BraveWords Interview: PARADISE LOST – Britain’s Got Talons

By Carl Begai

Back in 1997, UK doom / Goth pioneers Paradise Lost threw their fanbase the most brutal of curves with their One Second album. Two years earlier they had released Draconian Times, which went over a storm and was considered the best and most logical way to continue the band’s reign, which had been established and cemented with their Gothic (1991), Shades Of God (1992), and Icon (1993) records. One Second’s electronic enhanced direction threw some people for a loop while others embraced it, and it was a message – however unintentional at the time – that Paradise Lost will do what they want to their sound, critics and (some) fans be damned. The Goth elements remained at the core as they moved forward with some bold experiments, but it wasn’t until Tragic Idol (2012) and The Plague Within (2015) that the band truly seemed to be returning to the full-on doom and gloom that put them on the map. The unleashing of Medusa two years later signalled the band had come full circle, or so it seemed. Obsidian – their 16th album to date – sees Paradise Lost pulling new tricks out of their collective sleeve, twisting their “trademark” early doom / Goth sound into new forms, effectively ripping apart any expectations people may have had going into the record after feasting on Medusa.

“I’ve become very pragmatic over the years about people trying to nail down our classic period,” guitarist Gregor Mackintosh says of fans referencing Paradise Lost’s early albums as their best work. “I think it has more to do with the time period in which an album comes out. For example, I don’t think Draconian Times would have been as popular if it came out two years later or two years prior. It’s pure circumstance sometimes. You can have strong material and be completely passed over. I take everything with a pinch of salt, really.”

According to Mackintosh, Paradise Lost has indeed put albums out that they thought were strong, yet the media and fans were unimpressed for the most part.

“Lots and lots of times, yeah,” Mackintosh laughs. “We’ve completely missed the mark or the scene has missed us, whichever way you want to look at it. We’ve been kings of shooting ourselves in the foot in certain parts of our career, but that’s from somebody else’s perspective. From our perspective we did exactly what we wanted to do and we wouldn’t change it, but from a commercial point of view… absolutely; we’ve gone off on a tangent and everybody hated it (laughs).”

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CYNTHIA NICKSCHAS – Ein Bisschen Punk Muss Sein

By Carl Begai

Like every other musician that has been fortunate to make a living from their art, German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas found herself in freefall when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March. As an artist that has made her reputation and her living on performing live, the forced cancellation of shows that had been planned for months was a kick in the teeth, and the fact nobody knows when concert venues will be open to the public again has a direct influence on her future. This is not how Cynthia expected to be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of her career.

Not at all.

“At first it was like ‘Oh shit, what about my job?’ because music is what I do,” she says, which comes as no surprise. “That’s my job. I guess you could say I was startled because all the gigs I had scheduled suddenly had to be cancelled. I didn’t know what to do, but once the shock wore off I got my financial stuff in order before everything else. I’ve been in debt before and don’t want to go through that again.”

That said, desperate times call for creative measures and Cynthia – along with her band – stepped out of her comfort zone for a livestream show in April. Not a big deal on the one hand considering so many musicians are doing the exact same thing, but Cynthia Nickschas & Friends is a unit that thrives on the energy of a live audience. Thus, there was the question in her head of just how well fans would respond to a performance via the internet from the showroom floor of a Bad Godesberg bike / scooter shop, supported only by her band, a technician, and her ever-faithful dog, Snoopy. Turns out it went over very well in spite of some technical difficulties, and the show was the trademark high energy performance her fans have come to expect.

“We had a great time, and it was really cool of the fans… they donated enough money so that I could pay my technician, pay my band, and still have something to live from. I’m very grateful for that. It was a really good show, and we’ve got the whole thing with proper sound and everything. I haven’t watched it all the way through because since that gig I’ve been pretty busy. We’ve been working on a songbook, we’re recording new music, and we’re going to release a live CD and DVD, although I don’t know when that will happen yet. And we’ve been writing new songs. If we’re done with recording before the end of the year maybe we’ll put something out. I’ve got enough songs but I want to do record it all together, I want it to be a band record, and it’s kind of shitty at the moment to be able to do that. So, until that happens we’ll prepare the material and put the songs together. We are recording stuff at Alwin’s (Moser / violin) place right now and it’s going to be pretty cool when everybody is involved.”

