Note: This post DOES NOT contain spoilers. Sorry, you’ll have to go and ruin your chance of being surprised and entertained via a website with zero appreciation for the concept of suspense.

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Dear J.J.,

Given the runaway success of The Force Awakens it’s safe to say you don’t have to worry about being called Jar Jar from here on out. Congratulations on one hell of a victory, and thank you for giving me and a legion of first generation Star Wars fans the chance to relive our wide-eyed younger years while looking forward to the saga’s future.

Is it a perfect movie? No.

Did I enjoy it? No. I loved it

Would I see it again? In a heartbeat.

Of course, there are plenty of people who feel the Star Wars fans that are currently losing their minds (meaning the vast majority of us) should get a grip. The Force Awakens is just a movie, after all. Those people are absolutely right. It is only a movie, and the hype of the past year or more has gone beyond ridiculous.

I snorted in derision during the making of The Force Awakens when media pages started reporting on the über-nerds that had managed to snag a photo of a photo of a photo of the Millennium Falcon on your desk. I shook my head in disbelief at the fucking idiots who issued death threats against Fox News correspondent Katherine Timpf because she wasn’t on board with Star Wars geek love. I laughed out loud at the morons who debated and argued and spewed nerd drivel hither and yon about why Kylo Ren’s lightsaber sports a laser-fied crossguard (how about it just looks pretty damn cool, you nerf herders…).

And still, I’m a diehard fan that is singing your praises for creating what is, for me, a wonderfully entertaining and gratifying return to what made Star Wars (it will never actually be known as A New Hope in my world), The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi such beloved movies. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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In 2006, long suffering Canadian cult favourites Eidolon released their seventh album, The Parallel Otherworld. The record unintentionally signalled the end of a decade-long career just when Eidolon had clearly hit their stride with Pagan’s Mind vocalist Nils K. Rue behind the mic, but the move to call it quits didn’t come as a surprise considering founders Glen Drover (guitars) and Shawn Drover (drums) had been devoting their time to Megadeth as of 2004. As fate and musical inpiration would have it, however, Glen and Shawn have decided to close out 2015 with a new Eidolon track, “Leave This World Behind”, featuring Rue and long time bassist Adrian Robichaud. The song marks the first Eidolon recording in 10 years.

“To be honest, we never called it quits, we basically just decided to put the band on the shelf,” says Glen. “I mean, at that point yes, Shawn and I were now half of Megadeth, and way too busy to consider anything else regardless of the fact that we had finally found an all around amazing and professional singer who couldn’t be matched. We had a lot of negative feedback in the past about some of our previous singers. All of those people were silenced when we brought Nils in.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Teramaze first became a blip in Australian headspace back in 1995, launched by guitarist Dean Wells and laying claim to two full length albums by the time he was 18 years-old. It was a short-lived pursuit, as Wells abandoned Teramaze in 2000 for what turned out to be a fruitful career as a songwriter and producer for TV programs including X Factor and Australian Idol, as well as an assortment of pop artists. It was only a matter of time, however, until Wells felt the need to escape the formatted structure of the pop music machine in favour of creating music on his own terms. He relaunched Teramaze and returned in 2012 with Anhedonia, following it up with Esoteric Symbolism a short two years later. It’s been a re-learning curve for Wells, which culminated in the creation of the band’s most progressive work to date, Her Halo.

“It was a good eight years,” says Wells of his pop industry days. “I got into writing a lot of heavier stuff and my publisher at the time told me they liked it but had no idea what to do with it. Somebody finally said ‘You should do a Teramaze album.’ I hadn’t even thought of that because I considered Teramaze to just be something I did as a kid for a bit of fun. I realized I did want to do it again, and around the time we started taking it seriously Jeff Waters from Annihilator heard the stuff and wanted to get involved. He was down in Australia at one point and he came in to produce most of the album with me. So, I put out Anhedonia in 2012, which came out of the heavier stuff I was writing a few years earlier.”

