Interview: Albatross Discuss New EP, Band’s History & Indian Metal Scene

By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal

Based out of Mumbai, India, horror-themed heavy metal band Albatross have been an intriguing entity for me ever since they released their debut EP “Dinner Is You” in 2010. I found their presentation of traditional heavy metal quite unique, and it drew me towards them instantly. From that point on, I kept in touch with their activities through online social networks. Now, the band has completed their second EP, “The Kissing Flies”. It comes as part of a split release with US-based occult heavy metal band Vestal Claret, out now on Roadcrew Records. Albatross is currently on a 5-show EP launch tour, which kicked off last night, March 30th 2012, at the Star Rock in Chennai. I had the opportunity to sit down with the band and have a detailed chat with them about this new EP, their history, the Indian metal scene, and other things. Enjoy the conversation below, and visit their facbook page for more info on the EP and the tour dates.

You’re starting your EP launch tour tonight in Chennai. How does it feel to play in Chennai of all places, considering that it’s not really known for its metal scene?

Dr. Hex: This is the first time we’ve actually been to Chennai. Our label is based here, so it made sense for us to start here. Our whole point is spreading the message of old-school metal everywhere, and no better place than Chennai to do that. We’ve been receiving fairly good amount of responses online for the gig, so I’m hoping everybody who said they’ll come for the gig will show up eventually.

Yeah, let’s hope so. But, do small turnouts bother you? When you’re up on stage and you look at a small crowd, does your performance get affected by that?

Dr. Hex: I was in this band called Workshop, and once we played this show which had four people in the audience, including a magician who was performing magic tricks and the other three people had surrounded him. So, it doesn’t really affect us, man. We just go out there, do our thing and if there’s a low turnout tonight, we’ll probably treat it as a practice gig for the show tomorrow in Bangalore. So, not much of a bother.

For the sake of Metal Assault followers who might not have heard of your band, I would like to ask how you decided on the name Albatross.

Dr. Hex: Albatross comes from the fact that the whole band was formed because of our interest in literature and writing. The Albatross is the central character in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” poem, and also of course, Iron Maiden has done a song on it which happens to be one of our favorite songs. It’s our vocalist’s favorite song of all time. So it made sense. My  brother suggested the name, and it just stuck and happened to sound appropriate.

Your debut was the “Dinner Is You” EP, and you just released “The Kissing Flies” EP. Would you say you’re more comfortable putting out EPs as opposed to full-length albums?

Dr. Hex: Not really. We started out with the first EP, but this time we were actually working on a full-length concept when Phil from Vestal Claret actually asked us whether we’d be interested in doing a split release with them. So we put a hold on what we were doing at that point, and we decided to write The Kissing Flies. That was a big decision to take at that point in time, because we already had five songs ready. These are also part of our live set, and you’ll hear them tonight. So we had to start afresh, and right now the idea of a split is very appealing because there’s no pressure on you to create a 70-minute long album. In my opinion, an EP comes more naturally so to speak. It’s also interesting because a split is not just an offering from one band, but it’s two bands instead.

Yeah, I like the idea of the split. It becomes a full-length that way, specially with Vestal Claret’s “Black Priest” song being 17 minutes long.

Dr. Hex: Absolutely. And their song doesn’t even feel like a 17-minute song. It’s quite brilliant that way.

Did you feel that their music fits well with yours when the idea of the split was first presented to you?

Vignesh: I’m guessing that’s the reason why they had the idea to make a split with us, because somehow, the concepts that Riju would come up with would tend to fall upon the whole horror space, and they read it as a doom element. So I think it fits in very well because on this album we ventured a bit into the doom space with a lot of suggestions from everybody.

Dr. Hex: What we did on this release is, they had a lot more doom in their sound and we had a traditional heavy metal and power metal sound. They modified their sound to make it a little bit like us, and we modified ours to fit in with theirs, which I think is a very fun thing to do. You get to explore new ideas in music that way.

Vignesh: And the concept really gave life to the music, more than anything else.

Talking of the concept, basically you’re a horror-themed metal band. What drew you towards the horror theme in the first place?

Dr. Hex: King Diamond’s “Abigail” (laughs). It’s my favorite album of all time, and that was the first album where the moment I picked it up, I realized that it’s not just a piece of music. I always read the lyrics, and I’ve never actually been drawn to the lyrics before that. It always used to be just about the music for me, but as soon as I picked up that album, I could see that one story leads into another and it keeps you at the edge of your seat to guess what happens in the next song. I never knew that music could do that. So I thought we should so something like that ourselves too. He invented the genre and we’re pretty much taking it forward.

Metal and horror have had a connection for so long. I don’t think horror fits in with any other genre of music as well as it does with metal.

Dr. Hex: Absolutely. Black Sabbath’s self-titled song, probably the first metal song ever written, is a horror song. We’ve had people throughout the history of metal, like Alice Cooper, King Diamond and even Judas Priest, with songs like “Night Crawler” and “The Ripper”, have explored the horror theme. Traditional metal and horror go really well, I think.

The thing I like most about Albatross is the prominence of clean vocals. There are so many death metal bands out there that base themselves on a similar horror theme. Were you tempted to make it a death metal band at all, when you were starting out?

Dr. Hex: Not really. Me and Biprorshee had formed the band because there had come a point where we had become sick of the kind of music that was all over the city. We were in different bands at that point in time, but nobody was playing this style of music. So we decided to form the band, then Jai came on board, and we all got into the space to play that style. The first album, honestly speaking, wasn’t too horror-themed. After Vignesh came on board, we’ve had a very big shift in songwriting. There was a point when I don’t think he got us and we didn’t get him. There was a big gap between us. But later on, I started to sense what he’s bringing to the band and he also got what the band was all about. So I think this whole interplay took the band into a whole new direction. We’re a lot more cinematic now than we ever were.

