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Epica Interview 2004

Epica Interview 2004
By: Sam Grant
With: Yves Huts and Mark Jansen - of Epica

Interview Info
Female Voices Metal Fest 2, Belgium
By: Sam Grant
With: Yves Huts and Mark Jansen - of Epica
Also present: Charlie Farrell-Promoter & Fan

Sam: Epica are getting better and better received, aren’t they?

Yves: Yeah, we are getting better known and we’re doing a lot of shows, so the audience really gets to know us better, specifically in Holland and Belgium, and France is also very good, but the German-speaking countries are a little hard to convince. We’re on tour right now and we did some gigs in Switzerland and Germany and at first I don’t think they really knew us. So we did our show and at first they were like, ok, we’ll wait and see, and by the end they were very enthusiastic. I don’t know why, but we always have that in Germany.

Sam: Flowing Tears were saying exactly the same thing. The German metal scene doesn’t seem to be very active at the moment, which is a shame.

Yves: Well, they seem to have seen it all or something, or maybe we’re not so well known in Germany, I don’t know. But the people who are there at the end of a gig, I have the impression that we have convinced them of our music.

[Mark arrives roundabout now, having been at merchandising]

Sam: The last time we met was in London six months ago. What have you been doing in the last six months?

Yves: We’ve been in the studio recording our new album; we’ve done some European shows like in Turkey. We’ve been to Poland, actually that may have been before London, done some major festivals in Germany, but the main thing we concentrated on was preparing for the album, rehearsing the songs and making the songs, recording the songs in the studio, and after that we went on tour.

Sam:  How were you received in Poland because the Polish gothic metal sound is very different?

Mark: We didn’t know what to expect, but we were astonished by the very good response, it was overwhelming, the crowd didn’t know us at all, and we sold lots of t-shirts and CDs, so it was quite a surprise for us.

Yves: I think it was our longest signing session. There was a whole row of people who wanted our autographs.

Sam: I think Epica is a kind of music that it’s hard not to be drawn in by, that’s probably what it was. Epica is a sound that you can’t really ignore, you’re forced to appreciate it 100% of the time.

Mark: That is a good sign. When everyone feels like this we will be huge!

Sam: What other countries would you like to play in that you haven’t played in already?

Mark: Which countries? Everywhere.

Sam: Everywhere? You want your music to be ubiquitous?

Mark:  We really want to play everywhere, even South Africa. If we get an offer to play in South Africa, we’ll fly to South Africa, but the country I really want to play is Brazil, it’s been a wish of mine from my youth. Also Chile. It seems that people really go crazy over there. Already they go crazy in Brazil, but in Chile it’s amazing.

Sam: What about America? Have you any interest in playing over there?

Mark: America itself?

Yves: The United States!

Sam: Sorry, I should say the United States of America. I have a friend who’s Mexican and apparently over there you have to specify the United States because you insult people who are from South America. So yes, the United States.

Mark: Well, if we got an offer from the United States then we would want to play there. But the United States, politically, I don’t want to get involved.

Sam: This is something that we’re going to go into later because there is quite a strong political message behind some of your songs, but I will talk to you about that because it’s quite interesting. So what stage is the new album at at the moment?

Mark: We only have to record the strings and the harp arrangements - but that’s almost finished - so the strings have to be recorded and that’s all.

Sam: So when can we expect to hear it? Any ideas?

Mark: The release will be in March, it will be finished earlier probably, but the office release in the Netherlands will be in March.

Sam: Are Transmission treating you well?

Mark: Yes.

Yves: They really believe in us and they invest a lot of money in us…

Sam: That really shows in the strength of the music, the production, the marketing and the packaging. They’ve really put a lot into that.

Mark: They understand that you really have to have a good product in order for the people to buy it, otherwise they just download it and nowadays you have to have really good artwork and something extra - a material thing that can give something extra to the music. They’re really indulgent in that way. They even put an advertisement on MSN Messenger.

Sam: What?

Mark: It was there for two weeks, it was very expensive.

Sam: Whereabouts, in the main Messenger window?

Mark: Yes, when you start MSN Messenger you see the advertisement for Epica.

Sam: That’s incredible isn’t it. I can’t think of many other labels who would do that.

