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Articles Home » Interviews » Alkemyst - 2003 Interview with Arnaud Menard
Alkemyst - 2003 Interview with Arnaud Menard
French band Alkemyst know a good concoction or two - and there's no food or drink to be found, as Gdazegod discovers with guitarist Arnaud Menard.

WRITTEN BY: Gdazegod

Occasionally we'll hear about an act coming out of France that'll generate some interest beyond their own borders. It's been a long time between glasses of Burgundy and sips of Champagne for French rock bands, and not since the halcyon days of the early eighties when Paris band Trust were singing anti-government/protest songs has a band really shone out - until now that is. Enter a five-piece located close to the French Alps called Alkemyst. If these boys aren't tearing up the slopes with ski's or snowboards then they're probably tearing up the stage with their livewire brand of melodic metal.

The informed folk over at Nuclear Blast have signed the band, and as a result the album 'Meeting In The Mist' is released in the next few days. However, the Alkemyst story is not a 'happy-ever-after' affair, the band enduring some hardship along the way. Thankfully now they are beyond that, and look forward to the album hitting the stores. The origins of the band goes back to about 1992 when Arnaud Menard and Denis Bellion first met. The then 'mild mannered' Denis got hooked on all the metal sounds that Arnaud introduced him to. Bands like Helloween and others in the melodic speed metal genre from both Germany and the USA would prove to be influential in the years to come.

The duo's early collaboration was called Endless, and unlike the name, there would be an ending, particularly for Denis who opted out during 1996. However, Menard continued on, with guitarist Severin Bonneville and another Arnaud (this one being Arnaud Gorbaty on drums) joining up. The band also included a chap by the name of Fabrice on vocals. The early foundation was laid, with a demo album released in 1999. But to be fair, and as Arnaud Menard readily admits, that earlier material left a lot to be desired, as the band struggled to strive for improvement.

'It's hard to avoid the fact that in the beginning, we were very bad' agrees Arnaud. 'Then, we learnt to write songs, but the songs were still not that good. But it came, slowly.' The catalyst for change was the replacement of lead singer Fabrice. 'He was older than us and his musical culture was maybe less open-minded than ours' suggests Arnaud. 'In the end, we couldn't work together anymore. A band is like a living being, it has to adapt or die. In the long run though, Fabrice's departure was probably a good thing for the band' says the lead guitarist.

Alkemyst had to look far and wide for their new lead singer. They could not find anyone of the required calibre from their local area. So they looked over the French Alps and found a great singer living in Northern Italy called Ramon (Rob) Messina. He proved to be the difference in lifting this young French band beyond being a bunch of also-rans. This is a point that Arnaud happily concedes. 'The fact Ramon is our singer gave something special to the songs, and now we know we can explore new horizons in terms of our songwriting. When you listen to the demos we recorded in 1999 and 'Meeting In The Mist', you have to wonder if it is the same band' laughs Arnaud. 'Really!'

While all this was going on, Monsieur Bellion had dropped all thoughts of singing and playing guitar, to focus on playing bass. Being the experimental chap that he is, Denis delved into obscure styles, including playing traditional 4 string bass, plus the 6-string variety, fretless bass and the Chapman Stick! An opportunity to rejoin the Endless/early Alkemyst lineup reared its head when their bassist left: Denis hooking up with his mate Arnaud M'nard and life has been rosy ever since. Well sort of.

Though things appeared to be rockin' along nicely for the Alkemyst team, they were about to get a whole lot worse. In 2001, the band commenced recording for their debut album (which was to be 'Meeting In The Mist', albeit a year earlier than it turned out). Unfortunately the digital recordings, including various mixes and several pieces of music that were well advanced, were all lost due to a failed computer hard drive. Arnaud reflects on that miserable moment, somewhat disappointed. 'We were more than disapointed' he says, 'we were in despair! It's not easy to see a piece of work which took you two and a half months to record come crashing down with a failed hard drive. It was unbelievable. One day you can listen to the rough mix of the album, and then nothing, just as if you hadn't recorded anything at all!'

The situation got so bad that Alkemyst were on the point of folding. 'Yeah, we were about to stop the band at that time, but we didn't want to be seen as some kind of losers. So we took the decision to record the album again in summer 2002' he says. And like the proverbial phoenix, Alkemyst managed to get the right chemicals brewing again, and this time, recorded the 'Meeting In The Mist' album without any hardware failures - a relief to all, the final mix taking place in Finland.

Having an Italian singer fronting a French band is an interesting situation, considering the traditional rivalries between all things French and Italian. Whether it be food, wine, football, formula one, fashion or classy good looking women, the fact that an outsider is in the band might raise some eyebrows locally. Not so according to Arnaud. 'We all live in the French Alps (except for Denis who lives in Paris), so we are not so far from Ramon's home. That's why we searched for a new singer in Northern Italy. I personnaly love Italy, and I certainly don't feel any competition between our nations. In fact, on many points, Italian people are better than French people. Singing is a good example' laughs Arnaud. 'I spent some days in Italy last year and even just recently this summer. Italians know how to live, they've got incredibly great towns, miracles of civilisation. I'm an admirer. A country that produced such a miracle of nature as Monica Belluci can't be too bad!'

As some of you may know, Ramon Messina is also the lead singer with Italian prog metallers Secret Sphere. A dual role, but one that could end up conflicting? Considering both Alkemyst and Secret Sphere have brand new albums out at the moment. 'Well, the relationship is quite good' says Arnaud. 'I know Secret Sphere's members and there is no anger between us. That's a good start! Anyway, neither Alkemyst nor Secret Sphere are as big as Iron Maiden or Metallica yet, so I'm sure we can find some time to rehearse, write songs and to record separately. We've spent some very good times together with Ramon, who is a marvelous singer, a very creative songwriter and a very close friend' enthuses Arnaud when speaking of their Italian import.

