By Carl Begai
Overkill frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is a favourite around the BraveWords office, and with good reason. He brings himself and his lust for life to the table whether he’s talking metal or songwriting or the chocolate shop he runs on the side.There are no textbook answers and no bullshit with his delivery. Thus, settling in to discuss Overkill’s new album White Devil Armory is a raucous conversation with an old friend punctuated by his trademark cackle, anecdotes left and right, Blitz’s appreciation for his lot in life as obvious as the skull on the new album cover. It also raises the question whether he’s ever going to slow down, having released albums consistently since 1985 with no more than a three year gap between them.
“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Blitz laughs. “Somebody asked me the other day what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this, and I told him I’d be dead in six months. It’s still a cool feeling to just press play. As time goes on it’s not that easy to make records because of the repetition factor; you don’t want to repeat yourself. You want the music to have that energy, you don’t want to feign it, but where it all starts coming together is when you realize that making music and being in a band is just what you do. When you drop all the pre-processing and just go for it, things work. Who am I to question that and try to fix what’s not broken? It’s obviously not broken at all.”
Blitz is, of course, being paid lip service from all corners leading up to the release of the new album, but the positive feedback shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been on board the Overkill thrashwagon for the duration. As Overkill albums go White Devil Armory is a welcome high speed shred-and-spit rollercoaster ride.
“A guy I spoke to recently called Overkill the Motörhead of thrash, and that’s one hell of a compliment,” he says. “That pushes through it all. I think the general feeling is that White Devil Armory is Overkill at a high level and a fresh level. We obviously know who we are, and there’s a revitalized feeling on the metal scene itself, so I think the record reflects that. I think the new record has more diversity compared to (previous album) The Electric Age (2012), which is what a lot of people have said to me. We have certain Overkill tools and D.D. (Verni/bass) uses them at will, but I think he uses them more on the new record. It shows that the band isn’t one or two dimensional, but well beyond that.” (continue reading…)
I was recently asked to contribute to a book known as The Dig showcasing Japanese metal. I was initially approached by veteran journalist Takashi Kanazawa for an interview offering up one person’s western world view on Japanese bands, but he decided to take it up a level and asked me to compose an actual article. Published exclusively in Japan by Shinko Music, the issue came out at the end of June. The original English text is below.
Die-hard Japanese metal fans may be put off by the fact that I only mention some of the most popular / best known bands. Note that if I’d been given the space the story would have been a lot longer, and I would have paid worthy attention to many of the Japanese bands that fly below international radar a lot of the time. Fact is that Loudness, Anthem, EZO and X Japan were the building blocks for my interest in the Japanese metal scene; this is a story about that.
I am by no means an authority on Japanese metal, so take this as one fan’s tribute to that scene.
By Carl Begai
My love affair with Japanese heavy metal began as it did for the vast majority of western world metalheads: Loudness.
It was 1986, and during an episode of the weekly Power Hour on MuchMusic (Canada’s answer to MTV) the band’s video for their new song ‘Let It Go’ was aired for the first time. I was immediately enthralled. Everything about the song was magic – the guitar riff, the vocals, the melodies, the solos – and I wanted more. The next day I bought the cassette version of the Lightning Strikes album from Sam The Record Man in downtown Toronto and, during the drive home, I was introduced to a band that captivates me to this day.
Hell, it was because of ‘Let It Go’ that I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. After over 25 years of practice I can almost play the whole song. Almost.
It was the purchase of Loudness’ Disillusion album several weeks later, however, that made me a Japanese metal addict for life. I found the vinyl LP at the Record Peddler import store, unaware the band’s label Music For Nations had pressed Japanese and English language versions of the record. I didn’t realize until I put it on at home that I’d picked up the Japanese version. It was the strangest and most amazing thing I’d ever heard. As a Canadian I come from one of the most culturally enriched countries in the world, yet the exposure I’d had to Japanese at that point in my life never prepared me for the metal blasting out of my stereo. Everything about it was unique to my ears, and so damn heavy. Even the ballad. I was amazed, and I must have played it 100 times in the first month.