Mark: No, but this guy is crazy, but in a positive way, though sometimes you also see negative sides to this craziness, but most of the time he’s just crazy and we can only enjoy it.

Sam: I suppose the best kinds of ‘artists’ are the crazy ones. Now, the DVD, it’s an interesting time to put it out, why did you choose it release it at this stage?

Mark: We were asked to record a Two Meter Session, which in Holland is a very famous TV Show and it went so well that they decided to put it on the DVD with a lot of extra material. Sometimes with things like that we think no, we really don’t want it, but this time we thought yes, they can do something really nice with it, and they did. So, I don’t know it’s the time for a DVD, but for the die-hard fans it’s a really nice extra thing.

Yves: Between the two albums, maybe there’s a lot of time, we had released some singles, but if it wasn’t for the DVD there would be a lot of time between the two releases. That’s why the DVD is so well placed.

Sam: It sort of bridges the gap.

Yves: It fills the gap.

Mark: And it worked, because before the DVD the number of visitors on our homepage was like this [motions] and after the DVD it was like this [motions higher] and from the reactions in our guestbook people really loved the DVD. That’s why we think it worked. If people said it was worth shit then I would regret it and think it was not necessary.

Sam: Is it quite an honour to be asked to do the Two Meter Sessions?

Mark: Of course, all the big stars all over the world did the Two Meter Sessions, REM, Radiohead, Sepultura.

Sam: It’s quite amazing what’s happening to you, really…

Mark: Yes, it really is.

Sam: After Forever, well, they’re still a very popular band, but Epica’s popularity seems to be a little further up.

Mark: Well, with After Forever for the first few years it was like this [motions] and then it was like this [motions higher again], but now I don’t know where it stops!

Sam: It’s getting better and better.

Mark: And the band is playing better and better. In the beginning we didn’t play bad, but now the band plays tight and it’s a good professional show and it gets better and we are still very willing to improve and we watch videos of each other and say, ‘what kind of things can we improve?’ it very important that a band doesn’t become lazy, sits down and thinks everything is normal.

Sam: Yes, you really have to watch your own performances, don’t you. Now, I heard that quite an inspiration of yours is film music. Is that true?

Mark: Absolutely! For everyone in the band.

Sam: That’s similar to The Gathering. They’re very inspired by film music and would love to write some if given the opportunity. What are your favourite films? I’m sure you can pick something out of your head straight away.

Yves: Batman!

Sam: What? The one with Michael Keaton?

Yves: Batman! Yes, for the atmosphere, but especially for the soundtrack.

Sam: Well, the soundtrack for Batman Returns is fantastic.

Yves: Yes, for Batman and Batman Returns it’s Danny Elfman…

Sam:  He also wrote the theme tune to The Simpsons, didn’t he?

Yves: Yeah, he also did Tales From The Crypt and Gremlins and stuff like that, I really like the dark atmosphere and he really knows how to express in a musical way the atmosphere of Tim Burton. They’re really partners, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, he’s really a Hans Zimmer fan [points at Mark]…

Mark: I adore Hans Zimmer!

Yves:  I like the darker music, he likes the… Hans Zimmer music.

Mark: Hans Zimmer can also be dark.

Yves:  Not.

Sam:  [to Mark]: So give me a couple of your favourite films.

Mark: Gladiator…

Sam: Very good film, yes…

Mark: Braveheart…

Sam: It’s kind of that big, rousing orchestral feeling isn’t it? Which is also reflected in your music.

Mark: Indeed, which I why I love Gladiator so much, it’s so amazing, the orchestral stuff, its perfect, it’s the Hand of God!

Sam: Classical music is a huge element in Epica’s sound. A lot of people who are into metal are also into classical music. They’re two ends of the scale. Why do you think that people who are into one extreme are also into another?

Yves: I don’t think that they’re into classical music per se like Mozart and Beethoven, but the film music is more contemporary than you think, but the link, I don’t know…

Mark: But when you have things like… duh-duh-duh-duh duh-duh-duh [starts singing In The Hall Of The Mountain King] – it’s metal! So think of guitars with it – chug-chug-chug - it’s metal!

Sam: You write some of the classical elements to the songs, don’t you.

Mark: Yeah, also Coen and Yves contribute to those elements.

Sam: But some of those classical passages are fantastic. Did you have some kind of education is classical music?

