The Interviews

By Carl Begai

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If you’re a metal fan the name Oliver Hartmann may not ring any bells at first, but chances are pretty good you’ve heard him on any number of albums over the past 15+ years. The German vocalist / guitarist / producer launched At Vance in 1998 and has released nine albums with them since then, but Hartmann’s talents have also been used for recordings by Avantasia, Rhapsody and Edguy (to name a few) and as a guitarist on the annual Rock Meets Classic tour. Even if you are familiar with his catalogue, however, you may not be aware of his long-standing tenure as a member of the Pink Floyd tribute band Echoes, which has been around since 1995. Hartmann came on board in 2003 and has devoted a considerable amount of time to the project in spite of his busy schedule. He kicked off what promises to be a busy 2016 with a fully acoustic Echoes tour in support of their recent live CD / DVD release Barefoot To The Moon, which landed in a Nuremberg church on the day of this interview.

Seriously. A church. Complete with a bar. Only in Germany…

Professional musicians have their work cut out for them when covering Pink Floyd to begin with, but doing so acoustically is an entirely new animal. Particularly when Hartmann and his bandmates get down to business.

“Two years ago we did a benefit show in Aschaffenburg, Germany,” Hartmann says of the push towards the acoustic set. “We were asked to play, we thought about it, and decided to do an acoustic show. We picked out the songs we thought would work best and played for an hour, and that’s where we got the idea to do an entire acoustic evening. When we were putting the show together we decided that we would supplement any instrumental parts that were missing or too difficult to play acoustically – keyboards, sustain, delays, that sort of thing – with a string quartet. And the idea wasn’t a big stretch because of my involvement with Rock Meets Classic over the last years. We decided to take a minimalistic approach to the songs, sort of like an MTV Unplugged version of Pink Floyd (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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“I’m always enthusiastic when we put out an album, and this time I think I’m even more enthusiastic.”

Par for the course when dealing with Avantasia mastermind Tobias Sammet on any given day. Perhaps even a bit frightening. The man has been living and breathing music for over 20 years, having officially come into his own when Edguy released their debut album, Kingdom Of Madness, in 1997. It was when Sammet pulled a fast one by daring to release a metal opera under the Avantasia name in 2001 – appropriately titled The Metal Opera – that people started taking him seriously, or at least treating him as someone who should be watched carefully for repeated bursts of questionable behaviour. Legend has it that The Metal Opera was meant to be a one-off, but 15 years and a loyal international fanbase later Avantasia have unleashed their seventh official studio album, Ghostlights. To say Sammet is excited is an understatement, and he has every right to be when riding the high of an album that’s as Meatloaf / Savatage theatrical as it is trademark Tobias Sammet metal.

“Yes, absolutely, but it wasn’t meant to be like that,” Sammet insists. “There was no masterplan. A lot of journalists have asked if I intended to make this such a big-sounding theatrical record, and the answer is no, I didn’t intend anything. I didn’t even know where this would bring us, I didn’t even push the music in a certain direction. The music was dragging us in a certain direction and that’s probably the most innnocent and best approach you can have when writing music. Just do it, enjoy it, feel great while doing it, and see what comes out in the end.”

“I’ve defended the analog sound we did in the past, that old school let-it-sound-like-Ronnie-James-Dio-in-1983 kind of production, and I still think I was right to do so, but Sascha (Paeth/guitars, producer) decided we should do whatever the music needed. ‘Let it just happen,’ he said and this is what came out. The song ‘Let The Storm Descend Upon You’ is probably one of the most epic tracks I’ve done in the Avantasia context; it’s a big sounding arrangement with a lot of things that do not make sense according to the book of rules on how to compose a song. It’s not very reasonable to start a song with a one minute intro, and then do a second overture, and have the first chorus after three-and-a-half minutes, but I don’t think you perceive it as something that doesn’t make sense. The whole song just developed. It was one of the last tracks I wrote for the record.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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When French Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz joined Swedish melodic death metallers Arch Enemy in 2014 at the request of her predecessor Angela Gossow, she was well aware of what awaited her: extensive touring, a rabid fanbase with high expectations, and an expected group of haters. So it went that, when Alissa broke her ribs in the middle of her first ever tour fronting Arch Enemy in support of her band debut, War Eternal, she chose to forge ahead despite the considerable pain. Most singers wouldn’t even entertain such a move due to the fact singing requires being able to breathe, which isn’t an easy task with a busted chest. Catching up on Arch Enemy’s European support tour with Nightwish in December 2015, Alissa revealed she hadn’t experienced any more major physical disasters since that first road trip, but admitted she was steering clear of the skateboard stashed on the tour bus just to be safe.

