BW&BK Interview: CHILDREN OF BODOM – Halo Of Blood Listening Session: “There Are No Filler Tracks On This…”
By Carl Begai
Back in March, BW&BK was invited to attend the listening session for Children Of Bodom’s highly anticipated new album, Halo Of Blood, to be issued through their new label Nuclear Blast on June 7th. The ‘net is abuzz with reports that the band have taken a back-to-the-roots approach this time out, and while it may seem that way on the surface, turns out Halo Of Blood is so much more than a rehash of a successful formula. For those that have written off the Hate Crew as having their best years behind them, Halo Of Blood will be a a pleasant surprise for some, a kick in the nuts for others.
We sat down with keyboardist Janne Wirman and drummer Jaska Raatikainen following the initial run-through of the new album.
BW&BK: Making the move from Universal to Nuclear Blast seems like a logical step considering you were on Spinefarm/Nuclear Blast at the start of the band’s career. Was moving to a smaller label a case of feeling lost in the shuffle on a big roster of artists?
Janne: “The first three albums were just licensed to Nuclear Blast, so we didn’t really have that much of a relationship with them, but we’re excited about the move. We had a great relationship with Spinefarm, but Spinefarm got sold to Universal as you know, and when a major label takes control of a smaller label things don’t always go as planned. Little by little it started to be a sucky deal for us, so when our deal ended with them we started shopping around for a new deal. A lot of labels made offers, but in the current market when major labels are going down anyway, it was a good decision to go with an independent metal label that is also the biggest metal label in Europe.”
Jaska: “Everybody always says we were a Nuclear Blast band because of the licensing deal, and the first tours we did were Nuclear Blast festival tours. Still, we knew the people involved so it was nice to come to this label. As Janne said, it was a logical decision.”
BW&BK: Alexi (Laiho/vocals, guitars) is and always has been the songwriter in this band, but there has to be more that one guy involved in the creative process for a band to be around for 15+ years. Did the rest of the band have more input on Halo Of Blood compared to the last few records?
Janne: “Maybe the whole band’s arranging of the songs had even a little bit more to say this time. Alexi is the musical director, he’s composing the music, but we played around with ideas more this time. We tried different things and experimented a lot. I think we spent more time arranging these new songs together than we ever have in the past.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“It doesn’t matter if someone likes the album; it matters whether or not we as a band like the album.”
Thus, guitarist Esa Holopainen offers no apologies if you, as an AMORPHIS fan, can’t find worth in the band’s new outing, Circle. But really, if you’ve been a devout follower even through the experimental Am Universum / Far From The Sun era (2001/2003) and the entrance of vocalist Tomi Joutsen in 2005 (who replaced Pasi Koskinen), there’s nothing to complain about. Circle boasts the full-on Amorphis quality of recent years, albeit heavier and more face-grabbingly immediate than some folks might expect.
“I’ve only heard from one reporter saying that he wishes Circle sounded more like the previous albums,” Esa admits. “But, that’s always been the way with this band. You know you’ve done something right when you please some of the people. If everybody would hate us there wouldn’t be any point to releasing albums at all. We’ve received lots of positive feedback, and when you know yourself that you worked hard on the songs and you truly enjoy the results, it’s a great feeling to talk about the album with people.”
Circle is a pleasant surprise in that it’s heavy without bordering on overly brutal, probably more up-tempo than some fans expect, and dark without venturing into the realms of goth/doom melancholy.
“I definitely agree with you,” says Esa, “and that’s why we brought the guitars up front, to make things heavier. The guitars on this album are much more up front and in-your-face compared to the previous albums. As a guitar player, that really works for me (laughs). We paid more attention to the overall sound. We used different guitars sounds on certain parts of the album, and there were songs that we wanted to sound more organic, more old school. We didn’t want to changes things radically; we had a new producer and a new environment for the recording sessions and that really helped us achieve our goals.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Amott’s long-lived other band, Spiritual Beggars, have enjoyed a successful under-the-radar 20 year run, and it’s bound to continue with their new outing Earth Blues. The timing of the release couldn’t be better, what with acts like Adrenaline Mob, Black Star Riders, The New Black and Tremonti – to name a noteworthy few – making some serious highly praised noise of over the last several months with “simple” straight-up rock records. Sure, deliveries from the bands mentioned vary in levels of heavy and modern rock versus classic old school, but at the end of the day there no clutter and no bull to muck up the works. Earth Blues sits high and mighty within this pack for anyone that believes the word “organic” can be used to describe music as well as a vegetarian platter or bag of weed.
