It all began in the year of our Lord 1254 when Marco Polo was born in Venice… Young Marco loved to listen to sailors’ fabulous adventures about distant lands…
In the year of our Lord 2022, let’s listen the fabulous story of two musicians, Tomáš Sklenář and Libor Křivák, about the inspiration to perpetuate life and work of Venetian merchant, explorer and writer who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295.
Hi, welcome to Abaddon Magazine. Last time we talked in May 2021. A lot happened in the meantime. On May 20th, 2022, you released the album, so let’s focus on it. Do you have any feedback by now (fans, charts, reviews…)?
Tom: Hi Ivona, it is always pleasure to talk to you and I am glad we can do this interview for Abaddon Magazine. Well, we have a lot of feedback from fans and reviews, but not from charts at the moment. From what we know until now, the reactions are the most positive ones considering all of our albums so far. Many people have thought Symphonity cannot continue without Olaf Hayer and Herbie Langhans but I think we show that the opposite is truth. Of course, there will be always people who will say that it was better with Olaf and Herbie but it is indeed past for us and we need to look ahead. The new album is definitely not for everyone and not all the reactions are super-positive, but it’s ok. It is, let’s say, for more demanding listeners and I am pretty sure that people who like this genre will love it. But not only them. I know many people who do not listen to symphonic power metal, but they actually like the album.
“Marco Polo: The Metal Soundtrack” is actually the soundtrack album. For all those who are not familiar with the term, let’s explain what a soundtrack album actually means.
Tom: We tell a story. The whole album is the soundtrack of life of the famous Marco Polo. We decided to choose the theme from real history rather than singing about dragons, princesses and this kind of fantasy stuff. Each song is a chapter of life of Marco Polo, which is specific not just by lyrics but also by music and by the used instruments. So, do not expect the classical album with ten swift power metal songs as we did on Voice from the Silence album. It is different. It is really a story and it’s worthy to listen to it in its complexity.
“Marco Polo: The Metal Soundtrack” describes Marco’s journey from hometown Venice to Peking and back. It was a long and interesting journey. How hard was it to pack his whole life in 42 minutes?
Tom: Well, it was not easy. We could definitely make 3 hours long album, because there are so many things which we could sing about. But we decided to choose just the best musical material we composed and use only that, so the final result is probably not as long as someone could expect, but we are sure that it is the best we could do.
Writing concept albums is a serious job. How much time did you spend researching and which was the main source: internet, books, movies, etc?
Tom: It was a bit of each of the mentioned. The original inspiration was the old TV series from 80s with fantastic music by Ennio Morricone but then we were forced to make further research from different sources. The whole composing process took about three years.
Marco discovered a lot during his journey… Working on this album, did you discover anything new about yourselves?
Libor: It’s hard to say but I believe the new lineup proved to be able to produce album at the same level asthe previous one although without famous names. We also found out that Johannes (our new keyboard player from Sweden) has a potential to become another composer in the band. And it is a promise for the future…
The whole concept of the new album, if I understood well, is Libor’s idea. How much were the other band members involved in the creative process?
Tom: Generally, the discussion about the songs were open to everyone. So, we could speak what should be done better, what to rearrange, etc. Moreover, each member had freedom to make his own parts, so I created my own bass lines and bass solos in the songs “The Plague” and “Mongols” as an example. Our drummer Josef made an incredible job while creating the drum parts. And also Johannes, who came at the time when many songs were already composed, helped us with arrangements.
Can you compare “King of Persia” and “Marco Polo: The Metal Soundtrack”, which album was more challenging, or let’s say harder to create?
Libor: Composing a concept album was absolutely a new experience for us. It is a completely different kind of song writing process because you have to follow the story in both the lyrical and musical way. Roughly speaking, the “King of Persia” album is just a collection of various songs where you don’t have to worry too much whether all the songs fit each other. There are true power/speed metal tunes with rockier ones, you also have one lyrics with a historical theme like “King of Persia” and the second one about normal day worries like “Flying”.
Compared to “King of Persia”, you used more ethnic instruments to describe the pilgrimage of Marco Polo. Which instruments did you use?