From the moment I dropped the needle on the record I was hooked, and the hunt began… (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Several years ago a theory was developed suggesting that non-Canadian metal and rock bands wanting to break big only had to add a Canuck to the mix somewhere down the line. There’s absolutely no scientific proof to give my theory any merit, of course, but acts like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Dream Theater all enjoyed huge success as a result of Canadian influence (producer Bruce Fairbairn, vocalist Sebastian Bach, producer Bob Rock, and singer James Labrie respectively). This supposed trend has continued with Alissa White-Gluz, former vocalist for The Agonist, replacing Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy after 14 years in the trenches. An unexpected development to say the least, but perhaps even more unexpected is the impact the band’s new album, War Eternal, is having on their fanbase. Sure, there’s the expected disgruntled faction that worship the ground Gossow walks on – and rightly so – and others that find War Eternal too melodic, too clean and too easy on the ears. For the most part, however, both Alissa and War Eternal continue to garner postive feedback and huge support from an increasingly louder majority.
BraveWords: Could you sense that Angela was going to call it quits, or did her announcement come out of the blue?
Michael: “We ended the Khaos Legions world tour in December 2012 with a South American leg, and the last show was in Mexico City. A few weeks after that we had a band meeting and decoded we were going to take 2013 almost completely off from band activity, definitely from shows. That opened the schedule up in a way we’ve never experienced in the last 12 years, because as you know it’s been pretty relentless doing the album-tour-album-tour cycle. It was pretty much a case of ending a tour on the Friday and going into pre-production on a new album on a Monday. That happened twice in 10 years, and it was very intense. People change, and Angela got to a point in her life where she wanted to make some changes. Not everybody is in this for life because it’s a very demanding lifestyle. It can be very tough on you if you’re not 100% into it.”
BraveWords: Angela is still part of the machine, but in the background as the band’s manager. It’s a post she’s actually held for several years…
Michael: “Angela took over the business management for Arch Enemy in 2008. She did a fantastic job with that and really turned things around for the band on many levels. She was getting a lot of satisfaction out of that, so I think that was getting stringer than the satisfaction she got out of performing. And she never liked travelling, so in the end I think it caught up with her. We could see the writing on the wall. We’re not completely insensitive assholes and we could see that she wasn’t 100% into it anymore. And when she finally told us last year that she was quitting, Angela urged us to carry on.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
When asked about her short tenure with Japanese melodic death/trance metal outifit Blood Stain Child – two years and one album in total – Greek vocalist Sophia looks back on it as a bittersweet experience. The split was anything but amicable, with Sophia harbouring a certain amount of resentment with regards to how and why things fell apart. Rather than letting the bad taste left in her mouth poison her love for making music, Sophia did what any genuine artist does: she buckled down to create something bigger and better than her previous outing. Season Of Ghosts is her new lease on life, a labour of love that pushed Sophia’s creativity to an entirely new level for the debut album planned for later this year, The Human Paradox.
“It’s a pretty crazy mixture of everything and anything I represent and believe in,” says Sophia without missing a beat. “And my co-producer Zombie Sam was a great helping hand during the whole process because he has the classical knowledge to interpret my ideas exactly. I have classical knowledge of my own but I’m not very good with software yet and that’s what it came down to. I can program the basics, but going from what I know about programming to what I wanted to do for Season Of Ghosts, there was a huge gap. I gave Sam my piano scripts, music scores and an overwhelming bulk of notes, and I told him to use this piano sound, that instrument or the other to make it sound Frankenstein because that represents me (laughs). He tried it once, twice, and I was getting frustrated by about the 10th time, but once he got it right we worked from that point forward like a clock.”
Sophia is known first and foremost as a singer, but it’s important to establish the fact that she built the musical foundation for Season Of Ghosts herself. She didn’t hire a group of songwriters to create material according to a wishlist; the tracks started out as personal compositions that grew into full-blown songs over time.
“For this album I started with piano and guitar, and I just let myself go so that I was free to imagine what a certain song should sound like. I’d say 90% of the songs on the album started with the piano or guitar melody, and only 10% – really just one song – started with the vocal melody. I built the foundation and then I imagined the vocal parts.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In this day and age female fronted metal bands are normal part of everyday life. They are so common, in fact, that it’s a waste of breath making the distinction between them and bands with a hairy, ugly guy behind the microphone. There was a time, however, when the idea of a woman fronting a full-on metal band was dismissed by metal fans and press alike as absurd. The world accepted Doro Pesch fronting Warlock and Sabina Classen leading Holy Moses in the ’80s, sure, but it wasn’t until the rise of The 3rd And The Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre Of Tragedy in the early ’90s that the movement towards equality in metal truly began. Now, in celebration of a revolution that launched an entirely new musical genre, vocalists Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd And The Mortal), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) and Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (Leaves’ Eyes, Theatre Of Tragedy) have united for a journey into the past presented live on stage: The Sirens.