Mark: Er, Coen did – the keyboard player – and sometimes we come up with something and he says, ‘well.. this note has to be changed’ and it’s correct, but most of the time it fits immediately.

Sam: I’m really impressed with the classical passages in your songs, I think my favourite is the one at the beginning of Façade Of Reality. I’d love to know what the chord sequence does in that because I can’t work it out, it changes mode or key or something. Have you ever considered making just a classical album? Because it might work.

Mark: It might work, but at the moment we are already busy composing film music?

Sam: You’re already doing that? What for?

Mark: It’s for a Dutch movie. You have to start somewhere! But it’s a good movie, a good start, about three girls who go to the South of France to be models, but it really gets a dark touch in the second half of the movie. We can really do what we love to do with Epica. It’s really close, it’s a fantastic experience. We have to start after this tour with it, I really can’t wait. [NB the film is called Joyride and is set for a 2005 release].

Sam: You must be very excited about it.

Mark: Yeah, I am!

Sam: Now, one of my favourite lines from any song is, “I’m not afraid to die, I’m just afraid to be alive without being aware of it.” What does that mean?

Mark: That’s based on my grandfather. He had the illness of Parkinson’s, and sometimes he wouldn’t even recognise me anymore and didn’t recognise my grandmother and it seems to me to be so…. cruel… to be alive, but without being aware of what you’re doing anymore. You are born, you develop yourself and in the end you go down again.

[the phone rings at this point and we resume the conversation after I’ve answered it]

Mark: Another film that I like is….. it’s not Fawlty Towers but… Monty Python.

Sam: Agh! Well this was actually going to be my final question to you, but I may as well ask you now. Holy Grail or Life of Brian?

Mark: Life of Brian.

Sam: Really? I think the Holy Grail is fantastic…

Mark: They’re both are fantastic, but the case is that I saw Life of Brian first and when you see it in your youth, your childhood, you keep loving this movie because you saw it first. Later on I saw the other movie and it is also fantastic, but Life of Brian is great!

Sam: The only problem is I’ve seen it like, ten times now, so I know all the jokes, But Holy Grail makes me laugh every time.

Mark: But Life of Brian makes such a joke of Christianity, I keep laughing every time I see it, it’s done in such a great way.

Sam: I know what you mean because I had a friend, who was an Evangelical, and she thought that anyone who wasn’t a Christian wouldn’t get into Heaven and Jesus wouldn’t recognise any other religion, which is a very blinkered way of looking at things because all the other religions are thinking the same things.

Yves: Yeah, you can think what you want as long as it’s not violent.

Mark: You have to respect what they think, although I don’t believe a shit of it! It’s time to make a Life of Brian about Islam. They’re too serious. You make a joke and they’re like agghhhh!! In the past I made a joke about Islam to a friend of mine, and Islam guy, and he was really angry about it…

Sam: Well, they’re very sensitive to it…

Mark: Yes, they’re very sensitive about it, but they have to laugh about it!

[Charlie arrives at this point, having been taking photographs of the Nightwish set]

Sam: I just want to go back to that song line once more. The way I interpreted it is that so many people are caught in a cycle of mundanity from day to day. There are so many people who will wake up at age 65 and think, ‘oh shit, I was going to be an artist’ or ‘I was going to be musician’ and there are so many people who don’t believe that they can have what they want.

Mark: You have to believe that you can get what you desire. I always did that, that’s why, when I was thrown down, I climbed back up. You have to always think positive. You have to think that you’re going to reach what you really desire and then in the end, most of the time, you will reach it. But they think ‘oh, I can’t do it’ and these people can do it. And they have to get up at 8am in the morning. I sleep till 1300 hours! Maybe they should do that!

Sam: It’s a shame that a lot of people believe that they can’t have what they want. And a lot of Epica’s songs concentrate on this – the ability to attain what you want.

Mark: A lot of people, when I meet them, they think they can’t do anything. But they have talents. They don’t know from themselves that they have these talents, but they have to search for these talents.

Yves: In our cases I think we’re very lucky that we have the support of our family, but in some cases they don’t have the support of their family, and if you want to do stuff, like begin a music band, in the beginning you really need support because first you have to get famous and then you can go on your own, but in the beginning you really need support.

Sam: Bearing that in mind, if you weren’t musicians, what else would you be doing?

