Carl Begai

BW&BK Interview: DELAIN – Surfing On Stardust

by on Apr.13, 2014, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

Cluttered as the metal scene is with female-fronted symphonic metal bands, news that Delain has a new slab of metal to offer isn’t likely to burn up the hype lines. Not until word on The Human Contradiction truly gets out. The fact they’re Dutch doesn’t help matters given their Netherlands is home to much bigger names of the genre such as Epica, Within Temptation, and former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen who went off to join a little band called Nightwish. As vocalist Charlotte Wessels puts it, however, Delain is a very stubborn band, and although they’ve been on the bottom end of the ladder since their 2006 debut, Lucidity, it hasn’t discouraged them from pushing forward. The Human Contradiction marks their biggest step thus far, up and over the metal microscope and those ready to dismiss Delain without even hearing a note.

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Still, the comparisons to bigger and badder female fronted bands must be a pain in the ass.

“It comes with its challenges because we’ve been compared to Within Temptation forever, which is very natural because their sound is in our DNA,” says Charlotte. “Our keyboardist Martijn (Westerholtis one of the main songwriters in Delain and used to be a member of Within Temptation. But, in general, those comparisons and connections have done more for us rather than being an obstacle because, let’s be honest, our first record was a studio record featuring lots of guest musicians. I think a lot of people picked up that record because there was a guest on it they liked, so it is difficult when you face certain competition. In our case, though, we have a lot to be grateful for, so I choose not to ponder over that too much.”

The Human Contradiction finds Delain in what is probably best position of their career. Signed to Napalm Records, they paid their dues in a big way leading up to and following the release of their previous album, We Are The Others (2012). Trying to follow the updates on said album was a confusing exercise, and it sounded like Delain was on their way to being crushed by music industry politics. Charlotte admits it was a painful rough patch for the band.

“When we started working on We Are The Others we were on Roadrunner, but in the middle of that Roadrunner got sold to Warner. We didn’t choose to be with them and they didn’t choose to have us on their roster, and because some people that we worked with at Roadrunner were still with the company we were basically working with two different teams. There were all kinds of ideas and opinions coming in from both sides and we’re a pretty stubborn band, so we didn’t let any of them steer us away from what we wanted to do. (continue reading…)

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ANNA PHOEBE – Soul Searching

by on Mar.26, 2014, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

At this point in time violinist Anna Phoebe is best known as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a gig and title she gave up in 2010 in the interest of family and exploring other avenues. During her six year tenure with TSO she made two solo albums, the organic Gypsy (2006) and the raging full-on metal assault Rise Of The Warrior (2008); two releases that offered a look at different sides of Anna’s musical personality. After a long stretch of silence peppered with reports that a new album (or two) was definitely in the works, she closed 2013 with the release of a four track EP entitled Embrace. Like Rise Of The Warrior, the music on Embrace was another unexpected turn and marked the first official studio-recorded collaboration with her friends in UK prog metal band Jurojin; a venture that was long overdue. The EP was also the first big step towards a full length Anna Phoebe record due to be released in 2014, entitled Between The Shadow And The Soul.

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I recently sat down with Anna and Jurojin guitarist Nicolas Rizzi to discuss the new music and the events that influenced this new chapter of Anna’s career. The first order of business was to clear up a few murky details regarding the collaboration, however. Initially it was reported that Anna was working with Jurojin on her album, which would be followed by a Jurojin album featuring Anna as a guest performer. Now it seems the proposed albums have been mashed together into one production.

Nic: “The idea ages ago was to do a Jurojin / Anna Phoebe album – the typical heavy Jurojin sound with Anna’s playing on top of that – but as we got deeper into the songs and started demoing them, that’s when we decided to go for a much different approach, something a lot more experimental and a lot less heavy. We had some discussions as to how to put the new music out, and even though it’s all of us we decided to go under the Anna Phoebe name, to make it sort of a continuation of her previous two records. We thought it made the most sense to do things this way. We had a 10 track album, and then we removed four tracks for the EP. The idea was to release the EP and spend the time to really develop this new project and new sound. The full length album will be nine tracks, but none of those will be the EP tracks. The only crossover might be a rearranged piano and violin version of ‘Embrace’.”

