By Carl Begai
Ten years ago, soprano vocalist Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull quite unexpectedly found herself out of a job. Theatre Of Tragedy, the band that made her famous (and vice versa) gave her the boot citing musical differences, cutting Liv loose and leaving her to her own devices. It was a blessing in disguise once the initial shock wore off, leading to the launch of a grand experiment in collaboration with the members of Atrocity dubbed Leaves’ Eyes. The goth-flavoured debut album, Lovelorn, was viewed as Liv’s comeback following two albums’ worth of head-scratching electronica with Theatre Of Tragedy. It set the stage for an ongoing project that would ultimately surpass her accomplishments with the Theatre, as Leaves’ Eyes evolved into something well beyond Liv’s doom goth roots. Their new album, Symphonies Of The Night, is the bold next step in what has been a constant evolution.
“We’ve been around for 10 years, so when Thorsten (Bauer/guitars) started composing the music for this album a year-and-a-half ago we decided to keep an open mind about everything,” Liv begins. “We had enough time to let the songs develop and see where they went. We didn’t want to plan anything, we wanted to be taken places by the things that influenced the music. There were some musical ideas around that we didn’t use for the last album (Meredead), like ‘Saint Cecilia’, because there was no space for it. Thorsten spent hours and hours working in the studio, so it was always interesting to go in on Monday morning and check out what he’d done (laughs). I continued from there, Alex (Krull/Atrocity) supervised everything and added some spice to it. It was a very creative period for us because we just let everything in. It’s great working with Alex and Tosso. The three of us are the perfect team. We compliment each other in such a great way, I couldn’t imagine a better working relationship. It’s amazing.”
And even though they have a decade under their collective belt, Leaves’ Eyes show no signs of getting bored with their own art. If there’s any sort of re-invention going on with regards to their musical direction it’s not on a level where the fans are left wondering what the hell happened on the way to the studio since the last album.
“We don’t have to re-invent ourselves just because we’ve been around for 10 years. We have so much experience that we can rely on, and we’re three different musicians that also happen to be perfectionists. If I said we needed to have dulcimer on a song, we’d go out and try to find somebody that plays dulcimer. That’s how we work.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Back on October 24th, 1991 a 22 year-old head-in-the-clouds metalhead sporting the oddball name of Carl Begai took his kid brother to see Queensrÿche at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The band was soaring on the strength of their now classic Empire album, and it was a show never to be forgotten by either sibling. A cult fave of the prog metal world through the ’80s, Queensrÿche had finally (and unexpectedly) hit the big time and gave the fans an arena show to match. Of course, if you’re a fan you’re fully aware of how things have gone to hell since then. Never mind the 20 years of pussyfooting around the band’s metal roots since Empire; amidst personal and professional ugliness there are now two versions of Queensrÿche, one featuring vocalist Geoff Tate and a new line-up, the other with former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre taking Tate’s place fronting the (almost) original roster. A recipe for confusion that will be rewritten in January 2014 when the battle over the band name goes to court.
Twenty-two years and a day after that fateful Toronto show, I caught up with the Todd La Torre fronted incarnation of Queensrÿche – the real QR for anyone that has heard their new self-titled album – in surroundings far and away from the glory of Maple Leaf Gardens. In the middle of a European tour, the band touched down in Munich, Germany to play a simple rock club catering to only a couple hundred people, one of several steps towards rebuilding the Queensrÿche name as it should be remembered. Prior to the show we sat down to discuss Todd’s rise to fame and the band’s return to greatness.
“I was going to do both,” Todd says of leaving Crimson Glory to join Queensrÿche, which was official as of February 2013. “When I joined (side project) Rising West which then became Queensrÿche, they knew I was in Crimson Glory but they never said ‘Hey, you’ve gotta quit.’ As far as the guys were concerned, as long as I could do both and Crimson Glory wouldn’t infringe on Queensrÿche’s touring, cool. They knew I had an obligation to do a record, so they weren’t going to tell me to quit. What upset me and still does is when I read statements from Crimson saying that the writing was on the go when I joined the band, but the fact of the matter is that’s not true. I’m still friends with the guys but I haven’t talked to Jon Drenning (guitars) in over a year. When I’m back home we try to get together for dinner – me, Ben, Dana, Jeff – just to maintain that friendship. I care about those guys.”
