Here’s in brief the Greek mythological story about Pandora’s Box. Given by the god Hermes as a wedding presence to Pandora and Epimetheus, the box would release all evil into the world if opened. Only hope would stay behind. And guess who hold the key now? PANDORA’S KEY is a melodic metal band from Breda in The Netherlands. After a quick consultation on The Metal Archives, the 6-piece Dutch band started a decade ago, although in a different lineup. We spoke with the two ’rookies’ in the band, vocalists Vera Veldhuizen and Rik van Schaaik.
Interview: Henk van Nieuwenhoven
Guitarist Sebastiaan Pongers and bassist Regina Lotstra are the only two original members still present in today’s lineup, guitarist Bram Luiken joined in 2019 and so did drummer Dimmy Marcelissen. Both vocalists Vera Veldhuizen and Rik van Schaaik entered in 2021 and 2023 respectively. But does Vera know who her predecessors in PANDORA’S KEY were, on the EP “Prometheus’ Promise” (2017) and the “Live @ The Dog” single (2019)?
VERA: Of course! Our first vocalist was Maaike Rijk, until 2018. I met her once when she came to a PANDORA’S KEY gig in 2023, she was absolutely lovely. She’s now making music of her own, which is very cool. Unfortunately, I have not yet met my direct predecessor, Kelly Thans, but I know she’s really ambitious and going to release an EP with her own music sometime soon as well. A lot of the songs on the album are shaped by these wonderful vocalists and although they didn’t sing on the record, I do think you can still hear their echoes in certain vocal lines and lyrics.
The first sign of life from the debut album “Yet I Remain” will undoubtedly have raised some eyebrows, even among those who do speak the Dutch language. To release “De Bockereyder” on October 27th, 2023 as the premier single was a risk, but it turned out well thanks to the professional music video. Maybe it is good to explain what the story of the Bockereyders is all about, who they were and what they did.
RIK: The ’bokkenrijders’ were a legendary group of bandits who terrorised the Southern regions of the Netherlands in the 18th/19th century. Relatively little is known about them, but there are lots of rumours about alleged satanism, including them riding goats rather than horses, and doing dark masses. However, there are also versions of their story in which they are more like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and distributing their loot to the poor. We’ve tried to show both sides in the music video.
“Yet I Remain” will come out independently on January 27th. Most people have no idea how that works. All the decisions you have to make, like what recording studio are we going to use, how do we finance everything, who do we ask as the producer and for the mixing and mastering? Dilemmas that PANDORA’S KEY will have come across as well when they decided to record “Yet I Remain”.
VERA: Luckily I joined after most of the difficult decision making was done! The band was already in the process of recording when I came in, in fact, Dimmy had already finished everything at that point. I’m really lucky I got to work with Fieke van de Hurk at Dearworld Studio for recording the vocals. She’s an incredible producer and really got the best out of me. Without a label, you’re in complete creative control and it can be a bit dizzying, so having an experienced and talented producer was key for me. As a creator, you can always hear little things you want to do better, but at some point, you have to accept that it’s as good as it’s going to get. When you’re an independent band, finances are your main restriction but that can be a good thing as well, as it forces you to work with very strict deadlines.
The cover art was made by Darkgrove’s Jan Yrlund, who also created the covers for Metalite’s “Expedition One” and Leah’s upcoming single “Before This War Is Over”. Not a bad choice and the result is really stunning. But Jan didn’t just drop from the sky for PANDORA’S KEY, did he?
RIK: We were shopping around for artwork that we felt represented the album well. We decided to go for Jan because of his previous work and style. He’s great to do business with and his concept art really reflected what we felt the album should look like.
Modern discussions about colonising other planets and people saying they ignore the news because it’s too depressing remind me of the classical sins of hubris and running from responsibility”
– Vera Veldhuizen –
When you have two singers and you start to write songs for a new album, there’s always the matter of who does what. That went without a struggle when the tracks for “Yet I Remain” were shaped?
VERA: Absolutely. When Rik and I joined, all of the instrumentals were already finished and a lot of it recorded. We just went by what felt right in which songs and moments in songs. When it comes to vocals, we really see them as instruments in their own rights. So it’s just a matter of finding the best ways to use each instrument. Rik joined later in the process, so he has a bit less to do in this album, but who knows what we’ll come up with together!
RIK: Originally, “Ariadne” was the only track that had growls. Pretty female vocals don’t really convey a snorting, blundering minotaur all that well, I guess. Those lyrics were written a long time ago when Maaike was still the lead vocalist. The rest of the album was mostly written by Vera and I think she did a stellar job! Of course, we discussed what we wrote for the album but it was never a ‘two people one pen’ kind of deal. Maybe in future we decide to do more co-writing, but to be honest, I’m really happy with the process we have in place now.
The next video was for “Falls The Shadow” with only lyrics. The cover art for this song is quite remarkable, as is the idea for it. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” and the closing area from Purcell’s opera “Dido And Aeneas”, someone in the band must read a lot and listen to operas as well and then had the idea to combine these two and write the lyrics for it. Maybe the same person that came up with the cover art for the single.
