Interview | Xandria Guitarist Marco Heubaum
"We are more than the term Symphonic Metal"
German metal band Xandria has returned to the scene after being absent for several years and having their latest studio album `Theater Of Dimensions’ released in 2017. Not only presents Xandria a brand-new album called `The Wonders Still Awaiting’, original guitarist and composer Marco Heubaum, the backbone of the band since the formation in 1994, surrounded himself with a completely new line-up. As it seems, the band is more than ready for a re-start and the reviews on the new album so far are raving. Marco couldn’t be happier and tells Headbangers LifeStyle all about his new adventure.
LOYALTY AND NEW POSSIBILITIES
A band is like a little community, a marriage if you will and a certain dynamic of a bunch of people can cause joy and great adventures, but also immense headaches, irritations and what more. Over the years Xandria faced different line-ups and break-ups so the big question is what type of musicians Marco was looking for to bring Xandria back to life? And he definitely gave it some thought before letting Ambre Vourhavis [vocals], Robert Klawonn [guitar], Tim Schwarz [bass] and Dimitrios Gatsios [drums] into his creative outlet.
,,The musicians need to be able to play their instruments well, of course. But it was actually even more important to me that we have a shared understanding of music. That we can talk about music, the things we love about it, what bands we like and also that we can connect on a personal level. As a band you spend a lot of time together, like on a tour bus, during recordings and video, photo shoots. We already spent time together for shows and that turned out a really great experience. Now we are definitely that bunch of people that support each other, walk through fire together and who are positive minded and try to solve a problem instead of start to panic or go on an ego trip.’’
It is undeniable that Xandria is fronted by a very talented and versatile singing vocalist, lifting up the sound to a higher level. I ask Marco what qualifies Ambre, who is actually from Greece, to be the right new singer.
,,First of all she has a really beautiful voice with a lot of emotional expression and that’s what I love about her. On top of that, Ambre can do so many different things with her voice, from rock, operettic style to even a bit jazzy and there are some moments where she shows some different facets of her clean voice as well. And she is able to sing the songs of our previous albums live. On top of that she can do death metal growls too, which for me especially is great because I am also a fan of more extreme metal bands like At The Gates, Emperor, Morbid Angel, Dimmu Borgir and Paradise Lost. Bands I listen to since the 90s. For me Xandria is a playground to just toy around with everything that I love about music, especially the different metal styles.
We are much more than the term symphonic metal, because you hear a death metal riff and for instance in the new track ,,Ghosts’’ a classic 80s metal Judas Priest, Accept style riff and also some riffs that remind of Arch Enemy, like very modern style metal and a djent-like in ,,Mirror Of Time’’. Our music is a combination of so many styles that it surprises me when people ask: “Do you think that it is a little bit limiting to be in symphonic metal style band?” NO! It is the opposite; everything can happen and that’s what I enjoy. As a songwriter I can do everything I want because Ambre is vocally so versatile, it is a real treasure and amazing.’’
XANDRIA – THE PLAN
When an album is in the making there is mostly some sort of plan or vision. Marco says that it has been the case with for instance the fifth album `Never World’s End’ , having a clear picture of how the end result should sound. This time, he didn’t have a plan in mind.
,,And that was totally fine with me. I started writing in a time when the band took a break and then there was the pandemic and lockdown. I was just in my own universe, trying things out, new orchestral sounds for instance. Trying to challenge myself as a musician and songwriter, not to repeat myself but to do things that are out of my comfort zone. Just see where it all would carry me to. It gave me the excitement and working like that keeps me motivated.
Also, I tried to update myself on new technologies in orchestral arrangements and try to also learn about the arrangements itself. How they work and learn about these little tricks of using more rhythm changes and key changes. Somehow the album developed in an intuitive and organic way. Once again it showed me that I can do very different things, just put them together in Xandria and somehow it works in the end.
But because I wanted to immediately work on vocal lines that I had in mind, I showed my ideas in the early stage to Ambre. And throughout the entire process, while we were discussing the ideas, we felt they were new, exciting and something special and we felt happy feelings all the time. The album is a little bit different from what we have done before, there is more happening in the music. It really amazes us that a lot of people say this is the best album we made so far. I am really grateful for all the positive response we are getting at the moment. It is overwhelmingly good and I was not expecting that.’’
You hired the well-known Austrian film score writer Lukas Knöbel, who realized the final orchestral arrangements for the album. That must have cost a fortune but I guess worth every penny?
,,Usually I don’t like to talk about money that much but I can tell you that this album was probably the most expensive that we did as a band. Also because of the 40-piece classical choir and the Bulgarian National Radio Children’s Choir. Lukas and everybody did an amazing job and absolutely worth it for me. Whatever it was costing, I wanted to do it. I am not thinking too much about other bands having done something like this already. For me this is the first time and I love it because it transports so much emotions and atmosphere. And we did the extra CD for the special edition release, where you can really hear the soundtrack versions of the new songs, the pure film score part of it. Because the details got a little lost when we as a metal band played on top of it.’’
