Interview with Rafal Bowman and Javier Calderón of CHAOS OVER COSMOS
You and your band Chaos Over Cosmos are based in Poland, known for spawning such bands as Vader and Behemoth. Is the underground there the same as it was when those bands started?
Rafal Bowman: Actually I don't know exactly how it's changed, I'm too young to remember the beginnings. I know that there is still a strong black and death metal scene but I've never been part of it (though I like a few of the bands, like Kriegsmaschine or Untervoid if we speaking about more underground bands). I'm 100% into writing and recording music but I was never interested in playing in a 'normal' band, having rehearsals and gigs. Also I find my situation more comfortable because I'm writing whatever I want and don't have to compromise with other three or four members. In the band there's only me and Javier who has tastes quite similar to mine and good ideas. I think it's much more musically unlimited than compromises as a whole band. Or maybe I have just poor social skills, I don't know haha. So in short: I have never been a part of the true underground (whatever the true underground is).
How did you come up with the name Chaos Over Cosmos, and how does this name represent the band’s sound?
Javier Calderón: The name "Chaos Over Cosmos" represents our personalities and our music. As you can see, there is room for calm passages, ambient parts, galloping guitars and melodic choruses, because we are storytelling, not only playing, and we think that our songs reflect that. And all the band names with the words Metal, Steel and Iron are taken!
What tastes in music do you and Javier Calderon have in common? How do your ideas make Chaos Over Cosmos unique?
Javier Calderón: If we have something in common it is our passion for melodic heavy metal and sci-fi bands like Keldian or Iron Maiden, besides mellow death bands like In Flames, video games, movies... to just name a few!
Rafal Bowman: But only old In Flames!
Speaking about the music we both are Iron Maiden freaks and we both are much into the Scandinavian metal scene. Javier is a bit more of a classic heavy/power metal listener while I'm more into progressive or technical genres and some classical composers. It's a good combination of styles and tastes between us, I think.
Javier Calderón: The main feat of our band is our sound and the fact that we've never met each other. I mean, there are a LOT of bands out there, some mimicking their favorite bands, some trying to create something new. We, who worship “the old gods” are trying to do something different, and at the same time are complete strangers (at least physically) to each other. We have elements of different styles of rock and metal, ambient synths, catchy melodies and “not your default metal vocalist” that helps us distinguish from other bands.
How long have you and Javier been fans of metal, and how do you relate to it beyond the popular stereotypes? Do you incorporate other music genres into Submission’s sound, such as classical which was mentioned earlier?
Javier Calderón: I've been listening to metal for almost twenty years, and you can tell it's my only reference when I'm composing or singing. But aside from metal my passion is video game soundtracks, which is probably the reason I got into metal many years ago. I also like classical stuff, movies OST and 80's bands (rock/pop/metal). Everything I mentioned earlier could be an element of Chaos Over Cosmos’s music.
Rafal Bowman: I started listening to metal when I was about twelve/thirteen years old, around 2005. Good times. I found my brother's CDs; he was always into rock music, but a different kind. Anyway, he had Rock In Rio from Iron Maiden and I was like "Wow, that's amazing". That's how it started.
About different genres; I always admired old composers, it inspired my guitar playing and taught me the proper technical approach for playing music (I prefer the classical approach of playing guitar above the looser rock'n'roll way). Obvious inspiration on some parts of the album is electronic music - mostly ambient. On the next album we'll add even more electronic elements. For me adding things outside metal are really good for the quality of the compositions.
What lyrical themes does the band prefer? Do you base them on religious topics or satanism like other bands, or does the band have their own lyrical themes?
Javier Calderón: We both are atheists and don’t believe in the concept of religion (but we respect it). Our lyrics are based on personal feelings and thoughts, also sci-fi, videogames, books. We don't impose limits on our music, and the lyrics are not an exception. We just do what we want and what we love, and that is reflected in the songs!
Rafal Bowman: I have my views on religion, politics and such things but I'm not really a fan of making statements about this kind of stuff in music. For me music is a place for different themes. For example there is a song called "They Will Fall" on the album, you can easily refer Javier's lyrics to situations in the world somehow. But it's more metaphorical, not so straight, it's not a statement - I like that approach.
