Out now on SPV/Steamhammer

Artlantica are a new outfit from Artension members guitarist Roger Staffelbach and vocalist John West, along with keyboardist Mistheria, drummer John Macaluso and guests – Steve DiGiorgio [Bass], Dani Löble [Drums] and Chris Caffery [Guitars].   The observant amongst you will notice half the line-up is that from Staffelbach’s previous outfit Angel Of Eden who released the strong album  “The End Of Never” a few years ago.

Stylistically Artlantica straddle the same musical ground as Angel of Eden and Artension, on occasions to the point that some of the tracks do sound like blantant rewrites (Fight For The Light and Demon In My Mind particularly) , I’d also question why this wasn’t released under the Angel Of Eden moniker too.

Ultimately what we get on “Across The Seventh Seas” though is rather, dare I say it, “safe” melodic neo-classically tinted power metal.  Expect plenty of guitar chugging and appropriately timed synth hits from Maestro Mistheria and double bass hits. It all sounds meticulously constructed and therein lays the issue that it all comes across as too pre-planned and lacking in a spontaneous edge.

Granted, John West can still belt out a tune when he wants too and Staffelbach is as prestigious as ever on guitar but you do get the feeling the band are in their comfort zone a lot of the time with the material missing the energy and zeal of early Artension.

So overall a mixed bag of strong musical performances mixed with an average set of songs.  The production is powerful and all instruments are mixed well, but when its all said and done I really wanted to like this album, yet I feel somewhat disappointed by the end product.

Rating – 70%


Interview  conducted 22nd June 2007

John Macaluso is a name that will be familiar to fans of Ark or Yngwie Malmsteen fans.  He is one of the most in demand drummers currently on the scene with a catalogue of over 200 albums spread across numerous different genres.  Yet its only now that John has stepped up and put together his own band called John Macaluso and Union Radio who have recently seen their debut album, the stunning “The Radio Waves Goodbye” released on Lion Music.  We caught up with John during a busy touring schedule with Chris Caffery to discuss the new album in-depth.

Hi John, Many thanks for partaking in this interview with Virtuosity One.
Thank you. I read your review and it seems like you really understood the album. Thanks for listening and thanks for the support.

May I begin by congratulating you on your new solo album “The Radio Waves Goodbye” its a superb body of work with one of the most original sounds I have heard in the ‘progressive’ genre for some time. When did the initial seed for a solo album come to you and did you have any idea then how it would be accomplished and how the end product would sound?
I came up with the idea for a solo record when my band (MY BABY) ARK finally split up for good. Things got too crazy and we couldn’t continue, so I finally packed it up. I loved writing for ARK, lyrically and musically and needed this musical outlet. I needed to create, not just get another gig and go back on tour playing for another act. I will always play for people but I need to have my creations on record too. So I got the record deal and said ok now how to go about making my own record. I knew instantly who I wanted to be on the album and started calling up my old friends to see if they were all into it. The vibe was real positive and I had to now start writing. This is the first time I did a solo record so I knew it had to be something special and not a crazy fast double bass record with speed guitars and fusion arrangements. I wanted to steer clear of that, so I had the vision of making something I personally have never heard before.  The vibe I wanted to achieve was Pink Floyd moods and atmospheres with the drumming way more intense and faster. I was shooting for this on the third ARK album but we were butting heads and the style was not working the way I envisioned.

 So that was the sound plan, now I needed to get it done. I first assisted to help of my great friend from Corsica, Dimuti. Dimuti was the main collaborator for the music with me and co wrote a lot of the record with me. He had the perfect sound and feel to get what I was looking for. I first recorded drums only with song arrangements and song titles in mind. I went into the studio and just played the arrangements first. Next I sat with the tracks and decided who would play and sing on which song but now the real challenge was to make these drum parts SONGS.

I next started my, what I call National Geographic Adventure. I had to get the people I really wanted to record no matter what, so I would do anything to achieve this. I travelled all over the world to record the musicians on the record. To Italy to record Marco Sfogli, France to do keys, Pennsylvania to record piano with Vitalij Kuprij, Germany, California to do guitars with Alex Masi and many more places. I had to do it this way because I had to write the material and collaborate with these guys, not just send tracks around to places and hope that they were going to record something I loved. Sometimes I would send the tapes around though, for example I sang “Soul In Your Mind” on a cd and then sent it up to Canada with the lyrics to James LaBrie and he recorded that incredible performance and sent it back to me and I freaked. So that’s the way I did the album and that’s why it took a year and a half.

The result to me is magic and I love it. I think the reason it doesn’t really sound like another record or other band is because I really don’t know notes and traditional scales you use for writing. I would sing my ideas to the musicians I was collaborating with and they would decipher what I was trying to get at. In this way it couldn’t sound like anyone else. My theory, surround yourself with amazingly talented people and you can get anything done.

