Szeged, Hungary’s metallers Dystopia are a new force to be reckoned with on the Hungarian metal scene. Active since 2004, the group has grown into one of the most prominent bands from the country that saw quite a few groups crossing international borders. 2016 Winners of Wacken Open Air: Metal Battle competition, Dystopia have so far put out three studio albums, the latest being this year’s magnificent “Building Bridges.” Known for their excellent crafstmanship, the band once again delivers a splendid mix of heavy, groove and southern metal into something that absolutely every fan of Rock and Metal can relate to.
Singer and guitarist Gabor Vari reflects on the latest events surrounding the band, the latest album, and more.
Hey guys. How are you doing?
Thank you very much, we are doing great. Actually, we just had a change in the line-up. In the beginning of September guitarist Balázs Mezey left the band. We said goodbye in friendship, we respect his decision, and we remain important parts of each others lives. The last time we had to deal with a line-up change was back in 2014 right after releasing “Way to Unfold.” However, the situation is different now, since the perfect solution came earlier than we could have ever imagined. Levente Blanár has been an active part of the local music scene in the last few years, and we already collaborated once, when he joined us with his vocals for an Alter Bridge cover on our “Way to Unfold” release show. His abilities both on guitar and vocals will vastly expand the possibilities of Dystopia in terms of songwriting and live performances as well. A few hours spent together in the rehearsal room was enough for us to know that he’s our man. Levi’s life revolves around music, and his enthusiasm is already very inspiring for us.
You have recently launched your third full-length album entitled “Building Bridges.” How do you feel about the release?
I think this album was very important in our learning curve in many aspects. One of the main lessons was not to release an album in the middle of summer. [laughs] But seriously, we got a very good opportunity for distribution inside Hungary, and it perfectly matched our short term goals. In the middle of July, about 7000 copies were sold as an appendix to Hungary’s most important printed metal magazine, Hammer World. It made possible for a lot of people to get to know the band, and we have received tons of great feedback from new fans from all over Hungary indeed. On the other hand it was clearly visible that the attention of the press was mainly focused on the summer festivals, so we had to face the fact that instead of a fast explosive promotion, the album has to pierce itself into common knowledge in a more gradual fashion. I wouldn’t say its a bad thing, but I would definitely try it the other way next time. Other than that, I would say we are quite satisfied with the feedback coming in. There’s a reassuring amount of people who can really grasp the substance of the album, which is a strongly song-focused approach, leaving every other “genre-specific requirements” in low priority. That said, it’s not surprising for us, that in some of the most hardcore layers of the metal community “Building Bridges” won’t be everyone’s bread and butter, but on the other hand it is so honest that it will hopefully help us reach an audience who like us for who we really are.
How much of a challenge was to work on the album?
I would say the songwriting part was a relatively fast and inspired process. We managed to kick ourselves in the butt like never before, and I’m really proud of that. It took a lot of time for us to recover from losing our previous drummer after releasing our last album “Way to Unfold,” and the first step to climb back from there was surely the Wacken Metal Battle in 2016, but the timing could have been better. We were happy with our new found drummer and kickass gig on a stage at Wacken, but the only thing we had in our hands was a two-year-old album, so we felt like we had all these great opportunities but we couldn’t make the most out of it. We knew the next thing we needed is a great new album, so we started working on it as soon as we got home.
The production stage was tricky, as I actually own a studio, and for clear financial reasons, I usually produce my own stuff. This time I had a really hard time being objective especially during the mixing stage, but fortunately I have a lot of great friends in the industry, who helped me a lot. I can’t be thankful enough for their help.
What other artists similar to your genre that are coming from Hungary are you friends with? Recommend us some cool bands.
Hungary is actually flooded with great talent and the underground part of the music scene is generally more friendly than competitive. I also work in my studio with many of these bands and I can honestly say that I’m very lucky to have so many friends to share this passion with. The Void, Dreamgrave, Ann my Guard, The Tumor Called Marla, Skore, Stabbed, Salvus and Devided are the ones that first come to my mind from the emerging side of the spectrum. There’s also a delightful amount of very successful metal acts in the country like Leander Kills, AWS, Apey and the Pea, Omega Diatribe and Cadaveres just to name a few.
What is your opinion about the current metal scene?
I think it’s crazy how much talent is out there, and the bar is always being raised. I see a lot of complaining about the few big names slowly disappearing, and getting on the map as a beginner being so hard, that it’s almost impossible. I have to agree, that turning your band into a functioning business is harder than ever, and even though I work with bands from all layers in my home country in my studio, I couldn’t say that I have a recipe for success. Well, I wouldn’t be here in the first place if I knew something like that. [laughs] But seriously, there is no Red Button. The quality of your music is just one piece in the puzzle. I see overwhelming amounts of quality music remaining buried underground. I think it’ wall about finding a balance that works with you or your band. If you don’t get back the energy to keep on doing what you do, things will fall apart eventually. Trying to refill from the process of constantly improving yourself could be an approach that can’t really go wrong, because you can always earn something from it. I hope we can stay on this path and eventually create music that can resonate with more and more music enthusiasts.
