By Carl Begai

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If you’re a metal fan the name Oliver Hartmann may not ring any bells at first, but chances are pretty good you’ve heard him on any number of albums over the past 15+ years. The German vocalist / guitarist / producer launched At Vance in 1998 and has released nine albums with them since then, but Hartmann’s talents have also been used for recordings by Avantasia, Rhapsody and Edguy (to name a few) and as a guitarist on the annual Rock Meets Classic tour. Even if you are familiar with his catalogue, however, you may not be aware of his long-standing tenure as a member of the Pink Floyd tribute band Echoes, which has been around since 1995. Hartmann came on board in 2003 and has devoted a considerable amount of time to the project in spite of his busy schedule. He kicked off what promises to be a busy 2016 with a fully acoustic Echoes tour in support of their recent live CD / DVD release Barefoot To The Moon, which landed in a Nuremberg church on the day of this interview.

Seriously. A church. Complete with a bar. Only in Germany…

Professional musicians have their work cut out for them when covering Pink Floyd to begin with, but doing so acoustically is an entirely new animal. Particularly when Hartmann and his bandmates get down to business.

“Two years ago we did a benefit show in Aschaffenburg, Germany,” Hartmann says of the push towards the acoustic set. “We were asked to play, we thought about it, and decided to do an acoustic show. We picked out the songs we thought would work best and played for an hour, and that’s where we got the idea to do an entire acoustic evening. When we were putting the show together we decided that we would supplement any instrumental parts that were missing or too difficult to play acoustically – keyboards, sustain, delays, that sort of thing – with a string quartet. And the idea wasn’t a big stretch because of my involvement with Rock Meets Classic over the last years. We decided to take a minimalistic approach to the songs, sort of like an MTV Unplugged version of Pink Floyd (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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On January 22nd, Arch Enemy guitarist/founder Michael Amott announced the return of original singer Johan Liiva and guitarist Christopher Amott for a special one-off project dubbed Black Earth, which will perform Arch Enemy material from the band’s first three albums on tour in Japan this May. The internet turned out to be the largest broken telephone in existence; shortly after the announcement was made, rumours of Johan and Christopher returning to the Arch Enemy line-up full time and Black Earth doing a world tour began to surface. Michael contacted BraveWords directly for an exclusive interview in hopes of clearing up the confusion regarding Black Earth’s agenda.

“It’s a one-off tour in Japan and that’s all. It’s just supposed to be something super fun and not Michael Amott’s new band (laughs), and that’s where the confusion lies.”

Arch Enemy fans will remember the band performing at Japan’s annual Loud Park festival in October 2015, a special show that featured the return of Johan and Christopher to the stage to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Black Earth. That’s where current events began.

“We brought Chris and Johan over for Loud Park, and the promoters over there offered us a tour,” Michael reveals. “They suggested that we do something to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the first album in Japan to a fuller extent. Arch Enemy is taking it slow this year, doing some writing and some shows here and there, so we thought it would be a good idea, but we obviously can’t call it Arch Enemy. We came up with using the name of the first album, Black Earth. They booked six shows in Japan so it’ll be quite extensive. I thought the buzz would be contained to Japan but of course the news got picked up and spread around thanks to social media and metal news sites. And when I was at NAMM last weekend in California everyone was asking me about Black Earth (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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“I’m always enthusiastic when we put out an album, and this time I think I’m even more enthusiastic.”

Par for the course when dealing with Avantasia mastermind Tobias Sammet on any given day. Perhaps even a bit frightening. The man has been living and breathing music for over 20 years, having officially come into his own when Edguy released their debut album, Kingdom Of Madness, in 1997. It was when Sammet pulled a fast one by daring to release a metal opera under the Avantasia name in 2001 – appropriately titled The Metal Opera – that people started taking him seriously, or at least treating him as someone who should be watched carefully for repeated bursts of questionable behaviour. Legend has it that The Metal Opera was meant to be a one-off, but 15 years and a loyal international fanbase later Avantasia have unleashed their seventh official studio album, Ghostlights. To say Sammet is excited is an understatement, and he has every right to be when riding the high of an album that’s as Meatloaf / Savatage theatrical as it is trademark Tobias Sammet metal.

“Yes, absolutely, but it wasn’t meant to be like that,” Sammet insists. “There was no masterplan. A lot of journalists have asked if I intended to make this such a big-sounding theatrical record, and the answer is no, I didn’t intend anything. I didn’t even know where this would bring us, I didn’t even push the music in a certain direction. The music was dragging us in a certain direction and that’s probably the most innnocent and best approach you can have when writing music. Just do it, enjoy it, feel great while doing it, and see what comes out in the end.”

