By Carl Begai
Vocalist Russell Allen, best known as the frontman for prog metal gods Symphony X, offers his thoughts on his other band Adrenaline Mob when discussing their new album, Men Of Honor:
“This is a straightforward in-your-face no apologies rock band from New York – New Jersey, and we’re not fucking around. We’re here to throw down, say what we have to say, get to the point, and if it’s in your face that’s the way it is around here. Sorry.”
Don’t take the apology tacked onto the end of his statement seriously. Allen is fiercely proud of what he and his bandmates have accomplished, especially given the fact they’ve had to deal with a sometimes painfully moronic prog metal fanbase that bitched and moaned Adrenaline Mob wasn’t progressive enough for having Allen and (now former) drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) in the fold. A strange situation fuelled by people who claim to be music fans but don’t actually listen to the artists creating it. Adrenaline Mob made it clear from Day 1 they were an old school modern day rock band and not a prog metal side-project.
“It’s great when people like yourself get this, they get what Adrenaline Mob is about,” says Allen. “Nobody really knew what to do with us because of this whole prog background that me and Portnoy came from. People were scratching their heads, nobody knew how to book the act… they just didn’t fucking get it. Perception is everything in this world and the problem is people cling to their ideas of what they think they know about you. I don’t want to knock anybody, but the more educated people – in terms of educating themselves about your history – will go the extra mile and read a little more about you and read what you say. A lot of people didn’t bother to read the fine print, and Portnoy was talking about this in his interviews. The perception was that Adrenaline Mob was his band, but he came in after everything was written and my vocals were already recorded. It’s just the way the world works. People just cling to what they think they know and they’ll stand by that until the day they die even if they’re shown that they’re wrong (laughs).”
“The truth is I didn’t grow up listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Rush like so many people want to believe. Did I like Rush? Yes. Was it in the rotation? Yes. But it was Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Sabbath and Maiden that I was cranking in high school. Rush would come on and it would be great, but was I prog guy? No. That came later, when I wanted to grow musically. Everything on the record comes from something, whether intentional or unintentional. That’s the whole idea of trying to make music that’s accessible and immediate, that it kind of reminds you of something you’ve heard before. And that’s because everything already been done. Get over yourself.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
German a capella metal band Van Canto didn’t do themselves any favours kicking off the release of their fifth album, Dawn Of The Brave, with an oddball-titled single called ‘Badaboom’. Not because it’s a bad song – hell, fans of present day Manowar should be jealous – but because the band’s detractors are always seeking new ammunition for target practice. Van Canto are a thick-skinned sextet, however, and no strangers to people taking potshots at their brand of music. Eight years into their career, it’s fair to say the bitching and moaning from the outside fuels them as much as the accolades from their loyal fans.
“It’s been like that since the beginning of the band,” says vocalist Stefan Schmidt. “The only thing that’s changed is that the people who don’t like us have to admit that we’ve had some kind of success (laughs). The bad thing about it is that people who really don’t like us have gotten more personal in their reviews because they can’t understand how a band like Van Canto can exist for more than a couple years. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves anymore, but sometimes I have the feeling that even though we have a unique approach we often have to excuse ourselves for being unique. When I write songs I notice that I tend to sometimes do things that can cause controversy with certain people. Sometimes I think ‘No, you can’t do that because people will hate you for it…’ and then there’s another voice in my head saying ‘And that’s exactly why you should do it.’”
Which is probably why Van Canto haven’t turned out to be a flash in the pan; commitment coupled with being a healthy kind of stubborn.
“I recently did an interview with a big German magazine and the guy asked me what I say to people now that the joke is over. I asked him why is it that if an artist has a unique sound he or she or they can only make one album. There are so many metal bands that release 10 or 15 albums and they all sound the same, and they sound like other metal bands, but nobody asks them if the joke is over. I don’t know why they do that with Van Canto.”
Maybe that’s the difference between the open-minded professionals out there versus the kiddie journos who get offended by something they can’t wrap their brains around.
