The Interviews

By Carl Begai

Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.

“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”

The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?

“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

It’s been seven years since Norway’s #1 loved and loathed black metal export Dimmu Borgir released their ninth album, Abrahadabra. Not the best record in the band’s catalogue according to many a fan, but more than enough time has passed to warrant a crushing return to glory… which makes Dimmu Borgir’s decision to release a live DVD / Blu-ray package featuring performances over five years old confusing. Make no mistake; Forces Of The Northern Night is a beautifully crafted memoir for diehard followers featuring the band performing two special shows with a full symphony orchestra and choir, but after this amount of time people were expecting brand new music. According to guitarist Silenoz, the fans only need to stretch their collective patience until the end of the year because there is in fact a method to their current madness.

“We did some touring with Abrahadabra but not that much, and we took a break that just got longer and longer,” Silenoz says of Dimmu Borgir’s prolonged silence. “We’ve never been the typical run-of-the-mill band that records an album, goes on tour, records an album, goes back on tour. We’ve always taken our time and it works for us, which is the only formula we have.”

The break from touring and recording played a big role in enabling the band to pull off the two shows featured on Forces Of The Northern Night – first in 2011 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Schola Cantorum Choir (KORK) in Oslo, then with the Czech National Orchestra at the Wacken Open Air 2012 – and compile the material for official release.

“It really takes a lot of preparation to pull off something like the orchestral shows, and it’s been a dream of ours for many years to be able to perform with a live orchestra since we’ve utilised symphony orchestra on our albums. It was just a matter of time until it happened, and it was great that the orchestra approached us about doing it rather than the other way around. That’s what made it feasible for us to be able to do it. Then the Wacken Open Air asked us if we could do a special orchestra show in 2012, and because we did it the year before one thing just led to another. Next thing we know, we’re playing this epic show in front of 80,000 people with 100 people on stage, and we didn’t really have a soundcheck (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

In 2014, Sanctuary fans celebrated when the legendary metal outfit made their four year reunion official with the release in The Year The Sun Died. The music was distinctly Sanctuary courtesy of guitarist Lenny Rutledge’s style, albeit fatter and heavier thanks to modern day production values, but some people were put off by the absence of frontman Warrel Dane’s – formerly of Nevermore – signature ’80s high end vocals and assorted shrieks. It was an unfair criticism given Sanctuary’s classic albums Refuge Denied and Into The Mirror Black were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively – the man’s voice had simply aged with him – and it certainly wasn’t enough to halt the band’s forward momentum. Work is building slowly for a follow-up, tentatively titled Dead Again, but in the meantime Sanctuary fans can feast on Inception. Dubbed a prequel to Refuge Denied, the record features remixed and remastered demo recordings from 1986 that were all but forgotten until Rutledge stumbled across them by accident.

“I didn’t realize they were stored where they were stored,” Rutledge says in what has become a well worn story by this point. “I did some recordings of other bands in the mid-’90s, so I would find miscellaneous tapes here and there; they weren’t stored in any organized fashion. I’d forgotten about the Sanctuary tapes. I have a two-storey barn and the top floor is all messed up, it leaks, there are squirrels and birds up there… it’s just like a barn on any property. The lower part was converted into a studio, which is really nice, so going upstairs you’re in a completely different world (laughs). I happened to be up there looking for some stuff and I came across the box that had those particular Sanctuary tapes in it. It was a surprise to find them, and to find them in the condition they were in. My heart kinda sank because those tapes had been up there for 15 years, and when I discovered them I was sure I made a big mistake by not keeping track of them.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

On the one hand, big budget live DVDs seem like a pointless investment now that YouTube is king. Then again, with hundreds of hours of bootleg footage online showcasing or plaguing a band until the end of time once uploaded, there’s an artistic need for an artist to present their work in the best possible light. Nightwish started releasing live DVD material long before online video sharing became the entity it is today, issuing material in three year cycles (approximately) to capture each chapter on their journey to greatness. Folks paying attention to that particular aspect of the Nightwish catalogue, therefore, weren’t surprised when news came down that the band was releasing Vehicle Of Spirit to commemorate their Endless Forms Most Beautiful world tour. Just how necessary it is can be debated, particularly since the Showtime, Storytime DVD from 2013 – shot at the Wacken Open Air in Germany – is a very hard act to follow if you’re a fan of live retrospectives. It’s doubtful the diehard fans are complaining, however, with shows from 2015 shot in Tampere, Finland and London, England featured along with live clips from around the world.

