By Carl Begai

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Swedish pop metal export Amaranthe started life as a wildcard band. Polished and pretty, when they surfaced with their self-titled debut in 2011 their budding career had equal chances of becoming a rousing success or a laughable bellyflop. The three vocal attack (female, male, growls) was an effective attention-getter, but the layers of electronica keyboards and trance beats backing the modern-edged guitar/bass/drum attack of an otherwise self-respecting metal band left Amaranthe wide open to ridicule. The sextet did indeed earn their haters, but the international metal scene proved once again to be an open-minded collective. By the time the band’s second album, The Nexus, was unleashed in 2013 they’d earned a solid fanbase and rounded up a new legion of followers during the world tour that followed. Amaranthe’s third album, Massive Addictive, is their all important next step and is everything the title proclaims. Prior to the band’s recent North American tour supporting Within Temptation, vocalists Jake E. and Elize Ryd took time out to discuss what is being called Amaranthe’s strongest work to date.

Jake: “Between the first album and The Nexus I felt a lot of pressure. There was an anxiety to deliver as something as good as what we did with the debut, and doing the first album was very relaxed. There was an almost instant success with the first album, and we only had six months to write and record The Nexus so there was a huge pressure on my shoulders to do something just as good. I think maybe that’s why we took the easy way out a bit on The Nexus by writing songs that were similar to the ones on the debut. It could have been called the Amaranthe II album (laughs), but with a few more influences put into the music. I thought when we started writing Massive Addictive there would be more of the same pressure, but I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t worried.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Long before Extreme wrapped their Pornograffitti Live! World Tour celebrating the album’s 25th Anniversary this year, vocalist Gary Cherone was well into the second album from his other band, Hurtsmile. Entitled Retrogrenade, it’s the follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut from 2011 which was, by comparison, much harder to get into even though it does boast some memorable songs. It’s no accident Retrogrenade plays out as it does, being that Cherone and his brother Mark (guitars), Joe Pessia (bass) and Dan Spellman (drums) have finally hit their stride as a unit and no longer worry about people saying they sound like that “other” band on occasion.

“I think this is a better record than our first one,” says Cherone. “There were a couple songs on the first record that stuck in your head, but Retrogrenade is more melodic and I think the subject matter is more universal. There were more contributing elements on this record and everyone was more involved in the songwriting. The first album was mainly me and Mark. It’s a case of the band developing as a group, so thank you for saying that because it’s very encouraging.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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October 12th, 2014 – Nuremberg, Germany

Born and bred in Toronto as I was, Helix is one of those bands that became a staple in my life as they did for many a budding Canadian metalhead. They were considered lightweights by some compared to the Van Halens, Mötley Crües and W.A.S.P.s being vomited out by the LA hair metal scene in the ’80s, but Helix was ours. Songs like ‘Rock You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Love’ were anthems everyone loved to hate to love thanks to perpetual radio and video play, heavier fare like ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘When The Hammer Falls’ were deemed worthy of a place in metal heaven, and we all knew ‘Deep Cuts The Knife’ smoked Dokken’s ‘Alone Again’ when it came to ballads.

I was too young back then to understand the marketing potential of a song like ‘Kids Are All Shakin’ (In The USA)’; the song ticked me off because Helix was a Canadian band, dammit (I didn’t see the problem with singing ‘Kids are all shakin’ in Canada, eh!’, but I digress…). All was forgiven when they unleashed Wild In The Streets in 1987, however, and I can proudly say I wore out two cassettes over the course of a year-and-a-half in mom’s car stereo. I remember seeing Helix tear it up a couple times in support of the album, the last time being at Toronto’s legendary Rock N’ Roll Heaven in 1989. I was never disappointed. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Nevermore has been a regular and welcome guest in the house that Metal Tim Henderson built pretty much since BW&BK’s inception. More often than not, vocalist Warrel Dane has been the one to step up (or be lured into) spending time talking music and related chaos with the BraveWords family, and we’ve never come away from a conversation with the man disappointed. Over the past 20 years the question of a Sanctuary reunion has been raised repeatedly, more as our running joke for the past decade given that every metal mag big and small poked Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard with questions abour resurrecting their former band. Dane maintained he was dead set against the idea, saying people should be happy with Refuge Denied (’87) and Into The Mirror Black (’89), but he changed his tune in 2010 revealing Sanctuary would release a new album featuring most of the original line-up. Four years and a handful of reunion shows later, main songwriters Dane and guitarist Lenny Rutledge have made good on their threat with The Year The Sun Died.

Dane: “We don’t like to call it a reunion; we refer to it as a re-invention (laughs).This record doesn’t sound like the first record, and I think it may be a bit closer to Into The Mirror Black. Kind of like the brother or sister to the Mirror Black record with bigger hooks.”

