By Carl Begai
Cluttered as the metal scene is with female-fronted symphonic metal bands, news that Delain has a new slab of metal to offer isn’t likely to burn up the hype lines. Not until word on The Human Contradiction truly gets out. The fact they’re Dutch doesn’t help matters given their Netherlands is home to much bigger names of the genre such as Epica, Within Temptation, and former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen who went off to join a little band called Nightwish. As vocalist Charlotte Wessels puts it, however, Delain is a very stubborn band, and although they’ve been on the bottom end of the ladder since their 2006 debut, Lucidity, it hasn’t discouraged them from pushing forward. The Human Contradiction marks their biggest step thus far, up and over the metal microscope and those ready to dismiss Delain without even hearing a note.
Still, the comparisons to bigger and badder female fronted bands must be a pain in the ass.
“It comes with its challenges because we’ve been compared to Within Temptation forever, which is very natural because their sound is in our DNA,” says Charlotte. “Our keyboardist Martijn (Westerholtis one of the main songwriters in Delain and used to be a member of Within Temptation. But, in general, those comparisons and connections have done more for us rather than being an obstacle because, let’s be honest, our first record was a studio record featuring lots of guest musicians. I think a lot of people picked up that record because there was a guest on it they liked, so it is difficult when you face certain competition. In our case, though, we have a lot to be grateful for, so I choose not to ponder over that too much.”
The Human Contradiction finds Delain in what is probably best position of their career. Signed to Napalm Records, they paid their dues in a big way leading up to and following the release of their previous album, We Are The Others (2012). Trying to follow the updates on said album was a confusing exercise, and it sounded like Delain was on their way to being crushed by music industry politics. Charlotte admits it was a painful rough patch for the band.
“When we started working on We Are The Others we were on Roadrunner, but in the middle of that Roadrunner got sold to Warner. We didn’t choose to be with them and they didn’t choose to have us on their roster, and because some people that we worked with at Roadrunner were still with the company we were basically working with two different teams. There were all kinds of ideas and opinions coming in from both sides and we’re a pretty stubborn band, so we didn’t let any of them steer us away from what we wanted to do. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
At this point in time violinist Anna Phoebe is best known as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a gig and title she gave up in 2010 in the interest of family and exploring other avenues. During her six year tenure with TSO she made two solo albums, the organic Gypsy (2006) and the raging full-on metal assault Rise Of The Warrior (2008); two releases that offered a look at different sides of Anna’s musical personality. After a long stretch of silence peppered with reports that a new album (or two) was definitely in the works, she closed 2013 with the release of a four track EP entitled Embrace. Like Rise Of The Warrior, the music on Embrace was another unexpected turn and marked the first official studio-recorded collaboration with her friends in UK prog metal band Jurojin; a venture that was long overdue. The EP was also the first big step towards a full length Anna Phoebe record due to be released in 2014, entitled Between The Shadow And The Soul.
I recently sat down with Anna and Jurojin guitarist Nicolas Rizzi to discuss the new music and the events that influenced this new chapter of Anna’s career. The first order of business was to clear up a few murky details regarding the collaboration, however. Initially it was reported that Anna was working with Jurojin on her album, which would be followed by a Jurojin album featuring Anna as a guest performer. Now it seems the proposed albums have been mashed together into one production.
Nic: “The idea ages ago was to do a Jurojin / Anna Phoebe album – the typical heavy Jurojin sound with Anna’s playing on top of that – but as we got deeper into the songs and started demoing them, that’s when we decided to go for a much different approach, something a lot more experimental and a lot less heavy. We had some discussions as to how to put the new music out, and even though it’s all of us we decided to go under the Anna Phoebe name, to make it sort of a continuation of her previous two records. We thought it made the most sense to do things this way. We had a 10 track album, and then we removed four tracks for the EP. The idea was to release the EP and spend the time to really develop this new project and new sound. The full length album will be nine tracks, but none of those will be the EP tracks. The only crossover might be a rearranged piano and violin version of ‘Embrace’.”
Looking back on Rise Of The Warrior, which saw Anna take her TSO persona to the next level, she says it was a success even though it may not have sold hundreds of thousands of copies because the album gave her exposure outside the Trans-Siberian Orchestra live spectacle.