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BraveWords Interview: AYREON – Everything’s Electric

By Carl Begai

Twenty-two years ago, a struggling Dutch musician by the name of Arjen Anthony Lucassen released what would be his breakthrough album. Buoyed by the attention he received for his first two records – The Final Experiment (1995) and Actual Fantasy (1996) – Lucassen adopted a “go big or go home” strategy and concocted a progressive metal opera featuring the talents of musicians he admired dubbed Into The Electric Castle. It was the beginning of what has become an internationally successful and lucrative career, allowing Lucassen to pursue his musical fantasies and ideas as they formulate in his hyperactive brain. With each album that followed Into The Electric Castle – six more at press time, not including his numerous side projects – the calls for Ayreon to perform live grew louder, and in 2016 fans were treated to a stage performance of The Human Equation album from 2004, The Theater Equation. Lucassen’s participation in the production was minimal compared to Ayreon Universe in 2017, the first ever official live Ayreon shows featuring Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold) and Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) to name a few. Two years later, Lucassen decided to gather his cast of original characters and returned to where it all began with four shows celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Into The Electric Castle. The end result is another jewel in Lucassen’s crown, Electric Castle Live And Other Tales.

BraveWords: Over the years you’ve maintained that Ayreon is not something you could see being performed live because of the scope of the production required and all the moving parts. Between Ayreon Universe and Electric Castle Live – and Star One for that matter – I call bullshit (laughs).

Arjen: “I know (laughs). And the reactions to Electric Castle Live have been unanimously positive. It sounds arrogant, but this time I was pretty sure of it. When we were editing the video and I saw all the material, and I was mixing it, I thought ‘Oh my God, we did it.’ We had plenty of camera angles to choose from, every shot was cool, the sound was good…. I think this was the first Ayreon release ever where I believed in it 100%. You’ve known me for years, and I’m always insecure when it comes to releasing a new album: ‘Are they going to like it? I wish I had done this…’ This time there we no ‘if only’s’. For the previous live stuff there were so many of those, but this time everything aligned perfectly. If there has been any negative response it has been towards the encores, which might be a bit too much for some people. And some people don’t like the narration, but that’s just a personal thing so I don’t give a shit about that because John de Lancie was great.”

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BraveWords Interview: WOLFHEART – The Fuck It Principle

By Carl Begai

“The only similarity between me and Devin Townsend is that we’re both bald.”

So says Wolfheart frontman / founder Tuomas Saukkonen as this interview kicks off, reacting to the suggestions that he is the Finnish counterpart to Canada’s own Hevy Devy. It’s a comparison meant as and taken as a compliment, made in reference to Saukkonen’s assortment of bands / projects that have surfaced since he started making noise with Before The Dawn in 1999. Dawn Of Solace, Black Sun Aeon, Routasielu and The Final Harvest also bear his name, all of them a testament to Saukkonen’s drive and need to create music. Things came to a head in 2013, however, when he shut everything down to focus on a new solo venture, Wolfheart. Since then he has stayed the course, building it into a real band, and it is arguably his most successful work to date. Wolfheart’s fifth album, Wolves Of Karelia, is a short but melodic death metal sweet record, brandishing the band’s now signature sound in unpredictable fashion. Saukkonen will be the first to say he’s come a long way over the past 20 years.

“Dawn Of Solace was already fucked up back in 2007 thanks to being on a shitty Spanish label,” Saukkonen begins, looking back on his mindset of stopping all his other projects for Wolfheart. “And with Before The Dawn there were issues with labels, with band members, so even before the last album came out the label knew that would be the last one for them. All the other bands that I had running alongside Before The Dawn, they were just side projects to basically keep me balanced because I was getting frustrated with the main band. So, it made more sense to me to drop everything and take a break from the music business for a while. I released the first Wolfheart album on my own and then started to talk to the labels again. Looking back now, it was a really good decision to do things that way. The more shitty contracts you sign the wiser you get. It’s called learning things the hard way (laughs).”

