ScreaMachine – Loyalty to the Roots of Metal

Thursday, 8th June 2023

Arising with a love of classic heavy metal, Italian band ScreaMachine position themselves as artists with traditional sensibilities while using the modern technology/production abilities at their disposal to appeal to a wider audience. Church of the Scream is the second album for the quintet – a varied effort that contains aspects of Accept, Judas Priest, Manowar, and 80’s Metallica just as much as say Savatage – powerful anthems that should make followers elevated in worship at the altar of the genre. We spoke to bassist Francesco Bucci about starting this group during the pandemic, where this album differs from the self-titled debut as far as passion and output, how his work as a journalist makes him more critical as a songwriter, his bass influences/approach, favorite concert memories/albums, plus future plans and where the Italian metal scene sits domestically versus worldwide in terms of popularity/acceptance.

Dead Rhetoric: Church of the Scream is the second full-length for ScreaMachine and third consecutive year for a release with the group. Where do you see this set of material sitting in terms of focus/direction for the band – and did you feel it was important to establish the band in this manner to offset the lack of live performance opportunities during the pandemic?

Francesco Bucci: Yes, I think that ScreaMachine was born in a very difficult period. Every one of us has a lot of experience. I have been releasing albums since 1999, but ScreaMachine is a newborn baby. The first time we got together as a band was 2018, and the debut album came out in 2021. We had to face a new situation sight unseen on the market in the worst time ever for the music industry. It was not a problem for the debut album, because that album was written before the pandemic. Church of the Scream was all written during the pandemic. I’m really proud on how we were able to manage that. It was a very crazy period, when we were forced to stay in our homes, because (the pandemic) was really heavy in Italy. I’m a positive guy, I had a boost of creativity. I had the chance to focus more, I was writing a lot of the songs, also Paolo and Valerio our singer. We were exchanging demos through the internet, so when it was time to record, we were very ready.

We also worked a lot on the arrangements, it was a good thing for the band. For the debut album, we didn’t have a real chance to play a lot live. The album was released, we did three shows in Italy because the situation wasn’t really clear, many clubs were closed. We will play in June locally – and from September on we will play more gigs across Italy and other places in Europe.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve created a tradition of special guest appearances since the start – in this case for “The Epic of Defeat” you have Davide ‘Damna’ Moras of Elvenking/Hell in the Club provide additional vocal support. What do you enjoy most about Davide as a singer, musician, and person – as I understand you’ve been good friends with him for a long time? And what do you think he provides to this song to make it that much more special?

Bucci: Yes. Let me clear up this thing about guests as it’s very important to me. The first album was a joyful anarchy. It was born from the love of heavy metal, five people who love the sounds of this style – but we wanted to update this into the modern sounds, even for the production. When we were writing and recording, we were not sure that someone would be interested in releasing that. The music we play may be out of fashion. Thanks to Frontiers Records, they gave us the chance – and other people were waiting for this style. That’s why we are here, the debut album went pretty well. We wanted to include some friends of ours, that we respect as musicians. It started with guitar players, some of the best Italian metal guitar players we wanted to reach out to. In my mind, it was like Avantasia to have friends of ours that we respect on the record. Simone Mularoni from DGM, Francesco Mattei from Ethernity, Massimiliano Pagliuso from Novembre. When we started the collaboration with Frontiers, it was easier to reach our heroes like Steve DiGiorgio or Herbie Langhans.

When it came time to work on the second album, mainly written by myself and Paolo with some help from Valerio, we never talked about (guests). We don’t want people to look at ScreaMachine as a circus. The interesting thing of the band shouldn’t be just the guests, it should be about our music. Right now, we are more focused on this as a band. We made one exception on this album, it’s the song “The Epic of Defeat”. It’s very different, a very long song with a sound that you don’t really expect from ScreaMachine. I am friends with Davide for 25 years – we shared a project 20 years ago called Leprechaun. I think he’s a great musician, we chat a lot, we always wanted to do something together. Sometimes we each got busy – if you hear this song, in the middle of the song, there’s a part that reminds you of pagan metal. This was perfect for Davide – I reached out and he did it. It was in November; he was busy recording the new Elvenking album that is being released now. He had deadlines, but he found the time to do this.

Dead Rhetoric: Considering all the other experience these musicians have had in other acts like Stormlord, Kaledon, and Lunersea among others, do you believe this puts ScreaMachine at an advantage in understanding the key trademarks and songwriting needs to put across a convincing approach to heavy metal that you’ve achieved to date?

