An Interview With Eric Cruz of Dominican Metallers Archaios
It has been a long journey for Dominican metallers Archaios, one lasting nearly two decades. Although releasing their debut "Out of the Shadows" five years back, Archaios had yet to find a core audience outside of their island homeland due to lack of label support and logistics. This could very well change in 2011 when their new album "The Distant" is released. That darker thrash sound they were known for has metamorphosized into techno-melodic stylings that are sure to win over a serious, mature metal audience. Their new label, Dark Canvas, supports them all the way and is busy putting all the pieces in place for a tour of the US sometime in the coming year. We sat down with guitarist Eric Cruz to get inside the mindset of the Dominican Republic's premier thrash band and listen to his version of the path Archaios are on.
Sonictherapy: When Archaios started out in 1994, it was a whole different world. You, as the lone founding member, must have thoughts and perspectives about that. How are the dynamics of your group different with the newer members you have in it now?
Eric Cruz: Usually, when most bands are starting, everything is done without thinking about it too much, you just want to play and be the fastest and most brutal band in the world. As I see it, to be able to get where you really want to be, you need to grow, go through different stages: anger, glory, deceptions, frustration. Being the only original member of Archaios came with the responsibility of setting new goals for the band and I was able to experiment with different musicians and see different points of view and different dynamics. In the current line up, we all are very good friends, the difference this time is that we have been able to reach a new level of quality and musicianship. Ramsey, Johandy, David, JC and I are a very solid unit and I can really say that the band's current line-up is the most solid ever. First, because each and everyone of us gets along very well and second, because you just cannot place improvisation over experience: we have been playing separately for years perfecting our skills as players and performers . This gives Archaios a new maturity that you can be seen reflected in the new record.
ST: There wasn't much in the way of extreme metal back then, the Dominican Republic being renowned for Merengue and Juan Luis Guerra. I've heard plenty of Spanish rock and some core/punk rock groups but not much metal besides you guys up until a few years ago. Is it a lot harder to be the anointed flag bearer of your scene, and do you prefer to now share it with the other metal bands that have been appearing on the scene?
EC: It would be very egocentric for us to believe that we are the leaders of the Dominican Metal scene, but we are aware that some people think we are, especially those who have been following us for years in good and bad times. In a way, it puts pressure on you because people always expect from us nothing less than the best we can give them and we want to meet their standards. However, at the same time, it isn't hard because at the end of the day we're doing what we have chosen in life: playing extreme music. One the other hand, there have always been other great bands around and there is plenty of new blood and new bands coming out with very interesting music. They are always welcome to the scene and people receive them with the same kind of enthusiasm. For the most part our Metal scene has been like a very united brotherhood. We are a small scene that hasn't had the possibility of making a real breakthrough outside our country. So we really try to help each other out in whatever we can.
ST: How tolerant are the Dominicans? Back in the day, listeners of rock/metal in Spanish countries would get alot of flak and be viewed as degenerates and druggies by the conservative, roman catholic masses. Has it gotten any better, since there appears to be much American influence in your country these days?
EC: In a way it has gotten a little bit better, because the digital era is here. Different cultures spread throughout the web whether you like it or not. The mainstream Dominican society, being as conservative as it is, has its ways to limit a scene like ours from expanding. Whenever they feel the scene is drawing too much attention they take it away from us by linking us to satanic scandals, tales of youth corruption and things like that. As a result, most of the venues start closing their doors to our gigs.What they don't get is that it's been the same for several generations of Dominican Metal heads. If someone feels identified with Metal as a musician or as a listener, the establishment won't be able to stop him/her from going out and find more people with the same interest.
The fans of this music see the problems in our society and know that the Metal scene is not responsible for those problems and that the government and the rest of the society does nothing to make positive changes. You feel helpless and frustrated with this view of your world and you tend to socialize with the people that share the same views, opinions and ideals that you have. Music, especially Metal, has that spirit of independence that allows you to think outside the box. Even in a country as intolerant as the Dominican Republic, some people are able to appreciate that. They find ways to stay true to Metal no matter how many institutions are trying to stop the scene without knowing it's real values and its very essence.
ST: Adding to that, you mention that the band has been through a lot of tough times and has been targeted by the right-wing government. Can you expand upon that?
EC: Lol, yeah, of course I can!! We are one of the government's weapons of mass DISTRACTION!! As soon as any politician is involved in any corruption scandal, they have ways and tools to get the people to look somewhere else, and YES, because we are one of the bands at the forefront of the scene, we become one of those tools. Whether it is on TV, news papers or in public meetings, you will always find someone saying that we are corrupting the kids or introducing the devil to them through our music. For those people this is a way to gain votes or attention to themselves.
ST: I haven't heard any of your earlier demo tapes, but I did hear your 2006 debut "Out of the Shadows." The change from that album to this new one, "The Distant," is fantastic. You've gone from decent techno-thrash with a hint of melody to a very polished sound. You are spot-on with how you all have blended the speed, technical prowess and melody, making it flow so seamlessly. What made it all click?
