By Carl Begai
Swedish pop metallers Amaranthe unleashed their third album, Massive Addictive, in October 2014 to critical acclaim, but nobody counted on them still being on the road a year later in support of the record. Not even the band themselves. Multiple headline tours through Europe and North America, as well as the obligatory shows in Japan, have kept Amaranthe’s budding career moving forward and they show no sign of slowing down. Almost a year to the day of Massive Addictive’s release, band and label teamed up to issue Breaking Point – B-sides 2011-2015, an interim compilation of hard-to-find acoustic versions of some of Amaranthe’s best-loved tunes and two full-on metal unreleased tracks; a package meant to tide the fans over until the band coughs up a new studio album. This interview took place in Toronto on what is presumably the final jaunt in support of Massive Addictive, and while Breaking Point was the basis for the chat with Olof Mörck (guitars) and Elize Ryd (vocals), the real focus turned out to be on how Amaranthe has come so far since their 2011 debut.
BraveWords: Is Breaking Point in fact meant to appease the fans while Amaranthe is on tour? It’s not like they’re bound to forget you considering how much you’ve been in people’s faces.
Olof: “We have all these acoustic versions, and we feel really strongly about them, so we had a talk with the label about putting out something different to represent the band. I think it shows a very different side to our musicality. A lot of people are into that sort of thing, but not many people knew these songs existed. Maybe some of them had heard ‘Amaranthine’ acoustic or ‘Hunger’ acoustic, so it was really nice to be able to put all of these songs together with the added bonus of two songs recorded for the first album.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s probably in poor taste to suggest the members of Stryper have sold their souls in exchange for their current success. The Christian metal band’s 2005 comeback, Reborn, put an end to 15 years of silence (not including some sporadic touring) and was an all-important step into a decade that saw the band release four studio albums, a cover album, a volume of Stryper re-recordings, and a live record / DVD, interspersed with international tours. Considering the way Stryper splintered and died following their Against The Law album from 1990, nobody really expected them to get back together let alone turn the momentum kicked up by Reborn into wave after wave of in your face material. Their latest assault is the fourth album of all original songs since Stryper’s reunion, and album entitled Fallen that has the fans locked in yet again and has vocalist / guitarist Michael Sweet grinning from ear to ear.
“At the end of the day what’s important, obviously, is that we feel we’re pleasing God and we’re pleasing ourselves,” Sweet says of the band’s continued success. “The icing on the cake is how the fans feel about the new album.We try to ask questions and get feedback from the fans, and we apply that when we make an album. If they want to hear an epic six minute song with tempo changes, we give them ‘Yahweh’. We try to listen to the fans without selling ourselves out, and I think we did that this time.”
As a first taste of Fallen, it’s safe to say nobody was expecting the epic attack of ‘Yahweh’. The song is easily on par with one of Stryper’s strongest songs ever, ‘Soldiers Under Command’, and goes a step beyond.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting that, truthfully. It’s definitely down a different avenue for us. We’ve never done a six-and-a-half minute song, we’ve never had a bunch of time changes in a song; it borders on the progressive side of rock. Did we do that to try and fit in? No. We grew up on all this kind of stuff. We’re huge Iron Maiden fans and we love Dream Theater, we listen to all of that stuff, and it’s not out of our wheelhouse at all to do something like ‘Yahweh’. And then you bring in the fact that Clint Lowery from Sevendust had a hand in the making of the song… he sent me the original riff and I ran with it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Breaking Point is one of those on-the-fly releases meant to keep Amaranthe’s name in lights while they continue touring in support of their remarkably successful third album, Massive Addictive. Most fans will love it, but there’s a group of die-hard completists bound to be slightly pissed for having spent extra money on unreleased B-sides that appear here. Six acoustic tracks and two full-on metal assaults are offered up, all recorded after the respective sessions for the band’s self-titled debut, The Nexus, and Massive Addictive. Hearing concert favourite ballads ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Burn With Me’ done up acoustic is neither amazing nor disappointing; they’re well written songs played effectively as reduced to their most basic elements. The acoustic rendition of ‘True’ from Massive Addictive, on the other hand, is a startling stripped down version featuring voices and piano up front with the spotlight (unexpectedly) favouring vocalist Jake E. It’s actually preferable to the original version.
