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

By Carl Begai

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There was a time not so long ago when Delain was relegated to being a Dutch symphonic metal afterthought, regarded by the “experts” as a wannabe Within Temptation with a startling lack of balls and no identity. Unkind words indeed, which were eaten and subsequently choked on when the band unleashed The Human Contradiction in 2014. It didn’t merely open the door for Delain; it carved the band its own private entrance to the bigger leagues. So it goes that the follow-up, Moonbathers, was expected to fall just short of The Human Contradiction’s mark because, let’s face it, lightning doesn’t strike twice when a band is put under that kind of pressure.

Like bloody hell it doesn’t.

Having never bought into Delain’s keyboard-driven metal, The Human Contradiction was a wonderfully addictive surprise that flew in the face of my regular playlist (with the exception of Amaranthe). Perhaps it’s the freshness of the Moonbathers material, but the band has taken their songwriting and performances to a new level, particularly where vocalist Charlotte Wessels is concerned. The album grooves, bounces, croons and crushes its way through 11 tracks, displaying even more diversity than what The Human Contradiction brought to the table (which was considerable). “Hands Of Gold” featuring vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) – the only guest appearance on Moonbathers – is the perfect lead-in as a continuation to the previous record, with Wessels carrying the track through soaring melodies and gritty voice. First single “The Glory And The Scum” shows off a heavier, darker side to Delain that crops up time and again over Moonbathers’ course, contrasting sharply again the softer tracks like “Chrysalis – The Last Breath” and “The Hurricane”. The deeper you go the better the album gets, peaking with the three-point blast of “Fire With Fire” (fast and heavy), “Pendulum” (crushingly anthemic) and “Danse Macabre” (exceptional). It can’t be stressed enough that Wessels has come into her own as a singer, using her voice as a full-on instrument to bring a welcome new dimension to the Delain sound. The tribal chanting on “Danse Macabre” alone is a goosebump experience. As for the cover of Queen’s “Scandal”, the song is tailor made for Delain and guaranteed to become a live favourite. Continue Reading

Following is an excerpt from a very recent interview with Yers Trooly conducted by veteran and downright awesome author / musician Joel Gausten…

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For more than two decades, Carl Begai has been a leading voice in Metal journalism. Whether he’s reporting on acts all over the world for BraveWords.com / Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles (BW&BK) or offering various musings on CarlBegai.com, he consistently provides an in-depth, unpretentious and often amusing take on the world of music. Now, he is preparing to steer his work in a GRIM new direction.

Boasting cover art by former BW&BK graphic artist Hugues Laflamme, GRIM – My Way To Hell is Begai’s first work of fiction and his first book since 2008’s Fire and Fame (with Bonfire’s Joerg Deisinger). He has been “dabbling” with GRIM since 2011, when he was inspired to start putting words together after watching The Devil’s Advocate with Al Pacino. In one pivotal scene, Pacino – in the role of The Devil – delivers a powerful speech on how God is “an absentee landlord” when it came to caring for humanity.

“That is my favorite Pacino moment,” Begai says. “That’s where the idea of the book came from.”

Fans of Begai’s work received their first tease of GRIM when he posted the book’s prologue on his website in 2012.

“The premise behind the book is that the world is such an ugly place and Hell is so busy that they decided to outsource in order to collect all the souls that need collecting. One specific guy more or less got sucked into doing the job, which goes against his own morals. He has real issues with that, and he has real issues with the idea of Heaven and Hell – plus the fact that people are looking for an easy way out by being willing to sacrifice their souls. It’s a first-person take on this seemingly ludicrous idea of God and the Devil, but it turns out that it actually does exist.” Continue Reading

“You know all is not well when Hell resorts to outsourcing to close deals made with the Devil. Or in this case, a guy named Stan.”

That’s the tagline for my new would-be book, a work of fiction entitled GRIM – My Way To Hell. I launched a 30 day Kickstarter campaign a little over two weeks ago in an attempt to raise pre-order funds to finance its publication. If all goes well, the book will be released in October 2016.

Some people might remember, however, that I condemned the idea of crowdfunding in my BraveWords year-end write up back in 2014, which makes me something of a hypocrite. Funny how things come back to bite you in the ass when you least expect it. The problem is I’ve had this book burning a hole in my brain for the last few years, and real life being what it is, saving the funds needed to publish a book independently with a limited income is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to swallow my pride. We’re going to see what happens with this, and if the campaign fails I’ll have to go back and do things the hard way.

