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Matthew Bizilia & Sin (Icarus Witch)

Interview with Matthew Bizilia & Sin from Icarus Witch
by Orpheus Spiliotopoulos at 07 July 2005, 9:07 PM

\[This interview is a kind contribution by: Marcin Ksiazek of Heavy Metal Pages magazine]<br><br>When you listen to your favorite 80's Heavy Metal releases how often do you ask yourselves this question: why isn't anyone playing like this anymore? I do it a lot. There is no doubt that classic Heavy Metal nowadays is being played in a bit different way and even though there's a really big group of bands who are trying to resurrect the spirit of Metal from the old days, only few of them actually manage to do it. Hailing from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, this young band called Icarus Witch proved with their brilliant debut EP Roses On White Lace that they are one of them. What's their secret? Find out for yourselves.

Let’s start with a short history note. When was the band formed and what was the driving force that made you play old school Heavy Metal?

Matthew: Sin \[Bass & Keyboards] and I have been playing together since the beginning of last year. Then Steve \[Pollick, Guitar & Keyboards] came in a few months after the Sabbath tribute. As for the music, Metal is something I have loved all of my life. I wouldn’t want to play anything else. Disco maybe. Sin came to me with the idea for Icarus Witch, I knew it was a perfect time for this type of music. It’s just so natural for us.

Sin: We’ve all been in different types of bands over the years, but the style of music in our blood is classic Metal which by today’s standards, some would call Hard Rock. It’s been ignored for too long by younger bands. I realized I was spending all of my money on records that were 20 years old and thought, why isn’t anyone playing this amazing music anymore?

Where did the name of the band come from… and what does Icarus have to do with Witches?

Sin: The band name came to me in a pagan ritual when I was in Los Angeles. One of the hardest things in any band’s early phase is choosing a name. I decided to seek supernatural guidance. I’ve been practicing Witchcraft since I was a child, so to me it was a powerful tribute to include that word. Icarus is a legend, a myth that has also been touched upon by artists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Iron Maiden (who inspired many kids to learn about history & poetry in the 80’s). We’re a band that incorporates mythological and occult themes into our lyrics, art and imagery. The 2 words together are magical, like an incantation, and in my mind create a fitting vision of how we sound.

Are there any other young bands from your area that also carry the torch of classic 80’s Heavy Metal?

Sin: Some other bands I know of in our region that play classic Metal are Order Of Nine, Dofka, Pharaoh, Aftershok, Penance…there are others, those are the best I’ve heard around here.

Your first recording was Black Sabbath tune Falling off the Edge of the World that appeared on the Evil Lives compilation in tribute to Black Sabbath. Tell me how you got involved in this project and why did you choose this song?

Sin: I also work for the label and spent a lot of time on putting that project together. In a sense, Sabbath helped our band form (like they have so many others), because that song was our first focus, our first recording. I wanted to A&R a band that I could play in and enjoy, not just manage. So it was a quest to organize the top players in the area and form the ultimate classic Metal machine. It worked so well for that track, which we recorded just a month or 2 after forming, that we decided to keep going and put all of our energy into making Icarus Witch a real force in the industry. Matthew & I are the only members remaining from that first session, but we’ve really formed a great partnership in the past year and with guitarist Steve Pollick in the mix, our songwriting has continued where our heroes in Sabbath, Dio & Queensryche left off in the mid 80’s. The song Falling Off The Edge Of The World was always a favorite and to me the pinnacle of Sabbath’s long career. The riff, the attitude, the bass sound, the mystical imagery, it was the perfect spell to unleash Icarus Witch upon an unsuspecting world!

Your second recording was also a cover; this time of Alice Cooper’s Roses on White Lace and in that song you were supported by Michael Romeo of Symphony X. How did you get in touch with him and how did you like working with him?

Sin: We recorded one version of the song Roses… for our EP. That version is with our own guitarist Steve and former guitarist Greg playing leads. When the Alice Cooper tribute became more of an All Star thing, there was some suggestion from the higher ups at the label, that we should remix, remaster & include someone with more name recognition for our song. Our producer Eric Klinger is a world renowned rhythm guitarist for Pro-Pain. Being so close to us after having produced our EP, his inclusion was a natural choice…yet we wanted to take it a step further. We’re good friends with the local company, Inside Out Music, which is Symphony X’s label. Steve had met Michael a few times and is a huge fan of his band. Since Romeo is the ultimate neo classical shredder of recent years, it was a real honor to be able to work with him on this. He is very fast and professional, both as a player & a technician. I hope he enjoys the final result as much as we enjoyed having him as our guest. The song is getting great response and when the Alice Cooper tribute: Welcome To My Nightmare, comes out April 19, I think a lot of metalheads are in for a real treat.