“If you put it that way I can live with it (laughs). We’re aware of the fact that a lot of the attraction Van Canto has is because of this gimmick, as some people call it, that we have. We talk to the people that come to our shows and we notice that when we go to the same town a second or third time there are always more and more people. Our music is different, and many people tell us they like us better live than on CD. It’s always great when a musician gets that kind of feedback.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Regardless of whether you like ‘em or don’t give a damn, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a big deal. The two-headed troupe’s annual east and west coast road trips through North America – leading up to Christmas and beyond – are consistently ranked as top-grossing concert tours year after year, and the production seemingly gets bigger each time out. It’s fair to say that TSO has become a tradition for many a metal and/or music lover. If there’s one misfire in this success story, however, it’s the lack of attention to the European market. Not that they necessarily need the exposure, but given that the legendary Savatage is the foundation for everything TSO has become and Europe embraced Savatage with the equivalent of a bone-crushing bear hug early on, some folks figure the Orchestra owes those fans some attention. Thus, 2014 began (literally) with an exclusive performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve followed by a stripped down but still impressive European tour; only their second in a 15 year history as a live act. Guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate sat down to discuss the stripped down TSO production when the band hit Nuremberg, Germany…
Jeff: “It’s very comfortable. We came over to Europe a few years ago with the Beethoven’s Last Night tour (in 2011) and it’s a great story, but I think some of it was too much for the European audiences. We had to trim that down quite a bit, and the Savatage element is much more present in the show this time. And for myself, being able to work with Chris, Johnny (Middleton/bass) and Al (Pitrelli/guitars) again is a blast. This is an arena show and we just happened to squeeze it into a theater.”
Chris: “The biggest difference for me is that I’m not nearly as tired as I am during the big production we do (laughs). We do one show a day and it’s stripped down, and we don’t have the wings that we have on the North American stage. The big stage has at least another 30 feet on each side, so you run the arena and do two shows a day. The European tour is more like doing the old Savatage concerts in many ways except the people are sitting. In a lot of ways it’s the same because I put my in-ears in and what I hear is the same as always. I don’t really hear a difference. The band is different in that I’ve got Johnny and Al there, which is always great. I usually play with Jeff and the singers rotate, so it’s not really that different of a TSO show for me.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
There’s no doubt that the controversial firing of former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon in October 2012 made her out to be the bad guy, turning any press she does for her forthcoming solo album into a potential exercise in character assassination. It doesn’t help her situation in that the Nightwish camp has been quick to refute many of her recent accusations of backstabbing and mismanagement that have appeared online. Quite frankly, I was prepared to be stonewalled when asking questions about Nightwish due to the fact Olzon came across as a self-centered diva when she slammed the band for playing to a Denver, CO audience in 2012 with stand-in vocalists Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) after she fell ill. Turns out I was way off the mark and had to give Olzon the benefit of the doubt.
Thus, in the interest of giving her solo album Shine a fair shake we’re getting the Nightwish debacle out of the way first, to be followed soon by a full story on the new record.
Rather than dig for the scurvy details and assorted dirt kicked up before and after her firing, the focus is on Olzon getting booted in the middle of the North American tour for Imaginaerum. It’s not a move most bands can afford to make in today’s music industry economy, sure as hell not without a back-up plan. And yet, 48 hours after Olzon was cut loose former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen had taken over her post on stage, becoming the band’s permanent singer less than a year later.
“It’s hard for me to say why the firing happened when it did because I don’t really know what happened behind my back,” says Olzon. “I think there were some thing happening that I didn’t know about. It has become clearer to me now that they had some sort of a plan when I told them I was pregnant. I actually think they had some suspicions I was pregnant during the summer festivals, so I think they may have had a back-up plan.”
Olzon pegs the band’s reaction to her pregnancy as the primary reason for the falling out. She also claims Jansen wasn’t as much of a last minute consideration for the Nightwish line-up as people think, albeit in a temporary capacity.
