By Carl Begai

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Dutch singer Floor Jansen is best known these days as the voice of Nightwish, a post she’s held since 2012 following the controversial firing of Anette Olzon, but her music career began long before Tuomas Holopainen had the presence of mind to ask Jansen to help pilot his ship of dreams. Jansen made name for herself fronting After Forever from the band’s inception in 1997 until 2009. In that time she also worked with Ayreon, Star One, Devin Townsend Project and MaYan on an assortment of albums and launched her own band, ReVamp, which has since been put to rest due to her Nightwish commitments. Although Nightwish spent most of 2016 on the road in support of their latest album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Jansen found time to record vocals for two tracks on the new Evergrey album, The Storm Within, collaborate once again with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen… and make a baby with fiancé and Sabaton drummer Hannes Van Dahl.

Jansen is featured on two tracks for The Storm Within, ‘In Orbit’ and ‘Disconnect’, the former having been released as a single and video. I spoke with Evergrey frontman Tom Englund for the official bio released for The Storm Within earlier this year and he offered his thoughts on bringing Jansen in for the album.

“That was actually my wife (Carina Englund) thinking for me. Floor is a personal friend and major Evergrey fan, so it was over a glass of wine between her and my wife, who asked her if she wanted to do the song. ‘In Orbit’ is a powerhouse of a song and it would be easy to make it the first single, but it’s not the first impression we want to make. That said, it would be stupid not to release it as a single, and if we could get Floor to do the video, that would be a home run.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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“Goddammit, Amaranthe…”

When Swedish pop-metallers Amaranthe dropped the first single from their new Maximalism album, “That Song”, the mastermind behind Billy’s Metal Mulisha on YouTube, Billy Kasper, was one of the first to weigh in. Like many Amaranthe fans, yours truly included, he was weaned on old school metal (Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth) and now boasts a wide spectrum of metallic taste (Stone Sour, In Flames, Suffocation, and on and on…), leaving plenty of room for Amaranthe’s presumably lighter fare. Kasper was put off by the track, and for all the fans that voiced their lust and support for “That Song” there seemed to be an equal number that echoed his reaction above. In much the same way The Agonist has been lambasted by some of their followers for the changes in the band’s sound on their new Five album, there is some resistance amongst the Amaranthe faithful in accepting their sonic update. Their trademark pop elements are more pronounced than ever, and the death metal growls that have been a not-so-subtle nuance have finally taken a solid third of Amaranthe’s three vocalist spotlight, making for all kinds of discussion as to what should and should not be allowed as part of the band’s aresenal. In the end – and it took repeated listens to figure this out – Maximalism is all about contrasts and Amaranthe’s evolution rather than phoning in a predictably successful formula-fed album.

“Exactly,” says guitarist Olof Mörck- “I think you got it perfectly. People are intrigued by the record because it’s obviously different from what we’ve done before. For us, when we started to write the album it was all about diversity because I still love The Nexus (2013) and the first album (2011), but they did have a very firm concept and we went with that conecpt 100%. And since we were so early into our career there wasn’t a huge need for variation. On the Massive Addictive record (2014) we felt that we maybe had to throw some things around a little bit. At the outset of Maximalism, I think we were trying to throw a lot of different things around because one of the main points with the first two albums is that they were in context when they were released. They were very fresh and people didn’t react overly enthusiastic about the music, just like yourself, but they realized we’re a real band that can play our music live. The thing is that if we kept on releasing albums that sounded similar we would have lost that freshness. We were trying to find new perspectives on what is actually fun with Maximalism so the music is new and fresh for us.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Take a look at the viewer comments left as (burnt) offerings for the three videos The Agonist posted in the weeks prior to the release of their new album, Five – “The Chain”, “The Moment” and “The Hunt” respectively – and you’ll find the band has a very loyal yet painfully divided fanbase. Understandable given the parting of ways with original singer Alissa White-Gluz (now with Arch Enemy) in 2014 and the addition of Vicky Psarakis in her place, but the haters aren’t merely complaining about the vocals this time out. No, it would seem that those who would try to do The Agonist harm with insults and assorted trolling when Eye Of Providence was released in 2015 are taking issue with the songwriting on Five, the riffs, the production, the mix, even the promo photos, as well as the vocals. Guitarist Danny Marino isn’t one to let the negativity that has surfaced get to him because he knows Five is a bold step forward for The Agonist, and the band still has a legion of open-minded supporters.

