Posted on March 24. 2021
Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
This Belgian Heavy Metal band was not spared the Corona virus either, just when their second “Empires In The Sun” album was about to be launched all hell broke loose. At that point you have to make choices as a band and they postponed the release for many months. Finally on March 5, 2021 the new Thorium album saw daylight…. Here at Metal To Infinity we fully support these guys and when you read my review this will not surprise you. “Empires In The Sun” has become a real masterpiece, I have an appointment with guitarists Dario Frodo and Tom Tee, the musical/lyrical brains behind this magnificent act !
Stefan: Welcome Dario and Tom, first and foremost congratulations on Thorium’s latest album “Empires In The Sun” ! During the upcoming conversation, it is my intention to look back at your debut for a while after which we will largely talk about the remarkable successor recently released. Looking back to Thorium’s self-titled debut, can you speak of a great success or are you rather modest about this?
Dario: Looking at this as the first-born child, I am overall satisfied with the album and what it did for us. It brought us under attention in the world of classical heavy metal (obviously up to a certain point) and made us play throughout large parts of Europe with a lot of great bands, like Riot V, Geoff Tate, Q5, Heir Apparent, Toxik, Witch Cross and Ross The Boss to name but a few. So in that perspective, I am happy with the result. We obviously always aim for more, but there’s a lot of music out there, and our means aren’t limitless to get the name spread in terms of commercial attention, if you know what I mean. Most of the budget we spent got into the product itself, more specifically into the recording and mixing/mastering of the album.
Tom: As always, there’s rather mixed feelings with any release — though I don’t mean that as negatively as it might sound. On one hand, the whole process of writing, recording and producing an album is an immensely time-consuming (and expensive) one, and you’re proud beyond words whenever you can complete that process and release the resulting work unto the world. Of course you stand behind that work one hundred percent, and of course you hope it’ll get the attention, recognition and commercial success you feel it deserves.
On the other hand, you realize there’s a vast amount of bands and releases out there, and you have to be realistic enough to know that (short of a miracle) you’re not going to suddenly sell thousands of copies, only because you’ve made a work of quality. The sad reality is that you could release anything at all these days — at least as a beginning band — regardless of whether it’s good or great, so-so or just okay, or truly superb and deserving of the label ‘classic album’ (I’ll leave it entirely up to the listener’s judgement which category we’re to be filed under 😉 ), and chances are it’s going to do alright in terms of sales and recognition, but not much beyond that.
You’ve to really push and push and keep on putting out high-quality work on a regular basis in order to even get noticed, and it’s a never-ending process of putting your back into it and trying to get people to even pay attention to you. In that regard, I wouldn’t describe our first self-titled release as a great success commercially, though I definitely look back upon it as a huge success quality-wise. I do try to make that distinction for myself — if something is inherently good, it’s good, regardless of whether a hundred people showed an interested in it, or a million.
That said, it is really telling how the old greats such as Maiden and Metallica were commercially successful *while* they were releasing their classics, whereas a lot of the relatively newer ‘biggies’ that we consider big names today (Symphony X, Kamelot, or Evergrey to name a few) weren’t immensely well-known yet when they put out their classic works, and only reached a larger audience after.
Stefan: What has this yielded in terms of live performances, in what ways have you introduced the album to the general public – name a few interesting bands you’ve shared the stage with back then ?
Dario: We did 41 shows in like 15 months, which is considerably pretty much for a Belgian band, this in big parts of Europe. Both as a headliner or as support for interesting US bands like Ross The Boss, Toxik, Heir Apparent and Riot V to name but a few. And I most likely will never forget the show we did with Geoff Tate (:-)).
Stefan: It didn’t take long to give the debut a follow-up. Shortly after, work was immediately done on writing new songs, how does a band like Thorium proceed while creating new compositions, is there a certain technique you guys use?
Dario: It kinda depends. Especially on the first album we threw ideas and riffs over to each other. For Empires, Tom and I worked a bit more individually on the tracks. There’s not just one technique for me when it comes down to writing music, sometimes I start with lyrics without music, or I have a certain vocal melody line floating somewhere in my brain. Sometimes I sit down and improvise or actually write down riffs. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no strict way to get started. But one thing remains the same: when you have an idea popping up, make sure you can record it in some way, or the day after it’s gone forever hahaha…. Had that happening quite a few times in my life.
Tom: For me, when writing, I tend to be inside my own little bubble — and let me tell you, I was doing it *before* it became a trend and everyone suddenly started doing the bubble-thing for some reason 😉 … I love songwriting, telling stories and writing lyrics; it’s truly addictive. I wouldn’t say there’s a technique to it or anything like that, though. I’m constantly recording little riffs and song-ideas onto my phone, then filing them away into folders on my computer according to what pre-conceived song ideas they might fit.
