When one speaks of European Melodic Power Metal these days, Visions Of Atlantis is a name that always seems to enter the conversation. The band was formed in the South East of Austria 13 years ago and their energy and passion for what they do shows no sign of abating.
Visions Of Atlantis recently toured Europe to promote their brand new album – “Ethera” - in the company of label mates Serenity and with Souldrinker. While they were passing through London during the tour I had a chat with Maxi Nil, one of the band’s lead singers, and attempted to gain an insight into the musicians that lie behind the music.
How has the tour been going until now?
It’s been fantastic. Better than expected, actually. It’s the first European tour that we’ve done with a band of our league, not with big names. Serenity are like brothers and sisters to us. It’s been a big trial for us but until today it’s been fantastic.
Let’s speak about the new “Ethera” album that is being released officially today.
That’s right, today.
I felt that with respect to the previous “Delta” album (2011), “Ethera” relies less on orchestrations and more on vocal harmonies. Was that something you had planned all along?
No, we didn’t plan it that way. It’s just the way things turned out. In this album also me and Chris (guitarist Christian Hermsdörfer) were involved with the songwriting process so if you have 2 more composers, things will inevitably turn out differently. We wanted to sound a little more modern, to have Rock-ier songs
In fact I believe that when you joined Visions Of Atlantis, “Delta” – the band’s previous album – had already been written.
Yes, it had already been written.
What were your specific contributions to the album?
I wrote ‘Cave Behind The Waterfall’, ‘Hypnotised’ and some vocal lines to other songs. I also wrote ‘Vicious Circle’ with Chris.
And how would you summarise the lyrical themes of “Ethera”?
To sum it up, well…...we have a red line and sometimes we move into this red line. The lyrics basically look at the rise and fall of human cultures through these last 5000 years. I’m not going into the explanations of each song but that is the overarching theme. The albums talks about both the good and dark side of human beings.
Probably your Greek origins provide you with plenty of inspiration for such themes.
Oh, yes. Definitely. This band is multicultured too – we have Austrian, Greek and German members in the band.
Sort of a reduced version of the United Nations…..
Will you also be using this same system after the current tour and for the summer festivals?
I think so. You know, it’s better that way because of all the line-up changes we have been through. It’s better to keep it as it is because we are like a family now with this line-up. Having said that, if there’s a bass player who’s willing to join, of course we might have a session player.
Maxi, your career path is quite an interesting one. You started out in Greece and before ending up with this Austrian band you also passed through Portugal. How would you describe your experience of singing with Moonspell?
It was magical. Before singing with them I hadn’t known them personally. I just had a phone call from Fernando [Ribeiro, Moonspell vocalist] who told me that they were coming to Athens for a gig. It was as if we had always known each other – straight away our collaboration was so natural.
Maybe Mediterraneans find it easy to get along with each other…
I read you’re also involved with On Thorns I Lay, a band which I personally quite like.
Really? Actually that was my first big band…I had smaller bands when I was about 16 years old. I joined On Thorns I Lay when I was 22….it goes back 10 years or so. We recorded an album together but then the label folded and we couldn’t release it any more. We were left with an unmixed and unreleased album.
So hasn’t that album been released yet?
We uploaded it. After 10 years gathering dust, we decided to upload it a few months ago. Besides, On Thorn I Lay are not active any more. I don’t think they’ll put together any live shows either because they all have jobs and families. Most of them are doctors, too.
So…Moonspell, On Thorns I Lay, Elysium……all bands whose music possesses a dark gothic vibe.
I had formed Elysium in…I think it was 2004…with the band’s guitar player. We played together until 2008, when I left the band.
Do you think you bring this gothic element into the music of Visions Of Atlantis?
Well, this is me. [Points at herself.] I don’t know if what you say is the case but the other people who listen to me and to Visions Of Atlantis should be better judges about that. I mean can’t change myself and who I am but if you say I bring a gothic element into the music, well that’s fine with me. Why not? [laughs]
How important is ‘melody’ as an identity of Visions Of Atlantis?
