German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas’ 2018 album, Egoschwein, may well be the most punk thing to ever hit my sound system. And there isn’t a single hint of in-your-face distortion to be heard.
I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’ve found that in between the bouts of Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Soilwork, Warrior Soul, Moonspell and Cradle Of Filth that shake the walls of my office on a regular basis, Egoschwein is a wonderful way to cleanse my musical pallet and educate my ears a little bit more.
Nickschas is a live performer first and foremost, dishing out her own unique brand of acoustic-based big-band blues-infused-jazz. Egoschwein sounds like it was recorded live off the floor, particularly the vocals, which have a smoke-and-whiskey edge one expects to hear from the stage, not from a polished studio recording. Any notes or tones that sound slightly off – a hair flat or a tad sharp – only add to the organic feel of the songs. She’s often reminiscent of Patti Smith circa 1979 crossed with classic Tracy Chapman, making for a sound all her own. Instrumentally, the album is loaded with musical fireworks and gentle nuance backing the acoustic guitar / bass / drums core with saxophone, violin (fiddle for you heathens), piano, some clean electric guitar, and a healthy dose of vocal ad-libs from Nickschas. While the songs stand on their own as solo / duo acoustic renditions – often performed that way – the full band adds a whole new dimension to the tracks, making them so much stronger.
Continue reading CYNTHIA NICKSCHAS – Egoschwein
German bashers M.I.GOD. have been kicking around for close to 20 years, releasing albums as time and resources allow, earning themselves a small but respectable following along the way. The international market was never the focus so there was never a serious push in that direction, but after the release of the Floor 29 album in 2012 things went quiet, messing up any forward momentum they may have had. This year the band returned with Specters On Parade, an album unlike anything in the M.I.GOD. catalogue. Meant as a concept record, reviews have been all over the map, with one reviewer going so far as to simply call the album “shit.” The band good-naturedly shared said small-minded review via social media, knowing full well that no matter how poorly some people react to Specters On Parade, it is most certainly not the slab of crap they would have you believe.
In actual fact, Specters On Parade is the best album M.I.GOD. has released to date and it’s worthy of international attention.
Vocalist / founder Max Chemnitz discussed the new prog-metal monster a few days after a harrowing live experience – “all kinds of technical problems, I couldn’t hear anything” – that turned out far better than anticipated, with the crowd chanting “M.I.GOD.” at the end of the band’s set.
“Some of the reviews for Specters On Parade, you can tell that the people are just listening to the music because they are curious about what we’re doing, and after that first listen they wrote the review,” says Chemnitz. “There are some journalists that say the album is good, the parts are well played and all that, but they didn’t get the concept, they didn’t get what we intended to do.”
Continue reading M.I.GOD. – Crossing The Threshold
By Carl Begai
Germany’s M.I.GOD. have been kicking around since 2001, having released a handful of albums worthy of their small and loyal following, but nothing to make the jaded journalist stand up and take note for more than a few heartbeats. Until now. Specters On Parade is not only the best album of their career – their first since 2012 – it’s one of those records where people in-the-know wonder why in the hell M.I.GOD. hasn’t been picked up by a big label and put on a well-deserved promo pedestal.
Specters On Parade is a bold concept album featuring 20 tracks – ten full songs separated by brief soundscapes – that focuses on the protagonist’s internal battle with his mind. Heavy, melodic and dark, vocalist Max Chemnitz proves to be remarkably versatile with his mid-range, which is two steps shy of being one of those smoky goth voices yet all metal right up to hitting the highs, and using death metal growls as a nuance rather than part of the big picture (brilliant decision). Likewise, guitarists Uli Holzermer and Dan Hess shine from beginning to end, whether it’s charging in as riff monsters, playing it soft, or soundtrack atmospheric. Guitar riffs and tones range anywhere from Queensryche to Dream Theater to Devin Townsend to Static X depending on the song, and it has to be said that drummer Eric Wunderlich stands out in a very Portnoy / Rockenfield way, providing a solid metal backbone without being overbearing. Continue reading M.I.GOD. – Specters On Parade
Canadian bashers Kobra And The Lotus kicked off 2018 in the best position they’ve ever been in over the course of the band’s 10 year career. After years of riding the record label carousel, numerous line-up changes, and vocalist Kobra Paige’s battle with Lyme disease that severely reduced the band’s ability to tour, Kobra And The Lotus landed at Napalm Records. The growing label saw worth in the band’s mad scheme (for a small act) to release a double album, promptly developing a plan to market and promote the record, enabling KATL to get back on the road. The proposed Prevail album was divided into two parts by the label, with Prevail I released in May 2017. The record hit the Independent (Soundscan) and Heatseekers charts, yielding three singles (four if you count pre-release taster “Trigger Pulse”). All in all, a fantastic restart for a band that has waded through its share of industry bullshit and personal issues. Prevail II continues this run, charting in similar fashion to Prevail I and seeing Kobra And The Lotus on the road yet again, as it should be.
Paige spoke with BraveWords last year about the motivation behind Prevail I and II, and prior to hitting the road she picked up the thread regarding how the band managed to divide the songs between the two albums – 21 in total, plus bonus material – and create a balance to work in their favour.
