BraveWords Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND – “Let Me Tell You Why”

By Carl Begai

With the global pandemic’s continued stranglehold on everyday life, the goal here – unlike the tabloids that masquerade as metal websites – is to push conversation far away from everything virus-related in the interest of (blackened) soul-healing music. There are some instances, however, where it’s necessary to address COVID-19 and its effect on an artist’s career. Or in Devin Townsend’s case his current activities. Forced to scrap his Empath tour plans for 2020, Canada’s own Strapping Young Lad has released Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1 to commemorate his December 2019 show in London, England, but this is only a dusting of what he’s been up to. Since March, Townsend launched a semi-ongoing podcast, streamed a series of off-the-cuff songs Quarantine Project songs to keep folks entertained, launched an effort to raise money for his out-of-work crew through merchandise sales, has performed a series of Quarantine Concerts to raise money for hospitals in Canada, the US and the UK, and put together a “virtual band” livestream show to make up for this year’s appearance at the Bloodstock Open Air getting blown out. No, boredom is certainly not an issue for Townsend in these trying times.

Devin: “I think I’m okay. It’s obviously very stressful in a lot of ways. Whether or not one subscribes to it, it’s the underlying anxiety that comes from this toxic and divisive period in time. It’s impossible to ignore. I think that undercurrent has made the fact that I’m finally at home and I’m finally in my studio a bittersweet thing because there’s not a lot of inspiration. It’s like, what are you going to write about? Are you going to compound the existing anxiety by writing about how you’re anxious? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s forced me to be outside my comfort zone, and that has propelled me down a lot of different avenues that I never anticipated being a part of. It’s been very fruitful, to be honest, and I should feel much worse than I do. All signs point to constant darkness and anxiety, but I’m trying to be as pro-active with that as possible so I don’t let that happen.”

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BraveWords Interview: AMARANTHE – …Like A Doomsday Machine

By Carl Begai

Swedish not-so-pop metal sextet Amaranthe have released their sixth album, Manifest, and it’s safe to say this is the record the fans wanted and the band needed to make. Their previous album from 2018, Helix, kept the Amaranthe name alive and in the public eye through extensive touring, but it definitely wasn’t delivered with the enthusiasm that, at its core, makes Manifest the band’s strongest record since their second outing, The Nexus. Even before the album was recorded, Amaranthe kicked off the year with two non-album singles – a cover of Sabaton’s “82nd All The Way, and “Do Or Die” – and haven’t stopped to take a breath since. In between recording sessions, social media updates and appearances, and an international press junket – as much as could be accomplished during a global pandemic – the band managed to shoot four big budget videos and unleashed them between June and October to highlight the release of Manifest. And the singles chosen weren’t exactly predictable, particularly in case of over-the-top track “Archangel”. To say Amaranthe have recaptured the fire that made them stand out amongst the rabble at the beginning of their career almost 10 years ago is an understatement.

Prior to the release of Manifest, BraveWords spoke with guitarist Olof Mörck, vocalist Elize Ryd, and former Arch Enemy singer Angela Gossow, who is now Amaranthe’s manager.

BraveWords: You had a rocky start to the making of Manifest, as in COVID-19 almost stopped the production in its tracks.

Olof: “We were supposed to leave for the studio in Denmark (Hansen Studios in Ribe) on a Sunday, and we were setting up on the Friday before to write some music when our drummer Morten (Løwe Sørensen) told us we had to get across the border before 12:00 PM the next day. So we had to take the train at 6:00 AM to get across the border on time, and we were taking a lot of stuff with us for staying two-and-a-half months not knowing if they would even let us in. That was more adventure than we wanted (laughs).”

