On The Inside
By Carl Begai
When asked about her short tenure with Japanese melodic death/trance metal outifit Blood Stain Child – two years and one album in total – Greek vocalist Sophia looks back on it as a bittersweet experience. The split was anything but amicable, with Sophia harbouring a certain amount of resentment with regards to how and why things fell apart. Rather than letting the bad taste left in her mouth poison her love for making music, Sophia did what any genuine artist does: she buckled down to create something bigger and better than her previous outing. Season Of Ghosts is her new lease on life, a labour of love that pushed Sophia’s creativity to an entirely new level for the debut album planned for later this year, The Human Paradox.
“It’s a pretty crazy mixture of everything and anything I represent and believe in,” says Sophia without missing a beat. “And my co-producer Zombie Sam was a great helping hand during the whole process because he has the classical knowledge to interpret my ideas exactly. I have classical knowledge of my own but I’m not very good with software yet and that’s what it came down to. I can program the basics, but going from what I know about programming to what I wanted to do for Season Of Ghosts, there was a huge gap. I gave Sam my piano scripts, music scores and an overwhelming bulk of notes, and I told him to use this piano sound, that instrument or the other to make it sound Frankenstein because that represents me (laughs). He tried it once, twice, and I was getting frustrated by about the 10th time, but once he got it right we worked from that point forward like a clock.”
Sophia is known first and foremost as a singer, but it’s important to establish the fact that she built the musical foundation for Season Of Ghosts herself. She didn’t hire a group of songwriters to create material according to a wishlist; the tracks started out as personal compositions that grew into full-blown songs over time.
“For this album I started with piano and guitar, and I just let myself go so that I was free to imagine what a certain song should sound like. I’d say 90% of the songs on the album started with the piano or guitar melody, and only 10% – really just one song – started with the vocal melody. I built the foundation and then I imagined the vocal parts.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Having worked with Midnattsol vocalist Carmen Elise Espenæs over the past 10 years helping to shape her song lyrics, I’m well aware of her being very nature oriented. No, she’s not a hemp-smoking tree-hugger hippie; Carmen is from Norway, which boasts beautiful and often surreal landscapes, offering her a wealth of inspiration for her music. That said, it came as no surprise to learn the cover art for the self-titled debut from her new band, Savn, was a real down-to-earth photograph rather than a cut-and-tweak image crafted entirely using a computer.
How the band went about creating the cover shot, however, was an adventure in itself that took months to complete.
“I was thinking about the idea of the deprivation of music since Savn started because of this theme,” Carmen begins, referring to guitarist/founder and former The Sins Of My Beloved member Stig Johansen’s inspiration for starting the band. “I was trying to figure out how we could portray the idea of the deprivation of music in a picture, and because I love nature I had this idea of a musical instrument grown over with plants and roots and things in the woods, as if it hadn’t been played in a long time. Piano is a big part of our music and it’s a beautiful instrument, so that’s what I chose.”
“We found a 200 year old piano for sale, but the deal was we could have it for free if we picked it up ourselves. It was SO heavy and we had to get a lot of people in order to carry it from where we got it to our house.”
The band could have easily dressed up the piano for the shoot, but Carmen was aiming for authenticity as well as image. Even it if meant risking being locked up for seemingly erratic behaviour. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Italian vocalist Fabio Lione first made his mark on the international metal scene in 1997 fronting Rhapsody – now known as Rhapody Of Fire for legal reasons – and holds that post to this day. Over the years, however, he has gained a reputation for being a reliable go-to replacement when circumstances make it impossible for a band to operate with their own singer. The most recent example of this was on Gamma Ray’s European tour, which featured Rhapsody Of Fire as support. Vocalist Kai Hansen was battling a serious case of bronchitis that threatened to derail the tour completely, but rather than pack it in they tapped several friends to fill in for Hansen at certain points of the nightly set. Lione pulled double duty for a good portion of the tour, performing a handful of songs for Gamma Ray on top of a full Rhapsody Of Fire set, hammering home performances that showcased just how formidable a vocalist he really is. It’s one thing to cover Helloween’s ‘Future World’ – a Gamma Ray staple that has been done to death – and quite another to nail ‘Empire Of The Undead’, a brand new song that Hansen himself has probably sung live less than 30 times.
