BY MIKE COHEN
CONSTANTIN Glantz totally rebuilt his group Soul Enema between their first two albums.
The Israeli progressive rock band released its second album, Of Clans and Clones and Clowns, earlier this year — seven years after first album Thin Ice Crawling.
Keyboardist and songwriter Constantin is the only musician on both albums.
He says the Ashdod-based group originally formed in July, 2001, “by accident”.
St Petersburg-born Constantin told me: “We were mostly a bunch of kids on summer holidays back then, driven by an intuitive intention to create some original music with a distinctive blend of the influences, and we somehow got together — pretty much spontaneously.
“The first song, Crystal Territory, was written almost immediately, followed by Splinter nearly a month later.
“So, if you listen to those two tracks on Thin Ice Crawling, they already had a certain shape, even at that very embryonic phase of the band’s existence.”
During the band’s early days, they worked on a ‘deconstructed’ cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, featuring about 20 different styles within one song.
“I guess that was one of our demented ideas for ‘doing that progressive thing’,” he laughed.
Thin Ice Crawling was released to international critical acclaim in 2010 and was nominated for a Prog Award for best debut album. It was also included in best albums of the year lists of rock magazines.
“We were on a zero budget for a long time, and we didn’t want to release anything that sounded and felt like a zero-budget demo from grandpa’s garage,” he said.
“So we were allowing things to build up gradually, as much as we could afford for it to happen.”
But Constantin added: “I don’t think anyone particularly noticed our existence in our home country. If anyone did, those people truly belong to the Red List category.”
Explaining the gap between albums, Constantin said it was due to “line-up changes, and a desire to do things in the most decent way possible, without compromising the vision”.
The 39-year-old, who moved to Israel in 1990, added: “People go through different motions, which is rather natural. Some become interested in different types of music or find themselves not really resonating with a certain type of stuff, etc.
“I cannot complain in the end — it was a very special experience for me to work with such a great team of musicians on Of Clans and Clones and Clowns.
Soul Enema are still female-fronted with Noa Gruman replacing Irene Sherr at the microphone.
The group also includes guitarist Yoel Genin, Michael Rosenfeld on bass, sitar and violin, and drummer Dor Levin.
While the first album was “a collaborative effort”, the new release has been entirely written by Constantin.
“Now you know who is to be blamed for anything,” he joked.
He admitted that he steers clear of political themes.
“Dealing with the so-called TV politics is pretty boring and a waste of recording time,” he told me.
“If anything, we deal with life on a wider scale and part of that is human nature and different sociological, historical issues and tendencies, which are a lot more interesting.
“You’d better form your own impressions, though — different people project different things as they acquire personal angles of relation. It can be an interesting ride.”
Constantin, who works in software development, describes Soul Enema’s sound as “from ABBA to Zappa, from King Crimson to King Diamond, which basically means that you can have a diverse, multi-headed creature here, music from all kinds of directions and parts of the world.
“Mood-wise, I think it has its share of paradoxes, like switching from the tragic to the comical or bringing together two contrasting things simultaneously — that’s the kind of approach that influenced me in the first place.
“It isn’t pre-determined, it’s just the way it comes out, a bit like mirroring real life with all its diverse conditions, moods and situations along the way.”
One of Constantin’s coups was landing Jens Bogren to mix Of Clans and Clones and Clowns.
The Swede is one of the biggest names in the rock world, having worked with the likes of Opeth, Sepultura, Arch Enemy and Paradise Lost.
“I was looking for a certain type and standard of sound, and Jens was the best option on my list to make an attempt at shaping it the right way,” Constantin explained.
The album was released by MALS Records with a share of the distribution done via French prog label Musea.
Seeing the international success of Israelis Orphaned Land and Yossi Sassi, who features on the new album, spurs on Soul Enema.
But Constantin added: “We just try to create something distinctive of our own, in the same way as they tried and succeeded at creating a thing of their own.”
The group’s name also raises a few eyebrows. Constantin reveals it was the result of “collective brainstorming and a collective decision,” although “I think that final combination was from me, but it doesn’t matter.
“It’s an asset in a way, because it works as a filter. For example, do you feel that the band’s name really confuses you to the point of giving up straight away?
“Do you always judge people or music by their name, not giving enough of a damn to check out a bit of their actual essence?
“On the other hand, it brings in the open-minded people, with a certain sense of humour, those who can notice this name among hundreds of boring, safe and clichéd titles.
“Almost like noticing a band named Mr Bungle on the rack, after seeing so many pompous and stereotypical band names.”
No interview with an Israeli musician is complete without mentioning those two horrific words — Roger Waters.
The former Pink Floyd frontman is leading a campaign of hate against Israel and calls for international acts to boycott the Jewish state.
Constantin calls the BDS movement “rather counter-productive”.
He said: “Let me dream for a second: I would rather be into Roger having a lasting peace agreement and collaboration with David Gilmour, making a musically decent ‘swan song’ record together.
“That might be a good example of coexistence on a small scale, for starters, right?
“But what the hell do I know — I’m not really in a position to deliver any sort of unsolicited advice to musicians, let alone nations and countries.”
As Soul Enema haven’t performed outside their home country yet, they haven’t had any anti-Israel confrontations.
“Of course there are some types of keyboard warriors and comedy stars that may get their share of input on occasion,” Constantin said. “Guys who probably believe we must be some evil robots, making bloody astral sacrifices of Barbie dolls in our spare time. That’s ok, come say hi.”
Constantin says being classed as prog rock can be a hindrance.
“Sometimes you have a better chance of exposure under a different genre label, one that is more ‘hip’, while playing almost the same kind of music,” he said. “It’s almost like — ‘hey guys, we do the post-post-chamber-math-metal-psych-folk with some nice grindcore-vaporwave elements, but don’t you dare label it as ‘prog’, because that makes us look so 1972’.
“Anyway, when you choose to play this type of music, you never really hold high hopes as far as the market goes. Not these days, especially.”
Soul Enema recently released a video for their track Aral Sea II — Dustbin Of History.
The song, which features Israeli guitar hero Sassi, is the second part of the Aral Sea trilogy, “dedicated to the environmental disaster of the former sea — one of the biggest ecological problems of our time,” according to Constantin.
“This video features magnificent time-lapse footage taken by photographer Denis Frantsouzov on his journey through the Aral Sea/Ustyurt Plateau region.
“We tried to capture the reflection of an irreversible loss, and bid a final farewell to the Aral Sea — once a blooming oasis in the desert, now literally turned to dust as a result of reckless human activity.”