“We had some discussions during the tour in America about how to cover the remaining gigs for the tours that were coming up, and we did have something of an argument before that. I didn’t want to have a substitute singer in the band, I wanted to do the South American shows. I would have been too pregnant to go to Australia so I wanted to push the dates back, but Tuomas (Holopainen / keyboards, founder) didn’t want that. Discussions about a substitute came up and at first I was like ‘Yeah, well…. okay…’ but when they mentioned Floor it was an automatic ‘No’ from me. I didn’t think it was a good idea because I knew what would happen; I knew the fans would love Floor because she’s a metal singer and I’m a pop singer, and I wanted to keep my job. Because I couldn’t do the Australian tour, I think that’s when they started thinking about a new singer. We had a bit of an argument, then I got ill, and after that…. I don’t know if they planned this.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s hard to believe the cartoon that is MySpace was once the first stop in cutting edge social media. As of 2005 is was a place for musicians big and small to get the word out about their music and assorted projects, and it was around that time bassist/producer Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken) first drew attention to a new band he was working with called Benedictum. He compared vocalist Veronica Freeman to a female Ronnie James Dio, and the release of the band’s debut, Uncreation (2006), proved that Pilson wasn’t blowing smoke. Almost 10 years later Benedictum have hammered out their fourth album, Obey, and although it’s reminiscent of their early work the creative team behind the music has changed considerably. Only Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells remain of the original line-up and Pilson turns up only as a collaborator, with John Herrera now in the producer’s chair, but the fans aren’t complaining judging by the Obey reviews making the rounds.
“We had asked Jeff to produce the last album (Dominion – 2011) but it didn’t work out with his schedule,” Freeman reveals, adding that Herrera did a fantastic job on Obey. “We had a couple conversations with Jeff and he promised he wouldn’t let us down next time around, because we really are like family, but he was getting these musical opportunities that he couldn’t turn down. I know Jeff well enough to know that in his heart he really wanted to do this album, but this is business as well as friendship and I simply didn’t have the money to pay him. I can’t compete against these other people. I really wanted Jeff involved in some way, though. Once we started putting these songs together and they took on their own little lives, we went out to his place for two days for pre-production and rearranging things. The intensity of Jeff Pilson when you’re working with him is insane, and he really brought some of these songs to life, like ‘Retrograde’. He was involved on the last album on only one song, ‘Epsilon’, but you can kind of tell when it’s a Jeff thing.”
Production of Obey fell into the capable hands of John Herrera, and the results are in-your-face impressive. Loud, obnoxious, not too polished and not too dark.
“We needed someone local, and Rikard (Stjernquist/drums) worked with John before. I had to get some stuff done with guest vocals on another album, so we tried it out with John just to make we were going to get along. It worked out well. You’re right on the money with the production, and Rikard kept telling me I should be more excited bout it because of the production alone. He spent a lot of his time listening to the first two albums to really grasp Jeff’s mindset when he produced them, and then he put his own spin on it. He did an amazing job.”
In spite of the repeated line-up changes, which have been in full swing since the Seasons Of Tragedy album (2008), Benedictum’s sound has remained traditional old school metal thanks to the long time Freeman-Wells writing team.
“Yeah, Pete and I did most of the songwriting for Obey and it’s always kind of been that way,” says Freeman. “He’s that musical hamster in the spinning wheel (laughs); Pete is always churning out new stuff. He’ll send me little snippets of things, then we’ll get together and jam at rehearsal. And he’ll always try to sneak stuff in and waits for my reaction. That’s how we usually work. Even when we went to Jeff doing Obey, the basic parts were already there. We’ve been working together for over 15 years, so it’s hard for me to imagine working with someone else. When it comes to songwriting we roll in a certain way.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In 2011, Iced Earth said goodbye to fan-favoured vocalist Matt Barlow (again). A potentially disastrous situation for a band that had clawed and carved its way to something pretty damn close to the top over two decades, but they were given a second chance (again) with the entrance of Into Eternity frontman Stu Block. His Iced Earth debut album, Dystopia, went over a storm compared to its cold and dense predecessors – Framing Armageddon (’07), The Crucible Of Man (’08) – and the world tour that followed cemented Block’s position as the band’s singer. Iced Earth’s new album, Plagues Of Babylon, doesn’t exactly pick up where Dystopia left off in that it comes off as darker and more aggressive – and hell, more epic – but it most certainly matches Dystopia for intensity and being a solid no-bull fan friendly package.
