Hail Albert! Please give us a brief bio of Forsaken!
The band was formed in 1990 and was originally called Blind Alley and played mostly progressive metal with some Sabbath influences. Only Simeon Gatt (our drummer) remains from the very first Blind Alley line-up, though Leo Stivala (vocals) was recruited shortly after the band was formed. I joined in July 1991. After that we decided to go for a stronger doom-metal orientation and we changed the name to Forsaken to reflect this new and marked direction. There were some line-up changes since then, though, Leo, Simeon and myself (bass) date back to the original Forsaken formation. Sean Vukovic, our present guitarist, joined in late 1993 while Mario Ellul, our keyboardist is the most “recent” recruit in the band. He joined the band in January 1998. We’ve played several shows throughout our fourteen- year history and released a number of releases, with the most recent being our new full-length titled Anima Mundi on the Scottish label – Golden Lake Productions.
In 1996 you had released your debut “Evermore”. Did you had anything released before that? What where the fans and press responses towards this release and would you change anything in it if you could?
We released our debut demo “Requiem” early in 1992. This was followed up by a 7″ Ep called “Virtues of Sanctity” and released on Arkham Productions – a French independent label in 1993. There was a three-year hiatus prior to “Evermore”‘s release, which was mostly taken up by gigging in the Island and even a tour in France and Spain in March 1994 to support the Ep’s release. “Evermore” received positive reviews in the metal press world-wide and was also very well received by our fans, though some still yearned for our earlier, and decidedly darker and more epic material. In fact, if I had to criticise anything about that release, it would have to be our shift towards a less intricate direction, and shedding our darker edge. One may argue that some of the territory covered on “Evermore” isn’t our natural habitat so to speak. We’ve always been a more epic oriented doom band and the more basic structures of tracks like “The Healer”, “Rubicon” and so forth were not a true reflection of what Forsaken is all about. They were more the result of experimentation with diverse styles rather than really emanating from our musical soul so to speak. As a result, despite some very good tracks like “Seasons End”, “Winter Tears”, “Sufferance” and “Madrigal”, I think “Evermore” is a rather inconsistent release. The production and band performance were also somewhat lacking especially when compared to our recent releases. Moreover, “Evermore” was also not strongly promoted internationally,, and as a result it did not reach as many people as it should have. If we had to possibility to go back in time, we would change all these factors, and to be honest, we have tried to ensure that such shortcomings would not be repeated in our other releases. Both Iconoclast and Anima Mundi in my opinion are evidence of such attempts at amelioration on diverse fronts.
Was Daniel Magri’s departure due to his illness or for some other reason? How did you get in touch with Mario Ellul? Why did you decide to replace a guitarist with a keyboardist?
It wasn’t a case of one person replacing the other, the story is a bit more complicated and tragic than that. Mario Ellul was recruited in January 1998. Leo had met him in a rock club here in Malta and told him that we were on the hunt for a new keyboardist in an effort to revisit our darker and more epic roots, which could be done more effectively with a keyboard player. Mario was excited with the idea and after Leo told us about him, he came to one of our rehearsals for an audition. We were impressed with his ideas and invited him to get on board on a full-time basis. At the time Daniel had long been in the band. He joined Forsaken in 1992 in fact shortly after we had released our “Requiem” demo. So he was already an established and long-standing part of Forsaken when Mario was recruited. In fact, our cover version of “Neon Knights” for the Dehumanised Witch compilation (a Black Sabbath Dio-era tribute released on MidWest Metal, USA) includes both Mario and Daniel in the line-up. Daniel’s departure from Forsaken was due to his passing away in January 2001.
He had been diagnosed with Cancer about two years before this, but remained a very active part of the band, always attending rehearsals, giving ideas and so forth. He remained an integral part of Forsaken right until he passed away, and you could say that he still is, as he remains a strong inspiration for all of us. In fact, some of the tracks on both “Iconoclast” and “Anima Mundi” include Daniel’s contributions as both releases include tracks that date back to the pre-2000 period.
Last year you released a mCD called “Iconoclast”, a great piece of work I would say, are you satisfied with it and what were the responses towards this one?
“Iconcoclast” was undoubtedly a pivotal part in the rejuvenation of the band following the bleak period we went through before its release. I think that it is a very strong effort on all fronts; both production and performance-wise, it is very strong in my opinion and moreover, the promotion efforts by our current label ensured that we were back on the international underground scene. The reviews we received for the MCD were excellent and the sales were really encouraging. In fact I estimate that we sold more than 1,500 copies of the MCD and possibly more than that. Obviously, the tracks on the MCD were the major selling point there. It’s useless having great production, and an enthusiastic label, but weak songs. At the end of the day, it has to be music which does the talking!
You have recently released your new album “Anima Mundi” which from what I’ve heard it’s going quite well. What differences can you identify between this album and your debut? Are you satisfied with this release up to now?
As “Anima Mundi” is a full-length album, it obviously allowed more space for experimentation and so forth. Between “Evemore” and “Anima Mundi” we also gained more experience in the studio, and I think that this is very evident in the new full-length album. From a production stand-point it marks a definite improvement over all previous releases and also the band performance shines even more this time round. The compositions themselves are more even more multi-textured and intricate than the tracks on “Iconoclast” which had a more “in your face” appeal. “Anima Mundi”, on all fronts, that is, musically, lyrically, and production-wise is a much more profound album. It requires more than one spin for the listener to get into it…once the familiarisation is over, it has a long-lasting appeal. The reactions to the album so far have been amazing. The label is already going for a second 1000 CD after just a few weeks since its release. So its also been selling very well. Needless to say this is our most satisfying release so far, though we’ve already got our minds set on our forthcoming album next year which I am certain will be of the same high standard!
