DATE OF INTERVIEW: 30th April 2019
During the past three decades, Italian virtuosos Sadist have been creating some of the most refreshing and exhilarating progressive death metal to emerge from the scene. And 2018 saw them turn to the oeuvre of cinema's master of suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, for a concept album, 'Spellbound', based on a number of his movies, from rarities such as 'The Mountain Eagle' to perennially renowned masterpieces like 'The Birds', 'Rear Window' and 'Psycho'. This has resulted in Sadist's own musical masterpiece, and another addition to an ever-impressive back catalogue of intelligent, vitalizing and wildly creative metal nourishment.
Metal Discovery spoke to guitarist and keys man Tommy Talamanca a short while before showtime in Manchester's Rebellion, on the inaugural Morbidfest tour. Horror movies, old Italian prog, the importance of album artwork, Dario Argento, Claudio Simonetti and, of course, Hitchcock, all feature in discussions...
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘Spellbound’, an amazing album, and a great concept… I’m a big Hitchcock fan and love Sadist, so I thought, hey, this is my dream album!
(Tommy Talamanca on the cathartic function of both horror and metal)
"...in horror movies, you must have some kind of black humour, in a way, because, actually, it’s cathartic. And that’s the way I feel that metal is supposed to be."
Sadist - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2018 Svetlana Fomina - www.facebook.com/svetlanafominaphotographer
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Who within the band had the original idea to base the whole thing around Hitchcock movies?
TOMMY: Well, we are all huge horror movie fans, and horror movies have always been a huge influence on the Sadist sound. When it came out, the idea to make a kind of homage to the horror sounds and music, we thought, who is the master? And we thought about Mr. Hitchcock, of course. It would maybe be too obvious to do something dedicated to Dario Argento, who is Italian.
MD: And Dario himself has always said that Hitchcock is the master for him.
TOMMY: Yes, of course, Hitchcock is the master of masters, so that’s why we came out with this kind of idea. Of course, we could never imagine Hitchcock using a Sadist song for a movie like ‘The Birds’ or whatever. We tried to figure out how it could be to interpret the kind of feelings in the modern sound for a rock/metal band. That’s what we thought to do and it was fun for us.
MD: Dario Argento has used metal in his movies before, like ‘Opera’ and ‘Phenomena’, so maybe a Sadist song can feature in a future Argento movie, if he makes any more…
TOMMY: We’ll see. It was quite nice for the ‘Sadist’ album from 2007, we had a great pleasure and an honour to have Claudio Simonetti from Goblin has a guest. He plays a song on the album, and that was a big honour for us - of course, we are all huge Goblin fans. It was a little step so maybe one day we’ll join a movie from the master, Dario!
MD: It’s nice to see that you’ve gone right back to his early silent movies, like ‘The Mountain Eagle’, rather than concentrate on just the more obvious ones, and you’ve gone right up to one of his last movies, ‘Frenzy’. Did you want to get a representational spread from across his entire career?
TOMMY: Yeah, we basically tried to find inspiration from the topic of the movie itself. Like, for instance, ‘Bloody Bates’ is about Norman Bates from the ‘Psycho’ movie. We just reinterpreted the movie itself in a way we figured out… I don’t know if it was the right way for Mr. Hitchcock… I hope so. It would be obvious for us to cover some horror theme, but that’s what we tried to avoid because it was something not interesting. So, we just reinterpreted completely, in our own personal way, the mood from the Hitchcock movies, and each movie inspired the song in a way for something we tried to interpret in a Sadist way. We are a metal band, so that’s why. Basically, we made a death metal album with such kind of horror feelings and moods all along the songs.
MD: There’s quite a bit of suspense in the songs, which is a fundamental part of Hitchcock’s movies…
TOMMY: Yes. It was something we always made in the past but, this time, we pushed this aspect a little bit more in the Sadist sound.
MD: So you tried to let the themes, moods and atmospheres of the movies inspire the music you composed for each of the tracks?
TOMMY: Well, we are all big fans and always loved the most famous Hitchcock movies, of course. We went back to the movies and saw them again, and tried to match them with the lyrics. That was the most difficult part of the job and, of course, Trevor did it, the singer. And when we tried to put together the lyrics and the music, and we tried to mix the mood from the lyrics with the right notes and the right kind of melodies and rhythms. For the older movies, like ‘The Mountain Eagle’, it was much more difficult in a way… but we had more freedom, because we could interpret it the way we wanted because some people never saw the movie.
MD: It’s a rare movie.
