Archive for February, 2013
By Carl Begai
During the last half of the ’90s, Stratovarius ruled the roost when it came to top-notch A-game power metal. Over the course of three albums in three years – Episode (’96), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) – the band set a standard that was hard to match. Guitarist Timo Tolkki was elevated to the status of guitar god, new vocalist Timo Kotipelto (as of ’95) cemented his position as the band’s frontman in spite of initial fan misgivings, and the quintet was deemed pretty much unstoppable. That wasn’t the case, and Stratovarius’ fall from grace in the years that followed was well documented, with the brakes finally being applied to halt complete self-destruction when Tolkki departed once and for all in 2008. Three albums into what has been touted since 2009 as a fresh start with axe-monster Matias Kupiainen in Tolkki’s place and the band have hit one out of the park with new album, Nemesis. It’s a record based on change of a tried and true formula, and nobody – not even vocalist Timo Kotipelto – could have predicted the wave after wave of positive feedback that’s come down since the press got a hold of it.
“The reactions haven’t been like this in about 12 or 15 years,” says Kotipelto. “I’m always excited about releasing a new album when it’s done, of course, but this time it feels like a fresh new start. Not just because we have a new drummer (Rolf Pilve) but because things also clicked together in a good way.”
Which is a huge understatement to the ears of anyone that has followed Stratovarius since the ’90s. Kotipelto is hard pressed to identify what it was about the creative process this time out that coughed up a record worthy of their late ’90s run.
“When I had the demos there weren’t any vocals, just guitar melodies or weird keyboard melodies from Jens (Johansson). At that stage it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a good song or not. I can recognize of there’s a melody in there that makes some sense that I can work with, but it can be difficult. Especially with Matias’ songs because he doesn’t compose with vocals and lyrics in mind; a lot of the time I end up thinking ‘What the fuck is this…’ when I hear his stuff (laughs). And sometimes when we’re recording Matias sometimes suggests we change things about the vocals because he has a vision in his head of what he wants. We give each other feedback in the studio, and it really works. When Jens composes he has a more melodic approach from a singer’s perspective, and I guess that’s because we’ve been in the band together for so long. For the last couple albums we made demos and Matias mixed them in the studio so we could hear how the songs would sound. They weren’t perfect but they gave us a better picture of where we were going. Of course, by the time I get to do my vocals two or three months have passed and the songs have changed a bit.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
One of my first serious live show experiences growing up was seeing Niagara Falls-based Honeymoon Suite perform at the Ontario Place Forum in August 1984. I was 15 years old, and I say “serious” because my ears were still ringing four days after the show. It was awesome.
At that point I was just starting to get my legs as a concert-goer, having attended a show or two at Maple Leaf Gardens and a couple more at Ontario Place if memory serves. The Honeymoon Suite show was something special, though, because it was the real concert experience. Me and a friend got down to the park in the morning, paid some ridiculous almost non-existent admission fee, and nabbed first row seats. We hung out all day, had the chance to witness soundcheck, hit on the girls in the neighbouring rows unsuccessfully, and generally whiled away the hours and potential boredom with other fans that shared our mindset.
When the show started some time after 8:00pm, the sold out Forum went nuts. I remember the wash of music, the energy of the crowd on all sides, the heat of the lights (as it was a revolving in-the-round-stage), the handful of new tunes played that would end up on the band’s second album The Big Prize, security guards trying to keep people out of the aisles (and failing), learning how to identify the stink of weed, the lovely pair of twenty-something ladies that stood beside me necking with each other for the last half of the show…
Yes indeed, that was the night I fígured out why going to concerts was a big deal. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Over the last couple months I’ve been subjected to some unsigned bands that have done a great job of knocking me on my ass. Call this Round 1 of what will hopefully be an ongoing column on this site assuming the music continues to grab my attention as these folks have. Read on if yer curious….
Over The Coals out of Vancouver have started make a buzz outside of their regular haunts thanks to the video for the song ‘My Worth’, a track taken from a forthcoming EP. It’s my understanding that they used to have a male singer – YouTube footage supports this – but the addition of one Susie Myers seems to have been the clincher in terms of solidifying the band’s sound. First thing that came to mind when I heard ‘em…. it sounds like Strapping Young Lad and My Ruin had a baby. Must be a West Coast thing. It’s impossible to judge them on one song, of chorus, but I like the sound of serious potential
By Carl Begai
I’m going to start this story with an apology to Tobias Sammet and all those involved with the Avantasia machine.
