progressive metal-edged music with stunning female vocals
reviews and exclusive artist reflections
Katia Salemi and Nicole de Serriere du Bizournet
click on image to visit aRABESQUE's website
Review, Interview and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2001-2002
Images © Nico Wobben and aRABESQUE 2001-2002
Published: 12 November 2001 | Updated: 01 September 2002
aRABESQUE are a progressive metal-edged group from Holland. Influenced by Ayreon, Within Temptation and similar bands, the band have two female vocalists—Katia Salemi and Nicole de Serriere du Bizournet—who are both featured on demonstration recordings that our editors were provided to review.
René Ubachs spoke to us and arranged an interview with the lead singers. This article includes a review of the demonstration material, their debut recording The Union (Lion Music (Finland) LMC2216 2, 2002) as well as an interview with Nicole and Katia with further remarks from other band members.
Nicole has a powerful voice and a vast range. When singing in the middle to lower end of her range she reminded us most of Nikki Squire (Esquire, and ex-wife of Yes' bass player Chris Squire). Katia's vocals are generally sweeter and lighter—her jazz training is evident when she takes the lead. Singing mostly backing vocal tracks on the demo recordings we were provided, we loved her soaring lead on "Inner Voice"—a typical beauty and the beast metal-edged recording that opens the band's two track demo.
The band obviously have demonstrated their potential. They effectively blend symphonic textures of progressive music with screaming metal- and hard rocking guitar-sounds and stunning vocals producing a result with broad appeal.
aRABESQUE. The two-track demo CD provided includes the hard-driving 6+ minute epic "Inner Voice" with lead sung by Katia and grunts by Frank de Groot. A highly varied, slightly Yes-style piece but with pulsing metal guitar riffs, and lead sung by Nicole entitled "Last Attempt," completes the recording. One can't help but notice Katia's gentler backing vocal track. The chorus is actually quite catchy and will likely broaden the appeal of the band's material. Our review of The Union is presented at the conclusion of this article.
Please remind us who does the vocal work on the recordings we've received.
René: On the two-track CD, Katia sings lead on "Inner Voice," and Nicole does "Last Attempt." On the "7+1 Track" CD, Nicole sings "Naked," "Heal Me," "Artificial Reality" and "Afraid To Fly" which consitute our demo Naked. She also sings lead on our demo cassette—Pathway to Extacy—which includes the songs "Emotions," "Singers Song" and "Captured." Katia sings lead on the final track of your demo, a project of three of the members, entitled "Eat This." The backing vocals vocals are done by, Katia, Nicole, René Ubachs and Joop Wolters. The grunts are by Frank de Groot.
Katia sings some of these songs now, because she entered the band not so long ago. There are also new songs we are recording right now where she sings the lead. We are recording and mixing them in my own studio currently. The two-track CD was recorded there.
Please tell me a little bit about your backgrounds prior to Arabesque.
Nicole: I was about 16 years old when I started to sing and play the guitar in a band with some friends. We mainly played covers from the Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Metallica, and others. But all that didn’t bring enough satisfaction and so we decided to write our own songs. From that moment on I’ve always played with bands who create their music. Mostly in the pop, alternative and rock genre. After hearing me sing with one of my previous band Rumble Out, Joop asked me to join "aRABESQUE".
I had seen aRABESQUE play once, but at that time they were still a threesome. I must say I was very very impressed! It felt like a great honour and challange for me to sing with them. So a few days later I experienced my first rehearsal and I was sold immediately!
Although I did listen to Dream Theater a lot, I wasn’t very familiar with singin’ and writing this kind of music, but with a little help from Joop it worked out just fine. Now there are 6 of us. Joop Wolters (guitars/backing vocals), Marc van Mierlo (drums), Frank de Groot (bass guitar), Katia Salemi (vocals), René Ubachs (keyboards/backing vocals) and me, Nicole de Seriere du Bizournet (vocals) and I feel we are stronger than ever.
We’ve played at festivals together with Dream Theater, Opeth, Yngwie Malmsteen and so on. I learned a lot of my time with aRABESQUE and hopefully I will keep on learning and enjoying myself as I did for the last 5 years!
Katia: At the age of 5 I participated at an italian singing competition for children called "Il Fiorellino d’Oro". (By the way: I am an Italian girl, born in Belgium and now living in the Netherlands). Actually we had to lie about my age, because the participants had to be at least 6 years old. Although I did not win, I immediately knew I wanted to become a singer when I would grow up.
At the age of 10 I started a musical education and a year later I started to play the piano as well. During my 7th year of theory lessons I met some guys and soon we started our first band Splash. We wanted to earn money playing. We were told cover-bands were making big money in the Netherlands. So we started played there. I mainly played the keyboards. But somehow I felt more attracted to sing.
