By Carl Begai

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It was a brain scratcher when word came down in September 2014 that Accept guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann had launched a new band dubbed Panzer, particularly since the audio teaser accompanying the announcement sounded suspiciously like Accept. This only a month after the release of Blind Rage, regarded as one of Accept’s strongest outings in their 14 album career. Odder still was Destruction frontman Schmier taking up vocal and bass duties to complete the three-piece Panzer outfit when he already has a very successful trio of his own. The recipe for a potentially questionable platter of “Why Bother?”, yet Panzer’s debut Send Them All To Hell has gone over a storm amongst the people that have dared to step into the line of fire.

“We’ve had great reactions so far,” Schmier confirms. “Some people thought the old men might be doing a blues album… (laughs).”

Thoughts that are quashed early into the record, although the lead single “Panzer” was met with a lukewarm response thanks to a plodding 4/4 groove that is too Accept-like and predictable.

“Yeah, the song ‘Panzer’ doesn’t represent the whole record,” agrees Schmier. “Nuclear Blast wanted it to be the first release and use it on samplers and all that, but I don’t think it was the best choice. That’s the easy listening track on the album. We made a video for the first song, ‘Death Knell’, and I think that one shows the real direction of the record. It’s nice to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing because there are too many bands these days doing this All-Star thing. It’s good that people recognize Panzer isn’t just another one of those projects. Things are worked really well between the three of us.” Continue Reading

It’s that time again. Below you’ll find my list of Hots and Nots of 2014 compiled for the ever faithful BraveWords readership (originally published here) to chew on and swallow or spit in my face as they see fit. Enjoy.

And if you’re offended or otherwise put off by anything scrawled below, please take it up with the Complaint Department here.

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Top 20 Albums Of 2014

1) SANCTUARY – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media)
2) ARCH ENEMY – War Eternal (Century Media)
3) DEVILMENT – The Great And Secret Show (Nuclear Blast)
4) KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – High Priestess (Titan Music)
5) OVERKILL – White Devil Armory (Nuclear Blast)
6) ACCEPT – Blind Rage (Nuclear Blast)
7) GAMMA RAY – Empire Of The Undead (earMusic)
8) AMARANTHE – Massive Addictive (Spinefarm)
9) HURTSMILE – Retrogrenade (Slipkid Records)
10) SEASON OF GHOSTS – The Human Paradox (Coroner Records)
11) EXODUS – Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast)
12) RED DRAGON CARTEL – Red Dragon Cartel (Frontiers)
13) THE PRETTY RECKLESS – Going To Hell (Razor & Tie)
14) METSATÖLL – Karjajuht (Napalm)
15) JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer Of Souls (Epic)
16) HDK – Serenades Of The Netherworld (The Rock Station)
17) UNISONIC – Light Of Dawn (earMusic)
18) DELAIN – The Human Contradiction (Napalm Records)
19) SEBASTIAN BACH – Give ‘Em Hell (Frontiers)
20) SLIPKNOT – .5: The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner) Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Season Of Ghosts vocalist Sophia Aslanidou has left her Blood Stain Child past behind, although it’s probably more accurate to say she’s buried it in the dust kicked up as she’s moved forward. Months before the December 2014 release date of the debut album, The Human Paradox, Sophia made certain to keep word-of-mouth-and-social-media promotion ramped up, and it paid off better than she or anyone else expected. Pre-orders and a significant buzz on metal websites added up, but having Season Of Ghosts booked to play the popular annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium saw the band perform for close to 2,000 people for their morning set. This in spite of being at the bottom of the roster and not having an album out. It was an experience that cemented Sophia’s strength as a do-it-yourself artist, and her commitment to making Season Of Ghosts much more than just a studio project.

