By Carl Begai

When asked about her short tenure with Japanese melodic death/trance metal outifit Blood Stain Child – two years and one album in total – Greek vocalist Sophia looks back on it as a bittersweet experience. The split was anything but amicable, with Sophia harbouring a certain amount of resentment with regards to how and why things fell apart. Rather than letting the bad taste left in her mouth poison her love for making music, Sophia did what any genuine artist does: she buckled down to create something bigger and better than her previous outing. Season Of Ghosts is her new lease on life, a labour of love that pushed Sophia’s creativity to an entirely new level for the debut album planned for later this year, The Human Paradox.

SOG1

“It’s a pretty crazy mixture of everything and anything I represent and believe in,” says Sophia without missing a beat. “And my co-producer Zombie Sam was a great helping hand during the whole process because he has the classical knowledge to interpret my ideas exactly. I have classical knowledge of my own but I’m not very good with software yet and that’s what it came down to. I can program the basics, but going from what I know about programming to what I wanted to do for Season Of Ghosts, there was a huge gap. I gave Sam my piano scripts, music scores and an overwhelming bulk of notes, and I told him to use this piano sound, that instrument or the other to make it sound Frankenstein because that represents me (laughs). He tried it once, twice, and I was getting frustrated by about the 10th time, but once he got it right we worked from that point forward like a clock.”

Sophia is known first and foremost as a singer, but it’s important to establish the fact that she built the musical foundation for Season Of Ghosts herself. She didn’t hire a group of songwriters to create material according to a wishlist; the tracks started out as personal compositions that grew into full-blown songs over time.

“For this album I started with piano and guitar, and I just let myself go so that I was free to imagine what a certain song should sound like. I’d say 90% of the songs on the album started with the piano or guitar melody, and only 10% – really just one song – started with the vocal melody. I built the foundation and then I imagined the vocal parts.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

In this day and age female fronted metal bands are normal part of everyday life. They are so common, in fact, that it’s a waste of breath making the distinction between them and bands with a hairy, ugly guy behind the microphone. There was a time, however, when the idea of a woman fronting a full-on metal band was dismissed by metal fans and press alike as absurd. The world accepted Doro Pesch fronting Warlock and Sabina Classen leading Holy Moses in the ’80s, sure, but it wasn’t until the rise of The 3rd And The Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre Of Tragedy in the early ’90s that the movement towards equality in metal truly began. Now, in celebration of a revolution that launched an entirely new musical genre, vocalists Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd And The Mortal), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) and Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (Leaves’ Eyes, Theatre Of Tragedy) have united for a journey into the past presented live on stage: The Sirens.

The Sirens

The seeds for The Sirens were planted when Anneke approached Kari in early 2013 with the proposal of doing a duet for her Drive album (released in 2013). Regarded by Anneke as an inspiration going in to do The Gathering’s breakthrough album, Mandylion, her intention was to pay tribute to Kari via the collaboration. The song didn’t make the final cut as it didn’t fit the album, but they remained in touch. Then, in July 2013 Anneke and Liv had a chance meeting at the Masters Of Rock festival in the Czech Republic, and The Sirens concept was born.

“We had a few minutes only to talk in between our gigs,” Liv recalls, “but we agreed that we really should get together and tour. We both had to smile then, thinking that we were, with Kari, the ‘originals’ within our scene. Moreover, all three of us being mothers and still highly busy in music and art. Anneke told me that she had just talked to Kari, and that was the ‘go’ for The Sirens”

It would be fair to call Kari the catalyst for The Sirens, as both Anneke and Liv saw her as a role model when they first made their way into music.

“I find it hard to believe that I once inspired them,” Kari admits, “but if so it is truly flattering. It is a fantastic feeling to know that I will be singing live with two such amazing vocalists!”

