Archive for March, 2013
By Carl Begai
Japanese fusion guitarist Nozomi Itani is a musical personality that, up until recently, has been flying below the rock scene’s radar. He’s been flying for quite some time though, and not only in his homeland. Itani’s roots as a musician were planted in Germany, where he lived from the age of four for over 30 years when his father – a pioneering businessman that helped introduce Japanese companies to the Western world – moved to Europe in 1962. In that time he carved out a successful albeit behind-the-scenes career, which eventually brought him home. These days he spends the bulk of his time teaching music, but Itani still managed to write and record and new instrumental album to showcase his talents, appropriately titled Station To Station.
“My mother studied classical piano, and she always wanted the kids to learn how to play an instrument,” Itani says of his start in music. “I started playing piano and violin when I was a kid but I was very lazy (laughs). I took lessons for a few years but I gave up. I didn’t want to play a musical instrument, but by the time I turned 16 rock n’ roll was something very special. It was the time when rock n’ roll was really cool, so to have an electric guitar was very special. When I bought my first Deep Purple LP, my mother saw the picture of the band members and shouted ‘Oh my God, they’re terrorists!’ (laughs). When I started playing guitar I really loved to listen to Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and all kinds of progressive rock stuff like Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant. Most of my friends listened to pop music, Top 10 hits, but I wasn’t very interested in that.”
“The cool thing was that at the end of the ’70s and in the early ’80s, there was this big punk movement and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and on the other hand there was this big jazz fusion movement. I listened to all these so-called studio guitarists, and the heavy metal thing was interesting too because there were guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but I think my real roots are in jazz fusion. On the other hand, I really love to play power chords on the guitar (laughs). This is the balance in my music. I always have this image of playing chord progressions and melodies that are linked to jazz but should sound like hard rock and heavy metal. My vision is to play a jazz standard on a Flying V one day (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Finntroll have seemingly been on a mission to tear folk metal as a genre a new one since 2007.
The Finnish septet rose to popularity amongst pagan/folk metal fans over the course of three albums – Midnattens Widunder (’99), Jaktens Tid (’01), Nattfödd (’04) – but chose to adopt a much darker and heavier black metal-influenced sound when they returned in ’07 with the Ur Jordens Jup album and new singer Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns. Call it a reaction to the folk metal bands that were cropping up at every turn trying to cash in on a trend. It was a move that didn’t hurt Finntroll nearly as much as some fans and media people expected, which led to the even heavier and uglier Nifelvind record three years later. The ‘Trolls showed no signs or intentions of pulling back the violence for the future, which makes their new album Blodsvept a bigger surprise than any black/death/doom metal flavoured platter they could have come up with.
“People have said this is the most diverse Finntroll album so far, and I think so too,” says Lillmåns. “We made some good choices when we did the pre-production for this album.”
When it came down to the actual recordings, however, there were moments when Blodsvept was on its way to blowing apart at the seams. The band documented their studio adventures via an online blog (found here), and there was a fair bit of kicking and screaming going on during the recording sessions thanks to some nightmarish technical glitches.
“It was a total horror show this time,” Lillmåns confirms. “They say we have this Finntroll studio curse because usually somebody has a close relative that dies when we’re recording, but this time nobody died. There must be some sort of equilibrium, though, because we had eight tracks of guitars that died in the middle of the whole thing.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Making a long and disappointing story short, metal veterans Queensrÿche came apart at the seams in April 2012 after 30 years in the trenches. With vocalist Geoff Tate on one side and the rest of the line-up on the other, the band split into two factions, both laying claim to the Queensrÿche name. The ugly details of the split can be found here (scroll down for older updates), with a court date set for November 2013 to decide who will actually be allowed to wear the moniker. In the meantime both Tate and his former bandmates are working on new albums, with both due to be released this year.
Of the two parties, the Queensrÿche consisting of founding members Michael Wilton (guitars), Eddie Jackson (bass), and Scott Rockenfield (drums) – also featuring new-ish guitarist Parker Lundgren – have had it easier by hiring former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. They’ve chosen to go back to the band’s original metal sound and the long-time fans are loving it. Tate, on the other hand, has gathered a group of musicians to continue his own ‘Rÿche legacy, with Rudy Sarzo (ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth), Bobby Blotzer (Ratt), Kelly Gray (ex-Queensrÿche) and Randy Gane (ex-Myth) having rallied around Tate in September 2012. Only two months later, however, Drover bowed out for undisclosed reasons.