“One reporter at the festival put it best; she said you had to be living under a rock not to know that Season Of Ghosts was playing,” Sophia laughs. “It was surreal. We had to wake up at 7:00am and I’m not a morning person. I was tempted to have a couple beers before the show but it was too early in the morning even for me (laughs). I went out on stage and saw something like 1,000 people, and when we started playing people started coming into the venue from the market thing they had set up outside. We had a large audience watching us and cheering us on, and I was wondering what the fuck was wrong with those people (laughs). I mean that in the best way because I couldn’t be up that early for my favourite band, and we weren’t even the first band that day. The response was very heartwarming and very surprising. We brought as much merchandise as we could and it sold out very quickly, almost everything we had. I was very impressed.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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To the metal world at large, vocalist/guitarist Bob Reid is best known as the current singer for Canadian thrash legends Razor. Those that didn’t blink might remember his SFH outfit after Razor folded following the release of Open Hostility in 1991. Since 2002, however, Reid has fronted and flogged his self-styled two fisted twisted rock n’ roll band Bobnoxious on an ever-appreciative fan following. Their latest album E.O.A. – named for the East Of Adelaide district in the band’s native London, Ontario – has been out for several months and by Reid’s account it has performed as expected: Bobnoxious plays weekends in and around Southern Ontario, the fans show up in droves for the party.

“Most of our fans are around our age, so they don’t take the time to write us or give feedback or do shit,” Reid laughs. “They show up at the gigs and tell us ‘Love the album, man!’ and that’s all I need. A flip of the horns and it’s all good. People are too busy working or partying to call and email me, which is good for me because I don’t have time to answer fan mail (laughs). I just like the fact people like the music. I’m not looking for any admiration. If people love the music, great, and if they hate it they can fuck off. I’m a music guy. I was brought up listening to Disney, listening to my Dad’s era of rock n’ roll, absorbing the ’80s speed metal scene, being a B-horror movie fan. I just like to absorb all that shit, put it into a processor and squish it out (laughs).”

“The funny thing is that when I started Bobnoxious, I wasn’t really sure if that first album was going to be the be next SFH album or not. I decided at the time to go with Bobnoxious because I was getting tired of seeing guys coming and going in other bands. The perception for some people was that if somebody in a band left, that band was over. I thought, fuck it, I’m going to call the band me (laughs) and if somebody comes and goes in the line-up, I don’t care.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is one of those artists that lives by the mantra “Sleep Is The Enemy.” When she’s not writing and recording new solo material, you can be assured Anneke is somewhere out in the world performing or working on a new project, which speaks volumes of her passion for her art. Case in point; this interview took place in the small Dutch town of Reuver a couple hours before she played an intimate one-off acoustic show at The Rock Station. Anneke didn’t have to do what was effectively an out-of-the-way the show for the exposure, and she certainly didn’t have to deliver anything special in terms of a set, but in the end the fans were treated to a show featuring both original songs and some (very) unexpected covers. Definitely something special for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For Anneke, another day at the office of her choosing.

“Somebody posted a message on my Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m going to see four projects from Anneke in six weeks..,’ Anneke begins, the two of us sitting in a small pizza parlour down the street from The Rock Station. “I only realized then how much I’m doing, because I’m doing a lot of it all at the same time. Sometimes I say ‘Oh, I can do this, I can work on that, I can join this band…’ and then everything comes together in the same two months. I have The Gathering show, The Sirens, this show tonight, so the amount of songs I have to learn is amazing.”

The Gathering show, which took place on November 9th in Nijmegen, was an epic event featuring present and past members uniting on stage for the band’s 25th anniversary. For the diehard fans Anneke’s performance was the high point of a reportedly brilliant show, and she admits it was a very special experience being with her former bandmates again, right from the first rehearsal. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Former Blood Stain Child vocalist Sophia Aslanidou broke away from the band after only one album and sporadic touring due to personal and creative differences. An unfortunate situation, but rather than crawling into a corner to die a scorned artist’s death she picked herself up and invested all her time, energy and remaining sanity in a full-on solo project, Season Of Ghosts. The Human Paradox is in fact a collaboration between Sophia, Italian horror metal genius/composer Zombie Sam, and multi-instrumentalist NeroArgento, resulting in off-kilter album boasting equal parts metal and orchestral soundtrack (with occasional death metal growls scattered hither and yon) that never quite goes where you expect. It’s for this reason that when things slow down or become uncomfortably weird you can’t actually bring yourself to skip to the next track. A well crafted sonic adventure with a remarkable payload of earworm vocal melodies, The Human Paradox keeps you wondering what’s lurking around each corner as you weave your way through it.