Rhapsody Of Fire has been Lione’s top priority since the beginning, but in 2011 he was asked to front Kamelot on tour in place of Roy Khan who had bowed out (and eventually quit) for personal reasons. The Kamelot fanbase was quite naturally resistant to the idea of Lione behind the microphone, but by the end of the tour many fans agreed he had something significant to offer. In the end it was Seventh Wonder vocalist Tommy Karevik that got the job, but Lione’s ties to Kamelot are still intact.
“I love the guys in Kamelot,” says Lione. “I love the band, I love the crew, we had a beautiful tour. I think we did something like 49 shows together in North America, South America and Europe. The response in every place we played was great, so I know that it wasn’t easy for Thomas (Youngblood/guitars) to make the decision to choose someone else. Of course he preferred to get somebody that doesn’t already have a big band because it’s easier to manage the schedule without having to worry about what else is going on. In the end, I appreciate that we’re still really good friends. Thomas sends me emails every so often, he’s interested in doing a side-project with me, and I’m sure he’s happy with his decision to bring Tommy into the band.” (continue reading…)
SEASON OF GHOSTS Vocalist Slams Former BLOOD STAIN CHILD Bandmates – “I Was Treated Like A Sick, Stray Animal”
By Carl Begai
In July 2012, Japan’s Blood Stain Child and their Greek vocalist Sophia parted ways, citing musical and personal differences after only two years and one album together. Since then, neither Sophia nor her former bandmates have said very much about the split in the press, but during my interview for her new Season Of Ghosts project Sophia decided to reveal her reasons for jumping ship.
“I’m not gonna lie: it was a bittersweet journey – probably with emphasis on the ‘bitter’ – wild and fascinating in the beginning. Everything was new to me, so I invested all the connections I’d built throughout the years in the management business, so Blood Stain Child got to tour the US and Europe for the first time, they got an actual marketable internet presence, and Epsilon sold well internationally. Didn’t you think it was pretty weird for a band that had played on kind of the same level for 12 years to suddenly pop up everywhere?”
“The downside was that I was expected to give endlessly while having no say in anything. I was expected to stay in Japan permanently, even if the band rarely rehearsed. This cost a fortune of course, but what disappointed me immensely, was the leader’s reaction after the huge 2011 earthquake/tsunami. Refusing to provide refuge in Osaka for a couple days because ‘Everybody’s busy and you’ll be in the way’ he heartlessly ordered me to stay in Tokyo, thus endangering my safety. As Tokyo was too chaotic after the meltdowns, I decided to leave for Greece earlier than my planned holidays, citing a state of emergency. For the first time as a member, I showed I had a strong character that couldn’t be manipulated so this was not received well at all. I was a new member, a foreigner, a woman and dared to show my personal opinion in the workplace. Uh-oh…” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In 2013 the annual Rock Meets Classic tour – featuring rock artists from the ’70s and ’80s performing their hits backed by a full band and orchestra – made its way through parts of Europe for the fourth time, once again to rave reviews. As every year changes were made to the roster of artists on board, welcoming Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Eric Bazilian (The Hooters), Steve Augeri (ex-Journey) and Bonnie Tyler to the stage, with Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) being the only holdover from 2012. Changes were made within the usually static ranks of The Mat Sinner Band as well, with backing vocalist Kolinda Brozovic and Primal Fear / DuskMachine drummer Randy Black welcomed to the fold. Black’s presence marked the fourth of five Primal Fear members in the Rock Meets Classic family, and he was only too happy to put his well-seasoned metal impulses on the backburner in favour of performing with some of rock’s finest.
“Not to sound sappy – and I’m going to sound like a wimp (laughs) – but there haven’t been many times in my career when I’ve had tears in my eyes on stage,” Black admits. “A song like ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ by Paul Rodgers, I grew up with it and cut my teeth on the cover scene in Canada with them. What people might not realize is that I’m above the stage at Rock Meets Classic, I’m looking down over the orchestra and the band, and I have an in-ear mix of everything. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it now (laughs). I had this amazing sound in my ears, I was looking down and listening to everything, and I thought ‘I can’t believe I’m drumming for this.’”
