Once in a while, I come across a band that grabs my attention immediately, simply because they decide to buck the recent metal trends and come up with something altogether different than what’s currently out there. Poland’s Illuminandi is a self-described dark gothic metal outfit, seamlessly blending elements of prog metal and classical with alternating clean and growling vocals, all melding together to bring an atmosphere that is unique to metal. After listening to the band’s two demos, I sent this interview via e-mail to the lead singer / guitarist, Jan Trebacz, who, despite a heavy personal schedule, graciously answered each question in detail. Read on. – Uncle NecRo
For starters, could you give the readers a list of people who are currently in the band, and what instruments they play?
– Patrycja Pyzinska- violin, vocals; Antonia Kraszkiewicz- cello; Aleksander Kraszkiewicz- bass; Szymon Grych- drums and percussion; Aleksander Koziol- lead and rhythm guitar, additional vocals; Jan Trebacz- lead vocals and growling, guitar; Bogdan Czernia- raspy vocals.
What does the band’s name, Illuminandi, mean to you?
– This name is a Latin word which means ‘what is to be enlightened’. This is how people to be baptised were called in the early Church. I wanted our name to have something to do with the light (which is a powerful Christian symbol)- ‘lumen’ in Latin – but I knew of a band called LUMEN. When I found the name ‘Illuminandi’ I liked the sound of it and the meaning appealed to me as well; sometimes I feel my life is like wandering in the darkness but I am striving towards the light – even though sometimes it’s very small, it’s still there! I believe one day all darkness will end and we’ll find ourselves immersed in wondrous Eternal Light!
This is probably the first time I’ve heard of a metal band from Poland, Christian or secular (please excuse my American ignorance, I’m getting better). What is the metal scene in Poland like? Is there a wide range of metal styles? What other bands hail from the country?
– Whoops… I think you MUST have heard the name VADER… Although I don’t think they are Christians… Smile Another widely known (at least in Europe) bands are DECAPITATED and BEHEMOTH. All of them play non-melodic death metal and I don’t listen to any of them – VADER and BEHEMOTH have also been using satanic imagery and symbols etc., so I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone, but they are quite famous anyway…
Anyways, the ‘secular’ metal scene is HUGE here, we have some REALLY great metal bands but most of them never make it out of the underground – there are too little labels, too many bands! Most popular genres are black/death, we also have a few superb gothic/doom bands. I think power metal is the least popular kind style of metal here… Some Polish bands I really respect: MORDOR (excellent prog metal), CEMETARY OF SCREAM (doom/gothic), ACID DRINKERS (thrash/heavy/hardcore), SCEPTIC (technical death).
Christian metal scene is practically nonexistent here – we have quite a lot Christian NU metal or hardcore bands (2TM2,3; ARMIA; TOTUS TUUS; ANASTASIS; PNEUMA) but not really any ‘traditional’ metal bands.
We used to have UNDISH (excellent goth rock/metal) and CREATION OF DEATH (death) but they disbanded.
Illuminandi plays a very eclectic style of metal, with classical styles getting equal parts with the heavier elements of your music. Though I’m inclined to immediately think of Believer’s album Dimensions, what bands or artists influenced the band to play this style of metal?
– I think Believer’s “Dimensions” is an extraordinary piece of art (especially “the Trilogy of Knowledge”) and I think they could have influence me in a way, but when completing the line up I think I was more influenced by all the gothic/symphonic/doom metal stuff I used to (and still do, but not exclusively) listen to: HAGGARD, CELESTIAL SEASON, SIRRAH (a Polish band, now disbanded) and generally all stuff with keyboards or strings in it. To be honest, one of my inspirations to use the violin was also MY DYING Bride’s “The Angel and the Dark River” album, but now I have a very mixed feelings about this band – lyrics wise.
This is, however, what influenced me when I was founding the band- as life goes on my inspirations keep changing as I REALLY listen to LOADS OF music.
Other members had different inspirations, e.g. our guitarist Alek grew up listening more to punk and hardcore…
Besides the classical arrangements, I’ve noticed a wide variety of musical influence on the sound. For instance, on the song ‘Alleluja’, there’s a very Eastern-sounding guitar riff, and on ‘I O Tym Drugim’, I think that’s a very Russian Folk violin playing (I could be wrong). What other music styles influence the song crafting, and what other styles of music do you enjoy?
