By Carl Begai
The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.
Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.
“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”
“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: EPICA – Cutting Edge Symphology
By Carl Begai
As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…
“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Discipline And Compromise
By Carl Begai
Amongst metal’s heaviest, darkest and meanest diehards Peter Tägtgren is known first and foremost as the frontman and founder of Hypocrisy, then as a producer who has racked up time in his Abyss Studio since 1995 with seemingly every metal band under the sun. There’s no getting past the fact, however, that his greatest success to date is his mainstream-ish electro-industrial outfit Pain. Originally launched as a one-man pet project in 1997, Pain now boasts a real band line-up and eight albums in their catalogue with no brick walls to slow them down in sight. The newest outing, Coming Home, is distinctly Swede-powered Pain boasting its fair share of surprises, from releasing its sick-riff heaviest track (“Call Me”) as the lead single, to an unexpected guest vocalist, to some serious balladeering on the title track. And clean singing. Lots of it.
During the five year gap between You Only Live Twice (2011) and Coming Home, Pain did a decent amount of touring and Peter succeeded in blindsiding the metal community by teaming up with seemingly reclusive Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann. The duo released the Lindemann debut, Skills And Pills, backed by some huge label confidence and promotional firepower, guaranteeing that everyone heard about Lindemann whether they liked the Pain-Stein sound of the project or not.
“It was great, we had the time of our lives,” Peter laughs. “Just two idiots out in the world doing promotion and it was great. We had such a blast. It’s a memory for life. We started with one song and we all know how it ended. It was amazing. Till is fucked up which is why we fit together (laughs). There were no rules for anything when we made the album. It was all ‘follow your heart.'” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: PAIN – Designed To Piss You Off
By Carl Begai
Get past the fact the title for Delain’s new record sounds like an episode of the Teletubbies, and that the artwork is perhaps better suited for a ’70s hippie album than a metal band, Moonbathers is the all-important next step in a career that could have easily – some might say should have – wheezed and died years ago. Diehard fans will argue that Delain’s 2012 album We Are The Others yanked them out of symphonic metal obscurity, but it was The Human Contradiction two years later that made Delain big deal players on an international scale. That record stood head, shoulders and elbows above anything Delain had offered previously and set the bar for the follow-up pretty damn high, particularly since the album’s appeal led to major tours with Sabaton and Nightwish, guaranteeing maximum exposure. The fan-fuelled jury will weigh in over the coming months on whether the band succeeded in meeting the challenge, but from a former fence-sitting convert’s point of view Moonbathers is even more diverse than its predecessor, the song-writing top notch. And give Delain an extra point for having the audacity to cover the Queen classic “Scandal”.
Founder / keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, who started his career as a member of Within Temptation way back when, agrees that the 2016 Nightwish tour through North America was one of the best forums possible to introduce new material to Delain’s growing fanbase, which was one of the reasons for releasing the Lunar Prelude EP early this year.
“People were asking when we were going to tour again, and they were asking when we were going to release new material. We can only do one thing at a time, but we thought ‘Why don’t we do both?’ and chopped the album production in pieces. That way we had some material for the new tour, and it was a good warm-up for the album. The response from the fans was great. Most of the time, doing a support tour means that you lose a lot of money on it because you have to pay for expenses, but we had amazing merchandise profits on the Nightwish so we were able to cover our costs. That’s something that is very rare, so it’s a good sign to see whether people like the new music or not.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DELAIN – First Band On The Moon
By Carl Begai
The first four seconds into the new album, Headbanger’s Symphony, are enough to slam dunk the 11-track opus into the Accept catalogue. Never mind that opening track “Scherzo” is an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” featuring a tip of the hat to the band’s “Teutonic Terror”; the record has guitarist Wolf Hoffmann written all over it, featuring popular classical music pieces adapted for the metal crowd. The results are quite often stunning if you’re open to instrumental metal without the loopy Steve Vai craziness. For those Accept and/or Hoffmann fans that think this is something new for the legendary axe-master, however, not so…
“I made a classical album 20 years ago (Classical) and I’ve always been the guy doing that sort of thing in Accept songs, so it wasn’t totally unexpected,” says Hoffmann. “At the same time, it took forever to get this album finished so I’m super excited that it’s finally here.”
The delay in getting Headbanger’s Symphony was due to the fact Accept has always been Hoffmann’s top priority, particularly since their 2010 comeback album, Blood Of The Nations, pretty much blew the roof off the metal scene for being one of the strongest records released that year
“The majority of the album started before Accept got back together,” Hoffmann reveals, “so it was at a stage where it was almost ready but the recordings weren’t finalized. The tracks were written and the project was in my head, it was all demo-ed and good to go, and then Accept started back up. So whenever there was a couple weeks free, like over Christmas, or things slowed down I went at it again. And again and again (laughs).” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: ACCEPT Guitarist WOLF HOFFMANN Goes Teutonic Symphonic
By Carl Begai
On June 24th, German metal queen Doro released her latest in a string of anniversary DVDs entitled Strong And Proud – 30 Years Of Rock And Metal. For some people this may come off as overkill in that the lovely lady cranks out an audio-visual extravaganza every five years or so, needlessly showcasing the fact she’s still in top form and kicking ass. For the diehard fans it’s a celebration of an artist who continues to put her peers and performers half her age to shame (Doro was born in ’64; do the math). Strong And Proud is a monstrous three DVD set featuring an obligatory Wacken Open Air show, a two-night stand her Düsseldorf home town divided between Classic Night and Rock / Metal Night sets, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and bonus material Doro couldn’t leave on the cutting room floor even though she was advised to do so by the creative team backing her up.
