The Interviews

By Carl Begai

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It’s considered poor journalistic form for a writer to put himself / herself in what’s supposed to be an unbiased info piece, but the catalyst for this story was in fact my personal disdain for teenagers in the music business. A hypocritical attitude to some degree given that many of the bands and musicians I hail as personal heroes started in their teens, but in this day and age it doesn’t seem to matter if newcomers are talent free with regards to achieving success. More than ever the worn out music industry cliché of record label suits snagging disposable prettygirls’n’boys and thrusting them into the public eye with an image and songs written by an overpriced producer guaranteed to earn a gazillion dollars seems to hold true. And it’s not an illlness restricted to the pop music world (Baby Metal, anyone?).

With that in mind, if I had stumbled upon 16 year-old Gabbie Rae Trial through normal online channels, I likely would have dismissed her as just another fresh-faced marketing mogul’s dream guaranteed to be history before the end of the year. As luck would have it, she was introduced to me through a Facebook post by Queensrÿche vocalist Todd La Torre, who is known for his talent and integrity. Having spoken with La Torre several times in the past, there was no way he would waste his time and breath on fluff. Asking him to elaborate, he made it clear that Gabbie Rae is the real deal as far as he’s concerned. Curiosity piqued by the song being hyped (‘Scream’), a trip through YouTube’s infinite wealth of music yielded a startling catalogue of Gabbie Rae material. It runs the gamut from singer/songwriter ballads, an anti-bullying song, pop covers, and some positively startling live acoustic renditions of metal classics from Dio, Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche.

Her killer cover of the Queensrÿche classic ‘Queen Of The Reich’ – which really shouldn’t work acoustically – was enough on its own to push for this interview.

“The first time I met Todd I told him that I’d covered a Queensrÿche song acoustically, I’m pretty sure he thought it was ‘Silent Lucidity’ or ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’ or something like that,” Gabbie Rae laughs. “But… nope (laughs). It’s kind of fun to mess with people.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Within 24 hours of the metal press being given advance access to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Z², reviews started popping up online. They invariably heralded the highly anticipated double album – split into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – as trademark Townsend musical genius existing on multiple levels of godlike awesomeness. With all due respect to my peers – many of whom are much better review writers than I am – you might want to go back and re-evaluate Townsend’s work and then your own. There’s simply no bloody way anyone gets the Z² album after only a few listens; it’s far too adventurous, emotional, chaotic and occasionally scatterbrained to be able to embrace it as a whole so easily. And indeed, some fans have voiced their disappointment since Z²’s official release. The simple fact is Sky Blue (Part 1) is not the thundering sequel to DTP’s Epicloud album from 2012 it was expected to be, although it does follow some similar lines. Likewise, Dark Matters (Part 2) is a different beast from the original Ziltoid The Omniscient that reared his bug-eyed head in 2007.

For one thing, Dark Matters seems almost kid-oriented as a target audience rather than being metaphorically driven as the Ziltoid The Omniscient album was.

“I think there’s a part of it that’s kid-oriented, but there’s another part to it,” says Townsend. “I’ve demanded a lot of my audience for years. I drew them in with heavy metal and gave them country, new age and ambient music. There’s a part of me that, when the support came, I decided that I did my artsy-fartsy movie (Sky Blue) so I needed to do my Michael Bay-type movie (Dark Matters) and then reconsider what I want to do musically. It’s not that the well is dry, it’s just that it’s been an intense amount of work for an intense amount of time. By finishing up with the Ziltoid thing, in one way it was a conclusion to what started seven years ago. Sure, it’s still metaphor because that’s how I write, but the surface of this is much different. It’s for people to enjoy. I think the Sky Blue element of it is where the emotional aspects of it went because I was frustrated by it, and because some heavy things happened during the making of the record. I listen back to Z² and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there’s a part of me saying ‘Okay, next!’ (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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I first became aware of photographer Jeremy Saffer’s work through the promo campaign for Kamelot’s Silverthorn album in 2012. It was a single photo featuring vocalist Tommy Karevik flanked on either side by Kamelot’s live backing singers Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), which I found quite striking. An online search revealed Saffer to be someone who has established himself as a go-to photographer for people in the know, yet he remains below the radar to some degree. Saffer doesn’t have time to worry about whether people get or even know about his work, however, because he has several projects on the go at any given time. In fact, this interview was conducted as Saffer was gearing up for the release of his latest work(s) of art.

