Valerio Sbriglione: "We Wanted To Create Something Much More 'Visual' Than Before, And I Think We Got It."
Turin (Torino), Italy is more than a city that was the focus of the 2006 Winter Olympics. It is a city rich in history, best known as the home of the “Shroud of Turin,” which has been the subject of religious debate for years. The language (“piemontese”) is still steeped with the Celtic verbiage of its ancient inhabitants (“The Taurini”), who were destroyed by the Romans. A cultural, literary and cinematic center, Turin was the birthplace of chromatography and the Italian cinema. Ironically, this culture has been infused into the city’s symphonic metal scene with acts like Aevum, Phenris, Venice In Vain, and most notably Sound Storm.
Sound Storm was established back in 2002 as a traditional/classic metal band playing covers of Iron Maiden, Manowar and Savatage. At the end of 2003, the band began composing original material resulting in its 2005 demo “The Storm is Coming...” and successor 2007 EP “Northern Wilderness.” In 2009, the band started to define its sound with the stellar debut release “Twilight Opera,” through Rising Works. Once released, the band would begin its epic journey of evolution and now stands at the precipice of releasing one of the finest symphonic records ever, “Immortalia” (see Metal Underground.com’s review at this location). With the sophomore LP backed by Scarlet Records and scheduled for an August 28, 2012 drop, guitarist Valerio Sbriglione spoke with Metal Underground.com to give the entire low down on a release that should become immortal in the hearts of symphonic metal fans.
CROMCarl: First off, I want to congratulate you on the new album “Immortalia.” I know the band worked very hard to perfect the sound and the end result is absolutely incredible.
Valerio: Thank you Carl, glad that you liked it so much and, above all, that you understood it. Yes, we worked very hard for a couple of years to compose “Immortalia”, and the most difficult phase was the first one: once we focused on the right direction, the rest came easily.
CROMCarl: For fans waiting for the August 28th release date, how would you describe what they are about to hear and how does It differ from “Twilight Opera”?
Valerio: Well, “Immortalia” is totally different from “Twilight Opera”, even if it’s an evolution: on the first album you can already notice some elements you can also find in the new one. “Love at Sundown”, for example, is a first experiment of the new direction we took with “Immortalia”. The main difference between “Twilight Opera” and “Immortalia” is that with the last one we wanted to go beyond the usual stereotypes of power or gothic metal, you can find a lot of musical genres inside it, but every song is linked by the same theme: the eternal research of immortality. We wanted to create something much more “visual” than before, and I think we got it.
CROMCarl: I’d like to get right into the album and talk about the writing process. How long after the release of “Twilight Opera” did the band begin writing the material for “Immortalia”?
Valerio: after the release of “Twilight Opera” we departed from our first keyboard player, and Alessandro joined the band. We’ve been busy for a couple of years promoting it between some festivals and a Mexican tour in 2010, but immediately after that we began to compose “Immortalia”. I can sincerely tell the most part of “Immortalia” was composed by me and Alessandro.
CROMCarl: One of the things that jumps out the most on “Immortalia,” is that you took the symphonic power metal sound and added a dose of extreme to expand it. Can you elaborate on how that idea came to be?
Valerio: yeah, it’s true. As I told you before we wanted to expand our musical horizons, but this wasn’t “forced” by a setpiece decision. Simply we aren’t only into power or gothic metal, but we also listen to death and black metal bands, along with classical and cinematic music. So it was quite natural to be inspired also by this kind of music.
CROMCarl: Now when you started writing the album, did you already have the idea for concept of the quest for eternal life or did you see that the songs had a common theme as you wrote them?
Valerio: the concept came after we composed the first two or three songs, we thought they were perfect to describe what the music was calling up.
CROMCarl: As a non-musician, I always like to ask band members how they start writing songs. Is there a typical way a song starts, whether it is a riff or certain chorus? Is there a formula that Sound Storm uses to write music?
Valerio: we don’t have a certain formula to compose the songs, surely the music comes before the lyrics, though. Sometimes we have a guitar riff or an orchestral passage, some others we are inspired by a film or a novel, or even we have some ideas about a theme and we process it along with the music. Personally I get my ideas in indefinite moments…actually they come up when I’m falling asleep, in that case I wake up immediately to record the impression on my keyboard station just in case I forget them. Yes, it actually happened!
CROMCarl: Now Davide Cristofoli did not play the keyboards on the new release, right? Who was the studio keyboardist for “Immortalia”
Valerio: The keyboard player was Alessandro Muscio. During the production he decided to leave the band.
CROMCarl:? How did you come to meet and hire Davide into the band?
