On April 15th, 2016, fans of Leaves’ Eyes
were shocked to learn the band had parted ways with vocalist and namesake Liv
Kristine Espenæs. In the same breath, the band announced that Finnish singer
Elina Siirala of the band EnkElination would take Liv’s place. Given that
Leaves’ Eyes had centered around Liv Kristine and her husband / Atrocity
frontman Alexander Krull since the band’s inception in 2003 – in the wake of
Liv being fired from Theater of Tragedy – it was clear the issues leading to
the split were personal as well as professional. It would take some time for
the dust to settle, as both sides shared different accounts of what led to the
split, but Leaves’ Eyes forged onward with Siirala up front and a significant
wave of fan discontent on their tails. For her part, Liv gradually went quiet,
making guest appearances on Cradle Of Filth’s “Vengeful Spirit”,
Orden Ogan’s “Come With Me To The Other Side” in 2017, and
Midnattsol’s album The Aftermath in 2018, but otherwise stayed away from
putting out new music. In December 2019, however, she released a new solo
single, “Skylight”, which was reminiscent of her Vervain solo record
from 2014 and Theatre of Tragedy’s classic third album, Aegis.
“After a few ups and down – a few
roller-coaster rides to put it mildly, since I moved to Germany 20 years ago –
I decided to start all anew,” Liv says of her comeback. “I
practically left everything, cleared all relationships, situations, or ended
them. In 2019, I felt the spirit again to continue working on my own music. It
was Tommy Olsson (guitarist / ex-Theatre of Tragedy) who reached out in 2016
with a handful of songs that really blew me away. He’s been very patient and
supportive throughout my journey, and I have the best composer by my side. I
just want to do the music which I love, which I am fully in alignment with. My
upcoming solo album is a collaboration with Tommy. It’s in the veins of
Vervain, but not at all like it. It is inspired by Tommy’s masterpiece,
Nightwish bassist / vocalist Marko Hietala was in the business of making music long before keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen launched the band in 1996. Back in 1984 – almost 20 years before he would join Nightwish, in 2001 – Hietala and his brother Zachary founded Tarot, a metal band that would find underground popularity in their native Finland but remain relatively obscure internationally until the Crows Fly Black album in 2007. Nightwish’s rise to mega-fame is in the history books, with Hietala as one of the players that made their 2004 album, Once, an international breakthrough. And now, after three Nightwish studio albums under his belt with a fourth on the horizon, he has released Pyre Of The Black Heart, a low-key solo record. It originally surfaced as a Finnish version – Mustan Sydämen Rovio – issued in the spring of 2019; news of an English version hit later in the year with an early 2020 release planned as Hietala, record label Nuclear Blast, and the rest of the world gear up for the new Nightwish record, Human. :II: Nature., due in April of this year.
“I’ve been working on this album for the last couple of years, but we didn’t get into any hype for it until we were ready to put it out,” Hietala explains. “That made it easier because we didn’t have to deal with any extra pressure. There is always some pressure that you put on yourself when you’re releasing something new, of course, but we didn’t have any of that from the outside, which was good. It’s been a long time dream as a musician to do something like this, and now was the time. Nightwish was taking a sabbatical and I had enough material. Some of the pieces go back as much as 15 years, but most of the songs became concrete over the last four years or so. Then, two-and-a-half years ago we started putting this together. There were a few things that got in the way as we were making this, but it all came together.”
German bashers M.I.GOD. have been kicking around for close to 20 years, releasing albums as time and resources allow, earning themselves a small but respectable following along the way. The international market was never the focus so there was never a serious push in that direction, but after the release of the Floor 29 album in 2012 things went quiet, messing up any forward momentum they may have had. This year the band returned with Specters On Parade, an album unlike anything in the M.I.GOD. catalogue. Meant as a concept record, reviews have been all over the map, with one reviewer going so far as to simply call the album “shit.” The band good-naturedly shared said small-minded review via social media, knowing full well that no matter how poorly some people react to Specters On Parade, it is most certainly not the slab of crap they would have you believe.
In actual fact, Specters On Parade is the best album M.I.GOD. has released to date and it’s worthy of international attention.
Vocalist / founder Max Chemnitz discussed the new prog-metal monster a few days after a harrowing live experience – “all kinds of technical problems, I couldn’t hear anything” – that turned out far better than anticipated, with the crowd chanting “M.I.GOD.” at the end of the band’s set.
