The Shores of Inner Thoughts
CoC interviews Michael "Maiden" Smirnoff of Mental Home
by: Aaron McKay
Every once in a great while you happen across someone or something that inspires you to trudge forth and re-engage your proper musical imperatives. Such is the case with the following interview conducted with a very welcoming Michael "Maiden" Smirnoff of the band Mental Home from Russia. As you will see, Maiden, as he like to be called, jumps right into the interview with a heartfelt apology that more than made up for any delinquency you could have inferred as dilatory (but I didn't) in getting his responses back to me via e-mail. It was a terrific experience to converse over the computer with Maiden about a broad range of topics, but Mental Home's music in particular. With his responses, I believe you will still find Maiden as much of an enigma and the mysteries he clears up. Press on and wrap you eyeballs around the wonders of Mental Home.

Maiden: First of all Sir, I'd like to apologize for taking such a long time to answer... I have no excuse but so is my life...

CoC: To begin, happy belated birthday, Maiden! Did you do anything wild and crazy?

M: Thanks a lot, it's always great to get some greetings from such a big and famous mag. Actually I didn't do anything, I didn't even celebrate it. Also, if it matters, I'd tell you that I don't drink at all, so it's a very rare thing for me to go crazy. I prefer silence and solitude or sitting with a few friends in the kitchen.

CoC: If you would, please tell me a little bit about your feelings on Mental Home having been instrumental in the foundation of The End Records.

M: Well, we never thought we'd ever happen to be the reason of the record label's foundation. But in mid '97 we got in touch with Sergey Makhotkin, who wanted to help us by releasing our stuff on CD. After long negotiations he decided to founded a label together with his good friend Andreas Katsambas. The name for the label was The End. We were not the only reason of founding that label; there's another band, Nokturnal Mortum, whom The End really wanted to release. But we happened to be the first release of the newfounded label. We are very grateful for that chance they gave us. And us being on Century Media would also have been impossible without tremendous efforts from Andreas trying to get us a better spot in the business.

CoC: What was the band's collective impression about Mental Home's _Vale_ being released before _Black Art_?

M: The reason for releasing _Vale_ before _Black Art_ was that we still wanted to give some chance to our former label MetalAgen Records to release _Black Art_ and cover some studio expenses paid for us. But after all it did not work and we ended up giving MetalAgen their money, taking _Black Art_ masters and selling them to The End Records. Maybe it was not a good idea to try being gentlemen for us, maybe we should have released _Black Art_ first 'cause it was most up-to-date back then. But things turned out as they did and we followed natural chronology... We don't feel sorry for all that and we are proud of _Vale_. And I'd add that if we'd give [the go ahead for] _Black Art_ to go out first we would never see _Vale_ on CD, 'cause we'd been writing new songs as _Black Art_ went into printing.

CoC: If you were to play another instrument, other than keyboards, in another band, let's say a raw black metal side project, what would that instrument be? What would you name this fictitious group?

M: If I tell you that I'm not actually a keyboard player, would you believe me? My first time on keys was right at the day I got an invitation from Mental Home. They just told me that I had to learn how to play that instrument. In all my previous local bands I did vocal/guitar duties, having no idea how to play keyboards. So you see that's not a hard thing to imagine for me. I also play keyboards in another band together with our drummer Igor -- it's called Rossomahaar and we play black metal there. I'd say it's the most interesting black metal band around here. I think you should take a listen.

CoC: How did "Stained" come to be the song chosen for The End's _White_ compilation?

M: It's simple. They asked me what song I'd like to put onto that sampler and I gave them "Stained" because it represents the album better than any other one ready at that moment. It's a rare version of "Stained", because we gave The End its first mix and it wasn't mastered at all, so it's got a pretty raw sound. All that makes the _White_ compilation a collectors item! <laughs>

CoC: Can you give the Chronicles of Chaos readers some idea of the current metal scene there in your home country, please?

M: It's hard to give a brief description of our scene. It's as big as our country is... Many bands in hundreds of regions. The main problem here is the lack of honest and big metal labels. All we've got here is a few labels that cannot offer any suitable conditions to bands they release. As the band grows it becomes unsatisfied with the conditions they're being offered, and since there's nothing better, people split up disappointed with making music. After we showed others that Russian bands can sign with foreign labels, bands began sending their promos far and wide and very soon many of them got signed to more or less big foreign labels. It's a great progress within our scene, 'cause before we've had dozens of great bands living and dying here.

CoC: Was the title of _Against the Sun_ changed to _Upon the Shores of the Inner Seas_? If so, why was this the case?

