Azure Agony

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Gabriele Pala of Azure Agony, an as-of-yet unknown Italian Progressive Metal band. Beyond Belief, their debut album, is entirely instrumental, and the band is working on a new album to be released this year.

Jonathan: Hello Gabriele, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Would you mind introducing yourself and the band?

Gabriele: Hello! My name is Gabriele Pala and I play guitar in a band called Azure Agony. We are Italian, we play instrumental (so far) progressive metal, and started this activity back in 2006. The band is composed of four people: myself on guitar, Marco Sgubin on keyboards, Marco Firman on bass and Carlo Simeoni on drums. The band began as per a keyboardist’s idea, then all others joined in during time. The main purpose is to create good music, complex and refined but not stressing or too virtuosic.

Jonathan: I’d like to talk about your first and currently only album, Beyond Belief. The album seems to be somewhat conceptual, most notably in the first track which consists primarily of footsteps and water dripping sounds. Was there any specific concept that you were going for with the album?

Gabriele: Beyond Belief is published by the Italian label SG Records. At first we didn’t even think about the possibility of having a label, in fact the copies you can buy on CDBaby (even if with the same album and same artwork) are released by us directly. Then we got in contact with them and found a good partnership. That allowed the album to reach a wide base of listeners all around the globe.

The main concept behind the music in Beyond Belief is to describe places. These places are real (for example “Mystic Interiors”, the first track, is a shop in Malta… “Terror Haza” is the museum of Nazism in Budapest, “Ante Tentora” is a street in Kerso, a Croatian isle)… others are invented or come from ancient mythology (“The Temple Of Vandora”, “Across Elysian Fields”). We would like the listener to close his eyes and imagine being there by listening to our music.

The intro is the beginning of this imaginary journey: a man is walking through a basement with many rooms departing from the main corridor… by peeking inside those, he can listen to something that he’s going to hear later in the album, just drafted by a piano or a cello. Then he reaches a mysterious machine, presses a button and the story begins…

Jonathan: Can you tell me a little bit more about the process of creating the album? It took four years from the band’s creation in 2006 for your first album to be released. What happened during that time?

Gabriele: Well, writing the album has been a natural process. At the beginning we had some line up change, like all the bands since ever. Then we started creating the songs, using some old ideas that Marco (keyboards) had ready at that time. Then everything else grew up without any particular problem. Every one of us did equally contribute in songwriting, som

etimes with more music oriented ideas, like particular scales, chords or rhythms, other times with something more conceptual: describing how a particular passage should evolve, then letting us decide what to do on the instruments. Finally we studied each single note to be exactly what we want.

Then, we recorded the album, thanks to Luigi Stefanini at New Sin Studio. He’s an amazing professional, he was able to guide us to reach the best possible sound. In Europe he’s considered a top notch man for progressive metal and rock. He also worked with members of Stratovarious, Deep Purple and Rolling Stones.

One year (or less) later we were contacted by SG Records.

Jonathan: There are a ton of synthesizers used on the album, can you tell us about some of them? Also, could you tell us about the instruments the band uses in general?

Gabriele: All synth sounds come from Marco’s Kurzweil, which is quite a standard in this kind of music. Then, there are some acoustic pianos here and there, a cello played by Anna Marcossi (Marco’s girlfriend) and a flute played by Giorgio Marcossi (Anna’s father). I am endorsed by BassLab guitar, a German brand making very particular instruments in a composite material. Marco (bass) is endorsed by Wood & Tronics basses, a local brand of our area. Carlo simply plays normal drums. On a live set, cellos and flutes are played by Marco on keyboards.

Jonathan: Beyond Belief is characterized by many quick transitions from light, melodic music to heavier, more metallic music. I hear a little bit of Opeth in the album in that sense – did they influence you at all, or am I completely off base? If I am, was there any specific inspiration behind this style?

Gabriele: I have to say that I’m the only one in the band listening to extreme metal music. Opeth takes part in that arena, even if they are not so extreme. We never thought about them as an influence so far. However, each one of us comes from different musical backgrounds. About myself, I’ve been playing death metal for about 15 years and most of my playing style comes from that. I also like jazz, fusion and prog rock from the 70s. Marco (keys) is more oriented on classic prog stuff like Dream Theater, Rush or Queensryche. Carlo is born listening to Queen and big bands of the 50s but is constantly expanding his horizons. Marco (bass) also listen to a lot of stuff, from pop to metal. I think all of these influences go into our music, with no filters.

Dan: Speaking of hearing weird stuff, I notice some similarities in your music shared with a lot of Japanese symphonic rock/metal bands like KBB. Same question as the last in regards to this, are you a fan of any Japanese symphonic prog bands?

Gabriele: I confess my ignorance about the Japanese symphonic rock/metal bands. :D Well, this could be a good occasion to start listening to them… so thanks for the suggestion!! :D

Jonathan: When you play live, do you use the same gear that you used on the album?

Gabriele: Almost the same. The main difference is the guitar rig. I cannot afford the very expensive guitar amp heads that Mr. Stefanini used for recording, however I can reach something similar with my humble gear. As said before, cellos and flutes are played by keyboards, but when you come at one of our gigs, what you’re gonna hear is exactly what you hear on the album, there are no secondary parts left out.

Jonathan: What’s the story behind the name Azure Agony?

Gabriele: Azure Agony is the name of one of the last levels in the game “Quake”. We always thought that a lot of games have good soundtracks with wonderful music, really underrated by most people. So, our name would like to be a tribute to those artists.

Jonathan: You’ve mentioned that your new album, coming out this year, will have vocals on it. What language will these be in, and why did you choose to do them in this language?

Gabriele: Yes, we think that adding vocals can give us a great consensus increase. Call it a more commercial approach, in some sense. People mostly listen to vocals when facing a band. Lyrics will be in English and will talk about introspection topics and mythology, but they are not finished at the moment, thus subject to changes.

Jonathan: What is the music going to be like on this new album? Will there be any changes or will it be roughly the same style?

Gabriele: We think that you will hear our trademarks, however we tried to be more “linear”, with less tempo and atmosphere changes (or better: they will be less… quick :) ). This is also studies to give the vocals its proper space to express. Furthermore, there will be a lot of improvements on sound, more samples, more spacey synths/effects and maybe less “normal instruments”.

Jonathan: Is there anything finalized about the new album besides musical ideas? Do you have a name you can tell us? Perhaps show us a sneak peek of the cover art?

Gabriele: Not yet. We have some preproduction tracks so far. We also need to create some other songs. Our target is to have one hour of music. That’s it so far. We don’t have any idea about any artwork, album title and so on yet.

Jonathan: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Before we finish, is there anything you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask?

Gabriele: Thanks to you for getting in touch with us. We were glad to answer your questions and maybe add some of your reader to our fan base! In the future we would like to improve and increase our live activity. With one album with no vocals it’s not easy to find gigs :)

Azure Agony’s first CD, Beyond Belief, is available on CDBaby, Masterpiece Distribution and The Omega Order.

If you’re interested in the band, be sure to check them out on Facebook or Myspace.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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