The Great Discord – Not Your Parents’ Progressive Metal

Sunday, 31st May 2015

If you pay attention to the progressive metal genre, the movement certainly has shifted from decade to decade. For years, it was perfectly acceptable to use influences from the upper triad of acts such as Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Fates Warning as a launching pad into your own creative journey. Then over the last decade, probably due to the influx of technology and young blood, the definition of progressive metal is not what it once was. Modern metal and left field spices have given us a wider berth of artists that aren’t always trying to be so intricate or technically savvy, instead using contrast and surprise as their weapons of pushing boundaries. Be ready to include Sweden’s The Great Discord in that conversation for new progressive metal.

Duende, their debut album, contains all levels of heaviness, tranquility, sadness, anger, thought, and deep reflection. The music and lyrics will captivate and enthrall, begging for multiple listening sessions. Beyond the fact that vocalist Fia Kempe isn’t your typical progressive metal singer – her voice has character and a cinematic, theatrical quality that moves me to tears. Be glad that veteran label Metal Blade took a decent risk in signing this quintet – as I expect a long, fruitful career based on this impressive early start.

Setting up a Skype chat with Fia and drummer Aksel Holmgren, the duo had plenty to discuss regarding their record, their songwriting and stylistic philosophy, and their unique visual presentation – hopeful to bring The Great Discord onto a stage near you during 2015-16. Be not afraid of change…

Dead Rhetoric: How quickly did the concept of The Great Discord come to be, and did you decide right from the start the type of progressive metal you wanted to play, or did you find that things had to evolve a bit?

Fia Kempe: We definitely talked about this earlier today, we never sat down and wrote music by the premise that ‘let’s write music that sounds like this’. It was quite the opposite. We have known each other for a long time, Aksel and I, approximately 10 years, and we always talked about writing music together. We had the same musical interests in the same musical genres and we have a lot of the same interests about progressive metal. When we sat down it felt like we just wanted to see what came out of it, no restraints. We just had a few ideas and melodies, myself with my keyboard and Aksel with his guitar, we just let some notes float and just in a couple of hours we had the first song almost ready. I laid vocals on that the next day, which was “Deus Ex Homine”- after that we felt that this could be something really good. The rest of the songs came quite naturally, also without having restrictions on how they should sound or trying to imitate the first song we did, we let it come to us. Hence we have the different types of songs that we have on the record.

Aksel Holmgren: Right, initially we made it a point to make different songs also. Apart from having the idea that we were not going to restrain ourselves into a specific sort of genre, we decided that we wanted to make different types of music during the course of this first setting. We made the first 3-4 songs in that first week and they ended up on the album. The initial idea of not going in one specific direction really paid off and we found ourselves musically and efficiently. It was a very rewarding process in the sense that we’ve always been involved in different musical contexts in bands and projects. We’ve always felt that something was lacking or not spreading our wings here- when we finally decided to write something together, everything just clicked.

Kempe: We felt really satisfied with what happened in the process. It came natural to us, and we knew what we wanted to do. The whole concept of The Great Discord and the visual aspects as well came quite easy and early to us. We felt that the music that we wrote needed to be presented in a bigger manner than just going up on stage with jeans and t-shirts to play the songs. There’s nothing wrong with that but we felt that the music needed to be represented in the visual aspect as well. The lyrics that we are writing, they can be quite difficult or deep if you will. We are singing a lot about emotional states of psychiatric conditions, or things that are interesting to us, existential living conditions, we feel the visuals really complement the lyrics. For me, with my stage persona, I try to represent these stories that the lyrics are trying to tell.

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut album Duende took over two years from initial ideas to final execution – how do you feel about the outcome, and were there any particular challenges or surprises that took place?