“It was more like a mental thing. I don’t need those side projects to keep myself distracted from being frustrated by the main band. Nothing worked with Before The Dawn, and things are on a completely different level with Wolfheart. I don’t need another outlet for additional music. Of course, now that we’re all being forced to stay home there’s going to be some kind of side project again (laughs), but for completely different reasons.”

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BraveWords Interview: ME AND THAT MAN – How To Build A Better Monster

By Carl Begai

It’s a safe bet that nobody expected the man responsible for Behemoth’s soul-wrenching metal and creating albums such as Satanica, Demigod, The Apostasy, and The Satanist would turn around and release a record of original songs steeped in American country, blues and folk. But, in 2017 Adam “Nergal” Darski did exactly that, much to the unexpected delight of the metal world. Sure, not everybody bought into it, but the positive feedback from those fans that gave Songs Of Love And Death a chance was enough to cement Nergal’s belief that he was onto something. Thus, following the release of Behemoth’s critically acclaimed I Loved You At Your Darkest in 2018, he set to writing songs for the album that would become New Man, New Songs, Same Shit, Vol. 1. His game plan was different this time out, however, as Nergal was no longer working with collborator John Porter, and he brought in a host of vocalists to take over the singing duties he’d looked after on the debut. The end result is an album that is very different from Songs Of Love And Death yet remains uniquely Me And That Man, even though Nergal is the first person in line to call the music cliché.

“I was positively surprised by how the debut was received,” Nergal begins. “It wasn’t magnificent. It was good and very good, and I think the debut is a solid album. It’s legit, it’s honest, and it’s pretty well done. It was my debut when it comes to using my regular voice as a singer, so I can hear that when I listen to the album now. I was still learning, so when I listen to ‘Mestwo’ on the new album – the only song that I did the vocals for – I can hear the progress that I’ve made. But yeah, I was surprised that people didn’t want to lynch me for the first record (laughs). We had a good following, and every time I would do an interview for Behemoth, every third person would tell me how much they love Me And That Man. It was a job well done, that’s for sure.”

Metal fans are arguably the most open-minded music fans in the world. According to Nergal, the number of Behemoth fans that gave him stick for Me And That Man when the project initially surfaced were in a very clear minority.

“I’m pretty immune to people’s expectations because art, in the first place, is made to satisfy your own ego. You want to get it out of your system and you have to be happy with it. After that you bring it to the masses and if they don’t like it, what can I say? I’m fulfilled regardless. You, as a listener, can make my life even more complete than it is by enjoying the music that I’m making and supporting it. That makes the world perfect for an artist. The bottom line for Me And That Man is to get these guys together, play some stripped down rock n’ roll, and have fun.”

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BraveWords Interview: NIGHTWISH – Come On Feel The Noise…

By Carl Begai

Nightwish keyboardist / founder Tuomas Holopainen would have you believe that Human. :II: Nature. is the band’s biggest and best album to date. In terms of scope the new record is most certainly the biggest, as it’s divided into two parts: nine songs on what amounts to an old schooler’s Disc 1, and a classical piece, “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” divided into eight parts, composed and constructed by Holopainen with longtime collaborator Pip Williams on Disc 2, envisioned and assembled as something meant to be listened to as a complete experience. As for the “best”, that comes down to a matter of personal taste, but it’s easy to understand why Holopainen believes it. Human. :II: Nature. is the band’s most diverse offering ever – sometimes shockingly so – taking them into musical territories they have perhaps only touched on in the past and, in so doing, creating a much more exciting Nightwish sound. This flies in the face of first single, “Noise”, which was as trademark symphonic metal Nightwish (read: predictable) as you can get. Second single “Harvest”, on the other hand, turned the tables completely by putting uilleann pipes player / backing vocalist Troy Donockley up front and keeping singer Floor Jansen in the background for a song that is 100% folk-oriented. And this is only the beginning, as fans will discover as they navigate Human. :II: Nature.’s bold environment.

BraveWords: Choosing “Noise” as the first single… given how diverse the album is, was that done to ease fans into the record by giving them what they want?

Tuomas: “We chose ‘Noise’ as the first single for the subject matter – addiction to technology – because we knew it would make a brilliant video. I usually don’t like to put out singles because I don’t want to take out one song and put it on a pedestal, and make it somehow special, but these days that’s just how the story goes. The only reason that Human. :II: Nature. ended up being a double album is that it doesn’t fit on one CD. There was never actually a plan to do a double album. And then, when the idea of separating the two sections came up, it made sense.”

