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I’ve said this dozens of times: one of the great things about this whole music journalist career are the people I meet along the way. Not just the so-called rock stars, but the characters – managers, promoters, stage crews, photographers, journalists, security people – behind-the-scenes as well. One such personality is Australia-born photographer Heiko Roith; very ambitious, extremely talented (but don’t tell him that, it gets him excited), and most certainly unique. Thus, it came as no surprise to discover that he decided to fill what little free time he has with a new project outside of his usual music-based commitments. The nature of that project, on the other hand, was completely unexpected.

And ultimately, completely in line with Roith’s spirit for adventure. Read on….

Carl Begai

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On April 26th 1986, Anatoli Stepanowitsch Djatlow made the decision to simulate a total blackout in Block 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Because of serious infringements of safety regulations in force and the construction related characteristics of the reactor there was an uncontrollable increase in power, which ultimately led to the explosion of the reactor. The ensuing nuclear fallout resulted in large parts of the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and 200,000 square kilometers of Europe being contaminated by radioactivity. The Chernobyl disaster has been dubbed the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties.

Still today, some families live in the heavily contaminated Chernobyl areas and in the neighbouring town of Prypjat, and a few are even newly settled. The damaged reactor unit is still covered by a temporary protective shell of reinforced concrete, which should be replaced in 2015 by a more long term solution. The year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster – but it will then be erased from our view forever. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Massive Addictive won’t do anything to improve Amaranthe’s relationship with their haters, but the diehard fans will fall in love with the band all over again. The vast majority of fence-sitters, meanwhile, will find themselves drawn in by what is, quite frankly, a surprisingly addictive listen that justifies the wonderfully arrogant album title. Still pop metal to the core, Amaranthe’s all-important third album kicks off by putting the fans in the comfort zone with ‘Dynamite’, a track echoing the band’s previous album, The Nexus. It’s the neck-wreck-bounce of the following track and first single ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ – imagine Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ as a song on the Grease soundtrack – that sets the tone for Massive Addictive. The vocal melodies are infectious to a fault, the riffs are bold, all supported by steel hard backbone seemingly yanked from Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren’s command center for his industrial-rocked metal outfit Pain.

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‘Drop Dead Cynical’, ‘Unreal’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Massive Addictive’ ‘Skyline’ and ‘Digital World’ are guaranteed to become fan favourites, charged with more adrenaline than some folks give Amaranthe credit for. There are two ballads to be had this time out – ‘True’ and ‘Over And Done’ – both of them loaded with radio potential and too smart for the suits making programming decisions. The album winds down with the heaviest song of Amaranthe’s career to date, ‘An Ordinary Abnormality’, featuring the sextet pulling out all the stops and crushing any ridiculous notions that pop metal has no balls. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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How about an Accept story that doesn’t involve discussion about former vocalist Udo Dirkschneider and his personal issues with the band? On top of that, let’s not talk about a possible reunion with the U.D.O frontman because, at this point in Accept’s career, stirring that pot is just plain bad manners bordering on insulting. Nope, the focus here is on Blind Rage, the band’s third go-round with singer Mark Tornillo, which the fans have been praising to high heaven according to guitarist Wolf Hoffmann. In fact, some diehards have actually gone on record calling Blind Rage the best of the three records in this “new” Accept’s catalogue. Brave words indeed, particularly when stacking it up against Blood Of The Nations, the band’s bold 2010 return that amounted to a “We’re back!” eargasm for their legion of fans.

Interestingly, Blind Rage comes off as being somewhat less heavy in places compared to Blood Of The Nations and its follow-up, Stalingrad. Call it classic heavy Accept with more melody and dynamics thrown into the mix, just like the good old days of Breaker (1981) and Restless And Wild (1982). Almost as if Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes experimented with branching out from what they know works for Accept fans in 2014.

“I’m not sure we did,” Hoffmann counters. “If anything I think we tried to hone it into what Accept really is. I think ‘experiment’ is a bad word to use. There are songs on Stampede that are more melodic, but all in all it’s totally Accept to me. A good song is a good song, and we always try to concentrate on songwriting more than anything, and if things sound a little softer or more melodic here and there, so be it. We’ve always been about melody in our songs. As long as people like it I’m happy.” Continue Reading

This story was originally published on this site back in April 2014, heralding the arrival of HDK’s new album Serenades Of The Netherworld. Or rather, the first taste of the record in the form of two singles to get people talking, which they did. Here’s the updated version of the story to coincide with the full album’s September 1st release.

