Symphony of the spirit
“Metal with a musical twist” is how I had described the music of Maltese band Rising Sunset in 2008.
At the time, despite having been in existence for seven years, during which time they released one EP – an impressive four–track affair named Rhema that solidly placed the band as one of the local music scene’s main contenders as far as symphonic and power metal was concerned – the band was also about to give its first live performance.
Four years on, the band has played countless other gigs. They remain focused as ever, undergoing a line-up change along the way and finally realising their dream of releasing a full-length album.
Equinox was launched last March, the occasion marked with an epic live performance at V-Gen (also featuring X-Vandals) that didn’t just unleash the band’s newest material upon the rest of us, but also consolidated its position as one of the leading live metal acts on the island.
In the space of eight tracks, among them one instrumental, a revisited and revamped track off the Rhema EP and Immortal Devotion, (written during the Rhema sessions but not included on the EP), Equinox captures the band’s musical evolution during the past few years. This change has retained all the vital elements that first brought Rising Sunset to our attention, but with added depth and certainly a heavier slant, at least in some instances.
“Apart from having more technology available since the last recording, this time there is a stronger mix of individual influences shaping the band’s sound,” says bassist Cliff Smith.
Along with guitarist Mario Camilleri Brennan, he talks about the band’s latest offering.
“As a result,” Smith continues, “the sound is overtly more powerful, and you’ll also note that more space has been given for the violin to flourish”.
Rising Sunset first started out as a casual two-man studio-based project, the brainchild of guitarists Carlo Calamatta and Camilleri Brennan. Once vocalist Christa Calamatta, violinist Oriella Casha and guitarist Joe Costa (now with Inner Grey) joined, the project began to evolve into a band, albeit one still missing a bassist and a drummer.
“We used a drum machine and Carlo also played bass and keyboards on Rhema,” Camilleri Brennan recalls.
The process, though tasking at times, didn’t deter the band from recording the Rhema EP, following which they were eventually joined by drummer Antoine Ferrito and Jonathan Orlando on bass, later to be replaced by current bassist Cliff Smith. The line-up was expanded further just last week with the addition of Ian Spiteri on keyboards.
In a way, the road to the band’s current formation is a reflection of how it has effectively built up its sound from scratch, although it must also be said that some elements were there from the beginning.
“The band’s sound is essentially a blend of metal with classical elements, and the symphonic element was certainly there from the start,” Camilleri Brennan confirms. “A lot of the bands we listen to use orchestras, or at least classical elements in their music, and if we could afford it, we would love to work with an entire orchestra.”
One can only wonder just how much more powerful and intricate the band’s sound would be if they did. Smith concurs, but is eager to point out that even in its current six-piece formation “the band’s dynamic in a live setting far outweighs what you hear on the CD in terms of power”.
Another significant characteristic of Rising Sunset’s songs is their length, which exceeds the conventional three-minute radio requisite. Smith smiles.
“The songs are long because they’re not really written to fit the conventional mould.”
In truth, convention is hardly ever a factor in the song-writing process of bands operating outside of the mainstream.
“More than just songs, they are more of a series of musical pieces; movements with various changes that take each track to different places, musically and emotionally.”
Back in 2008, Christa Calamatta had said that the band is “about spreading a positive message through its music”.
From the songs featured on Equinox, this is something that has prevailed and steadfastly remains an essential factor in Rising Sunset’s musical and conceptual being.
“Having a positive outlook is an intrinsic part of the band; it’s always been there,” Camilleri Brennan explains, “mainly because it is also a reflection of our beliefs”.
Smith also points out that the messages in their music are a mixture of ethical and spiritual topics.
On this album, the scope has been expanded and extended to cover a variety of subjects.
Songs like Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux, Parousia (the second coming) and Journey Into The Woods are clearly spiritually inclined, but Hidden Voice or Immortal Devotion, for example, address other matters.
“Hidden Voice is actually to do with the much-debated issue of abortion while Immortal Devotion is inspired by Egyptian mythology,” he explains.
Elsewhere, Emperor Of The North, incidentally also the first song that Rising Sunset wrote after Smith joined the band, is about King Canute. In a world where negativity seems to garner more column inches and hog all the airtime, music that addresses humanity’s positive qualities is indeed more than welcome.