The two full metal songs on Breaking Point, the title track and ‘Splinter In My Soul’, originally surfaced as bonus tracks for the Japanese version of Amaranthe’s self-titled debut and their 2011 single ‘Rain’, therefore featuring original growler Andy Solveström in place of current rage vocalist Henrik Englund. Again, not a bad pair of songs, but it’s easy to understand why the tracks were never tagged as final album cuts, as they lack that elusive “something” to make them click. It would, however, be interesting to hear ‘Splinter In My Soul’ in a live setting with all its rampant Soilwork-ishness. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Québec is known for offering up top tier metal talent to the world and having a forward thinking European-bent metal fanbase. Montréal’s Hasta La Muerte is one of the province’s latest spawn, having stomped into the spotlight earlier this year with a tongue-in-cheek / bum drum rap metal debut single, ‘Pour Anotha Shot’. The song, and particularly the video, garnered them instant attention both positive and “WTF?!” negative. A few months later they followed up with a darker, meaner, uglier tune ‘Step Up’, which has at the very least cemented them as not being flash in the pan. Beyond the music, however, almost nothing has been published about their roots and plans for world domination. Having tagged them as “Van Halen getting Ugly Kid Stuck Mojo-ed” when ‘Pour Anotha Shot’ first surfaced, I decided to dig up any available dirt for Hasta La Muerte’s growing fanbase.
“The band started out with myself, Manuel (Iradian / guitars) and Kev (Alexander / drums),” says guitarist David Evangelista, “all being friends in different bands and wanting to make something different together as a new band. Even though we grew up on old school heavy metal, we listen to all kinds of music, including hip-hop, rock, blues, or whatever in our free time. When we decided to work together, we worked off some demos that I had that were sort-of groovy and hip-hop-sounding, electronic, but also metal and really low-tuned on guitar. These were basic riffs and templates that would turn into ‘Pour Anotha Shot’ and ‘Step Up’. We wanted to be open to other genres of music as influences. So we collaborated to finish these ideas and making them into full instrumental songs, the three of us.”
“We put up a demo to recruit a vocalist, and we welcomed Robby (J. Fonts) who was primarily a rapper at the time. He did a great job mixing rap and heavy vocals on the demo which would eventually turn into our first single, ‘Pour Anotha Shot’. He had a similar open-minded vision too, so it worked out really well with the other material as well. But originally, before he appeared, it wasn’t necessarily set out to be rap-metal, it just sort of happened that way and we didn’t question it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
There’s an unwritten rule in rock and metal that if you’re not legally allowed to drink, you don’t deserve a record deal.
Basically, you have to pay your dues before a Corner Office Suit gives you the opportunity to sign on the dotted line. It should be a process of getting the band out of Mom’s basement and into the garage, tormenting the neighbours with crap covers and even worse originals, being ripped off for rent at your first rehearsal space, asking Dad to bail you out of debt or jail (whichever comes first) before finally locking down that fateful first gig in front of a potentially hostile audience on the way to the big time. So it goes that when people discover newcomers Next To None – consisting of members aged a mere 16 and 17 – sitting pretty with a contract signed to InsideOut for their debut album, some folks dismiss them without hearing a note.
Drummer Max Portnoy has the added pressure of being the son of living and very active drum legend Mike Portnoy, who made a name for himself as a founding member of prog metal kings Dream Theater. Mike currently calls The Winery Dogs home, but divides his time with several different artists including Neal Morse, Flying Colors, Metal Allegiance and Twisted Sister. The thinking is that Portnoy family ties led to InsideOut picking up Next To None and that Max wouldn’t be anywhere without dear old Dad. Max is quick to shut down that line of thinking with regards to the latter.
“He didn’t push me into it or anything like that,” he insists. “Being in a band is something I’ve always wanted to do. Growing up watching my dad play drums did influence me in getting interested in making music, but he never forced me into learning how to play drums. I knew I was going to be a drummer when I grew up, I never questioned it. When I got older and met Kris (Rank/bass), that’s when I decided I was going to form a band. We started playing covers before trying to write our own songs, but my dad didn’t have anything to do with it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Twenty years ago I wrote a review for Slik Toxik’s second full length album, Irrelevant. It was a darker and dirtier record compared to their official debut, Doin’ The Nasty, written and released at a time when hair metal / cock rock bands were well into taking a beating from the grunge scene takeover. Irrelevant failed to make the same impact its predecessor had, and ultimately turned out to be Slik Toxik’s swansong. Looking back on said review in the wake of Perris Records opting to release a 20th Anniversary edition of the record, two things are readily apparent: I knew what I was talking about even as a wide-eyed newbie to the music biz, and Slik Toxik were way ahead of their time.
