By Carl Begai
This interview took place towards the end of Kamelot’s 2013 European tour in support of their latest album, Silverthorn. By all accounts – band, fans, YouTube footage – it was a successful run that saw the band play to packed houses every night. The show on this particular night, in Munich, went off without a hitch as far as anyone on the floor could tell, with Kamelot attacking the stage like the seasoned veterans they are, playing to the audience rather than merely for them, accompanied by one of the most impressive lightshows ever seen in a rock club (seriously… and without pyro). It was a far cry from the band’s first European tour – their first road trip ever, in fact – back in 1998 with Elegy, which showcased a band that was understandably green performing to half empty rooms. A potentially demoralizing experience on one hand, but the taste was enough to make Kamelot want to push forward. Success at a level where the band became a day job was along time coming, but it’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you focus on and devote your time and energy to something you really want.
“You don’t have any pictures from that ’98 tour, do you?” laughs guitarist Thomas Youngblood.
Actually, I do. I’ll wait to be tapped for the Kamelot biography to publish them.
“When you get started you want to be like Iron Maiden, but then you start realizing how difficult that is,” says Youngblood with regards to the band’s success. “But the way things are nowadays in the industry, there aren’t a lot of bands that can get to that level. I think we’re fortunate we’ve been able to grow and maintain this band over the past 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a testament to working hard and making some smart decisions, and having killer fans.”
Kamelot’s biggest test came with the surprise departure of vocalist Roy Khan in September 2010, mere days before the Poetry For The Poisoned tour was due to begin. The band downplayed the seriousness of the situation at the time – they could realistically have lost their collective shirt financially due to pre-tour expenses and unfulfilled contracts – and managed to save face by finding the best possible replacement for Khan in Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.
“We didn’t think anything bad about that in terms of coming out of it intact,” Youngblood insists. “I’ve seen a lot of bands do that successfully, and I think a lot of people forget how many acts have actually had to do that. We’ve grown into different territories since then. We played Australia for the first time with Silverthorn, we’ve done different parts of Asia like Korea and Taiwan, and the US is a much bigger market for us now.” (continue reading…)
So, once again, a wrap-up of the Hots and Nots from the year gone by courtesy of my day job at BW&BK. The whole rundown of Brave Embarrassments, Best Concerts, assorted predictions and pleas to stop music industry stupidity can all be found here.
Below you’ll find my Top 10 list of favourite albums of 2013 and a long-winded summary of why the year didn’t suck for music… at least in my world.
Top Ten – 2013
1) ANNIHILATOR – Feast (UDR)
2) CHILDREN OF BODOM – Halo Of Blood (Nuclear Blast)
3) STRYPER – No More Hell To Pay (Frontiers)
4) QUEENSRŸCHE – s/t (Century Media)
5) HEADSTONES – Love & Fury (Universal/Frostbyte)
6) DUSKMACHINE – Duskmachine (Massacre)
7) THE NEW BLACK – III: Cut Loose (AFM)
8) JAMES LABRIE – Impermanent Resonance (InsideOut)
9) THRAWSUNBLAT – Wanderer On The Continent Of Saplings (Ignifera Records)
10) HELLOWEEN – Straight Out Of Hell (Sony)
By Carl Begai
Reviewing a power metal band is no more rocket scientific than the music itself. Babble on about divine guitar shred, godlike vocals, throw around terms like “old school” and “traditional” and you’re done. And while this formula has been applied to Primal Fear in the past, to do so in discussing their new outing, Delivering The Black, would be a huge disservice to the band and the fans. Primal Fear is one of those rare acts that, 10 studio albums into their career, are more vital and vibrant than they were at the beginning, and anyone that’s been following them since 1998 will have one hell of a time arguing the point in 2014. Picking up where Unbreakable (2012) left off and leaving said record choking in the dust, Delivering The Black is a brilliant energetic romp through familiar territory on a level that will make it a go-to classic of the genre 20 years from now.
Delivering The Black grabs hold immediately with ‘King For A Day’, seals the deal with ‘Rebel Faction’, and digs its claws so damn deep it’s a shock, especially if you’re expecting ho-hum power metal-isms. The guitar riffs are huge at the hands of Magnus Karlsson, Alex Beyrodt and founder/producer/bassist Mat Sinner, while drummer Randy Black delivers some of the best steel backbone work of his career (‘King For A Day’, ‘Inseminoid’, ‘Rebel Faction’, ‘Delivering The Black’). As for vocalist Ralf Scheepers…. pffffff… the man has come a LONG way since his days with Gamma Ray and Primal Fear’s early albums. He still has one of the best high-pitched shrieks this side of Tim “Ripper Owens, Rob Halford and Kai Hansen, and his low-end voice now boasts grit, balls and character that sets him well apart from his aforementioned peers. Fact is it’s hard to pick Scheepers’ crowning moment on Delivering The Black because there are so damn many of ‘em (although ‘Rebel Faction’ is probably the best track to sum up his overall performance). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In spite of what you may have heard, Mephisto is in fact French Canadian. And female.