Anna: “I guess each album you do is a reflection of where you are in your life at that time. My first album, Gypsy, was made after I’d been touring around the Middle East a lot and had been with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a year or two. Gypsy was my world music sound mixed with a bit of rock – I was dipping my toes into it – and by the time I did Rise Of The Warrior, I was fully into the musical pyrotechnics, the loud symphonic rock / metal world. Those were the people I was hanging out with musically and socially. That album is definitely a blueprint of who I was at that time.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“Whatever we do with Iron Savior, we have to have fun. If we don’t have fun we don’t do it.”
Which is the reason Iron Savior is still alive and kicking some 18 years since vocalist/guitarist Piet Sielck had the wild idea of clambering out of his producer’s chair and forming a band with pre-Helloween bandmate Kai Hansen and ex-Blind Guardian drummer Thomen Stauch, both long departed. It’s also the reason a cover of the Mando Diao pop hit ‘Dance With Somebody’ appears on Iron Savior’s new album, Rise Of The Hero. Not at all what you expect of an outfit that fills the gap between Primal Fear and Gamma Ray and started as a dead serious hammer-and-nails concept band, but Sielck and his merry men couldn’t give a damn.
“We were just really tired of doing rather predictable old classic metal songs,” Sielck says. “Basically that’s a case of just re-recording the song and maybe giving it better production. I think we did a pretty good job with the Mando Diao song; it reminded us of the work we did with SEAL’s ‘Crazy’ (for the Condition Red album from 2002) because the outcome is definitely different from the original. Our version has a vibe of its own, and that’s actually the main reason we decided to have it on the regular album. It was originally supposed to be a bonus track for the Japanese release. It’s not really metal, it’s kind of alternative, but I actually like the original version and I like the guy’s voice. When the song came out on 2009 in Europe, I thought it was a great alternative to all the Top 40 stuff that was out at the time. It definitely stuck out against everything else.”
“The video we did for the first single from Rise Of The Hero, ‘Burning Heart’, this is us and this is the vibe we’re carrying,” he adds. “Some people may ask ‘Are they serious at all?’ but we’re doing this basically for the fun of it.”
This lighthearted approach to their craft seems to be paying off. Shortly after its release Rise Of The Hero hit the album charts in Germany, which Sielck admits was completely unexpected.
“I think Unification (1999) is the only Iron Savior album that hit the charts until now, and 15 years later we’re back on the charts. It feels awesome, and I never thought we’d achieve this again with Iron Savior. It’s no secret that it’s easier to hit the charts during specific times of the year, and obviously this is such a period. So, we didn’t sell 30,000 records or anything like that, but from what AFM tells me the sales are significantly better than they were for The Landing (2011). That’s a bit of a surprise because The Landing was appreciated by the fans and sold well, much better than AFM or I expected it to at the time. Rise Of The Hero is selling even better, so we must have done something right (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
There are moments during this interview when Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess comes across as a peace n’ love kinda guy. Not in a so-chill-he-must-be-on-something way, but rather with a Life Is Good enthusiasm for the band’s current status as prog metal kings. You can’t blame him for being upbeat considering the wave of success Dream Theater is riding with their latest album and the recently wrapped European tour. It’s a buzz that’s sure to get louder when the they kick off their North American tour later this month, featuring (almost) nightly three-hour shows designed and guaranteed to captivate everyone in attendance.
“We decided that we were going to do the An Evening With… shows, which is a big thing because we’ve been going out with opening bands and not offering the whole big production,” Rudess begins, recapping the European tour. “This time it seemed like the fans and the promoters really wanted that and we were ready to make that happen. It was three hours of music and it was a big show; a lot of playing and my fingers are definitely feeling it (laughs). The reaction to it was really great. I felt like the European leg was our best tour so far, especially looking at the ecstatic faces in the audience at the end of a really long show. It proved to me that doing things like this was a great idea. We went into this with the idea that we would try to up our game a little bit and put even more into the show. Not only the amount of time that we played, but the whole experience. We wanted to create a show where, from the time people walk in the door to the time they leave, they’re part of our world. We wanted to take people on a journey with this tour so we put a lot of thought, time and energy into it. At the end of that two month leg, I have to say doing things this was was a gamble that paid off in terms of making the fans happy and bringing more people into the shows.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Vocalist Russell Allen, best known as the frontman for prog metal gods Symphony X, offers his thoughts on his other band Adrenaline Mob when discussing their new album, Men Of Honor:
“This is a straightforward in-your-face no apologies rock band from New York – New Jersey, and we’re not fucking around. We’re here to throw down, say what we have to say, get to the point, and if it’s in your face that’s the way it is around here. Sorry.”