Songs will just grow and grow that way, in a sort of embryonic stage, until I revisit the folders again when it’s time to start up a new production, and by that time it’s often just a matter of putting the pieces together. Lyric-writing is another thing entirely — here I truly toil and grind away at sheets of paper, mulling over ideas and phrases, often scrapping entire sections and building them up again, until I’m one hundred percent satisfied that every word and every syllable, even every punctuation mark, is precisely where it should be. I absolutely want to have song lyrics to have depth, meaning, and be as neatly and eloquently phrased as I can get them.
Stefan: When did you guys actually start working on “Empires In The Sun”?
Dario: Basically straight after the release of Thorium I. “More than meets the eye” was even ready (although we did change a few things later on, which led to the result that has been recorded for “Empires…”). The thing is, when you are in a creative mood, just keep on writing, because you never know if writer’s block is gonna hit you or not. So for instance, Tom and I have been writing ever since, and most likely have material to complete Thorium III and even Thorium IV. But that’s already way ahead for us, so maybe some tracks will never see the light of day, or will have a make-over in the coming months/years. Time will tell.
Tom: Indeed, in a way I suppose the writing process started back when we were still in Ostrogoth, and it hasn’t stopped since 😉 I’m always writing music and lyrics; some of it I channel into Thorium (the songs that will work best in a live-setting, mostly), and the rest into Entering Polaris, which I’m also continuing…soon! 🙂
Stefan: Can you tell us a bit more about the textual content, what is this album about?
Dario: Tom is the creative master when it comes to a lot of the lyrical content. As far as my lyrics go on the album; “Exquisite” handles the start of something new and what to do with the evolution of things that lay ahead of that, for instance the start of a new band :-). “More than meets the eye” is about a person that that only cares about himself and doesn’t care about what other people experience in terms of grief or sorrow, as long as he reaches his goals. By growing older, he realizes that what he’s done throughout his life wasn’t fair, but now it’s too late to make up for it. “Itchin’ and Achin'” is all about addictions in life; to be exact, the addictions that are dangerous to us. Think about a severe drug addiction and how it’s become normalized in our society.
Tom: There’s lots of different stories and types of lyrics on this new record, which I love! 🙂 On a side-note: even though I’m a huge fan of concept albums (some of my all-time favourite records are just that), I’m not sure I’d ever go in for creating a concept album myself — there’s just too many different stories and ideas out there, and such an endless amount of potential lyrical themes that fascinate me and that I want to write about, that I wouldn’t want to be pinned down on just one for the duration of an entire record. That said, the lyrics on this one range from historical and dark Fantasy-ish themes to more contemplative stuff; there’s even a bit of (fairly light-hearted) social commentary going on in ‘The Old Generation’, where I wanted to explore the old adage that everything “used to be better in the old days”. The latter is also the first and only Metal tune (to my knowledge, at least) to reference ‘Allo ‘Allo — truly something the Metal scene had been sorely deprived of ‘til now… 😉
Stefan: You have collaborated this time with numerous well-known vocalists who have already proven their services in the Metal world. For the information of the readers, please have a word about who they are and what their contribution has been.
Dario: Next to Norman Eshley, who’s the subject of your next question, we wanted to have some extras on this album. Especially for the 1302 trilogy, that had so many characters in its storyline. Benny “Zors” Willaert is a good friend, someone Tom, Stripe, Louis and I have been working with over the last decades through different bands and occasions. He fit the role of Pieter de Coninck perfectly. For the “Assembly of The Guilds”, we needed a very strong both growling and high-pitched aggressive voice. No one comes nearer to what we had in mind with Joe Van Audenhove from Belgium’s finest collective Evil Invaders. Having known Joe for years, he was immediately choice number 1 for this role.
A very nice guy with huge talents, great to have him on board. The most known collaborator is of course Arjen Lucassen. The mastermind behind Ayreon has a very distinctive voice, one that suited the role as minstrel in the lead-in and lead-out of the trilogy extremely well. Tom and I were discussing about possible contributors and we ended up with Arjen as the most logical choice. A very warm and nice person as well, who immediately agreed on doing it and had much fun recording his parts. Anneleen Olbrechts helped us out with the role of the evil bitch Queen Johanna of Navarra. She did a perfect job! As for myself, I played the character of Adolf van Nieuwland, the young knight. Made me feel young once again hahaha…
Stefan: He’s not a musician, but a British actor taking care of the narration parts of the album, I’m talking about Norman Eshley! How on earth did you get in touch with him – in what way were you able to convince him to cooperate, a briefing history about Norman would be welcome?
