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All posts for the month September, 2012

By Carl Begai

So, about a year-and-a-half ago I started using whatever downtime I had to write a story. It’s a work of fiction, and it’s not about the music biz even though the industry does turn up along the way. Some of you who visit this site regularly may have noticed the small “grim” link at the top of the page, but I’ve now decided to let folks know about it officially… beyond the few souls that were silly enough to subject themselves to my creative streak a while back.

A link to the prologue of the book is below, available for your amusement. With luck, a great deal of perseverance, and saved-up funds I hope to release it independently early next year. Sure, an agent and roads leading to a publisher would make my life so much easier – and the search is indeed on – but I have no intention of waiting for the right combination of timing, business people and luck to get the go-ahead to publish if I have the resources to do things the hard(er) way.

Some of you may be amused by what you read, others may be offended (which means you really don’t want to read the whole book), and some of you may decide I should stick to writing formula rock star showcases because GRIM is a pile of crap. Fair enough, so long as it makes you smile in spite of yourself.

And for the record, the graphic isn’t the final cover. Just something I threw together so the words you’re reading look more attractive.

Check out the prologue for GRIM here.

- flames courtesy of shaedsofgrey at DeviantArt.com. Touch-ups and pimping to suit his purposes by Carl Begai.

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Sam Sniderman passed away on Sunday, September 23rd 2012. He was 92 years old.

I didn’t know the man. I never met him. When I saw him in passing there was a sense of reverence that came with the experience. As in “That’s him, that’s the guy.”

Simply put, the gentleman who was known as Sam The Record Man played a huge part in fuelling the music-obsessed soul trapped inside this 43-going-on-18 year old. Opened in 1961, the iconic flagship store on Yonge Street in Toronto that launched a cross-Canada chain was a haven and a world of discovery. It was also the place I happily dropped thousands of dollars over the course of my teen years and into my 20s without thinking twice.

When the store closed down in 2007 it was heartbreaking for anyone that had spent significant time weeding through the vinyl, cassettes and CDs. The weekly off-day visits, the obligatory stop-ins on the way to a pub, club, the movies or a restaurant on the weekends, the late night visits – which the Barenaked Ladies wrote about in ‘Brian Wilson’- on the way home… it was hard to believe it had come to an end.

Sure, there were other record stores on the same strip, but Sam’s was the place, particularly through the ’80s and into the ’90s. Didn’t matter if Cheapies sold certain albums cheaper on any given week, didn’t matter if A&A’s next door was bigger on selling the soon-to-be-impossible-to-find 12″ singles (that even the Record Peddler didn’t have in stock), didn’t matter if the HMV down the street was big and flashy; Sam’s was tradition. It had the old off-white tiled floors that should have been replaced at the end of the ’70s. It had plastic dust jackets over the vinyl LPs for a reason. It had that record store smell.

It was the ultimate mom & pop record store. Supersized.

I didn’t realize it at the time but, looking back now, in a way Sam’s was like home. Not in a cheesy nerd outsiders-got-no-place-else-to-go way, but rather one of those mandatory visits one made when in the neighbourhood. Five or 10 kilometers was still close enough to demand a music run. Or else. And I know I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Devin Townsend has never been shy about his love for, as he puts it, the “big dumb rock record.” Trace his career back to the beginning and even when his tripwires n’ landmines Strapping Young Lad playground was his ground zero, Townsend was plenty capable of taking a lighter approach to getting his message(s) across. Hell, his first real foray outside the box with Punky Brüster in ‘96 put the “F.U.” in “fun” for all eternity. Songs like ‘Life’ (Ocean Machine), ‘Bad Devil’ (Infinity), ‘Slow Me Down’ (Accelerated Evolution), ‘Vampira’ (Synchestra), ‘Sunshine And Happiness’ (Synchestra) and ‘Bend It Like Bender’ (Addicted) are solid examples of his upbeat tendencies – at least as far as the music is concerned – all of which are worthy starters as a build up to Epicloud’s monstrous rock n’ soul delivery.

And there’s nothing dumb about it.

Call Epicloud the bigger, more emotional, deeper, curveball-throwing sibling to the stellar Addicted record. In what amounts to theater for the ears, Epicloud is an album of scene-by-song contrasts. For all the heavy – and there’s plenty of it – Townsend takes the all too common “You can’t do that in metal” mentality and chucks it out the locomotive window. Case in point with the gospel choir that kicks things off with ‘Effervescent!’ and sticks around for a good chunk of the record: symphonic metal be damned, you’ve never heard a choral group sing on a summer cruisin’ pseudo-punk tune with “bullshit!” as part of their score.