Bucci: First of all, I have to say the two bands you named, Stormlord for me, and Kaledon for Paolo, we are not playing with these bands now, so ScreaMachine is our main band. Maybe we will do other projects in the future, but it’s very important for people to understand that ScreaMachine is a band, not a side project, and it’s here to say. I’m really proud of my past, and I know Paolo and the other musicians are too because we are talking about music, and music is experience, it’s your essence. Everything I’ve done in the last 44 years led me to this way, even if ScreaMachine sounds more traditional, much simpler. The past is really important for us, but the future is even more important.

Dead Rhetoric: Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes handled the cover once again for Church of the Scream. What do you enjoy most about his work for the band, and where do you see the importance these days in cover art for heavy metal compared to say the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s?

Bucci: I have to correct you. Gustavo was the artist for the first cover. This album, the cover was done by Stan W. Decker. A very talented cover artist, he was introduced to us through Frontiers. I had in mind, a different style of cover. Gustavo is more like Travis Smith, impressionistic. For this cover, I had in mind the topic. On the first album we gave a few guidelines. For this album, I was searching more for my Derek Riggs, if you know what I mean. Something for more into comic stuff. I wanted a visual artist to develop it. Stan was the man for me. The first time he sent me a drawing and it was the right one. He put the colors in there and we were really happy with this.

I am a vinyl collector, so I understand what you mean. I have been a vinyl collector since the 90’s. You were able back then to buy some rare items for a few Euros- now you have to be rich to get a lot of rare stuff these days. I can’t think about an album without artwork. I remember the first time seeing an Iron Maiden album, or a Manowar album, in my hands. That cover would speak to me. And I remember CD shops, holding things in my hands. I am still an old school guy, and it’s really important for me to have a really good cover art. People these days mainly listen to playlists so they may not ever see that time again, but for me it’s important. As long as I have the chance to do that and the budget to do that, I will always want a good cover for our albums.

Dead Rhetoric: You also have worked as a journalist for Rock Hard magazine in your home country. Did you enjoy being on that end of the pen helping the scene, and does this make you more critical as a musician and performer with your own work as a result?

Bucci: Yes, I am terribly critical with my music. It was starting to become a problem. Especially with Stormlord, the music was more complex, we had such a particular sound. Sometimes I was not able to produce music further with Stormlord and I would end up blocking myself. For this, ScreaMachine gave me a brand-new approach, something new I could put in my pocket. It’s in my heart, playing the best music that I can without worrying too much about perfection. Let’s just make your heart open and work.

I was writing for online and paper magazines in Italy until 2009, and then I stopped because it was becoming too hard. I had to choose for writing or playing music. It was more than ten years of my life, and those were the times where you could still make some money as a journalist. Going into the studio for reports, receiving a lot of album promos -the label would invite us to do studio reports for Hammerfall in Denmark or Sweden, or to specific festivals. Now you get promos digitally, and it’s mostly interviews you do online, not in person face to face. It was something I enjoyed.

It gave me the ability to understand more of my music, and of understanding music in general. To be critical or easier on some things. It’s not very easy now to offend me with a review. I can understand the readers, what they want. One of the reviews for Church of the Scream, they mentioned we are playing classic metal, but asked why we are not being more daring? Because it’s what I want to do, man! I am not trying to play like Dream Theater. I have these roots, it’s interesting to do this, so why in your mind do I have to experiment? The album has a journey, but the journalist wants people to think we are open-minded. This makes me laugh, because he is talking more about himself. When you are reviewing a Saxon album, or an Accept album, it’s useless to say why are they not sounding like Devin Townsend. They want to do their thing. In my home library, I love a lot of stuff: extreme metal, blues, hard rock, heavy metal. It’s no problem for me to switch around. But what I want for ScreaMachine is to be loyal to my roots while exploring the world of metal. The second album, we were braver, exploring the world of heavy metal. We are not just focusing on the classic metal of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. You can hear some extreme metal influences, or hard rock – there are some Walls of Jericho/ Helloween approaches. We don’t want to sound just like a cover band, we want to sound like ScreaMachine, but entering into the modern age.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important records that helped shape your outlook on heavy metal as a genre? And what’s your most treasured concert memory attending the show as a member of the audience – plus what made that show/performance so special to you?

Bucci: I have a lot of special albums. I am a big Savatage fan, so Hall of the Mountain King opened my mind. The game changer album for me, it’s only one and that’s Kill ‘Em All from Metallica. I was in middle school, I was 12, and I was already listening to Queen, Led Zeppelin and starting to enjoy loud guitars. And I had a friend who had the tape for that first Metallica album, and I remember hearing the beginning of “Hit the Lights”. It was noise, it was mayhem, and I remember listening to it – and it was what I was searching for. Three months later, I was listening to death metal like Cannibal Corpse. I also love Helloween – Walls of Jericho, Balls to the Wall – Accept, Operation: Mindcrime. Those albums were really important to me, but Metallica boy…

