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By Carl Begai

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Canadian bashers Kobra And The Lotus kicked off the summer of 2014 in the best way possible; they released their monstrous High Priestess album to rave reviews, hitting the road the day before the record hit the shelves supporting KISS on their 40 Anniversary North American summer tour alongside Def Leppard. Not the sort of honour bestowed upon one’s metal head every day, especially to a young band that has been paying its dues in the clubs and on festival circuits since 2009. Membership has its privileges, of course – in this case being signed to Simmons/Universal featuring KISS legend and business mogul Gene Simmons – but Kobra And The Lotus still had to deliver to audiences that generally didn’t give a damn about them.

“As a whole that tour was amazing,” says Paige, agreeing the band was widely regarded as window dressing by the diehard KISS fans. “The experience was incredible and really inspiring for us. KISS and Def Leppard were really great to us, they’re great people, and they shared some stories that really put them on the same level with us. It showed us that you have to have faith in yourself and push through a lot of obstacles. Def Leppard told us about getting bottles of piss thrown at them in ’88, but they kept going. The shows were very different and we had to adjust to that. Capacity for the amphitheaters we played was about 20,000 every night, and people were kind of pouring in and having drinks as we were playing, so we’d be in front of 8,000 to 10,000 people but that looks really scattered over that amount of space.”

It sounds as if Kobra And The Lotus were like a restaurant lounge act on any given night; patrons milling about, more concerned about finding their seats and ordering food and booze than the music.

“It was like that! But, it was good for us and it made us improve as performers because we had to figure out how to captivate that kind of audience. It was fun, and there were some shows that were definitely epic. Nashville was completely full when we played and it was amazing, it was so loud. That was probably the highlight for me on that whole tour.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Musicians and journalists who have been doing their respective schticks long enough are painfully aware of how the Q&A process can become agonizingly formulaic. The artist hopes the press person on his or her list knows more than just the band’s name and the title of their new album. The journalist prays the musician is able to go beyond saying the new album is the best thing he / she / they have ever done. If both sides have their collective shit together, as in this case, it makes for a very interesting conversation.

I recently spoke with W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless about the band’s new album, Golgotha. At one point, discussion surrounding the long break between the new record and Babylon from 2009 turned into a look inside one of W.A.S.P.’s strongest albums, The Crimson Idol (1992), a personal favourite. From there it became a look back on the early days of the band’s career and the album that transformed W.A.S.P. from being regarded as an unruly party tribe to frighteningly intelligent musicians, The Headless Children.

With regards to Golgotha being four years in the making – due to Lawless going through various surgeries to mend broken body parts, and a W.A.S.P. 30th Anniversary tour – Lawless claims it was good for him to have time to live with the material and let it grow. There’s always the danger, however, that you might lose the passion for the project or start second guessing your work the longer you hammer away at it.

“The first part, no; the second part was definitely a consideration,” says Lawless. “You start making one record and by the time you’re finished you’re into making another one. When we did The Crimson Idol, I came very close to doing that. I started writing the story, and by the time I got to the end of that two year process I had fleshed out the character (Johnathan Steele) so much that to me he was like a living, breathing person. There’s a tendency to want to modify the story, but it’s like ‘No, stick to the script… (laughs).’ I had to tell myself to let it go. Looking back at that now, had I given in I would have killed the Idol record.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Kataklysm has gotten fat. Monstrously fat. And frontman Maurizio Iacono couldn’t be happier.

We are, of course, referring to Kataklysm’s latest slab of violence Of Ghosts And Gods, a thundering, seething fuck off of an album if there ever was one in the band’s catalogue. As melodic death metal goes it has rightfully been tagged as being on par with At The Gates’ stellar comeback, At War With Reality. As a Kataklysm album it has been dubbed their strongest in years, taking into account that the shock and excitement of being nailed to the wall has blown some minds into paste. Either way, the accolades can be attributed to Kataklysm burning whatever tattered rulebook they’ve been using for the last several years, and the addition of producer Andy Sneap (Testament, Accept, Arch Enemy, you name ’em…) to their creative arsenal.

