FeaturesSunburst – Unleash the Manifesto

Sunburst – Unleash the Manifesto

Progressive metal has always been a benchmark genre for musicians and listeners who strive to push the parameters of songwriting, instrumentation, and creativity. Greek quartet Sunburst maintain a healthy balance between intricate riffs and catchy passages on record – the latest of which Manifesto delivers tremendous value for those who love killer songwriting and performances on all fronts. We reached out to guitarist Gus Drax to learn more about how his early childhood music memories, the work behind Manifesto that differed from the band’s Fragments of Creation debut, how possessing a great singer enhances his songwriting choices, career highlights, what success means to him, thoughts on improving humanity and what to look forward to as far as his work in Suicidal Angels, Black Fate, and his solo discography.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up during childhood? At what point did you start listening / enjoying to heavier forms of music – and eventually the desire to pick up an instrument and start performing in bands?

Gus Drax: That’s a great question. The first, let’s say, thing that comes to mind is when we were in the car with my dad, and he used to play The Beatles records. I guess it makes a lot of sense with my musical choice later in life. The Beatles were pop, but they also had a lot of progressive elements in their music – which back then I didn’t understand like that, I just enjoyed what I was listening to. I had those early sounds in my head that probably created a little bit of my taste in music. When I was 12, 13 I started listening to Iron Maiden. A few months later my brother came home with a VHS tape with Live in Tokyo by Dream Theater. That was the life-changing moment for me. I said you know what, I really want to play guitar. Everything click, I fell in love with music in general, just listening to new records with Dream Theater, I started buying all their music, following whatever they did. Immediately I started taking guitar lessons from there – so everything happened in that one moment.

Dead Rhetoric: Sunburst started in 2010 – how did the original lineup come together, and did you know straight away the type of cinematic, power/progressive metal style you wanted to go for, or did it take some time through rehearsals and songwriting to arrive at the sound you are going for?

Drax: I think every album that we create has different elements. It’s not that we are trying to write the same thing over and over. Fragments of Creation has its own elements, Manifesto has its own elements, and our next record is going to have its own elements. There are some key elements that both these albums have, but I don’t think they are the same album, there are key differences between the albums. We knew from early on – but from our creation, we wanted to play progressive music. Sunburst is a band I created because I wanted to play progressive metal music.

We aren’t going to throw a song in the garbage if it’s not let’s say progressive enough. It’s more about the actual song now -we create each song separately. We want to create different songs, and each time we will do whatever the song requires. In Manifesto for example, you will see longer songs and shorter songs, you will see some that are simpler in parts and others that have complicated parts. Fast solos, melodic solos, depending on what the song needs. Each song demands something specific, and that’s what we go for. We don’t go and say we will do the most complicated thing or the most progressive thing just because we have the word progressive for our label. I prefer to be mentioned as a band with great songs, and not just a band that plays progressive and difficult stuff. We sometimes will do this, but for us the song is the most important thing.

Dead Rhetoric: Manifesto is the latest album for the group – what were the songwriting and recording sessions like for this set of material? How do you assess the development of the group or specific changes you made compared to your debut album Fragments of Creation from 2016?

Drax: We are the same people in the band, so nothing changed there. The changes that happened were a result of the writing and the recording when it comes to the new album. Unfortunately, with how the world changed because of COVID-19, it’s harder for bands to stay together these days for long. I feel very happy about this, we are the same four people for so many years. Writing-wise and recording-wise, Manifesto got through a very tough period. The whole world faced this, we started recording the album during the pandemic, which was very, very tough. The drums for Manifesto were recorded when there were actual lockdowns. These sessions had to be very carefully organized, and I couldn’t be there. It was just our drummer wearing a mask, a sound engineer in a different room, wearing a mask – so it was a little bit different. In some ways it was extreme to do this for safety reasons during the pandemic, and if you had to travel within Greece you had to have specific reasons to be able to travel or otherwise you were stopped by the police and sent back home.