Looking back on Rise Of The Warrior, which saw Anna take her TSO persona to the next level, she says it was a success even though it may not have sold hundreds of thousands of copies because the album gave her exposure outside the Trans-Siberian Orchestra live spectacle.

Anna: “I guess each album you do is a reflection of where you are in your life at that time. My first album, Gypsy, was made after I’d been touring around the Middle East a lot and had been with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a year or two. Gypsy was my world music sound mixed with a bit of rock – I was dipping my toes into it – and by the time I did Rise Of The Warrior, I was fully into the musical pyrotechnics, the loud symphonic rock / metal world. Those were the people I was hanging out with musically and socially. That album is definitely a blueprint of who I was at that time.” (continue reading…)

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SEASON OF GHOSTS Vocalist Slams Former BLOOD STAIN CHILD Bandmates – “I Was Treated Like A Sick, Stray Animal”

by on Mar.23, 2014, under On The Inside

By Carl Begai

In July 2012, Japan’s Blood Stain Child and their Greek vocalist Sophia parted ways, citing musical and personal differences after only two years and one album together. Since then, neither Sophia nor her former bandmates have said very much about the split in the press, but during my interview for her new Season Of Ghosts project Sophia decided to reveal her reasons for jumping ship.

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“I’m not gonna lie: it was a bittersweet journey – probably with emphasis on the ‘bitter’ – wild and fascinating in the beginning. Everything was new to me, so I invested all the connections I’d built throughout the years in the management business, so Blood Stain Child got to tour the US and Europe for the first time, they got an actual marketable internet presence, and Epsilon sold well internationally. Didn’t you think it was pretty weird for a band that had played on kind of the same level for 12 years to suddenly pop up everywhere?”

“The downside was that I was expected to give endlessly while having no say in anything. I was expected to stay in Japan permanently, even if the band rarely rehearsed. This cost a fortune of course, but what disappointed me immensely, was the leader’s reaction after the huge 2011 earthquake/tsunami. Refusing to provide refuge in Osaka for a couple days because ‘Everybody’s busy and you’ll be in the way’ he heartlessly ordered me to stay in Tokyo, thus endangering my safety. As Tokyo was too chaotic after the meltdowns, I decided to leave for Greece earlier than my planned holidays, citing a state of emergency. For the first time as a member, I showed I had a strong character that couldn’t be manipulated so this was not received well at all. I was a new member, a foreigner, a woman and dared to show my personal opinion in the workplace. Uh-oh…” (continue reading…)

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BW&BK Interview: IRON SAVIOR – Hero Warship

by on Mar.23, 2014, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

“Whatever we do with Iron Savior, we have to have fun. If we don’t have fun we don’t do it.”

Which is the reason Iron Savior is still alive and kicking some 18 years since vocalist/guitarist Piet Sielck had the wild idea of clambering out of his producer’s chair and forming a band with pre-Helloween bandmate Kai Hansen and ex-Blind Guardian drummer Thomen Stauch, both long departed. It’s also the reason a cover of the Mando Diao pop hit ‘Dance With Somebody’ appears on Iron Savior’s new album, Rise Of The Hero. Not at all what you expect of an outfit that fills the gap between Primal Fear and Gamma Ray and started as a dead serious hammer-and-nails concept band, but Sielck and his merry men couldn’t give a damn.

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“We were just really tired of doing rather predictable old classic metal songs,” Sielck says. “Basically that’s a case of just re-recording the song and maybe giving it better production. I think we did a pretty good job with the Mando Diao song; it reminded us of the work we did with SEAL’s ‘Crazy’ (for the Condition Red album from 2002) because the outcome is definitely different from the original. Our version has a vibe of its own, and that’s actually the main reason we decided to have it on the regular album. It was originally supposed to be a bonus track for the Japanese release. It’s not really metal, it’s kind of alternative, but I actually like the original version and I like the guy’s voice. When the song came out on 2009 in Europe, I thought it was a great alternative to all the Top 40 stuff that was out at the time. It definitely stuck out against everything else.”

“The video we did for the first single from Rise Of The Hero, ‘Burning Heart’, this is us and this is the vibe we’re carrying,” he adds. “Some people may ask ‘Are they serious at all?’ but we’re doing this basically for the fun of it.”