Tom: There are many exotic instruments and sounds on the album and they are different from song to song related to the part of the world where Marco travelled. To point out just a few of them, the song “Mongols” starts with the epic sound of Kangling, which is an old Tibetian name for a trumpet or horn made of a human thighbone. For creating the atmosphere, we also use traditional Mongolian throat singing called Hoomai. Through the song, you can hear instruments like MaTouQin, Daruan, Xiao and many, many more.
In other songs, there are instruments like Oud, Kanun, Saz, Riq, Duduk, etc., so you see it is a big list. If you are interested about those exotic instruments, just type the name in the browser and you will see.
Was it hard to find some instruments and how did you record it?
Libor: Although some ethnic percussion from the Middle East were recorded by real percussionist Ladislav Siska, most of the ethnic sounds, you can hear, are from VST instruments. For this album, I especially bought some very nice Chinese and Mongolian instruments from the Chinese company Kong Audio or from Bulgarian producer Strezov Sampling. For the sounds of ancient Persia, I used a great collection made by Eduardo Tarilonte and sold by Best Service. This album is quite different from our previous releases because there are just sounds of classical orchestra, Mongolian orchestra, ethnic instruments, etc. On the other hand, you do not find here, for example, FM sounds and synthesizer sounds at all. The reason for this is our effort to achieve the sound of a classical movie soundtrack combined with the power metal sound.
Since Symphonity is an international band, the album was recorded in Czech Republic, Ukraine, Germany, Sweden and Slovakia. In the XXI century, there are no obstacles but still… Working in different countries, different studios, and being under the one roof. Which are the good and bad sides?
Libor: These days it is indeed not a big problem to work with people or studios locatedin different European countries. Of course, many things could be done much easier if we lived in the same region but on the other hand,once we meet on rehearsals, being together is always nice.
There are a lot of guests on this album. Tell me something about cooperation with Jana Hrochová. She already worked with you on King of Persia.
Libor: Yes, we worked with Jana for the second time and I really appreciate it. She has a beautiful voice and she is a true professional. Working with a vocalist from the classical music is always very inspiring. Sometimes this is quite a difference between rock and opera singers. You don’t have to solve things like intonation, they are all the time perfectly in tune.
Your music is not the easiest to perform, with each album you are progressing, involving, so which kind of venue is the perfect one to perform your music.
Libor: During the tour with Rhapsody of Fire I felt comfortably in the middle sized venues such as Dom omladine in Belgrade or Quantic club in Bucharest for example. Here we had great shows I think. In some smaller clubs, like in Ostrava or Vienna, we have some problems with a too small space on stage.
Let’s mention other guests and their roles.
Tom: We are so glad that so many great people and musicians could contribute on this album. Namely, Marek Ashok Šmerda (Cradle of Filth) recorded two guitar solos in the song Crimson Silk. Herbie Langhans recorded backing vocals. The narrative part was done by Peter Baker and we really like his accent and the way of speaking. It fits great together. Ladislav Šiška was a guest on percussions. Billy Jeffs (Memories Of Old) wrote lyrics for two songs.
I said roles… Can you imagine this whole project adopted for theater or movie?
Tom: We have an idea of creating a spectacular show playing the whole album in a row and make a special scenery for each of the song and some other surprises, but it requires big stages. It’s not a priority but if there will be such a possibility in future, we will be more than happy to realize it.
The album was announced, if I am not wrong, two years ago with the single and a video “Crimson Silk”. A couple more videos followed. Since, again, you live in different cities, countries, how do you record videos?
Tom: You´re right. The first tasting from the new album was with the song “Crimson Silk”. At that time, it was the only finished song from the album, but we were already certain about the whole concept. That´s why the song was released under the name “Part 2: Crimson Silk”, which could be confusing for someone at that time.If necessary, we travel to one place in order to record a video. To be honest, it was necessary just once after the recording of “Crimson Silk” – for the brand new video “I Found My Way Back Home”, where the whole band appears on a boat.The video for “Dreaming of Home” was filmed in three different countries because of Covid travel restrictions and for the video “Prisoner”, we did not film the band, but it was mainly acting video, so it was not necessary to meet each other. But as I said, if it is needed, we are able to travel almost everywhere.