The Sirens tour will be split into two parts, including festival appearances, and staged at the end of 2014 in October and December. It will be a full concert showcasing the trio, one band, and a setlist featuring songs from The 3rd And The Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre Of Tragedy as well as tracks from Kari, Anneke and Liv’s respective solo careers. They will sing alone, perform duets, capping off the night with all three of them on stage, with a show that is expected to clock in at around 100 minutes each night. Thus, it’s a trip down memory lane produced for the here and now with brand new and unexpected elements, making The Sirens a nostalgia-fuelled reminder of who started it all and why it worked. And at the end of the night nobody will leave disappointed. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

The departure of vocalist Angela Gossow should have and probably would have destroyed Arch Enemy had the situation not been handled with the elegance and intelligence that it was. Fact is her entrance in 2000 is what yanked the band out of the underground and put them through the roof, and only the devout Johan Liiva followers from way back wanted to see her gone. She left the ranks gracefully, and with the ultimate parting shot: choosing singer Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist) as her successor. It’s amazing what a lack of drama and a new focus can accomplish; in this case, the creation of Arch Enemy’s strongest album since Anthems Of Rebellion, possibly their best ever. Beg to differ all you want, but to these ears the Arch Enemy war machine has sounded increasingly tired in recent years, not quite spinning its wheels but definitely in need of a tune-up. War Eternal is the battle cry of an armed-to-the-teeth new model strike force.

War Eternal

Simply put, War Eternal epitomizes melodic death metal; emphasis on “melodic.” There are truckloads of melody woven, stacked, and layered through the full length of the record, to the point of guitarist / braintrust Michael Amott being wonderfully obnoxious about it. Even the heaviest tracks on the record – ‘Never Forgive Never Forget’, ‘As The Pages Burn’, ‘No More Regrets’, ‘Stolen Life’, ‘Avalanche’ – are built around miles and miles of melody-based hooks that never get dull. And even when it sounds like there’s potential for cheesy softness around the edges, as on ‘You Will Know My Name’ and ‘Time Is Black’ (thanks to the latter’s symphonic / keyboard backbone) the damn hook-and-melody attack works wonders. And there’s the title track, a bloody anthem for the ages that I daresay may be one of the finest Arch Enemy songs ever written, second only to ‘Nemesis’. Depends on how you like your AE, of course, but what may sound like head-in-the-clouds accolades will at least give you an idea of the infectious high quality of the material. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Every so often an album comes along that forces you to give your head a shake and re-evaluate your opinions. Folk metal bands in 2014 are a dime a dozen; some are good, some not so much, and very little new ground has been broken since Moonsorrow kicked things off way back when Finntroll, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani clawed their respective ways to join them at the top of the heap. Long-time Estonian headcrushers Metsatöll – an ancient Estonian euphemism for “wolf” – have been plying their trade since 1999 and remained under the radar for most of the journey to all but the diehard folk metal fans. Their new outing Karjajuht is bound to change that if and when it reaches the ears of the right people; basically, anyone that gets off on crushing tribal-assault violence in their music.

Metsatöll 1

It’s been a long trip getting to where they are now, but the Metsatöll quartet are anything but frustrated at not having become a bigger deal sooner.

“Everything happened naturally for us, almost by itself,” says Lauri “Varulven” Õunapuu, sporting what can only be classified as a booming Viking-esque voice. “And I can’t say that it is only because we worked hard. Sometimes it was because somebody said to somebody ‘I know a band that uses Estonian bagpipes…’ and that would get us the attention. People had never heard of such a thing and wanted to hear and see it for themselves. The music that we’re making, when we use traditional Estonian instruments and making metal music, it’s interesting almost by itself even for the innocent bystander (laughs).”

Interesting isn’t the half of it. When the band pull out all the stops on Karjajuht it’s an ominous display of power. If anything, the folk metal label Metsatöll has been stamped with offers up a false sense of security, suggesting a certain elvish elegance that only exists in (very short) fits and bursts on the new record. Nope, Karjajuht is more like the soundtrack to a high-spirited barroom brawl started by Amon Amarth. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Having worked with Midnattsol vocalist Carmen Elise Espenæs over the past 10 years helping to shape her song lyrics, I’m well aware of her being very nature oriented. No, she’s not a hemp-smoking tree-hugger hippie; Carmen is from Norway, which boasts beautiful and often surreal landscapes, offering her a wealth of inspiration for her music. That said, it came as no surprise to learn the cover art for the self-titled debut from her new band, Savn, was a real down-to-earth photograph rather than a cut-and-tweak image crafted entirely using a computer.

Carmen 3

How the band went about creating the cover shot, however, was an adventure in itself that took months to complete.

“I was thinking about the idea of the deprivation of music since Savn started because of this theme,” Carmen begins, referring to guitarist/founder and former The Sins Of My Beloved member Stig Johansen’s inspiration for starting the band. “I was trying to figure out how we could portray the idea of the deprivation of music in a picture, and because I love nature I had this idea of a musical instrument grown over with plants and roots and things in the woods, as if it hadn’t been played in a long time. Piano is a big part of our music and it’s a beautiful instrument, so that’s what I chose.”