BraveWords: I find that “Noise” makes a much bigger impact on a real sound system as opposed to watching the YouTube video, which is actually where the vast majority of people experienced the track for the first time. I was much more invested in the song after hearing it large and loud.

Tuomas: “Definitely. I’ve got this constant anticipated disappointment that people are going to listen to this album on YouTube or on their phones. It’s tragic that people don’t listen to music the way they used to. People don’t listen to albums anymore, and you really want to listen to this album from beginning to end, right from the diaphanous beginning to the end of the second disc. People should take that journey more often because it might help them in everyday life.”

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STORM FORCE – Breaking Down The Barricades

By Carl Begai

Love it or hate it, it’s an undeniable fact that so-called ’80s hair metal is alive and well in 2020. Never mind the LA strip bands that are trekking around on “reunion” tours – often consisting of two original members and three guys conscripted from the local laundromat – living off their glory day catalogues; there are up-and-coming bands in all corners of the world trying to make their mark with that distinctive ’80s rock sound. And many are succeeding. Canadian rockers Storm Force are one example, having released their debut album Age Of Fear at the beginning of the year and receiving critical acclaim from the European and UK press in particular. Not an easy task considering Europe is where most of these bands originate nowadays, but something about the record has garnered Storm Force serious attention and it’s not guitarist / founder Greg Fraser’s Brighton Rock past. Sure, folks that lived through Brighton Rock’s commercial success in the ’80s with two sign-of-the-times albums (Young, Wild And Free and Take A Deep Breath) will zero in on it as a talking point, but Age Of Fear stands on its own as a solid rock album that people are happy to dub “old school ’80s hair metal.”

“It was about three year in the making, just kinda chipping away at it,” Fraser says of Age Of Fear, having been out of the limelight for several years. “Sometime I wondered if it was ever going to be finished because we’ve got different things going on, but once we got the deal (with Escape Music) it put things into overdrive. We wanted the record to be finished before we started shopping around but it didn’t happen that way, which is kind of a good thing because it could have been another year before the record was done.”

“Any kid that’s 20 years-old today, they’re never going to buy a CD in their lifetime,” he adds. “It’s the people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older that are willing to buy 10 songs all at once. Kids today… one song at a time and that’s all they need. I’m still old school. If I hear a song I like, I wanna know where the rest of the songs are (laughs). The fact I have a label (Escape Music) that’s willing to print CDs is amazing, because that’s the only way you can make any money off of any product. You can’t make anything off of streaming.”

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BLACKGUARD – How We Pissed Off Everyone That Loved Us… And Why It Took Seven Years To Release The Best Album Of Our Career

By Carl Begai

Between 2009 and 2013, a small yet volatile Canadian melodic death metal band dubbed Blackguard was out for blood. The bloodlust was awakened several years earlier (between 2001 and 2004) when they were known as Profugus Mortis, the band creating their own brand of folk-flavoured melodic death metal. They attracted a decent amount of attention with a small collection of songs – BraveWords being one of their first media followers – which were eventually showcased on the 2007 album, So It Begins. From there it was full speed ahead. Over the course of two album releases under the Blackguard name – Profugus Mortis (2009) and Firefight (2011) – the band ripped through North America with occasional jaunts across Europe for a whopping 18 tours. Having supported everyone from Korpiklaani to Nevermore to Epica to Deicide, Blackguard was a name that nobody was likely to forget, and ultimately that was the band’s downfall. Plain and simple, fans got sick of seeing them turn up at every show coming through town. When Blackguard announced they were working on a new album in around 2013, interest seemed to be at an all-time low not only amongst the fans but within the band itself. As a result, the long-suffering record known as Storm, which was teased sporadically as “almost done” by the band for years, stayed buried until January 2020.

