By Carl Begai
“From a fan’s point of view, I’d be happy to see one of my favourite bands doing a completely different setlist because I know all their songs. If I go to a Judas Priest show, rather than hearing ‘Living After Midnight’ I’d rather hear stuff like ‘Dreamer Deceiver’. That’s much more interesting even for a diehard fan that knows all the songs in a band’s catalogue.”
And there you have the motivation behind Gamma Ray’s new outing Skeletons & Majesties Live courtesy of frontman/founder Kai Hansen. Call it a case of the band challenging themselves and the fans by daring to be different, building a tour setlist in 2011 that reached all the way back to their 1990 debut Heading For Tomorrow and dusted off some of their more obscure tracks for the stage.
“It was really cool. And the great part of it was seeing that it actually works, that those songs aren’t weaker than the ones we play all the time. They just don’t get the attention they deserve. There are always the album favourites and the ‘real’ great songs, but that doesn’t mean the other songs are shit. When you do festivals and tours, sure, you include your ‘Best Of’ songs to make most of the people happy, but it was a lot of fun for us to do things this way.”
“That was especially at the rehearsals, when we were saying ‘Do we really have to practice ‘Send Me A Sign’ again?’ We’ve been playing that song for a long time and it’s quite simple, so there was no real need to go over it again. The songs that we hadn’t played in such a long time – or never – there was a totally different motivation to rehearsing them and improving ourselves.”
It was no secret the band was heading out to flog their so-called “rare” material when the tour was announced, and according to Hansen the number of people in the door on any given night was more or less the same as when Gamma Ray does an expectation-loaded show. Definitely a good thing considering the band committed themselves to a DVD shoot as preparations were being made.
“The tour was planned first, and then the suggestion came up to do a DVD since it’s been quite a while since the last one (Hell Yeah! The Awesome Foursome from 2008) and we were doing completely different songs. It was a perfect opportunity. We thought about doing a whole acoustic set but we decided it would be too much, especially for this band considering the music we play. It was better than we just changed things up for a song or two in the middle of the set.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
During a recent discussion with former Loudness / Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Michael Vescera about the new and long overdue Obsession album, Order Of Chaos, he took the time to update me on the project that’s become his top priority, Animetal USA.
“With Animetal USA, I don’t even have time to think,” says Vescera, owing the band’s rigorous studio and promotional schedules as one of the reasons for the hold-up on the Obsession front. “It’s non-stop work. And the Animetal thing is time consuming because it’s not just singing and writing. I have to go back and forth with the publishers to get clearance on the lyrics, I sing it but they need certain words of phrases in Japanese, it’s pretty intense and a lot of work. But I like it like that. I’d rather be busy doing a million things rather than just sitting around at home.”
Almost a year ago, Vescera gave me an in-depth rundown of how the Animetal USA machine works (check out the interview here). For the uninitiated, he and his bandmates – Impellitteri guitarist Chris Impellitteri, ex-Whitesnake / ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo, and ex-Slayer drummer Jon Dette, who Judas Priest’s Scott Travis – have taken up the mantle worn by Japan’s original Animetal project, which features classic anime theme songs dating back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and turning them into metal anthems.
Anime is a big part of Japanese culture, making the success of the original Animetal during their 10 year run from 1996 to 2006 – releasing 11 singles and an assortment of albums, collections and live records – a no-brainer. Animetal USA’s success was guaranteed in Japan, especially considering the individual members’ histories, but Vescera admits everyone was still surprised just how well they went over. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Ever since Guns N’ Roses and Tesla made it cool for hard rockers and metalheads to mess around with acoustic guitars – with G’N’R Lies and Five Man Acoustical Jam respectively some 20+ years ago – it seems every band has flirted with the unplugged concept. Hell, at press time Mpire Of Evil had kicked off their first ever Japan tour with an in-store featuring a set of acoustic Venom classics (!). So, when word got out a few years ago that Stratovarius frontman Timo Kotipelto and ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen had teamed up for a dynamic duo acoustic tour through their native Finland it wasn’t an earthshattering surprise. Their respective fanbases went suitably mad searching for footage on YouTube, of course, and the resulting requests, demands and yammering over the years for an album’s worth of acoustic material from the pair have finally been answered. Working under the Kotipelto & Liimatainen moniker, they’ve put together a collection of bare bones covers on Blackoustic, an album made for the fans rather than trying to cash in on a still-popular musical format.