What sort of science fiction based themes does the band write about? Sci fi covers a wide spectrum of topics; are you inspired by older or newer sci fi?
Rafal Bowman: That's true, science fiction is a wide genre. I wrote a music under influences taken mostly from old science fiction. I started to write the music for this album a few years ago, so there were many books that made an impact on me. To name a few: the "Foundation" series by Asimov, a few Stanisław Lem books (especially "Fiasco" and "Solaris"), many Arthur C. Clarke books (all four novels in the "A Space Odyssey" series for example), I was impressed by Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos series and many, many more - the list of authors would be just to long for the interview. Speaking about "cosmic" influences, I was inspired also by the science: cosmological theories, astrophysics and so on - everything about the space. It gave me a lot of inspiration to add more and more spacey elements to the music.
Javier Calderón: The spectrum of the lyrics is wider than just sci-fi, because we talk about personal points of view, world corruption, religion, greed... but we add the sci-fi "touch", because it's not just the lyrics, the music also offers a strong message that inspired me to write all these things. The first song, "Armour of the Stars" is a tribute to PSX RPG Xenogears, which is one of my favorite games ever, and one of the first to approach taboo themes like religion, sexuality and the deprivation of mankind. Nowadays it’s a very common topic in the gaming world, but in those days it was like "wow! Seriously?"
In what ways are your song They Will Fall metaphorical? What appeals to you about metaphor in lyrics?
Javier Calderón: "They Will Fall" is a metaphorical, yet straightforward song. The gloomy riffs of Rafal, which are almost likened to Doom Metal, inspired me on a very negative-yet-positive lyrics, and I talk about how corrupted is this world, but also how mankind has fallen. The song is set in a dystopic time period in which humans have ceased to fight and are treated like sheep driven by a mother-like being. But you can easily link that dystopia to the actual present, so everyone can make their own conclusions while reading the lyrics.
When did you start reading science fiction novels? What kind of an impact did the Foundation and Space Odyssey series made a lasting impression on you?
Rafal Bowman: I started to read science fiction about seven to eight years ago. Earlier I read a lot of fantasy, and I still like this genre. The Foundation and Space Odyssey series both had a really massive conception behind the story. Clarke and Asimov were writers with good science knowledge which is important in true science fiction. Foundation is especially full of ideas that mixed sociology, mathematics, psychology and a few other branches of science together. For example the conception of "psychohistory" is the core of the Foundation series.
Who is Stanisław Lem and how many novels has he published? How does his work stand out from other science fiction authors?
Rafal Bowman: He was one of the greatest, for sure. He wrote about twenty fiction (mostly science-fiction) books and a few about philosophy and the future of humanity from a scientific point of view. I'm a big fan of his books like "Solaris", "Fiasco", "Eden", "His Master's Voice" and a few more. He had interesting opinions about the possibility of contact between humans and something unknown to us. I think "Solaris" is a book that every fan of science fiction should read. The funny thing about Lem is that the famous Philip K Dick wrote a few notes to the FBI about Lem after their correspondence (in the seventies when Lem wanted to release Dick's novel "Ubik" in Poland) because he thought Lem wasn’t a sole writer but part of a communist conspiracy- focused on the infiltration of American writers. He thought that because of his strange surname and very diverse styles of writing. As we all know, P.K. Dick was paranoid and had a lot of problems with his mind, but anyway it shows how talented Lem was.
In what ways do you incorporate the themes of the sci fi novels you have read into your lyrics?
Rafal Bowman: I think that sci-fi books had an impact on music, on the atmosphere but rather not really on lyrics.
Javier Calderón: As Rafal said, the instrumental part of the band can be easily described as Sci-Fi progressive metal, but lyrics are more versatile and any theme can be present on future releases. Of course, we are sci-fi and videogame nerds, so the influences are still there!
How long has the band been recording and releasing material to date? Are your releases available independently?
Rafal Bowman: We released The Unknown Voyage independently and for free. We are on Youtube, Bandcamp, Facebook and a few other places.
