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Met het tweede album ‘Kingslayer’ hebben Victor Smolski en zijn band Almanac zonder twijfel al het album van het jaar afgeleverd in de neoklassieke metal hoek. De driekoppige zangsectie was al vanaf het debuut een schot in de roos en is op dit album geperfectioneerd. Het vermogen van deze begaafde Rus om telkens weer het ene na het andere fantastische nummer uit de mouw te schudden is ongekend. Een mogelijkheid om de gitaarvirtuoos via Skype een half uur te spreken sloeg ik daarom zeker niet af. Lees het resultaat van onze babbel hieronder!

Door: Jori | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Well Victor, and of course congratulations on your second Almanac album, ‘Kingslayer’. How are things in the Almanac camp at the moment?
Everything’s perfect! We’re just ready with all the production and all promotion stuff. In November we are going to Russia, next year January or February maybe we’ll do a Europe tour.

That’s good to hear. Let’s begin with a brief revision of Almanac’s short history. You founded the band after leaving Rage, and after that, the debut album ‘Tsar’ was realised quickly. When you first thought about forming a new band, did you already have the three singers idea and the people who you wanted to work with in mind?
It was the idea to work with many singers already for the last Lingua Mortis Orchestra album, I realised that this sort of concept is really interesting to me. When you compose with more than one singer you can try a lot of different things. When I stopped with Rage, I thought about this idea again and tried to make a band with different singers. But I didn’t want to make a project thing with guest musicians. So for me it was important that those guys would have enough time for a band that would go on tour, because I wanted to present the music live with exactly the same line-up as in the studio. Of course I worked with Andi, I’ve known him for a long time and I really like his voice. Same with David, incredible singer and also very professional. Andi is kind of an old school singer and David, well, rock school? It gives a lot of dynamics and a lot of power. Jeanette of course whom I worked together with on LMO. She had a classical vocal education but also a powerful voice. It was fantastic that all my musicians of choice said yes. It was in fact a very easy and comfortable stage.

And after the release of ‘Tsar’ you toured among others as the special guests of Orden Ogan, and that was quickly followed by the first headlining tour. So I think it is safe to say that Almanac had one heck of a flying star, did you expect this?
Not really no. I was quite relaxed, there was no special and vicious planning and I had a lot of fun doing this. It was great to see and hear the fantastic feedback and see how fast the band grew. The nomination of Metal Hammer for “best debut of the year” also was a fantastic surprise for me. We toured a lot, we did more than fifty shows for ‘Tsar’ and it was a great experience for the band because we did a lot of small slots, support shows but also headliner sets and big festivals. So the band grew and all this experience we put on the new CD. We learned a lot about how we sound and which songs sound better and the fans like more. Also many people told us that live it sounds heavier than on CD, and that’s true. ‘Tsar’ was first production in the studio and only then we started to play live without any experience as a band. It was all perfect, it all went friendly and with a lot of respect between musicians, so really cool!

So now you have your new record out, ‘Kingslayer’. I think that compared to ‘Tsar’ it really perfected the use of three singers. Also Andy, David and Jeanette seem to really have found each other, possibly because the tightened chemistry from playing live together? How do you feel yourself about the way the vocals turned out?
Yeah, it’s really experience. You need one or two years to really feel the band and find the perfect balance. That’s what we did for this CD, we found the right arrangement. We also found a fantastic studio, which gave us really the opportunity to do things as we wanted. A great old studio with great old analogue equipment, mixing consoles but also hi-tech stuff. It was fun for me to design new sounds and get more power. We spent a lot of time, maybe three or four months to make the whole recording. Nuclear Blast said to us “relax, take your time, ready when you are ready” and stuff. It was a lot of fun to make these new sounds and arrangements. There’s also a lot of new interesting moments on the album we never did the like of before. Also things we tried live and now brought to the studio, great moments!

Yeah I have to really agree with you there. So, lyrically you let yourself be inspired by true stories about murdered rulers, once again setting you apart from “typical” heavy metal historical lyrics about Vikings, knights or Romans and stuff. Do you do a lot of research in these topics before you start writing your lyrics?
I really liked the concept we did with ‘Tsar’. Andi, Dave and me, we’re not into fantasy stuff and we all like history. The whole concept of ‘Tsar’ was perfect, lyrics, how it fit to the music and also the artwork design I liked very much. The fans told us they heard of Ivan (Ivan the Terrible, main character on ‘Tsar’ – Jori) before but now they really started reading books and things about him, which was pretty cool to hear. So I thought like okay, let’s go the same way and keep the same style, and start researching similar stories worldwide. It’s not really a concept, but a lot of interesting individual historical stories. Like Henry the Third, who was said to be the first king of Sri Lanka. Andi wrote the lyrics to four songs and David also to four. Also Jeanette found this interesting story about Ching Shih, who was a brutal pirate in the 17- or 18 hundreds, and it was unbelievable for that time how much power she had as a woman. We kept the same style of artwork, so it fits together really well.