Todd has no regrets about leaving Crimson Glory for Queensrÿche. Looking back on when the offer came down, he agrees it was a no-brainer.
“This is a dream come true… exponentially. When things went down it was like, ‘I have to do this.’ Parts of it are surreal, other parts are not because I know these guys now. We’re all very close so I don’t see them in the same way I did before just as a fan. I’m still a fan, but not the way I used to be.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“When we released In The Arms Of Devastation in 2006 it changed a lot of things for Kataklysm,” says vocalist Maurizio Iacono as an intro to the band’s new slab of hellmetal, Waiting For The End To Come. “It was a big record for us. It was a very melodic record and that took the European market by storm. It was our biggest selling record, and after that we didn’t explore ourselves as musicians as much. I think we took the attitude that ‘This is Kataklysm, this is what we do and we do it well, so we’re going to continue doing that.’ Heaven’s Venom (2010) was a great record for me and I love it, but I think some people heard it and said ‘Yeah, but they’re not dangerous.’ It was the ‘but’ that bothered me. We had the songs, but I realized that people don’t just want the big songs, they want that element of danger.”
Which is why Kataklysm fans are now feasting on arguably the band’s most dangerous album in years. Iacono is humble discussing the achievement, but there’s no mistaking his pride in delivering more than what anyone was expecting at this stage of the game.
“This is the longest stretch we’ve had between albums. It doesn’t seem like it, but it is. It’s been three-and-a-half years going on four. It was one of those things where the record came out and we had time. We decided that we needed to come back with something different and more dangerous because we wanted to make a statement with this record. We didn’t want to come off as if we were coasting, we wanted to surprise people. I think that’s what we did with this record because we changed a lot of things. The production, the artwork… a lot of things are different.”
“It’s an all out attack. Everything that we like, we put it on this record. Kataklysm is a mix of a lot of different influences. Stephane (Barbe/bass) loves black metal, J-F (Dagenais/guitars) loves Iron Maiden, and I love more groove-oriented stuff like Pantera; if you mix all that you’ve got a very unique sound. If people don’t like this record maybe it’s time to think about retirement (laughs). It sounds modern, it sounds fresh, I don’t think there are any bands out there that sound like what we’re doing on this record.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The day after it was announced that Nightwish touring vocalist Floor Jansen (Revamp, ex-After Forever) had been made an official band member, BW&BK was given the opportunity to speak with keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen about the band’s forthcoming live/tour documentary DVD Showtime, Storytime. Good thing they took care of business before press began, because if they hadn’t most of this conversation would have consisted of yours truly telling Holopainen he would have to be a special kind of insane to let Jansen slip away. But really, it’s no surprise that Jansen was asked to stay considering her monumental efforts since coming on board at the last minute to replace the booted Anette Olzon back in October 2012.
“I know it didn’t come as a surprise to anybody,” Holopainen says of the news. “We wanted to make it official at this point because we knew we were going to do a lot of promotion for the upcoming DVD. It’s just easier to do things this way; we don’t need to keep our mouths shut.”
The documentary portion of the DVD begins appropriately with footage from Denver, Colorado as Nightwish makes a mad scramble to put together some semblance of a setlist in the wake of Olzon falling ill. With their singer unable to perform and an audience willing to stick around for whatever the band can come up with, Nightwish enlist support band Kamelot’s backing singers Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist). The rest is a pretty amazing piece of history. Holopainen is caught on camera after the show stating that he’d never been as scared as he was two hours earlier.
“That was the truth,” he admits. “The whole day is just a hazy dream to me now. It was such an awkward moment. A big hand to Elize and Alissa… they were amazing. But that’s what doing live shows is all about. Sometimes these things happen and it’s really memorable stuff; a mass karaoke with those two lovely girls joining us, doing some instrumental stuff as well. It was something different and I don’t think anybody left the venue upset or annoyed.”
Olzon, on the other hand, was genuinely upset and took to her official website to air her feelings. She made it clear she thought the band was wrong to go ahead without her. On October 1st the band released a statement announcing Olzon’s departure and that Jansen would be filling in for the rest of the tour.