“It’s hard to judge positive and negative reactions based on comments made on a video,” he says, “but even if they’re mainly positive the negative comments speak louder because they jump out at you. I think it’s important for any band to look at it that way. For example, I remember when Opeth went through their musical shift a couple albums ago and decided to continue on that path. It wasn’t pleasant for them (laughs) but I think they’re more successful now than they’ve ever been in their career. It took some time for people to adjust to their new direction. It’s very subjective. All we can do is keep putting out music and seeing people show up to watch us play. That’s how we know we’re doing something good.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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In early 2011, Seattle’s conquering sons Nevermore unexpectedly slammed the brakes on their career after almost 20 years in the trenches. The quartet – Warrel Dane (vocals), Jeff Loomis (guitars), Jim Sheppard (bass) and Van Williams (drums) – cited creative and personal differences as the cause for the parting of ways, shocking their loyal fanbase. Dane went on to re-launch Sanctuary in 2014 and Loomis was tagged to join Arch Enemy, replacing Nick Cordle. The former was expected, the latter was a complete surprise, but most Nevermore fans seem to have made peace with the changes even though there seemingly has never been a concrete explanation as to what brought about Nevermore’s (supposed) demise. Given the opportunity to sit down with Loomis during a stop on Arch Enemy’s late summer European tour, I asked him to shed some light on the matter.

“Nevermore was together for 18 years, and it was one of those things where everybody in the band at that time – five years ago now – was drinking heavily” Loomis reveals. “We all had a problem; it’s not fair to put the blame on one person for any of that. We wanted some changes in the band, we wanted everyone to quit drinking, but we were all too stubborn. Then the ultimatum came that if we didn’t quit drinking we’re not going to tour anymore, and that’s basically what ended the whole thing. I also think that after being together for so long and going through so many ups and downs, nobody could take it anymore. All I can say is that I’m very proud of what we did in Nevermore, we still have a huge following to this day, but as with anything in life there are other chapters and the page had to be turned to something else.”

“For me personally it was a big breather to be able to live a normal life for a while,” he adds. “I still talk to Van and Warrel, I don’t really speak to Jim too much anymore, and I hear he’s out of the business now. Everybody is doing something musically, it’s just not Nevermore. Warrel’s got Sanctuary, of course, and he’s doing a Nevermore touring cover band kinda thing. Van has Ghost Ship Octavius, which is really cool.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.

Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.

“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”

“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…

“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The first draft of this review was a pissed-off kneejerk reaction to what I initially interpreted as pop metal guardians Amaranthe trying to suck the marrow out of the success they had with “Drop Dead Cynical” from their previous album, Massive Addictive. After weeks of listening to Maximalism, I decided the record is instead about contrasts, thus giving fans an even bigger pop experience than ever before, while getting a hell of a lot heavier and more innovative at the same time.

Things start off well enough with “Maximize” but as of the second track in, “Boomerang”, things get uncomfortable beginning with a chorus that screams of the Dead Or Alive über-classic “You Spin Me Round”. It’s followed by the Queen trademarked clap-clap-thump of “We Will Rock You” as the “backbone” for first single “That Song” (the album’s low low point), followed-up with the “Drop Dead Cynical” rip-off “21”. Three head-scratchers in a row aren’t made any easier to swallow when bookended by “On The Rocks”, a party anthem that’s only one Randall Amp away from being a Ke$ha tune even though Ryd is pretty entertaining.

In a bizarre twist mid-way through Maximalism, Amaranthe blast a hole through the ceiling with “Fury” featuring Henrik Englund leading the charge and spitting venom for miles; the man’s screams are melodic death metal gold. We’re going to assume Ryd’s tip of the hat to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the same song is a well-placed joke. “Faster” and “Break Down And Cry” in particular recall The Nexus album’s best heavy moments, and “Supersonic” comes off as Maximalism’s most impressive track (after “Fury”) with some whacked-out(standing) Queen-esque vocal arrangements on top of the band’s trademark up-tempo delivery. “Fireball”, much like “Maximize”, is a safe Amaranthe song that displeases only those who hate the band. The album closes with an Elize solo spot on “Endlessly”, which sounds like something Disney would gladly pay a cool billion to Celine Dion to record for one of their animated films. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Z² from 2014 was the Devin Townsend Project’s ambitíous double album split into two very different sonic entities. Hardly a stretch for the man leading the charge, as Devin Townsend’s 20+ year music career is based on diversity, but for some fans it fell well short of some rather high expectations. Compared to other records in the Townsend / DTP catalogue Z² was a tough listen, never quite digging in, although there are some diehard fans that no doubt absorbed every note (naturally) and have already bagged this review as bullshit (naturally). Transcendence is the Devin Townsend Project’s return to form, putting things back in focus and turning in a rather prog-heavy record, opting for songs both long and short over the space of a comfortable 10 tracks.