Anneke van Giersbergen makes a grand return as Townsend’s female counterpart, dishing out lead vocals and trading backing harmonies as required, up front no less than 50% of the time. Even half way through the album it’s hard to imagine what Epicloud would sound like without her. It certainly wouldn’t be as in-your-face as it is, and that’s without taking anything away from Townsend’s vocal performance, his band (Waddell / Van Poederooyen / Young) or wall of sound production values. Hard to pick where she shines brightest, though I was partial at press time to her performances on ‘True North’, the pop-ish ‘80s feelgood groove of ‘Save Our Now’ (reminiscent of her latest solo album Everything Is Changing), and the crushing metal assault of ‘More!’ in particular. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Back in July, Blood Stain Child vocalist Sophia – hailing from Thessaloniki and dividing her time between Greece and Japan – announced her departure from the band after only one album. Her reasons for leaving are her own, suffice to say that it was a two-year rollercoaster ride of ups and downs that inevitably brought her to a crossroads.

With four albums under their belt when she joined the band, and going on to record the Epsilon album as lead vocalist alongside bassist/male singer Ryo, Blood Stain Child afforded Sophia a certain amount of notoriety from the get-go. Some folks will argue, however, that her involvement on the first Princess Ghibli album, Imaginary Flying Machines – an anime-related metal-oriented soundtrack released in April 2011 – boosted her credibility as an artist and paved the way for future musical ventures. With the Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) being the most respected anime company on the planet, their support of the project was the stamp of approval fans needed to buy into it. Thus, between Blood Stain Child and two Princess Ghibli albums, Sophia has made a name for herself.

The split with Blood Stain Child will be addressed at a later date. For now the focus is on Princess Ghibli and her role in several Touhou Project-related songs.

With regards to the Ghibli albums, Sophia’s involvement was attributed as to Blood Stain Child’s affiliation with Coroner Records and Disarmonia Mundi mastermind Ettore Rigotti as it was to her ability to speak Japanese.

“Well, actually it was thanks to Ettore,” says Sophia. “I don’t think language skills had much to do with it. Or did they? I never thought about it (laughs) Anyway, although he had a good network of acclaimed artists to choose from, he asked me to do it. Little did I know about the level of success those albums would enjoy. The first album is still #1 in the metal genre at Amazon and the second album (Princess Ghibli II: Imaginary Flying Machines) was #1 on the charts of a major TV channel in Japan.”

“If it’s Ghibli, it’s bound to have a certain level of guaranteed success,” she adds, “but I don’t think anybody expected the popularity that spread like wildfire even before the official release. The first album was sold out on pre-sales, so when the actual release took place many people couldn’t find it anywhere in Japan, so the company had to rush for a second print (laughs). Everybody, even Mr. Goro Miyazaki himself (director and son of studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki) loved the result, so the second album was a natural outcome.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

A Million Miles is a band out of Germany that grabbed my attention several months back thanks to the efforts of vocalist Mona Miluski. Rather than flooding my inbox with drivel about how awesome her band is and how they’re poised to dominate every plane of metal existence, her approach was limited to “This is what we’re up to; your opinion would be appreciated.” Subtle but effective, particularly when the invite to see the band live supporting The New Black – ultimately delivering a scorching show – came down as a build-up to the release of their debut album, What’s Left Behind. That performance was the icing on an already enticing cake, putting A Million Miles well beyond the “nice try” threshold in my book.

As for the new album itself, call it one of the biggest surprises to come across my desk in 2012.

“We can’t wait to release the album,” says Miluski. “We’ve been heavily and constantly touring all over Europe in the past few years, and played all of the songs that are going to be on the record live, so it means a lot to us to finally share this album. It represents an important chapter of being on tour all these years, and where we are going in the future.”

Seeing the band in action, it’s easy to imagine the music being far more chaotic and frayed around the edges when they first started compared to the material earmarked for the debut album. Like any band worth the price of their gear A Million Miles was built for the stage, and they’ve finally locked into that needed balance of skin-flaying heavy and refined musical performance.

“When A Million Miles started back in 2005, the guys were writing songs without a vocalist,” offers Miluski. “When I joined the band in 2008, all of the songs were written without vocals and I had to find my space in all these riff monsters my bandmates had created and packed into the songs. But, we grew into each other and started to write new songs with vocals. We worked on each song all together, so we became more musical in the way we felt we wanted to go. Our songs became more structured, and we found our own way and style.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

During a recent interview with vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid about his new retro-rock band Night Flight Orchestra for BW&BK (coming soon), we discussed the forthcoming Soilwork record The Living Infinite, which is currently be recorded in Sweden. Of particular interest for most fans is how the band is coping with the absence of guitarist Peter Wichers, who left the band (for the second time) this past June. Wichers originally left Soilwork in 2005 to spend more time with his family and broaden his career as a producer, only to return four years later.

“First of all, we were mentally prepared for the possibility that this might happen,” Strid reveals. “Peter was really back and forth with what he wanted to do, and while all this was going on we were writing songs. We had a mindset for the new album despite Peter not knowing what he wanted to do. In the end we got pretty sick of it because if you come back to the band and then you want to leave again, it’s not fair to the rest of us. He knew that, and in the end he made up his mind. We weren’t shocked that he left, so it was a little easier this time around.” Continue Reading