– First of all, how are you doing after these months coexisting with COVID-19? I hope you are all healthy.
Hello Paco, hope you and everyone at QUEENS OF STEEL are all healthy as well. Thanks So much for yet another interview. You guys are great! We’re hanging in there … had a scare with both my parents testing positive for Covid and both hospitalized, but my mom is already out and my father should follow in a few weeks. So very relieved. He’s not completely out of the woods yet, but things are coming along very well with him. Now we’re all just patiently waiting for things to reopen again and hoping things get back to normal as soon as possible.
– I would like to know if all this has affected the band with the release of the album and its promotion. If it has affected you, in what way?
Ironically for MaelstroM, we actually have to in a very weird way, thank COVID-19 for pushing us to get this album out when we did. This album has been pretty much ready to go for the last 3-4 years with only one tune not finished, “A Futile Crusade”, we were trying to get the choir intro together and the song still needed a final mix and mastering.
When COVID-19 first hit, I spoke to Joe about actually it being the perfect opportunity for us to release the MaelstroM debut album, Of Gods And Men, because since we’re not a touring act and since 1/3 of the civilized world was on complete lockdown… What better time to release new material especially considering all of the touring bands had to cancel and also so many albums were pushed until after the summer. I can honestly say if COVID-19 didn’t hit we probably wouldn’t have been able to push to complete this project and get it out there since all other aspects of our lives were put on hold. Thankfully we did.
– Before talking about the album I would like to know a little bit about what eventually led to you this release, as I believe most of the songs were from the first demos so there’s like a connection between your early steps and your present days. My question is, why didn’t this album come out back in its day and what repercussion did these demos have?
Like so many bands from the late 80s early 90s in the thrash / metal scene, MaelstroM basically fell victim to not being able to secure a record deal… We’ve had interest from many labels overtime and we were acquiring great accolades both in the underground and the metal press but that ever-elusive album deal never came our way. We were just kids back then and there was no way we could fund a full album project ourselves, we wouldn’t have been even able to put our second demo This Battle To Make History, Yet History Never Comes without winning a battle of the bands contest two years in a row (‘89-‘90) at one of the more popular Long Island, NY venues, February’s also later known as Hammer Hedz.
So the reasons were more financial than anything as to why our debut album never was done back then.
Fast forward to 2008 and Joey and I now had established careers (outside of music) and we were able to self-produce our first EP It Was Predestined which eventually blossomed into our first full length debut MaelstroM album, Of Gods And Men, 32 Years after our first jam.
– And another question is, why such a long time with this material laying hidden? Didn’t you have the chance to do something about it during these more than 30 years? Did you have other commitments? Did you continue making music?
After MaelstroM broke up in the early 90s Joey went on with our original bassist Jonny Modell and then drummer wunderkind Elliot Hoffman in 1994 to form a very eclectic, jazzy metal, Zappa-esqtype band called Spooge. That project went on for several years which included putting out their own two demos and an EP. In 2000 Jonny and Elliot formed the much-acclaimed Car Bomb. So at that point, MaelstroM was basically all but over and done with. Life had just taken over for both Joey and I… We went full throttle on our careers … I was a Graphic Designer and Joey became a Chiropractor and Acupuncturist. We started families… Life basically took over.
As John Lennon famously wrote, «Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.» It wasn’t until 2006 that a review showed up, literally out of nowhere, for our This Battle To Make History… demo in “Forgotten Steel” that reignited Joey and I to complete our MaelstroM dream.
– I have listened to some of the songs of these demos on YouTube and you sounded a bit more underground, but sounds really good. How was the process of changing the decade? Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted to make MALESTROM sound in 2020?
Thanks so much for digging those original demos. When I listen back to them they bring back so many memories of having a blast recording and just much more simpler times for all of us. Such great recollections, even though we had No idea how to record in 1988. Lol. I think our first demo has 6 \m/rhythm guitar tracks going on simultaneously, all playing the same part, and we wonder why things didn’t sound tight. Haha! This Battle To Make History demo displayed a major step forward not just in terms of chops and song craft, but also in terms of production because Greg Marchak (RIP) took over as our main engineer. He was phenomenal and also recorded all the drums for our newly released album Of Gods And Men, as well. Ours’s was the very last project he worked on. An incredible person.
I think one of the most important aspects why Of Gods And Men turned out the way it did was because we originally asked Jonny and Elliot if they wanted to record the full album with us but they were already full-on recording and touring with Car Bomb. So we were obviously bummed out at the time but in the end it actually worked out for the better because when you have a group of people making music together… yeah it’s great that you have so many ideas being put forth from so many different people, but in the end so many compromises have to be made just to get songs finished… and in this case… These were re-imaginations of songs that were finished 30 years earlier.
