Archive for January, 2013
A couple months ago Jim McCormick out of London, Ontario launched a website dedicated to garnering attention for shows scheduled to take place in and around his home town. A musician himself, McCormick is all about the live experience. And let’s face it, if you call yourself a musician you sure as hell better be able to deliver them studio goods to the stage and impress the hell out of the folks buying your music. This is a call to arms.
I was recently asked to contribute to the site, and agreeable sort that I am – not to mention a shameless Canadian flag-waver – I decided to add my two cents to the AllStage site where required. Thus, along with whatever news bits we deem worthy for the site’s format I’ll be posting a monthly editorial on whatever tickles my fancy or irritates the hell out of me at that moment in time. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
I recently attended a listening session for Avantasia’s new album, The Mystery Of Time, at Nuclear Blast headquarters in Donzdorf, Germany for BW&BK. An excerpt from my report is available below. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the record, which made a much bigger impression on me than Avantasia founder Tobias Sammet’s previous double-album venture, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon.
Folks have said vocalist Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and guitarist/producer Sascha Paeth lost the plot last time out in 2010 by releasing a 22 song double album that pounded the listener into submission with too much information. The Mystery Of Time sees the dynamic duo taking a step back and focusing on crafting a ‘simple’ no-nonsense rock opera; 10 songs, two of ‘em ballads, two of them hitting the 10+ minute mark, and influences/inspiration worn shamelessly on the Avantasia sleeve. Of all their releases thus far, the new record is by far the most theatrical, a point driven home by opening track ‘Spectres’, the epic ‘Savior In The Clockwork’, and the closing Meat Loaf-esque ‘The Great Mystery’. The use of a flesh and blood orchestra really DOES make a difference against dial-up digital magic, made all the more special because the boys didn’t use it on every single track (which is usually the downfall of productions like this).
Plenty of heavy over-the-top metal moments from Paeth’s treasure trove of riffs, to guitar leads from Bruce Kulick (ex-KISS) on three tracks, and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) trading licks with keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) on ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’. Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) blows the doors off with his circa ’87 performance on ‘Where Clock Hands Freeze’ (speedy and heavy), but the big prize goes to ‘Invoke The Machine’ for it’s blatant tip of the hat to cult fave Danish bashers Pretty Maids featuring PM vocalist Ronnie Atkins in a duet with Tobi. Several journalists at the session agreed the song is the high point of the record. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It has taken Stratovarius three albums since their 2008 split with guitarist/songwriter Timo Tolkki to find solid footing again. Not that their “comeback” record Polaris (’09) and follow-up Elysium (’11) were particularly bad; they simply felt too tentative, as if the band was being extra careful about not stepping outside the box. Nemesis, on the other hand, sees Stratovarius throwing out their own rulebook on what makes for a solid album. Guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen has fleshed out his role as Tolkki’s replacement, while frontman Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johnasson have come into their own as songwriters, making for an album loaded with hooks and double-take moments. And with the entrance of drummer Rolf Pilve in place of Joerg Micheal, Stratovarius is back to sounding fresh and stoked about their collective day job.
Put it this way; Stratovarius hasn’t sounded this good or this together since the Episode (’95), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) albums.
Off the top, gotta say it’s a huge pleasure having to wait 10 out of 11 tracks for the album’s lone ballad (‘If The Story Is Over’) to surface. Very un-power metal of them to make the move, and Nemesis is better for it. The band dishes out some out-of-character heavy on ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’ and ‘Stand My Ground’ – welcome Mr. Pilve – with ‘Halcyon Days’ marking Stratovarius’ most adventurous song to date thanks to some unexpected trance elements (that actually work). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Chemistry – good and bad – is everything.
In the case of ‘80s bashers Dokken it was the mix of frontman Don Dokken, guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer “Wild” Mick Brown that yielded four cult favourite albums – Breaking The Chains (’81), Tooth And Nail (’84), Under Lock And Key (’85) and Back For The Attack (’87) – that are still cited as some of the best from that era. It was also the cause of legendary in-fighting between Don Dokken and Lynch, resulting in several break-ups and make-ups right up to 2010. And while the pair may never see eye-to-eye, the trio of Lynch / Pilson / Brown still have a strong working relationship that has resulted in a Dokken reunion of sorts through new band T&N.
Originally dubbed Tooth And Nail but forced to change their name for legal reasons, the band – also featuring S.U.N. / ex-Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy – have released Slave To The Empire, a record that recalls the classic Dokken vibe. Something many fans will agree the current incarnation of Don’s long-suffering band is unable to do at this stage of the game.
Lynch has stated in several interviews that the music written for the T&N debut was originally intended for a new Lynch Mob record. Pilson was invited to come in and help with the songwriting, which slowly but surely drove the music in a direction other than what Lynch had envisioned. Rather than scrap the songs or tell Pilson to take a hike, the duo opted to launch T&N. So, love it or hate it, folks can blame Slave To The Empire on the Pilson Factor.
