By Carl Begai
Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia that makes The Alcohollys so damn attractive, or it could be the wave of relief caused by hearing real music in an age when the tripe that passes for pop rock lacks brains, soul and integrity. A clever mix of The Go-Go’s, The Cars and The Ramones, the Canadian all-female quartet surfaced earlier this year with the three-songs-delivered-as-two Flashback EP, and the thing that immediately hits home is how bloody ’70s / ’80s organic authentic they sound. Title track ‘Flashback To ’93′ is guaranteed to rivet fans of pop-punk to the floor thanks to the in-your-face delivery and what’s become their trademark synth backhand courtesy of vocalist Kimber Heart. ‘Death Riot / Demolition In Speed City’ is a slick mix of The Ramones and ’70s prog (seriously), ranking for the moment as the best track The Alcohollys have released to date. A matter of taste to be sure, but it’s an unexpected kick in the balls.
Released this month (December 2013), Girls Night is the second tease from the band as they (hopefully) gear up for a full length record. The title track is a straight-up punk ditty too smart for The Offspring crowd and somehow reminiscent of The Vincent Black Shadow, while the mid-tempo ‘Lock Stock Lola’ is a top-to-bottom Go-Go’s / Cars flavoured anthem. Biggest surprise of the moment is ‘Nobody’s Perfect (But This Is Getting Ridiculous)’ which somehow manages to channel the Foo Fighters yet keeps the brazen sunshine-and-happiness vibe that’s woven through all five tracks. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Hamilton, Ontario-based Varga’s 1991 debut Multiple Wargasms was and remains so under the radar that the YouTube legions have yet to pick up on it. The band’s major minor label debut Prototype from ’94 made a huge splash for a band that had come seemingly out of nowhere, while the ’95 follow-up, Oxygen, somewhat ironically took the wind out of their sails and saw Varga fade away. Eighteen years of silence have come to an unexpected end with the return of Varga’s original line-up and Part One of a two part comeback entitled Enter The Metal. For those that remember the band fondly, you’re in for a surprise. For the newbies, call this an introduction to some more unique metal Made In Canada.
“A few years ago I had the idea of getting the guys back together just to jam,” says vocalist/bassist Joe Varga. “We went at it and started playing some of the older pre-Prototype songs, the more speed metal progressive stuff. The material on Enter The Metal is the music we created from ’89 – ’91 and all the songs have been totally reworked. The album is definitely heavier and more progressive than Prototype and Oxygen, but this is what we were doing before those albums came out. I think this type of music is more widespread these days. I find a lot more bands are doing this sort of music now compared to back then.”
“I think it was just a natural thing,” Joe says of going from jamming to hitting the studio. “It just felt right to take the next step. We wanted to record these songs properly, with really good gear. It’s a two part album; the first part is Enter The Metal, the second part is Return Of The Metal which will be out in the spring. These songs were never recorded using high quality equipment, so we decided that if we want to compete with the big boys we have to make the songs sound stellar. We went to a proper studio and they just happened to acquire the Abbey Road mixing console. It was amazing.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Ten years ago, soprano vocalist Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull quite unexpectedly found herself out of a job. Theatre Of Tragedy, the band that made her famous (and vice versa) gave her the boot citing musical differences, cutting Liv loose and leaving her to her own devices. It was a blessing in disguise once the initial shock wore off, leading to the launch of a grand experiment in collaboration with the members of Atrocity dubbed Leaves’ Eyes. The goth-flavoured debut album, Lovelorn, was viewed as Liv’s comeback following two albums’ worth of head-scratching electronica with Theatre Of Tragedy. It set the stage for an ongoing project that would ultimately surpass her accomplishments with the Theatre, as Leaves’ Eyes evolved into something well beyond Liv’s doom goth roots. Their new album, Symphonies Of The Night, is the bold next step in what has been a constant evolution.
“We’ve been around for 10 years, so when Thorsten (Bauer/guitars) started composing the music for this album a year-and-a-half ago we decided to keep an open mind about everything,” Liv begins. “We had enough time to let the songs develop and see where they went. We didn’t want to plan anything, we wanted to be taken places by the things that influenced the music. There were some musical ideas around that we didn’t use for the last album (Meredead), like ‘Saint Cecilia’, because there was no space for it. Thorsten spent hours and hours working in the studio, so it was always interesting to go in on Monday morning and check out what he’d done (laughs). I continued from there, Alex (Krull/Atrocity) supervised everything and added some spice to it. It was a very creative period for us because we just let everything in. It’s great working with Alex and Tosso. The three of us are the perfect team. We compliment each other in such a great way, I couldn’t imagine a better working relationship. It’s amazing.”
