The mystical world of Avaland returns in 2023 with the fantasy symphonic power metal band’s sophomore full-length, “The Legend of the Storyteller,” due out on March 31st (and will be reviewed in the magazine in late March) via Rockshots Records following their 2021 debut, “Theater of Sorcery.” The new album, story wise, is actually the prequel to the first album.
Compared to its predecessor, “The Legend Of The Storyteller,” is a heavier and much more epic power metal record with anthems for fans to chant along to as they are taken on a journey over twelve theatrical tracks, we were lucky enough to get an advance listen and put the speakers through a workout! The record also hears double vocal duties from Adrien G. Gzagg and Jeff Kanji, along with album guests that include Zak Stevens (ex-Savatage/TSO), Madie (ex-Nightmare/Faith in Agony), Pierre “Cara” Carabalona (Eltharia), Ivan Castelli (Lionsoul), Angèle Macabiès, Jens Ludwig (Edguy) and Bruno Ramos (Sortilège/ex-Manigance).
Adrien G. Gzagg (Autor/Composer/Lead Singer/Synths and Orchestrations)
Jeff Kanji (Lead Singer/Additional Voices and Guitars)
Lucas Martinez (Guitars)
Camille Souffron (Bass)
Leo Mouchonay (Drums)
Joining us for the interview are Adrien, Jeff, Lucas, and Leo.
As I sat down to write this, I noticed that my colleague Mark (who conducted the interview) got off track talking about Queen and Marillion, but he did tell me how much fun the interview was, and I hope that comes across in my write-up! I would say that this is a band that will make an increasing impact; they have a solid image and an identity that fans can get behind. They also have a creative songwriter in Adrien Gzagg and are a group of talented musicians. So with that in mind, on with the show! We began by asking about the concept of the story that Adrien is developing.
Adrien- The way we listen to music now is very different from how it was approached in past years. I do feel it is better to listen to the tracks in order, at least the first time. But I know that everyone will pick up and listen to their favourite tracks after that. Everyone approaches as they want to.
We do feel at the magazine that so much care is taken in the music by artists in selecting how tracks run on an album, a point made to us by Deborah Bonham last year, that just randomly taking a song out of step undermines the idea of listening to an album from beginning to end. In the days of vinyl, you would take the record home, admire the sleeve, read the inner notes and lyrics, and only then play the piece through. Now we have an instant download culture. In this case, Avaland has a broad story in place, which means you miss out by not listening to the entire thing.
Jeff- The way Adrien writes songs is within a wide framework of the stories he wants to tell. It is like placing footprints in time, and they lead forward. The order of the songs is contained in the sense that they follow the storyline, the different moods, and the way of arranging the songs; if it is dark or fast. You follow through. The experience of listening to an album prevails; maybe we are more of an album band, and we might not release a single. But there is something for everyone; you prefer the more developmental material, I may like the rock stuff, we hope you will find all these aspects in different songs. Everything goes into the recipe.
Music is like cooking a meal; you put in the ingredients and get the best taste. This is a band that has worked on their image and forged an identity from the start. Watching the videos and looking at the great album covers (designed by Stan W. Decker), there is this fourteenth-century look to the castles, knights, and touches of Arthurian legend; but the sorcerer stands there in his Victorian hat and garb, like a ringmaster. We wondered!
Adrien- There will be a mystery around all of the Avaland saga, and this is part of the mystery!
There are clear touches of Arthurian legends, the Green Knight, and folklore.
Adrien- It depends. Of course, some Arthurian myths do inspire me, but also “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings,” so there is the folklore aspect that connects to my inspirations. But I get ideas here and there to create Avaland’s concept.
We had a drummer question for Leo about the sound he strives for on the album and where he gains his inspiration from. We get comments from drum fans out there for more drum information, so this bit is for them
Leo- I recorded the drums for this album on a Tama Starclassic (10′, 12′, 16′, and 20′) with a 14’/6.5′ Sonor snare in an oak wood shell. I only used Sabian cymbals: a splash 8′, a Complex HHX 18′, a 16’ XBr O-zone, / 16’ Complex HHX, / 2 x 14’ hi-hats (AAX Xplosion (R) and HHX Complex (L), and two rides : AA rock ride (R) and AAX Xplosion (L).I also use an Iron Cobra—the Legend of Innovation—as a double pedal. We searched for a sound that could be more organic, more personal than “Theatre of Sorcery.” In the beginning of the recording session, we spent a lot of time with Adrien and Steven Rozier, our sound engineer, to find the perfect compromise between an old school sound and a modern production. The drums I used for the recording were, first, very practical to play with a deep and warm sound, and they were also easy for Steven to work on. Some of my greatest influences in drumming are Hellhammer (Arcturus, Winds, Mayhem), from whom I borrow a lot of his hi-hat playing, especially on “Insurrection,” “Lies” and “Crimson Tyranny.” I borrowed a lot from Jason Rullo’s style (Symphony X) and Gene Hoglan for songs like “Madness Of The Wise” or “The Gift,” stuff like that. Basically, this album enjoys a wiser compromise between speed, complexity, and groovy parts, and in my opinion, some songs like our second single, “Betrayers,” are a real proof of all of that.
