MALEVOLENT logo

When two people from different countries get together to start a symphonic metal project… beautiful things may happen. Belgian guitarist, composer and producer Nikolaas Van Riet and Spanish professional singer Celica Soldream started MALEVOLENT in 2022, trying to merge the early days of symphonic and gothic metal with a modern, heavily cinematic inspired sound. And when the internationally renowned producer Joost van den Broek is brought in… success guaranteed! If that is true you can hear on MALEVOLENT‘s debut EP that will be out on December 21st via Necktwister. As an appetizer we were allowed to ask the ‘Spanish Fury’ a few questions about how she and the Flemish met and the self titled EP Malevolent.

INTERVIEW BY: HENK VAN NIEUWENHOVEN

MALEVOLENT mainpicborder

Let’s start with the last mentioned, how did you and Nikolaas meet in 2022 and what did he tell you?

He reached me via e-mail thanks to my vocal library “Era II: Vocal Codex” (by Eduardo Tarilonte). Initially it started as an usual work-related conversation for me, and he basically asked me to perform a few tracks for his cinematic/metal project following the vocal lines he composed using my vocal samples. However, as time passed and the project was evolving, Niko managed to get me more and more interested about MALEVOLENT’s project and… well, here I am now.

Did he already have all the songs from the debut EP ready on tape when you came in and all that was still needed were your vocals?

Indeed! The first versions of the tracks were almost completed, and basically he wanted me to perform the lines he already wrote in a more “organic” way, adding some lyrics to make them feel more “human”. However, as the songs started sounding better and Joost gave us his feedback, I started adding some original content to the songs, like additional harmonies, ornaments and arrangements. Also, Niko had some ideas for the lyrics, but didn’t write them in a specific way, so I basically improved and fixed the concept to make them fit the final melodies. Niko eventually wanted me to directly create my own vocal lines for his music, so he asked me if I wanted to compose something for “Light” and I accepted. So basically it was kinda team-work, although now I have more freedom to add my own grain of sand to the dune. 🙂

MALEVOLENT NikoborderThe EP “Malevolent” was recorded with studio musicians, but not just some musicians! On lead guitar you have Jan Verschueren and on drums Koen Herfst (Dianne van Giersbergen, Epica, After Forever). How did Nikolaas persuade them to work with him on the EP?

To be honest, that’s a mystery… Well, not really (lol). About Jan’s collaboration, as far as I know, Niko has a close relationship with him and also worked with his guitars in the past. Regarding Koen, I think it was Joost’s idea to include him in the production and recording process, and it was a great idea indeed! They’re both amazing talented musicians and their performances were undoubtedly superb! Sadly I couldn’t meet them in person yet, but I hope we will soon in the future! It will also be a great honor to share the stage with them!

And as an extra icing on the cake, Epica’s Mark Jansen stops by to sing along a few tunes as well. What’s his story and on which songs can we hear him?

Again, that’s part of Niko’s charming powers. 😉 They were friends before this project started and Mark seemed very excited about being part of it! You can hear his guttural/screaming vocals on “Creations”, the main single of the EP! He did an outstanding job on it! Also, I was very close to meeting him in person during my recording days in the Sandlane Studios (Netherlands), but unfortunately our schedules couldn’t meet in the end. Even so, I can only thank him from the heart for his performance and I’m also willing to know him in person!

The EP was produced by maestro producer Joost van den Broek (Dark Horse | White Horse, Anneke van Giersbergen, Sinheresy, Stream Of Passion). As a producer himself, why did Nikolaas outsource this job to Joost?

Again, this is something that involves Niko more than me. All I can say is that Niko already knew Joost when I joined the project. By the time I started recording the first track versions, he was already starting conversations with Joost about the MALEVOLENT project. Joost was kinda interested in it, but he was reluctant about the vocals (initially, all the vocal lines and melodies were only performed by vocal samples, which didn’t fit exactly what Niko intended to do and, of course, didn’t have any real lyrics). Once he listened to my real voice in the samples, he asked Niko if it would be possible that I could fly to the Sandlane Studios in the Netherlands to record with him, and that was what basically happened in June 2023! I felt really honored and it was an incredible experience to work hand by hand with such a professional maestro as Joost.

MALEVOLENT CelicaborderA couple of band names have already passed the revue, with whom do you personally or professionally feel most comfortable or related to?

I definitely loved to work with Joost van den Broek. He’s very professional and I felt from the first minute his huge experience working in the studio, and also with singers. He knows exactly how and when to put pressure and ask for more without exhausting the voice and that’s VERY important during a recording session, especially if you only have a few days to have everything ready. To be honest, I was a bit worried about my Spanish accent while singing in English, but he really helped me a lot with it and made some suggestions to improve the lyrics. He also kept the atmosphere very close and friendly with the whole team, which made things super easy for me (I was very nervous the first day, since I was a big fan of Epica and Powerwolf when I was younger, you know?) I really enjoyed our time at the studio and I hope we’ll work together again in the future!