Given Dane’s long-standing resistance to even entertaining a Sanctuary reunion, Nevermore’s (supposed) demise in 2011 made for one hell of a push to follow through with it. He doesn’t officially acknowledge it as a factor, and it turns out there were other forces at work in putting Sanctuary back together. One of them was actor and Tenacious D mastermind Jack Black.

Rutledge: “One of the things was getting an offer to use one of our songs in a game called Brutal Legend. That got us talking a lot and we discussed the possibility of maybe getting together, doing some shows and having some fun with it. We did that and we discovered the chemistry was still there. I had a couple songs in my back pocket that I was holding on to for what I thought would be for Warrel some day, never really knowing if we would actually get together. We started working on these songs and it was like being back in the ’80s. That chemistry started to develop again and we ran with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Swedish vocalist Elize Ryd rose to fame as the female singer for Amaranthe, fronting the band alongside Jake E. (clean vocals) and Henrik Englund (cookie monster growls). As the band has grown so have the number of requests for Elize to lend her talents to productions by other artists. She’s no stranger to being a session player – it’s how she ended up with the Amaranthe gig – having guested for Falconer, Dragonland, Renegade Five, Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, with her stint as a guest vocalist on tour with Kamelot through 2011 and 2012 and her appearance on their Silverthorn record (2012) being particularly noteworthy. Amaranthe remains Elize’s top priority and she’s currently focusing all her attention on supporting their new album, Massive Addictive, but it’s a fair bet there will be more guest spots on down the line.

“I’m openly willing to do it because I love to sing,” Elize says of taking on productions outside Amaranthe. “I get a lot of requests to do guest appearances because many other artists who need a singer seem to think my voice would fit their songs. As long as I think the music is good and I feel that I can connect to what they’re doing, it’s very hard for me to say no (laughs). Sometimes I do it as a job, sometimes I do it to help a friend. I’ve had to say no to quite a few projects because the new Amaranthe album is coming out and I don’t want to take any of the attention away from it.”

At press time Kamelot was in pre-production for their next studio album. There’s no word yet as to whether Elize will be asked to contribute as she did on Silverthorn, but there are plenty of fans expecting her to make a reappearance. Continue Reading

I’ve said this dozens of times: one of the great things about this whole music journalist career are the people I meet along the way. Not just the so-called rock stars, but the characters – managers, promoters, stage crews, photographers, journalists, security people – behind-the-scenes as well. One such personality is Australia-born photographer Heiko Roith; very ambitious, extremely talented (but don’t tell him that, it gets him excited), and most certainly unique. Thus, it came as no surprise to discover that he decided to fill what little free time he has with a new project outside of his usual music-based commitments. The nature of that project, on the other hand, was completely unexpected.

And ultimately, completely in line with Roith’s spirit for adventure. Read on….

Carl Begai

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On April 26th 1986, Anatoli Stepanowitsch Djatlow made the decision to simulate a total blackout in Block 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Because of serious infringements of safety regulations in force and the construction related characteristics of the reactor there was an uncontrollable increase in power, which ultimately led to the explosion of the reactor. The ensuing nuclear fallout resulted in large parts of the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and 200,000 square kilometers of Europe being contaminated by radioactivity. The Chernobyl disaster has been dubbed the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties.

Still today, some families live in the heavily contaminated Chernobyl areas and in the neighbouring town of Prypjat, and a few are even newly settled. The damaged reactor unit is still covered by a temporary protective shell of reinforced concrete, which should be replaced in 2015 by a more long term solution. The year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster – but it will then be erased from our view forever. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Massive Addictive won’t do anything to improve Amaranthe’s relationship with their haters, but the diehard fans will fall in love with the band all over again. The vast majority of fence-sitters, meanwhile, will find themselves drawn in by what is, quite frankly, a surprisingly addictive listen that justifies the wonderfully arrogant album title. Still pop metal to the core, Amaranthe’s all-important third album kicks off by putting the fans in the comfort zone with ‘Dynamite’, a track echoing the band’s previous album, The Nexus. It’s the neck-wreck-bounce of the following track and first single ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ – imagine Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ as a song on the Grease soundtrack – that sets the tone for Massive Addictive. The vocal melodies are infectious to a fault, the riffs are bold, all supported by steel hard backbone seemingly yanked from Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren’s command center for his industrial-rocked metal outfit Pain.