M: Yes, it was. I was supposed to write lyrics for that album as well and we wanted it to follow _Black Art_ lyrically. But I've had huge mental health problems and even spent a month in a mental hospital. So I could not handle my lyrical duties and no songs were completed. Then our vocalist Sergey Dmitriev stepped in and wrote lyrics on his own. He is a different person and his views and thoughts are quite different from mine, so his lyrics are absolutely different from what I could write. The old album title became unsuitable, so I came up with the new one, which did a better job of incorporating Sergey's inner world, through which he led us with his lyrics.

CoC: On the _Black Art_ digi-pak, the CD-ROM video clip for "Pagan Freedom" was extremely impressive and erratic. What did it mean to you personally?

M: The song itself means a lot. It describes how Christianity ruined our great culture, our legacy and everything we've accumulated through years of our Slavonic History. As Yiotis Katsambas (Andreas' brother) and John Swanson of Mythos Media made a clip, they represented their own version of the song, not following the lyrics, but giving you the right sorrowful impression, very similar to what I intended you to feel through the lyrics.

CoC: For the most part, by and large, the first The End Records compilation, _...Until the End of Time_, was the first exposure the US metal community had to Mental Home. Why was "Under the Wing (of Gamayun)" chosen?

M: That song is very monumental and with a piano and bells dark intro it became a perfect opener for that compilation. It was the right mood we wanted to bring to people. We'd changed our label from MetalAgen to The End Records, we'd changed line-up -- one of the composers left the band and we wanted to show the world that we were back to rule, that we were even stronger than ever before. If you remember, there was another Mental Home song on that sampler -- "Southern Calm Waters". It's a very melodic and impressive song that we were playing on every show. It's from the _Vale_ album.

CoC: What would you say the difference is in the sound between the version of "Amidst the Waves" on _Upon the Shores of the Inner Seas_ and the original recording on 1995's _Mirrorland_, besides possibly money and notoriety?

M: We changed harmony in some places from minor to major, changed the back solo and cut away the last lead guitar part. Also the vocals were now done in a double track version with some intervals never used in _Mirrorland_ era. The final keyboard part is played differently and with different sounds. As we release _Mirrorland_ on CD, you'll see the difference.

CoC: Let's say, hypothetically, during a full US tour, while the band was in the country, what would be some of the things that you and the other Mental Home members would want to do, see or experience in America?

M: First of all, we'd like to kick some asses during our live shows. In between we'd visit some interesting places, maybe museums, talk to fans and other people around. We'd just love to know more about that brand new place for us. The rest is to schedule a full US tour for us. <laughs> Actually, we don't know when we'll get a chance to tour in the US, but I can assure you we'd leave all venues ruined.

CoC: Before we wrap this interview up, allow me to ask you about your nickname, "Maiden". Also, tell me your thoughts on Metal Home and the reformed Iron Maiden on a world tour together. What do you think?!

M: You understood my nickname right -- the reason is that great band that we all love very much. When I was 14, I'd been raving [about] Iron Maiden in high school during lectures saying things like, "Wow, yesterday I was listening to _Somewhere in Time_! You can't imagine how cool the lead guitar was", or something like that. And it was every day... So people began calling me "Maiden". With time my nickname almost became my second name and my signature reads as "Maiden" (even in my passport). Reunion of Iron Maiden... I remember running around and telling each and every human that the Maiden guys are back! I was so happy, man... It's my biggest dream to tour with them. I have no words... UP THE IRONS!!!

CoC: Other than Iron Maiden, is there a band that you would desire to play with in concert or tour with in general?

M: Yes! Those are Anathema ("Did I punish you for dreaming...?"), The Gathering and I'd still love to see Tiamat as headliners. They have changed their image and music but J. Edlund remains the man who wrote _Clouds_ and I worship that state of the art.

CoC: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions for the Chronicles of Chaos readers, Maiden. End this interview in any way you might like and best of luck to Mental Home. I hope I see you in Milwaukee at the MetalFest.

M: Thanks a lot for giving us a spot in your magazine. We'd love to hear from you again. Please let us know if you need anything from Mental Home. And could you please publish our contacts:

Contact: Sergey Dmitriev, ul. Kastanaevskaya, 55-51, Moscow 121108, Russia Contact: Michael "Maiden" Smirnoff, P.O. Box 345, Moscow 121151, Russia Contact:

(article submitted 12/8/2000)

8/12/2000 A Bromley 6 Mental Home - Upon the Shores of the Inner Seas
10/1/1998 B Meloon 8.5 Mental Home - Black Art
3/10/1998 A Wasylyk 5 Mental Home - Vale
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