AN EVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT
Love it or hate it, the sound of Sadist is instantly recognisable. And yet the band has never shied away from musical experimentation. Formed sometime around 1990, Sadist play Death Metal with strong influences from Progressive Rock.
“Spellbound” is the most recent album from these Italians. The album is inspired entirely by the films of Alfred Hitchcock and is another gem from the band. Of course once the album was out, the band went on the road to promote it.
While touring Europe with I Am Morbid, Vital Remains and Atrocity, I pinned down Tommy Talamanca (guitarist, keyboardist and co-founder of the band) for an interview. It was the 3rd England date of the tour and before we discussed the new album, I asked Tommy what he remembers of the previous time he played here….
T.T.: Yes, we were here something like 6 or 8 years ago, supporting Suffocation, and we played this same venue, ‘The Underworld’. It was a very nice experience. It’s always a pleasure to come back here because England is the kind of country we don’t go so often to play. So we were glad to grab the opportunity to spread the music of Sadist around. For the previous two [England] gigs, it seems the people enjoyed the band, even if we are a little different to I Am Morbid or Atrocity or Vital Remains. Those bands play more straightforward Death Metal, whereas we are a little more experimental. Until now we’ve had a good response, let’s hope tonight we’ll see a similar reaction.
When Sadist started out, back in the early 1990s, Morbid Angel had already released their first couple of albums. So I wonder how much that band was influential in shaping the musical path of Sadist….
T.T.: I think we were influenced by several different bands from the late 1980s and early 1990s but since we were probably the first European Death Metal bands to use keyboards, you can say that an even bigger influence was Nocturnus, from the United States – they were the first Death Metal band ever to use keyboards. And Sadist were the second…or third…to do so.
Death Metal is a kind of music you can recognise from the drumming and from the riffing of the guitars, amongst other things, and these are all elements you can find in Sadist’s music. In that respect you can also recognise influences from classic bands such as Slayer and yes, Morbid Angel.
Let’s speak about “Spellbound”, the most recent album from Sadist. This is a sort of concept album where each song is about a different film from Alfred Hitchcock. Italy is famous for horror film makers, such as Argento, Bava and Fulci. So how come you chose to base an album on the works of a USA/English film-maker instead?
T.T.: We chose the master of horror film-making. Even Dario Argento once said that Hitchcock was the ‘master’ for him. For us it would have been quite obvious to talk about Dario Argento or Bava because they’re Italian. But we wanted to go to the roots of this film genre. In the same way, this album is for Sadist a return to the roots of the band’s sound. Even with the album’s horror themes, we are returning to the basics. Horror films have always had an influence on Sadist, starting from the films of the 1960s and 1970s.
In that context, I suppose a major musical influence has been Goblin, right? [Goblin were a Prog Rock band, founded by keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, who composed the music for Argento’s horror films.]
T.T.: Goblin have had quite a huge influence on us and it was a great pleasure to have had Claudio Simonetti play on one song on our album “Sadist” of 2007. So of course horror film soundtracks have been a huge part of our sound because we were influenced by Prog music of the 1970s but also from horror films.
Songs such as ‘Birds’ have melodies that I felt were directly inspired by Goblin….
T.T.: Hitchcock’s films don’t really have a connection to Rock music because Rock music hadn’t yet been born then. So we thought it would be interesting to re-interpret his films with Metal soundtracks. It would have been too easy to just cover the soundtracks of films – such as those of Argento – which already used Progressive Rock music.
How did you go about choosing which films to tackle? Were there any disagreements within the band on this?
T.T.: The original idea for the album came from Trevor, our singer, who is a huge Hitchcock fan. When he came up with the idea of doing a whole concept about Hitchcock’s films, he came with some lyrics that he had written about the topics of the films…films such as ‘Birds’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Mountain Eagle’. And then we tried to re-interpret those lyrics. So the lyrics came before the music.
After that we sat down together in the studio and tried to compose the right music for those kind of lyrics, while of course also thinking about the film itself.
You mentioned ‘Mountain Eagle’….the film was one of Hitchcock’s earliest films and has, to my knowledge, been lost. So on what material did you base the song? Did you actually have an opportunity to see that film?
T.T.: Trevor had an opportunity to actually see the film and the rest of the band read its script. And then we tried to figure out what kind of lyrics and later what kind of music could fit with that film. Of course it’s our own interpretation. Who knows what Hitchcock would have thought about it? Maybe he wouldn’t like it or maybe he would like it,,,we will never know.
[Tommy then elaborated on the sounds specific to “Spellbound”…]
T.T.: For “Spellbound” we went back to our early influences, the same we had in “Above The Light”, the first album of Sadist. So we put a lot more orchestral arrangements. We also used an acoustic piano…we found quite an old one that had a scratchy sound but that was really fitting for the album. As much as possible we always try to work with acoustic instruments even if when playing live, it’s easier to use keyboards because you cannot tour with, for example, a real acoustic piano or with all the percussion instruments we use on Sadist’s songs.
