On The Inside
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…)
By Carl Begai
Word of a new Children Of Bodom album on the horizon always seems to be accompanied by a chorus of bitching and moaning from the fans as they hope and pray for a return to the band’s Hatebreeder / Follow The Reaper heyday. The build-up to Halo Of Blood is no different, and having attended a listening session for the record on March 16th courtesy of Nuclear Blast, I can tell you that Halo Of Blood isn’t the full-on back-to-the-roots album you’d sell your siblings’ internal organs for.
It is, however, the best damn thing Children Of Bodom have released since Hate Crew Deathroll in 2003.
First time through, chances are most fans will end up somewhere between relieved and perplexed at hearing trademark Bodom-isms from the early years back-to-back with numerous WTF moments. It’s bloody overwhelming at times trying to process how the band has re-invented themselves when you look back on Are You Dead Yet?, Blooddrunk and Relentless Reckless Forever; the three records that polarized and/or pissed off the COB fanbase. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
On September 28th, 2012 in Denver, Colorado fans of Finnish bashers Nightwish witnessed something special at the Ogden Theater. So special, in fact, that if everyone who claims they attended the show was actually there the venue would have literally burst at the seams.
To recap, now ex-Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon fell seriously ill prior to the show and was hospitalized. Her bandmates had the difficult task of choosing between cancelling the gig and going ahead with support band Kamelot’s backing vocalists Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) in Olzon’s place. With the audience’s blessing they chose the latter, resulting an unforgettable and historic show. Elize, Alissa and Nightwish were applauded for their efforts by seemingly everyone except Olzon, who made her rather ungrateful opinions known the next day via an online post. A few days later – October 1st, 2012 – Olzon was officially given the boot and the tour continued with ReVamp / ex-After Forever singer Floor Jansen fronting the band.
During a BW&BK interview (found here) for Amaranthe’s new album, The Nexus, Elize discussed the unexpected once in a lifetime experience. Note that we kept any behind-the-scenes dirt regarding the disintegration between Nightwish and Anette out of the conversation, so if you’re a tabloid drama junkie you’ll be disappointed by what you’re about to read.
“It was a very special thing,” Elize says of the night. “I love Nightwish and I’ve sung their songs many times for myself (laughs). When you’re on tour you’re in a little bubble, so you don’t really think too much about what’s happening outside that bubble. They asked me if I would be willing to sing for them that night, and we decided that if the audience agreed it was okay for them that I sing, of course I was going to help Nightwish out so they could do the show. At least with some singing so they wouldn’t have to do it all instrumental.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Making a long and disappointing story short, metal veterans Queensrÿche came apart at the seams in April 2012 after 30 years in the trenches. With vocalist Geoff Tate on one side and the rest of the line-up on the other, the band split into two factions, both laying claim to the Queensrÿche name. The ugly details of the split can be found here (scroll down for older updates), with a court date set for November 2013 to decide who will actually be allowed to wear the moniker. In the meantime both Tate and his former bandmates are working on new albums, with both due to be released this year.
Of the two parties, the Queensrÿche consisting of founding members Michael Wilton (guitars), Eddie Jackson (bass), and Scott Rockenfield (drums) – also featuring new-ish guitarist Parker Lundgren – have had it easier by hiring former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. They’ve chosen to go back to the band’s original metal sound and the long-time fans are loving it. Tate, on the other hand, has gathered a group of musicians to continue his own ‘Rÿche legacy, with Rudy Sarzo (ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth), Bobby Blotzer (Ratt), Kelly Gray (ex-Queensrÿche) and Randy Gane (ex-Myth) having rallied around Tate in September 2012. Only two months later, however, Drover bowed out for undisclosed reasons.
I recently caught up with Drover to discuss his decision to pack it in before any recordings or live performances with Tate’s band were in the can. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Word began circulating recently that Obsession / ex-Loudness vocalist Michael Vescera – who fronted the band in the late ’80s for two studio albums – will be performing with Loudness as a guest vocalist on April 14th at the Live N’ Louder Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I caught up with Vescera to discuss the planned show, which is going to be a one-off performance with him up front.
“I’m actually singing the whole set with Loudness,” says Vescera. “I was contacted by the US representation a few weeks ago, they asked if I would be interested in doing this festival with Loudness. We all felt that this would be awesome to make happen, so it’s all been put together. It will be great to play with the guys again, I’m sure it’ll be killer. As far as set list, we’re not sure as of yet. We’re discussing this and should know soon.”
As for original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara and his status in Loudness, “he’s still in the band and still the vocalist for Loudness,” says Vescera. “I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”
A day later I spoke with Niihara about the Loudness situation and he filled in the blanks:
“First of all, I am still Loudness’ vocalist and actually I am working on the new album now,” says Niihara. “When Loudness was offered the South America rock festival show a few weeks ago, my side project X.Y.Z.→A’s Japan tour had been booked already on the same week and the same day, so I won’t be able to go to South America. Akira (Takasaki/guitars) wanted to play in South America so badly and he asked me, ‘You can’t go there because of your schedule; can we have a special guest for that show?’ and I said ‘It is just my schedule-wise thing happening and I’m sorry about that, so please don’t hesitate having a someone for the show, I understand it.’ However, I didn’t know until you told me now that Mike would sing for me, though (laughs).”
“Who can sing for me but Mike?” Niihara adds. “I think he’s the right choice in such a situation. I believe Loudness and Mike will kick some ass in South America show. I’d love to go to sing in South America some day, in the near future.”