And even though they have a decade under their collective belt, Leaves’ Eyes show no signs of getting bored with their own art. If there’s any sort of re-invention going on with regards to their musical direction it’s not on a level where the fans are left wondering what the hell happened on the way to the studio since the last album.
“We don’t have to re-invent ourselves just because we’ve been around for 10 years. We have so much experience that we can rely on, and we’re three different musicians that also happen to be perfectionists. If I said we needed to have dulcimer on a song, we’d go out and try to find somebody that plays dulcimer. That’s how we work.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
At this point, Queensrÿche fans and anyone who reads metal news feeds are aware of the controversial split between original vocalist Geoff Tate and the rest of the band. It’s an ugly break-up that will see both parties in court as of January 2014 to decide who gets to use the Queensrÿche name, with the fanbase taking sides and being quite vocal about who they think is the real deal. For the old schoolers that grew up with the band’s debut EP and first four studio albums (The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime, Empire) it’s a no-brainer in picking the non-Tate version of the band – now fronted by former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre – thanks to their new self-titled record. It’s the album fans who have held out for 20+ years have been waiting for.
“We just did what we felt,” says La Torre, “and the fact it’s been received so well makes it that much better.”
The album is short and sweet, clocking in at 35 minutes, which no doubt helps as well. Rather than pounding people into submission with their new / old direction, Queensrÿche chose instead to give folks just enought of a taste of the band’s rediscovered potential.
“We didn’t even know what the length of the album was until it was done,” La Torre admits. “We just liked what we had and said ‘Okay, that’s the album.’ We had other songs that didn’t make the record, but we decided to put the album out and leave the fans wanting more.”
They won’t have to wait too long if all goes according to plan. La Torre and his bandmates have every intention of using the momentum the new album has provided…
“We’re writing new songs for the next album now. We’ve got a handful of songs in various stages and its going to have a multitude of elements that are Queensrÿche. You’re going to have longer songs, heavier songs, softer songs, maybe something acoustic. We’re not boxed into any niche which is the beauty of what Queensrÿche has always been. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During Masterplan’s recent European tour in support of their new album, Novum Intium, I caught up with guitarist / founder Roland Grapow (ex-Helloween) to discuss the current state of the band, which went through some major line-up changes between the recording of the new record and Time To Be King from 2010. Not only did At Vance singer Rick Altzi replace original vocalist Jorn Lande, but somewhere along the way Grapow managed to pick up ex-Stratovarius bassist Jari Kainulainen and current Cradle Of Filth drummer Martin Skaroupka.
“I’m just searching for the best musicians,” says Grapow. “Jari contacted me three years ago on Facebook and mentioned that if Masterplan needed a bassist he was available. I told him no, that I wasn’t interested, but when Jan (S. Eckert) left I contacted Jari because if somebody wants to be a part of the band, they have experience, and he’s a nice guy I’ll welcome him on board. I knew Jari from when Stratovarius toured with Helloween and from doing a solo show with Stratovarius in Paris. I want good musicians, not egotistical people or troublemakers, and Jari is a great guy.”
Kainulainen is also cut from the same musical cloth as Grapow, making for an easy partnership. Skaroupka’s presence in the band both in the studio and on the road is harder to grasp given his black metal day job with Cradle Of Filth.
“I was recording a band from the Czech Republic who told me their drummer was in a famous band called Cradle Of Filth,” Grapow says of bringing Skaroupka on board. “I’d heard some of the Cradle albums because I’m always checking out different productions, but I kind of rolled my eyes at that. Then I saw some rehearsal room footage on YouTube – no tricks – and I thought ‘What the fuck? This guy is amazing.’ He’s such a tight and powerful drummer, so I invited him to come down to the studio. He told me it was an honour because he was a big Masterplan fan. I was like, ‘What?!’ But it’s true, he’s in Cradle Of Filth and he loves Helloween, Gamma Ray and Stratovarius. In fact, when Jörg Michael left Stratovarius, Martin was interested in playing for them.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Back on October 24th, 1991 a 22 year-old head-in-the-clouds metalhead sporting the oddball name of Carl Begai took his kid brother to see Queensrÿche at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The band was soaring on the strength of their now classic Empire album, and it was a show never to be forgotten by either sibling. A cult fave of the prog metal world through the ’80s, Queensrÿche had finally (and unexpectedly) hit the big time and gave the fans an arena show to match. Of course, if you’re a fan you’re fully aware of how things have gone to hell since then. Never mind the 20 years of pussyfooting around the band’s metal roots since Empire; amidst personal and professional ugliness there are now two versions of Queensrÿche, one featuring vocalist Geoff Tate and a new line-up, the other with former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre taking Tate’s place fronting the (almost) original roster. A recipe for confusion that will be rewritten in January 2014 when the battle over the band name goes to court.
