We had the chance to have a nice long chat with 4th Dimension's vocalist Andrea Bicego, whose band just released their sophomore effort, Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions. Below you can watch the video for the first single off the album, "Kingdom Of Thyne Illusions", while here you can read what our reviewer had to say about this release.
Luigi: Well, how would you describe Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions to a new listener? What did you try to create?
Andrea: After the release of our debut album (ed. The White Path To Rebirth) and after the first tour, we took some time for ourselves to metabolize everything. The experience we just had (ed. tour with Sonata Arctica and Labyrinth) helped us understand what we were missing in our older tracks, so we tried to correct our mistakes. In particular, we chose to simplify the tracks, to compose songs that could be well executed live, avoiding hugely structured songs that don't work in those kinds of performances.
Luigi: In fact, it seems like you cut most of the finery that was in your debut album, leaving only the essential.
Andrea: Exactly, we reduced the solos and the potentially "dead" parts, trying to focus more to a live-appealing sound, taking a lot of care about vocal lines, effective riffs and the song structure, making it regular. This means shorter tracks: despite the same number of tracks, Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions has a running time of circa 40 minutes, about 13-14 minutes less than The White Path To Rebirth's. This didn't happen casually. We cut the superfluous, while trying to do a best what we like.
Paradoxically, we tried to simplify the songs, but many thought that the new arrangements are more complicated, if compared to those of our debut album, and that the new release is less straightforward and "commercial" than the previous one, so I'm not so sure we actually managed to convey our message of simplicity rightly.
Luigi: You have a rather "multi-coloured" sound. How does the writing process run? Is it a collective effort, in which anybody can bring a riff, a drum rhythm, or an idea, or do you have a main composer?
Andrea: I think that a benefit for us is that we have different people composing tracks, so we don't have a mastermind. This was already in The White Path To Rebirth, which was written mainly by me and our keyboardist (ed. Talete Fusaro) and with the help of the guitarist (ed. Michele Segafredo). But it is way more influent in this second album, in which the bassist (ed. Stefano Pinaroli) composed three tracks, so four out of five members worked in the writing process. Then, everyone has his different approach to composing: me, Talete and Stefano chose to work on our ideas on our own, to create an almost definitive song structure, and only when we had a precise idea of how we thought the song should sound like we worked on it with the rest of the band. On the contrary, one of the fan favourites of the album, "The Watchtower", was born in a completely different way, with a melodic riff proposed by Michele, the guitarist, and then we worked together on it almost for a year, to find the most effective structure and the best vocal lines for it. It's the exception that confirms the rule, but usually it's first a personal work, and only after comes the most enjoyable part for us, when we arrange the song in all its details.
Luigi: In your debut album you had interesting collaborations, Rhapsody Of Fire's Fabio Lione above all, while this time nobody joined you. Was this a choice or a necessity?
Andrea: Absolutely our choice. We wanted to avoid any kind of host in our new release because relying too much on the guests is becoming too much of a fashion. Famous guests help for notoriety and in the promotion, but arrived to the second album we felt that we had to do it on our own.
Luigi: Lyrics-wise, you chose an ambiguous title, Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions. What are the illusions you are talking about? [Spoiler: deep philosophical stuff approaching]
Andrea: This release is the ideal prosecution of the debut album: they're both concept albums, even if they don't follow a precise storyline. Let's say it's an idea that gets analysed throughout them. This album talks about illusions, starting from different points of view. The idea came to me from a talk I had with a colleague of mine (ed. Andrea is a math teacher in college) regarding Schopenhauer and his ideas about the Veil of Maya (not this one!), and then, talking with Talete, who loves Indian mysticism and such, we thought this could be a good starting point for the album.
The basic idea is that the illusion becomes from one side a negative filter that prevents human beings to contemplate the divine and what is truest and purest in life, thus bounding us to materiality. In the lyrics, anyway, I tried to be a bit less "obvious" so the illusion is often portrayed as something that is almost necessary or good, because it allows us to have dreams and to fight for our ideals. Without the illusion, we probably would miss the energy to even try. So, Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions is, as you said, an ambiguous title, and the basic question could be "Is dispelling these illusions, removing this veil, really necessary? In addition, if we remove the veil, will we really obtain a paradisiac vision of life?". In the lyrics I tried to offer different examples, from personal experience, literature, sometimes the ideas came from Talete or Stefano, so that the disc offers quite a lot of different approaches at this problem. We're not trying to solve anything, but bringing examples about the topic.