“The reason we went to Andy Sneap to do this is because we thought the combination of him with J-F (Dagenais/guitars, producer) would be great,” Iacono begins. “J-F is a great engineer, but when you do everything yourself sometimes you lose the ability to be 100% on the ball because recording and mixing is such a long process. There are so many details. We wanted someone that has a good name, sure, but we also wanted someone we’re a fan of. We were lucky he even picked us because Andy is in high demand, and he’s turned down some big bands. For him to grab the new Kataklysm record was great.”

If you’re a Sneap fan it comes as no surprise to hear he succeeded in beefing up Kataklysm’s already crushing sound for Of Ghosts And Gods. As a Kataklysm fan you wish he would have jumped on board a few albums earlier once you give the new album a listen or five. Iacono agrees wholeheartedly. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Kobra

During my interview with Kobra And The Lotus vocalist Kobra Paige for the band’s new Canadian rock classic covers EP, Words Of The Prophets, one subject that came up was the band’s lack of touring in support of their full length album from 2014, High Priestess. They had the once-in-a-career experience of opening for KISS and Def Leppard through North America that same year, but Kobra And The Lotus were conspicuously absent from the European touring and festival circuit after years of being non-stop on the go on both sides of the Atlantic. At least that’s how it seemed.

“You’re completely right, we toured significantly less,” agrees Paige. “The main reason for that was I got really sick and the doctors said I couldn’t go out on the road. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and it got really, really bad. We didn’t tour for eight months. I’m just starting to get back into it now but I’m still on antibiotics and being treated.”

According to medical journals Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks that can cause arthritis, neurological issues, and heart problems. It also wears down your immune system. Fortunately, the disease is NOT contagious and can’t be passed directly from human to human.

“I wasn’t sure if I should say anything about it to the fans or bring it up in the press because it was scary being off the road. If a band’s activity drops people start to forget about you really fast, but it was unavoidable. Basically, my body took me out. I had such severe mono that I didn’t really get out of bed in the first month that we were home. You can’t fight anything off when your immune system gets so bad like that. The last place you want to be when that happens is on the road because there’s nothing working for you at all.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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There’s a music snob stigma attached to progressive metal and prog rock based entirely on one’s chosen approach. Young musicians with hearts set on the brass ring try to out-“Metropolis” Dream Theater at every turn (yeah, good luck with that), the diehard fan(atic)s will argue at length as to why their heroes can do no wrong even when the latest epic is clearly a cut/paste car crash of odd time signatures and über-noodling, and the traditional metalhead legions scoff at the thought of math pits versus mosh pits. Early on in their career New Jersey progsters Symphony X were seen as yet another band to be emulated, worshipped and slagged for their niche brand of music, but they’ve broken free from that particular cell block in a big way. It’s a process that began in 2007 with their Paradise Lost album – a metal slab nobody had counted on – took root in 2011 with Iconoclast, and has now grown into something particularly ominous with new outing, Underworld. Symphony X is still prog metal, absolutely, but it’s nice to hear a progressive band that’s not trying to blow away their listeners with 16 time changes in five minutes just to prove they have the chops.

Ask guitarist Michael Romeo and he’ll tell you Underworld is about the songs as a whole, not the flash inside them.

“We were talking about doing different things after eight albums,” he says. “The Rush album Moving Pictures came up a lot in conversation because every song on that record is great. Yeah, there’s some progressive stuff on Underworld but in the end there are just great songs on the record. The only thing we were really thinking about was trying to not to repeat something we’ve done. We wanted to do something a little bit different but have the elements of what people know from Symphony X.”

