Saturday, February 4, 2012

an exclusive INTERVIEW with Albert Bell about THE MALTA DOOM METAL FEST

While there's many many new Doom and Stoner festivals flourishing almost everywhere in Europe this year, the MALTA DOOM METAL Festival  will celebrate its 4th edition next November... From year to year, the line-up is more and more rich and interesting, making little by little this festival like an essential gathering in the Heavy-Doom Metal brotherhood; cool names like PAGAN ALTAR, MIRROR OF DECEPTION or this year legends like SORCERER and italian THE BLACK prove some very refined musical policy and certainly smart qualities for negociations, considering most of  those bands are pretty rare live...
Where Roadburn has an obvious and enjoyed local particularity  that weed smokers can't deny, Tilburg isn't the most exciting place to have a few more days around before or after the festival, just like Wurzburg for the Hammer of Doom or any other festivals in most countries of Western Europe (save London with the Desert Fest this year, but commodities are so fuckin expensive in this city !), but the island of MALTA presents on a touristic point some very agreeable perspectives (weather, monuments, culture, low costs...) while also counting on serious local bands like FORSAKEN, NOMAD SON or OBLIQUE VISIONS !!! To have a good appreciation of last year's edition, read the following report by Marilena Moroni here, very exciting :) For this upcoming 4th edition I should hopefully write mine, as I took the wise decision to experience this fest next November. Asking questions to Albert Bell was then more than an evidence ! Enjoy this long one with a very nice and passionate guy, I'm sure that some of you could be easily convinced to consider their coming at this MDM fest as something seriously possible; finally you'll get here also great news about FORSAKEN and another cool project of Albert...

The 1st edition of the MALTA DOOM FESTIVAL took place in 2009 but the idea was kind of born a few years before in 2007 when the english band UNSILENCE came and play on the island with your both bands... Was it the first time you organized something with a foreign band ? To which extent has this been a trigger element for you ?
The idea of organising a doom metal festival in Malta had been consistently in my mind ever since I attended the first edition of the Doom Shall Rise festival in Crailsheim, Germany in 2003.  Forsaken were invited to play at the first edition of that festival and I was captivated by the magic of it all – the intimacy between bands and fans, the great sense of community and moreover the opportunity to get to see some great bands and the break-through talent in the scene.  I attended all editions of DSR later (bar for one which I had to miss out due to other commitments) and the festival grew into an annual pilgrimage for doom fans and bands from all over Europe and beyond. In parallel with all this, the doom scene in Malta was growing from strength to strength, with a new generation of fans coming to the fore here who were not only interested in Forsaken or Nomad Son and other local doom bands but following developments abroad and checking out foreign bands (and not only the “big” ones) and building their knowledge on the music. Moreover, more new local bands like DAWN OF ANGUISH and GRIFFIN DEVICE were forming, while others who had a history behind and were quite strong in the 90s like OBLIQUE VISIONS and VICTIMS OF CREATION were making a comeback. So taking all this into consideration and the fact that several foreign bands were approaching me with an interest to play in Malta the time seemed ripe to take the proverbial plunge and make the idea a reality. I started with the three-way gig with UNSILENCE in 2007 to sort of test the waters a bit and see what sort of interest an all-doom event would generate. It went quite well and soon after that together with the help of Malcolm Borg Galea (who has been part of the MDM team since day one) and some very close and dependable friends (including Leo from Forsaken and Gordon Silvio, a staunch Forsaken fan) I started planning the first edition of MDM.  Italian Epic legends DARK QUARTERER headlined the two day event and we had five local bands in all – FORSAKEN, NOMAD SON, VICTIMS OF CREATION, WEEPING SILENCE, DAWN OF ANGUISH. We didn’t risk that many foreign bands for the first edition as we were still testing the ground so to speak, but things went really well and we decided to venture forward with the next edition growing in stature and success, with the recent third edition involving thirteen bands in all including nine foreign ones (VOID MOON, TEMPLE OF PAIN, FOCUS INDULGENS, OFFICIUM TRISTE, MIRROR OF DECEPTION, MOUNTAIN THRONE, FANGTOOTH, ARKHAM WITCH and PAGAN ALTAR)  with the latter headlining the second day of the festival and Rotterdam’s Doom death veterans OFFICIUM TRISTE headlining the first.  