Mark: Erm, I study Psychology, but I’ve almost finished, but now… no.

Sam: No, it’s not for you, being a psychologist now, I know.

Charlie: I think it’s like that with a lot of degrees, you don’t actually know, until you’ve studied, what you’re going to do after.

Mark: I studied Psychology because of the girls…

Sam: That’s the reason why anyone does a degree!

Mark: I couldn’t understand the guys who did mathematics! Only guys did mathematics!

Yves: I went into a band to get girls!

Mark: Economics, only guys, But Psychology, only girls…

Sam: Now, there are a lot of good ideas and philosophical ideas in Epica songs. If you could pick a particular song which has a philosophy which is particularly apt to you, which would it be?

Mark: There are a couple of songs which deal with fundamentalism, because that’s really the topic that needs to have most interest. I don’t know if you heard about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, he was also writing about fundamentalism, making jokes about them, and they killed him. He always thought they won’t do anything, because he was a crazy guy, but he was also serious and that’s why he was killed. I think that even now we can’t tolerate that. We have to go on saying that this is not possible and finish it. I feel the most for these lyrics because it’s really a threat and we don’t want to feel violence in our country, we want to live together with all cultures. I’m not particularly a Dutch guy, but I want to live everywhere and with a lot of cultures, but it’s impossible.

Sam: It’s getting more difficult now because the divisions are more rigid. Talking of which, what do you think about Mr Bush getting a second term?

Mark: [pause] Yeah. I already thought it was going to happen. I was watching the TV all night and thought, ‘yeah, here we go again’.

Yves: It’s like a bigger version of what happened in California. Personally I’m a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the fact that we won the election. It was already a freak show with dwarves and porn stars. I think this is just a bigger version. It has nothing to do anymore with what happens in the world. It’s about how you manage to convince people.

Mark: When you look at this guy, Bush, you look him in the eyes and you see a fool. You see someone who’s a marionette. I can’t stand this. When he went to two or three countries, to make a speech, he made exactly the same speech everywhere, with exactly the same mistakes, the same jokes, and he was –‘hahaha’ – exactly the same. Crazy.

Yves: I think the problem in America is that there are only two choices. You can only choose between the lesser of two evils. Maybe there should be more choices.

Mark: And the Kyoto I’m also very angry about, that they still don’t want to sign it just because of money. We can’t go on like this. All everyone sees in it is money.

Charlie: You played two new songs tonight. The first was called The Last Crusade. What was that about[?]

Mark: That one deals with –

Yves: Indiana Jones.

Mark: Heh. People who come to your house, ring, you open the door and they tell a story about Jehovah, you say you’re not interested and they keep on going, keep on going, keep on going. With respect, I don’t want to hear the story. One time I was discussing it – I’ll feel bad after this discussion – they think they have an answer for everything, but they just come up with something really stupid. They said ‘people don’t have to die’, I said, ‘where do they have to live, more and more people come – where do they have to live?’ they said ‘we’ll make the desert into a nice place to live’. And after 50 years the desert will also be full.

Charlie: You must never invite them into your house because you can never get rid of them!

Mark: And for weeks they put something in my post…

Sam: My dad had the same problem, but that was because he used to invite them in all the time. You can’t convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced.

Mark: And they are so sure that they are right. Everything you say, they’re like, “this guy doesn’t know the truth”. When you talk with a really fundamentalist anti-Semitic guy they say “this guy doesn’t know the truth”. I also receive emails from Turkey from guys who are into religion, they say, “man, what are you writing about, you don’t know the truth, you don’t know what you’re talking about. When you meet Allah then you will see”. But it’s only the extreme guys. A lot of guys respect you and I respect them.

Sam: A lot of people have problems with differentiating between the people who are into their religion and the fundamentalists. Unfortunately we only hear from the fundamentalists.

Charlie: I think that’s because partly through television you’ve got a small, short amount of time to get your message over so you have to be very clear and very direct. You don’t have the opportunity to sit down and have a long discussion and explore the points. It has to be simple and easy to understand. And what was the second new song?

Mark: Quietest. But everyone pronounces it in a different way. So we might change the name.

Sam: What’s it about, dare I ask?

Mark: Simone wrote the lyrics, so I have no clue!

Yves: Female stuff.

