By Carl Begai

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Bif Naked and I crossed paths for the first time 20 years ago. Ground zero was the long-since-gone Nightmares rock club in downtown Toronto; I was on M.E.A.T Magazine business prior to her show that night, and she left a lasting impression. Barely two years into my career as a journalist, she was one of the first “rock stars” I ever met and thus set the bar for the future quite high. It was also the first time I’d met a girl with real tattoos; a lot of ‘em, decorating her arms and other areas of exposed skin. And no silly tramp stamp, no ridiculous upper-boob blotch of ink that’s supposed to be Japanese kanji for “Love” or “Truth” or “Vegans Rule!”. In stark contrast to the intimidating biker-goth image she wore – however unintentional – Bif was warm, friendly, and possessed a wicked sense of humour, making the 15 minute encounter a cherished memory. Although she doesn’t remember our meeting of the minds Bif most certainly recalls the show, one of a multitude of stories from the adventure that is her life.

“I got robbed at that show,” Bif laughs. “All my luggage and make-up got stolen by a drag queen; he took off running down the street and we couldn’t catch him. The cops gave me a ride from the gig in the back of their police car to where me and the band were staying, and they put the siren on for me. There were four or five undercover cops at the show that night and I got a police uniform shirt with the patches and all that. I wore it on stage for years and years after that. Yep, me and the Toronto police have a long history (laughs).”

Our previous interview took place in 2009 while Bif was out promoting The Promise. Four years earlier she was on top of the world with the success of her Superbeautifulmonster album; in 2008 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, making The Promise a comeback album in the truest sense. She actually recorded it while undergoing treatment, which was and remains a mindblowing fact. Bif was surprisingly upbeat in the aftermath while discussing some of the more stomach-churning aspects of her fight to survive, making her positive attitude in present day 2015 less of a shock in spite of several tragic events that have plagued her over the past few years. Divorce, medical issues, the loss of loved ones… Bif has taken all the punches fate has dealt her and continues to move forward undaunted. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Toronto-based rocker Danko Jones is as multi-faceted a personality as they come, to the point that people unfamiliar with his work might consider him schizophrenic. His soft-spoken, articulate and almost geek-like demeanor during interviews is a stark contrast to the obnoxious mouthpiece dedicated to ripping up the stage night after night with guitar in hand. And if he’s not attending to the next episode of his long-running official podcast, Danko is known for penning articles on everything from the pros and cons of social media, to music he bought on a Christmas shopping binge, to ripping Gene Simmons to shreds for his now infamous “rock is dead” comment. In the end Danko Jones gives Slipknot / Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor a serious run for his money when it comes to keeping people guessing with regards to the next trick up his sleeve.

The band that bears Danko’s name echoes his diversity. Sure, every album since the Born A Lion debut in 2002 is based on the three piece of vocals/guitars/bass/drums rock formula, but each one has presented a slightly different side of the band’s persona. New record Fire Music keeps this tradition alive, and the initial buzz suggests it could well be one of the trio’s finest moments. It’s certainly the heaviest kick to the teeth in their catalogue.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the last record,” Danko begins, referring to Rock And Roll is Black And Blue. “I don’t really want to get in the dynamic that we had in the band at the time, but Atom (Willard/drums) lived in LA. We had to have these massive week long writing sessions, seven or eight hours a day, because he was in Toronto for a limited amount of time. We thought it was time well spent then and I thought it yielded some really good songs, but overall I think it was a little disjointed. There was another dynamic going on in the studio between some people that didn’t really make for a very comfortable easygoing session. There was a real sense of freedom in doing Fire Music.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Twenty years ago Blind Guardian released an album regarded by many as their breakthrough, some five records into their career. Imaginations From The Other Side is the album to which all the band’s works past, present and future are compared, so when vocalist Hansi Kürsch claimed during a recent interview that the band’s new opus, Beyond The Red Mirror, was directly connected to and thematically influenced by Imaginations, the majority of the Blind Guardian fanbase had a collective nerdgasm. Completely understandable given the height of the pedestal Imaginations has rested on for two decades.

“Imaginations From The Other Side shares the pole position with Nightfall In Middle Earth,” states Hansi, referring to the 1998 follow-up. “If we were to hold a vote Nightfall would be in the lead, but it seems that the core fans are more in favour of Imaginations. I’m fine with that; Imaginations is a great and intense album and I have nothing but the best memories about it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

It was recently announced that after almost five years Kiske / Somerville – the project featuring vocalists Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) and Amanda Somerville (Trillium, HDK, Avantasia) – have reunited for a new album entitled City Of Heroes. Due out in April, preparations are currently underway to present a bigger and better than the self-titled debut from 2010, which went over a storm amongst the project’s ready-made fanbase.