The fest takes place at The Buskett Road House, what's the capacity ? Where is it located exactly ? For people coming from abroad, what's the airport they should point on the map ?! How many time does it take to come from the airport to the site ? Marilena Moroni wrote on her report that accomodations in Malta were pretty cheap, could you precise please ? (hotels, car rent eventually...) What about the ticket price for the fest ?
We first moved to the Buskett Road House (right in the heart of the Buskett woodland limits of Rabat in the scenic Northern part of the Island) in 2010 for the second edition, after the venue we had used for the 2009 edition (The Poxx Bar in Paceville, St.Julians) closed down. And I do not regret the decision one bit! Although it is more costly for us to organise the event there for various reasons, the whole atmosphere at the Roadhouse and the surrounding ambience is much more suited for a doom metal festival as those that have been to the festival may attest. Moreover, the acoustics there are quite strong and we have managed to ensure a very good sound both on and off the stage thereby ensuring that everything is up to scratch.  The stage area is also adequate and lends itself well for a show of this size. It can house up to 500 people easily but it also has an intimate feeling to it that is perfect for our scope of building community ties within the scene, which is one of the major goals of the festival, apart from obviously presenting a billing that is enticing to the audience. The Roadhouse also has the added advantage of an adequate parking space (which is a rare comfort in the Island) and like anything here it is well within reach of everyone really given the small size of the Island overall. It takes about 40 minutes max to reach from the airport and one can also get to it using public transport from the Valletta Bus Terminus. However, we also provide transport overselves from Valletta and back to wherever one is staying. So all that one has to do is to book transportation (apart from the ticket) via our website and we will sort you out. We also have links to adequate hotels here and if those interested from abroad contact us early enough we can also help in this regard.  Obviously, accommodation can vary in price, depending on what one is looking for. But one can stay in an adequate three star for about 30 Euros a night in a centrally located place with access to all the key sites in Malta if one is interest in the Island’s many scenic and historical locations and entertainment places. Car rental may be somewhat more expensive though, yet again, it does depend on one’s budget. Your readers can follow this link for some more info on this: Prices vary from 7 Euros per day upwards.

-Around the Buskett Roadhouse area-
As for the prices of the ticket for the festival,  last year we revised the prices since we upgraded the line-up considerably both in terms of the number and quality of bands on offer.  The two-day block ticket (which we always advise) cost 27 Euros, while separate tickets for the first night (Friday) and the second (Saturday) cost 12 and 20 Euros respectively. There are always more bands on Saturday, and hence the higher price.

From year to year the event gets more exposure, more foreign bands, more audience and simply more success... do you fix any limits to its development ? Will the maltese bands always have a fair part on the line-up ? Can you count on more and more interest and support from local doomsters or just even normal people as volunteers ?
Our aim is to make the festival stronger year by year and if we retain and build upon the feedback we have had so far, I think that MDM will continue to grow.  We are not imposing any limits on ourselves, although we always do things with our feet firmly on the ground to ensure that the festival’s longevity is not jeopardised. We are not doing this to make a fast buck or anything like that. Our mission is simply to put on an annual event that is something to look forward to for Maltese and European doom metalheads and hopefully more from beyond the continent too. Our policy is to ensure that Maltese doom bands have the opportunity to get on stage to a different audience than they are normally accustomed to.  Through quite strong, there is a limit to the number of people that normally attend gigs here, so for them it is an opportunity to reach across to those from abroad attending the festival who are getting stronger in their numbers each year. So to get back to the second part of your question, yes, as far as it is possible, Maltese doom bands will always feature on the bill. We have invited all the doom bands that are presently active in the scene in Malta across the first three editions and we are always looking for new bands that could be worthwhile adding to the billing.  So far, however, as they are mainstays of the local scene and because they are also attractive for the foreign audience, NOMAD SON, VICTIMS OF CREATION and FORSAKEN have all featured in each edition of the festival. However, I do not think that it is possible to retain all three bands and it is likely that some of the usual suspects will be dropped for the next edition to make way for others.  At the same time we have to secure that the pull factor of these bands is still taken into consideration in our decisions…so it is a balancing act between retaining the old and proven guard and taking some calculated risks! I still think that there is much we can do to attract more Maltese metalheads to the festival.  I would say that overall there are three to four hundred Maltese metalheads that actively go to gigs and support local bands. However, we are still not attracting them all and this is perhaps the result of the increasing fragmentation between fans who support different genres of metal. But I still think that true metalheads (irrespective of their leanings) should be stirred enough to at least attend one edition of the festival and see what the whole buzz around MDM is. I do not think they will be disappointed.  This said, luckily we can rely on the good number of doomheads on the Island that are wholly supportive and dedicated to our cause. We have help from several of them and the MDM team, apart from myself is comprised by three other people who have really helped in the process of building up the festival. These include Malcolm Borg Galea (who as I said has been with me in on this since day one, he is also Forsaken’s manager), James Gauci (Nomad Son’s manager) and Glen Gauci (a very staunch and devout doom head!). But there are other people working behind the scenes, from the multi-tasking Carol, Chiara and Ruth (our witches of doom!) to Matthew “Saw” Camilleri – our resident DJ,  and Noel Mifsud from All Rock and One Radio and Michael Bugeja (Radio 101)  who really help us out with the promotion. On the technical side of things we are very ably assisted by John from Sound system, Charles (Bandaid),  Simeon Gatt from Forsaken and Dawn of Anguish, Rex (Victims of Creation), Andrew Attard (Dawn of Anguish). Moreover, Leo Stivala and Robert Azzopardi and several others within our clan (they know who they are..too many to list them all!) are always ready to give a helping hand. So this is a strong team effort and could not be possible without them.