VERA: Hahaha, yes I’m probably the band’s biggest nerd (at least when it comes to books). I love Dido’s Lament, it’s a gorgeous aria and a joy to sing, even though (or maybe because) it’s incredibly tragic. I heard the instrumentals for “Falls The Shadow” during one of the lockdowns and it really struck a chord for me at that time. It was one of those songs that I just poured myself into, and the vocals and lyrics came quite easily. I wanted to reflect on how uncertainty and fear can drive us crazy, and how the ultimate fear of humanity is being forgotten by time, left behind by life. Dido only shows up if you’re looking for it (“Remember us” to echo “Remember me”), but underlines the whole chorus. “The Hollow Men” is more obviously visible in the lyrics, and I found it complemented the themes of the song so well because of its emphasis on inaction and stasis, which is how Covid felt to so many of us, and how that leads to a spiritual death. Unfortunately I didn’t come up with the cover art, I don’t have a talent for visual arts at all – that honour goes to the talented Tristan van der Laan from The Laidback Tiki.
There is enough sense for drama on the album. “The Keening” tells about the poem of mourning by 18th Century Irish poet Eibhlin Dubh Ní Chonaill and how she grieves over her husband’s murdered body. It has a beautiful piano intro with challenging vocals and spoken parts. Starts as a ballad, but then turns into a very hard, cinematic song.
VERA: I love teasing the band members by calling this our album’s ‘ballad’. For the instrumentalists, it’s really a very challenging, heavy song, so they find it ridiculous to call it a ballad. But if you listen to the vocals and lyrics, the story told there is really a dramatic ballad, almost simple and very soft. I wanted to adapt Eibhlin’s poem to reflect the way we can feel when we grieve, especially when someone is snatched away from us suddenly and unjustly. Yes, there is sadness, and the person grieving may come across as quiet and sedate, but there is an undercurrent of chaotic rage – which is felt through the instrumentation, and absolutely present in the original poem. She drinks her husband’s blood, vows revenge and curses his killer! It doesn’t get more metal than that.
There’s also a Dutch saga about ‘Gloeiende Gerrit’, where you really go wild with your growls, Rik. Therefore, we reckon “Kindling Ire” is your absolute favourite track on “Yet I Remain”. And surely, you can enlighten us about the violent character ‘Gloeiende Gerrit’ and what he’s done.
RIK: Honestly, even though I wrote the lyrics and do most of the vocal parts in “Kindling Ire”, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite song. I actually love the tracks where Vera and I do more of a 50/50 split like “Ariadne”! But when the music for “Kindling Ire” was written it just screamed for… well… screams. [guitarist] Sebastiaan came up with the idea of converting the somewhat obscure saga of Gloeiend Gerrit into lyrics for this track. When I write lyrics I usually choose the topic myself, so this was an interesting challenge and I’m very pleased with the results! “Kindling Ire” tells the tale of Gerrit, a somewhat dimwitted and jealous lad who’s in love with the village sweetheart. She, of course, falls madly in love with… his brother. A recipe for disaster in the best of circumstances. At the night of the wedding, Gerrit is overcome with jealousy and rage. He decides to take a still glowing ember from the hearth of his home and carries it through the woods until he reaches the newlyweds’ house. He sets their home ablaze, killing his own brother and his beloved in the process. Overcome with grief and remorse, he flees the crime scene back into the woods. In my version of the tale, he gets lost and dies an unsanctimonious death in the freezing cold. His body withers and rots away, ‘yet he remains’ wink. According to the legends, if you traverse these woods at night you can still spot a ghastly apparition carrying a single glowing ember….
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s also the story of “The Flying Dutchman”, a kind of folk metal song with violins that reminds me of German band Coronatus. And “Icarus”, that has an ongoing conversation between ground control and a spacecraft ready for take-off on a one-way mission as an intro. Today’s science-fiction, tomorrow’s reality?
VERA: “Icarus” is actually a great example of what I find special about this album, as a lot of the songs are co-written with the previous vocalists. Kelly wrote those insanely catchy vocals for “The Flying Dutchman“, and Maaike wrote the vocals for “Icarus”. A friend of hers recorded that conversation for us ages ago, way before I joined. Initially, “Icarus” started as a song telling the story of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, but it slowly changed over time to a parable about how we as humans respond to the crises that we caused. We don’t ever want to moralise with our music, so I’ll put it like this: all science-fiction is an expression of current concerns and developments and takes it to its logical extreme. Modern discussions about colonising other planets and people saying they ignore the news because it’s too depressing remind me of the classical sins of hubris and running from responsibility. “Icarus” is about wishing to escape the world and its issues, but if you know the myth and look at the lyrics, you can tell it’s not going to end well.
When the albums is out, what are the plans for PANDORA’S KEY?
RIK: Play, play, play! The main thing we want to do right now is take the album on the road. “Yet I Remain” is such an updated sound for PANDORA’S KEY and we’re super exited to show it to everyone. Now that the album is done, we’re also ready to start writing again. It will be the first time in this configuration that we’ll be writing from scratch, so who knows what the next PANDORA will sound like?