During a gig with Splash a very well-known Dutch coverband called Mannheim asked me as their lead singer and I immediately agreed. That’s when I actually met my boyfriend René Ubachs (keyboard player of the band and now also member of aRABESQUE). I quit playing the keyboards and started to take singing lessons at a rock school in Antwerp (Belgium). In the meantime we were earning money with Mannheim, more like a full time job. We had about 8 to 12 gigs a month.
Eventhough we had a good living, we had so much interest and love for music that playing covers was slowly killing us. A few years later René and I quit the band. René started to play in the Dutch P-funk band Honky Soul and I was approached by my vocal teacher to be the new singer of the Belgian triphop band Suburban Prejudice. Soon Arcade Nedertherlands offered us a record deal.
We recorded our full CD in some of the best studio’s in Belgium and Holland, worked with a Hans Weekhout, a famous producer in the triphop/dance business, had a tour in Europe, two singles on "Studio Brussels", a Belgian radiostation and our own video that was shown on TMF. Although we had a good product, we weren’t promoted enough and of course it would mean the end of the story.
I knew what self-written music tasted like and so did René. We both decided to start our own project called New Tongue. Although we were not at all focused on playing live, we loved recording our own music in René’s studio. In the meantime, an other coverband Forza asked me to sing in their band and so I decided to do covers again as some kind of a temporary solution to the fact that I kept losing all the jobs I had had ever since and of course because Suburban Prejudice wasn’t paying off at all.
I met Nicole in Forza. That lazy woman also tried to make a living out of music and so we began working with each other. She told me she was also member of aRABESQUE. At that time I didn’t know them at all and so I went to a gig of theirs. I melted immediately! I loved the band so much that I started to become a fan. I had never seen so much power on stage. I couldn’t believe they were not famous or making a living out of it! Most of all I couldn’t believe Holland had such a great guitar player either.
I remember being a fan of Steve Stevens since I was a kid. I always thought that those genius musicians only lived in America, but I was wrong! René and I asked Joop to play some guitars tracks on a few songs we wrote with our own project New Tongue and yes, what we loved what he did. Soon we started to become friends.
A few months later aRABESQUE had an important gig—a preselection to Progpower 2000—but unfortunately Nicole got ill. So Joop asked me to replace her on that occasion. Then the band decided to face the future with two singers. Almost simultaniously their keyboard player Thijs decided to quit the band, because of his studies. It was not very hard to come up with a new keyboard player and so René joined the band as well.
In my opinion it is a very good choice, not only because I love making music with him, but he has a lot of feeling for arrangements and knowlegde of his studio equipment. We can afford ourselves to take our time to record a good album, without the pressure of outsiders. I could never explain how blessed I feel playing with people I admire and love!
Joop: The first album Beyond the Veil, was recorded during the winter of 1995. We were a trio at that time: Joop Wolters (guitar), Barend Tromp (bass) and Marc van Mierlo (drums).
Who are your favourite artists/bands? Who else do you find yourself listening to all the time?
Nicole: My interest in music has grown throughout the years. I’m not hanging on to one kind of music. It really depends on my mood! I like listening to Dream Theater, Dizzy miss Lizzy, Jazz, pop, Sepultura—when I feel like screaming out my brains!—just everything as long as it sounds good.
Lately I find myself listening to Beth Hart a lot. She is a fantastic singer and her voice truely goes through marrow and bone.
Katia: I listen to all kinds of music. I can not say there is one particular genre I like most. I also like instrumental music, but the lyrics to a song are some how very important to me.
I am a big fan of Marillion’s with Fish and of course with Steven Hogart. I adore Bobby Mc Ferrin! I love Sting, the Iceland saga: Bjork, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Beth Hart, NIN, Tool and a Perfect Circle, Lamb, Billy Idol because of Steve Stevens, Massive Attack, Garbage, New York Voices, Manhatten Transfer, Erica Badu, Galliano, St. Germain, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Moloko, Afro Celt Sound System, Tricky, Gipsy Kings, Móa, Al di Meola, Sinéad o’Connor, Apocalyptica, Talvin Singh, Bozzio-Levin and Stevens, Angelo Branduardi, Jamiroquai, Giovanotti, Mozart, Zap Mama, Steve Vai, and many others.
How did you develop your styles? Please elaborate on your musical training/education.
Nicole: I took a few singing lessons when I was about 18 years old, but it didn’t really pay off. After two years at the conservatory it only got worse, because I had to learn technics that somehow didn’t t feel right to me. I felt like singing against my nature. I began to lose faith in myself and worst of all my love for singing! So I decided to quit school and trust my instinct again... Luckely it’s all coming back to me now.