Obviously you have worked with many of rock and metal’s best over your career and you have called in a number of these musicians for various tracks. How did you go about selecting who played on what track?
I called my friends. Most of the players on my record are good friends and people I have toured around the world with or made records with in the past. I trusted these guys and knew they would all kick ass for me. I had something special here, the thing was I knew the way an audience has heard these guys but I heard them all sing or play something that might not have been heard before. I might of heard them do something on the tour bus or back stage just screwing around or for example Marco Sfogli I had play bazuki on the song ‘T-34’. I pulled people out of their element a little and it made some original stuff. Another example is having the great blues tone singer Mike Dimeo sing on a Radiohead-ish metal drum and bass track called ‘Mother Illusion’. Doing this with these talents get unique magic.

Dream Theater’s James LaBrie sings vocals on the opening cut “Soul In Your Mind”, a great track but with a very original composite of parts. When did it become clear this track should open the album?
This track I knew had to open the album from when I first finished the drum track. To me it was the perfect mix of groove with a unique style, chops without wanking and arrangement. After the drums Dimuti helped set the tone by laying down a very dark distorted key line. We then used the witchlike vocal sample line to give that occult vibe in 7/8 with almost a Ministry or Bahaus mood. James laid down the great vocal track and Vitalij Kuprij did the amazing keyboard solo in the middle of the tune. The two other players on the track are, my buddy from Russia, Alex Rastopchin on guitar, who is very tasty and contributed a lot of the Gilmour (Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd – ed) style stuff I needed for my record. On bass is Za Gray, who I met when playing for Delmar Brown (Sting). He has such a fat sound and lays it down like nobody else. Check out the bass playing on the second song Mother Illusion, it’s perfect.

The next 2 tracks take on almost ambient dance music meets rock vibe; when creating the drum rhythms that many tracks are built around are you thinking in terms of genre or is just letting that beat in your head flow?
Yea “Mother Illusion” has that rock drum and bass dance feel. The next track is my favourite “Prayer Pill”. This track I had Phil Collins and Peter Gabriele in mind. I wanted to do a real mid tempo repetitive groove on the intro such like Phil Collins’s “I Don’t Care Anymore”. I had an idea lyrically to do this track about a guy that was plagued by his religion and his work, he was a slave to both. The song is about a decision. He sees an ad in the back of a magaine that advertises a pill in which by taking one, your prayers will be done for you and all guilt will be taken away and salvation will run through you for about a week and this can lift the weight off your shoulders to do the fun things and so called bad things in life that he has been missing. The whole moral pf the story in the end he must answer for this easy way out and the lyrics say, “In the end I’ll burn or fly like a dove”. I used my three nieces on this track, Donna, Laura and Kristen, to sing the creepy nursery rhyme song at the end, that goes, Prayer in a pill if you will, dose all your sin to the wind, now you feel peaceful and still, you might just fall down. Decisions!!! This also one of favorite sounding tracks sonically, the over all mix and the drum sound I really love.

How crucial was the drum track/rhythm in dictating where the music should go?
The drum tracks were extremely important in the creation and over all feel of these songs. The drums on this record set the tone. Drums are deciding factor if your track is metal, jazz etc. The cool thing about working with everybody on this record was they all pretty much said the drum tracks were musical and helped with there ideas and playing. I didn’t want to just make a crazy drum record only. I wanted to play my real style like you heard on the ARK albums and here. A mixture of heavy groove playing with musical textures on the cymbals and tasty double bass playing, then I mix it with madness to concoct my style. I am most proud of my drumming on this record and after 200 records behind me, The Radio Waves Goodbye is also the best drum sound I ever got.

What is a typical way John Macaluso would work on these songs?
I worked on the songs with the drum track first. Next I put down the keys for texture and vibe and notes. Sometimes guitar would come second but mostly keys because I wanted to stay away from guitar riffs. Next I would do bass guitar then guitar and keyboard solos. After all this I would walk around or drive around and get inspiration for lyrics. I wrote the lyrics pretty quickly, they came easily because the song moods were great and the arrangements were good. After all this I recorded the singers. Then last over dubs and mix. I know it was kind of a strange way to make an album but it worked and I will do the next one the same way.