Sam: Yeah, handbags, shopping, lipstick, that kind of stuff. That’ll go down well with the female contingent of the Gothic crowd.

Yves:  ‘Does he still love me?’

Sam: ‘He hasn’t called for another three hours, he hasn’t come home yet’

Yves: That’s actually a verse!

Sam: So where does Epica go from here? Up and up, it seems.

Yves: At the moment we’re actually concentrating on foreign countries. We did a lot of gigs in the Netherlands and we established a firm fan base there. For us this isn’t enough and we want to expand. We’re concentrating on the whole of Europe.

Mark: And Mexico.

Sam: What?

Mark: Ten gigs in Mexico.

Sam: To come?

Mark: Yes, to come. We played there before with After Forever and it is like a drug playing there. I want to feel this ten times!

Sam: Like tonight, that was an amazing reaction. So, what do you think of Invisible Circles, do you like it?

Yves: No.

Charlie: I don’t like it at all.

Mark: I am politically correct! No, but I have to say that I like it but it’s not totally my cup of tea. Otherwise I would be still in that band. But I expected a less good album, to be honest.

Sam: It seemed to me that in After Forever, up to and including Decipher, After Forever had many poignant messages to get across which were carried over into Epica. But Invisible Circles came along and it seems to me they’ve gone ‘ok, we need to talk about poignant things now, what are we going to talk about?’, so they’ve come up with this concept album. What do you think of the idea behind the album?

Mark: I like the idea of the concept album, but it’s really difficult for me to say.

Yves: I didn’t like the soap elements.

Mark: I can’t believe that they did that. You can’t play that live.

Sam: As well as that, it’s interesting when you first hear the songs, but we don’t hear songs once, we hear songs over and over and you just skip through those sections all the time. It’s really an antisocial thing to do with a song.

Charlie: I think it’s very difficult anywhere to use any spoken parts anyway.

Mark: We have Tony Blair!

Charlie: But its only short – ten seconds.

Yves: It’s integrated into the music. Yes, After Forever really progressed in a musical way there, they’re all really tight live and they’re really great musicians, but in a way they were very brave to break with the tradition of their original music. That’s a brave thing to do. But also a very dangerous thing to do.

Sam: I think it’s worked in their favour.

Mark: They also told me that they were not able to do it the same way anymore because I laid down all the basics for the songs and then Sander did great guitar riffs. I really liked Decipher a lot, it was really good cooperation between Sander and me. But now they have to write music the other way round. He had to start with the music.

Sam: With Epica and old After Forever there’s an emphasis on the technical mastery behind the music, it sounds quite difficult to play, it’s very exact, I think that After Forever have done that a lot of that in Invisible Circles. There are a lot of passages that seem to say, ‘look, aren’t we clever, we can play this’.

Yves: Yeah, a little bit over the top.

Sam: I think it was very much a ‘look, we’re fine, we can still make good music’ kind of album.

Mark: Yeah, they can still make good music, but let’s see what they come up with in the next record. That’s the crucial record, the next record. Also with Sepultura after Max Cavalera had left, with the first album after Marx, Sepultura was still a popular band. But after that record it was going down. But if they make a very strong album then their position will be stabilised.

Yves: I don’t think we see After Forever as rivals, but more like colleagues because if one does good then it’s good for the whole scene so we should support each other.

Sam: Absolutely, people view After Forever and Epica as very similar, so if the promotional engine for After Forever works well and they do well then you can help each other in that way.

Charlie: But they’re still with the same record label as well…

Mark: But they er, want to leave.

Charlie: Everyone’s leaving Transmission at the moment.

Mark: No, we’ll stay, we have two more albums to do after the new record.

Charlie: Ayreon left, didn’t they.

Mark: That was a pity. I adore his music. I bought The Final Experiment because they got a very good review. The first time I listened to it I thought, ‘I’m going to like this’. It’s a pearl. It really is so amazing. From then on I’m a big Ayreon fan.

Sam: Do you have any – this is a very awkward question – I don’t know if you’ve heard An Elixir For Existence. The new Sirenia album?

Mark: Sirenia? I know Sirenia, but I haven’t heard this record.

Sam: Morten Veland has been writing stuff for ages because he did Tristania before Sirenia. Things with Sirenia have gone a little awry.