Don’t take the apology tacked onto the end of his statement seriously. Allen is fiercely proud of what he and his bandmates have accomplished, especially given the fact they’ve had to deal with a sometimes painfully moronic prog metal fanbase that bitched and moaned Adrenaline Mob wasn’t progressive enough for having Allen and (now former) drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) in the fold. A strange situation fuelled by people who claim to be music fans but don’t actually listen to the artists creating it. Adrenaline Mob made it clear from Day 1 they were an old school modern day rock band and not a prog metal side-project.
“It’s great when people like yourself get this, they get what Adrenaline Mob is about,” says Allen. “Nobody really knew what to do with us because of this whole prog background that me and Portnoy came from. People were scratching their heads, nobody knew how to book the act… they just didn’t fucking get it. Perception is everything in this world and the problem is people cling to their ideas of what they think they know about you. I don’t want to knock anybody, but the more educated people – in terms of educating themselves about your history – will go the extra mile and read a little more about you and read what you say. A lot of people didn’t bother to read the fine print, and Portnoy was talking about this in his interviews. The perception was that Adrenaline Mob was his band, but he came in after everything was written and my vocals were already recorded. It’s just the way the world works. People just cling to what they think they know and they’ll stand by that until the day they die even if they’re shown that they’re wrong (laughs).”
“The truth is I didn’t grow up listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Rush like so many people want to believe. Did I like Rush? Yes. Was it in the rotation? Yes. But it was Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Sabbath and Maiden that I was cranking in high school. Rush would come on and it would be great, but was I prog guy? No. That came later, when I wanted to grow musically. Everything on the record comes from something, whether intentional or unintentional. That’s the whole idea of trying to make music that’s accessible and immediate, that it kind of reminds you of something you’ve heard before. And that’s because everything already been done. Get over yourself.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
German a capella metal band Van Canto didn’t do themselves any favours kicking off the release of their fifth album, Dawn Of The Brave, with an oddball-titled single called ‘Badaboom’. Not because it’s a bad song – hell, fans of present day Manowar should be jealous – but because the band’s detractors are always seeking new ammunition for target practice. Van Canto are a thick-skinned sextet, however, and no strangers to people taking potshots at their brand of music. Eight years into their career, it’s fair to say the bitching and moaning from the outside fuels them as much as the accolades from their loyal fans.
“It’s been like that since the beginning of the band,” says vocalist Stefan Schmidt. “The only thing that’s changed is that the people who don’t like us have to admit that we’ve had some kind of success (laughs). The bad thing about it is that people who really don’t like us have gotten more personal in their reviews because they can’t understand how a band like Van Canto can exist for more than a couple years. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves anymore, but sometimes I have the feeling that even though we have a unique approach we often have to excuse ourselves for being unique. When I write songs I notice that I tend to sometimes do things that can cause controversy with certain people. Sometimes I think ‘No, you can’t do that because people will hate you for it…’ and then there’s another voice in my head saying ‘And that’s exactly why you should do it.’”
Which is probably why Van Canto haven’t turned out to be a flash in the pan; commitment coupled with being a healthy kind of stubborn.
“I recently did an interview with a big German magazine and the guy asked me what I say to people now that the joke is over. I asked him why is it that if an artist has a unique sound he or she or they can only make one album. There are so many metal bands that release 10 or 15 albums and they all sound the same, and they sound like other metal bands, but nobody asks them if the joke is over. I don’t know why they do that with Van Canto.”
Maybe that’s the difference between the open-minded professionals out there versus the kiddie journos who get offended by something they can’t wrap their brains around.