This lighthearted approach to their craft seems to be paying off. Shortly after its release Rise Of The Hero hit the album charts in Germany, which Sielck admits was completely unexpected.

“I think Unification (1999) is the only Iron Savior album that hit the charts until now, and 15 years later we’re back on the charts. It feels awesome, and I never thought we’d achieve this again with Iron Savior. It’s no secret that it’s easier to hit the charts during specific times of the year, and obviously this is such a period. So, we didn’t sell 30,000 records or anything like that, but from what AFM tells me the sales are significantly better than they were for The Landing (2011). That’s a bit of a surprise because The Landing was appreciated by the fans and sold well, much better than AFM or I expected it to at the time. Rise Of The Hero is selling even better, so we must have done something right (laughs).” (continue reading…)

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ROCK MEETS CLASSIC 2014 – Würzburg, Germany: “A Brilliant High Quality Ass-Kicking”

by on Mar.20, 2014, under From There To Here...

By Carl Begai

What started five years ago as an interesting concept of mashing a rock band with an orchestra live on stage in support of popular vocalists of yesteryear, Rock Meets Classic has set a new standard for itself and anyone dumb enough to try and rip them off. Following successful runs through select parts of Europe – primarily Germany – with stars such as Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Steve Lukather (Toto), Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Eric Bazilian (The Hooters) to name only some of ‘em, the 2014 edition of Rock Meets Classic serves up its most diverse line-up yet with unexpectedly positive results. As in, a brilliant high quality ass-kicking.

In all honestly, hearing that Alice Cooper, the Uriah Heep duo of Mick Box and Bernie Shaw, and Joe Lynn Turner were going to share the stage with the likes of ’80s popsters Kim Wilde and Midge Ure (Ultravox) for the tour left me scratching my head in disbelief. As in, I was curious as to who was smoking what when they dreamed up a supposed musical car crash. It’s supposed to be ROCK Meets Classic after all, and although The Mat Sinner Band and the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague have never disappointed in the past, I wondered who the hell would even care about Kim Wilde and Midge Ure.

A whole hell of a lot of people as it turns out. And rightly so, as the duo stood toe-to-toe with their rock pedigree tourmates.

So, rather than penning an overblown review with too many windbag adjectives, the following is a list of highlights from Rock Meets Classic’s fifth show of 2014 on March 14th Würzburg, Germany:

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- the Würzburg show and audience crushed the Nuremberg production from the night before.

- backing vocalists Amanda Somerville, Tiffany Kirkland, Kolinda Brozovic, Ralf Scheepers and Sascha Krebs were given the deserved opening spotlight with a great rendition of the Queen classic ‘Show Must Go On’. It was also nice to see they still have their own individual looks and a minimal choreography rather than being decked out like penguin clones. Scheepers still looks metal, and nobody is trying to hide Kirkland’s rather awesome haircut (especially the lady herself).

- Midge Ure’s voice is amazing, and the symphonic rock version of the Ultravox hit ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ is a keeper. Thank the appropriate diety for YouTube so you can experience it.

- Joe Lynn Turner wore a vest that looked like the couch my parents had back when I was a kid in 1975. He sounds just as good as he ever did, which is bloody amazing.

- seeing and hearing four of five Primal Fear members out of their metal comfort zone is always a blast. They set a new benchmark for themselves this year.
(continue reading…)

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PRIMAL FEAR Drummer Randy Black On ROCK MEETS CLASSIC – “A Pirate’s Life For Me”

by on Mar.09, 2014, under On The Inside

By Carl Begai

In 2013 the annual Rock Meets Classic tour – featuring rock artists from the ’70s and ’80s performing their hits backed by a full band and orchestra – made its way through parts of Europe for the fourth time, once again to rave reviews. As every year changes were made to the roster of artists on board, welcoming Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Eric Bazilian (The Hooters), Steve Augeri (ex-Journey) and Bonnie Tyler to the stage, with Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) being the only holdover from 2012. Changes were made within the usually static ranks of The Mat Sinner Band as well, with backing vocalist Kolinda Brozovic and Primal Fear / DuskMachine drummer Randy Black welcomed to the fold. Black’s presence marked the fourth of five Primal Fear members in the Rock Meets Classic family, and he was only too happy to put his well-seasoned metal impulses on the backburner in favour of performing with some of rock’s finest.

