Ten years ago, back during the days of MySpace, I made an online friend and in the last decade our friendship and his musical journey have changed and grown. My dear friend, Thomas Bellezza, also known as Lord Telmorn Altayon, is currently battling kidney cancer. Even though he has a lot going on in his own life, Tom has taken some time out to talk to Metal On Loud about everything from sperm to being an illustrator to vampires and the goddess of death. It was awesome to talk to him about all of these things, and I am very excited to share both his stories and some of his music with you. Next year, about this same time, we will be talking again to Tom about his show marking the one-year anniversary of beating this illness and rejoicing with him and the other bands that will be involved with that celebration. I hope you enjoy learning about Tom and his antics as much as I did. For the sake of not having an eight-page interview, I have truncated it a bit, but I think you will still enjoy what he has to say about music, and life in general.
How did you start out, musically?
Well. My first band ever was named, Sperm.
We sounded like Nirvana
I like Nirvana, though
Yeah, I know. That didn’t last long, though. I wanted to be in a fun band.
I learned something new about you, then. I thought your first band was (I can never say this name right!) Tenebrae
(corrects my verbal slaughter of the band name) Tenebrae
I was learning Latin at the time, came across it and thought it would make an amazing band name.
So what does it mean?
It means darkness, but devoid; so everything and nothing at the same time. That’s the philosophy of what the band was about, even though we were a farce. (laughs) I mean our website was thegreatestband.com, so you know; we played complicated dark music and people would be clapping. We would be “ Of course you’re clapping, keep it up…” we all did accents.
But it was fun.
Yeah it was a lot of fun, for the first seven years.
So that’s about 8 years of music…
No, actually I did a year with Sperm but 10 years with Tenebrae. The last three years was pretty rough though. Then I stopped music. I was done. I kept getting e-mails though, from people saying that they wanted more music. So then I wrote an album, which is “Finally Free” from Altayon. I wrote a lot of songs since then, but, it was the first truly recorded album because with Tenebrae we always did live shows.
Ok, well that’s really cool. So, you have done a lot of live shows. With Tenebrae, did you do tours or gigs?
Tenebrae was a mixture; we started off as a local band and we would pack the shows but club owners wouldn’t pay us. So, we decided the hell with it, we will do our own shows. We did really well, so then club owners wanted us to play. We would tell them “we cost this much…that’s a lot of money…well, that’s half what we’d make on our own.” Then we started playing road shows and festivals. The last three years was all festivals. We played Milwaukee Metal Fest a couple of times. We did Sun and Steel Fest, we were the only band to get an encore that entire week (very cool!). We played in Canada as well. It was a lot of fun, I mean, I was never a fan of playing a lot of gigs. I wasn’t business, too artist.
After a rather comical interruption by my three-year-old, we were able to get back to discussing music and a shirt that I wish to steal from him. That’s one of the things I love about talking to artists, real life interruptions are okay and ease the conversation, too. I am certain that I was beet red once the tiny tot finally left the room so we could get to talking about Altayon, the purpose of our chat! Best interview ever right?
And then I turned into Altayon…
Yes, I think that is where I discovered you, you were still Tenebrae, but changed to Altayon.
I think we started talking in 2007 or 2006, right (06, that’s right); that was basically a year before I quit the band. It’s not really quitting when you own the band (kind of disbanded maybe?) I said I quit, the guys were like you own the band! I told them I didn’t want to fire them, so I quit. It was okay though, they all had other bands and projects as well. Sometimes seven brains is too many; we all wanted different things.
Too much stress; I think that you see this a lot, especially in more well-known bands. They have creative differences; it happens when people are working together. Sometimes they work out, have line-up changes, or as we have seen recently, they disband and move on to other things.
It’s when you are this for 10 years…it’s just like that’s too much.
I’ve seen bands change and progress. I can say as a music lover and fan that when a band changes their sound completely from album to album can be frustrating. I don’t like it honestly.
I think Metallica is the best example; they went from thrash metal to the Black album which I classify as heavy rock, to whatever Load and Re-Load is.
I can’t classify it myself, it’s too difficult; I stand back from those arguments.
I mean the album cover has blood and semen on it, so…
I know! I listen to everything from Gojira to Everygrey, so for me it’s if I like it, I like it.
Your process, your writing process is something that I am very interested in knowing about.
Um, I have two processes. The first is I write lyrics. Believe it or not, I actually write poems then put them into lyrical form. I like the way this poem feels, then I put music to it. I always like to have an intro and I write until I am comfortable with it. The other way I do is that I try to think of a concept that is story-based and then I go with it. As far as a chorus goes, most people write them as repetitive. For me, my choruses have to sum up where the story is going.
Could you explain that to me?
Yeah, so like, let’s say I sang two versus with no chorus; when the chorus comes it’ll explain the first two. Then we might have a bridge verse or whatever, then the next chorus. It will have the same feel but tell us where we are now. I do that a lot with “The Legend of Fate’s Courtship,” though the chorus you hear is the same over and over again. That song was meant to be a duet. That’s how it should be, but it’s recorded just by me. I need the song to sound like a movie or a soundtrack. If I close my eyes, can I see something?