When did you sign with Necktwister and was it for Nikolaas never a point of contention to choose for a Belgian label?

It was around September – October 2023. And not really. After we had the final mastered tracks, Niko started moving the track around and wrote to a few labels. After a few weeks, Necktwister offered us good conditions and options for the EP release. As a novel band, we didn’t have the expectation to sign with a super big label like Napalm Records (although that would be definitely awesome). But I think Necktwister was a good first step for us to move around the European metal sphere, and I hope and they will know how to take care of the project.

Who created the cover art for the EP and who is the half man – half skull faced person on it?

Guilty.😁 Actually, it also was a team work that evolved very naturally. Niko and I did a great photoshoot in Belgium with Pieter Fret wearing some goth-apocalyptic clothes. At that point Niko already had a very clear idea for the artwork: he wanted something “cinematic” and “apocalyptic”, according to the lyrics he initially wrote. So I started doing some apocalyptic posters and covers with our photos, with the help of my friend Nerea C. Luna for the backgrounds, since she’s an incredible prompt-engineer and literally makes magic using Midjourney’s tools. However, Niko had also started doing some experiments with AI generated images and finally got this “post-apocalyptic Viking” vibe, which I liked very much. Also, there are a lot of Viking fans among the metalheads all around the world, so I thought it was an interesting idea to focus on that. So I asked Nerea to transform our photos using the AI and to create these characters. However, we still needed a “villain” to complete the story, something which we could relate to our lyrics and also to the evil forces who drove the world to self-destruction. So I thought an evil lord with a corrupted face would match the atmosphere. I did some photoshop magic to bend the original pic with the skull, because it felt more deathly and threatening. And who’s the model for the skull-faced lord? Well, that’s actually Niko! 😁

MALEVOLENT coverborderYou already released one lyric video for “Gaze”, will there be more?

Sure! We’re planning another video with Aimed And Framed (the same team that made “Gaze”). They worked super cool and also kept using the AI to keep the same idea we had with the artwork. We still have to discuss about doing a real footage video shooting for “Creations”. Fun fact: they’re also Spanish! And it looks very likely that we will shoot it in my country! There are really cool locations in Spain for post-apocalyptic filming, so I hope so!

Let’s do a track by track. Please give your comments, thoughts and everything else you want to reveal in public about the five tracks on the “Malevolent” EP?

Creations: It was special from the very beginning, since it was intended to be the main single. Musically Niko drove the music from the orchestral soundtrack to the symphonic metal in an very organic way. For me, the most important thing while singing was the big influence of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) in the verses, and the combination of both powerful and ethereal vocals in the chorus. Also Mark’s screaming and Niko’s grunts keep the dark atmosphere of the apocalypse in the story, representing the evil lord who controls everything everywhere.

Gaze: When the human sinks in despair, religion is always there. Characters need to “believe” in something and keep moving forward to survive. The choirs and the tenor male voice was a nice way to bring that “religious environment”. In my 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.

Light: I fell in love with this song at first listening. Its structure reminded me of the trailer/epic music I’m used to work with. To write the lyrics, I thought in something like Tolkien’s Mithlond, like a promised land/heaven the characters intended to reach to finally leave all the destruction and chaos behind. I could also relate this idea with Viking’s idea of Valhalla. It was definitely the hardest one to sing, because it raises the pitch three times, scaling both melodies and harmonies. I reached my own chest-voice record with this one (I think it was an F5). I remember going into the studio after telling Niko and Joost: “I’ll try it only twice. If I can’t reach it, I’ll do it in head-voice”. When I came out, they both watched me with eyes wide open and Joost said: “Ok, that definitely will work”. Honestly, I was as impressed as they were. 🙂

Ways: If “Creations” is like an introduction to the apocalypse, “Ways” is the introduction of the characters in the story, because it speaks about how they resist and fight the evil powers and the bad situation which ruined the world. Honestly I love Jan’s guitars in this one, and also how the music gets stronger as it approaches the end. I had a lot of fun with this one, vocally speaking. I played again with the head-voice and the chest-voice to evoke that ethereal/story telling feeling.

The Awakening(bonus track): For me it was our “laboratory” track, because it is the one Niko used to do some experiments with, from the production to the video. It wasn’t intended to be part of the EP, although Nikolaas thought of including it as a “bonus track” just for the CD and digital version of the album (it won’t be on the vinyl). Fun fact: We baptized it as “the ATERROLE” song, because in Spanish “rr” has a very strong sound and that really amused Niko when he listened to it! 😁

Last question. Are you and Nikolaas going to do live gigs as well or is MALEVOLENT strictly a studio project?

MALEVOLENT was initially a studio project, but since we signed with Necktwister our intention is to make our debut on stage soon! I would love to perform along with Jan and Koen too, that would be absolutely awesome! For now, I can only say: stay tuned to our website malevolent.be and our social media for more news!


WEBSITE: https://malevolent.be
FACEBOOK: 
https://www.facebook.com/Malevolent.bandofficial