EC: Well, musicians, at least in my opinion, have different kinds of approaches when it comes to writing music. You can either start playing and recording anything that comes to mind, or start recording specific riffs, or lets say, start with the lyrics first and then adding the music, or whatever works best for you. I think the approach I took when writing this album was allowing myself to be open to other musical styles that I feel related with or that I've been playing in the past years without losing sight about how the songs were going to work within the environment of a live show. The sound I was looking for was less dark than in "Out of the Shadows..." and I wanted to give every instrument its place and its space.
But the main reason why I think "The Distant" is better is because of the need we had to not only write fast stuff but to try to make every melody and riff stay in the listeners' mind. The songs on "Out the Shadows" were a compilation of some of the best songs we wrote during the first years of the band. For "The Distant" I started writing knowing that it was going to be a full length album. With that in mind I tried to add more diversity but also some common elements to unify the whole record. Although "The Distant" is not a concept album, if you pay attention to the music you will be able to find similar riffs, melodies and patterns that are the same in different songs. This gives a sense of unity to the whole album. Lyrically, even if we haven't followed a specific theme, you can feel that there is a sense of thematic unity, especially on the second half of the album.
ST: You are now the first Dominican metal band to have an American record deal on Dark Canvas. After you did the initial recording in Santo Domingo, did you get to be part of the mastering process up at the label's headquarters in Tampa?
EC: No, it was not possible due to budget limitations, although I can say that my heart and soul were in that mastering room, hahaha. But we never doubted for a second our engineer's abilities and thorough knowledge of the songs.
ST: You worked with Kanky Lora on "The Distant", who has done production on the Cavalera Conspiracy among other artists. And on this record, all of the musicians sounds are showcased so crystal clearly. Enlighten us on the process of putting together this album from the beginning to the end.
EC: Well, being able to overcome and complete this task has been a demonstration to ourselves and to the band itself that perseverance is the only thing that gets you anywhere. We started out by recording the basics - drums, guitars and bass. After this was done a lot of things happened to stop us from finishing it. Basically, after we finished recording the rest of the parts and having mixed some songs, the studio closed and it was the only studio that really understood Metal and that really offered a decent sound for these kinds of recordings. Far from quitting we kept working on the material on our own for a while. After a certain period of time we got in touch with the original engineer (Aldo German, owner of the legendary local studio "The Torture Room") for yet another mixing process.
After having most of the songs mixed, the new studio's computer passed to a better life and all the data inside was lost. We had a backup of the data but we didn't have any of the latest mixes and we had to start all over again. This really complicated things. By then, the engineer was not so much into the whole idea of doing a 3rd mix. He had other responsibilities at that time and it was understandable. If it wasn't our project we would probably be tired of having to work with the same stuff over and over again. At that point we were frustrated and I remember thinking: "we need a fresh start and a new pair of ears to lead the sound of the band where we want it to".That's when Dark Canvas Records showed up, divinely, and helped Archaios carry on with the whole process. Ramon (owner of Dark Canvas, who also played most of the keyboards on "Out of the Shadows...") always wanted to do something else with our scene, and really believed in our potential as a band.
He never doubted that the band,at that point, was as good as or above other signed bands out there. To be honest, we are still here because we believe this from the heart too. The problem was that Archaios didn't have much funds to do anything else with the data we had previously recorded and that was another burden that Dark Canvas helped to ease. We urgently needed someone who understood where we were coming from, someone who previously knew the band's sound and would really be able to carve it on an album while staying on budget. We knew Kanky was our man. We had listened to his work and we knew he had the potential and versatility to work with different kinds of styles. It was very exciting for him to be part of a project that was born in his own country and he was very generous when he presented us the budget for Mixing and Mastering. He was really happy with the opportunity to work with the first signed band of his country.
Kanky is a very talented engineer and as a drummer as well (he is currently playing with Straight Line Stitch). He mixed the overall drums and bass and kept sending us audio samples for feedback to both Dark Canvas Records and the band. We could hear the approach and sound he was aiming for. We really liked the results and he was very open and receptive about changes and opinions. He also was patient with all the stuff that goes on when all the parties involved in a mixing process are located in different geographical points.After the mastering was finished, the band was very satisfied with the final product.
ST: You mention your influences as Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Dark Tranquility and Yngwie Malmsteen. I can really see the last two, especially your loud and clear influence of Yngwie in the technical melodic guitar leads you crank out. What other artists have made an impact on Archaios these days? What moves you during songwriting and inspires ideas in the band?
