I spoke with Kingcrow mainman Diego Cafolla a few months back at the time when writing had just been completed for album number six, ‘Eidos’. Fast forward several weeks and we’re now on the eve of its release on June 23rd. It stood out as one of my most anticipated album releases of 2015 and having been lucky enough to hear the whole album a little in advance, suffice to say that, to these ears, my high hopes have been met. Possibly exceeded. ‘Eidos’ is quality melodic progressive metal at its finest.
Having kept in touch with Diego since that last interview, I tapped up the friendly and affable Italian guitarist and songwriter for another chat. He agreed and what ensues represents the fruits of an hour-long conversation about all things Kingcrow, one of the most underrated progressive metal bands on the planet in my opinion.
I begin proceedings by asking Diego if he and the band are pleased with the outcome and what, in particular, is most pleasing overall.
“Well yes, I’m proud, but when I listen to every album, I tend to focus on the faults” Diego begins in typically self-deprecating and honest fashion. “I’m also the producer, so I’m constantly thinking that this should have been louder or this sound could have been better. I’m never happy about the production. For the songs though, I am really proud of them.”
“In the band”, Diego continues, “we usually talk about which is the best song on the album and it is not so easy this time. I think my favourite is ‘If Only’, the last track but not because it is a better song than the others, because I like every song on the record, but it feels very close to me.”
The new album is simply named ‘Eidos’, a title that means little to me. I feel it necessary therefore to discover more about its meaning.
“It’s a Greek word”, Diego responds correcting my horrendous anglicised pronunciation in the process. “It’s a philosophical concept that means, in a few words, the real essence of things. So, since the concept that started with ‘Phlegethon’ is about life, it seemed to fit very well. It’s a bit pretentious probably, but I liked it”, he chuckles warmly.
“There is this main theme, yes”, answers Diego when I enquire as to whether ‘Eidos’ is a concept album of sorts. “The concept began with ‘Phlegethon’ which is about childhood and the way that how you live during your childhood shapes your personality. Then we have ‘In Crescendo’ which is about the end of youth. ‘Eidos’ is a step further so it’s about a grown man looking back at his life, the choices he made and how these choices he made affected his life. It looks also at how many of these choices are made because of external factors like the society he lives in and the pressure from other people for example. The songs do not make a story as such, but they are all related to this main idea.”
It’s a deep, fascinating and striking theme I’m sure you’ll agree. Every bit as striking however, is the cover artwork that accompanies ‘Eidos’. Diego is keen to offer an insight into this.
“We started working on a cover that was totally different. If we had continued with that idea, ‘Eidos’ would have a cover very similar to the new Steven Wilson record”, Diego laughs heartily and with a sense of relief. “The cover is made by Devilnax who we’re worked with for a long time. It is inspired by the painting ‘The Lovers’ by Magritte. We were searching for inspiration and we saw this painting. We thought that it was interesting, so we just made it fit the concept. The image is very symbolic; the man standing has a teddy bear which represents his past life and childhood which connects with ‘Phlegethon’. He stands in water which represents life and he can’t see his future…”
Ah, hence the cover over his head, I rudely interject with a self-aggrandising puffing out of the chest.
“Exactly”, agrees Diego, generously. “We worked a lot on the concept of the cover and we shot it very near the studio because there is a lake there.”
Listening to Kingcrow can be a challenge but it is also, ultimately, a very rewarding experience. I ask Diego whether the band deliberately set out to make the listener work hard for their enjoyment.
“It just happens that way I guess”, Diego counters after a little consideration. “We only try to make the best music possible. But I understand because our records are very rich with a lot of variety in them. They are very layered and so it probably takes a few spins before you can fully appreciate everything on the record. On this record though, there are a few more direct songs like ‘The Moth’, ‘Adrift’ perhaps in the chorus and ‘Fading Out Pt IV’. I mean, some songs are quite short; there are three or four songs that are about four minutes long which is really very short for us. But there are other songs that are much longer and that’s just the way I write I guess.”
At this point, I’m keen to delve into the main feature of this interview, the track-by-track breakdown from the main songwriter’s point of view. Being horrendously clichéd, I kick things off by inviting Diego to talk a little about the opening track and lead single, ‘The Moth’.
“That song was the first that I wrote for the record. Since ‘In Crescendo’ featured songs that were all long, my initial idea was to make the songs more concise. But this was a total failure”, he chuckles, “because the album is 60 minutes and contains ten songs. So the songs have an average length of six minutes. But anyway, this was very easy to write actually. It was good for the first track because it is punchy, concise and I think it has a catchy chorus. It will work well live and when we were talking about which song to choose as the first single, everyone pointed to this song, so it was the obvious choice.”
“The song is an introduction to the concept on the album”, Diego continues. “There is a metaphor in there, of the moth that’s blinded by the light and the flame. It represents someone who is so focussed on following a career or whatever that he misses everything else.”
