By Carl Begai
If you’re a metal fan the name Oliver Hartmann may not ring any bells at first, but chances are pretty good you’ve heard him on any number of albums over the past 15+ years. The German vocalist / guitarist / producer launched At Vance in 1998 and has released nine albums with them since then, but Hartmann’s talents have also been used for recordings by Avantasia, Rhapsody and Edguy (to name a few) and as a guitarist on the annual Rock Meets Classic tour. Even if you are familiar with his catalogue, however, you may not be aware of his long-standing tenure as a member of the Pink Floyd tribute band Echoes, which has been around since 1995. Hartmann came on board in 2003 and has devoted a considerable amount of time to the project in spite of his busy schedule. He kicked off what promises to be a busy 2016 with a fully acoustic Echoes tour in support of their recent live CD / DVD release Barefoot To The Moon, which landed in a Nuremberg church on the day of this interview.
Seriously. A church. Complete with a bar. Only in Germany…
Professional musicians have their work cut out for them when covering Pink Floyd to begin with, but doing so acoustically is an entirely new animal. Particularly when Hartmann and his bandmates get down to business.
“Two years ago we did a benefit show in Aschaffenburg, Germany,” Hartmann says of the push towards the acoustic set. “We were asked to play, we thought about it, and decided to do an acoustic show. We picked out the songs we thought would work best and played for an hour, and that’s where we got the idea to do an entire acoustic evening. When we were putting the show together we decided that we would supplement any instrumental parts that were missing or too difficult to play acoustically – keyboards, sustain, delays, that sort of thing – with a string quartet. And the idea wasn’t a big stretch because of my involvement with Rock Meets Classic over the last years. We decided to take a minimalistic approach to the songs, sort of like an MTV Unplugged version of Pink Floyd (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
“I’m always enthusiastic when we put out an album, and this time I think I’m even more enthusiastic.”
Par for the course when dealing with Avantasia mastermind Tobias Sammet on any given day. Perhaps even a bit frightening. The man has been living and breathing music for over 20 years, having officially come into his own when Edguy released their debut album, Kingdom Of Madness, in 1997. It was when Sammet pulled a fast one by daring to release a metal opera under the Avantasia name in 2001 – appropriately titled The Metal Opera – that people started taking him seriously, or at least treating him as someone who should be watched carefully for repeated bursts of questionable behaviour. Legend has it that The Metal Opera was meant to be a one-off, but 15 years and a loyal international fanbase later Avantasia have unleashed their seventh official studio album, Ghostlights. To say Sammet is excited is an understatement, and he has every right to be when riding the high of an album that’s as Meatloaf / Savatage theatrical as it is trademark Tobias Sammet metal.
“Yes, absolutely, but it wasn’t meant to be like that,” Sammet insists. “There was no masterplan. A lot of journalists have asked if I intended to make this such a big-sounding theatrical record, and the answer is no, I didn’t intend anything. I didn’t even know where this would bring us, I didn’t even push the music in a certain direction. The music was dragging us in a certain direction and that’s probably the most innnocent and best approach you can have when writing music. Just do it, enjoy it, feel great while doing it, and see what comes out in the end.”
“I’ve defended the analog sound we did in the past, that old school let-it-sound-like-Ronnie-James-Dio-in-1983 kind of production, and I still think I was right to do so, but Sascha (Paeth/guitars, producer) decided we should do whatever the music needed. ‘Let it just happen,’ he said and this is what came out. The song ‘Let The Storm Descend Upon You’ is probably one of the most epic tracks I’ve done in the Avantasia context; it’s a big sounding arrangement with a lot of things that do not make sense according to the book of rules on how to compose a song. It’s not very reasonable to start a song with a one minute intro, and then do a second overture, and have the first chorus after three-and-a-half minutes, but I don’t think you perceive it as something that doesn’t make sense. The whole song just developed. It was one of the last tracks I wrote for the record.” Continue Reading
This story was originally published on this site back in April 2014, heralding the arrival of HDK’s new album Serenades Of The Netherworld. Or rather, the first taste of the record in the form of two singles to get people talking, which they did. Here’s the updated version of the story to coincide with the full album’s September 1st release.
By Carl Begai
It’s been five years since former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans broke his self-imposed hiatus from the music business with HDK, a slavering beast of a project that flew in the face of his former band’s symphonic goth metal sound. The debut album, System Overload, was a full-on metal assault that presented both Gommans and vocalist/co-conspirator Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) entering unexplored territory, showing off a very different and altogether volatile side of their musical personalities. A second HDK album was always in the cards; it was just a question of when the pair would get around to writing and recording it in amongst other projects that were on the go, which included the launch of Gommans’ studio/music school The Rock Station, working on albums from Trillium and Kiske / Somerville, and tours with Trillium, Avantasia and Rock Meets Classic. Serenades Of The Netherworld has finally surfaced – creeping into the light slowly but surely – as a bigger and more melodic take on System Overload. It’s certainly more dynamic and less bent on bludgeoning the listener into submission, but not at the expense of healthy sonic violence.
Amanda: “That wasn’t because of me. That was definitely Sander’s fault (laughs).”
