The Interviews

By Carl Begai

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There’s a music snob stigma attached to progressive metal and prog rock based entirely on one’s chosen approach. Young musicians with hearts set on the brass ring try to out-“Metropolis” Dream Theater at every turn (yeah, good luck with that), the diehard fan(atic)s will argue at length as to why their heroes can do no wrong even when the latest epic is clearly a cut/paste car crash of odd time signatures and über-noodling, and the traditional metalhead legions scoff at the thought of math pits versus mosh pits. Early on in their career New Jersey progsters Symphony X were seen as yet another band to be emulated, worshipped and slagged for their niche brand of music, but they’ve broken free from that particular cell block in a big way. It’s a process that began in 2007 with their Paradise Lost album – a metal slab nobody had counted on – took root in 2011 with Iconoclast, and has now grown into something particularly ominous with new outing, Underworld. Symphony X is still prog metal, absolutely, but it’s nice to hear a progressive band that’s not trying to blow away their listeners with 16 time changes in five minutes just to prove they have the chops.

Ask guitarist Michael Romeo and he’ll tell you Underworld is about the songs as a whole, not the flash inside them.

“We were talking about doing different things after eight albums,” he says. “The Rush album Moving Pictures came up a lot in conversation because every song on that record is great. Yeah, there’s some progressive stuff on Underworld but in the end there are just great songs on the record. The only thing we were really thinking about was trying to not to repeat something we’ve done. We wanted to do something a little bit different but have the elements of what people know from Symphony X.”

“The goal was for things to be cohesive and to the point, and if the songs catch people off guard, cool. Yeah, we’re a progressive band, so there’s nothing wrong with putting some measures in 7 somewhere, but we do it without taking away from the songs.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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BraveWords has been watching guitarist Luca Turilli’s career since the release of Rhapsody’s 1997 debut, Legendary Tales… back when we were BW&BK and in print only. In the time since then we’ve covered the band’s album-by-album rise to fame, their unexpected triumphant stand in Montreal supporting Manowar (and subsequent trouncing of the headliner), the court case against former management (led by Manowar’s Joey Demaio) which forced the band to change their name to Rhapsody Of Fire, and Turilli’s confusing but amicable split to form Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. Over those 18 years, Turilli’s passion for his art hasn’t waned one iota. In fact, his present enthusiasm is downright dangerous given his vastly increased command of the English language since those early days. It kinda makes you wish you could bottle and use it as a Monday morning motivational chaser.

Bottom line is that even if you don’t care for the in-your-face happy metal soundtrack bombast of Turilli’s music, it’s very hard not to like the guy.

Turilli is currently pounding the pavement in support of his new album, Prometheus – Symphonia Ignis Divinus. Fans won’t be disappointed, as it features all the epic metal bells and whistles that made him and former partner Alex Staropoli – still with Rhapsody Of Fire – famous. This record just happens to be the biggest, most complex Rhapsody-related outing yet. A far cry from the comparative Super Mario soundtracking of Legendary Tales.

“We were influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen, the Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums from Helloween, and I was really inspired by the original soundtrack for the Batman movie directed by Tim Burton, composed by Danny Elfman,” says Turilli, laying the Rhapsody groundwork. “We weren’t so pretentious to think that we could create something brand new, but we wanted to create something out of our influences. We proposed something new with Legendary Tales, and it was the record company that decided to call it Hollywood metal. If you can imagine we were putting the classic orchestral elements into our compositions note by note using a keyboard and a sequencer. At the time, those orchestral samples we used were considered the best around.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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For non-German-speaking Rammstein fans that have wondered what frontman Till Lindemann has been singing about for the past 20 years, the Lindemann debut Skills In Pills will answer that question. May whatever deity you bow down to save your soul if you’re a prude.

It’s actually not as bad as all that provided your sense of humour is plugged in along with your earbuds. If you enter Skills In Pills expecting emotional depth and moral introspection you’re most certainly in the wrong place. There are a couple such moments, but you need to weed them out amongst done-for-fun tracks like “Praise Abort”, “Ladyboy”, “Golden Shower”, “Fish On”, “Skills In Pills” and “Fat” (which spawned the title of this story). Settling in to discuss the new record with Till Lindemann and Pain / Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren, it becomes clear within the first 30 seconds that the duo had a riot putting it together. The share a mutual respect as musicians and friends, and their chemistry is that of two high school punks up to no good and looking forward to the repercussions.

