The story behind Malevolent and working with Mark Janssens (EPICA)!

  Van Muylem    11 januari 2024

Malevolent is a cinematic/symphonic Metal band hailing from Belgium/Spain. For fans of epic movie-like orchestration, astonishing female vocals, and deep death grunts. The band presented its first self-titled EP in alliance with Necktwister on 21/12/2023.

My classic starter: why did you choose the name Malevolent for this band?
Nikolaas: It was during COVID lockdowns that I started writing music for a new project. As the world felt a Malevolent place at that time, I guess that inspired me. I also remember that my kids were watching the movie Maleficent that time, so that might have influenced me as well.

What brought you into music? 
Nikolaas: It was when I saw Sepultura perform 'Roots' at a large festival in Belgium (Rock Werchter) almost 30 years ago, that I knew that I wanted to create and play music myself. That really sparked my drive for creating music, and 30 years later the spark is still there...
Celica: It wasn't a particular reason, to be honest. Music has always been present in my life since I can remember. I recall some home-videos when I has 4-5 years old singing Michael Jackson's "Black or White" with an old microphone that my dad gifted to me for Christmas (lol), so I guess that's something I had inside from the beginning. Doing music for a living was a decision I made, perhaps, after I started working for epic/cinematic music composers (such as Ivan Torrent and Neal Acree). That's when I decided studying composition, besides my singing lessons, and also started as a singing teacher in a professional singing school. That was around 2015, I think.

Celica you can also be heard on World of Warcraft Warbringers: Azshara and Disney's trailer of ‘Beauty and the beast’. These are 2 once in a lifetime achievements (or your path must be set and lots of other crazy stuff will follow), how come they both came up choosing you? How did it go for you, any other feedback about the process and feedback from the audience and fans?
Celica: The "Beauty and the Beast" came thanks to a recommendation from Ivan Torrent to James Minas (original track composer alongside Lydia Davies) in 2016. WoW's cinematic story was a bit longer. Neal Acree (one of most known composers working fior Activision Blizzard) came to me after I worked with Neal for another indie project called REND, in which I had the opportunity of singing along with Einar Seikvik from Wardruna (he also sang in Vikings and AC: Valhalla). Neal was using my sampled vocals in Era II: Vocal Codex library (produced by Eduardo Tarilonte), but wanted something more "organic and real" for the female vocals. The final result was an incredible score, to be honest, it deserves to be heard. A few months after that (this was 2017), Neal asked me for an urgent collaboration for a mysterious videogame trailer, and in 2018's Blizzcon Warbringers: Azshara I appeared singing at the very beginning of the cinematic. It was a nice surprise, indeed! Something very similar happened just two months ago with The War Within cinematic. The mysterious woman singing when the giant swords is showed in the trailer? Yep, that's also me XDDD
Regarding how these achievements worked for me, I must say the gaming community and companies was the one who appreciated my work better and felt more excited about me. Also is a good promotion (indeed), and it surely opened the door to work with other amazing musicians. About the feedback, honestly I don't know what to say. Hardwork and improvement are absolutely essential to achieve high goals, but it wouldn't be possible without a bit of luck and good opportunities.

How did you meet each other eg: one from Belgium and the ofther one from Spain?
Nikolaas: Actually we first met in person for the recordings of the vocals in Holland with producer Joost Vandenbroek. When I started composing the music for Malevolent the initial idea was to use mainly mu grunts and use some programmed female vocals as support. I started using a vocal library with more Celtic inspired vocals. I was so impressed with that library and the singer, that I decided to contact the person behind that voice in the vocal library and ask her if she wanted to sing the written (programmed) parts, but make them feel more human/alive, compated to a programmed voice. Celica accepted and that is how the song The Awakening came to be....