This is a well worn fact amongst Kamelot fans, as vocalist Alissa White-Gluz – best known for fronting The Agonist – has played the role for the band’s epic set-closing ‘March Of Mephisto’ for over a year. And with all due respect to the other singers that have taken on the part since the song came to life on The Black Halo album – Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir), Snowy Shaw (Therion), Mark Jansen (Epica), Alexander Krull (Atrocity, Leaves’ Eyes), Paul Zinay (Blackguard) – Alissa owns it, hands down. You’d be hard pressed to find a Kamelot fan to argue against the suggestion that she’s become an integral part of the show.
“I’m doing what Elize was doing before,” Alissa says of her work with Kamelot, referring to Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd. “I do her parts as well as my own, like on ‘Sacrimony’, backing vocals, and the female voices that turn up in the band’s other songs. It’s a totally different show from The Agonist, which is funny because Kamelot toured with Delain in the US and the first show of The Agonist’s European tour was where Charlotte (Wessels/vocals) from Delain lives. She came to see us play and she was like ‘What the hell? You’re a completely different person up there…’ (laughs). She saw me doing the Kamelot thing for a month, so she was shocked to see how the whole death metal vocals are a big part of what I do outside of Kamelot. It was a lot of fun.”
Anyone familiar with The Agonist never would have figured on Alissa taking a job with a symphonic power metal outfit. Take a listen to any song in their catalogue other than her a capella rendition of ‘Swan Lake’ and you can’t hear the connection. Alissa will tell you different, however, and that she’s actually drawn to Kamelot’s sound.
“I think it’s because even though I perform the death metal stuff I’m not a death metal person. As much as I love the heaviness of The Agonist’s songs, it’s fun to actually be able to hear what’s going on in the music (laughs).”
As for switching from her hell bent Agonist attack to a slightly more civilized approach for Kamelot, Alissa reveals that switching gears wasn’t a problem ever after jumping from one European tour to another in the space of a week.
“I thought it would be hard to switch between the two but it was actually super easy. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to be a drummer or something where I could just sit back and watch the show, and not have too much attention on me. Now I’m kind of doing that with Kamelot, which is cool.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It’s fair to say that M:Pire Of Evil – featuring former Venom members Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (vocals/bass) and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn (guitars) with Marc “JXN” Jackson (drums) – gave 2013 a solid ass-kicking. Between a new album, festival dates, one-off club shows and a European tour with Onslaught the trio were busy from March through December, bent on building up momentum for an even busier 2014. There were a few setbacks along the way, of course, the biggest one of the bunch seeing Dunn sidelined for the first week of the Onslaught tour due to a back injury. That didn’t stop the M:Pire from delivering, however, with Dolan and Jackson hitting the stage as a duo supported by temporary Onslaught guitarist Leigh Chambers (ex-Collapse); a mark of real integrity and all out balls if there ever was one.
Chambers, it turns out, was the only guitarist on a four band bill that dared to step into Dunn’s shoes, learning a Venom song a day over a matter of hours to offer M:Pire Of Evil fans more than just a rhythm section bludgeoning. A nerve-wracking experience for the three musicians but their efforts were well appreciated all around.
“I told Leigh not to try and play like Jeff, just to play like himself playing that music,” says Dolan. “When he plays with Onslaught it’s very precise, there are lot of twists and turns and stops and accents. He has to really be on it. He didn’t have time to do that with us, so we kept it as loose as we could so it sounded like Venom. The idea was that if he wandered, he wandered, and if he couldn’t remember a lick or whatever Leigh just did what he felt like. He just had to put his heart into it and that’s what the kid did.”
“The one thing I didn’t want to do, which was difficult, was compromise ourselves,” he adds. “We just said ‘Fuck it!’ and got up there and just did it. Having Leigh on stage with us made things a little less stressful. Mikey from Onslaught asked us if we were going to get rid of Jeff as Leigh learned more of the songs (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
In recent years, Primal Fear bassist Mat Sinner has crossed over from the realms of metal and become a familiar face / presence to the mainstream rock crowd in parts of Europe. As one of the masterminds behind Rock Meets Classic – which is exactly what it sounds like – he has seen what started as a grand touring experiment morph into a highly anticipated packed-to-the-rafters annual event. Boasting the Mat Sinner Band and the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague as its foundation, Rock Meets Classic is gearing up for its fifth run in March / April 2014 featuring some of the finest rock vocalists/musicians the ’70s and ’80s has to offer. Previous outings with Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Steve Lukather (Toto), Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Eric Bazilian (The Hooters) went over a storm, appealing to everyone from the unwashed metalheads to the husbands / wives that get out maybe twice a year, to the 65+ year-old pensioners who dress their best for the occasion. The 2014 installment of Rock Meets Classic is shaping up to be another blast for everyone involved regardless of whether they’re on stage or in the audience.