To be clear, Lindemann is not a solo project. Peter Tägtgren is an equal partner, but most folks outside of Scandinavia can’t pronounce his surname properly so the duo went with the next obvious choice.

BraveWords: For those that haven’t heard the Lindemann material yet, your sound is a mix between Rammstein and Pain, which should come as a surprise to exactly nobody.

Peter: “Oh yeah, it’s definitely a mix of the two.”

Till: “Call it PainStein-ish (laughs).”

Peter: “You’ll always hear Rammstein in there because of Till’s voice, and the keyboards and chugging guitars are definitely me. But, it was put together in a different way and I did things that I’ve never done before on this album. There are two ballads on the album, for example. At the beginning Till was talking about doing one and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do a fucking ballad…’ but somehow he convinced me (laughs). We were writing a piece and it turned into something else, so what we accomplished as the final album turned out to be very fresh.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Photographer-turned-musician Omer Cordell doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. He does, however, possess an artistic streak that saw him go from tackling the bass as a hobby to a full album of prog-metal tweaked Pink Floydian-esque songs. A full year in the making, Trailight went from being a blip on social media radar as Cordell began assembling the necessary pieces to an intense musical experience unleashed at the end of May 2015. The do-it-himself experience included a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the production (found on YouTube) and extensive track-by-track breakdowns all prior to the album release (issued via Facebook), far more than most signed band are able or willing to produce… and for a fanbase that had yet to be established. That’s about to change, as Trailight is slowly but surely gaining some well deserved momentum.

“The Trailight album is the result of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine,” Cordell begins. “I originally released what I call a glorified demo with a bunch of instrumental stuff that I performed myself. That was when I was just starting to play music. What inspired me to do it was an interview I read with a bass player I really like – I started playing bass about four-and-a-half years ago – and he said the best way to explore yourself as a musician is to write music. I thought that was a great piece of advice, so I went out and bought some crappy gear, and taught myself how to record.”

Cordell admits that at the time he had no idea what he was doing or how to go about it. His learning-by-doing approach would pay off in spades when it came time to mix and master the official Trailight debut, The Primitive Mountain. But more on that later…

“I played everything myself on my first attempt – there was no singing on the material – and I compiled a bunch of stuff and over the course of about a year that I wanted to share with people. It was an experiment, really; bedroom demos that made it into CD form. Nothing to write home about, but a handful of people really dug it so that gave me the confidence and push to work on the real debut, which is The Primitive Mountain. It was more popular amongst fellow bassist in the Spector community who were liking the tones and effect. They dug it so I released it as my first thing.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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With 30 years of history under their collective belt, the current incarnation of Helloween could realistically get away without having to make new albums and still have a successful ongoing career. They have weathered numerous storms over the past three decades including having lost co-founding guitarist Kai Hansen to creative differences and Gamma Ray, releasing a couple royal stinkers (depending on who you talk to), drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committing suicide, and parting ways with the man often / still viewed by many as the only singer worthy of Helloween, Michael Kiske, yet they’ve forged onward. Their latest album, My God Given Right, is yet another example of the German act’s legendary tenacity.

Helloween’s previous album, Straight Out Of Hell (2013), was an epic juggernaut as far as the band’s discography is concerned. Everything about it was big and brash right down to the artwork, even more obnoxious than their 1998 corker Better Than Raw, with the band and label going so far as to get their balls out and release a 7-minute first single (‘Nabataea’) that was far more listenable than the anemic “mainstream” edited version. In contrast, My God Given Right sees the ‘Weenies tightening things up and adhering to their roots more than ever. Vocalist Andi Deris discovered during the massive press junket for the album that most folks genuinely appreciate the new music

“They aren’t completely great actors, ” Deris laughs, referring to the ass-kissing “best album you’ve ever made” contingent that’s par for the course. “We’ve never been everybody’s darlings and that’s not about to change, but the majority of people seem to like the album a lot. I think the reason for that is we’re always listening to the fans when they tell us what they like and don’t like. That’s still a learning experience, even now. The important thing is that we continue to move forward even as we hold on to where Helloween came from.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This interview with Halestorm vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale started with an apology.