Can you tell me something about your influences?
This one is tricky, because each of us have very different favourites. The list contains artists inside and and outside the genre of metal as well, and besides ofcusing on catchy songs, our other directive with “Building Bridges” was to be able to blend in as many influences into the songs as possible. Peter, our bassist is coming from a more classic background, like Iron Maiden, Gamma Ray, but he is also a big fan of progressive stuff like Pain of Salvation or Dream Theater, and he also has a bunch of pop and classical influences. Balázs used to like more southern stuff like Black Label Society, Crowbar or COC. András has more modern favourites like Trivium (he also has a huge trivium tattoo on his right forearm) or Lamb of God. I was initially raised on Metallica and Pantera, but I also had my time with death/black metal, progressve metal, grunge, metalcore, hard rock, post-rock/metal and my influences are constantly being expanded by working with musicians of all kinds of genres in the studio. I would lie if I said they have no influence on me. I think almost everyone I work with leaves a mark on my musical landscape, and therefore on the releases of Dystopia as well.
What are you listening to these days?
My general go-to playlist consists of songs from Gojira, Mastodon, Alice in Chains, Prong, Mustach, Disturbed, Billy Talent, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Audioslave, just to name a few… and I’m also a big Tremonti fan. Anything from him or Alter Bridge can come anytime.
Your 5 favourite records of all the time?
Metallica – “Black Album”
Pantera – “Vulgar Display of Power”
Alter Bridge – “Blackbird”
Gojira – “L’Enfant Sauvage”
Dream Theater – “Metropolis Pt. 2, Scenes from a Memory”
Can you tell me a little bit more about the gear you use to record “Building Bridges”?
With pleasure. First of all, we recorded the album in a pretty unorthodox way. For example, a lot of rhythm guitar tracks were actually used from the initial demo DI tracks that I recorded at home with my trusty little Apogee GIO with my old DeArmond 7 string SG equipped with EMG 81-7s. We let the songs form and constantly refined them until they got their final shape. We used programmed drums to hear every detail working together, and the vocals were also recorded on these sketches during late night sessions in the studio. We tried to be as time efficient as possible, so we tried to record tees takes as good as possible with my Telefunken AK47, and at the end we indeed kept around 80% of these vocals on the finished product. So I would say we made demoes for everything, but we were so meticulous about the demo recording that we could actually save a lot of stuff into the final product.
When the sketches were done, we set up András’s beautiful old Pearl Export in the studio. Those toms have some magic in them, I always get pleasing results, and never have to replace them. After finishing the drums, we reamped the guitar with my favourite amp, which is a Mesa Recto Recording Preamp with a 2:Ninety power amp, a unique combination of the brands two most popular product lines. The cab we used was an old Marshall loaded with V30’s and I used my usual combination of an sm57 and an Electrovoice Raven, but used most of the 57 at the mixing stage. However, when I started mixing the material I felt that something is missing. The guitar tone was everything I would’ve wanted for a great metal album, but I felt that I wanted a shade of pure rock guitar sound also. The solution was an additional two tracks of rhythm guitars recorded at my friends home studio in Budapest with his John Petrucci Sterling guitar and 1978 Marshall Plexi into a Two Notes Torpedo. At last, I could hear the raw low end plus the pick definition I was looking for. The additional crunch tracks also helped evening out the spectrum of the metal tracks, so I had to cut less annoying high-mid frequencies and let the guitar sound even more natural and “between rock and metal” this way.
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
The line-up change was unexpected back in the days when we planned out our promotional steps for “Building Bridges.” Fortunately, Levi is talented enough that he could learn our set in a very short time, so we could execute our touring plans as if nothing has happened at all. We have a lot to do this fall, as we also have an acoustic concert coming in November, and we also want to record some of these alternative arrangements. Besides these we are eager to sit down writing some new material and find out what new capabilities do we have with Levi on our side.
Any words for the potential new fans?
Listen to the new album with an open heart. It doesn’t want to be an example of any subgenre of metal and wasn’t born with the sole intention of ripping your head off in an instant and keep doing the same through 40 minutes. We hope that if you listen well, you might get some important things to take away, and you might also find yourself singing the choruses in random situations. In this case, don’t be shy to get in touch with us, we like to hear that a lot. [laughs]