“We got quite a bit of criticism for doing the show without Anette,” Holopainen reveals. “Some people asking us how we could be so selfish and do the show without her. It was quite the opposite. We had to think about the 1,600 fans, the promoter, the crew, everybody. Seriously, if something happened to me or any of the other band members, I’d do anything to still make the show happen. We offered the money back from the tickets. We told the fans how the show was going to be, so of course if they wanted to leave they should get their money back. It was seven refunds out of 1,600 so that was pretty good.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Released in 2004, The Art Of Dying marked the return of one of the most exciting thrash bands to claw its way out of the Bay Area in the ’80s. Death Angel became a cult favourite from the moment the unwashed metal legions got wind of them in ’86 via the Kill As One demo, releasing three critically acclaimed albums (The Ultra-Violence, Frolic Through The Park, Act III) in only four years. Their rise to fame came to an abrupt halt in 1990, however, following an accident that left drummer Andy Galeon sidelined for over a year. Death Angel inevitably fell apart and the members pursued other projects, reuniting in 2001 in support of a cancer benefit show for Testament frontman Chuck Billy which started the climb a second time. Three albums and thousands of kilometers/miles travelled to support them, Death Angel are going loud and proud into their 10th year since The Art Of Dying with a record that sounds like a band just as hungry as they were a decade ago.
Time flies when you’re having fun. Nobody knows that better than founding guitarist Rob Cavestany, although he’ll readily admit is hasn’t all been fun and games.
“Oh man, it’s weird,” says Cavestany. “We’ve been around longer since our comeback than we were the first time around. When I stop and think about it, it’s pretty wild. That said, things are moving so fast that I try not to think about the passing of time, otherwise it’ll freak me out (laughs). I already have issues with time and deadlines and feeling like the world is breathing down my neck, so I just try to keep moving forward.”
The Dream Calls For Blood is an awkward album title perhaps better suited for a prog band with anger management problems, but the music behind it is most certainly Death Angel as they’re known and loved. Much of the material is reminiscent of The Art Of Dying’s full-on bullet train approach, leaving fans little room to catch more than a breath between songs. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
My Ruin vocalist Tairrie B. Murphy and guitar-wielding multi-instrumentalist husband Mick Murphy could write a book on perseverance. They’ve been recording the audio version for almost 15 years.
Originally launched as a solo project by Tairrie in 1999, My Ruin has had career made up beautiful highs and brutal lows, the lowest being the systematic destruction of their Ghosts And Good Stories album in 2010 by their previous record company president. Long story short, the man that lured My Ruin to his now defunct label (Tiefdruck Musik) and played the good guy became the band’s worst enemy once the album was in his hands. Ghosts And Good Stories was dead before it had a chance to breathe. A year later, My Ruin stormed back with probably their angriest album to date, A Southern Revelation, making the surprise move of offering it to anyone that wanted it for free. Now, the band is back with The Sacred Mood, their eighth studio album, a record that perhaps best encapsulates what My Ruin is all about. It’ll cost you to take it home with you, but the long time diehard fans will tell you its money well spent.
Tairrie: “Let’s be honest, in this day and age, every record is available for free. With or without a label, your record is out there on the internet, and even if you want to fight it you really can’t. Writing and recording A Southern Revelation was cathartic for us at the time and we needed to do it. It was our middle finger to our ex-label owner Daniel Heerdmann, but also the only way we felt able to take back our power as a band while we waited out our contract with the label. Other than doing nothing but mourning the album he killed, it really was our only option at that point and the fans of our band understood this and supported us in a big way. So did the press, who really got behind us and championed our album with some of the best reviews of our career. We were extremely mad about the lies, broken promises and complete lack of promotion for the release of Ghosts And Good Stories because he did nothing with it – an entire UK / European tour for which tickets had already been sold had to be cancelled – so rightfully this led to me and Mick taking matters into our own hands and addressing what he did to us head on. We decided to channel our anger and focus our rage by writing A Southern Revelation. It was our reckoning and our slaying of the beast.”
The natural assumption is that The Sacred Mood – rounded out by bassist Luciano Ferrea – is less likely to take a firm hold with the masses compared to A Southern Revelation due to the fact there’s a price attached to the music. But, as is the case with any band that boasts a loyal fan base, My Ruin’s followers had no problem forking over their beer money even though A Southern Revelation was a freebie.
