Eyal’s stuck between metal and classical music, but he’s doing okay

You know what’s annoying? All those metalheads trying to find « excuses » to the existence of heavy metal, and to the fact that they enjoy it. More precisely, those who, through a somewhat naïve, simplistic and kind of dumb logic, try to establish a link between metal and classical music. For them, it’s a way to make a statement about metal being a noble form of music or – even worse – to give metal a purpose. But why? Does one need to justify oneself? Is that not the strength of our music: to be an independent genre, that doesn’t need to rely on anything else to justify its merits?

Eyal Levi, Dååth’s talented guitarist, tries to answer these questions. Indeed, Eyal has always lived surrounded by classical music thanks to his father, famous conductor Yoel Levi, whom distinguished himself leading Atlanta’s symphonic orchestra and Stockholm’s or Israel’s philharmonic orchestra; let alone his collaboration with Yngwie Malmsteen. Given all that, one would obviously tend to believe Eyal when he claims to know about classical music. If you just listen to his band Dååth, or the instrumental project he formed with his colleague Emil Werstler, you’ll have to notice his musical expertise.

But here’s the thing: Eyal’s passion is metal. The heavy one, violent, compact and dirty, the one that makes you want to scream and slam your head against the walls. Moreover, Dååth just released their self-titled album, which just might be their most accomplished album yet: it has more experimenting than the last one, The Concealers, and is more controlled than the first albums.

So here’s what the extremely interesting Eyal has to say about that:

« This is the first record that is completely pure for us so in that way he is right. Technically it’s our third record, or fourth depending on how you look at it, but artistically this is definitely the first record where nobody got in our way.« 

Radio Metal : Although you were signed to Roadrunner, “The Concealers” was released by Century Media. So what is the situation in terms of label?

Eyal Levi (guitar) : We are in Century Media all the way now, worldwide.

Why did you choose to go with Century Media rather than staying with Roadrunner Records? These days metal bands all tend to go with Roadrunner whereas you do the opposite.

I think that the most important in life, and especially in a band, is working with people that you work well with. That is more important than anything. We were finding that with Roadrunner their priority was not on us and that is understandable, they have huge bands. We need to be developed, we need time to develop this band and Century Media is much more on that. Century Media understand we are underground and they are really active. They understand what it takes to build the band. So it is just better for us, it is a better fit.

The new album is self-titled usually bands do so to point out like a new beginning for the band or to make a strong statement. In your case what is the reason for this self-titled?

This album is the first time that we did everything our way with no outside pressure from  labels, there are no new band members, no old contests from old band members, nothing, no producer taking over the project… This is 100% what we wanted to do, this is 100%  honest representation of who we are. We felt it was only appropriated to call it Daath because that’s who we are.

Sean Z your singer has been quoted saying that this album could well be the true first album of DAATH. I know this is exactly what you said about “The Concealers” but would you agree with him to some extend?

Yes, every single time that you make a record you feel that you start a new life, a new chapter. It is like a new beginning. The thing that Sean means is that it is the first time, like I said, that we had no pressure or concepts coming externally from the band. This is the first record that is completely pure for us so in that way he is right. Technically it’s our third record, or fourth depending on how you look at it, but artistically this is definitely the first record where nobody got in our way.

The Concealers was more of a straight head metal album compared to the first two but now you are back with some effects, subtle experimentations and with more progressiveness in your music. Did you somehow try to find back a bit of the musical influence Mike Kameron had on the band before he left in 2008?

No, not at all. Our goal was with “The Concealers” to make a very precise guitar oriented record, like Countdown To Extinction (Megadeth) was. That was what we really wanted to do with very precise songs, very tight, guitar oriented, straight ahead metal. We wanted to do that for a long time actually. And you know, once we did it, it was time to find the next stage. We wanted to have a record that would be 100% feeling oriented, which would completely represent how we feel and exactly who we are right now, to capture it in a very raw sort of way and to not put any real rules on the songs, no structures. Whatever we felt like doing to make the song better, we did. It was much more open-ended than on “The Concealers”. It was something intentional because that how we felt like doing this time.

« Outside of metal you see a band like Muse, when they are playing live it is a complete production, it is unbelievable! Some bands do get it but I think the majority of bands these days have lost the showmanship that we used to find.« 

On the first two albums the experimental aspect was much more obvious than now, with for example the industrial tones of “Dead On The Dance Floor” whereas now it is more subtle and blended with straight metal aspect. Can we say that you have matured as composers?

