Δευτέρα 27 Απριλίου 2020

SCALD in Greece during the Coronavirus Apocalypse.

COVID-19 came and changed our lives. Nothing is the same. Daily routine, jobs, everything is different and our generation hasn't seen anything alike. While we don't know what tomorrow will bring and when everything will return to normality, among others the world of music also was hit by the pandemic. Since Crystal Logic is mainly a music blog, we decided to view one of those countless cases as detailed as possible.

SCALD, the legendary epic doom metal band, was formed in Yaroslavl of Russia, when singer Maxim "Agyl" Andrianov and drummer Aleksandr "Ottar" Kudryashov of ROSS (POCC) changed the name to SCALD and were joined by ANAMNESIS VITAE members Ivan "Harald" Sergeev (guitar) and Ilia "Velingor" Timashev (bass), in order to play epic metal in the vein of MANOWAR and BATHORY. The line-up was completed by the second guitarist Vladimir "Karry" Ryzhkovskiy, and adding the CANDLEMASS influence, it was clear that SCALD wanted to write and perform a specific style of music. After the North Winds demo of 1994, SCALD recorded the album Will of the Gods Is Great Power in 1996. SCALD managed to play a few shows in their hometown and few cities nearby, but on September 6th of 1997, tragedy shook SCALD. That day, Agyl was found dead in a railroad, hit by a train.

The album was finally released after Agyl's tragic death and not in 1996 (according to Velingor) on cassette tape only, since it was very difficult to find a record label outside Russia, and SCALD decided not to exist anymore. A few years later, Will of the Gods Is Great Power was finally re-issued on CD and vinyl and more people discovered the magic of SCALD. However, times are changing, so in 2019, the band was reunited for selected live shows, with Felipe Plaza (PROCESSION, CAPILLA ARDIENTE) on vocals.

During the Coronavirus Apocalypse, SCALD offered us the detailed saga of their adventure between March 11th to 15th of 2020. A story they won't easily forget.

Story told by Velingor

Translation by Arkadi Borissov

After our very successful performance at the German festival Hammer of Doom (Würzburg, Germany) in the fall of 2019 we all, of course, were looking forward to performing on the 13th of March 2020 at the Greek metal festival Up the Hammers in Athens. Many of our fans who witnessed our show in Germany said that they were planning to go there and our vocalist Felipe told us that Greek fans are something special and we should definitely perform to such an audience. We heard that there are a lot of SCALD fans in Greece (it is worth mentioning that the first vinyl edition of SCALD's album Will of the Gods is Great Power was released in Greece in 2004). We, the Russian part of SCALD musicians, have never been to Greece and we certainly wanted to go there.

By the time of our departure to Greece, on the eve of the 10th of March, the situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) in Russia and Greece was relatively calm. In both countries there were less than ten infected in each country (all of them were put in quarantine) and just a little more than one deceased. Of course, Italy was not far from Greece and everything was much worse over there... But everyone (including the organizer of the festival) hoped that everything would be fine in Greece. We flew to Athens on March 11th and found a rather calm and relaxed atmosphere, although we saw some people wearing masks on the streets and in the subway. All the shops, restaurants, coffee stores and even the flea market near the place where we settled - everything was open for business. We met our friend Arkadi from Ireland, who kindly agreed to be our interpreter (since he is Russian-speaking, but has been living and working in Dublin for a long time and therefore speaks better English than us). We walked around the center of Athens, enjoyed the warmth (it was still cold in Russia), delicious Greek food and looked forward to a successful performance...

That evening, in the apartment where we were accommodated, we watched the English-language news on TV and realized that the situation in Europe was getting worse every hour. More and more sick people, more and more fatalities... Later in the evening our vocalist Felipe arrived from Sweden and said that "Scaldocalypse" was taking place in the world and showed us a video on his smartphone sent by his friend from Italy. Army was brought in to patrol the streets of Rome... If I am not mistaken, on the evening of March 11th WHO officially announced the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The next day, in the morning of March 12th, Manolis, the organizer of Up the Hammers festival broke the news that the festival was officially canceled. All American bands (including the headliners TOXIK and FIFTH ANGEL) either didn't travel, to those who managed to fly to Europe, immediately flew back to the USA (in connection with the statement by US President Trump about the immediate ban of all flights from Europe); ATLANTEAN KODEX from Germany also had to cancel.

