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Fortress's Fili Bibiano: "… in order to get what you want in life, or just to simply be happy, you need to be merciless with people who waste your time and take you for granted…"

Interview with Fili Bibiano from Fortress
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 17 January 2022, 10:47 PM

If there is something that one desires, it should be fought for. There are things in life that in order to get them, an effort has to be made, as it is not just there for the taking. With enough motivation, and not always skill, it is possible to strive for what mind, soul and heart want, yet it could become a struggle. Fortress's Fili Bibiano wanted independence as an artist, and struggled quite a lot for it. Eventually, he came out as victorious with the formation of the Fortress. With the release of the band's debut, “Don’t Spare The Wicked”, Fili had a story to tell, and Steinmetal wishing to hear it.

Hello Fili, it is great to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing mate?

I’m doing great! Thanks for asking.

It was only recently when I was introduced to your band Fortress, a band that retakes the glorious past of Heavy Metal and makes hard love with it. I understood that similar to many cases earlier on, this band was from the ashes of an older one. What made you close up shop with your previous band and put the first stone in the foundation of Fortress?

Our lead singer at the time had to move back to Bulgaria and it was very hard to find a good melodic singer so we took a break from it all. I have always been really passionate about music so I couldn’t just stop there. I luckily found Chris (one of my brother’s friends) and we started jamming some Iron Maiden and Judas Priest together. Ideally this was supposed to be my escape from my other band mates to do my own music. However, I could not shake them all off. My former guitarist insisted that he joined the band and we wrote the EP together. He was no longer apart of the band during the recording process and now I am finally able to write my own music with no limitations. As a result, you get the “Don’t Spare The Wicked” album.

What can you say is the general concept of Fortress, its image and what it represents? I believe that it is more than merely being an 80s devotee for instance

We are devoted Heavy Metal fans. We want to play music that is true to the genre. Most new bands have this ”Emo“ “post punk” sound to the genre which we do not think is genuine. So what we represent is the true sound of the genre and what it’s supposed to represent… image and all.

Before we will get to talk about the band’s debut album, which was recently released, what can you say that the band accomplished in terms of being a presence in its local scene? Perhaps can you share about the band’s achievements during the period of time between its foundation and the album?

We received a lot of praise for sounding original yet familiar. We also received praise for our talent and musicianship which is not very common nowadays for younger bands. One of the biggest achievements was signing a deal with High Roller Records which was able to get our EP pressed on Vinyl and sent around the world. That taught me a lot about running a band and how many people actually appreciated what we were doing.

 “Don’t Spare The Wicked”, your first full length statement as Fortress. Prior to working on the album, how did you know that it was the right time to write songs for a full length? Did the pandemic have something to do with it or was it right at the nick of time for you guys?

It was always our plan to make an album after the EP. High Roller Records showed interest in making this possible so it motivated us even more since there was some kind of demand for it. We actually were working on it before the pandemic. Unfortunately, this slowed down the process drastically.

The chosen title is merciless, straightforward, yet leaving a few questions unanswered. Is it just a sort of a battle cry of an old schooler or there are the actual wicked ones that shouldn’t be let go? What is your take on that?

The song's message is very straightforward but can be interpreted in many ways. I like to leave it up to the listener for them to make up their own meaning for it. For myself, this song means that in order to get what you want in life, or just to simply be happy, you need to be merciless with people who waste your time and take you for granted. You need to break through the naysayers and do what you are meant to do in life.

Following the ongoing pandemic, and the need to have one busy in order to simply let time pass by, without too much putting attention to what is going on outside, how do you relate to “Don’t Spare The Wicked” as a measure of your inner release, a personal get away from it?

It feels great to see people all over the world enjoying this record. I am very humbled that I can provide people in this uncertain time with some new music and hope for the new wave of heavy metal.

The album’s artwork, and I am being honest, is way darker than the actual music played. Not that the music is cheery, yet the darkened statement of the artwork, which is amazing by the way, appears to be sharing a different idea. What are your thoughts about it? How does it represent Fortress on such an important release as the debut?

I think the darkness represents more of the tonality of the album. I use more harmonic minor and Phrygian scales so it makes sense to me. But I get your point.

The musical direction of Fortress on the record is the fruits of that hard loving that I mentioned earlier. The mixture between the early Speed Metal of the 70s and the 80s’ endless Metal battle between the UK and US, makes it a smooth, and quite short I might add, trip through decades of class. I have to know, with all the modern Metal typecast in the US, which has been widely spread, is it simply being a devoted fan of Classic Metal? What makes you such a strong follower of the past?

I am a very devoted fan to classic metal, so I believe you are correct haha. I just don’t like where Heavy Metal is going. It strays too far from the whole idea of head banging and wearing leather. The whole Hardcore / Emo / Post Punk movement really caused a lot of damage to the sound of newer Heavy Metal bands trying to be relevant, or emo bands trying to be Heavy Metal bands. I want to take it back to what it originally sounded like and hopefully influencing younger bands to do the same in the process.

