By Carl Begai
Halestorn vocalist Lzzy Hale clearly has no concept of downtime, having used whatever breathing room she had in between tours to speak with me for a new BraveWords feature story. That interview can be found here. Following are a few extra bits of insight from that discussion:
Lzzy is, of course, known for her killer voice and good looks, but in keeping with her next generation Joan Jett appeal, she also plays guitar. In fact, she looks rather strange on stage without her signature Explorer in hand.Asked if she’s at all disappointed by most people treating her axe-playing as as afterthought – although Premier Guitar recently did their best to remedy that with a rig rundown – Lzzy doesn’t worry about it.
“I got into playing guitar because I wanted to be a bad-ass,” she admits. “That really was the only reason. I followed Tom Keifer from Cinderella and decided I had to get off the piano (laughs). As I learned more about the instrument it became more of a personal journey for me. I don’t really mind being in the shadows guitar-wise because I’m becoming a better player year after year. As that happens people will start noticing me as a guitar player. I don’t pay a lot of attention to people paying a whole lot of attention to me (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Best known as the voice and attitude of full-on traditional metal bashers Benedictum, Veronica Freeman has traded in the leather, chains and knee-high bitch boots for a romp with presumably tamer melodic rock/metal. Teaming up with a host of accomplished musicians / songwriters including Pete Wells (Benedictum), Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken), Michael Sweet (Stryper) and Mike Lepond (Symphony X) to name a few, Freeman has put out a genuinely strong first solo effort boasting the ’70s / ’80s vibes and flavours of classic KISS, Dokken, a bit of AC/DC, and even present day Stryper. The 12-track album features Freeman pulling back on her raging Ronnie James Dio-esque voice just enough for a more soulful delivery suited for this type of rawk, but by no means does it soften any of the blows delivered. Think a pissed off Anastacia backed by walls of distortion and guitar shred, which is a very good thing. But, her familiar in-your-face roar is most certainly part of this production, unleashed as needed.
Now Or Never features two songs co-written with Michael Sweet, with ‘Again’ kicking things off and ‘Love Should Be To Blame’ surfacing mid-album; both could have made the cut for Stryper’s recent No More Hell To Pay record. ‘Roller Coaster’ is reminiscent of classic Destroyer-era KISS, ‘Kiss My Lips’ (featuring Chastain singer Leather Leone guesting) has more groove than every track on the new AC/DC record, and the (real) album-closing salvo of ‘Ready To Run’ is reminiscent of early, early Dokken’s classic ‘Live To Rock (Rock To Live)’. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
This interview with Halestorm vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale started with an apology.
The band’s rise to fame with their first album in 2009 was punctuated by their association with the tween-angst Twilight movie franchise through their song “Familiar Taste Of Poison” (or so I thought), a connection that acted as an automatic shut-off valve, thus preventing any decay caused by prolonged exposure to formula kiddie rock. Any time or interest spent on Halestorm, which had been sporadic at best, was over and done. A couple years later during a YouTube cruise, however, I stumbled across live footage of the band performing “Slave To The Grind” (12-29-11 Ram’s Head Live). Staring at the sidebar thumbnail, I highly doubted it was the Skid Row song of the same name because no band could possibly hope to match the intensity of the original. They were dreaming or smoking high-quality something if they did.
One click later my jaw was somewhere around my ankles, leading to the purchase of the ReAnimate covers EP. The release of the “Slave…”-inspired “Love Bites (So Do I)” in 2012 as the first single (!!) from Halestorm’s second album, The Strange Case Of…, sealed the deal. Having broken the cardinal rule of Never Judge A Book By Its Cover, I had become a crow-eating fanboy.
“What’s funny about that Twilight thing is that we’ve never officially been associated with it,” says Lzzy. “The video that blew up on YouTube was made by a fan; she was obsessed with Twilight and also cane to a lot of our shows. It’s funny how so many people, especially in the press, would ask us about how it felt to be linked to this smash hit movie (laughs). It means a lot to hear you like us now, especially coming from the perspective of someone who was skeptical at first about us. We hadn’t really proven ourselves when the first album came out, so to hear that we made such a big impact is awesome.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
This year Kamelot celebrates 20 years as a card-carrying signed band, but it was just over 15 years past that they released a career game-changer, The Fourth Legacy. Their first two albums – Eternity and Dominion respectively – served to put Kamelot in the public eye, the third record (Siege Perilous) generated a buzz after they snapped up Conception vocalist Roy Khan to replace Mark Vanderbilt, but it was The Fourth Legacy that enthralled theit existing fans and roped in curious bystanders from far and wide. That momentum hasn’t stopped in spite of the occasional potholes in the road forward. Khan’s departure in 2011 could have destroyed the band – the fact he bolted a week before a major North American tour, forcing its cancellation, certainly didn’t help – but they regrouped and released Silverthorn a year later to rave reviews. With new singer Tommy Karevik on board, the album and tour that followed made it clear Kamelot had regained their stride, and the new Haven album is a clear cut example of a band unafraid of trying new things and potentially freaking out their fanbase while remaining loyal to the sound that made them.
