The Interviews

This story was originally published on this site back in April 2014, heralding the arrival of HDK’s new album Serenades Of The Netherworld. Or rather, the first taste of the record in the form of two singles to get people talking, which they did. Here’s the updated version of the story to coincide with the full album’s September 1st release.

By Carl Begai

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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.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This interview came together in the interest of covering The Winery Dogs, but it was a given that no matter which of the trio got tapped for the chat – Richie Kotzen (vocals, guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass), or Mike Portnoy (drums) – there would be plenty to talk about with regards to their respective careers outside the band. It was Portnoy that stepped up, and the conversation that followed touched on several aspects but certainly not all facets of his career. Hell, taking time to walk through all the projects and plans he’s had on the go over the last few years would have forced the cancellation of the show. And that’s without discussing his departure from Dream Theater.

First up, congratulations were in order for the success of the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 which took place back in February. It was essentially a 70000 Tons Of Metal-styled boat cruise for the progressive rock/metal nerd legions, and it was Portnoy that led the charge.

“Thank you. It was amazing. I played with three bands on board, seven sets in total. I played two shows each with three of the bands and a seventh set with Jon Anderson doing all the Yes stuff, plus there was two days of rehearsal on board, and then overseeing the whole thing, it was incredible. It was a fucking blur, and it went beyond my expectations. I saw the guys from Haken a couple nights ago and they were telling me how they’re still buzzing all these months later. That was a pretty common reaction from everybody that was on board whether it be the bands or the fans; everybody walked off that cruise just buzzing because they had been a part of a once in a lifetime event. For me it was incredibly surreal having overseen the project from both sides, as a player and a promoter or whatever you want to call it. It was one of the highlights of my career, hands down.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Mention UK-based power metal speedsters DragonForce in group conversation and somebody is bound to shriek or mumble “Guitar Hero” depending on their feelings towards the band’s unique brand of metal. It’s almost a bad cliché at this point, as some folks routinely bash DragonForce for “Through The Fire And Flames” becoming a video game hit that ultimately made them a big deal around the world. They’ve released three albums since Inhuman Rampage (2006) gave us their chart-approved hit, the latest being Maximum Overload featuring not-so-new vocalist Marc Hudson. It’s unlikely fans will be disappointed with the album, but the diehards should be prepared a few sonic changes going in. Maximum Overload ranks as DragonForce’s heaviest album to date, all at the frenzied yet capable hands of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman.

BraveWords: You guys have been magnets for criticism from day one because you dared to be different – what some people consider obnoxious – by going completely over-the-top. Taking a classic song (“Ring Of Fire”) from a legend like Johnny Cash and re-working it the way you have on Maximum Overload, you’re throwing yourselves to the wolves to a degree. Some people love it, other people hate you for it. Big, seething hate.

Li: “I think after Guitar Hero things can’t get any worse when it comes to insults (laughs). We can handle anything now.”

BraveWords: So that Guitar Hero stigma still follows you around?

Li: “Sometimes one of us meets a girl in a bar and the only reason she might know of us is because of Guitar Hero, which is kind of cool (laughs). But we hear it all the time: ‘DragonForce? They’re that shitty band from Guitar Hero…’ We also hear good things from that too, though, because people got into the band thanks to the game. We have a weird sense of humour anyway, so it’s all cool with us.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

When Unisonic surfaced in 2012 it was something of a milestone in that former Helloween bandmates Michael Kiske (vocals) and Kai Hansen (guitars) were officially working together again. They crossed paths several times following Kiske’s departure from Helloween in 1993 – Hansen having jumped ship four years earlier – beginning with Kiske’s guest appearance on Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album in 1995, but it wasn’t until Avantasia’s European tour in 2010 where they shared the stage for a few songs each night that the prospect of collaborating on bigger and better things became serious. Kiske already had Unisonic on the go with former Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer, Pink Cream 69 bassist/producer Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou, and the decision was made to bring Hansen on board. Interest in the band spiked once the news went public, but the self-titled debut received a mixed bag of reactions. It wasn’t the Helloween Mark II people had expected beyond the ‘Unisonic’ single that kicked things off, yet the band was able to tour extensively and successfully on the strength of the album. Light Of Dawn is Unisonic’s second shot in the arm, and the band remains unapologetic for doing things their own way rather than according to other people’s designs.

