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Dol Ammad

Als recensent van een muziekblad verkeer je in een dubbelzinnige luxepositie. Van de ene kant krijg je allerhande muziek opgestuurd en worden je oortjes fijn verwend (of geterroriseerd natuurlijk). Van de andere kant kan die onophoudelijke stroom van releases ook verdovend werken. Door mijn werk als Lords Of Metal-scribent, maar nog meer door mijn activiteiten als muziekarchivaris, platenzaakmedewerker en hulpje bij een metal mailorder is mijn leven letterlijk een grote ronde CD geworden. Overal waar ik kom regeert muziek. Letterlijk tientallen, honderden platen gaan er dagelijks door mijn handen en oren. Voorwaar een bevoorrechte positie, maar het stompt ook af (ja, het bevordert ook wereldvreemdheid hoor ik je al denken). De meeste platen gun je nauwelijks een paar nummers aandacht en menigmaal heb je je mening snel klaar, te snel. Een over kill ligt op de loer, maar gelukkig is de honger naar muziek in het algemeen en metal in het bijzonder nog allerminst bekoeld. Geëmotioneerd word ik nog vaak van muziek, maar positief verrast word ik evenwel steeds minder. Er verschijnen nog steeds stapels geweldige albums en een eindejaarslijst maken is meer dan ooit een kwestie van wegstrepen i.p.v. hijgen en puffen om 'em vol te krijgen, maar iets wezenlijks nieuws, iets wezenlijk anders, nee, dat hoor ik steeds minder. (Vooruit, ik dacht: “Het is nieuwjaar, laat ik jullie even met een autobiografische nieuwjaarsspeech belasten.”)

Tot een kleine twee jaar geleden. Toen ontving ik een CD demootje van het Griekse bandje Dol Ammad. Meteen al bij het openingsnummer stond ik versteld van de overdonderende metalbombast. Goed, de Therion-link was snel gelegd, maar Dol Ammad deed meer dan metal met opera combineren. Zij deed middels wagonladingen aan synths, heel gedurfd, metal samenvloeien met keyboardknuppels als Vangelis, Kitaro en Jean Michel Jarre. Ofwel: metal meets new age! Het resulteert evenwel in een gesynthetiseerde variant van Wagneriaanse operapowermetalbombast, maar het was in ieder geval een van de weinige keren dat ik door muziek werd verrast, écht verrast. We zijn nu bijna twee jaar verder en eindelijk is daar dan het officiële debuut van Dol Ammad: 'Star Tales', een met keyboards en twaalfkoppig koor overladen reis dat nieuwe wegen voor metal verkent. Voor een introductie met deze band verwijs ik je naar een eerder interview met de band, in dit gesprek met het enthousiaste en zeer gedreven opperbrein Thanasis Lightbridge nemen we de tijd voor zijn huidige, gloednieuwe plaat en zijn toekomstplannen. To the stars… and beyond!

Door: Evil Dr. Smith | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

In several reviews (as well as in my review) writers kept talking about the original approach of your music. You are yourself more honest than modest as well by calling your music "Electronica-Art-Metal: The Birth Of A New Music". To trigger the reader's mind a bit more: how would you describe Dol Ammad's music a little deeper?

“The birth of a new music” was the title of a work, which was held in the Music University of my city, that presented Dol Ammad as a new type of music that combined three types of music: electronic, classical and heavy metal music. “Electronica-Art-Metal” was the name of our 2002 Demo CD and now it is the side name of Dol Ammad. We have also inserted it permanently into the Dol Ammad logo. It is a description that I believe fits perfectly to the music since it is a combination of many keyboard and sound-effects layers with fierce metal drums and guitars plus a classically arranged twelve-member choir. Have I told you I love those name-labels in metal bands? We could generally describe the music with the label “progressive metal”, or use a more exotic “Operatic-electro-symphonic-psychedelic-out-of-this-world-fantasy metal”!

To know a little bit more about the captain of Dol Ammad: you're also a graduated survey engineer and graphic artist / comic designer. What kind of surveying is it what you do and what kind of work do you draw? I've understood you already had an art exhibition arranged in your hometown Thessaloniki: was it a success?

A survey engineer is someone who deals with the topography of land. He measures land parts for property reasons or for construction works. It is a profession that I don't enjoy practising at all and I hope one day music will be my only profession! As for the “drawing” side of me, it is something that I used to practice a lot more in the past. That exhibition took place in my high school years and it was very successful despite the fact that the place where it was held in was not familiar with that kind of art. I love comics and digital-art. There are so many ways of expression in these fields…. Unfortunately I don't have enough time nowadays to materialise my ideas also in paintings.