“I haven’t heard the bands you mentioned,” Amott admits, “but we’ve been doing this since ’93 and have put out eight albums in that time. What I’ve noticed is that at some points it’s more hip to put out a vintage classic rock album than others. It goes in waves and you can’t really do anything about that. I’ve never really thought about fitting in. Even if it’s been embarrassingly bad timing, this is what we do. We’re just a band that rocks out when we feel like it. For me as a songwriting guitar player, it’s an opportunity to stretch out a little bit and do something different. I’m not the world’s most adventurous guitar player, but I do like to write and record and play live in two different styles; the extreme metal thing and the Spiritual Beggars thing, which is more rock.”
In an unusual move, the band opted to do a low key European headline tour for Earth Blues right on top of the release. As such, the album didn’t have time to build any momentum and possibly stoke the buzz. On the other hand, it have Amott and his bandmates the chance to hear a lot of unfiltered first impressions.
“A lot of people like the album, some people don’t like it,” says Amott. “Some people call it an irrelevant piece of crap while others call it a masterpiece (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Not to take away from Amaranthe’s current shine, but part of the reason for this current buzz is singer Elize Ryd, who has toured with Florida-based Kamelot as a backing vocalist for the last four years and hit the studio for their latest record, Silverthorn. The ongoing collaboration has been a blessing for an up-and-coming young band like Amaranthe trying to gain a foothold in the big leagues.
“I think working with Kamelot has had an effect,” Elize agrees, “because we have a lot of fans in South America and in North America, and I’ve been on tour with Kamelot in those territories. I was with them when they supported Nightwish on top of that, and Nightwish have a huge audience.”
As for how she became involved with Kamelot in the first place…
Elize: “From the beginning, when we started Amaranthe, we didn’t have a lot of shows so I had a lot of free time…”
Male clean vocalist Jake E. picks up the thread: “The whole story is like this: I used to be a pyro-technician and I toured with every band out there. We started this project called Amaranthe, and I was great friends with Kamelot so they asked me if we’d like to go on tour and if they could ‘borrow’ Elize. We actually did two tours with them, when I was also a back-up singer, so we were pulling double duty. Then we grew, of course, so Elize works with them when she has the time. This year, for example, it’s totally impossible…”
The depth of Elize’s involvement with Kamelot has increased over the last four years, to the point she’s become a recognizable part of the band’s roster. Amaranthe is her first priority, but going in to record The Nexus still ended up being a balancing act. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
As of October 2012, guitarist Glen Drover’s second official solo album was reportedly half finished. Six months later and the only real buzz out of Drover’s neck of the woods is his recent and brief association with vocalist Geoff Tate’s new incarnation of Queensrÿche. Contacted initially to discuss the ‘Ryche situation – some folks might call it a debacle; depends on who’s side you’re on – Drover revealed that his new solo album is still in the works. It would have been finished by now if not for his decision to go back and remix last three albums – Coma Nation (2001), Apostles Of Defiance (2003), The Parallel Otherworld (2006) – from his pre-Megadeth / pre-King Diamond band Eidolon.
“Without getting into all the details of why we’re doing it, the way technology is now we realized that we could really make the quality of the albums a lot better than it was,” says Drover. “It’s a major step up in overall production. There were things that we weren’t 100% happy with, but I guess most musicians go through that. Something just came along that made us decide it was a good idea to go back and remix the albums. Me and Pat (Mulock/vocals) and Shawn (Drover/drums) are really excited, and Jon (Howard/vocals) from Threat Signal is helping out on it, too.”
“It’s a really cool project. We’re taking our time, going through one song after the other. We started with Coma Nation and it’s half finished. It’s a remix and not a remaster, so we’re changing the face of the whole thing for the better. If there wasn’t a noticeable increase in production I would never waste my time with this. For what it is, those albums came out good at the time. We used what we could and we made the best of what we had, and it worked. Now things are a little bit different. We’re not changing the performance – that’s going to be the same – but we might tweak a couple of thing effect-wise. The albums are going to be the same, but with a far stronger production.”
Still, weeding through the archives, the temptation to go back into the studio and tweak the recordings with up-to-date performances… (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Japanese fusion guitarist Nozomi Itani is a musical personality that, up until recently, has been flying below the rock scene’s radar. He’s been flying for quite some time though, and not only in his homeland. Itani’s roots as a musician were planted in Germany, where he lived from the age of four for over 30 years when his father – a pioneering businessman that helped introduce Japanese companies to the Western world – moved to Europe in 1962. In that time he carved out a successful albeit behind-the-scenes career, which eventually brought him home. These days he spends the bulk of his time teaching music, but Itani still managed to write and record and new instrumental album to showcase his talents, appropriately titled Station To Station.
