Vicinity – Passengers in Life

Thursday, 4th April 2024

Photo: Daniel Almli & Steffen Normark

Progressive metal has always been a constant staple in this scribe’s life – branching off from artists like Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and Dream Theater into the realms of Haken, Devin Townsend, Periphery, and Leprous among others. Put Norwegian quintet Vicinity in that mix, especially if you enjoy a lot of the musicianship, hooks, melodies, and interplay that developed from the 90’s forward. Their latest album VIII contains just over an hour plus of exciting material – delivered in a cohesive song first manner even through all of the subtle intricacies or shape shifting movements at play.

We reached out to guitarist Kim-Marius H. Olsen and bassist Pierre Nicolai Schmidt-Melbye to get the scoop on the long-process between albums, what the singer change brings to the fold, how they craft these songs in a white board manner, the humanity theme running through the lyrics this time around, thoughts on AI, progressive metal as a genre and its development, plus future plans in the pipeline.

Dead Rhetoric: VIII is the latest album for Vicinity. While it seems on the surface that there’s been a long break between studio records as Recurrence came out in 2017, you’ve had to handle not only the pandemic but also the loss of long-time vocalist Alexander K. Lykke. Can you discuss how these aspects shaped the outlook of the record and what you wanted to achieve that maybe differed from previous records?

Kim-Marius H. Olsen: We started working on this album some time ago. The drums were recorded maybe four years ago. Many of the songs have been with us for quite some time. The first song was written in 2017.

Pierre Nicolai Schmidt-Melbye: Our first song “Purpose”, that was first single and we had that song ready when we started the mastering for the previous album. The songwriting was ready in 2020 when we went into the studio with the drums. But then we had the pandemic that hit, and as you said we were going forward with the vocals where we were trying to fast track things. We knew that Recurrence had taken too long so we were hoping the next time would be faster. We wanted everything to be recorded by the summer of 2020. And that didn’t happen (laughs).

Kim-Marius: We started writing two of the songs with lyrics when Alexander was still in the band – “Distance” and “Promised Paradise”. We performed one version of “Distance” live with him as well. It became clear to him before us that he didn’t have the time because of his work situation. We just thought we should just go with keep moving forward – and Pierre can say more about how we got in touch with the new vocalist (Erling Malm).

Pierre: Before my metal days, I was a singer in a male choir. He was the metalhead of the group, so Erling introduced me to the heavier side of metal. I knew he was capable in that regard; he had the background even though he is primarily a guitar player in his other bands. He sings a bit, but he’s mainly a guitar player. I knew he had the chops; he is also a defense lawyer, so it isn’t the best schedule-wise, keeping that in mind. He managed to produce all the vocals within six to nine months, including all the other lyrics with Kim. When he was in, he went for it. We booked him for a session gig a long time ago in the autumn of 2022, and after that we realized that he ought to be the singer. It was all for the best, Erling did a good thing with changing things up but also keeping the elements of our sound intact.

Dead Rhetoric: Now that the album is done, where do you see this new record sitting in the discography of Vicinity compared to the previous albums?

Kim-Marius: I think it’s definitely our best work. This is the first time after an album is finished that I’ve been this proud of (what we’ve done).

Pierre: The best benchmark for that is our drummer Frode (Lillevold) is the most self-critical in the room. You can hear it in his drumming – it’s on point. Even he still listens to the album after it’s written, so that’s a good sign. We thought it would be our first new album without any new guys – because I was the new guy for the first album, Ivar our keyboardist was for the second, and we managed to get a new guy for this album as well. So perhaps, next time! (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: What do you see latest vocalist Erling Malm bringing to the table for the band that may differ or potentially allow Vicinity to take different avenues stylistically through his range or abilities? Is there a specific song or two on the new record where he really surprised the band with his approach / abilities?