I will always say that Joey and I had the clearest “vision” of what MaelstroM was supposed to be, a fantasy-based thematic and cinematic metal experience.
With just Joey and I left to make all the major decisions we recruited of one of Elliott’s top students, Daniel Kleffman (who is a phenomenal drummer in his own right) and Joey’s neighbor at the time, the multi-talented Edward Marks on keyboards and orchestral instruments.
This allowed us to decide how we were not only going to reimagine and re-interpret the songs from 30+ years ago using today’s technology along with our updated sense of song craft and musical / vocal chops.
– Delving into the album, I personally think it is a gem. I had the chance of listening to it and writing a review and honestly that epic, cinematic sound surprised me a lot, with many different nuances from the most technical and classic US Metal. How was the recording process like? And what about the idea behind the album’s title and its cover?
Our greatest joy is that so many people are responding so well to this album… it really was worth all the effort, hard work, money and the wait it took to get Of Gods And Men out. And I know there are a lot of people who were bummed out about waiting so long for this album but you know what… It never would’ve turned out this well if we just tried to put this out all those years ago. Joey literally had over 30 years of classical and musical training that he was now able to hone and deliver to the epic music you hear. And not just the usual classical giants like Bach and Mozart, but also modern cinematic composers, especially James Horner (RIP) and John Williams.
If we had churned out this album 30 years ago it definitely would’ve been more rote metal than what you are hearing with MaelstroM today. The basic framework of the songs was there but Joey really took all the music and made it much more of a cinematic soundtrack than it originally was.
Couple that with the fact that vocally, I had absolutely no formal musical training until two years before laying down all the vocals for this album. For the demos and most of the EP I was relying almost exclusively on my “heavy” voice. For the album when we were revisiting all the songs Joey had all these vocal melody ideas in mind that could really enhance all the songs so I teamed up with a teacher in New York and studied actual singing for two years before going into the studio for this. I think the results were great because not only did it help me develop more varieties of my heavier voices but allowed me to interject melodic singing into sections of songs that really make them stand out. And a great side effect is I’m now able to do heavier vocals with actual pitches going on … so even though the vocals are heavy I am actually singing melodic ideas with them. That never would’ve happened 30 years ago… So both the musical and the vocal styles we’re allowed to grow and mature and are now on full display with Of Gods And Men.
About the album cover. The idea behind the cover was EPICNESS!!! I look at it and say, “If the most epic being in the universe, suddenly vomited, that’s the cover!” Lol! Seriously the cover depicts the battle that destroyed the Earth BEFORE the album begins. It is the tremendous conflict that happens prior to “Arise” and what is described in that song. The gods are Greadon and Deamous, who are very heavily depicted in the story. The humans below represent their counterparts on earth.
Both of those depicted in the cover die in the battle and are replaced with new human avatars early in the album. The avatar of Greadon after this battle is who the song “Arise” is about.
This It is the climax of tension between good and evil. The culmination of the powder keg created by and man and gods hubris and corruption by power and greed.
The gods need to control and manipulate mankind and man’s need for more and more power. However, it takes place prior to the album. The album is what happens after and how the deception and the manipulation of the gods is revealed.
The title Of Gods And Men is literal.
It is the album being a tale or allegory about the acts of gods and men.
– The album is divided in 3 acts. It’s a concept album. How did you conceptualized the songs and how did you set the running order? Because I suppose they weren’t conceptualized back in the demo days. How was the process of binding the songs together like?
The Concept of the album was begun from the very early demo days. However, it has expanded over time and its meaning and moral has broadened with my own ideology. Our first song was “Predestined” and that was my first lyrics. I was always into the idea of concept albums but I didn’t write “Predestined” with that in mind. After the lyrics were written and I got to sit with them for a while, it offered to me there was a story there.
Who was I talking about in the song?
What did he go through?
What was his quest and mission?
Did he succeed or fail?
As I thought more about it I began to weave a story around the song.
However, “Predestined” was very late in the story, not quite the end, but very close to it, it eventually became chapter 9 out of 10. So, as we wrote new material I penned “Arise” and “Bloody Remains” which created chapters number 1 and 2. “Bloody Remains” itself was eventually replaced with the song “Army From Ash” for our debut album.
Structurally it’s a very similar track and lyrically it covers the same events and timeline, but it is more fleshed out lyrically and tells a better version of what the protagonist is going through in the beginning of his journey.