I recently caught up with Drover to discuss his decision to pack it in before any recordings or live performances with Tate’s band were in the can. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Out promoting Soilwork’s new album The Living Infinite, frontman Björn “Speed” Strid will tell you that as far as he’s concerned the band’s previous effort from 2010, The Panic Broadcast, didn’t get the attention it deserved. It was a record that washed away the bland taste of Sworn To A Great Divide (2007) with waves of thrash, colour and dynamics that really did deserve more than just the initial buzz out of the gate, but Strid doesn’t blame their record label for a lack of support or the fans for lack of taste. He chalks it up instead to a glaring lack of touring on the band’s part, who logged far fewer miles than in past years thanks in large part to the will-he-or-won’t-he status of founding guitarist Peter Wichers.
Having left the band in 2005 only to return in 2008 – and thus give Soilwork a much needed kick in the ass – Wichers found himself torn between commitments to the band and his personal life. Things eventually came to a head in June 2012 and he announced his (final?) departure, leaving Soilwork with a clear conscience and a clean slate. What better way to get back in the game doing double the work and churning out 20 songs for an official release?
“We always try to have the element of surprise in there whenever we go in to make a new album,” Strid says when Soilwork’s collective sanity sanity is called into question. Most bands have a hard enough time coughing up 10 songs with substance. “The real reason behind it… with all the chaos around Peter, I think we needed to turn things around and do something unique, something that stands out and turn it into something positive. We also wanted to show or prove to ourselves and the fans that there are other amazing songwriters in the band.”
Having different songwriters involved rather than just the Strid/Wichers seems to have had positive effect on the music as well, as The Living Infinite is definitely in the same park as The Panic Brodcast.
“For sure, and I think that was good for me. I definitely needed that because when Peter was a part of the band we knew each other so well musically, and in a situation like that sometimes you become too predictable. The fact that Peter was losing interest as well would have affected my work as well.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Word began circulating recently that Obsession / ex-Loudness vocalist Michael Vescera – who fronted the band in the late ’80s for two studio albums – will be performing with Loudness as a guest vocalist on April 14th at the Live N’ Louder Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I caught up with Vescera to discuss the planned show, which is going to be a one-off performance with him up front.
“I’m actually singing the whole set with Loudness,” says Vescera. “I was contacted by the US representation a few weeks ago, they asked if I would be interested in doing this festival with Loudness. We all felt that this would be awesome to make happen, so it’s all been put together. It will be great to play with the guys again, I’m sure it’ll be killer. As far as set list, we’re not sure as of yet. We’re discussing this and should know soon.”
As for original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara and his status in Loudness, “he’s still in the band and still the vocalist for Loudness,” says Vescera. “I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”
A day later I spoke with Niihara about the Loudness situation and he filled in the blanks:
“First of all, I am still Loudness’ vocalist and actually I am working on the new album now,” says Niihara. “When Loudness was offered the South America rock festival show a few weeks ago, my side project X.Y.Z.→A’s Japan tour had been booked already on the same week and the same day, so I won’t be able to go to South America. Akira (Takasaki/guitars) wanted to play in South America so badly and he asked me, ‘You can’t go there because of your schedule; can we have a special guest for that show?’ and I said ‘It is just my schedule-wise thing happening and I’m sorry about that, so please don’t hesitate having a someone for the show, I understand it.’ However, I didn’t know until you told me now that Mike would sing for me, though (laughs).”
“Who can sing for me but Mike?” Niihara adds. “I think he’s the right choice in such a situation. I believe Loudness and Mike will kick some ass in South America show. I’d love to go to sing in South America some day, in the near future.”
Up to this point Vescera has been busy with Animetal USA and enjoying the success of Obsession’s new album, Order Of Chaos, which has struck a chord the world over much the same way the band’s early albums did.
“On the Obsession front, we have a few shows booked for late April,” he reveals. “Still speaking with promoters for Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world. Hopefully some things will surface soon with that. We just finished re-mixing Carnival Of Lies for the re-release with Inner Wound; it sounds awesome and we’re real excited to have a proper release with this. The back catalogue is almost finished as well. Everything has been re-mastered, there will some cool unreleased stuff, never released photos and some video clips.” (continue reading…)