Latest release: Dead Elysium (Octane)Website: www.vanishing-point.com.au
It’s been six long years between releases for Melbourne’s melodic metal juggernaut Vanishing Point. Six years of personnel upheavals, personal tragedy and, ultimately, illness have marked the time between Distant is the Sun and their new one, Dead Elysium, which finally lands this week. The band’s rhythm section see-sawed, and singer Silvio Massaro lost both his parents. Then, during the recording sessions, he was hospitalised with a career-threatening illness that could have ended the band.
“With us I think it’s like some kind of Lazarus effect – we rise up to meet the challenge,” suggests guitarist and songwriter Chris Porcianko, jovially, before elaborating a little further on Massaro’s health problems. “He was sick in hospital twice and completely lost his voice to the point where doctors told him he might not sing again. We weren’t sure if he was going to sing again, either, but he got into speech therapy and vocal training and went back to singing lessons, and thankfully he could. That,” he assures us, “was a huge relief!”
Dead Elysium is the sixth album from Vanishing Point and probably their heaviest so far, albeit still layered with the band’s typical sense of melody. For their recording return, the band worked with producer and Teramaze musician Dean Wells to help them create the album’s punchier sound.
“He was initially giving us a proggier type of feel,” Porcianko explains, “so I was sending him references from European bands that I like and bands that I thought had that really big Euro sound. I told him, ‘Dude, throw away what you’re thinking there, this is more along the line!’ We came up with a good compromise that works well.”
The band also compromised on the length of Dead Elysium, partly because of Massaro’s illness, and partly because they simply didn’t want to make the album too long. That said, with ten tracks that average five to six minutes apiece, it still brings the running time to just a few seconds shy of an hour. Not the longest release they’ve done, but hardly the shortest either.
“If the song feels good, it feels good. It doesn’t matter if it’s seven minutes or four minutes or whatever,” the guitarist reasons. “Years ago when we were signed to the Dockyard 1 label and we released the Embrace the Silence album, a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh man, this is too long’. That was 14 tracks, and this album we said we will keep it down to ten. The engineer back then was like, ‘No more guys! We won’t be able to cut this to CD!’ Back then we were still a bit wet behind the ears, so we just said, ‘OK’.”
Working with Wells wasn’t the only change to their usual process this time around. He and fellow guitarist James “Bushy” Maier took a more immediate approach to their songwriting.
“I was getting him to do a lot of pre-production at my place on solos. Then we completely threw the map out of the windows with solos, because when I asked him how he felt he just said, ‘I just want to see what happens’, and we found that was probably the best approach. Even with my parts, we went spontaneously maybe 80 – 85% and I think that translated well into the recording. If we’d had everything mapped out, it would have felt like we were just doing a cover of a song.”
Another two songs were written, but with the uncertainty surrounding the vocalist’s future they were put aside and might be released further down the track – “We might quietly do an EP or something,” Porcianko says.
“We were running out of time and I asked [Massaro] what we should do, and he just said, ‘Let’s go with what we’ve got. Let’s go with that, it’s strong as it is’. So that’s what we did. While he was recovering and resting, and then he did all his singing lessons and we recorded the vocals for Salvus, and then it was done.”
The delay did allow Porcianko and Maier to get even more material written: “In the time it’s taken us to record this album, and while we were on stand-by, we’ve written so much more material: there’s around about another two, two-and-a-half albums’ worth of material here at my place. There’s not a shortage. So, it’s not going to be six years between releases, put it that way!” Given the current situation in his city, he adds with a huge laugh, “There might be three or four albums before we get to play in Melbourne in front of fifty people! Who knows?”
COVID has presented yet another obstacle in a string of hindrances for Vanishing Point in bringing Dead Elysium to fruition, but they certainly aren’t alone there. While other Australian cities have seen a haltering and small-scale return to live performance, Melbourne is facing the strictest lockdowns and night-time curfews of anywhere in the world. A good number of the city’s remaining live music and entertainment venues are at extreme risk of never reopening in the wake of this crisis. Vanishing Point has an east coast tour booked for early next year, and Porcianko can only hope restrictions have lifted enough nationwide for it to go ahead.
“There’s nothing we want to do more than play a gig and have people come and see us but we don’t want to put their health in jeopardy,” he says, adding that he can understand the government’s trepidation at reopening Melbourne. “We’d rather just sit on the sideline and wait until it’s all clear, and then play shows. Truth be known, with this new line-up [featuring drummer Damien Hall and bass player Gaston Chin, both of whom joined after Dead Elysium was completed] and the lockdown restrictions we have here now, we’ve only been able to rehearse seven times. It’s tight as, because these guys are great, but we’d love to rehearse more – but we can’t! It’s not so much me being John Citizen and wanting to keep to the rules, I just don’t want to risk the guys coming in from the other side of the city and getting caught by the cops and getting a $1600 fine because we’ve got to jam. Plus the rehearsal studios are all closed. We’ve got curfews from 8pm until 5am in the morning, which is crazy!”