Copyright: Ofir Abe
I was so blown away by ‘Chain Reaction’, the sophomore release by Israel’s Distorted Harmony that I felt compelled to undertake an interview with the band to supplement the album review that was recently featured in Powerplay Magazine. The conversation that I undertook with keyboardist and founding member, Yoav Efron was a real pleasure and, thanks to some blunt honesty, rather illuminating.
“It first began when I was playing around with a few tunes back in 2006”, Yoav begins when I kick things off gently by asking for a bit of the history behind Distorted Harmony. “I thought about maybe making it into a project, but not a band at that point. After going through a bunch of musicians and friends, I met Yogev (Gabay – drums). We started working together and we even did a few demos in 2008-2009. That’s probably the main difference between “Utopia” and “Chain Reaction”. Most of the material was written in 2006-07 so when the band officially formed in 2010, most of the songs were already complete. So there was no input and no new material to be created to make it more album-ready. When we started working together as a band, it was for the recording of that music for ‘Utopia’.
“Since then”, Yoav continues, “the main focus has been the live show and improving our performances for live shows. When the time came to record new material, we held a band meeting and we began working on ‘Chain Reaction’. The whole thing was written in, I think, six months. Everyone had matured and our repertoire of music had grown in time, that’s why I think ‘Chain Reaction’ is very different and why I think it represents us a lot more right now. When I wrote the sketches for the songs, I left a lot of room for interpretation and for the band to give their input on the music.”
The result is a magnificent album that draws inspiration from a number of different sources but blends everything into an ambitious, yet cohesive and immensely enjoyable whole. You have to hear it to believe it, but trust me, hear it you must. Interestingly, despite the relatively short writing time, the process was very painstaking, as Yoav explains.
“I didn’t let the music flow because it was a very meticulous, specific, process. I wrote most of the material and I didn’t plan on any kind of concept because I don’t like concept albums. I just wrote about my notions of how I see the world, how I see humankind, how I see our history and what I wish we could change. It was hard but also quite easy to think of the topics that I wanted to write about. By the time I was done, I wanted to write more but I didn’t have enough songs!”
But, whilst the lyrics are important for Distorted Harmony, Yoav is adamant that the music will always remain top-dog.
“For me, the music always comes first; the musical arrangements always come first. The lyrics should have a point and a focus to them and should give you some kind of message. That’s why I like music so much because it is the greatest tool to spread ideologies and try to make changes. But no, the music itself is always the top priority.”
It seems only natural for us metal heads to try to pigeon-hole every band we hear into a neat, conformist box. Distorted Harmony is therefore best described loosely as progressive metal, thanks to intelligent compositions, clever time signatures and technical dexterity. When I put this to Yoav though, his response is interesting and ever-so slightly surprising.
“I don’t think that we’re that progressive anymore”, Yoav considers. “It has been a while since I have listened to prog metal I have to admit. I mostly listen to heavy metal, a little djent and we’ve all driven apart from progressive metal actually. You know, the Dream Theater and Symphony X style bands.”
“For instance some of the biggest influences for this album are Tool and Devin Townsend. But then again”, he qualifies, back-tracking slightly, “these are also kinds of progressive metal and this is the beauty of this genre because prog metal can be anything. The problem is that when most people hear the term ‘progressive metal’, they immediately think about Dream Theater and bands like that. So we’ve kind of grown apart from this definition of prog metal.”
“To be honest”, Yoav replies without hesitation when I ask why he has grown apart from traditional prog metal, “I can’t stand it anymore. I am bored by the general construction of that kind of music and after ten years, it was time to move on I think.”
One of the bigger influences to be heard on ‘Chain Reaction’ is that of the djent movement. I ask Yoav to enlighten me about this, something he is keen to do.
“We love periphery and TesseracT but, like just about every other metal fan, Yegev and I adore Meshuggah. We adore the playing, the sound of the riffs and we had to put it in to our music a little. But in general, I’m not sure we followed the general djent path, more the mathematical strutures of Meshuggah.”
As good as progressive and technical music can be, I must declare my love for a good old-fashioned melody as well. This is one area where Distorted Harmony seem to excel, lacing their challenging compositions with both memorable and delicate melodies, be they in the instrumentation or via Misha Soukhinin’s vocals.
“I don’t know if they are a direct influence”, Yoav initially struggles to respond clearly thinking hard, “but my favourite band is Muse. Therefore no doubt I am influenced by them – and Radiohead of course. But yes, for us, melody is important. But the other thing is that we have Misha as a vocalist. He is a great singer but he is not a growler. Sometimes I wish we had a growler because I love this. But growling is not very Distorted Harmony to be honest. That’s another difference between ‘Utopia’ and ‘Chain Reaction’ – because most of the music was written before the band was formed, the vocal range was harder for Misha. Now that I know Misha and his vocal range, it was much easier to write specifically for him; that’s why he sounds so much better on this new album.”