The band’s rise to fame with their first album in 2009 was punctuated by their association with the tween-angst Twilight movie franchise through their song “Familiar Taste Of Poison” (or so I thought), a connection that acted as an automatic shut-off valve, thus preventing any decay caused by prolonged exposure to formula kiddie rock. Any time or interest spent on Halestorm, which had been sporadic at best, was over and done. A couple years later during a YouTube cruise, however, I stumbled across live footage of the band performing “Slave To The Grind” (12-29-11 Ram’s Head Live). Staring at the sidebar thumbnail, I highly doubted it was the Skid Row song of the same name because no band could possibly hope to match the intensity of the original. They were dreaming or smoking high-quality something if they did.

One click later my jaw was somewhere around my ankles, leading to the purchase of the ReAnimate covers EP. The release of the “Slave…”-inspired “Love Bites (So Do I)” in 2012 as the first single (!!) from Halestorm’s second album, The Strange Case Of…, sealed the deal. Having broken the cardinal rule of Never Judge A Book By Its Cover, I had become a crow-eating fanboy.

“What’s funny about that Twilight thing is that we’ve never officially been associated with it,” says Lzzy. “The video that blew up on YouTube was made by a fan; she was obsessed with Twilight and also cane to a lot of our shows. It’s funny how so many people, especially in the press, would ask us about how it felt to be linked to this smash hit movie (laughs). It means a lot to hear you like us now, especially coming from the perspective of someone who was skeptical at first about us. We hadn’t really proven ourselves when the first album came out, so to hear that we made such a big impact is awesome.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This year Kamelot celebrates 20 years as a card-carrying signed band, but it was just over 15 years past that they released a career game-changer, The Fourth Legacy. Their first two albums – Eternity and Dominion respectively – served to put Kamelot in the public eye, the third record (Siege Perilous) generated a buzz after they snapped up Conception vocalist Roy Khan to replace Mark Vanderbilt, but it was The Fourth Legacy that enthralled theit existing fans and roped in curious bystanders from far and wide. That momentum hasn’t stopped in spite of the occasional potholes in the road forward. Khan’s departure in 2011 could have destroyed the band – the fact he bolted a week before a major North American tour, forcing its cancellation, certainly didn’t help – but they regrouped and released Silverthorn a year later to rave reviews. With new singer Tommy Karevik on board, the album and tour that followed made it clear Kamelot had regained their stride, and the new Haven album is a clear cut example of a band unafraid of trying new things and potentially freaking out their fanbase while remaining loyal to the sound that made them.

“A lot of people that have been following us since The Fourth Legacy days have said this is the album they’ve been waiting for,” says guitarist Thomas Youngblood of Haven, easily the most diverse record in their catalogue. “Haven is more in line with what fans are used to with The Black Halo and even Karma, but it was really important for us to add new elements and bring the band a little bit more into today instead of giving them the symphonic thing from 10 years ago. That was a big part of it. We definitely didn’t want the album to be overly symphonic and I think we achieved all the goals we had going in.”

Truth be told Haven isn’t an easy listen at first even for the diehard fan, but once inside it’s very hard to leave. There are the signature attacks and flourishes one has come to expect of any Kamelot opus, but you get the feeling there was a meeting on the final day of mixing where the band members arm-wrestled their way bloody and broken to a final tracklist. Nothing about Haven is as one expects; some of the heaviest material (‘Liar Liar’ and ‘Revolution’) is shoved to the back half of the album, the signature ballad rewrites what we know about Kamelot’s penchant for pulling heartstrings, and much of the once-trademark symphonic attitude has been stripped back to make way for the band. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

KYLE GASS

During this interview, guitarist / vocalist / recorder god Kyle Gass – best known for the moment as actor/musician Jack Black’s other half in Tenacious D – remarks that the only reason the Kyle Gass Band bears his name is because he’s “famous.” He’s neither arrogant nor self-deprecating about the claim; Kyle is merely making the point that it makes sense because he had an established career before the band came together. Even a third of the way through their show Kyle’s point is made, as he spends as much time making room for guitarist / vocalist Mike Bray as he does front and center. In fact, all five gents in the Kyle Gass Band sing, play, dance (seriously) and get their own moments in the spotlight.