This track has also been chosen as the first on ‘Eidos’ to get the video treatment. Diego recounts the story behind getting Gastón Viñas to create the visuals to accompany the song.
“It’s a great video to me”, he replies with typical understatement. “I found this artist because he made some videos for Radiohead. I was listening to Radiohead on YouTube and I saw the song ‘2+2=5’. I contacted him and told him that I appreciated his art. We exchanged emails and I told him I have a band, Kingcrow. He said that he knew Kingcrow, and that he was a fan. It started like that; I sent him a song, the album cover and the lyrics and he created everything himself from just that. He is a very talented guy and I love the video.”
“It is one of my favourite songs on the record”, agrees Diego when I suggest that this has arguably the most immediate melodies within it and is a fantastically anthemic track in places. “The chorus is catchy but it is probably the most technical song on the album. I don’t think anyone will recognise this because all the technicalities are quite hidden. It’s very hard to play live, especially the guitars. It was one of the hardest songs to write because there are polyrhythms going on and it changes tonality, so we have to work on modulations quite a lot. We always try to make difficult things sound easy because for me it is all about the song. Even if a part is difficult to play, we don’t want to make it obvious because we want it to be easy to listen to. But if you dig deeper, you can hear that there are lots of things going on.”
“The final solo”, Diego closes on ‘Adrift’ is probably my favourite solo I have ever written. I worked hard on it and I like it; it’s quite bluesy and melodic because when I write solos, I write them like vocal lines.”
“This”, offers Diego when beginning to explain the third song, ‘Slow Down’, “is kind of the oddball on the record because it is just a strange song. I love it because it is strange, probably, and because it’s different. It has a saxophone in the middle section which sounds a bit like Zappa’s stuff, and I’m a big Zappa fan. It starts with vocals from the beginning and originally, I wrote that for a string arrangement. At the time, I was listening to the Beach Boys a lot and they have massive amounts of work on the vocals. I thought that maybe I should try to replace the strings with vocals to see what would happen. And I liked what happened. I think it will be quite fun to play because there’s a lot going on. The only part that is repeated in the song is the chorus because every other part is different.”
“The lyrics are by Diego Marchesi, the singer”, continues Diego. “The lyrics are about modern life, about someone involved with technology, that lives on his computer, misses things and being sucked in by a virtual life.”
To these ears, ‘Open Sky’ has a big, epic feel to it but is deceivingly only about five and a half minutes long. Before I can ask a question about it, Diego is off.
“I love this song”, he opens with barely contained enthusiasm. “When the drums kick in, I immediately had the riff in my head as it was a left-over from ‘In Crescendo’. I basically built the song around that riff. I dunno, it’s a very emotional song that I like a lot. I am the producer, so when Diego came to the studio to record the vocals, he came in and I asked to listen to how he would try to sing the song. He started singing but I stopped him. I thought it was quite good but asked him to sing the song whilst imagining being alone on a plain with snow and a grey sky. Diego said ‘you mean like this?’ It took one take. It was perfect. We have a good collaboration when we try to get the emotion just right. You can sing the same melody thousands of ways but the most difficult part is to find the right mood and emotion. Diego is great at that.
The lyrics are by Diego and there is melancholy involved but the message is not negative and there is still hope. It’s one of my favourite sets of lyrics on the album I think.
Fading Out Pt IV
Moving on to the half-way point of the record, listeners are greeted with another relatively concise track by Kingcrow standards and one whose title will ring bells with long-terms fans of the band.
“This was the second song that I wrote, that’s why it is short because I was still trying to write more concise songs at that point”, Diego chuckles again. “The opening riff was a left-over from ‘In Crescendo’ and the song was so easy to rite. Everything you hear, I wrote in two days. Everything. It is a very busy track, there are a lot of riffs for example. It is more of a classic Kingcrow track because it is connected to ‘Fading Out Pt III’ on ‘Phlegethon’ and there is a kind of flamenco, folk vibe within it.”
Having used the phrase ‘left over’, I quickly ask Diego to clarify why it was ‘left over’, hoping that it didn’t mean ‘substandard’. Mind you, given the quality of the track, I suspected from the outset that this wasn’t the case at all. Diego confirms this vehemently.
“It was only a left over because it didn’t fit on the ‘In Crescendo’ record in terms of the atmosphere. It wasn’t a bad riff, but ‘In Crescendo’ was more melancholic in feeling and if it had been included there, it would have sounded odd. I write constantly, so if I put everything I write on a record, it would be an eight-day long album and I don’t think the record label would like that.” Cue more laughter. “But you have to use ideas that feel connected. To give an extreme example, you could have a great reggae riff but you couldn’t put it on a black metal record.”
End of Part 1…