Valerio: Davide joined us in June, we’ve known him for a long time as he already played in other bands in Turin. He’s a very talented and virtuoso musician, and a music teacher too. I think we couldn’t ask for more, we’re definitely glad about this. We’re already starting to drop down new ideas, we don’t want to wait too much for the successor of “Immortalia”. Davide is totally crazy as well, I think we’ll have a great time on tour with him!
CROMCarl: Who performed the female vocals in songs like “Blood of Maiden” and “Call Me Devil”?
Valerio: well, she is Ilaria Lucille, my love and partner of life. She’s a very talented opera singer but she grew up with Cradle of Filth and Rhapsody, so she was happy when, before the recordings of “Twilight Opera”, we proposed her to sing some parts for us. She is also a great support during the live shows, where she sings all the choral (along with Federico, Massimiliano and from now on, Davide) and her lead parts.
CROMCarl: Take our readers on a tour of the album track by track and give me a sense of what the general meaning is behind each of the songs:
1. & 2. “Immortalia” & “Back to Life”:
Valerio: Well, “ Immortalia” is the beginning…It is a sort of invocation to an ideal entity to get the eternal life from it. The choir has got the main part on it, and I think this is the most beautiful score we composed for orchestral and choir. The first time the choir rehearsed it in studio everyone was speechless by its performance. Alessandro and I composed it in a single day, inspired by something undefinable, working on it for 15 hours without break. At 4 in the morning I wanted to record all the guitars as well, I got crazy about it, I guess!
“Back to Life” is the first story of the album: it is about doctor Frankestein and his monster: he wanted to create life from death, so this was perfect for the main theme of the album. Just for curiosity: the opening riff was the first I composed for the album, but at the beginning I wasn’t able to insert it in a good way, so the song was temporarily suspended. Then, during one of my most inspired nights (ahah), I realized the current idea, so I remade the song from the beginning to the end in a few hours. The other guys enjoyed it so much and now it is the “single” of the album. This song was also one of the first experiment for our most “extreme” side, also thanks to Federico which did a great job with the drums.
3. “The Curse of the Moon”
Valerio: the theme of the song is about lycanthropes and their conflict against their curse. Philippe had the idea for the lyrics after he listened to the music, probably the most extreme on the album. I and Alessandro processed a riff I wrote some years ago and he added some beautiful piano scores to make it more obscure and darker. Then everyone agreed to “dare” further, inserting some growl vocals for the first time. The third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is surely the highlight of the song, but I love the whole instrumental part.
4. “Blood of Maiden”
Valerio: this is about Erzsebet Bathory, and she is the main subject of the album cover. Alessandro composed the main theme and immediately we realized this was perfect for the Countess, one of the most emblematic person searching for the eternal life. Again you can listen to a very aggressive song, with one my favourite guitar riff in the verses, and a beautiful vocal line in the chorus. Again the choir has one of the main part here, making it much more epic and impressive. Probably here is my favourite guitar solo I wrote so far, and an operatic voice reminds of Erzsebet’s voice in every verse. A lot of musicians already wrote music about the same theme, but I think we got something different here, a pure “Sound Storm version.” Surely one of the best songs of “Immortalia”.
Valerio: Faraway is about the war between Angels and Devil, nothing is “more immortal” than this, isn’t it? Massimiliano proposed the beautiful piano theme here, then I and Alessandro worked on it to insert the other instruments and arrange it to get a brand new Sound Storm song. The lyrics, written by Philippe, are one of the best on the album in my opinion, and there are some references to classical literature too, such as John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. The vocal line in the chorus is one of the best he ever recorded, and the final one, with the support of the choir, is something impressive and full of pathos. Even if I listened to it one million times, I’m still moved while hearing it.
Valerio: this is probably the catchiest song of the album. Someone told me I probably played guitar in Zakk Wylde’s style (it’s an honour!), and again the choir has got a very important part in the chorus, which is very catchy and beautiful at the same time. Drums are impressive here, I love the feeling they create, Federico did a great job here too.
7. “Call Me Devil”
Valerio: this song was born in a very peculiar way. Federico told me about a film he watched, it is called “Rosemary’s Baby” (he’s a movie – maniac!). The movie has got a beautiful soundtrack, so he wanted to use it in a song as a tribute. So one day I went to his place and he started to sing me the idea, and I immediately liked it. After a couple of days the song was finished. The highlight part is the main theme in the middle of the song, where Alessandro plays Rosemary’s theme with the piano. Then, Ilaria takes the same theme back, with a wonderful orchestral arrangement along with her. Awesome. The choir duets with Philippe during the verses and it is the main character in the last chorus, and Philippe goes with it. The song ends with this breathless chorus, try it to believe it!