“I’ve been doing these acoustic gigs with Jani for about two-and-a-half years now, and it did start like that,” says Kotipelto. “We basically got fed up with people complaining and decided to go to the studio and do it (laughs). We were laughing about it at first because nobody puts out acoustic albums like this, and as a duo it really doesn’t make any sense especially since we do mostly cover songs at the gigs. Why would we do it, really? And the problem is that when we do the live gigs, a third of the songs are ballads and the rest are rock songs. We did an acoustic version of ‘Speed Of Light’ (Stratovarius), for example, and we could play it at the proper tempo but that wouldn’t make any sense. We actually had to consider what was important in the song, try to find that red line, and make a good arrangement of it. The album is a little different from what we play live because there’s more energy at the live show because of the audience.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
In the metal biz for 30 years now, vocalist Michael Vescera can lay claim to singing for greats like Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen, Roland Grapow (ex-Helloween) and Joe Stump (Reign Of Terror), has established himself as a dependable session player and producer, has released five solo albums (four under the MVP moniker), and is now the frontman of the hugely successful Animetal USA project out of Japan featuring Chris Impellitteri (guitars), Rudy Sarzo (bass) and Jon Dette (drums). Obsession is the band that put him on the map, however, and folks that were into the first three records – Marshall Law (’84), Scarred For Life (’86) and Methods Of Madness (’87) – have often wondered to some degree if Vescera would ever go back to his cult-favourite roots. A decent attempt at an Obsession comeback was made in 2006 with Carnival Of Lies, but a presumed lack of interest in the album and Vescera’s busy schedule put the band’s future activities on hold indefinitely. Oddly enough, during one of the busiest times in his career he managed to hammer out Order Of Chaos, an Obsession album worthy of the early days and the fans that have stuck around this long.
Vescera and myself have been discussing for years the possibility of when – not if – a new Obsession record might see the light of day. It came down to having the time to piece together and record all the song ideas brought to the table.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that you want to get it done, but the Animetal thing pulled me away from it,” he concedes. “Even when I was on the road, the guys were working on the Obsession record. It was tough. We were talking about it, and we agreed it would be nice to just be able to go into the studio for a couple months and make a record from beginning to end. We were really psyched about doing the new record, though, because we knew it was going to be cool. The guys are all great, but of course they were scratching their heads asking ‘Hey, when’s this thing going to be done?’ (laughs).”
“Order Of Chaos was finished in January 2012. I finished it before went out to California to do the Animetal single ‘Rock Lee’. The label (Inner Wound) wanted to wait until towards the end of the year to release it. It looks like the label manager made the right decision, but it’s been done for a while. I’m glad it’s finally out.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s hard to believe that almost 13 years have passed since German thrash veterans Destruction made their triumphant return with All Hell Breaks Loose. It was a big deal for the fanboys on the BW&BK staff due to vocalist/bassist Schmier’s being back up front following a 10 year absence, and we’ve followed the band religiously ever since. An impressive seven studio albums since the reunion including the new slab of violence, Spiritual Genocide, and the naysayers are hard pressed to argue against the claim that Destruction are more vital than ever as elder statesmen in the thrash world.
“It’s crazy,” Schmier says of the band’s 13 year charge, which shows no sign of slowing down. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve been back that long. We’ve been working constantly since then. Doing new records every two years or so followed by all the touring – plus the live records and the DVDs – we’ve been rather productive (laughs).”
Not everyone was thrilled with Destruction’s return in 2000, however. Many fans complained that All Hell Breaks Loose was, for all its crushing energy, “too modern” to be a considered a worthy follow-up to the band’s early catalogue. Schmier remembers the bitching and moaning but his opinion of the people doing the complaining hasn’t changed over time.
“There are too many people always complaining about something, so if you listen to them all you just stop doing what you love. I think it’s important to do what you do best, and all I can say to all the haters and trolls out there is to get a life. Go do it better than us, motherfuckers (laughs). People bitch about this and that, but what have they achieved in life?” Continue Reading