“It’s a whole different thing. It’s not metal, but it’s what I grew up listening to; pop rock. There were so many ‘wow’ moments on the 2013 tour, like hearing Bonnie Tyler nailing those notes on ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. Everybody knows the song, everybody knows what Bonnie Tyler sounds like, and she was amazing. I wish my mom could have been there for that.”
Although he was new to the crew, Black was given the spotlight along with the orchestra for a crowd-pleasing rendition of the Pirates Of The Caribbean film’s theme music, ‘He’s A Pirate’. Black played up the part accordingly, making the short interlude one of the many high points of the show.
“That actually wasn’t planned,” Black reveals. “The orchestra rehearsed it without me, and a few shows in they thought drums might add more to the piece, so they put a pirate’s hat on me and away we went. I actually just found out they put it in again for this year.” (continue reading…)
DELAIN Goes Voice-To-Voice With ALISSA WHITE-GLUZ For The Human Contradiction – “Versatile And Innovative”
By Carl Begai
Dutch bashers Delain are gearing up for the international release of their new album, The Human Contradiction, in April. A buzz has been growing around the album for the last couple weeks, particularly with the news that it will feature guest appearances by vocalists Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Kamelot). Catching up with singer Charlotte Wessels for a BW&BK interview, we kicked things off with discussion of mutual friend Alissa’s efforts on The Human Contradiction’s closing track, ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’:
“I was, of course, aware of what The Agonist does and I know some of the songs, so I knew what Alissa was capable of vocally,” Charlotte says of asking Alissa on board. “Back then I’d just spent a month with her on the Kamelot tour, and what she does with them is such a different thing. After I saw The Agonist play for the first time I told her that I was amazed those two voices actually come from the same person (laughs). I’m very impressed by that because seeing Alissa on YouTube and seeing her perform live are two very different things. And as I’d only seen her perform with Kamelot up to that point there was a big difference, and that did surprise me (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During the last quarter of 2013 and into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s North American tour, guitarist Chris Caffery took time out of his busy schedule to tease and please his fans with a few new songs released as digital singles. It was a long time in coming for Caffery’s diehard followers, who have been waiting for more music since his House Of Insanity record from 2009. The new tracks are a precursor to his forthcoming full length album – dubbed The Twisted Truth for the moment – and Caffery’s ongoing development as a do-it-yourself artist. As in, doing as much as possible on his own, creating a down-to-the-bone solo album in fact as well as name.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a businessman and as a musician,” Caffery says of his solo career, which has been on the go since 2004. “I learned a lot of things that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done things on my own. You always respect where you are more when you go off and do things on your own. Now I’m able to approach writing and playing music more creatively. My singing has gotten a lot better, and that’s the cool thing about doing these new songs before the TSO tour. I had people listen to the songs and a lot of reactions were ‘That’s awesome! Who’s singing?’ (laughs). I know now when I do this stuff that my voice is at a level where it’s able to express what’s in my head. My voice has matured, and I’ve matured as a writer and a singer. I know that if I could have taught myself to sing when I was 20 I’d be headlining this arena myself (laughs). I thought singing was something you either had or you didn’t. I didn’t know you could train your voice, so I spent all those years looking for a singer that I already had.”
“People are always asking me about going out and doing a solo tour, but I have a very successful band that I tour with every year. I want to do solo shows, but to put it up and get it going is a lot of pressure. I know what Paul (O’Neill / TSO director and co-founder) deals with; everybody looks to you for everything. It can be stressful when you’re trying to go out there and play music and enjoy it. For me, it’s more important right now to be the artist just making the music. I’m going to finish my new record this year and I want it to be great. If there’s a demand for me to do shows I’ll approach that when the time comes. I’ve got my own studio, I’m doing it myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I just want to make a record that I’m really happy with.” (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
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…)