Sander: “The thing is, with the first album I wanted to do something really different from After Forever. I’d wanted to do it for years and years, and that’s what came out. Since then I’ve had time to work with other artists and re-think some stuff. I wanted to write a new HDK album that was similar to the previous one but it came out much more symphonic and way more melodic. I didn’t have to distance myself from After Forever anymore, and I was ready to write stuff that was more melodic anyway like I did for Trillium and Kiske / Somerville. And I worked with keyboard players this time, so that gave the music a different feel as well. The new HDK is still heavy but it’s different from the first album..”
Amanda: “On the first album Sander was saying ‘There aren’t going to be any keyboards on the album because After Forever is full of frickin’ keyboards…’ (laughs). I think that has a lot to do with how the new HDK album turned out.” 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.
“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
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
During a recent interview for the as-yet-untitled follow-up to his HDK album from 2009, System Overload, former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans discussed his involvement on the new metal solo album from singer/songwriter and Avantasia / HDK vocalist Amanda Somerville. Gommans enjoys being his own boss, but he freely admits the creative process for the Trillium debut, Alloy, made him realize that even the master of the universe has to take the back seat once in a while.
“In the beginning it was hard for me because normally you wrote something for somebody and let it go, but since Amanda and I are partners, I didn’t let it go that easily. I wanted to make the best out of it, and I wanted Amanda to make the best choices. I helped her out with some of the administrative stuff and I wrote a few songs, but it was really Amanda’s project and I had to get used to her big involvement. Not so much in the writing of my songs, but in the vocal arrangements and lyrics. She had a really good idea of how the album should sound and what she wanted, and I kept telling her ‘It’s not metal enough… it needs to be more metal.’ And she would tell me, ‘This is my project, I want to have it exactly the way I want to have it…’ (laughs).”
“She made the choices in the creative aspects of the album, and now that it’s out, it’s about surprising to me how cool it is. It offers so much more than the average metal band, and it has so much more to it that you can really see what a talented person Amanda is when it comes to having her own vision. In my arrogance, I found out that I should stop being arrogant and shut up sometimes (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Back in July, vocalist Amanda Somerville spilled the beans on her first official metal solo project, Trillium (interview available here). With the release of the debut album, Alloy, only weeks away she shot a video for the song ‘Coward’, and we got together the following morning over tea to delve a little deeper into the new album.
It’s safe to say Somerville efforts will surprise a lot of fans – in a good way – and earn her some new ones along the way as Trillium plays out. And while it’s a no-nonsense metal album, anyone that’s followed Somerville’s decade-long non-metal career will wonder if some of the songs were consciously tweaked from a singer / songwriter / acoustic state to the tough-as-nails tracks we’re hearing now. Take away the distortion and the tracks in question would easily fit on her 2009 solo album, Windows.
“It was very conscious, actually,” Somerville reveals. “Songs like ‘Path Of Least Resistance’, ‘Purge’ and ‘Mistaken’ were pretty dark, and I’d planned to put them on my next solo album, which was going to be darker and heavier than anything I’d done before anyway. I had all this material that was building up, and since I’m a piano player and not a guitar player, it was clear to me I’d have to work with someone who played guitar as their main instrument like Sascha (Paeth / producer) or Sander (Gommans / HDK) so they could metal it up. That was the idea from the start, and the way things progressed led to those songs being on this album.”
“The songs that I wrote with Sander – and he’s a prolific songwriter, cranking them out like crazy – we already them had in mind for this project. Sander was totally into it, and every time he sits down with his guitar a song comes out of it. The way we typically work, he writes the instrumental parts and then I come in and suggest whatever changes I think should be made. Then I take the song and write a vocal line and lyrics to it. Sander likes a good challenge as well, though, and when he heard the piano / vocal demo I had for ‘Machine Gun’ he asked if he could work on it. He came up with the big main riff, which really supplements the running theme through the whole song.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Following is an excerpt from my latest BW&BK interview with Edguy / Avantasia frontman Tobias Sammet for the new Edguy album, Age Of The Joker….
“I think Edguy has always maintained the integrity and the key elements of our sound,” says Sammet, “but we’ve always dared – and it’s really stupid to use that terminology – to do what we feel (laughs). It really sounds odd because it’s something you take for granted when you speak to an artist. An artist should always be doing what he or she wants to do.”
Which is the very reason for Edguy’s continued success, as Sammet has no problem dropkicking the box marked “Fan Expectations.”
“I’ve said this before, but we don’t work for a pizza delivery service. Just because the fans ask us for something, it doesn’t mean they’re going to get it from us (laughs). It doesn’t work like that when you’re creating art, and we’ve always done what we wanted. I’m really happy with the album, and it’s a heartfelt happiness. I don’t know what to think about the musical direction of it, if we’ve gone back to the roots or whatever. That was never our goal, we didn’t really strive for that.”
“The thing is, if we were to do 10 songs like ‘Babylon’ for example, it wouldn’t work. Sometimes I really feel the need to do a song like that, and you can hear that in songs like ‘The Arcane Guild’ and ‘Breathe’ on Age Of The Joker. When we did the Theater Of Salvation album, although we loved that kind of music, I think we really wanted to make sure that we came up with a statement. I don’t think it was a conscious thing, but I think we really wanted to make sure we had a label put on us.” Continue Reading