After reading the review of Agregator's latest album called Semmiből - A Semmin Át I decided to check out the band and the music myself. While listening to the album and reading whatever information about the band I could find on the internet, I was left with some things that needed some more explaining, and a definite need for translator (since a lot of info was in Hungarian and Google was not much help). Contacting the band was a breeze, and Tamás 'Tass' Mikus was nice enough to answer all that I had prepared for him. Here it is.
Hungary was always a place where I wanted to visit and explore. Tell me about the area you live in, are there any places you would recommend to visit, how’s the weather over there as in ‘what is the best time to visit’?
Thanks for asking and I am glad our country is on your bucket-list! :) Well, it is a nice place - I am living in Budapest, the capital and it worth to visit even this city, as its center districts along river Duna is quite a sight. The city is divided by the river - Buda is on its right, with hills, castles, fortresses - and Pest on the left with the nightlife, clubs, restaurants and options for activities. I would say that this city never sleeps - there are pubs which are nonstop, there are a lot of options of craft beers, pálinka (which is our strictly fruit-based shot) the streets are safe - so it is hard to get bored and now on most of the places the staff speaks English, so you have everything here to spend a few days. I would propose to visit the so-called Ruin Pubs - which are pubs with a very special atmosphere, kind-of and old, ruined kind, but they are quite popular - also the Escape Rooms can provide good fun - where a group can spend a hour to find out riddles which at the end let them escape :)
If you would like to see more from the country - I would propose to visit our winery-regions - Tokaj is the most popular, it is on the banks of Tisza which is our second largest river, quite nice surroundings with tasty white wines. For white wine Badacsony is also great - that is at lake Balaton, that offers a lot of activities in itself and you have an awesome view from that hill. If you prefer red wine - I would suggest Eger - where you can see the famous castle where our ancestors have stopped the Turkish invasion in the middle ages ... at least for a while ... so these are nice places to spend the time while you stay in Hungary.
We have continental climate - so nothing extreme - cold in the winter, warm in the summer - due to the climate change we have "hot summer" basically from April, 'till October - between 25 and 35 C - I would propose to avoid July and August as they can be pretty hot for our standards - but otherwise it is quite ok. If you would like to visit summer rock/metal festivals here, then these months are the best - it is really based on what you would like to do.
Tell me about your town/city, where do you live, what kind of scene do you have happening over there?
Most of the actions are happening in Budapest. There is a very significant difference between the capital and the countryside - it was not always like this, but the crisis in 2008 cut the people's budget on culture. Famous clubs and festivals have been closed in that time - fortunately I see that the scene is getting stronger and stronger now - partially thanks to the "death" of the CD sales, a lot of international tours have events in Budapest and other cities - on the summer festivals, like Rockmaraton is pretty difficult for you to find a place for your tent - so you can feel on your skin that the rock/metal underground is getting in better and better shape. Also, in local music industry there are a few occasions when rock/metal bands can take part in their "competition" in the television - and sometimes win based on popularity votes - which is a very good sign as the media treats these genres like these would not exists at all.
In your biography section on your website I’ve read something like: “…started to play this as otherwise there was no chance to hear such music locally…” can you tell us more about this statement, how is the situation right now?
Haha, this is a tricky question - it is the same, but from totally different reasons. When we have started in the '90-s we were in love with Amorphis, Paradise Lost, Katatonia, My Dying Bride - where the slow, powerful and melodic metal has been backed by heavy, growling vocals. The complexity was not a factor, only the dark and gloomy feeling, paired up with strength. There was lot of thrash bands out there in that time, somewhere between Metallica and Sepultura and pulled towards the modern times by Machine Head, Korn, Fear Factory, etc. We have not been interested in this at all - these were mostly with lyrics about judging the society, the politics and to open people's eyes on this, but just cannot care less about these subjects. We wanted to have songs related to the person who tries to survive in theses chaotic times, the fight, the loss and the inner feelings of standing up from the dust at the thousandth time and continue to move towards your goal and a better life. The bands who followed the dark/goth genre in the county have certain elements of the music, but lacked this power - as they mainly chosen the female vocalist way and taken the "beauty & the beast" direction - and we wanted to be only the beast - a dirty, lowlife kind of a beast, a fighter who not just laments, but stands up again-and-again and charges the wall, life itself head on. When we have organized our first festival - the Harag napja (Day of the Wrath) - we have created a stamp, with the word "Sinner!" on it and our fans loved that - a few guys asked to give that to their brow instead of their hand :) BUT, to answer your question - so we have seen that no band wanted to take this path in that time, even if this was popular then in the international metal community - and we have made the efforts, that OK, we will do that. Now, it is not really a trend - Scandinavian Metal means In Flames and Arch Enemy now, and not Tiamat or Cemetary. We have changed a lot since then, but in Hungary we are still alone with this direction.