Taking on photography as a career is something that develops over time rather than waking up one day and saying “Eureka! I know what I’m gonna do with my life!” Saffer reveals that his love for music carved the path to becoming what amounts to a photographer to the gods…

“Like most metalheads I was a musician,” Saffer begins, “and on the side for fun I would take photos of bands; live shots only at the time. I had been shooting bands live for about three years when I started college at Berklee College Of Music… and I hated Berklee. It was an eye-opener for me that I didn’t want to play music for the rest of my life, which to me was shattering as it was my dream since I was little. So, in this struggle I was talking to a friend/mentor, as his advice is extremely important to me. I said ‘I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do. I hate Berklee…’ He asked me what I liked to do, and without hesitation I said ‘Shoot bands, shoot shows.’ He looked at me as if I was the last one to get it. That look he gave me changed my entire mindset from ‘Okay, I photograph bands for fun, now I can do it for a career…’ So I went to a quick photo school and continued on my career, which has slowly gone from mostly live photos to mostly portraits.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Although she rose to fame in the ’90s as the female vocalist for pioneering doom goth act Theatre Of Tragedy, Liv Kristine is best known these days as the singer for Leaves’ Eyes. During their ongoing 10+ year run she’s also nurtured a solo career – launched in 1998 but pursued in earnest as of 2006 – that lives apart from her band’s symphonic metal realm. Up to this point Liv’s solo records have embraced rock and pop influences with hints of metal, causing a certain amount of confusion and/or disappointment amongst some of her fans. Her fifth album, Vervain, is going to polarize her followers yet again, as it finds Liv returning to the music that made her famous. Unashamed and excited, she makes no secret of the fact that Vervain was written in the spirit of Theatre Of Tragedy’s glory days. A surprise for some given Liv was fired from ToT in 2003, but anyone who has been attended her live solo shows in recent years knows she still has love for the Theatre Of Tragedy classics. Call Vervain her tribute to a unique and influential past.

“It was about a year ago that I decided this would be the right time to sit down and start composing again for another solo album,” Liv begins. “Thorsten (Bauer/guitars) asked me what I had in mind and I told him that I really wanted to go back to the roots and let all my influences from the early days of Theatre Of Tragedy into the music. It feels like a loss for me that the band no longer exists and nobody is playing those songs live. That’s what I had in mind with this album and I talked to Thorsten about it, and he just started composing the music. He did the whole album in half a year. Alex (Krull) produced the album, so it was all done here at home (Mastersound Studios). It just felt right to do it this way.”

The Theatre Of Tragedy vibe on Vervain may not be readily apparent, but as the album plays out there are passages that echo the darkness and melancholy of the band’s first three albums. The title track, for example, speaks loudly as a tip of the hat to Theater’s biggest hit “Der Tanz der Schatten” from Velvet Darkness They Fear. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Back in September, former Megadeth / King Diamond guitarist Glen Drover ended several years away from the metal scene with a new song called “Discordia”. It was an unexpected collaboration with Queensryche vocalist Todd La Torre showcasing Drover’s return from his prog fusion Metalusion band/project and the more aggressive side of La Torre’s talents. The vast majority of Drover fans loved it. And while he was already committed to releasing a second full-on metal bloodletting, the success of “Discordia” served to strengthen his already ironclad resolve. He made certain his return to metal was a strong one with “Discordia”, and new song “Walls Of Blood” featuring Untimely Demise frontman Matt Cuthbertson is the face-ripping follow-up that stands to surpass its success.

“You know what? Not to sound ‘whatever’ about it, but I believe the same thing because of the strength of the song,” says Drover. “I’m really happy with it and excited to see how the people respond to it. You have to believe in your work before anyone else does, and there was lots of confidence and belief in ‘Walls Of Blood’ when we put it together.”