Cover art for the book was created by former BW&BK graphic artist Hugues Laflamme, while the video trailer above features music composed exclusively for the project by After Forever guitarist / death vocalist Sander Gommans. The voiceover was provided by Trillium / Avantasia vocalist Amanda Somerville. It was shot and edited by video director Andreas Spitz. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The first four seconds into the new album, Headbanger’s Symphony, are enough to slam dunk the 11-track opus into the Accept catalogue. Never mind that opening track “Scherzo” is an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” featuring a tip of the hat to the band’s “Teutonic Terror”; the record has guitarist Wolf Hoffmann written all over it, featuring popular classical music pieces adapted for the metal crowd. The results are quite often stunning if you’re open to instrumental metal without the loopy Steve Vai craziness. For those Accept and/or Hoffmann fans that think this is something new for the legendary axe-master, however, not so…

“I made a classical album 20 years ago (Classical) and I’ve always been the guy doing that sort of thing in Accept songs, so it wasn’t totally unexpected,” says Hoffmann. “At the same time, it took forever to get this album finished so I’m super excited that it’s finally here.”

The delay in getting Headbanger’s Symphony was due to the fact Accept has always been Hoffmann’s top priority, particularly since their 2010 comeback album, Blood Of The Nations, pretty much blew the roof off the metal scene for being one of the strongest records released that year

“The majority of the album started before Accept got back together,” Hoffmann reveals, “so it was at a stage where it was almost ready but the recordings weren’t finalized. The tracks were written and the project was in my head, it was all demo-ed and good to go, and then Accept started back up. So whenever there was a couple weeks free, like over Christmas, or things slowed down I went at it again. And again and again (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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On June 24th, German metal queen Doro released her latest in a string of anniversary DVDs entitled Strong And Proud – 30 Years Of Rock And Metal. For some people this may come off as overkill in that the lovely lady cranks out an audio-visual extravaganza every five years or so, needlessly showcasing the fact she’s still in top form and kicking ass. For the diehard fans it’s a celebration of an artist who continues to put her peers and performers half her age to shame (Doro was born in ’64; do the math). Strong And Proud is a monstrous three DVD set featuring an obligatory Wacken Open Air show, a two-night stand her Düsseldorf home town divided between Classic Night and Rock / Metal Night sets, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and bonus material Doro couldn’t leave on the cutting room floor even though she was advised to do so by the creative team backing her up.

“It was at least one-and-a-half years of work,” Doro reveals, as the 30th Anniversary show in Düsseldorf was shot in 2014. “I have a guy that works with me, he’s done the last four DVDs, but I always want to be there to help take care of stuff so it’s definitely teamwork. I know best what the fans want to see, so there might be an editor that’s great at his job technically but I want to see excitement of the fans, I want to see their faces. Those things catch my eye but the guy doing the editing might have a different perspective. And sometimes I’ll have to tell the people ‘No, the other guy is playing the guitar solo, not him, so focus on the other guy…’ It’s like they always focus on the wrong guitar player unless I’m there (laughs). There’s a team of people that work on editing, colour grading, sound and all these other details, so it was months and months of work.” Continue Reading

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So yeah, I’ve been all about trying to publish this book independently for the last few years and it has been a very slow process. The writing itself wasn’t an issue, although I discovered some fantastically awful grammatical errors when I went back to look at the manuscript some six months after the fact. I dragged my feet putting together a Kickstarter campaign to finance the book, as I have publicly denounced crowdfunding in the past, but realized that it’s the only way I’m ever going to (hopefully) secure the funds to publish. Back in January I foolishly announced March 15th as the Kickstarter launch even though I didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle assembled. My pride took a beating when those plans fell through and I’m still eating my words.

It was plan from the very beginning to have a video trailer to advertise the Kickstarter campaign. One thing the music biz has taught me is Promote Or Die, and video is seemingly the best way to go in this day and age. Finding someone to do the work proved to be a problem, however, as the one soul who promised big and brash and bold things took a powder when he realized I wasn’t kidding about going through with it. Either that or the music composed by Sander Gommans (After Forever, HDK) scared the bejeezus out of him and sent him running with his award-winning tail between his legs. Trying to find someone else to do the job took a few months of hair pulling, one profanity-laced rant on Facebook, and a phone call from Rock & Royalty photo god Heiko Roith who introduced me to a colleague we’ll call Spitz for the time being. Continue Reading