About Me

Interview with Almanac

Start your engines, wait for the green light and drive until death. This phrase is the best way to describe this album, due to its theme (gladiators and modern drivers). Viktor Smolki, previous Rage’s guitarist and Almanac’s mentor has talked with us about the name, why he chose this theme for the songs, the guests, how his father’s death had an impact on the process and many more questions. HOLD ON AND ENJOY IT!!!  

M.I. -  Hi there and thanks for the interview. Hope you’re great.

Yes, thank you so much. And you?

M.I. – Great too, thanks for asking. Why do you want to use V.S which stands for Viktor Smolki’s Almanac? Don’t the other members matter?

No, it’s just people asking, because they don’t know exactly what is behind Almanac, because it’s a lot of lineup changes so, when people are looking for me and for the band, it’s easier when they know us. It’s my band, so the idea it’s just to present that Almanac is not just singers or something like my band. I think it’s ok. It’s easier for the people to understand what’s happened and who’s producing this and composing.

M.I. – Why have you chosen the name “Almanac”? Are you a fan of that kind of publication? All the covers of your albums have a kind of almanac touch to them.

No, it’s like a calendar, my personal calendar. When we book something and it really happens and the band has time, the musicians have time, fans have time and everything comes together, it´s like a big present. So, we decided to call it like this. Yeah, it’s really like a big present for me when everybody has time and we meet and do something, do music, compose, record and go on tour and meet fans. It´s like a wish calendar. Yeah. It’s something very special. So, I want to show what we are talking about and the new cover has a very special story of mine. So, I put basic ideas from gladiators and more than a gladiator race driver. For me, it’s more than gladiators and putting some creatures like Sound Chace for my songs. So, the cover is kind of an adrenaline rush of my story.

M.I. – Did the fact that you were “famous” for having played in Rage put any extra pressure on your shoulders when you decide to form Almanac? 

Not really, not really. I do a lot of things. I did fifteen years of Rage but also toured alone, it was a different project. I did a lot of workshops to a lot of my fans, guitar fans and a lot of musicians from different styles of music. I think all my fans know that I try to find something new and keep searching for something new, try to play better and better, make some experiments so I am not afraid to make experiments. The last year with Rage was quite boring for me. So, I decided to start a new band, to find new energy, to really enjoy music and musicians, who are great and inspire me also, you know? I don’t want to have musicians who just play my songs. I want musicians that show me something and we can develop something together and rehearse and make experiments. In the beginning of Rage, he first years, we really rehearsed every day, it was a lot of fun and we did fantastic music. This is what music is for me, the most important. I don’t want to lose fun to make music and this is the reason I sometimes change the lineup in Almanac, because I won’t spend a lot of time in the studio with musicians to find something special, to become better and better and not just make a product for sale and make money of it on the day of the show. Music for me is fun. I try to learn more and more and become better and better.

M.I. -  You released your 3rd album on the 6th March 2020 and the name is “Rush Of Death”, via Nuclear Blast. Who is rushing to death? Humanity? Are we slowly killing ourselves with the decisions we make?

The third album was a little bit different to previous albums. You know, normally I don’t plan something special when I compose. I just compose about how I feel, and I play what I like in the moment. Before “Rush Of Death”, I felt it, before I started composing, what is my history, what is my style, what was my ID in the most certain years of my musical career. There was a crazy solid idea of what I did, of my odyssey, my previous band, all this heavier riffing, what I did with Rage, specially from the beginning and all kind of orchestration, what I did while composing for Lingua Mortis Orchestra and I wanted to put that all together on “Rush Of Death”. When you hear “Rush Of Death”, you can hear all my styles from my history and that makes this album very special. And I’m very happy that we were working so long with Nuclear Blast, because it’s fifteen years of history of working together. When I started working with Nuclear Blast, the first CD that I wished I had produced was “Into The Light”, in which I composed songs for different singers and put compilations with many past singers from Nuclear Blast and from this moment, I really like to work with many different singers. It’s the reason I use all the singers and obviously, Almanac, three or four singers. It’s fun to rock with more than one singer and develop interesting dynamic and working through different colours, with different singers so it’s kind of freedom, when you are composing. Yeah. I’m happy with the result. It´s fantastic. I like it.