'Star Tales' is your first album. You already recorded it in the summer of 2003. What took it so long to release it upon mankind?

The mixing and mastering of the album took place at the same time with my university degree and this delayed them a bit. But the main reason for the delay was finding a proper record label with a serious offer to release it globally. Also the big artwork that is included in the package took some time to arrange. I think that every beginning is somehow difficult, if you want to do it properly and professionally that is. We'll try to be more punctual in the future and follow a steadier release-course!

And by "steadier release-course" you're meaning a future "Dol Ammad-overload upon mankind"? Because I've understand that you are working on your third and fourth Dol Ammad album already. What can the listener expect from those albums (don't exaggerate: just start with your second outlet) and what do you expect yourself from those albums? To be a bit more critical: you're first album has - besides some obvious Therion and Ayreon connotations - quite an unique musical approach in metal, but aren't you afraid that composing with this speed your future albums of Dol Ammad will be a bit too much in the vein of 'Star Tales'?

No. The vision that I have for Dol Ammad is really exciting and will always keep evolving and progressing. After all, the nature of Dol Ammad and my music in general are the aural adventures that can be created if you let your imagination free. Concerning the next album I have already compiled all the ideas needed for it. There is still a lot of work to be done though. I also have clear visions for more albums in the future. There are huge loads of music and ideas inside of me…

Probably 99,5% of the metalheads aren't aware of the existence of Dol Ammad... so far. Nevertheless, you managed to recruit Alex Holzwarth for the drum parts. Alex himself might be unknown among 75% of the metalheads as well - so what's the big deal? - but when you tell the people Alex' fame for Sieges Even and especially Rhapsody almost every metalhead on Earth knows his work. So, how did you get him in your line up? Was it blackmail, kidnapping, showing a lot of money, or offering one of the ladies from your choir?

Hehehe…! Hopefully none of the above had to happen! My contact with Alex took place mainly with the help of Robert Hunecke Rizzo who is a unique individual and musician! I sent Alex the music and he was very interested to participate in the album. I am a great admirer of his work both in Sieges Even and Rhapsody and also in his session appearances especially his playing in the album “Angels Cry” from Angra. That record was one of my first experiences in metal music and the drumming of Alex astounded me. It is touching when I think that he also drums in my personal band and I hope to work with him again! It was an amazing experience.

But what are your ideas when Alex isn't able to perform with you anymore in the future? Do you have a back-up drummer, or will you play the drums yourself? I've understood that you're quite a skinbasher yourself, but handling the keys and drums all at the same time sounds a bit too octopussy to me, even for Greek wizards like you.

Although I always try to improve myself, my drumming is not even close to the abilities of Alex! Well, this is something that I'll decide when and if a time like this comes. It is really difficult to find such a good drummer and I want to point out here that a good drummer in live-playing doesn't necessarily mean that he will also be good in a recording session. These are 2 very different matters. I love drums as much as I love synthesisers and I will always try to do the best I can in both fields.

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In fact, you got so much ideas that Dol Ammad isn't enough for you. Can you tell us a bit about the other projects you're working on and why do you think it's necessary to produce different kind of music under other names than Dol Ammad: has Dol Ammad a too tighten and limited musical framework after all? Not to compare Dol Ammad with these bands, but The Beatles were always The Beatles, just like Frank Zappa, David Bowie (all right, bad example), Metallica, Iron Maiden etc.: they didn't use other nick names. In other words: Real brilliancy doesn't need different names and will (eventually) be understood among the admirers, don't you think?

Since I have so many music ideas it would be impossible to materialise them all through Dol Ammad. I am preparing some side projects in my spare music-time from Dol Ammad. I wouldn't want to spoil any surprise, but I can reveal that they are in a very special way interconnected with Dol Ammad. The music fields of Dol Ammad are so open-minded and broad and they don't limit me in any way. However there are so many ways of expression and so many possibilities so this project-matter is just a solution for being able to experiment as much as possible with these huge quantities of ideas. I am currently focused on the second Dol Ammad album but I am sure that when the projects will be released, the admirers of Dol Ammad will understand my urging need of somehow different expression and hopefully will admire the projects too!