“The goal was for things to be cohesive and to the point, and if the songs catch people off guard, cool. Yeah, we’re a progressive band, so there’s nothing wrong with putting some measures in 7 somewhere, but we do it without taking away from the songs.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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BraveWords has been watching guitarist Luca Turilli’s career since the release of Rhapsody’s 1997 debut, Legendary Tales… back when we were BW&BK and in print only. In the time since then we’ve covered the band’s album-by-album rise to fame, their unexpected triumphant stand in Montreal supporting Manowar (and subsequent trouncing of the headliner), the court case against former management (led by Manowar’s Joey Demaio) which forced the band to change their name to Rhapsody Of Fire, and Turilli’s confusing but amicable split to form Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. Over those 18 years, Turilli’s passion for his art hasn’t waned one iota. In fact, his present enthusiasm is downright dangerous given his vastly increased command of the English language since those early days. It kinda makes you wish you could bottle and use it as a Monday morning motivational chaser.

Bottom line is that even if you don’t care for the in-your-face happy metal soundtrack bombast of Turilli’s music, it’s very hard not to like the guy.

Turilli is currently pounding the pavement in support of his new album, Prometheus – Symphonia Ignis Divinus. Fans won’t be disappointed, as it features all the epic metal bells and whistles that made him and former partner Alex Staropoli – still with Rhapsody Of Fire – famous. This record just happens to be the biggest, most complex Rhapsody-related outing yet. A far cry from the comparative Super Mario soundtracking of Legendary Tales.

“We were influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen, the Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums from Helloween, and I was really inspired by the original soundtrack for the Batman movie directed by Tim Burton, composed by Danny Elfman,” says Turilli, laying the Rhapsody groundwork. “We weren’t so pretentious to think that we could create something brand new, but we wanted to create something out of our influences. We proposed something new with Legendary Tales, and it was the record company that decided to call it Hollywood metal. If you can imagine we were putting the classic orchestral elements into our compositions note by note using a keyboard and a sequencer. At the time, those orchestral samples we used were considered the best around.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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For non-German-speaking Rammstein fans that have wondered what frontman Till Lindemann has been singing about for the past 20 years, the Lindemann debut Skills In Pills will answer that question. May whatever deity you bow down to save your soul if you’re a prude.

It’s actually not as bad as all that provided your sense of humour is plugged in along with your earbuds. If you enter Skills In Pills expecting emotional depth and moral introspection you’re most certainly in the wrong place. There are a couple such moments, but you need to weed them out amongst done-for-fun tracks like “Praise Abort”, “Ladyboy”, “Golden Shower”, “Fish On”, “Skills In Pills” and “Fat” (which spawned the title of this story). Settling in to discuss the new record with Till Lindemann and Pain / Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren, it becomes clear within the first 30 seconds that the duo had a riot putting it together. The share a mutual respect as musicians and friends, and their chemistry is that of two high school punks up to no good and looking forward to the repercussions.

To be clear, Lindemann is not a solo project. Peter Tägtgren is an equal partner, but most folks outside of Scandinavia can’t pronounce his surname properly so the duo went with the next obvious choice.

BraveWords: For those that haven’t heard the Lindemann material yet, your sound is a mix between Rammstein and Pain, which should come as a surprise to exactly nobody.

Peter: “Oh yeah, it’s definitely a mix of the two.”

Till: “Call it PainStein-ish (laughs).”

Peter: “You’ll always hear Rammstein in there because of Till’s voice, and the keyboards and chugging guitars are definitely me. But, it was put together in a different way and I did things that I’ve never done before on this album. There are two ballads on the album, for example. At the beginning Till was talking about doing one and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do a fucking ballad…’ but somehow he convinced me (laughs). We were writing a piece and it turned into something else, so what we accomplished as the final album turned out to be very fresh.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Photographer-turned-musician Omer Cordell doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. He does, however, possess an artistic streak that saw him go from tackling the bass as a hobby to a full album of prog-metal tweaked Pink Floydian-esque songs. A full year in the making, Trailight went from being a blip on social media radar as Cordell began assembling the necessary pieces to an intense musical experience unleashed at the end of May 2015. The do-it-himself experience included a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the production (found on YouTube) and extensive track-by-track breakdowns all prior to the album release (issued via Facebook), far more than most signed band are able or willing to produce… and for a fanbase that had yet to be established. That’s about to change, as Trailight is slowly but surely gaining some well deserved momentum.