“There was so much pressure at that point and so much going on,” she says of that first tour with Arch Enemy. “For 10 or 12 years (with The Agonist) it was a struggle just to get booked anywhere, so when I was given this beautiful itinerary of a year or two full of shows… I’m not built to say no to that. I wasn’t about to say ‘Hey, since I’ve been working for 12 years and I’ve finally gotten this far, time to not do it.’ So I did the tour and it was against the doctor’s orders but fuck that, I’ve never followed doctor’s orders anyway (laughs). It definitely held me back a little in terms of performance for a few months, but it worked out.”

At the time of this interview Arch Enemy had been on the road for almost two years supporting War Eternal, an unheard of amount of time for a band that hasn’t quite graduated to headlining arena shows just yet. When they finished out 2014 supporting Kreator in Europe most people assumed the band would spend 2015 working on new material. Arch Enemy opted to remain on the road, closing 2015 with one of the biggest tours of their career in terms of audience numbers.

“There’s still a demand,” Alissa says of the band’s decision to spend so much time on tour. “Especially in this situation where we’re fortunate to have fans accept the new music and the new line-up. We want to give them a show if they want it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I can’t say ‘no.’ I feel so incredibly lucky that if anyone wants to see me perform I’m like ‘Really? You want us to play a show? I’m in…'(laughs). That and the fact these guys have been touring for 20 years; they just love doing it so they’re happy to play any shows that come our way. It’s a mixture of enjoying what we do and being workaholics. We’re still going but we’ll have to write some new music, which will be our focus in 2016.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Nightwish

You’d be hard pressed to argue against the importance and benefit of Finnish bashers Nightwish bringing Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever) on as their permanent singer in 2013. News that the band had also enlisted English uilleann pipes player and long-time collaborator Troy Donockley at the same time, however, proved to be something of a head-scratcher. Although he’d been a part of the Nightwish camp since 2007 and the Dark Passion Play album – touring with them extensively as of 2012 – the idea that a band known for symphonic metal would add such an odd element to a tried and true formula did not bode well for the future. It was one thing to have Donockley in the background to help keyboardist / mastermind Tuomas Holopainen realize his musical visions, quite another to allow the multi-instrumentalist to have serious input. Especially when Donockley’s resumé includes working with artists sich as Midge Ure, Status Quo, Mostly Autumn and Del Amitri. Any worries were unfounded, as the latest Nightwish album Endless Forms Most Beautiful and the subsequent tour present the band in their expected bombastic metal glory; Donockley has enhanced the band’s sound and show rather than diluting or altering it.

We spoke during the European leg of the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour in December 2015 prior to one of many sold out shows, with Donockley offering some insight as to how life in the Nightwish camp is now compared to when former singer Anette Olzon – who was let go and replaced by Jansen mid-tour in 2012 – was in the spotlight.

“The tour is much better than we thought it would be, and we kind of suspected it would be that way,” Donockley admits. “We’ve worked with Floor since the famous cataclysmic American tour (laughs) so we all know each other really well now. We’re in a really unusual situation in this band; it’s freakish because we don’t fight, there’s no conflict, there’s no divison between any of us, we share everything and we have massive fun together. It didn’t used to be like that. When I first started to get involved with the band it was very compartmentalized to say the least. Everybody kind of did their separate things, but there’s a real sense of camaraderie now.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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In 2006, long suffering Canadian cult favourites Eidolon released their seventh album, The Parallel Otherworld. The record unintentionally signalled the end of a decade-long career just when Eidolon had clearly hit their stride with Pagan’s Mind vocalist Nils K. Rue behind the mic, but the move to call it quits didn’t come as a surprise considering founders Glen Drover (guitars) and Shawn Drover (drums) had been devoting their time to Megadeth as of 2004. As fate and musical inpiration would have it, however, Glen and Shawn have decided to close out 2015 with a new Eidolon track, “Leave This World Behind”, featuring Rue and long time bassist Adrian Robichaud. The song marks the first Eidolon recording in 10 years.