“It was pretty stressful at first trying to figure out what to do with all the music we had,” Paige admits. “All we knew is that we wanted it to be equally balanced between the two albums. What really helped us was that Napalm Records chose some of the songs that went on Prevail I. They chose ‘Trigger Pulse’ and ‘You Don’t Know’, and in my head ‘Light Me Up’ had a similar vibe, ‘Gotham’ seemed to match with ‘Trigger Pulse’, so that laid the groundwork. And because we had the one instrumental on Prevail I (‘Check The Phyrg’) it made sense to put the other one (‘Ribe’) on Prevail II.”
Considering the amount of work that went into writing songs for what is essentially a double album, it’s surprising to hear that Kobra And The Lotus were so willing to hand off choosing the track running order(s) to the record label.
“It wasn’t really that hard. We really felt strongly about ‘Trigger Pulse’ for some reason and it went from there. Honestly, it was a relief to have Napalm’s input because once they explained why it would be better to release Prevail in two parts rather than all at once, it made sense. It was really strange but cool that everything just fit into place doing the whole Prevail thing.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – Success In The Snakepit
By Carl Begai
In 2016, Canada’s former Metal Queen turned rock icon Lee Aaron released what was viewed by many as her comeback album, Fire And Gasoline. Not particularly accurate in that she’s been releasing music and touring ever since she went “away” in 1996 – more on that later – but the album was in fact her first full-on rock release since 1994. Whether it was as strong as her work from the ’80s and early ’90s is a matter of taste, but Fire And Gasoline laid the groundwork and kicked open a few doors to allow for renewed interest in her career and an impressive follow-up album, Diamond Baby Blues. It’s a record that serves up no-nonsense blues-heavy rock n’ roll and shows off yet another side of Lee Aaron’s musical personality. It’s also a message that says she’s still in it for the long haul thanks to Fire And Gasoline, ready to take another bold step forward.
“It feels fantastic because I’m making records that I really love and really want to make,” Lee says of Diamond Baby Blues. “There’s no record company pressure like there used to be to create art that fits into a mold. I’m able to create art that I like and I love, and work with the people I want to work with. The biggest stressors for me these days are balancing family, my children, because they’re still in school and they need a lot of support. And not only are the navigating academia, they’re dealing with social dynamics and hormones so they really need their parents to be around. I strive to keep a balance between my personal life and music. It’s always a delicate dance. It certainly keeps your feet on the ground, it keeps you humble because just when you think you’re pretty special, you’re not (laughs).”
It turns out that Fire And Gasoline was the jump-off point for the creation of Diamond Baby Blues, but not in the traditional sense of album release / feedback / tour / feedback = renewed energy and inspiration.
“Believe it or not, this album was already recorded and mostly finished when we went on tour last summer,” Lee reveals. “We recorded it on Spring Break because everyone had some time; we went out to the studio and laid down all the bedtracks, and I had most of the vocals done before the tour. From there it was just some small things to fix up like backing vocals and extra keyboard parts. We were just so excited from the response we got for Fire And Gasoline, so I just booked some studio time and said ‘Okay, we’re going in on March Break…’ but we didn’t know what we were going to do (laughs). I talked about doing some covers that I always wanted to record, and the suggestion of doing an album of half covers, half originals came up. Then came the question of how we wanted to approach that. Some people do covers records that are an homage to a certain artist, like doing all David Bowie songs or all Led Zeppelin songs, but our idea was to take these songs we’d chosen, deconstruct them and make them our own, and we made that the template for the (original) songs we wanted to write. But, we knew we were going in more of a rootsy, hard blues direction before we even wrote the material.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: LEE AARON – Blues Maiden Canada
By Carl Begai
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.
“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”
The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?
“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: AYREON – A Kind Of Prog Metal Magic
By Carl Begai
Fronted by former Sodom guitarist Andy Brings – from the Tapping The Vein and Get What You Deserve albums – Double Crush Sydrome is Germany’s version of Danko Jones; a solid three-piece rock band with corpse-glam painted punk tendencies backed by a solid metalhead pedigree. Active since 2013, the band is finally making some serious headway with this first official album featuring updated tracks from their 2013 independent release, The You Filter, and brand new songs. Die For Rock N’ Roll kicks off with the Skid Row-does-Ramones sounding “Gimme Everything” and remains full steam ahead through the title track, “Unfriend Me Now” and “She’s A Pistol”, gaining momentum and dynamics as it goes. Aside from sporting a clever title, “On Top Of Mount Whateverest” shows off the DCS penchant for sidestepping predictability, with bassist (and Brings’ former Traceelords bandmate) Slick adding his voice to the proceedings and the band tying things off with a mighty metal outro. The Danko Jones punch of “Yeah! Pain!” is followed by the unexpectedly cheesy (and first official single) “I Wanna Be Your Monkey”, which has legs for miles as a live track and is bound to become a singalong show closer. “Slow Suicide” is the exact opposite, dark and destined to surprise some people given the album’s party vibe with its “please kill yourself” bridge. And so it goes on the Die For Rock N’ Roll rock n’ rollercoaster from the moment it leaves the gate. Continue reading DOUBLE CRUSH SYNDROME – Die For Rock N’ Roll
By Carl Begai
It’s been seven years since Norway’s #1 loved and loathed black metal export Dimmu Borgir released their ninth album, Abrahadabra. Not the best record in the band’s catalogue according to many a fan, but more than enough time has passed to warrant a crushing return to glory… which makes Dimmu Borgir’s decision to release a live DVD / Blu-ray package featuring performances over five years old confusing. Make no mistake; Forces Of The Northern Night is a beautifully crafted memoir for diehard followers featuring the band performing two special shows with a full symphony orchestra and choir, but after this amount of time people were expecting brand new music. According to guitarist Silenoz, the fans only need to stretch their collective patience until the end of the year because there is in fact a method to their current madness.