By Carl Begai

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It’s been five years since former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans broke his self-imposed hiatus from the music business with HDK, a slavering beast of a project that flew in the face of his former band’s symphonic goth metal sound. The debut album, System Overload, was a full-on metal assault that presented both Gommans and vocalist/co-conspirator Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) entering unexplored territory, showing off a very different and altogether volatile side of their musical personalities. A second HDK album was always in the cards; it was just a question of when the pair would get around to writing and recording it in amongst other projects that were on the go, which included the launch of Gommans’ studio/music school The Rock Station, working on albums from Trillium and Kiske / Somerville, and tours with Trillium, Avantasia and Rock Meets Classic. Serenades Of The Netherworld has finally surfaced – creeping into the light slowly but surely – as a bigger and more melodic take on System Overload. It’s certainly more dynamic and less bent on bludgeoning the listener into submission, but not at the expense of healthy sonic violence.

Amanda: “That wasn’t because of me. That was definitely Sander’s fault (laughs).”

Sander: “The thing is, with the first album I wanted to do something really different from After Forever. I’d wanted to do it for years and years, and that’s what came out. Since then I’ve had time to work with other artists and re-think some stuff. I wanted to write a new HDK album that was similar to the previous one but it came out much more symphonic and way more melodic. I didn’t have to distance myself from After Forever anymore, and I was ready to write stuff that was more melodic anyway like I did for Trillium and Kiske / Somerville. And I worked with keyboard players this time, so that gave the music a different feel as well. The new HDK is still heavy but it’s different from the first album..”

Amanda: “On the first album Sander was saying ‘There aren’t going to be any keyboards on the album because After Forever is full of frickin’ keyboards…’ (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with how the new HDK album turned out.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This interview came together in the interest of covering The Winery Dogs, but it was a given that no matter which of the trio got tapped for the chat – Richie Kotzen (vocals, guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass), or Mike Portnoy (drums) – there would be plenty to talk about with regards to their respective careers outside the band. It was Portnoy that stepped up, and the conversation that followed touched on several aspects but certainly not all facets of his career. Hell, taking time to walk through all the projects and plans he’s had on the go over the last few years would have forced the cancellation of the show. And that’s without discussing his departure from Dream Theater.

First up, congratulations were in order for the success of the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 which took place back in February. It was essentially a 70000 Tons Of Metal-styled boat cruise for the progressive rock/metal nerd legions, and it was Portnoy that led the charge.

“Thank you. It was amazing. I played with three bands on board, seven sets in total. I played two shows each with three of the bands and a seventh set with Jon Anderson doing all the Yes stuff, plus there was two days of rehearsal on board, and then overseeing the whole thing, it was incredible. It was a fucking blur, and it went beyond my expectations. I saw the guys from Haken a couple nights ago and they were telling me how they’re still buzzing all these months later. That was a pretty common reaction from everybody that was on board whether it be the bands or the fans; everybody walked off that cruise just buzzing because they had been a part of a once in a lifetime event. For me it was incredibly surreal having overseen the project from both sides, as a player and a promoter or whatever you want to call it. It was one of the highlights of my career, hands down.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Mention UK-based power metal speedsters DragonForce in group conversation and somebody is bound to shriek or mumble “Guitar Hero” depending on their feelings towards the band’s unique brand of metal. It’s almost a bad cliché at this point, as some folks routinely bash DragonForce for “Through The Fire And Flames” becoming a video game hit that ultimately made them a big deal around the world. They’ve released three albums since Inhuman Rampage (2006) gave us their chart-approved hit, the latest being Maximum Overload featuring not-so-new vocalist Marc Hudson. It’s unlikely fans will be disappointed with the album, but the diehards should be prepared a few sonic changes going in. Maximum Overload ranks as DragonForce’s heaviest album to date, all at the frenzied yet capable hands of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman.

BraveWords: You guys have been magnets for criticism from day one because you dared to be different – what some people consider obnoxious – by going completely over-the-top. Taking a classic song (“Ring Of Fire”) from a legend like Johnny Cash and re-working it the way you have on Maximum Overload, you’re throwing yourselves to the wolves to a degree. Some people love it, other people hate you for it. Big, seething hate.

Li: “I think after Guitar Hero things can’t get any worse when it comes to insults (laughs). We can handle anything now.”

BraveWords: So that Guitar Hero stigma still follows you around?

