“It is the thirst of blood that leads the audience to the arena”
Few artists have left their mark upon the pairing of an electric guitar and orchestra quite like Victor Smolski. For more than 15 years, the guitar wizard from the very heart of Belarus shaped the sonic tapestry of RAGE before finally starting his own project ALMANAC. There – no surprises here – he continued working on the perfect amalgamation of metal and classical music, spiced with enthralling historic themes.
After establishing ALMANAC as an uprising metal force with his first two records “Tsar” (2016) and “Kingslayer” (2018), Smolski boldly reshaped the band, and is starting from pole position into what will be a very exciting heavy metal year. “We've been on the road a lot,” Smolski says of the last years. “So much, in fact, that some of our members couldn't make do. They parted ways with us amicably because they realized that we wanted to go for it full throttle. They couldn't do it which is why they gladly made room for what is now the strongest ALMANAC incarnation ever.”
ALMANAC in 2020 consists of musical director Victor Smolski (guitars, cello, sitar, piano, keyboards), vocal tag-team Patrick Sühl and Jeannette Marchewka, bass player Tim Rashid and drummer Kevin Kott, with GAMMA RAY bellower Frank Beck and growl god Marcel Junker adding additional vocal oomph. “Once again, this line-up change really propelled us onwards. Suddenly we had all the time we needed to rehearse, to experiment, to just be spontaneous. And somehow by accident,” he laughs, “we got way more heavy!”
He can say that again; after having spent one year on the road with this current line-up, playing everything from packed clubs to huge arenas, ALMANAC return usually bombastic and refined, yet surprisingly heavy, fast and aggressive. With more than 30 years in the world of heavy metal under his belt, Smolski of course has long established his signature style you instantly recognize – throbbing riffs, bombastic orchestration, versatile vocals. More than ever before, however, the third album is marrying the bandwidth between symphonic grandeur and choking impact. Almanac never sounded that heavy, that gripping, that precise.
They’ve never been this dynamic before, either: “Rush of Death” is a split album whose mid-section is dedicated to “Suite Lingua Mortis Part 2”, a direct sequel to the much revered metal-meets-orchestra spectacle found on RAGE's “Speak of the Devil” (2006). “I composed the first “Lingua Mortis Suite” with my father”, Smolski says. “A couple of years ago, I lost him, which put me in a very dark place. He was the central figure in my musical career and was always there for me. For a long time, I wasn't able to compose a single note. Now, however, is the time to continue this suite in his memory. With the same orchestra from Minsk, and in the same studio.”
Listening to ALMANAC going all in with the Inspector Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Virtuoso will enchant Smolski fans and avid RAGE followers alike. Simply no other metal band working with a huge orchestra manages to pull off such a direct and organic sound. No other metal band is spearheaded by Smolski however. “I don't wanna have a band in which everyone is just sitting around at home, sending demos to and fro,” he states. “I want to feel the songs in the rehearsal space. A song is only working on a record when it's working live.”
“Rush of Death” is not only the heaviest ALMANAC album yet; it's also the most contemporary. After a stint in Russian history and his gruesome hymns on murdered kings, Smolski is turning to the gladiators: The orchestrally driven mid-part is all about Ancient Rome's fabled fighters, the rest of the songs about their modern counterparts – racing drivers. “While the audience is getting one hell of a show, the drivers fight for life and death,” he says. “I am a racing driver for more than 25 years. I know what I'm talking about.”
Metal and a need for speed are his ultimate combination, backed up by a personal story; among lots of triumphs, Smolski was vice champion of the Division Supercars at the German Rallycross Championship 2018/2019, is 17-times class winner on the Nürburgring, Hockenheimring and Spa-Francorchamps and soldiered through the 24-hour race on Nürburgring a stunning 14 times. “I risked my life plenty of times, always asking myself afterwards how utterly idiotic I am. But adrenaline changes the way you think. When I put on my helmet, I am entering another world. The start button of my car is my reset button.”
Emotions rather similar to those behind the steering wheel take hold of him as soon as he enters a stage. “I entirely succumb to this energy, to this world. I am in the here and now, precisely in this very moment. Life behind the wheel and life on stage,” he says, “are equally intense.” His third record is finally uniting his two biggest passions. And both only follow one agenda: Pedal to the metal!