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When Kamelot released Silverthorn in 2012 it was a make-or-break affair as they navigated the debris left behind following the ambitious yet ultimately stagnant Poetry For The Poisoned album and the departure of vocalist Roy Khan. A record loaded to the teeth with every weapon in the Kamelot arsenal, Silverthorn was perhaps too epic for its own good at times, but it succeeded in winning over the vast majority of fans left heartbroken and skeptical by Khan’s departure. Haven finds Kamelot trimming away a lot of the Silver-fat in favour of a sound more in line with The Fourth Legacy, Karma or The Black Halo, beefing up the guitar / bass / keys / drums while reducing the symphonics to a Use In Case Of A Damn Good Idea capacity. Vocalist Tommy Karevik is given far more space to shine on Haven compared to his Silverthorn debut, making for a much stronger album on that score alone.

All that said, fact is nobody is going to be mindblown by Haven the first time through (if you say you were, you’re a bullshit artist). It’s a gradual build with lead-off tracks ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’ – which don’t have the blow-the-doors of speed of previous album openers ‘Center Of The Universe’ and ‘Forever’ – groove-pounding the listener into the new Kamelot comfort zone (with no done-to-death orchestral track to kick things off… thank you). Interesting as well that the band waits four tracks to unleash Haven’s first stormer, ‘Veil Of Elysium’ – which sounds like the less evil twin to Silverthorn’s ‘Sacrimony’ – one of only two (!!) to be had on the entire album. And this is the addictive nature of Haven; for all the threads you can weave back to previous album, Kamelot keep you guessing as to what you’re going to get, and how and when it’s going to be served up. Unexpected and bloody impressive at this stage of the game. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

TIM & JAMES STUDIO #3 best

In 2000, Niagara native Tim Donahue made a small international splash with Into The Light, a solo record showcasing his skills as a fretless guitarist featuring current Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen. A year later he began working on a significantly heavier batch of songs that were unashamedly metal-influenced and came with a wish list of potential singers. During a meeting in Toronto over burgers and beer, I had the honour of hearing what would eventually become the Madmen & Sinners album. Asked who I felt would be the best voice for the material, I suggested Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, unaware his name was at the top of Donahue’s list. Contact was made, plans were hatched, and in 2004 the duo released the Madmen & Sinners debut, an album unique to their respective careers. It was new territory for both Donahue and LaBrie, and ground they (sadly) haven’t returned to since.

“I don’t play the six-string fretless at all anymore unless I’m asked, like for the tracks on Nozomi Itani’s album (Station To Station from 2012). That was the first time I picked up the fretless in many years. Other than that I play the fretless harp guitar. I hate to say it, but the harp guitar has so much going on that when I pick up the six-string I yawn (laughs). I don’t mean that as anything against traditional guitars but the harp guitar kicks my ass and takes me to places I’ve never been.”

Although it’s been over 10 years since the release of Madmen & Sinners, the record still holds a special place in Donahue’s heart.

“I love the heaviness of the tunes. There are a lot of heavy bands out there and I’m certainly not the heaviest guitarist, but the songs and the actual writing, I think that’s why the music hits you in the heart even though some of the songs are really heavy.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Every time Kamelot and Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz are mentioned in the same sentence, the buzz that follows is usually enough to break the internet. With that in mind, consider this a bit of shameless promotion featuring an excerpt from a new Kamelot interview with guitarist Thomas Youngblood, due to be published on BraveWords just prior to the release of their new Haven album in early May.

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At this point in Kamelot’s career guest vocalists are an (admittedly) expected part of any production at their hands, whether it’s an album, festival show or full blown tour (headline or support). Their new album, Haven, satisfies those expectations with the return of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), new voice on the block Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, all of whom appear at select points during the latest Kam-epic’s run. They are a welcome element in the band’s musical tapestry that would be sorely missed by many if they weren’t involved.

“I never want to feel like we have to have female vocals on an album and who knows, maybe on the next record we won’t,” says Youngblood. “People forget that on The Fourth Legacy (1999) we had two songs with female vocals, so it wasn’t like we jumped on some bandwagon. We did that 15 years ago. The difference now is that we’re lucky enough to have some super-talented friends that also work perfectly within the Kamelot structure. Somebody like Alissa for example, who isn’t really known for melodic metal or power metal or whatever you want to call it, the way she works with us is so natural and organic it’s just amazing.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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For long-time Nightwish fans, namely those of us that were around five or six years before the 2004 commercial splattershot explosion of ‘Nemo’, the ‘Élan’ single from the band’s new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was something of a letdown. Not everyone felt that way, but for many the song came off as painfully soft-handed after months upon months of new vocalist Floor Jansen being touted as the perfect in-your-face successor for both former Nightwish singers, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen. Countless hours of bootleg YouTube footage and the Showtime, Storytime DVD fuelled this widespread opinion, pushing expectations that Jansen’s studio debut with Nightwish would be something bold and brash. First impressions don’t paint the entire picture in this case, however, and once inside Endless Forms Most Beautiful fans will discover – for better or worse – things most certainly aren’t what they seemed when ‘Élan’ crooned its way out of the latest Nightwish branded box of tricks.

“I haven’t really listened to the album in a couple of months now,” keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen admits, “but one of the most common comments I get from people is that the new album has this old school Nightwish vibe, like going back 10 years in time. I’ve heard it called more band oriented, more organic, more like Once and even Oceanborn, and I have to agree.”