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BraveWords Interview: AYREON – Human Equations And Horror Stories

By Carl Begai

In 2004, Dutch multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and über-nerd Arjen Lucassen released his ongoing Ayreon project’s critically acclaimed sixth album, The Human Equation. It was yet another concept album featuring a line-up of guest vocalists and musicians, but unlike its predecessors The Human Equation was not a sci-fi based metal opera. The record became a fan favourite, so much so that it was brought to the stage as a full production in 2015 under the name The Theater Equation. Lucassen returned to his science fiction stomping grounds for the three albums that followed – 01011001 (2008), The Theory Of Everything (2013) and The Source (2017) – but 2020 sees him exploring new territory once again on new album, Transitus. Boasting a cast that features performers including Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Cammie Gilbert (Oceans Of Slumber), Simone Simons (Epica), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Amanda Somerville, Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani and The Hellscore Choir, the record is far more down to earth – close to it, at any rate – and was originally imagined by Lucassen as a movie soundtrack. Three years in the making, Transitus is the Ayreon album that almost wasn’t.

BraveWords spoke with Lucassen, Keravik and The Hellscore Choir’s founder / conductor Noa Gruman (Scardust vocalist) about the making of what is being regarded by many fans as Ayreon’s strongest album since The Human Equation.

BraveWords: You’re going to hear a lot of comparisons between Transitus and The Human Equation, largely due to the fact Transitus is the warmest album you’ve done since then. It’s a lot more open than some of your previous albums, far less dense on the musical side of things.

Lucassen: “It’s cool that you say ‘warmest’ because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. The previous Ayreon album, The Source, is not a warm album. It’s a pretty cold subject, it’s a prog metal album, it’s very guitar oriented, and this time I only wanted to use real instruments. I’m so glad you said that…”

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BraveWords Interview: KATAKLYSM – A Perfect Storm Of Defiance

By Carl Begai

BraveWords: “So, on ‘Icarus Falling’… a piano? Seriously?”

Maurizio Iacono: “(Laughs) Why not? Yeah, some purists will lose their shit… until the song actually starts.”

Settling in with Kataklysm’s intense and good-natured frontman, Maurizio Iacono, conversation begins with a look at the second-to-last song on the band’s new record, Unconquered. The track is question begins and ends with, as mentioned, a piano, which is far from normal for the Canadian death metal legends. At this stage of the game Iacono knows, of course, that here will always be a small group of scorned fans screaming “Sellout!” for even the slightest deviation from the norm, but he’s prepared for any fallout. Not that he’s expecting any, as Kataklysm plans ahead for every occasion.

“That’s why we released ‘The Killshot’ as the first single, because it’s a heavy hitter,” Iacono says. “We did that to tell the fans to calm down, everything is okay when they start hearing some experimental stuff on the album… like a piano (laughs). It’s been a constructive and crazy ride doing this record.”

Unconquered is the sonic bludgeoning present day Kataklysm fans hope for, delivered crisp and clean blow after blow for a memorable nine-song romp. In contrast, Kataklysm’s previous record, Meditations (2018), seemed to come and go without much interest or fanfare. This is not an isolated opinion, and Iacono is on board with those fans that gave it a few spins but not much attention.

“When you start promoting a record you’re always selling it by saying you had a good time making it and so on,” Iacono explains, “but the truth is there was a lot of turmoil in Kataklysm when we were making Meditations. It was the first record where we had four heads involved, and when you have four heads involved you get pulled in different directions. I find that record has really strong moments, but there are moments where it just doesn’t flow right. I’m not knocking the record – it did well for us and we didn’t go in any weird or bad direction – but I find it’s a bit choppy when you listen to it. We worked with Jay Ruston, who is more of a rock producer, so the record is extremely clean. It’s very light in my opinion, so I think it was lacking in power. Coming into Unconquered we changed a few things around.”