“To be honest, we never called it quits, we basically just decided to put the band on the shelf,” says Glen. “I mean, at that point yes, Shawn and I were now half of Megadeth, and way too busy to consider anything else regardless of the fact that we had finally found an all around amazing and professional singer who couldn’t be matched. We had a lot of negative feedback in the past about some of our previous singers. All of those people were silenced when we brought Nils in.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Teramaze first became a blip in Australian headspace back in 1995, launched by guitarist Dean Wells and laying claim to two full length albums by the time he was 18 years-old. It was a short-lived pursuit, as Wells abandoned Teramaze in 2000 for what turned out to be a fruitful career as a songwriter and producer for TV programs including X Factor and Australian Idol, as well as an assortment of pop artists. It was only a matter of time, however, until Wells felt the need to escape the formatted structure of the pop music machine in favour of creating music on his own terms. He relaunched Teramaze and returned in 2012 with Anhedonia, following it up with Esoteric Symbolism a short two years later. It’s been a re-learning curve for Wells, which culminated in the creation of the band’s most progressive work to date, Her Halo.

“It was a good eight years,” says Wells of his pop industry days. “I got into writing a lot of heavier stuff and my publisher at the time told me they liked it but had no idea what to do with it. Somebody finally said ‘You should do a Teramaze album.’ I hadn’t even thought of that because I considered Teramaze to just be something I did as a kid for a bit of fun. I realized I did want to do it again, and around the time we started taking it seriously Jeff Waters from Annihilator heard the stuff and wanted to get involved. He was down in Australia at one point and he came in to produce most of the album with me. So, I put out Anhedonia in 2012, which came out of the heavier stuff I was writing a few years earlier.”

“Before Anhedonia there was nothing from Teramaze for eight years. People think we’ve been around for all this time, but no, there was a massive gap in between. We don’t really play any of the old stuff, but now that people are starting to realize this is the same band from back then we’re thinking about bringing some of it back. But it does seem to people we’ve done more than we actually have.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Swedish pop metallers Amaranthe unleashed their third album, Massive Addictive, in October 2014 to critical acclaim, but nobody counted on them still being on the road a year later in support of the record. Not even the band themselves. Multiple headline tours through Europe and North America, as well as the obligatory shows in Japan, have kept Amaranthe’s budding career moving forward and they show no sign of slowing down. Almost a year to the day of Massive Addictive’s release, band and label teamed up to issue Breaking Point – B-sides 2011-2015, an interim compilation of hard-to-find acoustic versions of some of Amaranthe’s best-loved tunes and two full-on metal unreleased tracks; a package meant to tide the fans over until the band coughs up a new studio album. This interview took place in Toronto on what is presumably the final jaunt in support of Massive Addictive, and while Breaking Point was the basis for the chat with Olof Mörck (guitars) and Elize Ryd (vocals), the real focus turned out to be on how Amaranthe has come so far since their 2011 debut.

BraveWords: Is Breaking Point in fact meant to appease the fans while Amaranthe is on tour? It’s not like they’re bound to forget you considering how much you’ve been in people’s faces.

Olof: “We have all these acoustic versions, and we feel really strongly about them, so we had a talk with the label about putting out something different to represent the band. I think it shows a very different side to our musicality. A lot of people are into that sort of thing, but not many people knew these songs existed. Maybe some of them had heard ‘Amaranthine’ acoustic or ‘Hunger’ acoustic, so it was really nice to be able to put all of these songs together with the added bonus of two songs recorded for the first album.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It’s probably in poor taste to suggest the members of Stryper have sold their souls in exchange for their current success. The Christian metal band’s 2005 comeback, Reborn, put an end to 15 years of silence (not including some sporadic touring) and was an all-important step into a decade that saw the band release four studio albums, a cover album, a volume of Stryper re-recordings, and a live record / DVD, interspersed with international tours. Considering the way Stryper splintered and died following their Against The Law album from 1990, nobody really expected them to get back together let alone turn the momentum kicked up by Reborn into wave after wave of in your face material. Their latest assault is the fourth album of all original songs since Stryper’s reunion, and album entitled Fallen that has the fans locked in yet again and has vocalist / guitarist Michael Sweet grinning from ear to ear.

“At the end of the day what’s important, obviously, is that we feel we’re pleasing God and we’re pleasing ourselves,” Sweet says of the band’s continued success. “The icing on the cake is how the fans feel about the new album.We try to ask questions and get feedback from the fans, and we apply that when we make an album. If they want to hear an epic six minute song with tempo changes, we give them ‘Yahweh’. We try to listen to the fans without selling ourselves out, and I think we did that this time.”