Twenty-two years and a day after that fateful Toronto show, I caught up with the Todd La Torre fronted incarnation of Queensrÿche – the real QR for anyone that has heard their new self-titled album – in surroundings far and away from the glory of Maple Leaf Gardens. In the middle of a European tour, the band touched down in Munich, Germany to play a simple rock club catering to only a couple hundred people, one of several steps towards rebuilding the Queensrÿche name as it should be remembered. Prior to the show we sat down to discuss Todd’s rise to fame and the band’s return to greatness.
“I was going to do both,” Todd says of leaving Crimson Glory to join Queensrÿche, which was official as of February 2013. “When I joined (side project) Rising West which then became Queensrÿche, they knew I was in Crimson Glory but they never said ‘Hey, you’ve gotta quit.’ As far as the guys were concerned, as long as I could do both and Crimson Glory wouldn’t infringe on Queensrÿche’s touring, cool. They knew I had an obligation to do a record, so they weren’t going to tell me to quit. What upset me and still does is when I read statements from Crimson saying that the writing was on the go when I joined the band, but the fact of the matter is that’s not true. I’m still friends with the guys but I haven’t talked to Jon Drenning (guitars) in over a year. When I’m back home we try to get together for dinner – me, Ben, Dana, Jeff – just to maintain that friendship. I care about those guys.”
Todd has no regrets about leaving Crimson Glory for Queensrÿche. Looking back on when the offer came down, he agrees it was a no-brainer.
“This is a dream come true… exponentially. When things went down it was like, ‘I have to do this.’ Parts of it are surreal, other parts are not because I know these guys now. We’re all very close so I don’t see them in the same way I did before just as a fan. I’m still a fan, but not the way I used to be.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“When we released In The Arms Of Devastation in 2006 it changed a lot of things for Kataklysm,” says vocalist Maurizio Iacono as an intro to the band’s new slab of hellmetal, Waiting For The End To Come. “It was a big record for us. It was a very melodic record and that took the European market by storm. It was our biggest selling record, and after that we didn’t explore ourselves as musicians as much. I think we took the attitude that ‘This is Kataklysm, this is what we do and we do it well, so we’re going to continue doing that.’ Heaven’s Venom (2010) was a great record for me and I love it, but I think some people heard it and said ‘Yeah, but they’re not dangerous.’ It was the ‘but’ that bothered me. We had the songs, but I realized that people don’t just want the big songs, they want that element of danger.”
Which is why Kataklysm fans are now feasting on arguably the band’s most dangerous album in years. Iacono is humble discussing the achievement, but there’s no mistaking his pride in delivering more than what anyone was expecting at this stage of the game.
“This is the longest stretch we’ve had between albums. It doesn’t seem like it, but it is. It’s been three-and-a-half years going on four. It was one of those things where the record came out and we had time. We decided that we needed to come back with something different and more dangerous because we wanted to make a statement with this record. We didn’t want to come off as if we were coasting, we wanted to surprise people. I think that’s what we did with this record because we changed a lot of things. The production, the artwork… a lot of things are different.”
“It’s an all out attack. Everything that we like, we put it on this record. Kataklysm is a mix of a lot of different influences. Stephane (Barbe/bass) loves black metal, J-F (Dagenais/guitars) loves Iron Maiden, and I love more groove-oriented stuff like Pantera; if you mix all that you’ve got a very unique sound. If people don’t like this record maybe it’s time to think about retirement (laughs). It sounds modern, it sounds fresh, I don’t think there are any bands out there that sound like what we’re doing on this record.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During a recent interview with Nightwish keyboardist mastermind Tuomas Holopainen about the band’s forthcoming DVD Showtime, Storytime and their decision to make vocalist Floor Jansen a permanent member, he discussed his orchestral project currently on the go, The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck. At press time the album was being mixed and a release date was tentatively slated for April 2014. Described by Holopainen as “somewhere between film music, folk and classical, echoing distantly the works of Vaughan Williams, Enya, Mike Oldfield and Michael Nyman”, he’s in the process of bringing another one of his dreams to life.
“This particular graphic novel called The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck would be my desert island book,” says Holopainen. “That or Lord Of The Rings, I’m not sure. It had such a huge impact on me ever since I read it for the first time in 1996, and I had the idea for Scrooge back in 1999. It’s been there for 14 years. Every time I read those wonderful stories by Don Rosa my head is filled with music, and at some point it just needed to come out. Then I had the idea of doing a soundtrack to the graphic novel, and it was an idea that just sounded so awkward and far off that I had to do it (laughs). I can’t think of too many albums that are made as a soundtrack to a book; there was a guy in the ’70s that did it for Lord Of The Rings but that’s the only one that comes to mind. So this project is quite innovative in that sense.”