“I’ve defended the analog sound we did in the past, that old school let-it-sound-like-Ronnie-James-Dio-in-1983 kind of production, and I still think I was right to do so, but Sascha (Paeth/guitars, producer) decided we should do whatever the music needed. ‘Let it just happen,’ he said and this is what came out. The song ‘Let The Storm Descend Upon You’ is probably one of the most epic tracks I’ve done in the Avantasia context; it’s a big sounding arrangement with a lot of things that do not make sense according to the book of rules on how to compose a song. It’s not very reasonable to start a song with a one minute intro, and then do a second overture, and have the first chorus after three-and-a-half minutes, but I don’t think you perceive it as something that doesn’t make sense. The whole song just developed. It was one of the last tracks I wrote for the record.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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A Monster’s Life is a benchmark record that dictates just how high and how far The New Black has to shoot the next time they hit the studio. Four albums into their career, the German rockers have adopted The KISS Concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid) with unexpectedly mindblowing results. Not to say they’ve existed under a cloud of suckitude up to this point, but of the delightfully old-school 10-song romp of A Monster’s Life there’s really only one track (‘A Pill Named Ting’) that falls flat. The New Black have always been more rock than metal, big on melodies and the almighty guitar riff, and they’ve managed to take their best ideas and string them together while leaving most of the unnecessary fat on the studio floor. Best guess is that Volbeat producer Jacob Hansen had a valuable hand in the carving, but credit where it’s due to the band for having the balls to keep things compact in this bloated “more is more” world.

Folks following The New Black will be pleased to hear the familiar high speed Motörhead-isms, and they’ve always had the Rocktallica feel to their sound in the spirit of Volbeat that’s so pronounced on A Monster’s Life. ‘Long Time Coming’, ‘Dead In The Water’, ‘Blockbuster Life’ and ‘Better’ are the requisite supercharged headbangers this band is so good at, while anthems ‘With A Grin’, ‘That’s Your Poison, Not Mine’ and ‘Buddha Belly’ crush anything of their kind they’ve served up before now. Favourite track of the moment is ‘The Beer Of No Return’ for bashing out everything new about The New Black in the space of three-and-a-bit minutes. And ‘Send In The Clowns’ is one of those bluesy ballad-esque tracks every rock radio band desperate for airplay would kill for. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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When French Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz joined Swedish melodic death metallers Arch Enemy in 2014 at the request of her predecessor Angela Gossow, she was well aware of what awaited her: extensive touring, a rabid fanbase with high expectations, and an expected group of haters. So it went that, when Alissa broke her ribs in the middle of her first ever tour fronting Arch Enemy in support of her band debut, War Eternal, she chose to forge ahead despite the considerable pain. Most singers wouldn’t even entertain such a move due to the fact singing requires being able to breathe, which isn’t an easy task with a busted chest. Catching up on Arch Enemy’s European support tour with Nightwish in December 2015, Alissa revealed she hadn’t experienced any more major physical disasters since that first road trip, but admitted she was steering clear of the skateboard stashed on the tour bus just to be safe.

“There was so much pressure at that point and so much going on,” she says of that first tour with Arch Enemy. “For 10 or 12 years (with The Agonist) it was a struggle just to get booked anywhere, so when I was given this beautiful itinerary of a year or two full of shows… I’m not built to say no to that. I wasn’t about to say ‘Hey, since I’ve been working for 12 years and I’ve finally gotten this far, time to not do it.’ So I did the tour and it was against the doctor’s orders but fuck that, I’ve never followed doctor’s orders anyway (laughs). It definitely held me back a little in terms of performance for a few months, but it worked out.”

At the time of this interview Arch Enemy had been on the road for almost two years supporting War Eternal, an unheard of amount of time for a band that hasn’t quite graduated to headlining arena shows just yet. When they finished out 2014 supporting Kreator in Europe most people assumed the band would spend 2015 working on new material. Arch Enemy opted to remain on the road, closing 2015 with one of the biggest tours of their career in terms of audience numbers.

