By Carl Begai
Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is one of those artists that lives by the mantra “Sleep Is The Enemy.” When she’s not writing and recording new solo material, you can be assured Anneke is somewhere out in the world performing or working on a new project, which speaks volumes of her passion for her art. Case in point; this interview took place in the small Dutch town of Reuver a couple hours before she played an intimate one-off acoustic show at The Rock Station. Anneke didn’t have to do what was effectively an out-of-the-way the show for the exposure, and she certainly didn’t have to deliver anything special in terms of a set, but in the end the fans were treated to a show featuring both original songs and some (very) unexpected covers. Definitely something special for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For Anneke, another day at the office of her choosing.
“Somebody posted a message on my Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m going to see four projects from Anneke in six weeks..,’ Anneke begins, the two of us sitting in a small pizza parlour down the street from The Rock Station. “I only realized then how much I’m doing, because I’m doing a lot of it all at the same time. Sometimes I say ‘Oh, I can do this, I can work on that, I can join this band…’ and then everything comes together in the same two months. I have The Gathering show, The Sirens, this show tonight, so the amount of songs I have to learn is amazing.”
The Gathering show, which took place on November 9th in Nijmegen, was an epic event featuring present and past members uniting on stage for the band’s 25th anniversary. For the diehard fans Anneke’s performance was the high point of a reportedly brilliant show, and she admits it was a very special experience being with her former bandmates again, right from the first rehearsal. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
I’m going to start this story with an apology to Tobias Sammet and all those involved with the Avantasia machine.
In my initial overview of the new album The Mystery Of Time (found here), I did a fair job of smack-talking Sammet’s previous Avantasia effort, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon double album. In my world it was just too damn long, with only three songs of a possible 22 having left a mark on my brain since the 2010 release (‘Scales Of Justice’, ‘Stargazers’ and ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’ in case anyone cares). In stark contrast The Mystery Of Time boasts only 10 songs, and after only one time through during the listening session at the Nuclear Blast offices in Donzdorf, Germany there were melodies and riffs still resonating in my head days later. I blame my harsh view of The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon on being smacked with too much information at one time, while The Mystery Of Time is an exciting “buckle up” ride if you’re a fan of the genre. It seems my enthusiasm may have gotten the better of me. I still say Avantasia’s previous outing pales in comparison to the new album, but by no means had I intended to dumb down Sammet’s vision or the work that went into making it a reality.
That said, during the listening session for The Mystery Of Time, I did mention to Sammet that I thought The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon was too big for its own good.
“Definitely, I agree,” says Sammet. “Not that I would throw away any of the material because I like all the songs, but some of the songs suffered from being just one out of 22 songs that came out at the same time. The songs that would have been really appreciated on an album of 10 tracks were called ‘weak’ or ‘fillers’ because there was so much competition. That was something that I wasn’t able to predict. I thought, ‘I wrote the material, I like each song because I had months to become acquainted with them.’ I knew every detail of every song, so they were very important to me.”
The Mystery Of Time offers so much more to sink one’s teeth into because of its compact nature. Short-ish, sweet, wonderfully diverse, and straight to the point.
“I’m really with you on that,” Sammet agrees. “This album is an entity all its own, and compact is the best way to describe it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
I recently attended a listening session for Avantasia’s new album, The Mystery Of Time, at Nuclear Blast headquarters in Donzdorf, Germany for BW&BK. An excerpt from my report is available below. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the record, which made a much bigger impression on me than Avantasia founder Tobias Sammet’s previous double-album venture, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon.
Folks have said vocalist Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and guitarist/producer Sascha Paeth lost the plot last time out in 2010 by releasing a 22 song double album that pounded the listener into submission with too much information. The Mystery Of Time sees the dynamic duo taking a step back and focusing on crafting a ‘simple’ no-nonsense rock opera; 10 songs, two of ‘em ballads, two of them hitting the 10+ minute mark, and influences/inspiration worn shamelessly on the Avantasia sleeve. Of all their releases thus far, the new record is by far the most theatrical, a point driven home by opening track ‘Spectres’, the epic ‘Savior In The Clockwork’, and the closing Meat Loaf-esque ‘The Great Mystery’. The use of a flesh and blood orchestra really DOES make a difference against dial-up digital magic, made all the more special because the boys didn’t use it on every single track (which is usually the downfall of productions like this).