I think that we’ve matured as musicians and composers and as people which is only natural, right? If you don’t mature eventually you become immature. If you keep on doing something long enough, your style becomes more defined and you get closer to what you want. I believe now that with every project I do I have to have the time for it. One of the earlier things in DAATH was, I think, maybe that we were going over the map a little bit too much. It has to do with how we got signed. The band was not totally together when we got signed and our first album is a collection of demos we did over the years. So it jumps around a lot chronologically but also stylistically because when you get a song that was written three years before another song, it is completely different. Now, with the new album, all the songs have been written at the same time. They have a more mature feeling because this is where we are now. It is not a picture of five years with those songs, it is a picture of three months.

Do you intend to find a replacement for Mike Kameron on keyboards someday?

We have someone doing keyboards for us, his name is Eric Guenther. He is not officially in the band but he also did keyboards on the instrumental record that Emil and I did, called “Avalanche of Worms”. He is a great friend of mine, a great writer and a great musician all around. We won’t call him a replacement but he is working with us right now.

So, you don’t consider him as a full time member?

He is not a full time member we will just see how it goes. He can definitely become one. He did a fantastic job on this album. I think he did something completely unique and he really did great. So, we will see how it goes and even if he wants to… All that is details, we got to give us some times.

By the way what happened with Mike?

You know, I don’t really want to talk about it. All I can say is that I hope he is happy.

You co-produced the album with Mark Lewis. Do we have to understand that you are a kind of a control freak?

No, I just have a vision. Everybody has a job, every company, every project; different people have different jobs and roles. Everyone needs to know their role. One of my main roles, which is one of my talents, is that I am very good at seeing the bigger picture. I know what I want things to sound like so that’s all it is! I have a very strong artistic drive. I don’t think it is being a control freak or anything like that.

I have read that the band recently worked hard to create the best possible show including the visual aspect of the show. Is working out a good live show as important to you as recording a good album?

Definitely! You have to work on a great live show otherwise you won’t have a great live show! When you get on stage in front of people you better get them something that is going to blow them away or why are you bothering to do it? So, of course it is important! It is the live representation of those feelings. We need to respect the album we made and to respect all the work that went into it by properly representing it.

What can the fans expect in specific for the future live show of DAATH?

They can expect to be blown away.

Many bands, back in the days, worked hard on their live shows very early in their career,  the obvious example of that is Iron Maiden. They did that because it was the only option they had to stand out. Do you think this is something that has been lost today? Now that the bands have so many easy ways to communicate massively their music.

I think it has been lost a lot in metal. But then you go and see Rob Zombie or Slipknot, Korn, Dimmu Borgir and you realise that some bands still do put on shows but it is definitely not every band. Outside of metal you see a band like Muse, when they are playing live it is a complete production, it is unbelievable! Some bands do get it but I think the majority of bands these days have lost the showmanship that we used to find. I wish they hadn’t lost it.

Your father Yoel Levi is a well-known conductor I guess you must have a pretty good background in classical music…

Yes, definitely. I grew up around it, I studied it and I composed it.

Why did you orientate yourself toward metal instead of following the footsteps of your father?

I never wanted to be a symphonic conductor there is no way I could have follow his footsteps. I’ve never even considered it. Why did I get into metal? It is hard to say because it is like saying why do you like a certain food? You can say that you like it or what you like about it but why do you like it? Why is it your favourite or why are you attracted to somebody? You can say because they are beautiful and have a great body but why this woman instead of that one? It is the same with music; it is very hard to say. I can tell you what I like about it but why? I don’t know.

Has your father listened to your music with DAATH?

Yes of course!

What does he think of it?

I think he respects what goes into it. It is not his style of music. You know how metal is and especially extreme metal, if it is not your style of music it sounds pretty noisy. There are certain things about it that you only appreciate if you know this style of music.

« why not just accept that you love it for what it is? Who gives a fuck whatever people think of it? Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but to assert things like metal being the new classical… it is not! There’s no reason to take such a large leap. Who are you going to impress? If you say that to people who understand classical music they will laugh at you!« 

These days, many metal heads like to draw similarities between metal and classical music. Some even go as far as saying that symphonic metal is like the new classical music of our days. What is your opinion about this?