Let's talk about your newest album, 9 songs in 5 years is a little slow I think , what was the reason for such a long break between the releases?
Yeah, it is not fast, definitely :) The good news is that the songs themselves have not been written for such a long time - as this would be enough to pull out all the teeth of even the strongest metal song :) Most of those have been written 1-2 years before the release and the lyrics are even more fresh. As the story goes - after the last full-length album release in 2009 we have started to focus on to create EPs in 1-2 years with videos to speed up new stuff around us. We had the next EP with 3 songs, 2 videos in 2011-2012, but we had a tragedy in December when our late bass player, Roland has passed away due to a tragic accident. We had a few changes in the line-up previously, due to the rampaging crisis the morale within the band was not at the top and then came the tragedy and we stopped for a while to see if we could or would continue the band or not. Our previous guitar player, Lackó who has left the band for family reasons a few years back told us he would take the bass player position and we have felt that this could be a honorable continuation - and taken a few years where with line-up changes on the drummer and guitarist roles in 2017 we was ready to the new album, new tours and everything what we like in the metal scene. Currently the morale is up, we have good gigs, awesome experience - so Agregator is in the shape to start its second 20 years of its history :)
Was there anything that you did differently in the writing process of new album comparing to the previous ones?
We do not reserve the composing for one dedicated person, usually the main song idea is coming from one person, then everyone works on his own part. Because of historical reasons the new songs are mainly written by Májki (Miklós Csóra - guitarist) - and there is one (A Styx folyó hídján) which was made by our previous guitarist Dávid Szabó. Rajmi - his successor - brought melodies and solos, but as he has arrived in the middle of the process, his songs will be heard on the new album, in 2020. So I would say, there was no change in this compared to the previous albums - I mean in the process, as the actual lead composer is changing time-to-time.
What are the creation stages for Agregator, how do you work on new songs, do you work on new songs collectively as in a bunch of guys actually in the practice room, is it done with files being shared or is there a main composer taking care of all that happens musically, or is it something else entirely?
Unfortunately, we have moved away from our practice room - which is still in Tatabánya - and we just cannot write the songs in that room anymore together, which often happened in the past. We are actively using the available technologies to work together - so the first phase is that one records his idea and show it to the others and changes based on the feedbacks. Then everyone adds in their own stuff and we start to play it when we come together in the practice room, and finally we start to add it to our setlist - as by experience we have to play it a few times in front of audience to have one song practiced-to-be-confidently-played anytime. If that is done, then we can leave that song from setlists and take another one - and when we decide to play it again, only needed to be practiced a few times before the show and it will be just perfect :)
In your opinion, which song from the new album is the best representation of it, why, is it your favorite one?
Well, the songs are about everyday life situations and feelings - if I interpret your question like which songs represents the album title, I would choose the "A semmin át" - which means something like "Through the void" and about one's drifting through everyday life and self-destructive decadence. If I would take the best musical representation, I would take "Hol a senki jár" (Where the one-with-no-name walks) - it is harsh, heavy and strong - with lyrics about one who after a break-up goes back to hide in the darkness to be alone at last, which also connects to the album title.
Heavy, fast and brutal at moments, combined with groove and melody is what I dig the most about Semmiből - A Semmin Át and I was wondering: who comes up with that stuff, who brings the riffs and who does the melodies?? How does it work in Agregator?