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“Not to sound sappy – and I’m going to sound like a wimp (laughs) – but there haven’t been many times in my career when I’ve had tears in my eyes on stage,” Black admits. “A song like ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ by Paul Rodgers, I grew up with it and cut my teeth on the cover scene in Canada with them. What people might not realize is that I’m above the stage at Rock Meets Classic, I’m looking down over the orchestra and the band, and I have an in-ear mix of everything. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it now (laughs). I had this amazing sound in my ears, I was looking down and listening to everything, and I thought ‘I can’t believe I’m drumming for this.’”

“It’s a whole different thing. It’s not metal, but it’s what I grew up listening to; pop rock. There were so many ‘wow’ moments on the 2013 tour, like hearing Bonnie Tyler nailing those notes on ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. Everybody knows the song, everybody knows what Bonnie Tyler sounds like, and she was amazing. I wish my mom could have been there for that.”

Although he was new to the crew, Black was given the spotlight along with the orchestra for a crowd-pleasing rendition of the Pirates Of The Caribbean film’s theme music, ‘He’s A Pirate’. Black played up the part accordingly, making the short interlude one of the many high points of the show.

“That actually wasn’t planned,” Black reveals. “The orchestra rehearsed it without me, and a few shows in they thought drums might add more to the piece, so they put a pirate’s hat on me and away we went. I actually just found out they put it in again for this year.” (continue reading…)

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BW&BK Interview: DREAM THEATER – Along For The Ride : Prepare To Be Illuminated

by on Mar.09, 2014, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

There are moments during this interview when Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess comes across as a peace n’ love kinda guy. Not in a so-chill-he-must-be-on-something way, but rather with a Life Is Good enthusiasm for the band’s current status as prog metal kings. You can’t blame him for being upbeat considering the wave of success Dream Theater is riding with their latest album and the recently wrapped European tour. It’s a buzz that’s sure to get louder when the they kick off their North American tour later this month, featuring (almost) nightly three-hour shows designed and guaranteed to captivate everyone in attendance.

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“We decided that we were going to do the An Evening With… shows, which is a big thing because we’ve been going out with opening bands and not offering the whole big production,” Rudess begins, recapping the European tour. “This time it seemed like the fans and the promoters really wanted that and we were ready to make that happen. It was three hours of music and it was a big show; a lot of playing and my fingers are definitely feeling it (laughs). The reaction to it was really great. I felt like the European leg was our best tour so far, especially looking at the ecstatic faces in the audience at the end of a really long show. It proved to me that doing things like this was a great idea. We went into this with the idea that we would try to up our game a little bit and put even more into the show. Not only the amount of time that we played, but the whole experience. We wanted to create a show where, from the time people walk in the door to the time they leave, they’re part of our world. We wanted to take people on a journey with this tour so we put a lot of thought, time and energy into it. At the end of that two month leg, I have to say doing things this was was a gamble that paid off in terms of making the fans happy and bringing more people into the shows.” (continue reading…)

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SEBASTIAN BACH – Give ‘Em Hell: “Stands Toe-To-Toe With Kicking & Screaming, If Not Crushing It Entirely”

by on Mar.03, 2014, under Reviews

By Carl Begai

Some folks might remember Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil’s debut solo album from 1993, Exposed, put together after he ditched the band. It was a scorcher featuring Neil backed by the likes of Phil Soussan (ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) as songwriters and / or players, pretty much stomping on everything the Crüe did following Dr. Feelgood (which still holds true to this day). Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach’s new solo record, Give ‘Em Hell, is similar in that he’s surrounded himself with greatness and coughed up music that stands at least toe-to-toe with his previous outing Kicking & Screaming, if not crushing it entirely. Time will tell.

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Fact is a lot of people thought Bach was screwed after firing guitarist Nick Sterling, one of the main songwriters on Kicking & Screaming. Instead, he and his backbone – producer Bob Marlette and drummer Bobby Jarzombeck – went into the studio all guns and speed dial blazing, calling on Duff McKagan (ex-Guns N’ Roses / bass), Steve Stevens (guitars) and John 5 (Rob Zombie / guitars) to join the party. As a result, Give ‘Em Hell is ballsier, more aggressive and much darker than Kicking & Screaming, with more than a few eyebrow-raising moments thrown in to induce shit-eating grins amongst the diehard fans.

