This story was originally published on this site back in April 2014, heralding the arrival of HDK’s new album Serenades Of The Netherworld. Or rather, the first taste of the record in the form of two singles to get people talking, which they did. Here’s the updated version of the story to coincide with the full album’s September 1st release.
By Carl Begai
It’s been five years since former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans broke his self-imposed hiatus from the music business with HDK, a slavering beast of a project that flew in the face of his former band’s symphonic goth metal sound. The debut album, System Overload, was a full-on metal assault that presented both Gommans and vocalist/co-conspirator Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) entering unexplored territory, showing off a very different and altogether volatile side of their musical personalities. A second HDK album was always in the cards; it was just a question of when the pair would get around to writing and recording it in amongst other projects that were on the go, which included the launch of Gommans’ studio/music school The Rock Station, working on albums from Trillium and Kiske / Somerville, and tours with Trillium, Avantasia and Rock Meets Classic. Serenades Of The Netherworld has finally surfaced – creeping into the light slowly but surely – as a bigger and more melodic take on System Overload. It’s certainly more dynamic and less bent on bludgeoning the listener into submission, but not at the expense of healthy sonic violence.
Amanda: “That wasn’t because of me. That was definitely Sander’s fault (laughs).”
Sander: “The thing is, with the first album I wanted to do something really different from After Forever. I’d wanted to do it for years and years, and that’s what came out. Since then I’ve had time to work with other artists and re-think some stuff. I wanted to write a new HDK album that was similar to the previous one but it came out much more symphonic and way more melodic. I didn’t have to distance myself from After Forever anymore, and I was ready to write stuff that was more melodic anyway like I did for Trillium and Kiske / Somerville. And I worked with keyboard players this time, so that gave the music a different feel as well. The new HDK is still heavy but it’s different from the first album..”
Amanda: “On the first album Sander was saying ‘There aren’t going to be any keyboards on the album because After Forever is full of frickin’ keyboards…’ (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with how the new HDK album turned out.”
Sander: “That’s why it’s a project; you can do anything you want at any time, and that’s why I don’t want to play live; I don’t want to hold myself to one sort of style or genre. It’s just cool to work together with musicians and come up with stuff. The new HDK album does sound different, I do agree.”
Also different this time out is the way HDK is being unleashed. Rather than going through the circus act of seeking out a record deal, Gommans and Somerville have opted to release Serenades Of The Netherworld independently, a project they kicked off at the beginning of 2014 by releasing two songs – ‘Return From Tomorrow’ and ‘Revelation’ – rather than dropping the whole package at once.
Sander: “We have The Rock Station now, and we really want to show musicians how to promote your work when you don’t have a label. It’s just the start, so we released the first song and it actually did well. But, we’ve also noticed that you can’t promote the release just once; you have to keep promoting it. We want to have something to constantly promote the album and give people time to get to know the songs instead of releasing everything all at once on an album where people listen to it a few times before moving on to the next thing. I thought people were going to be saying it wasn’t cool that they couldn’t buy the whole album. In that respect people like the songs, but I could see it coming where we release two or three songs and people start asking ‘Okay, where’s the album?'”
Which is a delicate balancing act. Teasing the fans with the news and notion that more material is on the way is good marketing, but make them wait too long and they’re not going to care by the time the last song is squeezed out.
Sander: “It has to be a journey for the people listening to the music. They have to get something special out of it. To be honest, we had to do it that way because we’re not performing and we didn’t want people to forget about this release in a week or two. Doing things this way, releasing singles, did create a buzz, and it made us aware of the fact metalfans want albums, no downloads. We did sell quite a few downloads, but also got a lot of messages asking about when the album was coming out. So, it was an interesting experiment.”
Serenades Of The Netherworld is Gommans guitar-heavy, but it does feature some keyboard-work courtesy of Uri Dijk (Textures) and Erik van Ittersum, with rough-around-the-edges clean male vocals supplied by Dead Man’s Curse frontman Geert Kroes. Somerville plays Kroes’ counterpart, and she reveals that her role in the creative process was somewhat less than on System Overload.
Amanda: “The songwriting was totally different from the first album, actually. Sander was impatient to get things going because it was right in the middle of me getting the Trillium album (Alloy) finished. He had no patience whatsoever (laughs).”
Sander: “My patience was gone…(laughs).”
Amanda: “Sander is the kind of guy where things have to happen as soon as he has the idea, but it was right when I was handing in the Trillium masters to Frontiers, which meant having to do the video (for ‘Coward’) and interviews, so there was no way I could focus on HDK creatively. So, Sander sat down and wrote lyrics for the first time for every song. He wrote them freely and didn’t really come up with concrete vocal lines, so it was a new venture for him. I was really proud of him. I took a look at the lyrics and gave him a tip here and there. Then he got Geert involved, who did a lot of work on the vocal lines. Then I came in and wrote the lyrics and vocal lines where there was nothing for a particular song, or I’d write a verse or re-do a chorus for one of Geert’s songs. I wasn’t as much of a creative heavyweight on the album like I was on the first one intially; I came in about half way through the writing process.”
Both Gommans and Somerville are prolific songwriters with extensive catalogues, but it’s rare that songs made for one project and shelved get used elsewhere later on. That said, the new HDK album features all brand new music.
Amanda: “There’s very, very little that we ever do that’s left over from another project. ‘Scream It’ was from the Kiske/Somerville sessions and it ended up on the Trillium album, but other than that…”
Sander: “And all this music, all the instrumental stuff, was written in one go. I wrote it all in less than four months, and the vocal process was something that took years before everything was done… *slapped by Amanda* (laughs). I’m impatient, but I have to say that I know how it is working with Amanda and I don’t want to work with anybody else.”
Amanda: “That means he had to wait because I was busy (laughs).”
Sander: “I have to stress the fact that even if the album sells zero copies, it’s still worth it to me because I got to work with Geert as well. He’s a huge talent, he’s amazing. I hope for him this leads to more connections because he was eager to do this.”
The new album was originally intended for a November 2013 release, but the month came and went without a peep from the HDK stronghold. Initial news that the album would be released in March 2014 pretty much sucker-punched anyone waiting for updates on how far along the project actually was. The release was eventually pushed to September, but not before HDK were given something to chew on while they waited.
Amanda: “It snuck up on me, too (laughs). Sander came back from a meeting with Paul Simons at The Rock Station and said ‘We’re going to release the album on March 1st…’ which was right before I went on tour with Rock Meets Classic. It really was like a slap in the face for some people (laughs). So many people do this thing where they build up and build up to a release with teasers and all that, and on one hand people like it, but when you go through months of that it gets to a point where the fans are saying ‘Okay, just let me know when the fucker is out.’ They don’t care anymore.”
“That’s the other thing about doing something different with the song-by-song release. When you put a full album out you’ve got all this build-up and you’ve worked so hard, and it’s out there for something like 30 seconds before you go on tour or start working on the next album.”
Sander: “I can’t speak for Amanda, but for me it was exciting to see if this new way of doing things would work, and if I could do it from the couch (laughs).”