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Reflecting on a decade marked by Doom


On April 28, 2018, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Dr. Albert Bell, which was not the first time we had spoken and certainly not the last. Typically, our conversations revolve around his involvement in various music projects such as Forsaken, Nomad Son, X-Vandals, and, of course, Albert Bell's Sacro Sanctus. However, this particular interview took a different direction. We focused on the upcoming tenth edition of The Malta Doom Metal Festival, scheduled to be held at Chateau Buskett in a few months' time. Regardless of the topic at hand, it is always a pleasure to have Albert share his thoughts behind a microphone. His insights are consistently fascinating, reminiscent of his engaging lectures. I never fail to learn something new, whether it's about music, history, or any other subject.

The interview took place at ONE Productions studios, with audio recording by Joseph Bondin. Katrina from Bloodography captured some striking photos during the interview, while Robert Azzopardi was responsible for videotaping the session. Unfortunately, the video version of the interview was never released, but the audio was broadcasted on both of my shows - Rock Moods and Heatstrokes. This interview was also featured in 2018's festival programme.

As of now, the tenth edition of the festival remains the final one to have taken place. It's important to note that although a span of five years is significant, one have to consider the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which halted the world and disrupted live events (indefinitely, as was the general thought). We are still in the process of recovering and rebuilding our live event scene.

Although five years have passed since this interview, and certain aspects of our discussion may have changed, it remains an essential part of our documented metal history within our small metal community.

One question which surely comes to mind, (and believe me we were asked many times): "Will there be another Malta Doom Metal Festival?"

Well who knows, only time will tell, but in the meantime here's what was discussed that evening....


  • 10 years ago, with Forsaken’s “After The Fall” just one month old and work on Nomad Son’s second opus “The Eternal Return” well under way, you managed to give birth to the Malta Doom Metal Festival. First question is the obligatory: what made you organise such an event and why?

First of all, thank you Noel for this interview, and thank you also to OneProductions for hosting us here. Basically my ideas on founding the Malta Doom Festival go back to my experiences with both Forsaken and also Nomad Son at the Doom Shall Rise festivals and other festivals that we were booked during that period, early 2000s and later with Nomad Son. What really captivated me in those festivals was the whole community spirit, and I always wondered what it would be like if we could have something like that locally, in Malta. When the idea first came to me, I believed that Malta was not prepared for such a festival, because the scene was not as strong as it needed to be. But then gradually, you had these emerging local bands, or else bands that had been long established, like Victims of Creation, and Weeping Silence who were really gigging and sort of building strength, and Nomad Son had also erupted on the scene, and response towards these bands was very good, and so suddenly I started thinking that the scene was ready for something of this stature, and I think it was 2006 or 2007 I tried to test the ground, and organised a three way gig called The Doom Metal Assault, with a band from England, Unsilence, and it went really well, so I thought then that it seems like we can do something like this. And this is how the idea to replicate the community spirit of Doom Shall Rise, evolved. So MDM replicates that...attempt to replicate that spirit.

  • From day one the music in the festival was kept as old school as possible. What made you take this decision and do you think it worked?

Sometimes these festivals involve strategic marketing decisions, but at the same time I am a purist at heart and every decision that we take reflects my philosophy on heavy metal and what heavy metal should be. So while I know that possibly the more commercial you make it, it’s going to appeal to more people, but that will never be done with Malta Doom Metal. The idea is to focus on doom metal and related sub-genres, anything which we think is associated to doom metal and which we think from our profiling of the average doomhead taking ourselves as being adequate samples, the sort of stuff that we’re into, and that normally involves 80’s metal, I’m not talking about hair metal and glam metal, that’s obviously off limits, but we’re talking about the spirit of ’77, the NWOBHM, proto-thrash and proto-death and also perhaps even going back to the proto-doom sounds, the original sounds coming from the 70’s, that’s all part of what MDM represents, and I think that over the years, this mix of bands has helped to make the festival more interesting. Sometimes it’s difficult that over two days, plus the warm-up show, listening nonstop to doom metal bands, pure doom metal bands, becomes a bit daunting. So basically, what we’re trying to mix it up a bit, to appeal to the tastes of all old school doom metalheads on the island, especially doomheads, and also trying to open the international dimension and get as wide an audience as possible with lots of foreigners like we’ve been having recently, which makes it all the more exciting, and basically now, The Malta Doom Metal Festival has become this annual pilgrimage from all over Europe, and beyond, to Malta, this hub which is slowly developing into a strong niche for Doom metal.