You’re not going to find anything as over-the-top and raging as ‘Slave To The Grind’ on Give ‘Em Hell, but there’s no shortage of fireworks. Opening track ‘Hell Inside My Head’ is distinctly Baz and perfect for the jump start, but it’s the Subhuman Race-era Skid Row-ish tracks ‘Harmony’ and ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ (the demented sister of ‘Eileen’) that set the tone for the album. (continue reading…)

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DELAIN Goes Voice-To-Voice With ALISSA WHITE-GLUZ For The Human Contradiction – “Versatile And Innovative”

by on Mar.02, 2014, under On The Inside

By Carl Begai

Dutch bashers Delain are gearing up for the international release of their new album, The Human Contradiction, in April. A buzz has been growing around the album for the last couple weeks, particularly with the news that it will feature guest appearances by vocalists Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Kamelot). Catching up with singer Charlotte Wessels for a BW&BK interview, we kicked things off with discussion of mutual friend Alissa’s efforts on The Human Contradiction’s closing track, ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’:

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“I was, of course, aware of what The Agonist does and I know some of the songs, so I knew what Alissa was capable of vocally,” Charlotte says of asking Alissa on board. “Back then I’d just spent a month with her on the Kamelot tour, and what she does with them is such a different thing. After I saw The Agonist play for the first time I told her that I was amazed those two voices actually come from the same person (laughs). I’m very impressed by that because seeing Alissa on YouTube and seeing her perform live are two very different things. And as I’d only seen her perform with Kamelot up to that point there was a big difference, and that did surprise me (laughs).” (continue reading…)

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ADRENALINE MOB – Don’t Fuck With The Family

by on Feb.23, 2014, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

Vocalist Russell Allen, best known as the frontman for prog metal gods Symphony X, offers his thoughts on his other band Adrenaline Mob when discussing their new album, Men Of Honor:

“This is a straightforward in-your-face no apologies rock band from New York – New Jersey, and we’re not fucking around. We’re here to throw down, say what we have to say, get to the point, and if it’s in your face that’s the way it is around here. Sorry.”

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Don’t take the apology tacked onto the end of his statement seriously. Allen is fiercely proud of what he and his bandmates have accomplished, especially given the fact they’ve had to deal with a sometimes painfully moronic prog metal fanbase that bitched and moaned Adrenaline Mob wasn’t progressive enough for having Allen and (now former) drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) in the fold. A strange situation fuelled by people who claim to be music fans but don’t actually listen to the artists creating it. Adrenaline Mob made it clear from Day 1 they were an old school modern day rock band and not a prog metal side-project.

“It’s great when people like yourself get this, they get what Adrenaline Mob is about,” says Allen. “Nobody really knew what to do with us because of this whole prog background that me and Portnoy came from. People were scratching their heads, nobody knew how to book the act… they just didn’t fucking get it. Perception is everything in this world and the problem is people cling to their ideas of what they think they know about you. I don’t want to knock anybody, but the more educated people – in terms of educating themselves about your history – will go the extra mile and read a little more about you and read what you say. A lot of people didn’t bother to read the fine print, and Portnoy was talking about this in his interviews. The perception was that Adrenaline Mob was his band, but he came in after everything was written and my vocals were already recorded. It’s just the way the world works. People just cling to what they think they know and they’ll stand by that until the day they die even if they’re shown that they’re wrong (laughs).”

“The truth is I didn’t grow up listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Rush like so many people want to believe. Did I like Rush? Yes. Was it in the rotation? Yes. But it was Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Sabbath and Maiden that I was cranking in high school. Rush would come on and it would be great, but was I prog guy? No. That came later, when I wanted to grow musically. Everything on the record comes from something, whether intentional or unintentional. That’s the whole idea of trying to make music that’s accessible and immediate, that it kind of reminds you of something you’ve heard before. And that’s because everything already been done. Get over yourself.” (continue reading…)

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