By Carl Begai
There’s a music snob stigma attached to progressive metal and prog rock based entirely on one’s chosen approach. Young musicians with hearts set on the brass ring try to out-“Metropolis” Dream Theater at every turn (yeah, good luck with that), the diehard fan(atic)s will argue at length as to why their heroes can do no wrong even when the latest epic is clearly a cut/paste car crash of odd time signatures and über-noodling, and the traditional metalhead legions scoff at the thought of math pits versus mosh pits. Early on in their career New Jersey progsters Symphony X were seen as yet another band to be emulated, worshipped and slagged for their niche brand of music, but they’ve broken free from that particular cell block in a big way. It’s a process that began in 2007 with their Paradise Lost album – a metal slab nobody had counted on – took root in 2011 with Iconoclast, and has now grown into something particularly ominous with new outing, Underworld. Symphony X is still prog metal, absolutely, but it’s nice to hear a progressive band that’s not trying to blow away their listeners with 16 time changes in five minutes just to prove they have the chops.
Ask guitarist Michael Romeo and he’ll tell you Underworld is about the songs as a whole, not the flash inside them.
“We were talking about doing different things after eight albums,” he says. “The Rush album Moving Pictures came up a lot in conversation because every song on that record is great. Yeah, there’s some progressive stuff on Underworld but in the end there are just great songs on the record. The only thing we were really thinking about was trying to not to repeat something we’ve done. We wanted to do something a little bit different but have the elements of what people know from Symphony X.”
“The goal was for things to be cohesive and to the point, and if the songs catch people off guard, cool. Yeah, we’re a progressive band, so there’s nothing wrong with putting some measures in 7 somewhere, but we do it without taking away from the songs.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Vocalist Russell Allen, best known as the frontman for prog metal gods Symphony X, offers his thoughts on his other band Adrenaline Mob when discussing their new album, Men Of Honor:
“This is a straightforward in-your-face no apologies rock band from New York – New Jersey, and we’re not fucking around. We’re here to throw down, say what we have to say, get to the point, and if it’s in your face that’s the way it is around here. Sorry.”
Don’t take the apology tacked onto the end of his statement seriously. Allen is fiercely proud of what he and his bandmates have accomplished, especially given the fact they’ve had to deal with a sometimes painfully moronic prog metal fanbase that bitched and moaned Adrenaline Mob wasn’t progressive enough for having Allen and (now former) drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) in the fold. A strange situation fuelled by people who claim to be music fans but don’t actually listen to the artists creating it. Adrenaline Mob made it clear from Day 1 they were an old school modern day rock band and not a prog metal side-project.
“It’s great when people like yourself get this, they get what Adrenaline Mob is about,” says Allen. “Nobody really knew what to do with us because of this whole prog background that me and Portnoy came from. People were scratching their heads, nobody knew how to book the act… they just didn’t fucking get it. Perception is everything in this world and the problem is people cling to their ideas of what they think they know about you. I don’t want to knock anybody, but the more educated people – in terms of educating themselves about your history – will go the extra mile and read a little more about you and read what you say. A lot of people didn’t bother to read the fine print, and Portnoy was talking about this in his interviews. The perception was that Adrenaline Mob was his band, but he came in after everything was written and my vocals were already recorded. It’s just the way the world works. People just cling to what they think they know and they’ll stand by that until the day they die even if they’re shown that they’re wrong (laughs).”
“The truth is I didn’t grow up listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Rush like so many people want to believe. Did I like Rush? Yes. Was it in the rotation? Yes. But it was Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Sabbath and Maiden that I was cranking in high school. Rush would come on and it would be great, but was I prog guy? No. That came later, when I wanted to grow musically. Everything on the record comes from something, whether intentional or unintentional. That’s the whole idea of trying to make music that’s accessible and immediate, that it kind of reminds you of something you’ve heard before. And that’s because everything already been done. Get over yourself.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s rare that a commercially successful rock band is good for a surprise. The vast majority would much rather stick to a proven formula – and understandably so – than throw their fanbase a curve. Pennsylvania-based rockers Halestorm, on the other hand, took the plunge with only one official full length album under their belt. Two years after the band’s self-titled debut touched down and started a buzz, the quartet issued the six song ReAniMate covers EP, which gave the people that thought they had Halestorm nailed down something to choke on. Covers of the Skid Row classic ‘Slave To The Grind’ – now a fan favourite in the band’s nightly set – and Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Out Ta Get Me’ left many a naysayer’s jaw on the floor, Yours Truly included, largely due to the explosive delivery by vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale. The EP set the stage and reined in a new batch of fans for Halestorm’s second record The Strange Case Of…, which rocks harder and heavier than what folks expect of a so-called “average” mainstream band.
“We chose the six songs on ReAniMate for all sorts of reasons,” says Lzzy, agreeing that it was one of the building blocks going in to make The Strange Case Of… “The cover of The Beatles’ ‘She’s So Heavy’ was the first song the guys and I ever jammed to as a band. The Heart cover of ‘All I Wanna Do…’ used to be my go-to karaoke song; the guys would sign me up in hopes of getting free beer from people who liked the way I sang. ‘Slave To The Grind’ and ‘Out Ta Get Me’ were some of my influences, growing up on my parents’ music, and they had tempos that we’ve never experimented with before. In turn, they directly inspired our fastest original song to date, ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’. ‘Hunger Strike’ was a nod to one of Joe’s (Hottinger / guitars) influences, and the Lady Gaga cover (‘Bad Romance’) was the #1 most requested song in a poll we put up for our fans to determine what our final pick for the EP was. It’s a great mix.”
Considering that Halestorm gained notoriety with radio-safe hits like ‘I Get Off’ and the Twilight-fuelled ‘Familiar Taste Of Poison’, choosing ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ as the first single off The Strange Case Of… was a ballsy move. Folks that respect the band as a live act but have no use for the debut album have embraced the track, which is Halestorm’s take on ‘Slave To The Grind’ at its heart.
“‘Love Bites’ is a great ‘re-introduction’ song. It was a reflection of what people saw at our live shows while touring on our last album cycle. We wanted to give people a first single that was a step up from our last recording, but was familiar to the energy they get from us live.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Call it a safe bet that a fair number of progressive metal fans feel slighted by having two giants of the genre – vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) – slamming down ton of bricks modern-edged metal with nary a 5/8 time signature or widdly keyboard flourish in sight. Nope, this is feelgood freight train mayhem minus the seatbelts done up old school, with the dynamic prog duo and guitarist Mike Orlando relying on musicality rather than gutteral aggression and the same old boring-ass downtuned chords to get their message across. Allen is a monster right out of the gate, his melodic bellow on lead-off tracks ‘Undaunted’ and ‘Psychosane’ laying the groundwork for some of the strongest material of his career (and wiping those damn Allen/Lande albums from memory). Orlando was either schooled in Stuck Mojo, or the band’s guitarist Rich Ward – who was in Adrenaline Mob for about 5 minutes – made a lasting impression on his songwriting. When it comes down to the groove crunch, and there’s plenty of it, Orlando’s shred is also an echo of Zakk Wylde, giving folks a welcome taste of Black Label Society. With Portnoy providing the backbone for the Allen/Orlando-penned tunes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Adrenaline Mob’s overall sound is far and away from your average balls-out 4/4 metal band.