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.
“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…)
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.
“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…)
SEBASTIAN BACH – Give ‘Em Hell: “Stands Toe-To-Toe With Kicking & Screaming, If Not Crushing It Entirely”
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.
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 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…)
DELAIN Goes Voice-To-Voice With ALISSA WHITE-GLUZ For The Human Contradiction – “Versatile And Innovative”
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’:
“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…)
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.”
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…)
By Carl Begai
German a capella metal band Van Canto didn’t do themselves any favours kicking off the release of their fifth album, Dawn Of The Brave, with an oddball-titled single called ‘Badaboom’. Not because it’s a bad song – hell, fans of present day Manowar should be jealous – but because the band’s detractors are always seeking new ammunition for target practice. Van Canto are a thick-skinned sextet, however, and no strangers to people taking potshots at their brand of music. Eight years into their career, it’s fair to say the bitching and moaning from the outside fuels them as much as the accolades from their loyal fans.
“It’s been like that since the beginning of the band,” says vocalist Stefan Schmidt. “The only thing that’s changed is that the people who don’t like us have to admit that we’ve had some kind of success (laughs). The bad thing about it is that people who really don’t like us have gotten more personal in their reviews because they can’t understand how a band like Van Canto can exist for more than a couple years. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves anymore, but sometimes I have the feeling that even though we have a unique approach we often have to excuse ourselves for being unique. When I write songs I notice that I tend to sometimes do things that can cause controversy with certain people. Sometimes I think ‘No, you can’t do that because people will hate you for it…’ and then there’s another voice in my head saying ‘And that’s exactly why you should do it.’”
Which is probably why Van Canto haven’t turned out to be a flash in the pan; commitment coupled with being a healthy kind of stubborn.
“I recently did an interview with a big German magazine and the guy asked me what I say to people now that the joke is over. I asked him why is it that if an artist has a unique sound he or she or they can only make one album. There are so many metal bands that release 10 or 15 albums and they all sound the same, and they sound like other metal bands, but nobody asks them if the joke is over. I don’t know why they do that with Van Canto.”
Maybe that’s the difference between the open-minded professionals out there versus the kiddie journos who get offended by something they can’t wrap their brains around.
“If you put it that way I can live with it (laughs). We’re aware of the fact that a lot of the attraction Van Canto has is because of this gimmick, as some people call it, that we have. We talk to the people that come to our shows and we notice that when we go to the same town a second or third time there are always more and more people. Our music is different, and many people tell us they like us better live than on CD. It’s always great when a musician gets that kind of feedback.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Regardless of whether you like ‘em or don’t give a damn, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a big deal. The two-headed troupe’s annual east and west coast road trips through North America – leading up to Christmas and beyond – are consistently ranked as top-grossing concert tours year after year, and the production seemingly gets bigger each time out. It’s fair to say that TSO has become a tradition for many a metal and/or music lover. If there’s one misfire in this success story, however, it’s the lack of attention to the European market. Not that they necessarily need the exposure, but given that the legendary Savatage is the foundation for everything TSO has become and Europe embraced Savatage with the equivalent of a bone-crushing bear hug early on, some folks figure the Orchestra owes those fans some attention. Thus, 2014 began (literally) with an exclusive performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve followed by a stripped down but still impressive European tour; only their second in a 15 year history as a live act. Guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate sat down to discuss the stripped down TSO production when the band hit Nuremberg, Germany…
Jeff: “It’s very comfortable. We came over to Europe a few years ago with the Beethoven’s Last Night tour (in 2011) and it’s a great story, but I think some of it was too much for the European audiences. We had to trim that down quite a bit, and the Savatage element is much more present in the show this time. And for myself, being able to work with Chris, Johnny (Middleton/bass) and Al (Pitrelli/guitars) again is a blast. This is an arena show and we just happened to squeeze it into a theater.”
