From Martin Mendez, bassist of the ubiquitous Opeth comes White Stones, a solo project that rapidly became much more. Named after his birthplace in Uruguay, the record represents a return to his roots, both familial and musical- exploring the forgotten paths of his ancestors by way of the style of music that remains his one true love- death metal.
The creative process for White Stones’ debut album Kuarahy (pronounced Kwa-Ra-Hee) began during a year-long break Opeth took after the Sorceress tour, a means of unwinding by exploring new avenues of creativity, but initially it was never meant to be anything more. “I’ve always written music at home but never had the confidence to do anything like this,” says Mendez, “I never wrote a song, never presented something I wrote for Mikael (Åkerfeldt, Opeth singer/songwriter)” he continues. “I didn’t have any direction, I came up with the first song for fun. I used to sing death metal 25 years ago, and the plan was for me to sing, as I’d written it all, but when it came to it, I didn’t feel comfortable at all!”
This discomfort proved the key to unlocking further inspiration. A long time native of Stockholm, Sweden since leaving Uruguay at the age of seventeen, the now 41-year-old Mendez relocated to Barcelona two years ago with his partner and two children. Barcelona has in some way, he reflects, become something of a bridge between his past life in Uruguay and his more recent years spent in Europe- a home from home, if you will. “I feel strongly connected to Uruguay still,” he reflects. “I wanted to write music related to that- the sun on the Uruguayan flag I transformed into the White Stones logo; there are a lot of small things that connect the record to that place. Kuarahy is the native Uruguayan people’s word for ‘Sun’.”
It was in Barcelona he met Eloi Boucherie, who owned and operated the sparse but functional Farm Of Sounds studio. The two became friends. “He’s also a singer in Catalonian death metal band Vidres A La Sang. I asked him to record my vocals, but when I realised it wasn’t working, I asked if he wanted to try. He was great! We recorded six songs in only a couple of days.” Martin sent the tracks to Jaime Gomez’s UK-based Orgone studios for a professional quality mix, a process that went so well that Gomez would eventually go on to mix and master the finished record- ten tracks of accessibly pulsating, groove-oriented death metal with a classic twist. “I really had one thing in mind,” he enthuses, “to be groovy- you have to groove, no matter what style of music you play. I recorded with a Fender Stratocaster with just a tiny bit of distortion- that’s rare for death metal, and then made the bass really distorted and fat to bring heaviness to the music.”
With a progressive edge and plenty of Latin flair, Mendez’s musical lineage is evident in every note of Kuarahy. He played all guitars and bass on the record, except for the solos; he brought some friends in for those- Opeth’s Frederik Akesson playing lead on all tracks except for ‘The One’, which features a solo from Per Eriksson of Katatonia and Bloodbath fame. With White Stones rapidly turning into a serious proposition, Mendez then sought out a touring line up including Eloi Boucherie on vocals and former Cruciamentum drummer Jordi Farré, who also recorded drums for the record. He added Albert Martí and Joao Sassetti on rhythm and lead guitars respectively. They will play their first show at Holland’s Prognosis festival in 2020, with no tour as yet scheduled.
Aware of how much Opeth polarised opinion with their departure from death metal on 2011’s Heritage, Mendez is keen to affirm that White Stones not be seen as a rejection of his day job- quite the opposite. “I am 100% comfortable with what we’re doing with Opeth- it’s the best thing we could have done; I don’t think we’d be around today if we had done another death metal record. I love the challenges Opeth presents, we experiment a lot in the studio. When it comes to me writing death metal for White Stones, it’s the style of metal I like the most. I’ve loved Morbid Angel since I was a kid- death metal is inside me. White Stones is nothing to do with Opeth, I see no relation between the two. I played Kuarahy to Mikael a few months ago, he really liked it and was happy for me. Everyone in the band has side projects, it’s important- we tour so much you can become consumed by it; it has been really nice to do something different. White Stones has renewed my strength and energy.”
Stage: Second stage
Time: 22.30 - 23.15