I absolutely loved “Dissolved” and the way it seemed to take ‘Animals’ era Pink Floyd and make that into this new sound which is both modern and retro at the same time.  How did this song come together?
Thanks man and have to say I love when someone who interviews, actually listens to a record and also gets the vibe. “Dissolved” is one of my favourites and the mood and idea is inspired from Floyd, Animals. I love this record Animals and my whole album was inspired by this record. I again did the Floydish tune with the more intense drumming, “Dissolved” is the perfect example. On this track I used Adrian Holtz on vocals who totally captured the feel I was going for. The song is about abuse, chemical and substance. It’s a story of someone who is on a major downhill ride and has been in there apartment with no contact and hears the neighbour and friends trying to contact him and he just wants them to go away. The verses are about the demon in the substance and how it is talking to him and explaining the destruction it does. Then the chorus comes and it’s a vision of hope and he get a handle on it and quits the demons. “Dissolved”, is the guy telling the bad side, he is done with it and he is free now. He’s gone like creatures fly away. Free like a bird. I am very proud of this tune and it came out better than I ever expected.

Obv the aforementioned James LaBrie’s name is going to initially stand out in the vocalists list, but I was really impressed by the vocals of Mike DeMeo, Adrian Holtz and Don Chaffin.  I must admit I had not heard of these 3 guys before so can you tell a little more about them?
Mike DiMeo I met when I was playing drums for Riot. Mike is a great friend and an amazing singer. Mike now oddly enough sings for Masterplan, the band Jorn Lande from ARK sang for. It’s great to have Mike on my record. Adrian Holtz is a singer born in Switzerland he lives in New York city now and is an amazing talent. Adrian is the singer we were going to work with on the third ARK album. Adrian is very versatile and ads a bit of pop to my anti-pop sound. Don Chaffin is a friend of mine that owns the studio where I have recorded most of my drum tracks in the last three years. Don is a chameleon and can sing anything. He did all the back up vocals on the tune with James LaBrie “Soul In Your Mind”.

I think one of the most refreshing things about the album is that although there are plenty of guitars on the album, they are used more for texture as opposed to riffing or soloing you into submission.  Is this how you wanted the guitars to feature on “The Radio Waves Goodbye”?
That is exactly what I wanted. I am guitar’ed out, I have played with so many guitar players in my career its crazy. The big problem writing with guitar players is, they always write riffs and also don’t usually feel comfortable dropping out and playing the 13th note………SILENCE. I didn’t want that, I wanted textures and real tasteful guitar playing, David Gilmour like or Jeff Beck-ish. I got the perfect guys Marco Sfogli, who I met on the James LaBrie tour, Alex Rastopchin, Larry Meyer and Dimuti. They really understood what I wanted here and colored the songs perfectly.

Where does the album’s title come from and did you choose not to release the album under just the “John Macaluso” banner?
The title UNION RADIO is a band name, I am going to take this thing on the road, so I wanted to push it as a band and not just a drummers solo record because the music doesn’t sound like a drummers solo record. I got the name from a book I found in a market in Southern France, when I was working on the third ARK album. I was looking for some cool titles and terms and found a book, the only one in English. The book was on the Spanish Civil War and in it was a phrase UNION RADIO. It meant the rebel radio station which was for the underground. I thought this was really cool because beside the whole rebel rock and roll thing, it was modern sounding at the same time.

Tell us about the background to T-34.
“T-34” was written with Prokoviov in mind, sorry for my spelling. He is my favorite composer. I went in the studio with the title in mind which is the T-34 Russian tank in Word War 2. I knew it was going to be a rock classical piece with Vitalij Kuprij and I and I wanted it to sound very dark and very Russian. When recording the drums I had the title and mood in mind and you can hear the rolling tank vibe on the heavy tom and piano quarter note stomp. I brought the drum track up to Pennsylvania, where Vitalij lives. We drank vodka listened to the track and started to put the ideas together. I charted the whole arrangement out rhythmically, note for note. Vitalij read the rhythm and brilliantly wrote the track. I would just say bro. Here I want it to sound very dismal and hopeless. He is so great, in one night it was done. We went into the studio in the morning and he layed it down. It’s something to see, I have him on film recording it, he is the best and to watch him record is incredible. Next Marco Sfogli put down the guitars. I wanted something away from Malmsteen on this; I knew any scales and sweeps would put this track right into that category. So I had Marco play acoustic guitar, bazuki and electric guitar in a minimalist way, he is so tasty, it worked. Then Vitalij played bass synth instead of bass guitar, I thought this would make it a little more hi tech. Lastly my friend Dave Eggar, who is a brilliant musician and plays cello for Evanescence. Dave came into the studio when we were mixing and layed down multiple cello parts. It was another sight to see. And there you have it “T-34”.

