By Carl Begai
Overkill frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is a favourite around the BraveWords office, and with good reason. He brings himself and his lust for life to the table whether he’s talking metal or songwriting or the chocolate shop he runs on the side.There are no textbook answers and no bullshit with his delivery. Thus, settling in to discuss Overkill’s new album White Devil Armory is a raucous conversation with an old friend punctuated by his trademark cackle, anecdotes left and right, Blitz’s appreciation for his lot in life as obvious as the skull on the new album cover. It also raises the question whether he’s ever going to slow down, having released albums consistently since 1985 with no more than a three year gap between them.
“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Blitz laughs. “Somebody asked me the other day what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this, and I told him I’d be dead in six months. It’s still a cool feeling to just press play. As time goes on it’s not that easy to make records because of the repetition factor; you don’t want to repeat yourself. You want the music to have that energy, you don’t want to feign it, but where it all starts coming together is when you realize that making music and being in a band is just what you do. When you drop all the pre-processing and just go for it, things work. Who am I to question that and try to fix what’s not broken? It’s obviously not broken at all.”
Blitz is, of course, being paid lip service from all corners leading up to the release of the new album, but the positive feedback shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been on board the Overkill thrashwagon for the duration. As Overkill albums go White Devil Armory is a welcome high speed shred-and-spit rollercoaster ride.
“A guy I spoke to recently called Overkill the Motörhead of thrash, and that’s one hell of a compliment,” he says. “That pushes through it all. I think the general feeling is that White Devil Armory is Overkill at a high level and a fresh level. We obviously know who we are, and there’s a revitalized feeling on the metal scene itself, so I think the record reflects that. I think the new record has more diversity compared to (previous album) The Electric Age (2012), which is what a lot of people have said to me. We have certain Overkill tools and D.D. (Verni/bass) uses them at will, but I think he uses them more on the new record. It shows that the band isn’t one or two dimensional, but well beyond that.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Several years ago a theory was developed suggesting that non-Canadian metal and rock bands wanting to break big only had to add a Canuck to the mix somewhere down the line. There’s absolutely no scientific proof to give my theory any merit, of course, but acts like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Dream Theater all enjoyed huge success as a result of Canadian influence (producer Bruce Fairbairn, vocalist Sebastian Bach, producer Bob Rock, and singer James Labrie respectively). This supposed trend has continued with Alissa White-Gluz, former vocalist for The Agonist, replacing Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy after 14 years in the trenches. An unexpected development to say the least, but perhaps even more unexpected is the impact the band’s new album, War Eternal, is having on their fanbase. Sure, there’s the expected disgruntled faction that worship the ground Gossow walks on – and rightly so – and others that find War Eternal too melodic, too clean and too easy on the ears. For the most part, however, both Alissa and War Eternal continue to garner postive feedback and huge support from an increasingly louder majority.
BraveWords: Could you sense that Angela was going to call it quits, or did her announcement come out of the blue?
Michael: “We ended the Khaos Legions world tour in December 2012 with a South American leg, and the last show was in Mexico City. A few weeks after that we had a band meeting and decoded we were going to take 2013 almost completely off from band activity, definitely from shows. That opened the schedule up in a way we’ve never experienced in the last 12 years, because as you know it’s been pretty relentless doing the album-tour-album-tour cycle. It was pretty much a case of ending a tour on the Friday and going into pre-production on a new album on a Monday. That happened twice in 10 years, and it was very intense. People change, and Angela got to a point in her life where she wanted to make some changes. Not everybody is in this for life because it’s a very demanding lifestyle. It can be very tough on you if you’re not 100% into it.”