“There’s still a demand,” Alissa says of the band’s decision to spend so much time on tour. “Especially in this situation where we’re fortunate to have fans accept the new music and the new line-up. We want to give them a show if they want it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I can’t say ‘no.’ I feel so incredibly lucky that if anyone wants to see me perform I’m like ‘Really? You want us to play a show? I’m in…'(laughs). That and the fact these guys have been touring for 20 years; they just love doing it so they’re happy to play any shows that come our way. It’s a mixture of enjoying what we do and being workaholics. We’re still going but we’ll have to write some new music, which will be our focus in 2016.” Continue Reading

At BraveWords we’re doing our annual look back on the year that was, with each scribe offering up their respective lists of Hots and Nots of 2015. My rundown is available below; the original version along with links to the other members of my BraveWords family can be found here.

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Top 20 Albums Of 2015
1) QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (Century Media)
2) CRADLE OF FILTH – Hammer Of The Witches (Nuclear Blast)
3) KAMELOT – Haven (Napalm Records)
4) CHILDREN OF BODOM – I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast)
5) SYMPHONY X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast)
6) DANKO JONES – Fire Music (Bad Taste)
7) GRAVE – Out Of Respect For The Dead (Century Media)
8) DEAD LORD – Heads Held High (Century Media)
9) CHRIS CAFFERY – Your Heaven Is Real (Metalville)
10) SLAYER – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
11) HELLOWEEN – My God-Given Right (Nuclear Blast)
12) NONEXIST – Throne Of Scars (Mighty Music)
13) FEAR FACTORY – Genexus (Nuclear Blast)
14) STRYPER – Fallen (Frontiers)
15) CIRCLE II CIRCLE – Reign Of Darkness (earMusic)
16) THE V – Now Or Never (Frontiers)
17) STRATOVARIUS – Eternal (earMusic)
18) ANNIHILATOR – Suicide Society (UDR)
19) LEAVES’ EYES – King Of Kings (AFM)
20) MOTÖRHEAD – Bad Magic (UDR) Continue Reading

Grim

So, shit just got real.

Yes indeed, after months and months (and months) of dragging my Size 8 feet I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to publish my first official book independently, or feel ridiculous in the attempt. And in spite of the fact I’ve dumbed down the concept of pledge campaigns like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, etc. I’ve been forced to out myself as a hypocrite and take that route if I’m ever gonna get the damn thing out there.

Folks that know my name probably picked it up fom BraveWords.com, where I’ve worked as one of the the key writers as a so-called authority on heavy metal for the last 20 years (dating back to when we were the most awesome print magazine, BW&BK). Either that or they remember bullying me in high school. Some of the bodies that know of Grim – My Way To Hell’s existence have asked me why I’m releasing a work of fiction rather than doing something better suited to my music journalist roots, and the short answer is that’s been covered by my esteemed peers like Martin Popoff, Joel McIver, Joel Gausten and a host of other rivet-heads. Not that I have anything against doing up a band / artist biography, but until a direct request comes from a musician to do so I believe I’ll stay out of that end of the pool.

But, if there’s one thing the music industry has taught me is that projects live and die by promotion. Thus, with a March 15th, 2016 date set for the launch of my 30 day Kickstarter campaign it makes sense to start attracting attention now. Thanks to the assistance of some ridiculously awesome friends, pieces of this puzzle are being assembled and will be unleashed over the course of the next two months. In addition, I will be making updates to this page every couple days offering book related odds-and-bits. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Nightwish

You’d be hard pressed to argue against the importance and benefit of Finnish bashers Nightwish bringing Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever) on as their permanent singer in 2013. News that the band had also enlisted English uilleann pipes player and long-time collaborator Troy Donockley at the same time, however, proved to be something of a head-scratcher. Although he’d been a part of the Nightwish camp since 2007 and the Dark Passion Play album – touring with them extensively as of 2012 – the idea that a band known for symphonic metal would add such an odd element to a tried and true formula did not bode well for the future. It was one thing to have Donockley in the background to help keyboardist / mastermind Tuomas Holopainen realize his musical visions, quite another to allow the multi-instrumentalist to have serious input. Especially when Donockley’s resumé includes working with artists sich as Midge Ure, Status Quo, Mostly Autumn and Del Amitri. Any worries were unfounded, as the latest Nightwish album Endless Forms Most Beautiful and the subsequent tour present the band in their expected bombastic metal glory; Donockley has enhanced the band’s sound and show rather than diluting or altering it.

We spoke during the European leg of the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour in December 2015 prior to one of many sold out shows, with Donockley offering some insight as to how life in the Nightwish camp is now compared to when former singer Anette Olzon – who was let go and replaced by Jansen mid-tour in 2012 – was in the spotlight.