And while their names may not fill the seats to the extent the featured artists do, Sinner is equally focused on enlisting top notch musicians as members of the Rock Meets Classic backbone. No small wonder the roster hasn’t changed very much since the first run and now features four-fifths of Primal Fear
“If I’m able to give jobs to my bandmates so that they make some decent money on a nice tour, I will,” says Sinner. “And there’s a social part to it, where for example I’m not going to give the drummer position away to another drummer when I have Randy Black. I know Randy can play all this stuff, he’s got the skills, and I know he’s a big fan of some of these singers. Everybody was very, very happy with him on the last Rock Meets Classic tour. He told me he had the time of his life, so of course he wants to do the tour next year. If I can give something back to these guys, there’s nothing wrong with that.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Primal Fear’s brand of power metal will never be regarded as competition against bands like Nightwish, Dream Theater or Soilwork. Nor will their new album Delivering The Black be considered a departure from the material they’ve released 15+ years and 10 albums into their career. You’d be hard pressed to argue, however, that Primal Fear haven’t evolved by leaps and bounds since their 1998 self-titled debut. The new album’s lead-off track ‘King For A Day’ on its own is enough to push the point home that Primal Fear in is a much stronger and far more aggressive animal going in to 2014. Listen to Delivering The Black as a whole and it’s no small wonder the band is sharing if not outright stealing the spotlight from their power metal peers these days.
“I’m very happy with it,” Sinner says of Delivering The Black, soft spoken as always. “There are subjects on the album that I like more than what we did before, and that’s important for me because if there’s no evolution in the band and no difference between albums I wouldn’t be pleased. Mostly the evolution is in the songwriting and production, and it definitely shows. I think Unbreakable (from 2012) was the most successful Primal Fear album worldwide, so it wasn’t the point to change the style of music or re-invent Primal Fear with a different approach. The next step after Unbreakable was to make this kind of music, which the fans love, even better. We worked hard on the guitar parts because the guitars are the main instruments in Primal Fear, pushing Randy (Black/drums) to a new level, and making Ralf (Scheepers/vocals) better than he ever was. Those were our targets.”
Sinner makes no bones about Unbreakable being in the band’s rear view mirror while they were putting Delivering The Black together. This self-imposed pressure paid off in the end judging by reactions from the press and the folks in charge of deciding when and how (and if) the album is promoted.
“Unbreakable was great in our view and in the eyes of the fans. Even our record company (Frontiers), which is more into melodic rock, was totally enthusiastic about the new album. And our Germany / Austria / Switzerland distributor, Soulfood – which are three very important territories for us because we sell a lot of records there – they were totally blown away and convinced the record company to produce some special limited edition formats this time. Everyone has been really surprised about the sound, the power and the energy on the album. Their reactions proved that we had the right vision and that we’re on the right track with the new record. So basically, the business people think we’ve delivered a better album than Unbreakable.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
When it was announced in July 2013 that Nightwish would be filming their Wacken Open Air show for a future DVD release, it was a no-brainer hint that stand-in vocalist Floor Jansen had been elevated beyond temporary status. No band, not even a moneymaker like Nightwish, is going to blow their wad on a massive production like Showtime, Storytime featuring a singer with her days numbered. Keyboardist / mastermind Tuomas Holopainen confirmed as much in a separate interview (found here), admitting the decision to keep Jansen around was made during the summer even though Nightwish waited until October to make the news official. An exercise in patience and sitting on her proverbial hands for Jansen, to be sure.
“It was a challenge keeping it quiet, that’s for sure,” she agrees. “That’s the sort of thing where you just want to scream it to everybody, but even on the day itself I couldn’t really share the news with anyone. Only a few people knew. I’m happy the DVD is out now so I don’t have to worry about hiding the news anymore.”
“The DVD is a great way for people to sort of get used to my sound and hear how Nightwish has been part of my life for the last year,” Jansen adds. “It’s also a nice introduction for the new studio album. The documentary is a fantastic look behind-the-scenes because there’s so much mystery around Nightwish, so it gives a little peek at the guys. These days everyone can anonymously throw shit at people online, and I think the DVD shows a certain humanity and a different face of the band.”