“It was at least one-and-a-half years of work,” Doro reveals, as the 30th Anniversary show in Düsseldorf was shot in 2014. “I have a guy that works with me, he’s done the last four DVDs, but I always want to be there to help take care of stuff so it’s definitely teamwork. I know best what the fans want to see, so there might be an editor that’s great at his job technically but I want to see excitement of the fans, I want to see their faces. Those things catch my eye but the guy doing the editing might have a different perspective. And sometimes I’ll have to tell the people ‘No, the other guy is playing the guitar solo, not him, so focus on the other guy…’ It’s like they always focus on the wrong guitar player unless I’m there (laughs). There’s a team of people that work on editing, colour grading, sound and all these other details, so it was months and months of work.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DORO – Hail To The Queen
By Carl Begai
Seeing as how BraveWords lays claim to being Canada’s authority on metal and boasts an international reach that few can compete with – we’re a humble lot up here in the Great White North – it falls to us to acknowledge the victory of fellow Canuck and drummer extraordinaire, Randy Black, who made a small but significant contribution to the legacy of German thrash masters Destruction in 2015. Thus, going in to discuss the band’s new slab of violence Under Attack with Destruction frontman Schmier, the first order of business was to find out how Black fared filling in behind the kit while permanent drummer Vaaver took some time off to be with his family early last year.
“He’s not a crazy Canuck,” Schmier laughs. “Randy doesn’t drink or do drugs, and he takes his job very seriously, so nothing spectacular happened like Randy destroying the bus or anything like that. He’s very focused on his work. It was difficult because we needed someone to replace Vaaver for a while and it had to be someone who was familiar with Destruction who could learn to play the material in a short amount of time. It’s not easy to learn and feel the songs like a drummer who has been playing them for a number of years, but Randy did it his way and he did a great job. Vaaver thought it was great the way Randy interpreted the songs. It was fun working with him and there were a lot of people that liked it so much that they started asking if Randy was joining the band permanently. I think it was a good challenge for him. It was a good cardio workout for him, anyway (laughs). I think the last time he played stuff like ours was with Annihilator, but Destruction has more fast stuff compared to them. Randy was in great shape by the end of the tour (laughs).”
Fast forward to the present, where Under Attack closes the four year gap since Spritual Genocide. An unusually long time between Destruction albums, but according to Schmier it was a conscious move on the band’s part to take their time making rather than having to deal with unexpected roadblocks.
“We recorded the demos for Under Attack and then went back on tour, so we were never in the studio for more than three or four days at a time. It was actually a genius move because we recorded a song or two or three, went back on the road, and we had all that energy and excitement from playing the old songs for the fans. When we went back into the studio we had that old school feeling even as we were refreshing our sound, and it made the songwriting process very smooth. If you don’t write songs for two or three years, when you do start writing again you have so many ideas. I was like a volcano of new ideas, it was shocking.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DESTRUCTION – “We’re Still A Bunch Of Angry Bastards”
By Carl Begai
More often that not, band biographies are loaded with show-off information and adjective-tweaked factoids meant to sell the artist in question to the press. Makes sense if a label or management is pushing a new signing, but it comes off as trying to sell snow to an Eskimo when the band has been around for over a decade and has seven albums to choose from. In short, trying to sell a veteran and altogether successful band’s new work on hype rather than substance is insulting to the folks behind the music. This is particularly true of DevilDriver and vocalist Dez Fafara, who launched the band in 2002 after carving a path into the distortion-driven music scene with Coal Chamber beginning in 1993. He’s quite content and able to to let his music do the talking, as on the new DevilDriver album Trust No One.
“I think I’m still around because I’m a no-bullshit guy,” says Fafara. “I don’t have time for the purists in music or any of that. People who know me, that are close to me, they appreciate the guy that I am because I don’t have the time to bullshit you.”
Thus we leave it to him to describe DevilDriver; the only overview that really matters in the end.
“Every single record has a DevilDriver sound and a signature groove but they’re very different from one another. Beast is very different from Pray For Villains, and Trust No One is very different from our last record. People can’t pin us down and I think that’s a good thing. They started calling us groove metal and I thought that was too broad a term, so they started calling us the California groove machine. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ll take that…’ (laughs).”
A nifty little stamp, sure, but it still reeks of desperation on the part of the media or management as trying to put DevilDriver in a convenient little box.