“Sometimes you hit things right on the mark for the fanbase, other times you do what you feel like as an artist as much as for the fans,” says guitarist/founder Jon Schaffer. “I don’t think it’s a contrived thing. This album is a little bit more epic compared to Dystopia, but the writing period was the same length as it was for Dystopia. I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life and a lot of shit happened, but somehow I was able to put together a really strong record in spite of everything that was going on. With Dystopia, I just felt that was the way to go and I don’t think Plagues Of Babylon is too far from that direction. I think Plagues Of Babylon has a couple more songs that are a bit more epic in terms of the writing, sure, but we stayed on the course set with Dystopia.”
“I produced this album, and one of the things I wanted to do was make it heavier and give it a live feel,” he continues. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t over-produced. I got really good takes out of everybody but I wasn’t so anal as to make sure that everything was 100% perfectly in tune and perfectly on time. That’s a trap you fall into as a producer. I wanted to capture the essence and energy of a band that’s been touring its ass off and I think I accomplished that.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
This interview took place towards the end of Kamelot’s 2013 European tour in support of their latest album, Silverthorn. By all accounts – band, fans, YouTube footage – it was a successful run that saw the band play to packed houses every night. The show on this particular night, in Munich, went off without a hitch as far as anyone on the floor could tell, with Kamelot attacking the stage like the seasoned veterans they are, playing to the audience rather than merely for them, accompanied by one of the most impressive lightshows ever seen in a rock club (seriously… and without pyro). It was a far cry from the band’s first European tour – their first road trip ever, in fact – back in 1998 with Elegy, which showcased a band that was understandably green performing to half empty rooms. A potentially demoralizing experience on one hand, but the taste was enough to make Kamelot want to push forward. Success at a level where the band became a day job was along time coming, but it’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you focus on and devote your time and energy to something you really want.
“You don’t have any pictures from that ’98 tour, do you?” laughs guitarist Thomas Youngblood.
Actually, I do. I’ll wait to be tapped for the Kamelot biography to publish them.
“When you get started you want to be like Iron Maiden, but then you start realizing how difficult that is,” says Youngblood with regards to the band’s success. “But the way things are nowadays in the industry, there aren’t a lot of bands that can get to that level. I think we’re fortunate we’ve been able to grow and maintain this band over the past 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a testament to working hard and making some smart decisions, and having killer fans.”
Kamelot’s biggest test came with the surprise departure of vocalist Roy Khan in September 2010, mere days before the Poetry For The Poisoned tour was due to begin. The band downplayed the seriousness of the situation at the time – they could realistically have lost their collective shirt financially due to pre-tour expenses and unfulfilled contracts – and managed to save face by finding the best possible replacement for Khan in Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.
“We didn’t think anything bad about that in terms of coming out of it intact,” Youngblood insists. “I’ve seen a lot of bands do that successfully, and I think a lot of people forget how many acts have actually had to do that. We’ve grown into different territories since then. We played Australia for the first time with Silverthorn, we’ve done different parts of Asia like Korea and Taiwan, and the US is a much bigger market for us now.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In spite of what you may have heard, Mephisto is in fact French Canadian. And female.
This is a well worn fact amongst Kamelot fans, as vocalist Alissa White-Gluz – best known for fronting The Agonist – has played the role for the band’s epic set-closing ‘March Of Mephisto’ for over a year. And with all due respect to the other singers that have taken on the part since the song came to life on The Black Halo album – Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir), Snowy Shaw (Therion), Mark Jansen (Epica), Alexander Krull (Atrocity, Leaves’ Eyes), Paul Zinay (Blackguard) – Alissa owns it, hands down. You’d be hard pressed to find a Kamelot fan to argue against the suggestion that she’s become an integral part of the show.
“I’m doing what Elize was doing before,” Alissa says of her work with Kamelot, referring to Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd. “I do her parts as well as my own, like on ‘Sacrimony’, backing vocals, and the female voices that turn up in the band’s other songs. It’s a totally different show from The Agonist, which is funny because Kamelot toured with Delain in the US and the first show of The Agonist’s European tour was where Charlotte (Wessels/vocals) from Delain lives. She came to see us play and she was like ‘What the hell? You’re a completely different person up there…’ (laughs). She saw me doing the Kamelot thing for a month, so she was shocked to see how the whole death metal vocals are a big part of what I do outside of Kamelot. It was a lot of fun.”