You already mentioned it, this time you did not write all the music yourself, but your fellow band members also wrote some songs. Do you feel this broadens the musical scope of Almanac even further? After all, your fellow band members come from many different directions of metal.
Yeah. Well the main idea from songs usually always comes from me and I always produced my own music myself for the last fifteen years. But always I wanted the team as well, because team work is very important, all musicians are involved in the process. I always bring the first idea to the studio and then we start checking around it. Sometimes we change a lot and try different versions. Not only in the rehearsal room but sometimes still in the studio as well, even shortly before the mix. It’s great team work. Especially for the singers it was easier to work on this CD, because there was this really good balance and especially for the choirs that worked well and it helped that we all knew each other well by now.

band image

So the video single ‘Losing My Mind’ is about Charles II of Navarre, and the mental illness he was always struggling with. As far as I know, this story is the odd one out, because this man wasn’t really murdered but died in a horrible accident. Please tell us a bit more about this video.
Yeah we chose ‘Losing My Mind’ for the single. But in the video you can see the story a little bit different. So it was not exactly a hundred percent according to the lyrics, this video. I talked to the video company, I worked with them a lot, also back in the days with Rage. I asked them to make a short movie, because the company usually does movies. It was the idea of the company to make this kind of history for the video. I like it very much how it turned out, it’s not really a video clip, but more like a short movie. We even got offers already to take this short movie to canvas, because people in the business liked it that much.

That’s really cool! You think you’re going to do this?
Well we’ll see, but I’m pretty sure haha!

Cool! So about the lyrics. They are all gruesome and horrible of course, but which story do your feel had the biggest impact on global history on the whole?
Pfff, difficult to say. You read a lot about mortality, and all the stories on ‘Kingslayer’ were all terrible events indeed. My wish is more that people finally start to learn from history, especially the kind of stories we chose. But all the terrible things that happen is just history repeating again and again, and the same bullshit happens all over again. I feel like the last years, the global climate has become really aggressive again, Europe, Africa, Asia and everywhere. I think it’s not bad that people check out a bit of history and maybe learn something from it so that we don’t repeat those big mistakes. All this brutality and the pain caused, nobody needs it.

Good point. About the orchestra, did you use the same guys as last time on ‘Tsar’?
On ‘Tsar’ we had two different orchestras. We had one orchestra that also played live with LMO and Rage. They come from Barcelona and are real rock ‘n roll guys and we did a nice tour together. We had a second orchestra from Minsk, my hometown. They did a lot of recordings for LMO, Rage and all my orchestra jobs, because I do orchestrations for a lot of bands. For example the last albums from Leaves Eyes or Eluveitie. I love working with these guys, they have a fantastic studio there and they are really trained for recording. They sound very tight, powerful, and also loud, perfect for metal haha. It’s a different style of recording, not all classical musicians are good in recording, but this orchestra like I said is really trained for it. Also, they are able to adapt to supporting guitar music very well. This is the orchestra I also worked with for ‘Kingslayer’.

So for any tour in support of the new album, would you prefer a headlining tour or a support slot for a larger band? Or just both as you did for ‘Tsar’?
I like both! I like to support cool bands because you always win new fans and reach a bigger audience. Sometimes it is also important to make a headlining tour because you can play much longer, you have a much better sound and for fans it’s important to see us on a headlining tour occasionally. I would like to do both next year, we’ll see what our booking agency plans. We would like to start touring in February, and play some release shows in November in St. Petersburg and Moscow. We want to play some festivals next summer. It’s fun to go on tour, but maybe not for a whole year. I did this many years before but it’s really hard. The longest tour I did was one and a half year without any break. I don’t know if I want to do something like that again. It’s is easier when you are young and make a party every day hahaha, but well, now anymore haha.

Any plans for bringing the orchestrations live to stage?
Ehm, not yet. I recently did a couple of solo shows with orchestra, because I’m doing a classical program for electric guitar and symphony orchestra and it was fun to play with this huge orchestra. But with Almanac, I think we’ll concentrate on being a normal band, and maybe do a couple of special shows with orchestra. But for us it’s much more fun to play like normal metal shows. Playing with orchestra is cool, it’s interesting, but it has a different energy you know? A couple of shows is okay, but touring with an orchestra, I wouldn’t want that haha.

A while ago, I got information that you also joined a death metal group, Voodoo Gods. Quite the departure from your usual musical style! When will we first hear some stuff from this front?
Well it’s one of those projects I’m always doing. It’s fun to play for different bands and also different styles. Voodoo Gods with a death metal singer is a bit different from what I’m normally doing. But this was very progressive with a lot of complicated stuff. Those studio jobs are fun for me, to do something new with many different musicians. But then technically it’s no more than studio jobs.

So no plans to really join the band and play live with them or anything?
It’s not really a live band. We talked about bringing this CD live, but until now it hasn’t happened. We will see. Maybe when they do something live I will join, if I have time. Who knows, some guest opportunity, might be cool.

So any other future plans you can already share with us, being it with Almanac, Lingua Mortis, Voodoo Gods or anything else?
With Almanac we’ll concentrate on live performance after the release of the CD. Also next year I want to start… well start, I started many years ago, but finish my next solo CD. It has a lot of cool ideas, cool musicians and I would like to finish that one too.

Well I am out of questions, so thanks for taking some time for the readers of Lords of Metal. Anything you would still like to say to them?
Thank you for all the support and great feedback from your country! I hope we’ll see you soon on tour at one of our shows!

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