FeaturesPhantom Elite – The Race to the Top

Phantom Elite – The Race to the Top

A few years back, Phantom Elite emerged with a powerful debut in the form of Wasteland. While it tended to be associated with symphonic metal, it was a far heavier beast and managed to walk its own unique path. The band has returned with their second album, Titanium, and with it, several new band members, a label in Frontiers, and a sound that goes even further in its own direction. Something that should allow Phantom Elite to take the metal world by storm in early 2021. We caught up with vocalist Marina La Torraca to discuss what the band has been up to since Wasteland, how her theater work impacts her music, an Exit Eden update, and lots of Titanium talk.

Dead Rhetoric: You are the only member left from Wasteland, outside of Sander [Gommans]’ role. What’s been happening with the band in the last few years?

Marina La Torraca: If you are an outside observer and see that ‘oh, this girl is the only one standing, she must have something to do with it,’ I swear I don’t! It’s just our luck somehow [laughs]! People were leaving the band for various reasons, and most of them personal. A lot happened. As you know, we started out as an independent band and doing everything ourselves.

The difference now is that we keep doing everything ourselves, but we have a label to help us out a little bit. I think it’s very funny how the spirit of Phantom Elite has been able to keep on – even though the guys are different, they are equally important in the band. You can still see a connection between what was going on then and what was going on now. I think that’s really cool. I wonder how it happened, but that’s how it is [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: So how do you feel Titanium compares to Wasteland?

La Torraca: I think you can hear that it’s the same band, which is cool. If we had completely changed up the band, it would be shocking, but that’s not the case. It’s quite different, but you can still see the connection. It’s an evolution, let’s say that. I personally consider the material better on many levels. One of them that is obvious is the production. We saved money for it, and we learned a lot from the mistakes we made with Wasteland – in spirit, we’ll say. Not that the boys were there, but they heard everything from me and Sander.

So we did learn a lot from what was done [on Wasteland]. It was our first album, and we recorded it ourselves. We didn’t have any big intentions with it or how to release it or anything. It was important to get something out, so people know we exist. Not that the music was done that way – it was carefully thought through, and one can hear that. The difference is that now it’s our second chance on releasing something. We are doing everything right this time.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss your working relationship with Sander? What is your vision for Phantom Elite?

La Torraca: The thing that Sander always supported in us was that we are musicians that are individually talented and interested in music. It was the same – you remember Eelco [van der Meer], it was the same with Erik [van Ittersum] and our old guitarist – he always supported us as individual musicians and he is supporting whatever he thinks is good and relevant. He’s a tough cookie. He’s not finding everything good. Of course, he has his personal taste, but he’s really good at finding what he calls ‘metal enough.’ Meaning it has that raw energy to it – there’s something truthful to it. It’s not just a bunch of producers touching it up and it sounds perfect. Everyone is really sweating, and putting their tears and blood into the song. That’s what he supports from the start.

Even though the line-up changed, it’s the same thing. This time with Sander, because of life and many things – he has three kids and 2 baby twins – it gets a little tough. The boys in the line-up now really stepped up in terms of being involved and working for the band. Sander didn’t get to take part in the songwriting this time, but he did help us produce. He went with us one by one with the songs. He did have a role as a co-producer with us. But this time Max [van Esch], the guitarist, was the lead songwriter. That’s cool because he was not part of the first Phantom Elite and you can hear that. But you can hear the connection, which is me I think [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: There’s some other things in there as well I think. The piece that really impressed me with Wasteland was that it didn’t sound like all of those other bands out there. I think you’ve taken that and brought it to the next level with Titanium. There’s that uniquely heavy and instrumental vibe that you have gone farther with.

La Torraca: The title track is like 8-minutes, and it’s a good progressive track. We went all out on that one, for example. You can really hear the progressive roots there still. We also made it more modern and djenty. That’s something really rare in the symphonic metal genre. We really wonder if we even are symphonic metal[laughs]? There’s some elements there, but it’s hard to define us, which is good.

Dead Rhetoric: Given the video for “Diamonds and Dark,” are you still trying to maintain all of the creative control around videos and the band’s image to ensure it stays unique?

La Torraca: Absolutely. We have total creative control. I think I have talked about it before, but I’m a graphic designer, and our guitarist Max is also a graphic designer. I’m more into say, the 2D graphics stuff, and he’s more into the video animation side. The lyric video for “The Race” was completely done by him, for example. The concept of “Diamonds and Dark” was something we developed together. The concept for the artwork and the cover itself, I helped develop with the photographer.

Of course, everyone in the band is always pitching in and we are discussing things. But to answer your question, yes, we create everything. It’s very important to us, even more than it was with Wasteland. To have an image that goes hand in hand with the music. Everything looks sharp, clean, and modern. We want the images to speak for themselves.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you end up with Frontiers for this release?