That’s the only reason that I got into music. I wanted to create musicals, like Jekyll and Hyde or Phantom. To write musicals, or a ballad in that musical. I was an illustrator originally, I studied all my life to do that. I found out though that I like drawing, but I don’t like drawing for other people. My fist illustration job, I made like $700. I had to draw an interpretation of the Jabawocky. I did and he’s like “I love it! But, can you change this..” I did that, but ultimately he liked the original. So I stopped drawing for people. I worked for a comic book company for about a year; these people loved my writing but even as good as I was, the artists made me look bad. (laughter ensues) Then I thought, what if I could draw a comic book based on Lord Telmorn Altayon. I did that, but what ended up happening, I started writing books instead of songs. So from the books, I started writing the songs. I was really happy about that.
So that’s really cool, the way you’ve gone through your processes.
Yeah, they all kind of interact though. Then I sometimes end up with like six songs to explain each other. I have probably thirty albums worth of music written, but they are all concept albums.
I think that is really neat though; from my perspective as someone with no musical ability, but a sincere appreciation. I love lyrics. I will say though that if the words don’t catch my attention, I can’t get into it. The story a song tells means more than some think. My favorite song of all time, people think I am crazy, but it’s by In Flames, called “Come Clarity,” and it’s an amazing song, but it’s very not “in-flames-ey” if you think of their normal music. You listen to the lyrics and it’s like this is what I needed, what I am looking for. So concept albums, actually, to me can work. So maybe you’ve found a little niche in my own personal (somewhat biased) opinion.
I mean, my first album, Finally Free was more of a kick to Tenebrae…finally free. (more laughter) Betrayal and Letter of Treason go together.
I thought so, even just by the title, they do seem to really go together.
Evil and Walk Under the Moon are also from a concept album. One about a vampire and the goddess of death.
That’s interesting. I don’t think I have heard it.
Every song is like fifteen minutes long, it’s crazy. It basically starts off as they meet, and he realizes she’s the goddess of death, she wants to become a vampire. The whole album is that story, with the consequences of her becoming a vampire.
I like that, a tragic, dark Shakespearian spin. Pretty neat. You may need to send me that! (tangent to Anne Rice and her vampires as well as the movies created from those books…I shall keep my very biased opinion about the recent popularity of sparkly vampires to myself and League of Extraordinary Gentleman J ). So, when you are creating and you are writing, do you have a specific inspiration for your music.
Yeah, I mean I have like two or three. I write from the perspective of Telmorn Altayon so whenever there is a world catastrophe like we just had recently, I wonder how he would perceive it. What would Telmorn do? He wants to destroy the world and start it over. He’s like, “oh, people are idiots, let me destroy the world…” His evolution though is that he is learning, he’s reincarnated and as he learns there is more memory of who he truly is.
So like a soul cycle?
Yes, just like that. He is a humanist. He’s for the betterment of life. So let’s say you robbed someone, he wouldn’t care. However, if you killed someone because you wanted their shoes, he’d likely torture you.
So punishment through karma? Is he like walking karma?
Yes and no. It’s weird how his brain works.
His philosophy is you can do whatever you want, but if you physically hurt someone, that’s not okay. So that’s one way I am inspired. The other is through my own experiences. I never write just one song. It’s because that’s what was going on at the time. I’ll get to a point where I don’t like a song and just stop for a while. I like soundtracks for moments, you know?
So, I’ve seen you do some covers as Altayon. Do you have a favorite or is it just playing around?
It’s always playing around; it’s really my appreciation for that band or that music. I mean I really liked doing the Dracula cover. It’s not perfect.
I’ve seen that, the Iced Earth one is my favorite.
Have you ever watched the very end of it?
Yes, I have watched the whole thing. I like it, but I have read some of the comments. It’s interesting, covers are interpretations and yours is definitely different.
We aren’t a tribute band, just a cover. We used melody, even an acoustic guitar.
A lot of bands do covers, and some people get stuck on the fact that it is not the original. I have to say a recent cover that I like almost as much as the original is Disturbed’s rendition of “Sound of Silence.” I love the original, but David and the guys did an amazing job creating their interpretation of the song. It’s beautiful. I think it creates an appreciation of older music is younger generations.
He did a very good job; I have listened to it multiple times. I love Disturbed; but they sounded the same to me. It was kind of like Godsmack to me as well. I wanted to like it, but you know, I listen to bands like Kamelot. Melody, amazing vocals. I like In Flames, Nightwish. We actually opened up for Nightwish.
I was going to ask you about that.
What’s funny about that show though is that they thought we were Nightwish. When they realized who we were the place erupted again. We were right before them. It was incredible, and we received an encore which is kind of unheard of for opening bands like us.
You can see the evolution of music I think; I got into music when I was 17. Throughout my own musical life, I have grown, I still listen to Warrant and Metallica, but have discovered so many wonderful bands. Some of them are household names, but many aren’t and I am okay with that. I think too many people get stuck in a box, and don’t want to experience the newer music. That’s one of the reasons that I really like that you guys play progressive doom metal. Can you tell me why you chose to combine these two?
To be honest, I call it progressive doom metal because people need to know what genre it is. I never felt that I had to be completely confined to one way of doing music. We evolved but kept elements of our previous way of doing things. I don’t think that artists should have to choose a genre. I like doom where it’s like melodic, then I feel good. We are progressive and doom, and everything in between.
That makes sense, thank you for breaking it down to me.
I know you have a lot going on, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I want you to know that I am rooting for you, so are all of your friends and we will speak again in a year to discuss the upcoming celebration of you conquering kidney cancer.
*this interview took place at the end of July, and since then Tom has successfully come through surgery and is recovering well. I am looking forward to speaking with him again soon, and I will share with you how he is doing and what Altayon has in store for us!*
Tabatha Spears Woodruff