As a first taste of Fallen, it’s safe to say nobody was expecting the epic attack of ‘Yahweh’. The song is easily on par with one of Stryper’s strongest songs ever, ‘Soldiers Under Command’, and goes a step beyond.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting that, truthfully. It’s definitely down a different avenue for us. We’ve never done a six-and-a-half minute song, we’ve never had a bunch of time changes in a song; it borders on the progressive side of rock. Did we do that to try and fit in? No. We grew up on all this kind of stuff. We’re huge Iron Maiden fans and we love Dream Theater, we listen to all of that stuff, and it’s not out of our wheelhouse at all to do something like ‘Yahweh’. And then you bring in the fact that Clint Lowery from Sevendust had a hand in the making of the song… he sent me the original riff and I ran with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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There’s an unwritten rule in rock and metal that if you’re not legally allowed to drink, you don’t deserve a record deal.

Basically, you have to pay your dues before a Corner Office Suit gives you the opportunity to sign on the dotted line. It should be a process of getting the band out of Mom’s basement and into the garage, tormenting the neighbours with crap covers and even worse originals, being ripped off for rent at your first rehearsal space, asking Dad to bail you out of debt or jail (whichever comes first) before finally locking down that fateful first gig in front of a potentially hostile audience on the way to the big time. So it goes that when people discover newcomers Next To None – consisting of members aged a mere 16 and 17 – sitting pretty with a contract signed to InsideOut for their debut album, some folks dismiss them without hearing a note.

Drummer Max Portnoy has the added pressure of being the son of living and very active drum legend Mike Portnoy, who made a name for himself as a founding member of prog metal kings Dream Theater. Mike currently calls The Winery Dogs home, but divides his time with several different artists including Neal Morse, Flying Colors, Metal Allegiance and Twisted Sister. The thinking is that Portnoy family ties led to InsideOut picking up Next To None and that Max wouldn’t be anywhere without dear old Dad. Max is quick to shut down that line of thinking with regards to the latter.

“He didn’t push me into it or anything like that,” he insists. “Being in a band is something I’ve always wanted to do. Growing up watching my dad play drums did influence me in getting interested in making music, but he never forced me into learning how to play drums. I knew I was going to be a drummer when I grew up, I never questioned it. When I got older and met Kris (Rank/bass), that’s when I decided I was going to form a band. We started playing covers before trying to write our own songs, but my dad didn’t have anything to do with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Children Of Bodom’s trademark Hate Crew tag is meant as a proclamation of bad-assed-ness, but the band has hit a point in their career where it can be twisted to represent just how much some people detest them. Case in point when they pre-released a handful of tracks from their new album, I Worship Chaos; for all the praise the songs received there were just as many voices cutting the Children off at the knees. The music business has never been for the thin-skinned, of course, but in the internet age any band or solo artist hoping to carve out a career has to be prepared to get knocked in the teeth the moment they release new material. For Children Of Bodom vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho and keyboardist Janne Wirman any lambasting they’ve received for I Worship Chaos thus far is simply a walk in the park they choose not to take.

Alexi: “I started ignoring that shit pretty much right away, when the whole internet thing kicked in. It doesn’t pay off to read any of the fucking reactions.”

BraveWords: Which extends to ignoring folks like Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn, who took online shots at you via Facebook (in October 2014)after you voiced your disappointment at Machine Head cancelling the North American headline tour you were due to support so they could finish work on their new album (Bloodstone & Diamonds).

Alexi: “I know, what the fuck? Honestly, it made me laugh because it was so surreal. I’ve known Robb Flynn for a long time, we’ve toured with Machine Head before and we always got along, and all of a sudden he’s out there talking shit about me? I just laughed and that’s why I didn’t say shit about it. The last thing I want to do is get into some stupid-ass internet war. If anything, that break in the schedule gave me more time to write. I stayed pretty active, I did a bunch of other shit like guitar clinics and playing bass on a friend’s band because I didn’t want to sit on my ass. I was also able to work on riffs that I’ve had in my head for quite a long time.”

BraveWords: It’s not at all surprising that I Worship Chaos has polarized your fanbase. Something would be wrong if the fans weren’t choosing sides when you release new music.

Janne: “I Worship Chaos feels right on many levels. It was the right time to release an album like this and somehow it all clicked together. You can’t plan on something like this; sometimes it just works and everything turns out great. We haven’t written the same song or album over and over again, but it’s getting to the point where we have to come up with new and fresh ideas, and somehow keep doing what we’re doing. That’s something we’ve always kept in mind, to not release the same thing over and over again. That won’t work for us.” Continue Reading