BraveWords: Angela is still part of the machine, but in the background as the band’s manager. It’s a post she’s actually held for several years…
Michael: “Angela took over the business management for Arch Enemy in 2008. She did a fantastic job with that and really turned things around for the band on many levels. She was getting a lot of satisfaction out of that, so I think that was getting stringer than the satisfaction she got out of performing. And she never liked travelling, so in the end I think it caught up with her. We could see the writing on the wall. We’re not completely insensitive assholes and we could see that she wasn’t 100% into it anymore. And when she finally told us last year that she was quitting, Angela urged us to carry on.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Every so often an album comes along that forces you to give your head a shake and re-evaluate your opinions. Folk metal bands in 2014 are a dime a dozen; some are good, some not so much, and very little new ground has been broken since Moonsorrow kicked things off way back when Finntroll, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani clawed their respective ways to join them at the top of the heap. Long-time Estonian headcrushers Metsatöll – an ancient Estonian euphemism for “wolf” – have been plying their trade since 1999 and remained under the radar for most of the journey to all but the diehard folk metal fans. Their new outing Karjajuht is bound to change that if and when it reaches the ears of the right people; basically, anyone that gets off on crushing tribal-assault violence in their music.
It’s been a long trip getting to where they are now, but the Metsatöll quartet are anything but frustrated at not having become a bigger deal sooner.
“Everything happened naturally for us, almost by itself,” says Lauri “Varulven” Õunapuu, sporting what can only be classified as a booming Viking-esque voice. “And I can’t say that it is only because we worked hard. Sometimes it was because somebody said to somebody ‘I know a band that uses Estonian bagpipes…’ and that would get us the attention. People had never heard of such a thing and wanted to hear and see it for themselves. The music that we’re making, when we use traditional Estonian instruments and making metal music, it’s interesting almost by itself even for the innocent bystander (laughs).”
Interesting isn’t the half of it. When the band pull out all the stops on Karjajuht it’s an ominous display of power. If anything, the folk metal label Metsatöll has been stamped with offers up a false sense of security, suggesting a certain elvish elegance that only exists in (very short) fits and bursts on the new record. Nope, Karjajuht is more like the soundtrack to a high-spirited barroom brawl started by Amon Amarth. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The cover art on its own should be enough to let people know Space Police – Defenders Of The Crown is an Edguy album. If that doesn’t convince you, a tracklist containing songs entitled ‘Love Tyger’ and ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’ warns folks that vocalist Tobias Sammet is at play once again. We are, after all, talking about the man that wrote the classic ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ and got away with it. All in the name of good clean fun in a dirty world, of course, and Sammet and his bandmates take their fun very seriously.
“That’s what you hear when you’re in a hotel on tour,” Sammet says of ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’, making sure people understand it doesn’t refer to the band members’ personal escapades. “You’re lying there alone in your bed after a show trying to get some sleep because you have an early lobby call, and all of a sudden you hear those weird primal noises from the room next to yours. It sounds something like ‘Do me like a caveman!’ (laughs). I think if I’d used the actual quote for the song we wouldn’t have been able to sell the album to minors.”
As for the Space Police artwork, it’s reminiscent of the animated cheesiness of Edguy’s Rocket Ride album cover from 2006 but isn’t linked or inspired by it according to Sammet.
“What I didn’t like too much about Rocket Ride, although it is good to break down barriers, the cover art was goofy. I don’t think the Space Police cover art is necessarily goofy; it’s got a rock n’ roll attitude and it’s not your typical Dungeons & Dragons power metal artwork. It may have a subtle hint of tongue-in-cheekness, but it’s also very straightforward just like the album is. It’s very flashy and in your face.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s been five years since former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans broke his self-imposed hiatus from the music business with HDK, a slavering beast of a project that flew in the face of his former band’s symphonic goth metal sound. The debut album, System Overload, was a full-on metal assault that presented both Gommans and vocalist/co-conspirator Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) entering unexplored territory, showing off a very different and altogether volatile side of their musical personalities. A second HDK album was always in the cards; it was just a question of when the pair would get around to writing and recording it in amongst other projects that were on the go, which included the launch of Gommans’ studio/music school The Rock Station, working on albums from Trillium and Kiske / Somerville, and tours with Trillium, Avantasia and Rock Meets Classic. Serenades Of The Netherworld has finally surfaced – creeping into the light slowly but surely – as a bigger and more melodic take on System Overload. It’s certainly more dynamic and less bent on bludgeoning the listener into submission, but not at the expense of healthy sonic violence.