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“We came from our Place Vendome roots – me, Kosta and Michael – doing AOR stuff, and we knew we wanted to make melodic guitar-oriented music,” says Ward of Unisonic’s focus from the get-go. “I don’t want to insult anybody, and I sure don’t want to be rude, but we said from the beginning in a million different interviews that we’re not going to try and do anything remotely similar to Helloween. That was well stated so many times in advance, but we brought the record out and people were complaining that it wasn’t as heavy as they thought it would be. It was like, ‘Fucking hell, don’t you read? Don’t you care about what we said?’ I don’t want to be insulting, and with all due respect, we don’t give a shit about those complaints because we did what we wanted to do.”

“You have to look at the roots of the people in this band other than Michael, who has his metal roots way in the past. Kai came very late to the band, and the rest of us make hard rock music, not metal. It’s like Paul McCartney making a record that sounds like The Beatles; is he supposed to apologize for that? I don’t think so (laughs). No matter what we do we’re going to disappoint somebody, so we just stay true to ourselves. Slowly but surely we’re finding our way. On this album we tried some new stuff, we ventured farther into the dangerous metal realm (laughs). We left the dragons out but we tried to give the fans a little more of what they want to hear.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

There are two sides to Extreme’s Pornograffitti success story. On the one hand you have ‘More Than Words’ – arguably one of the greatest ballads ever written – made popular the world over by lovesick teenagers, lonely househusbands / wives, and socially inept business people everywhere. On the other side you have the fanbase that devoured the ‘Kid Ego’ stomp and ‘Play With Me’ shred of Extreme’s self-titled debut and wanted more. Those of us in the second group weren’t prepared for what hit us when Pornograffitti was unleashed, however, as it sucker-pounded us into a mindblown state by the time ‘Get The Funk Out’ raised its middle finger four songs in. Designed as a concept record, Pornograffitti took the listener on an trip through the realms of metal, rock, rap, Queen, Sinatra and everything in between, amounting to full-on theater for the ears and mind.

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Pushing twenty-five years later, Extreme has taken Pornograffitti on the road for a 25th Anniversary tour, playing the album from front to back as the first hour of a two hour show to packed houses. Given the storybook aspect of the record one would think turning it into a complete live set would be a no-brainer, but that wasn’t the case according to vocalist Gary Cherone. Nope, a lot of thinking was done before it became a reality.

“Someone brought it up in 2012,” he says, “and I remember going to those rehearsals thinking ‘Is this gonna work? Going in chronological order, ‘More Than Words’ is the fifth song…’. I didn’t want to do Pornograffitti in order but Nuno (Bettencourt / guitars) and Pat (Badger / bass) convinced me to do it. It worked in rehearsal but I couldn’t get my head around sitting down and doing ‘More Than Words’ as the fifth song in because we usually do it later in the set. Like the record, though, it works as a show because there’s a flow. I admit that I was wrong.”

When Pornograffitti was released it was unlike anything Extreme’s hair-band peers were doing, making it stick out like a sore thumb to anyone on the scene paying attention. It’s a milestone in the band’s career, and it resonated with the die-hard fans long before ‘More Than Words’ took over the world.

“‘More Than Words’ obviously struck a chord with people, but that happened nine months after the release,” Cherone reveals. “We were writing for III Sides To Every Story, the Pornograffitti record was dead, we were touring Europe and getting ready to do the third record, and all of a sudden ‘More Than Words’ took hold in Denver and started to connect. Quoting Nuno, the Pornograffitti record is where we found ourselves. On the first record we were our influences – Aerosmith, Van Halen – and on Pornograffitti we discovered what we were. There are monster riffs on the record; Nuno is out of control (laughs).” Continue Reading

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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