On February 4th the full band – Kiske, Somerville, Mat Sinner (bass / Primal Fear, Sinner), Magnus Karlsson (guitars / Primal Fear, Starbreaker) and Veronika Lukešová (drums / Rock Meets Classic) – descended upon Nuremberg, Germany and met up with director Martin Müller to shoot video clips for the songs ‘City Of Heroes’ and ‘Walk On Water’. A behind-the-scenes photo gallery from the 12+ hour shoot can be viewed below.

No vocalists, musicians, instruments, video directors, assistants or photo-journalists were harmed during filming. Catering was awesome.

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Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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With each Danko Jones release it’s not an issue of whether the new album is point blank good or bad, but rather how well it stacks up against its predecessors. Like KISS, AC/DC or Motörhead, Danko Jones have made a career of avoiding the use of rocket science in favour of the keep-it-simple-stupid vocals / guitars / bass / drums formula, and new (seventh) record Fire Music continues this tradition. While some folks may chafe at the idea of the Canuck trio being mentioned in the same line as rock / metal royalty, there’s no escaping the fact frontman Danko, bassist JC, and the latest drummer of choice (Rich Knox, please stick around) have earned their longevity rather than living off of YouTube views and Facebook likes padded by Beliebers.

It’s gotta be said that lead-off track ‘Wild Woman’ is standard fare for any Danko Jones release; no great shakes on the one hand but a smart move easing the fans into Fire Music as all bets are off from track #2 onwards. Frontman Jones has gone on record stating that a several songs on the album were inspired / influenced by the Misfits, and it most certainly shows. ‘The Twisting Knife’ followed in rapid succession by ‘Gonna Be A Fight Tonight’ and ‘Body Bags’ amount to almost 10 minutes of punk energy gift-wrapped in singalong attitude, echoed later on the album with equally speed-crazed ‘Piranha’ and ‘Watch You Slide’. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It was a brain scratcher when word came down in September 2014 that Accept guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann had launched a new band dubbed Panzer, particularly since the audio teaser accompanying the announcement sounded suspiciously like Accept. This only a month after the release of Blind Rage, regarded as one of Accept’s strongest outings in their 14 album career. Odder still was Destruction frontman Schmier taking up vocal and bass duties to complete the three-piece Panzer outfit when he already has a very successful trio of his own. The recipe for a potentially questionable platter of “Why Bother?”, yet Panzer’s debut Send Them All To Hell has gone over a storm amongst the people that have dared to step into the line of fire.

“We’ve had great reactions so far,” Schmier confirms. “Some people thought the old men might be doing a blues album… (laughs).”

Thoughts that are quashed early into the record, although the lead single “Panzer” was met with a lukewarm response thanks to a plodding 4/4 groove that is too Accept-like and predictable.

“Yeah, the song ‘Panzer’ doesn’t represent the whole record,” agrees Schmier. “Nuclear Blast wanted it to be the first release and use it on samplers and all that, but I don’t think it was the best choice. That’s the easy listening track on the album. We made a video for the first song, ‘Death Knell’, and I think that one shows the real direction of the record. It’s nice to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing because there are too many bands these days doing this All-Star thing. It’s good that people recognize Panzer isn’t just another one of those projects. Things are worked really well between the three of us.” Continue Reading

It’s that time again. Below you’ll find my list of Hots and Nots of 2014 compiled for the ever faithful BraveWords readership (originally published here) to chew on and swallow or spit in my face as they see fit. Enjoy.

And if you’re offended or otherwise put off by anything scrawled below, please take it up with the Complaint Department here.

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Top 20 Albums Of 2014

1) SANCTUARY – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media)
2) ARCH ENEMY – War Eternal (Century Media)
3) DEVILMENT – The Great And Secret Show (Nuclear Blast)
4) KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – High Priestess (Titan Music)
5) OVERKILL – White Devil Armory (Nuclear Blast)
6) ACCEPT – Blind Rage (Nuclear Blast)
7) GAMMA RAY – Empire Of The Undead (earMusic)
8) AMARANTHE – Massive Addictive (Spinefarm)
9) HURTSMILE – Retrogrenade (Slipkid Records)
10) SEASON OF GHOSTS – The Human Paradox (Coroner Records)
11) EXODUS – Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast)
12) RED DRAGON CARTEL – Red Dragon Cartel (Frontiers)
13) THE PRETTY RECKLESS – Going To Hell (Razor & Tie)
14) METSATÖLL – Karjajuht (Napalm)
15) JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer Of Souls (Epic)
16) HDK – Serenades Of The Netherworld (The Rock Station)
17) UNISONIC – Light Of Dawn (earMusic)
18) DELAIN – The Human Contradiction (Napalm Records)
19) SEBASTIAN BACH – Give ‘Em Hell (Frontiers)
20) SLIPKNOT – .5: The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner) Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Season Of Ghosts vocalist Sophia Aslanidou has left her Blood Stain Child past behind, although it’s probably more accurate to say she’s buried it in the dust kicked up as she’s moved forward. Months before the December 2014 release date of the debut album, The Human Paradox, Sophia made certain to keep word-of-mouth-and-social-media promotion ramped up, and it paid off better than she or anyone else expected. Pre-orders and a significant buzz on metal websites added up, but having Season Of Ghosts booked to play the popular annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium saw the band perform for close to 2,000 people for their morning set. This in spite of being at the bottom of the roster and not having an album out. It was an experience that cemented Sophia’s strength as a do-it-yourself artist, and her commitment to making Season Of Ghosts much more than just a studio project.

