I was lucky enough to interview Zuberoa Aznarez (vocalist) and Gorka Elso of Spanish symphonic metal band Diabulus in Musica, and very nice they were too. We discussed their latest album Argia, methods of composing, symphonic metal in their native Spain… and of course what their music tastes like. (I can actually blame them this time!)
Note: Neither Zuberoa nor myself could stop coughing for the entire length of our nice chat, having both been stricken with a nasty cold. (Zuberoa: “Ha ha! You got a cold too?”) Also, not since my Steel Panther interview have I heard two people better at finishing one another’s sentences as well as Zuberoa and Gorka, making this interview the biggest nightmare to transcribe as of yet!
Your music is massive sounding. Is this something that takes long ‘sit down and write’ sessions? I couldn’t imagine it coming to me naturally!
Zuberoa Aznarez: For us it is a very natural thing because we come from the classical scene and also the metal scene, so I think we are very used to working with each element. When I think about melody or something like that, I can hear inside me the powerful orchestra. Everything! So it all comes from our musical background.
Gorka Elso: It’s still not easy because when you’re writing, you finish the song with one hundred tracks or something like that! But it’s still very natural to us.
How can you resist making your songs much longer? It’s huge enough sounding that it would warrant a twenty-minute monster song.
Gorka: When we write a song, when we start with a melody or a little element, usually you want to express something. You don’t need too much time to express something. I love long songs. Ten minutes. Twelve minutes. But sometimes it’s better to do something… well, not shorter, but only the time that each song needs. Nothing more.
Zuberoa: Yeah. I think sometimes it seems like a good song has to be long. It’s not always that way though. I think the song is asking for something. To be short, to be long… or whatever. Doing a long song only because it’s supposed to be a better song… we don’t think it’s worth it. We only make what we think the music needs.
On the subject of that kind of music, have you anything to say to anyone who thinks that metal is a step down from classical music?
Zuberoa: I think that both kinds are complimentary. Metal music is a very rich style too, because I think you can do whatever you want with metal. It’s very open to other kinds of music, not just classical music, but also kinds like folk. You can fit many different styles inside metal. A lot of metal musicians are from the classical field so I think in generally, music is music! With music, you can do so many things, and you can express so many different things. It’s stupid to do only one thing, so to lineate all of the different qualities of your personality is bad.
Gorka: I think that metal with symphonic music is the perfect marriage, to express many different kinds of things. Each of our songs are not just symphonic or just metal. We want to do all kinds of music that fits with what we want to express.
Zuberoa: There are many different elements. There’s classical music. Also folk. Also some electronic stuff. We never say no to something new, because every musical element can express something special.
Your new album is called Argia. What does this mean?
Zuberoa: It is a Basque word. It means ‘light’ in Basque language. Some people think it’s related to a Greek mythological thing called Argia, but it’s another thing. We chose the name because we speak Basque here, and ‘light’ refers to the new. The former bandmates had left the band, so we had to start from scratch.
With such a distinct album title, artwork and music, is there a theme, or concept or story behind it all?
Zuberoa: Not really, but all the songs are related with personal things from the last two years like when the guys left the band. So it has been a very personal process because we didn’t know what to do with the band – whether to continue with it. We were a bit lost. Finally we decided to continue because Gorka and me are the founders of the band, and also the main composers. It made no sense to leave it. All the songs refer to the new light we had found not only in the band, but also as individuals. We are a couple too so these last two years have been also special for us, so I think it’s a mixture of a new musical path, and new personal life.
You have used quite a few languages in your music. Why do you refuse to settle on just one? Have you ever been worried about how songs might be received?
Zuberoa: Well, not really. On one hand, yes, because we are from the north of Spain, in the Basque Country, so when we started to write our songs, we started in English. Our first album was in English and some Latin words in the parts of the choir. We started only with English and Latin. So, when we decided to write a second album (The Wanderer), I decided to use Basque because I thought it really fit with the story, because the story of ‘The Wanderer’ is talking about someone very special and different and strange. It’s a very ancient language. And then we eventually wrote in Spanish! Here, there are political problems because of the Spanish people and the Basque people and all that stuff, but we don’t like politics at all. We only defend culture. We are Spanish. We are Basque. We are both. We don’t want to enter any political issues, but if we only sang in Basque then some people would only see the political side or something like that. So, I decided to include Spanish. Well… not only because of that! (laughs) So that’s four languages.
Gorka: And I think Italian is on the last album too! Zuberoa: I don’t know if in the future if I’ll maybe play with French!
Calling you from England, we only really know English, English and English! All other Europeans seem to know at least two languages. This makes me feel very uncultured!
Zuberoa: (laughs) Well, in Spain it’s also like that, because a lot of people here speak only Spanish. And actually all our languages are really bad! I can only understand English a bit and a bit of French too. But it’s very rough! I love languages, even though I’m not very good with them. So, don’t worry!
At least in the UK, Spanish metal is not often heard about, especially compared to Northern European and Scandinavian metal. Do you stand out as unusual in your native Spain?
Zuberoa: Well, in Spain there are many metal bands, but here, because of what I just said, people only speak Spanish so they like their metal in Spanish. So actually this kind of band are not well known outside of Spain. And in South America, but in Europe… not much. But in Spain there are a lot.
Gorka, I know that you are a keyboardist, which allows you to get any sound that you want, which is great for symphonic music. What instrument can you not play that you really wish you could?
Gorka: I started playing piano, but I would love to play the French horn. When we are writing songs, and you start with the orchestral arrangement, I think that the first instrument I start with is the French horn.
Zuberoa: In almost every song!
Gorka: It has a sour sound, but also has something sweet inside it. I think it would be great but also very difficult.
Zuberoa: I already play the two instruments that I love the most. I play flute, and I really love the harp. It’s actually a Celtic harp, but the sound is really amazing. I love it. If I had to choose another one, I think I would choose the violin. I really love that too. And also the voice is an instrument that I have to still play a lot, so I don’t have the time! I want to play harp better and then maybe I’ll start the violin.
It’s funny you should say that, because one question that I have taken to asking in most interviews is: If your music were a food, what would it taste like?
Zuberoa: (laughs) Wow! Well, it wouldn’t be very nice because there are so many elements inside one piece. Vegetables and something sweet. Chocolate maybe?
Gorka: And also something spicy in some cases. And it’s obvious that it won’t be fast food!
Will you come to the UK any time soon?
Zuberoa: Hopefully, but for the moment we don’t have any plans there, because there’s the matter of money to organise a tour. So, we cannot afford it for the moment. Maybe next year. Who knows? If we go, it would be at a festival, because organising a concert isn’t possible.
Gorka: Maybe supporting a band is also an option. It’s always a matter of money. We always look forward to play in every country. We work really hard to play more, but it’s not easy. So spread the word!
Argia is out now on Napalm Records.