“(Laughs) Maybe I bring in an element that’s a little too progressive for Lynch Mob; it’s hard to say. Once we knew it wasn’t going to be a Lynch Mob record we kind of let the music go in a direction that felt good to us. It was a little more organic to start with, but given my vices I like to go a little crazy (laughs). I like to explore, I like to experiment with things. I love the Lynch Mob so I have no problems with what they do, but when George and I get together I think we want to push the boundaries a little bit.”
Conceivably, Lynch could have limited Pilson’s input on the original song ideas rather than collaborating like they did in the Dokken days or for the lone Lynch/Pilson album, Wicked Underground, from 2003.
“Then there would have been no point in getting me to come in and write songs,” Pilson laughs. “We know what we’re in for when we work together. Many times we’ve written songs and intended to do something specific, and it worked, but a lot of time the music takes on a life of its own after that and that’s when some of our coolest stuff had come around. We’ve very, very reluctant to stop that part of the process no matter who we’re writing for.” (continue reading…)
So, me and my extended BW&BK family have issued our individual Best Of 2012 lists because that’s the sort of thing you do in this biz as the new year kicks off. I’ve decided to post my long-winded overview of the last 12 months here, with a link provided leading to my Top 10 Albums list along with other honourable (and dishonourable) mentions…
It was a rollercoaster of a year, as they all are in the music biz.
From being blindsided by Halestorm’s new album The Strange Case Of… and becoming a fan against my will, to dealing with a fuckwit promo rep at Roadrunner Records who decided to change my questions in an email interview because she felt they were “too harsh” for her artist (um, shouldn’t that be for the artist to decide?), to bucket list interviews with Brighton Rock’s Gerry McGhee and the lovely Lita Ford, to witnessing some amazing shows on both sides of the pond, 2012 has been quite the adventure.
See the list here for the Hot and Not albums of my year, then pick apart my sanity at your leisure.
Gotta say that I was surprised at not being disappointed by any of the shows I was able to attend this year. The third annual European run of Rock Meets Classic featuring Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Steve Lukather (Toto), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), three-fifths of Primal Fear’s roster and Trillium vocalist Amanda Somerville was positively brilliant, with PF singer Ralf Scheepers going above and beyond lending his voice to the Toto hit ‘Rosanna’ (!). Watching Devin Townsend successfully manipulate a Motörhead crowd into doing his bidding was a gut-buster, seeing former Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen on stage together with Unisonic belting out classics ‘I Want Out’ and ‘Future World’ was ’87 surreal, and the Leaves’ Eyes / Firewind tour that looked so weird on paper turned out to be one of the best gigs of the past 12 months.
Nightwish gets a scrapbook all its own due to a brilliant show in Nuremberg – featuring more pyro than the sun – and a day and night hanging with some of the finest people in the metal business. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The real old-schoolers out there are aware of the impact Venom had on the thrash metal scene when they clawed their way out of the UK muck in 1981 with Welcome To Hell and put out Black Metal a year later. Diehard Venom fans also remember when frontman Cronos left and was replaced by Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan for three albums and an EP from ’89 – ’92, a move that went over surprisingly well at the start. Fast forward through years of attempted reunions and aborted projects to 2010, where Dolan teamed up once again with Venom guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn to form Mpire Of Evil. It’s a venture that could have gone to hell after the release of the Creatures Of The Black EP in 2011 – and not in appreciated Venom fashion – but instead the band buckled down for a full album (Hell To The Holy) and a North American tour with Onslaught to help get the word out. It’s a move that seems to have worked.
This year will see the release of Crucified, an album featuring re-magined versions of Venom songs from the Dolan era. Some folks will dismiss the move as a cash grab, of course, but those that have been paying attention and / or were lucky enough to see Mpire Of Evil live will give the band their due. As one of a handful of people that heard the album well in advance of the release, I can tell you Crucified is a jaw-dropper for anyone that knows the original tracks.
Dolan recently discussed where the idea for Crucified came from and why the Mpire decided to follow through at this early stage of the game.
“When we were on tour going through California, Marc (Jackson / drums) asked if I had any Venom stuff on me. I did in fact have a compilation CD with me, so we pulled that out and he commented that some of the material was great and that we should do something with it. That planted the seed for Crucified in a way. I’d spoken to Jeff about it, and there are certain songs that we quite like, but I thought it would be wrong for us to pick the tracks to be re-recorded. I thought we should ask the fans who like that material to choose the tracks they’d like to hear. The three of us went and made our own lists of the songs we personally would like to re-do, then we got the lists from the fans on Facebook, and made a master list of all the songs chosen. Whenever a song came up more than five or six times, we marked that one down for the album. Basically, we had the tracklist selected for us by the fans.” (continue reading…)