Agregator's main concept always was to combine the metal riffs with dark, gloomy melodies which are paired with the growling vocals - which also adds to the heaviness of our songs. The actual songs and riffs came from Májki - and he worked with Rajmi with the solos and the melodies. Since our bass guitarist Lacko was guitar player before and singer he also providing ideas and so does Dagatt, our drummer - and on the song structure we work together. During the writing phase we often have debates about which part is verse, which is to be called like bridge and what is the chorus, because we are coming from different directions to that (like the ones with the instruments and myself with the lyrics) - and there are cases where there is no real agreement on the end, but everyone is doing their own stuff which he thinks is the best interest of the song :)
Semmiből - A Semmin Át translates into ‘From Anything - A Semmin Trans’ on Google. I’m not exactly sure how to take it, care to do some explaining? Lyrics are written in Hungarian and just like with the title of an album Google is just partial help, what are the topics, what are you growling about,is there a common subject, who is responsible for lyrical layer?
Yeah, it is tough - I can imagine - and thank you for taking your efforts to get some meaning for the title and the lyrics! The title is something like 'From the void - through the void' it is a metaphor for life itself, this is taken from our previous song "Szürkület" from the album with the same name. About your consciousness which appears in some point of time, then you just going through the chaos of expectations and random situations and try to make your best of it. I really appreciate your efforts to understand our lyrics in our not that well-known language - I think I will create a translation about them as more and more guys from abroad have started to listen to tour music, and even if they may not speak English, it will be easier for Google to translate that to whatever language they use :)
Our songs are mainly about lifelike situations, how does one feel himself or herself in certain situations - like love, divorce, fighting to a better life, losing the ground or starting everything from scratch again and again. We recently heard that we are the Bon Jovi of Death Metal, what is kind of a joke, but I would not say it is not entirely incorrect :)
Maybe the best would be if I give you some insights through the actual titles. Vérnász (Bloody Wedding) it is about a bad, but very energetic relationship, when the couple just hurt and torture each other, but for some reason they continue their life together and accept their dark fate. I have already mentioned the "Hol a senki jár", the next one is "Az égő bokrok kertje" which means "The garden of burning bushes" - it is related to a Hungarian writer Imre Madách main work, "The Tragedy of Man" that our fate is somewhat sealed during the Creation and the man's challenge is to fight and hope during the lifetime ... and never to win really. "Az egésztől innen, mindenen túl" - "This side of the whole and beyond everything" it is about the underground scene, the life in it and why we are love to be part of it - and also a tribute to those friends who left this world - and from our side it is dedicated to Roland Liviczki, our bass player passed away in 2012. "Mivégre?" or "What's for?" it is about the endless fight for your dreams, the anger to continue and never surrender. "A Styx folyó hídján" - "On the bridge over river Styx" - it is about the feelings when your loved ones pass away. In the last few years we have lost a lot of relatives and friends and sometimes it is like standing on this bridge of the mystic river watching the departing. "Nem hiszem" - "I do not believe" - we, Hungarians mostly see our failures as the acts of others, we do not start anything, because we can list a thousand things why it would not succeed, and we rather wait for someone to bring a better world. I this song I write what I see, because sometimes it helps to face the truth - I do not blame as I do this myself too often, but I think there is a better way to do things and I really believe we can make some change together. "A semmin át" has been mentioned earlier, and the last one "Zaj" or "Noise" is about the modern world, about this constant communication and news and unlimited content how hard is to live your life - or at least it is something new you need to get prepared to. I have written the lyrics after a hiking weekend, when during the evenings we had drunk a lot an started to "help" a few of our friends on Tinder, by choosing the candidates instead of them as "we will pre-select those guys and girls as this is our group and we have the right to decide who to join or not" :) The lyrics are not blaming internet or the changing times, and in many parts it has a sarcastic moment when it is obvious that you cannot tell that you rely on it yourself - so it is what it is, let's use it more than it uses us :)
Why did you decide to strictly Hungarian for the lyrics?