8. “Seven Veils”
Valerio: this was the hardest challenge for me and Alessandro, ‘cause we never composed something in oriental style. Philippe had the idea to compose a song about Salomè and her story, so we did it. He already did a great job with the intro of this song, but it was with ethnic and traditional instruments. The difficult part was to keep the same atmospheres also with electric guitars, drums and so on. We worked hard to get it, and in the end I think we won the challenge, thanks to the great aid of Federico with the rhythm parts. We created a beautiful, unusual instrumental part, with guitar and keyboard solos in actual oriental style. The part of Salomè is sung by Ilaria again, while Philippe sings the part of Herod. Very interesting song, different from the usual oriental-type music.
9. “Watching You Fading”
Valerio: this is the ballad, Philippe wrote this one on his own. The arrangements were composed by me and Alessandro. This is also the first song with acoustic guitars, I had fun while recording it. The theme is about an immortal being which suffers for his mortal love, because he never gets old while she’s dying. This is one of the worse aspect of immortality, but obviously everything is an external view of the human life and its caducity.
10. “Wrath of the Storm”
Valerio: this is the fastest song of the album, and the most direct one: actually it is “in your face”. It talks about…do you know what happens during a storm? This is what happens here, a wall of sound straight on you so that you cannot avoid headbanging all the time. I think this song live will shake the very Earth!
11. “The Portrait”
Valerio: the first suite we composed so far, a very complex and deep song, an authentic masterpiece to me. This song is about Dorian Gray, and the music changes along with his corruption process. The first part is sweet, as his soul too: a beautiful violin melody comes in and a cold breeze with harmonized guitars surrounds the ambient. The verse is sweet as well, but suddenly something changes in it, a strong lightning peeps out in Dorian’s soul until he gets mad. Here you can notice the brutal change of the song thanks to a very fast guitar riff and the drum which blasts everything around, just as Dorian does indeed. A spectacular Philippe’s screaming part, then a crazy orchestral arrangement which describes how Dorian feels himself and his corrupted soul. I love this song too much, I’d never stop listening to it.
CROMCarl Now, who was the artist who created the “Immortalia” cover art and what was the idea behind that?
Valerio: the artist is Felipe Franco Machado, probably the best in the world in this job. We discovered him in 2007, where he wasn’t so famous as he is now, and he already created the artwork for “Twilight Opera”. Then he became one of the most important “artworkers” in the world. The concept comes from us, as usually: on the cover you can find a reference to each song of the album. In the centre there’s Erzsebet, on the top left corner a full moon, on the left a bed with a monster on it, and so on. I think you can recognize every detail now!
CROMCarl: Who would you say are the main influences of the band? Which guitarists have been major influences to you personally?
Valerio: as I told you before, we have a lot of influences in the most various musical genres. Personally, I like a lot of bands such as Children of Bodom, Symphony X, Wintersun, Ensiferum, Dimmu Borgir, Rhapsody, Protest the Hero and many more. But I also love classical music and cinematic compositions, Danny Elfman and Howard Shore above all. My favourite guitarists are surely Alexi Laiho, Michael Romeo, Jari Maennpa, Yngwie Malmsteen.
CROMCarl: You have a big tour of Europe planned with Tristania beginning this September in the Netherlands. What can fans expect from Sound Storm’s live performances?
Valerio: well, I think people want to see if we can reproduce in a live situation what we recorded in recording studio. I can tell you we’ll have a very peculiar show as well, and people we’ll be surprised by that. What do I mean? Differing from other bands which usually use pre-recorded tracks, we reproduce everything you can hear on the album also in the live shows: we don’t use backing tracks, and this is not ordinary out there. I think this is very positive because people feel the difference between what is real and what is pre-recorded.
CROMCarl: The band is also providing support for Epica on August 7, 2012 in Rimini, which to me sounds like a perfect pairing. How did you come about securing that show?
Valerio: sometimes luck looks at us too… ahahahah Seriously, we’re very excited about this opportunity. I agree with you: this will be a great show, and we’re glad to do it in Italy.
CROMCarl: Are there any other touring plans for the band after the Tristania tour?
Valerio: yes, surely we won’t stop touring after the Tristania tour. I and everyone in the band are very trustful about this album, and we’ll do everything possible to carry on this way.
CROMCarl: Given the recent announcement that ProgPower USA is definitely coming back in 2013, has the band given any thoughts on trying to play at that event?
Valerio: well, it would definitely be an honour for Sound Storm to play there. I hope their promoter will read this interview and will get in touch with us! ahahah
CROMCarl: Thank you so much for your time Valerio! Best of luck!
Valerio: thanks to you, Carl, and thanks to all the readers at MetalUnderground.com! See you on tour!
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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