On a recent April evening in Paris, Yoel Levi -- former principal conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and current principal conductor of the Orchestre National d'Île de France -- decided to enjoy one of his nights off by attending a concert of a different variety: death metal.
The show was at the Trebendo Theater, where American metal stars Unearth, Job for a Cowboy and Despised Icon were set to perform. However, the 57-year-old Levi was in attendance to watch one band in particular – Atlanta's own Daath, a group led by his 27-year-old son Eyal.
"I was very impressed," recalls Yoel, who hadn't seen Eyal perform since his son's band signed to Roadrunner Records last year and began touring the globe in support of its album, The Hinderers. "Their professionality, confidence and the way they were handling themselves on stage ... it was all very impressive," Yoel says.
Within such musical families, it may be common to find members pursuing different genres and styles, especially if they've been separated by a generation of musical and cultural influence. However, it's hardly commonplace for a house to hold both a world-class maestro and a guitar-slinging metal warrior. After all, even though extreme metal – which often boasts virtuosic musicians, linear song structures and atypical rhythms – is the rock subgenre that Eyal finds "the most similar to classical music," the two genres couldn't sound further apart to the untrained ear.
On one hand, Daath tosses aside all notions of subtlety on The Hinderers, opting instead to inflict raging metal battery upon the listener. Lead vocalist Sean Farber's sinister barking and drummer Kevin Talley's machine-gun footwork fuse with the metal riffs of Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler. And Jeremy Creamer works the bass while Mike Kameron covers keyboards and backing vocals. The resulting sound blends the meaty, dissonant style of death-metal legends such as Morbid Angel with the tempered, tuneful atmosphere of classic Scandanavian black-metal acts such as Dissection and Emperor. Meanwhile, the elder Levi's upcoming performances in various European cities will see him leading orchestras in works by Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Bartok – far cries from the pummeling, grunting assault of Daath.
Regardless, Yoel and Eyal Levi share a deep-seated passion for music. And that passion extends beyond the artistic gulf that separates them.
Born in Romania in 1950, Yoel was raised in Israel where he graduated from the Tel Aviv Academy of Music. After moving to Cleveland and starting a family, he was hired in 1988 as music director and principal conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – a position he held for 12 years before stepping down to bear the title of music director emeritus. Currently, Yoel regularly performs in Paris and Brussels, where he is also guest conductor for the Flemish Radio Orchestra.
A young Eyal began his musical journey by playing violin at age 4 while living in Cleveland. Unlike many other instrument-wielding tots, his pursuit grew of his own will and volition. "I started playing because I wanted to," Eyal says. "Sure, it probably originated with my father, but he certainly didn't force me into it."
Yoel concurs: "Eyal grew up in a house of music, so it was always part of what we were doing. Hearing music all the time was a very normal thing to him," he says. "He would travel with my wife and I [on conducting tours] all over the world and was constantly exposed to music. And while at home he would often attend my various performances."
Despite their common musical fascination, it didn't take long for father and son to realize their artistic endeavors were leading them down increasingly divergent paths. Quickly fed up with piano and violin lessons and increasingly interested in rock and heavy metal such as Megadeth and Pantera, Eyal's attention shifted toward guitar during his early teenage years. "He really wanted the guitar, and this was clear to us," Yoel says. "So we gave up on violin and piano and told him that he should play what he wants."
As the years passed and Eyal's guitar playing progressed, his tastes in metal turned more extreme. Classic albums from the likes of Carcass, Morbid Angel and Emperor caught his ear. "My dad probably thought it was a phase," says Eyal, who attended Atlanta International School. "After all, every 13- or 14-year-old clashes with their parents. If they don't, there's something wrong."
However foreign the guttural growls emanating from his son's bedroom stereo may have sounded to Yoel, he sensed that his son's love for metal was hardly a passing interest. "From the very beginning, he was strong-minded about the direction he was going and it was very clear that [metal guitar] was what he wanted to pursue," Yoel says. "Of course, at the time we had no idea how far it would go."
Indeed, a full 15 years after Eyal picked up his first electric guitar, his career as a metal musician has gone further than father or son anticipated. In addition to the group's deal with one of the world's biggest metal labels, Daath's high-profile tour schedule promises to exhaust, as the band travels throughout the rest of this year with numerous extreme-metal heavyweights such as Dying Fetus, Dark Funeral, Necrophagist and Nile. Daath will even be performing on this summer's traveling Ozzfest tour – a highly coveted opportunity among the innumerable young bands trying to make a name for themselves in the bloated, oversaturated American metal scene.
So while Eyal may not be sitting as first-chair violinist in one of Yoel's orchestras, he is conducting his own musical destiny. Even when simply speaking about Daath, Eyal evokes the clarity of vision and obsessive drive of an impassioned maestro. "The new material is more technical, darker and catchier," he says, as if reciting a manifesto, when asked about the progress of Daath's new songs. "I really want to push each band member as far as possible for the next album, taking everyone's skills and turning them up as high as I can."
His father couldn't be much happier. "For my wife and I, our biggest goal as parents is to see that the dreams of our children will come true," Yoel says. "This is what Eyal's been working very hard for, and dreaming that it would happen one day. And now it's happening."
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