The part of foreign doomsters certainly also increases from year to year, where were the guys coming from in 2011 ? Any newcomers for 2012 ? Sure the quality of the fest is obvious but I'm sure you're conscious that a part see it also as a great occasion to have a few days in a nice place for some sunny and agreeable holidays, you've got good arguments for that, am I wrong ?
Yes, with the very strong billing we managed to put up for 2011 we had quite a good turnout of punters from abroad who hadn’t been here before, to the extent that they amounted to about 40 per cent of the total audience. So our dream of giving MDM an international dimension is succeeding. Hopefully, this pace will be retained for the 2012 edition. Obviously, the sun-sea-history factor Malta offers is something that has worked to our advantage in this regard. And this only makes us pleased really, as perhaps even before we are metalheads we are Maltese and proud Maltese at that! It is quite gratifying for us to welcome people here who do not only get to enjoy themselves at a good quality doom metal festival but also get the opportunity to be enthralled by the Island’s history…and believe me that abounds in Malta – the Island of the Knights of St John and the melting pot of  rich and diverse socio-cultural influences.

Would you better see your festival as a Southern Roadburn or Hammer Of Doom ? Do you consider any particular festival as an example to follow ?
As I explained earlier, our role model for MDM has been the Doom Shall Rise festival organised by Jochen Fopp (Mirror of Deception)  and Frank Helweg (Well of Souls, Germany).  Although Hammer of Doom is a great festival in its own right (was fortunate enough to play there with NOMAD SON and FORSAKEN both on the same night last October), with no offence to anyone intended I still think DSR is everything that a doom metal festival should be and it was really great to welcome Jochen and MIRROR OF DECEPTION amongst many other bands here in the last edition and seeing them enjoying themselves so much both on and off stage. That for me was quite the perfect endorsement of MDM.

Did you improve some important or particular aspects from the 1st edition to the 2nd ? anything new in logistic and little practise details that you're going to improve for this year's edition ? Does the fact of being in Malta impose some special constraints ?
 As I explained with the move from Poxx Bar (the venue in 2009) to the Roadhouse (2010, 2011) things took an upward curve on all fronts. Moreover, the MDM team has now gained more experience and has increased in confidence so the logistical dimension has improved greatly. For the last edition we also invested in better lighting as we knew that this needed improvement.  We certainly haven’t reached perfection yet and there are always things that we’re aiming to improve; from the billing itself, to the way we organise the merchandise stand to the type of backline we use. Although these were more than adequate in the past, finances permitting we can improve on what has been achieved so far.  The finances are our biggest constraint really. I guess this is typical of doom metal world over, and not only in Malta, since when compared to other scenes it is somewhat more restricted – however, slowly and surely, I am confident that things will continue to improve.

I don't know how does it exactly work for the above mentioned Doom festivals, but here in France there's nothing really helpful for gigs organizations from the Culture Minsitry or local/regional councils... even Hellfest has never had substantial subventions (just 1 or 2 % of the budget)... how does it work in Malta for you, any welcome help from officials ?
This is one of the things we are looking into right now as there are some schemes like the ones you’ve mentioned above which we know are available but which we haven’t managed to tap into yet. So hopefully things may change for us in this regard and we look forward for any form of support – without of course compromising the ethos, vision and mission of the festival. Nothing will change that!

I know all bands aren't yet confirmed for next November but there's yet a few mighty ones, so could you please present this new edition ? any new name to reveal or a little indication ? ;)
Yes of course Steph. We have already made some public announcements to this effect and can confirm that Dutch doom maniacs HOODED PRIEST, atmospheric Black doomheads from Russia FOREST STREAM, German doom legends DAWN OF WINTER and yes, those cult epic doom metal heroes from Sweden SORCERER have already been confirmed for the 2012 edition. The latest bands we have confirmed are England’s IRON VOID (awesome live band that will surely get some serious headbanging going at the Roadhouse), Sweden’s great new doom metal prospect MORTALICUM and none other than the mighty THE BLACK – the true originators of Italy’s Heavy Doom Metal in my opinion.  We have also added Malta’s stoner/sludge kings GRIFFIN DEVICE (who did so well in their debut last year’s MDM, OBLIQUE VISIONS (one of Malta’s earliest doom death bands) and  SLIT also from Malta to the billing. The latter will be playing a special Sludge show especially for the festival. We  shall be confirming the last four bands in the coming weeks/months, and you can also expect some really cool bands to be named quite soon ;-)

