Almanac is a band that burst on to the scene a little over eighteen months ago with their debut offering Tsar. The band, led by none other than Victor Smolski; who really needs no formal introduction. Smolski, a neo-classical metal virtuoso, who has been on the scene since the 1990’s, releasing albums in both Mind Odyssey and RAGE, among others, as well as classical solo releases. Almanac is uniquely fronted by three established lead vocalists in their own right, David Readman, Andy B Frank and Jannette Marchewka, and this is the foundation of the drama of the bands material. The complexity of developing melody lines for each vocalist and then structuring each song, to not only just tell a story, but be a song in its own right, is a job that only someone like Smolski could handle. The release of Tsar, earnt the band a lot of respect and established the outfit as a creative entity within itself and not just a side project. The album was very strong, an epical tale sung in the vein of a classical piece of music but with the undertow of a metal rhythm section and tempo.
Moving forward now, to the 24th of November 2017, and the band will release their second album, Kingslayer. My initial impressions of the album, is that it is an extension of the sound and complexity of the debut with a growth arrangement and melody that in many ways reflects more of a band than a conceptual project. I was lucky to catch up Andy B Frank (Almanac, Brainstorm and Symphorce) to discuss the album.
Andy can you talk us through how Almanac go about the song writing process?
“It started off this time around with Victor and myself. We talked direction and decided that we want to become more heavy and not too progressive, and in this moment that was it. Victor then went home and wrote music. From here he showed us the tracks and we all listened to them. This time around I found what I wanted to hear, the songs are heavier and catchier. We went forward in to the right direction. David and I wrote the lyrics and everything then goes in to the studio. In the studio Victor oversees things as he has been the biggest investor but it is still very democratic. We are very happy with the release. It was important to us to show people that Tsar was not a one night sensation. There is more to come from us and we still have great songs in the bag and we can play great live shows with this material.”
How are the actual vocal melodies decided upon between the three of you as vocalists?
“That is not easy, it is always a fight (laughter). For me I am used to being the only vocalist for some twenty years and now I have to share! The funny thing is it works out, David and me are singing the entire album. We both actually sing every melody and from there we sort out who fits the best in each part. This is something that we all take care of. We all talk this through. The most important thing here is being honest with yourself and so we have to give way where needed. Sometimes it comes down to the type of music being played, you know the more heavy or more rock and we use this as a measure. The most important thing is what comes out at the end.”
What are the main challenges of balancing three singers in a metal band?
“It is always a drama, we have a girl in there remember (explosive laughter)! I think every show and every song you record is a challenge. Every singer has a special kind of an ego, and so you become the singer to be in the middle and this is how it is. At this point, with Almanac, you need to share with two others so it is always a challenge. But it is a challenge that makes fun at the end, and it is something very different. The most important thing is you can’t take yourself too seriously. Fun and the reaction of the fans is the most important focus.”
The subject material of Kingslayer and Tsar, is all around traditional and classical power struggles and fighting, why is this the main subject matter for Almanac?
“We love singing about people who kill others – the next album is called Mass Murder Symphony (explosive laughter). I think there are two very important things. First these concepts and stories have not been sung about and people have been switched on to this from the records. You know the normal rock n roll subjects don’t fit the music, or the normal power metal themes. You know when I first heard the music from the first album I knew clearly that the lyrics needed to be historical. Also what is always really important is that if you are a fan and you are into the lyrics you can follow on to the songs and immerse yourself in to the story as it unfolds with a coffee and the booklet. But as a metal head you can throw the book away, crack a beer and head bang! My example of this is as an Iron Maiden fan. You know I love to read along with the lyrics some days and other days just head bang! ”
How do you see the new album, Kingslayer, against your debut (Tsar)?
“I think that the most thing, is I hear on the first album that Victor knew our voices but he did not know how it would feel as a combination together. We did do a few shows before the recording process but we didn’t know each other. This time around, after touring and an initial album, it made it easier for him. But, you know, it also became a new challenge as it was in his mind when composing. For him that obviously made the difference to the albums. We are more a band now also. To me, Tsar sounds like a project but not one hundred percent sure on where to go. This time it is a real union, a band.”
What plans are there for the band to support the new album live?
“First of all we are going to Russia again very soon. This is a challenge for me as I hate going on tour in winter as you do a show, have a shower and then go out in the cold. And Russia it will be cold at this time, around minus ten degrees. Then we will be traveling on a train, an old train.
Besides this a lot of different touring from February 2018. Nothing fully confirmed beyond Russia, but we are not sure if we are going on tour full time or if we are special guests. This is what we want to do, to be able to head line and promote the songs better and give them what they deserve. But this will depend on how the album is received.”
I would like to focus a little now on Brainstorm, where is the band up to currently, is there a new album on the horizon as Scary Creatures was released in 2016?
“There is a lot of things going on. We have had a break over the last couple of months and two days ago we had a big meeting with an agent and the record album. We will record in March next year and release in September. We will be putting a tour together after this. We have twelve songs written and we are now just arranging them and we will start pre-production early next year. We are currently talking with some great producers and this is really exciting. I hope and I think that our next album is gearing up to be something special for us.”
Is there any chance of Brainstorm coming to Australia?
“I hope so. We have heard some great things and so of course we would love to come down. Primal Fear, Edguy and Kreator, who are friends of ours, have said so many positive things about your country and fans there. This is a life goal of mine to come down there and play!”
What about as a solo artist, do you have any ambitions to release anything on your own at any stage beyond Brainstorm and Symphorce?
“I have those ambitions, but this was two years ago, and actually just before Almanac. Victor asked me to join and so it has gone on the back burner. I have songs and musicians who I would love to record with, you know, a lot of guest musicians. A lot of talking, but now Almanac has taken over from this at the moment. But this is something that I will eventually get to!”
Finally, can you comment on Almanac as an outfit, are you a band that has a plan for the future, and are there any possibilities of bringing a show or two to Australia?
“There are possibilities. We will start talking with our booking agent in two weeks’ time and this has become my job in the band, booking shows. I would love to have a tour to Australia. I think there is a chance you know. Fifteen years ago Australia was not on a market but now it is, in both sales and playing live. Australia will definitely be on the table and hopefully we can make it happen.”
Wow! What a pleasure, a great bloke to chat with and a real surge of energy and enthusiasm. Whether you are a traditional metal fan, an epic/power metal fan, or a fan of grandiose and classical tales, Almanac is your band. If you haven’t had the experience I urge you to find a copy of Tsar, ahead of the bands second release in Kingslayer, and immerse yourself in the stories that the band create and execute. You really can’t go wrong on the back of Smolski song writing and three of the most notable vocalists in metal, bring on the 24th of November, and bring on a possible Australian tour!
Interview by Mark Snedden