Luigi: Wow. Speaking from a merely musical point of view, the electronic, modern sounds have an unexpected importance in the album. What's your opinion about the influence of technology, digital and samples in your music?
Andrea: The whole purpose of making music is, in my opinion, to express something in many different ways and trusting a lot of different approaches. We wanted to achieve something new with this album, most of all, not copying The White Path To Rebirth, so we tried to add something that wasn't in the debut. One of the new elements is the use of electronic sounds: this came spontaneously and we didn't overuse it. Even if some tracks, like "Extraworld", or "Quantum Leap", or "White Logic" contain many modern sounds that were completely absent in the debut and that replaced the usual stringed instruments, we wanted to widen the range of our musical offering. Talete loves many 80's sounds and uses to experiment with keys. So what you hear in this album could be a good precursor for what will be in the next one, where one of the ideas is to continue experimenting with technology, especially in the keyboards department, to obtain something new. What is sure is that this won't be our only change.
Speaking about digital, it can be a double-edged weapon: on one side it gives many chances, on the other there is the risk to "flatten". In the 60's or 70's, when everything was analogic, if you were able, you played, if you were not, you didn't, and if you made a mistake, you played it again. Now, technology makes everybody sound like a master, standardizing pretty much everything. Then, when you have the chance to listen to live performances, you realize that some bands are very less precise and effective, if compared to their studio sound. This is because you now can have Auto-Tune for vocals, and you can easily correct technical mistakes. I swear, on the album, the voice you hear is 99% mine: I had a really "old-style" approach in that.
Luigi: Before the album release, you signed with the new German label PowerProg, while your debut was released under Crash&Burn Records. What are the reasons for this change and how is the environment in PowerProg?
Andrea: Well simply, Crash&Burn no longer exists; the label was closed, even if the Facebook page and the website are still online. We had a one-disc and one-year contract with them, so we've been "free" since March 2012. We took a long time to find a new label (the new album was already completed in March 2013), because I was searching for somebody who could satisfy our needs, giving us some more promotion than what Crash&Burn did and that did actually believe in our material. I avoided to sign with an Italian label because I don't feel very comfortable with the pay-to-play and pay-to-release ideas.
PowerProg believed in us without asking for money, they did really dig the final version of the album and had important projects for us, so it's been a good choice so far. Now it's still early to give any kind of opinion, also because the album was just released in March 2014, so it's still really new and we'll need some more time to precisely understand how things went. Obviously, PowerProg isn't a big label, but they're doing an honest and fine job. Then, the promotion duties are also on the band's shoulders: the members have to take the initiative and spread the voice. The label however, did a good job regarding the availability of the album: EMP, Amazon, mailorders…
Luigi: Regarding you, personally: which bands brought you into metal and which voices convinced you to be a singer?
Andrea: Actually, singing came pretty spontaneously to me. I didn't think I would become a singer, as my studies point in another direction since I began as a classical guitarist. In 2004 I had the chance to have a little band to play guitar, but then I chose that maybe my way was to sing and not to play. Regarding the singers that inspired me the most, some are metal, as Europe's Joey Tempest, or Jon Bon Jovi, or Magnum's Bob Catley, then many are absolutely non-metal, as Elton John, Meat Loaf, Bruce Springsteen, U2's Bono Vox. When I sing, I always try to give more importance to the emotion than to the power or the technique, and I think that, from the first to this second album, this aspect of my vocals is blatant. I worked with my vocal coach, The Fire's Olly Riva, to make my voice sound as natural as possible, without trying absurd stuff just to be cool.
Luigi: Since you just answered to what should have been my next question, about the improvement of your vocals from the debut to this album, let's skip to the next one. As an emerging band, in a very competitive and surely not rich environment, which difficulties did you face and what advice would you give to somebody willing to enter into this genre?
Andrea: That's a good question. Especially in Italy, not only power metal is having a hard time, but metal in general as well as other underground genres, as jazz, blues and even some pop. There are many good artists that, like us, remain independent and in a very little circle of listeners. What I've noticed is that commitment is not always repaid, and that, regardless if you're good at it or not, money always has an enormous importance; which is sad, since art should be based on money. If you want the luxury of touring with bib bands, you have to pay and if you want a certain kind of label, you have to be ready to invest a lot of money. Otherwise, you cannot free yourself of the position of last in line: everybody has to do their job, but the band always has to pay.