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‘Drop Dead Cynical’, ‘Unreal’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Massive Addictive’ ‘Skyline’ and ‘Digital World’ are guaranteed to become fan favourites, charged with more adrenaline than some folks give Amaranthe credit for. There are two ballads to be had this time out – ‘True’ and ‘Over And Done’ – both of them loaded with radio potential and too smart for the suits making programming decisions. The album winds down with the heaviest song of Amaranthe’s career to date, ‘An Ordinary Abnormality’, featuring the sextet pulling out all the stops and crushing any ridiculous notions that pop metal has no balls. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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How about an Accept story that doesn’t involve discussion about former vocalist Udo Dirkschneider and his personal issues with the band? On top of that, let’s not talk about a possible reunion with the U.D.O frontman because, at this point in Accept’s career, stirring that pot is just plain bad manners bordering on insulting. Nope, the focus here is on Blind Rage, the band’s third go-round with singer Mark Tornillo, which the fans have been praising to high heaven according to guitarist Wolf Hoffmann. In fact, some diehards have actually gone on record calling Blind Rage the best of the three records in this “new” Accept’s catalogue. Brave words indeed, particularly when stacking it up against Blood Of The Nations, the band’s bold 2010 return that amounted to a “We’re back!” eargasm for their legion of fans.

Interestingly, Blind Rage comes off as being somewhat less heavy in places compared to Blood Of The Nations and its follow-up, Stalingrad. Call it classic heavy Accept with more melody and dynamics thrown into the mix, just like the good old days of Breaker (1981) and Restless And Wild (1982). Almost as if Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes experimented with branching out from what they know works for Accept fans in 2014.

“I’m not sure we did,” Hoffmann counters. “If anything I think we tried to hone it into what Accept really is. I think ‘experiment’ is a bad word to use. There are songs on Stampede that are more melodic, but all in all it’s totally Accept to me. A good song is a good song, and we always try to concentrate on songwriting more than anything, and if things sound a little softer or more melodic here and there, so be it. We’ve always been about melody in our songs. As long as people like it I’m happy.” Continue Reading

This story was originally published on this site back in April 2014, heralding the arrival of HDK’s new album Serenades Of The Netherworld. Or rather, the first taste of the record in the form of two singles to get people talking, which they did. Here’s the updated version of the story to coincide with the full album’s September 1st release.

By Carl Begai

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It’s been five years since former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans broke his self-imposed hiatus from the music business with HDK, a slavering beast of a project that flew in the face of his former band’s symphonic goth metal sound. The debut album, System Overload, was a full-on metal assault that presented both Gommans and vocalist/co-conspirator Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) entering unexplored territory, showing off a very different and altogether volatile side of their musical personalities. A second HDK album was always in the cards; it was just a question of when the pair would get around to writing and recording it in amongst other projects that were on the go, which included the launch of Gommans’ studio/music school The Rock Station, working on albums from Trillium and Kiske / Somerville, and tours with Trillium, Avantasia and Rock Meets Classic. Serenades Of The Netherworld has finally surfaced – creeping into the light slowly but surely – as a bigger and more melodic take on System Overload. It’s certainly more dynamic and less bent on bludgeoning the listener into submission, but not at the expense of healthy sonic violence.

Amanda: “That wasn’t because of me. That was definitely Sander’s fault (laughs).”

Sander: “The thing is, with the first album I wanted to do something really different from After Forever. I’d wanted to do it for years and years, and that’s what came out. Since then I’ve had time to work with other artists and re-think some stuff. I wanted to write a new HDK album that was similar to the previous one but it came out much more symphonic and way more melodic. I didn’t have to distance myself from After Forever anymore, and I was ready to write stuff that was more melodic anyway like I did for Trillium and Kiske / Somerville. And I worked with keyboard players this time, so that gave the music a different feel as well. The new HDK is still heavy but it’s different from the first album..”

Amanda: “On the first album Sander was saying ‘There aren’t going to be any keyboards on the album because After Forever is full of frickin’ keyboards…’ (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with how the new HDK album turned out.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This interview came together in the interest of covering The Winery Dogs, but it was a given that no matter which of the trio got tapped for the chat – Richie Kotzen (vocals, guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass), or Mike Portnoy (drums) – there would be plenty to talk about with regards to their respective careers outside the band. It was Portnoy that stepped up, and the conversation that followed touched on several aspects but certainly not all facets of his career. Hell, taking time to walk through all the projects and plans he’s had on the go over the last few years would have forced the cancellation of the show. And that’s without discussing his departure from Dream Theater.

First up, congratulations were in order for the success of the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 which took place back in February. It was essentially a 70000 Tons Of Metal-styled boat cruise for the progressive rock/metal nerd legions, and it was Portnoy that led the charge.

“Thank you. It was amazing. I played with three bands on board, seven sets in total. I played two shows each with three of the bands and a seventh set with Jon Anderson doing all the Yes stuff, plus there was two days of rehearsal on board, and then overseeing the whole thing, it was incredible. It was a fucking blur, and it went beyond my expectations. I saw the guys from Haken a couple nights ago and they were telling me how they’re still buzzing all these months later. That was a pretty common reaction from everybody that was on board whether it be the bands or the fans; everybody walked off that cruise just buzzing because they had been a part of a once in a lifetime event. For me it was incredibly surreal having overseen the project from both sides, as a player and a promoter or whatever you want to call it. It was one of the highlights of my career, hands down.” Continue Reading