Solos and Licks

feature image

Pick a random European kid off a random street in Europe and ask him/her what music instrument they picked up first. Chances are, you will get one of these three answers: (1) Piano (2) Violin (3) Clarinet. It is no big secret that European metal musicians often start out with Classical music before moving into heavy metal territory, and the converse is often true for American metal musicians. Stéphan Forté is European and started out the European way, but as neo-classical metal tradition would have it, he has mastered the electric guitar very skillfully (and beats many Americans at this staple instrument of theirs). The suave shredder may not be a household name like George Lynch or Yngwie Malmsteen, but watch out; the frontman and lead guitarist of French progressive neo-classical metal band Adagio is off to a great start with his fairly new solo project! His virtuosic skills and penchant for mid-paced Romantic-inspired solos might just set him apart from the speed-crazed and “djent”-obsessed contemporary metal crowd. I smell a new guitar hero from France.

Stéphan Forté is a stage name, right?

Nope, this is my real name.

Forté” is an Italian musical term that means “loud” in English. Did you choose the word “Forté” to be part of your stage name so as to make a reference to your Classical music background while simultaneously showing off your love for metal because of its loudness?

[Laughs] No. Once again, even though I’m glad my name has some strong classical-sounding connotations, it is my name — and my parents’ too actually.

The title of your debut solo album is called “The Shadows Compendium”, which roughly means a concise but detailed collection of (in the context of a music album) songs dealing with the subject of “Shadows”. Since there are no lyrics to your songs on this record, and I see no obvious links between track titles like “Spiritual Bliss”, “Sorrowful Centruroide (ft. Derek Taylor)” and “Prophecies Of Loki XXI”—in which “Centruroide” is a genus of scorpions with translucent skin that glows under UV radiation and Loki is the Norse god of mischief, deceit and lies—can you explain what the album theme is about?

Well, that’s true for “Spiritual Bliss”; since that track is about inner peace and positive introspection, but the rest of the album has a very dark orientation. Yes, “Centruroïde” is a scorpion, but a very lethal species. It kills, it hurts, and in the case of this song title, after some time, it regrets and transforms its hatred into sorrow — I’m a Scorpio by the way. About Loki, he is as you described: “deceit and lies”. Well, I guess that’s not a very fun matter. For “De Praestigiis Daemonum”, it is referring to demonology. “Duat” is about the realm of death and hell’s representation in Egyptian mythology.

Many musicians who founded successful bands often go on to form a solo project years down the road because they wanted to explore a musical direction different from their original band’s. Your musical direction for this solo project does not seem to differ much from Adagio though, what is it that you are trying to accomplish with your solo project?

I just wanted to do my own stuff without any compromise and being able to really express myself with my guitar as much as I wanted, which is not possible with Adagio since its main focus is on vocals and musical structure.

The biggest noticeable difference between Adagio and your solo project is the lack of vocals in the latter. Are you trying to “speak” through your instrument on your solo project (and hence see no need for vocals), or simply just not confident of your singing abilities?

[Laughs] Indeed. I definitely express myself better with my guitar rather than my voice.

Which do you find more effective in conveying emotions: an instrumental or a singing voice? Why do you feel so?

The instrument; whether it is organic or a piece of wood with some strings, it is just the relay between emotion and vibration — it’s just a vehicle. So whatever the means, if the message is sent ‘pure’, then the goal is achieved.

Ever since Adagio’s 2005 album, Dominate, the band have refined its sound to make it heavier, particularly through the incorporation of death grunts. Since its inception, Adagio has always been known to have a darker sound than most neo-classical metal bands out there, most notably through the heavy usage of chromaticism in the guitars, foreboding brass parts, eerie string and keyboard accompaniment, and Romantic-inspired piano solos. Did you decide to make Adagio’s already dark sound heavier than before in order to further differentiate it from the rest of the neo-classical metal crowd? Or was it a move to signify a more angsty and negative outlook the band had with regards to mundane matters since then?

That’s how I hear and see things, Adagio is simply a mix of all of my influences.

How’s the progress on the 2013 live album Adagio will be recording with the Lille National Orchestra?

That’s a very difficult piece of work. I’m writing a lot of music all the time now, so it’s like first comes Adagio, then the orchestral one next, and then very soon it will be the next solo album… Let’s just say it’s moving forward.

What difficulties do you foresee in working with such a large ensemble of real-life humans?

Tons of difficulties… I had such an experience when composing for a real, full choir ensemble of fifty people for Underworld, and the most difficult thing to achieve was balance and nuance; everything has to flow, which means you need to find the right conductor who really understands what it is you want to express.

Tell us how you started on Classical music?