Tom: Norman Eshley is a British actor for film and television, and has been active since the 1960’s, among other things for the BBC. Funnily enough, I myself really know him best for his participation on the 1998 Blind Guardian album ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’. This behemoth of a concept record — and one of the all-time great classic albums as far as I’m concerned — is one I listened to endlessly during my teenage years. Thus, I kind of grew up hearing Norman Eshley’s phenomenal voice reverberating through the living room in between these equally phenomenal songs. When I got the idea that it might be cool to have some of the narrative parts actually read aloud and recorded by an actor, he was the first person that came to mind. As with Arjen Lucassen, I’m kind of perplexed that we actually succeeded in getting Norman on the album! I keep putting on our new record expecting to hear Erik Van Looy and Philippe Geubels on there, finding out it was all a dream after all, but nope; there they are in all their glory! 😉
Stefan: The production also enjoys a high quality courtesy of riff/lead guitar artist wonder Tom Tee and Simone Mularoni who we know from his collaboration with Italian Prog Metal act DGM, among others. I was wondering how you guys got in touch with Simone, were there certain conditions attached to the collaboration?
Tom: I love Simone’s sound crafting so much! As with the first album, it was a dream working with him again. This was actually the fifth time I worked with Simone for a record, would you believe it! Previously there was the first Entering Polaris record, the third album by 23 Acez, the In Motion studio project I did in 2019, the first Thorium, and now ‘Empires in the Sun’ indeed, so asking Simone to do the re-amping, mixing and mastering again this time around was a no-brainer 🙂 He truly knows and feels how a band and a record needs to sound, and is one of those rare people who somehow manage to deliver pretty much exactly what you hoped the result would be like the very first time around. It’s amazing, really 🙂
Stefan: “Empires In The Sun” was released on Freya Records, from where the switch to this label and who is handling the distribution of the album in Europe?
Dario: Bertus will be distributing this in large parts of Europe. Sonosphere in France. Sonic Rendezvous will do the Benelux, together with Bertus. Freya is a division of Dutch Music Works. The owner is a genuine music lover and fan of our earlier work. He also did Tom’s projects Entering Polaris and In Motion.
Stefan: My comments about the new songs were very praising, I expressed myself very elated during my review… a well-deserved gesture for sure ! What do you guys think of the final result – best output so far?
Dario: Let’s see in a few years hahaha. We are very happy with the result of the new product on all areas, for sure. But since it’s too close by it’s hard to say. But we feel a natural progression on all accounts in this matter.
Tom: Oh yes, I’d certainly dare say this record is even stronger than our debut, and our best effort so far. Everything that could have been improved upon was effectively taken up a notch, which is of course what you always strive to do on a new record. Wait ‘til you hear what were cooking up for the next one, though… 😉
Stefan: As a natural born US Metal fan, I am blazingly excited that some of the songs have elements on board that relate to this supreme gem. From whom does the infusion of USM vibes come and from whence the choice to do so?
Dario: Well, I’ve always been into US metal, the USA holds the best bands in the world when it comes to classic heavy/thrash/speed metal. They make the difference by working hard on craftsmanship in playing and details, both production-wise and musically. And when listening to all those great bands over the years, it’s natural I think to have those influences incorporated in what I write.
Stefan: The track “1302”, divided into three parts is the sign of Thorium as far as I am concerned. Especially ‘The Golden Shadow’ does not speak in riddles, this is the best I have heard in years regarding the Metal scene in Europe. Very long playing time but you manage to keep me listening with a lot of attention, an incredible amount happens during this song. How did “1302” come about?
Dario: Tom, David and myself are particularly interested in historical events. When on tour, we try to visit as many historical places, churches and castles as we can. Fun fact is that I had been playing with the thought of a rock-opera around the battle of the golden spurs for over 20 years, and Tom managed to make it happen and create a beautiful play around this highlight in Flemish history. A true work of art.
Tom: It was Dario indeed who pitched the idea of doing an epic centered around Hendrik Conscience’s “De Leeuw Van Vlaanderen” and the “Guldensporenslag”. I was immediately intrigued and got to work at once — re-reading the book, watching the 1984 film again, and even visiting Bruges with the book (by then full of notes) at the ready. Writing and recording the music itself surprisingly didn’t take up an enormous amount of time, relatively speaking; within a matter of weeks, the song was written and tracked.