What I'd like to say to anybody who'd like to begin playing is to be perseverant, have clear ideas, but not to think that with one, two, three or ten albums you're going to be famous. Make music if you think you have something to say and if you think your music can give anybody something, don't do it as a way of becoming well-known, otherwise you're going to face a lot of delusion.
Luigi: You toured with famous bands such as Sonata Arctica or Labyrinth. Has playing alongside them been useful, and are you planning another tour?
Andrea: Well, that tour was born almost casually, thanks to Alessio Lucatti, who produced our debut and who also replaced Labyrinth's keyboardist Andrea de Paoli. Thanks to Live In Italy, the band's agency, that was in touch with Continental, Sonata Arctica's agency, we managed to get on it, and it was just like a dream: we started the tour in February, even before the album was released. It was something we weren't ready for, we spent a lot of money to afford this, but this kind of experience, touring in Europe with similar bands, is extremely precious. You have a lot of fun, play in front of a lot of people, and afterwards we better understood how everything worked, both on and offstage, and what we were missing.
Unfortunately, there won't be any touring in the near future and we don't mean to schedule one, since we can't afford it. It's a pity, since we think that the new album is better than the debut, but we aim to write another album without rushing it, and then, let's hope things get better.
Luigi: Since we mentioned the economic side, I'd like to ask your opinion on a funding method whose influence has been growing between both minor bands and famous artists such as Devin Townsend: crowdfunding. Have you ever considered it as an option?
Andrea: Well, I'm aware of it, also Labyrinth's vocalist Rob Tiranti used it to fund his solo album, and I think it's a great opportunity that will grow in the next years, but little bands such as us can't try this hoping to be successful. There's a stiff competition, and what's missing is the people's material support (ed. ca$h), a thing that was usually normal. You bought the vinyl, the CD, etc., now, thanks to the Internet, you can download a CD before its release date without paying anything (ours was online the day before it was released), so this doesn't make people willing to spend even 10-15€ for the band. If people don't but the CD when it's already out, I don't think that they'd pay not knowing what they're getting.
The thing here is that you need a wide fanbase, so that you hope that 20% or 10% join the campaign to fund you. For a band like us, I think it would be an announced disaster, so currently we won't use this, but in the future, who knows?
Luigi: We're almost over, I'd have three point-blank questions. Which non-famous group do you think should deserve more popularity?
Andrea: It's not as quick as you thought. There's a lot of great bands around, but there's also a lot of technically able people that are not as good as composing songs as they are simply playing their instrument. Trust me, technique-wise, we're in the lower side of the chart in Italy. I don't know if I can give you a name, but there are bands that are already pretty famous, like Shadow Gallery, that would deserve 100 times their notoriety.
Luigi: For which famous band don't you understand their success? (You can avoid answering to this one if you don't want to make yourself powerful enemies)
Andrea: I've already been asked this recently, and I'd say DragonForce. Even if they created something more or less new (they speeded up everything, not so new after all), but when I see albums in which every track is the same as the others I don't understand the meaning of their success. My favourite song from them is "Trail Of Broken Hearts" from Inhuman Rampage, which is a ballad, so make your conclusions. I liked and bought their first album, Valley Of The Damned, but then it's all downhill from there. Then other bands, as Sabaton or Battle Beast, exploded quickly because they found ways to appeal to fans, but then there's not so much else.
Luigi: For your ideal tour, with which bands would you like to play?
Luigi: Our time's over, I will leave you with the classic, and overvalued, last words to the readers.
Andrea: They're always useful, anyway. First of all, thank you and Metal Storm for featuring us, and I really hope that everyone who reads the album review goes and listens to our new album, Dispelling The Veil Of Illusions, and then also the debut, that's not so bad after all. I hope this is a starting point for us and that people appreciate our efforts. And I'll always say it: support concretely the bands you listen to! Buy original music, attend live performances and avoid piracy.
I'm now cutting the part of the interview in which we chatted about Rhapsody Of Fire, our different opinions on Within Temptation, the weather, the greatness of Metal Storm and much more. Pretty much another 20 minutes.
Both the band's albums can be checked out on Spotify and other music streaming services. Every fan of melodic metal should not miss the chance to dispel his own illusions, with 4th Dimension latest album.