– Well, ‘Alleluja’ was ment to sound ‘eastern’ (ORPHANED LAND is one of my faves and AMORPHIS used to use eastern scales a lot, too Smile ) but I never thought “I o tym drugim” had anything to do with folk at all… Especially Russian.Smile Anyways, my musical taste is pretty diverse and I’m somehow influenced by everything I listen to. As for metal I used to be a real gothic/doom freak, now it’s more progressive metal (DREAM THEATER& c.o.) and technical/melodic death. I also like power metal and hardcore/metal. I don’t despise NU metal either. I like progressive rock, reggae, some Christian pop/rock, some jazzy stuff is nice too. But, next to metal, my real love is early music and Celtic music, I absolutely adore medieval and renaissance music (and SOME baroque pieces) and Iro-Scottish folk music.
The girls are studying music, so, willingly or not, they have to listen to classical music a lot.
I know a few bands our bassist Olek likes: SMASHING PUMPKINS, THE GATHERING, GUANO APES, SYSTEM OF A DOWN etc… He’s got a wide taste in music.
Szymon, our drummer, likes DREAM THEATER and SOULFLY… and some reggae, too. I must ask him some day.
How much do you play live? Do you do mostly Christian shows (shows with other Christian bands), or do you mix it up with secular bands as well?
– Because we study/work in different places outside our hometown, regular rehearsals and playing live have always been some sort of a miracle, but this year have been an improvement – we played more or less one gig a month. Which is not too impressive, but still it’s an improvement and, thanks to our friend Wojciech, who is helping us with the promotion, the future looks bright, too! Smile So far we mostly performed with other Christian rock/hardcore bands, but we would love to play with secular metal bands, too. It’s just up to the gig organisers.
What has the general response to Illuminandi been?
– Surprisingly, ‘DEMO 2’ has been received quite well in ‘secular’ metal zines and very well in most Christian zines. As for the gigs, people seem to like us because we are different – we don’t play NU metal, we use classical instruments. This is not common in the Polish Christian rock scene.
Ice cream- Good? Bad? Indifferent?
– There are few things in this world more delicious than mint ice cream. Or banana. or vanilla. Yum!!!
But chocolate ice cream is definitely bad!!!
The lyrics are very Bible-based, taken from many of the stories and the Gospel account of Jesus Christ. How do you go about writing the songs that go with the music? Does the music get written first, or the lyrics?
– It just depends. Sometimes it’s the music first and then we are looking for the lyrics to match it, sometimes it’s the opposite – a text inspires us to take the instruments and come up with something to reflect its mood.
Heavy metal is generally thought of as an aggressive style of music. Why did you decide to play this kind of music? Do you ever feel uneasy or ‘stressed out’, so to speak, by listening to such a musical style?
– Well, metal certainly CAN be an aggressive. It provokes extreme emotions such as anger. But anger does not always mean aggression. Aggressive behaviour is a morally evil thing as it hurts other people. Anger in itself is neither good nor evil – we just sometimes feel it and we cannot really help it. It’s a feeling that can motivate us to positively change something within us or in our world or to do evil. When I am angry, frustrated, afraid I can cry out to God – I don’t have to pretend that I think everything is cool, because I believe he loves me and understands me. I believe he wants us to have a relationship with him, and so to tell him about our feelings too – both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. ‘Aggressive’ or, as I prefer to call it, ‘angry’ music expresses these ‘negative’ emotions. However, to me metal is not only about frustration and anger – it is also about the sadness of a failure, deep longing, power and majesty and the joy of victory, too!
Music combined with lyrics is a great force and so it can help us to pray, but it can also influence us in a bad way. I don’t listen to satanic or occult bands and those ‘promoting’ evil, but I respect somebody else’s views even if different fro my own. I listen quite a lot to non-Christian bands and some of them have pretty depressing or aggressive lyrics. When my relationship with people and God is good this doesn’t influence me; however, when I’m down or frustrated I try to avoid music with ‘negative’ lyrics, as usually it makes me concentrate on the negative. This is when Christian music really helps me to commit my emotions and problems to God.
I’ve been listening and collecting Christian metal for a little over ten years now, and the one claim that never seems to go away (in my opinion) is that ‘Christians only play metal for propaganda purposes, not because they like it.’ As a musician in that genre, what’s your opinion?