Javier Calderón: This is our first album, and right now we are composing the next album. We don't know when it's going to be released, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years. Creativity is flowing and we want to surpass and expand the limits we faced on “The Unknown Voyage”.
Describe the songwriting process for The Unknown Voyage. Did it sound the way you intended when you started working on it?
Rafal Bowman: It takes a lot of time. I changed many things. I changed plenty of riffs and song structures. It's our first album, so I wasn't sure how to do some things, and I've learned a lot. I think I have a bit of music OCD, I can change the music over and over. Sometimes it's difficult to stop. There are no improvised things on the album. Even all the solos were composed. In general about 70% of the material sounds like I imagined it before recording. I changed a lot, but mostly they were small details.
Javier Calderón: When Rafal contacted me, all the writing was finished except the lyrics and vocal melodies, and although it was my first time composing songs for an album, the process was surprisingly smoothly. The vocal melodies were an easy task as the songs inspired me a lot to write the lyrics, of which I'm especially proud!
Rafal Bowman: I was impressed by Javier's creativity, I remember his ideas recorded on unmixed and very raw versions of the songs. Many of his first ideas were good enough to stay with them on the final versions.
I remember the first demo. Javier said "you know, that's nothing serious, I know that's not very good, but I wanted you to check this". I was curious as hell, and as I said, it was his first idea, so I didn't even expected nothing perfect. I checked it, and I was like "holy shit, that's awesome". He sounded like guy who have a lot of experience, not like debuting singer. By the way, the vocal line from the demo I'm talking about stayed for the final version. It was the first attempt for the song that a few weeks later we named "Armour of the Stars".
Most of the songs on The Unknown Voyage last over ten minutes. Do you set out to write lengthy songs or does it come naturally?
Javier Calderón: The most comical situation came when we had to choose the “single” of the album.
Rafal Bowman: Haha, that's true! In general my only assumption was to not limit myself. I like long songs, so I knew that probably there will be long, maybe even very long songs. I didn't thought about what people will say, if the song will not be too long and such things. The only important thing was my opinion, and later, when Javier joined me, Javier's opinion.
Was The Unknown Voyage recorded in a professional studio, or did you use your own equipment?
Javier Calderón: I personally prefer a good and bombastic production, of course! I always wanted to record an album produced by my favorite sound engineers like Fredrik Nordstrom or Charlie Bauerfeind, but, due to the whole process of “The Unknown Voyage” and our situation, we had to adapt to a more “humble” setup, but we were impressed with the results, as it sounded much better than we expected. We don't know what we are going to do in future releases, who knows? Sky is the limit!
Rafal Bowman: Speaking about the recording: I recorded all the guitars in my bedroom by my Stratocaster and many VST's for amp simulations, synths, drums, bass. There're so many great digital things these days. After recording, I sent everything for mix and mastering in Oakvale Studio (Poland) - instrumental versions, and versions with vocals by me. I definitely prefer to record in my home. I don't have to think about how many hours I'll be in the studio, I'm not distracted and so on. It’s only me and the instruments; that's the good way of recording for me. I know that it sounds weird, but actually I think that the studio environment is not so good for recording music unless you’re on the famous level. You can be in the studio as long as you want because your label paid for that, or you have so much money that you can buy the studio where you record your music. I like to record the music when I'm alone, without someone else’s suggestions and distractions.
Who designed the cover art for The Unknown Voyage? Did this artist design album covers for other bands before you contacted her? Where can her work be viewed online?
Javier Calderón: She's actually my wife! And she's an illustrator; talk about luck! She already worked on another cover for the Spanish speed metal band In Vain, album “IV” to be more precise (recommended stuff). You can see more of her work on Instagram.
How long has Abigail been an artist and what interested her in designing cover art for bands?
Javier Calderón: Since she was born! She usually does all kind of stuff. At first she was not interested in doing artwork for metal bands. I personally asked her to design the cover for “The Unknown Voyage”, and we gave her free reign to do what she wanted as she was inspired by our music. We know that it’s not the usual metal cover with a warrior-in-armour or ”warhammer like” cover that 95% of metal bands do, and we love it. Expect more of her work on the next album!
Rafal Bowman: I think the artwork looks great. It's unusual, original and elegant. I'm not a synesthete, but the colours remind me of the music from this album.