Plenty of heavy over-the-top metal moments from Paeth’s treasure trove of riffs, to guitar leads from Bruce Kulick (ex-KISS) on three tracks, and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) trading licks with keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) on ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’. Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) blows the doors off with his circa ’87 performance on ‘Where Clock Hands Freeze’ (speedy and heavy), but the big prize goes to ‘Invoke The Machine’ for it’s blatant tip of the hat to cult fave Danish bashers Pretty Maids featuring PM vocalist Ronnie Atkins in a duet with Tobi. Several journalists at the session agreed the song is the high point of the record. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Whether or not change is good there’s no escaping the fact it’s inevitable, and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen is no exception to the rule.
As the master(mind) of the Ayreon empire, Star One and Guilt Machine, the towering Dutchman is known for assembling ensemble casts featuring some of the metal world’s finest voices and players – as well as discovering the occasional unknown talent – to create his now trademark epic metal operas. Lucassen composes all the music for all his projects, plays the vast majority of it (with a little help from his friends), arranges the often monstrous vocal parts and does some singing himself, yet in the end he has always been – no matter how important to the proceedings – a cog in the wheel. His latest sci-fi based conceptual outing, on the other hand, puts Lucassen front and center and behind the microphone on his own. A strange place for him to be unaccompanied but as he tells it, a hell of a lot of fun.
“I think everyone is a surprised by that,” Lucassen says of taking on all the vocal duties. “It was a big challenge for me. I’ve always liked singing. The problem was I’ve worked with some of the most amazing singers in the world. When you’ve worked with people like Bruce Dickinson and Jorn Lande, that humbles you. I could never do what those guys do. They’re amazing, having such power and technique, and I don’t have that at all. When I’m in the studio with these guys singing a melody to them you hear my little squeaky voice, and then Russell Allen sings it back like a monster (laughs). I do like the sound of my voice, but technically speaking I’m not a fantastic singer. By this point I know my limitations, though, and these songs were written for my voice so I enjoy singing them.”
As for doing away with the trademark legion of voices in favour of putting himself in the spotlight, Lucassen makes it clear that his ego had nothing to do with the decision.
“I wanted to get back the feeling I had when I started Ayreon. I wanted to make something without anyone’s expectations hanging over me. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Ayreon founder Arjen Lucassen’s new project, Guilt Machine, is as Pink Floydian dark as one can get. It amounts to a soundtrack for the inevitable soul search, deep and introspective to the point that calling the debut On This Perfect Day almost seems like tongue-in-cheek irony. Musically it’s something of a return to form for Lucassen following the plodding Ayreon record 01011001 from 2008, but it enters unfamiliar and unexpectedly dark lyrical territory at the hands of former Stream Of Passion guitarist Lori Linstruth. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that Linstruth doesn’t suffer from a This Sucks outlook on life. On the contrary, she tackles subjects like having the best hair in metal – “I don’t do anything special; it’s all genetic” – her career thus far, and being roped into writing for a high profile release all with a good natured “Pretty cool, huh?” approach.
By Carl Begai
I caught up with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen a while back to discuss a variety of subjects including the last Ayreon record, 01011001, the Timeline compilation released at the end of 2008, and his new project, Guilt Machine. It was an informal fact-finding mission done outside the confines of the usual press junket routine. Many thanks to Arjen for taking the time; much appreciated.
Discussion begins with the success of 01011001, which had the daunting task of following up The Human Equation, considered by many fans to be the cornerstone of the Ayreon catalogue. By all accounts 01011001 did extremely well, but it was agreed almost across the board that it was harder to get into than its predecessor due to its considerably darker atmosphere. Once inside, however, most fans were hooked.