The lyrics and other accompanying text were another matter entirely…more on that below. Musically, there’s a hell of a lot going on indeed; I wanted to experiment with counterpoint melodies and harmonies, lots of different guitars playing complementary lines at once, interesting key changes, tempo changes, and so on… I also wanted the music for every chapter to really reflect what was going on in the story. Every character has his or her own themes and moods; just like what should happen in a true musical or opera! 🙂
Stefan: Can you walk us through the content of the lyrics – Why the interest in this kinda subject?
Tom: This trilogy is of the major highlights in the lyrical department for me. I’m immensely proud of not only the lyrics themselves, but also of the added notes and other written content you can find within the album’s booklet. Part of the sense of triumph I feel with this one, also, is the fact that it didn’t come easy. It took several weeks of writing, re-writing and fine-tuning the whole thing before I felt it was truly ‘ready’. The reason, interestingly, wasn’t so much that the lyrics were hard to write per se, but rather the problem that kept nagging in the back of my mind: how on earth do I present this story in a clear way to anyone living outside the borders of Flanders that’s likely never heard of these events, or the book, or even the film — and more importantly; how do I make (and keep) it interesting for them? So many avenues were explored and then abandoned, and so much stuff ended up in the trash; but I’m so happy with the end result, and I invite everyone to pour themselves a drink, open up the lyrics sheet, and dive into this 17-minute behemoth! 🙂
Stefan: The official release was March 5, 2021 but the album had been ready for much longer. Just at the point when you want to release a new album we were all hit by a global health crisis, how does a band like Thorium deal with this kind of adversity?
Dario: I suppose like most of the other bands around: cursing and swearing a lot, trying to find solutions which aren’t there, working on plans one has to postpone several times… But there were bands who were even more affected by the lockdown, those who had just released their album for instance. It’s been a hard long period, not just for us, but for the entire music industry. I’m not sure things will ever be the same again in the post-corona era.
Stefan: Surely, if vaccination is well underway, opportunities should gradually arise to introduce “Empires In The Sun” to the general public. What are the plans?
Dario: Basically to tour as much as we can in 2021 and 2022 in order to promote the album, since we firmly believe in the power of this album. It should get us a couple of steps up the stairs of heavy metal and bring us new fans and opportunities. So touring, touring and touring is what we would like to do, next to starting to prepare the recordings for Thorium III, which should see the light of day somewhere between the end of 2022 and spring 2023 if all goes well.
Stefan: Maybe I’m asking the following question way too early but can we expect a sequel to this brilliant new album in the future? Are any new songs already in the works?
Dario: Yes there are. I’ve been working constantly on new songs and I know Tom has been doing the same. Also Stripe has contributed again with some great ideas so I’m convinced Thorium III and even IV are well under way. However, I would like to state that the term “sequel” would not apply, since once again new elements will appear in our music, thus call it logical evolution. The trademarks of Thorium (melody, twin guitar work, catchy tunes) will always be incorporated in our music, but new influences will be added if the desire to write them is there. And I can assure you, there is desire! 🙂
Stefan: If there were one festival where you would be allowed to participate with Thorium, which one might it be and why?
Dario: Difficult question. From a historical view: Monsters of Rock @ Donington. But we prefer playing 15 sweaty gigs in small packed clubs over any festival, no matter how big. We love to be close to the audience, see their faces and their eyes.
Tom: I suppose it might seem a little obvious to say Wacken and Graspop (the latter, of course, ‘cause we’re Belgian). For me though, the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise holds a special spot on the list — it truly is an experience beyond anything I could compare it to; almost surreal, really. Going back in time, however, I’d also say something like Donington in ’88, or maybe Wacken or Graspop from days long gone by.
Stefan: Will you let our readers know what products are available in connection with the new album? An address where they can order seems handy to know.
Dario: Sure! Well, as for the test-pressing, the full-fan-package and the limited edition swirl on vinyl, those are sold out already. But we have a beautiful gold vinyl next to the standard black, a digipack CD and of course t-shirts and hoodies for the new album. You can see all of our merch and albums at www.thoriumband.bandcamp.com . Or you can always mail us through our website or via social media. We’ll be happy to take care of your order!
Stefan: Then I would like to explicitly thank you for being here at Metal To Infinity Webzine. To all in Thorium, good luck with “Empires In The Sun” and hope to see you on stage soon. If you have anything to add to your story, feel free to do so !
Dario: Thank you Stef and Rico and all at Metal To Infinity for keeping up the great work. Also, to the fans, rest assured as we are eager to hit that stage any time soon. We wish everyone a good health and let the party begin. We are ready for it!!!
Tom: A huge thanks from me as well, Stef! It’s always great talking music with you — doing interviews like this works a little therapeutically for me also, and helps shake off the weight and work of a production afterward 😉 Thank you for helping to spread the word on this new record!!