The first two releases had Hungarian and English versions of the songs, and when we have performed in front of a non-Hungarian crowd, I felt no difference in favor of the English versions - well, you know, growling, so it is hard to get. Yet, the energy in the venue was much better during the Hungarian songs. I guess it is because I can be much more convincing when shouting in my native language and rock 'n' roll is the music of the heart and not the brain. There were guys in Slovakia who started to sing the chorus with me with obviously terrible sounding pronunciation, but it was like a dream. Or the other one in Austria, who told me that he does not have any clue what we was babbling about, but had to smoke and drink after that - even if he had quit smoking since years :) These experiences led to that decision that our live shows are stronger in Hungarian, and I have seen really good native English speakers performing and I simply cannot be that authentic during the songs, I would be somewhat fake and the audience feels if you cut back your powers. Between the songs I speak in English, connect to the audience, but we are performing in Hungarian and it works :)
How did you make your decision when deciding on album cover, tell us about the process.
We are working with Niklas Sundin since 2003 - he is the guitarist in Dark Tranquillity and worked with many bands (In Flames, Arch Enemy, Sentenced, etc.) on their artwork and this was the third cover he has made for us. Usually we had the album title years before the actual release and I contact him if he has any existing artwork which can fit to the idea. There have been 6-8 proposals from him and we have chosen the one which radiated the most level of despair and had the most metal radiance.
Whose work do we see on the cover, how does it correspond to the lyrics and music?
We have a great team who are called together when we create the artwork. I have already mentioned Niklas, but we had a new photographer Zoltán Dévai who has fantastic eyes for the details and made all cover photos. János Posta is working with us since 2001 he creates the complete design from the different elements we collect and he always put together a real artwork at the end which is much more than an aggregated group of photos and pictures. Last year we have made a house party with all the crew members who was responsible for the album's production - starting with the guys from the GarageLive Records, the sound engineers, the photographer, the designer and the guy who manufactures our vinyls, only the team of the CD production was not able to join as they are living in Szeged. We had a cake, lot of alcohol and good discussions - as these guys mostly was not working together so apart from the fun it was a good networking event for the participants.
Tell me more about 'Sinner Choir' please, whose idea was that and so on.
Yeah, that was the tricky part during the recordings :) This story is about the song the “Az egésztől innen, mindenen túl" - you know, in previous albums we had a few featured vocalist - it something usually done here, to invite friends from other bands. This is one part. The other is, that this is our first release since the passing of Roland, and we had an agreement within the band, that if a song has a potential, we can dedicate it to his memory. We have not planned to write a song for that as usually such initiatives rarely succeed as have an artificial feeling, which we wanted to avoid. I was working the lyrics during one night and I started this song with the chorus as that has some catchy stuff and as I started to write down the lines, I had the feeling, that ok, this will be the song about the underground and where we make the tribute. The music is so Sentenced-like, about partying and about parting - and I was really happy that we have a candidate for it. Then there was the question about who to call to participate. Roland had many friends within the scene, I was started to make a list, but there was like, 5-6 guys will be technically too many, too much to organize and too many channels to mix, less will not work and who will decide, I mean who will decide who will be the ones to pay their tribute through this song and who is not? Then I was like, "to hell with this technical bullshit - what is reasonable, what is not" let's invite everyone who would participate and we will manage somehow. I remember when I have told the band in the practice room, there was no great applause at first :) After the first shock, they were agreed with the idea as that is a good idea, it will be a lot of work, but is a way to make it as it should be made. What is happened, that we have split the guests - the bridge part of the song was recorded by close friends of Roland - from bands Dalriada, CasketGarden, Christian Epidemic, Tesstimony, Reason - and the chorus has been opened for anyone. We had a mobile recording device and reserved some time for it on concerts, festivals - we have received recordings from Transylvania and even friends from band Days of Loss are joined which was a bit challenging as they do not speak Hungarian at all :) There were no real restriction, one can sing, whisper, growl or shriek or yell as long as following the rhythm and the match the lyrics. Fans, musicians, journalists, friends are joined the effort - at the end we had about 100 members in this choir - which we had titled 'Sinner Choir' as our fans are often call themselves as sinners as from the society point of view we, the members of the rock & metal underground has marked as someone outside their customs and laws we are embracing this and tell them yes, we are sinners then and it is ok. We even printed the photos of these guys on the official poster – you can find the members in their gallery. So that is the story behind this - I think this was the main difference versus the previous albums as for this release we made a lot of fans happy before it was completed. I was there most of the recordings and first we had to calm them before the mic and help them through the process. You know, the whole setup - there is a mic, and headphones and all these tech element - so it was familiar to us, but most of them seen this only in videos and to actually have this experience was a unique experience for them. When they finished, you have seen their happy face as they join their group and convince the others that it is a really fun thing to do - it given us a very warm and good feelings that yes, we have made a difference with this song and we have somehow honored the underground community - for the many adventures they have given to us - through these sessions.