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BraveWords Interview: PARADISE LOST – Britain’s Got Talons

By Carl Begai

Back in 1997, UK doom / Goth pioneers Paradise Lost threw their fanbase the most brutal of curves with their One Second album. Two years earlier they had released Draconian Times, which went over a storm and was considered the best and most logical way to continue the band’s reign, which had been established and cemented with their Gothic (1991), Shades Of God (1992), and Icon (1993) records. One Second’s electronic enhanced direction threw some people for a loop while others embraced it, and it was a message – however unintentional at the time – that Paradise Lost will do what they want to their sound, critics and (some) fans be damned. The Goth elements remained at the core as they moved forward with some bold experiments, but it wasn’t until Tragic Idol (2012) and The Plague Within (2015) that the band truly seemed to be returning to the full-on doom and gloom that put them on the map. The unleashing of Medusa two years later signalled the band had come full circle, or so it seemed. Obsidian – their 16th album to date – sees Paradise Lost pulling new tricks out of their collective sleeve, twisting their “trademark” early doom / Goth sound into new forms, effectively ripping apart any expectations people may have had going into the record after feasting on Medusa.

“I’ve become very pragmatic over the years about people trying to nail down our classic period,” guitarist Gregor Mackintosh says of fans referencing Paradise Lost’s early albums as their best work. “I think it has more to do with the time period in which an album comes out. For example, I don’t think Draconian Times would have been as popular if it came out two years later or two years prior. It’s pure circumstance sometimes. You can have strong material and be completely passed over. I take everything with a pinch of salt, really.”

According to Mackintosh, Paradise Lost has indeed put albums out that they thought were strong, yet the media and fans were unimpressed for the most part.

“Lots and lots of times, yeah,” Mackintosh laughs. “We’ve completely missed the mark or the scene has missed us, whichever way you want to look at it. We’ve been kings of shooting ourselves in the foot in certain parts of our career, but that’s from somebody else’s perspective. From our perspective we did exactly what we wanted to do and we wouldn’t change it, but from a commercial point of view… absolutely; we’ve gone off on a tangent and everybody hated it (laughs).”

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BraveWords Interview: AYREON – Everything’s Electric

By Carl Begai

Twenty-two years ago, a struggling Dutch musician by the name of Arjen Anthony Lucassen released what would be his breakthrough album. Buoyed by the attention he received for his first two records – The Final Experiment (1995) and Actual Fantasy (1996) – Lucassen adopted a “go big or go home” strategy and concocted a progressive metal opera featuring the talents of musicians he admired dubbed Into The Electric Castle. It was the beginning of what has become an internationally successful and lucrative career, allowing Lucassen to pursue his musical fantasies and ideas as they formulate in his hyperactive brain. With each album that followed Into The Electric Castle – six more at press time, not including his numerous side projects – the calls for Ayreon to perform live grew louder, and in 2016 fans were treated to a stage performance of The Human Equation album from 2004, The Theater Equation. Lucassen’s participation in the production was minimal compared to Ayreon Universe in 2017, the first ever official live Ayreon shows featuring Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold) and Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) to name a few. Two years later, Lucassen decided to gather his cast of original characters and returned to where it all began with four shows celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Into The Electric Castle. The end result is another jewel in Lucassen’s crown, Electric Castle Live And Other Tales.

BraveWords: Over the years you’ve maintained that Ayreon is not something you could see being performed live because of the scope of the production required and all the moving parts. Between Ayreon Universe and Electric Castle Live – and Star One for that matter – I call bullshit (laughs).

Arjen: “I know (laughs). And the reactions to Electric Castle Live have been unanimously positive. It sounds arrogant, but this time I was pretty sure of it. When we were editing the video and I saw all the material, and I was mixing it, I thought ‘Oh my God, we did it.’ We had plenty of camera angles to choose from, every shot was cool, the sound was good…. I think this was the first Ayreon release ever where I believed in it 100%. You’ve known me for years, and I’m always insecure when it comes to releasing a new album: ‘Are they going to like it? I wish I had done this…’ This time there we no ‘if only’s’. For the previous live stuff there were so many of those, but this time everything aligned perfectly. If there has been any negative response it has been towards the encores, which might be a bit too much for some people. And some people don’t like the narration, but that’s just a personal thing so I don’t give a shit about that because John de Lancie was great.”