In contrast to your previous band, how does it feel to be a sole guitarist? Don’t you think that there is that great advantage to the twin guitars aspect in a Metal band?

Yes, but for me as a guitarist I need that freedom to roam as I please. I am a wild guitar player who needs room to let loose and do as I please with the music. Also you can finally hear the bass on stage! Instead being buried under the mix. It gives a different feel to the music which I appreciate.

As a guitarist, both in Sound and your style of playing, there is that Blackmore influence that I could sense, and I have the feeling that you are a big fan. Other than a guitarist, you are also a songwriter, what forms of influences led you to the songwriting on “Don’t Spare The Wicked”? Which behemoths of the past landed on your shoulders as ideas came bursting out of your brain?

I am a big Blackmore fan. I just thought of what I wanted to hear in an album and imagined it in my head. Whether it was at work or on the road I’m always imagining music in my head. That’s where it comes from. Once I hear something that I think is worthy I record it and make a demo of it. In a way this album is kind of a snapshot of what goes on in my head haha. Songwriting wise, I tend to try simpler forms of arrangement. I want everyone to be able to listen to this music so I tend to arrange the songs with the audience in mind. I’ll throw small progressive things in here and there but I like to keep it simple.

What can you tell about the songwriting on “Don’t Spare The Wicked”? How do you approach a song ? What is your sort of policy while writing songs?

First is melody. Melody is the most important thing in music, as history and music is passed down through the simplest of melodies. Next is rhythm, I decide a suitable tempo and rhythm for the melody and build from there. If it doesn’t interest me at that point, it is not worth continuing with the idea. When I have a melody and rhythm I like, then I started adding different colors to the music and let my imagination run free. I stand by the rules of music theory and use it as a guide. Sometimes I get off track but only if it sounds good. I know the song is done when I don’t need to add anything more to it. That is sort of an idea of what goes on in my mind.

Along with your guitar qualities and performance, there is your mega vocalist, Chris Nunez. Certainly this guy has the pipes, like a young Graham Bonnet meeting Rob Rock, having cold ones all night long. What is your appreciation of his vocal performance and his expressive manner on the record?

He is an excellent singer and the perfect voice to portray the music. Like me he is a fan of classic rock and metal and is very true to the genre. I appreciate his range the most because it allows us to have more variety in writing and performance. I worked very close with him on this album producing his vocals every step of the way helping him figure out his true potential and putting his natural talent to the test. I think he’s one of the best singers in the Heavy Metal genre right now.

There is a sense of speed to the record, and also your lead guitar signatures all around, however, there are other aspects of the record that make it such a profound listener. What other factors, in your opinion, made the record such as strong suit?

I think the arrangement and variety of songs there were on this album made it a stronger record. It allowed the listener to hear different sides of the band.

I bet that every recording you made, every song that you wrote, was yet another phase of learning. While making “Don’t Spare The Wicked”, how did it work for you? Which form of lessons of the past did you implement in order to perfect your methods both as a guitarist and a songwriter?

I definitely improved on my audio engineering skills. My guitar playing got much better as well. And I got to try and experiment a lot more with the songs this time around. I don’t feel like it will ever be perfect. But you can’t hold onto music like that forever. I am conscious that I am not perfect, and I use that to my advantage to push myself every time I write music. I am humbled that you think I have perfected this method but I am still learning haha.

Listening to the record, soundwise, contributed to the journey back to the past. What can you tell about the sound engineering on the record? To whom you should be thanking for that awesome work?

I referenced bands like Candlemass and Queensreich for vocal effects. I did a lot of studying and listening to my favorite bands such as: Accept, Yngwie, Scorpions, MSG, UFO, Rainbow, Ozzy etc. for various influences and advice on how to make this record sound. We ended up with a mix of both a modern and classic sound.

Certainly it should be considered to be a leading track on your future setlists, is “Children Of The Night”, a gathering of decades and the overhead keyboards contributed to its late 70s influence, fitting like a glove. Furthermore, this is Nunez’s show, with the listener not being able to expect for less. What can you tell about the importance of this track?

It is an anthem type track that allows for a sense of community and connection with the audience. It is pulsing rhythmically and that energy can be transferred directly to the listener.

Since nothing is really positive, but rather questionable, nowadays, with the Covid pandemic, on its 5th wave, are there plans to support the record next year?

We have been doing some local shows in California. We are always thinking of the safety of our band members and family so that definitely comes first. Hopefully we can plan something soon so we can reach more fans when things calm down.

Fili, I wish you season greetings, thank you for your time for this interview and also much obliged for such a classic token of Metal. All the best

Thank you Lior! It was a pleasure and I enjoyed answering your questions.


 



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