Chris: “The biggest difference for me is that I’m not nearly as tired as I am during the big production we do (laughs). We do one show a day and it’s stripped down, and we don’t have the wings that we have on the North American stage. The big stage has at least another 30 feet on each side, so you run the arena and do two shows a day. The European tour is more like doing the old Savatage concerts in many ways except the people are sitting. In a lot of ways it’s the same because I put my in-ears in and what I hear is the same as always. I don’t really hear a difference. The band is different in that I’ve got Johnny and Al there, which is always great. I usually play with Jeff and the singers rotate, so it’s not really that different of a TSO show for me.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During the last quarter of 2013 and into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s North American tour, guitarist Chris Caffery took time out of his busy schedule to tease and please his fans with a few new songs released as digital singles. It was a long time in coming for Caffery’s diehard followers, who have been waiting for more music since his House Of Insanity record from 2009. The new tracks are a precursor to his forthcoming full length album – dubbed The Twisted Truth for the moment – and Caffery’s ongoing development as a do-it-yourself artist. As in, doing as much as possible on his own, creating a down-to-the-bone solo album in fact as well as name.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a businessman and as a musician,” Caffery says of his solo career, which has been on the go since 2004. “I learned a lot of things that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done things on my own. You always respect where you are more when you go off and do things on your own. Now I’m able to approach writing and playing music more creatively. My singing has gotten a lot better, and that’s the cool thing about doing these new songs before the TSO tour. I had people listen to the songs and a lot of reactions were ‘That’s awesome! Who’s singing?’ (laughs). I know now when I do this stuff that my voice is at a level where it’s able to express what’s in my head. My voice has matured, and I’ve matured as a writer and a singer. I know that if I could have taught myself to sing when I was 20 I’d be headlining this arena myself (laughs). I thought singing was something you either had or you didn’t. I didn’t know you could train your voice, so I spent all those years looking for a singer that I already had.”
“People are always asking me about going out and doing a solo tour, but I have a very successful band that I tour with every year. I want to do solo shows, but to put it up and get it going is a lot of pressure. I know what Paul (O’Neill / TSO director and co-founder) deals with; everybody looks to you for everything. It can be stressful when you’re trying to go out there and play music and enjoy it. For me, it’s more important right now to be the artist just making the music. I’m going to finish my new record this year and I want it to be great. If there’s a demand for me to do shows I’ll approach that when the time comes. I’ve got my own studio, I’m doing it myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I just want to make a record that I’m really happy with.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
There’s no doubt that the controversial firing of former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon in October 2012 made her out to be the bad guy, turning any press she does for her forthcoming solo album into a potential exercise in character assassination. It doesn’t help her situation in that the Nightwish camp has been quick to refute many of her recent accusations of backstabbing and mismanagement that have appeared online. Quite frankly, I was prepared to be stonewalled when asking questions about Nightwish due to the fact Olzon came across as a self-centered diva when she slammed the band for playing to a Denver, CO audience in 2012 with stand-in vocalists Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) after she fell ill. Turns out I was way off the mark and had to give Olzon the benefit of the doubt.
Thus, in the interest of giving her solo album Shine a fair shake we’re getting the Nightwish debacle out of the way first, to be followed soon by a full story on the new record.
Rather than dig for the scurvy details and assorted dirt kicked up before and after her firing, the focus is on Olzon getting booted in the middle of the North American tour for Imaginaerum. It’s not a move most bands can afford to make in today’s music industry economy, sure as hell not without a back-up plan. And yet, 48 hours after Olzon was cut loose former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen had taken over her post on stage, becoming the band’s permanent singer less than a year later.
“It’s hard for me to say why the firing happened when it did because I don’t really know what happened behind my back,” says Olzon. “I think there were some thing happening that I didn’t know about. It has become clearer to me now that they had some sort of a plan when I told them I was pregnant. I actually think they had some suspicions I was pregnant during the summer festivals, so I think they may have had a back-up plan.”