It may be too early to ask but what are your long term plans and goals, can we count on more regular releases in the future?
We have a solid roadmap - thanks to the renewed activity and high morale within the band. In 2019 we will have the 15th Anniversary release of "A semmi ágán" album - it will be remixed and remastered and the vocals have to be recorded again as the original material has lost during those chaotic years. We will start the recordings of the new album next year - its working title is "Por és hamu" - "Dust and ashes" - and it will be completed in 2020.
Most people think that metalheads only listen to metal. What is your opinion about this statement and how open are you yourself to different kinds of music?
Ahh, I do not think anyone can be labelled like that. When you are young and join this scene, there is a good chance that yes, you are absolutely dedicated to one genre as somehow you want represent that group and that is much more than just listening to a particular form of music. With time it changes - as a metalhead we develop a really deep interest in music as because previous point it means us much more than just consume it - like to play in the background or something. After a while you start to look outside your genre and find very valuable compositions and say, wow I have never imagined such music can exist in the universe. I had the path that first I have known everyday pop music from the radio - then I have seen Highlander movie and I heard Queen - and told wow, I have to have these songs - then came a new friend who already listened to metal - then I have got heavy metal like Iron Maiden in my portfolio - the next one was Paradise Lost - which was a complete surprise for me that such music can exists, and on-and-on. I have not listened grunge until 2006, because I was determined that they killed metal and hard rock in the '90s :) On the other hand, I am not that open to new stuff. There was this interview in the past months where I was asked what do I listening now and I have told a few bands and then I summarized it that well, it seems I only listen to bands which are exists for 20 years at least :) I mostly like music where in some form guitar is present and I looking for the powerful live feeling, if it is there then I just love it whatever their genre is.
What do you listen to lately?
Monster Magnet is my actual favorite, but today evening I go to a The Dead Daisies show in Budapest, I have bought my ticket to KISS and Slayer farewell tour and although I have been in Manowar's last tour in Munich last year, will visit them on their next last round in 2019. There are bands I really miss, like 16 Horsepower and I have been on "Zael & Ardor" and "Igorrr" gigs lately which was awesome. I prefer live events, very rare when I listen to music in the background as I don't like to do it when I travel or when I work as I like to focus on it.
Check out this scenario. You meet investor with pockets full of money and he offers to pay for a video to one of the songs from new album. Which song are you choosing and what’s in the video?
This is cool :) Well, if an awesome guy would throw us an ocean of cash I would definitely choose Zaj as it works like charm during the gigs, the guys love it - especially as the chorus is starts with an audience shout :) For the video, I have heard an interview with Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet about their Hotel Baby 'movie' - that he has been called by the management during the recording session, that this-and-this amount of money they have for the video, what he would like have in it. He has said, that ok how many girls can be featured with a sum like that? I guess we would need the same - girls, fire, fire and more fire and snakes and booze, an evil, black goat and the Devil on a throne :)
Can't seem to find a way to buy a t-shirt with your latest artwork, was it only available with pre order?
We are working with small stock 60-80 prints from each design, if one need such usually buys on concerts or festivals or just contact us on Facebook and we post it or meet in person. Besides this, you are right on that - I guess this is the time to make a dedicated gallery for the t-shirts and the rest of the stuff on our Facebook page - because only the bravest fans order it that way, with direct contact :)
Thanks a lot for taking time to answer all the questions, last word is yours.
Thanks Tom for these questions and we are really glad you have liked our songs - and thanks Alex for the awesome review! We wish all the best to you and to your readers and their community! Cheers!