“A lot of people that have been following us since The Fourth Legacy days have said this is the album they’ve been waiting for,” says guitarist Thomas Youngblood of Haven, easily the most diverse record in their catalogue. “Haven is more in line with what fans are used to with The Black Halo and even Karma, but it was really important for us to add new elements and bring the band a little bit more into today instead of giving them the symphonic thing from 10 years ago. That was a big part of it. We definitely didn’t want the album to be overly symphonic and I think we achieved all the goals we had going in.”
Truth be told Haven isn’t an easy listen at first even for the diehard fan, but once inside it’s very hard to leave. There are the signature attacks and flourishes one has come to expect of any Kamelot opus, but you get the feeling there was a meeting on the final day of mixing where the band members arm-wrestled their way bloody and broken to a final tracklist. Nothing about Haven is as one expects; some of the heaviest material (‘Liar Liar’ and ‘Revolution’) is shoved to the back half of the album, the signature ballad rewrites what we know about Kamelot’s penchant for pulling heartstrings, and much of the once-trademark symphonic attitude has been stripped back to make way for the band. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
During this interview, guitarist / vocalist / recorder god Kyle Gass – best known for the moment as actor/musician Jack Black’s other half in Tenacious D – remarks that the only reason the Kyle Gass Band bears his name is because he’s “famous.” He’s neither arrogant nor self-deprecating about the claim; Kyle is merely making the point that it makes sense because he had an established career before the band came together. Even a third of the way through their show Kyle’s point is made, as he spends as much time making room for guitarist / vocalist Mike Bray as he does front and center. In fact, all five gents in the Kyle Gass Band sing, play, dance (seriously) and get their own moments in the spotlight.
“I daresay I wouldn’t be here without Tenacious D,” Kyle begins. “It’s an established brand, for lack of a better term, and people give KGB a look-see as a result. John (Konesky / guitars) and I worked for many years when we were in Train Wreck. We put this band together and Mike came into our lives about five years ago. He’s a really talented singer and multi-instrumentalist so we just said ‘You’re in the band.’ Jason (Keene / bass, harmonica) is an old fried from way back who plays mostly jazz. And we’ve had the exploding drummer problem which so many bands do (laughs). Spinal Tap nailed it, they do explode. A year ago Tim (Spier) came along and he’s a super drummer, a perfect personality for this band, and he really completed things for us. We’ve got some really good chemistry now. We’re having a lot of fun out here. All I know is that I’m not as good as the rest of the guys in this band (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Based in Toronto and known the world over, rockers Harem Scarem released a re-recorded version of their breakthrough Mood Swings in 2013, ending a six year hiatus that was meant to a permanent full stop. They followed it up a year later with their thirteenth official studio album, suggesting Harem Scarem may in fact be back in the game for another long stretch. Vocalist Harry Hess and guitarist Pete Lesperance – the latter being Canada’s rock answer to Steve Vai – had shut the band down with every intention of exploring other musical avenues, but it was only a matter of time until they were faced with a good enough reason to take Harem Scarem out for one more go-round. The end result in their latest record, aptly titled Thirteen.
Diehard Harem Scarem will fans will recognize the title of this piece, but it has to be said that the band’s six years off the grid didn’t seem all that long.
“We were really done with Harem Scarem at that time and didn’t see a future for it,” Lesperance reveals. “I think we were just spent musically. Speaking for myself, when it comes to playing guitar in the rock world I felt that I’d said everything I had to say with those first 150 songs or whatever it is (laughs). Me and Harry work together on all kinds of stuff, so maybe that’s why the break didn’t seem that long; we never stopped working together, we just stopped working on Harem Scarem. When the Mood Swings II thing happened it kind of changed everything and opened our eyes a bit, so we decided to try it again.”
It’s hard for someone on the outside to understand how a creative team like Lesperance and Hess can continue working together and not produce music that sounds like Harem Scarem. Going from one style of music to another in their case almost seems as if it happens at the flip of a switch.
“Our band is a weird animal. It’s my and Harry’s project more than anything these days. Obviously we have people that are heavily involved like Darren (Smith) and Creighton (Doane), but it was never really hard to shut down because, like I said, I just felt that we were done. It seemed like the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do would have been to just keep taking label’s money and keep going.” Continue Reading
When Kamelot released Silverthorn in 2012 it was a make-or-break affair as they navigated the debris left behind following the ambitious yet ultimately stagnant Poetry For The Poisoned album and the departure of vocalist Roy Khan. A record loaded to the teeth with every weapon in the Kamelot arsenal, Silverthorn was perhaps too epic for its own good at times, but it succeeded in winning over the vast majority of fans left heartbroken and skeptical by Khan’s departure. Haven finds Kamelot trimming away a lot of the Silver-fat in favour of a sound more in line with The Fourth Legacy, Karma or The Black Halo, beefing up the guitar / bass / keys / drums while reducing the symphonics to a Use In Case Of A Damn Good Idea capacity. Vocalist Tommy Karevik is given far more space to shine on Haven compared to his Silverthorn debut, making for a much stronger album on that score alone.