My parents were listening to a lot of Classical music when I was a kid, then I heard Malmsteen’s Rising Force and his mix of hard rock and Baroque elements immediately caught my ears. Then, I absorbed as much music as I could, trying to discover first the origins of Yngwie’s style, Vivaldi’s, Bach’s, etc. One thing led to another, and then I soon discovered RachmaninovChopin, and finally fell in love with some more modern composers such as MessiaenBoulezShoenberg etc.

Tell us how you started on heavy metal music?

As much as my parents were listening to Classical music, my elder brother was into AC/DC and Black Sabbath. On a normal day, you could hear a Vivaldi concerto downstairs, and the next minute, I was upstairs in my brother’s room listening to Angus Young and impersonating him on “Who Made Who”. I was only 5 then [laughs]

What was that one defining moment that made you want to merge the two broad styles together in the music you compose and perform?

Definitely Yngwie. When I was 14 and first heard his stuff, it was the defining moment. I immediately knew I wanted to do that kind of stuff.

As a metal musician who came from a Classical music background, I’m sure you are very well aware of the fact that many Classical musicians view metal music as obscene and, in some publicized cases, nothing but noise. Can you tell us briefly some of the many similarities heavy metal music has in common with Classical music?

Well, it depends. Some people in the Classical music environment are more open-minded than others, and actually, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of Classical players and conductors who like the sound texture of the way I mix my music. But yeah, of course, purists are purists, whatever the style.I can’t think of any particular similarity, but I’d just say that the two sounds are compatible if you’re taking care of how you’re mixing them together. One needs to support the other, and with Adagio for example, I really consider the orchestra as a full instrument and not just as an arrangement. So yeah, it really depends…

In Classical music terminology, “Neo-Classical” refers to a sub-genre of 20th Century-era music in which music is composed using Classical music forms (like the sonata form) but with modern techniques applied (such as atonalism and an abundance of ornaments). In heavy metal music terminology, “Neo-Classical” is used to refer to any metal music with guitar work that is heavily inspired by Classical and Romantic-era music. Do you find it wrong that the term is used very loosely in the context of heavy metal music?

Well, I can’t say it’s “wrong”. I’d rather use the word “reducing” instead, by this, I mean that most people thinking about the term “Neo-Classical” in metal music associate it with some Baroque music clichés, such as using the same old ostinatos etc. But if we really consider all the possibilities available, those clichés only represent a single drop in the entire ocean of Classical music techniques.

Let’s say you could revive a composer from any one of the four eras of Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century music to play in Adagio (or help you out with your solo project). Who would it be and why?

If I could revive any composer, damn, I wouldn’t even dare tell them that I’m a musician myself!!! I’d just watch them work and drown them in thousands of questions! Those whom I would like to ask questions are BachMozartChopin and Bartok.

Suppose you were Beethoven in his early 20’s, living in Vienna in the 1790’s, and studying under Joseph Haydn. What knowledge would you want to glean from the “Father of the Symphony/String Quartet”?

[long pause] Everything [laughs]

The French metal scene seems to have a proliferating avant-garde black metal community at the moment. Bands like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord have garnered a lot of interest and hype over the last few years. Do you enjoy such music? What do you think is the appeal of such music?

I just know the name of those bands but never had a chance to listen to them. But about the appeal of such music, if the music is a vehicle for any forms of emotion, I don’t really care about what style it is so long as the emotion comes through; be it Bossa or Electro music or anything else.

Ever considered the possibility of a new cross-genre comprising of avant-garde black metal and neo-classical metal?

Indeed! I’ve started working on something like this a couple of years ago, I can actually send you a snippet of that demo if you want.

Will you consider recording a solo album with just the piano alone in future?

I’d love to. I’ve been talking about the idea of a piano concerto with Kevin, but I am not ready yet. I do not have enough knowledge to do it the way it should be done, so I will keep on practicing and learning first before thinking about it again in my 60’s if I’m still around. [Laughs]

Your hairstyle and preference for eye liner reminds me of Alexi Laiho, the frontman and lead guitarist of Children Of Bodom. Also, both of you are great shredders on the electric guitar. Are you his long-lost twin brother?

Actually, we’re not brothers. But we’ve had the same nurse when we were kids, and back then, she would teach us occultic stuff and things in life, she was nice… But then we grew up and realized we had no use for her anymore; so we killed, impaled and fed her to our dog Belzebuth. From that moment onwards, we had to go separate ways, and now, we’re just pretending that we do not know each other in interviews…


  1. Commented by: Juan Manuel Pinto

    When I first saw the picture, I thought it was The Great Kat!

  2. Commented by: Dane Prokofiev

    Wow, you must have wondered why her chest was so flat then? Haha.

Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.