“Before Anhedonia there was nothing from Teramaze for eight years. People think we’ve been around for all this time, but no, there was a massive gap in between. We don’t really play any of the old stuff, but now that people are starting to realize this is the same band from back then we’re thinking about bringing some of it back. But it does seem to people we’ve done more than we actually have.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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British black metal heathens Cradle Of Filth have been through over 25 line-up changes since clawing their way into the spotlight in 1991. Following their 2012 album, The Manticore And Other Horrors, the band went through a noteworthy shake-up with the exit of original guitarist Paul Allender (for the second time), resulting in founding hellmouth Dani Filth conscripting two new guitarists and a keyboardist / backing vocalist. Canadian songstress Lindsay Matheson – better known pre-Cradle as the voice, heart and soul of Schoolcraft – was brought on board as said keyboardist / vocalist and, ultimately, Dani Filth’s on-stage foil. It’s a post she’s held since 2013 and she has no intention of leaving any time soon, which is a good thing when fans consider Lindsay played an important role in the making of Cradle Of Filth’s new critically acclaimed album, Hammer Of The Witches.

“I got so lucky,” says Lindsay. “They found me on Facebook. My predecessor left because she’d moved on to another gig, but it put the band in a tight spot because a world tour was coming up. At the time our old guitarist (Paul Allender) was living in Minnesota, and he knew Melissa Ferlaak from Visions Of Atlantis and asked her to do the tour. She told him she couldn’t do it, but she knew someone who could. I was freaking out when I sent in my cover letter and my demo, which was my acoustic version of ‘Nymphetamine’, because I wanted the job so badly. I waited from Christmas to New Year’s for an answer and it was the longest two weeks of my life. Their manager called in the first week of January 2013 and told me I got it. I had to fly out to Minnesota to meet our guitarist, and I got to quit university which was kinda cool (laughs).”

Lindsay admits that being a Cradle Of Filth fan didn’t prepare her for the experience of being part of the band. She had no idea how deeply she would be involved in creating Hammer Of The Witches.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into because I’ve never written an album long distance before. It was the strangest experience. The thing was, I was hired as a temporary replacement just as a part of the live band. In the first few weeks of the tour Dani got to know me – we didn’t really get a chance to talk until we were into the South American tour – and we figured we’d just grab a drink and talk for an hour. We stayed up until 5:30am talking. I showed him my solo stuff and he said ‘That’s beautiful: can you do that for Cradle?’ which surprised me, but that didn’t transpire until we got our new guitarists Rich (Shaw) and Ashok (Šmerda) in the band. Me and bassist Dan Firth started writing stuff on our own for Cradle, and ‘Yours Immortally…’ and ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ were the first demos for the new album that we did together. We showed them to Dani and I think that kind of lit a fire under his ass and convinced him we could do things with this new line-up.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Swedish pop metallers Amaranthe unleashed their third album, Massive Addictive, in October 2014 to critical acclaim, but nobody counted on them still being on the road a year later in support of the record. Not even the band themselves. Multiple headline tours through Europe and North America, as well as the obligatory shows in Japan, have kept Amaranthe’s budding career moving forward and they show no sign of slowing down. Almost a year to the day of Massive Addictive’s release, band and label teamed up to issue Breaking Point – B-sides 2011-2015, an interim compilation of hard-to-find acoustic versions of some of Amaranthe’s best-loved tunes and two full-on metal unreleased tracks; a package meant to tide the fans over until the band coughs up a new studio album. This interview took place in Toronto on what is presumably the final jaunt in support of Massive Addictive, and while Breaking Point was the basis for the chat with Olof Mörck (guitars) and Elize Ryd (vocals), the real focus turned out to be on how Amaranthe has come so far since their 2011 debut.

BraveWords: Is Breaking Point in fact meant to appease the fans while Amaranthe is on tour? It’s not like they’re bound to forget you considering how much you’ve been in people’s faces.