You show of your drum skills with “Pretzel” which also has some nice humour to it.  How does a drummer feel when he sees people going to the bar during his solo spot?
“Pretzel” came when I was touring with Powermad in 1989 and we had high exposure on tour with big acts and just had a scene and soundtrack in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. Remember going crazy one night on stage and thinking wow that must of fuckin’ killed em. I went out into the audience and I was talking to someone in the audience and they said, “So, what did you think of the band?” I thought wow I was in the band. I realized then I had to be relentless as a drummer on stage and make people never forget what they saw. “Pretzel” is a Zappa like joke dialog and he inspired a lot of my record. Yea it feels weird when they walk away during solos but I just don’t let them anymore. It’s all entertainment up there and no matter how good you play; nobody wants to see a boring show. I play every note on stage and in studio like I was the drummer for The Wallace Hartly Band, that was the legendary band on the Titanic. Play every note like it’s you last, to the end.

How would John Macaluso sum up “The Radio Waves Goodbye” now a few months on from completion?
I sum the record up in this way. After over 200 studio albums recorded, the best one I ever did, is my own. I am finally satisfied. It’s a relaxed feeling because it’s what I always dreamed about and now it’s mine. I am very proud of everyone involved in the making of the album too. My saying is, “You know who your friends are when it’s time to move to a new apartment and need help doing it, and when you are making a solo record and need them to play on it.” Everyone came through and I have to thank them all.

Can we expect a follow up at some juncture down the road?
A follow UNION RADIO, OH YEA. The same line up and the same way of recording. I have new song ideas and lyrics already. I am psyched.

What else is keeping you busy this year?
New projects this year is to first do a drum clinic tour in the summer and fall in the U.S. and Europe. Then I want to take out the full band on tour, Dimuti, Vitalij Kuprij, Adrian Holtz, Marco Sfogli, Za Gray and me. I am also releasing my drum book “Repercussions”, which I have been writing for years.

Anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank people out there and yourself for listening! Thank you. Johnny Mac.


Out now on Lion Music

John Macaluso is arguably one of the metal world’s best known (and most active)  drummers  largely thanks to work with Ark. Yngwie Malmsteen and with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie.  So what can you expect when a drummer makes a solo album?  Well in the case of John Macaluso & Union Radio then a damn fine progressive album in ‘The Radio Waves Goodbye’.  The vibe of the album is quite varied with a number of different styles that all managed to remain progressive throughout the 13 tracks on offer.  Yes the emphasis seems more on grooves and keyboard textures (reminiscent of Pink Floyd in this respect) as opposed to pure musical masturbation and guitar overload (although there is still a lot of guitar to be enjoyed) and this really makes the album shine with originality, the album is also home to a great production with superb sonic spread – listening with headphones is a truly dazzling experience! 

Opener “Soul In Your Mind” is the most accessible track for progressive metal fans to get into with a sound that recalls the best of Dream Theater which may suggest the reason why it fits James LaBrie’s vocals to a tee.  There is a tremendous amount of variation in this track alone yet it remains a cohesive track from start to finish and is home to an insanely addictive chorus.  “Mother Illusion” begins with Macaluso laying down some drum patterns which verge on jazz and the vibe almost verges on ambient dance at times, yet the vocals from Mike DiMeo keep this within the rock field.  “The Prayer Pill” sees the ambient sound continue coming across as a prog rock version of Portishead to these ears aside from the vocals of Adrian Holtz.   Up next is another dazzling track in “Dissolved” which sounds like classic Pink Floyd (Animals era) with 21st century attitude and a large dose of adrenaline for good measure.  Mike Dimeo’s vocals are sublime here and this track will surely be a contender for song of 2007. 

“Gates To Bridges” is another super cool slice of what is now becoming trademark Macaluso with a nice balance between the restraint verse and powerful chorus.  Vitalij Kurpij throws down some great keyboard solos whilst Marco Sfogli adds some sublime guitar work especially over the double time solo section.  The track is as will its predecessors enhanced by phenomenal drum work which only adds to the song and manages to groove – something many drummers in a prog environment could learn from.  “Shimmering Grey” begins atmospheric with a sustained chord over which we get guitar volume swells (again quite Pink Floyd) yet rumblings of something darker enter at around the 1:00 mark, the way the track builds shows an almost architectural approach to song writing and shows Macaluso has a very good idea of what to do in terms of overall musical perspective.  The chorus is again very strong and sounds almost Kings X to these ears with strong vocal harmonies.  The 7:33 long “T-34” is epic in approach and comes across as a movie score to some fantasy epic to these ears, it’s musically very visual and has arguably the most impressive music in terms of technicality on the album and will keep prog buffs happily dissecting the music bar by bar for hours. 