“My mother studied classical piano, and she always wanted the kids to learn how to play an instrument,” Itani says of his start in music. “I started playing piano and violin when I was a kid but I was very lazy (laughs). I took lessons for a few years but I gave up. I didn’t want to play a musical instrument, but by the time I turned 16 rock n’ roll was something very special. It was the time when rock n’ roll was really cool, so to have an electric guitar was very special. When I bought my first Deep Purple LP, my mother saw the picture of the band members and shouted ‘Oh my God, they’re terrorists!’ (laughs). When I started playing guitar I really loved to listen to Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and all kinds of progressive rock stuff like Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant. Most of my friends listened to pop music, Top 10 hits, but I wasn’t very interested in that.”
“The cool thing was that at the end of the ’70s and in the early ’80s, there was this big punk movement and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and on the other hand there was this big jazz fusion movement. I listened to all these so-called studio guitarists, and the heavy metal thing was interesting too because there were guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but I think my real roots are in jazz fusion. On the other hand, I really love to play power chords on the guitar (laughs). This is the balance in my music. I always have this image of playing chord progressions and melodies that are linked to jazz but should sound like hard rock and heavy metal. My vision is to play a jazz standard on a Flying V one day (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Finntroll have seemingly been on a mission to tear folk metal as a genre a new one since 2007.
The Finnish septet rose to popularity amongst pagan/folk metal fans over the course of three albums – Midnattens Widunder (’99), Jaktens Tid (’01), Nattfödd (’04) – but chose to adopt a much darker and heavier black metal-influenced sound when they returned in ’07 with the Ur Jordens Jup album and new singer Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns. Call it a reaction to the folk metal bands that were cropping up at every turn trying to cash in on a trend. It was a move that didn’t hurt Finntroll nearly as much as some fans and media people expected, which led to the even heavier and uglier Nifelvind record three years later. The ‘Trolls showed no signs or intentions of pulling back the violence for the future, which makes their new album Blodsvept a bigger surprise than any black/death/doom metal flavoured platter they could have come up with.
“People have said this is the most diverse Finntroll album so far, and I think so too,” says Lillmåns. “We made some good choices when we did the pre-production for this album.”
When it came down to the actual recordings, however, there were moments when Blodsvept was on its way to blowing apart at the seams. The band documented their studio adventures via an online blog (found here), and there was a fair bit of kicking and screaming going on during the recording sessions thanks to some nightmarish technical glitches.
“It was a total horror show this time,” Lillmåns confirms. “They say we have this Finntroll studio curse because usually somebody has a close relative that dies when we’re recording, but this time nobody died. There must be some sort of equilibrium, though, because we had eight tracks of guitars that died in the middle of the whole thing.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Out promoting Soilwork’s new album The Living Infinite, frontman Björn “Speed” Strid will tell you that as far as he’s concerned the band’s previous effort from 2010, The Panic Broadcast, didn’t get the attention it deserved. It was a record that washed away the bland taste of Sworn To A Great Divide (2007) with waves of thrash, colour and dynamics that really did deserve more than just the initial buzz out of the gate, but Strid doesn’t blame their record label for a lack of support or the fans for lack of taste. He chalks it up instead to a glaring lack of touring on the band’s part, who logged far fewer miles than in past years thanks in large part to the will-he-or-won’t-he status of founding guitarist Peter Wichers.
Having left the band in 2005 only to return in 2008 – and thus give Soilwork a much needed kick in the ass – Wichers found himself torn between commitments to the band and his personal life. Things eventually came to a head in June 2012 and he announced his (final?) departure, leaving Soilwork with a clear conscience and a clean slate. What better way to get back in the game doing double the work and churning out 20 songs for an official release?
“We always try to have the element of surprise in there whenever we go in to make a new album,” Strid says when Soilwork’s collective sanity sanity is called into question. Most bands have a hard enough time coughing up 10 songs with substance. “The real reason behind it… with all the chaos around Peter, I think we needed to turn things around and do something unique, something that stands out and turn it into something positive. We also wanted to show or prove to ourselves and the fans that there are other amazing songwriters in the band.”