“I think it’s just the new mindframe I have right now,” he says of his full-on return to churning out his brand of metal mayhem. “Doing ‘Discordia’ with Todd gave me a clear picture of a path forward. It’s a lot less work doing a single rather than an album, obviously, but you put more focus on that particular song. ‘Discordia’ kind of wrote itself and things came together, so we put it out for fun.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Hitting the 25 year mark of anything is a big deal. Birthday, marriage, time spent in prison, it’s a milestone to be celebrated (okay, two out of three ain’t bad…). Of course, like anything Swedish bashers Meshuggah do, even an occasion supposedly as simple as an anniversary comes with a certain amount of head-scratching. Do the math and you find that folks are about two years too late, as Meshuggah was formed in 1987. If you take the band’s first official release, Contradictions Collapse, in 1991 as the jump-off point you’re late to the party. Turns out the band is using their painfully limited edition three-song Meshuggah EP from ’89 – otherwise known as Psykisk Testbild – as their first official sign of life to be celebrated. And even then, according to guitarist Mårten Hagström, it isn’t your predictable music industry tip of the hat to a momentous occasion.
    
“There’s the Ophidian Trek DVD, the 25th Anniversary touring that we’re doing in December in Europe, the re-release of the I EP, so for me it’s all been mashed together and has become a bit confusing,” admits Hagström. “The DVD is basically just a representation of what we did on the Koloss tour; it doesn’t really celebrate 25 years of the band. We started out recording every show on the tour as far as audio went because the gear was alll hooked up anyway, and I think it was Fredrik (Thordendal/guitars) who came up with the idea for the DVD. We had a new stage set, we took great care to implement the light design and create an actual show, so doing a DVD made sense at least for our sake. And as always with this band, things got out of hand (laughs). If we were going to do it we decided we might as well do it properly, and when Nuclear Blast heard that they decided we should release it. So all we’ve been doing for the last six months is looking after the re-release of I, rehearsing for the tour and preparing the DVD.”

“The first release from Meshuggah that we commemorate 25 years isn’t a Nuclear Blast release, it’s Psykisk Testbild, and that was only 500 copies or something. That was the real start of the band, but I guess we worked differently than other bands because before we did Destroy Erase Improve (1995) we weren’t on any map. We didn’t tour before 1995, so the whole 25th Anniversary depends on where you count from (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Swedish pop metal export Amaranthe started life as a wildcard band. Polished and pretty, when they surfaced with their self-titled debut in 2011 their budding career had equal chances of becoming a rousing success or a laughable bellyflop. The three vocal attack (female, male, growls) was an effective attention-getter, but the layers of electronica keyboards and trance beats backing the modern-edged guitar/bass/drum attack of an otherwise self-respecting metal band left Amaranthe wide open to ridicule. The sextet did indeed earn their haters, but the international metal scene proved once again to be an open-minded collective. By the time the band’s second album, The Nexus, was unleashed in 2013 they’d earned a solid fanbase and rounded up a new legion of followers during the world tour that followed. Amaranthe’s third album, Massive Addictive, is their all important next step and is everything the title proclaims. Prior to the band’s recent North American tour supporting Within Temptation, vocalists Jake E. and Elize Ryd took time out to discuss what is being called Amaranthe’s strongest work to date.

Jake: “Between the first album and The Nexus I felt a lot of pressure. There was an anxiety to deliver as something as good as what we did with the debut, and doing the first album was very relaxed. There was an almost instant success with the first album, and we only had six months to write and record The Nexus so there was a huge pressure on my shoulders to do something just as good. I think maybe that’s why we took the easy way out a bit on The Nexus by writing songs that were similar to the ones on the debut. It could have been called the Amaranthe II album (laughs), but with a few more influences put into the music. I thought when we started writing Massive Addictive there would be more of the same pressure, but I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t worried.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Long before Extreme wrapped their Pornograffitti Live! World Tour celebrating the album’s 25th Anniversary this year, vocalist Gary Cherone was well into the second album from his other band, Hurtsmile. Entitled Retrogrenade, it’s the follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut from 2011 which was, by comparison, much harder to get into even though it does boast some memorable songs. It’s no accident Retrogrenade plays out as it does, being that Cherone and his brother Mark (guitars), Joe Pessia (bass) and Dan Spellman (drums) have finally hit their stride as a unit and no longer worry about people saying they sound like that “other” band on occasion.