“Staring ‘Pain’” is another strong track that has several different nuances all working together in harmony whilst Macaluso gets to show off his drum chops in the solo track “Pretzel” complete with comedy intro.  “Yesterday I’ll Understand” begins with a nice Fender Rhodes intro before we are treated to another superb vocal performance this time from Don Chaffin and this track has hit single written all over it, modern in approach in many respects with another killer chorus. “The Six Foot Under Happy Man” see Macaluso take an oddball journey into show time jazz and to be honest it sounds totally out of place on the album but I presume its here for a reason.  “Things You Should Not Know” sees the music head back into more familiar waters with another compelling drum pattern leading the track although it will take a few listens to get into this one as its quite disjointed in places.  The album closes with “Away With Words” which is a nice atmospheric instrumental (aside from some tribal chanting) and in a way the track seems to resolve everything heard elsewhere making for a nice calming end to the album.

“The Radio Waves Goodbye” really is a very unique album.  I don’t think there is any other album reviewed here on this site that you can compare it to.  There are traces of influence throughout yet John Macaluso has managed to add his own stamp to the progressive genre with an impressive collection of tracks that really have something for fans from all angles of this varied genre from past to present.  Overall the album is a very rewarding experience after a few listens and could well be the surprise package of 2007. 

RATING  – 94%


11th October 2010
About The Interview
Mistheria is one of the most critically acclaimed keyboardists in metal.  Having worked with the likes of Bruce Dickinson and Rob Rock, the Italian is now back after a 6 year gap between solo albums with his second effort “Dragon Fire”.  We talk candidly with the keyboardist about the album.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview.   This is your second solo album and it’s been some 6 years since ‘Messenger of the Gods’.  Why such a delay between albums?
First of all, it’s my pleasure to talk about my new album “Dragon Fire” for!

Well, after “Messenger of the Gods” (released on 2004 by Lion Music too) I released “Solo Piano” on 2007 (by Videradio/RAI Trade), album which is part of my Classical/New-Age production and part of my discography, surely for different target of listeners/fans, but anyway an album that has been followed of many “Solo Piano” concerts and it meant a lot to me. In fact, soon the new album of this series will be released on 2011.

Then, then … a lot of things to do to survive in this music-world, you know! So I recorded, as session-man, for other artists and I did all other activities part of my job: touring, concerts, teaching, demonstrating, arranging and writing my new Classical album, and a lot of other things. Writing an album, for me, is a serious and important job, high-demanding regarding concentration, energy, and time. So, simply I couldn’t devote all myself on a new album. Furthermore, I know myself, fairly well, and I know when it’s the right time to sit down and start working on some new music … 😉 Moreover, I think it is not important how many albums an artist releases, but the quality of each of them.

Thanks to Lion Music for believing again in me and my music publishing “Dragon Fire”.

The new album represents very strong song writing within the neo-classical metal genre with a cast of great guest musicians.  What came first – the idea of the songs or the idea of putting together a project like this?
Song writing first of all, always, is the first step to make an album. Also the previous “Messenger of the Gods”, despite of the huge number of guests, started simply with song writing without thinking who will play and what. With “Dragon Fire”, in the same way, I wanted put together a good list of songs that represent, today, my musical ideas. After, when song writing and arrangement have been completed in my mind and on my computer, I started to think which musician could improve that material with great performances.

So when did writing for “Dragon Fire” commence? 
On January 2009, when I got full inspiration in Zagreb (Croatia) where I moved to live with my girlfriend Ivana (Ivana Greguric, Croatian song writer and keyboardist) and song writing continued incessantly! This is the “right moment” I mentioned before. By the way, “Dragon Fire” features a song that I wrote on 2006, it was just a piano demo that, with John West melody and lyrics, became a nice ballade titled “Now it’s never”.

What were the earliest songs that ended up on the album conceived?
I don’t remember exactly because I worked simultaneously on all songs, moving on the full song list at the same time. I can say that the first song I wrote on January 11, 2009 (A beautiful dream) has been the last completed song! 🙂 By the way, the instrumental tracks are for sure the first songs that have been completed before than others because I was able to finish the demo versions by me, without needing to wait for singers melodies/lyrics job.

How do you like to work on creating a song?  Do you play with different arrangements or have a clear vision of what you want straight off?
I sit on my Piano and follow my ideas and inspiration. It does not matter if song will feature or not Piano, my approach is always this. All other digital complications, at the early stage, make me distraction and concentration flies away … then, when the song is perfectly clear in my mind and on music paper, I turn on my “arsenal” (digital workstation, sequencer, keyboards, plugins, etc.) and I start the arrangement process that, yes, it’s already comprehensible in my thoughts … so I need just to make it real to make the demo version and start sending the material to the musicians.

Do you notate your works at all prior to even recording demos?
Yes I do. It is important for me and it is a process that I learned during my Classical music studies. Five good reasons: (1) it makes my ideas not forgettable and this is important because I hate when some good ideas are passing thru my mind and I cannot then remember; (2) it gives me the clear vision of song and arrangement; (3) I already have everything ready and under my eyes when I need to talk to musicians; (4) it is like manna when I need to work on that song after weeks or months; (5) it is quicker when ideas come ceaselessly and I’ve to fix them immediately, no other process can be faster for me.