M.I. -  You’ve spent a lot of time on the writing process and contemplated a lot on what has influenced on your style throughout your thirty-year plus career. What have been the influences on your career as a musician and person, for this album?

Yeah, I’ve spent a long time in the studio to create this CD. Yeah, I compose a lot of ideas and then, we meet in the rehearsal room because I’m kind of an all-style musician. I don’t like this new modern technology just to make recording demos at home alone, and send via e-mail to the guys, where they play something, somewhere and send me back. I really like handmade music, in the rehearsal room. I need to hear the energy; I need to hear the songs. We’ve spent more than half a year in the studio to try all kind of different arrangements and improvise a lot and looking for the right sound for the songs. I really like working together with Andreas Herr, the sound engineer, who is good, understands what I want and helped me a lot. It’s difficult to say what influenced me. I listen to so many different music and I like a lot of different bands from different styles, you know? I like some songs from Dream Theater but I also like some songs from Meshuggah. I listen to a lot of different styles of music. I just listen to music, which was made professionally from great musicians. I like good handmade music. I don’t like big production. I like when musicians, real musicians play well and have good ideas. So, I don’t have any special influences, but I listen to so many different music styles, you know? I rock with different musicians from different projects. So, I try to not think about the style, how I compose. I just try to feel the music in my head and play what I like, truly what I like. It’s difficult to say which style, my music it has many different elements inside.

M.I. -  This album is surprisingly heavy, because not only does it have hard riffs, bombastic orchestration plus it has the versatile vocal parts and crazy solos. Did you have these ideas, while writing it? How was the recording process?

Yes. You know, we toured a lot last year. We played a lot of clubs, we also toured worldwide, we played a lot of big venues in Korea and Russia and I think it’s influenced me a lot during composing. Because when you play live, you sound more aggressive and more powerful and the musicians of the new lineup are a little heavier than the previous guys. So, the new idea is much heavier, and, in the studio, I try to make some new experiments with Patrick Sühl. I invited the great singer, Frank Beck from Gamma Ray. I like his style of singing very much and he also likes my songs very much. After recording in the studio, we decided to work together, so Frank Beck is on tour now with us and he will sing at all the shows. So, he’s now in the Almanac lineup and I also invited one more singer to make the sound heavier. 

M.I. -  Frank Beck of Gamma Ray and Marcel Junker are the guests for this album. Why did you think of them? In what ways did they bring more versatility?

Marcel Junker has a kind of growling style vocal and I want to mix melodic, backing vocals with his Death Metal voice and make it sound more aggressive, so it is a new experiment that I did on this CD and I liked it very much. I think I will do the same way in the future. And by mixing sound, I concentrate more aggressive guitar sounds, some more riffing, so they all sound also from orchestra songs. It’s not all loud with orchestra, but it’s still very, very heavy.

M.I. -  After a stint in Russian history and gruesome hymns on murdered kings, you’ve focused on the theme “gladiators” and modern counterparts – racing drivers. Where did you get the idea to put these two subjects together? Can we say that it united two of your passions?

Yeah. The “Rush Of Death” goal in the same way like the previous albums, we talk about historical parts, kings and I’ve started looking for some interesting stories, historical stories and found gladiators. Very interesting, because everybody talks about gladiators like slaves and they were always fighting for freedom, but it was not always like this. A lot of gladiators, after they won, they got freedom, and on behalf of this freedom, they don’t stop. They keep fighting, because they like it. And they enjoy this atmosphere, being a star, making money with this, and being in the arena and fighting hard and winning. So, in these songs, we are talking about Flama, a very popular gladiator. He was a fighter and a sports guy, and he enjoyed it. I think it’s a very interesting side of gladiators. And then, I wanted to jump to the present time and think about: “Ok. Who is dumber than gladiators?” and, in my opinion, it’s race drivers, because it’s a similar situation. When you see a Nascar racing, in America, it’s the same arena, the same crazy audience, screaming and waiting for a big fight and crashes. If something happens, a race driver fights really hard, sometimes until death. So, I’m a professional driver and I’ve been driving for twenty-five years and I’ve won a lot, loose, had crashes and sometimes strong fights. Last year was really very successful. I won the second place at the German Rallycross Championships, so I was very close to win championships, it was a very hard fight. It feels very similar sometimes when you really need to decide what you are doing and risk it, sometimes it’s too risky, like twenty-four-hour races. I drove eleven times, twenty-four-hour races on Nürburgring, and met a lot of big stars, like Niki Lauda and Carlos Sainz. Niki Lauda told me: “Yeah, you don’t have friendship on the racetrack. You need to fight!” It’s sometimes hard and some drivers risk too much and lose their lives with these fights.