“The tour is much better than we thought it would be, and we kind of suspected it would be that way,” Donockley admits. “We’ve worked with Floor since the famous cataclysmic American tour (laughs) so we all know each other really well now. We’re in a really unusual situation in this band; it’s freakish because we don’t fight, there’s no conflict, there’s no divison between any of us, we share everything and we have massive fun together. It didn’t used to be like that. When I first started to get involved with the band it was very compartmentalized to say the least. Everybody kind of did their separate things, but there’s a real sense of camaraderie now.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

You may have heard that Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister passed away on December 28th, 2015 at the age of 70, a victim of cancer. If you haven’t…. well, you are most certainly oblivious to the world around you.

I honestly had no intention of writing a tribute in Lemmy’s honour, figuring nothing I could possibly say would have any weight or worth in the shadow of such a legend. When the boss asked the BraveWords staff to contribute to a very necessary piece honouring Lemmy’s memory, however, I figured I had to say something. After all, the man and the band have been a part of my life for 30 years now; surely I could come up with a few kind words.

Turns out I did, much more easily than I’d expected….

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I’m not going to launch into this tribute with claims that Lemmy and Motörhead changed or influenced the way I devoured my rock n’ roll upon discovery, because they didn’t. The simple fact is that when I picked up my first Motörhead album in 1986 in downtown Toronto and Cheapies, it was on a whim inspired entirely by the Orgasmatron artwork. This was before the age of listening desks, thus all I had to go on was word of mouth, MuchMusic, and judging a proverbial book by its cover. In this case the initial Orgasmatron spin was the first of a gazillion, and from there Motörhead was simply “there” in the best way possible. Aggressive high energy go-to music good for any occasion, something decidedly different from the Metallica, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Helloween, Iron Maiden, Ratt and Mötley Crüe albums that otherwise occupied my brain for hours on end. Year by year, forward and back, my Motörhead album collection grew to the expected size for that of a true fan. In short, all of ’em.

I had the pleasure of seeing Motörhead play in both Canada and Europe several times, the first being in Toronto at the infamous Operation Rock N’ Roll show in 1991 with Judas Priest, Alice Cooper and Dangerous Toys. Regardless of which side of the world they played on, the trio was welcomed with a reverence worthy of royalty and Lemmy was most certainly the king. Even from the back of the room he was larger (and louder) than life. A living legend in the truest sense. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Over the last several years, Leaves’ Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine has made a tradition of playing a solo show in the small southern German town of Nagold, which has slowly but surely evolved into a short annual tour. This year was no exception, and in keeping with her goal of trying to make each go-round as memorable if not moreso than the previous year, Liv invited her former Theatre of Tragedy bandmate Raymond Rohonyi on board as a special guest. Not for a mere song or two, but for over half the show each night. Unexpected to say the least considering Liv was unceremoniously fired from Theatre of Tragedy in 2003, resulting in a low key flow of bad blood via the press in both directions for a number of years. On top of that, when Theatre of Tragedy called it quits in 2010 – with Nell Sigland in Liv’s place – Raymond dropped off the radar entirely, seemingly have said his final piece with the band’s departing live album, Curtain Call.

Watching the pair trading off vocal lines as they did well over a decade ago – not having shared a stage since 2002 – one would never know Liv and Raymond had ever been at odds. The same can be said of their interaction off stage, which is charged with positive vibes and Raymond’s dark sense of humour. As for the live performance as a whole, the backing band pulls off Liv’s solo material without batting a collective eye and looks perhaps a bit too happy performing evil doom goth Theatre of Tragedy material, also at an equally killer level. Liv’s trademark soprano Theatre vocals have lost none of their charm, and Raymond’s growls and mannerisms are as powerful as they were 20 years ago. Bottom line: if you’re a Theatre of Tragedy fan the tour was a dream come true.

Ray: “I’m not really interested in doing music as a career, but I’m happy to perform like this. Liv just asked me if I’d be interested. I don’t miss being a musician but I miss the narcissistic part of the music; being stuck up and a prick (laughs). And I don’t really work up a sweat, it’s more like a general stench (laughs). Getting out of town is also good for a while.”

Liv: “It was actually (husband) Alex’s idea, I have to say. He said to me ‘Just ask Ray to join you. That way you can play some more old shit…’ (laughs). We rehearsed in Stuttgart and it was like the magic had been there all the time, as if it had never left. We just grabbed the microphones and went for it.”

Ray: “We rehearsed the set two times and that was it. From there we went to Russia for the first show.” Continue Reading