Does this method of working differ to what you did on “Messenger of the Gods” and if so how?
Absolutely not. I always work in this same way. My first musical notes (my first attempts to write a music piece) date back to when I was 9 years old… (hey, I’ve just a few more by now 🙂

How do you feel you have grown as a musician in the last 6 years?
Musicians never stop to grow up. It is dangerous when we think the opposite. So, of course, 6 years are (I hope so) a good time to learn more and more, always, improving experience, ideas, song writing, generally the own music world. Collaborating, talking and making music with other musicians give back a precious treasure. I think that I followed this process so, hopefully, I grew up in the last 6 years … 🙂

So what led to you bringing in the personnel you did on the album? Did you have a list of preferred musicians and work from there or did some names crop up during the making of the album due to contacts with other musicians already involved?
During the arrangement processes, I started to think which musicians I wanted to involve. I already had some “irremovable” ideas concerning some friends I already worked with: John Macaluso on drums has been my priority! John Mac already played on my previous album, we spent time together and we are great friends, without mentioning the stunning and unique drummer he is. Anecdote: John Mac recorded all “Dragon Fire” drums in one day … 1 day!

Then, I was already in touch with other friends to make real some new collaboration: Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Emir Hot, Roger Staffelbach, Rob Rock, Mark Boals. All of them don’t need presentation and, of course, their job has been top-quality as expected. I didn’t work before with Mark Boals but I wanted him already on “Messenger of the Gods” and finally we found the right time to work together on “Dragon Fire”. I always loved his performances; his voice sound and his vocal range are divine! Another singer always in my mind has been John West. I played live with John in Split (Croatia) for the Emir Hot concert. It has been a great experience, we met and immediately we established a friendly relationship open to future collaboration. So, we made it real, John sung five songs on the album; he did an extraordinary job with expected totally awesome results. John West moved my album to the next level!

While working on the album, I’ve been in touch with two musicians I never collaborated neither talked before: Lance King and Alberto Rigoni. Lance captured me in a moment when I casually heard him on the internet … I thought: “Wow! I want him on my album!” His captivating voice tone, his way to work on backing vocals and his lyrics writing are excellent. You can hear on the song “Two of us” how it ended … 😉

Regarding Alberto, some months ago, I was still working on the arrangements and I didn’t solve yet the bass player position. For some different reasons I was not able to get in Dino Fiorenza neither Randy Coven. Alberto contacted me (nothing concerning my album) and we talked a couple times regarding that subject he needed. Of course, I knew which band Alberto was playing with (Twinspirits) and I knew that his job was excellent so then, when I needed to complete the line-up, I asked to Alberto whether he would like to join “Dragon Fire”. He accepted and, although he had really short time to finish recordings, his job has been simply perfect! I want thank, once more, all the amazing musicians on “Dragon Fire” for their over-the-top job.

I believe the vocalists had free reign more or less on their lyrics and melodies, with the personnel involved this is a wise decision given their calibre.  Is this the only reason you chose to go this route with the vocalists?
The first reason why I chose that singers is that they are amazing vocalists! I knew also that they wrote melodies and lyrics by themselves so without thinking so much (because it doesn’t need if you look at those names) I’ve agreed with them about the job to do. For some songs I gave “carte blanche”, for some I gave melody and/or lyrics directions, for some I wrote melody, lyrics or both. In any case, we greatly worked together and I totally love the results of our collaboration. With such artists, everything is easy with maximum feedback.

One could look at some of the personnel (John West and Roger Staffelbach), see you as a keyboard virtuoso and think “is he trying to be the new Artension”, given the intricate arrangements yet strong vocal led songs can comparisons like this be unfair? Or would such comparisons be nothing more than a compliment?
This could be just a compliment to me, even if I don’t need at all “to be the new Artension” for the simple reason that Artension already exist (fortunately because it’s a great band with great albums) and my goal is different always pointed to the originality of my own ideas. Of course, bands which play and write the same genre share many music elements proper of that genre, but this is absolutely normal. To be clearer, my Metal/Prog-Metal song writing has different “genesis” that it is not connected with any Metal artist or band and I’d like this known to everybody: Classical music and my Classical studies are my solid background. Everything else came to my knowledge after many years, really late when I already have been totally “forged” by J. S. Bach, A. Vivaldi, W. A. Mozart, L. V. Beethoven, F. Liszt, F. Chopin and other masters like that. Curiosity: till some years ago, my home discography was found mainly on Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Alan Parson Project, Banco, P.F.M., Genesis, etc. And, of course, on the Classical genius above mentioned. The first album close to my playing style and song writing that I heard has been “Trilogy” by Yngwie Malmsteen that a great friend of mine (Alvaro De Amicis which is an incredible designer and made the “Dragon Fire” cover) showed me and it was an album I listened for long time. Relatively recent is my knowledge about Dream Theater, Symphony X, Rhapsody, Vanden Plas and other bands that someone could juxtapose to me.