Up to this point Vescera has been busy with Animetal USA and enjoying the success of Obsession’s new album, Order Of Chaos, which has struck a chord the world over much the same way the band’s early albums did.
“On the Obsession front, we have a few shows booked for late April,” he reveals. “Still speaking with promoters for Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world. Hopefully some things will surface soon with that. We just finished re-mixing Carnival Of Lies for the re-release with Inner Wound; it sounds awesome and we’re real excited to have a proper release with this. The back catalogue is almost finished as well. Everything has been re-mastered, there will some cool unreleased stuff, never released photos and some video clips.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
I recently attended a listening session for Avantasia’s new album, The Mystery Of Time, at Nuclear Blast headquarters in Donzdorf, Germany for BW&BK. An excerpt from my report is available below. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the record, which made a much bigger impression on me than Avantasia founder Tobias Sammet’s previous double-album venture, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon.
Folks have said vocalist Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and guitarist/producer Sascha Paeth lost the plot last time out in 2010 by releasing a 22 song double album that pounded the listener into submission with too much information. The Mystery Of Time sees the dynamic duo taking a step back and focusing on crafting a ‘simple’ no-nonsense rock opera; 10 songs, two of ‘em ballads, two of them hitting the 10+ minute mark, and influences/inspiration worn shamelessly on the Avantasia sleeve. Of all their releases thus far, the new record is by far the most theatrical, a point driven home by opening track ‘Spectres’, the epic ‘Savior In The Clockwork’, and the closing Meat Loaf-esque ‘The Great Mystery’. The use of a flesh and blood orchestra really DOES make a difference against dial-up digital magic, made all the more special because the boys didn’t use it on every single track (which is usually the downfall of productions like this).
Plenty of heavy over-the-top metal moments from Paeth’s treasure trove of riffs, to guitar leads from Bruce Kulick (ex-KISS) on three tracks, and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) trading licks with keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) on ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’. Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) blows the doors off with his circa ’87 performance on ‘Where Clock Hands Freeze’ (speedy and heavy), but the big prize goes to ‘Invoke The Machine’ for it’s blatant tip of the hat to cult fave Danish bashers Pretty Maids featuring PM vocalist Ronnie Atkins in a duet with Tobi. Several journalists at the session agreed the song is the high point of the record. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The real old-schoolers out there are aware of the impact Venom had on the thrash metal scene when they clawed their way out of the UK muck in 1981 with Welcome To Hell and put out Black Metal a year later. Diehard Venom fans also remember when frontman Cronos left and was replaced by Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan for three albums and an EP from ’89 – ’92, a move that went over surprisingly well at the start. Fast forward through years of attempted reunions and aborted projects to 2010, where Dolan teamed up once again with Venom guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn to form Mpire Of Evil. It’s a venture that could have gone to hell after the release of the Creatures Of The Black EP in 2011 – and not in appreciated Venom fashion – but instead the band buckled down for a full album (Hell To The Holy) and a North American tour with Onslaught to help get the word out. It’s a move that seems to have worked.
This year will see the release of Crucified, an album featuring re-magined versions of Venom songs from the Dolan era. Some folks will dismiss the move as a cash grab, of course, but those that have been paying attention and / or were lucky enough to see Mpire Of Evil live will give the band their due. As one of a handful of people that heard the album well in advance of the release, I can tell you Crucified is a jaw-dropper for anyone that knows the original tracks.
Dolan recently discussed where the idea for Crucified came from and why the Mpire decided to follow through at this early stage of the game.
“When we were on tour going through California, Marc (Jackson / drums) asked if I had any Venom stuff on me. I did in fact have a compilation CD with me, so we pulled that out and he commented that some of the material was great and that we should do something with it. That planted the seed for Crucified in a way. I’d spoken to Jeff about it, and there are certain songs that we quite like, but I thought it would be wrong for us to pick the tracks to be re-recorded. I thought we should ask the fans who like that material to choose the tracks they’d like to hear. The three of us went and made our own lists of the songs we personally would like to re-do, then we got the lists from the fans on Facebook, and made a master list of all the songs chosen. Whenever a song came up more than five or six times, we marked that one down for the album. Basically, we had the tracklist selected for us by the fans.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During a recent discussion with former Loudness / Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Michael Vescera about the new and long overdue Obsession album, Order Of Chaos, he took the time to update me on the project that’s become his top priority, Animetal USA.
“With Animetal USA, I don’t even have time to think,” says Vescera, owing the band’s rigorous studio and promotional schedules as one of the reasons for the hold-up on the Obsession front. “It’s non-stop work. And the Animetal thing is time consuming because it’s not just singing and writing. I have to go back and forth with the publishers to get clearance on the lyrics, I sing it but they need certain words of phrases in Japanese, it’s pretty intense and a lot of work. But I like it like that. I’d rather be busy doing a million things rather than just sitting around at home.”
Almost a year ago, Vescera gave me an in-depth rundown of how the Animetal USA machine works (check out the interview here). For the uninitiated, he and his bandmates – Impellitteri guitarist Chris Impellitteri, ex-Whitesnake / ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo, and ex-Slayer drummer Jon Dette, who Judas Priest’s Scott Travis – have taken up the mantle worn by Japan’s original Animetal project, which features classic anime theme songs dating back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and turning them into metal anthems.
Anime is a big part of Japanese culture, making the success of the original Animetal during their 10 year run from 1996 to 2006 – releasing 11 singles and an assortment of albums, collections and live records – a no-brainer. Animetal USA’s success was guaranteed in Japan, especially considering the individual members’ histories, but Vescera admits everyone was still surprised just how well they went over. (continue reading…)