Their story starts, as most bands do, with a jamming session among friends somewhere in Kalkara. “It was just guitarist Owen Grech, drummer Julian Mallia and myself on bass back then,” says Michael Spiteri, the only remaining founder member in the current formation. “We rehearsed at Julian’s house and at the time we were just experimenting, with no definite genre or direction in mind.” With such a blank canvas, and no vocalist at the time, the three musicians instinctively drew on their individual influences. Feeding off each other’s ideas, they created an interesting melange that eventually evolved into structured compositions.
It was at this point that Anne Marie Spiteri was approached to join the band on vocals. “Back then she hadn’t yet joined Martyrium, so we used to meet up quite frequently to rehearse,” Michael continues. “I had already worked on some lyrics, but Anne Marie soon became involved in this aspect too.” The songs referred to are the ones that eventually appeared on the band’s debut album, Red Fugue, which was released last October.
“You could say that this album has been a long time coming,” laughs Melchior Busuttil, the band’s drummer. The rest of the band, namely keyboardist David Ciantar and guitarist James Horton, who has only been with the band just over a year, fully concur.
Five years does indeed seem like a long time. In fact, the guitars on the album were performed by original guitarist Owen Grech, but as Anne Marie puts it: “We’ve also been writing new material along the way, so the second album shouldn’t take as long.”
Naturally, the new material, now featuring James on guitar, also reflects where the band is at now. “The new songs reflect the line-up as it has been for the past year or so, but the band has also given me the freedom to add my own timbre to the songs on the album when we play live, rather than try to replicate Owen’s work note for note”.
Red Fugue is in truth an elaborate musical journey
Indeed, what makes Viper Soup Complex all the more interesting is the fact that each member plays in other bands, each of these markedly different to the band’s prog-rock inclination.
“Considering we started out with no clear direction in mind, I believe that, over the years, each individual’s input has strongly contributed to the sound we have crafted”.
That sound, it should be said, is predominantly inclined towards progressive rock but fluid enough to incorporate jazz, funk and even metal and flamenco elements. “The thing is, if we felt an idea we were working on felt repetitive, we made a concerted effort to explore new sounds that we could bring into the song,” Anne Marie explains. “So basically, our ‘style’ is that we don’t limit ourselves to any one style”. They are, in no uncertain terms, a band of many flavours. If there is one obvious prog-rock characteristic that emerges in Viper Soup Complex’s music, it is that each song is rather long and features different movements.
This means that despite featuring just five tracks, Red Fugue is in truth an elaborate musical journey, soaring in places thanks to Anne Marie’s rather versatile vocal range, actively engaging the listener with its assorted rhythmic changes and dynamic melodic shifts, yet it still rocks, at times softly, sometimes harder, at its core.
The album has a loose concept linking the songs. As Michael explains: “It is about a man and a woman in different places, each trying to escape his and her situation by chasing chaos. She is the earth, he is from Mars and they meet at the Taxidermy Hotel (also the title of the longest song and centrepiece of the album), where the chase takes place. The story’s climax takes place on the album’s closing track Vertebra, which reflects an archetypal manifestation of chaos, war and hellfire.”
Intriguing as this sounds, Michael does reveal that the songs were not written with a concept in mind, but rather that the concept was scripted around the songs they had written, so the concept is quite open to each listener’s creative interpretation and ability to relate to one of the characters in the story.
Clearly, their music has caught the ear of quite a few listeners already and not just locally, as even before the album had been released, the band was invited to perform at the Iluzje Festival in Poland alongside Polish bands Eier, Art of Illusion and Hegemony. “The experience was important to us, not only because of the chance to share our music with new audiences but also as a bonding opportunity for us as a band.”
The experience abroad has fired up the band’s aspirations, and they talk excitedly about plans for the coming year, more of which will be revealed in full at a later date. In the meantime, they are busy preparing for their next performance, which will be at this year’s edition of the Prog The Islands Festival.
Il-Prog-Ramm takes place on December 7 and 8 at The Garage in Żebbuġ. Apart from Viper Soup Complex, the line-up also includes Eyes to Argus, Mirage, Ferret, Cosmicomics, Twenty Six Other Worlds and UK-based band Until Rain.
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