Malta is a small island and has one of the most important density of population of the world, does it imply some things hard to stand in everyday's life ? how is the economical situation actually ? how did you live the introduction in the EEC in 2004 and the passage to the EURO currency ?
Like the rest of the world we are feeling the crunch of the economic crisis but so far it seems that we have weathered the storm somewhat. Hopefully, the situation will not take a turn for the worse as the crisis in Europe intensifies.  Overall, I think that Malta’s integration in the EU and the Euro so far have proved fruitful as they have helped to secure some form of economic stability in the midst of the turmoil in other countries,, but it is difficult to predict how things may develop in the long run especially if the domino effect that many are predicting should Greece and the other countries who are experiencing huge debt problems fall further into financial, economic and political chaos. I have very good friends in Greece and it is quite shocking to hear about the hardships people are going through there. When one sees all that is happening throughout Europe, despite all the things that can be quite disheartening and downright annoying sometimes (the constant political bickering between our political parties and the claustrophobia that can be felt sometimes due to the Island’s small size and the geographical and cultural insularity are two strong cases in point), in various other ways living on the Island does have its merits, including the strong sense of community that persists on the Island.

Like most people I think, I knew that for historical reasons English was the 2nd official language of Malta but I wasn't aware at all that the Maltese language was from arabian origin, does the cultural legacy in general take the same origins ? What sites should we visit in priority when coming ?
The roots of our language (Maltese) are semitic though the influence of the romance languages (French and Italian) is also very evident in our mother tongue, making it a unique language and now officially recognised as one of the languages of the EU. The language’s hybrid influences make the Maltese naturally inclined in my opinion to learn and speak other languages fluently, though English here is very widely spoken and in some parts of the Island even more than Maltese.  All this reflects Malta’s colonial past with each overlord from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans in antiquity, to the Arabs and later the Normans, the Spanish, the Knights of St John, the French and ultimately the British (who ousted French rule in Malta in 1800) leaving their mark on the Island. And these can be seen in various aspects on the Island,; the architecture, the cuisine, the language etc to several sites on the Islands. The Knights of St John left a strong legacy behind them here for example, and one cannot visit the Island without visiting St Johns Cathedral in Valletta – it is simply wondrous. Valletta itself is a labyrinth of historical sites and has to be visited. But the history here goes back to even neolithic times with the temples at Mnajdra, Hagar Qim and Ggantija in Gozo going back to pre-history!  I would also recommend to all the fans making the pilgrimage to MDM to try to make a day trip to Gozo, Malta’s smaller sister Island – it is especially beautiful in autumn….hell I am sounding like a tourist guide ha ha!  But truly there’s really lots and lots to see here!

On a more personnal point, we'll have certainly the occasion to speak more in details about that shortly in T.O.P., but can we expect some great news from FORSAKEN and NOMAD SON in 2012 ?
Things are really busy on the FORSAKEN front right now. We are busy finalising the compositions for the next album which we hope to release later towards the end of the year…believe me this going to be more than a worthy follow-up to After the Fall – our 2009 full-length release.  There are also some offers for gigs and festival appearances abroad. We are presently evaluating them. As for NOMAD SON, Chris and I are to meet soon to get some sketches for new songs up and running and you can expect a new crushing album  from the band in 2013 and more local and foreign gigs, with the first being a gig in  April we have lined up here with WEEPING SILENCE. I am also presently working on a new project – a solo album really – which I am really enjoying. It is based on a concept that I have been mulling about with these past months and musically it draws from various influences, including 80s heavy metal and epic metal – stuff which I am really passionate about. The doom is there of course too! I am recording two songs right now which shall feature on the has been great fun really and Chris Grech from NOMAD SON is helping me produce the album. He is really into recording and sound engineering and it is a joy working with him. The first step is to complete these first two songs to sort of test the water a bit and then move on to recording the rest (all the songs are written). Really looking forward to that!

Thanx Albert, maybe I forgot something important, so here's your chance to add anything else...
Thank you Stephane for these cool questions and for the opportunity to shed some light on Southern Europe’s best doom metal festival! For more info drop by our facebook event and group pages (regularly updated) and our website (soon to be updated).  Cheers and see you all in doom-soaked Malta soon!!/events/225682357507662 

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, just wanted to send my thanks to Stephane for the interest in the MDM Fest. Hope to see many of you attending MD 2012.

    MDM Organization