I know a few years back there were some internet rumours regarding a rift between you and Vitalij Kuprij, but I gather this was all bullshit.  Can you give us your side of the story?
Vitalij and I are great friends. We met several times, we played together in Rome a couple years ago (it was an amazing show that we enjoyed a lot and that everybody can watch on YouTube), we had funny and nice time together, we ate and drink together, we talked and planned to make an album together. Vitalij is a talented musician and composer, fantastic classic pianist and amazing rock keyboardist. We estimate each other. I think I don’t need to add more.

Ok tell us about the songs and what they mean to you?
“Dragon Fire” is not a concept album; each song has its own story and meaning. I wrote lyrics for the title track “Dragon Fire”, I gave the concept for 2-3 songs, other lyrics have been totally conceived by the singers and “The Beast” by Ivana Greguric. I think each listener can get the own impression, emotion and feeling for each song. Only one purpose was in my mind: give to the album a great cohesion between music and lyrics. A perfect combination of music and lyrics (I mean the “sound” of lyrics and the “rhythm” of words) is essential to create that ideal song blend.

Our review is mostly very positive but does air a few concerns regarding the mix of the album, notably the lack of rhythm guitars.  Why was the decision made to have your keyboards seemingly mimicking rhythm guitars and not use the real thing?
I produced the album (mixing and mastering it) and, as you know, each producer “forge” his sound. This is my sound and I am totally happy and satisfied with it. I don’t think that the production “lacks of rhythm guitars”. If you ask to a bassist or a drummer maybe they answer (it has already happened to me) that guitars are too loud, if you ask to a guitarist maybe he answers that I doesn’t hear guitars at all. As producer, I can answer that the mix, in my opinion, is well balanced and “that one” is the sound that has always played in my mind and that I was looking for. When I push up the volume, really loud, I don’t want be “killed” by guitars or any other instrument but I like everything balanced (instead, generally, guitars play too loud on many albums, in my opinion). Usually, people listen this genre really loud: well, try to push up the volume listening “Dragon Fire”, never you’ll feel “…too loud!”, but you can always more … this is, for me, a great balanced mix.

Regarding the “real thing”: why albums are full of sampled/virtual instruments, including drums, piano, strings, bass, orchestra, choirs and no one comment nothing and instead regarding guitar sound it seems a “blasphemy”? Moreover, do we need always the same guitar sound? I don’t think so. Do we need guitars out of mix? I don’t think so. Do we need guitar solos “holing” our ears? I don’t think so. Guitars need “discipline” as other instruments in the band, which I name “counterpoint of mixing” directly borrowed from Bach’s composing technique. This is my point of view. I trashed many CDs because I don’t like to hear only guitars or, on the other side, I don’t understand the meaning of CDs without keyboards that add “colour” and “atmosphere”. But if guitars are missing it seems a scandal, instead if keyboards miss, it is just normal and not noticeable. And I don’t want to comment how keyboards are programmed (by guitarist, vocalists, bassists or drummers) on many releases (not all fortunately), but this is another painful topic. With reference to “Dragon Fire”, I think that guitars sound awesome on each track, I am totally happy with it and it is the sound I wanted to reach and I reached, “real” or “not real” thing, I think and listen always to the result not how I got that result. Then, of course, each listener can express comments and opinions, like it or not. I wanted just explain my method to approach and realize an album, and my honest point of view as sound engineer and producer.

Looking back is there anything you would change or is this your vision 100% of how you saw the album from the start?
I don’t need to change nothing because otherwise it would mean that I did a mistake giving the master to Lion Music. I am 100% satisfied of the album and, to be honest, it sounds better than in my early vision thanks to the amazing job that musicians involved did and, of course, mixing and mastering it by me I “forged” it exactly how I wanted. I wanted my album sound with “my sound”, to give to all of you the real Mistheria’s vision: song writing, arrangement, recording, mixing, mastering and production. “Dragon Fire” represents me and my music, this is important for me, showing sincerely and transparently which my vision of an album is.

John Macaluso has brought in a killer performance; you must be thrilled with his performances?
What John Macaluso did for my album is written in the legend of music and of my life! His performance is astonishing. When I started to get the tracks I was totally excited, feeling as a kid with his new toy … 🙂 The way John approached recording over passed my same thoughts; he worked on the demoed drums, that I programmed, as starting point then he filled each song with his superb ideas and majestic drumming!  Without John Mac, “Dragon Fire” would not have been the same.