La Torraca: What happened before with Painted Bass Records, they were not our label per say, we had a distribution contract with them. They didn’t really help out with the release or anything – that was a whole different ball park. With Frontiers, we have a multi-album contract with them. It was a bit weird at first, given the roster that they have. They are big into hard rock and classic heavy metal, like Jeff Scott Soto and a bunch of other bands. But they are really looking forward to broadening the horizons of the label. They want to bring in modern bands and younger bands. We are one of their newcomers. They are really doing their best to help us out.

Dead Rhetoric: With a bigger push this time around, do you feel that you get a lot of people who come into the band expecting a certain sound, and are surprised by the diversity/range?

La Torraca: Yes, there are many people who have been very positively surprised. They come in expecting symphonic metal, and they are like, “Oh, this is heavy!” So there are many positive comments from people who weren’t in our fanbase until now. Some people really get exactly what we wanted to do with this album. You can go through YouTube and there are some comments and it’s like, this person really got it [laughs]. It’s funny to see, but very fulfilling. I think the response to “Diamonds and Dark” and the views, it has been bigger than we expected. I think we got that 100K views in a few weeks. We have as much now as Wasteland has gotten since 2017. So that’s really cool. Also, the Spotify playlists – that’s a huge help. It’s a big, big thing for any artist nowadays.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope people take away from Titanium?

La Torraca: I hope that people notice the band as trying to do things differently. We are trying to be relevant to the times. Just like with Wasteland. Although we are trying to reach more people and its more commercial than Wasteland, it’s also not. It’s heavier, and some things are just more weird in general. We would like fans of music to listen to it and really appreciate the effort and truthfulness, as well as the creativity put into the songs. For everyone who listens to it, I found a really good word to describe the album – it’s fierce. It’s just absolutely fierce from the beginning to the end. There’s no ballad. The first four or five songs, you are like “What is going on over here?” [laughs]. I think it’s going to be an album to push people in the right direction.

Dead Rhetoric: I think if you had put a ballad on there, it would have been viewed as the stereotypical or cliché ballad. It was probably a wise decision to avoid it this time.

La Torraca: Yes, and we did have a ballad option. Sander actually said that it would be filler on the album. We felt he was right, so we decided to maybe keep it for the next one. It’s a good ballad.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that your experiences in theater help you to shape a more cinematic feel to the music?

La Torraca: I would say that it helps shapes the performance and the imagery for sure – videos and everything. The sound, I don’t know – I don’t think there’s much of me in how cinematic the sound is. My role as a songwriter in this album was mainly writing the vocal lines, like with Wasteland. I think there was one song that I came up with the main idea, and it was further developed by the boys. The whole instrumental arrangement was done by the boys, not so much by me. I mean we did everything together and I gave my opinion, but it’s not like I am coming up with the sounds. That’s them. But there’s definitely a lot of drama in the vocal lines, and that’s coming from me [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: How are you liking Patreon as a platform? Do you feel it’s helping during this period when you can’t tour or perform?

La Torraca: Well, it’s not considerable. I think that if you really want to make money off of Patreon, you have a really huge fanbase or you work a lot on it. I thought of it at first, just to present fans with the opportunity to support me if they want to. So if you want to support my work and want to help out a little bit, feel free to do so. But I never intended it to be a place where I am constantly performing and being there, and gathering people. That’s a lot for me. I get overwhelmed by those things. I would rather focus on a product. I love working on projects, writing music, and promoting the band further, but being like a YouTuber or content creator, that’s tough. That’s hard for me. There’s no time. But I try my best to provide something special for people who want to support me over there. I’m not making a huge fuss about it because I never come to it. There’s so much to do!

Dead Rhetoric: I always bring this one up when I have the opportunity, so is there anything going on with Exit Eden?

La Torraca: It’s still the same situation, it’s a bit hush hush but I can say a little bit. But I can explain say, the difference between Phantom Elite and Exit Eden. Phantom Elite is my project, along with the other band members and Sander. It’s our thing, so we control what’s going on and what’s not, along with Frontiers of course. Exit Eden is not our project at all. I think we made it clear from the beginning. No one wanted to believe that we founded the band in the garage or anything. It was a big production thing, with a big German label behind it. It was a huge opportunity for everyone involved, and it was amazing.

Of course we would love to keep going with it the way that things were. But it wasn’t possible, administration-wise. There’s nothing concrete right now. I can say that I would love for Exit Eden to stay exactly the way it was, and for us to go further with new material as soon as possible. There is a possibility that it does go on, but not as it was before. There would be some changes, so let’s wait and see – all of us, myself included.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything you have been keeping busy with lately, and do you have any plans for 2021 outside of the album release?

La Torraca: I’m writing a lot right now, for many things. There are a few projects and some talks about partnerships and some studio albums here and there. I’m definitely writing a lot of material at least. That’s a good thing. It could be that some of those things come out of the closet. With Phantom Elite, we are going to try to focus on promoting the release as well as we can without shows, because that’s the way it is unfortunately. We’ll try our best and be creative. Other than that, I’ve always got a lot to do but it’s a good thing.

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