“We did some touring with Abrahadabra but not that much, and we took a break that just got longer and longer,” Silenoz says of Dimmu Borgir’s prolonged silence. “We’ve never been the typical run-of-the-mill band that records an album, goes on tour, records an album, goes back on tour. We’ve always taken our time and it works for us, which is the only formula we have.”
The break from touring and recording played a big role in enabling the band to pull off the two shows featured on Forces Of The Northern Night – first in 2011 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Schola Cantorum Choir (KORK) in Oslo, then with the Czech National Orchestra at the Wacken Open Air 2012 – and compile the material for official release.
“It really takes a lot of preparation to pull off something like the orchestral shows, and it’s been a dream of ours for many years to be able to perform with a live orchestra since we’ve utilised symphony orchestra on our albums. It was just a matter of time until it happened, and it was great that the orchestra approached us about doing it rather than the other way around. That’s what made it feasible for us to be able to do it. Then the Wacken Open Air asked us if we could do a special orchestra show in 2012, and because we did it the year before one thing just led to another. Next thing we know, we’re playing this epic show in front of 80,000 people with 100 people on stage, and we didn’t really have a soundcheck (laughs).” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DIMMU BORGIR – Night Comes Out Of Black
By Carl Begai
In 2014, Sanctuary fans celebrated when the legendary metal outfit made their four year reunion official with the release in The Year The Sun Died. The music was distinctly Sanctuary courtesy of guitarist Lenny Rutledge’s style, albeit fatter and heavier thanks to modern day production values, but some people were put off by the absence of frontman Warrel Dane’s – formerly of Nevermore – signature ’80s high end vocals and assorted shrieks. It was an unfair criticism given Sanctuary’s classic albums Refuge Denied and Into The Mirror Black were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively – the man’s voice had simply aged with him – and it certainly wasn’t enough to halt the band’s forward momentum. Work is building slowly for a follow-up, tentatively titled Dead Again, but in the meantime Sanctuary fans can feast on Inception. Dubbed a prequel to Refuge Denied, the record features remixed and remastered demo recordings from 1986 that were all but forgotten until Rutledge stumbled across them by accident.
“I didn’t realize they were stored where they were stored,” Rutledge says in what has become a well worn story by this point. “I did some recordings of other bands in the mid-’90s, so I would find miscellaneous tapes here and there; they weren’t stored in any organized fashion. I’d forgotten about the Sanctuary tapes. I have a two-storey barn and the top floor is all messed up, it leaks, there are squirrels and birds up there… it’s just like a barn on any property. The lower part was converted into a studio, which is really nice, so going upstairs you’re in a completely different world (laughs). I happened to be up there looking for some stuff and I came across the box that had those particular Sanctuary tapes in it. It was a surprise to find them, and to find them in the condition they were in. My heart kinda sank because those tapes had been up there for 15 years, and when I discovered them I was sure I made a big mistake by not keeping track of them.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: SANCTUARY – Revisiting The Past Through The Looking Glass
By Carl Begai
Following up their respectable low-key 2015 debut, Behold, the German trio Fall Of Carthage return with a thundering second record that quite frankly puts album #1 to shame. Everything about The Longed-For Reckoning is bigger, better, and loaded with major league potential. Best to leave the genre-specific tags, stamps and brands in the box; Fall Of Carthage are a no-nonsense bordering-on-brutal metal band, as they encompass and embrace the groove and thrash that made Testament, Pantera and Machine Head go-to bands for rivet-heads the world over. Additionally, there are dozens of crushing moments reminiscent of guitarist James Murphy’s classic Convergence album. Quite the victory for guitarist Arkadius Antonik, who is currently celebrating a 20 year career under his belt as the frontman and brainchild behind folk metal veterans Suidakra. Fall Of Carthage gives him the chance to simply shut up and play, cranking out some of the juiciest riffs of his existence since Suidakra’s classic Emprise To Avalon album released way back in 2002.
And the song arrangements…. prepare for a rollercoaster ride thanks to drummer Martin Buchwalter, who goes beyond anything he’s done with Perzonal War. Grab a listen to “Turning Point”, “Dust And Dirt” and “Fast Forward” for an overview of what to expect, then prepare to be knocked ass over teacup as you wind your way through the record. Continue reading FALL OF CARTHAGE – The Longed-For Reckoning