Comparisons to Nightwish a decade past are warranted with new material like ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, ‘My Walden’, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ or, yes, ‘Élan’, but primary songwriter and musical director Holopainen deftly avoids a complete rehash of the band’s well worn trademarks. This is perhaps best exemplified by their decision to bring the new record to a close with an obnoxious epic track, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Originally 35 – 40 minutes long, the band decided to cut it down to a more respectable 24 minutes (!) that, much like Dream Theater’s now legendary song ‘A Change Of Seasons’, doesn’t feel nearly as long as it looks on paper. It’s a rare feat that very few bands can pull off. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The Drover family name is well known in metal circles, associated first and foremost with Megadeth. Brothers Glen (guitars) and Shawn (drums) rose to international fame as part of Dave Mustaine’s strike force for four and 10 years respectively, but some Canadian metalheads were locked into the siblings back in the early ’90s when they launched their powerprog outfit Eidolon. Now, a third Drover has entered the fray, namely Shawn’s 23 year-old son Ryan. Working under The Calming moniker, Ryan has released his first full throttle song entitled ‘Return To Life’. One listen and it’s quite clear the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the trees in the Drover backyard.

“I worked really hard on it so it’s great to hear you say that. And yes, this is my first shot at recording my own music. I got my hands on a copy of Pro-Tools about six months ago and Glen was nice enough to show me a couple of beginner tips and tricks. I have loads of material that I’ve been working on and I’m really excited to share it with everyone.”

At this point of his budding career, Ryan is a solo artist lucky enough to have friends willing to help him move forward with the assorted musical madness rattling around in his brain.

“There is not an actual group,” he says. “That being said, I asked a couple of my good friends to help me out vocally and lyrically since I’m unfortunately not a vocalist myself. The screaming vocals and lyrics were done by my friend Jacob Kresak, whom I met in the local metal scene, and the clean vocals and lyrics were done by my other friend, Mike Motter, who has been one of my favorite singers/songwriters for a while now. I’m very happy with how the song turned out on their end and could not be happier that those dudes were nice enough to lend me their talents. As for the instruments, I played and recorded everything myself.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Moonspell have made a career out of pissing off every member of their fanbase at one time or another. Frontman Fernando Ribeiro wouldn’t have it any other way.

Originally heralded as fresh new black metal upstarts in 1995 with the release of their full length debut Wolfheart, the Portuguese outfit hit their stride a year later with the decidedly different (at the time) Irreligious album. Riding the wave started by Tiamat in 1994 with their Wildhoney record, Moonspell were embraced alongside Theatre Of Tragedy in a rise to fame as pioneers of the gothic metal scene in Europe, and later the world. A spastic run of countless copycat bands was launched that record labels were only too eager to snap up in a trend-heated feeding frenzy. Moonspell threw everyone a curve with the release of the commercially bent Sin/Pecado record in 1998, however, much to the chagrin of many an Irreligious-loving fan. It was the start of a tradition that has held true for 10 albums – dating back to Wolfheart – with Moonspell’s new outing Extinct coming off as a worthy successor to the Irreligious gothic metal throne.

It’s fair to say that nobody saw this coming.

“We share that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next with this band,” laughs Ribeiro. “I think that’s a good thing, and I think it’s become more of a valued thing to have in mind when you look at gothic metal. Gothic metal has been funneled into a formula with the female soprano vocals, the guy with the growls, and some guitars behind them. We’re not being openly critical about it but we always think there’s more to the gothic style of music. We just do whatever we think fits the style every time we make a new record. One of our intended goals has been never to compromise on our style or everything we stand for as songwriters.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Vocalist Mona Miluski never had any intention of fronting German stoner rock band High Fighter. She’s not complaining about doing just that, but two years ago she was poised to conquer the world with metal bashers A Million Miles and the press folks locked into the band’s debut album, What’s Left behind, were set to give them the push they needed. Nothing ever goes as planned, of course, and thanks to issues and assorted bullshit on both professional and personal levels A Million Miles tragically crashed and burned far too early into their flight. Miluski freely admits she was devastated by the turn of events, but 2015 finds her back in business on a new and improved and – as recent experience has taught her – a rock solid foundation.

“I can say that 2013 sucked for everyone involved in A Million Miles,” Miluski begins. “Ten days after the release of our debut album we went on the road, and ten days later the band parted ways. Like you said, it was a tragedy for me because the band was my life, it was the ground I stood on, I breathed for the band. I totally lost my ground when we split up. There are several personal reasons why we broke up and it was a tragedy for all of us. The album got really great press so it was a shame things fell apart, but shit happens.”

“We parted ways in April 2013 and I talked to Shi (ex-A Million Miles guitarist Christian Pappas) again at the end of 2013 because we’ve always been best friends and we can’t stop making music together. It took me almost a year to get back on my feet and for us to put things back together and start searching for other musicians.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Ingolstadt, Germany: March 10th, 2015

So, show #1 of Rock Meets Classic 2015 is in the books. As expected there were the usual first show glitches, missed cues and general stiffness, but it promises to be one of the best RMC tours yet (and the last two years are pretty damn hard to top). Looking forward to see how this monster grows.

Noteworthy bits and bites:

– by far the best intro performance Rock Meets Classic has ever had. Doing up ‘Thunderstruck’ Apocalyptica-style = brilliant.

– Marc Storace of Krokus singing ‘Long Stick Goes Boom’ backed by an orchestra? Gold.

– Asia frontman John Wetton sounds exactly the same as 30 years ago. Killer.

– Mat Sinner smiles a lot.

– Mr. Big vocalist Eric Martin has way too much fun for one person. By mid-tour ‘To Be With You’ is going to be epic. The backing vocalists blew the roof off on ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ (nice going Amanda, Tiffany, Kolinda and Sascha… mind blown).

– hails to guitarist Oliver Hartmann for remembering “the note” during the solo for ‘To Be With You’. Continue Reading

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