  • Can you take us through the history of the festival please from the eyes of the organiser?

Obviously I still have very fond and vivid memories of the first edition, which was hosted in a locality in the entertainment hub on the island called Paceville, or used to be an entertainment hub, now it’s a really a pile of shit. It was hosted in the Poxxbar with 6 bands, 5 Maltese and one foreign band. We had weeping Silence, Victims Of Creation, Dawn Of Anguish, which was just founded around that time and it was (Forsaken’s) Simeon’ Gatt’s, other project, Nomad Son and Forsaken as in local bands, and Dark Quarterer from Italy, one of the leading progressive doom bands throughout history and I still remember that show very vividly....a great show. And the most sort of appealing sentiment to me from that first edition was introducing Dark Quarterer to several of the Maltese audience who hadn’t heard of them before. I remember they had lots of sales, the merch was gone within an hour and the show was fantastic, very intimate. With the second edition then we tried to expand the international dimension and we involved more foreign bands, including a band from Italy called Hands Of Orlac, who since then moved to Sweden if I’m correct. We also had Sorrows Path from Greece and Lothus from Sicily, who featured some members from Trinakrius. This international dimension really sort of made the festival more exciting and brought people from different backgrounds together, different cultures, and the Maltese metalheads were starting to experience this international favour in a big way and in every edition since then, we tried to increase the dose to a great extent. I mean there’s been lot of great editions, I can’t go through them all, we’d need the entire interview to do that, but I remember when we got Pagan Altar here and Terry was still alive and very well. Just hosting them here and continuing to build our friendship was a very nice and great experience. Another great occasion for me was to host The Black, one of my favourite bands from Abruzzo and obviously one of Italy’s, I would argue, strongest bands ever. It’s a very obscure band, which I think would take a little bit of connoisseurship to really get in to. But if I had to pinpoint my favourite show ever throughout all these 9 editions, we’re going on the 10th now, would be the Venom Inc show in 2015. Venom is my favourite all time band, I’ve been into the band since I was about 12 years old, and they were the soundtrack of my youth and well after that, because I continued to follow the band passionately and very religiously, and hosting them here, especially in their Venom Inc. incarnation was very unique and a great experience. Seeing them getting so well with the fans, makes a band in my opinion much more special than they are, because sometimes you tend to meet bands with a shit attitude towards their fans and it becomes somewhat disappointing. I’ve met a couple of bands like that over time, but both in Pagan Altar’s case especially, The Black, but even more so, I would argue, with Venom Inc it was an incredible experience.

  • These past 10 years witnessed more than 130 performances by bands from over 20 countries on the Malta Doom Metal Festival stage, some bands even engraving their future from that performance...

Yeah, I mean, first of all, the number is quite astounding, I wasn’t aware that we’ve already got 130 performances. Some of the bands have really made well after their performance at the MDM. My associates and I try to keep our eye out for emerging bands. A strong case in point for me was King Witch, I had my eye on the band for some time and I made sure that we try to approach them and rope them in and I’m sure that the band will go far, because their potential is huge. And I think it’s quite a privilege for us to give an opportunity for such bands to get on stage at an international festival. Ok, it’s not a big festival it’s a small niche festival, but quite often we get lots of people from abroad reviewing the fest, we also get labels in attendance, and they’re all on the lookout for this new emerging talent, and yes, with King Witch it was a case in point. Another example is Victims of Creation. After their resurrection, we had them on board a few times at MDM, and on one occasion we had a guy from Cyclone Records in attendance and they were convinced there and then to sign Victims of Creation and they had their first full length album, another important milestone I think.

  • What feedback have you got from band members and how does this make you feel?

To be honest, we rarely had any negative feedback or criticism. There was one occasion or maybe a couple, but I won’t go into that. But normally, the bands we hosted have really enjoyed their experience on the island, not just at the festival, but also the island as a whole package. Often staying on the island well after the festival, making a bit of a holiday as well, enjoying the sights and the island in its totality. The good thing about this is that this whole experience makes more bands want to come back to the show. We receive several applications every year, including bands that’ve already played at the festival and they’re sort of really keen on coming back, and we try to accommodate everybody, although sometimes it’s quite impossible to do so, because obviously you cannot make a whole edition, just replicating all the bands you’ve had before. But we never rule out bands revisiting or being re-hosted at MDM. We’ve had that in the past and we continue to do it, but in a small dose so that at the same time you bring in new acts to make it a bit more exciting. I’ve even removed my own bands from the bill several times, because at a point in time Nomad Son and Forsaken had been playing at the festival nearly a year in year out, so at a point in time I said this has to stop. But then we’ve also decided to re-involve Forsaken for the tenth edition.

  • Throughout the past editions there are certainly some episodes, whether pleasant or not, that remain imprinted on the organizers’ minds......

Nomad Son (MDM 2015) - Photo by: Justina Lukosiute

One interesting incident was from last year’s edition*, when we had Doomsday Kingdom, the new band from the godfather of doom, Leif Edling. Leif asked me before the festival if he could use one of my basses. He chose the AIA. He was here together with his family and made a bit of a holiday of it and I also loaned him a practice amp, to practice with it at his hotel room. But then I remember being outside at the festival, watching Doomsday Kingdom come in the van and Leif is coming out, all the band is out and they get out all their equipment but I can’t see the bass, and then Leif came up to me and he told me “damn me, I forgot the bass, damn my memory, I forgot the bass”. I remember Stephen, one of our helpers at the festival last year, he was just sinking in, biting into his piece of Maltese bread during his break and perhaps downing a beer and he had to stop, I had to stop him. I told him you have to get to Qawra and get that bass back. And Leo from Forsaken kindly drove him, but it was a scary and funny incident at the same time. These things happen all the time during the festival, there is a new one every year. Or another one was I remember with Tyson Dog, this extraordinary band, this NWOBHM band from Newcastle and I hope I’m not revealing anything too strenuous, but the guys had drunk a bit heavily during their stay here and at a point in time our helper helping out with the accommodation, Claire, was trying to locate the band, because we had the transfers ready for them, to come to Buskett to come on stage, when she couldn’t find them. Eventually they made their way, and we witnessed a fantastic show. Tyson Dog, a case in point, obviously does not relate to the genre that much, but doomheads, are quite into the whole generation of NWOBHM bands, that inspired doom as well, bands like Witchfynde in general obviously, Pagan Altar and Angel Witch would be another case in point. We’re all really into this stuff and Tyson Dog was a strong case in point of a band not really related to the genre, but getting on stage and really delivering the goods, and another case in point would be Desolation Angels, which was another fantastic show.

  • It is highly renowned what Malta has to offer in regards to both history and environment. How does the MDM project the island?

If I had to pin point one word it would be hospitality. So I think we often reflect on ourselves, on our national character, as being a hospitable nation, open to all and ready to go that extra mile to make some person’s visit to the island, whoever it is, a memorable one, and I think MDM really epitomises all this. And the sense of hospitality that we show and demonstrate to bands and also more than that, trying to do things within our limitations obviously, of course there are financial constraints, human resource constraints, to do things as professional as possible. So this professionalism, combined with hospitality, I think makes the event very rewarding for whoever is participating in it, especially those bands making the trip from abroad and the fans too, because we can’t forget the fans, without them the event wouldn’t happen.

  • Today you can look back with pride to where MDM is. What do you think is the main ingredient for the success to such an event and do you think that you have achieved your dream, your goal of what you wanted the MDM to become?

In respect to the second part of the question, I think I’ve surpassed my initial expectations to be honest. As to what makes the event so special, the secret ingredient, if you will, is the fact that behind MDM you’ve got a group of people, not profit oriented, doing things voluntarily, just out of their love for the music and their passion for it. And this is what MDM is all about. Passion and love for old school heavy metal and old school doom, to the extent that we lose endless nights of sleep because of it, we could all be doing something else and earning money, which we’re not, so the sense of commitment is the defining element, the sense of commitment, the sense of family, the sense of solidarity, the sense of companionship and true friendship that we forged between us, the organising team, and all the volunteers that help us, all the fans, year in year out, we’ve got people visiting us from Germany, England, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Sweden, wherever. Seeing these happy faces, smiling faces, year in year out, sharing our passion and love for the music. That’s what really makes it all worth it. I mean I always say, as you know, that every year this will be the last year, but after the event passes, and we come down and do the math, but at the same time I always have these recollections of the different editions that we’ve had and the fun that we’ve all had getting these acts to Malta and seeing people enjoy themselves. So this is what motivates us to go on.

  • What are the pros and cons of organizing a festival like the Malta Doom Metal Festival on a small island?

The biggest difficulty in terms of the international borders is accessibility to the island, since because of the island’s geographical location; we’re limited in terms of how many people we can attract, given the fact that most people have to get a plane to get to the island. However, at the same time we’re also aware of the huge distances that they have abroad, so for somebody in Northern Sweden, to travel down to Southern Sweden for a gig that would take the same amount of time to come to Malta. So probably, they’re much better off getting a plane to MDM, better weather and cheaper prices. What I’m sometimes somewhat disappointed, and I have to say this, is the lack of……musical education that persists on the island, even amongst the metal scene. So sometimes you get people who would be put off from coming to the festival because of the idea that it’s totally dedicated to doom. Like I said, we always try to address every shape and hue of doom metal, plus also various shades and hues, a whole kaleidoscope of colours in respect of old school metal. It’s very difficult not to enjoy yourself at least with a couple of bands at MDM. But we still have this resistance from people not coming to the festival for this reason or because it is too expensive, or that it’s too far on an island which is basically a pea in the ocean. We had people coming from Japan last year, but we don’t have people coming from …. wherever in Malta because it’s too far. It’s insane. It’s just a 10 minute drive to Buskett. Another difficulty that we’re experiencing now is the over saturation of events. So people are now choosing where to go according to their preferences, which is a good thing, but the over saturation is not helping, because there’s too much going on. Because in Malta we tend to have this tendency of extremes, shifting the pendulum from one side to the other, so for many years there was nothing go on, while now there is too much going on. But the good thing is that most of us involved in the scene, have tried to come together, the promoters especially try to create some sort of calendar which avoids this sort of overlap, so things could improve eventually.


So far as the pros are concerned, obviously the proximity that we have on the island helps with transfers, making things not as difficult as they are abroad. The good level of hotels that we have helps with hospitality; the tightness of the doom metal scene is also a huge advantage. We know that we can rely on a group of people that support us, and this really helps. This also spills over the organisation of MDM, because of the whole, as I said before, voluntary aspect to it, which resonates with passion……another good recent development is the attention that we’re getting as well from the public arts sphere, and I think that MDM itself is helping to change all that. There is also this humane element, this community element, this community spirit. Plus there is also the recognition of the impact that festivals like MDM and others are having on the Maltese economy, this creation of a new niche in our economy, music cultural tourism, I could call it music sub-culture tourism, which some people now, both in the public and private sector are even more aware of and perhaps ready to help out, and this for us is a huge milestone, because we’ve come a long way from way back in the late 70s and 80s, because you’ve got long hair and all that. Being stopped in the street to actually being supported by the state, that’s quite a milestone.

  • Every event needs support and help and of course MDM is not different......

the Malta Doom Metal crew

There’s a core group of people, obviously there is Noel, handling the marketing and PR dimension, organising initiatives such as this one. There’s Glen Gauci, who’s also involved in the booking of bands and face logistical aspects, a huge asset to the team. James Gauci handles all the financial aspect, plus a myriad, a whole platter of things. I mean, everybody is a huge asset to the team. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in it. There’s Claire Borg**, who handles everything related to lodging and accommodation and hospitality…..and screaming sometimes on end. Then there’s this really vociferous person, Robert, the videographer. He’s really a noisy guy, sometimes too loud, but he’s a great asset as well. Simeon, the drummer from Forsaken, who is also a fundamental part of the team gives a very strong contribution to the core team. He handles and oversees our website, website development, and the management of that, and is also our liaison in terms of graphic design, which is handled by Alexia Baldacchino from Loudpix, who is always done a great job. Simeon is also our drum tech together with Dino, the drummer of Victims of Creation, I also would like to pinpoint the various helpers we’ve had in the past, who unfortunately for their own personal reasons, and we appreciate that, had to move on. Matthew Camilleri for several years, I still miss the guy, a bundle of joy and at the same time still strongly committed to MDM. The guys involved in the very first edition like Gordon Silvio and also Malcolm Borg Galea, he carried on for some years as well, a great help. Then, the witches of Doom that help us year in, year out; Noel’s wife Vica and daughter Emma, James’ wife Carol, Glen’s girlfriend*** Chiara. Then there’s also other persons involved in the logistics on stage, Rex Grech Santucci, who is a great asset. In 2017 we also involved for the first time, Daniel Warrington, and in the past, we had Chris and Julian Grech (both from Nomad Son). The festival’s official photographers, Katrina, and Stefano. Obviously the people at the venue who host us, those who help with the merch, I mean, so many people involved.

  • Headliners apart, is there a band or performance that is still stamped in your mind from the past editions?

2017 - photo by Dagmar Geiger

I value every band we bring to MDM, but I remember one great show that I really enjoyed was that of The Temple of Pain. Being a huge Thunderstorm fan, that show is engraved in my heart. Iron Void are a band that I like a lot and having them in Malta for MDM, they played at both the event itself and also for the warm up show, great band who are going on from strength to strength. Same, I would argue with Arkham Witch, one of my favourite shows at MDM, was the first Arkham Witch show. I mean that was brutal. Another one would be Dawn of Winter. That was in that edition when Sorcerer had cancelled their trip and Dawn of Winter took a step up on the bill to an extensive show and that was a very emotional one; I got tears in my eyes at that show. I also enjoyed Desaster from the last edition. Like I said earlier, we go through all the band applications religiously. Obviously we also have an idea of who we want at the festival, and we go through the discography of all the bands. Most of the bands that we have on board, I would have the discography anyway. So we make no exceptions.

  • Where do you see the festival in 5 or 10 years time?

10th Anniversary festival programme

This is a difficult question obviously. Each edition we take stock of what’s going on in the scene, the developments, we have to take into account the financial viability, because all right, it’s not a case of making money, but it’s not a case of losing money either. I think 10 years is already a very long history for a festival. It’s one of the longest serving and longest standing doom metal festivals in Europe, so it’s quite an accomplishment and beyond. Obviously I’d love to carry on and I’m sure that in my absence other people would carry on. But I can’t imagine myself without doom metal; I can’t imagine myself without heavy metal. I would only imagine myself without heavy metal when I’m dead. So possibly I’ll be resting. Maybe listening to Manowar on my way to Valhalla or wherever, or to Venom on my way to hell, but I think it’s unlikely that I’ll give this up in one form or another.




*2017

**now Galea

*** wife since 2021


interview photos: Katrina from Bloodography

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2 Comments


Thank you for mentioning VoC Bert bro, for making MDM possible and for inviting my bands Victims of Creation, Deluge of Sorrow and Griffin Device at this amazing festival! You know I helped on stage because as you mentioned, it is a passion for us, but although I would end up tired dead each time, I would do this all over again... hoping MDM will happen again one day and even if I would need a cane to walk... I will be there to help once again and enjoy this memorable festival!!! We dearly miss MDM but other than that, tnx once again to you and all the MDM crew \m/

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Jun 22, 2023
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Thank you Dino!

Bertu

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