Did we spot Queen in there as well? A bit of Roger Taylor-style drumming?
Leo: “That is down to Jeff!”
At this point, Mark (and Jeff) definitely headed off script, but it was all interesting, so we went with it! Mark made the point that he was a massive fan of early Queen and felt Queen II was their greatest work.
Jeff – Oh, “The Seven Seas of Rhye,” “The March of the Black Queen” (Jeff sings “Nevermore”). I would say when people talk about “Innuendo” or “Night at the Opera,” they are great albums, but Queen II is my favourite. And the first album, too. When I was studying English in school, I really liked the language and even considered becoming an English teacher, but look what happened! Then I listened to a lot of Queen, and I was reading the lyrics of “Great King Rat,” and there were these lyrics: “the son of a whore.” I came to the English teacher and said that while I understood most of the song, this bit I didn’t find in the dictionary. She said she couldn’t tell me that, but then in this posh French she said very quietly, “prostitute!”
On the new album, there is this great track called “Out of the Fog” (it is in position 8 on the album), a wonderful piano intro, layered vocals (duo vocals), and it moves to an all-out rocker with a powerful guitar sound. It’s one to enjoy, and it really transports you into the world of the album. A big chorus sound is also present. This is a big production number, and the band is having a great time.
Adrien- This track is the one with the most hope. For the inspiration we took from Meatloaf with the piano, it has a powerful middle. However, once the instruments were finished, Jeff felt there was something missing, so we borrowed something from Marillion with the synthesiser to add more energy and fillings.
Jeff- Actually, while you were playing the piano, I was hearing, like, forgotten songs, and we were both listening, and it made some of the pre-chorus that I am very proud of. It has great guitars on that song, and I agree that it is one of the best guitar sounds.
Lucas- I had a hard time with that one; I mean, it took me a while for this song to create the sound. It was fun to play and interesting to hear, as I am not used to writing in major, at least for the chorus, which is in major. I was looking for a sound with arpeggios and some melody, and I associated it with “Crazy Train” and Randy Rhodes on guitar for some reason. I was interested in how Randy was writing rhythm guitar and used that as a model.
As a note on Lucas, he is a big fan of technical death metal (Necrophagist, Suffocation, Obscura, etc.), and when he had to write the guitar parts for “Kingslayer,” he asked Adrien and Jeff to show him an 80s hard rock band they liked. They suggested that he listen to Harem Scarem’s “Mood Swings,” which is Adrien’s favourite hard rock album of all time. Then Lucas loved it so much, he only talked about this album for months, and of course, he learned each and every track of this album on the guitar. A note on this from us at the magazine, this is one of the best hard rock albums out there, and it somehow remains largely under the radar.
Adrien- The very first version of “Out of the Fog” was written in 2016, when I was just 18! Actually, it was at the same time as some songs from “Theater of Sorcery.” This was the year I first saw Avantasia on stage and met Tobias Sammet.
Touring plans for 2023?
Adrien- In 2023, we have the European tour. Where we are on the road in April, supporting Rhapsody of Fire and Sortilege We are going through many European countries, but not the UK yet. We hope to, as fans of prog rock, do so soon, as it will be so great to play on the stages of Marillion and Queen!
Regarding Marillion, this interviewer was in a record shop (remember those?) many years ago, and it was one of only two times I bought a record solely based on its cover. Marillion’s “Script for a Jester’s Tear” was the first album, and “Destroyer” by Kiss was the other. We must say that Avaland also has great record covers, and the image is part of that whole package as well.
Jeff- That’s why with “Legend of the Storyteller,” we have this great art work with Stan Decker, and we had in mind what we wanted to tell you, and he had the perfect vision for what we wanted to tell. You have these blending elements of various landscapes and moods. The core of the band is stronger now than on the first album. Adrien wrote the first album and gave me the keys to the whole thing, but the second album is more of a group effort. It was supposed to be ready two years ago, but you know what derailed it. But it impacted this album. The guitars are more edgy; it has a stronger prog vibe in the mix. You can really hear that in “Lies.”
“To Be the King” has that strong element as well, I feel. It has a bang-on guitar sound.
Jeff- We are better musicians now than on the first album, I think. We work closely together to get the live sound, and the music can be tricky to play even though we composed it. This has a big impact on the sound of the new album, there is a big progression.
Adrien- I am a lover of the artwork on album covers by bands like Asia, and I wanted the art to reflect my demo art as I had a vision for the covers. Before they hear the music, the artwork can transport the listener to your music, into your universe.
The sheer desire from this band is clear, they are great to talk to and the album is ready to hit home hard. As a last note from Adrien “While recording “You’ll Be The Legend”, Jeff and I putted so much of our soul in the song that we find ourselves crying in the studio. It was a marvelous example of the brotherhood we share in the band.
The fact is that I was so in trance when I was singing this song, I did an unexpected one shot! Just after, Lucas said to me “Man, you look like you’re on drugs!”. I was just not on earth anymore for this song,
but somewhere lost in another dimension (like in the Disney movie “Soul”).
By Benny (the Ball) Benson
Mark C. Chambers
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