So ultimately the concept was always there. As was the order of the tracks, even since the demo days. The demos, however, were out of order and tracks were jumbled between one demo and the other.
– As I said earlier, the album is full of epic nuances. Bands such as SAVATAGE, FATES WARNING, HADES, WRATHCHILD AMERICA come to my mind, besides some US Power bands like HEATHEN or POWERMAD. All these acts managed to release albums back in their day. Were you friends or did you play with any of those? I would ask if these bands have been an influence when it came to write the album but as these are older songs I guess you were rather an influence for them. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, I know Joey opened up for Fates Warning while him, Jonny and Elliot were in Spooge and if you knew Spooge, you’d know that was a very weird matchup. Lol! Like a Mr. Bungle opening for Queensryche. Just wasn’t a smart fit. Haha! But it was a great show.
We don’t know anyone personally in any of those bands you mentioned but we’re big fans of Savatage, Heathen and Fates.
If MaelstroM influenced anybody that would be very cool to hear. I think all the bands that came up in the late 80s were all influenced by the same stuff whether it was better classic rock like Hendrix/Sabbath/Purple, Prog Rock, NWOBHM, the incredible early thrash stuff from the US and Europe, plus the neo-classical school that was spearheaded by Yngwie and Rising Force. I think so many of us just took those influences and picked which parts we liked and got rid of the parts we didn’t like them that became our music. I know Joe consciously wanted to write a metal album where someone didn’t want to just fast forward to the guitar solos LOL. With many bands of the late 80’s he couldn’t get through a whole song … but he was dying to hear an amazing solo… I think it had more to do with the hair/glam metal thing … guitarists like Nuno Bettencourt, Vito Bratta, Paul Gilbert … he loved their playing, and still does, but would always forward to their solos, Lol.
With MaelstroM, we wanted to be as aggressive and heavy as possible yet at the same time retaining the melodic aspect of all the stuff we grew up on.
– Then the sound is really bombastic and cinematic, which gives a lot of power and visuals to the music. Have you managed to get the contrast you were aiming for with this combination? Are you cinema aficionados? Or TSO fans? How was this idea born? Did you have the help of someone with experience in this field?
That was a combination of my conceptual story and Joey’s classical training. His very first music he remembers hearing as a child was the original Jesus Christ Superstar… so that epic combination of Classical music with Rock along with such a gripping story… that made a huge impression on him.
In many conversations, however he’s told me the “secret sauce” that helped shape MaelstroM’s sound was the work of James Horner, especially on Wrath Of Khan.
If you listen closely to the verse sections of “The Mirror Calls”, Joey’s guitars and bass are going through the same type of chord changes and counterpoint melodies that Horner employed throughout Khan. It’s little things like that makes MaelstroM what it is. Not only that though, our sound is also the product of getting sections of songs to flow into each other as smoothly as possible… even if those sections are from completely different feels and in some cases, completely different sub genres of metal. It all has to have a flow both musically and lyrically.
– Will there be any promotion or tours after the release? What’s the next step for MAELSTROM?
Unfortunately, with Joey’s hearing condition right now doing any shows or tours doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. Thankfully he finished all his guitar parts and bass parts for this album in 2015. In 2018 he was admitted to a hospital for a heart issue and they gave him an I.V. of a class of drugs he already told them he was allergic to… and he ended up with severe hearing loss and intractable tinnitus and vertigo. I know he has a lot of hopes for an experimental drug that’s already in phase 2 of testing here in the United States called FX-322, it would be the first medication able to restore human hearing. So obviously if this is made available sooner than later that would be amazing and we could get out there and do some great live shows.
– And on a view to the future, will there be another album? Do you have any ideas for future releases or will you wait to see how this one works first?
Ironically Jonny Modell our original bassist just this past month emailed us a copy of a MaelstroM rehearsal we had done back around 1992-3 and it contains all the songs that were written after the 10 original songs that appear on Of Gods And Men. These 6 complete songs that he found were meant to be a continuation of the original Of Gods And Men story. So who knows… we’d love to get into a studio again and get these going. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 32 years, lol.
– That’s all from our side, our best wishes and please, don’t wait another 30 years to make us listen to you again. We hope we could see you someday live. If you want to add some final words, feel free to do it. Thank you so much.
We really cannot thank you, Paco and everyone at QUEENS OF STEEL enough! Between our first interview with you guys, the incredible review you gave Of Gods And Men , and now this … we’re really appreciate all of the support you give to MaelstroM. Take care and all our best.
Gary Vosganian, MaelstroM
Of Gods And Men is available for streaming and download on iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon and many more. Check us out at: