Many bands have chosen to sit on the sidelines throughout the pandemic, unwilling to take the risk of releasing new music in the midst of so much uncertainty. Symphonic metal band Ad Infinitum has done exactly the opposite, releasing its debut album, “Chapter I: Monarchy” (review) in April 2020; an acoustic version of the record, “Chapter I Revisited,” in December 2020; and its sophomore effort, “Chapter II: Legacy” (review), in October 2021. For the new album, the band again looked to history as its muse, basing songs on the life and “afterlife” of Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century Romanian ruler and inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The album maintains a tricky balancing act, with lyrics that are relatable to listeners without the historical context, all backed by appropriate levels of symphonic metal bombast. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Ad Infinitum vocalist Melissa Bonny to discuss “Chapter II,” Vlad the Impaler, returning to the stage and her new project, The Dark Side of the Moon.
LIVE METAL: It’s a pretty exciting time for you and your band right now. The new album, “Chapter II: Legacy,” just came out on Friday, and you played a special record release show for it. Ad Infinitum hasn’t gotten to play a lot of shows so far. How did it go the other night?
MELISSA BONNY: It was pretty good, actually. It was very surprising for us to be able to have our own release show at Z7 in Pratteln (Switzerland), because it’s this beautiful stage, and for me, it was very special because while growing up, I was seeing my favorite metal bands there. So it was a very nice experience to actually play there, our release show. We had more people than we expected, and it was very, very nice. Also playing with Illumishade and Dust in Mind—super evening and many, many people made it very special. So yeah, we enjoyed it.
You just played your first shows with this band toward the end of the summer. In general, what has it been like, after so much time, being back on stage again?
The first show was stressful. We were playing this festival in Czech Republic, and you play your first show in front of a few thousand people, so it’s like, “Oh, OK, OK, now we do it. Now it’s becoming real.” So obviously, we were very nervous. But it was good to finally be back onstage and also see the direct reaction from people. It’s one thing to read the comments on YouTube and on social media. It’s another thing to see who’s actually in front of the stage and partying and singing, and it was beautiful.
You also have a big streaming event coming up this Saturday, Nov. 6. What can the fans expect to see when they watch that?
We are playing the entire “Chapter II: Legacy” album plus a few songs from “Chapter I,” and we prepared a little acoustic treat, and four amazing guest musicians from metal bands. So all that packed in a very beautiful envelope, if I may say. Beautiful venue, amazing lights. We had a really, really good and professional crew who delivered a product that we’re very proud to share.
Yeah, I’ve seen a photo or two that you and the band have shared, and it looks like a really impressive production.
Yeah. It’s the biggest production we’ve ever done, actually.
During this pandemic, there have been a lot of bands who have decided not to release new music until they could go on tour. But your band put out the first album, “Chapter I,” right at the beginning, and you couldn’t do much about that. But then you kept right on working. You put out the acoustic version of it, and now “Chapter II” is out. Was there any hesitation at all about putting more music out?
No, because actually, when we released the first album, like you said, we didn’t have any choice because the release was already programmed. We were still hoping to go on tour, and it didn’t happen. At first, we thought, “Oh, that’s it. We ruined the first album by releasing it in the middle of a pandemic.” And then we were forced to brainstorm, and we released much more online material, and this resulted in much more people getting to know us and discovering our music. And in that spirit, we decided to just continue, because we didn’t want to just release an album and then people discover us and then there’s nothing happening—no shows, no second album, nothing. So we thought as long as we cannot tour, we can still release music, release videos, release online shows. So we’re going to keep doing this.
The first album, when you started writing, it was intended to be a solo album and then it turned into the band. So I would assume the writing and recording of “Chapter II” must have been a much different process, not even considering the whole pandemic part of it. What was it like?
Yeah, so the first album started with me writing demos and then working with a producer until, I would say, close to the end of the songwriting—because the guys joined me, let’s say, halfway through, and then they participated in the last songs, the last additions to the album. This time, there was no producer, and there was us four from the beginning until the end, working on all the songs together. Every single song, everyone has worked on it.
When it’s just you guys working on something—writing and doing production and everything—does that put any extra pressure on you? Because no matter how it’s received, it all comes back on you in the band.
Yeah, definitely, because we knew we didn’t have someone to have the overview and to tell us, “Oh, this song is very far away from the rest,” or “This song doesn’t sound like Ad Infinitum,” or “You’re going in the wrong direction.” So we had to be extra careful, and we were very nervous at the beginning because we didn’t know if we were able to pull that off on our own, to work without the experience of a producer and to deliver something that was as good or better. So I think it’s made us take much more time to really focus on the detail and make sure that we were delivering something that was in the continuity of “Chapter I” while being, also, more us.
I interviewed you when the first album came out, and there was kind of a time travel backstory about why you were writing songs that were inspired by the life of Louis XIV. Is there any kind of backstory for this new album?
No, no. When we started the band, we thought we needed something to captivate people, and also, the choice of having the masks and costumes on stage. There’s so many bands out there that we thought we have to offer something, also, visually and something that makes people think a little bit more than, “Oh, I listened to the album, and that’s it.” But now for the second record, I think we’re more authentic with the way we explain our songwriting. Yeah (laughs), I think we’re past that point where we wanted to create this big story.
You did get inspiration for the new album from life and “afterlife” of Vlad the Impaler. What led to that? Is this something you’ve been interested in for a while?
So despite the fact that we didn’t want to continue this backstory with the time traveling, we still continued finding inspiration for the lyrics in historical characters. It’s so interesting. History is a never-ending source of inspiration when it comes to stories and to lyrics. We had a few characters in mind, and this one was, I think, the most inspiring and the most fitting with our own universe, because when you say Vlad Dracula you have, for some people, the image of this national hero who fought the Ottoman Empire. On the other side, you have this Vlad the Impaler who killed a lot of people. And for a lot of people, when you say Dracula, the first thing that comes to mind is the vampire. So these are three aspects that you can dig into to create all the lyrics of an album. You can even create more than an album with it. But yeah, we enjoyed it. I did a lot of research before writing, because we all in the band knew the basics about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula, but it’s interesting to dig a little bit into history and to find things that are outside of the common knowledge.
Is there anything that you learned about him that surprised you?
Yeah, I think that one of the facts that surprised me and I decided to write about was the fact that when he was young, he had three brothers, and when him and his little brother Radu were young boys, young teenagers, they were sent to the Ottoman court as some kind of guarantee of loyalty of their father towards the Ottoman court, because they were helping him reclaim his lands or throne. I don’t remember exactly the story, but the fact that really shocked me is that those two boys grew up in a totally different way while living in the same place. Vlad decided first opportunity to go back to Wallachia and to take back the throne of his father. He went and he was very resistant against the culture of the Ottoman Empire of the Turks, and his brother Radu completely embraced everything. So they ended up being enemies at some point, and that’s what inspired the song “Your Enemy.”
One of the things I appreciate about the lyrics is that you could listen to it and not know anything about the inspiration and still get a lot out of it. It’s not really specific and naming these people by name or anything. That must have been one of your goals, right?
Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t want it to turn into a history lesson. I want people to be able to choose whether they want to learn more about the character who inspired the lyrics or just to relate to them. For example, the song “Unstoppable,” I love it when people say that it’s empowering them, because it’s a song that is also meant to inspire.
Any other favorite songs for you on the album?
“Animals” is one of my favorites. I really love this one, and I’m so glad that we released a video for it. I already mentioned “Unstoppable.” I love “Inferno,” which was one of the very first songs that we wrote for this album, I think.
How involved do you get in the concepts for the videos?
Well, it depends. For the “Unstoppable” and “Afterlife” videos, we just gave a few indications to our video director. We basically said we wanted this performance video with fire and light effects and something really in your face. We wanted to start with something striking to present this album. And then with “Animals,” it was another video director who has a different way of working actually, and he’s very detail oriented, and he loves those story shots. I just told him basically what the song was about, the lyrics, and this idea of the back to primal instinct, primal behavior, back to animals, and this silver painting. But he created the rest and chose the locations and chose how it should look like, et cetera.
Are there any more videos on the way?
Yeah, there’s one more video on the way—I believe it’s going to be in November—for the song “Inferno.”
It’s tough out there now, but are touring plans in the works?
Yeah, we are talking about tours in 2022. We’re talking about three tours, but it’s always the same story right now. It’s like what is going to happen? When? What is going to be postponed? So it’s very complicated to give a concrete answer. But definitely we’re talking about touring in Europe and maybe also organizing something in the U.S. But this is very uncertain because, also, we’re a small band. So this is already complicated when there’s not a pandemic. So let’s see. (laughs)
I also wanted to ask you a little bit about this other band/project you’re involved with, The Dark Side of the Moon. You’ve released the one single and video for “Jenny of Oldstones.” How did this project come together?
This is the most random story of all the projects in my entire life, I think. With Hans (Platz), we collaborated. Actually his band, Feuerschwanz, invited me for a song for their previous album. We recorded this cover of “Ding” by SEEED, and we did, also, a music video for it, and the music video was published—I don’t remember the timing exactly—but right after “Marching on Versailles.” And one day, I was at home and very randomly, I texted Hans and I said, “Hey, the first one who reaches 1 million plays on YouTube, either ‘Ding’ or ‘Marching on Versailles,’ wins.” And he says, “OK, what do we win?” And I said, “I don’t know, a dare. You can tell the other person to do something.” And they reached the million before we did, and he said, “OK, so what you have to do is record a cover with me of a ‘Game of Thrones’ song.” I was like, “Well, OK, that’s actually not so bad. I will do it.” (laughs) Then when we did, out of curiosity he sent the song to Feuerschwanz’s manager, who sent it to Napalm Records, and Napalm Records reached out and said, “Hey, how about an entire album?” And that’s it. (laughs)
So what is the status of the album? Is it done?
Actually, we have a set list, but it’s still moving because there’s some cool releases coming, like “The Witcher” or the “Lord of the Rings” series. So we’re still leaving it open.
Is there a timetable for when we might hear more music from that?
Yeah, soon. (laughs) I don’t know how soon because now we’re trying to organize a video shoot. But I would say in the near future.
Buy “Chapter II: Legacy”
Ad Infinitum YouTube channel