“I daresay I wouldn’t be here without Tenacious D,” Kyle begins. “It’s an established brand, for lack of a better term, and people give KGB a look-see as a result. John (Konesky / guitars) and I worked for many years when we were in Train Wreck. We put this band together and Mike came into our lives about five years ago. He’s a really talented singer and multi-instrumentalist so we just said ‘You’re in the band.’ Jason (Keene / bass, harmonica) is an old fried from way back who plays mostly jazz. And we’ve had the exploding drummer problem which so many bands do (laughs). Spinal Tap nailed it, they do explode. A year ago Tim (Spier) came along and he’s a super drummer, a perfect personality for this band, and he really completed things for us. We’ve got some really good chemistry now. We’re having a lot of fun out here. All I know is that I’m not as good as the rest of the guys in this band (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Based in Toronto and known the world over, rockers Harem Scarem released a re-recorded version of their breakthrough Mood Swings in 2013, ending a six year hiatus that was meant to a permanent full stop. They followed it up a year later with their thirteenth official studio album, suggesting Harem Scarem may in fact be back in the game for another long stretch. Vocalist Harry Hess and guitarist Pete Lesperance – the latter being Canada’s rock answer to Steve Vai – had shut the band down with every intention of exploring other musical avenues, but it was only a matter of time until they were faced with a good enough reason to take Harem Scarem out for one more go-round. The end result in their latest record, aptly titled Thirteen.

Diehard Harem Scarem will fans will recognize the title of this piece, but it has to be said that the band’s six years off the grid didn’t seem all that long.

“We were really done with Harem Scarem at that time and didn’t see a future for it,” Lesperance reveals. “I think we were just spent musically. Speaking for myself, when it comes to playing guitar in the rock world I felt that I’d said everything I had to say with those first 150 songs or whatever it is (laughs). Me and Harry work together on all kinds of stuff, so maybe that’s why the break didn’t seem that long; we never stopped working together, we just stopped working on Harem Scarem. When the Mood Swings II thing happened it kind of changed everything and opened our eyes a bit, so we decided to try it again.”

It’s hard for someone on the outside to understand how a creative team like Lesperance and Hess can continue working together and not produce music that sounds like Harem Scarem. Going from one style of music to another in their case almost seems as if it happens at the flip of a switch.

“Our band is a weird animal. It’s my and Harry’s project more than anything these days. Obviously we have people that are heavily involved like Darren (Smith) and Creighton (Doane), but it was never really hard to shut down because, like I said, I just felt that we were done. It seemed like the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do would have been to just keep taking label’s money and keep going.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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For long-time Nightwish fans, namely those of us that were around five or six years before the 2004 commercial splattershot explosion of ‘Nemo’, the ‘Élan’ single from the band’s new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was something of a letdown. Not everyone felt that way, but for many the song came off as painfully soft-handed after months upon months of new vocalist Floor Jansen being touted as the perfect in-your-face successor for both former Nightwish singers, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen. Countless hours of bootleg YouTube footage and the Showtime, Storytime DVD fuelled this widespread opinion, pushing expectations that Jansen’s studio debut with Nightwish would be something bold and brash. First impressions don’t paint the entire picture in this case, however, and once inside Endless Forms Most Beautiful fans will discover – for better or worse – things most certainly aren’t what they seemed when ‘Élan’ crooned its way out of the latest Nightwish branded box of tricks.

“I haven’t really listened to the album in a couple of months now,” keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen admits, “but one of the most common comments I get from people is that the new album has this old school Nightwish vibe, like going back 10 years in time. I’ve heard it called more band oriented, more organic, more like Once and even Oceanborn, and I have to agree.”

Comparisons to Nightwish a decade past are warranted with new material like ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, ‘My Walden’, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ or, yes, ‘Élan’, but primary songwriter and musical director Holopainen deftly avoids a complete rehash of the band’s well worn trademarks. This is perhaps best exemplified by their decision to bring the new record to a close with an obnoxious epic track, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Originally 35 – 40 minutes long, the band decided to cut it down to a more respectable 24 minutes (!) that, much like Dream Theater’s now legendary song ‘A Change Of Seasons’, doesn’t feel nearly as long as it looks on paper. It’s a rare feat that very few bands can pull off. Continue Reading