“If you put it that way I can live with it (laughs). We’re aware of the fact that a lot of the attraction Van Canto has is because of this gimmick, as some people call it, that we have. We talk to the people that come to our shows and we notice that when we go to the same town a second or third time there are always more and more people. Our music is different, and many people tell us they like us better live than on CD. It’s always great when a musician gets that kind of feedback.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Regardless of whether you like ‘em or don’t give a damn, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a big deal. The two-headed troupe’s annual east and west coast road trips through North America – leading up to Christmas and beyond – are consistently ranked as top-grossing concert tours year after year, and the production seemingly gets bigger each time out. It’s fair to say that TSO has become a tradition for many a metal and/or music lover. If there’s one misfire in this success story, however, it’s the lack of attention to the European market. Not that they necessarily need the exposure, but given that the legendary Savatage is the foundation for everything TSO has become and Europe embraced Savatage with the equivalent of a bone-crushing bear hug early on, some folks figure the Orchestra owes those fans some attention. Thus, 2014 began (literally) with an exclusive performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve followed by a stripped down but still impressive European tour; only their second in a 15 year history as a live act. Guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate sat down to discuss the stripped down TSO production when the band hit Nuremberg, Germany…
Jeff: “It’s very comfortable. We came over to Europe a few years ago with the Beethoven’s Last Night tour (in 2011) and it’s a great story, but I think some of it was too much for the European audiences. We had to trim that down quite a bit, and the Savatage element is much more present in the show this time. And for myself, being able to work with Chris, Johnny (Middleton/bass) and Al (Pitrelli/guitars) again is a blast. This is an arena show and we just happened to squeeze it into a theater.”
Chris: “The biggest difference for me is that I’m not nearly as tired as I am during the big production we do (laughs). We do one show a day and it’s stripped down, and we don’t have the wings that we have on the North American stage. The big stage has at least another 30 feet on each side, so you run the arena and do two shows a day. The European tour is more like doing the old Savatage concerts in many ways except the people are sitting. In a lot of ways it’s the same because I put my in-ears in and what I hear is the same as always. I don’t really hear a difference. The band is different in that I’ve got Johnny and Al there, which is always great. I usually play with Jeff and the singers rotate, so it’s not really that different of a TSO show for me.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
There’s no doubt that the controversial firing of former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon in October 2012 made her out to be the bad guy, turning any press she does for her forthcoming solo album into a potential exercise in character assassination. It doesn’t help her situation in that the Nightwish camp has been quick to refute many of her recent accusations of backstabbing and mismanagement that have appeared online. Quite frankly, I was prepared to be stonewalled when asking questions about Nightwish due to the fact Olzon came across as a self-centered diva when she slammed the band for playing to a Denver, CO audience in 2012 with stand-in vocalists Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) after she fell ill. Turns out I was way off the mark and had to give Olzon the benefit of the doubt.
Thus, in the interest of giving her solo album Shine a fair shake we’re getting the Nightwish debacle out of the way first, to be followed soon by a full story on the new record.
Rather than dig for the scurvy details and assorted dirt kicked up before and after her firing, the focus is on Olzon getting booted in the middle of the North American tour for Imaginaerum. It’s not a move most bands can afford to make in today’s music industry economy, sure as hell not without a back-up plan. And yet, 48 hours after Olzon was cut loose former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen had taken over her post on stage, becoming the band’s permanent singer less than a year later.
“It’s hard for me to say why the firing happened when it did because I don’t really know what happened behind my back,” says Olzon. “I think there were some thing happening that I didn’t know about. It has become clearer to me now that they had some sort of a plan when I told them I was pregnant. I actually think they had some suspicions I was pregnant during the summer festivals, so I think they may have had a back-up plan.”
Olzon pegs the band’s reaction to her pregnancy as the primary reason for the falling out. She also claims Jansen wasn’t as much of a last minute consideration for the Nightwish line-up as people think, albeit in a temporary capacity.
“We had some discussions during the tour in America about how to cover the remaining gigs for the tours that were coming up, and we did have something of an argument before that. I didn’t want to have a substitute singer in the band, I wanted to do the South American shows. I would have been too pregnant to go to Australia so I wanted to push the dates back, but Tuomas (Holopainen / keyboards, founder) didn’t want that. Discussions about a substitute came up and at first I was like ‘Yeah, well…. okay…’ but when they mentioned Floor it was an automatic ‘No’ from me. I didn’t think it was a good idea because I knew what would happen; I knew the fans would love Floor because she’s a metal singer and I’m a pop singer, and I wanted to keep my job. Because I couldn’t do the Australian tour, I think that’s when they started thinking about a new singer. We had a bit of an argument, then I got ill, and after that…. I don’t know if they planned this.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s hard to believe the cartoon that is MySpace was once the first stop in cutting edge social media. As of 2005 is was a place for musicians big and small to get the word out about their music and assorted projects, and it was around that time bassist/producer Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken) first drew attention to a new band he was working with called Benedictum. He compared vocalist Veronica Freeman to a female Ronnie James Dio, and the release of the band’s debut, Uncreation (2006), proved that Pilson wasn’t blowing smoke. Almost 10 years later Benedictum have hammered out their fourth album, Obey, and although it’s reminiscent of their early work the creative team behind the music has changed considerably. Only Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells remain of the original line-up and Pilson turns up only as a collaborator, with John Herrera now in the producer’s chair, but the fans aren’t complaining judging by the Obey reviews making the rounds.