All that said, fact is nobody is going to be mindblown by Haven the first time through (if you say you were, you’re a bullshit artist). It’s a gradual build with lead-off tracks ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’ – which don’t have the blow-the-doors of speed of previous album openers ‘Center Of The Universe’ and ‘Forever’ – groove-pounding the listener into the new Kamelot comfort zone (with no done-to-death orchestral track to kick things off… thank you). Interesting as well that the band waits four tracks to unleash Haven’s first stormer, ‘Veil Of Elysium’ – which sounds like the less evil twin to Silverthorn’s ‘Sacrimony’ – one of only two (!!) to be had on the entire album. And this is the addictive nature of Haven; for all the threads you can weave back to previous album, Kamelot keep you guessing as to what you’re going to get, and how and when it’s going to be served up. Unexpected and bloody impressive at this stage of the game. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
In 2000, Niagara native Tim Donahue made a small international splash with Into The Light, a solo record showcasing his skills as a fretless guitarist featuring current Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen. A year later he began working on a significantly heavier batch of songs that were unashamedly metal-influenced and came with a wish list of potential singers. During a meeting in Toronto over burgers and beer, I had the honour of hearing what would eventually become the Madmen & Sinners album. Asked who I felt would be the best voice for the material, I suggested Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, unaware his name was at the top of Donahue’s list. Contact was made, plans were hatched, and in 2004 the duo released the Madmen & Sinners debut, an album unique to their respective careers. It was new territory for both Donahue and LaBrie, and ground they (sadly) haven’t returned to since.
“I don’t play the six-string fretless at all anymore unless I’m asked, like for the tracks on Nozomi Itani’s album (Station To Station from 2012). That was the first time I picked up the fretless in many years. Other than that I play the fretless harp guitar. I hate to say it, but the harp guitar has so much going on that when I pick up the six-string I yawn (laughs). I don’t mean that as anything against traditional guitars but the harp guitar kicks my ass and takes me to places I’ve never been.”
Although it’s been over 10 years since the release of Madmen & Sinners, the record still holds a special place in Donahue’s heart.
“I love the heaviness of the tunes. There are a lot of heavy bands out there and I’m certainly not the heaviest guitarist, but the songs and the actual writing, I think that’s why the music hits you in the heart even though some of the songs are really heavy.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Every time Kamelot and Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz are mentioned in the same sentence, the buzz that follows is usually enough to break the internet. With that in mind, consider this a bit of shameless promotion featuring an excerpt from a new Kamelot interview with guitarist Thomas Youngblood, due to be published on BraveWords just prior to the release of their new Haven album in early May.
At this point in Kamelot’s career guest vocalists are an (admittedly) expected part of any production at their hands, whether it’s an album, festival show or full blown tour (headline or support). Their new album, Haven, satisfies those expectations with the return of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), new voice on the block Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, all of whom appear at select points during the latest Kam-epic’s run. They are a welcome element in the band’s musical tapestry that would be sorely missed by many if they weren’t involved.
“I never want to feel like we have to have female vocals on an album and who knows, maybe on the next record we won’t,” says Youngblood. “People forget that on The Fourth Legacy (1999) we had two songs with female vocals, so it wasn’t like we jumped on some bandwagon. We did that 15 years ago. The difference now is that we’re lucky enough to have some super-talented friends that also work perfectly within the Kamelot structure. Somebody like Alissa for example, who isn’t really known for melodic metal or power metal or whatever you want to call it, the way she works with us is so natural and organic it’s just amazing.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
For long-time Nightwish fans, namely those of us that were around five or six years before the 2004 commercial splattershot explosion of ‘Nemo’, the ‘Élan’ single from the band’s new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was something of a letdown. Not everyone felt that way, but for many the song came off as painfully soft-handed after months upon months of new vocalist Floor Jansen being touted as the perfect in-your-face successor for both former Nightwish singers, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen. Countless hours of bootleg YouTube footage and the Showtime, Storytime DVD fuelled this widespread opinion, pushing expectations that Jansen’s studio debut with Nightwish would be something bold and brash. First impressions don’t paint the entire picture in this case, however, and once inside Endless Forms Most Beautiful fans will discover – for better or worse – things most certainly aren’t what they seemed when ‘Élan’ crooned its way out of the latest Nightwish branded box of tricks.
“I haven’t really listened to the album in a couple of months now,” keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen admits, “but one of the most common comments I get from people is that the new album has this old school Nightwish vibe, like going back 10 years in time. I’ve heard it called more band oriented, more organic, more like Once and even Oceanborn, and I have to agree.”
Comparisons to Nightwish a decade past are warranted with new material like ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, ‘My Walden’, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ or, yes, ‘Élan’, but primary songwriter and musical director Holopainen deftly avoids a complete rehash of the band’s well worn trademarks. This is perhaps best exemplified by their decision to bring the new record to a close with an obnoxious epic track, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Originally 35 – 40 minutes long, the band decided to cut it down to a more respectable 24 minutes (!) that, much like Dream Theater’s now legendary song ‘A Change Of Seasons’, doesn’t feel nearly as long as it looks on paper. It’s a rare feat that very few bands can pull off. Continue Reading