Amanda: “That wasn’t because of me. That was definitely Sander’s fault (laughs).”
Sander: “The thing is, with the first album I wanted to do something really different from After Forever. I’d wanted to do it for years and years, and that’s what came out. Since then I’ve had time to work with other artists and re-think some stuff. I wanted to write a new HDK album that was similar to the previous one but it came out much more symphonic and way more melodic. I didn’t have to distance myself from After Forever anymore, and I was ready to write stuff that was more melodic anyway like I did for Trillium and Kiske / Somerville. And I worked with keyboard players this time, so that gave the music a different feel as well. The new HDK is still heavy but it’s different from the first album..”
Amanda: “On the first album Sander was saying ‘There aren’t going to be any keyboards on the album because After Forever is full of frickin’ keyboards…’ (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with how the new HDK album turned out.”
Sander: “That’s why it’s a project; you can do anything you want at any time, and that’s why I don’t want to play live; I don’t want to hold myself to one sort of style or genre. It’s just cool to work together with musicians and come up with stuff. The new HDK album does sound different, I do agree.”
Also different this time out is the way HDK is being unleashed. Rather than going through the circus act of seeking out a record deal, Gommans and Somerville have opted to release Serenades Of The Netherworld independently and in stages as part of an experiment.
Sander: “We have The Rock Station now, and we really want to show musicians how to promote your work when you don’t have a label. It’s just the start, so we’re releasing this first song and it’s actually done well. But, we’ve also noticed that you can’t promote the release just once; you have to keep promoting it. We want to have something to constantly promote the album and give people time to get to know the songs instead of releasing everything all at once on an album where people listen to it a few times before moving on to the next thing. The response has been very positive so far, and I thought people were going to be saying it wasn’t cool that they couldn’t buy the whole album. In that respect people like the songs, but I can see it coming where we release two or three songs and people start asking ‘Okay, where’s the album?’” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Nightwish keyboardist/founder Tuomas Holopainen’s first official solo album, Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, isn’t metal by any means. The record is full blown big screen soundtrack music, which falls directly in line with Holopainen’s trademark songwriting over the last several years. The fact that its focus is the comic book character Scrooge McDuck in a book penned by artist Don Rosa, on the other hand, is not what one might expect from the man who turned female operatic vocals into a metaldom staple and crossed over into movie-making with the Nightwish epic from 2011, Imaginaerum. Holopainen is unashamed by his pet project and very proud of how it turned out; if the music convinces some fans to go out and pick up the book that inspired him, so much the better.
“It’s been stated pretty clearly from the start that this is a marginal solo album that has nothing to do with metal or Nightwish,” says Holopainen. “It hasn’t been that big of a surprise to people. The biggest surprise seems to be why I’m being so childish (laughs). Of course, that can be expected if you choose to do and album based on a children’s comic book. It’s just ignorance though, because people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
If you’re a comic book geek you can appreciate the lengths Holopainen has gone to in bringing the Scrooge stories to life, having taken time away from his world famous day job. he makes no secret of the fact that he made the album to satisfy himself and nobody else.
“I wanted to make an album that would do these beautiful stories justice, and an album that I’d care to listen to myself. The music came out incredibly easy. I think it was probably, if not the easiest, one of the easiest albums I’ve ever produced because whenever I read this wonderful book my head is filled with music immediately. It was all about channelling it and getting it out, finding the right arrangements and the right instruments to perform it. I’ve had the dream of doing this soundtrack since 1999, so it’s about time that it saw daylight.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In March 2013, Saigon Kick put to rest months of speculation surrounding news the band’s original line-up, who recorded the classic self-titled debut and epic follow-up, The Lizard – had reunited. Guitarist Jason Bieler and vocalist Matt Kramer had stated numerous times in the press since parting ways in 1993 that they’d never work with each other again, and neither one was shy about the wording of those statements. Tempers have cooled in recent years, however, and in early 2012 both Bieler and Kramer revealed in separate interviews there had been discussions of possibly and hopefully burying the hatchet, and not in someone’s forehead. At the same time, Bieler was breathing life into his Owl Stretching studio project, which has since taken on a life of its own, and Kramer had released his second book, A Book Of Poems From The Smallest Of Towns. So, there was no lack of creative juice to fuel a Saigon Kick reunion, and in the end the diehard fans have gotten what they wished for.