Li: “Sometimes one of us meets a girl in a bar and the only reason she might know of us is because of Guitar Hero, which is kind of cool (laughs). But we hear it all the time: ‘DragonForce? They’re that shitty band from Guitar Hero…’ We also hear good things from that too, though, because people got into the band thanks to the game. We have a weird sense of humour anyway, so it’s all cool with us.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

When Unisonic surfaced in 2012 it was something of a milestone in that former Helloween bandmates Michael Kiske (vocals) and Kai Hansen (guitars) were officially working together again. They crossed paths several times following Kiske’s departure from Helloween in 1993 – Hansen having jumped ship four years earlier – beginning with Kiske’s guest appearance on Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album in 1995, but it wasn’t until Avantasia’s European tour in 2010 where they shared the stage for a few songs each night that the prospect of collaborating on bigger and better things became serious. Kiske already had Unisonic on the go with former Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer, Pink Cream 69 bassist/producer Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou, and the decision was made to bring Hansen on board. Interest in the band spiked once the news went public, but the self-titled debut received a mixed bag of reactions. It wasn’t the Helloween Mark II people had expected beyond the ‘Unisonic’ single that kicked things off, yet the band was able to tour extensively and successfully on the strength of the album. Light Of Dawn is Unisonic’s second shot in the arm, and the band remains unapologetic for doing things their own way rather than according to other people’s designs.

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“We came from our Place Vendome roots – me, Kosta and Michael – doing AOR stuff, and we knew we wanted to make melodic guitar-oriented music,” says Ward of Unisonic’s focus from the get-go. “I don’t want to insult anybody, and I sure don’t want to be rude, but we said from the beginning in a million different interviews that we’re not going to try and do anything remotely similar to Helloween. That was well stated so many times in advance, but we brought the record out and people were complaining that it wasn’t as heavy as they thought it would be. It was like, ‘Fucking hell, don’t you read? Don’t you care about what we said?’ I don’t want to be insulting, and with all due respect, we don’t give a shit about those complaints because we did what we wanted to do.”

“You have to look at the roots of the people in this band other than Michael, who has his metal roots way in the past. Kai came very late to the band, and the rest of us make hard rock music, not metal. It’s like Paul McCartney making a record that sounds like The Beatles; is he supposed to apologize for that? I don’t think so (laughs). No matter what we do we’re going to disappoint somebody, so we just stay true to ourselves. Slowly but surely we’re finding our way. On this album we tried some new stuff, we ventured farther into the dangerous metal realm (laughs). We left the dragons out but we tried to give the fans a little more of what they want to hear.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

There are two sides to Extreme’s Pornograffitti success story. On the one hand you have ‘More Than Words’ – arguably one of the greatest ballads ever written – made popular the world over by lovesick teenagers, lonely househusbands / wives, and socially inept business people everywhere. On the other side you have the fanbase that devoured the ‘Kid Ego’ stomp and ‘Play With Me’ shred of Extreme’s self-titled debut and wanted more. Those of us in the second group weren’t prepared for what hit us when Pornograffitti was unleashed, however, as it sucker-pounded us into a mindblown state by the time ‘Get The Funk Out’ raised its middle finger four songs in. Designed as a concept record, Pornograffitti took the listener on an trip through the realms of metal, rock, rap, Queen, Sinatra and everything in between, amounting to full-on theater for the ears and mind.

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Pushing twenty-five years later, Extreme has taken Pornograffitti on the road for a 25th Anniversary tour, playing the album from front to back as the first hour of a two hour show to packed houses. Given the storybook aspect of the record one would think turning it into a complete live set would be a no-brainer, but that wasn’t the case according to vocalist Gary Cherone. Nope, a lot of thinking was done before it became a reality.

“Someone brought it up in 2012,” he says, “and I remember going to those rehearsals thinking ‘Is this gonna work? Going in chronological order, ‘More Than Words’ is the fifth song…’. I didn’t want to do Pornograffitti in order but Nuno (Bettencourt / guitars) and Pat (Badger / bass) convinced me to do it. It worked in rehearsal but I couldn’t get my head around sitting down and doing ‘More Than Words’ as the fifth song in because we usually do it later in the set. Like the record, though, it works as a show because there’s a flow. I admit that I was wrong.”

When Pornograffitti was released it was unlike anything Extreme’s hair-band peers were doing, making it stick out like a sore thumb to anyone on the scene paying attention. It’s a milestone in the band’s career, and it resonated with the die-hard fans long before ‘More Than Words’ took over the world.