Kim-Marius: The second answer first. If you listen to “The Singularity”, that’s where he started really displaying what he could do. That song is so full of time changes, and the verses are totally unsingable if you don’t have the good chops. He made things flow and melodic at the same time, I was totally in awe for what he could do. And also using his vocals lower and low, he doesn’t necessarily go as stratospherically high as Alexander did, but he used dynamics in a different way. He wanted to have full control of all the vocal lines and all the harmonies, he used lyrics from us and added his own reflections to it – also writing some of his own lyrics. He was pretty clear, if he is the vocalist, then he is the vocalist, I will do the vocalist’s job.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out the arrangements from focused, concise offerings like “Distance” and “Purpose” compared to the epic songs like “Promised Paradise” and “Face the Pain”? Are certain compositions more difficult to finalize than others due to the intricacies of musicianship / technicality versus developing catchy, memorable parts?

Kim-Marius: We get to our rehearsal space at least once a week, so we continually work on the compositions, and everybody pitches in. Pierre is excellent at noticing where something is missing, and we can elaborate on a part. Even if most of the riffs come from Ivar or me, everybody contributes. It wouldn’t be the same, and we torture each other so much that we don’t take things as criticism, we take it as an opportunity to develop stuff. When we have something, we may leave it for a week, listen back and look at things again, now we have new ideas and work on it like that.

Pierre: It’s a balancing act. We can use three hours sometimes for two bars, because we have a feel. We just jammed something in rehearsal, and something happened to the part while working on it, trying to find the right groove. It’s many, many hours of that. We have a review coming in soon that mentioned that we were like progressive metal Disney, there are elements of that. Guilty as charged, because I go into how do we wrap a part up before we go into the next one. It has to have some sort of closure, not closing but people have the chance to come to grips with a part. Kim is more confrontational in his music style, he is more into the hooks and then likes to change stuff up for the fun of it. We contribute equal parts, everyone.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it harder as a result to know when a composition truly is finished? Especially because a musician in a progressive band could tinker around with things endless…

Kim-Marius: We usually land – we work with a big white board in the rehearsal space where we write things out, the riffing. That’s necessary because we review and add to them, change things around. It might look like the ramblings of a madman to the outsiders, but we work quite a lot on getting the parts cohesive. The first album we had a bit more riff salad, now we have worked on versions of parts and themes that can be brought back again and in a different shape. Of course, we still have more than enough parts, but we try to develop more of a feel with fewer parts.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art come about for VIII? Does it tie in thematically to a lot of the lyrical content for the record?

Kim-Marius: Well, the graphic designer Giannis Nakos has worked with Kamelot, Evergrey, and lots of other great bands. We gave him pretty much free reign. He got the themes from the album from some of the lyrics, and he read through it all. According to him, this is the vibe he ended up with. He didn’t want to elaborate on this too much. We thought he deserved to just do his best.

Pierre: On a side note, I like the visuals. We all agree that it was very on point from the get-go. We had some few minor revisions, but I think it’s a rebirth/decay kind of picture. It has a veneer of happiness to it but if you look at the details there is a darker side to the art, all in all. Especially from “Distance”, that is darker. It’s more of a vibe thing, rather than catching all the lyrics.

Kim-Marius: There’s also a memento mori thing going on. You can see the animals are moving and the humans are being shot, there’s a skull if you look pretty close below where the big bird is.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did you decide to go lyrically on this record, because it was not a concept album like the last time with Recurrence?

Kim-Marius: I can answer for some of this. There are a lot of different themes. Most of them are related to humanity. I know “The Singularity” deals with the rise of artificial intelligence. “Promised Paradise” is more like going from being naive in your youth to being like you can conquer the world to the fact that the promised paradise might not exist. You have to cope with life the way life is. “Distance”, that’s pretty dark because that’s more about depression, and being in the vicinity of someone who is still feeling like they are not there, they are distant. “Face the Rain”, that’s the big one, it’s about life in general, have to tackle what comes, we are just passengers in this life, and you have to tackle life with what we’ve got. There are lots of themes about life.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the development of AI technology and how it will influence the music industry for the future?

Kim-Marius: We haven’t really bothered too much with this. We are a musician focused band; we like the thought of music being made by people in a room and developed by people. The process of making it, that’s what drives us, and we are not interested in going down that path. I love going down the regular path way too much.