“It’s gone really well considering the potential for epic disaster,” says Bieler. “It’s gone far better than we anticipated. We’ve been very, very selective about what we’ve done – and I think we spoke about this before – because we didn’t want to do one of those Will Work For Food kind of tours. We did seven shows in these cool markets, and the response from people who are really passionate about the band… it really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I think because we’ve been staying in really nice hotels and not seeing each other, there’s no friction (laughs).”
Call it a case of being older and wiser, maybe?
“Nobody’s got the energy for those kinds of fights anymore. Strangely enough, Matt and I have been getting along better than we ever have. I think you just get to a point in life where the negative stuff just isn’t worth fighting about. In the early days of Saigon Kick, anybody who didn’t see my point of view had to be doing it on purpose as an attack. There was no other way I could wrap my brain around why someone could not see my logic. As you get older and hopefully a little bit more mature you realize that different people on the planet have a different opinion of things, right or wrong. I learned not to take differences of opinion quite so personally. Yeah, Matt and I have been getting along much, much better, and I think a little bit of maturity on both our parts didn’t hurt.”
Saigon Kick’s volatile history had some fans holding their breaths waiting for news of the band’s reunion going to hell, but the quartet wrapped up 2013 as a complete unit with something resembling a plan for this year. Bieler says keeping things small scale with a ‘baby steps’ approach was the best thing they could have done, and it paid off.
“I think because we were really careful not to say ‘Okay, this is the We’re Visiting Every Venue On Earth Tour 2013/14′ we were able to take the commitment in small chunks. Obviously everybody in the band has busy lives and other things going on, so we could really only do it for the sake of enjoying it. We didn’t go out there saying ‘Please fund our nine million dollar DVD project’, we made sure we didn’t have any of that baggage. We had to make sure we felt like doing it and it’s been fun. The most impressive thing to me is that we didn’t realize how important some of this music is to some of these people. That’s been the exciting and refreshing thing, discovering that. It’s encouraging meeting people and hearing why a certain song or album is important to them.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Rumour has had it for over a decade that Gamma Ray frontman Kai Hansen isn’t a fan of touring, yet every time you turn around he and his Rayniac bandmates are on the road somewhere in the world either as headliners or a support act. He added to Unisonic to his to-do list in 2011, which put him on the international live circuit in between Gamma Ray commitments and personal life in 2012. And at press time – well before the release of the band’s new album Empire Of The Undead – Hansen was preparing to take the band through Europe for a month. You have to wonder if Hansen started the “Kai Hates Touring” rumour himself for shits and giggles, just to see how far the press and fandom would stretch it.
“The things is, I like touring and I liked it back then as well,” laughs Hansen, “but I didn’t like to be on tour for too long. Two or three months in a row is a bit heavy for me, but I think I can cope with the whole touring business better now than I did when I was younger. In general I don’t like long tours.”
Hansen also isn’t a fan of the constant push-pull in the metal world about who’s playing what kind of metal, whether an artist is metal enough, or if a band/album/song even warrants the stamp to begin with. Some fans, for example, raked Gamma Ray’s previous album To The Metal! (2010) over the coals for not being heavy enough. Going back for a listen to refresh the memory, it’s a ridiculous complaint
“It’s very hard to find a definition of what metal is,” Hansen says. “I never made a big distinction when I was growing up with glam rock and hard rock, and then later on heavy rock and heavy metal. In the end, for me, it’s all hard music with distorted guitars and attitude. Of course all these bands sound different, but to me it’s one thing. The spirit is the same so I don’t see the necessity to make a distinction, so I don’t.” (continue reading…)
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…)