In my initial overview of the new album The Mystery Of Time (found here), I did a fair job of smack-talking Sammet’s previous Avantasia effort, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon double album. In my world it was just too damn long, with only three songs of a possible 22 having left a mark on my brain since the 2010 release (‘Scales Of Justice’, ‘Stargazers’ and ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’ in case anyone cares). In stark contrast The Mystery Of Time boasts only 10 songs, and after only one time through during the listening session at the Nuclear Blast offices in Donzdorf, Germany there were melodies and riffs still resonating in my head days later. I blame my harsh view of The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon on being smacked with too much information at one time, while The Mystery Of Time is an exciting “buckle up” ride if you’re a fan of the genre. It seems my enthusiasm may have gotten the better of me. I still say Avantasia’s previous outing pales in comparison to the new album, but by no means had I intended to dumb down Sammet’s vision or the work that went into making it a reality.
That said, during the listening session for The Mystery Of Time, I did mention to Sammet that I thought The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon was too big for its own good.
“Definitely, I agree,” says Sammet. “Not that I would throw away any of the material because I like all the songs, but some of the songs suffered from being just one out of 22 songs that came out at the same time. The songs that would have been really appreciated on an album of 10 tracks were called ‘weak’ or ‘fillers’ because there was so much competition. That was something that I wasn’t able to predict. I thought, ‘I wrote the material, I like each song because I had months to become acquainted with them.’ I knew every detail of every song, so they were very important to me.”
The Mystery Of Time offers so much more to sink one’s teeth into because of its compact nature. Short-ish, sweet, wonderfully diverse, and straight to the point.
“I’m really with you on that,” Sammet agrees. “This album is an entity all its own, and compact is the best way to describe it.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Their name sounds like the house band at Arnold’s Drive-In on an updated adult version of the iconic ’70s / ’80s sitcom Happy Days. The music sounds like a mix of The Go-Go’s, The Cars and The Ramones. Yes, the quartet out of London, Ontario known as The Alcohollys are something special. Seriously something special, and definitely different. For the moment they have a small but loyal group of followers and, as of today (February 12th), one official independent release (The Flashback EP) under their belt. The Alcohollys also boast Kittie drummer Mercedes Lander and original Kittie bassist Tanya Candler as part of the line-up; a completely unexpected partnership when you put songs like ‘Flashback To ’93′ and ’27 Death Riot / Demolition In Speed City’ against the Kittie debut from 1999, Spit.
Mercedes: “I’ve only been in The Alcohollys since 2011, but the band has been around since 2009. Dana started the band with some girls that aren’t in the band anymore, and Tanya joined in 2010. When they lost their drummer, I’m pretty much the only female drummer they know in town (laughs). They asked me if I wanted to join and I wasn’t doing anything, so I said ‘Fuck yeah.’ I’ve known Dana (Hartman / vocals, keyboards) for something like 17 years, and I know Tanya of course from playing in Kittie. And we have out new guitar player, Bri (Lue-Kim), so since 2011 we’ve gotten serious about this band.”
Take the above description of the band’s sound for what it’s worth – in this office, that’s a lot – or check it out here. Bottom line is The Alcohollys stick out like a sore thumb on today’s rock scene and are better for it, right down to their stage names: Kimber Heart, Scarlet Fever, Ruby Pubey and Maiden China. Kittie fans and metalheads in general with narrow minds would do well to buy a can opener.
Mercedes: “I don’t think we have a particular sound compared to other bands where people can say ‘Oh, that band is death metal…’ or whatever. The closest thing that I think we fit into is the ‘70s power pop movement. It’s weird, though, because we play a lot of metal shows, so we’re obviously the odd man out. For instance, the last time we played Windsor it was us and three metal bands, but we had the biggest crowd of the night. I think the appeal of The Alcohollys to the metal crowd is the musicianship in the band.”
According to Dana, in spite of The Alcohollys’ modern day ‘70s sound – something one would assume most musicians on the low side of 30 would shy away from in favour of mindless pop pap or trendy death / black / oh-so-evil metal – she hasn’t had a problem finding musicians to keep the band moving forward.