Anyone familiar with The Agonist never would have figured on Alissa taking a job with a symphonic power metal outfit. Take a listen to any song in their catalogue other than her a capella rendition of ‘Swan Lake’ and you can’t hear the connection. Alissa will tell you different, however, and that she’s actually drawn to Kamelot’s sound.
“I think it’s because even though I perform the death metal stuff I’m not a death metal person. As much as I love the heaviness of The Agonist’s songs, it’s fun to actually be able to hear what’s going on in the music (laughs).”
As for switching from her hell bent Agonist attack to a slightly more civilized approach for Kamelot, Alissa reveals that switching gears wasn’t a problem ever after jumping from one European tour to another in the space of a week.
“I thought it would be hard to switch between the two but it was actually super easy. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to be a drummer or something where I could just sit back and watch the show, and not have too much attention on me. Now I’m kind of doing that with Kamelot, which is cool.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s fair to say that M:Pire Of Evil – featuring former Venom members Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (vocals/bass) and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn (guitars) with Marc “JXN” Jackson (drums) – gave 2013 a solid ass-kicking. Between a new album, festival dates, one-off club shows and a European tour with Onslaught the trio were busy from March through December, bent on building up momentum for an even busier 2014. There were a few setbacks along the way, of course, the biggest one of the bunch seeing Dunn sidelined for the first week of the Onslaught tour due to a back injury. That didn’t stop the M:Pire from delivering, however, with Dolan and Jackson hitting the stage as a duo supported by temporary Onslaught guitarist Leigh Chambers (ex-Collapse); a mark of real integrity and all out balls if there ever was one.
Chambers, it turns out, was the only guitarist on a four band bill that dared to step into Dunn’s shoes, learning a Venom song a day over a matter of hours to offer M:Pire Of Evil fans more than just a rhythm section bludgeoning. A nerve-wracking experience for the three musicians but their efforts were well appreciated all around.
“I told Leigh not to try and play like Jeff, just to play like himself playing that music,” says Dolan. “When he plays with Onslaught it’s very precise, there are lot of twists and turns and stops and accents. He has to really be on it. He didn’t have time to do that with us, so we kept it as loose as we could so it sounded like Venom. The idea was that if he wandered, he wandered, and if he couldn’t remember a lick or whatever Leigh just did what he felt like. He just had to put his heart into it and that’s what the kid did.”
“The one thing I didn’t want to do, which was difficult, was compromise ourselves,” he adds. “We just said ‘Fuck it!’ and got up there and just did it. Having Leigh on stage with us made things a little less stressful. Mikey from Onslaught asked us if we were going to get rid of Jeff as Leigh learned more of the songs (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In recent years, Primal Fear bassist Mat Sinner has crossed over from the realms of metal and become a familiar face / presence to the mainstream rock crowd in parts of Europe. As one of the masterminds behind Rock Meets Classic – which is exactly what it sounds like – he has seen what started as a grand touring experiment morph into a highly anticipated packed-to-the-rafters annual event. Boasting the Mat Sinner Band and the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague as its foundation, Rock Meets Classic is gearing up for its fifth run in March / April 2014 featuring some of the finest rock vocalists/musicians the ’70s and ’80s has to offer. Previous outings with Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Steve Lukather (Toto), Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Eric Bazilian (The Hooters) went over a storm, appealing to everyone from the unwashed metalheads to the husbands / wives that get out maybe twice a year, to the 65+ year-old pensioners who dress their best for the occasion. The 2014 installment of Rock Meets Classic is shaping up to be another blast for everyone involved regardless of whether they’re on stage or in the audience.
And while their names may not fill the seats to the extent the featured artists do, Sinner is equally focused on enlisting top notch musicians as members of the Rock Meets Classic backbone. No small wonder the roster hasn’t changed very much since the first run and now features four-fifths of Primal Fear
“If I’m able to give jobs to my bandmates so that they make some decent money on a nice tour, I will,” says Sinner. “And there’s a social part to it, where for example I’m not going to give the drummer position away to another drummer when I have Randy Black. I know Randy can play all this stuff, he’s got the skills, and I know he’s a big fan of some of these singers. Everybody was very, very happy with him on the last Rock Meets Classic tour. He told me he had the time of his life, so of course he wants to do the tour next year. If I can give something back to these guys, there’s nothing wrong with that.” (continue reading…)