But can you play Dol Ammad live? Because this might be the potential bottleneck for Dol Ammad's success. Metal music is by far THE music genre that depends its success on a live reputation. You can make such brilliant albums: if you can't play it live, eventually the metal masses won't pick it up. Metal studio bands are buried in oblivion. A large amount of metalheads just wants to see their (favourite) artists in the flesh, and a part of the success of metal bands are (whether or not indirectly) based on its live reputation. Therefore, even mediocre bands like Six Feet Under gain their success by nothing but touring (and people's bad taste). What are your future plans about Dol Ammad on stage and can or will your record label support you (financially)? That is: if there's any plan at all in this matter…

I am asked this all the time and it is really logical since we are a 16-member band with huge loads of different sounds and timbres. I understand what you say and I agree that for most metal bands, the live shows are essential both for their reputation and their financial stability. However Dol Ammad is not a metal band. I am not envisioning live shows with nothing more than a keyboard-player headbanging over their keys. There are far too many bands that enjoy and do a great job in posing in live shows… Since the Dol Ammad music is so descriptive and artistic I think that if we plan a live show as a regular metal live show, it would be a disaster. I mean there are many awesome bands that I don't enjoy seeing live. Take Blind Guardian, Rhapsody or Bal Sagoth for instance. Could their atmosphere and magnificent compositions be reproduced live under the financial obstacles and the conservative way metal gigs are held today…? I think it would be like asking from a big Hollywood movie to be presented as a local-theatre play. I think that the secret lies in organising a live show that is hugely based in visuals and effects so that it is something of a special event and not just seeing some musicians perform. This is something that I would like to try to work on but it requires a lot of time, dedication and money. I would prefer however to just do a few unforgettable shows in my life than tour ceaselessly in every venue possible. On the other hand don't forget that there are some (but indeed not enough) studio-bands like the great Ayreon that don't do live shows and enjoy a very steady and increasing fan-base.

You show no mercy for the eyes of the average metalhead. Sure, powermetalheads are used to some extent of rainbow-coloured artwork with all those fantasy dungeons and dragons-artwork, but the artwork on your album goes way further and will colour-blinding all metalheads who normally are used to "black and white and red all over". How did you get the idea to use those fractal arts for your album and how did you get in contact with fractal artist Brian Exton (and who the hell is he by the way).

I really enjoy the artwork in CDs and my releases will always be loaded with art! Brian Exton is a very proficient fractal-artist from Scotland he works mainly with poster-art and I think he has done work with trance artists. I accidentally bumped into his works and was: “Wow, this guy must have listened to Dol Ammad for inspiration!” His work fits perfectly to visualise every Dol Ammad track. They are somehow 70's-psychedelic and LSD-driven but at the same time very spacey and new-age-digital. I understand that all this “colour-epilepsy” of 'Star Tales' may disturb the conservative metal-head but I am sure it will be enjoyed by the adventurous one and he is the one we are aiming to reach with our music and art!

Silly intermezzo-question: What happened to the subtitle of the song 'Eclipse': Corona of the Sun?

You know, I don't really remember why I put this “Corona of the Sun” title in the side of 'Eclipse' back in the 2002 Demo CD… Now this name is the name of our forum in our newly reconstructed website. Anyway this track must be the “hit song” of Dol Ammad since it has been featured in many compilations and seems to be enjoyed the most. It is a really fast and direct song with epic melodies where the keys and the choir are pushed to their extreme.

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In most vocal songs a choir of six women and six men does the singing. Except for the very soundtrack-like song 'Back To The Zone' which is mainly instrumental, but contain some solo female vocals. Is she one of those six females and is this – solo voices - something you will do more in the future?

'Back to the Zone' was initially planned to be a small introduction to the track 'Master of All' but it evolved in a complete track with solo soprano vocals. The soprano is Kortessa [Tsifodimou] from the choir. There are some parts where a solo voice fits perfectly to the music and if needed again in the future we will surely try it again either by a female or a male solo voice.

The sound of the album is thicker, more voluptuous, more bombastic and more "astral" than the demo versions on 'Electronica-Art-Metal' from 2002. Also, some parts seem to sound a bit "staccato"-produced: for instance the harder parts in the song 'Eclipse'. How and why did you produce it in this way and did you all this by yourself?