In what seems to have become a DTP tradition of covering Townsend material, Transcendence kicks off with an updated version of “Truth” from the Infinity album (released in 1998), following up what they’ve done previously with “Hyperdrive” and “Kingdom”. From there we dive into a record reminiscent of the Epicloud album is spots with a very prominent Ocean Machine vibe all the way through. The guitar riffs and tones on “Stormbending” and “Secret Sciences” are positively fat and gorgeous, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen shines on “Failure” and “Higher” with his percussive groove madness on Transcendence’s two most adventurous tracks. “Higher” also happens to be the album’s prog mad centerpiece loaded with crushing guitars, some welcome metal vocal fireworks from Townsend, huge “Grace”-like melodies (see Epicloud), the song seemingly pulling itself in different directions over its nine minute run but ending things intact. The lone up-tempo song, “Offer Your Light” – Anneke van Giersbergen’s in-your-face guest spot – and the “Transcendence” title track are big on Ocean Machine-ry, the latter recalling the magic of tracks like “Funeral” and “Bastard”, although far more upbeat. Closing song “Transdermal Celebration” is indeed the Ween hit dressed up as a DTP track, and you would swear Townsend & Co. wrote it from scratch judging by how well it fits alongside the rest of the material on the album. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Amongst metal’s heaviest, darkest and meanest diehards Peter Tägtgren is known first and foremost as the frontman and founder of Hypocrisy, then as a producer who has racked up time in his Abyss Studio since 1995 with seemingly every metal band under the sun. There’s no getting past the fact, however, that his greatest success to date is his mainstream-ish electro-industrial outfit Pain. Originally launched as a one-man pet project in 1997, Pain now boasts a real band line-up and eight albums in their catalogue with no brick walls to slow them down in sight. The newest outing, Coming Home, is distinctly Swede-powered Pain boasting its fair share of surprises, from releasing its sick-riff heaviest track (“Call Me”) as the lead single, to an unexpected guest vocalist, to some serious balladeering on the title track. And clean singing. Lots of it.

During the five year gap between You Only Live Twice (2011) and Coming Home, Pain did a decent amount of touring and Peter succeeded in blindsiding the metal community by teaming up with seemingly reclusive Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann. The duo released the Lindemann debut, Skills And Pills, backed by some huge label confidence and promotional firepower, guaranteeing that everyone heard about Lindemann whether they liked the Pain-Stein sound of the project or not.

“It was great, we had the time of our lives,” Peter laughs. “Just two idiots out in the world doing promotion and it was great. We had such a blast. It’s a memory for life. We started with one song and we all know how it ended. It was amazing. Till is fucked up which is why we fit together (laughs). There were no rules for anything when we made the album. It was all ‘follow your heart.'” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Get past the fact the title for Delain’s new record sounds like an episode of the Teletubbies, and that the artwork is perhaps better suited for a ’70s hippie album than a metal band, Moonbathers is the all-important next step in a career that could have easily – some might say should have – wheezed and died years ago. Diehard fans will argue that Delain’s 2012 album We Are The Others yanked them out of symphonic metal obscurity, but it was The Human Contradiction two years later that made Delain big deal players on an international scale. That record stood head, shoulders and elbows above anything Delain had offered previously and set the bar for the follow-up pretty damn high, particularly since the album’s appeal led to major tours with Sabaton and Nightwish, guaranteeing maximum exposure. The fan-fuelled jury will weigh in over the coming months on whether the band succeeded in meeting the challenge, but from a former fence-sitting convert’s point of view Moonbathers is even more diverse than its predecessor, the song-writing top notch. And give Delain an extra point for having the audacity to cover the Queen classic “Scandal”.

Founder / keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, who started his career as a member of Within Temptation way back when, agrees that the 2016 Nightwish tour through North America was one of the best forums possible to introduce new material to Delain’s growing fanbase, which was one of the reasons for releasing the Lunar Prelude EP early this year.

“People were asking when we were going to tour again, and they were asking when we were going to release new material. We can only do one thing at a time, but we thought ‘Why don’t we do both?’ and chopped the album production in pieces. That way we had some material for the new tour, and it was a good warm-up for the album. The response from the fans was great. Most of the time, doing a support tour means that you lose a lot of money on it because you have to pay for expenses, but we had amazing merchandise profits on the Nightwish so we were able to cover our costs. That’s something that is very rare, so it’s a good sign to see whether people like the new music or not.” Continue Reading