“The Trailight album is the result of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine,” Cordell begins. “I originally released what I call a glorified demo with a bunch of instrumental stuff that I performed myself. That was when I was just starting to play music. What inspired me to do it was an interview I read with a bass player I really like – I started playing bass about four-and-a-half years ago – and he said the best way to explore yourself as a musician is to write music. I thought that was a great piece of advice, so I went out and bought some crappy gear, and taught myself how to record.”

Cordell admits that at the time he had no idea what he was doing or how to go about it. His learning-by-doing approach would pay off in spades when it came time to mix and master the official Trailight debut, The Primitive Mountain. But more on that later…

“I played everything myself on my first attempt – there was no singing on the material – and I compiled a bunch of stuff and over the course of about a year that I wanted to share with people. It was an experiment, really; bedroom demos that made it into CD form. Nothing to write home about, but a handful of people really dug it so that gave me the confidence and push to work on the real debut, which is The Primitive Mountain. It was more popular amongst fellow bassist in the Spector community who were liking the tones and effect. They dug it so I released it as my first thing.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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With 30 years of history under their collective belt, the current incarnation of Helloween could realistically get away without having to make new albums and still have a successful ongoing career. They have weathered numerous storms over the past three decades including having lost co-founding guitarist Kai Hansen to creative differences and Gamma Ray, releasing a couple royal stinkers (depending on who you talk to), drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committing suicide, and parting ways with the man often / still viewed by many as the only singer worthy of Helloween, Michael Kiske, yet they’ve forged onward. Their latest album, My God Given Right, is yet another example of the German act’s legendary tenacity.

Helloween’s previous album, Straight Out Of Hell (2013), was an epic juggernaut as far as the band’s discography is concerned. Everything about it was big and brash right down to the artwork, even more obnoxious than their 1998 corker Better Than Raw, with the band and label going so far as to get their balls out and release a 7-minute first single (‘Nabataea’) that was far more listenable than the anemic “mainstream” edited version. In contrast, My God Given Right sees the ‘Weenies tightening things up and adhering to their roots more than ever. Vocalist Andi Deris discovered during the massive press junket for the album that most folks genuinely appreciate the new music

“They aren’t completely great actors, ” Deris laughs, referring to the ass-kissing “best album you’ve ever made” contingent that’s par for the course. “We’ve never been everybody’s darlings and that’s not about to change, but the majority of people seem to like the album a lot. I think the reason for that is we’re always listening to the fans when they tell us what they like and don’t like. That’s still a learning experience, even now. The important thing is that we continue to move forward even as we hold on to where Helloween came from.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Halestorn vocalist Lzzy Hale clearly has no concept of downtime, having used whatever breathing room she had in between tours to speak with me for a new BraveWords feature story. That interview can be found here. Following are a few extra bits of insight from that discussion:

Lzzy is, of course, known for her killer voice and good looks, but in keeping with her next generation Joan Jett appeal, she also plays guitar. In fact, she looks rather strange on stage without her signature Explorer in hand.Asked if she’s at all disappointed by most people treating her axe-playing as as afterthought – although Premier Guitar recently did their best to remedy that with a rig rundown – Lzzy doesn’t worry about it.

“I got into playing guitar because I wanted to be a bad-ass,” she admits. “That really was the only reason. I followed Tom Keifer from Cinderella and decided I had to get off the piano (laughs). As I learned more about the instrument it became more of a personal journey for me. I don’t really mind being in the shadows guitar-wise because I’m becoming a better player year after year. As that happens people will start noticing me as a guitar player. I don’t pay a lot of attention to people paying a whole lot of attention to me (laughs).” Continue Reading