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Malta’s doom metal veterans Forsaken return with a new album ‘Pentateuch’. An album with a slightly different sound and the first album released by Mighty Music. These are subjects we talk about amongst others in the following interview. The complete band (singer Leo Stivala, bassist Albert Bell, guitarist Sean Vukovic and drummer Simeon Gatt) took their time to thoroughly answer the questions presented to them.

By: Pim B. | Archive under doom metal

Hey guys, it’s been a while since we talked about Forsaken. Actually it was in 2010 when we did a joint interview about Forsaken and Nomad Son. With the release of the new full-length ‘Pentateuch’ we have a good reason to catch up a bit. First of all can you tell us why we had to wait this long on a new full-length?
Leo: Hello Pim and everyone at Lords of metal zine. Yes it’s been a long time since our last interview. It's nice to be back here. There’s been a long wait for ‘Pentateuch’ mostly beyond our control. The composition of the album started way back since 2012 and we were in serious long discussions on where and how we were going to record it. At first we were going to record everything locally and mix and master abroad but then we decided that it would be better to do everything here. In the meantime Sean was changing home and it was very hectic for him to proceed with guitar recordings which were done at his home studio. Vocals and drums we recorded at Temple Studios by David Vella, and bass by Chris Grech (Nomad Son/Frenzy Mono)… so we had to wait for the availability of these studios too. Then we decided that Sean will handle mixing and mastering of the album too and this was what really took us a long time to finalise as Sean is really a perfectionist and he also has to take care of his family too. But in the meantime we still gigged frequently locally and abroad and kept the Forsaken flame burning.

’Pentateuch’ is your fifth full-length and the first album for Denmark’s Mighty Music. You have released albums on several labels so far. Golden Lake went out of business, but your last label I Hate is still active. Why did you decide to switch labels though? And can you tell a bit more about the decision to sign to Mighty? I understood it’s a multi-album deal? And my last question is if there were any other interested parties? I would have guessed Metal On Metal would have been an option since Albert’s band Nomad Son is signed to them.
Albert: First of all hails to you Pim and thanks for the interview. Lords of Metal is one of the best metal webzines out there and it is always a pleasure to touch base with you all. But back to your question. I’d like to make it very clear that our move away from I Hate Records was not at all related to any dissatisfaction with the label. Peter and IHR did a great job with ‘After the Fall’ and the follow-up split EP with Fall of the Idols. We all hold the label in high esteem. However, with ‘Pentateuch’ the band felt that the time was ripe for some much needed rebranding. To this effect, we thought that it would be important to seek new pastures and also to revamp various things related to the band, including the band website, logo, cover artist and so forth. After we concluded the mix and master, we sought about with the task of short-listing those labels which we thought would be ideal for the band. This shortlist did include various labels that we know well and who have standing in the scene, including Metal on Metal Records of course and others. However, even before we even set about approaching the labels on the shortlist, we received a contract from another strong and trustworthy label that was not initially in our sights. The offer matured through the mediation of a close associate of both the band and this label who was aware that we were looking for a new record label. I do not think that it is ethical or prudent to identify the label I am referring to. All I will say is that the offer was very sound and that we were actively considering it. Meanwhile, out of the blue, Michael from Mighty Music contacted me asking about the possibility of re-releasing our old and out-of-print stuff. I had known Michael since the 90s and was quite overjoyed that he re-established contact again as it had been quite some years since we had last talked. Anyway, I informed him that we were about to release a new album soon and asked him whether he’d be interested in releasing it. He immediately followed this with an offer which was very favourable, including a publishing deal plus several other very favourable terms. From my knowledge of the scene, it was evident that the quality of this offer would not be surpassed, and moreover, we could not stall the release any longer by pursuing other options. So we were very happy to put pen to paper with Mighty Music and we are looking forward to a very mutually benefiting relationship.

In the added promo sheet I got I couldn’t find any info on the recordings. But I guess you worked with David Vella again at his Temple Studios?
Simeon: We used a different approach this time. Drums and vocals were recorded at Temple studios, while bass recorded at Chris Grech’s studios (from Nomad Son) and the guitars, effects, additional arrangements, narrations and backing vocals were all recorded by Sean at his home studio. He has handled all the editing, mixing and mastering. This gave us the opportunity to work better with our other commitments.

Leo: As Simeon said the vocals and drums were recorded at Temple. Personally I really like to work with David Vella. I feel really at ease recording at Temple. David really gets into what I am doing and gives a lot of ideas, which enhance my vocal performance for the album.