“Some of the reviews for Specters On Parade, you can tell that the people are just listening to the music because they are curious about what we’re doing, and after that first listen they wrote the review,” says Chemnitz. “There are some journalists that say the album is good, the parts are well played and all that, but they didn’t get the concept, they didn’t get what we intended to do.”
Canadian bashers Kobra And The Lotus kicked off 2018 in the best position they’ve ever been in over the course of the band’s 10 year career. After years of riding the record label carousel, numerous line-up changes, and vocalist Kobra Paige’s battle with Lyme disease that severely reduced the band’s ability to tour, Kobra And The Lotus landed at Napalm Records. The growing label saw worth in the band’s mad scheme (for a small act) to release a double album, promptly developing a plan to market and promote the record, enabling KATL to get back on the road. The proposed Prevail album was divided into two parts by the label, with Prevail I released in May 2017. The record hit the Independent (Soundscan) and Heatseekers charts, yielding three singles (four if you count pre-release taster “Trigger Pulse”). All in all, a fantastic restart for a band that has waded through its share of industry bullshit and personal issues. Prevail II continues this run, charting in similar fashion to Prevail I and seeing Kobra And The Lotus on the road yet again, as it should be.
Paige spoke with BraveWords last year about the motivation behind Prevail I and II, and prior to hitting the road she picked up the thread regarding how the band managed to divide the songs between the two albums – 21 in total, plus bonus material – and create a balance to work in their favour.
“It was pretty stressful at first trying to figure out what to do with all the music we had,” Paige admits. “All we knew is that we wanted it to be equally balanced between the two albums. What really helped us was that Napalm Records chose some of the songs that went on Prevail I. They chose ‘Trigger Pulse’ and ‘You Don’t Know’, and in my head ‘Light Me Up’ had a similar vibe, ‘Gotham’ seemed to match with ‘Trigger Pulse’, so that laid the groundwork. And because we had the one instrumental on Prevail I (‘Check The Phyrg’) it made sense to put the other one (‘Ribe’) on Prevail II.”
Considering the amount of work that went into writing songs for what is essentially a double album, it’s surprising to hear that Kobra And The Lotus were so willing to hand off choosing the track running order(s) to the record label.
“It wasn’t really that hard. We really felt strongly about ‘Trigger Pulse’ for some reason and it went from there. Honestly, it was a relief to have Napalm’s input because once they explained why it would be better to release Prevail in two parts rather than all at once, it made sense. It was really strange but cool that everything just fit into place doing the whole Prevail thing.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: KOBRA AND THE LOTUS – Success In The Snakepit
In 2016, Canada’s former Metal Queen turned rock icon Lee Aaron released what was viewed by many as her comeback album, Fire And Gasoline. Not particularly accurate in that she’s been releasing music and touring ever since she went “away” in 1996 – more on that later – but the album was in fact her first full-on rock release since 1994. Whether it was as strong as her work from the ’80s and early ’90s is a matter of taste, but Fire And Gasoline laid the groundwork and kicked open a few doors to allow for renewed interest in her career and an impressive follow-up album, Diamond Baby Blues. It’s a record that serves up no-nonsense blues-heavy rock n’ roll and shows off yet another side of Lee Aaron’s musical personality. It’s also a message that says she’s still in it for the long haul thanks to Fire And Gasoline, ready to take another bold step forward.
“It feels fantastic because I’m making records that I really love and really want to make,” Lee says of Diamond Baby Blues. “There’s no record company pressure like there used to be to create art that fits into a mold. I’m able to create art that I like and I love, and work with the people I want to work with. The biggest stressors for me these days are balancing family, my children, because they’re still in school and they need a lot of support. And not only are the navigating academia, they’re dealing with social dynamics and hormones so they really need their parents to be around. I strive to keep a balance between my personal life and music. It’s always a delicate dance. It certainly keeps your feet on the ground, it keeps you humble because just when you think you’re pretty special, you’re not (laughs).”
It turns out that Fire And Gasoline was the jump-off point for the creation of Diamond Baby Blues, but not in the traditional sense of album release / feedback / tour / feedback = renewed energy and inspiration.