“We started planning the Vehicle Of Spirit DVD as we planned the tour for Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” says vocalist Floor Jansen. “We knew that we didn’t just want to document one concert, but rather to show more faces of Nightwish on tour around the world. We have a varied setlist, we play different sizes of stages – in Germany, for example, it’s massive, and in the US things are much smaller – and a show in China looks different from a show in Finland. We wanted to document the world tour, and as the planning of the show evolved we chose the London show at Wembley because it was the biggest and very special. This was definitely something that was planned from the beginning.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Many people in our line of sonic debauchery refer to Motörhead as a metal band even though legendary frontman Lemmy always insisted they played rock n’ roll. Not surprisingly, nobody ever dared to argue the point with Mr. Kilmister (that we know of). Thus, if you’re looking for a metal band cut from the Motörhead cloth it’s best to cast an ear in Witchery’s direction. Born from the ashes of Satanic Slaughter 20 years ago, the Swedish quintet originally consisting of members from The Haunted, Arch Enemy and Seance gained a faithful cult following from the get-go with their 1998 debut, Restless And Dead. During a BW&BK interview in 1999 for the band’s Witchburner EP, guitarist Patrik Jensen (The Haunted) put forth Witchery’s plan of adopting a ’70s-era KISS approach and releasing at least an album a year, and with Symphony For The Devil hitting the shelves in 2001 it seemed they might succeed. Unfortunately, real life and other band commitents managed to scuttle those plans, leaving Witchery to assemble only as time permitted, yielding only three albums in 10 years. In fact, their new record, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service, comes a whopping six years after their last outing, Witchkrieg.

“You know what they say; as you grow older time moves faster, ” says Jensen. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been six years but then I look at the calendar and it’s ‘Oh my God, we’re celebrating 20 years of Witchery, we need to make an album…’ (laughs).”

“But that’s the problem we’ve had since 2003 because that’s around about when Angela (Gossow) joined Arch Enemy and things started to go really well for them,” he continues, referring to bassist Sharlee D’Angelo’s top priority and the resulting space between Witchery albums. “The Haunted took off around that time, and I think that’s when Martin (Axenrot / drums) joined Opeth. We were really active between 1997 to 2003 and then things got difficult for us because there were so many conflicting schedules. It’s crazy. We discovered that it was just as hard to get this album out as any other year we’ve done an album because it’s hard to get everyone together. That’s why Martin decided to gracefully bow out; he didn’t want to make it a problem for Witchery to continue releasing albums. The way he put it, ‘It’s not like I don’t have a band I’m going to tour the world with…’ (laughs). We love the guy and we’re still friends, so there’s no animosity. Something had to change and he offered his place up; we found Chris (Barkensjö) to play drums and he’s not as busy as Martin so it’s easier to get rehearsals going. On top of that, Martin was a very sophisticated and tasteful player even before he joined Opeth, whereas I’m more of a Ramones / early Motörhead kind of player. Chris is the same way; he sounds like our first drummer, so having him in the band brought back that old Witchery feeling we had on Restless And Dead. Not only could we get back to rehearsing, we kind of got our old sound back.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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“Goddammit, Amaranthe…”

When Swedish pop-metallers Amaranthe dropped the first single from their new Maximalism album, “That Song”, the mastermind behind Billy’s Metal Mulisha on YouTube, Billy Kasper, was one of the first to weigh in. Like many Amaranthe fans, yours truly included, he was weaned on old school metal (Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth) and now boasts a wide spectrum of metallic taste (Stone Sour, In Flames, Suffocation, and on and on…), leaving plenty of room for Amaranthe’s presumably lighter fare. Kasper was put off by the track, and for all the fans that voiced their lust and support for “That Song” there seemed to be an equal number that echoed his reaction above. In much the same way The Agonist has been lambasted by some of their followers for the changes in the band’s sound on their new Five album, there is some resistance amongst the Amaranthe faithful in accepting their sonic update. Their trademark pop elements are more pronounced than ever, and the death metal growls that have been a not-so-subtle nuance have finally taken a solid third of Amaranthe’s three vocalist spotlight, making for all kinds of discussion as to what should and should not be allowed as part of the band’s aresenal. In the end – and it took repeated listens to figure this out – Maximalism is all about contrasts and Amaranthe’s evolution rather than phoning in a predictably successful formula-fed album.