The last time we spoke you had just released the split 12” with Fall Of The Idols. You then told that you basically recorded the tracks live in the studio and that you actually liked recording that way. Did you work this way again when you recorded ‘Pentateuch’ or did you return to the way of recording separately with a guide track and metronome?
Simeon: The drums were recorded first just using a guide track consisting of the guitars and bass and metronome. All the others followed after that. So it wasn't a live take but we tried to make it sound as heavy and raw as possible.

Sean: I can go into this in more detail. It all started with a set of song structures that were presented to the band in the form of a listening session in order to decide which ones will make it to the album and which ones would be kept on the shelf for the time being. Once we decided on the songs to feature on the album, I started to lay down the guitar parts at my home studio and I kept on working on the pre-production of each one. With the arrangements of the songs further gaining shape, it felt like a natural progression to keep going with the production on my part. Once I got the main rhythm and lead guitar parts done over a metronome, I started sending guide tracks that even included drums, bass and keys arrangements that I made, to the others so that they can start practicing over them. Next in line was Simeon who recorded his drum parts, followed by Leo who got all the vocals done exactly after. And last to get in the studio was Albert to complete the picture. Concurrently, we were also rehearsing some of the new tracks and playing them live. However there were some others that were a bit of a ‘shot in the dark’ since we did not rehearse them at all with some of Leo’s melody lines and turns coming out spontaneously on the spot as he recorded them. Once we got all our playing parts recorded, I had all the components to proceed to the next stage i.e. editing, re-amping, effecting etc. Then came the mixing of it all and the final touches and mastering which I must say took long due to my finicky attitude. Worth mentioning, the end melody of ‘Primal Wound’, that I added one week before we sent the final master to our label as well as the narrated track which was done on that same week. So yes we did record separately and one of the main reasons was that we did not have enough time to get all the songs properly rehearsed as a band so we felt that it would be better to do our homework separately and make sure that the playing parts and arrangements of each song were all in place.

Having heard ‘Pentateuch’ quite a few times now, I can’t deny you sound a bit darker and heavier, which I like if I may add. To me the production sounds a bit “less clean” opposed to earlier recordings. Was this something you deliberately went for?
Leo: Thanks for the positive comments regarding ‘Pentateuch’. Yes we wanted a LESS clean and heavier approach... Some of the songs also have a traditional heavy metal element which we wanted to include this time to give the listener something different from our previous releases. For me ‘Pentateuch’ has a bit from our debut album ‘Evermore’ as regards to up-tempo songs but with a better and heavier production. In my opinion the album still retains the Forsaken Epic Doom stamp just the same.

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Sean: We were aiming for a ‘dirtier’ sound, which is more bass driven since we felt that it would suit the songs better and to do this I opted to go for a brighter production and less of a guitar ‘wall of sound’ as opposed to ‘After The Fall’ in order to get the instruments sounding more distinct then usual from one another. There is more of a distinct Geezer Butler like clank to the bass which I feel adds attitude and character to the songs and less of a compressed drum sound where the dynamics of Simon’s playing vary according to the intensity with which he is playing. As regards to the rhythm guitars, when I tried adding more layers or re-amping with heavier distortions, it started killing that sense of space we were so happy with, so it was a unanimous decision not to add more in the mix. I feel that it makes more sense to have the bass and the drums taking a bigger chunk of space than usual when it comes to deciding what is foreground and background in the mix since it better reflects the way we sound live. Apart from getting the bass and the drums more to the forefront, having less rhythm guitar layers and less of a thick distortion gave more breathing space to the vocals and lead guitar bits without the need to push their volumes up unnecessarily or over-compress the shit out of them. In ‘After The Fall’ there are moments were you have thirty layers of rhythm guitar playing concurrently. This time round, I decided to go for two rhythm guitars panned left and right when it came to doubling the riffs. There are two instances where there is no rhythm guitar at all playing across the solo bit. On ‘After The Fall’ the bass tends to be more in the background and as a result this makes the production sound ‘cleaner’. On this one the bass is more frontal and richer in high mids and is playing an important part in creating that overall dirty sound. To do that, I fed Albert’s bass signal into three separate channels; the first one as a clean natural sounding amped bass; the second effected through my guitar distortion and the third as a totally dry signal eq'ed and effected in such a way as to get that clanky sound. This ‘3D’ bass sound enabled me to get a fuller sound out of the instrument and one that takes a bigger chunk of space in the mix.

Simeon: We wanted ‘Pentateuch’ to sound not too polished but similar to the old days, so we tried to give the listener the chance to hear the band as heavy as it sounds live without compromising the quality of the sound.