I think it is totally wrong. The only thing they have in common is that they are both very powerful, they are both very extreme, they are both usually very technical and they both go at times very against society. One last thing is that there is no improvisation; you always find the same thing. A classical piece is a classical piece, a metal song is a metal song as opposed to Jazz where it is going to be different every single time the band plays it. So, those are the similarities but for people who say that metal is the new classical is very cocky of metal. What makes metal great is not its lyrical complexity, you can’t do that with a metal band. Metal is riff based music, they don’t have riffs in classical music. You can have orchestra like influences to where things sound very orchestrated, very dynamic and very powerful but classical music’s structure is completely different. It is a very flowing structure which grows organically and dynamically and the repetition is automatic repetition, it is not like riff based repetition. Metal borrows elements of orchestra music but it is definitely not the same thing. The modern version of classical music is stuff like Danny Elfman does, he is a composer, he writes for movies. Back in the early days of classical music, people always wrote for those who paid the most. Back in the days, it was the Church and now it is Hollywood. The composers are in Hollywood they are not in metal bands.

Why, according to you, would a metal head want to convince himself and others that metal is so close to classical music? Could it be to legitimate metal somehow?

Yes, that’s what I think it is. Metal is an outsider style of music and it has always been so. For some people it is hard to accept that about themselves. I think it is a way to try to legitimate it to the non-metal community. However I don’t understand why people have to do that, why not just accept that you love it for what it is? Who gives a fuck whatever people think of it? Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but to assert things like metal being the new classical… it is not! There’s no reason to take such a large leap. Who are you going to impress? If you say that to people who understand classical music they will laugh at you!

Do you know the German band Mekong Delta?

I’ve heard of them but I don’t know their music.

They have recorded some metallized version of some classical pieces, mainly by Modest Mussorgsky. They recorded for example the whole Pictures At An Exhibition. Could this be an exercise you would be interested in trying? Many guitar heroes such as Paul Gilbert have adapted classical pieces to guitar.

I have already done stuff like that; like I did the Mendelssohn violin concerto and Sibelius violin concerto. But generally the thing that bothers me when that happens is the drums beats. I almost feel like having a drums beat under a classical piece destroys it. It is like when you hear a Beatles song with a techno beat. You know, when they do new arrangements. For example, when we hear the song Eleonor Rigby with the techno beat that is exactly how I feel like when metal bands do classical covers sometimes. But hey, sometimes it is cool, don’t get me wrong. Necrophagist did it on the Epitaph record and I felt they did a very good job. Really, it just depends but, I don’t think that because you can do a different arrangement it means that is a new classical. Metal bands also do arrangements of Britney Spears’s songs. If you hear the death metal version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” are you going to say that death metal is the new pop? No! You will just say that it’s a metal band covering a pop song so it is the same with classical: it is a metal band covering a classical piece.

Would you be interested one day to collaborate with your father, with him conducting an orchestra and yourself playing guitar along to it just like Yngwie Malmsteen did you’re your father on the “Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar And Orchestra”?

Yeah I already wrote one of those. I wrote it around the time that my dad worked with Yngwie. Before I heard that Yngwie was writing one, I was writing one. Then, I read in a guitar magazine that he was writing one and I tried to figure out a way to have him meet my father so the two could work together. But yeah, I always wanted to do that but when I wrote the first one I was like seventeen. I finished it and I was happy that I finished it because it took me a year but then I decided it was not good enough that I was going to take some years to become a better musician and try again later. I would definitely like to but only when I’m ready.

Like you said earlier, this year you have released a duo album with your fellow colleague Emil Werstler. What motivated you to do this album considering the fact that you two already play together in DAATH?

The label made us an offer and we said yes! We always wanted to do an instrumental album and there are a lot of stuff that Emil and I do that we find inappropriate for DAATH. Because of my orchestra background I always wanted to do something just like a big soundtrack. The label said  “pick who ever you want to play drums”. We wanted Sean Reinert and he agreed. So, it was just another great thing to do. It was a great opportunity so we took it.

What people call the “Twin Guitar Attack” is a feature found in metal bands that is often praised. Would you consider having a similar approach to the dual guitar as K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest?

No, we don’t really try to do anything like other bands. We are just trying to do things that work for us. Emil has his style and I have mine, we try to find a perfect marriage of our styles but we don’t really look to other guitar kings for inspiration.

Interview conducted in September, 2010 by phone.

Transcription : Isa
Myspace Dååth : http://www.myspace.com/daath

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