“One reporter at the festival put it best; she said you had to be living under a rock not to know that Season Of Ghosts was playing,” Sophia laughs. “It was surreal. We had to wake up at 7:00am and I’m not a morning person. I was tempted to have a couple beers before the show but it was too early in the morning even for me (laughs). I went out on stage and saw something like 1,000 people, and when we started playing people started coming into the venue from the market thing they had set up outside. We had a large audience watching us and cheering us on, and I was wondering what the fuck was wrong with those people (laughs). I mean that in the best way because I couldn’t be up that early for my favourite band, and we weren’t even the first band that day. The response was very heartwarming and very surprising. We brought as much merchandise as we could and it sold out very quickly, almost everything we had. I was very impressed.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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To the metal world at large, vocalist/guitarist Bob Reid is best known as the current singer for Canadian thrash legends Razor. Those that didn’t blink might remember his SFH outfit after Razor folded following the release of Open Hostility in 1991. Since 2002, however, Reid has fronted and flogged his self-styled two fisted twisted rock n’ roll band Bobnoxious on an ever-appreciative fan following. Their latest album E.O.A. – named for the East Of Adelaide district in the band’s native London, Ontario – has been out for several months and by Reid’s account it has performed as expected: Bobnoxious plays weekends in and around Southern Ontario, the fans show up in droves for the party.

“Most of our fans are around our age, so they don’t take the time to write us or give feedback or do shit,” Reid laughs. “They show up at the gigs and tell us ‘Love the album, man!’ and that’s all I need. A flip of the horns and it’s all good. People are too busy working or partying to call and email me, which is good for me because I don’t have time to answer fan mail (laughs). I just like the fact people like the music. I’m not looking for any admiration. If people love the music, great, and if they hate it they can fuck off. I’m a music guy. I was brought up listening to Disney, listening to my Dad’s era of rock n’ roll, absorbing the ’80s speed metal scene, being a B-horror movie fan. I just like to absorb all that shit, put it into a processor and squish it out (laughs).”

“The funny thing is that when I started Bobnoxious, I wasn’t really sure if that first album was going to be the be next SFH album or not. I decided at the time to go with Bobnoxious because I was getting tired of seeing guys coming and going in other bands. The perception for some people was that if somebody in a band left, that band was over. I thought, fuck it, I’m going to call the band me (laughs) and if somebody comes and goes in the line-up, I don’t care.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is one of those artists that lives by the mantra “Sleep Is The Enemy.” When she’s not writing and recording new solo material, you can be assured Anneke is somewhere out in the world performing or working on a new project, which speaks volumes of her passion for her art. Case in point; this interview took place in the small Dutch town of Reuver a couple hours before she played an intimate one-off acoustic show at The Rock Station. Anneke didn’t have to do what was effectively an out-of-the-way the show for the exposure, and she certainly didn’t have to deliver anything special in terms of a set, but in the end the fans were treated to a show featuring both original songs and some (very) unexpected covers. Definitely something special for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For Anneke, another day at the office of her choosing.

“Somebody posted a message on my Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m going to see four projects from Anneke in six weeks..,’ Anneke begins, the two of us sitting in a small pizza parlour down the street from The Rock Station. “I only realized then how much I’m doing, because I’m doing a lot of it all at the same time. Sometimes I say ‘Oh, I can do this, I can work on that, I can join this band…’ and then everything comes together in the same two months. I have The Gathering show, The Sirens, this show tonight, so the amount of songs I have to learn is amazing.”

The Gathering show, which took place on November 9th in Nijmegen, was an epic event featuring present and past members uniting on stage for the band’s 25th anniversary. For the diehard fans Anneke’s performance was the high point of a reportedly brilliant show, and she admits it was a very special experience being with her former bandmates again, right from the first rehearsal. Continue Reading