Kempe: First of all we are really, really happy about this album and we are so glad it took the time that it took. It was quite a long process, but that also had to do with us as we said earlier, quite fast we came to the conclusion that this is something that we want to do, give our full intentions to do this so we had to finish our other commitments we had in life, music with other bands. It took us a while to become free from that, so now we could just commit fully to this. As far as recording goes, it took a while because of the puzzle of jobs and our lives between recording as well. We felt that it needed to take that time, we wanted the album to be specifically the way we wanted it.

Holmgren: And as far as surprises or challenges, given it was such a long process it gave us a lot of time to think through what the next step was going to be about in terms of another song, rehearsing, writing together, recording. Everything was so planned in a way, there are always difficulties but they were never spectacular difficulties. We were always prepared to deal with the problems that we sort of anticipated in terms of recording or rehearsing a specific difficult part.

Kempe: I think the only challenge we had in it was to not aim for takes that were perfect technically but we wanted to get the takes where you can really feel and really hear the emotion we put into it. The lyrics and the music for us are really emotional, the thoughts behind it. Regarding the singing, I wanted to get the takes where you can hear the sadness or hear the power or the pain in this particular piece of singing.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you stand on the balancing act between satisfying your own personal/creative desires through The Great Discord and delivering a product that appeases the progressive metal world?

Holmgren: That is a great question actually because we’ve talked about this quite a lot when we come up with things. We always come up with things that are personally pleasing for us, and we always try to bring it together with ourselves in mind first. But we always know, there is something nagging in the back of your head that says this might not be the most appropriate thing commercially even though we are not a commercial band in that sense. We are being launched into a scene that expects certain things. At some point you need to put that thought aside where you start compromising your ideas in order to cater to a specific audience with the ability to just say that this is just for us, and it begins and ends with us being happy with it. Of course this could also mean you add things that you know are going to be crowd pleasers, which is important in a live context. I think it’s important to think about the live situation, where you know that it requires something to attract attention in some other way- from being chaotic and twisted into something more serene and easy going if you will. It’s always a balance between those things, but we never really consciously thought about…

Kempe: Let’s write something that will make people happy. We have written music that we know means something to us and we can only hope that people will latch on and they will enjoy this kind of music as well.

Holmgren: We really enjoy certain types of commercial music as well. I’m sure there are elements in our music that are better for us in a commercial sense then maybe…the weirdest parts on the album. That’s just a balance for us as musical people I think, rather than us trying to cater to something. I think everybody says they don’t write anything for anybody but themselves, and I think that’s true for the most part but I think it’s healthy for a band to have the live aspect in mind when you construct things for a live situation. Think of the dynamics more so than the commercial part of it.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you consciously aware of song order as well as when as a band to be slightly more technical versus the songs where things need to be a little more hook oriented?

Holmgren: We really put a lot of thought on how we wanted the flow of the album to be. Obviously we wanted to start the album out with this great hook and big chorus, once we’ve establish that we can move into the more floaty, airy, progressive stuff. Then we went into the chaotic third song moving towards a slightly darker atmosphere through the album, especially in terms of tonality. Then we give ourselves and the listeners a breather with “Woes”, the ballad I’d say on the album. Continuing on to “Illuminate”, which is sort of the odd ball of the album. We placed it there because we knew it stood out so much and we wanted to establish our sound before that came in.

Kempe: We felt that was an important song for the album. The dark aspects that with different emotional states, cannibalism to narcissistic psychopathic killers to sadness, depression, and “Woes” is plain sorrow, turning into “Illuminate” which is the joyful, the powerful of emotional states. The song was needed to be there to bring some light to the dark. “Ephemeral” is a grand closer.

Holmgren: We always had this fondness of lengthier songs when they are called for, when you have the material for it. That song is probably on the album our favorite one. It’s more of a journey than a very structured song. It starts very slowly and ends in an extremely powerful way. We have given the dynamics a lot of thought. Before we wrote the album we discussed what types of songs we needed for the album. We had written half of them, and then we decided we needed one song to bring things down a little, or one song with a major key. When you make a movie, you need different pushes and pulls in the story line to keep things interesting.

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