I listen to all kinds of other singers a lot. I approach the things I like. Then I try to adjust it to my own voice and give it my own interpretation. It’s a way of rehearsing to me.
It’s like this, you see: the less I try to think about singing correctly, the better. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment of the music. My style and sound will develop in it’s own way!
Katia: Although I had a lot of experience singing other people’s songs for years), I first started to know my own voice and sound doing my own thing with New Tongue. I started to search and experiment. René supported me all the way and for the first time in my life I felt free to do whatever I liked. I really started to enjoy everything.
This past year I chose a jazz singer to be my teacher. I also had a classic teacher for a year and a rock teacher for two years. As I said, I just like all kinds of music and voices and I always like to learn new things. I’m still learning! There’s a long, long way ahead of me.
What artists to you feel have influenced the group's sound over time? Please explain how as well.
The Band: We’ve developped our sound thoughout a period of time. You can’t speak of a direct influence from other bands. It’s more like the individual collaboration of the musicians that is responsable for aRABESQUE’s sound—metal, fusion, jazz, pop, classic, etc.
There isn’t always a fixed intention. Sometimes one member—mostly Joop—comes up with an idea he recorderd at home. This idea already stands for a great deal. Then the band works it out. In other occasions it’s a band happening and is created in the rehearsal room. The lyrics are written by different people: Nicole, Joop or Katia.
Joop: We recorded at the T.N.T. Studio’s in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Shark Records, where we signed, is a subdivision of T.N.T. Records. They also had bands like Channel Zero, Elygy—also a Dutch—and a band with former Steve Vai’s bassplayer Randy Coven called N.O.W. We worked with Producer Axel Thauberville and engineer Wolfgang Stach.
We got our deal with Shark Records by sending a demo-tape called Paragraph (reviewed in this article). This demo was recorded at Studio RS-29 owned by Oscar Holleman, former guitarplayer of the band: Vengeance. He could make a real acceptable sound in a rather short period of time. His further work includes bands and projects like Gorefest, Ayreon (Ayreonauts Only review, Universal Migrator review) After Forever (Prison Of Desire review, Decipher review under construction) and Within Temptation (reviews under construction). It was really great for us to make all these recordings, we learned a lot playing as a band in the studio.
René: The whole recording and mixing process takes place in only one studio, that’s studio "ARE U RECORDINGS" wich is my own studio. We fortunately have all the time to experiment with my "Logic Audio Harddisk Recording System".
For mastering we were refered to Wisseloord Studio’s at Hilversum Holland by an acquaintance, Erwin Musper, producer of Van Halen, Scorpions, Anouk, and others. The mastering engineer René Schardt—who nowadays works in the Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium—did a great job for us.
Do you have a career or work outside music?
Nicole: I’m not doing anything beside music. Until recently I sold mens clothing, but I really didn’t like that much! The only thing that brings food on the table now is my coverband Forza. Here in the Netherlands people pay a lot for bands who play other artist’s music. So this is my way of earning a living and still persuing the only thing I really like: MUSIC!
Katia: For the time being I still play in a cover band, on occasion I do some backing vocals for artists that record in René’s studio and I work part-time in an office as a secretary. I couldn’t count the jobs I had during the past five years or so. They are never that important to me and as soon as the headackes start, I am forced to quit. Like I explained earlier, the jobs are always a temporary solution to financial difficulties. I of course still hope one day I won’t have to do all kind of the things I really don’t like! I still wish we could make a living out of music. I would go crazy having a full-time job in an office or anything that feels like an obligation. I was not born for that, I’m afraid. Music is the one thing that makes me truely happy. I simply couldn’t live without it.
Please tell us what you think about your live performances and the audience's reaction to your on stage personna.
Nicole: When we’re on stage and the adrenaline’s pumping, we play like our lives depend on it. I believe the audience can feel it as well, because we mostly get very enthousiastic comments after a gig. Unfortunately we haven’t got a video available yet. Maybe in the future we will!
Katia: I totally agree with Nicole. I feel exactly the same way.
Final question. How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music. Do you think that your website will bring you many new fans?
Nicole: I think the internet is a wonderful invention! Through the internet we can reach people from all over the world with the same musical interests as we do. I think this is the best way to promote ourselves and I hope in time, when we’ve finished our CD, people from all over the world will buy it, support us and our music and enjoy it as much as we do!
Katia: Yes of course. It’s a very important medium and it works very fast too. It helps us getting all kinds of information we actually need, like for example about record labels, distribution companies, etc. We communicate a lot through e-mail, we have a big mailing-list. We always get a lot of reactions on the news we spread. It’s also nice to see people really visiting your website. That’s a good thing! I believe it’s the future! I am addicted to internet!