Olzon pegs the band’s reaction to her pregnancy as the primary reason for the falling out. She also claims Jansen wasn’t as much of a last minute consideration for the Nightwish line-up as people think, albeit in a temporary capacity.
“We had some discussions during the tour in America about how to cover the remaining gigs for the tours that were coming up, and we did have something of an argument before that. I didn’t want to have a substitute singer in the band, I wanted to do the South American shows. I would have been too pregnant to go to Australia so I wanted to push the dates back, but Tuomas (Holopainen / keyboards, founder) didn’t want that. Discussions about a substitute came up and at first I was like ‘Yeah, well…. okay…’ but when they mentioned Floor it was an automatic ‘No’ from me. I didn’t think it was a good idea because I knew what would happen; I knew the fans would love Floor because she’s a metal singer and I’m a pop singer, and I wanted to keep my job. Because I couldn’t do the Australian tour, I think that’s when they started thinking about a new singer. We had a bit of an argument, then I got ill, and after that…. I don’t know if they planned this.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s hard to believe the cartoon that is MySpace was once the first stop in cutting edge social media. As of 2005 is was a place for musicians big and small to get the word out about their music and assorted projects, and it was around that time bassist/producer Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken) first drew attention to a new band he was working with called Benedictum. He compared vocalist Veronica Freeman to a female Ronnie James Dio, and the release of the band’s debut, Uncreation (2006), proved that Pilson wasn’t blowing smoke. Almost 10 years later Benedictum have hammered out their fourth album, Obey, and although it’s reminiscent of their early work the creative team behind the music has changed considerably. Only Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells remain of the original line-up and Pilson turns up only as a collaborator, with John Herrera now in the producer’s chair, but the fans aren’t complaining judging by the Obey reviews making the rounds.
“We had asked Jeff to produce the last album (Dominion – 2011) but it didn’t work out with his schedule,” Freeman reveals, adding that Herrera did a fantastic job on Obey. “We had a couple conversations with Jeff and he promised he wouldn’t let us down next time around, because we really are like family, but he was getting these musical opportunities that he couldn’t turn down. I know Jeff well enough to know that in his heart he really wanted to do this album, but this is business as well as friendship and I simply didn’t have the money to pay him. I can’t compete against these other people. I really wanted Jeff involved in some way, though. Once we started putting these songs together and they took on their own little lives, we went out to his place for two days for pre-production and rearranging things. The intensity of Jeff Pilson when you’re working with him is insane, and he really brought some of these songs to life, like ‘Retrograde’. He was involved on the last album on only one song, ‘Epsilon’, but you can kind of tell when it’s a Jeff thing.”
Production of Obey fell into the capable hands of John Herrera, and the results are in-your-face impressive. Loud, obnoxious, not too polished and not too dark.
“We needed someone local, and Rikard (Stjernquist/drums) worked with John before. I had to get some stuff done with guest vocals on another album, so we tried it out with John just to make we were going to get along. It worked out well. You’re right on the money with the production, and Rikard kept telling me I should be more excited bout it because of the production alone. He spent a lot of his time listening to the first two albums to really grasp Jeff’s mindset when he produced them, and then he put his own spin on it. He did an amazing job.”
In spite of the repeated line-up changes, which have been in full swing since the Seasons Of Tragedy album (2008), Benedictum’s sound has remained traditional old school metal thanks to the long time Freeman-Wells writing team.
“Yeah, Pete and I did most of the songwriting for Obey and it’s always kind of been that way,” says Freeman. “He’s that musical hamster in the spinning wheel (laughs); Pete is always churning out new stuff. He’ll send me little snippets of things, then we’ll get together and jam at rehearsal. And he’ll always try to sneak stuff in and waits for my reaction. That’s how we usually work. Even when we went to Jeff doing Obey, the basic parts were already there. We’ve been working together for over 15 years, so it’s hard for me to imagine working with someone else. When it comes to songwriting we roll in a certain way.” (continue reading…)