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BraveWords Interview: WOLFHEART – The Fuck It Principle

By Carl Begai

“The only similarity between me and Devin Townsend is that we’re both bald.”

So says Wolfheart frontman / founder Tuomas Saukkonen as this interview kicks off, reacting to the suggestions that he is the Finnish counterpart to Canada’s own Hevy Devy. It’s a comparison meant as and taken as a compliment, made in reference to Saukkonen’s assortment of bands / projects that have surfaced since he started making noise with Before The Dawn in 1999. Dawn Of Solace, Black Sun Aeon, Routasielu and The Final Harvest also bear his name, all of them a testament to Saukkonen’s drive and need to create music. Things came to a head in 2013, however, when he shut everything down to focus on a new solo venture, Wolfheart. Since then he has stayed the course, building it into a real band, and it is arguably his most successful work to date. Wolfheart’s fifth album, Wolves Of Karelia, is a short but melodic death metal sweet record, brandishing the band’s now signature sound in unpredictable fashion. Saukkonen will be the first to say he’s come a long way over the past 20 years.

“Dawn Of Solace was already fucked up back in 2007 thanks to being on a shitty Spanish label,” Saukkonen begins, looking back on his mindset of stopping all his other projects for Wolfheart. “And with Before The Dawn there were issues with labels, with band members, so even before the last album came out the label knew that would be the last one for them. All the other bands that I had running alongside Before The Dawn, they were just side projects to basically keep me balanced because I was getting frustrated with the main band. So, it made more sense to me to drop everything and take a break from the music business for a while. I released the first Wolfheart album on my own and then started to talk to the labels again. Looking back now, it was a really good decision to do things that way. The more shitty contracts you sign the wiser you get. It’s called learning things the hard way (laughs).”

“It was more like a mental thing. I don’t need those side projects to keep myself distracted from being frustrated by the main band. Nothing worked with Before The Dawn, and things are on a completely different level with Wolfheart. I don’t need another outlet for additional music. Of course, now that we’re all being forced to stay home there’s going to be some kind of side project again (laughs), but for completely different reasons.”

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BraveWords Interview: THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA – Natural Born Nostalgia

By Carl Begai

Nostalgia: “A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

If you go by the textbook definition above, The Night Flight Orchestra can be considered a nostalgia-based band. The term has been used quite often over the course of their eight year career to describe the now seven-piece group, but this shouldn’t be seen as derogatory. On the contrary, it should be seen as a positive that a present day rock band is able to fire up their time machine to deliver shadows and flavours of the past with all original material. Aeromantic is The Night Flight Orchestra’s fifth album, and it pays homage to acts from the ’70s and ’80s – Journey, ABBA, Toto, KISS, Christopher Cross, Asia…. it’s a seemingly never-ending list – while deftly avoiding the retro trend that made bands like Greta Van Fleet the talk of the town for 10 seconds. Not an easy task, but then it’s not like The NFO were trying to do anything more than create more solid material they can be proud of. If people choose to join their particular conga line, so much the better, especially because it gives the metalheads on board a chance to learn about where Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed” Strid, Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, and Soilwork guitarist Dave Andersson come from musically.

“It’s going to be hard to top the previous two albums in terms of reviews,” Strid says of Aeromantic. “Last time out it was really amazing and it’s the same thing this time around, if not better. People are blown away by the new album, and I’d say that most of the press we’re doing is with metal magazines. It’s really remarkable how open-minded people are in the scene. I’ve heard people say this is a guilty pleasure, but what is there to feel guilty about? People are raving about it. Somehow it works and we have a personable sound in the end. It’s not just a nostalgia act; we’re filling a void in the music scene. The other day somebody asked me if I could name another new band out there that is doing the same sort of thing as The Night Flight Orchestra, and I couldn’t come up with anything. We’re moving this forward with this combination of sound and imagery; it’s very nostalgic in a sense but also very refreshing. I think we’re providing something that’s missing out there.”