The album release was postponed, you had more time to work on it, but how nerve wrecking were the past two or even three years considering the fact you postponed tour, album release…
Tom: We felt really bad about it. You know, the band made a big line-up change in 2018 and we started from the beginning with the band promotion. After things moved forward and we played some great gigs as well as European tour with Rhapsody of Fire, everything looked promising, but it was then all stopped.Anyway, we don´t want to make excuses. We worked hard on finishing the new album and last couple of months we work hard on its promotion which is running all over the Europe as well as in Japan, so we continue in our effort which will bring fruits sooner or later. We definitely don´t want to stop here. Our priority is to introduce the new album to the fans live and also to introduce both our vocalists.
Is there any song on this album for which you can freely say it is a masterpiece?
Tom: I would say it is the song “Part 5: Mongols”. It is an epic 10 minutes long masterpiece written by Libor, while lyrics were written by Mayo and myself. It is the musical and composer´s peak of the whole story concept. It is also an important part of the story of Marco Polo – after the long journey, he finally reaches the Mongolian empire. There is an epic beginning performed by Kangling (Tibetian name for a trumpet or horn made of a human thighbone used in Himalayan Buddhism) followed by a deep mighty sound of low brass and stringed instruments. After the symphonic introduction and typical Mongolian throat singing called Hoomai, there comes the Mongolian cavalry and crushes everything under the hooves of their horses which resolves into heavy session of aggressive guitar riffs. Most probably, the heaviest song in the band´s history is driven forward by triplet bass drum cannonade and uncompromising guitar parts which resulted into monumental choral chorus. Powerful melodic choruses are musical picture of Polo´s expedition whole-heartedly reaching their goal. In the middle of the song, there is an interlude passage where you can hear a lot of traditional instruments, such as Morin-Khuur (or MaTouQin , horse-headed fiddle, it is one of the most representative traditional cello-like Mongolian instrument) but also typical Mongolian men´s and women´s chorals, which are followed by traditional Chinese instruments, such as Daruan (stringed instrument similar to an acoustic bass guitar), Xiao (very long and thin flute with mellow, warm tone), Zhonghu (middle fiddle similar to viola), Guzheng (it is one of the oldest Chinese instrument and its name literally means “ancient harp”) and Pipa (something like Chinese Lute).At the end of this interlude, there is a solo part on Mongolian MaTouQin and Chinese ErHu which lead into melodic guitar solo and epic chorus. The whole song ends with crushing bass drum triplets and Mongolian horses´ hooves.
I have to mention the cover art, which is signed by Dušan Marković. He specializes in epic, sci-fi, modern and horror art. Why did you choose him?
Tom: Well, he already did the cover for the “Crimson Silk” single and we liked his job, so we asked him for the cooperation again and he amazed us with the album cover. We really like it, he made a great job. I think he greatly caught the album´s atmosphere and converted it into the cover art.
In the last interview you said that due to the Corona pandemic, you postponed your European tour. Did anything change; do you have any plans to get back on the road again?
Tom: It is our priority to go on tour again, especially after the new album release. We definitely want to set Symphonity as a live band. I can´t say you specific dates and tours right now but the negotiation process is one of our main priorities.
Of all concept albums you have ever heard, no matter if we are talking about metal or any other genre, which one is your personal favorite and why?
Libor: I’m not sure if we can call it as a true concept album, but I really like the Victor Smolski’s “Majesty&Passion” album with a symphonic orchestra from Minsk, Belarus. There are great re-arranged versions of Johann Sebastian Bach compositions in a rock or metal way. Another concept albums coming to my mind are Angra’s “Holy Land”, which was very inspiring at the time, or the first two parts of Avantasia. There are many concept albums like “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” from Blind Guardian, “Black Hand Inn” from Running Wild or Luca Turilli’s and Rhapsody of Fire albums but I have to say I’m not a big fan of fantasy stuff including all those dragons and magic swords. On the other hand, I don’t care about the lyrics as much as about music which is, in general, the most important component ofan album, I think.
Do you already have an idea about the next album?
Tom: No, we don´t. We focus fully on the current release and its promotion as well as making a tour.
I already mentioned that Symphonity is an international band. Konstantin is from Ukraine. Considering the situation, I have to ask if he is still in Kiev.
Tom: As far as I know, yes, he is. We are in a regular contact with him and we all wish him and his family peace and safety.
Thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best, at the first place to get back to the stage again. All the best!
Tom: Thank you for the interview and I believe there will be an opportunity to meet in person with you and with all the fans soon if we will play in Serbia.