The seeds for The Sirens were planted when Anneke approached Kari in early 2013 with the proposal of doing a duet for her Drive album (released in 2013). Regarded by Anneke as an inspiration going in to do The Gathering’s breakthrough album, Mandylion, her intention was to pay tribute to Kari via the collaboration. The song didn’t make the final cut as it didn’t fit the album, but they remained in touch. Then, in July 2013 Anneke and Liv had a chance meeting at the Masters Of Rock festival in the Czech Republic, and The Sirens concept was born.
“We had a few minutes only to talk in between our gigs,” Liv recalls, “but we agreed that we really should get together and tour. We both had to smile then, thinking that we were, with Kari, the ‘originals’ within our scene. Moreover, all three of us being mothers and still highly busy in music and art. Anneke told me that she had just talked to Kari, and that was the ‘go’ for The Sirens”
It would be fair to call Kari the catalyst for The Sirens, as both Anneke and Liv saw her as a role model when they first made their way into music.
“I find it hard to believe that I once inspired them,” Kari admits, “but if so it is truly flattering. It is a fantastic feeling to know that I will be singing live with two such amazing vocalists!”
The Sirens tour will be split into two parts, including festival appearances, and staged at the end of 2014 in October and December. It will be a full concert showcasing the trio, one band, and a setlist featuring songs from The 3rd And The Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre Of Tragedy as well as tracks from Kari, Anneke and Liv’s respective solo careers. They will sing alone, perform duets, capping off the night with all three of them on stage, with a show that is expected to clock in at around 100 minutes each night. Thus, it’s a trip down memory lane produced for the here and now with brand new and unexpected elements, making The Sirens a nostalgia-fuelled reminder of who started it all and why it worked. And at the end of the night nobody will leave disappointed. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The departure of vocalist Angela Gossow should have and probably would have destroyed Arch Enemy had the situation not been handled with the elegance and intelligence that it was. Fact is her entrance in 2000 is what yanked the band out of the underground and put them through the roof, and only the devout Johan Liiva followers from way back wanted to see her gone. She left the ranks gracefully, and with the ultimate parting shot: choosing singer Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist) as her successor. It’s amazing what a lack of drama and a new focus can accomplish; in this case, the creation of Arch Enemy’s strongest album since Anthems Of Rebellion, possibly their best ever. Beg to differ all you want, but to these ears the Arch Enemy war machine has sounded increasingly tired in recent years, not quite spinning its wheels but definitely in need of a tune-up. War Eternal is the battle cry of an armed-to-the-teeth new model strike force.
Simply put, War Eternal epitomizes melodic death metal; emphasis on “melodic.” There are truckloads of melody woven, stacked, and layered through the full length of the record, to the point of guitarist / braintrust Michael Amott being wonderfully obnoxious about it. Even the heaviest tracks on the record – ‘Never Forgive Never Forget’, ‘As The Pages Burn’, ‘No More Regrets’, ‘Stolen Life’, ‘Avalanche’ – are built around miles and miles of melody-based hooks that never get dull. And even when it sounds like there’s potential for cheesy softness around the edges, as on ‘You Will Know My Name’ and ‘Time Is Black’ (thanks to the latter’s symphonic / keyboard backbone) the damn hook-and-melody attack works wonders. And there’s the title track, a bloody anthem for the ages that I daresay may be one of the finest Arch Enemy songs ever written, second only to ‘Nemesis’. Depends on how you like your AE, of course, but what may sound like head-in-the-clouds accolades will at least give you an idea of the infectious high quality of the material. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Every so often an album comes along that forces you to give your head a shake and re-evaluate your opinions. Folk metal bands in 2014 are a dime a dozen; some are good, some not so much, and very little new ground has been broken since Moonsorrow kicked things off way back when Finntroll, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani clawed their respective ways to join them at the top of the heap. Long-time Estonian headcrushers Metsatöll – an ancient Estonian euphemism for “wolf” – have been plying their trade since 1999 and remained under the radar for most of the journey to all but the diehard folk metal fans. Their new outing Karjajuht is bound to change that if and when it reaches the ears of the right people; basically, anyone that gets off on crushing tribal-assault violence in their music.