Olof: “We have all these acoustic versions, and we feel really strongly about them, so we had a talk with the label about putting out something different to represent the band. I think it shows a very different side to our musicality. A lot of people are into that sort of thing, but not many people knew these songs existed. Maybe some of them had heard ‘Amaranthine’ acoustic or ‘Hunger’ acoustic, so it was really nice to be able to put all of these songs together with the added bonus of two songs recorded for the first album.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It’s probably in poor taste to suggest the members of Stryper have sold their souls in exchange for their current success. The Christian metal band’s 2005 comeback, Reborn, put an end to 15 years of silence (not including some sporadic touring) and was an all-important step into a decade that saw the band release four studio albums, a cover album, a volume of Stryper re-recordings, and a live record / DVD, interspersed with international tours. Considering the way Stryper splintered and died following their Against The Law album from 1990, nobody really expected them to get back together let alone turn the momentum kicked up by Reborn into wave after wave of in your face material. Their latest assault is the fourth album of all original songs since Stryper’s reunion, and album entitled Fallen that has the fans locked in yet again and has vocalist / guitarist Michael Sweet grinning from ear to ear.

“At the end of the day what’s important, obviously, is that we feel we’re pleasing God and we’re pleasing ourselves,” Sweet says of the band’s continued success. “The icing on the cake is how the fans feel about the new album.We try to ask questions and get feedback from the fans, and we apply that when we make an album. If they want to hear an epic six minute song with tempo changes, we give them ‘Yahweh’. We try to listen to the fans without selling ourselves out, and I think we did that this time.”

As a first taste of Fallen, it’s safe to say nobody was expecting the epic attack of ‘Yahweh’. The song is easily on par with one of Stryper’s strongest songs ever, ‘Soldiers Under Command’, and goes a step beyond.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting that, truthfully. It’s definitely down a different avenue for us. We’ve never done a six-and-a-half minute song, we’ve never had a bunch of time changes in a song; it borders on the progressive side of rock. Did we do that to try and fit in? No. We grew up on all this kind of stuff. We’re huge Iron Maiden fans and we love Dream Theater, we listen to all of that stuff, and it’s not out of our wheelhouse at all to do something like ‘Yahweh’. And then you bring in the fact that Clint Lowery from Sevendust had a hand in the making of the song… he sent me the original riff and I ran with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Breaking Point is one of those on-the-fly releases meant to keep Amaranthe’s name in lights while they continue touring in support of their remarkably successful third album, Massive Addictive. Most fans will love it, but there’s a group of die-hard completists bound to be slightly pissed for having spent extra money on unreleased B-sides that appear here. Six acoustic tracks and two full-on metal assaults are offered up, all recorded after the respective sessions for the band’s self-titled debut, The Nexus, and Massive Addictive. Hearing concert favourite ballads ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Burn With Me’ done up acoustic is neither amazing nor disappointing; they’re well written songs played effectively as reduced to their most basic elements. The acoustic rendition of ‘True’ from Massive Addictive, on the other hand, is a startling stripped down version featuring voices and piano up front with the spotlight (unexpectedly) favouring vocalist Jake E. It’s actually preferable to the original version.

The two full metal songs on Breaking Point, the title track and ‘Splinter In My Soul’, originally surfaced as bonus tracks for the Japanese version of Amaranthe’s self-titled debut and their 2011 single ‘Rain’, therefore featuring original growler Andy Solveström in place of current rage vocalist Henrik Englund. Again, not a bad pair of songs, but it’s easy to understand why the tracks were never tagged as final album cuts, as they lack that elusive “something” to make them click. It would, however, be interesting to hear ‘Splinter In My Soul’ in a live setting with all its rampant Soilwork-ishness. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Québec is known for offering up top tier metal talent to the world and having a forward thinking European-bent metal fanbase. Montréal’s Hasta La Muerte is one of the province’s latest spawn, having stomped into the spotlight earlier this year with a tongue-in-cheek / bum drum rap metal debut single, ‘Pour Anotha Shot’. The song, and particularly the video, garnered them instant attention both positive and “WTF?!” negative. A few months later they followed up with a darker, meaner, uglier tune ‘Step Up’, which has at the very least cemented them as not being flash in the pan. Beyond the music, however, almost nothing has been published about their roots and plans for world domination. Having tagged them as “Van Halen getting Ugly Kid Stuck Mojo-ed” when ‘Pour Anotha Shot’ first surfaced, I decided to dig up any available dirt for Hasta La Muerte’s growing fanbase.