Coming back to this new EP, did it take longer to write the story or the actual music?

Dr. Hex: The story took 48 hours (laughs). We had to put a stop on everything we were doing at that point in time. Phil from Vestal Claret told me that he wants to release an album by the end of 2011. I went into panic mode, because I panic at every little instance. So I didn’t sleep for 48 hours and I came up with this story. So that happened in almost no time, and I don’t think even the music took too long.

Vignesh: After the concept was written, he came to us and we discussed it. We came up with some riffs, and after we jammed together, it all came to life.

Dr. Hex: Vignesh and Srikanth, our previous guitarist, pretty much wrote all the parts. Jai wrote his parts on top of that, and then Srikanth quit the band. So then this guy Nishith came in and he played blazing solos that made our jaws hit the floor (laughs).

Now, tonight will be my first metal show after five years. Tell me, what have I missed in these five years, and how has metal in the country developed during this period?

Dr. Hex: The biggest thing I notice is that Indian bands have their own identity now. They are not rip-off bands. You have bands that sound exactly like Lamb Of God, and you have bands that sound like Iron Maiden, but Indian bands have realized that they don’t need to sound like those bands. They can sound original and stand out. And I think the audience has become a lot more appreciative. Although, they still don’t buy CDs and download music. We can’t do much about that (laughs). There are shows that happen regularly in certain parts of the country. Shows happen, venues close down, new venues open. So it’s been the same, pretty much,  But there’s a distinct old-school and new-school divide now (laughs).

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. There seems to be a rivalry among people based on their musical preferences. Why is that? Why can’t people listen to both the old and new school styles?

Dr. Hex: Well obviously they can, but then it would take away the internet fun. I personally have nothing to do all day (laughs). I have to be online all day because of work, so me and some friends just create these shitstorms online. It has nothing to do with anything else, we’re all friends at the end of the day. Metal in India is a very limited community, so there’s no actual hatred between the bands. It’s a lot of fun to cause this and see if people get patriotic about their style of music (laughs).

Vignesh: I think one thing that has changed in the last five years is that, metal five years ago was just a form of aggression. But I honestly believe metal is aggression with experimentation, and I think that’s what has changed. There is more experimentation now, and I think Albatross comes in that category.

Dr. Hex: A lot of bands say that they are evolving with every album, and what they mean is, they are becoming technically more complex. I think evolution could also mean taking a step back. That is what I strongly believe in, and the entertainment aspect of metal has been slowly declining, I think. It has become more technical than visual, but people come to a concert to be entertained, not to be blown away by technicality. There is nothing wrong with technicality in music, but the entertainment factor also needs to be brought in, which is something we try to keep alive with the costumes. Jai takes off his shirt at the half-way point (laughs). So, we do stuff like that.

That gig five years back was the Iron Maiden show in Bangalore. I’m sure every metal fan in India, or most of them, were at that show. What did that gig mean to you? I’m sure it must have inspired you in some ways to create your own music.

Dr. Hex: Absolutely. It remains, to this day, one of the most special events. We only saw Iron Maiden on DVD before that, and as a big Maiden fan, I had watched every DVD of theirs. But seeing them in flesh was something I still haven’t come to terms with. I’ve seen Maiden three times after that, but those seemed a lot more real than that first concert. After that, a lot more bands have begun coming to perform in India. Metallica happened last year. Everyone knows about that (laughs). So that Iron Maiden gig was the window for India to the world, so to speak, in terms of the metal culture and audience.

You mentioned Metallica. The show in Bangalore went ahead as planned, and I heard it was great. But the Delhi show was a fiasco. Because it’s Metallica, everybody all across the world knows about that mishap. Do you think it gave a bad name to Indian promoters which might be hard to erase?

Dr. Hex: It’s just a one-off event, honestly speaking, because there have so many bands that have come and have a good time. I don’t think the Metallica incident reflects on the Indian metal culture. It’s just a sad, unfortunate event and the Indian audience proved just two days later that they could behave well and let a gig happen properly. So it doesn’t reflect on the Indian metal scene as such.

That’s good to know. I wasn’t here at the time, and I wasn’t sure how much of an impact it has had, that’s why I asked.

Dr. Hex: The very fact that Metallica decided to play two days later and everything went off smoothly proves that there was really no negative impact. Although, they were a little extra cautious. They were telling us things like, “Take two steps back”, “Let everything happen on time”, “This is very important”, and things like that.

Yeah I’m sure they were speaking really slowly because they think we don’t understand English, right?

Dr. Hex: Yeah, exactly (laughs). But it happened and we all had a good time. Again, Metallica is another band we never thought we’d see live, with the pyro-technics and everything. It was pretty crazy. Somebody has to get the Big Four tour down to India now.

Finally I’d like to ask you, don’t you think Indian bands need those international bands to come down here and play gigs, more than just the fans who obviously see those bands play? I think it’s more important for our metal scene that Indian bands get to open for them at those gigs. For example, it would be great if Albatross gets to open for Judas Priest or somebody like that.

I think more than the platform it provides, it’s just a very special thing. If you know what Judas Priest means to all of us, it’s just special to share the stage with them. There are rumors that Judas Priest is coming to India later this year (laughs), that too with Saxon. Nobody knows how true they are, but it’ll obviously be a good thing if it happens because Priest will get a huge audience and for us, it’ll be a great chance to play for a huge audience but more importantly, it’ll also be a chance to share the stage with somebody who has directly influenced Albatross, because without Judas Priest, I’d go as far as saying that there wouldn’t be an Albatross. So that makes it even more special.

Related: Album review | Chennai gig review