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Blood Stain Child fans may be pleased to know the trance elements that accompanied Sophia’s entrance for the Epsilon album, only this time out her voice isn’t auto-tuned to death. She’s able to explore her (surprising) full range, doing so right out of the box with ‘Genesis’ and ‘Time Travellers’, two of the heaviest tracks on the record. Hearing her low range on ‘Dream: Paralysis’ and ‘The Human Paradox’ is a welcome touch, the title track played out with the strength of any X Japan ballad right down to some spoken word (Sophia is welcome to read me the phone book anytime). Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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During his latest interview for BraveWords (found here), Canadian vocalist / guitarist / producer and master puppeteer Devin Townsend discussed his new Z² album. It’s another Devin Townsend Project epic, this one divided into two very different parts. Sky Blue (Part 1) is a somewhat melancholy offshoot of the DTP Epicloud record from 2012, while Dark Matters (Part 2) is the highly anticipated and over-the-top continuation of his Ziltoid The Omniscient record from 2007. As a whole, Townsend sees Z2 as a marker for another transition of his creative process, the previous one having been Ziltoid’s debut.

In the interest of not breaking the internet, this portion of the interview featuring Townsend’s take on his current focus was cut from the BraveWords story….

“I was recently in LA for a week. I was down there for an experiment on behalf of myself, the record label and a bunch of people. There’s a producer in LA who has sold 20 million records in the past 10 years and he offered to write a song with me. I went down there and recorded this song, and dude, I fucking hated the experience. I don’t have to put the song out, but this has been learning experience after learning experience. ‘What’s your motivation? What do you need?’ When we first started talking (back in 1995) I did this completely on my own. I was oblivious to the fact people were listening. Now there’s crowd sourcing and all this stuff; every step of the way carries ramifications for whatever decisions I make that are the majority of the job.”

“It’s not that it’s difficult,” Townsend continues. “It’s just that the process of trying to figure out where I am in the world is being helped in large part by me becoming addicted to making records, or whatever the hell happened in the last seven years. You get to a point where your quality of life is shot because you’re doing this inhuman amount of work. In a lot of ways I’m really glad that it happened and that I’ve made too much music for too long because it’s put me in a position where I have to analyze it. I’m not a total idiot, and as I get older the things that keep rearing their head in terms of problems in my life, I have to take notice of them or they just continue. One of them for me is this fascination with productivity that I’ve had for so long. It’s resulted in a type of exhaustion that’s avoidable.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It’s considered poor journalistic form for a writer to put himself / herself in what’s supposed to be an unbiased info piece, but the catalyst for this story was in fact my personal disdain for teenagers in the music business. A hypocritical attitude to some degree given that many of the bands and musicians I hail as personal heroes started in their teens, but in this day and age it doesn’t seem to matter if newcomers are talent free with regards to achieving success. More than ever, the worn out music industry cliché of record label suits snagging disposable prettygirls’n’boys and thrusting them into the public eye with an image and songs written by an overpriced producer seems to hold true. And it’s not an illlness restricted to the pop music world (Baby Metal, anyone?).

With that in mind, if I had stumbled upon 16 year-old Gabbie Rae Trial through normal online channels, I likely would have dismissed her as just another fresh-faced marketing mogul’s dream guaranteed to be history before the end of the year. As luck would have it, she was introduced to me through a Facebook post by Queensrÿche vocalist Todd La Torre, who is known for his talent and integrity. Having spoken with La Torre several times in the past, there was no way he would waste his time and breath on fluff. Asking him to elaborate, he made it clear that Gabbie Rae is the real deal as far as he’s concerned. Curiosity piqued by the song being hyped (‘Scream’), a trip through YouTube’s infinite wealth of music yielded a startling catalogue of Gabbie Rae material. It runs the gamut from singer/songwriter ballads, an anti-bullying song, pop covers, and some positively startling live acoustic renditions of metal classics from Dio, Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche.