Back in the 90’s in Italy there was a huge movement. In the US metal had faded out and grunge was more popular. The really good bands were coming to Europe. I had been to Wacken, I got to see Motörhead with the Bomber set, and Saxon with the airplane. I remember a very good show of Metallica on the Gods of Metal Festival back in 1999, when King Diamond was dueting with James Hetfield on “Evil”. It was really impressive for me. I remember Savatage on the Wake of Magellan tour with Zak Stevens, that was really great. Attending Wacken is magical. I have been there many times; you can catch sometimes underground bands like Grim Reaper who you wouldn’t think of ever seeing. Liege Lord as well.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your technique and ability as a bass player? Do you have specific influences that have fueled your approach, and has your approach evolved from childhood to your current abilities at the instrument?

Bucci: I am really a bass player at heart. Most bass players in metal are former guitar players. I started on the bass – I always loved the sound of the instrument. I blame it on once again, Metallica – “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”. The bass could be aggressive too. I am more into Geezer Butler, and Jason Newsted. Dave Ellefson and Greg Christian, those two are virtuosos. Markus G. from Helloween. Jason Newsted was the heart pumping black for (Metallica). He is a really good bass player, it’s all about the song.

I like to pop up every now and then with some notes, some licks, but I’m not a technical bass player. I am not Billy Sheehan, it’s really important to underline things with some melody. Most of the time I try to work behind being very tight to the drums. I care about my sound; I am quite a nerd guy when it comes to that. I try to work with a very huge sound. In many productions, especially in metal, you hear these huge guitars, the bass frequency is not there. I talked with an engineer one time about Fear Factory – I was astonished by the guitars, but he told me it’s all about the bass. The guitars are not so huge, it’s tight in the mix, you can understand it.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the Italian metal scene currently? Are there specific styles that seem to go over better than others – and do you believe you garner more respect/ support outside of your country than from within?

Bucci: The Italian scene over the past few years has received a lot more respect from outside the country. Back in the days there was only Rhapsody, Lacuna Coil maybe. Right now, we have a huge extreme metal scene especially, thinking about my friends in Fleshgod Apocalypse. Fantastic things, and then of course Elvenking. They gain a lot of respect, and this is something that happens a lot in Italy. When these bands become huge outside of Italy, inside the country, it’s not supported. There is more support for Italian bands that have a small circle of fans. When these bands grow bigger because they are good, it’s criticized, and that’s a bad thing. Earlier bands, we had some important names like Death SS or Bulldozer, in the past they may have been seen more as a joke. Right now, we are well respected, I have a lot of friends in the music scene that are playing in South America, Japan, North America.

What I would like to see is stronger support, not only for your friends playing in front of 100 people, but the bigger bands. A band from Italy that can get success like Fleshgod Apocalypse, it’s not damaging you. It’s not stealing from your people; it’s giving you more attention. I hope that this concept will be understood one day. ScreaMachine we are at the beginning. We have gotten some great support critically from the US, Frontiers has a good reach there. In Germany, in Sweden, in France – but in Italy this kind of sound, not so many people follow it. Our shows are a blast, it’s going very well, and it may go better with the next set of shows.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you like to spend your free time away from music to unwind? Do you have any special interests, passions, hobbies, or activities you like to engage in?

Bucci: I have too many. There are some people that say they can’t live without work, because work is essential to their lives. Please let me win the lottery, because I am ready to pursue my hobbies. I am a movie fanatic, I am a music fanatic, I love to travel, plus I have a beautiful daughter and wonderful wife. I enjoy my family a lot. I really love to read – starting with horror, plus biographies, history. The problem is always time. Especially when you have a small daughter, your work, and you spend your time with your daughter and wife. Then you go to compose music, and it’s two in the morning (laughs). I am really ready to live without work, if I got the money.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for activities, live shows, promotion relating to ScreaMachine?

Bucci: We are a young band, so the live situation here is not… a good moment. The stakes are high, the promoters are scared, bigger bands are renting smaller trucks. For a small band that is trying to grow, it’s not so easy. We are working with an agency, so in a few weeks we are playing the first dates. From September we will try to play across Europe, we will do our best. It depends on how the album will be welcomed by the people. We do our best to keep in touch with all the people that enjoy us through social media. We engage and encourage people to write to us. It’s important for bands to be supported, as we are literally flooded with music. Back in the day you could buy an album, listen to it thousands of times as you spent your money on it. I liked some bad albums because of this. The internet now allows you to reach a wider audience, but there is so many releases, and I am an old school guy.

It’s important for people, if you want the metal scene to be alive and well, when Iron Maiden and these old bands go away, it’s important to keep your focus on the bands you like. Support these bands. Support what you love. Share things, buy albums, buy merchandise. You will lose a band you like otherwise.

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