M.I. -  You were vice champion of the Division Supercars at the German Rallycross Championship 2018/2019, 17-times class winner on the Nürburgring, Hockenheimring and Spa-Francorchamps and soldiered through the 24-hour race on Nürburgring a stunning 11 times. Could you tell us how you discovered this passion?

You know, for me to make music and drive racing is very similar, because when I put my guitar and jump onstage, I go wild, and play really to the limit, give my best and push really hard and go crazy. It’s similar when I put my hand on the wheel and jump in my racing car and put the pedal to the metal, you know? It’s the same adrenaline rush and I like it very much and enjoy both! Both are my life and I’m happy that I can do this. 

M.I. -  You’ve lost your father a couple of years ago and he had a huge importance on your work. Can we say that this album is in his memory?

Yes, it’s the reason why I wanted to do something like Suite Lingua Mortis Part 2”, because it’s a huge memory for me, you know? When I was recording and composing “Suite Lingua Mortis Part 1” for Rage, the recording process was in Minsk, with an orchestra and my father was helping me a lot. He was in the recording studio, we were working together. He supported me all my life and I was the most important person to him. I talked about music with him, about everything. We listened to it together and discussed, so this was tough time for me. I wanted to do this recording in the same studio, with the same orchestra and dedicate it to my father as a Part. 2, yes.

M.I. -  You’ve worked with the Inspector Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Virtuoso. How was it for you, working with them again, in the same studio?

It’s a very special orchestra, you know? I put together these guys for a long time, because I try to work together with different orchestras in Germany and in different countries. It’s very difficult to find classical musicians who can play Rock music and understand what we are talking about, because classical musicians don’t like to play straight, don’t like to tune instruments on 440. It’s a frequency for guitar, and normal electric instruments, so it’s not regular tuning for classical musicians and conservative classic musicians. They don’t like so much what we are doing, so it’s very difficult to create a good atmosphere. And I find musicians, who really listen to Rock and Metal, and understand what I want and play on click, add some drums, straight with right dynamic, with right tuning. I do a lot of jobs, recording with these orchestras for different bands, not only for Almanac and Rage, I did a lot of recording for Leaves’ Eyes and different bands. It’s a fantastic studio in Minsk. It’s fun working with musicians, who like Metal music, so it makes it much easier working together.

M.I. -  This new lineup brought more power to the band and record. Do you agree? In what ways?

Yeah. You know, I did some changes in the lineup in the five years history of Almanac, and every changing brings new energy and makes the band stronger. So, I think it’s good, because we stop musicians from fighting, and sometimes the bad mood. So, there was a time schedule, because some people, like Andy B. Franck, have normal, regular jobs. So, you’re not allowed to go on tour and rehearse a lot. Andy moved from Germany to another country, so it’s difficult to rehearse. So, some drummers have not enough power to play live what we record in the studio. So, I think every change makes a band stronger and you can hear it on the CD. It sounds more powerful and you can see it on the DVD. We have a fantastic bonus DVD and you can see the live performance and it’s really a nice powerful band now. I really enjoy it.

M.I. -  Gyula Havancsák is the designer for this album cover once again. Did you tell him what you wanted and, then, he put it all together?

Yeah. I had ideas to what I wanted to create for this cover and Gyula Havancsák is a great guy. He really made a perfect cover. He did all three covers, so he understood exactly what I wanted and created a fantastic cover.

M.I. -  “Predator” is the first single, released on the 10th January. What can you tell us about it?

Yeah. You know, we chose this song, because it’s maybe the more powerful and aggressive. It’s difficult to find one song which represents all the CD, because there are so many different songs. It’s like a big concept. But “Predator” is something special. It’s a very powerful, aggressive song and it’s also very personal to me, because you hear all the sounds from racing cars. It’s original, those are my racing cars. On the video, you can also see me driving a car. Yeah! A cool one.