You choose for symphonic metal, do you remember who first came up with this genre, same for mixing agressive male vocals with a heavenly female voice?
Nikolaas: In the nineties when hearing the band 'Tiamat', that I fell in love with symphonic metal. My second band (also founded in the nineties) was symphonic/gothic metal. We didn't have a female singer at the beginnng, so I decided to take on grunts next to guitar to fill that empty space. Later on we did found a female soprano so we mixed the deathgrunts with soprano vocals. That was even slightly before that mixing aggresive male focals and female vocals became so popular in symphonic metal.
Over those past 30 years, I mostly composed songs starting from guitar riffs. For Malevolent I chose to start composing from piano and orchestration, as I wanted to give the songs a much more cinematic feel. I love the music from movies like LOTR. That's why I call the music of Malevolent "Cinematic Metal"

How did you end up getting Mark Janssens (EPICA) help?
Nikolaas: With my previous band we did a lot of shows together with After Forever (previous band of Mark) and Epica, in the early 2000's. We always had a good connection at these shows. So I dediced to ask Mark for some guest vocals. Mark has a grunt that is much higher in timbre than my grunt. So I guessed they would blend very well (which eventually they did).

I suppose you learned a lot from him?
Nikolaas: The collaboration with Mark for this album was limited, but I learned a lot from playing shows with After Forever and Epica 20 years ago. They were ahead of most other bands in the genre, when looking at professionalism and approach to writing and performing music.

What's the meaning/backstory of the song "Gaze"?
When the human sinks in despair, religion is always there. Characters need to “believe” in something and keep moving forward to survive the apocalypse brought by the evil overlords who rule the world. The choirs and the tenor male voice was a nice way to bring that “religious environment”. In our opinion, this track shows the oppressive atmosphere we actually live in nowadays, so the doom/black metal touches in the composition definitely help to bring up the feeling. Also is more powerful vocally speaking.

I feel like you could have made a whole movie/clip or at least an episode around the story of EP, whas that the idea?
Celica: Well, it was Niko's idea actually. He wanted something regarding to apocalyptic/cinematic environment, and during the artwork developing, the ideas of post-apocalyptic vikings came to his mind. Also we needed some kind of villain who may personate the concept of the over-control that capitalism, social media based society and actual governments have over us; like something which is avocating us to our self-destruction. The main characters of the story are these viking couple trying to survive and scape from this devasted world and find another place to start over again as society.

I also have the feeling you are dreaming about creating music for epic fantasy games (on Xbox, Playstation etc)? Wouldn't that be great, following the path of Blind Guardian (with for example Sacred 2)?
Nikolaas: Actually I have never ever played on a playstation or Xbox in my life. So I don't know the music of those 'epic fantasy games'. I know Celica loves playing those games. But I wouldn't mind composing something for a epic games or a movie, as a lot of people say that our music would fit those games or certain type of films.
Celica: Of course yes hahaha! Although, I kinda started this path already, I just need the good opportunity ;) If I have to choose a game to work for, maybe that would be something like Baldur's Gate III or Final Fantasy XIV (althought I am actually the sampled voice of the famous LA-HEE lol).

Will you also go on tour and who will help you (the people who helped with the recording or some others)?
Nikolaas: I think we would definately do some concerts, but as we all live in different countries (I live in France, Celica in Spain) and our studio musicians in Belgium and the Netherlands, it will take some work and carefull planing to get a live show on the road. But we have already discussed the possibilities and we are actively scouting for the right musicians that could support us live. For a decent live show you need more than only could musicians of course. Luckely I still have good contacts with a lot of people that could support our live show, to create something that can rival our the sound of our EP.

What's the next step after this EP? Are you already working on new stuff? Going on tour with Epica (as warming up band)?
Nikolaas: We are already writing new music, We have collaboration planned with what I believe is also a extraordinay talented singer. I am really looking forward to the duet with Celica. We are also working on a cover and more material than our EP to complement a set for a live show. On tour with Epica might happen, but the timing is not perfect now, as they just starting the writing process for a new CD.  We also have two more videos planned for the coming months.

What can we whish you for 2024?
Nikolaas: That we can find the right musicians to complement our band in a live situation and that our new material can propell as a step forward again.
Celica: Same! Hahaha