Along with this cover you also recorded four of your own songs and all five of them made it to your debut EP. Tell me about the recording process? Did you enjoy your time in the studio or did you have to work really fast?

Sin: We did have to work fast and long hours, but we enjoyed it and really became much better players in the process. Klinger is strict to work with, which you want in a producer. Once it became obvious to everyone in the room that this EP was really tapping into some powerful vintage energy, I think the clock stopped ticking and it became more about how can we make this a real record, not just a demo, which it was originally intended to be. We then just poured all of our creativity and souls into it, which is draining and demanding at the time, but we wouldn’t settle for less. The new record will blow it away both in sacrifice, song craft and production. We’re aiming for a real classic here.

Icarus Witch is a four piece but in the studio you had also second guitar player Greg Gruben. Tell me who he is and why did you decide to ask him to work with you in the studio?

Matthew: When we went in the studio we wanted the duel guitar sound and Greg had great ideas and riffs. But when the CD was recorded there were differences of opinion about mixing and solos. We had to make serious decisions about the direction of the band. We went separate ways.

Why did you decide to choose the cover tune for the title track of your EP?

Sin: The main reason we entered the studio of that session was to track the song Roses… for a Cooper tribute. At that point we’d only been playing with Steve and Greg for a few months and only had a handful of originals studio ready. The thinking was, let’s make the most of the studio time and throw down a couple of originals to use as a demo. Well, as the sessions progressed, it became apparent to everyone that this could be more than just a demo, that it was worthy of release. Around this time we were looking into cover art ideas and Mattias Noren was recommended to me by Jim Pitulski at Inside Out who had worked with him on Evergrey and some other jobs. Mattias had this beautiful piece of art with the rose growing out of the skull, sort of a life after death theme. It just seemed too perfect of a fit with the title Roses On White Lace. Plus the painting just had that very eerie, classy vibe like it could have been an LP cover for Blue Oyster Cult or Savatage back in the days of vinyl. Perhaps if Mattias had a beautiful painting of a goddess entombed in ice, we may have called the EP, Curse Of The Ice Maiden. The reason we chose to lead off the CD with that song has nothing to do with it being a cover though. That was a conscious decision based on the pace of the song. If you look at some classic’s from 㥛 like Dio’s Holy Diver, Ozzy’s Bark At The Moon and Sabbath’s Born Again, they always started the record with all guns blazing, we wanted to set the pace of the recording so that it flowed with a purpose.

Roses On White Lace comes in a nice digipak with great cover artwork and also with a bonus sticker and it only costs 5 bucks. How did you manage to keep the price so low? What’s the trick?

Sin: I wish there was a trick. We financed the entire production ourselves before even showing it to the label owner at Cleopatra Records / Magick Records. We were willing to put all of our savings into getting this quality product out there. In recent years the value of music has declined in many peoples’ minds. With file-sharing, CD burning and used CD stores everywhere, it’s increasingly harder to convince someone to actually spend their money on your music especially for a new band. I figure the only way to combat that is, create better music, spend more on nice, collectable packaging and charge less. We’re not making money on this EP but that wasn’t the purpose. It’s served its goal, which was to get us a deal (we’ve got 5 recording offers on the table for the next CD), and more so, to get the band name out there. We’ll chalk it up as a promotional budget so that all of the great press we’re seeing now will raise awareness when the full album (which is all new material) hits streets this fall. The 5 songs for 5 bucks thing just seemed about what people are used to paying, It is on the low side, sure, but will make a nice piece of merch on the road. In a club or theater, people are more likely to drop a fin than break a $20, especially if it would cut into their drinking money for the night!

Your EP has only one disadvantage and that is its total playing time. It’s way too short! So tell me when can we expect a full album with Icarus Witch’s logo on it?

Sin: As mentioned, we record in May and will likely release it around Halloween.

I searched the web to find out what the response was for your EP and I didn’t manage to find a single bad review. They were all good, very good or enthusiastic. Did you expect such a good feedback?