You can say it’s the alpha and the omega of the band. We are a Metal band…maybe you can call us Symphonic, yes, even though “Ethera” is a little less symphonic than previous albums from the band. We also want to modernise our sound. We’ve let aside the symphonic element and focused on vocal harmonies and guitar riffs. So maybe the next album will be a bit heavier with more guitars.
You mean there already some ideas floating around for the next album?
A few. [grins]
In May you’ll be returning to the UK for the ‘Dames Of Darkness’ festival.
Yes, in Birmingham.
Do you yet have anything planned for that festival, such as the set-list?
Of course the set-list is ready. Everything is ready. We’re going to be co-headliners with Delain, so it’s going to be big. The set-list will be more from “Ethera”, “Delta” and “Trinity”.
In 2007, Visions Of Atlantis had toured China and Taiwan. Are there any plans to tour Asia again in the near future?
Actually we were invited to go and play in China next 20th April. We’re just waiting for the confirmations.
Have you personally ever played in Asia?
Sure. Two times.
How different is it from the scene you are used to in Europe?
It’s another planet actually. When I went there with the band in 2010, we were supporting Sinead O’Connor! I know, it has nothing to do with us, musically speaking, but they don’t care. People just love the music there and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. We had played in front of 100,000 people.
Yes, the people in front of us never seemed to end. You know, they look at you as if you’re something inhuman, something out of this world. And the fact that you’re European for them makes you something even more alien. But they just love music over there. And they’re very kind people. You can say that music is very important for them because they don’t have access to media such as YouTube. Even FaceBook is forbidden there.
I guess it’s a bit like giving a small piece of food to someone who’s dying of hunger. That person will devour that bit of food up to the last crumb. The same with music…when the Chinese remain without music for so long, they’ll ‘devour’ the music of the European band that sets foot in their country.
It’s exactly the same, yes. A bit like when we went to South America and to Africa.
You also played in Africa? How did that go?
Well, we went to Africa but we didn’t actually play there. What happened was that too many people showed up, about 4000 people. The government cancelled the show 5 minutes before our soundcheck because they said it was too dangerous [uses a sarcastic tone of voice]. They were expecting just 200 people.
Keeping on the subject of touring, when doing an extensive tour is it hard to be consistent in the quality of your performances?
It is a little hard, to be honest. For example in this European tour we’re playing every day. No day off. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take vitamins in the morning. You have to save a little bit of your energy every night. But the most important thing is sleeping.
So that’s the advice you would give to bands doing their first tour?
Yeah. Get as much sleep as you can. And eat good. That is it. Because otherwise you wouldn’t survive.
And vocalists are particularly susceptible to fatigue and bad health…
Yes, because we vocalists have a natural instrument. If I’m just a little ill, I can’t sing. I might be able to play drums or guitar but I definitely can’t sing if I’m ill.
A few straightforward questions to round off the interview…what are your personal interests outside of music?
I like to paint a lot. I started as a painter before even going into music. When I was about 5 years old, I never thought I’d be a musician. I always said I would be a painter. I also make handcrafts.
What’s your favourite painting genre?
I’m more into the dark stuff. [laughs]
Somehow I’m not surprised!
[Maxi laughs even more.] Yeah, you won’t see me drawing flowers, for sure.
I really love the artwork of a Greek artist: Seth Siro Anton, of Septic Flesh.
Yeah, we’re very good friends in fact.
[Before Maxi Nil leaves the touring bus to join the rest of her band-mates on stage, she has one final message to give the fans…]
Always support original music. I think people believe that by downloading music illegally, they would be hurting the labels. That is not true. They will be hurting US. My message to everyone is: please support the bands. The labels still rely on sales of the bands’ albums. So the label will tell the band: ‘So, you didn’t sell? Then you won’t get the money for the next album.’ Illegal downloading hurts only the musicians.
© 2013 (Chris Galea)
Interviewed by Chris Galea