The situation in Athens began to change - many coffee stores and restaurants were already closed or were working only for takeaway and it was no longer possible to sit in them. There were more and more people wearing masks on the streets. We all had non-refundable return tickets for the 15th of March (booked by Manolis in the summer) and we didn't have much cash with us. We decided not to rush to evacuate to Russia. Our guitarist Karry and vocalist Felipe decided to still do a rehearsal on March the 12th, which was planned in advance with the organizer of the festival. Felipe contacted the owner of the rehearsal studio (they had known each other) and agreed with him that everyone who wants to listen to SCALD would be allowed to attend the rehearsal for free, meaning those who came to the festival from Europe, United States and other countries,  and didn't go back yet. Manolis agreed to rent the rehearsal studio for three hours  and we can't thank him enough for that. So, we finally decided to stay in Athens.

Our manager Tatiana (she was not with us in Greece) posted on the SCALD facebook page about the rehearsal / mini-concert and we left for the place. We were surprised and disappointed at the same time, when we saw a crowd of 25-30 metalheads on the street near the studio who wanted to listen to us... and the studio owner, who told us that he was ready to let in only 3-5 people, no more. Felipe explained everything to the metalheads, who were quite disappointed with the whole situation, and said that the band invited them to the Underground Café bar in the evening to chat and hang out.

The rehearsal room was really small, but when we started playing the owner of the studio started letting people in. As a result 10 or more people from different countries somehow fit in. We played the entire concert program for them and repeated several songs for the encore. This resulted in a sort of mini-concert combined with rehearsal. Those in attendance and the band were very pleased. It is a pity that not everyone was able to get to this impromptu event.

In the evening we all went to Underground Café, which was packed with metalheads from various countries. Of course, we all understood that we were quite at risk of getting infected and that we all had two weeks of quarantine immediately upon return. But we all didn't care what would happen next. We were just glad that we played at least a small show in Athens and that we had an opportunity to hang out with our fans. All this action was reminiscent of a "A Feast in Time of Plague" - countries imposed a lockdown one by one, numbers of sick and dead people increased hour by hour, and all SCALD members and all the metalheads hung out, talked and drank beer and sang along to BLACK SABBATH's "Heaven and Hell" and W.A.S.P.'s "Love Machine" and other metal anthems which were aired at the bar. We had a lot of fun and there was no anxiety and fear whatsoever.

The next day we walked in Athens (we didn't care much because if we were at risk of infection we would've been infected already), climbed the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus from where we enjoyed amazing panoramic views of Athens. We went to the seaport (for us who live far from the sea it was interesting). The streets of Athens were almost empty and our vocalist Felipe, who had already been here several times, said that he saw this for the first time - at any time of the year there were crowds of tourists in the streets of Athens, especially in the city center. Many restaurants and coffee stores were closed, there were almost no people in the subway and almost everyone we met wore masks. In the evening we had a small party in our apartment for ourselves with Metaxa and barbecue, which we managed to buy in a takeaway in one of the few restaurants still working nearby. Addresses to the people from leaders of many countries and opinions of experts in connection with the coronavirus pandemic were broadcasted on television without interruption. It was clear that the situation in the world had actually gotten out of control and many countries (who didn't have time to do this already) closed their borders and introduced total quarantine. The numbers of sick and deceased in the world increased every hour, although in Greece and Russia the situation so far remained one of the most stable.

Early in the morning of March 15th, Felipe left for the airport and a little later wrote to us that he was OK and he got on a plane to Stockholm. Arkadi also said that he was already on a plane to Dublin which is now taking off. We decided to check how things are going with our flight. We went to the airline's website (it was a Greek airline) to check our flight to Moscow and... our flight was canceled. Our drummer Ottar suggested that we should urgently pack the bags and go to the airport to clarify the situation on the spot and fly out of Greece as soon as possible. We contacted Manolis and explained the situation to him. He replied that in 30 or 40 minutes a minibus would come to take us to the airport and that Yannis, the driver of the minibus, will help us to deal with the airline representatives (in Greek, because our English may not be effective enough in this situation). The situation at the airport was rather deplorable. There was a huge number of people, all of them were agitated, some of them were crying. There were long queues to airline help desks. Our queue was not very long which inspired some hope. On the large screens we could see the situation at the world's largest airports. It was real HELL happening everywhere - giant crowds of stranded people, people desperately storming the airline offices. Even the Athens airport looked calmer in this regard. Finally after an hour of waiting we reached the representative of our airline and she immediately began to look for a solution to our situation (Yannis helped us a lot, many thanks to him for that) and tried to solve the issue of getting to Moscow without surcharges based on the tickets that we had. We had several flight options to Moscow (all of them with transfers via other countries).