It sounds like an odd undertaking, no question, but Holopainen is known for thinking outside the box. When word came down that Nightwish would release a movie based on his concept for the Imaginaerum album a lot of people – critics and fans – were left wondering why they’d bother. Ultimately, anyone who asked Holopainen why he and the band would bother to invest time and a couple million dollars on the project received what amounted to “because we want to” as an answer. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Gotta admit, with all the online babble from the band about how No More Hell To Pay would be the heaviest Stryper album ever, it’s something of a disappointment being eased into the proceedings rather than cracked in the teeth by a wall of aggression. Not that tracks ‘Revelation’ and the title track (tracks 1 and 2) are weak by any means – quite the contrary, actually – but I was expecting riffs in the spirit of ‘Makes Me Wanna Sing’ and ‘The Way’ to kick things off. Along comes track three ‘Saved By Love’, however, and it’s clear the band was not in fact blowing holy smoke, just biding their time before giving the fans a righteous ass-kicking. No More Hell To Pay is loaded with guitar shred – riffs and solos – from top to bottom and frontman Michael Sweet’s high-end vocals are as strong as ever, with brilliant production to match (as in bassist Tim Gaines can actually be heard for a change), making for one of Stryper’s best albums to date.
‘Legacy’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Renewed’ and ‘Saved By Love’ are instant standouts as the fastest / heaviest tracks on the record (even though the titles read like a bloody chick flick soundtrack), and the songs where Sweet offers up a welcome rougher edge to his voice. They’re a stark contrast to the brazen ’80s flavour of ‘Water Into Wine’ and ‘Sympathy’, which probably would have saved the sadly over-Styx-ified In God We Trust album (1988) had they been written way back when. Fulfilling the expected To Hell With The Devil-ism requirements are ‘No More Hell To Pay’ and ‘Sticks & Stones’ (the album’s ‘Calling On You’), while their cover of The Art Reynolds Singers’ 1966 gospel hit ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ kills their 1990 rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ dead. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The day after it was announced that Nightwish touring vocalist Floor Jansen (Revamp, ex-After Forever) had been made an official band member, BW&BK was given the opportunity to speak with keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen about the band’s forthcoming live/tour documentary DVD Showtime, Storytime. Good thing they took care of business before press began, because if they hadn’t most of this conversation would have consisted of yours truly telling Holopainen he would have to be a special kind of insane to let Jansen slip away. But really, it’s no surprise that Jansen was asked to stay considering her monumental efforts since coming on board at the last minute to replace the booted Anette Olzon back in October 2012.
“I know it didn’t come as a surprise to anybody,” Holopainen says of the news. “We wanted to make it official at this point because we knew we were going to do a lot of promotion for the upcoming DVD. It’s just easier to do things this way; we don’t need to keep our mouths shut.”
The documentary portion of the DVD begins appropriately with footage from Denver, Colorado as Nightwish makes a mad scramble to put together some semblance of a setlist in the wake of Olzon falling ill. With their singer unable to perform and an audience willing to stick around for whatever the band can come up with, Nightwish enlist support band Kamelot’s backing singers Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist). The rest is a pretty amazing piece of history. Holopainen is caught on camera after the show stating that he’d never been as scared as he was two hours earlier.
“That was the truth,” he admits. “The whole day is just a hazy dream to me now. It was such an awkward moment. A big hand to Elize and Alissa… they were amazing. But that’s what doing live shows is all about. Sometimes these things happen and it’s really memorable stuff; a mass karaoke with those two lovely girls joining us, doing some instrumental stuff as well. It was something different and I don’t think anybody left the venue upset or annoyed.”
Olzon, on the other hand, was genuinely upset and took to her official website to air her feelings. She made it clear she thought the band was wrong to go ahead without her. On October 1st the band released a statement announcing Olzon’s departure and that Jansen would be filling in for the rest of the tour.
“We got quite a bit of criticism for doing the show without Anette,” Holopainen reveals. “Some people asking us how we could be so selfish and do the show without her. It was quite the opposite. We had to think about the 1,600 fans, the promoter, the crew, everybody. Seriously, if something happened to me or any of the other band members, I’d do anything to still make the show happen. We offered the money back from the tickets. We told the fans how the show was going to be, so of course if they wanted to leave they should get their money back. It was seven refunds out of 1,600 so that was pretty good.” (continue reading…)