Are you looking for an independent label to get the album, or possibly the second album, out to more potential listeners?
Javier Calderón: The initial idea was to release the first album for free and available to everyone, without a label. We know that nowadays is too much of a “kamikaze” idea; there are a lot of bands out there, and the number is growing each day. We plan to start contacting labels in 2019 to release the second album and reach more of an audience. We are a much unknown band right now, even if we have had a very successful rate of scores and plenty of reviews in metal webzines.
How much of the new album has been completed at the time of this writing? Are you trying new approaches to songwriting new to the band? How will the new songs differ from those on the first album?
Javier Calderón: We are not sure how long the album will be, but it will probably be longer than “The Unknown Voyage”.
Rafal Bowman: The new album will be a bit different: it will still be progressive and melodic but this time the songs may be a bit shorter and there will be more synths and orchestral parts. Also, for the first time there will a few parts with death metal style blast beats. The core of the band will be the same, but we want to add something fresh.
What labels are you considering to release the next album on? Would it be a domestic label or possibly a label from elsewhere?
Javier Calderón: We have some labels in mind. Neither of them are from our country and we don’t know how they are going to react to Chaos Over Cosmos, if they ever listen to us, hahaha. Right now the big labels are more interested in “stage clothes” and “image over music” than the real deal. We are not a disguised kind of band; we don’t even have band photos!
I’m sure Rafal wants us to be dressed like ninja robots or cosmic Spartans, but we can’t afford that kind of a performance. Sorry!
Rafal Bowman: That's true, hahaha! Or like Geralt from The Witcher! But speaking seriously, we really don't care about countries. We live far from each other in different countries, so what is really important for us is our musical vision, not things like nationality or stuff like that. And the same goes for labels. For now the most important thing is new music. Labels, ninja robots and the rest - we will think about this later.
How do you hope your listeners will respond to your new material? Do you think there should be more bands who don’t follow the “image over music” mindset?
Rafal Bowman: I think bands should follow only one mindset: "making good music". I don't care if they do this with or completely without “image-stuff''; it doesn't matter. It's funny when you see a band with lots of image and not so much good music; you know, photo sessions, Facebook pages, videos and such things with weak musicianship. Sometimes It looks like people should turn off their Facebook and Instagram pages and start to play fucking music. It's funny, but as long as such “bands” are happy with that and no one is forcing me to listen, I don't mind. The music is what really matters, not social media or music videos. Do I think other bands should have this mindset? Yes, but I don't mind, it's not my business. How people will respond to the new material, I'm speculating, but I think that people who liked "The Unknown Voyage" will like the new one. It will be a bit different, but still proggy, melodic and spacey. I don't think about people’s opinions now. When I'm writing the new material I'm thinking about what I should do, to make myself happy with this music. Of course it would be nice if people liked the new album, I appreciate someone else's opinions, but writing is a time of thinking about my opinions and Javier's opinions.
Would you also like more bands from your home countries to become more successful with the bigger independent labels on a worldwide basis? Do you see it happening in the near future?
Javier Calderón: Well, if they make good music... the more the merrier!
At some point would you consider bringing in influence from classic rock bands like Pink Floyd or occult rock bands like Coven?
Rafal Bowman: Actually. it happened on "The Unknown Voyage". I mean Pink Floyd influences. It's probably not obvious when you listen to this music, but Pink Floyd is the first band that showed me how spacey sounds can be interesting. I realized that years ago when I listened to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" for the first time. I'm a huge Pink Floyd and David Gilmour fan and I think I'm somehow influenced by them, even if I play different music.
Javier Calderón: I can see the influence of Pink Floyd in every aspect of our music; not so much for occult bands. I personally love Pentagram or King Diamond's styles of occult rock/metal but I don't think it’s a direct influence on us.
How would you want Chaos Over Cosmos to be remembered for their impact on underground metal?
Rafal Bowman: Impact is a big word. If Chaos Over Cosmos was remembered as an original band with well-played music, I would be happy.
Javier Calderón: It’s too soon for now to think about how people will remember our music; first they have to get to know us, hahaha!