However, it’s been almost a decade since metal music lovers heard new songs from the band. Now this longing is over. Pentagram is back with the album “MMXII” (2012), released in April via the Sony Music label.
The 10 original new songs by the band, with lyrics in both English and Turkish, have already been received very well by the audience. Celebrating their 25th year, Hakan Utangaç (guitar), Metin Türkcan (guitar), Tarkan Gözübüyük (bass guitar) and Cenk Ünnü (drums) are also celebrating the participation of new member Gökalp Ergen on vocals.
“[In our first years] many things were different and [making an album] was much more difficult than it is now,” said Ünnü in a band interview with Sunday’s Zaman. “There were only two studios in İstanbul for rehearsal and the opportunities for getting instruments were very limited. The audience was very limited and it was hard to find a distributor to release your album. We had recorded an album in analogue and it was going to be the first rock album with English lyrics in Turkey and only one label agreed to release it. We recorded it in 1989 and it was released in 1990. Contrary to expectations, it achieved very good sales for that time.”
Ünnü also notes increasing ties in Turkey to musicians from abroad: “Today foreign groups come to Turkey to perform. This was like a dream for us in the past. Today there are lots of festivals and many groups are coming to Turkey. We’ve taken the stage with the groups we were fans of when we were in high school. And this is very significant for us.”
“The technological opportunities were very limited as well,” confirms Gözübüyük. “Today, there are very good studios for recording and sound engineers and it’s easier to find instruments that you look for. Before, when you heard of a new album and wanted to listen to it, you had to wait at least a month. On the other hand, the scarcity of opportunities made your efforts much more valuable. We worked with passion.”
At this point, Gözübüyük highlights the impact of the social and political reality on the development of music, particularly on certain genres of music like rock and heavy metal in Turkey. “When we think of what we’ve done in the past, we don’t consider our efforts as sacrifice or altruism. We see ourselves like turtles walking to the sea. We’ve done what we wanted and in the way that we liked throughout these 25 years. But in those early years, unlike today, we had to learn many things by ourselves because the post-1980 [coup] period was a time when the previous music studies were interrupted. We are the members of the generation growing up under the shadow of the coup and the previous generation of masters either had to escape from Turkey or could no longer make music. For that reason, we restarted an interrupted tradition from scratch as much as we could.”
One important change in this process is definitely the change of perception towards metal music and musicians performing metal music. Having witnessed a near “witch-hunt” against metal music listeners and performers in the 1990s, the Turkish scene is quite different today. “Today, the approach and perception is much milder,” says Utangaç. “Throughout the 20-30 years, many things seem to have been established in terms of metal music in Turkey. What’s most important, the listeners have achieved the capacity to educate each other about metal music and musicians.”
As for the quality and character of metal music in Turkey, Gözübüyük notes that Turkey is not exempt from the trends and inclinations of the rest of the world. “No matter what we think as a society in Turkey, we are subject to the dynamics dominating the rest of the world,” he says. “The world is inclined towards a certain destination in technological and artistic terms and Turkey is a part of this transformation and it’s one of the countries that adapt themselves to changes the fastest. We know that there are one or two heavy metal bands in every city in Turkey. And new heavy metal albums are covered widely in the media, unlike in the past.”
Finding a new way
It’s not only the market or the people who changed in Turkey. The band itself was always in a process of evolution with members joining or leaving. The band occasionally had hard times as well, but finally -- and always -- managed to resolve things in the best way for itself.
“Throughout the years, many musicians left the group and they continue with their own careers. So, this band has been like a school for all of us,” says Gözübüyük. “We always maintain our relations with these musicians and try to contribute to their albums and concerts as much as we can.” “Actually, we have always succeeded in find a new way, a new destination for ourselves with the incoming person to the band,” confirms Utangaç. “This is like providing fresh blood to the band. And the album ‘MMXII’ is also a product of such a new start for us.”
In this respect, the album “MMXII” bears both novelties and the firm musical background of the band built in 25 years. “The songs whisper themselves to us,” says Gözübüyük. “We don’t start by projecting what we are going to do and what we are going to write. We try to hear those whispers in our minds and try to reveal them without manipulation and in the most direct way that we can. The stories of the songs were born by themselves. So, the composition of the songs and the album cover proceed all together and we are able to understand what this composition in general wants to say in six months or maybe more.
Maybe the most significant novelty for the band in the last period is the addition of Ergen. “The artwork is conducted generally by a team led by Hakan,” says Ünnü. “The songs are composed by the contribution of all -- everyone playing his own instrument and creating the tunes. The lyrics are generally written last. But in this album, Tarkan and Gökalp’s contribution to the lyrics are dominant.” “Actually, we are very happy that Gökalp has joined the band seeing his contribution to the lyrics and the compositions,” adds Gözübüyük. “The album has been a very promising work for the future for us. In June 2011, we started to work on recording the album and the first song we recorded with Gökalp was ‘Wasteland.’ We had a chance to see the harmony of Gökalp’s voice with the tone of the band with that song. The recording process lasted for nine months and 10 days but there was a process of preparation before that and another project we made together for the Topkapı Museum. All these studies reinforced our process of harmony.”
The songs on the album are predominantly in English. But this also is not a consequence of a project or design but the consequence of the fact that the songs are born with their own destination or maybe even destiny. “We don’t think about whether to make a song in Turkish or in English,” says Utangaç. “This happens by itself,” indicates Gözübüyük. “Sometimes we intend to write Turkish lyrics for a song but that song whispers itself in a different language. Also, the fact that this genre of music is generally performed and listened to in English all over the world influences us as well. We learned English by the songs we listened to, by the language of music rather than the school.”
At this point, Utangaç highlights the impact of Turkish songs abroad apart from the impact of English songs in Turkey. “There’s a growing interest in our Turkish songs in the international arena,” he says. “People do wonder what we sing about and they want the translations of the songs.”
“Besides, the album will be released in other countries as well, so we had to include English songs,” adds Ünnü. Good news: The band will have an intense concert lineup in the fall. “We will perform in Romania at a festival in July,” says Utangaç. “One leg of the festival is in İstanbul and we will perform on July 4 in İstanbul. But we will actually start the tour in September with a concert at the Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theater and then do a tour of Anatolia.”
After 10 years, the band is very excited with its new album and concert projects. “For many reasons we were in a state where we couldn’t make any plans for the future,” says Gözübüyük. “Now in the process starting in 2010, we are once more in a position to start new projects. We are so excited about it -- we feel like youngsters!”
And what’s next after the concerts for the band? The question of whether it will take them another 10 years to put out a new album definitely comes to mind. Happily, the band says no. “We don’t intend to give such a long break this time,” says Utangaç. “We have already started to make plans for a new product to work after the concerts, when the album ‘MMXII’ will be a year old,” adds Gözübüyük. “What we are planning is a secret for now. But it will be a great surprise, too!”