“We found a 200 year old piano for sale, but the deal was we could have it for free if we picked it up ourselves. It was SO heavy and we had to get a lot of people in order to carry it from where we got it to our house.”

The band could have easily dressed up the piano for the shoot, but Carmen was aiming for authenticity as well as image. Even it if meant risking being locked up for seemingly erratic behaviour. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.

Epica 2

“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”

“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”

The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

The cover art on its own should be enough to let people know Space Police – Defenders Of The Crown is an Edguy album. If that doesn’t convince you, a tracklist containing songs entitled ‘Love Tyger’ and ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’ warns folks that vocalist Tobias Sammet is at play once again. We are, after all, talking about the man that wrote the classic ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ and got away with it. All in the name of good clean fun in a dirty world, of course, and Sammet and his bandmates take their fun very seriously.

Edguy4

“That’s what you hear when you’re in a hotel on tour,” Sammet says of ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’, making sure people understand it doesn’t refer to the band members’ personal escapades. “You’re lying there alone in your bed after a show trying to get some sleep because you have an early lobby call, and all of a sudden you hear those weird primal noises from the room next to yours. It sounds something like ‘Do me like a caveman!’ (laughs). I think if I’d used the actual quote for the song we wouldn’t have been able to sell the album to minors.”

As for the Space Police artwork, it’s reminiscent of the animated cheesiness of Edguy’s Rocket Ride album cover from 2006 but isn’t linked or inspired by it according to Sammet.

“What I didn’t like too much about Rocket Ride, although it is good to break down barriers, the cover art was goofy. I don’t think the Space Police cover art is necessarily goofy; it’s got a rock n’ roll attitude and it’s not your typical Dungeons & Dragons power metal artwork. It may have a subtle hint of tongue-in-cheekness, but it’s also very straightforward just like the album is. It’s very flashy and in your face.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Italian vocalist Fabio Lione first made his mark on the international metal scene in 1997 fronting Rhapsody – now known as Rhapody Of Fire for legal reasons – and holds that post to this day. Over the years, however, he has gained a reputation for being a reliable go-to replacement when circumstances make it impossible for a band to operate with their own singer. The most recent example of this was on Gamma Ray’s European tour, which featured Rhapsody Of Fire as support. Vocalist Kai Hansen was battling a serious case of bronchitis that threatened to derail the tour completely, but rather than pack it in they tapped several friends to fill in for Hansen at certain points of the nightly set. Lione pulled double duty for a good portion of the tour, performing a handful of songs for Gamma Ray on top of a full Rhapsody Of Fire set, hammering home performances that showcased just how formidable a vocalist he really is. It’s one thing to cover Helloween’s ‘Future World’ – a Gamma Ray staple that has been done to death – and quite another to nail ‘Empire Of The Undead’, a brand new song that Hansen himself has probably sung live less than 30 times.

Fabio 1_1

Rhapsody Of Fire has been Lione’s top priority since the beginning, but in 2011 he was asked to front Kamelot on tour in place of Roy Khan who had bowed out (and eventually quit) for personal reasons. The Kamelot fanbase was quite naturally resistant to the idea of Lione behind the microphone, but by the end of the tour many fans agreed he had something significant to offer. In the end it was Seventh Wonder vocalist Tommy Karevik that got the job, but Lione’s ties to Kamelot are still intact.

“I love the guys in Kamelot,” says Lione. “I love the band, I love the crew, we had a beautiful tour. I think we did something like 49 shows together in North America, South America and Europe. The response in every place we played was great, so I know that it wasn’t easy for Thomas (Youngblood/guitars) to make the decision to choose someone else. Of course he preferred to get somebody that doesn’t already have a big band because it’s easier to manage the schedule without having to worry about what else is going on. In the end, I appreciate that we’re still really good friends. Thomas sends me emails every so often, he’s interested in doing a side-project with me, and I’m sure he’s happy with his decision to bring Tommy into the band.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Nightwish keyboardist/founder Tuomas Holopainen’s first official solo album, Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, isn’t metal by any means. The record is full blown big screen soundtrack music, which falls directly in line with Holopainen’s trademark songwriting over the last several years. The fact that its focus is the comic book character Scrooge McDuck in a book penned by artist Don Rosa, on the other hand, is not what one might expect from the man who turned female operatic vocals into a metaldom staple and crossed over into movie-making with the Nightwish epic from 2011, Imaginaerum. Holopainen is unashamed by his pet project and very proud of how it turned out; if the music convinces some fans to go out and pick up the book that inspired him, so much the better.