For anyone living under a rock, Jansen got the job fronting Nightwish in the wake of the mid-tour booting of previous Nightwish singer, Anette Olzon, in October 2012. Jansen’s entrance was a troubleshooting effort that paid off as she gradually made the songs and the stage – and ultimately the band – her own. Quite the accomplishment considering she’d been sidelined since 2011 recovering from a burnout that put her post-After Forever band ReVamp on ice. And there’s nothing quite like recovering from being a mess by joining one of the most popular metal bands on the planet at the last minute.
“(Laughs) Definitely, but the peaks of the mountains seem even higher when you’ve been down really, really low. There was a period of a year-and-a-half where I wasn’t able to do anything. Getting asked to join Nightwish for the tour put everything back in balance and forced me to really consider what I want to do. At the same time it was really difficult because I was burnt out. When I slowly got my energy back and was able to think straight, I started to feel a lust for music. My normal levels of ambition started to come back, and just as I was making plans for ReVamp I got the call from Nightwish. That was a year ago and it’s been a non-stop run since. Hard work and doing a lot has never been a problem for me; it’s just the way of doing things that can be a challenge.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
So, Finnish classical metalhead quartet Apocalyptica have issued an audio-visual tribute to famed composer Richard Wagner. So what, right? Three cellists and a drummer paying homage to one of the greats in classical music is hardly a stretch for folks that cut their teeth in the realms of the genre; at least one would think so. But, in actual fact Wagner Reloaded – a live performance shot in Leipzig, Germany to celebrate the anniversary of the composer’s 200th birthday – is the band’s most ambitious project to date. On top of original music composed in the spirit of Wagner by Apocalyptica mastermind Eicca Toppinen, the production features a choreography, dancers numbering close to 100, projectors, moving props, and even a fire breathing dragon. Wagner Reloaded is a bold theater piece more than anything, so damn big that the script probably came stamped with “Logistical Nightmare” on the cover.
Begging the simple question: Why?
“It was really intriguing to be a part of it,” laughs drummer Mikko Sirén, agreeing that the project does sound slightly insane. “We’ve been asked to do all kinds of classical collaborations and projects over the years, and it finally felt tight. The choreographer Gregor Seyffert is behind it all; it was his vision to do this kind of project, and it was that vision that made it really interesting for us to work with the guy. He’s renowned in his own field, he’s a beyond amazing dancer and choreographer, and his energy in how he approaches things inspired us.”
“The whole production idea comes from Gregor, and when we first started talking about it he was saying stuff like ‘The stage is going to be 60 meters long…’ and we were laughing our asses off. ‘Yeah yeah, 60 meters my ass’ (laughs). A lot of times you meet people with crazy visions and no reality behind it, so when this started to evolve and we saw the place we couldn’t believe our eyes. Everything Gregor said was exactly so, and sometimes even bigger than what he’d said.”
“We were very happy with Gregor’s approach. Wagner is a controversial person and there’s lots of shit written about him, but in the classical works he’s the kind of person that you can’t criticize even though you should. Wagner was kind of a dick when it came to his political views, so we were careful and precise in making sure that people wouldn’t see Apocalyptica as sharing Wagner’s political ideas. For us this was only about the music.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia that makes The Alcohollys so damn attractive, or it could be the wave of relief caused by hearing real music in an age when the tripe that passes for pop rock lacks brains, soul and integrity. A clever mix of The Go-Go’s, The Cars and The Ramones, the Canadian all-female quartet surfaced earlier this year with the three-songs-delivered-as-two Flashback EP, and the thing that immediately hits home is how bloody ’70s / ’80s organic authentic they sound. Title track ‘Flashback To ’93′ is guaranteed to rivet fans of pop-punk to the floor thanks to the in-your-face delivery and what’s become their trademark synth backhand courtesy of vocalist Kimber Heart. ‘Death Riot / Demolition In Speed City’ is a slick mix of The Ramones and ’70s prog (seriously), ranking for the moment as the best track The Alcohollys have released to date. A matter of taste to be sure, but it’s an unexpected kick in the balls.
Released this month (December 2013), Girls Night is the second tease from the band as they (hopefully) gear up for a full length record. The title track is a straight-up punk ditty too smart for The Offspring crowd and somehow reminiscent of The Vincent Black Shadow, while the mid-tempo ‘Lock Stock Lola’ is a top-to-bottom Go-Go’s / Cars flavoured anthem. Biggest surprise of the moment is ‘Nobody’s Perfect (But This Is Getting Ridiculous)’ which somehow manages to channel the Foo Fighters yet keeps the brazen sunshine-and-happiness vibe that’s woven through all five tracks. (continue reading…)