“The band started out with myself, Manuel (Iradian / guitars) and Kev (Alexander / drums),” says guitarist David Evangelista, “all being friends in different bands and wanting to make something different together as a new band. Even though we grew up on old school heavy metal, we listen to all kinds of music, including hip-hop, rock, blues, or whatever in our free time. When we decided to work together, we worked off some demos that I had that were sort-of groovy and hip-hop-sounding, electronic, but also metal and really low-tuned on guitar. These were basic riffs and templates that would turn into ‘Pour Anotha Shot’ and ‘Step Up’. We wanted to be open to other genres of music as influences. So we collaborated to finish these ideas and making them into full instrumental songs, the three of us.”

“We put up a demo to recruit a vocalist, and we welcomed Robby (J. Fonts) who was primarily a rapper at the time. He did a great job mixing rap and heavy vocals on the demo which would eventually turn into our first single, ‘Pour Anotha Shot’. He had a similar open-minded vision too, so it worked out really well with the other material as well. But originally, before he appeared, it wasn’t necessarily set out to be rap-metal, it just sort of happened that way and we didn’t question it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Band Photo - Next To None (1)

There’s an unwritten rule in rock and metal that if you’re not legally allowed to drink, you don’t deserve a record deal.

Basically, you have to pay your dues before a Corner Office Suit gives you the opportunity to sign on the dotted line. It should be a process of getting the band out of Mom’s basement and into the garage, tormenting the neighbours with crap covers and even worse originals, being ripped off for rent at your first rehearsal space, asking Dad to bail you out of debt or jail (whichever comes first) before finally locking down that fateful first gig in front of a potentially hostile audience on the way to the big time. So it goes that when people discover newcomers Next To None – consisting of members aged a mere 16 and 17 – sitting pretty with a contract signed to InsideOut for their debut album, some folks dismiss them without hearing a note.

Drummer Max Portnoy has the added pressure of being the son of living and very active drum legend Mike Portnoy, who made a name for himself as a founding member of prog metal kings Dream Theater. Mike currently calls The Winery Dogs home, but divides his time with several different artists including Neal Morse, Flying Colors, Metal Allegiance and Twisted Sister. The thinking is that Portnoy family ties led to InsideOut picking up Next To None and that Max wouldn’t be anywhere without dear old Dad. Max is quick to shut down that line of thinking with regards to the latter.

“He didn’t push me into it or anything like that,” he insists. “Being in a band is something I’ve always wanted to do. Growing up watching my dad play drums did influence me in getting interested in making music, but he never forced me into learning how to play drums. I knew I was going to be a drummer when I grew up, I never questioned it. When I got older and met Kris (Rank/bass), that’s when I decided I was going to form a band. We started playing covers before trying to write our own songs, but my dad didn’t have anything to do with it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Slik Toxik Irrelevant

Twenty years ago I wrote a review for Slik Toxik’s second full length album, Irrelevant. It was a darker and dirtier record compared to their official debut, Doin’ The Nasty, written and released at a time when hair metal / cock rock bands were well into taking a beating from the grunge scene takeover. Irrelevant failed to make the same impact its predecessor had, and ultimately turned out to be Slik Toxik’s swansong. Looking back on said review in the wake of Perris Records opting to release a 20th Anniversary edition of the record, two things are readily apparent: I knew what I was talking about even as a wide-eyed newbie to the music biz, and Slik Toxik were way ahead of their time.

And thanks to the internet age I’m not restricted to a tiny column in trying to explain why Irrelevant works, units sold in the past be damned.

As stated in my original review (photo below), Irrelevant was a diverse platter that deftly avoided being a scene-sucking travesty with regards to their roots (that’s what I tried to say, at any rate). On the one hand Slik Toxik went from being cock rock to a nailgun-carrying metal band, quite unexpectedly bashing people over the head with ‘Twentysomething’, ‘I Wanna Gun’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘Fashioned After None’ and ‘Just Fade Away’. The bigger shock, however, turned out to be tracks like the introspective ballad ‘Liquid Calm’, the smokey bar blues of ‘Blue Monday’, and the acoustic led south bent ‘Mother Machine’. Less surprising was the drive towards Alice In Chains territory with ‘Dive’ and ‘Drained’ given the times, the latter being the weakest song on Irrelevant. Continue Reading