As time passed nothing was sorted. In the end, the representative of the airline told us that nothing can be done today. "We will try to sort it tomorrow, now go to the hotel to have a rest, dinner and breakfast are included", she said. We followed her advice as it was already late and everyone was exhausted. We already heard that from tomorrow Greece will close its borders, all flights will be reduced to a minimum. We could only hope that somehow we could still fly back home. To our surprise the hotel turned out to be simply gorgeous. We had a great dinner in the restaurant, ordered the cheapest (by the standards of this hotel) bottle of wine, drank it calmly and were ready to go to bed and then... After we left the restaurant a hotel employee ran up to us and said (pronouncing our names) that the problem with our flight to Moscow has been resolved that the check-in for the flight is about to begin and that we are flying with a transfer... in Yerevan (Armenia)! In the end she wished us good luck and showed the devil horns. "Wow!" was our reaction as we didn't expect such an early solution to our problem and such an exotic route and none of us has ever been to Yerevan! Our guitarist Harald said: "Ivan in Yerevan - sounds cool!" (Ivan is his real name). Ottar added: "Yerevan sounds good, we can even get from Yerevan to Yaroslavl (our hometown) by trolleybus!" (which was of course a joke, there is quite a distance between the two cities). We quickly grabbed our gear and literally ran to the airport for check-in.

During check-in for a flight to Yerevan it turned out that we would have there almost half a day before the flight to Moscow. We all decided not to miss the opportunity to visit Yerevan itself and considered at least a little walk in the city center. As a result we flew out of Greece late in the evening of March 15th as originally planned. The plane landed in Yerevan about 6 in the morning or even earlier. We met a very serious medical check up of all who arrived. All the border guards, customs officers and airport service personnel wore masks, there were many doctors around, not only in masks, but also in special protective medical suits. Everyone at the exit of the aircraft was checked with a stationary thermal imager and people standing in line for border control were selectively approached by doctors and checked with a hand-held electronic thermometer. We did not have any problems, so we left for the arrival zone of Yerevan Airport.

After some rest we took a taxi (in Armenia, as it turned out, a taxi driver is any driver you can negotiate with, especially since everyone speaks and understands Russian, after all it is the former USSR republic!) and so we arrived at the center of Yerevan. Yerevan is a rather exotic city, where the old Soviet architecture (with a local flavor) is adjacent to the newly built office buildings, hotels, casinos and restaurants. What really impressed us was the grandiose view of the snow-capped Mount Ararat in the distance, the top of which was obscured by clouds. This huge mountain was visible almost from everywhere we walked. On this early morning of the working day the center of Yerevan was completely empty, there were almost no people there and those whom we met (they were obviously rushing to work) looked with surprise at our exotic "northern" appearance. The only place that was open was a small 24h supermarket where we immediately bought the famous (according to numerous positive reviews) Armenian cognac and then drank it on a bench with a view at one of the central streets. We wandered around the center of Yerevan and finally found an open restaurant where we had breakfast, quickly negotiated with the next "taxi driver" and left for the airport.

In the departure zone we sat right next to the huge panoramic window from which Mount Ararat was perfectly visible in all its glory. We also did not forget to drink Armenian cognac from Duty Free. After boarding the plane to Moscow we learned that from tomorrow Armenia would close its borders and this is the last scheduled flight. "We made it in the last moment, will of the gods is indeed a great power!", we all thought. And finally, Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport! Now we were almost home. We have already prepared for serious medical checks and questions like "where were you, how long have you been there, whom did you contact with, how do you feel", etc. We were struck by how empty the airfield was - there were only a few planes of the Russian airline Aeroflot. We saw that for the first time. Upon leaving the plane, to our surprise, there were no checks at all. Only at the far end of the corridor (50 meters from us) we noticed a thermal imager and two doctors with bored looks. Apparently, Armenia by Russian standards was still considered a safe country in relation with coronavirus. However here, as in Armenia, all border guards, customs officers and maintenance personnel were wearing masks and gloves. Finally we got all our luggage, went outside, breathed in almost freezing air and sighed with relief - that's all, our adventure is over! We loaded into the shuttle bus (ordered in advance) and went to our hometown of Yaroslavl. We had yet another 4 hours of travel and two-week home quarantine, and tests for coronavirus. But we were very pleased with the fact that we visited Greece and that we still managed to play at least some kind of concert and meet the fans. We got a lot of positive impressions in general, although there were a lot of frustrations and worries. As a result none of us got sick - all the tests turned out to be negative and we all, including Felipe in Stockholm and Arkadi in Dublin (who reported that they feel fine after two weeks of home quarantine), immersed in our regular life.

We all would like to return to Greece again and play a proper, full show on the big stage for all fans who want to see us. But better without these sudden adventures that happened to us this time. Many thanks to all who supported and helped us on this trip!

Prologue by Andreas Andreou

Story told by Velingor

Translation by Arkadi Borissov

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