Matthew: I really didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of afraid people wouldn’t take us seriously. But I am happy to say that it isn’t a problem. I take my Metal very seriously.

Sin: Yeah, we totally made this record for ourselves but assuming there would be other old school Metal fans out there too. If we had been thinking of success or money, we would have gone the trendy route, but this was simply about establishing our stance and producing the kind of music we feel has been missing from the scene for too long. The fact that so many other people are enjoying it is definitely a bonus!

People often compare you to acts like Helstar, Jag Panzer or Iron Maiden. How do you feel when you read something like that?

Sin: Well, the new kids are always measured by their forefathers, right? When Queensryche came out, they were called out for sounding like Maiden but they blossomed into their own entity. I remember the first time I heard Cinderella’s Shake Me I thought it was an AC/DC song. There’s nothing new under the sun, and we’re not denying our roots or trying to reinvent the wheel, just making the kind of music we miss. The Maiden comparison I can understand because Matthew has a similar vibrato, I grew up on those famous galloping bass lines, and we incorporate guitar-mony. I think that the next record will give us more of an identity. We love Maiden and it’s a compliment, but I don’t want to be viewed as a rip off, because if anything we have too much respect for them. I like what one recent reviewer said on TheCuttingEdge.Net: Nice to hear there are still bands out there that remember the muscular frame work of stadium metal. Icarus Witch live, eat and breathe Iron Maiden - without sounding too much like ‘em.

I’m not too sure about the Helstar and Jag Panzer comparisons. I appreciate those bands, but we’re more inspired by the classic Dio, Rainbow, Judas Priest, Queensryche, Fates Warning and Mercyful Fate. Probably coming from the same original inspiration. But what I haven’t heard as much about is our love of the more rocking bands like Dokken, Whitesnake, early Leppard, Scorpions and Motley Crue. Those influences may be more below the surface, but we’re far more likely referring to a Ratt song for structural guidance than a Helstar song. Our new music continues in the same tradition as the EP but while every other power Metal band is playing top speed, double kick hysterics, we’re kicking our beats in half time, trying to punch a groove and tap into that mystical era where a song like Take Hold Of The Flame could really raise the hair on your arms without ever leaving 120 BPMS. To us, THAT is power.

Soon two new Icarus Witch covers are going to be released on tribute albums to Iron Maiden and Running Wild. So, I guess that you do like doing covers, don’t you? What songs did you record and do your versions differ from the originals?

Sin: We always try to keep our cover songs fairly close to the originals but adding our production, voice and playing style. I’m not a big fan of the typical approach many newer Metal bands take of speeding up or thrashing out a classic. There is a reason classic songs are classic and it has nothing to do with speed or aggression. It’s about vibe. We’re also recording S.A.T.O. for an upcoming Ozzy tribute and just finished Pictured Life for a Scorpions tribute. I don’t think we really enjoy doing them. It’s a way to show respect for the masters, as well as get exposure for our band, but for us it’s more difficult to learn and record cover songs than it is to do our own material. It’s a challenge, so once we get the basic framework of the original, we usually just play it as if we had written it, to give it more of a personal feel.

Have you heard the new Running Wild album? If you have, tell me what you think about it.

Sin: I haven’t heard it yet.

What albums have you been listening to lately?

Matthew: I listen to the same music I have listened to since I was little. Abigail, Powerslave, Stained Class, you get the picture.

Sin: I’ve been on a classic Rock binge lately rediscovering bands like B.O.C., Uriah Heep, Joe Lynn Turner, Starz, mid era Deep Purple, Fastway, Triumph, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, Angel… more of the KISS style pre-Metal. I’ve also been blowing the dust off the first wave of Shrapnel releases like M.A.R.S., Tony Macalpine, Steeler, Becker, Friedman, Vinnie Moore. But the timeless records that never leave rotation are Rainbow’s Rising, Queensryche’s The Warning, Fates Warning’s Awaken The Guardian, Iron Maiden’s Piece Of Mind, Malmsteen’s Marching Out & Trilogy and the most underrated album of all time… Alcatrazz - No Parole From Rock ’N’ Roll!

And for the end; what would you like to tell our readers?

Sin: Thanks to all of the true metal heads around the planet who have given Icarus Witch such a warm reception. Your encouragement and support has been the fuel we burn to propel this machine forward with grace and speed. We feel the new material will meet and exceed expectations and look forward to bringing the show on the road to a stage near you!


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