Progressive metal with violin is not really something new on the scene, but it’s definitely something interesting when it comes to discovering new bands. The PR wire recently sent me the second studio album by New Zealand progressive metal quartet Shepherds of Cassini, and it turns out that this album is a must-hear monster. Although lengthy, it’s an enjoyable and captivating experience, and it was nice talking with the band’s rhythm section Omar Al-Hashimi (drums) and Vitesh Bava (bass) about the band’s beginnings, the new album, and more. Enjoy!
Let’s start with the band’s name. What does it refer to?
V: Cassini is from ‘the cassini division’, the largest gap in Saturn’s rings, named after the Italian astronomer who discovered it. Shepherds are moons that travel through and create the gaps with their gravity.
It’s not the first time that a violin is used in metal, but I have to admit that in Shepherds of Cassini it definitely sounds different, unique. Was it your idea since the beginning to have a violin as one of the main “ingredients” of SOC’s music?
V: I’m pretty sure it was not a conscious decision at the beginning. Omar and myself had already been jamming in another band that was coming to and end, and I happened to have met Felix through mutual friends around the same time. Felix and I got talking about music projects, and Felix happened to be keen and available to jam, and he just happened to play electric violin. It just happened and went from there. It was never a “I know! Let’s find someone who plays electric violin for this band” kind of thing.
O: Vitesh and I wanted to form a band that had a specific musical direction, despite what instruments the other potential members would play. It was just luck that we found Felix. Vitesh was the one who introduced me to him and got me very interested when I found out that he played the electric violin. Our first jam went well and the sound coming out of Felix’s instrument was phenomenal! He definitely has his own sound and really puts a lot of flavor into the songs. We are very pleased with how things turned out.
V: It was actually released in July but may have found it its way into your hands after then :) We are incredibly satisfied with how the record has turned out, and also very pleased with the reception so far. A lot more thought, planning and time was invested into this record and it is very rewarding to have the end result here to share with people. In terms of reception, it is especially rewarding to send off CD orders to different corners of the globe.
O: We are very proud of Helios Forsaken! For me personally, everything about this record exceeded my expectations, including the reception received from friends, fans and critics! The careful and time consuming writing for Helios Forsaken really paid off. All the hard work and effort into producing an album that people can listen to and enjoy is very rewarding for me. With the power of the Internet, our album has been discovered through different mediums across the globe. Like Vitesh has said, sending off CDs to different parts of the world is really rewarding and definitely encourages us to continue releasing new material in the future.
What are you trying to depict in your lyrics?
V: In a nutshell: the death of the sun.
O: And mankind’s attempt to discover another habitable planet to ensure its survival.
Is there a certain story that inspired Helios Forsaken?
V: In terms of the music: I don’t think so.
O: In terms of music: For me, I would say schizophrenia.
If you compare your two studio records, is it easy for you to notice improvement you made in the period of two years?
V: Absolutely. The improvement in audio quality is obviously there due to more time being invested, but in terms of musicianship, you can definitely here how far we’ve grown and developed as a band since the first record. We feel the compositions are more thought out, melodies and rhythms are more carefully constructed and technical aspects across individual performances have evolved.
O: Definitely. We spend more time and money into this record and this improved the sound quality immensely. Having played together for sometime now, I can clearly see an improvement in our chemistry and in our individual technical abilities. We are more careful in our approach to writing our songs. There is an increase in confidence across the band that allows us to explore different arrays of music without compromising our sound. I think this is due to a more thoughtful and improved approach to composing within our technical capabilities.
Is it natural that Shepherds of Cassini songs are rather lengthy? Do you feel more comfortable knowing that you can express yourselves without thinking about time?
V: Absolutely! It was the idea from early on I think. Since we knew we didn’t have any of those constraints, we were free to let the songs grow organically and let our creativity and intuition guide us. A piece is done when our gut tells us it’s time to conclude, not when we’ve reached a certain number of minutes.
O: Totally! I had no intentions to make the songs long or short. Every song has it’s own natural length and I rather let the song decide its length rather than we determine it. I think that’s the reason why we wrote our songs in such a short time.
The music you create is not really common, and I must admit that you are really great in what you do. What are the good and bad sides of doing something different?
V: Thank you! I guess the bad side could be that most people may not be able to relate to it and may not find it accessible, but we’re not really making this music for those people. Any kind of experimental art is about pushing boundaries and challenging people’s perspective of the world around them, allowing them to expand their thinking. Our music is an attempt to get closer to people who embrace this idea or who at least appreciate it, and if we’ve succeeded then that’s something for the good side.
O: Thanks a lot! The good thing is that we are doing something that we can become fans of. I’m sure there are people out there with the same taste of music. But given our style, it will be difficult to appeal to the majority of people. Generally, musicians tend to enjoy this music but the general public would brush it off. Which is fine by me, I don’t’ expect people to like it at all. However, if our music managed to convert people who are not use to this genre to like it or even value it then that’s a huge bonus for us and to the scene.
It’s obvious that you guys love to perform live. Tell me how does it feel being on stage with the band? Is it exciting to transmit the energy from your studio albums to a live setting?
V: Of course! It’s like the whole world stops and everything is all about that 45mins or 1 hour or however long we’re playing for. Playing live is like a personal connection with the audience, especially for those who really are engaged with our music and love what we do. Given the cinematic nature of our songs, there are a lot of different emotions that come out, and it’s thrilling to share those with people when playing live.
O: It is by far the best experience for me. I always play sober because the sheer experience of feeling the music, playing it, releasing its energy and its energy being reflected back by the audience is a feeling that no drug can ever compare to. Being on stage with the band feels amazing! All being together for one purpose and that is to share our chemistry and our love of music to the audience. Playing these songs live really project a different feeling from just listening to the studio albums. The songs evoke many different emotions when played live and to me that is the best part.
Are there any plans about touring Europe, drinking some of the best Dutch beers or eating pasta under the boiling Mediterranean sun?
V: I have personally done both of those activities but unfortunately not with a band! We would love to tour Europe, and hopefully we can make this happen one day. It’s difficult due to how far away New Zealand is, and also given that we are all quite busy with our own separate personal lives and careers. Hopefully one day, money, time and logistics will be on our side so we can make this happen!
O: I would love to tour with Shepherds Of Cassini in the near future. I know that Europe is a hot spot for our kind of music. Unfortunately, New Zealand is very far from everything, except for Australia of course. So this makes touring costly and time consuming to plan. Like Vitesh has said, we all have our separate day jobs that we are all committed to. But I’m sure that our strong committed to this band will allow for an opportunity to tour in the future. Besides, that is our main goal.