Dana: “I find that girls are more open to playing this kind of music, something that’s more pop-oriented. Nobody’s had any complaints (laughs). I’ve always wanted to have an all- girl band but I could never find enough girls to make a full band, so now I’m living my dream (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
On February 7th, I was contacted by vocalist Todd La Torre, who was known first and foremost as the frontman for Crimson Glory before replacing Geoff Tate as the singer of Queensrÿche in 2012, effectively pulling double duty. After a lengthy conversation and some minor editing, La Torre handed over a press release exclusively for BW&BK (found here) announcing that, after approximately three years as Crimson Glory’s voice, he had officially resigned.
La Torre was introduced to Crimson Glory by Matt La Porte (Jon Oliva’s Pain, Circle II Circle), becoming an official member in 2010. He helped to ignite and give new life to the legendary band that had been on hiatus for nearly ten years, and mourning the loss of original vocalist Midnight. Crimson Glory emerged back into the world arena metal scene with very high praise and acceptance. La Torre toured as the new voice of Crimson Glory throughout Europe in celebration of the band’s 25th Anniversary with great success.
Talk of a new album was highly anticipated and the band appeared to be firing on all cylinders.
“We were writing the new album and things were looking good, says La Torre. “We had interest from two major European labels, which was very promising. I was very honored and proud that we were on the rise, and the fans were embracing all that we were doing. We had wonderful momentum and we were working within an important window of time within which the new record should have been recorded and released to have the most impact given the bands resurgence. Unfortunately, the record never materialized despite my best efforts.”
“My involvement with Queensrÿche had nothing to do with the album progress,” he continues. “I haven’t been contacted to write with Crimson Glory for over six months. As a band, our writing sessions were slow, eventually becoming non-existent before I ever joined Queensrÿche. During the specific timeframe that I was in talks with Queensrÿche, members of CG were simultaneously occupied by other external and internal endeavors that apparently absorbed the time and/or will away from CG, which is not fallacious per se, but it proceeded in passivity. The main reason for my resignation from Crimson Glory is primarily due to its inertia status.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“Andi Deris sounds like a hamster being pushed through a pencil sharpener.”
The steaming little nugget above directed at Helloween’s vocalist can be found on YouTube. It was slapped down by a keyboard warrior from somewhere on this planet as his or her take on ‘Nabataea’, the first single from Helloween’s new album Straight Out Of Hell. Hardly surprising given the faceless stone-throwing that goes on in this mighty digital age, and worth exactly nothing given the band’s current and ongoing popularity. Sure, said “critic” is no doubt a diehard fan of original Helloween singer Michael Kiske – revered by many as one of the greatest metal singers of our time – but Deris has been on board for 20 years to Kiske’s seven and Helloween is still kicking up a storm.
“Those people are actually a minority, and as you know from your business it’s the smallest that always shout the loudest,” says an unperturbed Michael Weikath, one of Helloween’s founding guitarists. “I’m not saying this to dumb down these people because they have a right to say those things, but it doesn’t help me fill my cup so I don’t worry about those kinds of negative opinions.”
Get beyond the mudslinging and ‘Nabataea’ has all the birthmarks of classic old school Helloween, setting the tone for the full album. The instantly memorable guitar riffs, soaring vocals, epic drums, and some not so subtle tips of the hat to their past (see ‘Halloween’ from Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Pt 1). The fans coudn’t have asked or bargained for a better introduction to the record.
“It’s strange,” Weikath says. “We asked around, management asked around, and what we kept hearing was how much everybody liked that ‘Nabataea’ track. It wasn’t entirely clear from the start. You send the stuff to someone and they say ”Nabataea’ rocks!’ so that ends up being the first song off the album. It’s up to par in certain areas, but there’s something about this album, definitely. You can clearly tell from the feedback that there is a particular magic about it. Maybe it’s more than the last one, I don’t know.”
Since the release of ‘Nabataea’ the band has received plenty of love from their fanbase. Straight Out Of Hell is anything but a disappointment, having been compared to their massive 1996 wallop Time Of The Oath by some people, and pegged by the majority as the worthy follow-up to Helloween’s last outing, 7 Sinners (2010). Read the reviews and interviews; there’s no shortage of ass-kissing from an impressed and, in some cases, utterly gobsmacked public.
“I like having my ass kissed,” Weikath deadpans. “I’m just not supposed to admit to it. And all those tracks are just fucking great.” (continue reading…)