“I think this is a better record than our first one,” says Cherone. “There were a couple songs on the first record that stuck in your head, but Retrogrenade is more melodic and I think the subject matter is more universal. There were more contributing elements on this record and everyone was more involved in the songwriting. The first album was mainly me and Mark. It’s a case of the band developing as a group, so thank you for saying that because it’s very encouraging.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Nevermore has been a regular and welcome guest in the house that Metal Tim Henderson built pretty much since BW&BK’s inception. More often than not, vocalist Warrel Dane has been the one to step up (or be lured into) spending time talking music and related chaos with the BraveWords family, and we’ve never come away from a conversation with the man disappointed. Over the past 20 years the question of a Sanctuary reunion has been raised repeatedly, more as our running joke for the past decade given that every metal mag big and small poked Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard with questions abour resurrecting their former band. Dane maintained he was dead set against the idea, saying people should be happy with Refuge Denied (’87) and Into The Mirror Black (’89), but he changed his tune in 2010 revealing Sanctuary would release a new album featuring most of the original line-up. Four years and a handful of reunion shows later, main songwriters Dane and guitarist Lenny Rutledge have made good on their threat with The Year The Sun Died.

Dane: “We don’t like to call it a reunion; we refer to it as a re-invention (laughs).This record doesn’t sound like the first record, and I think it may be a bit closer to Into The Mirror Black. Kind of like the brother or sister to the Mirror Black record with bigger hooks.”

Given Dane’s long-standing resistance to even entertaining a Sanctuary reunion, Nevermore’s (supposed) demise in 2011 made for one hell of a push to follow through with it. He doesn’t officially acknowledge it as a factor, and it turns out there were other forces at work in putting Sanctuary back together. One of them was actor and Tenacious D mastermind Jack Black.

Rutledge: “One of the things was getting an offer to use one of our songs in a game called Brutal Legend. That got us talking a lot and we discussed the possibility of maybe getting together, doing some shows and having some fun with it. We did that and we discovered the chemistry was still there. I had a couple songs in my back pocket that I was holding on to for what I thought would be for Warrel some day, never really knowing if we would actually get together. We started working on these songs and it was like being back in the ’80s. That chemistry started to develop again and we ran with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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How about an Accept story that doesn’t involve discussion about former vocalist Udo Dirkschneider and his personal issues with the band? On top of that, let’s not talk about a possible reunion with the U.D.O frontman because, at this point in Accept’s career, stirring that pot is just plain bad manners bordering on insulting. Nope, the focus here is on Blind Rage, the band’s third go-round with singer Mark Tornillo, which the fans have been praising to high heaven according to guitarist Wolf Hoffmann. In fact, some diehards have actually gone on record calling Blind Rage the best of the three records in this “new” Accept’s catalogue. Brave words indeed, particularly when stacking it up against Blood Of The Nations, the band’s bold 2010 return that amounted to a “We’re back!” eargasm for their legion of fans.

Interestingly, Blind Rage comes off as being somewhat less heavy in places compared to Blood Of The Nations and its follow-up, Stalingrad. Call it classic heavy Accept with more melody and dynamics thrown into the mix, just like the good old days of Breaker (1981) and Restless And Wild (1982). Almost as if Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes experimented with branching out from what they know works for Accept fans in 2014.

“I’m not sure we did,” Hoffmann counters. “If anything I think we tried to hone it into what Accept really is. I think ‘experiment’ is a bad word to use. There are songs on Stampede that are more melodic, but all in all it’s totally Accept to me. A good song is a good song, and we always try to concentrate on songwriting more than anything, and if things sound a little softer or more melodic here and there, so be it. We’ve always been about melody in our songs. As long as people like it I’m happy.” Continue Reading