become superficial rather than substantial if they want their posts to be seen by people. You can observe how this is already affecting many artists and how they present themselves. But you cannot question or change this, as social media companies don’t allow any insight or democratic process. They are actually like a virtual totalitarian society, in which you have to follow their rules and have no say in it at all. This does not lead us into a good direction and I would encourage people to seriously question this. (i.n.: one of the better detailed responses I’ve read in a long time!)
What do you think about the “downloading & streaming issue” of our time? Do you prefer the streaming services more or not?
M: Big topic, too, of course. Let me keep it short here though. Streaming is fine, or would be fine, if musicians would be paid fairly. But unfortunately, this is not the case. So, we are glad about everyone who is buying our CDs and Vinyls, and we make an effort to make them valuable items that really bring something additionally to the fans that they are not getting on streaming services.
What are those things that you do not like in the music industry nowadays?
M: Where shall I start… do you have one or two hours of time? Seriously – really a lot. The problem is that the business itself is not about music at all. If you are a musician who wants to create music from your heart, instead of just a product that can be sold, you can have a difficult time sometimes. I had a lot of difficult times in the past because of that and I am sure also in the future I will have to go through some fights to keep my integrity and my freedom. But with the years I got a bit more experienced, so I know a bit better how to stand my ground nowadays. It’s not even about the record label as Napalm gives me a lot of artistic freedom. It’s more about the chances you get, especially when things that used to belong more to pop music, get common in metal nowadays – like purely commercial products that rely on a marketing strategy and not genuinely on a heartfelt musical vision. And the business favors that of course.
Fill in the phrase… “Symphonic Metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
M: Nightwish of course. And Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. I add these names because people usually think of just a certain style, like it is a certain genre with a set of attributes, but actually it is not one genre. It’s all kinds of metal when you mix them with orchestral arrangements. So, you have to call also Dimmu Borgir Symphonic Metal. Also “Nostradamus” by Judas Priest was in fact a Symphonic Metal album. And also, in Xandria you find a broad mix of different metal styles, they just get combined with film score like arrangements and therefore people call it Symphonic Metal. But though if I’d even say this term is not a name for a genre, but more for a way of arranging music, I feel comfortable in there because of these endless stylistic possibilities you have. Same as in film music, you can paint your imaginary pictures with all the colors and elements you like.
Which are the Top 3 Symphonic Metal albums of all time according to you?
M: “Once”, “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerum”, closely followed by the ones after. But I most certainly need to add “Anthems to the Welkin At Dusk” by Emperor here, according to what I just said before.
Which is that band that you’d like to be part of (any time & era)?
M: Hmm… I always just wanted to have my own band, because for me it’s most important to be able to create my own musical vision. When I was five years old, I wanted to join ABBA though (haha)!
Which do you consider to be the best male & female vocalist in rock/metal history?
M: First name coming to my mind is Freddie Mercury, even though there are a lot of greater ones of course – and also, for me it’s not about a perfect technique, it’s about the character and how it speaks to you. So, both Meat Loaf and Lemmy Kilmister have been brilliant in their own way in my opinion, and Rob Halford still is, but all completely different of course. For a female singer in rock/metal, I’d name Anneke van Giersbergen and Cammie Gilbert, as a more recent and very exciting discovery.
If you had the opportunity to invite any musician, living or dead, to play on your album whom would you choose and why?
M: David Gilmour, for a guitar solo. He is my favorite guitar player, and my favorite guitar solo ever is his solo on “Comfortably Numb”.
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
M: The future. I’d really like to know where this all is going. Will we travel to space? Or will we eradicate ourselves at some point? It really bothers me that I’ll not be able to know. And that I’ll not live long enough to find out more about the universe and its nature and origin. I clearly don’t belong to the people who say they would not want to be immortal. I cannot understand this notion at all, being the scientifically curious person that I am.
What are your thoughts on A.I.? It appears to have taken over the world in the last months in every aspect of our lives, and this is only the beginning.
M: First thing coming to mind is “Terminator”, or “Matrix”… so let’s be very careful with that. I am sure it can be very helpful, but also one of the biggest dangers of the future. Maybe not in the sense that a worldwide connected artificial intelligence will eradicate us all like in the aforementioned movies, but that we will completely lose control over everything.
That’s all for now. Thank you very much for talking to Grande Rock webzine. Just say anything you feel like saying before we close… take care, dude!
M: Thanks for having me and the interesting questions! All the best wishes to you and to everyone who reads this! Hope to see you soon. Take care, too!