The sound production of 'Star Tales' took place in my personal 'Theeta' studio by me and my good friend Argy Stream, where we used far better equipment both for recording the choir, synths and guitars and translating the analog signals into digital than we did on the demo. The drums of Alex Holzwarth were recorded in 'Gate' studio under the proficient production skills of Sacha Paeth (Rhapsody, Aina, etc.) and Olaf Reitmeier. The big drum sound added a lot of “mass”, making the sound thicker. We also used a very “expensive” reverb machine, which added this “astral” quality to the sound. The “staccato” sound you mention must be due to the heavy compression we've applied to some tracks… The 'Theeta' studio is evolving and upgrading all the time and we'll always try to overcome ourselves since we are sound-production-maniacs!

The remarkable aspect - and in some eyes maybe a critical aspect - of your enormous, "big" sound might be: What happened with the guitars? They already were kinda the 'black sheep of the family' on your demo, but it seemed they are pushed a little further away to the background. Except for some parts in 'The Hill Of Hope' and 'Vortex 3003' synths, choirs and drums overshadow them completely. In fact, you can call this almost metal without guitars. You're a metalhead who doesn't really like guitars?

For the guitars we used a strange buzz-y sound that may be even interpreted as a black metal sound, kind like the sound Thorns use for their guitars. It is true that we push guitars somehow in the back, giving more attention to the synths, the drums and the choir. I have to admit that I rarely listen to metal bands that don't have keyboards in their sound-palette!

You receive an invitation to join a huge cover album project for some artist. Which artist would you like it to be and what song would you cover and how will you make the song sound like?

Jean Michel Jarre of course! I would like to cover any of his amazing songs. If I had to choose one I would pick the 'Revolutions' track from his same-titled album. I would totally transform it into a Dol Ammad synthesizer-double-bass-drums-choir mayhem! However I will reveal that we are currently working with such transformations on a couple of tracks from various artists that I admire but until I get the rights cleared I cannot uncover the veil of who they are…

Choose and explain your choice:
Synthesisers or drums?


Synthesisers of course! I want them all! I need them! I love them! I can't have enough of them! However, I have recently bought an electronic drum-set and it is amazing to see how with modern technology these two instruments blend into one…You can play drums through a synthesiser and now you can also play synthesisers through a drum-set!

A gold record in your native country or a Greek Grammy for "Best Musical Artist of 2005".

I think the terms gold and platinum records and some types of awards are somehow corrupted nowadays and they don't mean a lot to me. They are purely sales-indices and unfortunately “huge sales” rarely means “huge music quality”.

Making lousy money with Dol Ammad but with artistically complete freedom on Black Lotus (and after three albums you have to quit, because you can't afford to continue with Dol Ammad), or making big bucks with more friendly produced material on a major label like Sony or Universal (and living your life in wealth like Vangelis)?

This brings me back to the projects and the huge ideas… I will always try to make the best with Dol Ammad regardless of oppressions by any record label. I have however a softer (and a harder…) side that I plan to release when the right time comes.

Recording soundtrack music for the possible Peter Jackson movie 'The Hobbit' or co-operating with John Williams on the third episode of Star Wars?

Either of those highly improbable propositions would be amazing! I really didn't enjoy the music of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. It was stagnantly typical and repetitive… Nothing like the opus of Vangelis in 'Blade Runner' or '1492'. John Williams' work on all 'Star Wars' movies is phenomenal! His other soundtracks however are somehow sterile musically. Also Basil Poledouris' work on 'Conan-The Barbarian' movie resulted into probably the best soundtrack ever! Too bad his later works were mediocre like Williams'. Also the 'Gladiator' soundtrack was great. A soundtrack lover however should check out the classic work 'Planets' by [Gustav] Holst to see where all these Hollywood composers derive their inspiration from…

A world tour with Iron Maiden or supporting Jean Michel Jarre on several of his strange performances at for instance the pyramids of Gizeh and Rome's Coliseum.

I think by now, you know the answer to that already. I watched Jarre's current show in Beijing last night on TV, which was once again awesome! I am sure you know that the French virtuoso metal guitarist Patrick Rondat joins Jarre in his shows. The 'Chronologie' album was Jarre's most “metal” one!

Spending your holidays on Sri Lanka or at Aceh, Indonesia? (All right, I'm kinda sick to ask this…)

What a horrid disaster…And what a terrible coincidence that the second Dol Ammad album will deal with the powers of the sea…

World peace or Dol Ammad dominating the metal scene in the second lustre of the 21st Century?

Ok, you are officially sick, I'm out of here!

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