“We had asked Jeff to produce the last album (Dominion – 2011) but it didn’t work out with his schedule,” Freeman reveals, adding that Herrera did a fantastic job on Obey. “We had a couple conversations with Jeff and he promised he wouldn’t let us down next time around, because we really are like family, but he was getting these musical opportunities that he couldn’t turn down. I know Jeff well enough to know that in his heart he really wanted to do this album, but this is business as well as friendship and I simply didn’t have the money to pay him. I can’t compete against these other people. I really wanted Jeff involved in some way, though. Once we started putting these songs together and they took on their own little lives, we went out to his place for two days for pre-production and rearranging things. The intensity of Jeff Pilson when you’re working with him is insane, and he really brought some of these songs to life, like ‘Retrograde’. He was involved on the last album on only one song, ‘Epsilon’, but you can kind of tell when it’s a Jeff thing.”
Production of Obey fell into the capable hands of John Herrera, and the results are in-your-face impressive. Loud, obnoxious, not too polished and not too dark.
“We needed someone local, and Rikard (Stjernquist/drums) worked with John before. I had to get some stuff done with guest vocals on another album, so we tried it out with John just to make we were going to get along. It worked out well. You’re right on the money with the production, and Rikard kept telling me I should be more excited bout it because of the production alone. He spent a lot of his time listening to the first two albums to really grasp Jeff’s mindset when he produced them, and then he put his own spin on it. He did an amazing job.”
In spite of the repeated line-up changes, which have been in full swing since the Seasons Of Tragedy album (2008), Benedictum’s sound has remained traditional old school metal thanks to the long time Freeman-Wells writing team.
“Yeah, Pete and I did most of the songwriting for Obey and it’s always kind of been that way,” says Freeman. “He’s that musical hamster in the spinning wheel (laughs); Pete is always churning out new stuff. He’ll send me little snippets of things, then we’ll get together and jam at rehearsal. And he’ll always try to sneak stuff in and waits for my reaction. That’s how we usually work. Even when we went to Jeff doing Obey, the basic parts were already there. We’ve been working together for over 15 years, so it’s hard for me to imagine working with someone else. When it comes to songwriting we roll in a certain way.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In 2011, Iced Earth said goodbye to fan-favoured vocalist Matt Barlow (again). A potentially disastrous situation for a band that had clawed and carved its way to something pretty damn close to the top over two decades, but they were given a second chance (again) with the entrance of Into Eternity frontman Stu Block. His Iced Earth debut album, Dystopia, went over a storm compared to its cold and dense predecessors – Framing Armageddon (’07), The Crucible Of Man (’08) – and the world tour that followed cemented Block’s position as the band’s singer. Iced Earth’s new album, Plagues Of Babylon, doesn’t exactly pick up where Dystopia left off in that it comes off as darker and more aggressive – and hell, more epic – but it most certainly matches Dystopia for intensity and being a solid no-bull fan friendly package.
“Sometimes you hit things right on the mark for the fanbase, other times you do what you feel like as an artist as much as for the fans,” says guitarist/founder Jon Schaffer. “I don’t think it’s a contrived thing. This album is a little bit more epic compared to Dystopia, but the writing period was the same length as it was for Dystopia. I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life and a lot of shit happened, but somehow I was able to put together a really strong record in spite of everything that was going on. With Dystopia, I just felt that was the way to go and I don’t think Plagues Of Babylon is too far from that direction. I think Plagues Of Babylon has a couple more songs that are a bit more epic in terms of the writing, sure, but we stayed on the course set with Dystopia.”
“I produced this album, and one of the things I wanted to do was make it heavier and give it a live feel,” he continues. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t over-produced. I got really good takes out of everybody but I wasn’t so anal as to make sure that everything was 100% perfectly in tune and perfectly on time. That’s a trap you fall into as a producer. I wanted to capture the essence and energy of a band that’s been touring its ass off and I think I accomplished that.” (continue reading…)