Naked. The band's demo CD is comprised of four progressive tracks with thick instrumental arrangements. In the title track "Naked," keyboard and guitar riffs dominate the instrumental bridges, harmonizing effectively with each other producing a metalized cross between Yes and Esquire. Nicole's vocals soar through her entire range, captivating the listener with her evocative delivery. Katia's backing vocals add lovely texture.
Certainly a standout track of the demo, the progressive rock style ballad "Heal Me" illustrates Nicole's softer side and highlights aRABESQUE's ability to spin symphonic textures. The chorus adds Katia's harmony vocals. "Artificial Reality" builds further on the style with stunning acoustic guitar passages and Steve Howe-like riffs. "Afraid To Fly" is substantially harder with aggressive guitar work that is softened by symphonic keyboard passages.
Pathway to Extacy. An earlier three-track demo cassette transcribed to CD is also available. "Emotions" is a hard-driving progressive piece with elements of metal-edged guitar work. We especially enjoyed the way Nicole's stunning lead vocal soars above the instrumentals, illustrating the extent of her range. Joop's guitar solo demonstrates the artist's virtuosity.
A blend of tranditional rock, metal and progressive textures are found in "Singers Song." Nicole's evocative lead vocal is perfectly balanced with Joop's dynamic guitar solos and the band's rhythmic support. Soaring like October Project's Mary Fahl and refined like high quality burgundy, Nicole's vocals are certain to delight Musical Discoveries' readers.
The last of the aRABESQUE demo tracks is the epic "Captured," a seriously-sung hard rocking track with the two vocalists working tightly together producing lovely harmonies to soften the instrumental edge. An extended instrumental within the piece not only illustrates the artists' virtuousity but also their ability to play as a cohesive unit.
Our CD also included a non-aRABESQUE bonus track featuring Katia singing lead vocal. While we typically wouldn't gravitate to the rough power metal edges of the style, it provided a second opportunity to hear Katia's vocal prowess, but likely didn't show her in the best light. Clearly the final track of the aRABESQUE demos—"Captured"—and "Inner Voice" described above, were more to our liking!
The Debut aRABESQUE Album
The Union. The band's successful shopping around of the demo material led to a recording contract with Lion Music (Finland). While we recognise the origins of the ten tracks in the final selection, the production quality is substantially better with precise imaging and excellent mastering.
Metal edges still evident are somewhat subdued with vocals having a prominent position in the final mix. The song from the demo CD not to make it onto the final album is "Artificial Reality" while another from their demo cassette, "Singers Song" also didn't make the final cut.
The artwork from The Union shares the band's affection with modern graphic interpretation that can be found at their website. Tracks are long, often with dynamic instrumental bridges. The album opens with an all new track entitled "Freaking" which echoes the band's familiar percussive metal edge while contrasting progressive musings provide additional interest before Nicole's powerful vocals take the lead.
The band's second all-new track is the all powerful "Haunted," a heavy metal edged rocker embodying contrasting keyboard harmonies. One will immediately note the richness and power of Nicole's voice and Katia's lovely backing harmonies in the mix. The guitar solos in the bridge are illustrative of the players' skill and harmonies that conclude the piece remind listeners that this is a rock band with two stunning vocalists.
A new arrangement of the heavy metal "Inner Voice" suits Katia's lovely and soaring voice further contrasted by the grunting male part. We especially enjoyed the lively keyboard parts in the bridge. The melodies in "Last Attempt" are especially memorable and brought back many of the initial reactions we had to the tune from the demo recordings. "Naked" is a more symphonically arranged tune with Katia's sweeter lead and vast keyboard excursions dominating the mix. "Captured" is a metal-edged romp with more agressive vocal work and instrumental arrangements dueling with each other before a gentler movement takes over to conclude the epic-length piece.
"Instant Daydream" further develops the band's progressive style and, an entirely instrumental piece with swirling keyboard and complimentary guitar excursions, it serves to illustrate the players' virtuousity. The significantly contrasting tune "Heal Me" is an album standout. Beginning as a gentleprogressive ballad, the track features lovely vocal work and complimenting arrangements and delightful harmonies that grow as the track develops.
"Emotions" is one of the more aggressive metal-edged numbers. We especially enjoyed the Katia's powerful soaring and sensually sung lead vocals and Nicole's lovely backing harmonies. The dramatic and dynamically varying instrumentals make for a tremendous tune.
The album closes with the progressive rock tune "Afraid To Fly." Nicole's powerful lead vocal is mixed way up above the instrumentals except in the metal-edged bridge and will delight listeners. Her vast dynamic range is evident within the piece and is perfectly complimented by equally dynamic and percussive arrangements.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. With a range of styles in the band's grasp as evidenced by these recordings, Musical Discoveries' readers will want to remain on the active lookout for the band's album; certainly it is worth a journey—a must listen!
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