“‘More Than Words’ obviously struck a chord with people, but that happened nine months after the release,” Cherone reveals. “We were writing for III Sides To Every Story, the Pornograffitti record was dead, we were touring Europe and getting ready to do the third record, and all of a sudden ‘More Than Words’ took hold in Denver and started to connect. Quoting Nuno, the Pornograffitti record is where we found ourselves. On the first record we were our influences – Aerosmith, Van Halen – and on Pornograffitti we discovered what we were. There are monster riffs on the record; Nuno is out of control (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Overkill frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is a favourite around the BraveWords office, and with good reason. He brings himself and his lust for life to the table whether he’s talking metal or songwriting or the chocolate shop he runs on the side.There are no textbook answers and no bullshit with his delivery. Thus, settling in to discuss Overkill’s new album White Devil Armory is a raucous conversation with an old friend punctuated by his trademark cackle, anecdotes left and right, Blitz’s appreciation for his lot in life as obvious as the skull on the new album cover. It also raises the question whether he’s ever going to slow down, having released albums consistently since 1985 with no more than a three year gap between them.

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“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Blitz laughs. “Somebody asked me the other day what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this, and I told him I’d be dead in six months. It’s still a cool feeling to just press play. As time goes on it’s not that easy to make records because of the repetition factor; you don’t want to repeat yourself. You want the music to have that energy, you don’t want to feign it, but where it all starts coming together is when you realize that making music and being in a band is just what you do. When you drop all the pre-processing and just go for it, things work. Who am I to question that and try to fix what’s not broken? It’s obviously not broken at all.”

Blitz is, of course, being paid lip service from all corners leading up to the release of the new album, but the positive feedback shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been on board the Overkill thrashwagon for the duration. As Overkill albums go White Devil Armory is a welcome high speed shred-and-spit rollercoaster ride.

“A guy I spoke to recently called Overkill the Motörhead of thrash, and that’s one hell of a compliment,” he says. “That pushes through it all. I think the general feeling is that White Devil Armory is Overkill at a high level and a fresh level. We obviously know who we are, and there’s a revitalized feeling on the metal scene itself, so I think the record reflects that. I think the new record has more diversity compared to (previous album) The Electric Age (2012), which is what a lot of people have said to me. We have certain Overkill tools and D.D. (Verni/bass) uses them at will, but I think he uses them more on the new record. It shows that the band isn’t one or two dimensional, but well beyond that.” Continue Reading

I was recently asked to contribute to a book known as The Dig showcasing Japanese metal. I was initially approached by veteran journalist Takashi Kanazawa for an interview offering up one person’s western world view on Japanese bands, but he decided to take it up a level and asked me to compose an actual article. Published exclusively in Japan by Shinko Music, the issue came out at the end of June. The original English text is below.

Die-hard Japanese metal fans may be put off by the fact that I only mention some of the most popular / best known bands. Note that if I’d been given the space the story would have been a lot longer, and I would have paid worthy attention to many of the Japanese bands that fly below international radar a lot of the time. Fact is that Loudness, Anthem, EZO and X Japan were the building blocks for my interest in the Japanese metal scene; this is a story about that.

I am by no means an authority on Japanese metal, so take this as one fan’s tribute to that scene.

By Carl Begai

My love affair with Japanese heavy metal began as it did for the vast majority of western world metalheads: Loudness.

It was 1986, and during an episode of the weekly Power Hour on MuchMusic (Canada’s answer to MTV) the band’s video for their new song ‘Let It Go’ was aired for the first time. I was immediately enthralled. Everything about the song was magic – the guitar riff, the vocals, the melodies, the solos – and I wanted more. The next day I bought the cassette version of the Lightning Strikes album from Sam The Record Man in downtown Toronto and, during the drive home, I was introduced to a band that captivates me to this day.

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Hell, it was because of ‘Let It Go’ that I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. After over 25 years of practice I can almost play the whole song. Almost.

It was the purchase of Loudness’ Disillusion album several weeks later, however, that made me a Japanese metal addict for life. I found the vinyl LP at the Record Peddler import store, unaware the band’s label Music For Nations had pressed Japanese and English language versions of the record. I didn’t realize until I put it on at home that I’d picked up the Japanese version. It was the strangest and most amazing thing I’d ever heard. As a Canadian I come from one of the most culturally enriched countries in the world, yet the exposure I’d had to Japanese at that point in my life never prepared me for the metal blasting out of my stereo. Everything about it was unique to my ears, and so damn heavy. Even the ballad. I was amazed, and I must have played it 100 times in the first month.

From the moment I dropped the needle on the record I was hooked, and the hunt began… Continue Reading