It wasn’t the easiest procedure. I also had to travel to play my guitars because we recorded those parts at my bass player’s studio. It took us a little bit more time because of that, but we are very happy with the final result. The differences between the records are everywhere. When we finished Fragments of Creation, we knew where we wanted to go with the next album. The elements that we liked a little bit more than others. Then we started playing shows, and we were listening to what the audience liked and preferred as well. Fortunately, people and their opinions were the same as ours. We chose those elements, and we started working more on these, and also to bring new elements to this music. We like to experiment with other things, bring stuff from other kinds of music to amplify those original elements that we had. These things in combination create what Manifesto is.

The songwriting procedure was different because Fragments of Creation was the first album, you just go for it and whatever your inspiration is, you just write things and build it up in a way. Manifesto was a little bit more focused I would say songwriting-wise. We really tried to do with every procedure just a little bit better than Fragments. Better songwriting, better recording, better studios, top performances, better mixing and better mastering. Let’s say you have 1% better here, 10% better there, 5% better there – immediately you have an album that’s at least 50-60% better sounding album.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the magnificent vocal delivery and depth of abilities at the disposal through Vasilis’ range? Does this make things easier for you as a band to develop solid riffs and intriguing twists/turns knowing that he can put things into a solid, melodic context?

Drax: Absolutely. Vasilis is one of my best friends first of all, and I always put the human relationships first. Also, he is one of the best singers that I know, and I am very, very happy to work with him. One of the main things I have in mind when I come up with the music for Sunburst is actually Vasilis. As an example, we rarely have very technical things when Vasilis is singing. When I am writing stuff and I know there is a singing part coming up, I step things down to allow him to have a bigger foundation to do whatever he wants to do and shine. When you have a singer like that, you have to let him shine through your music. Especially in the singing parts I’m writing, I have him completely in mind. I know what he can do, and what he can’t do. The more songs we write, the more I learn about him and keep in mind with my songwriting. I try to build songs that will be very comfortable for him and have him come up with great melodies.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges currently facing Sunburst at this point in your career?

Drax: We are all adults; we have our everyday lives and obligations. As with every band, sometimes it can get more difficult to meet with each other and not to have to work on something. Most of the time we have to meet because we have to do something for Sunburst. It’s difficult for Vasilis and myself to meet and have dinner for example, and that’s something that I miss because of our obligations. We have fast-paced lives, we have to meet and rehearse, and when we have some time to speak to each other, I mostly miss the friendship part.

Dead Rhetoric: How much of a challenge is it to make Sunburst a priority given all of the other bands that the musicians within this band work in – especially considering your personal workload with Suicidal Angels for instance?

Drax: So far, we’ve had no difficulties on that department. If we had an offer to go on an extended tour, we’ll see what we can do. If we have a show to play, we don’t turn down shows. When we have to do something, we do it. I am a professional musician, I don’t have a problem going away from home, but Vasilis is a husband and a father of two, so that can be a little bit more difficult for him. But he has never turned down a show. Whatever we have to do, we do it, we take the time and do it.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your outlook as a guitarist? What is your stance on the balance between intricacy and technical ability versus feel and emotion when it comes to your playing?

Drax: I think the word balance that you said is the key word for me. I try to create intelligent riffs. Sometimes this means this is technical, and sometimes the most intelligent thing to do is simple. It doesn’t have to be ultra-fast to be intelligent and intricate as you said or sophisticated, but I want it to be special. Sometimes special means something simpler, or sometimes we need to put the technicality at eleven so let’s do it.

If I listen to a player that plays fast all the time, I get bored. If I listen to a player that plays slow all the time, I get bored (laughs). To me, it’s about keeping a balance that has melodies, great phrasing, soloing, clever phrases that sound great, but here and there let’s spice things up, put something fast and shiny there. It’s totally a balance thing. I sometimes go in more of a technical direction, sometimes in more of a melodic direction.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the power/progressive metal scene in Europe versus other parts of the world? What do you enjoy most about this style, and what changes (if any) would you like to see for the greater health and development of things overall?