TuomasDon

“It’s been stated pretty clearly from the start that this is a marginal solo album that has nothing to do with metal or Nightwish,” says Holopainen. “It hasn’t been that big of a surprise to people. The biggest surprise seems to be why I’m being so childish (laughs). Of course, that can be expected if you choose to do and album based on a children’s comic book. It’s just ignorance though, because people don’t know what they’re talking about.”

If you’re a comic book geek you can appreciate the lengths Holopainen has gone to in bringing the Scrooge stories to life, having taken time away from his world famous day job. he makes no secret of the fact that he made the album to satisfy himself and nobody else.

“I wanted to make an album that would do these beautiful stories justice, and an album that I’d care to listen to myself. The music came out incredibly easy. I think it was probably, if not the easiest, one of the easiest albums I’ve ever produced because whenever I read this wonderful book my head is filled with music immediately. It was all about channelling it and getting it out, finding the right arrangements and the right instruments to perform it. I’ve had the dream of doing this soundtrack since 1999, so it’s about time that it saw daylight.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

In March 2013, Saigon Kick put to rest months of speculation surrounding news the band’s original line-up, who recorded the classic self-titled debut and epic follow-up, The Lizard – had reunited. Guitarist Jason Bieler and vocalist Matt Kramer had stated numerous times in the press since parting ways in 1993 that they’d never work with each other again, and neither one was shy about the wording of those statements. Tempers have cooled in recent years, however, and in early 2012 both Bieler and Kramer revealed in separate interviews there had been discussions of possibly and hopefully burying the hatchet, and not in someone’s forehead. At the same time, Bieler was breathing life into his Owl Stretching studio project, which has since taken on a life of its own, and Kramer had released his second book, A Book Of Poems From The Smallest Of Towns. So, there was no lack of creative juice to fuel a Saigon Kick reunion, and in the end the diehard fans have gotten what they wished for.

Saigon Kick 1

“It’s gone really well considering the potential for epic disaster,” says Bieler. “It’s gone far better than we anticipated. We’ve been very, very selective about what we’ve done – and I think we spoke about this before – because we didn’t want to do one of those Will Work For Food kind of tours. We did seven shows in these cool markets, and the response from people who are really passionate about the band… it really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I think because we’ve been staying in really nice hotels and not seeing each other, there’s no friction (laughs).”

Call it a case of being older and wiser, maybe?

“Nobody’s got the energy for those kinds of fights anymore. Strangely enough, Matt and I have been getting along better than we ever have. I think you just get to a point in life where the negative stuff just isn’t worth fighting about. In the early days of Saigon Kick, anybody who didn’t see my point of view had to be doing it on purpose as an attack. There was no other way I could wrap my brain around why someone could not see my logic. As you get older and hopefully a little bit more mature you realize that different people on the planet have a different opinion of things, right or wrong. I learned not to take differences of opinion quite so personally. Yeah, Matt and I have been getting along much, much better, and I think a little bit of maturity on both our parts didn’t hurt.”

Saigon Kick’s volatile history had some fans holding their breaths waiting for news of the band’s reunion going to hell, but the quartet wrapped up 2013 as a complete unit with something resembling a plan for this year. Bieler says keeping things small scale with a ‘baby steps’ approach was the best thing they could have done, and it paid off.

“I think because we were really careful not to say ‘Okay, this is the We’re Visiting Every Venue On Earth Tour 2013/14′ we were able to take the commitment in small chunks. Obviously everybody in the band has busy lives and other things going on, so we could really only do it for the sake of enjoying it. We didn’t go out there saying ‘Please fund our nine million dollar DVD project’, we made sure we didn’t have any of that baggage. We had to make sure we felt like doing it and it’s been fun. The most impressive thing to me is that we didn’t realize how important some of this music is to some of these people. That’s been the exciting and refreshing thing, discovering that. It’s encouraging meeting people and hearing why a certain song or album is important to them.” Continue Reading