TOMMY: It’s a great movie.
MD: I’ve not seen it myself… and I’m a big Hitchcock fan. I thought, perhaps, that one could’ve had no lyrics on, because it’s a silent movie… but then it should have no music, either, thinking along those lines!
TOMMY: Those kind of movies, like ‘Nosferatu’, for instance, they made history but not so many people saw them. I hope we’ve helped the younger generation of people who never followed Hitchcock’s career completely - maybe they only know ‘Psycho’ or ‘The Birds’ - to go and check for the older movies.
MD: Yeah, there are loads of gems in his early career. ‘Blackmail’ has always been a favourite of mine… from 1929, I believe. ‘Frenzy’ is probably Hitch’s most brutal movie, and it’s quite a brutal song, as well. The arpeggios in there are quite frenzied, so was that deliberate, to get that sort of frenzied feeling in the song?
TOMMY: [Laughs] Yes, we tried to recreate the kind of feeling.
MD: It’s quite a nasty movie for Hitchcock, isn’t it, I think, the atmosphere of the movie.
MD: But there’s some black comedy in there, too.
TOMMY: Well, particularly in horror movies, you must have some kind of black humour, in a way, because, actually, it’s cathartic. And that’s the way I feel that metal is supposed to be. At least for us - we are a death metal band, we are not politically involved, we are more involved in horror themes and we try to recreate this kind of cathartic atmosphere, like the masters from the horror movies always made the most famous movies from history. Like Sam Raimi, for instance, or those kind of masters. Even Kubrick, in a way, with the cathartic use of violence in the movies. Of course, Hitchcock worked in a time where you had a lot of problems with censorship and this kind of stuff. You didn’t have the freedom to do things you can do now, like in movies like ‘Hostel’, for instance.
MD: Hitchcock was clever at playing the censors, though. He found various loop holes, and other ways to get stuff through. He was a clever man.
MD: Most of the track titles have been taken directly from the movie titles, but you have pieces on there like ‘Bloody Bates’ and ‘I’m the Man Who Knew Too Much’. Why did you feel those ones needed something a little different?
TOMMY: Well, actually, to call a song ‘Psycho’, there are too many metal bands who’ve already made a song called ‘Psycho’ or something, so it was not interesting, actually. That’s why we decided, for this particular song, not to use the original title. But, when we could, we used the original title. I think it helps the listener to enter directly in the topic of the song.
MD: You mentioned Claudio Simonetti earlier, but I was going to ask if he’s been an influence on you, as you can hear a kind of Simonetti vibe in some of the keyboards? And old Italian prog, in general, is that an influence?
TOMMY: Well, I personally write most of the melodies we are gonna put in the songs and I grew up listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Goblin and Genesis of the 70s progressive music era. And then, growing up, I started listening to heavy metal and started listening to thrash metal, and I mixed these kind of influences all together. I was studying classical music when I was a kid, but I started listening to rock and metal music and, in the end, I mixed all my influences together. And since all the guys in the band are huge fans of Goblin, it was quite easy to have such a mark on the Sadist sound. Of course, sometimes, you can also recognise trademarks like John Carpenter or some other typical horror movies… but that’s basically because, when we were kids, we were big fans of horror movies. That’s in our background.
MD: What about a band like Banco del Mutuo Soccorso?
TOMMY: Yes, those historical bands from the progressive Italian scene in the 70s, like PFM, for instance, they were huge bands and some of them had the opportunity to tour abroad and they got quite famous. Like Goblin, for instance. It meant that rock music was not just for England or the United States, but once it was also for Italy. Nowadays, it sounds strange, because when you think about rock music in general, you don’t think about Italy. Italy reminds you of the singing, of the melody and this kind of stuff, but… I mean, music is music, actually.
MD: I guess that’s the same thing with horror movies. There’s such an amazing history of horror movies from Italian directors, and horror’s heyday seemed to be in the 70s and 80s with directors like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci… and that seems to have died off in the 90s, and even more so in recent years.
TOMMY: Yes, think about Sergio Leone and how much he influenced Quentin Tarantino, for instance. He made western movies but he was Italian and he made them in Italy… or somewhere around… in France….at least it was actually something directly connected to the original aspect of the culture of what you’re talking about. But we live in a globalised world so, actually, music… you cannot say this band is Italian heavy metal or Italian thrash metal or whatever. Yes, we have some Mediterranean influences - on ‘Hyaena’, a lot of Mediterranean instruments because we like to do something different from the average… but, actually, we play rock music with western instruments, of course.