By Carl Begai
It’s hard to believe the cartoon that is MySpace was once the first stop in cutting edge social media. As of 2005 is was a place for musicians big and small to get the word out about their music and assorted projects, and it was around that time bassist/producer Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken) first drew attention to a new band he was working with called Benedictum. He compared vocalist Veronica Freeman to a female Ronnie James Dio, and the release of the band’s debut, Uncreation (2006), proved that Pilson wasn’t blowing smoke. Almost 10 years later Benedictum have hammered out their fourth album, Obey, and although it’s reminiscent of their early work the creative team behind the music has changed considerably. Only Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells remain of the original line-up and Pilson turns up only as a collaborator, with John Herrera now in the producer’s chair, but the fans aren’t complaining judging by the Obey reviews making the rounds.
“We had asked Jeff to produce the last album (Dominion – 2011) but it didn’t work out with his schedule,” Freeman reveals, adding that Herrera did a fantastic job on Obey. “We had a couple conversations with Jeff and he promised he wouldn’t let us down next time around, because we really are like family, but he was getting these musical opportunities that he couldn’t turn down. I know Jeff well enough to know that in his heart he really wanted to do this album, but this is business as well as friendship and I simply didn’t have the money to pay him. I can’t compete against these other people. I really wanted Jeff involved in some way, though. Once we started putting these songs together and they took on their own little lives, we went out to his place for two days for pre-production and rearranging things. The intensity of Jeff Pilson when you’re working with him is insane, and he really brought some of these songs to life, like ‘Retrograde’. He was involved on the last album on only one song, ‘Epsilon’, but you can kind of tell when it’s a Jeff thing.”
Production of Obey fell into the capable hands of John Herrera, and the results are in-your-face impressive. Loud, obnoxious, not too polished and not too dark.
“We needed someone local, and Rikard (Stjernquist/drums) worked with John before. I had to get some stuff done with guest vocals on another album, so we tried it out with John just to make we were going to get along. It worked out well. You’re right on the money with the production, and Rikard kept telling me I should be more excited bout it because of the production alone. He spent a lot of his time listening to the first two albums to really grasp Jeff’s mindset when he produced them, and then he put his own spin on it. He did an amazing job.”
In spite of the repeated line-up changes, which have been in full swing since the Seasons Of Tragedy album (2008), Benedictum’s sound has remained traditional old school metal thanks to the long time Freeman-Wells writing team.
“Yeah, Pete and I did most of the songwriting for Obey and it’s always kind of been that way,” says Freeman. “He’s that musical hamster in the spinning wheel (laughs); Pete is always churning out new stuff. He’ll send me little snippets of things, then we’ll get together and jam at rehearsal. And he’ll always try to sneak stuff in and waits for my reaction. That’s how we usually work. Even when we went to Jeff doing Obey, the basic parts were already there. We’ve been working together for over 15 years, so it’s hard for me to imagine working with someone else. When it comes to songwriting we roll in a certain way.”
“On this album it was the first time I ever received anything from Pete with lyrics, and that was the song ‘Cry’,” she adds. “It had been laid out with vocals and everything, and it turns out it was Pete singing on. It just blew me away.”
Obey features Jeff Pilson’s input on four songs, one track penned by Dio guitarist Craig Goldy, and Wells’ trademark hits-like-a-ton-of-bricks guitar riffage behind Freeman’s Dio-esque vocals. If the reviews of Obey are anything to go by, Benedictum will make up the ground they supposedly lost with Dominion.
“I always get nervous before an album comes out, and Dominion is a perfect example of why. I was always told you want really great reviews or really shitty reviews, because either way people will want to check you out. Not so with mediocre reviews, and there was a lot of middle-of-the-road with Dominion. I think the one thing that saved our asses was Don Jamieson from That Metal Show. We were his Pick Of The Week and that made a lot of people want to check out Benedictum. That was cool, but as far as Europe went it was a mediocre reception. It’s been different with Obey, people have been a lot more positive. They’ve beens saying it’s right up there with Seasons Of Tragedy or Uncreation. and that makes me feel really good.”
Benedictum’s new line-up is rounded out by drummer Rikard Stjernquist (Jag Panzer) and bassist Aric Avina (Tynator). Freeman claims there was no serious in-fighting that led to the split with the previous members, that it was more a case of being stretched too thin as a group.
“We have more line-up changes than I do boots (laughs). A lot of people don’t realize the amount of time that passes between albums, so it’s not like we’re churning stuff out every six months. At the end of Dominion, that’s when things started to get difficult. In order to rehearse, it was a question of who was going to stay where? Who’s driving? Are we renting a car? Because it was a five-and-a-half hour drive to another city. Basically, it was a geographical problem, and when there’s that much distance between everyone it’s hard to maintain the energy you need to keep a band going. It’s a lot easier for me to drive 25 minutes to jam than five hours. It got too stressful for everybody. If we were making money hand over fist it wouldn’t have been an issue, but when you’re scraping and don’t have that payoff of playing a lot of shows, it’s difficult to stay fired up.”
Touring is the next step for Benedictum, assuming they can nail down the right people to play ball with…
“I’m really frustrated about that,” Freeman admits. “It was the same thing last time; new album, we should be touring. I think we did two shows in Europe and a few in the States, and that was really frustrating. It wasn’t for any lack of us wanting to play shows. I’m not throwing anybody under the bus when I say this, but we talked to booking agents and promoters and got nothing. I’m not that difficult to work with, and I’m realistic about the whole thing because I know the economy is crap and that the industry is hurting, so maybe it’s my karma or something. We want to play Europe, South America, and we want to do more shows in the States because there are a lot of places here we haven’t played.”
End of Part 1