“Believe it or not, this album was already recorded and mostly finished when we went on tour last summer,” Lee reveals. “We recorded it on Spring Break because everyone had some time; we went out to the studio and laid down all the bedtracks, and I had most of the vocals done before the tour. From there it was just some small things to fix up like backing vocals and extra keyboard parts. We were just so excited from the response we got for Fire And Gasoline, so I just booked some studio time and said ‘Okay, we’re going in on March Break…’ but we didn’t know what we were going to do (laughs). I talked about doing some covers that I always wanted to record, and the suggestion of doing an album of half covers, half originals came up. Then came the question of how we wanted to approach that. Some people do covers records that are an homage to a certain artist, like doing all David Bowie songs or all Led Zeppelin songs, but our idea was to take these songs we’d chosen, deconstruct them and make them our own, and we made that the template for the (original) songs we wanted to write. But, we knew we were going in more of a rootsy, hard blues direction before we even wrote the material.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: LEE AARON – Blues Maiden Canada
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.
“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”
The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?
“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: AYREON – A Kind Of Prog Metal Magic
It’s been seven years since Norway’s #1 loved and loathed black metal export Dimmu Borgir released their ninth album, Abrahadabra. Not the best record in the band’s catalogue according to many a fan, but more than enough time has passed to warrant a crushing return to glory… which makes Dimmu Borgir’s decision to release a live DVD / Blu-ray package featuring performances over five years old confusing. Make no mistake; Forces Of The Northern Night is a beautifully crafted memoir for diehard followers featuring the band performing two special shows with a full symphony orchestra and choir, but after this amount of time people were expecting brand new music. According to guitarist Silenoz, the fans only need to stretch their collective patience until the end of the year because there is in fact a method to their current madness.
“We did some touring with Abrahadabra but not that much, and we took a break that just got longer and longer,” Silenoz says of Dimmu Borgir’s prolonged silence. “We’ve never been the typical run-of-the-mill band that records an album, goes on tour, records an album, goes back on tour. We’ve always taken our time and it works for us, which is the only formula we have.”
The break from touring and recording played a big role in enabling the band to pull off the two shows featured on Forces Of The Northern Night – first in 2011 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Schola Cantorum Choir (KORK) in Oslo, then with the Czech National Orchestra at the Wacken Open Air 2012 – and compile the material for official release.
“It really takes a lot of preparation to pull off something like the orchestral shows, and it’s been a dream of ours for many years to be able to perform with a live orchestra since we’ve utilised symphony orchestra on our albums. It was just a matter of time until it happened, and it was great that the orchestra approached us about doing it rather than the other way around. That’s what made it feasible for us to be able to do it. Then the Wacken Open Air asked us if we could do a special orchestra show in 2012, and because we did it the year before one thing just led to another. Next thing we know, we’re playing this epic show in front of 80,000 people with 100 people on stage, and we didn’t really have a soundcheck (laughs).” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DIMMU BORGIR – Night Comes Out Of Black
In 2014, Sanctuary fans celebrated when the legendary metal outfit made their four year reunion official with the release in The Year The Sun Died. The music was distinctly Sanctuary courtesy of guitarist Lenny Rutledge’s style, albeit fatter and heavier thanks to modern day production values, but some people were put off by the absence of frontman Warrel Dane’s – formerly of Nevermore – signature ’80s high end vocals and assorted shrieks. It was an unfair criticism given Sanctuary’s classic albums Refuge Denied and Into The Mirror Black were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively – the man’s voice had simply aged with him – and it certainly wasn’t enough to halt the band’s forward momentum. Work is building slowly for a follow-up, tentatively titled Dead Again, but in the meantime Sanctuary fans can feast on Inception. Dubbed a prequel to Refuge Denied, the record features remixed and remastered demo recordings from 1986 that were all but forgotten until Rutledge stumbled across them by accident.