– I understand what you mean. Maybe this claim has its roots in the fact that some Christians could never accept metal as “God’s music” and so the only thing that could convince them that playing metal wasn’t evil was that metal is an excellent tool to spread God’s message to people who would not otherwise listen to it?
I am sure that God can use music – just as he can use everything else! If, as you call it, ‘propaganda’ was my goal, I would probably start preaching, or maybe writing or something else. But I play music because I tremendously enjoy it. But I want to play the music I like with the lyrics that help me, first of all. I want to address God in the lyrics because I believe it helps to grow my own relationship with Him. And if our songs help other people – that is just awesome- hallelujah!!!
Do you have a wish-list of bands or music festivals you’d like to play with?
– Well, personally I’d love to play with Extol and Virgin Black. It’d be really great to play on Bobfest one day – I would finally get the opportunity to see the bands I love…
What do the band members do outside of making music? Are there any hobbies you’d like to discuss?
– Antonina and I love Tolkien and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ novels. And good fantasy in general. I am also generally interested in everything that has something to do with Scotland.
(Antonina due to her studies at the university is also deeply interested into Ukrainian history and culture – Windflower)
Aleksander has recently rediscovered his interest in gardening. He also works as a counsellor to people with alcohol problems. He and Szymon are real people of nature – know the names of so many plants and animals. Hmm, I don’t really know about Patrycja and the other Aleksander (bass). I think his main hobby is his girlfriend! Smile
Last couple of questions: First, what are your Top Five albums you can’t live without?
– In no particular order:
WITHIN TEMPTATION “Enter”
AMORPHIS “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”
BLIND GUARDIAN “Nightfall in Middle-earth”
And lastly: Any final thoughts?
– Thanks for this interview and congratulations if you have really read all this. You are a patient person indeed!!! Smile
Good luck in the future, may God’s peace and love be with you!
Lets rock with God!!!
[This part was the follow-up with them five years after the original interview was done, kind of a catch-up. Enjoy. – Uncle NecRo]
It’s been 5 years since the last interview. Update us on what’s been going on since then.
Well, a lot of things have happened since then. Bomboworks released our all demos on one CD entitled “The Beginning”. We played at a few festivals outside Poland, which we really enjoyed (I especially enjoyed the Elements of Rock fest in Switzerland where we shared the stage with Virgin Black and also our shows with Holy Blood in Ukraine). Most importantly, we recorded and released our first “proper” debut: the EP “Illumina Tenebras Meas”. Also, there have been some line-up changes. Of the original Illuminandi members only (?) four people are still in the band: Antonina (cello), Aleksander (guitar), Aleksander (bass) and me (Jan – clean vocals and guitar). We have a new drummer, violin player (a man this time!) and screamer/growler.
In 2005, Bombworks Records released The Beginning, which seems to collect your first two demos, and some live cuts. Tell us how that came about?
Trevor Ray of “The Buried Scrolls” webzine recommended us to the guys in Bombworks. They decided to take the risk and released “The Beginning”. We thought it would be good to have all our early material released on one CD and available for purchase, so that people who like us would be able to get all our songs. Of course, we realise that the sound quality of those songs is VERY far from perfect…
Now, tell us about the new EP, and what the responses have been since the release.
Well, we have been getting some really positive feedback. People seem to notice and appreciate the progress we made and that’s very cool. We have also started cooperating with Nokternal Hemizphear art services (http://www.nhmetal.com) who is the offcicial distributor of our EP and other merchandise (T-shirts etc.) in the US.
If there’s one artist / band that Illuminandi could either collaborate or tour with, who would it be?
A tough question. There are so many good bands that have nice people in them that it’s almost impossible to list just one name. I have been keeping in touch with Holy Blood from Ukraine and also (non-christian) folk-metal outfit SSOGE from the Czech Republic, so further collaboration with these bands would seem natural. Also I’d love to play with Virgin Black again. But you never know what the future brings.
What’s the band been working on or doing recently? Any plans for new material, or playing live?
2007 was quite a good year for us, we gave at least one show (sometimes 2 or 3) each month. So far, we have played only one show in 2008 (don’t know why, really) but we are not very worried.Our bassist became a father last month so at the moment he wouldn’t be able to travel too much anyway. We are working on new songs – we’d like to record a full-length next year. Also, we have recorded 2 new songs for my friend’s company commercials (to be released on http://www.youtube.com). So I guess we are quite busy anyway.
And finally, any words you’d like to leave us with?
Thanks for the interview! Take care and God bless!