Which bands do you consider as your main influences?
Our most prevalent influence is definitely Black Sabbath; though we’re also very much into seminal 80s doom metal bands like Candlemass, St Vitus, and Trouble. Solitude Aeturnus, Abstract Algebra, Memento Mori are also strong reference points of the band; although we’re also keen on NWOBHM (Witchfinder General, Angel Witch, Daimond Head, Venom etc) and early power/speed/thrash metal, such as, Manilla Road, Savatage, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond etc…Obviously, we also keep track of what’s going on in the contemporary doom metal scene which is presently by far one of the most productive metal scenes!
How do Forsaken go through the songwriting process? Do you have one main composer or do you all contribute?
It’s difficult to define our songwriting process. Often there may be one person in the band trying to push some ideas forward. These are brought to the band and then each person would contribute his own ideas to the broader song structure being proposed. The song then goes through a painstaking period of constant revision until we’re all happy with the final version. “Kindred Veil” for example developed in this way, with Sean laying down the basic ideas and then everybody contributing in his own way. There isn’t one single song-writing formula in Forsaken though. For example, “Carpe Diem” on “Anima Mundi” was completed in just one or two rehearsals and was the result of what you could call a very good and inspired jamming session. At times, we’d just be playing about, and then get ideas for a new track. It’s fascinating really, we seem to layer ideas on top of each other until a concrete and holistic song is created. Some ideas are also worked in the studio, such as, “The Poets Nightmare” also on “Anima Mundi”. What I can tell you that everybody in Forsaken is an accomplished songwriter in his own right. We all have different writing styles however. The challenge is to wed these styles and influences into the broader Forsaken style.
How’s the metal scene in Malta? Are there any other local acts you would like to recommend to us?
The metal scene here is quite strong, especially, when you consider how small the Island really is. Gigs are generally very well attended and you have all a diversity of bands pertaining to a plethora of metal genres, from death-grind to power metal. The doom metal scene is pretty small though as there are only a handful of bands who are really into traditional doom metal like we are. On the other hand, we can’t really complain as our gigs are always very well attended. We have been militating in the Maltese scene for well over a decade now, so our roots here are really strongly entrenched and we are always assured of a very positive response to our gigs. There’s a lot of talent around here, and I don’t want to single out anyone as it would be quite unfair on the rest. However, I’m sure you’ve heard of Beheaded. They’re a very potent Death Metal band, who’ve toured extensively abroad and released some killer albums with foreign labels. I’m not at all into that style of music, but these guys have certainly got to be admired for their musical dexterity and commitment to the genre of music they play. They’re 100% into death metal and deserve all the credit they may get for their unrelenting efforts over all these years. If I’m not mistaken they’ve been going on for nearly as long as we have!
Doom metal seemed to be a dead genre a few years ago but recently a kind of rebirth has taken places with Doom bands and doom specialized labels releasing new albums and re-issuing old ones. Would you like to comment on this? Which factors do you think aided Doom metal to be reborn?
I’m not too sure whether doom metal was dead until a few years ago. Doom metal is the most underground form of metal in existence, it was always there so to speak, available for those who were willing enough to unravel its timeless beauty and sincerity. Admittedly, though throughout these past two years we’ve seen a sort of doom metal revival, especially with the re-union of seminal doom metal acts like St Vitus, Candlemass, Trouble and just recently Count Raven. The Doom Shall Rise I (in which we had the honour of appearing) and II festivals in Germany were also crucial for the resurgence of doom metal and have really helped to ignite and re-charge the scene. I just hope this momentum can be maintained, without however, any compromise of the authenticity of the genre.
What are your near future plans and which is your ultimate goal as a band?
Our immediate plans are to promote the new album’s release with a series of local gigs and hopefully a small tour or a few festivals abroad. After that, we intend to focus our efforts during the summer months to work our forthcoming album which we hope to release in January 2005. It’s then back in the studio again in Autumn, possibly sometime in October 04. There should be another full-length album in 2006, again on Golden Lake Productions (Scotland) so we’ve got some really busy times ahead. One thing is for sure, there will not be a long wait until our next studio output!
Can you share with us a funny moment from your career so far with Forsaken?
There’s quite a few really. Playing in a doom metal band doesn’t imply that we’re a miserable bunch of guys. Well one of the funniest moments (at least for us) in Forsaken has to be when we were touring France and Spain in 1994. There are lots of stories to tell from that tour but one immediately comes to my mind. It was just before our gig in Grenoble (France). We had left our proper banner behind in Malta so we decided to make another one just for the tour. Leo, Sean and myself went by the river bank, bought some materials and started painting the logo on a piece of canvas or something. Sean proudly announced to be a very good artist (which was not the case really!!) so we left the logo drawing to him. Anyway, after something resembling our logo finally emerged, we left the banner out to dry on the river bank while we drank a few beers or so. Suddenly, a stray dog appeared out of nowhere and walked all over the banner while the paint was still wet!! You can imagine the mess the dog made. Given that we spent a whole morning on the banner we decided to use the banner anyway, dog paws and all in our gigs…it was like Forsaken meets Scooby Doo! How’s that for a doomy tale of darkness eh!
Albert! I would like to thank you for the interview, please add anything I forgot to ask and send a message to our readers, hail.
Yeah, first of cheers to you George for all your genuine and sincere support and for holding the flame of true metal high your fantastic zine Forgotten Scroll. I think you’re doing a fantastic job with the zine as it is important for all true metal heads out there to understanding the true spirit of heavy metal. Well done! I’d also like to encourage your readers to check Forsaken out. Metalheads who are passionate about uncompromising METAL will not be disappointed. Also, please check out our website at www.forsakenmalta.com.
KEEP THE FLAME BURNING!!