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BraveWords Interview: ANNIHILATOR – Never Say Never

By Carl Begai

Like the vast majority of bands celebrating 25th and 30th Anniversaries, Canadian thrash legends Annihilator’s earliest albums are considered go-to classics, never to be repeated or surpassed by the band. No argument there, as the timeless magic of Alice In Hell (’89) and Never, Neverland (’90) is equal to that of records like Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, Bonded By Blood and The Ultra-Violence, to name a few. Annihilator has had a checkered career over the course of 17 albums, which ultimately comes down to frontman / founder Jeff Waters and how he has chosen to pilot his metal machine, and with whom. There have been hits and misses over the years, too many line-up changes to count, some brilliant collaborations, and tours that probably should have been left on paper, but 2020 finds Annihilator the strongest they’ve been since 2001’s Carnival Diablos era. New album Ballistic, Sadistic sees The Jeff Waters & Friends outfit channelling those first two Annihilator records in a big way, and while they remain untouchable it’s a solid return to the aggression diehard fans have been demanding for almost three decades. We can credit Waters’ move from Canada to the UK for forcing the issue, pulling out all the stops and causing him to unleash some unexpected unbridled fury.

“I never thought I would leave Canada for any reason,” says Waters. “The only reason to leave Canada is for cancer treatments that aren’t expensive and getting married (laughs). I met a woman a couple years ago, she had a couple younger kids, so it was clear that you either shake hands and move on or go for it, and because I travel a lot I figured I could make a move like that. I don’t want to sound like a crybaby, but in order to go all in I had to sell everything to make the move; house, car, the studio I’d built and fought to keep afloat for years. It was a major life change. And I had to surrender my passport to UK immigration, which meant having to postpone the (For The Demented) tour for a year. All these things happened, and then I made it worse by thinking ‘I can handle this…’ but dealing with all those things in a short period of time and trying to make a record in a new home studio… I was setting myself up for a heart attack.”

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BraveWords Exclusive: NIGHTWISH – A Look Inside Human. :II: Nature.: The Listening Session

By Carl Begai

On February 19th, Nightwish kicked off the Germany leg of the promo junket for their new album, Human. :II: Nature. in Munich. Unlike the usual alcohol-fueled affairs that listening sessions inevitably turn out to be, it was a sedate early morning affair consisting of coffee, headphones and an iGadget, each journalist in attendance invited to grab a seat in the hotel’s comfortable lobby to feast on and ultimately devour 80 minutes of music. Band members Tuomas Holopainen, Troy Donockley and Floor Jansen flew into town while the session was underway, taking a mere 10 minutes to get settled before the interviews began. BraveWords has a long history with the Nightwish camp and was welcomed quite literally with open arms, first up in what was to be a long day of media prodding before the band jetted off that night to Hamburg for Round 2 the next day.

For the record, there is a huge BraveWords feature with Holopainen and Donockley due to be published in a few weeks. This is an overview of Human. :II: Nature. meant to offer some idea of what to expect, hopefully without spoiling the experience when the record is released on April 10th via Nuclear Blast.

Known for their bombastic sound, Nightwish throw the first of many curveballs on Human. :II: Nature. with the very first song, “Music”, which is perhaps best described as a “soft open.” It is certainly not soft in terms of metal or subject matter, but the track eases the listener into the album rather than bashing you over the head with an orchestral anvil (take note of this). In fact, it is a hint that something is very different this time out as compared to previous album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, even though first single “Noise” sounds like a slower version of “Shudder Before The Beautiful” from said record. Admittedly, “Noise” is a much stronger track when heard with a quality sound system rather than via some crap-ass streaming platform, and it is certainly not representative of Human. :II: Nature. as a whole. Not at all.

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