And thanks to the internet age I’m not restricted to a tiny column in trying to explain why Irrelevant works, units sold in the past be damned.
As stated in my original review (photo below), Irrelevant was a diverse platter that deftly avoided being a scene-sucking travesty with regards to their roots (that’s what I tried to say, at any rate). On the one hand Slik Toxik went from being cock rock to a nailgun-carrying metal band, quite unexpectedly bashing people over the head with ‘Twentysomething’, ‘I Wanna Gun’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘Fashioned After None’ and ‘Just Fade Away’. The bigger shock, however, turned out to be tracks like the introspective ballad ‘Liquid Calm’, the smokey bar blues of ‘Blue Monday’, and the acoustic led south bent ‘Mother Machine’. Less surprising was the drive towards Alice In Chains territory with ‘Dive’ and ‘Drained’ given the times, the latter being the weakest song on Irrelevant. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Swedish bashers Arch Enemy – who now boast Canadian and American talent within their ranks – kicked off October with the surprising news that their upcoming show at the Loud Park festival in Japan will feature guest appearances by former members Chris Amott (guitars) and Johan Liiva (vocals). At press time there had been no official explanation given as to what had spurred the upcoming reunion(s), but a quick call to Liiva offered a bit of insight as to how he became involved.
“I was invited by Arch Enemy to do this along with Chris as it’s two jubilees,” he begins. “Ten years for Loud Park and soon 20 years for Arch Enemy, so it was no hesitation there for me.”
Chris Amott left Arch Enemy for the second time in his career back in 2012 (the first time being 2005), presumably never to work with the band again. Given that his guitarist brother Michael calls the shots in Arch Enemy, one can assume that family ties played a significant role in bringing Chris back to the fold, however temporarily. Liiva, on the other hand, left under seemingly unpleasant circumstances after three cult favourite albums and was replaced by Angela Gossow, which ultimately turned Arch Enemy into a metal household name. Gossow was officially replaced by Alissa White-Gluz in 2014.
“I left the band the band in 2000, and of course we weren’t too eager to talk to each other in the first few years after that,” Liiva offers. “The first years after I left the band, the relationship was quite infected. I know that Michael didn’t feel too good about the situation. He wanted to go in another direction. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last few years and I understand him now. It’s like a process and you have to think things through because Arch Enemy is his life and Michael knows what he wants. He made the band into what he wanted it to be, and for me it’s okay because the touring life was never my thing. I loved being in Arch Enemy but I much prefer the life I have now.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Children Of Bodom’s trademark Hate Crew tag is meant as a proclamation of bad-assed-ness, but the band has hit a point in their career where it can be twisted to represent just how much some people detest them. Case in point when they pre-released a handful of tracks from their new album, I Worship Chaos; for all the praise the songs received there were just as many voices cutting the Children off at the knees. The music business has never been for the thin-skinned, of course, but in the internet age any band or solo artist hoping to carve out a career has to be prepared to get knocked in the teeth the moment they release new material. For Children Of Bodom vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho and keyboardist Janne Wirman any lambasting they’ve received for I Worship Chaos thus far is simply a walk in the park they choose not to take.
Alexi: “I started ignoring that shit pretty much right away, when the whole internet thing kicked in. It doesn’t pay off to read any of the fucking reactions.”
BraveWords: Which extends to ignoring folks like Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn, who took online shots at you via Facebook (in October 2014)after you voiced your disappointment at Machine Head cancelling the North American headline tour you were due to support so they could finish work on their new album (Bloodstone & Diamonds).
Alexi: “I know, what the fuck? Honestly, it made me laugh because it was so surreal. I’ve known Robb Flynn for a long time, we’ve toured with Machine Head before and we always got along, and all of a sudden he’s out there talking shit about me? I just laughed and that’s why I didn’t say shit about it. The last thing I want to do is get into some stupid-ass internet war. If anything, that break in the schedule gave me more time to write. I stayed pretty active, I did a bunch of other shit like guitar clinics and playing bass on a friend’s band because I didn’t want to sit on my ass. I was also able to work on riffs that I’ve had in my head for quite a long time.”
BraveWords: It’s not at all surprising that I Worship Chaos has polarized your fanbase. Something would be wrong if the fans weren’t choosing sides when you release new music.