Some people think you are a Christian band, but I know you guys (even if you are Christians) don’t portray yourselves as a Christian band. Lyrically you use a lot of Christian topics though and ‘Pentateuch’ is based on the five books of the Old Testament. Can you tell a bit more about the lyrics and the background of the subject and the importance to what it means to Forsaken as a band?
Albert: As you said correctly Pim, lyrically, our new album centres round the first five books of the Pentateuch with direct reference to the milestone stories within them including the origins and fall of humankind, the deluge, the Ten Commandments and so forth. I also delved into the lesser known apocryphal texts of the Dead Sea scrolls on ‘Apocryphal Winds’, the album’s longest and closing track divided into three different yet related parts. These themes fit perfectly with the epic soundscapes that we pursue on the album.

Our lyrics normally revolve around either socio-political (albeit quite metaphorical/allegorical) topics and/or religious/spiritual/theological themes. There have been instances where our lyrics have been somewhat more introspective and reflective of personal experiences (as in ‘Winter Tears’, ‘Season’s End’ or ‘Madrigal’ on the debut album ‘Evermore’ for example or ‘Kindred Veil’ on ‘Anima Mundi’). However, the last three albums – ‘Dominaeon’, ‘After the Fall’ and ‘Pentateuch’ - are inspired directly and quite emphatically by Christian theology, mysticism and eschatology. From an artistic standpoint, I think these themes gel very well with the sombre and epic atmosphere of our music – thereby creating something which is in synch lyrically and musically. But beyond all this, I find that these themes are very compelling and still resonate today, especially when you deconstruct all the allegory and metaphor within them. Moreover, as I have mentioned elsewhere before, although it is not our mission to evangelise in the way that many White/Christian metal bands do, I still personally think that Christianity remains a strong and powerful worldview, and that the fundamental Christian precepts of tolerance, hope, mercy, community, compassion and solidarity remain a valid and watertight moral compass for all. I am not the world’s biggest practicing Christian, and I have many, many failings, but I still find strong relevance in these values. On the musical level, the depth and vividness in Christian theology/eschatology make them very fertile fields to plunder and delve into; therefore making our music a near spiritual/cathartic experience for our listeners but also and perhaps more importantly for all of us in the band. I think that this aspect emerges clearly in our live performances, where a near-symbiotic relationship is built between and among each of us on stage, our lyrics, our music and fans making for a syncretic yet kaleidoscopic whole – like a molten flow of apocalyptic, obsidian magma devouring and cleansing all and sparing no one in its path!

Can you also tell a bit more about the outstanding cover artwork? Who made that cover and what does it depict?
Albert: The artwork is the work of Michal “Xaay” Lorenc who is very well known for his awesome work for Nile, Monasterium, Evangelist and many more. Basically the artwork reflects the main thrust of the lyrical theme explored throughout the album – the dualism inherent in the Judeo-Christian conception and understanding of God as the bringer of light, but conversely the bringer of doom and retribution on those who steer away from His path. I think that Michal’s portrayal of this rather abstract concept is quite telling and very evocative. Great work indeed!

Since you’re a Maltese band I would like to address the documentary ‘Brotherhood: A Story Of Metal In Malta’, which also features Forsaken. Can you tell us some more about that?
Leo: This documentary is an initiative created by Malcolm Alden and Nicholas Bonello. It’s a very interesting project really. They interviewed many different bands from different eras, ages and musical styles the local metal scene and built this documentary. First Malcolm interviewed me and later on he interviewed Albert too. The questions asked covered all of our lives in the local metal and the changes we’ve seen during the years and the improvements done and also includes rare pictures and spinets from local and foreign gigs of each band. It was really interesting. This professionally filmed documentary will premiere in a local cinema in Valletta on the 16th of September.

Talking about Maltese Metal it seems things have gotten a lot better over the last decade or so. Bands play abroad more often and are recognised by the fans as solid acts. I’m thinking of you guys as well as Nomad Son, but also Beheaded (even though they are partly Maltese these days), Victims Of Creation, Weeping Silence to name a few. Do you feel things indeed have become better for bands from Malta?
Simeon: There are several other good bands other those mentioned that are organizing concerts abroad, but the big contributor to all this was in my opinion, was the introduction of foreign bands to several Maltese festivals like Malta Doom Metal festival, Metal over Malta and others. These festivals are helping bands making new contacts every year indirectly to venture abroad. Obviously, with the introduction of Facebook and other social media things are a lot easier to do too as everything is more accessible.