Ally Storch of Subway To Sally recorded all the beautiful violin and cello parts. In the track ,,You Will Never Be Our God’’ Primal Fear frontman Ralf Scheepers is guest starring full power. Germany has a huge arsenal of great metal singers, but Marco explains loud and clear why he chooses this guy.
,,He is one of the very best and Ralf also has this rough power voice that I really wanted in the song. He was the first singer that came to my mind immediately. We didn’t know each other and I just contacted him. I send him the song and he really loved it.’’
THE DOOM AND GLOOM OF THE WORLD
The new lyrics show topics like the climate crisis, war and certain movements that try to take over power and endanger freedom. Stuff that Marco needed to get of his chest, because in the last few years many things started to worry him a lot, he continues our conversation.
,,I was always interested in what was going on in the world, since I was a child even but when I was little I also worried a lot. It was still the time of the cold war you know and I was worried about a nuclear war happening. When the cold war ended, I was thinking now everything will be getting better. It will be a bright future and the people and the ex-Soviet Union will be finally free from dictatorial regime. We will have democracy there and we can visit each other. Look where we are now 30 years later. All very tragic in my opinion.
I believe when a society has diversity it makes it stronger because it enriches us. We get new ideas and new ideas we need to meet the challenges of the future. But so much happened the last few years in the world and things are going into very bad directions. Storming the Capitol? What times are we living? It’s horrible. I hope we can turn this around somehow and hopefully through my lyrics I can connect with others who feel the same way and I can reassure them that they are not alone. Let’s stand together and fight for our achievements that we have in our modern society. That it is not taken away from us again!’’
Right now, the important message to humanity is to be environmentally conscious to save our planet in any way we can. Marco says he also takes responsibility in this as much as he can.
,,When possible I preferer to travel by train instead of flying for instance. I recycle and buy things that are recycled. My food comes from a biological store and I do that already for almost 30 years. I also have a contract with an energy provider which is using only ecological sources, which is mostly wind energy here in Germany. As a band you cannot always avoid flying but we always try to combine shows as much as possible. Also, there are more people involved, including business partners who do things in a certain way and I have to stay alert.
Years ago, I found out most of our merchandise was made in Bangladesh and I realized that was not good. They use chemicals that should be forbidden, the way they produce it effects the environment in a bad way and they use child labor. We didn’t order again, but I have to confess we have not taken it to a planet friendly level yet but it is definitely something to have an eye on in the near future. I am trying to be aware but there are things you don’t think about at first. Little things that you have a routine in doing for a long time already and that you really need to question all the time. And yes, I believe we are heading to a future were we as a band have to travel with an electric tour bus. It is the way it should happen.’’
XANDRIA – PROGRESS AND DREAMS
Marco founded Xandria in 1994, first as a project, then a full-fledged band. Over the last 3 decades many vocalists and musicians have been part of Xandria. It made him learn a lesson or two for sure, he realizes.
,,When you start a band you are a bit naive, especially about the business side of it. All of a sudden, a lot of pressure comes from the outside and people react differently to it. Then you sometimes see that you are not always prepared for everything that is happening. I believe I am much more prepared for it now. I have changed our management for example because they weren’t doing the right things for the band and I needed a better base for Xandria in the future. We need to be able to trust the people around us who take care of the business side of the band, so we can focus on making music and the live shows. Which is not always easy, but I have learned to recognize the red flags a little bit better.
When it comes to the music, I am doing this for a long time now. The songs on the first album are very simple, quite short with very simple structures. I was not that much of a guitarist yet so my playing was very simple too. Still, I don’t consider myself as a guitar hero, that’s why I have Rob in the band right now to play all the fast stuff [laughing]. I am quite a solid rhythm guitarist, let’s say that and actually I am more a songwriter. Over time I got a better musician and I do play some of the solos on the new album actually, the easier ones though. I think the guitar work is much more elaborate on this album.’’
After being so long in the music bizz with Xandria, what are you still hoping for?
,,We had quite a long break and I haven’t been on stage for five years until the tour we did last fall. When I stepped on stage, after two songs I already felt if it was like a week ago and immediately felt this is what I like doing. This is amazing. All the activities we did in the past, I want them to do again, like travelling the world, playing for all the fans. For my new wonderful bandmembers it is the first time in their life they will tour in the USA, Asia and South America. It is very exciting to make that possible for them because they are such great musicians who deserve all this. I like to give others the spotlight and be a bit more in the background myself and just enjoy.’’
Credit header photo by Tim Tronckoe