As previously mentioned, the musicianship is of a massively high standard. The band, rounded out by guitarist Guy Landau and bassist Iggy Cohen have an impressive relationship with their chosen instruments and it really shines through in the compositions on ‘Chain Reaction’. Naturally, as he explains, Yoav couldn’t be happier with the collective he has assembled.
“I am really grateful. It is not easy to find four guys to join a metal band. In Israel, metal is almost non-existent and progressive metal is the sideways of the sideways of mainstream music. So finding four amazing musicians to make Distorted Harmony our band, not my band, is wonderful. We are all dedicated and the other guys are amazing musicians with their instruments. I write the music but we all arrange it together and that was an amazing experience. It can be very frustrating sometimes and very hard to execute the polyrhythmic parts but at the end of the day, when we finished working on the arrangement of the songs, at least I felt that everybody filled the places that I left for them when I first wrote the sketches of the songs.”
Having referred to that elephant in the room, I feel it’s about time to confront it head-on. I therefore ask Yoav whether it is difficult being a metal band from Israel.
“It is nearly impossible”, he replied instantaneously. “But not entirely because when we did the ‘Chain Reaction’ album release concert, 250 fans came to see us. For Israeli standards, that’s a lot, particularly for a local progressive metal band.”
The Blog Of Much Metal is not a political blog in any shape or form, but given the way in which Israel is never far from the headlines, I have to ask Yoav whether the situation in the Middle East has an effect on the band.
“I’m very much afraid that this might be the case”, Yoav responds in an understandably subdued tone. “I am afraid that it might hurt us along the way. As a side note, if you listen to the lyrics, you can get a pretty good idea of my political or ideological notions.”
As it turns out though, the ideological notions of Yoav are not as simple as ‘we want peace’, although this forms the underlying bedrock to them.
“Yes, of course I want peace”, Yoav begins vehemently. “But I’m not that keen on both sides. It’s not like ‘I love you and I love you, so let’s get together and make peace’. It’s more like ‘you suck and you suck; stop this bullshit nonsense, this half-ideology, half religion. Stop it and just fucking live’. That’s a stupid Israeli way of saying this in English”, he laughs to lift the heavy mood. “Seriously, it’s actually much more complex than this and I have a lot more to say on this. But it’s my view, not the band’s necessarily, although a lot of the guys may agree with me.”
“My personal view is that there is no end to this conflict, it will never end and I can’t stand staying here where every year there are more parades of rockets on both sides. But I realised that pro-Israeli worldwide media portray it as a constant bombardment of rockets, that we’re living under stress and duress. No. In Tel Aviv there were a few sirens, which was annoying, but that’s it.”
“As a band”, Yoav continues as if a pressure release valve has been released, “we never really talked about it, but I think we’ve decided that we’re not going to get involved directly. We’re not going to give any statements or address any situation. At the release of the album, we had some responses, people asking for support or whatever. We replied ‘no thank you’. We’re not getting involved. We have our music; you can listen to the lyrics. You can hear very well that we don’t like violence.”
“That’s another topic”, Yoav chuckles when I ask him whether the band would every consider moving away from Israel. “It’s very hard because each member of the band has their own life, their own jobs. But just as an example Yegev has recently moved to the US, to study at Berkley. So, in the meantime, we will get a replacement here and Yegev will join us when we travel abroad. Given the chance, I would gladly move away and I think many of the band would too. Compared to many European countries, you make a less and it costs a lot more to live. It’s very hard to make a living and to exist here in Israel. Not to mention the fact that I hate Israeli weather. It’s always hot and I like the cold”, he laughs.
So, what of the future? Will Distorted Harmony continue? The response is very encouraging from Yoav and will no doubt please many, myself included.
“We have a plan for the future and we know what we are going to do. But the most important thing for Distorted Harmony is to get out of the country and perform outside of our comfort zone. We want to increase our fan base, create more content and to do more press. We’re doijg some of this already by recording all of our shows in Israel to be able to give people more content. Plus, in November, we’re off to the Netherlands to play three shows. We want to book a mini-tour to include Belgium and Germany as well, but this isn’t sorted yet. We’re talking with a few record labels in the US and Europe and we’re negotiating with a few companies regarding PR, booking and management. We hope to sign a contract on that very soon.”
And the final word of an entertaining chat, I leave to Yoav.
“People really like ‘Chain Reaction’ and so I’m toying with the idea of an off or mid-season EP and with it, actually book a tour, maybe around May 2015. I like to stay optimistic and so we shall see what happens. I try to stay positive and hope that people will care more about the music than where we’re from.”
Well said, Yoav.
‘Chain Reaction’ is out now: http://www.distortedharmony.com