By Carl Begai
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
By Carl Begai
The Drover family name is well known in metal circles, associated first and foremost with Megadeth. Brothers Glen (guitars) and Shawn (drums) rose to international fame as part of Dave Mustaine’s strike force for four and 10 years respectively, but some Canadian metalheads were locked into the siblings back in the early ’90s when they launched their powerprog outfit Eidolon. Now, a third Drover has entered the fray, namely Shawn’s 23 year-old son Ryan. Working under The Calming moniker, Ryan has released his first full throttle song entitled ‘Return To Life’. One listen and it’s quite clear the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the trees in the Drover backyard.
“I worked really hard on it so it’s great to hear you say that. And yes, this is my first shot at recording my own music. I got my hands on a copy of Pro-Tools about six months ago and Glen was nice enough to show me a couple of beginner tips and tricks. I have loads of material that I’ve been working on and I’m really excited to share it with everyone.”
At this point of his budding career, Ryan is a solo artist lucky enough to have friends willing to help him move forward with the assorted musical madness rattling around in his brain.
“There is not an actual group,” he says. “That being said, I asked a couple of my good friends to help me out vocally and lyrically since I’m unfortunately not a vocalist myself. The screaming vocals and lyrics were done by my friend Jacob Kresak, whom I met in the local metal scene, and the clean vocals and lyrics were done by my other friend, Mike Motter, who has been one of my favorite singers/songwriters for a while now. I’m very happy with how the song turned out on their end and could not be happier that those dudes were nice enough to lend me their talents. As for the instruments, I played and recorded everything myself.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Moonspell have made a career out of pissing off every member of their fanbase at one time or another. Frontman Fernando Ribeiro wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally heralded as fresh new black metal upstarts in 1995 with the release of their full length debut Wolfheart, the Portuguese outfit hit their stride a year later with the decidedly different (at the time) Irreligious album. Riding the wave started by Tiamat in 1994 with their Wildhoney record, Moonspell were embraced alongside Theatre Of Tragedy in a rise to fame as pioneers of the gothic metal scene in Europe, and later the world. A spastic run of countless copycat bands was launched that record labels were only too eager to snap up in a trend-heated feeding frenzy. Moonspell threw everyone a curve with the release of the commercially bent Sin/Pecado record in 1998, however, much to the chagrin of many an Irreligious-loving fan. It was the start of a tradition that has held true for 10 albums – dating back to Wolfheart – with Moonspell’s new outing Extinct coming off as a worthy successor to the Irreligious gothic metal throne.
It’s fair to say that nobody saw this coming.
“We share that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next with this band,” laughs Ribeiro. “I think that’s a good thing, and I think it’s become more of a valued thing to have in mind when you look at gothic metal. Gothic metal has been funneled into a formula with the female soprano vocals, the guy with the growls, and some guitars behind them. We’re not being openly critical about it but we always think there’s more to the gothic style of music. We just do whatever we think fits the style every time we make a new record. One of our intended goals has been never to compromise on our style or everything we stand for as songwriters.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Vocalist Mona Miluski never had any intention of fronting German stoner rock band High Fighter. She’s not complaining about doing just that, but two years ago she was poised to conquer the world with metal bashers A Million Miles and the press folks locked into the band’s debut album, What’s Left behind, were set to give them the push they needed. Nothing ever goes as planned, of course, and thanks to issues and assorted bullshit on both professional and personal levels A Million Miles tragically crashed and burned far too early into their flight. Miluski freely admits she was devastated by the turn of events, but 2015 finds her back in business on a new and improved and – as recent experience has taught her – a rock solid foundation.
“I can say that 2013 sucked for everyone involved in A Million Miles,” Miluski begins. “Ten days after the release of our debut album we went on the road, and ten days later the band parted ways. Like you said, it was a tragedy for me because the band was my life, it was the ground I stood on, I breathed for the band. I totally lost my ground when we split up. There are several personal reasons why we broke up and it was a tragedy for all of us. The album got really great press so it was a shame things fell apart, but shit happens.”