“Sometimes you have to go with monikers because some people need a tag,” Fafara offers. “Long ago when I started DevilDriver, I wanted a signature sound and I knew I wanted something different. I’ve got my ear to the ground, I hear what’s going on in metal, and I see a lot of bands putting out the same record. There’s been hype and critical acclaim behind records that I listen to and I’m thinking ‘What..? Why?’ For me it’s like ‘Let’s do something different, let’s stand out,’ and I think on Trust No One – especially on the new album – that we’ve done something that’s our own. We’ve upped the sound and I’ve definitely upped the players within the band, and it has become a monster.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DEVILDRIVER – Raising Hell With Heart And Soul
By Carl Begai
One of the big metal events of 2015 was the highly anticipated Savatage reunion show at the world renowned Wacken Open Air. Many fans were sceptical of the band’s return to the stage when the buzz first started, however, as Savatage’s sister-act the Trans-SiberianOrchestra had absorbed the band members on its rise to arena rock mega-fame following Savatage’s Poets And Madmen tour in 2002. It was TSO’s continuing success as one of the highest grossing annual tours in North America that had presumably stalled any further output from the Savatage camp and effectively put them on hiatus. The press discovered over the course of 2015 that a Savatage reunion at Wacken was very much a reality in the making, with band members sworn to secrecy by management during press engagements for their own projects; it affected guitarist Chris Caffery and Circle II Circle vocalist Zak Stevens in particular, as they both had new albums come out in 2015.
“That was right up to the day of the show,” says Stevens. “You know how management is; everything has to be top secret (laughs). We really felt is was that way right up until we hit the stage. It was crazy, yeah, but everyone did a pretty good job. The consensus among some people is that we could have done better, we could have taken it more seriously. I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because we’re older, we did the rehearsals and figured out that we’re a lot better now than we were back in ’97 when we played the main stage at Wacken. And everybody in the band fell in love again. That was fantastic because it was clear that everybody missed it.”
“We had this really aggressive plan to hit the two stages at once, using fiber optic technology so we wouldn’t have any signal loss, and we brought all the pyro that we use in a season with two companies in TSO and blow it all off on one night… without trying to blow anybody up (laughs). We had one pyro meeting before the show and you would have loved that. You would have laughed your ass off because it was like ‘Okay everybody, gather round. We’ve got all this pyro from the TSO tours, we’re going to blow it all up tonight, these are the places you don’t want to stand…’ They asked how many people on stage were new to pyro and about 40% raised their hands. I raised my hand because I’ve never been involved with that kind of pyro (laughs). Because I’m a frontman and one of the elder statesman they pulled me aside and said ‘Look, definitely don’t stand here, here, here and here…’ (laughs).” Continue reading SAVATAGE Vocalist ZAK STEVENS Comes Full Circle – “You’re About To Do The Biggest Show Of Your Life”
By Carl Begai
Progressive metal and concept albums seemingly go hand in hand, yet prog kings Dream Theater have ony two to their name despite a 25+ year career that has yielded 13 studio records. Additionally, some fans might be startled when they realize 17 years have passed since the release of the band’s first concept album, Scenes From A Memory, which is widely regarded as one of their best works to date. In January 2016, Dream Theater unleashed The Astonishing on an unsuspecting fanbase, which turned out to be a much bigger and very different animal from its Scenes From A Memory counterpart. The band then chose to take The Astonishing on tour and perform the 34 track rock opera from beginning to end rather than present a “typical” Dream Theater show: no “Pull Me Under”, no “Afterlife”, nothing from Falling Into Infinity, Awake, Train Of Thought or Systematic Chaos, and no cover songs. A potential recipe for career suicide or at least a disaster, but the band’s early 2016 run through the UK and Europe turned out to be a huge success.
Sure, some fans have slammed the band for not bringing their classics to the party, but anyone who follows Dream Theater religiously should have expected this. Fortunately for the band many fans did and weren’t disappointed. Starting April 14th, fans in Canada and the US can experience The Astonishing in a live setting for themselves.
“It’s actually been incredible,” vocalist James LaBrie says of the feedback Dream Theater has received. “It’s as great as we could have expected because, let’s face it, you’re taking a risk doing this when you have a discography as expansive as ours. A lot of fans are expecting to hear songs from any given Dream Theater album, but we thought that since it’s been 17 years since our last concept album and we never played Scenes From A Memory through live, it’s something we want to do for The Astonishing. And we wanted to do it right. We were preparing this tour as far as production goes a year before we hit the first show because it’s quite elaborate. It’s unprecedented as fas as anything we’ve done, and it’s something we want to look back on and say ‘Yeah, but we did do it and had a great time.’ It’s been very successful. We knew we were going to leave some fans upset and digruntled, maybe alienate them to a certain extent on this tour, but we also knew that we have a worldwide fanbase that would want to be a part of it and gravitate towards it.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DREAM THEATER Gearing Up For The Astonishing Canada / US Tour – “We’ve Never Had Production At This Level”