You know, I recently saw an interview with Rob Halford, of Judas Priest, who confessed how difficult it is to sing and play an instrument at the same time…and for this reason he heaped praise upon musicians such as James Hetfield and Sammy Hagar. Of course you have developed similar skills in that you play both keyboard and guitar, even when performing live. What advice would you give to someone wishing to develop this level of co-ordination?
T.T.: Well, it’s actually like playing a piano. With a piano you use two hands and usually the right hand takes care of the melody and the left hand takes care of the chords. Of course sometimes that changes, sometimes they split or they twist but normally that is the way it goes.
With regards my way of playing, when I was little more than a kid…maybe I was 15 years old…I was already studying guitar when I started studying piano because I wanted to improve in harmony. About that time I saw Stanley Jordan, the incredible Jazz guitar player, who was playing guitar like it was a piano, using tapping techniques. Of course I had also seen Eddie Van Halen sometimes on stage playing guitar and keyboards but he never played the instruments simultaneously.
There’s also Tony Macalpine who plays both guitar and piano…..
T.T.: Yes, there’s also Tony Macalpine of course who does something like that. Anyway, that’s how it all started. Little by little I improved my technique and I managed to play both instruments together most of the time. And it’s funny because when I write music nowadays for Sadist, I’m already figuring out how it’s going to be on stage because of course it’s not very simple [to play both instruments together]. But if you arrange the synchronisation of your hands in a smart way, you can manage it.
When you see musicians who have some physical handicap, they improve their way of playing in interesting and creative ways, because they cannot play in the ‘normal’ way. For me, playing both instruments is quite a difficult thing to do so I have to find compromises and that changed and improved my way of thinking.
And in turn that changed the whole sound of Sadist….
T.T.: I guess so because I write most of the music and most of the melodies of Sadist so what I said probably influences the sound of the band.
By the way, I heard that Andy Marchini is not with Sadist any more.
T.T.: Yes, he left the band.
T.T.: Well, that’s life. Being in a band is like being in a family….sometimes you might decide you want to leave your wife or you want to leave your parents…sometimes you might decide you want to change something in your life.
Andy was with Sadist for many years…
T.T.: Yes, he was with the band since the beginning. He had left the band for a couple of years and then rejoined the band once again in 1997.
So who has taken his place?
T.T.: Now we have a new guy, he’s a very talented guy. He’s younger than the rest of the band…and that’s a good thing because it means we have new energy…new blood…in the band. His name is Andrea Nasso. He is not as such from the Metal scene….
That could be a good thing…it could represent a different way of thinking about music…
T.T.: Yes, it’s a very good thing. We had done some auditions in our neighbourhood and found this guy who had studied Jazz bass in the States [U.S.A.]. He had some good techniques but he also played Metal in the past. He can offer something different to the sound of Sadist and that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want to replace Andy because we cannot. I mean trying to find somebody who has a similar style would be useless…it wouldn’t be interesting for us. Since it’s a big change in Sadist’s history, we took the opportunity to take a different step forward. Let’s see what the future will bring. Now we are touring with this guy…it’s the first tour with Sadist for him but everything seems to be going very well. We are very happy with him.
He probably had to learn the songs very quickly…
T.T.: Yes, but he’s a smart guy.
[The attitude to try to keep music evolving is not new, as Tommy explains while looking back at the repertoire of Sadist…]
T.T.: You know, the first thing that crosses your mind when you think of Sadist is a chameleon…a creature that always changes its skin. So if you compare each album together, they all sound a little different. For instance if you compare “Above The Light” with “Tribe”, you have two completely different albums. The same with “Tribe” and “Crust”. We all love “Crust”, we are very attached to that album because we think it was the best mix between aggression and the Progressive influences and still it remains very heavy.
Of course we know that in some countries “Tribe” is very popular. For instance as in Italy or in France. But it’s funny, when you go to Germany or when you go to Russia, all people go crazy for “Crust”. So it means that every country has different tastes, every audience has different tastes. And that’s quite nice for us because we can change our set-lists according to what country we’re playing in.
So have you done the same thing with the current tour…fine-tuning the set-lists depending on which country you’d be playing?
T.T.: Well, since we’re sharing the stage with some extreme bands, we tried to include the most extreme stuff we have in the repertoire of Sadist…the fastest and the heaviest songs. I reckon most of the audiences on this tour want to listen to extreme Metal music and that’s what we are giving them. We have so many songs written over a long career that we can easily adapt to different audiences.
Tommy, it has been a real pleasure speaking with you.
T.T.: It was the same for me. Thank you.
Season in Silence (2010)
Above the Light (1993)
Tommy Talamanca guitars, keyboards (1990-2001, 2005-present)
Trevor Nadir vocals (1996-2000, 2005-present)
Andrea Nasso bass (2019 – to present)
Alessio Spallarossa drums (1999-2001, 2005-present)