You guys, as well as other bands, are heavily involved in setting up shows in Malta that attract foreigners too. The Malta Doom Metal Fest obviously springs to mind, but also Metal Over Malta and Malta Deathfest. Although I’m not sure the latter is still being organised. How does that feel that things actually are happening on your island? Do the people of Malta who are not necessarily interested in heavy music have any clue what is going on when it comes to heavy music?
Albert: The Malta Doom Metal (MDM) festival which I founded in 2009 is now close to its tenth anniversary and has really grown from strength to strength since its inception. It’s a huge toll on my energy and my comrades-in-arms, but has so far been very gratifying to do and has helped to put Malta strongly on the international map particularly in so far as doom and old school metal are concerned – the two main subgenres that we are most focused upon. Metal Over Malta (now running into its fourth edition) is also a force to be reckoned with and is one of the Island’s top quality festivals. Other festivals include Dark Winter Meeting, Voices of the Succubi, Shellshock, Sinfest, the long standing XMA (mostly featuring Maltese bands) and we also have other promoters specialising in one-off shows like Metal Insula and Rejects who are also helping to really revitalise the scene. The opening of a new live venue for metal events called The Garage in Zebbug is also a huge asset and is energising metal and live rock music in Malta. What we really need to be careful now is not to over-saturate the scene with events as there is a limit to what the size of the Maltese metal community can handle in my opinion.

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As for the impact of the metal scene on the wider Maltese community – well, while we remain off the radar to most people on the Island, I think that there is some wider acknowledgement of the scene now and perhaps acceptance too. We must however ensure that our independence/autonomy remains and treat all approaches by outsiders with the suspicion and caution they deserve. I am not saying that we should shy away from sponsorships from private entities or government for example, but any attempt at encroachment, commercialisation, co-optation and/or limitation of artistic freedom should be met with a large extended middle-finger! Haha!

In addition to the previous question I noticed that MTV does the ‘Isle Of MTV’ on Malta. Of course this is centred around mainstream music, but does it have any effect on music in general and possibly heavy music in particular? For instance, are there younger people interested in playing music in whatever style?
Simeon: What is Isle of MTV???? Seriously!!!!! This is a completely different style of music which I do not think that is effecting any new generation of bands.

Albert: There’s loads of upcoming bands and artists in all styles on the Island. But I doubt whether Isle of MTV has anything to do it. Though as Simeon said what is going on in the pop scene on the Island is something quite alien to us. Even though it is a small Island, the music scene here is quite fragmented, and I for one am completely, intentionally and proudly detached from all forms of commercial Maltese music. All I can say is that I personally dislike and detest most contemporary commercial music trends with a passion even if they entail strong standards of musicianship, technique, great production values or whatever. I don’t care at all. What I crave for is music that has heart and passion and that actually is reflective of the hearts and emotions of its creators not something that is neatly packaged for radio and winning over the masses. That stuff bores the hell out of me. Moreover, it insults my ideas on what music like any art form should be. It is mostly devoid of any real passion and is exclusively about money and business interests. When the latter take over (and this applies to metal bands as well), the true artistic element dies.

Okay, let’s go back to what you guys do best, which is creating heavy music. All members of Forsaken are involved in other bands. Can you tell us a bit about those bands/projects and what currently is going on with them?
Sean: Another band I play with is Norm Rejection. The metal we play has an eclectic twist to it merging different styles including groove oriented elements with the more traditional Black Sabbath sound. We have been playing together for quite a while now too. Our first two albums where very well received albums in the local scene and prior to that we had released a demo in the 90s which had been very positively reviewed. Two years ago we released our third full length called ‘The Radical Underground’ which I produced too apart from contributing to most of the composing. At present we have changed our set-up and we are playing as a trio with the bass being mimicked by getting my guitar passing as a separate signal through an octaver hooked to a bass amp. A bit of an experiment! We played live once till now with this set-up and we are happy with how it sounded so we intend to pursue this direction further.

Apart from that I am also involved in a project with my wife whose artist name is NV. A few years ago she released her debut full length album that featured ten songs written by me. A lot of those songs were released as singles that received considerable airplay on the local airwaves and garnered her nominations for Best Newcomer 2007 and Best Artist 2008 on Malta’s leading radio awards. In recent years we slowed down a bit when it comes to releasing new material and playing live shows due to family commitments and the birth of our two children. However recently, we got back at it and we have started recording a few new songs which we are planning to release in the near future together with playing a number of acoustic performances. Additionally, every now and then, I record some of my own instrumental stuff. I have had two songs which I submitted for the International Songwriting Competition (ISC) which is one of the biggest competitions of its kind that faired very well. In fact, I was awarded an Honourable Mention in the Instrumental Section of the 2010 and 2012 editions. I am planning to record more of my instrumental compositions with the intention of releasing the stuff in the near future, hopefully.