Mick: “We decided to self release The Sacred Mood via TuneCore, which has made it available worldwide through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play etc. This way people can find it in a lot of different places and not just on our Bandcamp page. We’re not making music for the masses. We never really have. We make it for ourselves and the fans of band that understand and support what we do. The diehards always show their support; even with the free record we got donations because many people still wanted to pay for it.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Dream Theater can lay claim to devoted international fanbase, with some of those followers bordering on fanatic. It’s just a question as to which side of the room is waving that particular banner. There are the ones that find worth in every album the band puts out regardless of how much Dream Theater deviates from what’s been deemed their signature sound (established by their first three records, When Dream And Day Unite, Images And Words, Awake). Then there are those that pick and choose their favourite DT records and will gladly cyber-stomp on anyone that tells them they’re out of their proggy little minds. So it went that when music from the band’s new self-titled album started circulating, the widespread accolades for a job well done (save for the expected Mangini versus Portnoy bitching) was surprising. Sure, some folks have dismissed the new music as a letdown, but guitarist John Petrucci couldn’t be happier with the result or the positive feedback that’s been coming his way since the record landed in the laps of the press.
“One of the great things is that the press has been very genuine and very up front about the way they feel about our music,” says Petrucci. “The album has been getting a very positive response, and what’s interesting is that we set out to do certain things on this album and people have picked up on those things without us really saying what they are. That makes me feel that we were successful in following through on what we initially planned to do.”
Ditching the journalistic neutrality schtick for a moment, my long-standing personal view on Dream Theater is that somewhere down the road they forgot how to write songs. Hard to say when, but as much as I enjoy prog rock and metal, the widdly 10+ instrumental virtuoso epics that have dominated the last several albums sucked the enjoyment out of the listening experience. It felt like math class; the foundations of the exercises were familiar but they’d become too damn complicated to follow. The new Dream Theater album, however, feels like a step back to the era of real songwriting for the band some 15+ years ago.
“It was definitely a conscious decision to do that,” Petrucci insists. “Every album that we make, we do what we feel at that time. Whatever the strength is that we focus on for any particular album, it’s definitely done on purpose. In doing that, I think it’s done a couple of things for us. It’s created a lot of variety, but it can also be divisive because the albums are very different. Fans might like a certain period of Dream Theater history or a certain style, but I don’t think that takes away from the overall catalogue. The new album is so different because we went in wanting to write a more focused album.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
By this point Children Of Boom fans, or anyone that gave a damn about the band’s first three albums (Something Wild, Hatebreeder, Follow The Reaper) before they pushed the ugly up a few notches for the Are You Dead Yet? and Blooddrunk, are aware that the Finns’ new album Halo Of Blood is a tip of the hat to those good old days. Listen closely, however, and you’ll realize it’s not simply the back-to-the-roots album so many followers have been hoping for and harping on…
“Every fucking person I spoke to for the album said that we’d definitely gone back to the roots and that Halo Of Blood reminded them of our first three albums,” says vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho. “So you don’t have to do that; I already know (laughs).”
There’s no getting away from the fact that Children Of Bodom have taken a step back, though. A listen through Hatebreeder or Follow The Reaper back-to-back with Halo Of Blood offers loads of room for comparison, even though some of the old songs sound surprisingly thin against the new tunes. No offence to the COB legacy, of course, but production values don’t lie.
“None taken, that’s for sure. There’s definitely some truth to that. There might be some elements from the old school Bodom on Halo Of Blood, but it’s with an obvious updated sound. Like you said, there’s so much more to it than Hatebreeder or those other albums. ‘All Twisted ‘ is a song where even I get a Follow The Reaper vibe, but there’s an updated sound to it. None of that shit was intentional or thought out beforehand. It just came about naturally and spontaneous, as always.”
“At certain points I guess the new album was easier than the last one,” Laiho continues, “but it’s never easy to write an album, that’s for sure. I always hit a wall at some point trying to put the parts together, but when I look back now on the writing and recording process for Halo Of Blood, it does seem that it went a little smoother this time around.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
How do you write a hit record? Lock a bunch of unattractive over-the-hill songwriters with shattered dreams of being spotlight superstars in a room, add money, buy auto-toon software, and hire a pretty face to sing the songs. Or, if you live in the blood and sweat world of Annihilator guitarist/founder Jeff Waters you go with your gut, hit the studio when the time feels right, and cough up an album like the highly praised rip and tear called Feast.