Charlie: He’s lost his focus, I think.

Sam: I think that’s quite an easy thing to do. Do you have any creative lapses? Do you sometimes find it hard to write things or take time off from writing?

Mark:  I sometimes have problems with writer block, but when I sit down and I watch a good movie I get a lot of inspiration. I get a writer block when I have too much inspiration! I think, ‘oh no, too many good ideas, f**uck!’ But I have never had a problem with ‘agh no, I don’t know anything anymore’.

Charlie: Is the new material more of a group-written effort?

Mark: We composed a lot of stuff together. I came up with a lot of basics still, but without yours [to Yves] it wouldn’t have been such a fantastic album. But I really like this album now.

Sam: Is there anything else you can tell us about it?

Charlie: Is it recorded now?

Yves: Yes, there are more choirs, our guitars are lower, lower tuned. It’s like death metal tunes now, it’s in B!

Mark: It’s really fat!

Yves: I hope the guitars will be more prominent. Because the guitars are tuned lower there’s more tunes for the rest. There’s more choir so it will be more bombastic. We have another arranger to add more uh..

Charlie: Flavour?

Yves: Yes, flavour. The guitars are tuned lower…

Mark: You’ve said that three times now –

Yves:  Basically there are no spectacular changes.

Mark: And we have Roy Kharn.

Charlie: Does he just sing on one song? Is it going to be a bonus track?

Mark: No, it’s a real song on the record and he sang a duet with Simone. It’s a funny story how he said yes to it because already I had in mind that this song needs to be sung by Roy Kharn and no-one else. Roy Kharn sings it or no-one sings it. We were playing together in Spain at a festival, and a friend was going to meet him and I asked what was the chance that he would do a song with us. He came back and said ‘the chance is zero!’. So I emailed him and asked him the same question and he emailed back and said, ‘no no, I’m not interested, I never do guest appearances’. I emailed him back and said, ‘I never give up. Either you sing this song or nobody sings this song!’ I think he was impressed by that because they asked Simone to do a song because they needed a female singer. They remembered that I wanted him that much so we made a trade and it’s so perfect. That’s also a story of never giving up. Believe in what you want!

Sam: I was watching the Two Meter Session video and your choir seems very enthusiastic. Are they all metal fans? Where have you found them from?

Yves: They’re not metal fans, they’re freelancers actually. They sing whatever they want.

Mark:  They’re music whores!

Yves: Yeah, as long as they money’s good.

Mark: In ‘the making of’ they say “Why did you guys move to Germany?” And one of the guys in the choir says “The money was good and… the money was good”!

Sam: Some people are so easily driven, aren’t they.

Yves: But they’re very professional, they can do everything. And that’s necessary I think. If you’re a professional singer you have to be able to do everything, just everything. Every style.

Sam: Every style. What kinds of other music do you listen to?

Mark: I listen to a lot – apart from RnB and rap music!

Sam: That’s exactly the same with me. I like to think that I can connect with every form of music apart from that kind of thing.

Mark: Agh, it’s terrible.

Yves: I actually don’t listen to Gothic Metal all that much. I like Dimmu Borgir and…

Mark: He’s always asking me, “Write darker stuff, man!”

Yves: He never does it! I have to jump in! And the groovy stuff like Orphanage and Machine Head.

Mark: I also like Machine Head.

Sam: So you’re mostly metal-based?

Yves: I like the darker metal and the darker soundtracks like Danny Elfman. I really like it. He has a playful way of making dark music. In Beetlejuice and Tales From The Crypt it’s playful, but still dark. It’s like also the style of Tim Burton in the Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s playful but there’s a scary touch. The stereotype – how you can describe Tim Burton’s style – it’s like a scary clown. That’s Tim Burton, and that is Danny Elfman’s music too.

Mark: Ah, I have to load up the camera now…

Sam: OK, well hopefully we’ll see you in London again next year. You got a great reaction from everyone and next year it should be better.

Mark: Yeah, it was a great gig. A lot of people said ‘we enjoyed it a lot’. Amazing crowd.

Sam: Anyway, I think we’ll let you go and thank you so much for talking to us. See you next year.

Sonic Cathedral appreciate the opportunity to interview Epica and would like to thank the band, and our Sonic Interviewers, and the event planners at Metal Organisation for making this great event possible.