“Exactly,” says guitarist Olof Mörck- “I think you got it perfectly. People are intrigued by the record because it’s obviously different from what we’ve done before. For us, when we started to write the album it was all about diversity because I still love The Nexus (2013) and the first album (2011), but they did have a very firm concept and we went with that conecpt 100%. And since we were so early into our career there wasn’t a huge need for variation. On the Massive Addictive record (2014) we felt that we maybe had to throw some things around a little bit. At the outset of Maximalism, I think we were trying to throw a lot of different things around because one of the main points with the first two albums is that they were in context when they were released. They were very fresh and people didn’t react overly enthusiastic about the music, just like yourself, but they realized we’re a real band that can play our music live. The thing is that if we kept on releasing albums that sounded similar we would have lost that freshness. We were trying to find new perspectives on what is actually fun with Maximalism so the music is new and fresh for us.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Take a look at the viewer comments left as (burnt) offerings for the three videos The Agonist posted in the weeks prior to the release of their new album, Five – “The Chain”, “The Moment” and “The Hunt” respectively – and you’ll find the band has a very loyal yet painfully divided fanbase. Understandable given the parting of ways with original singer Alissa White-Gluz (now with Arch Enemy) in 2014 and the addition of Vicky Psarakis in her place, but the haters aren’t merely complaining about the vocals this time out. No, it would seem that those who would try to do The Agonist harm with insults and assorted trolling when Eye Of Providence was released in 2015 are taking issue with the songwriting on Five, the riffs, the production, the mix, even the promo photos, as well as the vocals. Guitarist Danny Marino isn’t one to let the negativity that has surfaced get to him because he knows Five is a bold step forward for The Agonist, and the band still has a legion of open-minded supporters.

“It’s hard to judge positive and negative reactions based on comments made on a video,” he says, “but even if they’re mainly positive the negative comments speak louder because they jump out at you. I think it’s important for any band to look at it that way. For example, I remember when Opeth went through their musical shift a couple albums ago and decided to continue on that path. It wasn’t pleasant for them (laughs) but I think they’re more successful now than they’ve ever been in their career. It took some time for people to adjust to their new direction. It’s very subjective. All we can do is keep putting out music and seeing people show up to watch us play. That’s how we know we’re doing something good.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.

Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.

“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”

“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…

“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Amongst metal’s heaviest, darkest and meanest diehards Peter Tägtgren is known first and foremost as the frontman and founder of Hypocrisy, then as a producer who has racked up time in his Abyss Studio since 1995 with seemingly every metal band under the sun. There’s no getting past the fact, however, that his greatest success to date is his mainstream-ish electro-industrial outfit Pain. Originally launched as a one-man pet project in 1997, Pain now boasts a real band line-up and eight albums in their catalogue with no brick walls to slow them down in sight. The newest outing, Coming Home, is distinctly Swede-powered Pain boasting its fair share of surprises, from releasing its sick-riff heaviest track (“Call Me”) as the lead single, to an unexpected guest vocalist, to some serious balladeering on the title track. And clean singing. Lots of it.

During the five year gap between You Only Live Twice (2011) and Coming Home, Pain did a decent amount of touring and Peter succeeded in blindsiding the metal community by teaming up with seemingly reclusive Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann. The duo released the Lindemann debut, Skills And Pills, backed by some huge label confidence and promotional firepower, guaranteeing that everyone heard about Lindemann whether they liked the Pain-Stein sound of the project or not.

“It was great, we had the time of our lives,” Peter laughs. “Just two idiots out in the world doing promotion and it was great. We had such a blast. It’s a memory for life. We started with one song and we all know how it ended. It was amazing. Till is fucked up which is why we fit together (laughs). There were no rules for anything when we made the album. It was all ‘follow your heart.'” Continue Reading