“We parted ways in April 2013 and I talked to Shi (ex-A Million Miles guitarist Christian Pappas) again at the end of 2013 because we’ve always been best friends and we can’t stop making music together. It took me almost a year to get back on my feet and for us to put things back together and start searching for other musicians.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Bif Naked and I crossed paths for the first time 20 years ago. Ground zero was the long-since-gone Nightmares rock club in downtown Toronto; I was on M.E.A.T Magazine business prior to her show that night, and she left a lasting impression. Barely two years into my career as a journalist, she was one of the first “rock stars” I ever met and thus set the bar for the future quite high. It was also the first time I’d met a girl with real tattoos; a lot of ‘em, decorating her arms and other areas of exposed skin. And no silly tramp stamp, no ridiculous upper-boob blotch of ink that’s supposed to be Japanese kanji for “Love” or “Truth” or “Vegans Rule!”. In stark contrast to the intimidating biker-goth image she wore – however unintentional – Bif was warm, friendly, and possessed a wicked sense of humour, making the 15 minute encounter a cherished memory. Although she doesn’t remember our meeting of the minds Bif most certainly recalls the show, one of a multitude of stories from the adventure that is her life.
“I got robbed at that show,” Bif laughs. “All my luggage and make-up got stolen by a drag queen; he took off running down the street and we couldn’t catch him. The cops gave me a ride from the gig in the back of their police car to where me and the band were staying, and they put the siren on for me. There were four or five undercover cops at the show that night and I got a police uniform shirt with the patches and all that. I wore it on stage for years and years after that. Yep, me and the Toronto police have a long history (laughs).”
Our previous interview took place in 2009 while Bif was out promoting The Promise. Four years earlier she was on top of the world with the success of her Superbeautifulmonster album; in 2008 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, making The Promise a comeback album in the truest sense. She actually recorded it while undergoing treatment, which was and remains a mindblowing fact. Bif was surprisingly upbeat in the aftermath while discussing some of the more stomach-churning aspects of her fight to survive, making her positive attitude in present day 2015 less of a shock in spite of several tragic events that have plagued her over the past few years. Divorce, medical issues, the loss of loved ones… Bif has taken all the punches fate has dealt her and continues to move forward undaunted. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Toronto-based rocker Danko Jones is as multi-faceted a personality as they come, to the point that people unfamiliar with his work might consider him schizophrenic. His soft-spoken, articulate and almost geek-like demeanor during interviews is a stark contrast to the obnoxious mouthpiece dedicated to ripping up the stage night after night with guitar in hand. And if he’s not attending to the next episode of his long-running official podcast, Danko is known for penning articles on everything from the pros and cons of social media, to music he bought on a Christmas shopping binge, to ripping Gene Simmons to shreds for his now infamous “rock is dead” comment. In the end Danko Jones gives Slipknot / Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor a serious run for his money when it comes to keeping people guessing with regards to the next trick up his sleeve.
The band that bears Danko’s name echoes his diversity. Sure, every album since the Born A Lion debut in 2002 is based on the three piece of vocals/guitars/bass/drums rock formula, but each one has presented a slightly different side of the band’s persona. New record Fire Music keeps this tradition alive, and the initial buzz suggests it could well be one of the trio’s finest moments. It’s certainly the heaviest kick to the teeth in their catalogue.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the last record,” Danko begins, referring to Rock And Roll is Black And Blue. “I don’t really want to get in the dynamic that we had in the band at the time, but Atom (Willard/drums) lived in LA. We had to have these massive week long writing sessions, seven or eight hours a day, because he was in Toronto for a limited amount of time. We thought it was time well spent then and I thought it yielded some really good songs, but overall I think it was a little disjointed. There was another dynamic going on in the studio between some people that didn’t really make for a very comfortable easygoing session. There was a real sense of freedom in doing Fire Music.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Twenty years ago Blind Guardian released an album regarded by many as their breakthrough, some five records into their career. Imaginations From The Other Side is the album to which all the band’s works past, present and future are compared, so when vocalist Hansi Kürsch claimed during a recent interview that the band’s new opus, Beyond The Red Mirror, was directly connected to and thematically influenced by Imaginations, the majority of the Blind Guardian fanbase had a collective nerdgasm. Completely understandable given the height of the pedestal Imaginations has rested on for two decades.