“This is the first record where we took a big break from getting in the studio and writing,” says Waters. “We were finished with the cycle for the last album by the fall of 2010. It was a little over two years of not going into the studio to write. Dave (Padden/vocals, guitars) and I decided that we could pump out an album every year-and-a-half, and some albums would be better than others but it would be a case of just doing the same thing over and over. We wanted to see what happened if we took some time off from the writing. I did tons of guitar clinics around the world, we did some special festival dates, I did some mixing and mastering in my studio; there just wasn’t any new Annihilator stuff coming out of that. And from what I’ve been told it paid off because everyone seems to feel that Feast has brought things up a level.”
“I think it was good that we took the time off, and if I didn’t have all that stuff to do in those two years I would have gone straight into the studio and started writing. I had lots to do and Dave kept pushing me away from it, so I just decided to go with it until the time was right.”
Waters is in a good place these days both professionally and personally these days, yet the music he cranked out for Feast is (for the most part) full-on aggressive and a great soundtrack for pissed-offedness.. Not exactly a case of the art reflecting the man this time out.
“I don’t get that either. We threw that one song ‘Perfect Angel Eyes’ in the middle of the album, but you’re right, other than that it’s more aggressive and has an ‘F-You’ vibe. It’s weird how that worked out.”
Feast’s punk attitude is equally weird and totally unexpected. Sure, the legendary thrash sound that made Annihilator famous is very much alive and seething, but there are moments where Waters sounds like he’s channelling as much of The Exploited as he is Slayer.
“You know what? That’s the one thing I didn’t realize until very recently. I did a two-and-a-half week European press trip, I did something like 113 interviews – which is way more than I’ve ever done for an album – and I repeatedly heard the question ‘Where’s this punk vibe coming from?’ And my only answer was ‘I don’t know’ (laughs). I usually get questions about my soloing and I tell them it’s blues speeded up, and even though I don’t really know the blues, I just know the stuff passed down by Angus Young and Glenn Tipton who got it from B.B. King and Chuck Berry. At least I know where that blues influence comes from. The punk stuff… no idea where that comes from.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
“Back in 1999, I thought I didn’t have any demand as a singer and I seriously considered retiring. It was the guys from XYZ-A who saved me. If it wasn’t for XYZ-A, the current lineup of Loudness would not exist.”
It’s an unexpected admission from vocalist Minoru Niihara, who is best known as the vocalist for the legendary Loudness the world over, but perhaps not that surprising looking back on his career. As the voice of the very first Japanese metal band to make a serious international impact in the early ’80s, Niihara was living the dream, only to have it snuffed out when he was invited to leave the band in 1988 in the interest of cornering the Western market with an American singer (Obsession’s Michael Vescera). Stints as a solo artist (1989) and with Ded Chaplin and SLY through the ’90s followed and were only moderately sucessful. It wasn’t until he hooked up with XYZ-A for their 1999 debut, Asian Typhoon, that things took a turn for the better. The album was a smoker, putting Niihara back on the map and rejuvenating his career. Two years later he reunited with the original Loudness line-up, reclaiming his original post which he owns to this day. Rather than sacrifice one band for the other, however, Niihara has been going strong with both Loudness and XYZ-A ever since.
Unlike Loudness, XYZ-A has never achieved the same level of success, but Niihara is far from discouraged. Settling in to discuss the band’s new record, Seventh Heaven, he knows XYZ-A has hit the sweet spot with their fans following its oddly named but highly praised predecessor, Learn From Yesterday! Live For Today! Hope For Tomorrow!. A pleasant surprise, particularly since the two albums prior to it (IV and Wings) were rather dull and uninspired in comparison.
“When YTT was released, it was recognized by our fans as the best album of our career,” says Niihara. “Every process including songwriting, arrangement, performing, recording worked successfully. I strongly feel that we as a band have gotten so much experience throughout years and it finally paid off.” (continue reading…)