By Carl Begai

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Hitting the 25 year mark of anything is a big deal. Birthday, marriage, time spent in prison, it’s a milestone to be celebrated (okay, two out of three ain’t bad…). Of course, like anything Swedish bashers Meshuggah do, even an occasion supposedly as simple as an anniversary comes with a certain amount of head-scratching. Do the math and you find that folks are about two years too late, as Meshuggah was formed in 1987. If you take the band’s first official release, Contradictions Collapse, in 1991 as the jump-off point you’re late to the party. Turns out the band is using their painfully limited edition three-song Meshuggah EP from ’89 – otherwise known as Psykisk Testbild – as their first official sign of life to be celebrated. And even then, according to guitarist Mårten Hagström, it isn’t your predictable music industry tip of the hat to a momentous occasion.
    
“There’s the Ophidian Trek DVD, the 25th Anniversary touring that we’re doing in December in Europe, the re-release of the I EP, so for me it’s all been mashed together and has become a bit confusing,” admits Hagström. “The DVD is basically just a representation of what we did on the Koloss tour; it doesn’t really celebrate 25 years of the band. We started out recording every show on the tour as far as audio went because the gear was alll hooked up anyway, and I think it was Fredrik (Thordendal/guitars) who came up with the idea for the DVD. We had a new stage set, we took great care to implement the light design and create an actual show, so doing a DVD made sense at least for our sake. And as always with this band, things got out of hand (laughs). If we were going to do it we decided we might as well do it properly, and when Nuclear Blast heard that they decided we should release it. So all we’ve been doing for the last six months is looking after the re-release of I, rehearsing for the tour and preparing the DVD.”

“The first release from Meshuggah that we commemorate 25 years isn’t a Nuclear Blast release, it’s Psykisk Testbild, and that was only 500 copies or something. That was the real start of the band, but I guess we worked differently than other bands because before we did Destroy Erase Improve (1995) we weren’t on any map. We didn’t tour before 1995, so the whole 25th Anniversary depends on where you count from (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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If you spend even a small amount of time on the internet you’re well aware that Hollywood has embraced geekdom as a cash cow. Constant updates and reports on how superhero-based films are in planning from here to 2031 make it clear that the suits intend to turn every goddamn comic book ever created into a multi-gazillion dollar movie between now and the end of days. As much as I love comics and film, no we don’t bloody well need an Ant Man movie or an installment of the Wonder Twins.

Thus, with said attitude firmly in place, when I stumbled across the first two episodes of Nightwing: The Series on YouTube they were met with a healthy amount of scorn. For one thing, even though I grew up with the Nightwing character in the ’80s I didn’t see the point of someone wasting time and money on a Diet Batman series. And, like everyone else who says he / she dislikes something I quite naturally clicked on Episode 1 with the expectation of being entertained by a car crash. After all, an independent production playing the superhero card? Guaranteed fodder for the keyboard warriors out to slam anything exhibiting even a small amount of suckitude.

I was expecting a disaster. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Continue Reading

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