Having different songwriters involved rather than just the Strid/Wichers seems to have had positive effect on the music as well, as The Living Infinite is definitely in the same park as The Panic Brodcast.
“For sure, and I think that was good for me. I definitely needed that because when Peter was a part of the band we knew each other so well musically, and in a situation like that sometimes you become too predictable. The fact that Peter was losing interest as well would have affected my work as well.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During the last half of the ’90s, Stratovarius ruled the roost when it came to top-notch A-game power metal. Over the course of three albums in three years – Episode (’96), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) – the band set a standard that was hard to match. Guitarist Timo Tolkki was elevated to the status of guitar god, new vocalist Timo Kotipelto (as of ’95) cemented his position as the band’s frontman in spite of initial fan misgivings, and the quintet was deemed pretty much unstoppable. That wasn’t the case, and Stratovarius’ fall from grace in the years that followed was well documented, with the brakes finally being applied to halt complete self-destruction when Tolkki departed once and for all in 2008. Three albums into what has been touted since 2009 as a fresh start with axe-monster Matias Kupiainen in Tolkki’s place and the band have hit one out of the park with new album, Nemesis. It’s a record based on change of a tried and true formula, and nobody – not even vocalist Timo Kotipelto – could have predicted the wave after wave of positive feedback that’s come down since the press got a hold of it.
“The reactions haven’t been like this in about 12 or 15 years,” says Kotipelto. “I’m always excited about releasing a new album when it’s done, of course, but this time it feels like a fresh new start. Not just because we have a new drummer (Rolf Pilve) but because things also clicked together in a good way.”
Which is a huge understatement to the ears of anyone that has followed Stratovarius since the ’90s. Kotipelto is hard pressed to identify what it was about the creative process this time out that coughed up a record worthy of their late ’90s run.
“When I had the demos there weren’t any vocals, just guitar melodies or weird keyboard melodies from Jens (Johansson). At that stage it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a good song or not. I can recognize of there’s a melody in there that makes some sense that I can work with, but it can be difficult. Especially with Matias’ songs because he doesn’t compose with vocals and lyrics in mind; a lot of the time I end up thinking ‘What the fuck is this…’ when I hear his stuff (laughs). And sometimes when we’re recording Matias sometimes suggests we change things about the vocals because he has a vision in his head of what he wants. We give each other feedback in the studio, and it really works. When Jens composes he has a more melodic approach from a singer’s perspective, and I guess that’s because we’ve been in the band together for so long. For the last couple albums we made demos and Matias mixed them in the studio so we could hear how the songs would sound. They weren’t perfect but they gave us a better picture of where we were going. Of course, by the time I get to do my vocals two or three months have passed and the songs have changed a bit.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
I’m going to start this story with an apology to Tobias Sammet and all those involved with the Avantasia machine.
In my initial overview of the new album The Mystery Of Time (found here), I did a fair job of smack-talking Sammet’s previous Avantasia effort, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon double album. In my world it was just too damn long, with only three songs of a possible 22 having left a mark on my brain since the 2010 release (‘Scales Of Justice’, ‘Stargazers’ and ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’ in case anyone cares). In stark contrast The Mystery Of Time boasts only 10 songs, and after only one time through during the listening session at the Nuclear Blast offices in Donzdorf, Germany there were melodies and riffs still resonating in my head days later. I blame my harsh view of The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon on being smacked with too much information at one time, while The Mystery Of Time is an exciting “buckle up” ride if you’re a fan of the genre. It seems my enthusiasm may have gotten the better of me. I still say Avantasia’s previous outing pales in comparison to the new album, but by no means had I intended to dumb down Sammet’s vision or the work that went into making it a reality.
That said, during the listening session for The Mystery Of Time, I did mention to Sammet that I thought The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon was too big for its own good.
“Definitely, I agree,” says Sammet. “Not that I would throw away any of the material because I like all the songs, but some of the songs suffered from being just one out of 22 songs that came out at the same time. The songs that would have been really appreciated on an album of 10 tracks were called ‘weak’ or ‘fillers’ because there was so much competition. That was something that I wasn’t able to predict. I thought, ‘I wrote the material, I like each song because I had months to become acquainted with them.’ I knew every detail of every song, so they were very important to me.”
The Mystery Of Time offers so much more to sink one’s teeth into because of its compact nature. Short-ish, sweet, wonderfully diverse, and straight to the point.
“I’m really with you on that,” Sammet agrees. “This album is an entity all its own, and compact is the best way to describe it.” (continue reading…)