“I guess you can boil it down to a series of unfortunate events for the most part,” says frontman Paul “Ablaze” Zinay of what he concedes was a mind-boggling delay. “We started writing the album in 2012, and it probably should have come out in 2013 or 2014. When 2013 came around we were starting to feel burnt out at that point because we were so stupid; we toured way too fucking much in North America and just ended up killing ourselves. The last tour we did was Finntroll in 2013, and nobody actually said it at first, but there was the feeling within the band that it was going to be our last tour for a long time. We didn’t have a conversation but the writing was on the wall; we didn’t want this anymore. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves for that because at the end of the day we said yes to going out as much as we did. We should have said no, but what’s the saying? ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.'”

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BraveWords Interview: THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA – Natural Born Nostalgia

By Carl Begai

Nostalgia: “A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

If you go by the textbook definition above, The Night Flight Orchestra can be considered a nostalgia-based band. The term has been used quite often over the course of their eight year career to describe the now seven-piece group, but this shouldn’t be seen as derogatory. On the contrary, it should be seen as a positive that a present day rock band is able to fire up their time machine to deliver shadows and flavours of the past with all original material. Aeromantic is The Night Flight Orchestra’s fifth album, and it pays homage to acts from the ’70s and ’80s – Journey, ABBA, Toto, KISS, Christopher Cross, Asia…. it’s a seemingly never-ending list – while deftly avoiding the retro trend that made bands like Greta Van Fleet the talk of the town for 10 seconds. Not an easy task, but then it’s not like The NFO were trying to do anything more than create more solid material they can be proud of. If people choose to join their particular conga line, so much the better, especially because it gives the metalheads on board a chance to learn about where Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed” Strid, Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, and Soilwork guitarist Dave Andersson come from musically.

“It’s going to be hard to top the previous two albums in terms of reviews,” Strid says of Aeromantic. “Last time out it was really amazing and it’s the same thing this time around, if not better. People are blown away by the new album, and I’d say that most of the press we’re doing is with metal magazines. It’s really remarkable how open-minded people are in the scene. I’ve heard people say this is a guilty pleasure, but what is there to feel guilty about? People are raving about it. Somehow it works and we have a personable sound in the end. It’s not just a nostalgia act; we’re filling a void in the music scene. The other day somebody asked me if I could name another new band out there that is doing the same sort of thing as The Night Flight Orchestra, and I couldn’t come up with anything. We’re moving this forward with this combination of sound and imagery; it’s very nostalgic in a sense but also very refreshing. I think we’re providing something that’s missing out there.”

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BraveWords Interview: ANNIHILATOR – Never Say Never

By Carl Begai

Like the vast majority of bands celebrating 25th and 30th Anniversaries, Canadian thrash legends Annihilator’s earliest albums are considered go-to classics, never to be repeated or surpassed by the band. No argument there, as the timeless magic of Alice In Hell (’89) and Never, Neverland (’90) is equal to that of records like Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, Bonded By Blood and The Ultra-Violence, to name a few. Annihilator has had a checkered career over the course of 17 albums, which ultimately comes down to frontman / founder Jeff Waters and how he has chosen to pilot his metal machine, and with whom. There have been hits and misses over the years, too many line-up changes to count, some brilliant collaborations, and tours that probably should have been left on paper, but 2020 finds Annihilator the strongest they’ve been since 2001’s Carnival Diablos era. New album Ballistic, Sadistic sees The Jeff Waters & Friends outfit channelling those first two Annihilator records in a big way, and while they remain untouchable it’s a solid return to the aggression diehard fans have been demanding for almost three decades. We can credit Waters’ move from Canada to the UK for forcing the issue, pulling out all the stops and causing him to unleash some unexpected unbridled fury.

“I never thought I would leave Canada for any reason,” says Waters. “The only reason to leave Canada is for cancer treatments that aren’t expensive and getting married (laughs). I met a woman a couple years ago, she had a couple younger kids, so it was clear that you either shake hands and move on or go for it, and because I travel a lot I figured I could make a move like that. I don’t want to sound like a crybaby, but in order to go all in I had to sell everything to make the move; house, car, the studio I’d built and fought to keep afloat for years. It was a major life change. And I had to surrender my passport to UK immigration, which meant having to postpone the (For The Demented) tour for a year. All these things happened, and then I made it worse by thinking ‘I can handle this…’ but dealing with all those things in a short period of time and trying to make a record in a new home studio… I was setting myself up for a heart attack.”

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