Szeged, Hungary is a home of a groove metal four-piece Dystopia, who back in July launched their third studio album ‘Building Bridges,’ a nine-track journey “of the human soul on the path to self-consciousness.” Singer and guitarist Gábor Vári was very kind to give us all the behind-the-scenes talk about the most recent release, its message, and more.
Define the mission of Dystopia.
On one hand I would say it is to explore our own capabilities in terms of songwriting, finding our own voice, and implementing it in our live performances in a way that is most satisfying to our audience. On the other hand, we see more and more evidence that the “philosophic background” behind our lyricism has certain potentials to impact people’s way of thinking in a positive manner. I’d be really happy if that was true, but I wouldn’t call it a mission, it’s more of an artefact.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your latest album Building Bridges and the themes it captures.
The writing stage of Building Bridges was a bit different from anything we had done before. In the past I always found it hard to capture musical moments emerging in my head. As soon as I got to my instrument, they somehow vanished, and I had to start from the scratch. Songwriting methods like jamming, and guitar pro also played their role, but now, I decided to give a much more serious attempt to capture those inside voices. So I grabbed my phone, and when an idea came, I just recorded my voice in the lamest way you can imagine. [laughs] And then I started to transcribe these ideas, which I think led to many of the stronger moments of the album eventually in conjunction with similar ideas of the guys in the band.
The lyrics are also different. The last 2-3 years have brought some serious revelations for me in my life. I had to face several things in myself, that I didn’t even know of. Struggling to get to know myself better led to a sensation that actually every human being shares the same struggles sooner or later in their lives. What is more, I felt the struggle is always there, it’s only the level of consciousness it is fought at, that differs greatly in every individual. So I decided to write about these inner struggles in a very sincere way. When the guys in the band started to get an idea about the new lyrics, they started to come with their own stories too.
Although it was never intentional, we found that in a certain order, the songs could form a concept album, so we decided to put them together this way. The final material includes nine stages a human soul could possibly go through in its life. From it’s incarnation which could easily be just a beginning of a new cycle of differentiation from the collective consciousness; to the first conflicts, like rejection, bad decisions, mid-life crisis, things that create the illusion they it’s alone and has to defend itself from others; than reaching a point where the old model just doesn’t work anymore; facing its worst fears; leaving behind its inherited belief system; taking responsibility and finally finding peace and purpose again.
What is the message you are trying to give with Building Bridges?
First and foremost, knowing that we are not all alone with our problems will always be a game changer when it comes to dealing with crises in our lives. Building Bridges tries to be faithful to its name, it talks about creating new connections in many different areas from the inner world of an individual towards the outer world and other individuals. Making new connections and forming networks seems to be an inherent property of the universe and it comes back on all levels of magnitude. If you decide to change your mind, your neurones have to reach out and make new connections with each other. If we zoom out, we see filaments of galaxies connected together by gravity, creating a surprisingly similar pattern. Somewhere in between, if you want to change your life, you have to alter your interactions: your words, your actions, your habits, the way information is exchanged around and inside you. Maybe we are just an accident, maybe we create all this vast system that we barely know anything about. There are scientific theories for both and everything in between. For me its a very comforting thought, that I’m a part of something bigger, and it doesn’t have to be anything religious. If you think about it, reality is just as mystical. So, the short message could be: You’re not alone/ You can change for the better, and so can anybody else/ You (at least in this form) don’t, you don’t have to, and you are probably not designed to know everything, and that’s okay, so keep calm and do your best.
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
I would say it was documented and formulated at the same time. Today’s technology, especially if you have your own music studio like e.g. I do (Miracle Sound), lets you record your ideas in a nearly “mix-ready” way. Of course, I’m not talking about melodies I was humming on to my phone. [laughs] We worked like this: The guitars and the bass were tracked directly into an audio interface, often weeks apart in time, we programmed the drums to this “guitar-bass-skeleton”, then we recorded a near-final vocal version on these. Then, we could play around with these a little to make sure everything is okay with the song structures, and we waited until every song got to this level. In the meantime, we practiced all of them together to make sure they are playable and work well live (which was an important directive upon all songs this time), and we made corrections in the material where it was necessary. Only then did we hit the studio and mic up the drum kit, which made it possible for the drums on the album to sound in the same acoustic space, just like you would hear it an an album made the traditional way. After tracking the drums, the guitars were played through our favourite amp (re-amped), and we made some final corrections on the vocal tracks.