Simeon: I have another band called Dawn of Anguish, playing traditional doom metal, since five years. We released a demo in 2013 called 'Prologue in Black' with three tracks which are being streamed on our website. Then we entered in a recording studio to record some songs for our debut CD. But it is still in the editing and mixing stage. This is taking a bit longer than usual as one of our guitarists is no longer playing in the band and had to halt the project. Hopefully it will be out by 2018 when all things are sorted. In the meantime we are still writing new material with the rest of the members and may be new members will join in the near future. The band’s present line-up is as follows: Simeon Gatt – Drums, Alex Carachi – Vocals, Gregory Calleja – Bass, and Efrem Arpa – Guitars. Check out our website.

Leo: As you might know I left Reflection on amicable terms in 2012 but now I sing in a new band. It’s called Wolven Hour. The band has been around for nearly two years now. We play traditional heavy metal. We are still in the composition stage and we plan to get on stage next year and hope fully record an EP too. I also like to involve myself as a guest vocalist with bands’ recordings. I have been guesting with bands like Lucid Dreaming, Draugul, Vestal Claret, Arkham Witch, Martyrium and more yet to come …. That’s how I keep myself busy.

Albert: I started the preproduction of the third Sacro Sanctus album a couple of weeks ago. I have already finalised the guitar and vocal guides and am looking forward for the proper bass takes soon. After that my new drummer Steve Lombardo will be recording his takes and then I revisit both the guitars and vocals again. I am working at Steve’s Hell Next Door Studios at Gudja this time round for the pre-production and then will be shifting to David Vella’s Temple Studios for the mix, master and additional arrangements. I will probably be recruiting an additional guitarist along the way for this third album with the idea of having a proper shredder in the band. I will retain vocal, bass and rhythm guitar duties. Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus is a lot of hard work but I love doing it as it’s my own project completely and over which I have total control. Band democracy can be really tiring sometimes, so Sacro Sanctus is a very important outlet and safety valve for me. This third album will be titled ‘LIBER III: Codex Templarium’ and will feature 9 tracks in all. Some titles include ‘The Widow’s Sons’, ‘Crown of the Accursed’ and ‘Into the Pyre’. Musically, it continues to build on the ground charted in the first two SS albums – ‘Deus Volt’ (2014) and ‘Ad Aeternum’ (2016) and will continue to burrow deep in Templar myth and history, with the emphasis on the potential ties of the Templars with various important episodes in European history after their dissolution and mythologised secret societies such as the Freemasons and Rosicrucians. I am an avid reader and aficionado of European history and esoteric philosophy and Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus provides me with the requisite impetus to delve into the subject matter more emphatically. You will all also be seeing Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus contributing to a Death SS tribute album to be released with the legendary Black Widow Records (Italy) under the direction of Steve Sylvester himself I believe. I covered the Gods’ ‘A Shrine in the Gloom’ (from their ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ album – one of my faves from their more recent repertoire) and I cannot thank Black Widow and Steve Sylvester for this opportunity, while also allowing some artistic freedom. In fact, the Sacro Sanctus version features a completely different ending extending well over three minutes than the original. The line-up for the cover also features Owen Grech on Guitars, Steve Lombardo on drums and Luciano Schembri on Keyboards. I handled the bass and vocals.

As for Nomad Son (my other band since 2006, with three full lengths to date and lots of important shows abroad) – we are presently on a bit of an extended breather right now. The plan is that we will return with more shows and work on a new album in 2019.

Right, let’s wrap this up. I have one more question. The promo sheet that came with the ‘Pentateuch’ promo mentions a European tour. Can you tell a bit more about that already? And if you have anything else you like to get across to our readers, be my guest! Thanks a lot for answering this interview!
Albert: Yeah, we’re presently in discussions on how to best take the band on the road again without of course impinging on our other life commitments and music endeavours. But, God willing, your readers can expect to see Forsaken on the road again soon with choice cuts from the new album and a set list that includes all the mainstays from our previous albums and the old stuff too! There’s so much material now that it is becoming all the more difficult to get a set that is representative of all of the band’s discography. But we’ll manage it somehow. We hope to see as many of you on the road as possible. Meanwhile stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more band info! Doom is nigh! Be prepared! Be vigilant! Behave!!!!

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