“I didn’t realize they were stored where they were stored,” Rutledge says in what has become a well worn story by this point. “I did some recordings of other bands in the mid-’90s, so I would find miscellaneous tapes here and there; they weren’t stored in any organized fashion. I’d forgotten about the Sanctuary tapes. I have a two-storey barn and the top floor is all messed up, it leaks, there are squirrels and birds up there… it’s just like a barn on any property. The lower part was converted into a studio, which is really nice, so going upstairs you’re in a completely different world (laughs). I happened to be up there looking for some stuff and I came across the box that had those particular Sanctuary tapes in it. It was a surprise to find them, and to find them in the condition they were in. My heart kinda sank because those tapes had been up there for 15 years, and when I discovered them I was sure I made a big mistake by not keeping track of them.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: SANCTUARY – Revisiting The Past Through The Looking Glass
On the one hand, big budget live DVDs seem like a pointless investment now that YouTube is king. Then again, with hundreds of hours of bootleg footage online showcasing or plaguing a band until the end of time once uploaded, there’s an artistic need for an artist to present their work in the best possible light. Nightwish started releasing live DVD material long before online video sharing became the entity it is today, issuing material in three year cycles (approximately) to capture each chapter on their journey to greatness. Folks paying attention to that particular aspect of the Nightwish catalogue, therefore, weren’t surprised when news came down that the band was releasing Vehicle Of Spirit to commemorate their Endless Forms Most Beautiful world tour. Just how necessary it is can be debated, particularly since the Showtime, Storytime DVD from 2013 – shot at the Wacken Open Air in Germany – is a very hard act to follow if you’re a fan of live retrospectives. It’s doubtful the diehard fans are complaining, however, with shows from 2015 shot in Tampere, Finland and London, England featured along with live clips from around the world.
“We started planning the Vehicle Of Spirit DVD as we planned the tour for Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” says vocalist Floor Jansen. “We knew that we didn’t just want to document one concert, but rather to show more faces of Nightwish on tour around the world. We have a varied setlist, we play different sizes of stages – in Germany, for example, it’s massive, and in the US things are much smaller – and a show in China looks different from a show in Finland. We wanted to document the world tour, and as the planning of the show evolved we chose the London show at Wembley because it was the biggest and very special. This was definitely something that was planned from the beginning.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: NIGHTWISH – A Four Year Fantasy On The Open Road
Many people in our line of sonic debauchery refer to Motörhead as a metal band even though legendary frontman Lemmy always insisted they played rock n’ roll. Not surprisingly, nobody ever dared to argue the point with Mr. Kilmister (that we know of). Thus, if you’re looking for a metal band cut from the Motörhead cloth it’s best to cast an ear in Witchery’s direction. Born from the ashes of Satanic Slaughter 20 years ago, the Swedish quintet originally consisting of members from The Haunted, Arch Enemy and Seance gained a faithful cult following from the get-go with their 1998 debut, Restless And Dead. During a BW&BK interview in 1999 for the band’s Witchburner EP, guitarist Patrik Jensen (The Haunted) put forth Witchery’s plan of adopting a ’70s-era KISS approach and releasing at least an album a year, and with Symphony For The Devil hitting the shelves in 2001 it seemed they might succeed. Unfortunately, real life and other band commitents managed to scuttle those plans, leaving Witchery to assemble only as time permitted, yielding only three albums in 10 years. In fact, their new record, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service, comes a whopping six years after their last outing, Witchkrieg.
“You know what they say; as you grow older time moves faster, ” says Jensen. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been six years but then I look at the calendar and it’s ‘Oh my God, we’re celebrating 20 years of Witchery, we need to make an album…’ (laughs).”
“But that’s the problem we’ve had since 2003 because that’s around about when Angela (Gossow) joined Arch Enemy and things started to go really well for them,” he continues, referring to bassist Sharlee D’Angelo’s top priority and the resulting space between Witchery albums. “The Haunted took off around that time, and I think that’s when Martin (Axenrot / drums) joined Opeth. We were really active between 1997 to 2003 and then things got difficult for us because there were so many conflicting schedules. It’s crazy. We discovered that it was just as hard to get this album out as any other year we’ve done an album because it’s hard to get everyone together. That’s why Martin decided to gracefully bow out; he didn’t want to make it a problem for Witchery to continue releasing albums. The way he put it, ‘It’s not like I don’t have a band I’m going to tour the world with…’ (laughs). We love the guy and we’re still friends, so there’s no animosity. Something had to change and he offered his place up; we found Chris (Barkensjö) to play drums and he’s not as busy as Martin so it’s easier to get rehearsals going. On top of that, Martin was a very sophisticated and tasteful player even before he joined Opeth, whereas I’m more of a Ramones / early Motörhead kind of player. Chris is the same way; he sounds like our first drummer, so having him in the band brought back that old Witchery feeling we had on Restless And Dead. Not only could we get back to rehearsing, we kind of got our old sound back.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: WITCHERY – Sonic Healing For The 6Sick6