Pierre: The answer is two-fold, really. One thing is as the industry and one thing is as a band. I think the industry – progressive music is a different thing for AI as you could pull stuff together and it could be prog, but it’s a very nerdy music as well. You have a fanbase that would be quite unforgiving if they find out that people are starting to use AI, the classic prog anyway. It’s how you use this technology, and you have to use it out in the open before people can use it in their creative process. For us as a band, as Kim-Marius said, we have a white board, and we like to use our creativity and instruments in the best possible way. The way we interact is very much in person and within sight.

Kim-Marius: It’s what we also think about when we play live. We play live what we can play with our hands and our voices. We don’t use any backing tracks or anything to augment the sound. It’s 100% live, with all the flaws that come out when playing our kind of music.

Pierre: We don’t even use a click track so sometimes we play material a little faster than it should be, with mixed results. We think that is a part of the authenticity.

Dead Rhetoric: When you think of the term progressive metal – what does it mean to you as a genre? Do you believe the definition has expanded more over the last decade than ever before in the history of the movement?

Kim-Marius: Yes, I think it’s always progressing. Our last album many people described as classic progressive metal, like 90s Dream Theater with a more modern sound and edge. I like the modern stuff as well, I listen to Periphery, Haken, all those bands as well. If you take those albums and compare them to albums from the 80s and 90s you can definitely hear things have changed, there’s more genre-blending than ever, more use of different vocal styles than there used to be. It used to only be clean vocals in progressive music, now everything goes.

Pierre: You have to say for our part we are not there to explore the sound of a mirror crashing and use that as a sample kind of approach. I admire those guys who are able to do that as well. That’s why I think we want to make good songs as well – it’s not always about pushing the envelope, it’s about making something that makes us happy as musicians, not because we could be more progressive in a way. The most important part is to develop good songs in that respect, I’m very happy living in that sphere.

Dead Rhetoric: What is some of the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in the metal music industry – especially when it comes to younger, emerging artists?

Kim-Marius: You have to do things because that’s the way it has to be. People tell you; you need to have this kind of production; you can’t do that. Bombastic advice. When we make music, we know that we have to be happy about what we’ve been doing. That’s the main benchmark making all of us feel this is good. We could break things down and make things even more commercial if we wanted to, but then we would get bored.

: The tropes are alive. You need to have some guts to go into this industry if you are not a part of things early on. Don’t believe you have to have heard all the albums from the 70s and up to be legitimate or a metalhead. Just listen to the things that you want to and do the things that feel natural. I think too many people are into holding onto the tropes, and that could be a hinderance.

Dead Rhetoric: When you feel overwhelmed or you have lost your focus, what types of things do you like to do to regain perspective?

Kim-Marius: Well, I play the guitar (laughs). There is always one hanging up in the living room, so it’s my safe spot, it blocks out everything. I spend time with my family, my daughter and wife. Going to rehearsal with the guys, I have a master’s degree in film studies, but I watch far too little films. I think it’s because it’s become so much a part of my working life that you need something else to disconnect. I have never had that with music, that’s always a place for me to go.

Pierre: We are all musicians that chose to have music in our life specifically. I’m the closest one to having a job artistic-wise to this dream. The other three musicians are engineers, and Erling has a law degree. I have two kids and a wife, so going to rehearsal is my release. I had one condition when I got married, I’m going to rehearsal every week. That’s very important to me. I’m a big fantasy geek as well, Dungeons and Dragons. I have a busy life; Vicinity is both a social outlet and a reprieve from the day-to-day life.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Vicinity over the next year or so to support the new album? Are there any other side bands/projects that you’d also like to mention here?

Kim-Marius: We started rehearsing to a release gig, May 24th here in Trondheim. We will play the entire album and some older songs as well; it will be an undertaking. Hopefully we will get some more gigs down the line. I don’t have any other projects musically. Erling the vocalist, he has one project where he sings and one where he plays the guitar: that’s Articulus and Endolith.

Pierre: I have a couple of friends where we do something on the side, it’s a bit heavier but it’s kind of a trial project. I do some studio work for the fun of it to add some flair here and there.

Vicinity official website

Vicinity on Facebook

[fbcomments width="580"]