ALKEMYST [L-R] Arnaud Gorbaty; Severin Bonneville; Ramon Messina; Denis Bellion; Arnaud Menard

As a French band, it would be good to get a feel for the band not only locally, but across the entire Gallic nation. However, the band are just as much in the dark about this as we are here at GLORY DAZE. 'That's a good question' muses Arnaud. 'To be honest, I don't really know, because we're very discreet. What has always been important to us was playing music and writing songs, not showing off. We are from a little town in France, and we never tried to become famous. Our signing with Nuclear Blast was almost an accident' says Arnaud jokingly. 'We just wanted to record the best album possible, and then we searched for a label to release it, but a little label could have been just as great for us too. So, locally, I think we are considered to be a good band. Until the album is out, I think we are still unknown in France. Well, maybe everybody might know about us, but consider us to be a bunch of assholes! Maybe that's why they don't write us any love letters on our website' laughs Arnaud.

Our review of 'Meeting In The Mist' from the last issue of GLORY DAZE gave these rising Gallic superstars a massive 98/100. Not bad for a melodic rock mag dwelving into melodic/power metal. Most of the songs are excellent. However, One that really stands out (perhaps for the wrong reason) is the epic closer 'Falling Star'. 19 minutes track time, but I had to ask Arnaud about the end piece at about the 16 minute mark. What the hell was that? 'After such a recording session, you need to relax, don't you think?' he suggests. 'In fact, Severin wrote a stupid song some years ago. Arnaud Gorbaty our drummer, noted it in a part of his mad brain, and one day came in with this incredibly dumb track recorded on a sequencer. It was so funny to listen to, we were killing ourselves laughing, that we decided to put it up as a 'ghost song' on the album. We recorded it, however Arnaud G wondered if it would sound better if we could imitate some animals!'

I notice on some of the website live photos, that Arnaud G is drumming with a single bass drum. Man, I gotta say, he certainly doesn't look like a power metal drummer to me (versus someone like Stian Kristoffersen of Pagans Mind for instance), but jeez he can play! How does he find playing power metal on a single bass kit? 'Well he's playing double pedals' says Arnaud. The double bass kit is very aesthetic, but it isn't very useful, but a drummer can be just as loud with a single bass kit. It's impossible for me to imagine us playing without the double-bass drum. However, Arnaud is an incredible drummer and plays double bass or double pedal, it's the same thing really - very well!'

Alkemyst's relationship with Nuclear Blast has been very low-key, the German label allowing the band to get on with the job of recording and making no demands on their material. 'We've got a good relationship with Nuclear Blast' says Arnaud. 'They've done a great job promoting 'Meeting in the Mist' and they trust us. You know, it is business, in fact, we don't need to be close friends. We try to work together, we are partners, and they know their job very well. We've never been under pressure concerning the songwriting, etc. They let us write an album, listen, and if they like it, they release it. Quite simple' he says.

As for touring, the band are waiting for sales results first. However, they will play live in August to rehearse a bit, and in September at the Raismes Festival, playing alongside Evergrey, Freak Kitchen, Soul Caged and Amartia. And in November if all things go well, a gig with Nightmare is planned.

As for current musical/listening tastes, the selection is like a musical 'smorgasbord', or is that 'buffet' seeing as we're in France not Sweden? 'Our tastes are really diverse in the band. We all listen to prog/power metal bands which kinda invented the genre (Dream Theater, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Ark, Symphony X, etc), but we also listen to a lot of different styles. Severin and Ramon are pop/rock fans, Arnaud G. is fond of jazz/rock and funk, Denis is almost entirely listening to jazz, and Slayer too, even if it isn't jazz, while I listen to classical music, pop, and metal - from AC/DC to Marduk. I'm a fan of extreme metal, especially bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Dissection, Emperor, Nokturnal Mortum and Anorexia Nervosa. One album I can't stop listening to at present is 'City' by Strapping Young Lad. I love their music. They are genius' he says.

Alkemyst - Meeting In The Mist (2003, Nuclear Blast)

The band is gearing up for it's June 16th release date, and by all accounts, they are all looking forward to it. 'We're quite happy because Nuclear Blast planned to release it at the end of July. We're pleased it's released earlier, considering we suffered a lot trying to record the thing. The great review in GLORY DAZE made us feel that we didn't work so hard for nothing!'

Alkemyst are also organizing a local gig in their hometown, which they hope will feature other up and coming bands from the region. 'Well, we will organize something but we want other bands in the town to show what they can do. So, it will be a cool evening, where metalheads can listen to our album and buy it before its release.'

Finally, I asked Arnaud what aspirations he has with Alkemyst? 'We don't plan anything' he says. 'We just want to write the best songs possible, and to progress from an artistic point of view. We are not looking to be rich and famous, even if living our art would be a fantastic thing to do. We just want to be better musicians and creators. We don't ask for anything more.'

Thanks for sharing some of your time with us Arnaud, and best of luck come release time June 16th! 'Thank you too George and Luigi, for your incredible review, this interview and for your support. We hope to meet you one day!' Arnaud Menard and Alkemyst.

Related Articles:
Alkemyst - 2003 Meeting In The Mist
Alkemyst - 2003 Interview with Arnaud Menard
Alkemyst - 2008 Through Painful Lanes

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