Drax: I don’t think there is anything that needs to be changed too dramatically to keep things safe. There are amazing bands all over the world – not just in Europe. There are many progressive bands that exist everywhere. I don’t think it’s just a European thing, or an American thing, or even an Australian thing – where there is an amazing band like Teramaze. I think about this as a whole genre. Everybody that plays in this genre contributes something. The level of musicianship that this genre has now, we have nothing to fear. We can be assured that it’s safe, and that every year we will have great music to listen to.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of your best memories when looking at the career of Gus Drax as a musician? Do you have specific highlights as far as albums, bands, tours, festival appearances, or other activities that will stay forever embedded in your memory banks when you knew you were making more of an impact because of your craft?

Drax: I would be more general, but I’m going to talk about specifics as well. Each album I release with whatever the album cover says – Black Fate, Suicidal Angels, my own solo albums – it’s something I will never forget. Every album that I work on is special and very important to me. I never do an album without taking things very, very seriously. Manifesto now has a big place in my heart because it’s the latest record we have released, and as you know, the latest is always the best for a musician. I would like at some point at the end of my career to have nice thoughts about what I’ve done and then reflect on which ones were my favorites in terms of albums I’ve done. Every time you release a new one, you have this feeling that’s it the best you’ve ever done.

We have done some great shows both with Sunburst and Suicidal Angels that I will never forget. We did a show with Sunburst in Belgium with Symphony X, it was a fantastic show. It’s not only about the show, but also about the times that we have together, that makes it more special. Personal relationships are very important, it’s not a corporation, it is professional and everything, but we are not a factory. It’s very important that we are connected and have good relationships with everyone. The show with Suicidal Angels supporting Megadeth, or a headlining show in Athens that was sold out. There are so many things you consider highlights – highlights are good memories, but I also like to say things that have happened on the road that were not good, but you can tell those stories and have a great laugh. Some misfortunes, it’s not just the thousands of people you play to, but good times can be good memories.

Dead Rhetoric: What does success mean to you personally – and has that definition changed from your start as a musician to how you think about it today?

Drax: I redefine this word with every success. As soon as I succeed at something, it’s very important to set goals and then achieve them. As soon as I achieve the goal, I consider this a success. Okay, we are here- now we need to find a new goal. We can’t stay at the same level, there’s always things to do. You can always become better, not only as a musician, but as a human being as well. We sometimes forget that we get focused on getting more and more successful as a band, playing to more people, earn more money or whatever, and forget that you need to improve as a person, not just how much money you make. To me success has a lot to do with the personal side to improve as a person, and of course create new albums while getting more recognized for what you do. It’s not just one thing.

Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the current world that we are living in today? If you had the ability to help humanity work on one or two areas that would be for the greater good of all, what areas need to be worked on most?

Drax: That’s actually a serious question, and a very good one. I wish I could be mistaken, but I think we are losing a little bit of our humanity. We have lost the sense of helping each other, of supporting each other. I see a lot of negativity everywhere, and I think we need to work on that. We are too harsh and hard on each other. It’s problematic. You can see it in our music as well, we talk about this. Society becomes more and more harsh; people are killing each other and its 2024. We need to do something about this. We have wars still; we need peace and to actually be better human beings. Starting with myself. Change starts from each individual.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for activities related to Sunburst, Suicidal Angels, Black Fate, or other bands/activities in the next twelve months?

Drax: For Sunburst and Suicidal Angels, we have both released new albums in 2024, so we will play shows for those, as many as possible with both bands. Black Fate, I don’t have any news yet. And as for me personally, I am currently recording my second solo album. I’m close to actually finishing all the recordings, so I think that a release date somewhere in 2025 is more than reasonable.

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