Did any of the guest performers surprise you with what they delivered, and if so in what sense?
I already said about John Macaluso. Everyone delivered brilliant ideas and breathtaking performances: John West, Rob Rock, Mark Boals, Lance King, Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Roger Staffelbach, Emir Hot, Alberto Rigoni. What I can add to what they already did in their career? Among all, I’ve to say that the two Italian musicians of the line-up surprised me or better confirmed me their stunning attitude and talent! Titta Tani is a superb vocalist which recorded both forceful songs (“Fire & Flames” and “Dragon Fire” in duet with John West) and a beautiful ballade (“A beautiful dream”); Titta can scream and sigh at the same time and also write excellent lyrics (“A beautiful dream” is a real gem). With him I already played live years ago and I appreciated his other productions but on “Dragon Fire” he did everything better and better. Alberto Rigoni (a bass player which I didn’t know very well before to start our collaboration) honestly and totally surprised me for three main reasons: his perfect performance, his warm and powerful bass sound, and his professionalism. Not as performer but as song writer, Ivana Greguric also surprised me because, even if a girl, she has written one of the most “heavy” songs (The Beast) of the album! 🙂

If you could sum up “Dragon Fire” in a few words how would you describe it?
“Dragon Fire” is a powerful, direct and melodic heavy metal album which includes stunning musicians/performers and represents the Mistheria music knowledge and experience up-to-date.

Any final messages for our readers?
I hope V1 readers can also have the chance to listen for “Dragon Fire”, because among all words, music is emotion, feeling and passion that can fly only by the air reaching our heart, not our eyes. As always I affirm: “people don’t need to understand of music, but listen and live music.”

Mistheria, many thanks for your time.
Thanks again for giving me the chance to talk about “Dragon Fire”, it has been really interesting interview and a pleasure.



Mistheria is a name that may well be familiar to the more neo-classically minded readers of this site.  Or indeed anyone that owns Bruce Dickinson’s ‘Tyranny Of Souls’ album for it is Mistheria that provided the keyboards on that album.  Otherwise he is probably a known name amongst musicians and not a lot else.  In 2004 he released the ‘Messenger Of The Gods’ album, a strong album with some production issues and after working with Angel Of Eden the Italian keyboard virtuoso return with an all star cast for his new neo-classical metal work – “Dragon Fire”.

All certainly looks good from the off.  The guest list of the album is certainly impressive, for vocalists try John West, Mark Boals, Rob Rock, Lance King and Titta Tani for size.  The guitar front is equally talent packed with George Bellas, Roger Staffelbach, Neil Zaza and Emir Hot handling six string duties whilst the rhythm section is Twinspirits’ Alberto Rigoni on bass and drum legend John Macaluso (Ark, ex Malmsteen). Quite a line up and something of a neo-classical wet dream in terms of personnel.  Yet all these first rate names are nothing if the material is not up to par.  Mistheria appears to have played safe on the vocal front allowing each vocalist to pen their own lyrics and melodies and with the names mentioned why not.  Elsewhere the guitarists get free reign with solo ideas whilst Rigoni and Macaluso worked with charted out music based on Mistheria’s ideas and a good job has been done here too. 

Musically this is strong keyboard dominant neo-classically tinted metal. Opening trio of “Dragon Fire”, “Lies & Deception” and “Killing The Pain” hurtle along at a frantic pace and have strong vocal melodies and pulsating rhythms.  Indeed this is music on a par quality wise with likes of Artension and it should be noted this is the best I have heard John West since the early days of Artension.  Naturally there is a lot of virtuoso musicianship on display which each track being a hotbed of undisputed skill.  Yet it’s the quality of song craft that really shines through, particularly on the likes of the beautiful power ballad “Now It’s Never”, the almost Symphony X like delivery of “Fire & Flames” and the classic rock hooks of “The Power Of One” which sounds like a metalized version of early Foreigner with its strident piano refrain.

That’s not to say all is perfect.  The mix is found wanting in a few areas, notably the level of instrumentation.  Keyboards dominate this album (perhaps understandably) yet when guitar solos by some of the best names in the business are difficult to hear you have to ask why?  Also it would have been nice to have more rhythm guitars, as opposed to rhythm keyboards using distorted guitar sounds.  These sound very digitized and rather lifeless in this area, particularly when mimicking harmonic squeals.  The album cover is also not of the general standard to have come from Lion Music of late (Pangea not withstanding).  But if you can get past these issues you are left with a good album of good songs and performances.  Hopefully the next effort from Mistheria will not take as long to come out and hopefully resolve the issues mentioned.

Overall a good slice of neo-classical metal.
Hot Spots : Killing The Pain, Now It’s Never, Fire & Flames, The Power Of One.
Rating : 88%