Her killer cover of the Queensrÿche classic ‘Queen Of The Reich’ – which really shouldn’t work acoustically – was enough on its own to push for this interview.

“The first time I met Todd I told him that I’d covered a Queensrÿche song acoustically, I’m pretty sure he thought it was ‘Silent Lucidity’ or ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’ or something like that,” Gabbie Rae laughs. “But… nope (laughs). It’s kind of fun to mess with people.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Within 24 hours of the metal press being given advance access to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Z², reviews started popping up online. They invariably heralded the highly anticipated double album – split into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – as trademark Townsend musical genius existing on multiple levels of godlike awesomeness. With all due respect to my peers – many of whom are much better review writers than I am – you might want to go back and re-evaluate Townsend’s work and then your own. There’s simply no bloody way anyone gets the Z² album after only a few listens; it’s far too adventurous, emotional, chaotic and occasionally scatterbrained to be able to embrace it as a whole so easily. And indeed, some fans have voiced their disappointment since Z²’s official release. The simple fact is Sky Blue (Part 1) is not the thundering sequel to DTP’s Epicloud album from 2012 it was expected to be, although it does follow some similar lines. Likewise, Dark Matters (Part 2) is a different beast from the original Ziltoid The Omniscient that reared his bug-eyed head in 2007.

For one thing, Dark Matters seems almost kid-oriented as a target audience rather than being metaphorically driven as the Ziltoid The Omniscient album was.

“I think there’s a part of it that’s kid-oriented, but there’s another part to it,” says Townsend. “I’ve demanded a lot of my audience for years. I drew them in with heavy metal and gave them country, new age and ambient music. There’s a part of me that, when the support came, I decided that I did my artsy-fartsy movie (Sky Blue) so I needed to do my Michael Bay-type movie (Dark Matters) and then reconsider what I want to do musically. It’s not that the well is dry, it’s just that it’s been an intense amount of work for an intense amount of time. By finishing up with the Ziltoid thing, in one way it was a conclusion to what started seven years ago. Sure, it’s still metaphor because that’s how I write, but the surface of this is much different. It’s for people to enjoy. I think the Sky Blue element of it is where the emotional aspects of it went because I was frustrated by it, and because some heavy things happened during the making of the record. I listen back to Z² and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there’s a part of me saying ‘Okay, next!’ (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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I first became aware of photographer Jeremy Saffer’s work through the promo campaign for Kamelot’s Silverthorn album in 2012. It was a single photo featuring vocalist Tommy Karevik flanked on either side by Kamelot’s live backing singers Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), which I found quite striking. An online search revealed Saffer to be someone who has established himself as a go-to photographer for people in the know, yet he remains below the radar to some degree. Saffer doesn’t have time to worry about whether people get or even know about his work, however, because he has several projects on the go at any given time. In fact, this interview was conducted as Saffer was gearing up for the release of his latest work(s) of art.

Taking on photography as a career is something that develops over time rather than waking up one day and saying “Eureka! I know what I’m gonna do with my life!” Saffer reveals that his love for music carved the path to becoming what amounts to a photographer to the gods…

“Like most metalheads I was a musician,” Saffer begins, “and on the side for fun I would take photos of bands; live shots only at the time. I had been shooting bands live for about three years when I started college at Berklee College Of Music… and I hated Berklee. It was an eye-opener for me that I didn’t want to play music for the rest of my life, which to me was shattering as it was my dream since I was little. So, in this struggle I was talking to a friend/mentor, as his advice is extremely important to me. I said ‘I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do. I hate Berklee…’ He asked me what I liked to do, and without hesitation I said ‘Shoot bands, shoot shows.’ He looked at me as if I was the last one to get it. That look he gave me changed my entire mindset from ‘Okay, I photograph bands for fun, now I can do it for a career…’ So I went to a quick photo school and continued on my career, which has slowly gone from mostly live photos to mostly portraits.” Continue Reading