Janne: “I Worship Chaos feels right on many levels. It was the right time to release an album like this and somehow it all clicked together. You can’t plan on something like this; sometimes it just works and everything turns out great. We haven’t written the same song or album over and over again, but it’s getting to the point where we have to come up with new and fresh ideas, and somehow keep doing what we’re doing. That’s something we’ve always kept in mind, to not release the same thing over and over again. That won’t work for us.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
While preparing for the release of the new Leaves’ Eyes album, King Of Kings, vocalist Liv Kristine announced some dates for what has become a traditional year end European solo tour. She then revealed that her former Theatre Of Tragedy bandmate, vocalist Raymond Rohonyi, would be joining her as a special guest for the duration of the tour, performing several songs from the band’s catalogue with her. A very surprising development considering the bad blood stirred up when Liv was fired from Theatre Of Tragedy in 2003 – she was replaced by Nell Sigland – and Rohonyi’s disappearance from the music scene when the band called it quits in 2010. The last time the duo shared the stage was 2002. During our interview for King Of Kings, Liv discussed how she reconnected with Rohonyi.
“Ray is back in Norway and moved to Trondheim recently with his Brazilian wife,” Liv explains. “At some point I tried to get in touch with him by phone, then via Facebook, and many weeks later he got back to me and said that he was back in Norway. We caught up a bit, and I asked him about rumours I heard that Theatre Of Tragedy would be having a reunion some time soon. Rumours that came with the Northern winds, let’s put it that way (laughs). I just wanted to know if I was in or not. Ray said that nobody had asked him so far about a reunion and wondered why I was asking. I told him I had a solo tour coming up and that I’d been playing Theatre Of Tragedy songs at a number of gigs, that the audience really seemed to love it, and then I asked him if he’d be my special guest. He was very happy about the offer and he said yes.”
“When The Sirens supported Nightwish in Trondheim recently I finally met up with Raymond again. We talked about everything, about the beginnings of Theatre Of Tragedy. It was good to clear the table and our history, because we were the ones who formed the band and came up with the whole Shakespearean thing. It was really good talking to him, and we parted in Trondheim on great terms. Alex (Krull / vocalist, husband) is happy everything is clear now and there are no hard feelings whatsoever. I’m really looking forward to the tour, and I think Raymond might be looking forward to it even more (laughs). He’s so excited.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Ground zero for this interview was the southern German pork-shoulder-and-beer town of Fürth, prior to a gig The Creepshow bassist / founder Sean McNab says was one of the hottest shows the band had ever played. It was loud, everything was sweating – band, audience, instruments, walls, floor, bar staff – air was at a minimum, and the 100 or so attendees left the hotbox venue happy with asses kicked. Just one of many stops on The Creepshow’s second European tour in less than a year, it was a testament to how a Canadian band with a decent but far from loud enough buzz at home has been able to take other parts of the world by storm over the course of their 10 year career.
“When we first started touring we weren’t really known anywhere,” says McNab. “We started by playing Toronto, London, St. Catharines, Hamilton, and built those areas up. When we ended up in the situation of making some money, about every three months or so, we’d just put it in a pot so we’d have enough to go and play somewhere. Now we’re in a position where we can actually afford to tour. If we were on the road full time this would be my day job, especially me since I’ve been touring probably a decade longer than the rest of the guys, but after three weeks on the road I need that cut off and go home for a while. We’re really busy. This year was supposed to be chill but it’s probably the busiest year we’ve ever had (laughs). We’re all really tired but we’re still having fun.”
It seems to be a trait of Canadian music that some artists make their mark at home and nowhere else, while others garner international attention as Canada offers up warm albeit grudging acceptance outside the fanbase. The Creepshow have followed in Toronto rockers Danko Jones’ footsteps after a fashion, doing headline tours across Europe and playing festivals with wide-ranging line-ups that don’t cater specifically to the band’s trademark psychobilly sound.
“When we first started coming to Europe we’d do these psychobilly festivals, which was fine, but after a few years we were looking at playing other things like punk festivals. We did this one called Serengeti where Skindred played, Gogol Bordello, a bunch of ska bands, hardcore bands, and it was amazing. It was what we needed because most of those people had never heard of us and they’re generally open to new stuff. We’ve noticed that when we do stuff like that and then go back to that area with our own show, more people show up.” Continue Reading