How long Building Bridges was in the making?
I would say the above mentioned process was pretty much stretched in time, but we can actually draw a line at the drum tracking. Until then, it was more like a writing process and it took about a year and a half with a constant acceleration curve as we got the hang of it. From the drums being tracked until the first single “Purge Yourself” hit YouTube I only had like a month. I remember, it was a really crowded time in the studio, and I just couldn’t get to sit down and spend a few hours with my own band’s mix. I ended up sending it out to my colleagues and friends, to get some insights. We ended up chopping about the third of the song thanks to their advices for which I can’t be thankful enough. After the single, I would say I had a little too much time to go crazy with the mix, but at the end, I think I managed to make the songs sound even and we didn’t go too far from the sound of the first single.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
I hope so, yes. The primary principle behind the song order was the meaning of their lyrics, and where they could fit in a life-line. I think this approach automatically resulted in a pleasing curve in dynamics, since the intensity of the tracks matches the amount of tension in their lyric content. It was a pleasure to find that for example the song with the album title “Building Bridges” became the seventh track. I remember Steve Vai used to put his most sensitive tracks to the 7th place on all his records. I always liked the thought of magic numbers. Nature and mathematics have them too, and of course it excited humans since they invented numbers. In the artwork for example there’s a hidden pentagram: five dots actually, and they come back on each piece of artwork for each song. I like to think of them as a symbol of consciousness itself, something that all conscious beings and all that happens to them have in common: a deep underlying principle, the Silent Observer, if you like.
The curve of the songs actually makes a twist from track seven. We didn’t want a soft ending for the album, so the scene leads the listener back on earth, where the “protagonist“ decides to take everything he/she learned and rejoin the struggle of life again. A little bit wiser this time, but also accepting that he cannot conserve the state of peace in his life, and will eventually have to face new challenges and possibly new crises as well. The last song “The Remedy Engine” is a salute to the relentless power of life, and it’s capability of renewing its willing to stay in the game. If things go well, it should leave the listener in a refreshed and empowered state, ready to play the disc once again. [laughs]
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
All of us come from different musical backgrounds even inside the genre of metal. András’s (András Rácz – drums) favourites include Lamb of God and Trivium, Péter (Péter Bajusz – bass) likes bands like Iron Maiden, Helloween, and Pain of Salvation, Bazsi’s (Balázs Mezey – guitar) taste is more southern, like COC or Down and we share some common roots like Metallica, Pantera, Dream Theater, etc. My more recent favourites also include Gojira, Mastodon, but I also have my grunge favourites like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. I would say that the band is quite a melting pot of genres, and it took a while for us to find a way in which we could combine these influences in the most enjoyable way.
What is your view on technology in music?
We have some helpers in the studio, that previous generations didn’t, that’s true. But the expectations were also generally different back then. I think if you want to kick some ass in the live music industry you still have to be pretty awesome, even more than ever. What is more, the competition is getting fiercer, as the new generation gets every info from the internet. Of course I’m not talking about the “some words put together auto-tuned to hell and accompanied by the scientifically proven 4 most pleasing chords, published again and again to make more and more money” thing. I think that should be called a different industry. I’m talking about MUSIC, and man, do we have a serious amount of talent out there! No, I don’t think it’s a thing of the past, maybe we’ll just have to look somewhere else. But hey, if someone plays a nice guitar solo with real skills and feelings, it still gets people’s attention.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
For me, music is a great opportunity to express my feelings and thoughts in a non-invasive way. I truly believe we humans need such channels of communication to be able to fully explore ourselves and each other.
What are your plans for the future?
When we left the stage of the Wacken Metal Battle in 2016, we all felt the same way: It reminded us why we started playing music, and where it could lead us, if we put in the hard work. The first step was to come out with an album that raises the bar for us and features songs that are dynamic and captivating both on the record and in live situations. Our first goal right after this is to raise awareness in our home country, but we already have some gigs booked in Poland and the Czech Republic, so we are planning to gradually widen the circle.