M.I. -  The next one was “Bought And Sold” (7th February), it is one of five songs dealing with the history of gladiators. Can we say that it’s the thirst for blood that leads the audience to the arena? It's the craving for sensation that paves the way for the bloodstained show?

Yeah! (laughs). I like this, yeah. “Bought And Sold” is a very powerful song. It’s an orchestrating one. It’s bombastic, it’s with an orchestra but it’s still very, very heavy. We did a couple of shows already. We played this song on our headline shows, in February, and it’s a fantastic live song. It’s so much fun to perform onstage. I really enjoy playing new songs live. It’s a great energy.

M.I. -  Can the track “Rush Of Death” be a metaphor for your will of racing, since you’re a driver?

(laughs). “Rush Of Death” is (laughs) also talking about race drivers like James Hunt, he’s a Formula 1 driver, he said: “The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. The more alive you feel!” it’s really a crazy feeling, when you go to a personal limit and it’s kind of an adrenaline rush, which is kind of a drug for me. I like this very much (laughs). And it’s a very interesting song. I think we will release the video for it really soon. It will be the next single and you can see the recording process for this song and it’s a very interesting video and song.

M.I. -  “The Human Essence” sounds like a narrative to a gladiator fight in Ancient Rome and they must fight for their lives. How did you come up with the idea for this and what was the criteria for the narrator?

I wanted to create this atmosphere and I was looking for a guy who could talk, and we found one from England. He talked on this and we tried to create a cool atmosphere, because I like this kind of concept, you know? It’s like five titles, with three songs and I like this kind of atmosphere. When I listen to the CD, I just turn on and concentrate on the concept and inspire myself. I think this “Suite Lingua Mortis Part 2” is like a small concept, one History and it’s nice to hear all together and to feel it.

M.I. -  “Satisfied” is a brilliant song. How did you write the lyrics and the instruments?

First always comes the music. When I compose the music, I think about the story and the story tale and the concept, so it’s easier for me to compose. I compose the melody and, then, I give the story to the singers. The whole CD was lingered right by Patrick, Jeannette and Tim and I think with one singer, right lyrics are much easier to play late and sing, because it’s not only about the story, it’s also about phrasing and some words. It’s good to sing, especially when you go high and sing some high notes, you need to feel right with some words. And lyrics come always on top later. And, for me, it’s important that lyrics don’t change the melody line. I think the result is good and I did a good job.

M.I. -  You will also release a bonus DVD with the album. What surprises can we get with it?

The most important on the bonus DVD is the present and how the band sounds live. And I don’t like some DVDs from other bands. When I buy the DVD, I hear that it’s a lot of horn ups in the studio and repairing, so it’s not really a live sound. And this always bothered me. I want to release a DVD with its’ original live sound and what you can hear on our DVD is 100% live. And the DVD is interesting, because it shows the band, from small clubs until with huge stereo on it, it shows a big fire and lightning show and a big production and small production, so you can see the band in different situations and feel the power and hear the original live sound. I think it’s really an interesting DVD so everybody who wants a new CD, I think it’s a good idea to buy the CD and the DVD. It’s a good collection.

M.I. -  You will tour with Lordi. How did you decide to tour with them? 

I met the band in Wacken and I think it’s cool to show what we are doing. They invited us as special guests, so we will play a long setlist, and I think it’s a cool combination. I’m sure we will enjoy it and have fantastic supporting band from Finland. It’s a huge package. I’m sure you will have fun. It’s a good tour. The tour starts tomorrow and we will play for one mouth, everyday throughout Europe.(Note: the interview was done via skype because the lockdown due to the coronavirus). It’s a perfect time to make this tour. We are planning more shows, play some Summer festivals and, after Summer, we will go on tour in Asia and Russia. So, there will be a lot of live performances. I hope we visit your country.

M.I. -  What countries will you visit? Will Portugal be included?

Not yet, but I hope we come to Portugal. France, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, it’s a lot of dates (laughs).

M.I. -  Thanks, so much for this interview. It was a pleasure. Any final words?

Yeah. Thanks to all our Portuguese fans. We played there last year and it was fantastic! I hope we come this year with these new songs and the new CD, and you feel the live power of the new songs. Thank you everybody for the support!

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by Raquel Miranda