EC: Well, the thing I admire the most in a band is their ability to arrange and compose a musical piece. You can have cool riffs, lightning speed solos, and the best musicians in the world and yet, you can definitely make boring music. I really don't like listening to a song just because of a specific section while the rest of the song doesn't interest me as much. To me, these aspects are the most important part in making music and bands like Soilwork, Blind Guardian, Kamelot do that most the time. Their song construction abilities and experimentation go beyond traditional. Sometimes you may not have the best riff in the world but you can make it interesting surrounding it with the right ideas and support from other instruments. But then you can have the best riff in the universe and if you screw up on the drum part, for example, you'll always be known as the wizard who could turn gold into melaena. All the bands and musicians you mentioned before also have that special quality that has influenced not just Archaios but thousands of bands for years.
ST: Your album cover was done by the Brazilian Carlos Fides, known for his range of styles straddling both the impressionist, pictoral and horror on dozens of metal bands ranging from Deadly Course, Annihilation and Hellbreath. How did the band and Carlos trade wits and come together to inspire that nice album cover art?
EC: We began to work on the cover artwork a year ago, at that time we tried different approaches. At one point we even had a sci-fi illustration that was created by a friend of ours! However it wasn't totally satisfying for one reason or the other. Ramon even tried to buy a license for using original famous paintings as a possible cover but it was too expensive. He kept looking and searching through friends and on the web. Finally, he discovered the work of Carlos and showed us a couple of artworks he previously did for other bands and we loved it. The definitive album cover was something that Carlos did before we came into the picture. We were looking to graphically convey the feelings of despair and existential themes from the new album. At the same time we wanted to use something iconic that could stay easily in people's minds. When we saw the artwork we knew it was the right one. Carlos just had to re-work a couple of elements and it was ready: it's gritty, iconic and fits perfectly with the angst of the music and lyrics.
ST: In the fall, this will be your first US tour. Are you still working out the details of it, or is there any information about it that you can share with the fans?
EC: So far, I can't give you many details about the tour because we are still on the process of setting up dates and venues. It will take place on 2012 for sure. So far, Florida and New York are confirmed. We had a proposal to play in the new Insano Festival in Germany, but we still don't know if we will be able to participate because of the logistics involved.
ST: I have watched a few videos of your "Legacy of Respect" concert and the "Fin de Ano" (new year's) one. Your fans seem very spirited and dedicated. In the promo clip for the new record, all these Dominican fans are talking about how influential Archaios are. Is this is one of those things that has kept you, as an artist, going?
EC: First and foremost, music is the center of our life and right now I don't see myself or the other guys doing anything else. When fans appreciate your work, even in a scene as small as ours, you find it rewarding and makes you realize that people really appreciate all the effort you put to keep going year after year without having resources. Of course, maybe because of our longevity within this scene we have become sort of influential for local bands and fans. But I think it's more related with being an example of perserverance and musical progress. At the end of the day it's about the music - and music will still be there and so will the need to be able to express our ideas and thoughts through Metal.
ST: On another note, you mention that 15% of the profits on your new record "The Distant" will go to earthquake victims of Haiti and Japan. I have to commend you on that, brother. Since you "share" the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, how much did that earthquake's ravages affect you?
EC: Since these disasters occurred, the metal community around the world hasn't been very active trying to help these countries in their time of need. I believe that Metal fans and bands are a strong force of nature and united we can make everything happen. Geographically, our country is very close to Haiti and we are living and feeling from a very close distance the effects of the disasters caused by 2010's earthquake. As individuals, we have tried to contribute to improve the situation that still exits in there after more than one year since the earthquakes. Now that the new album is close to being released, we - as a band, want to come together with our label and try to help one more time, donating a percentage of the album sales to this cause. The situation in Japan is very alarming. It's really strange how nature works: one of the most prosperous countries in the world has suffered equally devastating effects as Haiti, which is considered one of the poorest nations of the planet.
That shows that it doesn't matter if you are wealthy or poor, we all are inhabitants of this planet and we are set to the mercy or fury of nature despite race, privileges or geographical situations. Many artists have helped Japan but also there are many that have canceled tours and fear to go there when Japanese people need more than ever the kind of energy and escapism that only music is capable to conjure. Right now, we are not a band with enough resources to travel there and play for the fans, but at least we can try to help them in other ways. We are trying to organize a coalition, with other bands and Dark Canvas, to make benefit concerts and other activities that hopefully will create an ongoing source of relief. Lets hope that people react well to the album. This will help set all these plans in motion.
ST: Your manager Ramon says that you and a few members of the band follow Metalunderground.com. That's great. What are the things that you like about our site?
EC: You're my CNN on metal!!! I have to tell you, I usually don't read mostly anything on the web but when I enter your column "Pit-Stories" I can't stop reading. Your "News" section IS the best and most comprehensive one out there!! Our vocalist Ramsey loves your reviews and recently told me that if one day he sees an Archaios album reviewed on your site he WILL do bungee jumping at the Duarte Bridge in Santo Domingo which is forbidden by the authorities!!! Of course, Dominican authorities also condemn Metal so for them, he's already breaking the law!!!!!!!
Be sure to listen to a sampler of Archaios' new music as we Unearth the Metal Underground in the Dominican Republic this week.
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