It’s been a long trip getting to where they are now, but the Metsatöll quartet are anything but frustrated at not having become a bigger deal sooner.
“Everything happened naturally for us, almost by itself,” says Lauri “Varulven” Õunapuu, sporting what can only be classified as a booming Viking-esque voice. “And I can’t say that it is only because we worked hard. Sometimes it was because somebody said to somebody ‘I know a band that uses Estonian bagpipes…’ and that would get us the attention. People had never heard of such a thing and wanted to hear and see it for themselves. The music that we’re making, when we use traditional Estonian instruments and making metal music, it’s interesting almost by itself even for the innocent bystander (laughs).”
Interesting isn’t the half of it. When the band pull out all the stops on Karjajuht it’s an ominous display of power. If anything, the folk metal label Metsatöll has been stamped with offers up a false sense of security, suggesting a certain elvish elegance that only exists in (very short) fits and bursts on the new record. Nope, Karjajuht is more like the soundtrack to a high-spirited barroom brawl started by Amon Amarth. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Having worked with Midnattsol vocalist Carmen Elise Espenæs over the past 10 years helping to shape her song lyrics, I’m well aware of her being very nature oriented. No, she’s not a hemp-smoking tree-hugger hippie; Carmen is from Norway, which boasts beautiful and often surreal landscapes, offering her a wealth of inspiration for her music. That said, it came as no surprise to learn the cover art for the self-titled debut from her new band, Savn, was a real down-to-earth photograph rather than a cut-and-tweak image crafted entirely using a computer.
How the band went about creating the cover shot, however, was an adventure in itself that took months to complete.
“I was thinking about the idea of the deprivation of music since Savn started because of this theme,” Carmen begins, referring to guitarist/founder and former The Sins Of My Beloved member Stig Johansen’s inspiration for starting the band. “I was trying to figure out how we could portray the idea of the deprivation of music in a picture, and because I love nature I had this idea of a musical instrument grown over with plants and roots and things in the woods, as if it hadn’t been played in a long time. Piano is a big part of our music and it’s a beautiful instrument, so that’s what I chose.”
“We found a 200 year old piano for sale, but the deal was we could have it for free if we picked it up ourselves. It was SO heavy and we had to get a lot of people in order to carry it from where we got it to our house.”
The band could have easily dressed up the piano for the shoot, but Carmen was aiming for authenticity as well as image. Even it if meant risking being locked up for seemingly erratic behaviour. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The cover art on its own should be enough to let people know Space Police – Defenders Of The Crown is an Edguy album. If that doesn’t convince you, a tracklist containing songs entitled ‘Love Tyger’ and ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’ warns folks that vocalist Tobias Sammet is at play once again. We are, after all, talking about the man that wrote the classic ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ and got away with it. All in the name of good clean fun in a dirty world, of course, and Sammet and his bandmates take their fun very seriously.
“That’s what you hear when you’re in a hotel on tour,” Sammet says of ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’, making sure people understand it doesn’t refer to the band members’ personal escapades. “You’re lying there alone in your bed after a show trying to get some sleep because you have an early lobby call, and all of a sudden you hear those weird primal noises from the room next to yours. It sounds something like ‘Do me like a caveman!’ (laughs). I think if I’d used the actual quote for the song we wouldn’t have been able to sell the album to minors.”
As for the Space Police artwork, it’s reminiscent of the animated cheesiness of Edguy’s Rocket Ride album cover from 2006 but isn’t linked or inspired by it according to Sammet.
“What I didn’t like too much about Rocket Ride, although it is good to break down barriers, the cover art was goofy. I don’t think the Space Police cover art is necessarily goofy; it’s got a rock n’ roll attitude and it’s not your typical Dungeons & Dragons power metal artwork. It may have a subtle hint of tongue-in-cheekness, but it’s also very straightforward just like the album is. It’s very flashy and in your face.” (continue reading…)