“Imaginations From The Other Side shares the pole position with Nightfall In Middle Earth,” states Hansi, referring to the 1998 follow-up. “If we were to hold a vote Nightfall would be in the lead, but it seems that the core fans are more in favour of Imaginations. I’m fine with that; Imaginations is a great and intense album and I have nothing but the best memories about it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It was a brain scratcher when word came down in September 2014 that Accept guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann had launched a new band dubbed Panzer, particularly since the audio teaser accompanying the announcement sounded suspiciously like Accept. This only a month after the release of Blind Rage, regarded as one of Accept’s strongest outings in their 14 album career. Odder still was Destruction frontman Schmier taking up vocal and bass duties to complete the three-piece Panzer outfit when he already has a very successful trio of his own. The recipe for a potentially questionable platter of “Why Bother?”, yet Panzer’s debut Send Them All To Hell has gone over a storm amongst the people that have dared to step into the line of fire.
“We’ve had great reactions so far,” Schmier confirms. “Some people thought the old men might be doing a blues album… (laughs).”
Thoughts that are quashed early into the record, although the lead single “Panzer” was met with a lukewarm response thanks to a plodding 4/4 groove that is too Accept-like and predictable.
“Yeah, the song ‘Panzer’ doesn’t represent the whole record,” agrees Schmier. “Nuclear Blast wanted it to be the first release and use it on samplers and all that, but I don’t think it was the best choice. That’s the easy listening track on the album. We made a video for the first song, ‘Death Knell’, and I think that one shows the real direction of the record. It’s nice to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing because there are too many bands these days doing this All-Star thing. It’s good that people recognize Panzer isn’t just another one of those projects. Things are worked really well between the three of us.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Season Of Ghosts vocalist Sophia Aslanidou has left her Blood Stain Child past behind, although it’s probably more accurate to say she’s buried it in the dust kicked up as she’s moved forward. Months before the December 2014 release date of the debut album, The Human Paradox, Sophia made certain to keep word-of-mouth-and-social-media promotion ramped up, and it paid off better than she or anyone else expected. Pre-orders and a significant buzz on metal websites added up, but having Season Of Ghosts booked to play the popular annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium saw the band perform for close to 2,000 people for their morning set. This in spite of being at the bottom of the roster and not having an album out. It was an experience that cemented Sophia’s strength as a do-it-yourself artist, and her commitment to making Season Of Ghosts much more than just a studio project.
“One reporter at the festival put it best; she said you had to be living under a rock not to know that Season Of Ghosts was playing,” Sophia laughs. “It was surreal. We had to wake up at 7:00am and I’m not a morning person. I was tempted to have a couple beers before the show but it was too early in the morning even for me (laughs). I went out on stage and saw something like 1,000 people, and when we started playing people started coming into the venue from the market thing they had set up outside. We had a large audience watching us and cheering us on, and I was wondering what the fuck was wrong with those people (laughs). I mean that in the best way because I couldn’t be up that early for my favourite band, and we weren’t even the first band that day. The response was very heartwarming and very surprising. We brought as much merchandise as we could and it sold out very quickly, almost everything we had. I was very impressed.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
To the metal world at large, vocalist/guitarist Bob Reid is best known as the current singer for Canadian thrash legends Razor. Those that didn’t blink might remember his SFH outfit after Razor folded following the release of Open Hostility in 1991. Since 2002, however, Reid has fronted and flogged his self-styled two fisted twisted rock n’ roll band Bobnoxious on an ever-appreciative fan following. Their latest album E.O.A. – named for the East Of Adelaide district in the band’s native London, Ontario – has been out for several months and by Reid’s account it has performed as expected: Bobnoxious plays weekends in and around Southern Ontario, the fans show up in droves for the party.
“Most of our fans are around our age, so they don’t take the time to write us or give feedback or do shit,” Reid laughs. “They show up at the gigs and tell us ‘Love the album, man!’ and that’s all I need. A flip of the horns and it’s all good. People are too busy working or partying to call and email me, which is good for me because I don’t have time to answer fan mail (laughs). I just like the fact people like the music. I’m not looking for any admiration. If people love the music, great, and if they hate it they can fuck off. I’m a music guy. I was brought up listening to Disney, listening to my Dad’s era of rock n’ roll, absorbing the ’80s speed metal scene, being a B-horror movie fan. I just like to absorb all that shit, put it into a processor and squish it out (laughs).”
“The funny thing is that when I started Bobnoxious, I wasn’t really sure if that first album was going to be the be next SFH album or not. I decided at the time to go with Bobnoxious because I was getting tired of seeing guys coming and going in other bands. The perception for some people was that if somebody in a band left, that band was over. I thought, fuck it, I’m going to call the band me (laughs) and if somebody comes and goes in the line-up, I don’t care.” Continue Reading